Sheriff Valenti parked his truck on the side of the road and hopped out. He walked past various emergency vehicles toward the alley, which was swarming with police, EMS personnel and the mortuary officials. He nudged his way through until he reached his deputy, who was staring down at a large bulging black tarp lying on the ground. A man-shaped figure lay underneath. "A woman in her thirties or forties," his deputy informed him, "She’s the same as the last one. Head cut clean off, chest open, liver removed." Valenti squatted down and pulled back the tarp to see the woman’s face. His expression didn’t change as he gazed down at the severed head. After a moment he replaced the tarp and stood. "Looks like we have a serial killer on our hands," he said. He turned to his deputy. "Contact the newspaper and the radio stations," he told him, "As of now Roswell is under 10PM curfew." The deputy nodded. "Yes, sir," he replied. The deputy turned to go. Valenti look down at the covered body once again before he followed.
"…another brutal slaying in Roswell late last night. The body of a woman as yet unidentified was found in an alley near Hunter street. Her head had been severed and her chest opened. Police believe that the killer responsible for this death is the same one who killed David Simmons in Albuquerque and Tomas Sheen here in Roswell. Roswell’s Sheriff Jim Valenti has announced a 10PM curfew to all Roswell resident, effective immediately…" Liz glanced up at the radio sitting on the counter. She was in the restaurant, helping her dad fill the cash register and prepare the restaurant before she had to leave for school. She stared at the radio, a slight inkling of danger growing in her head. "Looks like we’ll have to close the restaurant earlier than usual for a while," her father commented from behind her. "Um, yeah," she replied, "I guess." Her dad closed up the cash register and walked over to her. "That guy could be bad for business," he said. "I’m sure they’ll catch him soon," Liz told him. Her dad nodded, then patted her shoulder. "Have a nice day at school, sweetie," he told her. She smiled. "Thanks, dad. I will." Her father walked into the back room. Liz went around to one of the stools to grab her bag, just as Maria walked in. "Hey, Maria," Liz greeted her, meeting her at the door, "So what happened last night?" "Didn’t Max tell you?" Maria asked. Liz shook her head. "I’ll tell you about it on our way to school," Maria promised as they headed to her mom’s car, "Max wants to call a meeting tonight to talk about everything. And you are not going to believe it." Liz placed the basket of leftover fries in the middle of the table, along with a plate of muffins. Michael and Alex started digging in immediately. Maria just watched them, shaking her head. "Let me ask you something," she said to them, "Have you two ever actually gotten full?" Michael shook his head, his mouth full. Alex swallowed and spoke up. "Hasn’t happened yet," he told her. Liz sat down in the booth next to Alex, giving her a good view of the entrance. She glanced at the alien-faced clock on the wall. "Shouldn’t Max and Isabel be here by now?" she wondered aloud. "They’ll be here," Michael said, his attention still fixed on the fast-disappearing basket of fries. Liz waited a moment, then stood and leaned against a nearby table to get a better view of the street outside. "Relax, Liz," Maria told her. "Wow, there something you don’t see very often," Alex spoke up, "Maria telling Liz to relax." Michael grinned as Maria tossed a fry at Alex’s face. He tried to catch it with his mouth, but missed. "You got anything to drink?" Michael asked. Maria rolled her eyes. "And would you like dessert with that?" she asked. He smiled at her. "What do you got?" She shook her head, smiling nonetheless. Liz stood suddenly. A moment later the door opened and Isabel and Max walked into the restaurant. "It’s about time," Michael told them. "Yeah, we were about to send out a search party," Alex added. "Mom wanted us to stay home," Isabel explained, "It took us a while to convince her we’d be OK. She’s really worried about that killer." "You mean the Shifter," Michael said, his expression void of all humor. Isabel sat down on one of the stools. Max and Liz remained standing. "We have to talk," Max spoke up, "About Banning. And about the Shifter." "What’s there to talk about?" Michael asked, "The Shifter killed our parents, and Banning came to kill him. Unless we get to him first, that is." "What?" Maria asked incredulously. "Don’t talk like that, Michael," Max told him. "Why not?" Michael asked, "You think that if I see that guy on the street, I’m just gonna walk by like nothin’s wrong?" "Yes," Max told him, "We don’t know what kind of power he has, Michael. Banning said he was dangerous, he said to stay away." "I know what he said, Max," Michael told him. Isabel spoke up. "Just let Banning take care of it," she said, "That’s why he came here, right?" "Besides," Liz spoke up, "we’re not even sure what this Shifter looks like, right?" They all looked at her. "I know I have a pretty good idea," Michael said. Maria looked from Michael to Liz. "Salt-Boy," she said. Liz frowned. "Eric?" she asked, "You’re kidding, right?" "It makes sense, though," Maria told her, "Banning said that the Shifter really likes salt, and that it can change its shape to take on any form, including innocent-looking guys. And Banning said that they can act very friendly when they want to." "So all of a sudden you trust this Banning guy?" Liz asked them, "After you’ve known him, like, a day?" "He’s one of us, Liz," Max told her. She looked at him. "So you think Eric is the Shifter?" she asked. He nodded mutely. Michael stood up suddenly. "Of course he’s the Shifter," he said, "You saw how he ate all that salt, and how he got into town right after that killing in Albuquerque, right before that guy was killed here in Roswell. He’s the one." Liz shook her head. "But it could be just a coincidence," she said, "How can you be sure?" "Well, we could walk up to him and ask," Alex suggested. "No one’s walking up to him," Max said, "We all stay away from him. All of us," he added, looking first at Michael, then at Liz. "What if he comes here again?" Maria asked. Michael spoke up before Max could reply. "If he shows his ugly face in here again," he said, "Then there’s going to be some serious butt-kicking." "Michael…" "No," Michael said before Max could finish, "I mean it, Max. That guy deserves to be killed. And we deserve to be the ones who do it." "You’re not serious, Michael!" Isabel said in disbelief, "We can’t kill anyone! Not even…not even him." Michael looked at her. "It’s either us or him, Izzy," he said, "And I don’t know about you, but it’s not gonna be me." Without another word, Michael turned and stormed out of the restaurant. Maria stood, watching him go. "I’ll go after him," she said. She hurried to follow him. The others watched her leave, then sat for a moment in awkward silence. Isabel finally turned to Max. "He could get himself killed," she said. Max hesitated. "He’s upset," he said, "But he’s not stupid. He’s not going to go looking for the Shifter. He’ll calm down by tomorrow." "We hope," she said. Max turned to the others. "We all have to be extra careful," he told them, "No one goes out at night alone, not without one of us. And if you see Eric, don’t go near him. OK?" Alex and Isabel both nodded. Liz hesitated, looking at Max. He returned her gaze. "Liz?" Finally she looked away and nodded half-heartedly. He kept his eyes on her. Isabel stood up. "We should get home," she said, "I don’t want Mom to worry." Max nodded. He turned to Alex. "You should go home, too," he said. Alex popped one last fry into his mouth before climbing out of the booth. "I have math homework anyway," he said, making his way to the door Isabel and Alex waited by the door. Max hesitated, looking at Liz. "Keep your window locked tonight," he told her. She nodded and smiled. "I will," she promised. He nodded back, forced a small grin, then turned and followed the others outside. Liz watched them all leave, then sighed heavily and went to clean up. Maria ran to catch up with Michael, who was already halfway down the block. When she reached him, she breathed in and out heavily. "Hey, slow down!" she told him. He ignored her. She looked up at him. His nostrils were flaring. "You want to calm down so we can talk?" she asked. "What’s there to talk about?" he asked. "Oh, gee, I don’t know," she said sarcastically, "There’s only about a dozen things to chose from." He continued to ignore her. She finally got fed-up and grabbed his arm, making him slow down. He stopped suddenly and turned to her. "What do you want?" he demanded angrily. "I want to make sure you’re not going to go do something stupid," she told him, "Something dangerous." "What do you care?" he asked. "What do I care?" she repeated, "What do I care?" Michael sighed and turned away, rubbing his temples. "Sorry," he said, "Sorry, I didn’t mean that." She grabbed his shoulders and turned him around to face her. "Michael," she told him, "I know you’re angry, and I know you want revenge. But you can’t just walk up and kill someone, no matter what he did." "Why not?" he asked, "Do you know how many people he’s killed? How many more he’s going to kill unless someone stops him?" "I know all that," she told him, "But I also know that you’re not a killer." He just stared down at her mutely. She stepped closer and looked up at him. They stared at each other for a moment. Then a slow smile crept onto her mouth. He sighed, then shook his head, grinning wryly. "Thanks," he told her. "Anytime," she said, "I’m kinda getting the hang of it." He smiled. "I’m still angry, you know," he told her. She nodded. "Well, now that that’s settled," she said, "I’d rather not hang out here in the dark with, you know…" He nodded, then grabbed her arm and started walking. "I’ll walk you home," he told her. "Who’ll walk you home?" He didn’t reply. Maria grabbed his hand with her own, and the two of them walked side-by-side. Liz poured a large cola from the fountain into a cardboard cup depicting a cartoon drawing of an alien ship crash-landing on earth. She covered it with a plastic lid, then handed it to the teenage kid waiting on the other side of the counter. He took his refill and left. Liz was about to turn around when the entrance doors opened and Sheriff Valenti walked in. He spotted her and immediately headed her way. Liz watched him approach warily. She saw Maria out of the corner of her eye, waiting a table at the opposite end of the room and glancing up at them. Valenti took a seat on one of the stools opposite Liz and set his hat on the counter. "Afternoon, Miss Parker," he greeted her, smiling politely. "Hello, Sheriff," she replied, "Can I get you anything?" "Just a coffee," he told her, "Regular, cream and no sugar." Liz turned to pour him the drink. A moment later she set the coffee in front of him. He handed her a one-dollar bill. "I see you’re closing up early this week," he said. Liz nodded. "Yes," she said, "Because of the curfew." "Good idea," he said, "It’s awful dangerous to be outdoors at night these days. What with a killer on the loose." She looked over at him. "Have you been able to find anything about him yet?" she asked. Valenti smiled. "I’m sorry," he told her, "But the investigation is private. But I can tell you that it should be only a matter of days before we catch him." "Well, that’s good to hear," she said. He nodded. "Listen," he said, "You see a lot of people coming and going from this place. Ever seen anything suspicious? Something out of the ordinary?" She shook her head slowly. "No," she told him, "Sorry. I haven’t…" She trailed off as the Crashdown Café doors opened once again and Eric stepped in. Valenti turned and saw him come in. Before Liz could finish her sentence, Valenti grabbed his hat and stood, ignoring his coffee. Liz watched as Valenti approached Eric and talked to him. A moment later, the sheriff waved his hand toward the entrance, and Eric stepped back outside. Valenti followed. Instantly Liz dashed out from behind the counter and headed into the back room. She rushed over to the door leading out to the alleyway next to the restaurant and pushed it open a crack so she could peer outside. She was in time to see Eric and Valenti stop just a few feet away from the door, well within eavesdropping-range. Eric had his back to the brick wall, with Valenti facing him only a foot away. "So what’s this about, Sheriff?" Eric asked, his expression still holding no signs of alarm. "I’ll cut right to the chase, Mr. Bates," Valenti told him, "I’m sure you’ve heard about the killings we’ve been having lately." Eric nodded. "Yes," he said, "I have. There was another one last night." Valenti nodded. "Well," the sheriff said, "it just so happens I have a pretty good idea who’s been doing the killing." Eric raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he asked, "Who?" Valenti took a step forward, eliminating the space between them. He stuck his face in Eric’s fearlessly. "You," he said simply. This time Eric’s brows raised in amusement. "Me?" he asked. "I know it was you, Mr. Bates," Valenti told him in a low, threatening voice, "And I will prove it, and I will catch you. You can count on that. I’m going to expose you for what you truly are." Eric met the sheriff’s glare for a moment before he replied. "In that case," he said, "I wish you luck." Eric slowly stepped away from the sheriff, then turned and walked out of the alley. Valenti just stood there, staring after him. Liz quickly and quietly closed the door, then hurried back out to the main room of the restaurant. She stepped through the double doors, took three steps, then immediately stopped in her tracks and stared. "Uh-oh," she breathed. Michael sat in one of the booths, his back to the entrance. Max and Isabel sat with him, and Maria was standing next to them. She didn’t even notice Kyle, who was sitting on one of the stools. Michael glanced up at her and caught her staring at him, then frowned in puzzlement. Max also turned his head to look at her. A second later Eric walked inside. She looked up at him. "Uh-oh," she repeated. Michael followed her gaze and saw Eric, as did Max, Isabel, and Maria. Immediately Michael was on his feet. He went right over to Eric and stood up to him menacingly. Max and the others stood to stop him. As soon as Eric saw Michael, his mouth dropped open slightly, and he stared at Michael in a mixture of amazement and amusement. Michael just stared back at him, muscles tensed, fists clenched. Finally Eric spoke up. "What are you doing here," he said, smiling slightly. "Why?" Michael asked angrily, "I’m, supposed to be dead, right?" "Actually, yes," Eric replied. Instantly Michael’s fist shot out and connected with Eric jaw. Eric turned his head at the impact, but didn’t appear to be harmed. Max and Maria immediately moved to grab Michael and hold him back. Isabel looked on, a worried expression on her face. Michael struggled, glaring hatefully at Eric, who just seemed more confused than anything. "Let me go!" Michael demanded. Liz moved quickly to stand in between Michael and Eric. "Stop it, Michael!" she told him. "Not after what he—" "Michael!" she raised her voice warningly. Michael turned his glare to her, then back to Eric, who was watching them, appearing puzzled. Michael then turned to see the entire restaurant watching him, and Liz’s dad, who was rushing over to them. "What’s going on out here?" he demanded. Michael relaxed his muscles a bit, then shrugged himself out of Max and Maria’s grip. "Nothing," he muttered. He brushed past Liz and left the restaurant, ignoring Eric. They watched him go. Liz turned to Eric. "Are you OK?" she asked. He looked at her and nodded. "I’m fine," he said. Eric then glanced over at Max, looking him up and down, then at Isabel. Max’s expression was unfriendly. Isabel looked uncomfortable. Liz turned to her father. "Everything’s OK now, Dad," she assured him. Mr. Parker nodded, then slowly turned and went back to his office. Liz turned to her friends, then to Eric. "Um, Eric," she said, "These are my friends. Maria, Isabel, and Max." Eric nodded and smiled at them. "Pleased to meet you all," he said. They all just stared back at him. Maria and Isabel’s looks were apprehensive. Max’s was hostile. Liz looked uncomfortably back and forth between them. Finally Max turned and went back to sit down at the booth. Isabel joined him. Maria gave Liz a look, then went back to work. Liz turned to Eric. "Sorry about that," she said. He shrugged, apparently unperturbed by the abuse. "It’s not your fault," he told her. Eric glanced once at Max, then sat down at a table. Liz watched him, glanced at Max, then sighed and went back to work. Max watched her. He didn’t appear to be a happy camper. A moment later, Kyle, who had witnessed the whole incident, stood up from his stool and walked over to Max and Isabel’s booth. He leaned down close so he could speak directly to Max. "Kind of ironic, isn’t it?" Kyle asked him, "Liz protecting that guy, just like she did for you last year. Doing the same thing to you she did to me." With a wide grin, Kyle turned and walked away. Max watched him go, his face flushed with anger and jealousy. Isabel leaned closer to him. "Just ignore him, Max," she advised. Max ignored her. On the other side of the room, Kyle turned and winked at him, then started laughing in amusement. Max clenched his fists. Michael pounded heavily on the door. He didn’t stop until it opened a few moments later. Banning peered up at him in surprise. "Michael?" he asked in surprise, "What are you doing here?" Without being invited, Michael stepped past the shorter man into the house. Banning closed the door behind him, then turned and followed Michael into the living room. Michael began pacing back and forth, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets. "Is something the matter?" Banning asked. Michael stopped suddenly and looked at him. "I know who he is," he said. Banning frowned. "Who who is?" "The Shifter," Michael said. Banning’s eyebrows raised at this. "I know who he is," Michael said as he continued pacing, "His name’s Eric, Eric Bates. At least that’s the name he’s going by now." Banning sat down on one of the chairs. "He keeps coming to the Crashdown, where Maria and Liz work," Michael went on, "He’s got Liz convinced he’s innocent. But I know better. The rest of us all know." "Do you know where he lives?" Banning asked. Michael shook his head. "That’s all I know," he said, "But I know he wants us dead. I know it. He knew me when he saw me, like he knew who I was." "Michael, listen to me," Banning told him seriously, "You have to stay away from him." "But—" "No," Banning insisted firmly, "You must keep away from him. He could kill you easily. He is very, very dangerous." Michael stopped pacing and looked down at him. "He has to pay," he insisted. Banning nodded. "He will, Michael," he assured the teen, "He will pay. I promise." Michael nodded, then turned and sat down on the other chair, leaning his elbows on his knees. "Tell me," he said, "Tell me about where we come from." Banning hesitated, then nodded. "Our home planet is similar to this one, in a way," he told him, "Except our sky is green, and our plant-life much different. Not to mention our population is not quite half that of earth." Michael’s eyes glazed over thoughtfully as he listened to Banning. After a few minutes he spoke up. "Do you think you could ever take us back home?" he asked. Banning grinned. "I’ll see what I can do."
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