Melinda Metz

The Rebel

(Roswell High-008)


Max Evans spread a thin layer of spicy brown mustard over his AstroNut bar, careful not to miss a spot. This would be the first time the beings of his home planet tasted the candy, and he wanted the experience to be perfect. He raised the AstroNut bar to his nose and took a long, deep sniff. The scent of the mustard made the inside of his nose tingle, and the hint of chocolate and coconut started the saliva pumping in his mouth.

He smiled as he felt the impatience of the beings who made up the collective consciousness grow. He waited another moment until they were practically begging for it, then he took the first bite. The flavors exploded in his mouth-the salt of the somewhat stale peanuts, the overwhelming exotic sweetness of the coconut, the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate.

Max had probably eaten more than a thousand AstroNuts in his life, but now, with the reactions of the beings of the consciousness ripping through him, it was like he was tasting the candy for the first time. And he was aware of so much more than simply flavor. Like the way the chocolate felt against his tongue, smooth and cool. And the way the nuts crunched under his teeth. And the way the mustard traced a line of heat down his throat.

'Can I have a bite?' Maria DeLuca asked.

It took Max a second to register the question because he was so absorbed in the response of the consciousness, he'd pretty much forgotten he was sitting in the school cafeteria with Maria, Liz Ortecho, Michael Guerin, and Max's sister, Isabel. Every day the connection between him and the beings grew stronger, so much so that he sometimes spaced on where he was and who he was with.

'Come on, Max. I'll love you forever,' Maria begged. She twined one of her bouncy blond curls around her finger.

Max grinned at her. You just had to grin at Maria when she went into full-out cute mode.

'Hey, back off, chiquita. That's my man you're talking to,' Liz mock threatened, her dark brown eyes narrowing.

'Well, tell your man to share his candy bar with your best friend,' Maria shot back.

'Take it,' Max said, reaching across the cafeteria table and holding the AstroNut bar in front of Maria's mouth so that she could take a bite. 'I don't want to cause a catfight,' he added with a smirk.

Michael slapped his hands over Maria's lips an instant before the candy brushed against them. 'I'm not letting you do this,' he told her. 'Clearly you're suffering from some kind of temporary insanity. How long has it been since you allowed a preservative to enter the 'temple that is your body,' as you insist on calling it?'

'Besides, it will give you zits,' Isabel added.

'But Max doesn't have any,' Maria protested, the words coming out muffled by Michael's fingers.

'Yeah, that's because Max spends half an hour in front of the mirror every morning using his power to clear up his face,' Isabel answered. She flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder.

'Hey, some things are supposed to remain private,' Max told his sister.

Maria wriggled out of Michael's grasp, grabbed the candy bar from Max, and took a huge bite.

'So, what'd you think?' Max asked her once she'd chewed and swallowed.

She wrinkled her nose. 'I can't believe we were eating the same thing,' she answered. She lowered her voice. 'I mean, I know aliens have different taste buds or whatever, but I saw your face. You looked like you were about to have an or-' She stopped midsentence, and her cheeks got all pink.

'A what?' Michael pressed, his gray eyes flashing with amusement. 'Come on, Maria, a what?'

'A… a… an original experience,' she blurted out, her cheeks going from pink to near purple.

'Now that I'm connected to the consciousness, it's like everything is new to me,' Max explained. 'When I tasted the AstroNut, it wasn't just me, it was all these beings who'd never had anything like it.'

'Can't you just block them out?' Isabel asked.

'I used to decide when I wanted to make the connection,' Max explained. 'Now it's pretty much permanent, but I can sort of turn the volume up or down.'

'Permanent,' Isabel repeated. She stacked her empty sweetener packets, making sure all the edges were perfectly in line, then she reached across the table, snagged Liz's empty sugar packet, and stuck it on the top of the pile.

She's freaked by the idea, Max realized. Isabel always went into her clean-and-organize routine when she was upset.

'It's actually kind of cool,' he told her. 'It's like everything you do, you're doing it for the first time. Their reactions feel almost like your reactions, and everything becomes much more… intense.'

'But you can't turn them off. You can only turn them down. Is that the deal?' Michael asked. He didn't sound happy.

'Pretty much,' Max answered.

Michael shoved his hands through his spiky black hair. 'I read about this guy in Japan who agreed to stay in his apartment for one year and have his whole life broadcast on TV. He only got to have stuff he won in contests, so at first he didn't have food, or clothes, or even toilet paper. The guy was wiping his butt with his hand, and everyone was watching him on the tube.' Michael paused for breath and jabbed his finger at Max. 'You're that guy, Max.'

'Hey, I always use toilet paper,' Max joked.

Michael didn't even crack a smile. 'Pretty soon I'm going to be that guy, too.'

'Even I'm going to be that guy,' Isabel said.

It was true, or at least it was true that Michael and Isabel would have to make their own connections to the consciousness when they went through their akinos. If they didn't, they'd die.

'And anyway, you're the one who's going to have most of the original experiences,' Michael said. 'If I eat an AstroNut after my akino, the consciousness will have already tasted it through you, so-'

'Forget the chocolate bar,' Isabel interrupted. 'Max, if you're going to insist on being in communication with the beings, at least talk about something important,' she snapped. 'Have you even bothered to ask them about Alex today?'

A wave of guilt crashed over Max. Alex Manes was one of his best friends. It hadn't even been two weeks since Alex had gotten sucked through the wormhole and ended up on Max's home planet.

'I'll do it right now,' Max answered. He took a couple of slow breaths and allowed his connection to the beings to deepen until he felt his aura begin to dissolve into the ocean of auras that formed the consciousness.

He formed a mental picture of Alex-dark red hair, green eyes-trying to mix in a sense of Alex's wacked sense of humor and his take-no-prisoners attitude when it came to protecting the people he cared about. Then he threw the image out into the consciousness and surfed through the auras, picking up their reactions.

What he got back reassured him. Alex was alive, unharmed. The beings were still getting used to his presence, but they-

Suddenly Max hit a pocket of auras that felt like molten steel. He'd been swept into this pocket before-or another one just like it. The beings here feared Alex, and their fear produced a hatred so strong that it seared Max's skin. These beings couldn't tolerate Alex on their planet. They wanted to kill him.

The living fire shot into Max's nose and throat and ears. When the three streams met-an explosion detonated inside him. He could almost feel his organs roasting.

He couldn't survive this. His body was going to combust. His-

A hand shook Max's shoulder hard, and he shoved himself away from the consciousness-as far away as the

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