Prisoner of Destiny

Author: Bennie
Rating:
Disclaimer: I own nothing Roswell.
Character Focus: Liz and Tess. No, not Liz/Tess. Lol
Spoilers: Departure
Author's Note: Futurefic. Non-'shippy. And no, I don't hate Tess. But this seemed like an interesting possibility leading out of Departure.


I

"Are you real?"

Liz jumped at the whisper. Damn, she thought this cell was empty. Actually, she'd thought this entire cellblock was empty. It was dark and unlocked, which was why she chose it to hole up in while waiting for the signal.

Damn! That was all she needed, to worry about someone alerting the guards. She'd never get to the checkpoint in time if she had added security to dodge, and her squad was under strict orders to leave as soon as the king was rescued, no matter who else was - or wasn't - on board.

Well, she had known the risks of a rescue mission ... especially when it involved invading Khivar's flagship, the space-going equivalent of a fortress. And she was the one who had stood before the generals and informed them, in an icy, no-nonsense tone, that they were more than acceptable, given the stakes.

Sighing but prepared to fight, Liz turned and tried to make out the huddled shape in the corner, to figure out what she was dealing with.

"Are you real?"

That whisper again. Spoken in a tone of part wonder, part fear, as though the answer was both dreaded and desired.

Liz thought about that voice. It sounded female, although she couldn't be sure. It had the dull hoarseness of years of captivity. She - if it was a she - spoke English, an Earth language, so it was probably a Terran who somehow escaped offworld during the last North American offensive but got caught anyway. There were stories ... as far as she knew, that's the last battle where Khivar's forces took prisoners.

Since then, they simply killed Terrans on sight. Hence the empty cells, she supposed.

She decided to speak. "I'm real." She blinked at the sound of her own voice; it sounded unnaturally loud and hearty in this dismal, forgotten corner of hell. She sensed the shadowed presence recoiling in shock.

"Who are you?" she asked, checking her watch. She had less than an hour.

There was silence.

She swore inwardly. She needed to establish some trust, so that she might have a chance of getting away before something alerted the guards.

Well, what do they tell you about establishing communication? Identify yourself.

"I'm Liz. Who are you?" She spoke soothingly, companionably, and was answered by silence.

Then, "I remember you."

Liz froze. What? Was this person delusional or - was this a trap? She needed to warn the others …

"Liz …" the voice grew stronger for a moment, then faded. "I forget," Liz heard, and she winced to hear such despair. "No, I remember, I do, I know I do, Liz, Liz Liz Liz, I know Liz, it was always Liz. Always her. Always Liz. Never me. Always Liz."

Liz shook her head in sympathy. A nutjob. Someone who'd been a prisoner so long she - she was sure it was a 'she', and what was that accent? - had lost her mind. It happened.

"What's your name?" she asked anyway, trying to develop some kind of rapport. It helped keep her mind off what was happening elsewhere in this monstrosity.

"Liz, always Liz, never me, why not me? Why couldn't you love me? Why her? It's not fair. It's not right. Love me, Max -"

Liz started violently.

"- you could love me if you really wanted to, you could, you all could, it wasn't my fault, it's not fair, it wasn't my fault, why did you do this to me? I loved you, I loved you so much, but in the end, it was her, it was Liz, and you chose her, chose Liz, Liz Parker, it was Liz Parker, always Liz Parker -"

An awful coldness overcame Liz as she listened.

"Liz Parker! Liz Parker!" She was getting louder now, and she might get a guard's attention, even way down here.

"Shh, it's okay, calm down," Liz said, and struggled with the desire to run, just run away, as fast as she could.

Instead, she advanced on the dark corner of the cell in as unthreatening a manner possible.

And she said it. She said the name that had haunted her and the people she loved - all but one - for 14 years.

"Tess?"


II

There was silence for some time after Liz spoke, and she began to wonder if she'd made a mistake.

"I am Ava here." Her voice was soft but contained a hint of imperiousness that told Liz she had indeed stumbled upon the lost queen.

"Ava then. Why are you," Liz gestured in the dimness, trusting that the other woman could see her indicate the cell around them. And she kept her voice neutral. "… Here?"

"I screwed up," the shadow said simply. "Why are you here? You are, aren't you?" Her voice suddenly grew fearful. "Are you haunting me?"

Liz knew people who were like this after long periods of isolation - unable to trust their instincts, unable to tell what was real and what wasn't. She spoke calmly but surely, and somehow managed to divorce her emotions from what she had to do. In her mind, she quickly reviewed mission parameters, wondering how far she could stretch them.

"I'm real," she said reassuringly. "And so are you. Tess - Ava," she pressed, "why are you here? I mean, in this cellblock?"

"I just come here to be by myself."

"Don't you get lonely?"

"It's lonelier up there, with them."

Liz nodded her understanding. "I know how that goes," she sighed. And she thought she did. There wasn't much she didn't like about her life, but sometimes it just felt overwhelmingly alien. Every now and then she found herself needing to get away from it all, and be by herself.

She checked her watch. "As for why I'm here, I think you probably know why."

It was a shot in the dark, but it earned her a giggle that under other circumstances would be chilling. Here, it seemed fitting. It was Liz, and the air of rationality that surrounded her, that was alien here.

"Well, I suppose it could have something to do with Khivar's prisoner," Ava replied slyly.

"Have you seen him?" Liz almost, but not quite, managed to hide her anxiety.

"Yes."

"Is he all right?"

Tess - no, not Tess, Ava - considered that. "He would recover if he received treatment." The certainty in her tone belied a practicality borne of experience.

"How do you know what they're doing to him? Are you helping them?" Liz asked, trying to ask the right question, in the right tone of voice, to get the most useful information.

"No!" Ava answered sharply, as if horrified by the very thought. "I could never do that to Zan!"

"Do what?" Liz pressed, only a little reassured. She didn't have much more time here.

Instead of answering, the formless shape in the corner straightened up and stepped into the meagre light.

Liz shoved her fist in her mouth to keep from screaming in horror.

Once flaxen hair was pale grey and gnarled. Her peaches and cream complexion had become sallow, sunken, bulging and dipping unnaturally over bones that had not healed properly. But the worst was her eyes. As she had stepped out of the dark, huge pupils receded to reveal irises so pale they appeared white.

"Tess," Liz choked out, and this time the wraithlike figure before her did not protest. "What happened to you?"

"What happened?" Tess demanded. Sudden fury lit an unholy fire behind unearthly eyes. "I'll tell you what happened," she sneered, taking another step towards Liz, who had to resist the urge to retreat. "I showed up alone. They took my baby, interrogated me, and almost killed me. And by the time they were done …" she looked at the back of one scrawny hand in distaste. "That's what was left of me."

Liz considered this. Part of her was horrified, and the thought of her strong, handsome Max reduced to … to something like this …physically hurt. But somewhere, deep inside of her, she was aware of a dim but distinct sense of satisfaction. She'd spent years wishing that Tess was suffering horribly for what she'd done, for what she'd been a part of, and now … now she pushed that thought away and focussed on the very sincere pity she felt.

"Are you a prisoner here?"

Tess shook her head. Her last outburst had taken all of her strength, and now she seemed to deflate where she stood. "Not of theirs," she said flatly, to Liz's bewilderment.

"Then … whose?"

Tess just stared at her. For one crazy moment Liz wondered what she saw.

"I am a prisoner of destiny," the lost queen whispered.

For a long time, they just stared at each other.


III

The sound of footsteps pulled Liz out of her daze. "Quick, get down!" she hissed, and moved to pull Tess back into the shadows.

But Tess shook her off. "You hide," she said. "I have every right to be here."

Liz huddled in the darkest corner, hoping desperately that it wouldn't all end here. Would Tess betray her presence to the guard? The footsteps stopped only feet away. She fought to breathe slowly, evenly, shallowly as Tess conversed with the guards in an alien language. Liz was able to make out a few words, realizing to her chagrin that years of training in xenolinguistics could not possibly prepare human ears for the full register of alien tongues spoken quickly, not really.

" … prisoner … alive … days …"

Ava responded to the guard who had spoken. Liz couldn't be sure, but it sounded like she was telling the patrol to continue along, that she would be back in her quarters soon. Liz held her breath as they continued down the corridor, waiting until she couldn't hear the echo of their steps before speaking again.

"Thanks," she said gratefully. Ava glared at her.

"I didn't do it for you," she said coolly, and yet again Liz was shocked at her change in demeanour. It was impossible to predict which persona she would adopt at any given time; one minute she was Tess, living in the past and reliving her rejection, the next she was Ava, imperious and commanding. Liz just listened at first, trying to regain the upper hand.

"We can get Zan out of here," Ava decided. "There's a short time when he's virtually unsupervised every night, and I can monitor guard movements while you help him out." She regarded Liz sternly. "You do have some means of escape, don't you?"

Liz didn't answer right away. "Why are you helping?" she asked, instead.

Ava stared at her.

Then Tess spoke. "I've been waiting for this day for 14 years, Liz," she explained hollowly, and Liz could hear something of the young girl she had once been. "I betrayed my husband and my king, and I've been paying for it ever since. This is my chance to atone, to be there for him." The regret and hope Liz could hear in her voice was compelling, and Liz did not doubt her sincerity.

And if her help meant the mission had a better chance to succeed, then Liz was willing to take the chance. She wouldn't trust her, but she would use her.

"Okay," she agreed.

Ava fairly bristled with suspicion. "You're not going to argue?"

Liz shook her head. "No. I believe you." And she did. Then she hesitated. "Will you come with us when we leave, Tess? You … you could." Her motives weren't altogether altruistic; the strategist in her disliked the idea of a loose cannon.

Her offer hung in the air between them.

"You'd take me with you?" Tess replied, not a little surprised, and Liz nodded firmly. More and more it was getting harder to think of her as a threat. Maybe, Liz thought, they could help her. Maybe she could help them - surely she could provide extensive internal information on the military base and maybe even Khivar.

"Yes."

"I'll think about it," Tess said softly, and Liz left it at that. She was reworking her mission plan in her mind, and she knew there would be a better time for this conversation later. Right now, she needed to know more about where they were holding Max and to update Michael on her progress.

"You know where they're keeping him?" she prompted.


IV

Liz peered through the grill, trying to ignore the claustrophobic confines of the ventilation shaft trapping her.

If there was one thing space-faring ships and stations everywhere had in common, it was the need for ventilation shafts. Otherwise the air in the self-contained vessels would become stale and poisonous. That made them handy for intrusion, if intensely uncomfortable.

Of course, they were still claustrophobically designed, which was probably the only reason Liz had convinced Michael to let her go at all. Antarians were very tall people, who used their powers in tight situations. They did not, as a rule, creep about in tight spaces; she, on the other hand, crawled through with facility.

She watched as a guard waved his hand over some wall panels. The last one opened the door, which he then left through. It closed with a hiss that suggested an airtight seal. Her eyes widened as she realised that the airflow within the ventilation shaft had indeed halted, and she forced herself to breathe normally, so as not to hyperventilate and waste precious air.

She couldn't see Max from where she was, but Ava had assured her that he was indeed being held here.

Shifting her wrist in front of her face, she activated her com signal. "We're in. Everyone else out?"

"We're in place," Michael's voice came back to her, sounding flattened. "Good luck," he finished, followed by an almost imperceptible click.

She loosened the grill now, thankful that standard Antarian design required that air filters be easily accessible. She tried to grin at their complacency, but the knowledge that it was a result of an exceedingly good record of squelching invasion was daunting. As far as she knew, no one had either infiltrated or escaped from one of these stations before.

Done. All she could do now was wait.

An eternity later, she heard the doorway hiss and saw Tess - no, Ava - step through. Alone.

Quickly Liz swung the grill out and slipped through the hole, dropping feet first to the floor about two metres below with practised ease. Immediately she turned around and almost fainted at the sight of Max, unconscious, on the table behind her.

"Are we too late?" she whispered, and Tess answered without looking. She was busy undoing the restraints on one side.

"No," she said shortly. Liz nodded and turned her own attention to the restraints on the side closest to her.

"Max, wake up," she commanded him, and was rewarded by a flicker of eyelids. She couldn't help but smile in relief; his eyes were still warm and brown.

She pulled a nutrient pouch out of a pocket and eased a few drops between his chapped lips. He took a moment to moisten his mouth and tried to speak. "Liz?" he managed to say before she held a finger up. The change in his appearance, the way he suddenly came alive when he realised she was real and not a hallucination, was astounding.

"Shh," she cautioned him. "Don't try to talk. We just need to get you to where Michael is waiting. Can you help us, Max?"

"Us?" he questioned, and his eyes shifted to take in the woman watching them both from a few feet away. He recognised her immediately despite her altered appearance.

"Tess?" he asked incredulously. Liz shushed him again.

"Quiet, Max, she's going to help us get out of here, right Tess?" Liz looked pleadingly at the alien woman, hoping that she was still in full control of her faculties.

Tess nodded, and walked over to stand beside Liz. Max was too weak to protest, but Liz could tell by the tightening of his jaw that he wasn't happy about accepting her help.

Together they lifted him off the table and hoisted him to their shoulders. Liz forced herself not to think about how thin he had become in the time he'd been here, telling herself that he was supporting as much of his own weight as possible - and pointedly ignoring his stumbling feet that, just as clearly, could not.


V

"Dammit, what's taking you so long, Michael?" Liz whispered, not really expecting an answer.

"What, like it's so easy sneaking a whole ship under the freakin' wing of a battle station? Gimme twenty, willya?"

She had to grin. That was Michael, all right. And from the sound of his grousing, everything was going according to schedule.

"Max, Tess," she hissed, getting their attention. The three of them were sitting in a small corridor near a bulkhead, trying to avoid detection and capture until Michael could get a fix on their precise location and his crew could penetrate the hull. Max and Tess had exchanged grave looks while Liz confirmed mission status. Now they looked at her.

"ETA twenty minutes," she told them.

Max slumped in relief. Unable to wait any longer, Liz walked over and rubbed his hand. "How are you doing?"

He avoided her eyes. "I'm good."

"Max?" She fought not to react to the ease with which she could force him to look at her. He was so weak …

"How long have I been here, Liz? They wouldn't tell me. And … I feel a lot different than when I got here."

She hesitated. "How long did it feel like?" She wasn't sure if it would help or hinder the healing process for him to know.

"An eternity," he tried to joke, but it fell flat. After a moment of silence, he guessed, "A month, maybe?"

She was silent. It was Tess who answered. "More like seven."

Max's eyes grew huge. He turned to Liz, and she could see his unnatural calm finally begin to shatter. The doctors back at the base had warned her about some symptoms of post-traumatic stress to expect, and now she pulled him to her, massaging his arms and neck, stroking his hair and speaking quietly and soothingly.

"It's all right, you're all right, we're almost home. Max, I need you to focus, at least for a little while, until we get out of here. Can you hear me, Max? Stay with me, Max. You have to help me here. I need you now, Max. I can't do this without you."

She hated playing the guilt card, but knew that if he felt responsible for her he wouldn't let himself fall apart until they were both safe. She waited until she was sure he wasn't going into shock, and then turned to Tess.

"How long do we have? Do we need to worry about the guards yet?"

Ava cocked her head to one side, as if listening to something only she could hear. Liz fought the urge to shudder; it was downright creepy the way her eerily pale eyes would lose focus when she did that.

Finally, Tess spoke. "I think we're okay. They think they just looked in on Max, and I made them think they saw him in there. No one will check on him again until the next change of shift."

Liz nodded. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that Max's hands were shaking, and something about his expression worried her. He just wasn't going to be able to hold on much longer. Turning to him, she pulled out another packet from a pocket. "Max, I want you to take some meds. They'll make you sleepy, but the doctors told me you might need them."

Max shook his head, but before he could argue the point, Tess spoke up. "Take the medication. You won't help anyone if you mess up your own rescue because you can't control yourself."

He closed his eyes then in defeat, and accepted the pouch from Liz, who found herself looking at Tess gratefully. 'Thanks' she gestured silently, and the other woman nodded in acknowledgment.

Almost immediately, Max began to doze, and Liz was both relieved to see his body relax and a little concerned that if anything happened, he'd be helpless. It was a calculated risk, but the doctors had told her that stress could be debilitating. And in the immediate circumstances, she needed to know that Max wouldn't behave in unexpected or predictable ways.

When he was completely relaxed Liz turned to Tess.

"Have you decided? Are you going to come?" She wasn't sure what she was going to do if Tess refused, but hoped it wouldn't come to that.

"Why do you want me to come?" Tess's voice was quiet.

Liz thought about how to respond. "Well, do you like it here?"

"No. But … it's all I've known for a long time now."

"You said you were lonely here," Liz countered, not quite believing that she was actually trying to persuade the one person she could honestly say she hated to come with them. "You could be with your f- family." She was going to say friends, but she didn't want to lie.

"In a way," Tess said, cocking her head to one side, "we're family. You and I."

She paused, then spoke with intensity.

"We share a destiny."


VI

Liz just looked at Tess, her expression neutral, revealing nothing of the bile rising in her throat.

Tess continued as though Liz had agreed. "We have a lot in common. We love the same people, consider the same people family. We both got screwed over by a stupid plan that didn't take the human factor into consideration."

Her voice grew thoughtful and Liz nodding automatically. It was true, to a certain extent. But to hear it put like that … she snapped her head up as she realised that she'd missed something Tess had said.

"…to walk in someone else's shoes for a while, you know?"

Knowing some response was required, Liz temporized; "I guess." Then, because Tess was still waiting, and she only needed to keep this going for another - she checked her watch: two minutes - she said the first courteous thing that came to mind. "It must have been hard for you here."

Tess nodded, brightening. "Exactly! You see what I'm saying. It's like that story, the Prince and the Pauper, where they had to know what it was like to be in the other person's life."

Liz blinked. What was that supposed to mean? But just then she felt a pressure against her back, a subtle but distinctive vibration. "They're here," she said, and Tess stood up, all attention on the wall.

"What's happening?"

Liz explained quickly. "They've clamped the ship to the hull to create a pressurized seal, and now Michael's working on getting through the bulkhead. Once we're out of here, he'll fix it, they'll unclamp, we'll be out of here, and no one will be the wiser."

Tess nodded. "Well, I guess it's time then."

"Uh huh." Liz was distracted by the opening growing in the wall, and sighed in abject relief as Michael stepped through, smirking.

"Anyone need a ride?"

"Took enough time!" Liz teased.

But Michael didn't answer. In fact, he looked right through her.


VII

"Michael?" Liz asked, confused. They'd been working side by side for years, and had become good friends. Why was he ignoring her?

"Where'd Tess go?" he asked.

"Michael? Tess is -" Liz tried to say that Tess was right there, right behind her. But he never looked her way, just walked past. "Michael?"

She turned to where Tess was helping Max stand. "Tess?" No one answered.

"Liz?" Michael said, trying to catch Tess's attention. "Where's Tess? And what happened to you? Where you in a fight or something?"

Liz's skin crawled. Couldn't he see that it was Tess? With dawning horror, she realised that no, he couldn't. Tess was mindwarping the others. She had to be. That's why Michael couldn't see her, that's why he thought Tess was her …

"Michael!" Liz screamed, willing him - anyone - to look at her.

No one did. She tried to go over to them, but she couldn't move. It was as if a force were in place, paralysing her.

She heard Tess answer Michael. "We were ambushed. She was killed saving my life. Our lives. I couldn't carry her and Max, so I left her body where it won't be found for a while."

Michael looked reluctantly respectful as they helped Max up. "She died well." He paused, already regretting his show of admiration for Tess's 'bravery' and relief that Liz and Max were all right. Unwilling to let the moment get too maudlin, he snapped, "Medics!"

Liz stood there helplessly, calling out as shipmates passed her, but they were concentrating on getting Max through the makeshift porthole and onto the stretcher the medics had set up for him.

Then she caught it: the flicker of an eye. "Tess!" she shouted. "I know you can see me! What are you doing? Why can't I move?"

Suddenly the air shimmered around the other girl and her eyes unfocused for a second. Tess looked at Liz and smiled, confident that no one else could see or hear. Liz shuddered; why had she never noticed how sharklike that smile was?

"Just walking a mile in your shoes, Liz."

"Tess! Don't do this. You - you can't do this! You can't mindwarp them forever." She fell silent as Tess nodded in agreement. And it was Tess. Suddenly Liz realised that Ava hadn't made an appearance for some time now.

"True. But I've learned a new trick in the last few years. Transfiguration. It's harder to do, takes a lot of energy, but in the long run, I think it's much more reliable because it'll stay until I decide to change. I'll be you." Tess stepped forward then and proceeded to strip Liz of her weapons, pouches and wristcom, which she distributed about her own person. "As for why you can't move, well, let's just say I've learned a few tricks about restraining prisoners over the years here. I just knew it would come in handy at some point," she chatted brightly.

"You won't be able to pass yourself off as me for long," Liz warned. "They'll know something's up when you don't know what you should know."

"Bumped my head in the fight," Tess said with a crafty grin, tapping her scalp. She concentrated, and then Liz could see what Michael and everyone else could see; not Tess, but an injured and bloody Liz with a particularly nasty bump on one side of her head. "Amnesia." Tess laughed, and Liz shuddered. It was eerie to hear her own laugh when she had never felt less like laughing in her life.

"Don't worry, Liz," Tess comforted her, her smile sincere and her eyes bright with anticipation. "I'll take good care of our family for you."

Liz realised what she should have known hours earlier: Tess was insane. Absolutely, stark-raving mad. "I can't believe I trusted you. Again," she said bitterly.

Behind her, Michael and the Medics were through, and Michael was preparing to close the gap. "C'mon, Liz, shake a leg. We're not out of here yet."

Tess winced as Liz screamed for all she was worth. "MICHAEL! Don't go! Don't leave me here!"

With a little wave, Tess turned and stepped through the hole. "It's okay, Michael," she said. "I'm here. Let's go home. I need to be there for Max." There was no missing the genuine longing in her voice.

Liz watched in horror as the hole in the bulkhead shimmered and then shrank until no evidence remained that it had ever been there.

Her mind supplied the image of the ship detaching itself from the hull and stealthily making it's way out of sensor range.

She was alone.


VII

The sound of footsteps and voices knocked her out of her paralysis.

She could move her body now, and she struggled to lift her feet off the floor. But the bottom of her boots looked like they'd been welded to the deck. What the hell? Frantically she began to undo the clasps, to release her feet, but it was a complicated design and it took too long.

She froze as the voices stopped, and slowly stood up.

There were six Antarians in front of her, four male and two female, all garbed in military regalia. And from the appearance of his uniform, the front one was clearly of high rank.

Seemingly unsurprised to see her, he spoke a few words. She didn't understand them, but there was no mistaking the meaning. Immediately three of his companions ran off, presumably to enact some security feature.

Standing straight, arms at side and head high, Liz stood calmly although her heart was hammering.

"Terran," he said, then turned and spoke sharply to someone behind him. The man gestured in a form of salute and left. Liz had a sinking feeling that they were going to know about Max's rescue a little sooner than anticipated.

But then the leader of the group stepped forward, towering over her, and she couldn't avoid his hypnotic, compelling gaze.

He spoke precisely, in Australian-accented English.

"It's no good pretending. I know all about Zan's inner circle. I know who you are, Liz Parker; your image and reputation precedes you. Perhaps mine has preceded me?"

He smiled, and Liz was silent, struck by how beautiful and terrible that smile was. Her non-response seemed to please him even more,

"Then allow me to introduce myself. The name is Khivar, and this is my ship."

She was silent.

After a moment he waved his hand to release her feet from the floor. Startled, she lost her balance and almost fell. He caught her by one arm and helped her stand.

Khivar smiled again. It never reached his eyes.

"Let's get better acquainted, shall we?"


VIII

She leaned her head against the cell wall, fingering the pale tips of unnaturally whitened hair and wondering what her eyes looked like. But she wouldn't ask. They might show her.

Actually, she had yet to say one word to them. She wasn't quite sure why anymore, but she had a dim idea that it was just better that way.

Once she started talking, she might never stop.

Inside she was screaming. Trying to drown out the voices.

Voices asking her, 'are you real?'

No, she realised, with some relief. She wasn't.

She was just a prisoner of destiny, that's all.

That's all.

The End


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