DISCLAIMER: This is an Uber story, which means that the two main characters bear a striking resemblance to a certain Warrior Princess and her Bard <g>. Xena and Gabrielle are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

LOVE/SEX WARNING DISCLAIMER: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal where you live, please do not read it.

Please send comments and/or constructive criticism to tkocials@nycap.rr.com

The Visitors

by

Trish Kocialski

Chapter 1

Monday, New Year's Day, Somewhere off the coast of St. John

Soft laughter echoed off the glistening walls of the cavern. The only light illuminating the small space was coming from the water in the pool. The bodily forms could barely be made out in the ethereal lighting. One, the taller of the two, lifts a pebble and throws it vigorously into the water causing a series of ripples on the calm surface. The sound of the splash stops the laughter and is followed by a stern but respectful reproach.

 

"My Princess..." the voice was low and couched in concern, "we must head back to our homeland. It is not safe for you to be here any longer. The threats against the realm are a very real possibility and Varian is not a man that can be deceived for long. One of his men is sure to be close behind."

 

"You worry too much, Janai. Varian has always been in my father's command. I can't believe that he is plotting against him...and me. He is like my second father. I'm sure there must be some misunderstanding. The communication must have been interfered with somehow."

 

"Princess, please. Would it not be wise to treat the information as true? What harm could come of your returning early?"

 

"What? And not complete my study of these people as my father wishes?" Princess Alana scoffed at the thought. Besides, I'm having too much fun on this exploration and I'm not about to be scared off by an obvious miscommunication. "I am not finished learning about, lest, understanding their behaviors. Father said I had much to learn from them, especially from the ones we will visit next." She stood and moved toward Janai, "Besides Janai, that's what you're here for. You are my protector. You are the most complete warrior in our realm."

 

"Yes, my princess, I am that. But, if this communication is true, I am not sure I will be able to protect you from all the forces Varian has at his command."

 

Alana's voice softened and came out as a mere whisper. "Janai...please, don't call me Îprincess.' We have been together far too long for that formality...and, the one thing I have learned to appreciate about these people is to respect each other as equals." She reached out and gently placed a hand on the taller woman's arm before continuing. "And, I promise that after we visit the country called ÎAmerica' we will depart for home."

 

Janai realized she had pushed the issue as far as she dared. Bowing her head in concession she replied, "Yes, my...Alana."

 

"Come, let us swim with our friends in the sea one more time before we resume the more earthly shape of our donors." Alana stood and her form began to pulse a deep, but muted bluish purple before it changed its shape to a translucent nebulous silhouette and slipped into the pool.

 

"I hope you're right, my princess," Janai sighed and then quickly followed, becoming a translucent deep blue-green amorphous shape. The two pulsing figures flowed through the water easily. Slipping around the coral reef at the entrance, then speeding away toward the open sea.

 

At the back of the cavern, a black form speckled with red and gray emerged from the wall. "Ah, Janai. I was hoping that message was intercepted. Now my job will be a bit more difficult with you on alert and I'll have to change my plans. I wonder how the High Council and the Emperor will react to the loss of the Princess at the hands of humans?" Intrigued at the thought of creating a reason for war, the dark form shimmered. "This may even be a better plan than a transport disaster on the way home." The form began to pulsate into a deep red and gray cloud then flowed easily into the water in pursuit. It would not do for him to loose track of them now.

* * * * *

 

Dean and Katie checked all their belts and buckles, made sure the respirators were functioning properly and double-checked their air supply before heading to the dive platform at the aft of the charter boat. They were with ten other vacationers on the chartered dive and were making the last dive of their short four-day vacation. Katie thought back to Christmas morning when she opened her gift from Dean. To say she was thrilled when she unwrapped the box containing the vacation tickets that morning was an understatement. In fact, she could hardly wait to leave. The ordeal at Niagara Falls had taken its toll on the young agent and the thought of the warm temperatures was like a sirens call to action. She was so ready for the trip that she had begun packing on Christmas night and barely made it through the next two days of visiting with Dean's father, Joshua and his friend, Reverend Martha Lewistan. Thanks to Martha, Dean and her father were beginning to mend the rift between them that had grown into a formidable chasm over the years. And, thanks again to the dear Reverend, Dean was able to find her before she fell head long into an icy death behind the Horseshoe Falls.

 

Coming out of her memory, Katie stood on the dive platform, surveying the horizon and smiling at the sight. Off to the south was the island of St. Croix, with St. Thomas to their west and St. John right behind them. Katie had talked Dean into a day trip over to St. John to dive at the Eagle Shoals site. It was one of the most remote dive sites and one of the most beautiful ones. There were lots of small curious caves and coral arches, along with a wide variety of coral outcroppings. The healthy dollops of colorful tropical fish everywhere added to the beauty of the underwater scenes.

 

"Penny for your thoughts," Dean remarked as they waited their turn to enter the water.

 

"Mmm, just enjoying the day," Katie replied with a sigh. "Have I told you how much I love this present?"

 

"Yeah, about a hundred times now," her lover chuckled as she squatted down on the platform. Dean dipped her mask into the water looking up as she spilled out the seawater. "It is beautiful isn't it?"

 

"Yeah," Katie sighed again, "but it's back to the real world tomorrow morning."

 

"Well, you know, with your little bank roll, you could probably retire now and live here permanently," Dean commented as she rose to stand next to the blonde.

 

Katie nodded realizing the truth in Dean's words. "Yes, I could. But then it would become an everyday experience and, well, you'd loose the appreciation of it. I'd rather just come to the islands often and be awed each time. Besides, I don't think you're ready to retire yet."

 

Nodding at the accuracy of that statement, Dean smiled at her partner, "Well, ya ready to get awed by some underwater scenery?"

 

"Yeah," Katie smiled eagerly, "let's do it!" The women put their regulators in their mouths, slipped on their masks and held them to their faces as they stepped off the platform into the sparkling turquoise sea.

 

All the divers on this trip were experienced and had their cave certifications in addition to their open water certifications. The caves here weren't the same as the ones Dean and Katie encountered in the Bahamas, but could be just as dangerous if one wasn't paying attention. They had opted to dive the reefs and view the coral, having had their fill of underwater caverns on Grand Bahama Island. The other ten divers were steadily making their way toward the cave openings, while they headed off following a school of yellow and blue angel fish behind a wall of coral. Everywhere they looked, they found brilliant colors, a wide variety of coral, and schools of tropical fish. The whole experience made this remote dive a pure pleasure. They swam for thirty minutes among the fish and coral outcroppings constantly amazed at the beauty of nature found in the sea. A group of dolphins swam close and one of the friendlier ones joined them for a while. As they swam through the water as a trio, the dolphin seemed to be appraising them, nodding and clicking as they imitated each other's moves. It finally moved off after it won hands down in the graceful category, making a series of clicks that Dean and Katie swore was laughter as it departed to catch up with it's friends.

 

Checking her dive watch, Dean motioned that it was time to head back. The dive went just too fast for them, and they reluctantly changed direction. As they turned to head back to the boat, Katie reached out and tapped Dean's arm. She pointed toward a flash of a blue-green...something...as it moved along the seabed. Neither had seen anything like it in their diving experience and they were both bewildered at its materialization. It almost looked like a luminous cloud that was somewhat transparent but could move faster than their dolphin friend. It was similar in appearance to a large flat jellyfish that could ooze into different shapes as it ebbed with the current. As they watched, the apparition split into two, one purplish and the other a greenish blue, before regrouping again. Whatever it was, it seemed to be moving along with them. Stopping as they stopped and moving as they moved. Katie motioned with her head to go check it out. Dean reached to check the remaining time on their tanks before she nodded in the affirmative. As they changed direction and kicked toward the object, Dean realized they were actually two separate objects that picked up speed and darted toward a huge coral outcropping, slipping out of view. Totally surprised by this evasive action, the women looked at each other, and then increased their kicks in an effort to catch up. Arriving on the other side of the coral stand, the two objects were nowhere to be seen. They scanned the bed of coral, looking for a cave or recess that they may have slipped into but found no plausible hiding place. Turning toward the open sea, they only saw a big expanse of sand and coral and schools of tropical fish. Shrugging her shoulders, Dean motioned toward the boat. Katie nodded, but her eye caught a glimmer on the sandy bottom near the base of a huge bulk of brain coral. She kicked down toward the glinting spot and found two small balls that looked like luminescent black pearls. Cautiously reaching down, she picked one up and examined it. Looks like a pearl of some kind, Katie thought as she reached for the second one. By now, Dean was by her side, looking at the objects in Katie's fingers. She took one from Katie and studied it, rolling it in her fingers. It was perfectly round, seemed to be solid and was surprisingly heavy for it's size. It appeared to have a hint of blue-green luminescence to it. Both objects seemed to be exactly the same size and weight, but the one Katie was holding had a hint of deep blue, almost violet. Looking over at her partner, Katie made a questioning motion. Dean mimicked the motion and unscrewed the top of a waterproof cylinder that held their room keys. She put the ball in the small container holding it out for Katie to drop hers inside too. After securing the lid, the two women headed back to the boat.

 

They surfaced near the platform then swam over to the ladder and waited their turn to climb up. The other divers were chatting excitedly about the caves and asked the two women what they had seen. Katie began reciting all the types of coral and tropical fish they saw and told the group about the playful dolphin companion they had encountered.

 

"Then on the way back we saw something really weird..." she was about to disclose the appearance of the elusive cloud-like shapes when she saw Dean give her a subtle shake of the head.

"...it was a...a...barracuda...just staring at us. It, um, stared for a couple of seconds then darted off behind the coral," Katie fabricated quickly.

"Ooo, I hate those things. They look so...vicious." The freckled faced redhead exclaimed.

"Yeah, they look at you like they're appraising you for your worthiness to be their next meal," her boyfriend added.

Another man from the group said barracuda aren't weird, just misunderstood. Everyone laughed and began telling tales of run-ins with barracuda and other denizens of the deep. As the boat headed back to the harbor, Katie sat quietly by Dean, wondering why her lover didn't want her to say anything about their encounter with the strange objects.

* * * * *

Back at the resort, Katie took their masks, fins and snorkels out of the dive bag and headed to the bathroom to rinse off the salt water. She opened the small key container and looked at the two luminescent balls. "Might as well wash these off too," she mumbled as she turned the container over to drop the balls into her hand. She rinsed everything off and set the equipment on the patio to dry. Placing the two balls on a washcloth, she brought them into the kitchen where Dean was making two mugs of tea.

"Hey, love," Dean drawled, as she watched Katie enter with the washcloth in hand. "Whatcha got there?"

"Oh, those little balls we picked up on the dive. I was rinsing everything off and decided to rinse them off too." She held them up for Dean's inspection. "Any idea as to what they are?"

"Nah. Look like some decorative glass beads to me." She reached out and picked one up, rolling it in her fingers. "Prettier though. One's a little bluer than the other." She held it up to the light for further examination. "Hmm, if you hold it up to the light you can see through it. They're actually very pretty."

"Yeah, I noticed that when I rinsed them off. They'll look pretty neat in the new marble displays Dirk and Bill got me for Christmas." Katie had quite a collection of marbles. From rubies to black eyes, hot dogs to crystals, pearls, swirls and cats eyes, to tiger eyes and even a few of the new collectibles by various artists. Some of the marbles in her collection are true antiques and quite valuable, while others are modern game marbles. The one's she was collecting in earnest now were the new artistic ones. She had been a champion shooter in her youth, having won a few American Marble tournaments, and was having fun teaching Dean how to finesse a shot. It made for fun competition and Dean's skill level was coming up rapidly.

Dean nodded her head, "Good idea. Add them to your little collection." Who am I kidding? Dean thought of the collection back home, Her collection is anything but little! When Dean moved Katie's possessions over to the new house, she just about gave herself a hernia when she lifted the first crate. Realizing there were nine other crates, she opted to use the dolly for the rest.

The teakettle began to whistle, so she tossed the ball back to Katie and resumed preparing the mugs of tea. Katie caught the toss easily and gently wrapped it in the washcloth to be packed in her suitcase for the trip home tomorrow morning.

As Dean finished preparing the drinks, she handed Katie a mug, leaning back against the counter as she picked hers up and took a careful sip.

"Why did you stop me from telling the other divers about those weird cloudy things we saw?" Katie asked as she blew at the hot tea.

Dean just shrugged, "Couldn't explain it, so I didn't want to talk about it."

"Maybe someone else had seen it too? It came from the direction of the caves."

"If someone had, they would have said something," Dean replied.

"Or, maybe they were waiting for someone else to mention it first?" Katie considered.

"Yeah, that could be. Anyway, it wasn't worth mentioning."

Katie thought about that for a while, considering what possible reactions relating the encounter may have provoked. "You're probably right."

Dean lifted an eyebrow in question. "Probably?"

Katie looked up into the twinkling sapphire eyes, shook her head and grinned before giving Dean a light backhanded slap to the abdomen. "You are so bad!"

"That's why you love me," Dean winked, earning a dazzling smile from her lover. She put her mug down and encircled the young woman with her arms in a loving grip. Slowly, she bent her head towards the eagerly waiting lips that parted just ever so slightly as they met in a soft embrace. A quiet moan escaped from the younger woman as their kiss ended.

"Mmm, I think there's more than one reason why I love you," Katie whispered as she gazed up at her lover.

"Really? You'll have to tell me sometime." She paused, enjoying the feel of her lover in her arms. "Are you all packed for the trip home?" Dean asked, seemingly changing the subject.

"Mmmhmm. Why? You have something in mind?" Katie replied knowingly.

"I thought maybe we could compare our reasons..." the words hung in the air as the two lovers began a physical exploration of each other as they walked over to the beds, deciding to opt out of the islands nightlife for tonight.

* * * * *

The next morning, Katie and Dean arrived at the airport in plenty of time before their flight was scheduled to leave. Katie was always one to make sure she was on time or ahead of time for everything. Dean was no slacker either in that department. Adherence to rigid time schedules is a must for all military operations and with Dean's nearly seventeen years of military service, she could almost exist without a watch. Being on time was as ingrained as her love of her country.

After checking in, they walked over to the small coffee shop and bumped into two of their companion's from the previous day's dive. Chatting amiably, they talked about their diving experiences and the quality of yesterday's dive.

"So," the young red head woman asked, "where are you two from?"

"The Washington, DC area," Katie informed them. "How about you two?"

"Hey, that's cool. We're neighbor's," Angie chimed in. "I just started teaching in Falls Church this year," she looked over at her boyfriend, " and Eddie here, is a counselor there." She pulled out a packet of photos and flipped to the last one. On the back she put Dean and Katie's names and Washington, DC.

"Are those from yesterday's dive?" Katie inquired after watching Angie jot her notes on the back.

"Yeah, you want to take a look? I had them done at the hotel when we got in. I'm hoping to do some of the sunsets in watercolor."

"Wow," Katie commented as she sifted through them. "You really have a good eye." She pointed at one in particular of a spectacular sunset framed in palm trees and sea oats. "This one is super!"

"That's my favorite too. I think I'll start with that one."

Katie handed the packet back and picked up the conversation from where they left off. "So you're on your Christmas break," Katie surmised, vaguely remembering the skiing vacations her family went on at Christmas time. She quickly thought that if her parents had decided to go to the islands instead of the ski slopes that fateful year, maybe they would still be alive. Shaking her head to clear the sad memory of their deaths, she looked up to see Eddie peering at her.

"Yep! Except it's politically correct to say winter break. Can't be offending anyone now can we?" Eddie joked and nodded in agreement as he noticed the slight change in Katie's expression.

Smiling at the attempt at levity, Katie looked over at Angie who was staring at Dean, who in turn, was trying to ignore the attention. Feeling sorry for her lover, Katie directed her next comment to the redhead. "So, Angie. What do you teach?"

As the young teacher pulled her attention back to the others, she said she was an art teacher and began a long explanation of her philosophy of art education and it's benefits for children. Katie smiled and kept eye contact with the young woman, as she felt Dean's warm hand on her leg under the table, followed by a grateful squeeze on her thigh. This made Katie's smile even brighter as she continued to engage the redhead. Their discussion was ended abruptly as their flight was called.

"Hey, that's our flight," Dean said almost too gladly. "Better be going." She stood up quickly and almost yanked Katie up with her in her haste to leave.

Eddie also perked up, listening to the announcement. "Yeah, that's the plane we're on too."

Dean almost moaned out loud, hoping that the young couple were not sitting anywhere near them. As they boarded with the first class ticket holders, she was relieved to see that they were still waiting with the coach folks to board.

"What's the matter hon?" Katie asked with a twinkle in her eye. "Angie got you flustered?"

"Hey! If she had been staring at you, the way she was at me, you'd be relieved to be boarding right now." Katie snickered quietly as they took their seats and buckled up for the flight. "By the way, thanks for diverting her attention."

"No problem, love. I could feel the edginess just oozing from your pores." They sat there in silence, holding each other's hands as they waited for the rest of the passengers to board the flight. When Angie and Eddie smiled and nodded at them on their way to the coach cabin, Dean let out a small sigh of gratitude.

* * * * *

During the flight, Eddie looked over at his companion. "Hey, Angie, you got that thing you picked up off the ocean floor?"

"Uh huh. Looks like a kid's marble to me," she told her boyfriend as she dug it out of her bag. "Here, take a look for yourself," she handed him the small ball. "Looks pretty cool doesn't it?"

"Yeah, I like the red-gray-black marbled coloring. Maybe some kid tossed it overboard from one of the cruise ships."

"Hey, maybe it is made from marble...it's pretty heavy to be just glass." Angie took the ball back from Eddie and tossed it up and down in her hand before putting it back in her bag.

"What are you going to do with it?" Eddie asked, curious about what Angie saw in the item to pick it up from the seabed.

"I'm not sure ... I just thought it was pretty. Maybe I'll give it to my nephew. He collects all sorts of stuff and I know he has a marble collection. It might even be worth something."

Contemplating the idea that it might be valuable, the two slipped off into thoughts of that possibility.

* * * * *

Chapter 2

Tuesday, Washington DC

The plane landed at Regan National Airport right on schedule. As they came to the baggage area, Dean saw Dirk leaning against a pillar, examining the crowd as it entered. He waved in acknowledgement as he easily picked out Dean's form from the throng of passengers, and pushed away from the pillar. The two women were laden with island goodies and Dirk reached out to help with their load.

"Hey. Right on time," he said as the two women greeted him with a hug. "The cats will sure be glad to see you. I dropped them off at the house already."

"They didn't give you any trouble did they?" Katie asked, concern in her eyes.

"Nah, they were little angels. I kept getting Butter and Sugar mixed up, but not Spice. You know, that Spice is a real mush."

Dean lifted an eyebrow at that remark. "You mean Spice didn't yowl all night?"

"Nope. As soon as she figured out that Bill was going to be pretty much in a stationary position, she just plopped down on his lap and purred. She spent most of the time in his lap snoozing away."

"See!" Katie bumped her partner with her hip, "I told you...you fidget too much!" Dean just shrugged while the other two chuckled, then they headed toward the baggage claim carousel to retrieve their bags.

* * * * *

Katie chatted the entire time they waited for the bags, out to the car, and as Dirk put the bags in the trunk. When she finally stopped to catch her breath, Dirk was able to get a few words in. "So, tell me," Dirk broke in as he placed the last bag into the trunk then walked to the driver's door, "how was the trip really?"

"Smart aleck," Katie scolded as he opened the driver's door. "Like I've been saying...fantastic!" Katie slid into the middle of the bench front seat, glad she would be able to absorb the warmth of the two bodies beside her. "The weather was great, the scuba diving breathtaking ... "

"And, the lovemaking?" he asked jokingly.

Katie blushed deeply and was at a complete loss for words. Dean chuckled at the sudden silence from her partner and looked over at Dirk and said, "Hmm, I'll have to remember that technique." That comment earned her a smack on the head with Katie's straw hat.

"Hey!" Katie chided, "that wasn't nice."

Dean twisted in her seat and gave her lover a remorseful look. "Sorry love, that wasn't nice. Guess I'll have to make it up to you somehow."

"Okay, but I get to say how," Katie's eyebrows did a quick up and down motion before she smiled and winked at her partner.

"Oh, brother!" Dirk croaked as the implications of the comment hit him. "I don't know where you gals get your energy!"

They all laughed amiably as he pulled out of the short-term parking lot and headed for the interstate. During the ride to their home in Occoquan, the subject changed to an update on the past four days and Bill's continuing recovery from surgery. Since the hit-and run by Natasha and the resulting emergency surgery in mid December, Bill had been home on medical leave. Dirk had taken time off from his job to help Bill with his recuperation and the time together had strengthened their relationship.

"The past couple of weeks have been really tough, but it's actually brought us closer together. It's made me realize just how precious life is and how easily it can be taken for granted." He gave his riders a sideways glance before returning his focus to the roadway. "I have a better appreciation of what you two went through back in the Catskills."

"Not all relationships can survive trauma Dirk," Katie reached up placing a hand on his shoulder, giving it a gently squeeze, "I'm glad you two did."

The rest of the drive was fairly silent as they each thought about their partners and the strength of their bonds. Katie removed her arm from Dirk's back and snuggled closer to Dean. By the time they pulled into the driveway, she was fast asleep with her head resting on Dean's shoulder.

"Vacation wore her out?" Dirk whispered softly.

"Yeah, we packed a lot into those four days, but a good night's sleep will do her wonders." She gently nudged the blonde awake. "C'mon sleepyhead, let's get you to bed."

Katie opened her eyes and groggily answered. "Mmm, sorry. Didn't mean to fall asleep like that."

Dean grinned at the young woman and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "How about you go ahead and get ready for bed. Dirk and I will bring in the stuff."

"Okay, but don't forget to give him the rum we got for them." As she headed to the bedroom, she was followed by her three felines, tails lifted straight up in the air.

"I won't. See you in a bit."

Dean and Dirk got all their bags and packages into the house in one trip, setting them down in the living room. Before he left, Dean remembered to give Dirk the box with the rum. "We picked up a couple of new drink recipes while we were there. I wrote them down and put them in the box."

"Thanks, Dean. Maybe we can do dinner next weekend and try them out?"

"Sounds like a plan. Thanks again for the lift, and give Bill our love." As he headed to the door, Dirk remembered to tell Dean that the cats had been fed and the litter boxes were clean.

"Great. Thanks for taking such good care of them. They mean the world to Katie." She paused, then added, "And, me too." Seeing Dirk back out to his car, Dean waited until his taillights faded down the drive before she turned and went back inside. Locking the door behind her, she set the security alarms before turning towards the pile of bags. She shook her head and decided there wasn't anything she needed out of them tonight. "Tomorrow," she mumbled to herself then turned off the lights and headed to the bedroom.

* * * * *

Chapter 3

Wednesday, 0530 Hours

The buzzer on the alarm sounded harsh in her ears, even though she had been laying awake for the past hour and had expected it's wake up call. Dean reached up automatically and turned it off before rolling over to nudge her bedmate. "Time to get up."

"What happened to the night?" Katie asked as she rolled onto her back and stretched her 5'6" frame to its limit. "It seems like I just got into bed."

Dean got out of bed easily, slipping on her robe. Years of military service made getting up the easiest part of most days. "Nope, that was ten hours ago." She looked at the clock in disbelief, ten hours! Oh boy, I must be getting old, or you love, are getting me into some bad habits! "C'mon, up and at Îem! You have to look bright eyed and bushy tailed for your first class!"

"Bright eyed and bushy tailed?" the blonde head came up from the pillow, green eyes looking questioningly at her partner. "Where on earth did you get that one from?"

Dean just laughed and sat down next to Katie's still prone body, thinking about where that saying did come from. "It's something Thad used to say every morning when he woke me for school." Dean gazed down at Katie, "I wasn't always this easy to wake in the mornings. Uncle Sam changed that in a hurry." She bent down and gave Katie a kiss. "You know, it's nice to be able to remember Thad without the pain. Thank you."

"Me? Why thank me?" Katie's eyes became round with wonder.

"Because you, my love, started me on the path to forgiveness. I know it's going to take a while. I mean, Dad and I are at least talking these days, but it's still hard." She reached out and caressed Katie's cheek with the back of her fingers. "But if it hadn't been for you, encouraging me, and standing by me, I don't think I would have been able to take that first step." Dean bent down once more, kissing Katie softly on the lips. With lips barely parted, she said, "thank you."

Katie reached up with both of her hands and slipped them around Dean's neck. "You're welcome," came the simple reply as Katie pulled Dean in for a longer kiss that filled their hearts with joy. Reluctantly, they broke away, both knowing that there would be plenty of time tonight to continue this particular line of conversation.

"Mmm, guess I better get myself up, huh?"

"Yep. Wouldn't do to be late for your first class."

By 0600, they were both dressed and in the kitchen. Katie was taking care of the cats while Dean fixed two cups of Earl Grey and toasted some English muffins.

"Mmm, some of that mango marmalade would be good on those muffins."

Katie's suggestion got an eager nod from Dean. "Sure would. I'll go dig it out of the bag." Dean headed for the living room and the pile of luggage that was still sitting by the door. Over her shoulder she called to Katie, "Hey, do you remember which bag it's in?"

Katie put the last dish down for Butter and then joined Dean in the living room. "Let's see. I think I wrapped the jars in the beach towel so it's probably in the duffle with the snorkel gear."

Dean picked up the duffle and set it on the ottoman. She set the dial on the combination lock and pulled it open, then unzipped the bag. Reaching for the bright beach towel, she felt the jar inside. "Yep, here it is." She was about to zip the bag shut when she caught a glimpse of the washcloth sticking out of the other end of the towel. Nope. No time for that now. We can unpack tonight. Deciding not to zip it up, she left the bag where it was and carried the jar of marmalade over to where Katie was standing.

"Here you go love. One jar of mango marmalade."

At 0630, they were heading out to the garage and glad it was going to be a short week. When Dean opened the garage door, she stopped suddenly when she saw the sleek black Boxster sitting there. It was the most beautiful, most expensive, and most appreciated Christmas present she ever received...and the sexiest too, well...except for unwrapping the bright red bow Katie tied around her naked body on Christmas morning. Now that was quite the morning, Dean reflected, as she recalled her total embarrassment when the flushed couple entered the kitchen to see Martha and her father looking up at them over the rim of their tea cups. Bringing herself back to the present, she just stared at the sports car and grinned all over again.

Katie caught Dean's reaction and beamed right along with her lover. "So, what'dya think? The Boxster or the SUV?"

Caught like a deer in headlights, Dean turned to Katie, "Huh? Oh, uh," she looked out the garage window at the rising sun. "Uh, guess it's going to be a nice day...so, I think I'll take the Boxster."

"Good. Now, just behave and drive nice!" She winked at Dean knowing full well that Dean would be putting the car through its paces on the way to work. As Dean slipped behind the steering wheel, Katie pushed the button to raise the garage doors and then got into her Boxster. Easing down the driveway, the twin sports cars, one silver-white and the other black, carried their drivers on their way. Katie couldn't help but think of how apropos the color choices were. They certainly are a reflection of our lives ... at least our past lives. Who knows what the future will bring?

* * * * *

 

Spice loved to curl up in small spaces and open luggage was one of her favorite spots. She had finished eating her breakfast and was sitting in a pool of sunshine, going through her morning bath routine when she spied the open duffle bag sitting on the ottoman. Casually she got up and stretched before prancing over to the bag to sniff it. Satisfied that it was one of her master's bags, she jumped in and nudged the contents around until her nest was almost complete. There was just that problem spot in the white washcloth. It was just too lumpy. She pulled on the cloth, pawed it, and nudged it with her nose until the offending piece of cloth came out from the beach towel. She nudged the washcloth a bit more and exposed the two luminescent balls. Their shiny appearance attracted her attention so she cautiously approached, sniffing the air around them. A gentle paw reached out and touched the dark purple one giving it a slight nudge. Spice followed with several tender nudges to both balls, settling them in the center of the beach towel. Cocking her head to the side, she began to purr quietly as she took a step closer. Her reflection on the shiny surface of the balls seemed to shimmer as she sniffed once more, gave a quick lick to both balls and mewed ever so softly for the normally vociferous feline. Turning round and round, she finally plopped down in the middle of her now comfortable nest and promptly fell asleep, one paw outstretched, cradling the two balls protectively.

* * * * *

It was nearly 1900 when Dean pulled down the road, hitting the button for the garage door as she approached the house. The Boxster pulled in and slipped into the spot between the SUV and its twin, Katie's arctic silver one. She let the car idle a bit as she listened to the engine purr like a matronly lion surveying its territory. Realizing the time, she decided she had better turn off the engine and get inside before Katie called out the National Guard to look for her.

Entering the house, Dean called to Katie as she hung up her coat on the rack by the door. When she stepped into the living room, she noticed that all the vacation paraphernalia that had been sitting there since last night was gone, except for the duffle bag. Hmm, must be she forgot this one. Dean walked over to the bag and reached down for the handles, but stopped short when she saw all three cats slumbering inside. Wow! Is that cute or what? I wonder if I can get my camera before they wake up and jump out. Tiptoeing out of the living room, Dean headed for the den and retrieved her digital camera. She slipped back into the living room just as quietly and snapped a couple of shots before the cats were able to realize what happened. When she looked up, she saw Katie standing in the kitchen doorway watching her. The grin on her face spreading as Dean's blush rose from getting caught in the act.

"I don't think your big, bad Army friends would ever believe you're such a mush," Katie said as she shook her head smirking. "They've been like that since I came home."

"Hey, it's a real Kodak moment, ya know," Dean interjected defensively setting the camera down on the recliner's arm before she walked over to greet her lover properly. Slipping her arms around Katie, Dean bent down and whispered, "Hi honey, I'm home," before giving her a kiss.

"Uh huh. And just where have you been?" Katie asked giving Dean a reprimanding glower.

"Well, it was such a nice evening, and ..."

"And you thought you would take the long way home?" Katie finished the sentence for her with a smile on her face.

Dean just shrugged and gave Katie another kiss. "I guess I should have called, huh?"

Katie reached up and placed her hand on Dean's cheek, "Nah. I knew you'd be late. In fact, I bet I can tell you which roads you took."

Dean raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Really? Okay, give it a shot."

Katie stepped back and began to tick off the roads on her fingers, watching Dean's face as she named them all correctly. "How'd I do?"

"Amazing!" Dean responded in shock. "How did you know?"

"Easy, sweetie. I just know you," Katie replied as she softly poked Dean's chest. "Now, how about some dinner? I put together one of those chicken pot pies you like so much."

Dean sniffed the air hungrily. "Ooo, that sounds great. Where'd ya get the chicken?"

"Okay, so it's technically a turkey pot pie. I used the left over turkey we put in the freezer from Christmas dinner."

"That's my grrrll," Dean purred as she took Katie's hand and led her to the kitchen.

* * * * *

It didn't take long for them to demolish the pot pie, salad, and a brownie sundae for dessert. Over dinner they talked about their respective day and shared the Îthank you's' they received from their respective colleagues for the goodies they brought back from St. Croix.

"Well, guess I better clean up," Dean decided as she pushed away from the table and stood.

"I'll give you a hand," Katie offered.

"Nope. You cooked, I clean. That's the rule."

"Oh, and like you don't break rules..."

"Nope. Not important one's like this," Dean offered Katie a dazzling smile as she began clearing the table. "Why don't we give the cats the leftovers?"

"What leftovers?" Katie asked as she examined the almost clean pie pan. There was barely any left to give the cats a proper treat.

"Hey, they'll think it's a treat ... and then maybe they'll leave us alone tonight as a reward?" That comment got Dean a smirk from her lover.

"Oh, don't count on it!" Katie chuckled at the thought of a cat-less night, knowing full well that they each had their own territory staked out on the bed at night. Picking up the pie pan, she went to the cat's dishes to divvy up the remains, calling her felines when she was done. When they didn't show up, she called them again, and banged the spoon on the dishes for good measure. Still there was no response from the cats. Curious as to why they weren't responding, Katie went to the living room to see what mischief they were up to that precluded a table scrap snack. Well this is strange, she thought as she entered the living room and found no boisterous play in action. Walking over to the recliner with the duffle, she found them all awake, but still coiled in the bag, surrounding the two marbles. As she reached down to check them out, Spice looked up and made a protective growling noise. Not aggressive, but definitely protective. Katie stopped her motion out of shock more than fear and then reached in again. This time, Butter, placed a paw over one of the balls and opened her mouth wide baring her teeth, causing Katie to stop her attempt once more.

"Dean! You better come in here," Katie called with a touch of alarm in her tone.

In the kitchen, Dean heard Katie's call and stopped washing the pie pan, grabbed the kitchen towel and hurried to the living room. "What's wrong?" she asked as she stepped beside her partner.

"It's the cats. They're being a bit weird. They won't let me pick up the duffle bag. Watch." Katie again attempted to reach into the duffle and elicited the same reaction from Spice and Butter, and this time Sugar's nape hairs stood on end. "See."

"I see what you mean. Let me try." Dean extended her hand and the three cats shifted their position to address Dean's intended action. As her hand reached in to grab the handle that had flopped inside, the normally docile Butter nipper her finger, drawing a minuet droplet of blood that dripped onto the blue-green ball and slid down the curve. On the underneath side, the surface of the marble shimmered slightly and absorbed the tiny droplet.

"Ow!" Dean exclaimed, pulling her hand back and checking the tiny puncture. "Hmm, this is strange." Not wanting a repeat performance by Butter, she suggested, "Let's try some food instead of my hands." She went back into the kitchen and brought out their food dishes, but had added fresh tuna fish from a can before she came out, knowing that they never could resist tuna fish. She waived the dishes near them, eliciting interest and three sniffing noses. Finally, the aroma was too much for them and all three felines jumped out of the duffle and followed Dean, tails held erect, much like a scene from some Pied Piper sketch.

As soon as the cats left with Dean, Katie reached into the bag and removed the two marbles, gently rolling them in her right hand much like Humphrey Bogart had in the film, Caine's Mutiny. They felt very warm as she did this and she attributed that to their being surrounded by three fuzz balls for most of the evening. Picking up the duffle with her other hand, she took them all to the bedroom. After dumping the rest of the contents of the bag on the bed, she walked around the bedroom trying to decide where to put the spheres she still held. Then she remembered the two new display holders she got from Dirk for Christmas. She went into the closet and pulled them out of their boxes, easily mounting them between the two padded arms. She decided to put them on the headboard of the bed for the time being. Moving back to the foot of the bed, she sorted the other items into piles. The beach towels and washcloth were put in the hamper, and the snorkel gear was put back into storage for the next trip.

* * * * *

It was close to 2230 when Dean reached over and gently lifted the book that was lying on her lover's chest. It had come to rest in that position ten minutes ago when Katie dozed off while trying to read in bed. Katie was usually able to read in bed for quite a while before giving in to the old sandman, but tonight, she barely read ten pages. Dean tucked the flap of the dust jacket between the pages to mark Katie's spot then set the book on the headboard. The two marbles caught her attention, and she picked one of the displays up holding it up to the light for a closer inspection. Out of curiosity, she turned off the bed lamp and examined the ball in the light coming through the skylight. She was deep in thought when she heard Katie's voice.

"It's really pretty isn't it?"

"Mmm, it is. Look at how the stars look through this." She held it so Katie could take it and observe the effect.

"Kinda gives them all a purplish hue. It's neat the way you can see through it when a light is behind it, but looks completely impenetrable when it's not." She handed it back to Dean and picked up the other one, holding it up toward the skylight. "This one is a blue-green."

Dean replaced the one she held to the headboard and turned to face Katie. "Well, they'll make a nice memento of our trip."

Katie put hers back too and rolled onto her side to come face-to-face with Dean. "Hey, you know how you can make it up to me for that crack you made in the car last night?"

"Oh, oh. Guess you didn't forget about that," Dean smiled sweetly, "Okay, whatdya have in mind?"

Katie scooted closer and pushed Dean's shoulder back on the bed. "Oh, maybe a little apology...or maybe," she lowered her voice and spoke in a very seductive tone, "a little..." she crawled up on top of Dean, covering her long body with her shorter one... "exercise in submission ..." She bent down and began placing soft kisses on Dean's neck, collar bone, and shoulders, followed by her tongue lightly dancing across Dean's lips.

"Oh, yeah..." Dean mumbled as she felt a throb beginning at her core, "I ... really need, ah, ..." Her words were cut off as her lips were captured by Katie's and the only conversation that followed were moans of pleasure and barely audible chants of affirmation at the peek of their arousal. Unbeknownst to the lovers consumed in their passions, the orbs on the headboard began to glow very faintly.

* * * * *

Chapter 4

Thursday, 0630 Hours

Butter, Sugar, and Spice followed their two masters to the living room and watched as they donned their coats, set the security alarms, and left for their daily commute to their jobs. Jumping onto the back of the couch and straining to see around the corner of the house, the three felines watched and waited until the twin Boxsters pulled down the road. When the vehicles were out of site, they bounded from the couch and scampered through the house to the master bedroom where they immediately went to the headboard. Butter and Sugar took up a position on the pillows facing the two luminescent balls while Spice boldly nudged each one and mewed softly before joining her mates on the pillows. Almost instantly, the blue-green ball began to pulse, soon changing shape from the solid orb into a blue-green cloud that moved over the bed and onto the floor. Three pairs of eyes followed the apparition as it shimmered and stretched itself into a more human shape, pulsing more rapidly as it became solid flesh and bone. The last change came as a brilliant blue-green flash emanated from the eye sockets before finally solidifying into a pair of blinking, seeing eyes. The transformation was now complete and the three cats purred at the sight of their taller master standing naked before them. She was an exact duplicate of Dean, with one exception. This Dean had green eyes that were as clear as a gemstone.

"Hello there my little friends," she cooed as she stroked each purring feline. Picking up Sugar, Janai gently examined the cat, tuning in to the cats physiology and noting that she had a seizure disorder. "Poor thing," she whispered in Sugar's ear. "I know just the thing that will fix that for you." She put the cat back down on the bed and ran her fingers along the sides of the animal. Starting at the head and following through to the tip of her tail, she repeated the process but this time a slight glow appeared to emanate from her hands. On the third pass, Sugar dropped down to the bed and immediately fell asleep. "That's it little one, you'll be fine when you wake up. I may be as vulnerable as my benefactor in this human form, but I still have many of my enhancements available to me, so why not put them to good use." She stroked the cat affectionately and watched as her mates sniffed her approvingly, then snuggled next to her for their morning nap. Next, Janai walked over to the full-length dressing mirror and admired her new form. "Nice." Flexing her muscles and turning to peer at her backside, she nodded approvingly. "Good choice, Janai. This form will do you well," she told herself. "But this hair will have to be altered." She ran her fingers through the long tresses before turning back to the bed.

"Well, my Princess, I guess I'd better see what I can do for you." She looked around the room and spotted Katie's hairbrush. "Ah, this will do." She examined the brush and selected a single strand of Katie's blonde hair from the brush, and then walked over to the headboard, picking up the other ball. Janai and Alana had assumed the suspended spherical state when the two humans decided to make a move toward them. The only way out of that state was to resume the amorphous cloud shape or wait to assimilate some human fluid or tissue sample and replicate that human's form. They didn't count on the two humans picking them up and taking them home with them, but it seemed that things were going to work out all right after all. They luckily were transported to the United States, which was their final destination anyway. Unfortunately, all their clothes, money, and identifications were still back on St. John. Janai knew she could Îcreate' duplicates, but that would require a good deal of energy and she did not want that energy expenditure detected just in case Varian's men were seeking them out.

She placed Alana's ball and the hair sample in her right hand and closed her fist around them for a few seconds then opened her palm. The hair had been absorbed by the sphere, which was now pulsing a bluish-purple. Setting the ball on the floor, she watched as it changed shape, stretching upward and taking form. Soon, the naked body standing before her was identical to Katie, except for the eyes. Hers were a deep blue, almost violet in hue.

"Thank you, Janai. That suspended state is very uncomfortable. I was afraid we were going to have to accept their form," she joked pointing at the cats before continuing, "until that welcome bit of blood fell on you last night." Alana went to the mirror much as Janai had done, to assess her new form. "Ohhh, I like this one. It's the nicest one I've had yet." She ran her fingers up and down her new body, relishing the feel of her hands, and the hidden strength she felt under her new skin.

Janai watched as Alana explored her body. Remembering the physical exchange between the real Dean and Katie the night before, she began wondering what it would feel like to touch Alana in that manner. "I suppose we should put some clothes on. It wouldn't be practical for us to travel around in this state of undress," she advised, shaking off the erotic thoughts.

Janai opened the door to the walk-in closet, waving her princess in, and then followed behind her. When they exited, they were dressed in jeans, sweatshirts over t-shirts and tennis shoes. They stopped to view themselves once more in the full-length mirror before exiting to explore the rest of the house and to glean information about the humans whose form they had adopted. Janai had found a band for her hair and had pulled it back into a ponytail, thus eliminating the urge to cut it off.

"Well Janai, let's see what we can find out about our benefactors." Alana led the way, observing the clean, neat home with respect as they toured each room, followed by the three curious cats.

When they arrived at the den, Janai began an earnest exploration of the room. Her curiosity peaked when she found many locked drawers and the secure closet where Dean kept a lot of her Îspecial' equipment. Waving her hand over the locks she opened them for her inspection. The first area inspected was the huge walk-in closet. The items held within earned an appreciative nod from Janai although she was surprised to see them. During their visit, they had not come across such a collection of items in one place before. Her eyes scanned a wall of weaponry that included handguns and rifles of a variety of makes and models. A separate closet off of this one held various pieces of electronic items, protective gear, night vision equipment, and communication modules. On the den wall there was an impressive display of knives and short swords. The latter items intrigued Janai as to their actual usefulness, but they certainly did present quite a visual presentation of unique items.

Going through the drawers built into the wall, she pulled them out one-by-one. Each drawer was covered and lined with silicone-impregnated cloth. When she pulled back the cover, the first drawer held several handguns and their matching ammo clips in depressions specifically designed for them. Picking up one of the pistols, Janai examined it in detail, enjoying the feel of the weapon in her hand.

"Primitive, but quite useful for this time and place. I wonder if this is common with the people in this area?" Returning it to its molded depression, she continued her inspection, occasionally selecting an item for further review. The third and fourth drawers held displays of antique weapons all in excellent shape. There were Colts, Remington's, and Smith & Wesson's. Some were percussion models and some were early rim fire models. All were in pristine condition. As Janai finished examining the last drawer, Alana came into the closet.

"Janai, I think you will find this interesting," she spoke quietly as she backed out of the closet and returned to the antique roll top desk that was in the room.

Curious about Alana's request, Janai scanned the closet, making sure that every item was in its original position before she followed Alana to the desk. Alana had raised the roll top and had a small black notebook lying on the desk pad. She was reading the pages intently when Janai stepped up to the desk.

"What is so interesting, Alana?" she asked as she peeked over her shoulder at the neat, hand written pages.

Alana looked up and smiled. "It seems that the human you have adopted is much more than what she appears. Take a look at this." She handed her protector the small notebook and sat back as she watched Janai read. As she did, Janai began turning the pages faster and faster until she reached the end and looked up at Alana in question.

"Surely, this is a work of fiction?" she queried as she handed it back to Alana.

"I think not," came the crisp reply. "If it is, would it not be on the bookshelves upstairs?"

"Where did you find it?"

Alana removed the desk pad and pointed to a series of fine lines in the woodwork that, to an untrained eye would seem to be indiscriminate scratches in the antique desktop. As she pressed each section, they could hear a series of clicks finally causing a wooden lid to a hidden compartment to lift, barely exposing the top of it. Gently pressing on the back of the lid, the front raised up enough for her to insert her fingernail and raise it completely. "In here," she pointed to the interior that held a series of identical books each with an earlier date embossed on the cover. There was also a copy of Deanna's military records. Included were several military certificates of recognition. Each certificate described the reason for the specific award. Some were made out to Lieutenant Deanna Peterson, some to Captain Deanna Peterson, and several to Major and Lieutenant Colonel Deanna Peterson. "It seems your benefactor is also a protector. Her file is very impressive."

Janai flipped through the file, beginning to get a better picture of just who this human she adopted really is. Then she reached in and selected another notebook, quickly scanning the contents, and selecting another until she had viewed all of the notebooks. "Well, this certainly explains the closet with all the weaponry."`

"I thought you would find this interesting. She has had to walk a very dark path in the name of her country."

Janai nodded, understanding the fierce loyalty that must have driven her benefactor. She too could appreciate the call of duty, knowing fully that she would willingly give her life for Alana's safety. "What of your human? Have you found out anything about her? Does she also follow as dark a path?"

Alana, shrugged as she stood and went to the computer station. She sat at the desk entering quick efficient keystrokes and pulled up a specific screen before answering Janai's question.

"It seems my entity has tracked a different course. She has much the same qualities and abilities, but has not had to make the hard decisions or complete the dark tasks that yours has." She returned to the computer and pulled up Katie's electronic journal. "As you can see, she keeps her records in a more auspicious place."

Janai scrolled through the journal with incredible speed, easily agreeing with Alana's interpretation, only slowing her reading for the entrees of the past year. Her curiosity grew with the human's words regarding her relationship with Dean. Wondering if Alana was equally curious, she asked, "Did you read it all?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes I did." Ah, Janai, she thought to herself, the last year is quite interesting, isn't it? Changing tact, she said, "I believe my father is right. I have a lot to learn from the people of this world."

"Well, if you are going to learn more, we should probably be on our way. Do you know where you want to go next?"

Alana thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, the capital of this country is near here. I suggest we start there. I'm sure there will be many things we can learn."

It was nearly mid-day before they prepared to leave. They had scouted out some old jackets they hoped wouldn't be missed, said their goodbyes to the three cats, and Îborrowed' a tattered map of DC that Alana found in the bottom drawer of the desk along with a bus schedule and Metro map. Janai handled the security system, easily programming it to allow them to exit before it reset automatically. As they walked down the road, Alana looked back at the house wondering if she would ever have the chance to meet these interesting humans face-to-face. She felt she had many questions she would like to ask them, but then, if they ever did meet, she was sure there would be many questions asked of them too. Janai too, looked back over her shoulder at the house, only she had a disturbing feeling that she had overlooked something. Sighing, she pushed the worry from her mind, concentrating her powers on her surroundings as she slipped into her protector role.

* * * * *

Thirty-some miles to the north of Occoquan in Falls Church, Virginia, the bodies of Eddie Lowe and Angie DiAngelo were found by one of their colleagues when they failed to show for work for the second day and did not answer their phone. They were still in their bed, lying in each other's arms. There were no outward signs of foul play except for the eerie feeling the coroner had...that they knew they were embracing each other for the last time. The police had arrived on the scene and were handling their deaths as possible homicides at the coroner's request. A final determination as to the cause of death would come after an autopsy of the bodies. A homicide detective was sitting on the couch questioning the young woman who found the deceased.

"When was the last time you saw Mr. Lowe and Ms. DiAngelo," Detective Graves asked gently.

A tear streaked face looked up. "Um, it was..." tears glistened in the reddened eyes. "I'm sorry, it's just..." she grabbed another tissue.

"I understand," he said softly. "Just take your time, ma'am."

Nodding, Felicia Weathers blew her nose once more in the tissue. "It was the day after Christmas. I took Eddie and Angie to the airport. They were going on this..." she sniffled, wiping her nose again. "...trip to St. John. In the Caribbean ...you know?"

"Did you talk to them when they got back?" He probed.

"Uh, yeah. The day after New Year's." She nodded somberly, remembering the phone call. "Angie called from the airport to say they were back. I was supposed to pick them up, but my car broke down." She shook her head. "Eddie just laughed and said that they would take a cab back here. He was always giving me a hard time about my car..."

"Was anything wrong? Did they tell you about anything that happened on their trip?"

She thought for a bit. "Well, Angie was just rattling away like she usually does. She gets...got very animated when she talked. I remember thinking that Eddie was probably ready to strangle her. I could hear him in the background telling her she could tell me all about the trip at work the next day."

"Strangle her? Was Eddie an abusive boyfriend?"

"Oh, no...no, nothing like that! He adored her. He just would roll his eyes and pretend to strangle her when she got on one of her talking streaks." Felica chuckled, then broke down in tears again. "I,...I guess he won't be doing that again."

"I see," the detective nodded in sympathy as he handed her another tissue. "So, they weren't alarmed at anything, or worried about anything?"

"No, in fact, Angie was real excited about this cave dive they did on the last day. She said she had a real story to tell me tomorrow...uh, the next day. Something about this thing they saw and a piece of marble or something that they found," she thought again, "Yeah, something like that."

Detective Graves finished jotting down his notes before asking a final question. "What kind of marble? A statue or something made from marble?"

"She didn't say, only that she would tell me about the trip at school."

"Okay." He jotted a note to look for something made of Îmarble' in the apartment. "Is there anything else you can think of that may be helpful? Were they into drugs? Or kinky sex?"

She shook her head again, "No! Not them! Neither one of them would do drugs or do anything weird. They were really stable. You know, good heads on their shoulders, respectable...that kind of thing"

"Are you sure? Maybe they got into something bad on their trip? It happens," the officer suggested.

"No way! Those two were really health nuts. They wouldn't eat anything with preservatives. They only ate fresh fruit and veggies, rarely eating red meat, and hardly drank at all, except for lots of water." She paused and looked up at the detective. "Who would do this? Eddie and Angie were just the sweetest two people. I just don't understand."

"We'll do the best we can to get to the bottom of this, Ms. Weathers." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. "If you think of anything else, just give me a call." He stood and gave the young woman a comforting squeeze on the shoulder before going back into the bedroom to talk to the coroner.

Walking into the back room, he watched the coroner's attendants finish loading the body bags onto the gurneys. Detective Graves nodded as he walked past them to talk to the coroner.

"Hey, Doc," he said as he stepped up to the newly assigned medical examiner. "What's your take on this?"

The new coroner was a tall, curvaceous redhead with a southwestern drawl. She had been with the department for only a month and already had most of the police force, including some of the female officers, salivating with desire "Well, there's no visible cause of death, Pete. Outwardly, they both seem to have been healthy and fit," she added. "But the weirdest thing...wait guys!" she called to the morgue attendants as they started to take the gurney with the body bags out of the bedroom. "C'mere and take a look at this. Then tell me what you don't see." She unzipped the first bag and gently turned the body over, exposing the back. Then she did the same thing with the female body. "Now, what's wrong?"

"Hmm," Detective Graves hummed, then looked at the backs of both bodies again, then the fronts. "There's no sign of pooling blood."

"Good man!" the coroner exclaimed with pride. "You're absolutely right. I figure these two have been dead for at least twenty-four hours. From the position we found them in, there should be signs of pooled blood on their backsides."

He nodded in agreement and then asked, "So, why isn't there any?"

For an answer the tall coroner just shrugged her shoulders and responded, "That's what I mean about weird. Guess we'll have to wait and see what the autopsy reveals." She snapped off her latex gloves and tossed them in the trash bag taped to the gurney. "The lab guys will be here for a bit. We'll know more in a day or two when all the test results are in."

"You've got my number, right?" he asked smiling.

"Yours and just about everyone else's," she laughed heartily. "C'mon. I'll buy ya a cup of coffee while they finish up in here."

Stepping around the lab boys, they left the apartment and headed for the Starbucks on the corner.

Two blocks from Angie and Eddie's apartment, a teenage boy hurriedly turned the corner on his way home from school and bumped into a man quickly walking down the street. The stunned teenager looked up to see his school counselor.

"Hey, Mr. Lowe! I came to your office today for my appointment, but they said you weren't there. Playing hooky, eh?" the youngster joked.

The man who looked exactly like Eddie Lowe, stared at the youngster for a brief second, then kept on walking, ignoring the confused state of the teenager. As he walked, he pulled out a packet of photos of the couple's trip to St. John. The last photo in the pack was a group shot on a diving cruise boat. He flipped it over and found the names of each person printed on the back. "Ah, that's better," the man said as he pocketed the photo and tossed the rest into a trash can on the street corner. Looking at the bank building next to him, he caught his reflection in the window of the bank and thought back to the comment by the youngster. "Well," he softly spoke to himself, "you better find another body to shift into...it won't do to have a dead man walking about." With that, he began to search for a likely donor.

* * * * *

Janai and Alana had walked to the main intersection in Occoquan after leaving Dean and Katie's home. As they looked down the road for the express bus that would take them into DC an unmarked police car pulled to the curb next to them.

"Hey, Colonel," Lieutenant Green called after rolling down the window and followed with a nod at the other woman, "Hi, Katie. You two just out for a stroll?"

At first confused, Janai recovered quickly, and nodded at the man in the car. Realizing that he must be a friend of the humans, she smiled at him and answered, "No, just waiting for the bus into DC."

The Lieutenant shook his head and laughed. "You mean to tell me that those matched Boxsters are on the fritz already?" He laughed again before adding, "Buy American next time!"

Alana realized that the man must have been referring to something the women owned, so she decided to just go with his comment and hopefully give him an answer that would make sense. "Oh, no...we're just going to meet some friends and thought we'd go in on the bus. They're bringing us back later." She remember seeing a billboard about friends not letting friends drive drunk, then added, "Don't want to drink and drive."

Janai nodded at Alana and made a note to compliment her princess on her quick thinking later.

"Good idea, Katie," the police officer agreed then had a thought. "Hey, I've got to go to the airport to pick up my brother. I can drop you off at the Metro stop there if you want. That'll save you the bus trip in. The Metro is so much faster."

Alana and Janai looked at each other hesitating and trying to come up with an appropriate response.

Seeing the hesitation, the police officer elaborated that he was off duty and it wouldn't be a breech of department ethics. "Besides, you're both government employees, so technically you're not civilians." He chuckled as he slid over on the bench seat and opened the door for them. "C'mon. It's just a short ride anyway."

"It's not..." Janai started.

"...a bad idea," Alana cut in, smiling at a surprised Janai. "The Metro stop would be fine."

"Great! Hop in!" Lieutenant Green slid back behind the wheel as the two women moved to get in. "You can tell me about your trip to St. John on the way up."

Janai gave Alana a Îlook what you got us into' glare as she waved Alana into the front seat first before sliding in next to her and closing the door. From what Janai could remember during her quick review of the map they'd found, the airport would be at least a twenty-minute ride. Making conversation with someone who obviously knew their benefactors, while they didn't even know his name, was going to be tricky unless Alana would be able to use her ability to read thoughts. But that meant she would have to touch him. She scooted closer to Alana, causing her to slide even closer to the driver; it was a tight fit in the front seat anyway, but the extra contact might help.

Alana smiled at Janai as her leg came into contact with the man. She closed her eyes for a brief moment then said, "So, Lieutenant do you really want to know about our trip?"

"Sure thing, Katie. I've never been to St. John, but heard it's beautiful." He checked his mirrors then pulled away from the curb. "Tell me all about it."

Alana began with a description of the island; it's lush vegetation, beautiful beaches, and sparkling clear water. She told him about the friendly people, the shops and island foods. She could speak from experience because they had been there observing the island people. It was their last stop before going on to the United States for the last leg of their earth tour. Luckily they had been on earth for quite some time and were accustomed to the different languages and particulars of many countries. They had saved the United States for their final stop before returning home because Alana's father said they would learn the most there. By the time she finished telling Lieutenant Green about the sea life they observed, he was pulling up to the entrance of the Metro stop at Reagan National Airport. Janai was only too glad to get out of the car when the Lieutenant announced the stop.

"Thanks for the ride," Janai said in a controlled tone as she closed the car door and waived. Lieutenant Green returned the gesture as he pulled away from the curb and headed toward the parking area.

"See, that went well," Alana said as they walked to the elevator leading to the Metro stop.

"It's a good thing you were able to use your ability to read thoughts," Janai huffed.

"You worry too much Janai. He'd never been to that island, so he wouldn't know if what I told him was correct or not anyway. Besides, everything I told him was fact. Now, let's go see what we can learn about this country and it's people."

Lieutenant Green was turning into a vacant parking slot when he got the strangest feeling that something wasn't quite Îright' about his little visit with Dean and Katie. The more he thought about it, the more he couldn't put a finger on it. Dean was very quiet and reserved, but that was normal. Katie seemed to be her bubbly self and that was normal too, but there was something...he just had this gut feeling. "Nah, it's just your imagination," he told himself as he pulled into the short-term parking lot.

* * * * *

The double for Eddie Lowe found his donor as he rode on the Orange line train from the Metro stop in East Falls Church. At the Court House stop, a young man had entered the train. The man was in his mid twenties, tall and blond, with an athletic build. The double positioned himself next to the young man as he waited for the train to depart the station, listening as his target chatted idly with the female he was with. The man was a Marine, newly assigned to Quantico and he and his girlfriend were doing some sightseeing. When the train jerked to life and began picking up speed as it left the station, the double bumped the man hard as he intentionally lost his balance. It was just enough of a distraction to take a tiny sample of the man's blood with his palmed extractor from the Marine's thigh and...pick his pocket. Apologizing, the double quickly moved to an open seat, grabbed the newspaper that was left there and opened it, effectively hiding his face from them while he absorbed the blood sample. The next stop was the Rosslyn transfer station where the couple got off to visit the Iwo Jima Memorial. When the double put the newspaper back down, he was a mirror image of the young Marine. He watched as the young couple walked to the escalator and rose out of sight. As the doors began to close, he put the newspaper back on the empty seat next to him and gazed out the window at the crowd waiting for the next southbound train. His watchful eyes caught the sight of a tall, uniformed female. It only took an instant for him to register the face. He pulled out the photo from his pocket and smiled as he located her standing behind Eddie and Angie in the picture. He flipped it over and noted the name, Dean, followed by Wash., DC. There was one other listing with the same city, that one had the name Katie next to it.

* * * * *

Chapter 5

Thursday, 1530 Hours

Alana and Janai spent the entire afternoon at the National Archives and the Museum of American History, absorbing as much as they could about the country they were in. Thanks to their ability to read and retain visual images and words as quickly as they viewed them, they were able to absorb a wealth of information in a short time. Both visitors were amazed at the speed with which the new nation rose to become a leading power among earths many countries. The leadership abilities of their people were definitely a lesson to be learned. And the hardships they had overcome to keep their fledgling country united had made an impression on both Janai and Alana. Janai, the protector, marveled at the superiority of the military forces while Alana, the Princess, was equally impressed with the democracy and statesmanship of the country's top leaders.

"Father is right. There is a lot to be learned from these people."

Janai remained silent and merely nodded as they walked out of the building. "Where do you want to go next?" Janai asked as they came out to the sidewalk.

"I'd like to look at some of the monuments they built to honor their leaders. There's more to be learned just by the way they erect the tributes to their great leaders."

The late afternoon light was beginning to fade and temperature began to drop as they walked down The Mall towards the Washington Monument. Most of the people they saw were scurrying to bus stops and Metro stations, eager to head to warmer homes or hotel rooms. Alana and Janai for the most part, were not much affected by the cold breeze even though they did begin to feel the chill as they walked along the Tidal Basin on their way to the FDR Memorial. Walking through the outdoor rooms of this unique monument, Janai was impressed with what she saw. His courage and optimism as he faced the trials of his terms in office...his remarkable wife who championed human rights...and his determination and leadership as he led his country through war to a victory he never lived to see. Reading aloud, Janai was particularly struck by his quote on war:

"I have seen war.  I have seen war on land and sea.  I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud.  I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving.  I have seen the agony of mothers and wives.  I hate war."

"It's a brave man who detests war so much, but yet does not bend to the winds of war and instead, lead his country to victory," Janai said solemnly after she finished reading the quote and walked on.

"Yes, Janai, you're right. I only hope that I never have to face that kind of a decision when my time comes to sit in my father's place. I just hope that the rumors of rebellion in the western provinces are just that...rumors and nothing more. We have had peace in our lands for so long I'm afraid our people would wish to seek the easy road to resume their tranquility no matter what the price."

Janai stopped, turning to gaze at her princess, looking past her youthful earthly body and seeing her as the next leader of their homeland. "My Princess," she began seriously as she reached out, placing her hands on Alana's shoulders, "I have every faith in your ability to rule our land. Your wisdom and compassion are well beyond your years and you have the best advisors in our land at your disposal."

Alana smiled as she lifted her hands to gently caress Janai's cheeks. "I have you, Janai. That's more than I'll ever need." The desire to initiate the touch was not new to her. She knew she had been falling in love with her protector for a very long time now and had often dreamt of what it would be like to touch her. However, to actually carry out the desire was a new development, and she momentarily wondered where the boldness came from. Alana kept her hands along Janai's cheeks a moment longer, relishing the feeling that gesture was eliciting in her human body and triggering a deep seeded wanting in her...she wanted more. She wanted to touch Janai in places that would speak of her love. That would communicate how she truly felt about her protector and that would bring pleasure to Janai...and to herself. The urge was so great at this moment and she wanted to fulfill that desire here and now. Her body desperately ached for it. Alana closed her eyes daring to read Janai's thoughts, smiling inwardly to realize that she too had a longing.

The touch startled Janai. It was the first time Alana caressed her in such a tender fashion. And, she was not in a hurry to have that sensation discontinued. In fact she longed to be able to reciprocate with one of her own and found herself almost imperceptibly leaning into Alana's hands. The warmth she felt coming from those hands traveled inward, reaching around the heart she felt thumping wildly in her chest. It was a remarkable sensation, and a wonderful one, one she cherished almost as much as the deep love she felt for her princess. Love? Janai was struck by the thought. Is it love I feel for Alana? Or, is it duty, honor, and respect? The confusion in her mind grew and warred with her sense of duty.

Standing there, gazing into one another's eyes, time seemed to become suspended. As if in slow motion, they found themselves moving closer together until their bodies were touching, pressing closer and closer. Alana's head shifted, raising her face to meet her protectors as they inched closer still. Both hearts were pounding forcefully as their lips were now but a breath apart. They could feel the warmth of each other's breath as they exhaled and fell into each other's gaze.

"Hey! Lookit the queers!" came a shout from behind them.

"Yo! Which one's the wife?" shouted one of the teens.

"Ain't the big dyke, that's for sure," came another response.

Startled, Janai and Alana, pulled apart and looked towards the group of teenagers approaching them. Janai swept Alana behind her for protection and assumed her full height, readying herself.

"Why don't you lezzies take a hike! This is a public place and we don't like your kind messing it up." The teen that was obviously the group's leader approached with a macho swagger.

"Why don't you young men just leave us alone before someone gets hurt," Janai stated calmly as the youngster continued to approach. She assessed the level of threat from the group and decided that it was miniscule if that. The teens were no match for her strength and powers.

The young leader stopped and looked around holding his arms out. He was nearly Janai's height, but composed of more fat than muscle. "Oh, tough butch, huh?" He looked back at his buddies and laughed. "I dunno guys...are you scared you'll get hurt?" Laughter arose from the three teens behind him.

Alana pressed her hand on Janai's back and whispered. "Come, Janai. They're just boys and we wouldn't want to hurt anyone."

Janai nodded, heeding the words of her princess and relaxed her stance a bit. "Okay, we're leaving," she told the leader of the group, holding out her right hand in a peaceful motion. She reached back with her left hand and motioned for Alana to start backing away. As they reached the stairs leading to the Tidal Basin they turned to descend them, leaving the jeering teens behind.

When they were halfway down the steps, one of the teens threw a stone at them, hitting Alana squarely in the back and eliciting a groan from her. Janai turned and in one fluid motion fixing the group with a deadly stare, daring them to continue. The teens immediately stopped their forward motion, dropping the stones they had picked up from the landscaping around the shrubbery, all except the tallest boy. He grunted and turned away in a feint, then whirled back and hurled the stone at Janai. Her reaction was quick and decisive. She raised her right hand holding the palm towards the object and sent a mild burst of a force field toward it. The stone never made it much beyond the boy's hand as it shattered sending shards directly back at the boys. Then another invisible force field emanated from Janai's eyes sweeping towards the teens, knocking them hard onto the flagstone where they remained dazed and motionless. Janai turned back to Alana taking her elbow firmly and guided her the rest of the way down the stairs.

"Are you all right Princess?" Janai questioned as they hurried down the walkway.

"Yes, it was just a stone. I'm fine."

"They could have hit your head, Princess, and I don't know how your human body would react."

"Did you hurt the boys?" Alana immediately began to worry.

"No, they'll be fine. Just dazed for a bit. Perhaps they'll think twice now before they try that again."

Once they were out of range, Janai focused on getting them back to where they would be able to find a hotel for the night. Neither dared talk about what had almost happened between them as they made their way back toward the city proper. Their bodies were still tingling from the initial contact and both walked in silence as they tried to process the powerful feelings that had surfaced within each. Janai's thoughts scolded her for dropping her guard, what if one of Varian's men had found us at that moment? I would have failed in my duty. Alana could have been killed. I must stop these confusing feelings! I must concentrate my powers on my duty. I must!

Finally, Alana broke the silence. "I suppose we'll need to find some currency if we plan on staying in a hotel," she commented as they headed across Constitution Avenue.

"Yes," Janai agreed, thankful for the distraction. "I saw one of the dispensing machines just up the street here. We'll get what we need there."

A few minutes later, Janai was standing in front of the ATM, slowly moving her faintly glowing hand over the machine while Alana watched for anyone to take notice. The screen lit up requesting the amount desired. Janai punched in an amount and waited as the machine processed the information, then rolled out the bills. She took them from the machine, folding them and placing them into her jeans pocket. Then she waved her hand over the machine, resetting the mechanism for the next customer.

"That should do," she said as she turned around. "There is a hotel, the Hotel Washington, just a few blocks from here. We can spend the night there."

"What about clothes? We should have something with us when we check in or they may get curious."

"We can say our bags were lost. No need to worry about that now, I'm sure we'll find a suitable place to shop tomorrow," Janai commented as she led Alana in the direction of the hotel. I'm more worried about tonight, she thought as her mind returned to that suspended moment in time just before the boys showed up.

As they continued to walk in silence, both reflected on the intense moment they shared before the group of teens showed up. Janai continued to reprimand herself for the brief lapse and focused her powers on protection, tuning in to her surroundings, and looking for potential danger. Glancing over at Alana as they walked beneath the warm glow of the streetlights, Janai watched as the lights danced in the blonde's hair. A thin smile was on Alana's lips and Janai wondered what her princess was thinking about just then. When a stiff breeze hit them as they turned the corner, Janai was shaken back to duty, reflexively draping her arm around her smaller companion. Looking ahead, she concentrated on their objective...two more blocks...pay attention, Janai. Staring straight ahead as they walked, she missed seeing Alana's smile increase to a full grin.

* * * * *

The Marine's double got off the Metro at the next stop and crossed over to the southbound side. He boarded the next blue train and was headed back to the Rosslyn station within minutes. He knew he would not find the woman standing on the deck, but thought he knew where she might be headed. Two stops later he exited at the Pentagon station. The Metro stop was under major construction so it took him a bit to walk out and see the massive military building within a short distance. It was early afternoon and he had a lot to do before he could return to implement the plan he formulated on the Metro. Turning, he went back down the escalator and boarded the next train. Once he hit the suburbs, he began his search. Finding the shop he was looking for, he entered and bought the needed items. It took a while before he had his outfit complete, but once he walked out of the shop, he definitely looked the part. Carrying the packed duffle bag, he went back to the Metro and boarded the next train to the Pentagon. He was amazed at the courtesy he received from fellow train passengers when they saw him in his Marine uniform. He hoped he knew enough about this country and its military to get by with his plan. After asking a few questions, he found out the majority of Army personnel entered and exited the building at the Mall Entrance so that would be where he would position himself for the wait. At 5:30 he saw his target emerge from the building and head to the parking lot. He followed at a discrete distance, closing the gap when the woman stopped at her vehicle.

Colonel Peterson was in a very good mood as she exited the Pentagon for her trip home. The day had gone well and her review of incoming reports showed no major concerns popping up on her intelligence radar screen. She was happily whistling the theme from a television show when she caught the reflection of a Marine approaching in the driver's door window of her Boxster and putting her on alert.

"Excuse me, Colonel," he began with a broad smile. "I was wondering if you could give this lost jarhead some direction." He stood at attention with a salute held.

Colonel Deanna Peterson looked up at the young Marine and returned the salute, relaxing from her alerted state. "Well, I've got to admit when a Marine calls himself a Îjarhead' to an Army officer, you'll get my attention. What can I do for you Corporal?"

"Well, Ma'am, I just was assigned to Quantico..."

"You're definitely lost then," she added, her good mood was evident in a dazzling grin.

"Yes, Ma'am. I am. You see I decided to get off the train here in DC and see the sights before I headed over to the base, but now that I'm here...well, Ma'am...I'm a bit turned around. Could you point me in the right direction?"

"Tell you what Corporal. I'll do better than that." What the heck, she thought as she walked over to the trunk and unlocked it. What could it hurt to do a good deed once in a while? Besides, he's part of our military family and we should help each other out when we have a chance. You never know when you may need a little help yourself. "Toss your duffle in here and I'll give you a lift half-way there."

Yes, Ma'am! Thank you, Ma'am!" He was delighted that this was working out better than he expected. He had hoped to just meet her and if necessary, overpower her until he could use his powers to find out what he could, but this was even better. He might not have to even kill this human.

Getting into the Boxster, they drove south to Occoquan, Virginia. They drove in relative silence through the rush hour traffic only exchanging names, but once they hit Interstate 95, their conversation picked up.

"So, where you coming from Corporal?" Dean asked as she pulled out into the passing lane. The speedometer was hitting 80 and she was pushing it past the speed limit...just a tad.

"Arizona, Ma'am. Fort Huachuca." He had studied the contents of the Marine's wallet, anticipating these types of questions and hoped he got the pronunciation correct.

"Never been there. What's it like?"

"Hot, Ma'am. Just hot."

Dean chuckled at his response. "Well, Quantico can get hot too, but at least you'll have rain once in a while. It may take you a bit to get used to the humidity around here though."

"Yes, Ma'am. I'm looking forward to the rain. I'll even be glad for the humidity."

"Have you been stationed elsewhere?"

"Oh, here and there. I haven't been in that long but I'm looking forward to my assignment."

"What's your MOS?" Dean asked in polite conversation.

Temporarily at a loss, he mentally reviewed the papers he found in the wallet. Hoping he had it right, he answered, "Military Police."

"Good choice. You'll find a lot of opportunity once you leave the service with that training under your belt." Dean pressed the accelerator down a little further as she hit a piece of empty roadway. "Are you planning on making the Marines your career?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I think I'm pretty good at what I do." He smiled knowing that statement was a true fact. "It looks as though you've been in for a while Colonel. You plan on finishing your career in the Army?"

"That's my intention, Corporal." Dean looked over at the Marine as he watched the scenery slip quickly past. She smiled inwardly as she noted she was cruising down the highway at a pretty good clip and the Marine seemed not to be bothered by it. "That is, unless I get picked up speeding and end up in jail," she mumbled softly and slowed the powerful car to match the flow of traffic around her.

They chatted amiably for a while longer while he looked for a way to find out if she knew anything about the young couple that he had just eliminated. Worse case scenario, he would overpower her when they got off the highway and resort to more expedient means of finding the information he wanted. Finally he decided on an opening remark. "You look like you've been in the desert too, Ma'am. Nice tan."

"Thanks," she replied as she thought of the source of her tan. "I just got back from a short leave. I went to St. John with a friend and did some diving." Wow, I am in a good mood, she thought after volunteering that information. She looked over at her passenger, noting the athletic build. "Have you ever gone diving?"

"Only once Ma'am. I prefer to stay above water." He quickly went for the information. "I thought I'd give it a try and hoped to find some sunken treasure. Instead, I found I didn't like relying on a tank of air to breathe." He paused as if in thought. "Have you ever come across anything valuable on a dive? That one time I did go, I once found a bunch of kids toys...jacks, a toy car, even some old marbles."

"Oh, once in a while. You can find the strangest things in the ocean. Things that just don't make any sense being there, but there they are. In fact, we found a couple of marbles this last time. Strange place for something like that, but you never know what the currents will carry with them or some boater will toss overboard."

He couldn't believe his luck. First contact and he had a winner. "Really? The marbles I found were all crusty looking...I thought maybe they were gunshot at first."

"The one's we found were real beauties, very polished. Almost like they had just been dropped in. One's a blue-green and the other is a light purple, but only if you hold them up to the light. Otherwise they have an iridescent cast to them."

"They sound nice. Are you keeping them or giving them to your kids?" That description fits Janai and the Princess perfectly, he thought, not believing his incredible luck at finding them so easily.

Dean laughed, "Keeping them, but not for any kids. They'll make a nice memento of the trip. Even have a holder for them." Dean took her exit off the highway and stopped at the end of the ramp, looked both ways and turned right. The bus station was only one block away.

He was trying to decide if he should just let her go, or force her to take him to her home. As he debated, Dean pulled into the bus station.

"Here's where I let you off," she said as she pulled into a very busy parking lot. "You can get a ticket to Quantico inside. There should be a bus along pretty soon." She hit the trunk release, opened her car door, and stepped out of the car in one fluid motion. "I don't think you can get lost from here."

Caught off guard by her quick departure from the vehicle, he realized that the choice had been made for him. He opened his door and stepped out, walking to the trunk to remove his duffle. "Thank you, Ma'am. I'm sure I can find my way from here." He picked up the duffle and saluted before heading into the station. After returning the salute, Dean got back into the Boxster and headed for home.

* * * * *

Chapter 6

Thursday, 1800 Hours

Dean pulled her sleek black Porsche into the garage at exactly 1800. She no sooner got out of her vehicle and Katie pulled in next to her. As soon as Katie's car was parked, Dean hit the button to close the garage doors then walked over to open the door for Katie.

"Hey, love. Nice timing," Katie slipped out from behind the steering wheel and got out of the car, tipping her head back to receive a kiss.

"Mmm, I'll say." Dean shut the car door and they walked out of the garage and up to the house. "How was your day? Are the recruits looking good?"

"Well, after I ran them through the gauntlet on their first day, some of them were not looking too chipper today," Katie chuckled. "I thought about giving them a break, but figured they needed to be pushed hard, so I didn't."


"Good move, love. Never give them a break this early in the game, otherwise they'll be expecting it." She grabbed the mail and newspaper from the boxes by the walkway. "Do you have any outstanding students, or is it too early to tell."

"Too early, but there may be a couple of possibilities," Katie replied.

They reached the house and Dean unlocked the door and attended to the alarm system after setting the mail and newspaper on the table by the door. The cats came mewing their greeting before racing to the kitchen for their evening meal.

Katie followed them to the kitchen where she fixed their plates before heading to the bedroom. After stripping off her clothes, she went to the bathroom and began running the tub. She planned on taking a nice long bath before dinner.

"Going to take a little soak?" Dean inquired as she entered the room.

"Mmhm. I'm a little sore myself." Pouring in some Epsom salts into the water before stepping into the Jacuzzi she added, "Care to join me?"

Dean stood watching as Katie stepped into the steaming water, totally mesmerized by the magnificent body of her lover. "Now that's what I call an offer I can't refuse," Dean winked at her, "Be right back, I'm going to take the leftover pasta fagiole out of the freezer and start warming it up."

Katie turned on the jets, and leaned back, enjoying the hot, swirling water. Before she knew it, Dean was slipping in and pulling her into her arms. Allowing herself to be cradled, Katie sighed and closed her eyes, wishing time could be suspended, at least for a little while.

"You know hon," Katie breathed, "I could stay like this forever."

Dean chuckled at the vision of two old women with pruned skin sitting in a Jacuzzi full of cold swirling water. "Well, okay, but I hope you like me in soggy wrinkled skin."

"Oh, very funny," Katie chided. Then she came up with the same vision in her mind and started to chuckle too. "Well, at least we'd be a matched set."

"Mmm," Dean murmured as she moved her head to the side, kissing Katie's neck on the way to the targeted earlobe. At the same time, she lifted her hands off Katie's stomach and began exploring her supple breasts, teasing the nipples taut in the process. That maneuver elicited a small moan, so she doubled her efforts on all three fronts, smiling in satisfaction as she felt Katie's body begin to react.

Katie's voice quavered as she felt her body begin moving on it's own in response to Dean's attentions. "Ahh, umm, I guess...ungh...we could...mmm...keep the water heated using this...ahhumm, tactic."

"Mmmhmm," Dean drawled out slowly as one hand leisurely slid lower, seeking to heat up the water just a tad bit more.

* * * * *

The Hotel Washington was one of the older hotels in the city. It had served many Presidents, dignitaries and celebrities through the years and still is considered a premier lodging place. Janai and Alana were able to check in without too much trouble, but there were concerns by the desk staff when neither could produce identification. The evening manager decided that since they could pay in cash and didn't look like the type to cause trouble, he would make an exception. He even had the concierge put together a few extra toiletries in a basket: some toothpaste, deodorant and toothbrushes. He also gave them directions to the local department store when he handed Janai the room keycard and was rewarded with two gleaming smiles for his thoughtfulness.

The concierge carried the basket of toiletries to a bellman, who escorted them to their room on the fifth floor. At the room, he opened the door and handed Janai the keycard and the basket. Janai knew the drill from here, and pulled out a ten-dollar bill handing it to the man as she entered.

"Thank you, ma'am. Please call if there's anything else you need," he offered politely before heading back to the bank of elevators.

Closing and securing the door behind her, Janai let out a soft sigh. "Well, that went better than I expected."

"Yes," Alana admitted, "I was beginning to wonder if the lack of identification was going to be a problem."

The room had two double beds, an Italian marble tiled bathroom, and the usual toiletries, hairdryer, coffee maker, etc. The beds looked inviting and the view of the city was outstanding. As they entered further into the room, they removed their jackets and tossed them over the two overstuffed chairs by the window. Alana pulled back the sheer curtain and stared out at the city bathed in lights.

"This is a beautiful city," she commented quietly.

Janai walked up behind her and gazed out at the brightly lit Washington Monument. "Yes, it is. These people have a lot to be proud of."

"They're not much different than us in a physical sense, are they." It was more of a statement than a question. "I mean we look very much like these humans, for the most part."

"Yes. Our outward appearances are really much the same." She paused considering the differences. "But we have advanced so much beyond them. Just our ability to imitate other forms by latching onto their DNA ..."

"And our powers," Alana added.

Janai nodded, "Yes, especially our powers."

"But beyond that," Alana continued, "they seem to have something that we have lost."

Turning to face Alana, Janai frowned, "What do you mean?"

"They have such energy and drive. They are fiercely independent, yet compassionate and protective, yet again, provocative. I believe this is what my father wanted me to learn. To see the things we have lost. To experience their resilience, their actions in the face of challenge, and their creativity."

"Creativity?" Janai repeated as she hiked her right eyebrow up.

Alana turned and faced Janai fully. "Yes, Janai. We go through our lives in a very routine way. Everyone has a duty and everyone performs his or her duty. No one questions, there are no complications, and it's...well, so dull. Even with the occasional disturbance as with the rebels in the western area, our civilization is so boring compared to these people." She turned and looked back out on the city. "We've stopped being creative. We're complacent."

"But, our civilization is so advanced. Our creativity is what got us there." Janai frowned, not seeing what Alana was trying to get her to see.

"Yes, it got us there and then left us there. We don't see, or desire, or feel," she said with sarcasm. "We exist. That's all. Just exist. The emotions are few and far between, our passion is gone."

"Passion?" Janai queried, now hiking up both eyebrows.

Alana turned again and looked straight into Janai's eyes. "Yes, passion." She reached up and placed her hands on each side of her protector's face and was overwhelmed with the emotion of that simple act. "Even this kind of passion, Janai."

"This?" Janai began to tremble at her princess's touch aware of a growing need she recognized but was afraid to acknowledge...a physical need that rose from her core, sending her nervous system into overload. She didn't want the feeling to stop, she just knew she wanted to stay right there and give in to it. To let these emotions take hold. But could she? If she did, would she be able to maintain her attention to her duty? She knew it would be a betrayal of the responsibility she had been given. For as long as she could remember, her duty was to protect Alana. To die protecting her if necessary. It would be a betrayal of that trust given to her by Alana's father. Wouldn't it?

"Yes," Alana whispered, pulling closer and lifting her thumbs to gently explore the high cheekbones on Janai's beautiful face, not seeing the earthly one, but the true form of Janai in her mind. "You feel it too, don't you Janai," Alana smiled.

"Yes," came the simple and honest response.

Alana, bolstered by the admission, continued, "The women we replicated...they have that passion. You saw that in their actions last night. Their lovemaking was so...passionate. They were absolutely beautiful together," she paused, gathering her thoughts and steeling herself to her actions. She had always felt an attraction to Janai, at least ever since she could remember, and she'd hoped that Janai felt the same pull. The brief interlude at the memorial gave her the courage to find out if the love she now knew it to be was reciprocated. "I think somehow, their passion has entered into our physiology too. It's awakened our emotions again." Alana allowed her hands to continue tracing Janai's cheekbones, gently caressing them with her thumbs, each movement eliciting stronger sensations from them both.

Janai moved her hands, placing them behind Alana's back, gently pulling her closer. She reveled in the feel of the muscles of Alana's back as they moved beneath her touch. Once again their hearts began beating that wild tempo...harder, faster, louder. This time, no one was there to stop the movement as they inched closer. The moment their lips touched, Janai thought her eardrums would break with the sounds. Her head was spinning as her body gave in to the temptation she held back for years. The awakened emotions were so much stronger than the attraction she had previously felt for her princess. Could Alana truly feel this way for her or was it just the 'passion' of the human form speaking. Either way, she was caught up in the same flood and was swept along giving in to the current as it brought them closer to each other.

Their first kiss was soft...tentative...explorative. It opened their hearts and minds. It opened their eyes to look deep into each other's soul. For the first time in each of their lives, they truly felt whole. The gaping emptiness that was the by-product of duty was suddenly filled and surprisingly intensified their allegiance to each other. Breaking from that first kiss was the most difficult thing they had ever done and they both inhaled deeply as though starved for oxygen.

Alana buried her head in Janai's chest and sighed. "Do you understand now?"

Janai wrapped her arms fully around Alana and nodded. "Yes, my Princess. I do." She reached up with one hand and lifted Alana's chin so she could drink in her beauty with her eyes. "There's only one problem though."

Alana's eyes opened wide. "And that is?"

"I can not allow myself to fall...into this passion, this torrent of emotion. I have to remain vigilant." She sighed and pulled further away. "Earlier, I let my guard down. I did not recognize the threat approaching. Those teens could have been Varian's men...I can't allow myself to let down my guard. I can't fail my duty to you."

"Varian's men? What makes you think he has sent someone after me...us?" Alana wouldn't give up so easily, pulling Janai in close once more. "The communication...you're still worried about that and I still can't see Varian turning against my father and the High Council. The trouble with the rebels doesn't involve Varian. My father would know and he would put a stop to it.

"I fear you take the rebels too lightly, and you forget that I know Varian well, too well. I believe that he is capable of deceit and would use his influence and respect your father gives him as a tool." Janai counseled. "This group is very determined. Perhaps they too have acquired some of these human's traits, only I fear the bad ones. I can sense a presence following us. It's at the fringe of my senses, but it's there. I'm not imagining it."

"Oh, Janai. I do take their threats seriously, but I cannot believe that Varian is involved. Whatever the threat is, we shall deal with them on our return...together."

Alana's comment and implied commitment made Janai's eyebrows practically rise to her hairline. "Together? But, Alana...I don't think your father...or the High Council would approve of you taking my counsel. I am but a protector..." Her words were cut off as Alana placed her lips on hers once more. Only this time, the kiss was not soft or tentative. It was firm and hot and explorative. As she gained entrance to Janai's mouth and explored further, the sensations of pleasure rose once more. Adding her hands to the exploratory process, Alana eagerly felt Janai's body react as Janai inhaled sharply at their firm, insistent touch.

Thoughts of the two benefactors in their bed the night before slipped into place and Janai nearly fell into the abyss, but her resolve did not crumble, and she gently, but in a positive way pushed herself away from Alana's pursuit. "I...I can not," she said with great effort. "I must hold fast to my duties. I must keep you safe."

Saddened, Alana stopped her attempts as she searched Janai's eyes, seeking some affirmation of the love she felt for her companion. "Janai, can you honestly tell me that you won't...no...don't love me?"

In response, Janai smiled and cupped Alan's face with her right hand. "The body you adopted is quite beautiful, but not as beautiful as your true form," she smiled at her charge, allowing her thumb to gently brush Alana's lips. "I can honestly tell you that I do love you. I realized today that I have loved you for a very long time. But my position, my responsibility, is to keep you safe and I can not do that if I'm distracted...if my senses are overloaded."

Alana smiled and whispered, "Why Janai, I do believe you are complimenting me."

Janai blushed and lowered her gaze only to have her head lifted by Alana's hand. "Thank you, Janai." She reached up and pulled her protector down into another kiss, this time shorter, but still full of tenderness and love. "Janai...I love you. I have loved you for a very long time..."

"As I have loved you," Janai cut in. She smiled as she saw a tear escape from Alana's deep blue eyes. Bending her head down, she kissed the tear, picking up the sweet salty taste on her lips. "A tear? Have you taken on that emotion too?"

Alana smiled back. "Just a bit of joy escaping. You have given me hope tonight and my heart is overwhelmed with joy."

"As is mine," was Janai's simple response. "As is mine."

* * * * *

With dinner consumed and the dishes washed and put away, the two women settled in the living room with their evening cup of Chamomile tea. Settling in her favorite chair, Dean opened the newspaper and scanned the headlines. Katie picked up the new Clive Cussler novel she bought that afternoon at the newsstand next to the cafeteria and headed for the recliner. The three felines that had been snoozing since they finished their evening meal decided it was time to stretch and find a lap to sit in. Sugar was the exception. Instead of the normal nightly routine where she would settle in one of her master's lap for the rest of the evening, Sugar uncharacteristically decided it was time to play. She jumped up on Katie's lap, meowed and rubbed her head on the hands holding the book. Katie obligingly reach out to pet the normally quiet, docile cat and was surprised when Sugar flopped down and pulled the proffered hand to her belly where the feline began licking the hand in long quick strokes. After five licks, she jumped up, releasing the hand and leapt to the back of Katie's chair. From there, she pounced on an unsuspecting Butter who was making her way toward Dean. Ricocheting off a now prone Butter, Sugar raced around the living room floor, switched to bounding from one piece of furniture to the next, knocked the newspaper from Dean's hands, jumped to the floor and dashed to the kitchen.

A startled Dean looked over at Kate. "What's gotten into her?"

Katie, just as startled, shrugged her shoulders and followed the cat into the kitchen anticipating a resulting seizure from the unusual activity. Flipping on the light, she found the wayward cat crouched under the kitchen table, tail snapping back and forth as she concentrated on her prey: a furry toy mouse. Tossing her head several times from one side to the other, she meowed loudly and then pounced on the toy, batting and chasing it around the slick kitchen floor. Katie stood watching in amazement as Sugar played with the vigor of a six-month-old kitten.

"What's gotten into you?" she mumbled in amazement. "You haven't had that much energy in years." She pulled out a kitchen chair and observed Sugar for signs of the expected seizure that was bound to come from the excess activity only it never came. Sugar continued to play until the toy mouse finally came to rest beyond paw reach under the refrigerator. As the cat stared at her prey, Katie noted that Sugar was not even breathing hard. The joy of watching her beloved cat play soon turned to caution then fear as she worried that this may be a forewarning of doom; a final act of defiance exhibited by Sugar before she submitted to her legacy of poor health. The mere thought of losing Sugar after fifteen years brought tears to Katie's eyes. She got up and walked over to the cat picking her up gently and hugging her to her body.

"Hey, sweetie. Are you okay?" she whispered in the cat's ear. In response, Sugar gave her master a long, affectionate lick and began to purr. "I think I should get you to the clinic tomorrow for a check up, huh? This just isn't like you and you're worrying me." Sugar just looked up at her master and mewed contentedly. Running tomorrow's schedule through her mind, Katie figured she could drop Sugar off at the vet's office on her way to work. She walked over to the kitchen phone and dialed her veterinarian's office and left a message with her concerns, saying she would be by on her way to work.

The cat's actions the rest of the evening did little to calm Katie's trepidation as Sugar continued to play, antagonizing her mates, and generally acting as though she were a kitten. Finally, by the time Dean turned on the nightly newscast, Sugar had mellowed her activities and went to her bed to nap.

Reading the concern on her lover's face, Dean joined Katie on the couch and cradled her in warm, loving arms. "Worried, huh?" Dean whispered as she tightened her embrace.

"Mmhm. I haven't seen her act that way since she was a kitten."

"How long has she had been having seizures?" Dean had only known the cats for a little over a year and other than administering her medicine, she did not know the cause of the seizures.

"Since she was about five years old. She had been hit in the head by a rock thrown by some boys that lived down the block from Aunt Lois and I. We thought she was dead by the amount of blood, but when we got her to the vet's office, she started to come around." Katie paused remembering the limp body of Sugar as she laid it on the examining room table. She was a senior in high school at the time and was still living with her Aunt Lois. "She had a terrible skull depression from the force of the rock's impact and the vet kept her overnight for observation and a thorough workup on her the next day. X-rays showed a bone chip lodged in her brain. Aunt Lois and I were hoping it wouldn't result in any permanent damage, but soon after that, she began having seizures. Eventually, a tumor began to surround the bone chip, worsening the seizures. The medicine has slowed the growth, but Doctor Fabian is sure it will be her undoing. The seizure medicine keeps them at bay, but I'm worried that something is very wrong. Her behavior tonight is so atypical. She hasn't acted like this since she was a kitten."

"They weren't able to operate and remove the bone chip?"

"No, it was in a spot that was too risky. Her chances of surviving the operation were slim, and if she did, the odds were too high that she would have been paralyzed. Doctor Fabian suggested the growth inhibitors and some seizure medicines. The seizures were mild and we hoped they would eventually subside." Katie looked up and smiled. "Obviously, they didn't, but they didn't get worse either, at least until a couple of years ago. It was touch and go until he found some new medicines and he does routine scans to monitor the tumor's growth. It has been getting bigger each year, and he's said it's just a matter of time..." her voice trailed off as the thought of losing one of her feline friends sank in.

Nodding, Dean looked over at the sleeping cat. "Well, she seems to be fine right now. But it's a good idea to have her checked out. I'm sure she'll be okay."

They remained in each other's arms, each silently contemplating the strange behavior of Sugar, when the newscaster's next story caught their attention.

"A bizarre double death has the police baffled tonight as they search for a reason. The victims are Edward Lowe and Angelina DiAngelo." The yearbook faculty pictures of Eddie and Angie flashed on the screen as the newscaster continued. "The couple was found dead in their Falls Church apartment by a friend when they failed to show up for work for the second day. Both victims were employed by the Falls Church School District." The next camera clips were of the high school building where the two worked, followed by the morgue technicians loading the gurneys into the coroner's van. "The exact cause of death is still under investigation, and has the new Coroner, Doctor Evon Bell asking viewers to contact her at the number shown on the screen with any information on the activities of the couple for the last week. In other news..."

"Wow, that's the young couple that we met in St. John," Katie stated as she sat up and turned down the sound. "I wonder what happened?"

"Well, since they're looking for information on their activities for the past week, I suppose we should give this Doctor Bell a call and fill her in on what we know."

Katie nodded in agreement as she reached for the phone. Dialing the number that had appeared on the television screen, she got the Doctor's voice mail. At the tone she left their names and telephone numbers along with a short message before hanging up. "Guess she's on the phone already," Katie told Dean as she put the phone back into its cradle. Slipping back into her previous position, Katie questioned aloud, "Wonder why the Coroner's baffled?"

"Guess we'll have to wait for her to call us. How about we get ready for bed. I've got an early day tomorrow."

The two women reluctantly released each other and headed for their bedroom. Katie finished getting ready for bed first and was already dozing when Dean pulled the covers back and slid in next to her. As she reached up to turn off the bed lamp, she noticed the two marbles were not in their holders.

"Now that's strange. They were here this morning when we made the bed."

"Hmm?" a drowsy mumble came from Katie. "What's missing?"

"Your marbles. I distinctly remember them being here this morning when we made the bed." Dean looked half-heartedly around the dim room. "I'll bet the cats were playing with them."

"Mmmphf, now you're saying I've lost my marbles." Katie chuckled then yawned, "yeah, we'll find them tomorrow. Now, how about turning off the light?"

* * * * *

The squad car rolled to a stop in front of Dean's driveway. The Occoquan PD Officer got out of the squad car and pulled out his Brinkman flashlight, flipping it on to guide him around the garage, but the motion detector floodlights came on when he got close to the building. He reseated the flashlight in it's holder and as he rounded the back corner of the garage, he noticed the light at the back part of the house go out. "Well, looks like the Colonel is still awake." He walked up to the door and pressed the doorbell.

A blonde head lifted off the pillow, "Was that the doorbell?" Katie asked as she watched Dean slip out of bed and put on her robe.

"Last time I heard it, that's exactly what it sounded like," Dean quipped, earning a pillow thrown at her.

"Wise guy!" Katie responded as Dean neatly ducked. "Now, who would be here at this hour of night?" She lifted the covers and went to the chair that held her sweats. Quickly putting them on, she was right behind Dean as they walked to the intercom by the bedroom door.

"Who is it?" Dean asked as she pressed the talk button.

"It's Officer DeVoe, Occoquan PD. Sorry to bother you so late, ma'am."

"Is there a problem officer?" Dean asked.

"I hope not, ma'am. Would you mind coming to the door?"

"Just a minute," she replied as she looked over at Katie. "Do you remember an Officer DeVoe?" Dean asked the question while she walked over to her bedside table and removed her compact model HK USP9. It had a barrel length of 3.58 inches and weighed in just under a pound and a half, making it a very nice piece for up close personal protection. She checked the clip, replaced it, and made sure the safety was still on before slipping it into her robe pocket.

Katie thought for a minute, cocking her head to the side as she pondered Dean's question. "Yeah, I think so. Isn't he that cute redhead that took the initial report when my Chevy was bombed?"

"Ah," recognition dawning, "the one with all the freckles!"

"That would be the one," Katie answered with a grimace. She watched Dean pocket the firearm. "Expecting trouble?"

"Nope, but I don't trust anyone...except you, love," Dean corrected and placed a quick kiss on Katie's lips.

They walked to the front door, flipping on the house lights as they went. Dean looked through the peephole before opening the door, her right hand in her pocket firmly gripping the HK.

"What brings you out here so late Officer?"

"We're checking out the neighborhood. Seems there was a B&E just down the road earlier this evening. The night watch told us to go door-to-door to see if anyone saw anything," the officer offered with a smile. "Seems the thief did a nifty job of it. The owners didn't see anything askew until they were getting ready for bed. The wife went to put her earrings away and found they'd been cleaned out."

"Bummer," Katie chimed in. "Sure hope they're insured."

"Yes, Miss, that's a real bummer all right," he smiled again, and focused back on Dean. "You haven't noticed anything missing have you? I heard you were away for a bit."

"Yeah, we were, but we don't have anything missing. Plus, my security system is really tight."

"That's right, it is tight," Katie said, remembering the sense of humor Officer DeVoe displayed the last time they met, "but I do seem to have lost something."

Dean turned to look at Katie, one eyebrow hiked in question. "Yeah? What?"

Katie chuckled, winking at the officer and said, "You just said I lost my marbles!"

"Excuse me, Miss?" the officer cut in.

"Cute," Dean commented before turning back to the officer, "Oh, don't listen to her officer," Dean told him as she poked Katie playfully. "They're just a couple of marbles we found on our trip. The cats must have been playing with them and they're probably behind a piece of furniture or something."

"I see," he responded, nodding his head in understanding. "Well, you ladies lock up tight and have a nice night." He turned away from the two women and quickly headed down the path to the squad car.

"Hmm, that was strange," Dean commented as she watched him leave. "He never did ask if we saw anyone or anything unusual tonight."

"Yeah," Katie agreed. "And he didn't seem to recognize me either. He was flirting up a storm with me when he took the car bombing report, and tonight he hardly acknowledged me...and he seemed to have lost his sense of humor too."

"Ooo, do I detect a bruised ego?" Dean teased as she closed the door and reset the security system.

"Nooo. It's just that every time we went to the station, he always made an excuse to come over and talk to me." She thought a minute longer. "In fact, I remember him telling me that he never pulled night duty alone because he had night blindness since birth. So, where's his partner?"

They both looked out the window and watched the squad car pull down the driveway. The spotlights were still on, and they could easily see that he was alone in the car.

"Hmm, that is strange," Dean agreed as the car pulled out of view. "I'll give Lieutenant Green a call in the morning and see what's up."

* * * * *

Chapter 7

Friday, 0100 Hours

A loud splash went unheard as the Occoquan PD squad car landed in the middle of the Occoquan River, taking its occupants to a cold and watery grave. The spot on the river was remote and had one of the deeper channels. It's selection was intended to elude discovery for a long time and rescue personnel would have to contend with the stronger currents in this part of the river. A lone figure watched the vehicle submerge then headed down the path toward the main highway where a car was hidden behind a stand of evergreens. As he walked down the highway, he checked over his shoulder and then ahead of him for any late night traffic. With no cars in sight he ducked behind the evergreens and got into the late model Acura. The road was still clear of traffic as he pulled out and headed toward the Washington area. A smile of satisfaction was evident on his face.

* * * * *

Janai woke up out of a sound sleep, danger alerting her senses. She looked at the clock on the bedside table. It read 1:10 AM. The danger was very distant, she barely registered the disturbance, but she knew it was there. If she hadn't had her powers enhanced before they left Theilios, she never would have perceived the disturbance, but now she knew someone out there was using his or her powers. Powers she knew did not exist on this planet. She was now convinced that they needed to return to their homeland, but she worried she would not be able to convince Alana. Their scheduled pick-up would take place in nine earth days. Janai knew that might be too late. They may have to get to one of the alternate sites and use one of the emergency departure craft.

Ever since her people had been coming to this planet, they had seen the wisdom of securing these sites for emergency starcraft. In the three thousand years of visitations, these craft had only been needed a total of four times. Janai just hoped that the closest craft would be fully functional and they would not have to search for another one. She remembered the crash that happened the last time one was used. It had been several of their years now, and longer in earth years, but the pain of losing her parents in that crash was still fresh in her memory even though she had been just a toddler. It had occurred outside of a place called Roswell, New Mexico and the search parties that were sent had never found her parent's bodies or the wreckage.

Her parents were on earth to study the ancients that had inhabited that area and the land to the south. Her people theorized that they were descendents of those ancients and her parents were part of a team dispatched to investigate the possibilities. Their trip was going well, until that last week when the town folk in that small remote place in southern Arizona became suspicious and they just barely got out of town in time. The team headed to the escape craft and had just relayed their departure information to the homeland when the craft lost power and crashed near Roswell.

Janai and her twin brother Kerris were toddlers at the time and were staying with their Aunt Tonis, their mother's sister, and her husband Varian. Aunt Tonis was a wonderful person and after hope of finding her sister and brother-in-law alive ended, she convinced her husband to adopt the twins. She took great care of the two children who grew up thinking that she and Varian were their real parents. Varian, on the other hand, had little time for raising a family, let alone someone else's children. It was only on their birthright celebration that they found out the truth about the tragic loss of their real parents. According to Theiliosian tradition, on the day of their birthright celebration, the parents of the celebrants declare their child, and in this case, their children, as adult members of Theilios. The celebration includes a verbal history of their family to be given by the celebrants as well as a vow of allegiance to the Emperor of the Realm.

Varian never had much interest in the children. He was on a fast track to higher positions in the government and unlike many of his colleagues he was very ambitious. Eventually, he did take an interest in her brother though, and had him enrolled in the elite youth project. Tonis was furious when he separated the two siblings and fought hard to have Janai admitted into the program too. As the two siblings grew older, they took separate paths in the youth project. Janai chose to become a 'protector' while Kerris chose the 'enforcer' path. Many of the skills they learned were similar, and each was enhanced with many powers even the military did not possess, but both were virtually equal, save for their individual intelligences. Janai was had a keen intellect, while Kerris was a bit more average in that aspect. A point Varian would never let Kerris forget. As the years progressed, Janai and Kerris went their separate ways, only seeing each other on occasion. The last time she saw Kerris was at Aunt Tonis' death ceremony. Janai wasn't completely happy with the official reports on her Aunt's early death, and Varian and Kerris showed no sign of sorrow. Her investigations led nowhere and she finally had to give up even though she still was uncomfortable about the situation. The only thing that took her mind off further investigation of her aunt's death was her new assignment as the personal protector for the princess.

Remembering the announcement of her assignment brought a sad smile to Janai's lips. It was the happiest day in her life only she had no one to share her joy with. Varian was too busy climbing the political ladder and Kerris was off on another training mission. When the princess was born a few years after their adoption, Aunt Tonis was appointed as Alana's governess. She eventually gained the title of Seraph when Alana's mother died in childbirth a few years later. The entire family moved into the Emperor's household, much to Varian's delight as he saw it as an opportunity to enhance his political position. Janai grew up alongside Alana until she left for the elite youth project. When she came home during their study breaks their friendship would resume as though they had never parted. As both youngsters grew older, they remained in contact throughout Janai's elite training. Becoming the princess' protector was a natural progression in the bond that started at Alana's birth.

Thinking back, Janai would not have changed her course...especially after this evening. The only thing she regretted was the early loss of her parents. If things had been different on this trip, they may have gone to New Mexico to search for information on them, but now that would be impossible. "Perhaps another time." Janai uttered softly.

Her memories were interrupted by a soft voice from beside her in the bed. "Another time for what?" Alana asked.

Covering for her melancholy thoughts, Janai grinned at Alana, "another time for us," she said in a low voice.

Alana knew full well that Janai's mind had been somewhere else, but she wasn't about to forego another chance to entice Janai into making a commitment she wanted more than anything else in her life. I love you, Janai, she thought selfishly, and I want to experience that love as soon as possible.

* * * * *

Chapter 8

Friday, 1000 Hours

Lieutenant Green stood on the bank of the Occoquan River and watched as the diver's signaled the tow truck operator. The winch started up, pulling up the slack in the cable and snapping a spray of water into the air as the cable tightened. This was the second tow truck that had to be called to the scene. The first one was too light to pull the squad car out against the current so they had to call for one of the bigger rigs from the truck stop off Interstate 95 south of town.

The winch groaned as the cable slowly wound it's way back to the truck and the operator watched attentively for signs of slippage. The bank was slick from a heavy frost that settled in overnight and he was hoping the blocks he put behind the rear tires would help stabilize the truck. He also had the cable from the front winch extended and wrapped around a solid oak tree.

"So far, so good, Lieutenant," he commented as he looked over his shoulder at the somber officer.

Lieutenant Green just nodded as he waited for the vehicle to break the surface. The scene was full of emergency personnel, officers, and rescue workers, but there was total silence as they waited. The only sounds to be heard were the groan of the winch, and the movement of water as the divers maintained their positions in the river.

It took a good fifteen minutes to get the squad car to the shallows and another fifteen to get it up the steep embankment. As soon as it came to rest on all four tires, he hurried over to inspect the interior.

* * * * *

Earlier in the morning, Dean and Katie had spent a few minutes looking for the wayward marbles, but had not had any success in locating them. They decided that during their weekly cleaning, which was scheduled for this evening, they would probably turn up. After a hasty breakfast, the women headed off to work, looking forward to the upcoming weekend when they could kick back and relax. It seemed like they had been on a dead run since just before Thanksgiving, then the situation in the Bahamas was almost immediately followed by Natasha's vengeful plot. Christmas didn't give them any breaks with friends and family all gathering with them, then the short trip to St. John. They were really looking forward to a restful weekend.

It was now nearly 1040 hours and Dean had just returned to her office from a staff meeting. She checked her voice mail messages hoping to find one from the coroner, but it wasn't there. Checking her watch, she decided that it was late enough in the morning to try reaching Lieutenant Green and follow-up on the house call by Officer DeVoe. She dialed the number for his cell phone and waited.

"Lieutenant Green." His voice sounded weary. The bodies of the two officers had just been removed from the car, were put into body bags, and were being placed in the coroner's van. He wasn't in the best of moods, but lightened at the sound of Dean's voice.

"Good morning, Lieutenant. This is Colonel Peterson."

"Ah, Colonel. What can I do for you? Need another lift into DC?"

"Um, no," came the cautious reply, tucking the comment into one of her mental files for the moment. "I was just calling about a visit we had last night from Officer DeVoe."

On the other end of the phone, Lieutenant Green's attention was at full alert. "Officer DeVoe? When did he come by?"

"It was late, probably close to 2300. Katie and I had just turned in for the night and were surprised when he rang our doorbell."

"You say he called at your house around 2300?" The lieutenant was now very interested as he walked back to his car.

"Yeah. He stopped by to see if we had seen anything or any strangers in the neighborhood. He said that one of our neighbors had reported a break-in and wanted to know if we had seen anything."

"A break-in you say?" Lieutenant Green's mind was processing the information rapidly.

"Yeah. Thing is, it was all very strange. He acted like he never met us before and if you remember he's the one that kept flirting with Katie during the initial interview after the car bombing. Then he never finished the questioning about what we may have noticed that night."

Really curious, the lieutenant pumped Dean for more information. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Dean continued, "he told us about the B&E, then asked us if we noticed anything missing. Katie recognized him immediately as the officer who kept flirting with her and decided to be cute," Dean explained with a chuckle before continuing, "and told him the only thing that was missing were her marbles."

"Marbles?" the lieutenant said in disbelief wondering where this was going.

"Yeah, long story...anyway, as soon as she said that, he never followed through on asking us about any strangers or what we might have seen that evening. Couple that with the way he acted, and it was all a little too strange."

"Is that all?" the lieutenant asked.

"Well, no. The other strange thing was that he was alone. Katie remembered that he suffered from night blindness and could never go on patrol alone at night. Someone else would be needed to drive the squad car."

"Yeah, that's right. So what makes that strange?"

"He was alone. The outdoor spots were on when we went to the door, and they were still on when he left. We could clearly see he was alone, and driving the squad car."

"Dean," the lieutenant began. "There's an ongoing investigation right now, but I know I can trust you."

"Let me guess," Dean began. "There wasn't a break-in was there?"

"No, and Officer DeVoe and his partner were probably dead at 2300 hours last night."

"Dead?" Dean asked in amazement. "But..."

"I don't know who you saw, but it wasn't Officer DeVoe. The coroner has an initial estimate for their time of death around 2030 hours. DeVoe's watch stopped at 8:30 PM, so that's what we're using as a time of death for now."

"What made the watch stop?"

"Broken crystal. We're assuming it happened on impact, but if you saw him at 11:00, we'll have to wait to get a positive time of death." He paused, "Are you sure it was DeVoe?"

"Yes, Katie and I were sure that was Officer DeVoe...it's unbelievable that someone could have faked all those freckles and his bright red hair."

"The coroner thinks the 8:30 PM time is reasonable, but they were pretty waterlogged when we found them. He's doing the autopsy as soon as he gets them back to the morgue. They didn't respond to the dispatcher at 2100 and Officer Drake, that's Terrance's partner, didn't call home after 7:30 PM. His wife's expecting any day now, and he would check in with her just about every hour. His last call to her was at 7:30 PM. She said they were just pulling over to help a disabled motorist in an Acura and would call back later on, only he never did. We're trying to locate the driver of that car to see if he or she can add anything."

"You did say the bodies were in the water? In the Occoquan River?"

"Yeah. I'm at the scene right now. The night dispatcher called them in missing when they didn't show up for the end of shift. We just recovered the car and their bodies. We never would have found the squad car, except that the new insurance carrier for the town cut us a deal on a new theft alert program. All of the town cars have sensors in them. We know where every car is at anytime of the day or night, including our police vehicles. That's how we located the car." He paused, "Funny thing about that. It was in the deepest part of the river channel, and get this...there is no evidence on either bank, of its entry into the water."

"Really? No tire tracks?" Dean said in disbelief.

"Nope, ... not even a crushed blade of grass! It's like it just floated through the air and landed in the river. We had a hell of a time getting it out of the channel. It took several hours, the EMS dive squad, and a eighteen wheeler tow truck."

Dean shook her head in disbelief on the other end of the line. "This is really strange," Dean commented, then remembered the lieutenant's initial remark. "Hey, lieutenant. What did you mean about another lift into DC?"

Momentarily lost, he finally remembered his opening remark. "Oh, that. I was just wondering if you needed another lift to the Metro. You know, like yesterday morning."

"Yesterday morning?"

"Yeah, when I took you and Katie to the Metro stop at National."

"Lieutenant..." Dean began.

"You didn't go to National yesterday morning?" he finished the sentence for her.

"No. Katie and I were at work yesterday."

"I knew it! Damn it ... I knew something was wrong!" he spluttered angrily. "Seems like there's more than Officer DeVoe look-alikes running around out there."

"Meaning..." Dean led.

"Meaning, I dropped off two dead ringers for you and Katie at the Metro stop at National Airport yesterday...about mid-morning." He slapped his forehead as a piece fell into place. "Something just bothered me about the whole thing, but I couldn't put my finger on it till now. Dean," he asked cautiously, "what color are your eyes?"

"Blue," she responded immediately.

"And Katie's?" he asked cautiously.

"Green," Dean answered cautiously too.

"Damn! That's it!" he nearly shouted in the phone. "Their eye colors were exactly opposite! I should have caught that!"

"Lieutenant, what's going on?" Dean asked now with a lot more concern than what had led her to call Lieutenant Green in the first place.

"I don't know Dean. But someone...or one's, are going to a lot of trouble to steal identities. I suggest you and Katie take every precaution from here on out."

"I'm way ahead of you on that one," she replied, already thinking ahead. "Keep me informed, will you?"

"Absolutely," he replied. "Same goes for you," he said before disconnecting.

* * * * *

Earlier that morning the stolen Acura was left in the long-term parking lot at Reagan National. The body of the salesman whose car had been commandeered was neatly tucked into the trunk. The alien knew it would be a long time before anyone noticed the car and the cold winter weather would keep the body from deteriorating too rapidly. He also assumed another identity with a quick bump of his target in the men's room. This time his donor was left unharmed as he was flying out of the area. Besides, he didn't want to alert Janai by using his full powers so close to the city.

He also neatly picked the man's pocket and was pleased to see that he was now carrying the identity of another law enforcement officer. This time he was an agent with the FBI. Considering his good luck, he pocketed the ID, and went back out to the parking lot in search of another vehicle. He selected his new car in the outermost row. It was a plain late-model Ford. He didn't want to be conspicuous and his knowledge of American law enforcement dictated a non-descript vehicle. Lightly using his powers, he sensed that the princess and her protector were still in DC. He could almost feel their presence even without using his powers. Now he just needed to find them. A quick pass with his right hand over the door lock opened the driver's door on the Ford. Another pass with his hand had the ignition turning over. Checking through the front windows, and using the rear mirror, he drove the car out of it's spot and headed for the exit. In twenty minutes he found himself in the capital city once more.

He pulled to a stop at a red light at 14th and Independence Avenue and looked around at the crowds of people. Even in the brisk winter weather, there were crowds walking the sidewalks, taking pictures, enjoying the sites. Hoping they were still in the same forms, he pulled out the picture he kept of the dive group to freshen his memory of the two women. "Now, where would you two be off to?" he said to himself as he tapped the picture.

* * * * *

Janai and Alana had risen later than they had planned. Neither had had a good nights sleep. Each spent half the night wondering about the new revelations they made to each other and how it was going to affect their relationship. Then after Janai was wakened by the presence of danger, she was unable to fall asleep again for a long time. Now however, they were driven by the need to take on some nourishment. After showering and dressing in their clothes from the day before, they decided to try the hotel restaurant before heading out.

"Alana," Janai began after the waitress left with their order, "Last night I awoke feeling a dangerous presence. It was distant, but it was very real. I would like you to reconsider cutting this trip short. We need to return home."

Alana returned her gaze from the window to her protector, a visible frown creasing her forehead. "What kind of a presence?" she asked as she considered the request. "What makes you believe it involves danger? And, why for us?"

"Alana, please understand I can't give you details...my enhanced powers just allow me to feel these things and, well, I just know."

"And this...danger...is directed at us?"

"I believe it is."

Alana nodded, her mind assessing the request. "And how soon do you think we should leave? Our pick-up is scheduled for what...ten days from now? Can't we wait until then?"

"Actually, nine days from now, and no, we should head back now. The longer we remain on this planet, I fear the worst will come of it."

The waitress returned with their juice and assorted condiments, placing them on their table. "Your order will be out shortly," she said with a smile as she assessed their rumpled appearance. Thinking she would not receive much of a tip from this table, she hurriedly went back to the kitchen.

Alana waited until the waitress was gone before she spoke. "All right Janai. As you wish. But," she added quickly, "I would like to spend the rest of today in this wonderful city. I would really like to visit the Air and Space Museum and see how these people started on their road to flight. I think we will both find it very interesting. And, we need some new clothes," she said plucking at her rumpled sweatshirt. "We can leave for the closest starship in the morning." She sighed heavily as she returned her gaze to the sunlit streets of Washington. "I suppose we can always return some day. I'm really learning to appreciate these people and their planet. There's so much more I want to see and experience."

Thinking of her lost chance to find information on her parents, Janai nodded in agreement. "Yes, Alana. I would very much like to return some day too." Janai was not happy about the day delay, but knew that if she pushed too hard, Alana would want to stay the entire nine days and that would probably mean disaster. "Thank you my Princess, for trusting my instincts."

Alana smiled at the formal reference, shaking her head and turning toward Janai. She reached out and placed her hands on Janai's. "Janai, I've always trusted you and value your instincts. It's just that, after yesterday...and our admission to each other last night," she paused thinking of what could have been, "I'm just not eager to return home and to my royal duties. I want to have the freedom we have here to explore...these new feelings. And perhaps, to change your mind?" she added with a hopeful smile.

Janai turned her hands over to clasp Alana's, "My Princess..."

"Janai..." Alana said rather sternly, "please, haven't we shared enough now for you to drop the formality?"

Janai lowered her head, trying to reconcile her personal feelings with her duty. Lifting her head and staring into the other woman's eyes, she softened and gave in to her Princess' request. The love she felt for Alana was all consuming and the feelings rushing through her body were distracting and interfering with her concentration. She knew that even though it was her duty to protect Alana, she would do so now with increased vigor and heightened awareness...if only she could rein in those feelings.

"Alana, last night was a very enlightening night. I wish we could remain here, but I fear for you...for your safety." She didn't say out loud that what she feared most was that once they resumed their normal forms, the love they expressed might not transfer with them. She was very aware that these heightened feelings might just be a by-product of the human's they adopted. As she looked into Alana's blue eyes, she was surprised by the smile that was fixed on that face. Confused, she raised an eyebrow in silent question.

"You forget my dear Janai, that I can read your thoughts with our contact if I wish to do so." She raised their clasped hands. "I don't have the same fear. I have felt this way about you for as long as I can remember. These human forms are presenting very pleasurable experiences, but I know that in our true shapes we will be able to 'feel' even more. We are more advanced in our capabilities, are we not?"

A somewhat embarrassed Janai returned the smile but the realization made her very concerned. "Yes, Alana. You're right. But just this lapse," she held up their hands once more, "makes me realize that I need to be more vigilant. And, we should refrain from using our powers if at all possible. Even the slightest use might be picked up by whomever is out there." She lowered their hands and released their grip as the waitress brought their food. "For now, let's see how well these bodies enjoy this food," she stated as the waitress placed the tray on the folding rack that was set up next to the table.

* * * * *

Katie picked up her voice mail messages when she returned to her office at the mid-morning break. As soon as she recognized her veterinarians voice she felt a dread settle on her. Dialing the number, she braced herself for the bad news. All morning she had tried to speculate what could have caused Sugar's playful outburst and all she could think of was that is was the calm before the storm.

"Occoquan Veterinary Hospital. How may I help you?" the receptionist answered cheerily.

"Hi Mindy, this is Katie O'Malley. I dropped off Sugar for a check up this morning."

"Hi, Katie. Yes, Doctor Fabian is eager to speak to you. Hold on please."

Katie picked up a pencil and started nervously tapping on the desk with the eraser end. Doctor August Fabian had been her animal's veterinarian for nearly twelve years and she knew him to be a caring, compassionate, and consummate professional. If the news was bad, she had resigned herself to have Sugar put to sleep and knew that Doctor Fabian would be the first to agree. Sugar had done so well controlling the seizures with medication, but if things were going to get worse, she didn't want to have to put the cat through the pain and suffering.

"Katie, Doctor Fabian here."

"Yes, doctor. What's the prognosis?" She tried to sound upbeat, but was shaking internally.

"Well," the doctor began, "I don't know how to tell you this, but..."

Katie interrupted, "It's bad, huh?"

"No! It's just the opposite. It's amazing!"

"Excuse me?" She was now really confused. What could be amazing about a cat having to be put to sleep?

"Katie, she's fine. She's more than fine. She's in perfect health!" the Veterinarian exclaimed.

"What? How can that be? She was just in for a check-up barely two months ago and the tumor was starting to grow again. Are you sure?

"Katie...," he began again, "I can't explain it. Her scans show no sign of a tumor. I repeated the program and came up with the same clear scan. No tumor. We ran a full series of tests--blood, enzyme levels, the works--she has the physiology of a year old cat in perfect health."

"But...how could that happen?" Katie stammered over the phone.

"I was going to ask you that. Have you changed her regimen? Tried a new therapy I don't know about?"

"No, nothing. The only thing new is the extended release medicine I got from you the last time." Excited, but still confused, Katie asked again. "How could this happen?

"Got me. Right now, I'm chalking it up as a miracle. But she's as good as new. I've retained a few fluid samples and I'm sending them to the University for further study. Maybe they'll be able to tell us something."

"Wow," Katie smiled now, "wait till Dean hears about this."

"I'm sure she'll be pleased too. Anyway, you can pick her up anytime you want."

"Great Doc, thanks. I'll be by around 5:30 or so, maybe earlier if I can clear my schedule."

"Fine. She'll be waiting for you. We've been having a lot of fun playing with her. She has so much energy she's wearing us out!" They both chuckled at that comment and then said their goodbyes.


"How could a tumor disappear in two months time?" Katie asked herself as she replaced the phone in its cradle. "Something weird is going on here. Maybe the guys fed her something new while we were gone. Well, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth! She's healthy and that's what counts."

Katie reached for the phone to tell Dean the good news and jumped as it rang when she touched it. Picking it up, she answered, "Agent O'Malley."

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself," Katie chuckled recognizing Dean's salutation.

"Ooo, you're in a good mood. Whatcha do? Beat up on some poor recruit?" Dean quipped back.

"Mmm, no. Better than that," Kate replied, opting to be coy.

"Better?" Dean questioned.

"Yep! Definitely better," she said with emphasis. "I just talked to Doctor Fabian and Sugar is just fine."

"Well, that's a relief. I'm sure that makes you feel better."

"You bet. And, he said that not only is she fine, Sugar has no sign of a tumor! In fact, Doctor Fabian said that she's as healthy as a year old cat."

Dean paused for a moment then cautiously replied, "Really? No tumor? Could it have been a false reading?"

"No. Doc said he ran the test program again and got the same clear results. He took a bunch of fluid samples and is sending them to the University for further study. It's like a miracle. He couldn't explain it, but I'm really thankful. Sugar is healthy and there's no more tumor to worry about."

"A miracle, eh? Hmm, there has to be a better explanation than that." Even though Dean had been reconciling with her ex-preacher father and had to admit that Reverend Lewistan's psychic powers were unexplainable, she wasn't into accepting 'miracles' just yet.

"Well, I'm settling for the 'miracle' explanation right now. Bottom line though is she's healthy."

"Okay, you've got a point there." Changing the subject, Dean filled Katie in on her conversation with Lieutenant Green and the deaths of Officers DeVoe and Drake.

"Then who was at our door?"

"Well, that's just it. Nobody knows. At least not yet, anyway."

"Geez, I kinda liked that guy. He was cute...well, in an obnoxious kind of way. He never did connect the dots that you and I are together, though." Then she thought of the other officer. "It's too bad about the other officer too. You say his wife is expecting?"

"Yeah. Hell of way to start out your life...without a father."

"Let's talk about that tonight. Maybe, we can do something to help her out," Katie's mind started thinking of ways to help the widow get through the rough times ahead...especially the financial burden she'll be facing. After all, what good is all my inheritance if I can't help folks out once in a while? What was that line that Dolly Levi used to say? Oh, yeah, 'Money is like manure, you have to spread it around to help things grow.' The thought made her chuckle and she decided that she'd contact her bank at lunchtime and start the ball rolling. "How about setting up a trust fund for the kids college?" Katie suggested.

"Yeah, that's a good idea," Dean agreed. "There's something else he told me that's also a bit weird. Lieutenant Green said he gave us a ride to the Metro at National yesterday morning."

"Us? Was he hallucinating?"

"Nope, he said they looked exactly like us. Well, not exactly...the eye colors were switched. He couldn't put a finger on it till just now when I told him we were at work yesterday."

"Yipes! We have look-alikes?" Katie exclaimed.

"That's what he said. They even knew about our trip to St. John. Your double told him all about it!"

"What on earth is going on Dean? Why would someone go to the trouble to look like us? This is just really too weird."

"Yeah, the dead ringers for us, have me really worried. If I hadn't seen Natasha swallowed up by that whirlpool up in Niagara Falls, I would have placed money on it being a trick of hers." She sighed as the scene flashed before her again. "Better be on full alert from here on out."

"That's the really creepy part. Why would anyone want to impersonate us? I mean, I can understand someone wanting to look like you...with your intelligence position and all, but why me?"

"Well, Lieutenant Green said they were friendly and seemed to know quite a bit about us. Guess we just need to stay alert and pay attention to anything that may be out of place or out of sync." Both women paused in silence, thinking about the possibilities before Dean spoke again.

"By the way, has that lady Coroner called you?" Dean asked, interrupting Katie's thoughts.

"Um," she looked through her messages, "nope. Not yet. Has she called you?"

"No. I've got a meeting over at the FBI building at noon, so if she does call she'll miss me."

"Well, we can try again tonight. I'm sure she's been busy. Hey, how about the homicide division? Maybe we could talk to someone there?"

They chatted for a few minutes longer before saying their goodbyes.

"Be careful driving over to the FBI building. This nice weather will have the tourists out," Katie cautioned.

"Yeah, that's what I figured, so I'm taking the Metro over instead. Might as well get some exercise while I'm at it. Thought I'd have a late lunch at the Old Post Office Pavilion."

"Smart woman," Katie said, complimenting her lover, "but then, I always knew that about you."

They agreed to leave a message for each other if they heard from the Coroner or talked to the homicide division before hanging up.

* * * * *

Chapter 9

Friday, 1100 Hours

The concierge directed Janai and Alana to the department store down the block where they began a search for replacement clothing. Alana thoroughly enjoyed the shopping process no matter where they were. Janai on the other hand was more utilitarian in her approach to shopping, which she completed rather quickly. Alana took her time as she tried on a variety of outfits, making Janai watch as she changed several times with the ulterior motive of breaking down Janai's defenses.

"So," Alana inquired as she stepped out of the changing room for the fifth time. "What do you think of these?"

Janai sighed and looked at the jeans, appreciating the way they fit the body that was modeling them. "Well..." she confessed, "they fit very well. But I think all those shiny things will attract attention." She pointed at the offending bangles that were riveted up and down the seams and spread out in waves as they bottomed out along the hemline. "I think we need to keep a lower profile, don't you?"

Alana grinned as she stepped back into the changing room, deciding that she had teased Janai long enough. She settled on another pair of Levi jeans, exactly like the ones she had 'borrowed' from Katie's closet. Instead of another T-shirt covered by a sweatshirt, she chose a deep blue turtle neck jersey, topped by a thick fisherman's knit sweater and a thigh length leather jacket. Janai had opted for a new T-shirt and sweatshirt, but gave in to the leather look and selected a brown bomber style jacket. A few under clothes, socks, and a map of the east coast were added to their purchases and they were done with their shopping except for something to carry it all in. Janai spotted a couple of backpacks and purchased them. Finally, they added the leftover toiletries they brought from the hotel in a plastic bag. After satisfying the bill, Janai figured that they just might need to stop at the next ATM to replenish their funds.

They exited the department store, each with their backpacks full of their purchases neatly strapped on their backs. Janai, checked her local map and found the Air and Space Museum on the map and set out on a course to reach it.

The day was much colder than it had been and they were both glad for the leather jackets enveloping them in warmth. They walked east on G Street, south on 13th, then took a left on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Old Post Office Pavilion was across the street and they were remarking about the architecture when Janai noted a tall uniformed woman turn the corner from 12th onto Pennsylvania. They were now walking on opposite sides of the street from one of their benefactors. Janai slowed her pace as she watched the woman cross the street at 12th over to their side of Pennsylvania Avenue. They were in a crowd of people so Janai didn't think they would be spotted, but she held back their pace a bit more just to be on the safe side.

"What's wrong Janai?" Alana queried as she slowed her pace to match Janai's.

"Nothing. I just don't want to run into our benefactor." Janai motioned directly ahead of her with a slight motion of her chin. Alana's shorter human height did not allow her to see the woman Janai had spotted.

"Oh. I guess that wouldn't be a good idea."

"Not unless you can come up with a really good explanation why we look alike." They hung back and watched as Dean entered the FBI Building, then hurried past the building along with a crowd of tourists and crossed Pennsylvania at 9th Street continuing on 9th to Independence Avenue and the Air And Space Museum.

The January day was cold but sunny and the tourists were out in force as they walked to their destinations. Janai did not want to project her powers for fear of being located, so she maintained a high state of alertness as they walked down Independence Avenue. They had talked briefly about assuming new forms but decided that the power expenditure to do so would be like sending out a beacon to whoever was on their trail. Janai had felt a disturbance earlier in the morning that she believed was their tracker changing form, so she knew that he or she was close at hand. She just wanted to get through this day safely, and then to be on their way to the nearest departure craft. They still had to figure out how they would travel to the site but felt the safest was to rent a vehicle for the trip. All visitors to this planet were cautioned against taking things without proper compensation and the penalty for doing so was severe. Their government had long standing rules about using their powers irresponsibly and Janai was uncomfortable about breaking rules. After all, the purpose of their visit to earth was a learning experience for Alana as designed by her father, and their government had kept supplies of monetary funds available in several of earth's international banks. This supply was maintained by exchanging precious commodities such as gold, silver, jewels, or more exotic items like uranium or titanium, for cash reserves through a third party action. Authorized visitors only had to use their ATM access card to retrieve local currency. Unfortunately, Janai's card was still in the hotel room on St. John due to the unexpected change in their travel plans. Last night, Janai had bent the rules a bit by using her powers to access the ATM rather than the card. Random and reckless use of their powers, instead of following the clearly defined procedures, was strictly forbidden unless it was in self-defense. And, Janai always went by the rules...well, almost always. In the case of an emergency departure, she would need to set the emergency plan in motion at the nearest outpost. She would also need a driver's license to rent a vehicle, and she could get that at the outpost too. Thinking back to their itinerary, the nearest outpost was in Alexandria, Virginia. They would stop there on their way out of the city.

* * * * *

The alien tracker parked the vehicle on a side street near the Hotel Washington. He had stopped briefly when he picked up the residue of Janai's powers on the ATM machine she had used the night before. He knew that they would not spend the night on some park bench on the Mall and assumed that they would need cash to stay in a hotel. After riding around the area, he decided to check things out on foot, starting with the hotels north of K Street. He was getting agitated with the lack of results and decided to try the south side of K Street. He was now walking toward the Hotel Washington. As he approached the elderly Bellman standing at the doorway, he pulled out the ID he had taken from the real FBI agent. Flipping it open and presenting the picture of the two women on the dive group shot, he asked the Bellman if he recognized them.

"Well, I'm not sure," the Bellman began. "We get an awful lot of people through these doors." He looked more closely at the photo, stroking his chin with his weathered hand. "Could be, and then maybe not." He looked up at man expectantly.

The tracker knew the game the man was playing and extracted a twenty from the wallet, handing it over with a smile. "Does this help your memory?" he asked sarcastically.

"Well..." the man began after pocketing the bill. "I do believe I saw them talking to the Concierge."

"How long ago?" he asked, trying to control his eagerness.

"Hmm," he looked around, stalling. "Don't know for sure."

"Look old man, I don't have time to play games. These are dangerous people." He was about to grab the man by his lapels when the Concierge came out the revolving door.

"Is there a problem out here?" the taller, younger Concierge inquired with a serious tone.

"Not at all," replied the bogus agent as he walked over to the younger man and showed the ID and picture once more. "Your Bellman was just telling me that he thought he saw these two talking to you. Do you recognize them?"

The Concierge took his time looking at the picture. He did not like rudeness, especially from law officers who should know better. "Yes," he finally replied after drawing out the time as long as he dared.

"How long ago?" he asked brusquely.

"About an hour ago, maybe less," or maybe more, he thought as he noted the time was almost 1:30 PM and the women left about 11:00 AM.

"Did they say where they were going?" he asked again, still with the same tone of voice.

"Shopping. I sent them over to the Old Post Office Pavilion," he pointed in the direction he sent them. "What did they do? They seemed awful nice to be in trouble with the law."

"None of your business," the faux agent replied as he hurriedly turned away from the two men and headed in the direction of Pennsylvania Avenue.

"You know old man," the Concierge said as he watched the man run off in the direction he was given. "It's people like that give police bad reputations."

"Umhmm," the old man said. "But why'd you tell him the wrong time and direction?"

"Didn't like his attitude. Besides, no matter what those two gals have done, they don't deserve to be found by the likes of him." He jerked his head towards the now distant runner. "Think I'll just call my brother over at the FBI and check this guy out. He needs a real attitude adjustment, and my brother can certainly help him with that. Besides if they're really dangerous, I'll tell my brother where they really went." The two men laughed as they watched the agent turn the corner onto Pennsylvania Avenue before the Concierge headed inside to call his brother.

Ten minutes later the young Concierge came out. "Well, I'm glad I sent that bastard in the wrong direction. Seems, the real Agent Kirk is on his way to the west coast. He called in shortly after take-off to notify the office his ID was missing."

"Damn," the older man said softly. "Wonder why that guy is after those nice gals." The both shook their heads in wonder then went back to work as the next volley of cabs arrived at their door.

* * * * *

The meeting with the team from the FBI went better than she had expected. She was glad to see that the interagency cooperation that began to develop on her Catskill assignment was still in place and growing. Exiting the building in a good mood, Dean walked the short distance to the Old Post Office Pavilion. She looked at her watch and noted that it was nearly 1430 hours and she was definitely hungry. Entering the Greek Taverna, she was glad to see the lunch rush was about over and didn't have to wait for a table. Ever since Sergeant Major Tibbits told her about the outstanding Gyro Special here, she was anxious to try one. She had been looking for a suitable substitute for the excellent gyro's she found at Port Lucaya on Grand Bahamas Island and was hoping Tibbits was right. She selected a table at the back of the room that would be conducive to do some people watching while she waited for service. A handsome young waiter came to her table carrying a glass of water and a menu.

"No need for the menu," she told him as he offered it to her. "I'll have the Gyro Special and a tall iced tea, sweetened, two lemon slices."

The young man nodded and in a voice not ordained for his outer shell of manhood he said, "Excellent choice, Colonel. Save room for some Baklava. It's to die for!" he winked and bowed slightly slipping the menu under his arm with a flourish. Returning upright, he turned crisply and headed to the kitchen to put the order in. Dean chuckled and whispered under her breath "we're everywhere," as she watched him sashay towards the kitchen. Settling back in her chair, she relaxed a bit to do some people watching. Her eyes were following a young couple as they passed by the restaurant window when she caught a flash of frantic movement out of the corner of her eye. Focusing intently, she saw a man in his mid-thirties making his way through the pavilion at a dead run, popping his head into stores as he ran through the main floor. She bet he was some law officer or another searching for a purse-snatcher or shoplifter. As he poked his head into the Taverna, he scanned the crowd quickly and stopped dead as he came eye-to-eye with Dean. Their gaze held as the man recognized her, but Dean had no idea who he was or why he was looking at her so intently. She did get a creepy feeling when their eyes locked for that fleeting moment and then her nape hairs began to tingle. She hated that feeling because it always meant bad things were going to happen...she just had no idea how bad they were going to get. Almost as quickly as he came in, he left, rushing on to the next store. Dean shook her head and tried to calm her feelings, rationalizing that she didn't know the guy from Adam. But his eyes...they had the most unusual color, it was almost like looking at a photographic redeye exposure that had been darkened slightly. She picked up the water glass and brought it to her lips as she stared at the spot where he had stood. She felt cold water splash on her hand and looked down at the glass, amazed to see that her hand was shaking.

* * * * *

Janai exited the IMAX Theater with a huge grin on her face while Alana's countenance was one depicting physical pain. They both had eagerly entered the theater with its five-story screen to see the film 'To Fly!' Little did they know that the presentation would also let them 'experience' the thrills associated with the various means of flight depicted on the screen. The Saturn rocket segment and the view of the Earth dropping away were somewhat familiar and mild in comparison to the segment depicting an 1800's hot air balloon flight÷at least for Alana. The princess nearly lost it when the hang glider soared over the coast of Hawaii and then had to grab Janai's arm when the Blue Angels raced across the skies of Arizona. Janai on the other hand, had thoroughly enjoyed the film as well as the sensations as evidenced by the grin on her face. They had spent a little while longer visiting the other exhibits before Alana suggested they find a place to sit. Her stomach was still a bit queasy as they came down from the second floor of the museum and her conversation was minimal while Janai recapped the leaps made in air travel between the time of the Wright Brothers first flight and the landing on the Moon. They walked over to the cafeteria on the first floor where Janai ordered a hamburger combo platter and Alana settled for a bottle of club soda. Janai just finished her burger and fries and was about to make another point about the film when she stiffened, her senses picking up an anomaly once again. Stopping, Janai slowly did a visual scan of the area, looking for anything out of the ordinary, but all she could see were tourists engrossed in conversation as they ate their lunches. She was certain someone was scanning and it was closer than the disturbance she felt earlier in the morning, only this time it seemed more erratic, as though a neophyte was using his or her powers for the first time. Her impression of the sensations was that they were bouncing around--sending conflicting signals. She knew the rebels would not send a trainee, so she interpreted it as panic causing the irregular pulses, or perhaps anger, or maybe a lot of both. Janai looked up at the clock on the back wall and noted that it was nearly two thirty. She needed to get out of this city and away from whoever was trying to find them. She needed to keep Alana safe. She needed to get them to the emergency starship...and soon.

"Janai?" Alana called for the second time.

Finally hearing her princess, Janai turned to face her. "Someone is close. Very close and very angry," she said in explanation to the questioning look on Alana's face. "We need to stay in crowds. Until we can break away safely." She stood and walked over to Alana's chair motioning for her to stand, then took Alana's elbow and led her to a large crowd gathering at the entrance with their tour guide. She maintained her vigilance, constantly looking for any sign of trouble. Joining the back of the group, they followed along until they had completed a tour of the museum's first floor. Spotting another group getting ready to leave, they slipped into the back of that one and made their way outside. Following along with the tourists, they found themselves headed toward the Metro stop at L 'Enfant Plaza. Consulting the Metro map she pulled out of the jacket pocket, Janai determined that they could take the yellow train to the Reagan National Airport stop. Once there, they could rent a vehicle and begin the trek to the closest starcraft. Alana glanced back over her shoulder at the Capital city hoping that some day they could return and continue to explore and learn. Perhaps even learn more about each other, she thought hopefully. She caught one last glimpse as they broke away from the group of tourists at the Metro entrance and headed down the stairway into the bowels of the transportation system.

With any luck, Janai thought, we'll be on board the starcraft tonight and headed for home. We just need to make one stop and correct that one thing I forgot to do at our benefactor's home.

* * * * *

Dean was back in her office by 1530 hours and still perplexed about her reaction in the Taverna. C'mon Dean, you've faced some pretty bad times and come out without a scratch. What's got your nape hairs tingling now? And what's with the shaking hand? Dean admonished herself as she opened her office door. She hung her coat and hat on the rack by the door, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly trying to regain her composure. The trip back on the Metro was very frustrating as she tried to settle her instincts down and rationalize the incident. All her self-talk didn't work. The hairs at the nape of her neck were still on alert and she was damned if she knew why. As she rounded the corner to her desk, she noticed the message light was blinking. She picked up the phone and entered her code to retrieve the message. There were three messages recorded. The first one was from Katie at 1520 hours.

"Hey. I just got a call from that coroner. I think you'll want to talk to her. Something really bizarre showed up in the autopsy of those two kids, but I think it's best if you let her explain."

Dean could hear papers shuffling in the background before Katie continued.

"I just cleared my schedule for today. I'll be heading out shortly to pick up Sugar and then head for home. I should be home in about an hour...maybe and hour and a half. See you there."

The second call came in at 1525 from the Falls Church coroner, Doctor Evon Bell.

"Colonel Peterson, this is Doctor Evon Bell, the Falls Church Coroner."

The voice was rich with a slow, heavy drawl that reminded Dean of Tiny's Texas twang. She smiled as she listened to the pleasant voice.

"You and your friend, Agent O'Malley left a message regarding the Lowe/DiAngelo case. Would you please give me a call when you come in? You can reach me at 444-1414. I'll look forward to your call. Thank you."

The third call was from Lieutenant Green who was sounding somewhat anxious.

"Colonel...Ted Green here. Call me ASAP. Use my cell number."

"Well, maybe this is why my hairs are tingling," Dean said out loud as she dialed the coroner's number first.

"This is Doctor Bell."

"Doctor Bell, this is Colonel Deanna Peterson. I got your message."

"Thank you for calling back so quickly."

"Agent O'Malley left a message regarding the case and said I should talk to you," Dean offered.

"Yes, that's correct. I want to double check on the actions of Mr. Lowe and Ms. DiAngelo. Can you tell me what you remember of the two?"

"Well, we only met them on the dive that last day," Dean began then corrected herself, "and at the airport the next day. They seemed like a nice young couple. Very healthy, athletic."

"Do you think they may have gotten hold of some...something illegal while there?"

Dean thought for a moment, then recalled overhearing Eddie talking with another couple on the dive boat about the regimen they followed daily. Low salt, low fat diet, lots of exercise, no alcohol, adamant about eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. "I seriously doubt that. I remember listening to Eddie talk. They were both very health conscious," Dean replied.

"No way someone could have slipped something into their drinks?" the doctor questioned again.

"I doubt it. If I remember correctly, all they drank was bottled water. What seems to be the problem? Did they have some kind of drug in their blood?" Dean could hear the doctor sigh on the other end.

"No. Unfortunately we couldn't get a blood sample," she began cautiously. "Colonel, Agent O'Malley said you're in the Intelligence Section, so I'm going to be a little more forthcoming with you as I was with her." She paused again, seemingly to gather her thoughts. "I posed the same questions to Agent O'Malley and also asked her about new drugs that may be out there that we don't know about yet. Unfortunately, she couldn't help me but suggested I talk to you."

"Let me get this straight. You couldn't get a blood sample? Did they bleed out? Couldn't you get a sample from where the bodies were found?"

"No, Colonel. We've tried everything and came up empty. You see...the blood, well, every drop of it had turned into a solid...set right up like concrete pellets...only it won't dissolve. It's the hardest damned thing I've ever seen. Looks like someone poured coffee grinds into their blood vessels. Is there a new weapon, or gas, or...something, that the military is experimenting with?"

Dean heard the explanation, but was unable to fathom what may have caused this. "No. Nothing. Unless it's something foreign that even we haven't heard about yet...but that's not likely. What could have caused that?"

"Well, damned if I know. I've never seen anything like this and I've seen some pretty messed up bodies in El Paso. I was hoping you might have a clue."

"I'll check with the other services and make some calls to some of the other agencies, but I seriously doubt if any of them will know anything. Something like this would be going through the network like wildfire."

"That's what I thought, but was hoping..."

"Besides the blood...was there anything else that was out of sync."

"There's one other thing that doesn't make any sense. We interviewed some of Mr. Lowe's students. One young man swore he saw Mr. Lowe that afternoon...actually bumped into him as he rounded a street corner."

"Hmm, what was the estimated time of death?"

"Well, that's what's strange. He swears he saw him at just about the same time we were taking out the body bags."

Dean did a mental shift and thought about the doubles for Officers Drake and DeVoe, and her and Katie. "Doctor, can you be reached 24-7?" Dean asked as she grabbed a pencil.

"Sure, just call my cell phone. If you hear anything, please call me. I always have it on. The number is 676-6767...and Colonel..."

"Yeah, don't worry," Dean anticipated the caution. "I'm not ready to start a national panic either." Hanging up, she dialed Lieutenant Green's cell number. It barely rang when it was picked up.

"Green," came the simple salutation.

"Lieutenant, it's Dean. What can I do for you?"

"Ah, Colonel, thanks for getting right back to me. Hang on a minute." She could hear him walking and then a door shut. "Dean, I just got out of the autopsy on DeVoe and Drake...and, well, it's not like anything I've ever seen before. The coroner is stumped too."

The nape hairs stood on end again and Dean said, "Couldn't get a blood sample?"

There was dead silence on the other end of the line, followed by a clearing of the throat. "How in hell did you know that? Is there something the military is experimenting with?"

"Nope. Just taking a stab in the dark," Dean replied somberly.

"That's one hell of a stab, Colonel. What made you come up with that?

"I just got off the phone with Doctor Evon Bell. She's the coroner in Falls Church. I think you need to make contact with her and their homicide division. Seems they have a problem with look-alikes too...and solid blood samples."

Dean and the lieutenant discussed the facts of the two cases as much as they knew and they both came up blank when it came to possible explanations. Dean gave him Doctor Bell's cell number and they agreed to keep each other posted. By the time she hung up, it was 1600 hours. Her next call was to General Carlton's office to set up an appointment to discuss her meeting with the FBI. Sergeant Major Tibbits penciled her in for 0900 on Monday morning and told her to have a relaxing weekend before they hung up. Dean packed up her briefcase, grabbed her coat and hat, and headed for home.

* * * * *

Chapter 10

Friday, 1600 Hours

The FBI double had gone through the entire Pavilion and came up empty handed, his anger level rising. Either Alana and Janai had changed their plans to shop there or the concierge was lying. He knew he couldn't chance going back to question the concierge some more and also knew he was running out of options. If he didn't find them soon, he would be forced to use his powers. He'd rather find them using more archaic methods because then he would have the element of surprise on his side. If he could just get close, he could finish his directive and perhaps place the blame on the humans in the process. At least he was satisfied they were still in the same forms. His main concern now was deciding if they knew they were being sought out, or if they were still following their itinerary for this country's visit. The conversation he overheard in the underwater cave led him to believe that Janai was on alert, but Alana's comments also had him hoping that the princess was still pursuing the original itinerary, albeit adjusted for their current location. Remembering the original plan, they were to spend three days in this capital city before heading west across this country visiting other sites along the way. The final destination was the pick up location in the California desert, nine days from today.

He made his way back to the stolen vehicle and got in. After starting the car, he sat in the vehicle as it idled. "Of course!" he suddenly said out loud, nearly shouting. "They'll need to make a stop at one of the emergency outposts." He knew Janai would need to secure new ID's for the trip across the country since the other set was still on the island of St. John. Janai could get that ID at the closest outpost...and if they were going to change their plans, the rules dictated they would have to make a stop at the emergency outpost anyway to inform the realm. Either way, he could get the information that he needed from there. He sat there a bit longer, admonishing himself for not thinking of the outpost sooner and he hoped they had not already been there and left again. Feelings of guilt about the oversight brought out his anger once more as he recalled Varian's constant cautions that he needed to pay heed to the fact that Janai's superior intelligence was not to be discounted and needed to be figured into his actions. He must plan for contingencies at all times. Feeling the anger build, he banged his fists on the steering wheel repeatedly in an effort to release his frustration.

He checked his mini computer and located the closest outpost. It was a pawnshop operated by one of their people that had pulled the earth-bound assignment. It was located in Alexandria, off King Street. Unbeknownst to the High Council and Emperor, it also served as a communication base for the rebels and the shopkeeper, Serus, was one of their allies. Janai and Alana needed new ID's and if they were going to depart from their schedule, rules demanded they send word back home...and Janai always went by the rules. Feeling better, he decided that he would contact the pawnshop and give them a new directive to follow when the princess and her protector showed up.

* * * * *

Alana opened the door of the pawnshop, allowing Janai to enter first. The shopkeeper set his paper down when the two customers stepped into the store.

"Hello," he said with a smile. "Anything in particular I can help you with?"

Janai swept the store with her eyes to make sure they were the only ones inside. Stepping to the counter she pinned the shopkeeper with her green eyes and began the scripted conversation. "Yes. We're looking for some old maps."

"What kind of maps?" came the cautious reply. He couldn't believe his luck. After years of sitting in the outpost he had two contacts with his people within minutes of each other.

"Solar maps," she continued.

"What quadrant?" the shopkeeper asked intensifying his countenance.

"Theilios 342."

"I believe I may have what you're looking for in the back room. He stepped around from the counter, walked to the door and locked it. He turned the 'open' sign around so the 'closed' side was now facing out. "Follow me, please," he said as he led them to the back room. Once they were secure in the room, he turned to Janai and said with a slight bow, "My name is Serus, I am at your command, princess."

Janai looked over at Alana who was smiling at the mistake in identification and nodded imperceptibly for Janai to continue without correcting him.

"We are in need of new identifications and a new credit card too." She was about to tell him about the change of plans but thought better of it. It wasn't general knowledge that she and Alana were on this trip. Only a few members of the High Council knew, the Emperor, and of course, Varian. Serus should not have known their identifications unless...time to bend the rules, she thought cautiously.

"I hope your originals were not stolen Princess. The people of this world are not to be trusted," he commented as he turned to a cabinet on the far wall. "If you give me the names on the originals, I will have them deleted from the systems." He opened the cabinet to expose a variety of electronic consoles and equipment that would have made the most knowledgeable computer expert stand before them in awe.

"Sara Jones and Eve Smith," Janai responded as he entered the names into the computer.

"And what names do you wish to assume?"

Janai thought for a moment and decided that their benefactors were possibly well known given their occupations and if they took false names it may cause them problems. "Deanna Peterson and Katherine O'Malley," she instructed and he entered the information on the touch pads.

"Please step in front of the scanner," he said indicating an optic eye on one piece of equipment. They complied and within a minute they had new driver's licenses, Passports, and American Express cards. He handed the items over to them and smiled. "Is there anything else Princess?"

"Yes. We need some cash...for our trip."

He nodded and went to a safe in the corner. Turning the tumblers with practiced skill, he opened the heavy door and extracted a stack of fifties. Returning to Janai, he handed her the stack. "Will this do?"

Janai looked at the bills in her hand and decided it was probably more than they needed, but returning any of it may alert him of their shortened plans.

Alana stepped up behind Janai and looked at the stack and began to say, "That's..."

"Yes, Janai. It's not much, but we have our new credit cards as well. Here," Janai offered the bills to Alana, "please hold these Janai."

Alana looked up at Janai and for a brief moment tried to consider what might be going through her protector's mind. She touched the hand holding the stack of bills and called on her powers, ah, so that's what you're thinking...so be it. She released Janai's hand taking the bills into hers. "Yes, my princess," she added with a slight upward twitch of her left eyebrow.

"How has your visit been progressing?" Serus added, eager to gather what information he could, hoping he could parlay the information into a more comfortable assignment.

"Well, Serus. Except for the loss of our identification, everything is going smoothly. We look forward to our trip west."

Alana turned her attention to the shopkeeper and assumed a 'protector' mode. "What can you tell me about the people west of here? Are there any cautions we need to be aware of?"

"As the protector, you should not have much to fear from these people," he replied as he turned toward Alana. "Your powers are much superior."

"Can you recommend a route of travel?" she asked. She was hoping to set a trap if, as Janai suspected, he should truly not be trusted.

"This time of year, I would suggest a southern route across the country." He pulled out an Eastern United States map from a desk drawer and took a highlighter from the jumble of pens in a coffee cup. Opening the map, he marked a route that would take them from the Washington D. C. area to Jacksonville, Florida. "From there, you can go across toward Houston, Texas before heading back northwest," and across a lot of open deserted country, he thought as he finished marking the map. He handed the marked map to Alana, who studied it carefully and noted that he had marked routes that were not highly traveled.

"Your routes take us through sparsely populated lands. Is there a reason for this?" Alana inquired as innocently as possible.

"Yes. It's just that I think you will find the countryside much more appealing than the large cities...and it's a much safer route," he lied expertly.

"I see," Alana commented as she folded the map and looked up to see an appreciative smile coming from Janai. "Well, my Princess," she said speaking to Janai, "we should be on our way. We have a long way to travel before we sleep tonight."

Janai nodded in agreement. They reentered the main room of the pawnshop, thanked Serus, and left on foot taking a circuitous route back to the Metro stop as an added precaution.

* * * * *

The FBI double arrived at the pawnshop at 1630 just ten minutes after Alana and Janai left. He double parked the vehicle outside the shop and hurried in. The shopkeeper greeted him as he entered much the same way as he greeted the two females. Quickly going through the scripted conversation, the shopkeeper once again flipped the sign and locked the front door before leading the way to the secure back room.

"My name is Serus..." the shopkeeper began hardly able to hide his excitement of the recent contacts with his people after all these years.

"I know who you are!" the man began almost angrily, "I am Kerris, Personal Enforcer for Varian. We spoke minutes ago. I want to remain here for a while to wait for the Princess."

"Honorable Kerris," Serus began, "you just missed her. She came in moments after I received your call." He cowered as Kerris smashed his fist onto the desk he was standing by. "You...you didn't say to detain her until you arrived." He looked at the smashed desktop and decided not to try to bargain for a homeward assignment...at least, not right now.

"Did you do what I commanded?" Kerris turned on Serus, anger emanating from him like water pouring over a waterfall.

"I provided them with the new identifications they requested and a map and with the route you instructed me to give them." Serus backed away from the angry personage, realizing that this powerful force standing before him could very easily terminate him. He had heard rumors of how volatile the Enforcer was. Now he was witnessing this explosive nature first hand and was very glad that he had carried out his instructions.

Kerris regained his control knowing that he had been one step ahead of his sister after all. He tilted his head back and laughed hard and loud. "Good!" he said between laughs, "Did you encode the credit card as I instructed too?" Serus nodded vigorously. "Very good!" Kerris reached out and grabbed the shopkeepers shoulder. "So...they intend to continue on their trip to the west. Tell me...did they say anything else?"

"No. They were very quiet," Serus stammered, afraid at the reaction that might provoke.

"No requests to notify the realm about an emergency departure?"

"No. They said they were going west...to see the rest of this country before their pick-up in the California desert."

"They actually said that?" Kerris was very curious now.

"Well, no...not exactly in words. Janai did ask about what kind of people they would run into west of here and asked me to recommend a route. That's when I gave them the map...with the route you told me." Serus was sweating profusely and decided against asking for any favors for doing his job so well.

"Did you see the vehicle they were using? What make and model?" Kerris asked stooping close to the shopkeeper's face.

"No, no car. They were on foot. At least I think they were on foot. I watched them walk away from the shop as best I could without arousing suspicion." He backed away as Kerris quickly straightened. "But, I suppose they could have had one parked somewhere."

"On foot," he said thoughtfully, "which way did they go?"

"Down toward the river...the shops." He pointed in the direction he last saw them walking. "Perhaps for a meal at one of the restaurants there."

"Fool!" Kerris shouted leaning back into the man as he slipped back into an angry mode. "You should have followed them!"

"But...they can't have gone far...it's only been minutes since they left. I'm sure if you use your powers you could find them easily."

"That's precisely the one thing I don't want to do!" Kerris was tired of the shopkeeper's whiny attitude but he needed one more bit of information before he ended. "What names are they using?"

Serus went to the cabinet and opened the doors. He hit the touch pads and waited a minute. It was the longest minute he ever experienced...and it turned out to be his last. As soon as the ID's materialized, Kerris walked up behind him and placed both hands on the side of Serus' head then twisted it violently to the left nearly ripping it off the body in the process. He released the head and the body fell to the ground with a dull thud. As he looked at the corpse lying on the floor, Kerris began to smile. "Soon...sister...soon. We will meet once more, for a final time. Then I'll be rid of you and your 'perfect' record, your 'perfect' manner, your 'perfect' life...everything 'perfect' about you will be gone! Even your 'perfect' little princess will be gone! I won't ever have to try to live up your 'perfect' standards again! Varian will see...he'll realize that I'm the one that's perfect...not you!" He kicked the corpse on the floor, grabbed the ID's and then headed into the front room of the store. He knew now that he could find them easily. All he had to do was set a trap along the route he plotted. But first he needed to find out if they had a car. He looked under the counter and found the yellow pages phone book. Looking under car rentals he found several possibilities in the area and began calling.

* * * * *

Alana and Janai had made it back to the Metro stop and arrived just as the blue train was boarding. They ran to an open car and jumped in finding the car nearly empty. The ride to the airport took just under ten minutes. Exiting at the airport stop, they asked the station manager for directions to the car rentals. National was the closest so they headed for it.

"Janai?"

"Yes?" Janai answered as they approached the rental area.

"I know how you like to follow the rules, but if we're using the same ID of the two women that are our benefactors, they will be held responsible for the car when it doesn't get returned. And that's technically a violation of our rules on visiting this planet."

Janai stopped and looked at the princess. "I hadn't given that much thought, but I suppose they'll be able to straighten it out somehow. After all, they're both in the service of their government." She shook her head as she started walking again. "Right now, I'm not concerned about the rules. I started breaking them back at the pawnshop when I didn't send notice to the realm that we're taking an emergency starcraft home." Looking at Alana as she walked next to her she asked, "Why are you concerned about them?"

"I don't know. It's just that they seemed like decent people. I'd hate to see them in trouble."

Janai began laughing at that comment. "In trouble? Alana, after reading their files, I'm sure this will be the least trouble they've ever experienced!" She continued laughing and soon was joined by Alana's laughter as they came up to the reservation counter.

The young female agent looked up at their cheerful countenances and smiled. "That must have been some joke," she offered with a pleasant grin. Janai and Alana looked at each other and broke out laughing once again.

"Yes, I guess it was," Alana offered as she fought for control.

Janai gained hers a bit quicker and asked the agent if they had a vehicle available. She explained they didn't have a reservation, but were willing to accept whatever was ready.

The agent nodded and punched in some codes into the computer at her station. She frowned as she scrolled down the lists. "Gee, it looks like we're pretty booked. How long would you need it for?"

Janai shrugged, "A week."

"Hmm," the agent said, hitting a few more keystrokes. "Well, there's an SUV that's available at one of our satellite offices. I can have it shuttled over here if you can wait for about an hour?"

Janai looked at the time on the clock behind the agent. It read 4:40. An hour would put them in the middle of the weekend rush hour traffic. What better way to get lost than in rush hour traffic? Janai reasoned. "That would be fine."

"Great. I'll call them and have them bring it over." The young agent turned and went to the bank of phones on the back counter. When she came back she was nodding her head. "Okay, it should be here in about an hour. If you give me your driver's license I can start the paperwork."

Janai pulled out the new driver's license and passed it across the top of the counter.

"How are you paying for the rental Ms. Peterson?" the agent asked as she looked at the license.

"Credit card...American Express." Janai took out the card and handed it to the agent.

"Great," the young woman replied as she accepted it and began entering the information into the computer. It took a few minutes, but soon the rental contract was being printed. The agent tore the contract off the printer and placed it on the counter so Janai could read it, pointing out where she was to initial and then sign. "Oh, I forgot to ask, do you need insurance?"

"No, no insurance."

"Okay, just initial this box too." She watched as Janai followed the instructions and then returned the NCR forms to the agent. "There's a coffee shop around the corner if you want to get something while you wait," the agent suggested as she gave Janai her copy of the paperwork, her license and credit card.

"No thanks. We'll just wait here," Alana said looking at the agent then at Janai. They walked over to the seating area and sat down to watch the people as they came and went.

"Maybe we should go to the coffee shop," Janai suggested as she looked around the space, "we're pretty much out in the open here."

"Good point." Alana got up to leave turning to wait for Janai who was sitting motionless. "Janai?"

The protector raised her hand in a stop motion and continued to concentrate. When she stood, she walked over to the counter and told the agent they decided to get some coffee after all and she led Alana around the corner, past the coffee shop and out the doors. She kept walking outside until they were very near the end of the airport building.

"Is there a problem?" Alana asked as Janai finally stopped.

"I overheard the agent speaking with someone on the phone named Agent Kirk. She was telling the agent that we had rented a vehicle and that we were waiting for it to be shuttled over from their other office." Janai gazed across the lanes of traffic exiting the airport before continuing. "Although I couldn't hear the other end of the conversation, the rental agent did not seem upset so I'm not sure what the caller was relaying to her but her final comment was something about a 'nice surprise.'"

"What do you want to do?" Alana questioned as she too examined the vehicles passing by.

"I think we should forget about waiting for the car. I have another idea in mind." With that, Janai led the way back to the ground transportation area where they stood in line for a cab. Once in the cab she gave the driver the address for Dean and Katie's home in Occoquan, Virginia.

The cabbie looked at his passengers assessing their appearance and probable ability to pay the fare. "That's at least a $50 fare ladies. You got the cash to cover that?"

Janai didn't answer. Instead, Alana pulled two $50 bills from the stack in her backpack and handed them to the driver. "These should cover the fare," she said as he took the proffered bills, "and, you can keep the change."

"Okay, ladies," the driver said with a big smile, "Occoquan here we come." He checked his mirrors and pulled out into a space in the traffic. "Sorry for having to ask, but I've been ripped off too many times," he said in a way of apology. "So, are you two from around here?"

"No. Not really," Alana supplied as she looked over at Janai.

"Visitors," he added nodding, "we sure get a lot of visitors here!"

"Yes, just visitors," Janai affirmed with a thin smile. If you only knew...

* * * * *

 

Kerris was delighted with the results of his phone search. He not only found them on the fifth try, but also would be able to follow them until he found an appropriate spot to ambush them. Things were looking up. He looked around the pawnshop and decided that it would be a good idea to torch the place. That way, the equipment in the back room would be destroyed beyond identification and he could make Serus' corpse look like it was part of a robbery gone sour. He went back to the back room and started there. The advanced equipment would be the biggest problem. Finally he decided that he would use his powers to begin a melt down of the equipment, just in case the fire would be put out too quickly. He didn't want to alert Janai, so he made sure the power level was low. Once he had that task done, he rummaged for an accelerant. He found enough old newspapers, some lighter fluid and even some boxes of ammo in the front of the pawnshop to start the fire. To make things interesting, he added several of the ammo boxes to the trail of accelerant to keep the firefighters a little less enthusiastic about entering a burning building with exploding ammo. He also found a variety of handguns under the counter and selected a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver and ammo to take with him. If he was going to make it look like humans attacked Janai and the Princess, he had better use a human's weapon. He lit a match in the back room and got the blaze going, then he hurried out the door and came face to face with an Alexandria police officer that was writing him a ticket for double parking. He nearly panicked, but remembered the FBI ID he was carrying. As he approached the officer, he pulled out the ID and held it up for inspection.

"Problem officer?" Kerris asked as he approached and noted the name of the policeman.

The officer looked at the ID and made a note of the name. "You're double parked Agent Kirk"

"Official business," Kerris replied as he returned the ID to his inside coat pocket.

"Is this your personal vehicle?" the officer stated as he pointed to the car that Kerris had stolen earlier in the day.

"Well, actually..." Kerris began but the officer cut in.

"This car was reported stolen earlier this afternoon. You know anything about that?"

"Actually, Officer Jakes, it was just recovered and I was driving it over to the impound lot when I got a call."

Officer Jakes nodded but he knew the FBI wouldn't be bothered with a stolen vehicle recovery. And, he never heard of a stolen being driven to the impound lot, that was usually done by the tow trucks, so now he was on full alert. "May I see your ID again?" he asked as he placed one hand on the grip of his service revolver.

A crowd was beginning to gather and Kerris was worried that sooner or later the fire would follow the trail of the accelerant to the front of the pawnshop and the crowd would definitely notice. "Certainly," he answered and reached into his coat pocket grabbing the S&W instead.

The officer caught a glimpse of the gunmetal and pulled his revolver out leveling it at Kerris and shouting, "Freeze!"

Kerris wheeled around pulling out the weapon firing it at the officer. Officer Jakes in return, got a shot off as the round from the S&W hit him in the shoulder. With shots fired, the crowd began running in all directions. Kerris nearly used his powers to take out everyone but instead regained his composure and opened the door to his car. He hastily got in and sped off. He was five blocks away when he noticed the blood. He had been shot in the right side of his torso, just below the rib cage. He looked down at the wetness and touched it with his right hand and became aware of the burning sensation and pain associated with the injury. In the distance, he could hear sirens and he knew he had to keep going. He also had to ditch this car and find a new one. He'd never make it to the airport undetected in this vehicle. As he drove away from the sirens, he turned onto King Street and spotted the Holiday Inn. Pulling into the parking garage, Kerris kept going up the ramps until he found an empty spot with no one around. He pulled into the spot, got out of the car and started looking for a replacement. At the end of the row, he spotted a black Mercedes. Scanning the ramp, he found he was alone so he went to the Mercedes and waived his hand over the door handle to unlock the car. He opened it, got in and waived once more over the ignition to start it. Putting the car into gear, he drove back down the ramps to exit once more onto King Street.

The pain in his side was getting more worrisome and he was beginning to feel dizzy. He was afraid his human form was not capable of self-repair so he pulled into a parking lot and found an empty space so he could assess the damage. He was worried that the loss of human blood would affect his powers, as he knew he was more vulnerable in human form. Kerris looked around at his surroundings in the parking lot. It wouldn't due to transform into his Theiliosian form now. He needed to enact repairs. There was no one in the cars on either side of him so he placed his left hand over the bullet wound and concentrated. His healing powers were not as extensive as Janai's. As a protector, her power to heal was much more advanced. As an enforcer, his healing powers were limited to self-repair and with the time elapsed already those powers would be lessened. He concentrated on the wound, summoning up every bit of self-healing that he could. By the time he was satisfied with the repairs nearly thirty minutes had passed. He was sweating and he was exhausted. His energy levels had been drained to a dangerous low. He would need to regain his strength before he could confront Janai and the Princess. Well, I have time for that. At least I know where they are going and I can follow them until I am back at optimum level, Kerris rationalized as he put the car into gear and headed to the airport. He looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was already 5:15 and he realized that it might be too late to catch up to them at the airport. Don't get upset...just find a phone and call the agent back and find out the make and plate number of the rental. You can find them...patience.

Kerris spotted a phone outside a convenience store. The phone was set up on an independent stand so he could pull the car right up to it and roll down the window to make the call. He pulled up next to it and called the agent.

"This is Agent Kirk. Are the two women still there?"

"Hi! No, I was hoping that maybe they were with you. I haven't been able to find them. The car arrived here early and I looked all over for them."

"They didn't pick up the car?" Kerris asked in surprise.

"No. I looked all over. I told them it would only be an hour...they should have been back by now. They said they were going to the coffee shop, but when I checked, they weren't there. Wait a minute...I'll ask Jane if she saw them."

Kerris heard a hand muffle the receiver while the rental agent asked her co-worker. It seemed like it took a long time but the young woman came back on the line in mere seconds. "Hello? Um, Jane said she saw them getting into a yellow cab when she went outside for a cigarette. I wonder why they left without the car? Hello? Are you there?"

Kerris had hung up as soon as he heard they left in a cab. He would have pounded his fists on the steering wheel only he didn't have the energy to do so. He needed to rest so he could build his energy levels back up. Checking the clock in the dashboard he calculated how long that might take. It was only 5:25...just an hour...maybe two...and I will be able to scan for the encoded chip. Rest now...must rest. He pulled away from the phone post and parked in an empty spot near the back of the convenience store, released the lever on the driver's seat, positioning it back far enough so he could rest, then he closed his eyes.

* * * * *

Chapter 11

Friday, 1700 Hours

"Stop here," Janai told the cab driver. The ride to Occoquan turned out to be rather pleasant as the cab driver relaxed knowing he wouldn't get stiffed for the fare. Since he was a life-long native of Washington, Alana pumped him on the sites she didn't get to see. He even had quite a sense of humor and numerous stories that Alana and Janai enjoyed immensely.

"You sure lady? I pride myself on door-to-door service," he grinned as he looked into the rear view mirror at his dark haired passenger.

"Yes. We want to surprise them."

"Okay," he replied as he braked to a stop. He looked at the meter that read $46.80. "You two sure you want me to have a $50 tip? I can make change for you."

"No, you keep it," Alana insisted. "Your stories and information were well worth it!"

"Okay," he said gratefully. "Thanks! You gals have a nice visit. And, if you need a cab, just ask for me. My name's Bert. My cab number is 2034. The dispatcher will find me and let me know."

The women exited the cab and waived as the cabbie turned around and headed back down the road.

"Okay. Now do you want to tell me why we're back here?" Alana asked as they started walking toward the house.

"A little more rule bending," Janai informed her. "They have an SUV in the garage. I thought we could just 'borrow' it for a bit. The closest emergency starcraft is over a few counties the other side of a place called Flint Hills. We'll have to hike into the mountains to reach it, but it's the closest craft. The SUV will get us closer to the site."

"And, we'll just leave the vehicle to be found?"

"Yeah, someone will turn it in. I figure if we leave now, we can get to the site before morning. Besides...I finally remembered what I forgot to do yesterday morning before we left."

Alana looked at her protector in amazement. For as long as she had known Janai, she never forgot anything. "You forgot something?"

"Hmm, yeah. It took me a bit, but I finally remembered when we were at the Air and Space Museum. When those two found us on the ocean floor, they kept us...well, in the suspended state we were in...as a found treasure. Even had us mounted in special devices."

"And?"

"And, I forgot to duplicate the spheres and replace them in the holders. As inquisitive as those two are, they're liable to get real interested if those spheres can't be found."

"Don't you think they've noticed that already?" Alana countered.

"Probably, but if I place the spheres say, in one of the cat's beds...they'll probably just shrug it off." She looked over at Alana and smiled. "Remember how protective the animals were of us in that state?"

Alana nodded remembering how she was beginning to think she would have to take on their form to get out of the suspended state. "Yes, you're right...as usual."

Janai reached down and picked up two small stones from the side of the road. She placed one in each hand and closed her fingers around them. Concentrating, she closed her eyes. When she opened her hands, each held a sphere, replicated to resemble the spheres of their suspended states. She looked at them closely. Satisfied they would do, she put them in her jacket pocket.

They picked up the pace and were at the front door in short order. Janai carefully checked the windows and listened to make sure there was no one around, then waived her hand over the locks. She opened the door and ushered Alana in, quickly closing it behind her. Two cats ran to the door surprised by the return of their otherworldly masters and began an intertwining step dance between Janai and Alana's legs.

"Hey there little ones," Janai said softly as she bent over to pet the cats. "Where's your sister?"

Spice looked up and blinked hard then let out a loud "YEOW!" Butter on the other hand just kept up the serpentine walk and purred loudly.

"Hmm, I hadn't thought of that," she told the cat as she stood. "Well, I'm sure they'll have a hard time trying to figure it out...but at least she'll be healthy again." Spice seemed to nod her head perceptibly and mewed softly.

"You healed her?" Alana said in amazement. "That's another bend in the rules, Janai. Pretty soon that rule book of yours is going to look like a spiral staircase!"

"She was just months from dying, Alana. I couldn't let that happen. I, I just..."

Alana pulled Janai around and looked deep into her protector's eyes. "This visit has been full of surprises. Most of them good." Alana reached up with both hands and slipped them around Janai's neck. "It's no wonder I love you so."

Janai's body couldn't help but react to the touch of Alana's hands as they wound around her neck. That simple motion elicited a trickle of excitement that soon became a torrent as Alana pulled her head down and placed a kiss on her lips. It was as though all of her senses were suddenly turned up to high. Her breathing became more rapid and her heartbeat picked up it's pace. She could almost feel the blood that was coursing through her lips during the kiss become hot as it moved through the capillaries of that sensitive tissue. Soon the heat spread as it continued on its rounds through her system leaving no tissue untouched by the desire that was building. Janai's body reacted on it's own, overriding her cautions and adherence to duty as her arms enveloped Alana and pulled her closer...trying hard to pull Alana directly into her...to become one with her. Wanting much more...to finally give in to the desire that had been building since the near kiss at the FDR Memorial and their tentative kisses at the hotel. As their lips barely parted, Janai struggled to regain her self-control.

"Alana, I want..." her words ended as Alana brushed her lips with another soft kiss.

"Yes, Janai, so do I. And perhaps once we are safely back in the realm we can explore the possibilities in a more appropriate atmosphere."

There was a loud "YEOW" that accompanied Alana's statement causing the two women to look down at the calico cat sitting at their feet.

Janai nodded at the cat and said, "Yes, little one. We need to finish our business here and be on our way."

Janai led the way to the master suite and examined the nooks and crannies, concentrating on finding a likely spot to leave the replicated spheres. Alana helped in the search for the perfect spots. Although her senses were on alert, Janai did not perceive any existence of danger and was unaware of the muted sound of the garage door opening.

* * * * *

Katie pulled into the garage, parking her Boxster next to the SUV. On the seat beside her was Sugar in her soft-sided carrier. The cat had been napping the entire ride from the veterinarian's office and was still quietly resting from all the playing.

"Okay, Sugar. Time to wake up now. We're home," Katie informed the sleepy feline as she got out from the driver's side and walked over to the passenger side, to remove Sugar's carrier. She had left the Training Center in such a hurry that she still had her service weapon in the holster clipped to her belt instead of in the backpack she had slung around her shoulder. When she reached in for the carrier, she noticed the gun as her jacket slipped open. "No wonder everyone was so quiet at the vet's office," she mumbled as she reached for the carrier and pulled it out with a bit of effort. "Urf, you need to go on a diet young lady." The cat merely mewed softly as it woke up to its surroundings.

They exited the garage and headed up the path to the front door. Katie put the key in the lock and was surprised to find the door was unlocked and the security codes were already off. She knew Dean wasn't home because her car wasn't in the garage or on the driveway by the front door. Cautiously she opened the door, putting the cat carrier down as soon as they entered and silently closed the door behind her. She slipped her backpack off setting it by the carrier, removed her coat and pulled her gun from the holster, switching off the safety. Sugar meowed loudly at being left in the carrier, so Katie reached down and unzipped the top allowing the cat to escape its confines. Sugar jumped out and hurriedly went in search of her mates.

Katie gripped her weapon with both hands and stepped lightly through the living room. Gaining the entrance to the kitchen she listened intently before moving in low, weapon at the ready. Finding it empty she proceeded down the hall toward the master suite. Halfway down the hall, she heard the voices. Female voices that sounded an awful lot like Dean's and hers. Gathering her inner resources, she crept silently toward the bedroom...

* * * * *

Her senses now alerted to another presence in the home, Janai motioned silently to Alana and put a finger to her lips in a silencing motion. Alana stopped and looked expectantly at Janai who was focusing on the bedroom door as she moved to be at Alana's side. She tilted her head toward Alana and whispered, "I'm afraid we're about to be found out." Alana looked at her in alarm but was immediately calmed by the unconcerned look on Janai's face as she stood waiting for the inevitable.

It wasn't long before Katie came into the room, gun trained on them, and shouting, "Freeze!" They stood there, motionless, hands held loosely at their sides, hopeful smiles on their faces. "Put your hands up!" she shouted, although a bit disconcerted at their uncanny appearance.

"Please," Janai began as she raised her arms. "We mean no harm."

The three felines bounded into the room and wound their way between Janai and Alana's legs in a show of acceptance. Katie was extremely confused, but kept her weapon trained on them. "Who...who are you?" she began as she took in their details, amazed that she seemed to be looking at life-sized clones of herself and Dean. The only discrepancy was the eye coloring. It was exactly the opposite.

"We are...visitors," Janai began. "My name is Janai, and this is Alana. We came here to visit your country and other countries, to learn about your governments and to experience your uniqueness'. Not to do you or anyone any harm."

"Really?" Katie said a bit sarcastically. "Then why have you broken into our home and why the get up?"

"Get up?" Alana questioned. "Oh, you mean, why do we look exactly like you and your friend?" Katie nodded in affirmation. "Well, that's a long story that we would be happy to relate, but it would be a lot easier if you didn't have that thing pointed at us."

As if on cue, Sugar jumped up to Janai, who quickly reached out and caught her, causing Katie to swing her aim toward her. "Please, let us explain," Janai cautioned as she held the cat who was now licking her face appreciatively. The two other cats meowed loudly and looked at Katie expectantly.

The friendly action of her animals and the dead-ringer looks had Katie off balance. Her cats never took to strangers, but then, she thought, these weren't really strangers in their eyes, were they? Weighing her options, Katie knew that Dean would be home soon, so if she could just keep these two imposters contained...ok, gotta stall till Dean gets here.

"Okay," Katie began, "let's just go out to the living room and you can tell me your story." She stepped towards the bed, making room for the two women to exit ahead of her. "Oh, by the way, I'm an excellent shot, so don't try anything."

"Yes, we know," Alana said smiling at her as she headed to the short hallway that led to the living room. Janai followed, still holding Sugar while talking to the cat in a low whisper.

Entering the living room, Katie motioned for them to sit together on the couch. She sat in the love seat opposite them, gun still at the ready. "Okay, who wants to start? Or maybe I should call the police first?"

That comment alarmed them as they looked to each other then back at Katie.

"Ah! Don't want the police involved, huh? Then, maybe I should just make that call," Katie said as she released the grip on the gun with one hand and reached for her cell phone that was clipped to her belt.

"No, please!" Alana began, holding up a hand. "It would not be beneficial to involve them."

"Besides," Janai interjected calmly, "your cell phone isn't working right now."

Katie looked at her in disbelief. She had just charged it in the car on the way home. She pulled the phone from the clip and flipped it open. It was dead. She punched the power button with her thumb, but there was no response.

"And," Janai continued, "your weapon is useless right now too so you may as well put it away. We're not going anywhere and, as I said, we mean you no harm."

Katie looked at her gun and noticed the safety was back on. She tried to thumb it off, but it wouldn't budge. She looked up at Dean's duplicate and said, "how?"

Janai shook her head. "I'll explain in a bit. Right now, Dean is coming up the path. We'll tell the whole story when she gets in." She settled back on the couch, discreetly taking Alana's hand in hers as all three watched the door open.

Dean came through the door and stopped dead in her tracks as she took in the scene before her. On the couch were two women who looked exactly like her and Katie, and on the love seat opposite them was seated, Katie. Her lover looked at her with confusion and fear while the women opposite had calm features. As Dean shut the door behind her she looked at Katie. "Katie? Is everything okay?"

"I'm not sure," she began as she looked back at the imposters. "But, I think we need to listen to what they have to say."

Dean nodded appraising the situation. Katie had her gun in her lap while the cats were sitting calmly in the laps of the two lookalikes. She took off her coat and hat, putting them on the rack by the door. She even bent down to pick up Katie's coat that was lying on the floor and added it to the rack before she moved to sit on the love seat next to Katie.

"So," she began. "Anyone want to fill me in?" Dean asked with a raise of an eyebrow toward her twin.

Janai smiled at the directness and started to explain. "My name is Janai and this is Alana...or I should be more specific, Princess Alana of the Theiliosian Realm."

"Theilios? Where's that?" Katie cut in, feeling much calmer now that Dean was beside her.

"Ah, well...that may be a bit difficult to explain. Suffice it to say that it's not in this quadrant of the galaxy."

"Galaxy? You did say galaxy?" Katie looked at Dean who had on her calm mask. Her immediate thought was, oh boy...I think these two are a few cards short of a full deck, but when she rolled her eyes at Dean, she saw a flicker of something...she thinks this is possible!

"Yes," Alana confirmed. "We are not of your planet."

Ohmygod! Katie slumped back into the love seat and braced herself for the rest of the story that Alana began to tell.

"My father is the leader of our realm. He sent me here to visit your great cities and learn from your people. He feels that understanding you and your many governments will help to make me a more competent and compassionate ruler. Janai," she looked affectionately at her and gave their still entwined hands a squeeze, "is my protector. She has been by my side for many years now." She looked back at Dean and Katie and continued. "We were visiting one of the islands in the area you call the Caribbean, when you two spotted us swimming in the ocean. That's how we wound up here, in this country. You see, you actually brought us here."

Dean nodded and said, "the marbles."

"Yes," Alana acknowledged, quite surprised at the human's ability to grasp the concept.

"And you're in our exact forms because?" Dean questioned, eyebrow raised.

Janai picked up the conversation, "Because in that state, a suspended state for us, the only way we could re-form would be in an alternate state that would not be 'accepted' by humans. I was able to assume your identity thanks to a drop of blood that was extracted by this one." Janai affectionately rubbed Butter who had been sprawled across her lap and purred with the attention being given her. "Alana took on your identity Katie, when I removed one of your hairs from your hairbrush. We came back because I had failed to replace the spheres with replicates." She paused, then added, "We also came to borrow your vehicle."

"So," Katie asked a bit surprised at the last comment, "You want us to believe that you two are from another part of the galaxy and you can change shape...like the shape shifters on the sci-fi channel. And, you need to borrow our car?"

"Yes, pretty much like that," Janai agreed. "But I'm afraid things aren't always quite that simple. Just before we went for our 'swim' I told Alana about a partial communication that came to me. It had to deal with a force of rebels threatening the realm and I am in fear for her safety. I am positive that someone is after us. I can feel him or her using their powers. Our scheduled pick up is not for eight more days, but I'm afraid that we might not survive that long. We are on our way to an emergency starcraft. That's why we needed your vehicle." She shook her head in disbelief then looked over at her partner. "Can we have a word in private?"

Dean shrugged and looked at the look-alikes.

"Go ahead," Janai offered politely, "we'll be right here when you get back."

Dean took Katie's hand pulling her partner up with her as she stood and led the way to the kitchen where they could talk and still keep an eye on their doubles.

"Are you really believing this?" Katie whispered as she watched Janai and Alana through the kitchen archway. "I mean it's so..."

"Unbelievable?" Dean offered quietly. "Yeah, I got to admit it is a stretch." She looked deeply into Katie's eyes. "When I came in, you had your gun on your lap and not trained on them. And I noticed the safety was still in the on position. Why?"

"Well, um, would you believe I couldn't get it off?"

Dean nodded her head. "Today, when I went for lunch at the Old Post Office Pavilion...something strange happened." Katie forgot about the women in the other room and focused her attention on Dean. "I just placed my order and was doing my usual people watching when I noticed a man rushing from shop to shop looking for someone. When he came into the Taverna, he looked straight at me. When our eyes locked for that brief moment, I felt as though I had met him before or something...and his eyes...they were..." Dean closed her eyes and inhaled slowly as though trying to regain control.

"Dean...sweetheart, are you all right?" Katie reached up and stroked Dean's face as she watched the flicker of movement under the closed eyelids and the jaw muscles clench and unclench.

Slowly, Dean exhaled and opened her eyes welcoming the warmth of Katie's emerald gaze. "Yeah, it was just a very ill-omened sensation. The eyes were so evil looking. Like I was gazing into the depths of hell." She shook her head to clear the feeling that had settled on her once more. "As soon as he left, I could feel the hairs on my neck standing and doing that little warning itch. I just knew something bad was coming our way."

"Dean, couldn't these women be that? The bad thing coming our way?"

"No." Dean shook her head again. "I don't think so." She raised her right hand to her neck. "Not an itch in sight," she said with a thin smile. "Let's keep an open mind with these two. So far, my gut is telling me to believe them."

Katie nodded her head slowly. "Okay, love. You know I trust you...and your gut." She patted the mentioned anatomy softly and looked up at her lover.

That comment brought a big grin to Dean's face. She circled her lover with her arms and gently placed a kiss on Katie's soft lips. "I love you," Dean breathed softly as their lips parted.

Katie's eyelids fluttered opened, "I love you too," she affirmed, as she reveled in the warmth of their embrace.

"All right," Dean drawled, "open minds and a few more questions for our twins, okay?"

"Lead on Sherlock," Katie responded and waved her lover into the living room.

They returned to their seats on the couch, still holding hands, and resumed their conversation with their 'guests.'

"Let's get to the good part, shall we?" Dean began as her mind rapidly took the information they gave her previously and processed it into the bizarre facts of the past few days. "First, tell me about these powers. What kind of damage can they do to a human?"

"Why do you ask? We have not hurt anyone," Janai answered defensively.

"No," Dean held up her hand in a calming gesture. "I don't believe you have...but someone has. Is it possible that someone else could have brought along this person seeking you in the same way we did?"

"It's possible, but I don't see how. If someone were that close to us, I would have sensed something."

"Well, let's just assume that someone or ones found one of these spheres, much like we had, and just happened to bring it home with them too."

Katie put her hand to her mouth and gasped as she saw where Dean was headed. "Eddie and Angie?"

Dean nodded at her partner and shrugged. "That would explain the autopsy reports."

"And the guy who looked like Officer DeVoe?" the blonde continued on the same train of thought.

Dean nodded again. "Remember how he just quit asking questions when you told him about losing your marbles?"

"Yes...oh my God, Dean. You're right. This is all making sense."

Janai jumped in at the mention of the other lookalike. "There was someone here? Questioning you about us?"

"Not directly, but ..." Dean remembered the Marine she picked up and drove to the bus stop on her way home that night and his comments about diving, and children's toys, and...marbles. "Damn, I actually met your tracker twice!"

"This is not good," Janai stood and began to pace. "We must leave immediately. He's been here and he's likely to be back...and he probably knows what we look like. She looked down at Alana who also had a very concerned expression. "Alana, you have no doubts now?"

"No, none." She stood also. "We must go. But Janai, these people will be in danger if we leave them here."

"Whoa!" Katie chimed in jumping up too. "What kind of danger?"

"Death...a cruel and painful death," Janai said simply.

Katie looked at Dean who was already working out a plan. "I think we need to know more about your trip and who may be behind this threat," she said as she looked up at her twin.

* * * * *

Chapter 12

Friday, 1730 Hours

"So, you have no idea who the tracker is?" Dean questioned as the four-some sat in the kitchen around the table. There were several maps spread out on the table top, with routes marked in different highlighter colors.

"Tell me about the autopsy reports," Janai asked Dean as she sat back in her chair. "This is where your doctors examine the dead for a cause of death, correct?"

"Yes, exactly." Dean got up and went to the refrigerator to retrieve a bottle of spring water. She offered her 'guests' bottles, which they gladly accepted. "The results showed that all of the blood in the bodies had hardened completely into fine pellets. The blood was so hard it couldn't be dissolved to check for drugs or a reason for it to have become so."

"You're right in assuming it was someone from our world. That method is an archaic one and is banned by our government. It was used by our Enforcers to torture their victims for answers. Unfortunately for the victims the process is irreversible. The solidification begins in the smallest vessels first and has a secondary effect of stimulating the pain receptors of the nervous system. It is very painful and cruel."

"How long has it been banned by your government? That may be a clue to who is after you."

Janai thought for a bit then answered, "At least one hundred of your earth years, but it is still a known method, though not used." She shook her head in anger. "At least, it has not been used to our government's knowledge. The High Council will be very distressed at this information, especially since it happened here. It will stir up much curiosity and may jeopardize future visits."

"Future visits? How long have your people been visiting us?" Katie asked.

"For many of your centuries. We have been exploring many planets in space for signs of our ancestors. My parents were actually lost here while on a research expedition."

"Lost? You mean they died here?" Katie inquired with great interest.

"We really don't know for sure if they died. Only that their emergency craft crashed and their bodies were never recovered," Janai explained with sadness.


"When did this happen?" Dean asked.

"Several of your earth years ago. Near a place called Roswell, New Mexico. I was hoping to visit there on this trip, but perhaps next time." Alana reached over and gave Janai's hand a squeeze.

Katie and Dean exchanged wide-eyed glances at the Roswell reference. "That happened in 1947...fifty four years ago. How old were you at the time?" Katie asked trying to pinpoint Janai's age.

"I was a child of three...in our years. There are two of your earth years to one of ours. That would make me thirty years old in our years...or sixty in earth years. I believe that is what you were looking for Katie?"

Katie blushed at being found out so easily. "Well," Katie replied quickly, "I'll bet you look just as good in your Theiliosian form as you do in Dean's." They all managed a laugh that helped them release some of the tension that had been building.

"Janai is very beautiful in her Theiliosian form," Alana informed Katie as she looked at Janai with obvious love.

"As are you, my Princess," Janai countered bringing a blush to Alana's cheeks. The silence extended as the two visitors looked at each other with a deep intensity.

Dean finally broke the silence by clearing her throat. "Ahhh, yes, well...we better get back to business," she suggested awkwardly. It was very disconcerting for her to watch them. It was like watching herself as she looked at Katie. Is this what I look like when I look at Katie? No wonder Dirk and Bill kid us so much! She looked up at Katie who was looking back at her with obviously much the same thoughts.

Dean picked up the original thread of the conversation, "Is there anyway to tell who's tracking you? Any kind of a signature in these power disruptions you sense?"

"No, not yet. If he...or she...were closer I would be able to define them. But so far, whoever it is has stayed just beyond my abilities to do so, or has used minimal powers to mask their identity."

Katie asked the next question. "Do you think there is more than one?"

"No, just one. At least at this time."

"Okay," Dean said with a sigh. "There's four of us and one of them. Sounds like good odds to me."

"I wish you would both reconsider helping us. Your lives will be in jeopardy if you come with us." Alana looked at both of the earth women, hoping they would think again about their offer to help.

"No way," came the unified response. "Besides," Dean added, "what's to say he or she won't come after us anyway just to be sure?"

The doorbell rang at that moment and brought back the reality of danger. Janai extended her senses and said, "I sense a human presence."

Katie pulled out her pistol anyway when she went to the door. She checked to see whom the caller was before opening it. Recognizing the local delivery boy, she returned her pistol to its holster and took out some money to pay for the pizza, then opened the door. Returning to the kitchen, she placed the boxes on the counter.

"I suggest we eat. It may be a bit before we all get the chance again." Heads nodded in agreement as they got up to select their slices.

Within an hour, the pizza had been consumed and a plan had been laid. Now the four women were taking time to make preparations for the trip to the emergency craft. If someone was following Janai and Alana, at least now they had a viable plan.

Dean outfitted everyone in duplicate clothing. Dean and Janai wore identical black jeans, Army sweatshirts and BDU jackets. Alana and Katie were dressed in blue jeans, DEA sweatshirts and DEA field jackets. Everyone wore hiking boots for the trek up the mountain to the hidden emergency craft. If it weren't for the eye color it would have been impossible for anyone to tell them apart. As a precaution, everyone had a set of sunglasses to shield their eyes.

"Wow," Katie murmured as she caught sight of Dean and Janai standing next to each other. "If you had your sunglasses on, I'd never be able to tell who's who." Dean's lips curled into a feisty grin at the comment and Katie added, "well, almost. I don't think anyone can duplicate that attitude."

Alana came out of the dressing area at that moment and caught the grin and comment. "Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that, Katie. Janai has quite the attitude herself." In reaction, Janai duplicated Dean's facial reaction to a 'T,' causing both blondes to break out into laughter.

"Whoa...this is just too unreal!" Katie said shaking her head at the mirror images of her lover.

Dean and Janai both shrugged in unison, then Dean spoke. "l will," then looking at Janai adjusted her statement, "we...will be down in the den packing some essentials."

Katie nodded in understanding. "Okay, we'll put together some things from the kitchen."

Each set of twins went their separate ways, gathering essential items for their plan.

* * * * *

Katie pulled out two coolers from the pantry and took them to the kitchen table. She opened the refrigerator and selected a variety of drinks to put in it. "Better stock up on the caffinated ones...and some water too," she said looking over her shoulder at her lookalike. Seeing Alana behind her was very bewildering and she was having a hard time adjusting to the stranger who really wasn't a stranger. She shook her head and went back to filling the cooler.

"Katie," Alana began a bit hesitantly, "how long..."

"Have Dean and I been lovers?" Katie guessed.

"Yes. The two of you seem to be such a good..."

"Fit?" she guessed again.

"Yes. Exactly. As though you two were born that way. To be together."

Katie tilted her head and thought about that last comment for a bit. She knew her relationship with Dean was something very special, but never thought about it in that particular context. Could it be true? That we were destined to be together? That something out there in the cosmos...be it a deity...or a supernatural power of some sort predestined our meeting? The concept was definitely interesting and one she would further explore with Dean once this little episode was over. In fact, I have a lot of things to explore with her, like how she so easily accepted these women for who they said they were.

Returning her attention to Alana, Katie replied, "I don't know, Alana. I never thought about it that way. We are closer than most couples that have only been together for the short time we have, but it does feel...right." She thought a bit then added, "Yes, like we were born to be together."

Changing tact, Katie asked Alana the same question. "So, how long have you and Janai been lovers?"

Alana blushed and looked away. "We...we're not lovers."

This brought Katie's eyebrows up considerably. "You're not? But I could feel..."

"Yes, the love is there. It's just...complicated." Alana reached into the refrigerator and added a carton of chocolate milk explaining that Janai had picked up quite a liking for the beverage during the trip.

"Ah...she has a sweet tooth, huh?" Katie said knowingly since Dean also craved chocolate milk. "In that case, we need to throw in some of these." She reached into the cupboard next to the frig and pulled out a box of milk and cereal bars, chocolate bars, and just for good measure some chocolate chip cookies. She saw Alana spy the granola bars so she threw those in too. "Those will be for us," she commented with a twinkle of her eyes. She added some apples, bananas and oranges to the pile then started filling the second cooler with the snack items. Adding ice packs to the drink cooler and a roll of paper towels to the snack cooler, she shut them both and looked at Alana for confirmation. They both nodded their heads, satisfied with their selections then took the coolers to the front door.

"So, why is it complicated?" Katie asked, not willing to just end that conversation.

"Janai is my 'protector' and it is her duty to keep me safe. She believes that if she were to act on her feelings, then she would be compromising her duty."

"Okay. So it's a duty thing and not a 'you're the princess thing?'" Katie questioned and got an affirmative nod in response.

"Well, I can't speak for Janai, but Dean and I ...well, we feel that way too...that we need to keep each other safe. And I've got to tell you...being lovers has only intensified that ability, not detracted from it." She took Alana by the hand and led her to the couch to sit down while she told her about their most recent episode with Natasha.

"Natasha summed it up pretty well one day when she said she had 'underestimated the power of a cornered predators mate.' She was referring to my shooting a knife out of her hand when she had Dean in a deadly spot." Katie flashed back to that moment in time and relived the scene in slow motion as she described it to Alana. "I knew if I missed, Dean would have been killed by that knife. I'm an excellent shot with my right hand, but it was injured and I had to use my left, which I'm not too accurate with even though I had practiced with both hands. Of course, I told Dean that I was expert with both," she smiled remembering Dean's shock at the accuracy of the shot. "What I did Alana, was will that bullet to its mark. My need to protect her was controlling my actions and allowed me to do something I normally would not have been able to do."

"I see," Alana responded, the story eliciting a smile. "But how do I get her to see that?"

"Hmmm. We'll need to work on that one..."

* * * * *

Dean led Janai to the den and her weapons closet. She unlocked the door and pulled it open allowing the automatic light to turn on. "This is my personal arsenal," she told Janai as she looked over her shoulder.

"Yes. It's very impressive," Janai commented causing Dean to stop dead in her tracks. "I must explain," she began. "When Alana and I..."

"You checked out who we were and found this?"

Janai nodded. "Yes, and we also learned a great deal about you. You have quite a distinguished background in the military. We were very impressed with your training and career." She looked over at the computer and waived a hand at it. "Katie too, although her career hasn't had the same dark demands as yours."

"Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised," Dean said as she resumed walking into the closet. She selected a heavy-duty black canvas duffle that zipped open from the top. "Do you have a preference?" Dean asked as she waived her hand at the weapons.

"No. I will not need anything from here. I have all I need...in here," she said pointing toward herself.

"Interesting," Dean said as she selected two H & K Mark 23's, and a MP5K 9mm submachine gun, several ammo clips, and six boxes of 9mm ammo and put them into the duffle. "Just what kind of powers do you have?" she asked as she added two Kevlar vests, night vision binoculars, some smoke and stun grenades, two flashlights and four communications units.

"Well, I have many different enhancements," Janai began as she picked up the MP5K. It weighed just over four pounds and was only thirteen inches in length. She returned it to the bag with a nod of approval. "I can project a force field for protection as well as a weapon. I can sense and identify disturbances in the atmosphere. I hear sounds at very long distance, and in my Theiliosian form I have the ability to pass through solid objects, can assume myself into other forms..."

"Okay, I get the picture," Dean said shaking her head. Leading her twin to the exercise room, she opened the secure closet with her high tech items. She decided she would add a few techno toys to her bag of 'enhancements' before she zipped it shut.

"One of my best enhancements," Janai continued, "is the ability to heal...not only myself, but others as well. As a royal protector, that function is superior to anyone else's on our world."

Dean looked at her twin and nodded as another piece of puzzle slipped into place. "And I'll bet you did a little healing on one calico fuzz ball."

Janai looked at her, confusion evident on her face until she caught Dean's drift. "Ah, the little one. Yes, she told me of her pain and how sad she was going to be to have to leave her mates and the two of you...and, well..."

"You can talk to them?" Dean's eyebrows were nearly in her hairline.

"Of course," Janai stated simply. "I'm able to communicate in many different languages. We are all some form of living being after all and all beings communicate on a variety of levels."

"No one is ever going to believe this story," Dean mumbled softly, shaking her head as they exited the closet.

Janai caught the mumbled remark and smiled inwardly as she waived her hand over the lock to secure the closet once more.

"Nice trick," Dean said with a grin. "Can you teach me how to do that?"

They both laughed and headed up the stairs glad to have a light moment before they finalized their plan for action.

* * * * *

Chapter 13

Friday, 1900 Hours

Kerris stirred when the rap came on the window. "Hey, buddy...are you alright?" the convenience store clerk asked through the closed window. "I called an ambulance. They should be here soon," he explained pointing at Kerris' bloody shirt and coat.

Alarmed at the sound of the distant siren, Kerris turned the key in the ignition and shifted into reverse, nearly hitting the clerk as he tried to get out of the way. He was still weak from the injury and he misjudged the distance to the car parked behind him, crashing into a Chevy's left rear fender. He hit the brakes, changed gears, and floored it out of the parking lot, nearly hitting a pedestrian in the process. Ignoring the red light, he continued through the intersection and sped toward the highway passing the ambulance as it slowed to enter the convenience store parking lot.

The ambulance driver pulled up to the frantic clerk as he waived them down yelling, "You just passed him! He pulled out of here like a bat out of hell!" The EMS crew got out as soon as the vehicle came to a stop and went over to the clerk who was still visibly upset after nearly being run over. "That guy must be nuts!" he shouted at the crew chief.

"What happened?" the crew chief asked. "Why'd he take off?"

"Man, I don't know! I just went up and rapped on the window to tell him you guys were on the way, and he went ballistic. He must be hurting though, 'cause he couldn't control the car." The young man pointed at the banged-up Chevy, "he smashed into that Chevy when he backed up, then nearly clipped a pedestrian when he pulled out of the lot. He even barreled through the red light!"

Trying to calm the clerk, the crew chief place a hand on the young kid's shoulder. "Hey, take it easy. We'll call it in," he nodded to one of his crew and told him to get on the radio and call it in to the police. "He's probably on the lamb from the cops. There was a shoot out down by the waterfront earlier. A cop got shot, but managed to shoot the perp before he got away." He looked over his shoulder in the direction they came from. "C'mon over by the rig and you can give the cops a description of the car."

* * * * *

Kerris wheeled the car onto Washington Street and headed north toward the airport. He took a left on Oronoco then a right on Henry Street and continued north until he came to Crystal City and pulled into the parking ramp for the Airport Hilton. He followed the ramp to the top floor where there were few cars parked and pulled into a slot between two oversized vans. He cut the engine and slumped onto the steering wheel. "Can't rest," he mumbled as he closed his eyes willing control over the pain. Then he remembered the locator chip he had Serus plant into Janai's new credit card. The thought buoyed him as he realized he could track her at any time. Kerris lifted his head off the steering wheel and checked the time; it was 7:35. Next, he took a quick inventory of the car's contents. There was a sports bag in the back seat that held a set of sweats, running shoes, a hairbrush, toiletries, and a bottle of spring water. Checking the glove box, he found a travel first aid kit that he opened intending to care for his still bleeding wound. He was not pleased with the recuperative abilities of humans and decided that he would have to change into his Theiliosian form to heal properly and quickly. He pulled out the hairbrush from the sports bag and removed one of the auburn hair samples, studying it in the dim light coming from the cars dome light. "Okay, so I'll find out what the owner looks like the hard way."

He got out of the Mercedes and cautiously checked for anyone in the immediate area. Deciding he was secure for the moment, he went back to the Mercedes and sat in the backseat to begin the transformation. The human form began to glow and pulse a reddish black except in the area of the wound where it glowed bright reddish white like a hot coal. The ethereal body slipped out of the human clothes and seemed to float in the back seat before changing over into his true form. It wasn't much different from a human males form, except for his eyes that almost seemed to glow, and his muscle definition. Anyone seeing that naked body would easily have taken him for a competitive body builder. It took nearly a half hour for the injured area to become half its original size. Kerris knew he could not afford to take the time to heal completely, so as soon as he was able to tolerate the pain easily he clasped the hair sample in his large hand. Soon his body began to change shape once more. When the transformation was complete, Kerris looked into the mirror he removed from the sports bag. "Well, at least the police won't be able to find me now," he said, smiling at the reflection of a thirty-something female. Checking the rest of his new shape, he was pleased to see that this human had been one to take care of her body. He reached into the bag and dressed in the sweats and running shoes then placed the FBI agent's wallet, the tracking device from Serus, and the pistols from the discarded coats pocket into the bag before exiting the car in search of another vehicle and nourishment.

* * * * *

Dean checked her watch after they packed the SUV with their gathered items. "Okay, it's 1940 hours. We'd better head out."

They all moved to get into the SUV except Janai. She was standing stock still with her eyes closed, a look of pain on her face. Alana looked at her and realized at once that she was sensing another disturbance. As Dean began to speak to her, Alana motioned for silence, whispering for her to wait. When Janai opened her eyes she saw two sets of blue and one pair of green eyes looking at her. She took in a long breath and exhaled slowly before she spoke.

"It's Kerris," she said simply, directing the comment at Alana.

Alana inhaled sharply. "Are you certain?"

"Yes. He's in some pain. He was using his Theiliosian form to heal."

"Is he the one that is tracking us?" Alana asked, concern showing easily on her face and in her voice. She walked over to where Janai was standing and placed a hand gently on her protector's arm.

"It could be...or he's here for another reason," Janai answered slowly as she considered the possibilities.

"Why would he be in pain? Could he have been attacked by someone while in human form?"

Dean and Katie looked back and forth at the two aliens then at each other. Dean broke into the conversation. "Who's Kerris?"

The question brought the two women out of their two-way conversation as they resumed walking to the SUV. "Kerris is my twin brother," Janai began. "I can identify his Theiliosian power signature easily since we are twins."

"Why haven't you recognized him earlier?" Katie asked as she shut the rear door of the SUV.

"As an enforcer, Kerris can disguise his signature very well. But, he was using his powers to heal. That drops the cloak of disguise and makes his power signature readable," Janai explained as she and Alana got into the back seat of the SUV.

Dean and Katie got into the front seat and strapped on their seatbelts. "To heal? You mean he was injured?" Dean asked.

"Yes, it's very possible in human form. You see when we accept your form, we become more vulnerable. We can be...hurt, or killed...easier in your form. We still have our offensive powers, but our defenses are weakened."

Katie looked over her shoulder into the back seat. "But, he's your brother...so, that's good, right?"

The two women in the back seat looked at each other, weighing the odds. "That depends," Janai began. "He is one of Varian's top enforcers."

Dean cut in, "And, Varian is the guy you think is behind the rebels, right?" Two heads nodded in the back seat. "So, could be one of the bad guys." More nods. "Or, he could be trying to warn you." Dean considered, as she started the engine and put the SUV into gear. "What's your gut telling you Janai?"

"I fear, as you put it, my 'gut' is telling me he is one of the bad guys. He has been under Varian's influence for too long. It has been a while since I last saw him, but my instincts tell me he's taken the dark path. He was always weak in that respect. Always getting in trouble, always bullying, always seeking Varian's praise anyway he could."

Dean sighed. "I'm sorry to hear that, Janai. This may complicate our plan." She thought in silence for a bit as she drove down the lane, thinking of contingencies they would need to make to their plan. "How do his powers rate next to yours?"

Janai shrugged. "We are fairly equal, and as siblings go, we fought often."

Alana cut in, "but you always won, Janai. You could always out-think him."

"Enforcers are very powerful...but, you're right, he doesn't plan well, or anticipate well."

"Okay," Dean breathed easier, "then we shouldn't have a problem if we run into him." The two women in the back looked at each other and hoped this human was right for all their sakes. Dean headed out of Occoquan on State Road 123, heading north towards Dulles Airport. The route they planned took them across the back roads to their target destination: Glencoe, Pennsylvania. Hidden in the hills outside of Glencoe was the emergency starcraft. With any luck, they would be able to reach the craft in a little over six hours time.

* * * * *

Kerris found the vehicle he was looking for on the next level down. It was a dark green Ford Ranger that had customized tinted widows that would afford him some cover. Checking his surroundings he noticed a couple entering the elevator to his left. As soon as the doors closed, he waved his hand over the door lock and opened the passenger door. He tossed the gym bag on the passenger seat and slid in behind the steering wheel. Another pass over the ignition and the truck was running. He checked the mirrors and cautiously pulled out of the slot and headed back toward Interstate 395. On the way, he pulled into a fast food restaurant and bought enough food to replenish his depleted reserves.

When he came to the interchange for I 395, Kerris pulled to the shoulder of the road and put the truck in park. Reaching into the gym bag beside him, Kerris removed the tracking device. He turned it on and waited for it to blink to life. What he saw on the small screen surprised him. "Well, well, little sister, I guess I should have anticipated this." He looked at the monitor and watched as the blip crept steadily northward. "Looks like Serus was deceived after all. Heading for the emergency starcraft are you? Well, I can't let that happen now, can I? Not without a little family reunion first." He laughed as he plotted an intercept course then put the truck into drive, slipping back into traffic. He looked at the clock on the dash; it was 10:45 PM. If he stayed on the interstates, he could catch up to them before they got there. He looked in the rearview mirror and winked at his reflection. "Or maybe I'll just tag along and have some fun on the way."

* * * * *

They had been driving for nearly two hours and Dean decided it was safe to make a rest stop. The back roads were isolated at this time and there were no vehicle lights following them. As they entered the small town of Gapland, just across the Maryland border, Dean saw an all night diner on the right.

"How about a quick stop here?" she asked as she slowed the SUV.

"Great!" Katie replied quickly. "I think I drank too much water earlier."

Their twins in the back seat agreed and Dean swung into a parking spot right in front of the door. There were only a couple of other cars outside the diner. Dean looked inside the diner's windows and decided that the cars must belong to the cook and the one waitress she saw inside sitting at the counter. "Okay, but let's make it quick."

They exited the SUV and headed to the door. Janai held it open for them and then followed Dean inside. The waitress was sitting on a stool and the counter and swiveled it around to watch them enter when she heard the door jingle open.

Surprised to see two sets of twins enter, she jumped off the stool and smiled. "Hi folks! What can I get you?"

Alana and Katie spied the restroom sign and pointed at it, receiving a knowing nod from the waitress who turned her attention to the other set of twins. "Anything for you two?" The taller set of twins moved over to the counter and took a seat. Dean nodded to the waitress and handed her the thermos she packed at the last minute and asked her to fill it with hot chocolate. "Sure thing, be right back," the waitress took the proffered item then turned and went through the swinging doors to the kitchen.

"Well," Dean began, "so far, so good." She looked over at Janai who was eyeing the chocolate donuts with cream filling in the round display that was sitting on the counter between them. Dean had to chuckle at the sight, thinking Janai was more like her than she probably realized. She looked up as the waitress came back through the doors.

"It'll be just a minute. That's a pretty big thermos." She paused, recognizing the look on the women's faces. "Would you like to try a couple of those? They're really fresh. Joe just finished frosting them."

"Yeah, might as well," Dean nodded in Janai's direction.

"Wouldn't want you to eat alone," Janai commented with a snicker. "Guess we better get a couple for Alana and Katie too."

Just then, the two mentioned blondes came out of the restroom and eyed their partners as they bit into the chocolate treats. "Make it quick, huh?" Katie said with a smirk as she and Alana grabbed seats on each side of them.

"Mmm," Dean replied after swallowing, "just putting the time to good use."

Katie just shook her head and reached for her donut, taking a huge bite out of it and rolling her eyes with pleasure. She looked over at the waitress and mumbled, "milk?"

As they ate their donuts and drank their milk, they watched the late news show on the television mounted from the ceiling. They all paused in mid-chew when a field reporter came on the screen, a burned-out pawn shop in the background.

"Excuse me," Janai called, motioning to the waitress. "Could you turn that up please?" The waitress did as requested and they all listened to the report.

"...site of a possible arson fire. The firemen are now checking the smoldering ruins for clues. Just before the fire was detected, an Alexandria police officer was involved in a shoot-out with a man carrying stolen FBI identification on the street in front of this building. Witnesses said the man had been wounded in the exchange, but was able to speed away in a late model car. The officer, who was also shot in the gun battle, is listed in serious condition. More on this story and others when we come back."

"Janai, that's the..." Alana whispered before being cut off by a subtle warning from Janai.

"I think we should be leaving," Janai informed the group quietly. "We still have a ways to go."

Three minutes later, the foursome was exiting the diner with a half dozen more donuts in a bag, and the thermos of hot chocolate. When they were safely on the road, Janai filled in Dean and Katie about the pawn shop.

Katie was amazed at the system of aliens living among them and no one had a clue. "So, your people are...everywhere...on our planet?" Her voice was conveying the incredulity of the situation.

"Yes. We've been here for a long time, living among your people. We are very much like you, except for our enhanced abilities. We eat and sleep, have hopes and desires, just like you do. That's why my parents were here searching for signs of our ancestors." Janai paused as she looked out the vehicle window at the clear night sky. "Out of the many planets that have life forms, yours is the closest to ours."

"Then, why haven't your people made formal contact with us?" Katie asked as she turned to face the two women in the back seat.

Her answer came from Dean. "Because our people are not ready to accept the possibility that aliens do exist. Hell, we can't get along with each other! Can you imagine the chaos that would result if we were contacted officially?" She shook her head and shivered. "Nope! We're not ready for that. And believe me," she looked into her rear view mirror at her backseat passengers, "once we get y'all safely on your way...I'll never mention it! I've seen what happens to folks who report UFO's."

Katie shifted back in her seat to peer out into the night sky silently digesting Dean's comments and secretly wondering what space travel would be like.

"Dean," Janai spoke quietly, "I think we need to consider that Kerris will find us. It's not just a coincidence that the pawn shop was destroyed shortly after we were there. He's covering something and I have an uneasy feeling about that whole situation. Serus knew too much about our trip. Only Alana's father, the High Council, and Varian knew the details of our itinerary. He must have had contact with Kerris before we arrived."

"Well, we'll find out in about another two hours or so when we arrive at the emergency site. Why don't y'all just try to get some rest. I'll wake you if I need you." Dean looked at the time, calculating the distance they had left to travel then increased her speed to hopefully give them an edge of safety, just in case Janai was right.

* * * * *

Chapter 14

Saturday, 0100 Hours

Kerris looked at the screen one more time before increasing his speed to 90 mph as the small truck began to vibrate. The stop for fuel had cost him dearly. He did not expect the fuel stop to be so busy and he regretted taking the truck instead of a faster vehicle. He calculated they were far enough ahead of him that he would not be able to get there before them, but he would be able to arrive before they had the craft ready for flight. He looked at the screen again and cursed silently, pushing the truck to its limit on the open highway. It would be close, but he was confident...just another hour and he'd begin to put Varian's plan into action. He never saw the state police car parked in the median as he blew past it. When he finally saw the flashing red lights in the rear view mirror, he panicked and pushed the truck on into the night.

The cruiser increased its speed, coming up to the speeding truck on the driver's side. The patrolman in the passenger seat was a rookie on his first night of duty out of the academy and he was visibly excited about the chase. The night had been very slow up to this point. His partner smiled at him as he accelerated the powerful cruiser.

"Okay, Jay. You were looking for a little excitement. I'm going to pull up to the driver's side. You motion for him to pull over."

As soon as they were beside the truck, the rookie was surprised to see a good looking woman behind the wheel. "Damn, it's a woman," he said as he motioned for her to pull over and was answered with another increase in speed.

"The bitch won't pull over Chet," he said to his partner as they slipped back behind the truck.

"Call for assistance. We'll do this one by the book," the older patrolman said in a controlled tone.

Patrolman Jay Pasternak picked up the microphone and called the dispatcher. "This is Car 78, in pursuit of a late model Ford Ranger on Interstate 68...just west of Flintstone. We are requesting assistance. Are there any other vehicles in the area?"

The radio squawked with static then a reply; "Car 78...assistance is on the way. Cars 75 and 63 will road block just east of Exit 50."

"Roger, thank you dispatch. Run a check on Virginia plate: Alpha - Alpha - 3 - 6 - 9 - Zebra," the young patrolman replied into the mic. "Okay, let's box him in."

The state patrol car, sped past the truck and pulled in front of it, hoping to force the driver to slow down, but Kerris maneuvered the truck around the police car and picked up speed again. They continued this game of tag until the cruiser backed off and slipped behind the truck when they came within a mile of the roadblock. As the vehicles raced west on I 68, Kerris eyed the cruiser behind him as he contemplated how to get rid of it. There wasn't another vehicle on the road to use in a diversionary tactic and he did not want to pull over and waste the time to deal with them. Their vehicle was more powerful than his truck so he did not want to chance forcing them off the road. And, having them following him was not an alternative either. One mile ahead, his options changed when he saw the flashing red lights.

"Okay, get ready. The roadblock is coming up," Officer Chet Bains forewarned his rookie partner. But neither of them was ready for the event to come.

Kerris smiled as he sped toward the two cruisers that were parked trunk-to-trunk across the concrete highway. He lifted his right hand and projected a force field fifty feet in front of the speeding truck. When the patrolmen from cars 75 and 63 realized the truck wasn't going to stop or slow down, they holstered their guns and ran for their lives, diving into the ditches on each side of the highway. When they rolled over to watch the impending collision, they couldn't believe what they saw. Both cruisers exploded with the impact of the force field, sending up dual fireballs as the vehicles were lifted into the air allowing the truck to pass unscathed beneath them before dropping back down on the highway.

Behind the truck, Chet realized that the truck wasn't slowing and he shouted, "Holy Mother of God, that bitch isn't going to stop! Hang on!" He put both feet on the brake to slow the cruiser as he turned the wheel hard to the left. He released the brake and turned the wheel back to the right after completing a 180 turn, but the momentum was still carrying them toward the burning vehicles. To compensate, he stepped on the accelerator to get the cruiser moving away from the falling cars. It was close, but the tires finally stopped squealing, gripping the road once more. He was able to bring the vehicle to a dead stop, just yards from the conflagration. He moved his vehicle to safety onto the shoulder and they both got out, hoping that their colleagues were unharmed.

"Son of a bitch!" the patrolman from car 75 said as he picked himself up out of the ditch. He held a hand up, shielding his eyes from the bright flames as he looked across the highway for the driver of car 63. A plume of noxious smoke was wafting his way, causing him to cough as he staggered out of its grasp. As he made his way to the roadway, he saw the driver of car 63 emerge from the other side. "Frank!" he shouted, "are you all right?"

Frank nodded in reply and the two officers met in the middle of the highway. "Did you see that Dan?" Frank asked his colleague from car 75. "I mean...how..."

They were both staring at the burning mass of twisted metal, when Chet and Jay came up to them.

"How the hell did that truck get through that?" Chet asked as he looked at the mess. Dan and Frank just shook their heads trying to figure out how it all could have happened.

"Never seen anything like it," Dan said softly.

"It was like there was an invisible plow in front of the truck," Frank added. "It just rammed the cruisers and lifted them up to let the truck pass before dropping the fireballs back on the highway."

Chet looked at the two experienced officers then at his rookie partner. "Jay, go call this in. Make sure you let them know everyone's all right." Jay nodded and jogged back to the cruiser. As soon as the rookie was out of earshot Chet looked at his two friends. "C'mon...an invisible plow? You guys sure you want to put that into a report?"

Dan and Frank looked at Chet considering his words.

"Damn, Chet! That's exactly the way it happened...didn't it?" Dan looked over at Frank for confirmation, receiving a vigorous nod. "But, you have a point. No one would believe that."

"Okay," Frank agreed, "we'll just put it down that he..."

Chet interrupted, "Make that a she," he said nodding at the wide-eyed look he was getting.

"Okay, she was going so fast it rammed right though, hitting the rear of both vehicles. By the time the cars exploded, it was already through." He paused putting his hands on his hips and looking at the dying flames. "Who the hell was that woman?"

Jay returned to the group to let them know the fire trucks were on the way and a couple of wreckers...and an ambulance. Dan and Frank grimaced at that news, hoping they could talk the EMS squad out of taking them to the hospital for a once over. Jay also let them know the dispatcher had run the Virginia plate and found that the truck was reported stolen from the Airport Hilton in Crystal City.

A few cars and eighteen-wheelers were starting to back up on both sides of the highway now, so Jay left to set up flares further down the highway. The wail of sirens could be heard in the distance and Chet went across the median to direct them to the scene.

Dan looked at Frank and said, "We did see that didn't we?" Frank just nodded his head then walked over to the guard rail and sat down on it to wait for the emergency vehicles to arrive.

* * * * *

Dean checked the time and figured that they had maybe another thirty minutes before they go close to the site. They'd have to park and hike into the hills, and that would take maybe another thirty minutes. Her passengers were all asleep and she was keeping herself awake by listening to the police scanner she had in the SUV. She had decided to jump onto Interstate 68 to make better time, and had taken Exit 22 to catch Route 219 north towards Meyersdale. Glencoe was just a short hop from there. The original route they planned would have taken more time, but afforded better cover. With the possibility of Kerris closing in, Dean opted for the quicker road. She was coming down a hill and had the lights of Meyersdale in sight when Janai abruptly sat up in the back seat, eyes still closed.

"You okay, Janai?" Dean asked. When she didn't get an immediate response, Dean assumed the worst. "Kerris?"

Janai nodded, and was about to speak when the police scanner went crazy. Police, fire trucks, and an ambulance were all being dispatched to an accident site on the interstate, just east of Cumberland. The noise woke up Katie and Alana.

"How far away is the accident?" Janai asked Dean.

Calculating in her head Dean guessed. "Thirty, maybe forty minutes. If that was him, it will also depend on what he's driving and his top speed."

"It was him," Janai answered quietly.

"How rough is the terrain up to the ship?" Dean asked as a plan came to mind.

"I'm not sure."

"How about you and Katie change seats. You can direct me from up here."

With a bit of maneuvering, Katie and Janai changed places. Janai buckled up then kept her eye on the road ahead. Before they got to Glencoe, she told Dean to slow down. She scanned the woods on her right, then suddenly told Dean to stop.

"It's up this trail," she pointed in the direction of a very narrow path that looked to be an animal pathway.

Dean looked it over, then put the SUV into four wheel drive. "Okay, make sure you're all strapped in. Let's see how far we can get in this baby." Then she turned and headed the SUV up the path.

It was slow going, and there were a couple of times she thought they'd have to get out and walk the rest of the way, but they kept on going. The trickiest part was the soft shale that would crumble away and not allow the tires traction, but Dean was used to four-wheeling, so she kept on going. Fifteen minutes after they had turned off the road, Janai pointed to a break in the trees off to the left. Dean followed her direction and swung the SUV through the break. The other side of the trees opened onto a small meadow with a shear cliff extending upward from the back of the meadow. Dean stopped and put the vehicle in park and added the parking break for good measure. She checked her watch and nodded...0118, not bad. The headlights of the SUV illuminated the rock outcropping.

"This is it," Janai announced, unhooking the seat belt and opening the door.

Katie looked at Dean and said, "It is?" and got a shrug from Dean in response before they released their belts and exited the SUV.

Alana unfastened her seat belt and joined Janai in front of the SUV headlights, their bodies casting eerie shadows on the jagged rocks. Together they approached the cliff face and studied the formation. Janai then walked to the left, and stopped when the cliff face ended. She passed her hand over an area of rock and stepped back seeming to wait for something to happen. She looked at Alana then back at the rock, stepping forward again but this time she continued through the rock wall and disappeared within the cliff. Alana turned and watched the faces of the two humans as they observed Janai disappear. She walked back over to them and explained. "There's actually an opening there. You just don't see it. Come, I'll show you."

The three women walked to the spot where Janai disappeared. Alana took Katie's hand and led her through the opening while Dean followed closely behind. Once inside, they were surprised by the size of the interior space. A long tube that went around the circumference of the cavern dimly illuminated it. In the center was a craft that looked everything like the old reports of flying saucers would have described. It was circular in shape, sitting on a tripod of legs that extended from the bottom of the craft. It almost looked like someone took two cup saucers and placed them rim to rim, with the top one put on upside down. The top had small windows around the center ridge, and the matching bottom ridge had small lights around its circumference. Janai was standing directly beneath the craft with her arm extended upward. As they watched an opening appeared in the bottom and a stairway slowly extended down.

Katie leaned over to Dean and whispered, "Wow...it looks like something out of an old Flash Gordon movie."

Alana chuckled when she heard the comment. "Well, it was designed that way purposely. Just in case it was detected in flight, it would be written off as someone's imagination running wild after too many cliffhanger episodes. Unfortunately, this is one of the older models. Your moviegoers now would scoff at the sight of this craft. We've been slowly replacing these with newer models that match a lot of what you see on current science fiction films."

"If it's that old, is it still functional?" Dean asked as she watched Janai trot down the stairs and come up to them.

"Yes, and no," Janai responded to the question. "The fuel rods are good, but the power storage system that operates the life support and controls will need to be repaired."

"It runs on batteries?" Katie asked trying to understand.

Janai laughed. "Well, almost, but ours are made from a plasma that keeps our operational power supply in flux, causing the molecular actions to regenerate power. Unfortunately, this one has a leak and needs extensive repair and we don't have time for that. Kerris is too close." She looked at Alana peering deeply into her blue eyes. "We need to move to the next site."

Alana nodded, understanding the unspoken danger she read in Janai's eyes. "Yes, Janai," she said simply as she reached up and placed her hand gently on Janai's cheek.

"Okay," Dean sighed, breaking the tenseness of the moment. "Point me in the right direction."

* * * * *

Kerris got off the interstate at Cumberland and headed north on Route 47. He took a small back road to approach Glencoe from the southeast. It was rough travel and he couldn't maintain the speed, but hoped the shortcut would get him to the emergency site in time. It was 0130. Daring to take his eyes off the road, he checked the tracking screen. The blip was still in the same spot now for five minutes. "It'll take them another 15 minutes before they can lift off," he mumbled to himself as he continued down the bumpy road. He hit a deep hole in the pavement that jarred his entire body and caused the tracking device to bounce off the seat beside him and land upside down on the floorboard. He glared at the fallen device then returned his vision to the road ahead. Ten minutes later, he raced through the sleeping hamlet of Glencoe and found the narrow path to the departure site.

He could taste victory as he gunned the small truck up the path. The light bed of the truck made it bounce and slide as he went up. He finally gave in halfway up the path and left the truck behind as he ran the rest of the way. Approaching the meadow, he slowed and cautiously checked the site. It was empty. He ran forward to the cliff face, hoping that the craft was still there. Finding the opening he rushed inside, relieved to see the craft still there. He stealthily approached the stairway, quietly taking each stair into the craft. When he reached the interior, the sound of anger resounded throughout the cavern like a pinball caught bouncing between bumpers.

* * * * *

Chapter 15

Saturday, 0145 Hours

Dean was driving with Katie in the seat next to her, map in hand, when they came upon the intersection of Route 160. Katie looked at the map, "Take a right here, Dean. We can catch 219 up this road a bit, then Interstate 70 from 219."

Janai had suggested the northern route to throw Kerris off their trail. If he followed them north to Interstate 70, he would have to decide which way to travel. There were additional emergency locations to the east and to the west. Hopefully he would guess wrong and give them the edge they needed. If not, they needed a better plan.

"Got it," Dean commented, as she turned right. She looked up into the rear view mirror and caught the sight of Alana's head resting on Janai's shoulder as the protector held her close. Dean almost felt like a voyeur as she watched the gentle movements of the hands caressing the blonde head. It was like watching a dreamscape of her and Katie. She could feel the hair running through her fingers; sense the anticipation as the caresses longed to become more exploratory; taste the desire in her lips as they craved to make contact with Katie's. She could barely keep her eyes on the road. Finally she shook her head and mentally admonished herself, stop it Dean, that's not you...that's not Katie.

Katie felt the shiver go through Dean's body and looked over at her lover, watching her catch a glimpse of the women in the back. She knew exactly how and what she was feeling. She often found herself staring at them. Wondering what was going through their minds. Wondering what kind of reaction they felt at each other's touch. The whole situation would have been a lot easier to grasp and understand if they didn't look exactly alike. She reached out and put a hand on Dean's thigh, gently stroking it with her thumb. "Hey, love. You okay?"

"Mmm," Dean mumbled. "Best as I can be right now."

Katie nodded in comprehension, "Yeah, I know exactly how you feel."

Shaking the previous thoughts out of her system, Dean asked, "Is this next craft old too?"

Janai looked up at the question. "No. In fact it is one of the newer models. It's much faster and carries a full compliment of current technological innovations." She paused reflecting on her original choice of starcraft. "I was hoping that by going to the older craft, I could throw Kerris off our track. He would obviously seek out the newer one and I was hoping..." her voice trailed off wondering how he managed to track them.

Dean seemed to be on the same wavelength as she asked, "How do you think he found us? Can he sense your presence without you realizing it?"

"No. If he uses his powers to scan for us, I would know it. Maybe I'm underestimating him. If he figured out we weren't following our itinerary, he probably figured out I would use that older craft as my tactic to shake our tracker."

"Do you think he knows that you know he's your tracker?" Katie asked.

"He should. He gave himself away when he had to use his Theiliosian form to heal."

"Can you scan for him?" Katie inquired again.

"Yes, but then that would be like saying 'here we are.' We would be more vulnerable and I won't do that except as a last resort."

"A deadly game of hide and seek," Dean offered.

"Precisely," Janai agreed. "Our best bet is to beat him to the next site and leave before he can reach us."

"I may have a better plan than that," Dean suggested as she let her mind work out the kinks in it. "Let me think on it a bit."

They came to the intersection of Route 219 and turned northwest toward the interstate traveling quickly up the empty roadway. By the time they hit the interstate, Dean was satisfied with her plan and began to share it with the other occupants. There were just a couple of details that still needed polish, but they had time to work that out over the next four hours. Checking her gas gauge, she decided they would have to stop for fuel. She checked her travel guide and decided that they had better get fuel in Somerset or run the risk of running out down the road. It was late, and there weren't many service areas open at this time of night.

* * * * *

Kerris ran back down the rocky path to the truck. His anger was blinding his ability to react to the slick and crumbling shale and that complicated the downward run. He slipped and fell on the treacherous footing several times. When he finally got back into the truck, he was seething with anger. Starting the ignition, he gunned the engine and nearly collided with a solid oak tree before he regained control, forcing himself to back down the trail with a bit more self-control. When the tires finally hit pavement, he had regained his composure. He stopped long enough to pick up the tracking monitor from the passenger floorboard. "Ah, off to the north I see. Now, which way will you go from there?" he wondered aloud. "Guess we'll see when you make your turn."

He pressed the truck hard once more to make up for the time he had lost. From the position of the blip on the monitor, he realized he must have missed them by a scant few minutes. Now, though, he was at least twenty minutes behind them. Once more, he wished he had selected a faster vehicle. "Well, perhaps I can remedy that mistake down the road." Confidence restored, he planned his course and followed in pursuit. He kept an eye on the tracking monitor as best he could on the back roads hoping to inch closer with every turn in the road.

* * * * *

"We need to stop for fuel," Dean apprised the group as she turned her directional on. There was a service station with a small coffee shop at the 219/I 70 interchange that was open all night. She pulled up to the pump and turned off the engine. "I'll fill it up. If anyone needs a stretch or the rest room, better go for it now," she instructed the group.

The three passengers didn't need any more prompting as they all exited the vehicle and headed for the coffee shop. Next to the entrance to the coffee shop was a brand new tow truck. The truck was purple in color and the lettering on the side read Sam's Service. The operator's name, Sam Sweetwater, was listed in neat script right under it.

Katie looked it over, admiring the bright purple color. "Mmm, nice truck," she murmured as she walked past it and into the small coffee shop. Janai and Alana had stayed outside, eager to stand and stretch for a bit. Katie was still looking at the truck over her shoulder when she took a seat at the counter.

"That it is," came a gravelly voice to her left. "Had the color mixed special."

Katie turned to face the person who spoke, surprised to see a silver haired woman sitting on the stool next to her. "Oh, hi," Katie said, a bit shocked at seeing the woman for the first time. "Nice truck."

"You already said that," chuckled the older woman. "Kinda late for traveling. Y'all going far?"

"Um, no. Not too much further." Katie stumbled over the words a bit.

"Well, that's good. Gonna storm in a bit." The woman picked up her coffee mug and drained the last of it, then set it back down on the counter. "Names Samantha Sweetwater. This is my station," she said with a nod of proprietorship.

Katie looked around the little shop and was impressed with the cleanliness of it. "Nice," she nodded. "You run it by yourself?"

"Hell, no! I'm good, but not that good," she chuckled again. "My daughters help me out most of the time. They're off in my other truck right now on a call."

The door to the kitchen swung open and another woman came through it. "Hey, Sam. Why din' ya tell me we had customers out here?" She was about the same age as Sam and had twinkling hazel eyes and a contagious grin that made Katie grin too. She looked over at Katie and smiled brightly. "What kin I getcha young lady?"

"Um," Katie knew they wouldn't be staying long, but checked outside and saw Dean still at the pump.

"Got some fresh baked apple pie," the woman tempted her. "Still hot, barely out of the oven."

"Ooo," Katie said involuntarily. She looked back over to the pump and saw Dean putting the nozzle back in its holder. "Um, don't think we have time," she said as she watched Dean walk toward the shop as a dark green Ford Ranger pulled up on the other side of their SUV.

"Aww, sure hate to see that pie get cold." She looked at the tall dark woman opening the door. "Bet your partner would like a piece."

At the word partner, Katie swung her head around looking at the cook with a surprised expression. The cook winked at her and said, "Been in this world a long time and know how to read people." She looked over at Sam and said, "now, this one's much better at it than I am. She's a real clairvoyant."

Katie looked back at Sam who was watching the woman step out of the Ford Ranger. "You are?" Katie asked curiously.

"Mmhm." Sam replied, not taking her eyes off the auburn haired woman at the pump. She mumbled, "now that one's trouble."

Dean stepped in just then, pulling out her wallet and extracting two twenty dollar bills. "Are what?" she said as she closed the door behind her.

"Hungry...for pie," Katie smiled at her lover. "Hot, apple pie."

Dean looked at her watch and sighed. "Sounds great, but we can't." She looked at Katie and changed her mind, "but we'll take four pieces to go."

"I knew you couldn't resist," the cook said as she turned and went into the kitchen. "Be right back."

Dean sat on the stool next to Katie and swiveled around to watch Janai and Alana. The woman with the auburn hair had come around from the pump and was talking to them as they walked toward the coffee shop. The stranger and Alana reached for the door simultaneously, both grasping the handle at the same time. Alana seemed to hold on a bit longer than necessary before apologizing and releasing her grip. The stranger smiled and pulled open the door, allowing Janai and Alana to enter first. Alana's expression turned somber and she gripped Janai's hand once the stranger walked past them towards the rest room. Janai was surprised by the move and looked at Alana curiously.

In a barely Saabble whisper, Alana said, "we need to leave...now!"

Just the look on Alana's face was enough to convince the others that her request need not be questioned. The cook came out with a bag containing the pies and handed them to Katie who had a very worried look on her face. Dean paid Sam for the gas and pie and the four women walked quickly out the door, followed by Sam.

Once they were outside, Sam said, "Don't worry, I'll slow her down."

Dean looked at the woman, surprised at the comment, but didn't say anything. The look on Alana's face was enough for her, so she merely nodded in response and got behind the wheel. By the time she started the ignition, the others were in their places, seat belts clicking into place. She didn't say anything as they pulled out, but in the rear view mirror, she noticed Sam straightening up by the rear tire of the Ford, and slowly amble back into the coffee shop. They traveled a mile before anyone spoke. Alana broke the silence.

"That woman was Kerris," she revealed.

Janai looked at her in shock. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. When our hands gripped the door handle at the same time, it felt strange, so I opened my senses and read her...his mind. He's been following us. Tracking us with a device of some kind. I could visualize it on the truck seat."

"What kind of device? Something from your world?" Dean asked with interest.

"No. We don't require such things. We can use our scanning senses."

Dean asked, "What did it look like?"

"It was a small box...with a screen. There was a bright dot on it."

Katie nodded in understanding. "Sounds like a standard issue tracking model. But how could it be tracking us? Unless he somehow planted a chip on the SUV."

"Janai, grab the black bag we packed. Not the one with the weapons, the other one," Dean instructed.

Janai reached behind the seat and selected the proper bag, unzipping it and waiting for Dean's instructions.

"Take out the black box with the long black antenna on it." Janai complied. "Turn it on and start at the back. Move it slowly over every inch of surface."

Janai leaned over the back seat and did as she was told, but there were no Saabble sounds from the instrument. When she turned to move back, bringing the instrument in front of her, the box began to beep. Dean watched in the rear view mirror as Janai swept the seat they were using. Whenever the box came near Janai, it began to beep.

"It's you Janai. Something on you," Dean informed her. "Give the box to Alana and have her sweep your body."

She did so, and as Alana passed her hip pocket the beeps became louder and more insistent. Janai reached in her pocket and pulled out the contents. She looked at her driver's license and credit card. Holding them up one at a time to the box, they found the culprit. It was her American Express card.

"Serus!" Janai exclaimed. "He did this." She went to throw the card out the window when Dean shouted for her to stop. "But..."

"No. Let's use it to our advantage. He thinks he can just sit back and follow with the tracking unit. Well, let's give him something else to follow, shall we?" Dean grinned in the rear view mirror and received and identical grin back.

At the next rest area, they pulled over and found a likely candidate. Katie sauntered up to the young man on the motorcycle with a smile. "Excuse me. I wonder if I could get you to do me a big favor?" She batted her eyelashes at him for extra measure.

"And what kind of a favor are you looking for?" he replied eagerly.

"I need to get this credit card to the gas station at exit 219 near Carlisle. Would you be going that way? I could make it worth your while?"

The kid thought about it for about ten seconds then shrugged. "What's it worth to you?"

Katie pulled out ten fifties and held them up. "This enough?"

"Yo! That's a lot of dough to just take a credit card for a ride to..."

"Well," she winked at him, cutting off his sentence. "Let's just say, I'm playing a little well deserved joke on my ex."

That made him grin thinking that maybe he could pocket the cash and just maybe he'd hang on to the card long enough to get some new leather pants. "Yeah. I'll do it!" he agreed.

"Can you head it over now? I, um, I need to get it out of here fast, before he realizes it's gone," she added for good measure as she nodded toward a burly man coming out of the men's room.

"Sure." He held out his hand and she gave him the card and the cash. He took both and put them in his zipper pocket, then started the cycle up. Katie waived her fingers at him as he pushed the cycle back and headed out the ramp, then crossed the median and roared off back to the east.

* * * * *

Kerris exited the rest room, surprised to see just Sam and the cook in the room. He looked outside and saw the SUV was gone. He wasn't worried. He could track them wherever they went. He paid for his gas and walked out of the shop.

"Think she'll notice the tire?" the silver haired cook asked.

"Nope, not for at least ten miles," Sam replied with a hint of humor in her voice.

"Whatdya make of them twins?" the cook asked her partner. "Real cuties they were."

"Yep, but they weren't twins, Sally. Just looked that way." Sam turned to look at her partner of 30 years. "Now, how about a piece of that apple pie?" When Sally went back into the kitchen after the pie, Sam Sweetwater swiveled back around and watched the woman get back into the truck and pull out.

Kerris looked back at the two old women talking amiably in the coffee shop then opened the driver's door on the Ford and slipped in behind the wheel. He passed his hand over the ignition, put the truck in gear and drove to the ramp entrance for the interstate. Taking a quick look at the tracking unit, he noticed their signature was standing still. "Making it easy for me to catch up, huh?" He accelerated in response, hoping to catch a visual of the SUV. When he looked back down at the screen he saw the bright blip was now going east on the interstate. "Nice try, but you can't slip away that easy," he growled as he slammed on the breaks and looked for an appropriate spot to cross the median. There was a U-turn just ahead, so he slowed ignoring the sign with the no u-turn symbol on it, and pulled out onto the eastbound side. He was accelerating when he felt the steering wheel jerk and the truck begin to shake. Pulling over to check the vehicle he got out of the truck as a motorcycle sped past him. When he saw the flat tire, he pounded the side of the truck. "I don't have time for this!" he yelled to the sky.

A passing motorist noticed the good-looking auburn haired woman standing by the truck with a flat tire as she pounded the side of the truck. He pulled over and backed up his Saab until he was in front of her truck. Calling to her as he got out of his car, he said, "Need some help, Miss?" It was the last thing he ever said. Kerris dumped the man's body into the bed of the pick up, grabbed his bag and the tracking unit out of the truck and got into the idling Saab. Checking the tracking unit, he saw that the SUV must have passed him sometime during the brief switch. "Okay, let's try this again." He put the car in gear, happy that the vehicle had more power than the small truck. The speedometer was just inching up to 70 mph when it started to rain. Locating the windshield wiper control, he flipped them on and continued east, taking time to peek at the tracking screen. He smiled as he saw he was catching up. He was almost within visual range but the rain cut that distance down to close for comfort. The blip started to slow, so he matched its speed, slowing the Saab perceptibly. Peering through the rain, he saw a single taillight stopped under an overpass. "Must be just up a bit further," he grumbled as he continued past the motorcyclist who was pulling on rain gear. He looked through the windshield again and did not see any other taillights. Glancing at the tracking unit, he couldn't believe that the blip was now behind him...and stationary. Cursing in Theiliosian, he slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop on the wet pavement. He looked behind him, and saw a solitary headlight moving slowly. Grabbing the tracking unit, he watched as the blip came closer and closer then passed him as the motorcycle also passed.

"Very good, Janai. You figured it out." Tossing the tracking unit into the back seat, Kerris put the car into gear and pulled onto the highway. He found a gravel U-turn area, but it was occupied with a state patrol car. Not wanting another chase, he opted to find another one. He was fairly confident that he knew where his quarry was headed, and that the rain would have slowed them down too. By the time he was heading west on the interstate, he calculated that he may be only 30 or 40 minutes behind them and he could easily close the gap with the Saab. "Just a matter of time, now," Kerris spoke out loud, "I know where you are going."

* * * * *

Chapter 16

Saturday, 0600 Hours

The rain slowed their progress quite a bit. It normally wouldn't have, but the blinding downpours caused them to slow to a crawl. When the rain finally let up, they were able to pick up speed again after they turned south on Interstate 77.

"You'll need to get off on Exit 1, then take Route 7 towards Marietta," Janai instructed, as they got closer to their final destination. "Look for Route 26 and take it into Wayne National Forest."

"You sure like to hide these things in deserted places," Katie commented as she followed the instructions with a finger on the map she held in her lap. "But, then it wouldn't do to have someone stumble onto one, now would it?"

"I can guarantee you that wouldn't happen. Each starcraft is cloaked. You could be standing right on it and wouldn't even know it unless the cloaking device was deactivated."

Alana smiled at her counterpart. "You would be surprised where many of them are. But, you're right most are in fairly inaccessible places."

Katie turned in her seat to look at them. "Alana, how come Kerris didn't know you read his mind? Wouldn't he have picked up on your doing that?"

"No, he wouldn't have been aware of it. It's a bit complicated," she began. "My ability to read thoughts is not an 'enhancement' like some of our other abilities. It's something I was born with. My mother also had this gift and I inherited it."

"But, wouldn't Kerris know that you could read his thoughts?" Katie asked, still confused.

"The only people that know I have inherited this trait from my mother, are my father and Janai. My father wanted to keep it a secret. He knew that as I grew older it would become a valuable asset to him, as my mother was."

Janai picked up the story at this point. "The Empress Valana was more than a wife to Alana's father. She was a vital part of his intelligence gathering and his greatest advisor. No one knew of her ability to read minds, and she was able to help her husband maintain peace throughout the realm with the information she gathered. Unfortunately, she died shortly after Alana was born."

"Who's his main advisor now?" Dean asked as she turned onto Route 26.

"My uncle, Varian," Janai said bitterly. "Things have not been well in the realm since. The Emperor sent Alana here to gain as much knowledge as she could from your people before she assumed a role at his side."

"As advanced as your people are, what did he expect you to learn here Alana?" Katie asked with a look of surprise.

"I wondered that too as he gave me no direction in what to be looking for," Alana began, "but I have found the people of earth to have many attributes that we lack."

"Such as?" Katie inquired.

Alana laughed. "Such as your fierce need for independence, your compassion for those in need, your creativity, your quest to maintain equality and justice, and your resilience in the face of danger..."

Janai looked over and added with a smile, "and don't forget their passion."

Alana flushed and softly added, "Yes, your passion."

"Passion?" Dean questioned.

"Yes, passion. Not just in matters of the heart, but for seeking beauty in everyday life...to live...to succeed...to learn...to create...to enjoy life!"

"Ah," Dean sighed. "I guess we just don't think about that. It's something we just do, it's a natural part of us."

"Yes, especially the people of your country," Janai added. "We have forgotten all of these things. As Alana reminded me recently, we just exist. Our creativity has stagnated...our passion is gone." Alerted by the sign that said they were entering Wayne National Forest, Janai changed the subject abruptly. "In two miles you will see a fire road on the left. Take that turn."

All eyes now focused forward, all looking for the dirt road. Janai turned and looked behind her, not seeing another vehicle behind them. "I do not sense any danger. Perhaps the little ruse with the young motorcyclist took Kerris off in the wrong direction.

"I wouldn't count on it," Dean interjected as she spotted the road and turned. The fire road seemed to be well kept and was fairly smooth.

"There will be a small creek flowing over the road just around the next turn. You should put the vehicle in four-wheel drive and follow the creek bed to your left. Don't worry, you have enough clearance with this vehicle to get us where we need to go," Janai assured them.

Dean maneuvered the SUV skillfully through the stream. Rounding a bend they came face-to-face with a waterfall that was at least sixty feet high and forty feet across. "Now what?" Dean asked as she stopped the truck gauging the pool in front of the waterfall to be at least ten feet deep. She twisted in her seat and looked at Janai.

"Now," Janai said calmly as she held her hands out, "we go straight into the waterfall."

"Well, the truck needed a wash," Dean mumbled as she put the vehicle back into gear and slowly crept forward. Katie closed her eyes and held on to the door handle with her right hand and the side of the seat cushion with her left. As they entered the pool, the SUV rode as smooth as though it were on a paved highway straight into the falling water. The water sounded loud and fierce as they went under it to the other side. When they emerged, Dean turned on the headlights and saw a wall of rock.

"Just keep going. This is very much like the last site."

Dean did as instructed and soon they were inside another cavern, only this one was much larger. And, so was the craft it held. Katie had begun peeking as they edged forward now and she just let out a whispered, "Wow!" and Dean whistled at the sight of the craft before them.

"Yep," that's what I'd imagine a spacecraft to look like all right." Dean pulled the SUV over to the left of the craft and put it in park, then turned off the ignition. Alana and Janai quickly exited the back seat while Dean and Katie just sat in their seats staring at the craft. Dean estimated that it was at least sixty feet in length, thirty feet across. The back of the craft split into two tail sections, each housing what she assumed were the propulsion units. It didn't have the tripod legs the older craft had. Instead it had a short landing gear type of pad at the front, and two more at the rear, under each of the propulsion units. It was almost boxy in shape, but still appeared sleek and powerful. It also looked like a life-size prop off of some sci-fi movie lot.

"Can you believe this?" Katie asked as she looked at the clock on the dashboard. It read 6:57 in the morning. She tried to fathom the last 15 hours of their lives. "It's just so unbelievable. Their whole story is so fantastic, but looking at this...wow!"

"I've always held the belief that we are not alone in the universe," Dean answered as she faced her lover. "Most of us...humans, are too arrogant to believe that there could be life forms more advanced than us. But, I've always felt that there had to be something, some...form of life...out there that is greater than us. Earth is but a speck of dust when you consider the vastness of the universe. If there is a God, I figured he had to hedge his bets and put life elsewhere."

"I guess I never really gave it any thought," Katie considered as she returned Dean's gaze. She looked back at the craft and shrugged. "Guess I will now."

Janai and Alana had gone in to inspect the craft and now came back out smiling.

"Guess this one's a keeper," Dean surmised as she watched them approach. She and Katie finally released their seatbelts and got out of the SUV. "I gather this one's in good shape?" Dean inquired of a smiling Janai.

"Yes," her twin replied. "It's in very good shape. It won't take us long...a few minutes to bring everything on-line for our exit, although I would really rather leave at nightfall than in daylight."

"Ah, you don't have the old Romulan cloaking device on board, eh?" Dean said jokingly.

Alana looked at her in confusion. "Romulan cloaking device?"

Katie chuckled and poked Dean in the ribs. "It's from the Star Trek movies...a device that made the Romulan spaceships invisible."

"Ah, I see," Alana said still trying to understand.

"No," Dean laughed, realizing that they needed to regain their sense of humor along with their passions. "You're not supposed to see!"

They all laughed at the silly joke, glad for a bit of levity to release the tension of the past few hours.

"How about a tour while the systems come on-line?" Katie asked eagerly.

Without hesitation, Alana and Janai agreed. "Yes, we would like that." Katie headed toward the craft, while Dean went back to the SUV and retrieved her two satchels before trotting after them. She still had an uneasy feeling knowing that Kerris was still somewhere out there. Besides, the nape hairs on her neck were starting to itch....

* * * * *

The rain had also slowed Kerris' progress, but he was now making very good time. He turned onto the fire road at 6:40 AM and started to grin. "Soon, we will meet again, my sister...soon. Too bad it won't be the family reunion you would like." The Saab was performing very well on the fire road, so Kerris chanced driving it on the shallow creek bed and was satisfied with it's functioning. He slowed near the final turn and stopped the vehicle just short of the turn that would expose it to the waterfall. He shut off the car and quietly exited, surveying the approach to the cavern. Deciding his best option was to stay in the woods to circle the pool. That way, he would not have to use his powers to enter the cavern...providing that Janai did not close the entrance. If she had, then he would have to use his powers to gain access, but by then it would be too late for them to react. He came around the gap between the waterfall and the rock wall and slid behind the water as he hugged the wall. The wall curved inward as he cleared the falls. He stood there for a moment relishing the fact that he had finally outsmarted Janai and would complete the assignment Varian had given him. The idea he had to make it look as though the humans had committed the act brought an even bigger grin to his face. He hoped the High Council would become incensed to the point that they would begin an all-out retaliation on the humans of earth. Kerris reached out tentatively to touch the rock wall, smiling as his hand disappeared though it. Before entering, he changed back into his Theiliosian form, insuring his ability to use his full powers if needed.

He took the pistols out of his coat pocket and checked the clips, then slipped the safety to the off position on both guns. Taking a deep breath, he quietly moved forward, entering the secret cavern. The cavern was brightly lit. The exterior lights of the spacecraft illuminated the space with the intensity of daylight. He stayed close to the interior wall as he entered and took cover behind the SUV and waited. He didn't have to wait long.

The first to step out of the craft was the tall dark-haired human followed by the shorter blonde. In the ships doorway stood Janai and Alana, still in their human counterparts appearance and attire. Janai and Alana gave each human a farewell hug and walked out of the craft a few steps with them. As the humans turned to head to the SUV they slipped on their sunglasses to cut the glare from the intense light. Half way to the SUV, Kerris stepped out from his hiding place, leveling a gun at each pair.

"Hello, Janai," he said with a cruel grin. "What a touching farewell. Too bad it will be their last!" He pulled the trigger and shot Dean directly in the chest, then quickly followed with a shot to Katie's chest. Neither woman had time to react, falling backwards with the force of the shots and landing heavily on the cavern floor. Their arms and legs tangled together in an erotic pose.

"Kerris!" Janai shouted as she swept Alana behind her. "Don't do this! You're not evil...you're the other half of me...Varian has put you under his powers."

"Too late, my sister, I like being corrupted," he said as he stepped around the bodies before him. "You should have changed back to your Theiliosian form. You know how vulnerable you are in human form." He laughed as he pulled the trigger of the other gun, hitting Janai in her chest. She clutched at the wound closing her eyes in pain and disbelief, then fell face down on the floor.

"Nooo!" Alana screamed as she watched Janai fall. She pulled a weapon out from behind her back that Kerris recognized as a pulse disruptor. "Why?" she said as she leveled it at him with a shaking hand.

"Varian made me an offer I couldn't refuse," he said simply as he pulled the trigger twice more, first hitting the weapon and knocking it out of her hand, then with precise aim, placing the next round directly into Alana's heart. She fell immediately on top of Janai, blood from both bodies now evident on the floor of the cavern.

Kerris walked over and looked down. "Too bad, sister. You could have been an asset to the new empire." He took the gun he used on the humans and placed it near Alana's hand, then walked over to the pulse disruptor and picked it up, placing it in his pocket. Next he walked over to the humans, and put the other gun in the tall woman's hand, noticing that the watch on her wrist read 07:35. He stepped back to survey his handiwork nodding at the scene before him. "Perfect," he said with delight. "In three days, I'll be reporting to the Protectorate about the death of my dear sister Janai, and the beautiful Princess at the hands of humans. When the Protectorate's minions arrive, it will look like they killed each other off." Laughing, he walked toward the cavern entrance. Looking back, he whispered, "Say hello to Aunt Tonis for me!" then walked out. The noise of the Saab's engine being gunned could be heard as Kerris turned the vehicle and slowly departed leaving the drumming sound of the waterfall behind him.

* * * * *

Chapter 17

Saturday, 0740 Hours

Janai opened first one eye, then the other. "I think it's safe now," she whispered to the body intertwined with hers. Alana moved carefully off of her protector and removed the sunglasses she was wearing. Janai sat up and pulled off her sunglasses and then the Army sweatshirt she had on. She ripped off the Kevlar vest and checked her chest. There was a red spot in the center where the force of the bullet impacted the vest. "It's a good thing Dean brought these along. We never could have pulled this plan off without them." She stood and helped Alana stand before slipping the sweatshirt back on. "C'mon, we don't have much time."

They raced over to where Dean and Katie were lying in front of the spacecraft. Janai became very concerned when she saw the amount of blood that had pooled beneath them. Janai and Alana picked up their counterparts and carried them into the spacecraft. There was a small area in the rear of the craft that they had prepared for this part of the plan. If only they had had two more Kevlar vests, Alana thought as she watched Janai work on them. Dean had insisted on doing the switch much to Alana's surprise. Her mind raced back to the brief minutes they had when the intruder alert activated when Kerris tentatively put his hand through the rock wall.

"That's the intruder alert," Janai cautioned as she flipped on the scanner and the exterior lights. She immediately recognized the figure as it morphed from the auburn female into her brother. "It's Kerris!"

 

"Good," Dean commented calmly as the three others looked at her wondering where this comment came from. "I have a plan. One that will hopefully work as long as you're as good a healer as you say you are."

 

"I am," Janai confirmed. "What's your plan?"

 

"We're going to switch places." She picked up her black bag and pulled out two Kevlar vests. "Here, you two...put these on," handing them the vests. Then she handed them their sunglasses. "Use these too. The only way he can tell who's who is by the color of our eyes."

 

"What about your eyes?" Alana questioned.

 

"No problem. The lights will be in his eyes and he won't be able to tell the color. But you two will be walking towards him." She motioned at the scanner as they watched him settle behind the SUV to wait. "Can't chance him seeing the difference up close."

 

"I see," Katie jumped in, seeing where Dean was going with her plan. "You're expecting him to kill us...well, them...and then come after Janai and Alana...us."

 

"But these vests won't be a match for his powers," Alana cautioned.

 

"He won't be using his powers. Just before he entered, he slipped the safety off the pistols. That meant he intends to use them instead of his powers."

 

"I saw that too," Katie concurred. "He's probably trying to make it look like we," she pointed at all of them, "killed each other."

 

"But that will mean, you and Dean will not be protected. He will kill you."

 

Dean sighed heavily. "Yep, that's about the way it will work. Our deaths have to be real or it won't work." She looked up at Janai. "Are your skills good enough to fix that?" Janai waited for what seemed like a long time before she nodded. "Good enough for me," Dean nodded.

 

"Me too," Katie said quietly as she wrapped a hand around Dean's arm.

 

"So, you want him to think he succeeded?" Alana spoke quietly. "That way he will go back and announce it to the Protectorate and the High Council."

 

"But, then we will show up and expose him and Varian for the traitors they are," Janai finished.

 

"Exactly," Dean and Katie said in unison.

 

Then they hurriedly pulled out the items Janai would need to bring them back and slipped into the vests and sunglasses. Janai went up to Dean pulling her aside.

 

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Janai asked for the final time. "I could just deal with Kerris on my own. He is my brother."

 

"No, Janai. You don't want that on your conscience. Let your High Council deal with him and Varian. This way is better."

 

"Thank you Dean. I hope that someday we will meet again...under more pleasant circumstances."

 

"Me too, Janai, me too."

 

When the foursome exited the craft and hugged, they all hoped that it wouldn't be for the last time.

 

"Thank you, Katie." Alana whispered in her ear.

 

"You're welcome, Alana. See you soon," she said with a wink then released her twin and watched the scene play out exactly the way they had expected.

Janai laid them both on a large medical palate and was quickly adjusting the flow of liquid into their bodies. One final check and she paused long enough to morph into a gaseous state floating up off the floor of the craft and finally settling over their bodies. Slowly her form spread out and entered them both, beginning the healing process.

* * * * *

Alana was sitting at the controls of the craft waiting for Janai to join her. She had changed into her Theiliosian form and was looking at her reflection in the forward windows of the craft. She ran her fingers through her long red hair absently as she pondered the events of the last day. She considered her appearance and stood, carefully examining her body. She was dressed in a skintight bodysuit in a luminescent pearl color. Her long red hair was cascading over her shoulders stopping at her full breasts. Every curve was outlined and seemed to shimmer in the dim lighting. Alana in her true form was tall, as tall as Janai. Her skin was very pale, almost matching the pearl luminescence of the bodysuit. Her people had always protected their skin from the harsh ultraviolet rays of their two suns. She turned and flexed her muscles watching the luminescence dance with the motions. Her body was strong, but not as strong as Janai's. She had always marveled at the muscle definition of Janai's body and now, more than ever, longed to feel those muscles move beneath her touch. Sighing, she sat back down and continued plotting their flight home. She did not hear Janai enter the forward cabin. When she felt Janai's hands on her shoulders, she shuddered at the chills that ran down her spine.

"You are very beautiful, my Princess," Janai said softly as she slid her hands along Alana's arms.

"Thank you, Janai," Alana whispered as she turned and looked at her protector. Her breath caught as she saw the woman she loved so dearly standing before her. Janai had changed back into her normal form and was wearing a matching bodysuit, but of a luminescent purple color. Her short curly blond hair was neatly feathered and outlined the pale skin of her face. Alana noticed immediately the weariness in Janai's eyes. "How are they?"

"They are sleeping," Janai responded simply.

"Will they be all right?"

"Yes. I was able to restore them, but they will be asleep for a long time."

"Did you take care of...?"

"Their memory? Yes. They will not remember a thing."

"What about the side effects? Won't they know?"

"I'm hoping they will not. But, those two are quite remarkable and some day..." Janai shrugged. "It's a small price to pay for the sacrifice they made." She looked at the charts Alana was working on. "I see you have the course set." Alana nodded. "It's nearly 1800 hours, earth time. We should be on our way."

"What about the vehicle? Are we going to just leave it here?"

"We have no choice. This ship is not capable of teleporting such a large object. I've removed all of their things from it and planted a memory of it being stolen. Once we have them home, we'll take care of the others that were touched in anyway by Kerris' actions." Taking the seat next to Alana, Janai powered up the craft. It hovered a few inches off the ground, and then moved forward through the waterfall. Water dripped off the starcraft as it floated in air above the pool.

"Ready?" Janai asked.

"Yes."

Janai entered the course command and the ship lifted straight up then streaked across the dark winter sky. Anyone watching would see a bright light streaking along the horizon, and then disappearing among the other stars in the night sky. Once they achieved orbiting status Janai stood.

"Come. Let's take them home."

They went to the makeshift medical area where Dean and Katie were lying, arms wrapped in each other beneath the sheet. Alana first sent down all of the gear they had packed returning it all to it's proper place, plus the replicated sweatshirts. These were minus the bullet holes and bloodstains. Janai picked up Dean and Alana picked up Katie.

* * * * *

Sugar was the first to note their arrival. She mewed excitedly to her mates and all three scampered to the master bedroom where they stopped in the doorway and watched. First, two pinpoints of light appeared. One was off white and the other was purple. As the lights grew in intensity, the cat's tails thumped back and forth on the carpeted floor. Dimming, the lights expanded, elongating into the transformed figures of Janai and Alana, each carrying their human friend. Janai walked to the right side of the bed, Alana to the left. Janai focused on the bed covers, using her powers to pull them back. Then they each gently placed their human on the bed and covered their naked bodies with the bed covers. The three felines jumped up on the bed, sniffing their human masters with satisfaction.

"Yes little ones, they will be fine. I'm sorry we can not stay longer, but we have much to do before our journey home," Janai explained, assuring them as she reached out to stroke each one. Alana came around to Janai's side of the bed and slipped her left hand around Janai's waist and leaned her head on her protector's shoulder.

"This has been quite an educational trip," Alana said softly. "Father was right. I have learned much from these people." She looked up into Janai's emerald eyes and smiled. "I've also learned much about you."

"And us," Janai added. She turned to face Alana fully, placing a hand on each shoulder. "What I have learned from these two particular humans is that my duty to protect you will not be complicated by my love for you. It will in fact, be strengthened. I saw that in their actions tonight." Slowly, Janai reached up with both hands and gently held Alana's face. "I love you, Alana." She moved closer, pulling Alana into her until they would have to meld together to get any closer.

Alana slipped her arms around Janai and spread her hands across the strong back muscles that she felt tense and then relax at her touch. As their lips met, their bodies began to pulse into light forms once again, becoming a united pinpoint of light and finally disappearing completely.

* * * * *

Chapter 18

Sunday, 0230 Hours

Dean opened her eyes and stared out the skylight above her head. That was the strangest dream I have ever had. She lifted her head and checked the bedside clock. Hmm, it's only 2:30, yet I feel like I've been sleeping for hours. Quietly, she turned her head to see two emerald eyes looking at her.

"Hey," Dean whispered. "Can't sleep?"

"Nope."

"C'mere," Dean said patting her shoulder. Katie eagerly slid the short distance over to her lover and complied. "I just had the strangest dream," Dean confided.

"Really? About what?"

"I don't remember all of it. It's kinda fuzzy, but it was certainly not my normal dreamscape."

"Hmm, I had a strange one too. I dreamt we got shot and died." Katie shivered at the all too real dream memory.

"Ouch. Bet that hurt," Dean said as she pulled the blonde closer to her. "That's weird, because we got shot in my dream too."

"Good thing it was just a dream," Katie said as she turned to stare out the skylight. "Wow, what a nice clear night. Look at all the stars!"

"Yeah. They're pretty amazing tonight."

The two women watched the heavens, content in each other's embrace. They were soon joined by the three felines who also seemed to lift their heads to watch the sky.

"Wow!" Katie croaked excitedly. "Did you see that one?"

"Yeah. Must have been a meteor."

"Sure was bright."

"Mmm," Dean acknowledged as they continued to stare at the stars.

They laid there in the comfort of each other's arms, sleep still eluding them as they continued to watch the twinkling lights. Each quietly thinking about the strange dream they had. It had just seemed so real...

Finally, Katie rolled over to face Dean, propping her head on her hand. "How about some chocolate ice cream?" Katie whispered lightly.

"Now you're talking!" Dean answered with a grin.

THE END

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

EPILOGUE

It took Janai and Alana a few hours to locate all the people that had direct or indirect contact with Kerris. They mourned the loss of the two young officers and the others Kerris sent to their early deaths. The only solace they could offer the loved ones, was to instill a sense of peace into their minds.

Lieutenant Green, Detective Graves, and the Coroners were the most complicated tasks they faced. It took both their powers to clear these questioning minds. They had to alter the death records and lab reports, but that part was child's play. By the time they were finished it was 0230 in earth time.

"Time to go home, Janai. We can't fix everything."

Janai sighed in acknowledgement as she tried to control the anger she had felt building. She recorded all of Kerris' actions, each a violation of the realm that was punishable by death. The destruction he caused could have had irreparable consequences on earth if they had not been able to contain the major issues.

"I've entered our course and double checked the systems," Alana commented. "The systems are set to wake us when we enter our quadrant." She looked up at Janai, a veiled smile on her face. "I delayed our sleep cycle for a few hours." Alana walked over to Janai and rested both hands on Janai's chest causing her protectors eyes to widen considerably. "I thought maybe we could spend some time together...in my quarters." She leaned in and kissed Janai softly then reached down and took her by the hand to her quarters, initiating the systems to begin the trip home as they walked out of the control room.

* * * * *

The tribunal of the High Council was expeditious in concluding their deliberations and sentenced the traitors within a week of Alana and Janai's return home. Justice was dealt swiftly the morning after sentencing. Alana's ability, although still known only to her father and Janai, was key to discovering their accomplices who were dealt the same justice. Janai observed the executions from afar, steeling herself for Kerris' turn. Alana stood back watching Janai in silence, but when Kerris was led to the chamber, she could no longer hold back. The tears that rolled down Janai's face as the charges were read, tore at her heart and she went to Janai's side. She knew that if she held Janai's hand, she too would experience the flood of emotion and pain that swept through her protector and lover. That thought fortified her to do exactly that. Alana reached out and held her lover's hand, so she could share her grief totally. They wept together until their eyes could no longer produce tears. Then Alana gathered her lover into her arms and led her back to their chambers.

END NOTE:

The National UFO Reporting Center (www.UFOcenter.com) logged the following UFO report from Marietta, Ohio at 1800 hours on January 7, 2001. It reads: "Bright light go's threw 1/2 the sky and over the horizen in 5 sec."

The full report states: "Me and my father was pumping the oil well and I was looking up in the sky and I said dad look at that light up in the sky, it is going really fast. It was a bright white/yellow light. It covered the sky distance in 5 sec. and we watched it go out of sight over the horizen. The light was not flashing, it was on the whole time. At first I thought it was a falling star but when it went the intire distance of the sky I knew that it wasn't. There was no tail, just a bright light going very fast."


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