Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
I dragged my exhausted self out of the cab and paid the cabbie his fare plus a generous tip. Turning toward the building he had brought me to and advancing at a slow shuffle, I ran into Connor MacLeod's Buzz. Not even slowing down, I walked around to the private residence entrance and knocked. Dropping my duffel at my feet, I leaned against the door frame and sighed. The day had definitely gone downhill.
It had started out nicely enough. I had flown into La Guardia on Council business. Terry had wanted me to courier a briefcase of papers and data CDs to an acquaintance of hers in New York City. Since I was heading that way anyway, I offered to take some antique maps that Duncan had mentioned he was holding for Connor. Armed with a sheaf of courier papers and permits, I had a wonderfully uneventful cross-country flight.
It all started going to hell after I'd collected my weapons and was on my way out of the airport. Before I even made it to the cab line, I felt the Buzz. Less than a hundred, but several weak and medium heads worth of power. Wonderful, a young hunter; just what I needed today. Looking around in annoyance, I finally spotted the relatively non-descript guy that was staring at me with a smirk. Keeping his hands in plain sight, he walked up to me, ignoring the dirty looks he received from the people he was rudely pushing aside.
I didn't even go for a weapon. In full view of a hundred bystanders and in the middle of the day, nobody would be insane enough to start a fight. Trying to keep a neutral look on my face, I said, "I don't know you. What do you want?"
"Your head," he answered simply, maintaining his pose of light amusement. At least he had the sense to keep his voice down.
"I don't have time for this," I answered in annoyance. "Go away before you get hurt."
All traces of levity fled from his face. "Are you afraid to fight me, coward?"
Oh, Good Lord. "Do you really have a death wish?" I asked him incredulously.
His smile came out again, this time with a wicked edge to it. "Take the airport shuttle to parking area B. All the way behind that parking lot is an old maintenance hanger. Meet me there in half an hour."
One eyebrow came up, and I let a small smile form. "And if I refuse?"
His stance shifted subtly. "I'll shoot you dead where you stand," he answered.
I stared at him. It really appeared that he would shoot me in cold blood if I refused his Challenge. On top of that, he aura told me he wasn't bluffing. "You're insane," I accused him calmly. The entire conversation had been in relatively quiet tones, and we had yet to attract any undue attention. I definitely wanted to keep it that way.
He gave me a casual shrug. Tilting his head slightly, he indicated the line for the airport shuttle. "Shall we?"
Giving a resigned sigh, I picked up my duffle in one hand and the briefcase of couriered items in the other. Joining the line for the next airport bus, it didn't take me and my silent shadow very long to get to the indicated parking lot. Spotting the hanger he'd mentioned, I headed in that direction, careful to not let him stray out of my sight now that we were leaving the crowds behind. He obliged and walked to one side of me, both hands in sight and his coat buttoned.
Upon reaching the isolated hanger, he unhesitatingly opened one of the doors and stepped inside, careful to keep an eye on me. Not sensing that this was any kind of trap, I entered and watched my opponent make it to the far wall before he stopped and began to take off his coat. Still not sensing any kind of duplicity, I dropped my bag and briefcase to the floor and closed the door. Returning my full attention to the hunter, I saw that he'd pulled a scimitar and was slowly advancing back toward the center of the room. Since I appeared to have a bit of time, I pulled my coat off, removed my blades, and draped the coat over the suitcase.
Cautiously advancing toward the opponent, I asked, "Why are you doing this? We can still both walk away."
He gave a negligent shrug. "There can be only One."
I shook my head at him and stopped ten feet away. "No there doesn't," I answered sadly.
He frowned slightly, apparently becoming annoyed. "We must play the Game."
Shaking my head one last time at his self-destructive single- mindedness, I settled down in a defensive stance. "Ryan Chessman. I have no wish to fight you, but I will if I must."
He smiled toothily and gave a mocking half bow. "Joseph Farzan, and I must insist."
I started cautiously, trying to get a sense of how good I was in comparison to him. He wasn't patient enough and responded to my tentative probes with aggressive attacks. Giving ground but curving to favor my right side with the longer blade, I kept us roughly in the center of the open space.
I had speed and reflexes on my side, but he had strength and reach. Overall, we were almost perfectly matched.
We continued to trade blows for several minutes, each scoring with minor hits that did nothing to slow the tempo. By the time I began to tire, he was also slowing down.
In an effort to give myself a breather, I stepped back and panted out, "Why don't you just let me walk away?"
Instead of answering directly, he shouted and lunged.
Blocking his scimitar slash with my wakizashi, I also managed to get my knife in front of his follow-up punch with his off hand. I cut a deep line from his wrist to near the elbow, producing a spray of blood.
Tucking his arm back in, he stepped backwards, angling his sword to protect his now weaker side.
Finally having an advantage, I started to dart forward, only to slip on a pool of the blood that was by now splattered all over the floor.
When I stumbled slightly, he jumped back forward with a sudden grin. Because I was out of balance, I couldn't prevent him from stepping around my leading knife side to have a free shot at my exposed back.
Desperately trying to protect my neck, I partially extended my right arm and angled my wakizashi across my back to intercept a decapitation attempt. Also, I tried to throw an elbow into his neck or face to distract him.
He predicted both. I saw him sinking down into a crouch to avoid the elbow. Too late, I also saw the incoming strike coming much lower than expected, aiming not for the neck as I expected, but for my legs or lower back.
I felt a dull thud in my back instead of the sharp burning I would have expected with a sword strike. Not pausing to wonder at my unexpected luck, I pivoted on my left foot, bringing my sword from behind my back over my head and around for a quick decapitation of the stunned man squatting in front of me.
I stumbled a few feet away and dropped to my hands and knees. As the light show started, I wondered vaguely why Farzan's last hit had failed to paralyze me.
The light finally fading, I forced myself back to my knees. While stripping off my now shredded and blood-stained shirt, I glanced over at Farzan's body and stopped in surprise. His chest had been blown in half. Blinking, I stood, stepped over, and took a closer look. Among all the bloodstains on the floor, I saw twisted fragments of heavy plastic and what looked like a metal tube. Frowning in thought, I studied the metal for a few moments before concluding that it appeared to be a handgun barrel.
Suddenly realizing what might have happened, I reached around to my lower back and felt that my gun holster was empty and the bottom was torn out.
Nodding, I pieced together what must have happened. I'd put my Glock into the holster after getting it back at the airport. When the fight had started, I'd forgotten all about it. That last hit of his had managed to hit the only piece of "armor" I was wearing, the gun. It would have fallen to the floor after his scimitar destroyed the holster. His body had then fallen on top of the gun. His Quickening must have set off all the ammunition in the gun at once, with the apparent effect of a small pipe bomb. Bidding a silent thank you to the destroyed gun that had quite probably saved my life, I continued with my clean up, finishing with pulling a change of clothing from my overnight bag.
I took my time. The building was isolated enough that I doubted any noise had disturbed the rest of the complex. None of the windows had shattered, surprisingly enough. Lastly, it being daylight none of the strobe effects of the Quickening were likely to have been visible outside of the building.
Finally cleaned up, I pulled out my cell phone and hit a speed dial.
"Joe's." Amazing. Mid-morning his time and he was actually there.
"Hey, Joe. It's Ryan."
"Hi, Ryan. How's New York?"
I grunted in dark humor. "Safer than when I arrived." I continued when he answered me with a short period of silence, "You might want to send a crew to the abandoned hanger beyond parking lot B at La Guardia. Tell them to bring a mop."
"What happened?" he asked. We both knew that the results of these duels typically left blood over a large area. The fact that I'd made a point of it apparently had his curiosity up.
"What happens when you run electricity through a loaded handgun?" I answered indirectly. "Listen, do you want me to stay until the janitors arrive, or can I just head out?"
"Go," he answered immediately. "You can tell me about it later."
"Right," I answered tiredly. "Assuming nothing else goes wrong, I'll see you late tomorrow."
Stuffing my ruined clothing into my bag, I only took one item of Farzan's: his scimitar.
Trudging back to the shuttle pick-up point, I re-joined the flow of people as if I was heading for a terminal but ducked back out of the airport and went back to the cab line.
And that brings me back here, leaning on Connor's door as he cautiously checked who had shown up at his private doorstep.
Identifying me, he brought his katana to a "rest" position and waved me in, offering a drink as we went by the kitchen.
I removed the scimitar from my coat and left it on his coffee table before removing my coat and collapsing tiredly on his couch. He placed my drink next to me and took his own seat.
"Anyone I knew?" he asked casually.
I shrugged without looking. "Joseph Farzan. He'd staked out the exit to La Guardia. Not a bad place for a hunter," I acknowledged grudgingly. "I got him, though luck played a part in that," I freely admitted.
He made an indecipherable noise. "Luck is as much a part of life as anything."
I repeated his noise back to him. "I thought you tried to keep New York safe for us youngsters, Uncle Connor," I teased, glancing at him sideways.
He gave me a wry grin but didn't respond.
I sat up and waved at the sword. "A present for you."
He nodded and leaned back in his chair, sipping his drink.
I took a drink of the beer Connor had given me before I leaned back again. "I'm just tired of this shit," I commented for no real reason.
Connor studied the amber liquid in his glass calmly. He didn't seem surprised by my non-sequitor. He answered my comment with a slight shrug, "What can we do about it?"
I leaned back and thought about it. Was this the right time to try to implement my long term goal? With a deep breath, I decided that it was as good a time as any. Farzan had just proven that Immortals were at risk anywhere. Javier Vachon's death a few months previously proved that vampires were no safer, really.
I opened my eyes and studied Connor as he studied his drink. Should I talk with him about it? Well, why not? He's certainly no danger to me and potentially a very valuable ally.
Starting cautiously, I asked, "We're safe on Holy Ground, right?"
He shrugged again. "Temporarily, yes. The Game will eventually find you, though. Again and again."
"But we ARE safe there, right?" I persisted.
"Sure," he drawled out, clearly not seeing where I was going but looking up at me.
"Why not build a city on Holy Ground?"
He let out a huff of amusement and returned his attention to his glass.
"I'm serious," I protested, knowing I was starting to sound like a petulant child. Taking a breath to calm down, I continued, "Build a town on Holy Ground. Invite any Immortals who agree to lay down their swords as long as they live there. Isolate ourselves from most of society, so nobody would have to move every ten years. Think about what a group of us could accomplish, Connor, if we could stay in one place for a long period of time, without fear of Hunters or persecution."
He looked up at me in exasperation. "The polite term here is 'Pipe Dream', Ryan."
"Why?" I challenged him. "What's wrong with the idea?"
He rolled his eyes at me but apparently decided to humor me. "How will this thing be built?"
It was my turn to laugh. "Need I remind you that most Immortals, yourself included, are already richer 'n God?" To some degree, I was too, but now was not the time to bring that up.
One eyebrow went up. "What makes you think I'd be willing to put any money into this hare-brained scheme of yours?"
I shrugged. "Call it a capital investment. Investing in the future of all Immortals," I finished with a grin.
He rolled his eyes. "You should sell used cars. Okay, what's to stop a small army of mortal hunters from coming in and shooting us all?"
"Like I said, make it somewhat isolated. Maybe an island off the coast of Alaska?" I frowned in thought before shaking my head. "Weather'd get us. Have to be more temperate than that. An island off the coast of California, maybe."
"Why not in the middle of the Pacific?" he asked with a frown.
I shook my head again. "Utilities," I answered simply. "Unless we want to build a power plant and sewage treatment plant for ourselves, we have to be close enough to a modern nation to use their infrastructure."
He cocked an eyebrow. "And you think you can find an island close enough to the continental United States that is Holy Ground for this to work?"
"Perhaps," I mused, thinking that I had a very good relationship with the current President of the United States. I'd been his personal aide for a year, after all. "Anyway," I shook it off and focused my attention on Connor, "it doesn't have to be near the US. Any modern nation will do."
"Find a big enough island in the Caribbean or South Pacific, and you can just build the infrastructure."
I opened my mouth to answer, but discovered that I didn't have a retort. Why not do it that way? Something to think about certainly. "Depends on population," I conceded his point. "If it gets too big, though, the security of the island becomes moot, not to mention the availability of this hypothetical island. Sooner or later, it'd make as much sense to find an isolated spot on land."
Connor looked at me thoughtfully before slowly saying, "You know, you're starting to sound like you're actually going to try to do this."
I nodded. "Why not? I've been thinking about this for years, but never brought it up. Admittedly, I need to talk to several more people and see who all would be interested in living there and who would be interested in financing it. So far I haven't spent any money."
He shook his head sadly. "I don't think this'll work, Ryan." He sighed. "But who am I to try and stop you? If and when you have the details figured out, come back here and talk with me."
I smiled. That makes one convert.
Jen stared at me. "Run that by me again," she finally requested. It was the next evening. I'd done all my chores in New York without any further mishaps and flown back home that evening.
I sighed. Why wouldn't anyone get as excited about this idea as I was? "Build a town on Holy Ground. Invite Immortals who want to live away from the general public."
She continued to stare at me. "Why would you want to do this?"
"To escape the Game," I responded in a flat voice.
She sighed. "Sorry. I sometimes forget what your brand of Immortals have to put up with."
I didn't bother to respond to that. She didn't know about Farzan. "Years ago, Duncan built a cabin on Holy Ground. I want to work with basically the same idea, but instead of just one home, provide the possibility of several. It has to be isolated so we wouldn't have to move often."
She thought about it for a few seconds before looking at me and asking quietly, "What about me?"
"You'll be with me, of course," I answered immediately. I cocked my head, "If you still want to be."
She shook her head. "It isn't that. I want to stay with you. But if you'll be living in one place for years, someone will notice that I'm not aging -"
"And most Immortals don't know about vampires," I finished. "Well, I had intended on inviting Aaron and Terry, Nat and Nick, Rich and Hoa, and Diane and Harm at least. So there WILL be vampires invited as well. We'll just have to figure out what to tell people if anyone notices."
She didn't look happy with my trying to gloss over the problem, but I wasn't that worried. I was hoping that there would be enough Immortal Buzzes running around that an immortal without a Buzz wouldn't be recognized as anything out of the ordinary. Even if we DID have to tell all to some Immortals, they'd keep that secret just like they kept their own.
"What I'm most concerned with," I said, "is vampires living on Holy Ground. Isn't that a problem?"
She nodded. "For some, yes it is. It's not a problem for everyone, though. As long as there are no religious icons laying around, it doesn't bother me."
I picked up the phone and hit a speed dial, Jen looking curiously on.
"Ryan residence," Hoa answered.
"Hi, Hoa," I responded. "Got something I'd like to talk over with you and Rich. You two free tonight?"
"Sure," she agreed quickly. "Beats cleaning house. Here or your place?"
"Joe's. I need to talk with him and Mac as well."
"Sounds mysterious," she commented, clearly fishing.
"You'll just have to wait," I gently scolded her. "Two hours?"
"We'll be there," she agreed.
I hung up with her and hit yet another speed dial. "Joe's," Mike answered.
"Hey, Mike, it's Ryan Chessman. Are Joe or Mac there?"
"Both. Which do you need to talk to?"
"Neither, really. I just needed to make sure they're there. Could you have a secluded booth available for us in a couple hours? Going to be six of us."
"Sure," he answered slowly. "Is there something I should be warned about?"
"No," I soothed him, knowing he'd be concerned about Immortals gathering. "Just a talk. Joe will probably fill you in later. No big deal."
Jen and I walked into Joe's nearly two hours later. The instant we crossed the threshold, Jen frowned and started scanning the room.
I'd already Sensed Duncan and spotted him at the bar before turning my attention to my wife. "What's wrong?"
"One of my kind here, but it's not Hoa," she muttered, still looking around.
Her eyes stopped, and I followed her line of sight to what appeared to be one of Joe's waitresses as she locked eyes with Jen and gave a slow nod. She was fractionally shorter than me, black hair, and very good looking without quite being supermodel level. After appraising Jennifer and me, she tilted her head to an empty table.
Jen nodded and quietly said to me, "I'll just be a minute."
Nodding, I made my way over to the stool next to Mac. A Killian's was waiting for me before I even arrived.
I smiled up at Joe. "Nice to have a bartender who knows what I like."
Joe smiled easily back. Duncan gave a good-natured snort. "I don't see how you can drink that swill."
"You don't like it just because it's Irish," I accused him with a smile.
He shrugged but didn't respond.
"Can't stand American pilsners," I explained. "This," I held up the bottle, "is one of the few mass produced beers I can tolerate. No offense, Joe, but a few of the local microbreweries make some pretty good stuff."
He nodded. "I carry the pale ale, Irish ale, and stout brewed at the place down on main."
I smiled in surprise. "When I ask for a refill, then I'll have the Irish ale." The levity left my voice, and I asked Joe quietly, "Do you know about your waitress that Jen is talking to?"
A hint of a smile came to his face. "Yes. Don't worry about Korin. I'm sure you'll agree with me in about —"
A startled laugh from Jen interrupted him. All three of us turned and saw Jen leaning back in her chair smiling at Korin. Korin for her part was smiling easily back.
Smiling wider now, Joe turned back to me. "Don't worry about her loyalties."
For the moment, I would take him at his word, but I wanted a bit more information, preferably from her or Jen, before discussing Immortals or my plans in front of her. "How much does she know?" I asked obliquely.
"She knows about Immortals if that's what you're asking," he assured me.
Duncan turned back to the conversation, "She was working for you in Paris, wasn't she?"
"Yep," Joe agreed easily. "She moved here when I came back to town. Since being brought across, she's wanted to move out of Paris. Seacouver seemed to be a good choice, and she's a good waitress, so I offered to help her move and help her with her green card."
I nodded and leaned back from the huddle the three of us had been unconsciously making. One of Duncan's eyebrows came up and he turned to study her again. He'd known about vampires for years, ever since Rich and I had explained them to him about our fiancÃ©es at the time.
"Who's her Sire?" I asked.
"Terry," Jen answered, taking the stool next to mine.
I turned and stared at her. "TERRY? Grandma Terry?"
She nodded with a smile.
"Grandma Terry?" Duncan asked blankly.
I turned back to him. "That's right, we never explained the family tree to you. Jen's sire was Michelle. Michelle's was Theresa Ryan. We all call her Grandma Terry."
He frowned. "Theresa Ryan from the wedding? The one married to Aaron Grey?"
He turned once again to study Korin pensively.
I saw Joe smiling at him. "You knew," I accused the bartender.
He raised his hands, and the smile got wider. "Guilty," he cheerfully acknowledged. At my eye roll, he just chuckled. "Hey," he said, catching all of our attention again, "Mike said you wanted to talk to us?"
I nodded. "Once Rich and Hoa show up, I have a proposition for you all to listen to."
Once all six of us were comfortably ensconced in a booth, and even the girls had gotten something to drink thanks to a new label "wine" that Joe was now carrying, I laid the general idea out in front of these four.
Once I was done, I leaned back in my chair, took a sip of my ale, and studied the reactions. Duncan and Rich were staring at me in shock. Joe had leaned back and was now studying me thoughtfully while running a hand down his beard and chin. Hoa looked curious and interested.
She turned to Jen and asked, "For the sake of your husband's continued health, well-being, and anatomical cohesiveness, I hope we're invited."
Joe chuckled, and I smiled. Jen nodded at her childe. "Vampires will be included, yes. Those of us who can live on holy ground without any adverse effects, anyway."
"Just those in contact with Immortals, or any?" Joe asked calmly.
"Any who know about Immortals," I answered with a raised eyebrow at him. He tilted his head toward the bar, and I caught a glimpse of Korin who was failing miserably at trying to ignore our conversation.
"I'll talk to her later," Jennifer whispered into my ear.
I nodded to her, and Jen turned to Joe. "By the by, Joe, I'd like to thank you for stocking up on this new vintage. It's good." She took a small drink and smiled at the mortal bartender.
He smiled back. "If you don't mind, I'll take your word for it. I understand it's an acquired taste," he finished ironically.
The two vampires smiled, and I chuckled.
"How can you joke after dropping that on us?" Duncan demanded, finally regaining the use of his tongue.
"Why not?" I asked. "Seems like a reasonable idea in principle if not in execution. I'm floating it past you for your various reactions." I turned to Joe and added, "Oh, before I forget, the Watchers will definitely be welcome as well. Overtly or covertly. In fact, the more trusted, friendly bodies, the better."
He nodded with a thoughtful frown. "It's the trusted part that will be tough to guarantee."
"Retired Watchers only?" Hoa suggested with her chin resting on a fist.
Joe turned to her with a raised eyebrow. Giving it a moment's thought, he slowly began to nod.
"The physical security of this hypothetical town is what's spooking me," Rich commented.
I shook my head. "Make it an island with only one harbor and no helipad, and that simplifies security a lot. I'm more concerned with keeping us secret from the outside world indefinitely. A town will have all sorts of contact with the state and county governments. An island, off the coast of California for instance, will have all sorts of land developers after us."
Mac shook his head. "Form a corporation. Have the corporation buy the land. After that point, it's a lot easier to hide things from the government so long as on paper it appears to be a moderately successful company that pays its taxes and doesn't make any outrageous demands. If the island's big enough and far enough from any other country, the other possibility is to form your own country, but that has other economic implications."
I held up a hand. "Let's keep it small and simple for the moment. No need to talk about trying to find an abandoned church in every capital city of the world to set up our own embassies or printing money with my face on it. If we outgrow the small stage, we can worry about the bigger stuff later."
"Your face?" Rich asked with a raised eyebrow.
I grinned and shrugged.
Joe's smile got a touch wider as everyone else chuckled.
I commented to him, "You seem way too calm for such a revolutionary idea."
He shrugged. "This isn't the first time this idea has come up. In fact the Council has been tossing this idea back and forth for centuries."
"Council?" MacLeod asked with a frown.
Rich groaned and let his head fall forward onto the table with a thud.
Joe sighed. "Please forget you heard that, Mac."
Duncan stared at his grey-haired friend for nearly a minute before giving a single nod. He turned to me. "Who all are you thinking of inviting?"
"Anyone we can think of. The list in my head is about twenty and growing. Speaking of which," I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket and handed it to Joe, "can you let me know where these individuals are?"
His eyebrows came up by the end of the list. "You going to contact all these folks in person or send them a letter?"
"Face to face," I answered. "This isn't something than can be done except in front of someone."
"Sooner or later you're going to need to get everyone together," Duncan commented.
I nodded. "Granted. I'm open to suggestions."
"Las Vegas," Mac answered promptly. "There's a huge antique show and auction there in March, including a lot of swords. It's held every couple of years and it's always heavily attended by Immortals."
I smiled at him. "You sound like you're getting behind this idea."
He shrugged. "Let's just say I'm interested but not convinced."
I nodded. "Then can you contact the folks in Europe? You're better about traveling than I am."
"Who are you thinking about?"
"Aaron and Terry, Nick and Amanda, and Father Liam Riley in Paris and Cassandra in Wales."
He nodded. "I'll hit Connor and Claudia in New York on my way. Joe, are Robert and Gina still in Paris?"
He shook his head. "They're in Nice. I'll get you an address if you want."
"I've already talked to Connor," I mentioned to Mac. Eyebrows went up all over.
"How'd my kinsman react?" Duncan asked.
"About the same as you. He worried for my sanity for a few minutes before thinking it through and listening to my arguments."
Duncan gave me a short smile before he leaned back in his chair and began thinking out loud. "Methos, Grace, Michelle, Marcus, Matthew, Ceirdwyn, Kyra . . ." He frowned as he trailed off. "Who else?"
Korin had quietly come up behind him while he was muttering to himself. Reaching over his shoulder, she calmly laid down a pad of paper with a couple pens and walked back to her station beside the bar. Jen stood and followed Korin, taking her drink with her.
Mac was momentarily startled when Korin silently showed up behind him, but his eyes followed her as she left. Joe and I shared a smile over that.
Jerking his attention back to the table, Mac tore a sheet of paper from the pad and began scribbling down names, Rich looking on. "I suppose we should invite Kit, Corey, and Benny . . ." Duncan trailed off in a grumbling voice.
With those two otherwise occupied, I waved at the sheet of paper that I'd given Joe. "Any problems with letting me know where they are?"
He frowned back down at the sheet.
Hoa sighed in exasperation. "You know full well that he isn't going to hunt them, Joe."
He rubbed one hand roughly across his forehead. "Yeah," he gave in, letting his Watcher Oath bend just a little bit more.
"If it makes it easier," I offered him, "I really only need to know if any of them have moved since I saw them last."
He nodded and folded the paper, stuffing it into a pocket.
Duncan looked up at me. "What cities are you planning on hitting?"
I shrugged. "Chicago, Toronto, and DC at least."
He blinked. "Chicago?"
"Diane Schonke and her husband, who's also Jen's childe."
He nodded and turned back to the list.
"Can I add some names?" Rich asked, looking over the page in Duncan's hand.
I waved in invitation. "Feel free. Don't think this is my show, folks. If you have suggestions, please bring them out. However, if you want to invite someone, you may be the one who has to go and talk with them. Most Immortals would hardly invite me in for a talk if they don't know me."
He nodded, took the next sheet of paper, and grabbed the other pen.
Hoa smiled at me. "You seem to have enthusiastic approval."
I smiled back. "Apparently. Frankly, I'm glad. If this gets going, the more Immortals living there the more likely it'll halt the Game."
One of Joe's eyebrows came up. "Is that your goal?"
I gave a tiny shrug. "That, and finding a safe place for me and Jen to live. By the way, Joe, I was planning on talking to Clay Webb and Walter Skinner in DC. Any objections?"
He blinked, hard. "No," he answered slowly. "If this gets off the ground, were you wanting to make an open call to all Watchers or something? Remember the part earlier about finding trustworthy Watchers?"
"No, not an open call, but at least those Watchers who are actually friends of Immortals. You and Gina are invited, of course," I added, referring to his significant other who'd been doing long research trips almost every time I was in the same town with him.
He nodded. "If this gets off the ground, then I'll put out a quiet call."
"Thanks." I looked over at my wife to see her speaking calmly with Korin. The waitress was paying close attention and asking occasional questions. At the other end of the bar I caught sight of Mike who was alternating his attention from Korin, to us, to the customers. I turned back to Joe. "How much does Mike know? I told him you'd fill him in on this discussion if it didn't get shot down in flames."
Joe waved it off. "He knows everything."
Hoa's attention shot over to him. "Everything?"
He smiled. "Kinda hard to hide when he needs to occasionally serve the new vintage you seem to like so much."
Her mouth twitched. "Good point."
After that point, plans started coming together. The combined list of potential invitees reached sixty before the end of the evening. We'd agreed that the initial meeting of the whole group in Las Vegas gave everyone enough time to plan and for other ideas to be hammered out, not the least of which was lining up an island or two that fit the criteria.
Speaking of the island, I'd been doing a bit of online research. For the smaller end of the scale, I thought I had found an island off the coast of North Carolina. The next trick would be to convince President Ryan. I'd also tried finding a larger island in the Caribbean Sea or the South Pacific. The trick there came down to current ownership and indigenous populations. Any given island could belong to any of a half a dozen major countries or could be a country unto itself. Then came the issue that some islands had existing families or small villages that would have to be re-located if we went in that direction. Most people wouldn't want to move, which caused another entire set of issues.
Finding large, hospitable, uninhabited islands on the face of the Earth looked to be impossible.
This didn't even touch the issue of turning fifteen square miles or more of South Pacific island into Holy Ground.
Back on the recruiting front, MacLeod left about month after our first meeting to do a tour of Europe with a list of names.
I flew out the following day and found myself in Chicago entering the law office of "Bell Attorneys at Law" late that evening.
As I made it through the door to the small lobby of their practice, two shocks hit me at almost the same moment. First, Diane Schonke's Buzz was stronger than I'd remembered. Several weak heads had been added to her strength. Being a newcomer in Chicago, she'd apparently gotten some headhunting attention and dealt with it in the only way that Immortals can.
The second shock was to find the receptionist was someone I knew. Cindy Rothchilde was a classmate of mine from way back when I went through Watcher's University. So much had happened since then, I didn't know how she'd react to me. She'd aged a bit in the two decades since I'd last seen her, but she otherwise looked very similar to how I remembered.
Seeing my wide eyes, she shook her head quickly before I could voice a greeting. Nodding in instant understanding, I quickly changed tactics. "Hello," I said pleasantly. "Could I speak with Mister or Missus Bell? Or preferably both if they're available."
"Certainly, sir," Cindy professionally greeted me. "Do you have an appointment?" She took a sheet of paper and began rapidly writing something.
"No, but I'm rather pressed for time. If possible, I'd really like to speak with both."
"Let me check to see if they're available," she promised, putting the pen down and handing me the page. Standing, she asked, "Who shall I say is calling?"
"Ryan Chessman," I answered absently, looking down at the paper. It read, "Don't blow my cover. Remember H's hearing. I heard what happened to you. Nice to see you again."
She stepped out of the first office as I casually crumpled the paper and dropped it into the wastebasket. She smiled at me and waved me on back to the office marked simply as 'Diane Bell'. "Missus Bell will see you immediately. I'm going to check to see if Mister Bell is available."
She gave me an impish wink as we walked past each other. I entered Diane's office, leaving the door open behind me.
He face broke into a wide smile once she identified me. "Ryan!" she greeted me cheerfully. "Nice to see you. What brings you to our neck of the woods?" After giving me a quick hug, she waved me toward a chair and settled herself behind her own desk. Harm and Jen communicated once a week or so, so there was little need for us to catch up on our lives.
Taking the offered seat, I answered, "Let's wait to see if David is free. This is really something you both need to hear."
Her face fell slightly at my ominous sounding declaration.
"It's not bad," I assured her.
"Get in here, flyboy," she called loudly toward the open door. "Ryan's got something to tell us."
"I'm coming, I'm coming," Harm groused good naturedly as he came in and shut the door behind himself. "Hi, Ryan."
"Hi, Harm," I greeted him since the door was shut. I turned to Diane. "Pretty casual atmosphere you two work in."
They both smiled. "With our night time office hours, our clientele is a little less . . . formal than in most practices," she answered.
"I can imagine," I said with a grin. "On to the point of my visit."
"You didn't come here for our charming and witty conversation?" Harm asked guilelessly while settling into the other guest chair.
"Diane's, anyway," I shot back, earning a mock wounded look from Harm and a grin from Diane. When neither of them made any further comment, I continued, "In the short version: I want to form a corporation. This corporation will then buy an island from the United States government. From the outside, I want it to appear to be a moderately successful company with as few external entanglements as possible."
"From the outside?" Harm asked pointedly after digesting my opening.
"Yep. In reality, I'm hoping to invite as many Immortals and vampires as possible. With luck, we can all live in peace indefinitely and put an end to the Game."
They both stared at me in shock. Seeing from my expression that I was not making a joke, Diane slowly leaned forward and hit the intercom. "Cindy, short of the building catching on fire, we shouldn't be disturbed for the next hour."
"Yes, ma'am," Cindy responded neutrally. I absently wondered if she had been warned about my visit. Joe knew when I'd be here and he knew what I'd be saying, after all.
Settling back in her chair, Diane continued to stare at me and said, "Would you care to repeat that last part again?"
I leaned back comfortably and launched into my planned speech.
Before leaving Chicago the next morning, I wrote out a quick note and mailed it to Cindy at the Bells' office. In short, I invited her to the meeting as well, giving Joe Dawson's name and my cell number as contact points if she didn't know what I was referring to. Since I didn't get a call and Joe never mentioned it later, I assumed that she'd already heard what I was up to.
Yielding to temptation, I rented the red convertible and drove the two hours to Lanchester to see my family. After catching up with the youngsters and getting them off to bed, I laid the high points out for my "parents" plus Rob and Christi.
Rob and Christi, being not much older than I was, were immediately interested. Besides, with their apparent ages being in the late teens, they had more to gain than most.
Doug and Lois (it was still hard not to think of them as Mom and Dad) were more skeptical but accepted the invitation to Las Vegas the following March.
Heading north and further east, I stopped in Toronto and had a very similar conversation with Nat and Nick, this time including vampires into the invitation. Once the shock wore off, Nick had several names and suggestions for the plan.
Heading back south and continuing east, my next stop was Washington, DC.
Once checked into a hotel, I started making phone calls.
Mulder and Dana agreed to meet me for dinner since they were in town.
Walter Skinner and Clay Webb would have to wait two days since Webb was out of the country at the moment. Based on Skinner's guarded responses, I figured the local Watcher hierarchy already knew what I was going to discuss.
The next call went to Secret Service headquarters.
"This is Agent Kessler." It had taken a bit of time and patience, but I had finally gotten the head of President Ryan's protective detail on the line. He already knew about me and Immortals, so he was a necessary part of my plan.
"Hi, Kevin, it's Ryan Allen," I said, giving him the name that I'd been using when living in DC and as President Ryan's aide. As well as an undercover member of his Service protective detail.
"Ryan," he greeted me warily. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm going to be calling the White House and trying to arrange a meeting with Jack. If I actually get one, I know I'm going to need a Service agent in the room since I've been outside for too long to still be trusted. You're the only one who knows enough to not be a risk."
He thought about that for a few moments before wryly asking, "Should I be flattered?"
I chuckled. "You know what I mean."
"Does this meeting need to be secure?"
I shook my head, knowing he was obliquely asking if we needed to take it somewhere that wouldn't be recorded. "The Oval will be good enough. It should mostly be a business meeting, really."
"Just calling the White House and asking for a business meeting with Swordsman? You got balls, man."
"Jack likes friends more than he likes politicians, you know that."
"True enough," he grudgingly admitted. "Alright, if you get on the schedule, I'll arrange to be on post. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough," I agreed.
My next call went through the White House switchboard and ended with Missus Sumter, one of President Ryan's executive secretaries. After much cajoling, I finally convinced her to pencil me in after hours three days hence.
I stood from the table as Dana and Mulder's Buzzes approached. Smiling at them, I shook Mulder's hand and gave Dana a quick hug before they took seats.
"Nice to see you again, Ryan," Dana greeted me.
"You, too. How's life been treating you?"
"Amazingly well," Mulder answered. "I even got a commendation from Skinner since my medical costs have gone down dramatically in the past several years."
I fought the grin, but it still emerged, though twisted. "I wonder how that happened."
"Just lucky, I guess," the younger of the two Immortals in front of me answered with a straight face.
I rolled my eyes, and Dana grinned.
"What brings you to town?" Dana asked.
"I've got a proposition I'd like you to listen to." I laid out the whole deal to them in what was becoming a routine speech on a decidedly non-routine topic. Since they already knew about vampires, I didn't bother to hide that vampires would be part of the invited list.
Mulder kept a bland face on, but the way he was sitting tensely in his chair when I was finished indicated to me that I'd surprised him with the suggestion. Dana, on the other hand, was calmly taking a sip of her drink.
"Can we invite anyone to the Vegas meeting?"
I nodded. "Of course. Does this mean you're interested in coming?"
She and Mulder shared a look. He answered, "Scully will have to be leaving soon or it'll be obvious that she isn't aging. Hair coloring would only explain so much."
"Like I'd color my hair," she grumbled. Turning back to me, she said, "I'd like to invite Maggie Larken and Bill Skipper."
I shrugged. "Whoever. I'll trust your judgment. Once a meeting time and place is arranged in Vegas, I'll send you a note. You can forward that on. Once there, I may ask you to confirm you've invited them, but feel free to invite anyone you think should be included and can be trusted."
Mulder was frowning at Dana. "Maggie Larken and Bill Skipper?"
She half-smiled. "You know them as Maggie Scully and Bill Scully, Junior." He blinked, apparently in surprise. She continued, "Years ago, five of us agreed to act as a family for each other if we ever needed it. You would have been suspicious if I didn't have any family to occasionally show off. This was before you became Immortal, of course."
He was starting to nod, a faraway stare in his eyes. "Melissa and your father?"
Dana shook her head. "Bill fell in the Game. The story you got was what the world heard about him. Melissa was shot by Krychek just like you heard. After she revived, Maggie helped smuggle her out. She's still alive last I heard, though I don't know where she is."
"Ask your Mom?" he suggested with a faint smile.
She nodded. "I'll do that." She turned to me. "That'll make three. I assume you're already inviting Mandy." I grinned and nodded, being reminded that she was in fact referring to Amanda Wolfe, a fellow student of the late Rebecca Horne. She continued, "Unless Mulder here has someone to invite, that's all I can think of at the moment."
He waved the offer off. "Though seeing Skin-man's face if he ever heard about Immortals and vampires would be priceless . . ." he trailed off, clearly savoring the mental image.
I hid my wide smile behind taking a sip of water. If they only knew.
Watcher District Director Walter Skinner laughed out loud when I relayed Mulder's slightly edited words to him two nights later. Watcher Regional Director Clayton Webb merely grunted in amusement.
As it turned out, they DID know what I was going to discuss with them. Joe had been quietly spreading the word about what I was up to.
"Anyway," I concluded, "You two are invited." I turned to Webb. "I'd like to invite Bud Roberts, since he was Diane's friend, if you've no objections." He was also Harm's friend, but I didn't know how much Skinner knew. Mentioning vampires in front of him could be a mistake.
Webb frowned and chewed on a lip for a few seconds. "If you want to, I can't really stop you. He already knows Diane is alive, so that won't hurt. The problem is Harm." He saw my eyes widen slightly and glance at Skinner. Webb waved one hand dismissively. "Walter knows about vampires. Anyway, if you want to determine if Roberts wants to see Diane, feel free. If he agrees, then you'll need to figure out how to explain Harm. That, I'll leave to your discretion."
Much to my surprise, when I called JAG and asked to speak with Bud Roberts, I was told that he'd left the Navy. The switchboard offered to transfer me to Harriet Roberts, but I demurred, asking instead if they knew where I could currently get in touch with him. I was given the name of a civilian law firm.
"Bud Roberts," he answered after I was transferred a minute later.
"Mister Roberts, this is Ryan Chessman."
He paused a moment before the name registered. "Ah, Mister Chessman. To what do I owe this call?"
Based on how Webb had phrased it the previous evening, I proceeded on the assumption that nobody had told Roberts about what I was up to. From his point of view, I was an Immortal who was friends with Diane and had visited her and Harm just before he had died. "I have a proposition for you, Mister Roberts. It has to do with Diane."
"She's not in trouble, is she?" he asked immediately.
"No," I assured him. "She's fine. Just saw her a few days ago, actually. No, this idea has to do with you two meeting again."
"Uh, there are a few problems with that idea," he began cautiously.
"I'm aware of the problems. My idea could easily be called radical, but if you're interested in speaking with Diane again, I think you and I should talk." I continued when he didn't immediately answer, "District and Regional Directors are aware of what I'm doing and have no objections."
"Okay," he finally said. "Meet me here for lunch and we can find somewhere to talk."
He stared at me over the remains of his plate of General Tao's Chicken. "You want to have a town where Immortals and Watchers live together?"
"Yes," I answered calmly, still working on my orange chicken.
"Several reasons. First, if enough of us stop fighting, maybe we can stop the Game. Second, if we don't have to move every ten years, consider how much each of us could accomplish. Third, keeping Immortals and the mortals who know about us separate is rough on everyone. You for instance: If you want to spend time with Diane, you know what she is, and she knows you know, then that friendship can only make the both of you happier."
"For what it's worth, thank you, but Diane really shouldn't be aware of the Watchers."
Oh, hell. How do I explain how we had to tell her when Harm, with vampiric senses, caught my Watcher shortly after he was brought across? A sudden inspiration struck, "Webb helped me arrange for her to 'kill' herself and get her out of town. So she's aware that SOME people know about Immortals. Webb let me explain some of what the Watchers do to her out of necessity. If this town idea gets off the ground, the idea of the Watchers is going to become something of an open secret, at least among the inhabitants."
He grimaced. "Not all Watchers will like that. It's in our Oath to never interfere. You know that."
I nodded, remembering the Oath I'd taken years ago. "Yes, but you're as aware as I am that there's a growing faction that thinks the non-interference policy is, to put it politely, a steaming pile of shit."
He smiled slightly. "Are you asking me to move to this town or just to visit?"
I shrugged. "Either. Once it's up and running, there probably won't be a lot of visitors, but I'm sure there will be some."
He leaned back and frowned in thought. "If we move, then I'll have to explain everything to Harriet and tell Little AJ something . . ."
He continued to ponder things while I finished eating. Cracking open my fortune cookie, I read, "You will soon witness a special ceremony." Dropping my fortune to the table, I picked up his and read, "Unexpected opportunities will be coming your way soon."
As I'd been taught by a few college friends, I tacked, "in bed" and "in the bathroom" to the end of each. Juvenile? Yes, but it occasionally did produce some amusing, though slightly lewd, variations.
"Can I ask a favor?" he asked, almost hesitantly.
"Depends," I answered him, flipping his fortune back onto the table and taking a sip of my drink.
"Could you ask Diane to come here?"
I frowned slightly. "You know she's alive and what she is."
He nodded. "However, if I'm going to tell Harriet, I'll need some proof."
I raised an eyebrow at him. "My cutting my hand open isn't sufficient?" I asked dryly.
He shrugged. "She doesn't know you. She'll believe Sarah MacKenzie where she won't believe Ryan Chessman."
Hmm, good point. I chewed my lip for a moment in thought. If Diane agreed to come, she'd no doubt want to bring Harm, and so vampires would need to be explained. Which would need to happen anyway if all involved wanted to live in the same town. All this pre-supposed that Diane agreed to come, of course.
I sighed as I thought it through. This was getting complicated.
"Tell you what: I'll call Diane tonight. If she agrees to come, then I'll arrange for her to meet the two of you. Fair enough?"
Early that evening, I parked near the White House and walked the rest of the way in. I felt nearly naked and horribly vulnerable without any weapons on me, but the Secret Service had absolutely no sense of humor when it came to allowing people to carry weapons into the White House. It didn't matter that I was a former Service member. While such an attitude may seem to be overkill to many people, I heartily approved of such measures even if it did temporarily leave me vulnerable.
Giving the guards the name of Ryan Allen, I passed through at least two metal detectors that I saw and was subjected to as thorough a search as possible short of a pat-down. It wouldn't have surprised me at all if one of the archways I passed was in fact a fluoroscope.
Security had long since passed the paranoid stage here and was firmly settled into "a way of life".
With a visitor's pass firmly clipped to my suit jacket, I was escorted to the secretary's antechamber and told to wait. Most of the ladies recognized me and cheerfully greeted me as they were getting ready to go home.
As Missus Sumter was leaving, I raised a hand to stop her. "Ellen, does Jack still smoke?" I asked. From my time as his aide, I knew he daily bummed a few cigarettes off of her. Though I disliked the practice on principle, I recognized that the President needed the stress relief.
She nodded just as Secret Service Agent Kevin Kessler came into the room. I thanked her as Kevin escorted me into the Oval Office.
President of the United States Jack Ryan greeted me in front of his desk with a smile and a handshake. "Ryan! Good to see you again. How's life been treating you?"
Smiling back, I could see that the previous few years had taken a toll on President Ryan in grey hairs, but he was as friendly as ever. "Pretty good. Been mostly keeping out of trouble. Actually," I continued, "I have a present for you." I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboro cigarettes and a Zippo lighter with a United States flag on it.
He started slightly before shaking his head and chuckling.
Handing the items to him, I took a seat on the couch. "How've you been doing, Jack?"
"Not too bad," Jack allowed as he took a seat next to me. "Agent Kessler here says that this is a business meeting. What can I do for you?"
"Actually, I might have a solution to one of your minor problems. I assume you're familiar with the Annacoga Bombing Range?" I was referring to one of the islands off the coast of North Carolina. The US Navy and Air Force had used the island for live-fire exercises for decades. A group from Greenpeace had then set up a semi-permanent camp on the island to prevent the military from dropping bombs on it. It had been on the news for a short time a few years back but was now just at a long-term-simmering point. What the general public didn't know about it was that that island was once a holy site for the Native Americans living in the area. That coalition of tribes had been extinguished early in the American colonization, and the only way I knew about it was a casual comment by Joe at the same time Greenpeace was making noise.
He winced at the mention of the island. "Painfully aware."
"Hypothetically speaking, what would happen if a corporation were to come along and offer to buy it from the government?"
He blinked, and a slow smile started to form. "Well, the Navy and Air Force could no longer even consider using it, and therefore Greenpeace would leave it and us alone." He peered at me a moment and asked, "What are you up to?"
I opened my hands in a harmless gesture. "Me? I'm never up to anything. I have no hidden agendas."
Even Agent Kessler snorted in amusement at that.
"Okay," I acknowledged, "so I do have an idea. I can't promise you anything at this point, but I have something in the works with a few friends. If this gets off the ground, the Department of the Interior or Department of the Navy or whoever would be getting a phone call from us. I was just making sure there wouldn't be immediate problems with the idea."
"A few friends?" Jack asked me shrewdly, grinning slightly.
"You wouldn't know them," I answered with an answering grin. "Anyway, if an American corporation comes along in the next year and offers to buy it, you'll know some of what's going on."
Jack studied me for a few more seconds before quietly asking again, "What are you up to, Ryan?"
Looking steadily into his eyes, I answered, "I'm going to try to build a home for a minority, Jack. They'd rather not have ANY publicity, hence all of this cloak and dagger stuff."
He slowly nodded, apparently realizing what I meant. He'd long since learned about Immortals, but I believed I was the only one he knew.
"I'm sure the situation with Annacoga won't be changing anytime soon. You won't have any roadblocks from this end, though I'm sure the IRS, Interior, and the DOD will have some questions." Abruptly smiling and leaning back, he asked, "So, how've you been doing, Ryan?"
Two nights later I picked up Diane and Harm at the airport and drove them first to a handy hotel and then to an out of the way pub that Bud and I had agreed on. While Diane had been mildly annoyed at me for not letting her know earlier that it was Bud who was her Watcher instead of Webb, she expressed immediate interest in talking with him now that she knew that he was aware of her Immortality. Hence, she and Harm had flown to Washington.
While driving them, I asked what they were going to tell the Roberts.
They were both silent for a few seconds before Harm said, "We've been thinking about that. You said he sounded interested in moving?"
"That's the impression I got," I confirmed and hedged all in one answer.
"We'd like to tell them, then. The only problem is that we don't know how to go about explaining vampires to him."
I could easily hear the amusement in Diane's voice, "You know how much he's into the paranormal, Harm. I still say we just tell him outright."
"It's not quite that easy," I said. "I've had to explain vampires to a few people, you two included if you'll recall, and trust me that it isn't always simple." I thought for a few moments before saying, "Tell you what: I've got a plan on how to tell them in a way that isn't as likely to scare either of them to death."
"He already knows about me," Diane pointed out.
"Yes, but Harriet doesn't know about you. That's why he wanted me to get you here, remember?" When neither of them had an answer to that, I outlined the plan I had just come up with. Getting their grudging agreement, I parked my rental and walked into the bar, spotting the two Roberts immediately. After getting a Killian's from the bartender, I headed over to the couple.
Harriet smiled up at me and waved me to a seat at their table. "Mister Chessman," she greeted me cheerfully. "Bud told me that you'd meet us here and that you had something important to tell us."
I looked over at Bud with a raised eyebrow as I seated myself. On the phone, he'd indicated that he'd be telling his wife very little about what it really means to be Immortal, but enough that she'd accept that the person she was going to meet would really be her friend Sarah MacKenzie.
"Sweetie," Bud started, "I'm afraid I told you a little white lie."
She turned a slightly anxious expression to him. "What do you mean, Bud?"
Over her shoulder, I felt and saw Diane and Harm enter the room together but take widely separated seats at the bar per my request. Doing my best to ignore them, I listened to Bud. "You know all these years that I've spent working for that historical group doing research?" At her confused nod, he continued, "They do keep history, just not the kind that you would expect. There is a group of people that can live for hundreds of years called Immortals. The group I've been working for, the Watchers, keep track of Immortals." He stopped there, waiting for her reaction.
"Immortals," she eventually responded in an even voice. We both nodded. She looked at me. "Is that what you were here to tell us, Mister Chessman?"
I shook my head. "First, my name is Ryan. Second, no, I wasn't here to explain Immortals to you. Your husband already knows about us, so he didn't need to be showed. I'm here to help convince you, among other things. You see, we're very difficult to kill. What would kill most everyone else would merely slow us down. We'd revive, and continue on our way."
"Us. You're one of these Immortals, then?"
She looked back and forth between me and her husband. "Why are you telling me this?" All in all, she was taking it amazingly calmly, if sounding somewhat fragile. I wondered how long that would last.
"Because I've brought someone with me that you know. It's important for you to understand that this really is the same person, despite the fact that you attended their funeral."
She looked back and forth between us for nearly a minute before looking squarely at her husband. In a tightly controlled voice, she asked, "Is this some kind of joke, Bud?"
As he started trying to calm her down, I looked over to where Diane had taken a seat and caught her eye. Giving her a slight nod, I turned back to Harriet. "No, this is no joke, and I'm not trying to pull some sort of con, which is probably the next thing you're thinking. In fact, I can prove it." I looked up and stood as Diane approached us apprehensively.
Seeing the direction of my gaze, both Roberts turned around. Bud smiled and struggled to stand up. "Colonel," he smiled. "Good to see you again."
"You, too, Bud," she answered, smiling back. She looked down at the still seated and visibly shocked younger woman. "Hi, Harriet."
"S — Sarah?" Harriet whispered, one hand to her mouth and the other resting on her stomach. Seeing this, both Diane and I looked down and came to the same conclusion in about two seconds.
"You're pregnant again?" Diane put down the club soda she was carrying and hugged the seated woman tightly. "Oh, I'm so happy for you, Harriet!"
Harriet pulled herself out of her friend's grasp and leaned back. Keeping hold of Diane's elbows, she said, "How can you be here? But you . . ." She stopped and looked over at me for a moment before looking up at Diane again and answering her previous thought, "Immortal?"
Diane, Bud, and I nodded.
Seeing our reactions, she stood and gave the older woman a hug. "Sarah, it's so good to see you again. How have you been?"
"Married?!" Bud suddenly asked incredulously, eyes riveted to the ring on Diane's hand.
"Married?" Harriet echoed, reaching around to pull Diane's left hand back in front.
"Uh, yeah," Diane said in embarrassment, shooting a glance at me for help.
I just grinned at her, raising my beer for a sip. Seeing the looks but completely misinterpreting the situation, Harriet glanced down to my left hand and the ring there before turning on her friend. "To Ryan?" she asked in a slightly raised voice.
I started choking, grabbing a napkin and belatedly holding it over my mouth as I struggled to keep myself from coughing up a lung. Diane was laughing, and Harriet was looking back and forth between the two of us in confusion. Bud was also looking back and forth, but his expression was pensive.
Finally getting her laughter under control, Diane took the fourth seat at the table and shook her head. "No, Harriet. It's not to Ryan. While he is a dear friend, I don't think Jennifer would appreciate me being accused of being Missus Chessman."
"Then to whom are you married, Sarah?" Harriet asked, slowly sitting back down.
Having control of my voice again, I said, "That is actually a long story that we'll get into later. Meanwhile, I'll leave you and Diane to get re-acquainted while I steal your husband off for a few minutes. I need to discuss some Immortal and Watcher stuff with him."
Bud raised an eyebrow at me but obligingly picked his drink up and followed me over to the bar. Behind us, I could hear Harriet ask, "Diane?"
"My real name," Diane admitted as we continued further away. Harriet's next question was lost in the noise of the room.
"Watcher and Immortal stuff?" Bud asked in amusement as we settled into barstools.
"Actually, yes it is."
"Does this have anything to do with the fact that neither Ryan Chessman nor Diane Schonke are married according to their Chronicles?"
One eyebrow came up slightly as I looked at him in respect. "Indirectly, I suppose it does. What would you say if I told you that there was another kind of immortal in the world? One that some Watchers know about, but is generally unknown."
He thought about it for a few seconds before shrugging slightly. "Anything is possible, I suppose. I'm talking to someone who can only die by decapitation, after all."
"Or destruction of my body, but I'd really rather not dwell on that, thanks. Seriously, there is another kind of immortal."
"Are Jennifer and Diane's mystery husband these other kinds of immortals?"
"Yes, we are," Harm said from behind Bud. After we had sat down and Bud turned to face me, Harm had quietly moved from his concealed corner to the stool behind Bud.
At Harm's voice, Bud whirled around, nearly overbalancing his stool. A lightning fast move by Harm kept Bud upright. I couldn't see his face, but based on the amused expression Harm was wearing, it didn't take much imagination to figure out that Bud was in a state of shock.
Breaking the silence, I ironically said, "Bud, I believe you already know Harmon Rabb, Junior."
"But . . . You're dead," Bud stammered.
I grinned. He was more right than he knew, but that was a story for another time. "He doesn't appear to be," I countered, keeping to the truth, but phrasing it in a way that would leave Harm the flexibility of explaining as much or as little as he wished.
Harm's eyes flicked to me, apparently recognizing what I was up to. He smiled at Bud. "Hi, Bud. We heard about what happened to your leg in Afghanistan. I was really sorry to hear that, but how are you otherwise?"
Oh, was that what had happened to him? I'd seen that he was limping severely, but I hadn't asked what had happened after I'd last seen him several months previously.
"I'm okay. Medical discharge," he absently answered Harm's questions. He shook his head. "What about you, Commander? What happened? We thought they'd cremated your body by mistake after that disease got you."
Harm nodded. Jen had long since explained to him the circumstances around his death, the loss of his body, and Sarah MacKenzie's subsequent suicide all at the time of their leaving to move to Chicago. "How I got out of there and became a . . . immortal is a long story. And I'm not a Commander anymore, Bud. I'm just Harm, though currently going by David Bell."
Bud's head cocked slightly. "Diane Bell's husband?"
"Then forgive me for saying so, sir, but it's about damn time." With that, he raised his beer to Harm in toast.
I laughed aloud as Harm grinned in embarrassment.
"Shall we go join our wives?" Harm asked with his head tilted in the appropriate direction. "I'm really looking forward to talking with Harriet and getting all the latest gossip about JAG."
Bud nodded and got back to his feet.
Knowing I was going to be a third (or fifth as the case may be) wheel for the rest of the evening, I said to them, "I'll let you both know as more plans become finalized. Take care of yourselves until then."
Harm nodded to me, but Bud was hardly listening, still looking at Harm.
As I made it to the door, I could hear a high-pitched shout, "Harm!?" followed by Diane's laughter cutting through the noise in the bar.
Leaving the DC area, I traveled south more or less along the coast. Stopping for lunch in the Norfolk area of Virginia, I pulled out the piece of paper where I'd written down the specifics of the Annacoga Bombing Range and the atlas to figure out the route I would have to take to get to the town of Carriwick, North Carolina. That was the waterfront town closest to the island, and I hoped to find someone there who could tell me enough about the island and the water around it to begin some preliminary planning.
Two hours later, I pulled up to a small building next to the harbor marked with a faded sign declaring "Harbormaster". Closing the car door, I looked around in appreciation.
I'd grown up in a small town, and though this was a seaside community, the town itself had the same feel as Lanchester, Indiana. The biggest difference was that this place was geared toward the seaside tourist industry which was in full swing on this early summer afternoon.
The harbor had a dozen boats of various sizes bobbing gently. Most of them appeared to be small pleasure craft, but a few workboats were scattered around as well. There were many more mooring spots available, leading me to believe that some of the boats calling Carriwick Harbor home were currently out in the bay or the Atlantic Ocean.
Stepping into the harbormaster's office, I smiled at the man sitting behind a desk, pecking away on an ancient looking computer. Looking up at me, his hands temporarily stilled, he asked neutrally, "Can ah help you?"
I nodded. "I hope so. Do you know where I can find topographical and maritime maps of Annacoga?"
He nodded back and slid his chair around and began searching through the various cubbyholes arranged on the wall behind him. "You with that crazy Greenpeace group livin' out there?"
"No," I answered. "I represent a group who's thinking of buying the island."
He stopped and turned to me in surprise. "Gov'ment owns it now, o' course. Whatcha gonna do with it?"
"A corporate headquarters. Researchers and that kind of thing."
He cocked his head suspiciously. "On an island?"
"That's what we want. We want it isolated and away from the hustle and bustle of a city."
He nodded, apparently satisfied with my answer. Turning back to his task, he pulled down a rolled up map and handed it to me. "There's the marine map of the waters aroun' it. For the topo map, you gotta talk with the gov'ment."
"Fair enough," I agreed. "How much?" I asked, holding up the map slightly and reaching for my wallet.
He waved me off. "Keep it. I got plenty of 'em."
I nodded and put my wallet away. "Thanks. You know of a boat captain I can hire for a day to take me around the island?"
He turned to look through the windows over the harbor. "More 'n one," he finally answered, "but the only one who's here right now is Jack Murphy." He pointed, "Second pier, second boat on the right. It's the Meandering Mermaid."
"Thanks again. You have a good day."
"Have a good 'un," he answered, returning to his computer.
Stepping back outside, I dropped the map into the car before heading down the indicated pier. "Jack Murphy of the Meandering Mermaid!" I called out in greeting as I was approaching what appeared to be a fishing boat designed for small groups.
A head poked up from what could generously be called a trap door next to the wheel. "Yo!"
I stepped to the edge of the pier where I could talk with him comfortably. "The harbormaster mentioned I might be able to charter you to take me around Annacoga?"
He nodded amiably. "Sure. Fishing?"
I shook my head. "Looking over the island. A group I'm representing is thinking of buying it."
He shrugged. "Two hundred bucks for a half day, three-fifty for a full day if you aren't looking to rent fishing gear."
"Just transport and pick your brain about the area. How far?"
"We can easily be there, around the island three times, and back in a half day."
I raised an eyebrow, appreciating his honesty even though it was costing him a half-day worth of charter. "When's the next half-day you have free, then?"
"Tomorrow afternoon. Call it two o'clock?"
"See you then. By the way, I'm Ryan Chessman."
"Jack Murphy. Call me Captain Jack." Giving me one last grin, he disappeared.
"How far is it?" I asked the next afternoon after we'd cleared the harbor.
He shrugged. "'Bout four and a half nautical miles." He grinned at the blank look I was giving him. "One nautical mile is about one point one five land miles. So from your point of view, it's just over five miles."
Nodding, I asked, "And the area around the island?"
He waved in the direction the boat was going and then to the right of our course. "Due east, Cape Hatteras, which is just a long peninsula, about ten nautical miles from here, about three from the island."
"From the island, where's the nearest landfall?"
"North-east of it, about a nautical mile."
"Is it inhabited?"
He shook his head. "Otter Pond National Wildlife Refuge." He chucked his thumb behind us. "Nearest habitation is Carriwick unless you count Cape Hatteras, but along there it's just state road 12."
"So you probably helped Greenpeace set up their camp."
He nodded easily. "I lost a brother in a military training exercise. I understand the need for the military, but I don't like it much."
I kept my peace on that one. Getting into that philosophical argument with him wouldn't do us any good.
"What's the water around the area like?"
"Variable depth. Some pretty deep spots, but if you're thinking of building anything substantial on the island, you'll have to barge the equipment in. Carriwick Sound isn't deep enough for the bigger container ships."
I grinned as he answered the question I was really getting at. "Any decent harbors on the island?"
"No, but there's a spot on the north-west shore that could be made into one with a little dredging. Then building the piers, of course."
"Of course," I agreed, thinking that building this place could turn into quite a project. Floating dredge, then get temporary piers put in place to start moving heavier equipment in . . . I pulled out a notebook and made a note to check if the military had surplus equipment and material we could buy. They just had to have something for situations where they needed to quickly build a port capable of handling heavy materials.
"Where's the nearest access to the Atlantic?"
"Fifty miles south. Southern end of Cape Hatteras."
I frowned in annoyance but held my tongue. It wasn't like I could re-arrange the geography or cut my way through Cape Hatteras without having about a million people come after me with blood in their eyes. I would have preferred easier access, though. I shrugged. On the other hand, I wanted this spot in the first place because it was relatively isolated. Can't have it both ways, I reminded myself.
"There it is," Captain Jack cut into my thoughts, lifting a hand from the wheel and pointing.
Annacoga Bombing Range rose from the calm waters ahead of us, still an indistinct shape on the horizon.
"What's the geography like?"
"Mile and a half east to west by a mile or so. Roughly teardrop shaped, rounded on the south, but it hooks at the northern end to the west. That's the one decent landing spot I mentioned. It's sheltered and has a beach. The rest of the shore is rocky. The landscape itself is very irregular due to the bombing, but since Greenpeace moved in, it's turning green again and Mother Nature is trying to smooth the land back out."
While I kept my eyes on the island we were approaching, Captain Jack maneuvered us around the island's west coast, heading north. Scattered around on the island, only visible due to their bright orange color, the tents of the Greenpeace volunteers were in no discernible order. With the boat still heading north, I spotted the landing area mentioned earlier. A rocky protuberance came west from the northern tip of the island, producing a sheltered area with a short but pretty beach.
That Captain Jack was driving toward.
I was about to question him when I noticed a rubber Zodiac boat coming at us from that direction, one man at the outboard motor and nothing else in the boat. Captain Jack idled his engines and stepped to the side to help the other man bring the two boats together. Once both boats were stopped relative to each other, Captain Jack hauled several crates over to the edge of his boat and then held the two boats together as the other man shifted them into the Zodiac. It was clear that he was a member of the protesting Greenpeacers and Captain Jack was bringing him supplies.
"Who's this?" the young but heavily bearded man asked as he lifted the crates with ease.
"He's a charter who wanted to see the island," Captain Jack answered easily.
"Why?" the man asked me.
"A company I represent is thinking of buying it," I answered him calmly.
"Why?" he asked again.
"We want to build a company headquarters away from the noise of a city."
"Pretty isolated," he pointed out with a slight frown.
I shrugged. "We're researchers and writers. We want the quiet."
"Literature and history."
"I'd prefer you didn't tear up the island anymore than it is, but just about anything is preferable to what the military was doing to it."
I shrugged vaguely, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
The man hauled the last crate over to his Zodiac and handed Captain Jack a folded sheet of paper. "See ya in a week, Jack?"
"Sure thing, Ron."
With one last wave, Ron turned the Zodiac toward shore and opened the throttle back up.
I quirked an eyebrow at Captain Jack. "You were coming out here with or without a charter," I accused him good-naturedly.
He grinned and nodded.
I chuckled slightly and jerked my chin toward Ron's retreating back. "He took my answer a lot more calmly than I expected."
Captain Jack shook his head as he increased power to the engines again. "They aren't interested in keeping the island. They're just protecting it from being used for target practice."
My last business stop of this trip was in Charleston, South Carolina.
According to the note that Joe Dawson had given me, I could find half of the pair of Immortals I was looking for in the Charleston General Hospital. Following the signs, I parked in the ER lot and walked into the emergency room waiting area. Once I made it into the room, I walked into Doctor Ian MacGregor's Buzz. He was a friendly Immortal doctor that I'd run into back in Missouri before moving to Toronto. He and his partner had helped me out of a ugly situation that had occurred when a building had fallen down on top of me after a Quickening. I looked around the waiting area, checking to see if he was in sight. Very few people were around at this time of day on a weekday, and Doctor MacGregor wasn't one of them. Smiling at the nurse behind the counter, I asked, "Is Doctor MacGregor here?" I knew he was, but I couldn't very well act like I had that information before asking for it.
The nurse looked at me warily but nodded from behind the Plexiglas partition.
"Could you take him a message please? Tell him that an old patient of his, Ryan Chessman, would like to talk with him when he has a free minute. No emergency."
"Sure," she agreed and stepped through the door behind her and into the staff area of the emergency department.
I took a seat in the waiting area, but had scarcely gotten comfortable when Doctor MacGregor came striding out with a smile and a hand extended. "Ryan! You appear to be doing well. So nice to see you again!" He had on a white lab coat with a stethoscope peaking out of one pocket.
Smiling back, I shook his hand. "Doctor, nice to see you, too. How've you been?"
"Fine, fine," he said cheerfully. "I'll assume this wasn't a social visit. What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to speak with you when you have some free time. Maybe a dinner?" I glanced over and saw that the nurse behind the counter wasn't paying us any attention. "John, too, if he's still around."
He nodded with a smile trying to force its way to his face. "He is. Is this a private party, or can we bring Amy and Jessica?"
I cocked my head slightly, "Who?"
"Our wives," he answered with a mischievous grin.
I stared at him for a few seconds. Last time I'd seen them, he and John Clark were a couple. And now not only were they both married to women, but they were still on good terms?
"As long as I can speak freely in front of them," I answered cautiously once the shock had worn off.
He waved that off and the grin only got wider. "Oh, that isn't an issue. They're much like we are. Same do-gooder attitude and everything."
I relaxed. That was the phrase I'd used when he and John had dug me out of that problem years ago. Hopefully I was interpreting what he was saying correctly in that they were another two friendly Immortals. I nodded. "No problem, then."
"How long are you in town?"
I shrugged. "I can stay a few days if I need to, but I'm here just to talk with you."
He nodded and stepped around the desk, picking up a phone and pressing a few buttons. "Amy Clark, please." He waited nearly a minute before he spoke again, "Amy, it's Ian. Are you and John free for dinner tonight? An old friend of ours wants to visit with us." He paused. "No, no problem. Just a dinner." He paused again and nodded. "See you in a few hours, then." He hung up and came back around to speak with me. "Amy and I get off shift at five. Come back here then?"
I walked back in through the Emergency entrance a few hours later. I'd filled the free time walking along the Charleston docks, appreciating the ocean. I'd also checked in with Joe Dawson in Seacouver. Jen wouldn't be awake yet, otherwise I would have called her as well.
Not seeing Doctor MacGregor, I took a seat to wait for him to finish his shift.
He came out a minute later, still wearing his doctor's smock. "Ryan, I'm tied up here for a few more minutes. Could you go on up to the OB area and get Amy? She's one of the nurses up there. I told her you're coming." He grinned. "Shouldn't be all that hard to figure out which one is her."
I rolled my eyes at him as I stood up. "No problem. Where's the OB area?"
He pointed. "Into the main hall and follow the signs to the main lobby. Take the elevators up to the third floor and hang a right."
"I'll be back in a few."
I left and had no problem finding the correct area. The hospital had enough signs posted that it was easy to keep from getting lost.
As I was opening the door to get into the obstetrics area, I hit a Buzz. One hundred fifty and very few heads. I hoped this was the Amy Clark that I was told to find.
As I rounded the corner, I caught sight of a white doctor having a heated but low volume conversation with a pretty black nurse. She saw me over the doctor's shoulder but immediately brought her attention back to the man speaking to her. Once I stopped behind him, I could hear the conversation. "Nurse, I don't care if you ARE the charge nurse in this area. I'm a doctor, and you're a nurse, and you'll do what I goddamn tell you!" he snarled in a Southern accent.
"Doctor," she replied in a soft voice that was clearly under iron control, "you made a mistake. I tried to tell you that, but you weren't listening. Your actions could have endangered the patient and her child. I did what I had to in order to safeguard both mother and baby. I'm sorry you interpret that as contrary to your orders, but I SAVED that child. I'm going to report it as such."
He froze for a moment before taking a half-step further toward her. "You will do no such thing," he growled. "I won't have some ni-"
"Nurse Clark," I interrupted, speaking just a touch too loudly. She looked at me with a polite expression while the doctor spun in place to glare at me. He was maybe thirty, roughly my size, and red-faced in anger.
"Nurse," I continued in a quieter voice, "I believe you and I have a dinner date with your husband and a few others."
She smiled, bringing even more beauty to a face that already had plenty to spare. "You must be Ryan. Ian warned me about you."
I affected mild surprise. "Warned you? I'm hardly a danger to such a lovely lady as yourself. Unlike some I could name." I turned a cold stare onto the quietly fuming doctor.
"I'm not —" he began heatedly.
"I really don't want to get into this argument with you," I interrupted. I smiled at Nurse Clark again. "Ryan Chessman, at your service, milady." I have her an abbreviated bow, much to her amusement.
The doctor clearly wasn't as amused. "Look, you little bastard, I don't care who you are. I was having a medical discussion with this nurse. Now if you'll go away and leave us alone —"
I cut him off again and quietly spoke, "You are clearly a racist asshole who gets off by treating everyone else like dirt. How you managed to get a medical degree is beyond me. In your private life you can go and feel as superior as you want to. In this building dedicated to the noble profession of healing, I would strongly suggest you don't attack the actions of a nurse who no doubt has a great deal more medical expertise than you seem to."
"Mister Chessman," Nurse Clark interjected calmly, bringing me to a stop.
I clamped my jaw shut and glared at the doctor. I had never understood racism. It was one of the few topics that could set me off this quickly.
Seeing I was going to remain quiet, she turned to the doctor. "Doctor Franklin, I am going to report the incident to the medical review board. It is of course your right to appeal. Good day." She turned and accepted a purse from the smiling nurse behind the counter. Looping it over her shoulder, she turned to me and gestured back the way I'd come. "Shall we?"
Smiling, I stepped aside so she could head toward the door. Turning my back on Doctor Franklin, I stepped quickly to the door to hold it open for Nurse Clark. Thanking me politely, she silently led me back the way I'd come, and we presently walked back into the emergency room waiting area.
Doctor MacGregor was chatting with the duty nurse, apparently ready to leave. He took one look at us and stepped over, concern etched across his face. "Amy," he greeted her, stooping to give her a quick kiss on the cheek. "What's the matter?"
"Doctor Franklin," she answered in a low voice.
MacGregor sighed. "Him again? I wish you would let me . . ."
He trailed off as she shook her head. "Thank you, no. I can't have you serving as my white knight all the time, Ian," she smiled at him.
He sighed again, apparently resigned. Shaking his head once with a grimace, he gestured to the exit. "Shall we?"
As we were walking away, MacGregor continued, "Don't worry about Ryan, Amy. He's one of the transients that John and I helped in Warrenton years ago. I think he's safe."
As she nodded, he turned to me. "John and I stumbled across Amy and Jessica when we were moving from Warrenton to here. Jessica had just been publicly killed, so they were moving with no notice. It seemed reasonable for the four of us to stick together as two married couples."
As we continued out into the parking lot, I glanced back and forth between them a couple times, trying to figure out how to ask the next question. "Forgive me for asking, but I thought —"
MacGregor held up a hand and smirked. "Just because Charleston thinks I'm married to Jessica, that doesn't mean I share her bed. John and I are still together, as are Amy and Jessica. We live in a duplex with an interior door. Not exactly a unique answer to the situation, but it suffices for us." He glanced at me. "Last time we saw you, you were grieving someone you had just lost, but based on that ring you're wearing, you seem to have moved on."
I smiled a little sadly. Yes, I had just lost Andrea when I had gone through Missouri and that whole mess had happened to me. "Yeah. I found Jennifer a few years after meeting you." I grinned at him. "Your virtue is safe around me, Doctor MacGregor."
He chuckled and Nurse Clark smiled. "I'm so relieved," he answered dryly. He unlocked the door of a BMW and helped Nurse Clark into the passenger seat. "And it's Ian, by the way. Follow us back to our place, and we'll figure out dinner, okay?"
John Clark was surprised but apparently not upset at my unannounced presence. I was then introduced to Jessica Yale. She was about a hundred, no heads to her credit, pretty without quite being truly beautiful.
When they realized that I wanted to discuss some Immortal issues with them, we all decided to order a pizza instead of going to a restaurant. So over pepperoni pizza, I laid out the whole spiel to them, omitting vampires and Watchers.
Everyone silently thought about what I'd said for a few minutes as they finished eating.
During this silent time, something suddenly landed in my lap. Yelping and nearly jumping through the roof, I looked down to find that a cat had leaped from the floor onto my lap and was looking at me solemnly.
"Oh, there you are, Tabitha," Amy remarked. Smiling at me, she said, "Sorry, I should have warned you about Tab. She always acts like she's starved of attention, no matter how much Jess and I give her. Go ahead, she's harmless."
I presented the back of my hand to the cat and she delicately sniffed it before rubbing her head against my hand. Since I was done eating, I scooted back from the table a bit and continued petting the animal.
Ian stood and started clearing away the debris, waving John back down when he stood to help. Nodding, Clark went to an overstuffed chair near the fireplace instead.
"Anybody want anything to drink?" Ian called from the kitchen.
"Please," Jessica and John chorused.
"What do you have?"
"Just about anything."
"Killian's?" I called hopefully toward the doorway.
"Okay, not quite everything. MGD close enough?"
He came out a minute later with what looked like a scotch that he handed to John and a glass of white wine that he handed to Jessica as she moved from the table to the couch opposite John. He stopped back in the kitchen for a moment, bringing two beers back out and handing me one before sitting on the floor between John's knees. Taking a sip of his drink, he casually slung an arm over each knee bracketing him.
Jessica had seated herself at one end of the couch, and Amy laid down on the couch, using Jessica's thigh as a pillow.
Seeing my attention flick over the four of them, John (who had insisted I drop the formality) asked, "Are we making you uncomfortable?"
I shook my head. "Not really. I just haven't been around gay couples all that much. It's my problem, not yours. Please, don't let me stop you."
"Well, in that case," Jessica said before leaning forward to give Amy a searing kiss.
"Get a room, you two," Ian teased them after a few seconds.
I tried to stifle the laughter, resulting in an undignified snorting sound. The girls came up for air and looked at me in concern. "I guess I found that kinda funny," I explained, waving at all four of them, "you telling that to your wife."
They all grinned.
"We're not your typical household," Amy (who's real surname I'd learned was Azer) pointed out with a smile.
"Amen," Ian toasted her.
Everyone chuckled. I continued absently petting the cat in my lap until John suddenly asked, "Aren't you finished stroking my wife's pussy, yet?"
The four of them laughed, and I nearly choked. Coughing into my fist, I leaned forward and spilled the aforementioned pussy to the floor. She gave me an indignant glare before stalking off.
Once I'd recovered, John asked me, "You're serious about this idea of yours?"
I nodded, recovering my composure.
"Why?" Ian asked.
"I could've done this on a smaller scale and gotten myself out of the Game. If we do it this way, the Game may stop altogether."
"What are you going to call it?"
"I considered calling it Hogsmeade, but I'm afraid we'd get sued." Amy grinned at me. Everyone else just looked confused. "Never mind. Seriously, I don't know yet. Once we have a group that's agreed to live there, I figured we'd just vote on it."
"And you want us to live there?" Jessica asked.
I nodded. "That's your choice, of course. But I came to Charleston because I knew that these two," I waved at John and Ian, "had the temperament that I was looking for. You two just became a bonus," I grinned at the two girls. "As I said, I'm looking for non-combative Immortals, willing to live near other Immortals. I believe you four qualify. Now whether you are interested is entirely up to you. I'm just inviting you to the initial Q and A session."
"Thank you, but not quite what I was asking," Jessica said. "I meant you want US," she indicated the four and more specifically their obvious groupings.
I nodded to indicate that I understood the distinction. "Most Immortals are more tolerant than mortals. We have to be to blend in whenever society changes around us. Those Immortals that don't tolerate anything are typically such control freaks that they end up getting themselves killed or are at least anti-social enough that they wouldn't want to live at this place." I took a breath. "Now, that's my thought on it. I haven't had to live with the bigotry you four have, so I can't definitively say that it's the truth. For what it's worth, I would like you to be there. I'll do what I can to help in whatever way you think is best."
All four of them gave a small nod. Looking among themselves, they seemed to have a short discussion without a word being spoken. Finally Ian nodded to me. "No promises, but we'll hear what you have to say in March."
Two evenings later, Jen and I visited Joe's.
I sat at the bar and smiled at Joe when he approached with my ale. "Everyone I talked to was willing to at least come to Vegas," I reported, "plus at least five." He nodded.
"Something occurred to me," I continued.
"I'm sorry to hear that. I'm sure you'll feel better soon," Jennifer teased as Joe put a glass of 'wine' in front of her.
"Har, har. Joe, Watchers do background checks before recruiting, correct?" At his nod, I went on, "So you knew I was an orphan. You hired me anyway. You kept me at my potentially sensitive position even after Adam told you I was pre-Immortal."
I paused to see if he had anything to add, but other than a slowly forming smile, he wasn't reacting.
"You want more Immortals who know about the Watchers, don't you?"
He gave a slight shrug, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He had a bar cloth in hand and was wiping at non-existent spots.
"Specifically, you want Immortals who UNDERSTAND the Watchers," I realized. "You WANT the two groups to merge, don't you?" I asked, somewhere between accusingly and in wonder.
He frowned slightly, his hand still slowly moving over the bar top. "We have to. As it is, the way technology is progressing and the population density always going up, Immortals WILL be discovered sooner or later. The only way to prevent it is for us to help keep them concealed. The only way THAT will be effective is if they know about us."
"Hence the Council and their talking about a Holy Ground city," I finished, fitting another couple of pieces together. "You WANTED me to become Immortal. You introduced me to the Council. When I was a Watcher, you had me working in the same city as Mac and Rich. You wanted me to do this, didn't you? You made this possible." I couldn't decide if I was pissed at him or not.
He at least had the grace to appear embarrassed. "I didn't make you, Ryan."
"Are you going to deny you herded me in the direction you wanted?"
His eyes flared momentarily, but he evenly answered, "No. I will admit that this outcome is something I wanted. I even stacked the deck a little where it comes to you, Ryan. But I am NOT the one who created you."
"Sure," I grumbled, angry as it turned out my life had been at least somewhat scripted.
"Look, Ryan, what I've done is for the good of the Watchers AND Immortals. I haven't controlled you. If I wanted to make you my own pet Immortal, do you think I would have let you go after Jenny Bright on your own? Let Kenny get anywhere near you? Jerry Markus? Leonard Frankle, Charles Clay, or Dan Axemon? Let you do your continent-spanning walkabout? Let you become a Secret Service Agent for God's sake?" He paused his spirited but thankfully low volume diatribe and took a deep breath. "Is what you're doing is something I hoped for? Yes. Did I fiddle with some of the circumstances? Yes. Did I hope other people had the same idea? Yes. Did I arrange for you to do this? No! Like I've already said, I didn't create you, Ryan."
What he was saying sank in. True, he'd admitted that he'd nudged me from time to time. That didn't bother me much. It was the nature of society to try to get others to do what we wanted by giving them gentle pushes. My concern that he'd set me up from the word "go" was apparently unfounded. I slowly calmed down the more I thought about it.
"You okay?" Jennifer asked me some time later.
I nodded. "He's admitted to bumping me into the direction he wanted, but he's also proven that he hasn't been controlling me. That list of Challenges was proof enough that he hasn't been trying to keep me isolated and under control."
"I didn't recognize most of those names."
I shook my head. "Random encounters for the most part."
"Except Axemon," she pointed out. She knew that story as she'd been a part of it.
"Something's been bothering me," Jennifer mentioned in a change of subject.
"What's that?" I asked.
"How are we going to guarantee we don't get problems, mortal, Immortal, or vampire, moving in with us?"
"Once we have the initial invite list, I was going to get a copy of the Immortals to Duncan and Aaron to review. If they find someone on that list that's an issue, we can deal with them then. Same thing with a vampire list to Terry and Nick Knight." I glanced over to Joe who was filling a drink order nearby. "Can I give you the expected mortal list?"
"Most of them will be Watchers, won't they?"
"Mostly. Plus people like Connor's Rachel and any spouses or lovers Immortals or Vampires may have."
Joe nodded and then frowned into the distance for a few seconds. "This list is getting complicated."
I sighed. "I know. But if I want enough Immortals to stop the Game, that's a decent list all by itself. Plus all the various others just to keep the Immortals happy, PLUS it would be unfair of me to not extend the same invitation to vampires, merfolk, lycanthropes and all the other secret, oppressed groups out there."
Jen was staring at me. Joe grinned. "Merfolk and lycanthropes?"
I shrugged. "Well, I WOULD if they existed . . ."
"Oh, you," Jen poked me in the shoulder as Joe chuckled.
"No stranger than Immortals or vampires," I defended myself to my wife, smiling.
"You have the strangest sense of humor," a voice said from beside me.
I turned and saw that Korin had silently glided to a stop beside my bar stool.
I stood and offered her my hand. "We haven't formally met. I'm Ryan Chessman."
She smirked. "I know." She flicked a glance at Jennifer before offering me her hand back. "I'm your aunt, Korin Duvir."
Joe groaned. "Not another one buying into that whole family tree structure."
I grinned at him. "Sure. We all like Aaron and Grandma Terry so much that we WANT to be family." I turned back to Korin as I sat down. "Just so long as you don't demand I call you 'Auntie Korin', pinch my cheeks, or give me sloppy kisses every time you see me."
I couldn't see Joe's expression as I was smiling benignly at Korin, but I could feel Jen shaking in suppressed laughter. Korin raised an eyebrow. "You had a traumatic childhood, didn't you?"
Joe started chuckling, and Jen lost the fight against her laughter.
I smiled widely. "Yeah, you'll fit in just fine. Welcome to the family."
"Thank you for your acceptance," she said, but her sparkling eyes belied the bland tone.
Joe continued to chuckle, shaking his head as he limped to the other end of the bar to tend to customers.
Glancing around at her tables, Korin turned back to me with what looked like a touch of fear in her eyes. "Jen tells me that you were a student of Duncan MacLeod's."
"That's right," I agreed, hiding a smile behind taking a sip of my ale.
"What can you tell me about him?" She'd asked the question calmly enough, but it didn't take any effort to hear the hesitancy there.
Letting a hint of the smile appear, I asked, "What do you want to know?" I didn't bother to ask why she was asking me and not him.
In an abrupt change of mood, one of her eyebrows went up, and she leaned casually against the bar top. "I just wanted to know if what they said about Scots is true."
Sensing the trap but not knowing what direction it was coming from, I cautiously asked, "What's that?"
"If they know how to properly handle their long swords."
Jen broke into a fresh round of laughter. I grinned up at the vampire. "I wouldn't know, and it's a claymore," I corrected mischievously. "Two handed broadsword unique to Scotland."
"Two handed?" she asked with feigned shock. "I really MUST investigate this further."
While all three of us were chuckling, I felt Rich enter. Turning slightly, I saw that Hoa was already halfway from the door to us with Rich jogging quickly in her wake.
"You two are awful," Hoa accused me, taking a seat on Jen's other side.
Rich sat next to her, looking confused. "What were you talking about?"
"The size of Duncan's sword," Jen answered in amusement.
Rich looked at her in confusion for about a second before his mouth slowly gaped open.
"She started it," I retorted, jerking my head at Korin. "By the way, have you been formally introduced to your great aunt Korin Duvir?"
Rich rolled his eyes. "Yes. Dare I ask WHY you two are discussing Mac's . . . sword?"
"She wanted to know what I could tell her about Duncan," I answered with a leering glint.
"Everything she needs to know can probably be found that book," Hoa reminded me with an overly innocent look on her face.
Rich, Jen, and I broke into laughter as Korin just looked confused. "You mean 'Blade of the MacLeods'?" Jen asked once she gathered enough breath.
Hoa nodded and turned to Korin. "The mortal wife of one of Duncan's acquaintances writes those pulp romance novels. Duncan MacLeod is the hero of one of them."
"Saint Peter, save me," Korin muttered.
"I can't imagine that he's the patron saint of merciless teasing." She glared at me. I held up a hand in a placating manner. "I'll admit that my knowledge of Catholicism is painfully limited. What's he the patron saint of?"
"Many things, but the most notable for the present company is that he's the patron saint of long life," Jen answered.
"Handy to know," Rich commented.
I looked at my wife in mild surprise. "You're Catholic?" Religion had never come up between us. We didn't really celebrate any of the holidays for their religious significance.
"Was," she confirmed. She gave a half-smile and continued, "Kinda hard not to be when I was raised by my Irish grandparents. I don't really practice anymore though," she added with a rueful grin.
"I can understand that," Hoa commented dryly, politely thanking Mike as he placed a glass in front of her.
"So what did you want to know about Mac?" Rich asked Korin.
Korin and I were the only ones who had a view of Mike's face when he hitched momentarily at hearing this. A small smile formed, and he glanced at Korin.
She gave him a dirty look. Turning back to Rich, she asked, "What can you tell me about him?"
Rich launched into an abbreviated biography. Just giving her the bare-bones information, it still took several minutes. When he finished, she thanked him politely and stared off into space contemplatively.
While Rich and I were discussing his upcoming "recruiting" trip, we both felt a Buzz enter our range. Swinging toward the door, it only took me a second to identify Duncan. Waving Rich back down, I walked toward the door and greeted my teacher cheerfully, steering him toward one of the few empty tables. I just happened to know that it was in Korin's section of the bar.
"Welcome back," I said as we seated ourselves. "Productive trip?"
He nodded and pulled a page out of his pocket and handed it to me.
"Aaron Grey volunteered to arrange a meeting place in Las Vegas. I don't know what he has in mind, but something about the situation amused him."
Shrugging away the minor mystery of his actions, I scanned down the list of names and results. I saw that Terry and Aaron, Cassandra, Robert and Gina de Valicourt, Father Liam Riley and someone listed as simply "Grace" were all coming.
"Who's Grace?" I asked looking up in time to catch the dark look Korin gave me as she delivered a scotch to Duncan.
He thanked her absently before he answered my question. "Doctor Grace Chandril. A good friend for a few hundred years, when she was a midwife. She's been a practicing doctor since, but she mostly does research now."
The remaining line marked as Claudia was 'No'. "What's with her?" I asked, pointing at the name.
"Claudia is interested in the idea, but to be cut off from mortal society isn't something she wants right now since her career is going well."
I nodded and looked up at him as my hands folded the page and put it into my pocket. "Any of them say they want to bring along friends?"
"Several. Cassandra might bring one of her students. Robert and Gina want to bring most of theirs if they can get in touch quickly enough. Father Riley said he'd probably invite several. He'll have to think that one through."
"Were you still planning on doing another round of recruiting here in the States?"
He nodded and then sighed, clearly tired. "Leaving day after tomorrow."
"No need to hurry. March is still quite a ways off." A half- smile worked its way onto my face. "Relax. Take a couple weeks off and enjoy the local scenery."
He frowned at me. "I've lived in this city on and off for decades, Ryan. What more 'local scenery' can I enjoy that I haven't already?"
I shrugged casually. "Oh, something or someone new to town, maybe."
"Subtle, Ryan. Real subtle," Jen said from behind me. She put one hand on my shoulder and gently pulled me toward the door. "Come on. Let's go home."
Duncan alternated his gaze from me to Jen. "What am I missing?"
I resisted my wife's less than serious efforts for a moment to look back at my teacher. "If you don't figure it out by the end of the night, give me a call and I'll tell you then. Goodnight." In the process of turning away from him and back to the door, I caught Korin's eye for a moment.
She looked ready to kill me with her bare hands. I gave her an impudent wink and smirk as Jen started applying enough of her vampiric strength toward moving me that I knew she'd had enough of my antics for the night.
Throwing a casual wave to Rich and Hoa, we left the bar. Once outside, she stopped pulling and simply slid an arm through mine and walked with me back to our car.
"What was that all about?" she asked.
"Don't tell me you never played matchmaker in school."
She was silent for a moment, considering. "You think they'd make a good couple?" she asked me curiously.
I shrugged. "Dunno. Immortals and vampires can make good couples, as we've proven. He's a lot older than she is, but he's taken mortal lovers on and off so it's something he knows how to deal with. Besides, you've seen the looks between them. It was bound to happen. So I just nudged it along a little." I unlocked the door to the car and held it open for her.
"I just hope it doesn't blow up in your face," she returned.
In due course, the initial list was assembled. After that, a note was sent to each of the initial Immortal contacts stating that the PADOP meeting was set for Tuesday evening at 6:00 in the "Coliseum" meeting room at Caesar's Palace. Vampires and mortals had additional meeting times over the following days, but everyone was invited to the initial gathering.
"What's PADOP?" I asked Aaron when I was taking the information from him over the phone.
"I wanted to make it as ambiguous as possible, so it's 'Primary Associates for Design and Operational Processes'."
"Sounds painfully dull."
"That was the goal. We're less likely to have unannounced visitors with a name like that."
"Though Terry came up with an alternative: Planetary Association of Deceptively Old People."
I snickered. "Your wife is creative."
"She's a professional author. It comes with the territory."
I had to agree with that point. "Why Caesar's Palace, anyway? Was there any specific reason for that?"
"Two. First, it's Holy Ground."
I blinked. "You're kidding."
"Nope. The second reason is that I know the owner."
I blinked again. "You're kidding!"
"Nope," he said in clear amusement. "Think about it a second. The answer's right there."
Caesar's Palace? Caesar was the title for the Roman emperors. Now how many Romans might I know?
I chuckled. "You, your father, or Mister LaCroix?"
"Lucius?" he nearly laughed. "That'd be ironic. No, it's Father."
"Would that also explain the Holy Ground?" I asked, grinning widely.
"That's why he built exactly there, yes," Aaron confirmed. "Incidentally, I've reserved rooms there for all the mixed couples I could think of. Us, you two, Nick, Hoa, and Harm. There are a couple more individuals here I'd like to invite as well who'll need single rooms."
"Related to your wife?" I asked.
"Not exactly, but you have the right idea."
I took that to mean vampires, but not necessarily family members. "No problem. Feel free to invite them as long as they meet the same selection criteria as everyone else. Oh, and you'd better reserve another single for Korin Duvir."
"Korin's coming?" he sounded happy. He also didn't sound surprised that I knew her.
"Yup. Though by that time she may not be staying by herself."
"Should I ask?" he wondered aloud.
"Let's wait to see if it pans out," I demurred. She and Duncan had indeed gotten together, but it was still too early to see if it would last for any length of time. "For the moment, you may want to reserve her a room. For her sake and due to the timing, it has to be in the Palace. For her pocketbook's sake, better make it a cheap room."
"Terry and I will pick it up for her. She's still a bit young to afford a spot there. Come to think of it, Rich and Hoa might need some help, too."
"They're okay. He's got a good job as a night shift mechanic here in town. Actually makes pretty good money. She's some sort of lab tech at the hospital. They already told me in no uncertain terms that they're fine."
"No problem, then. When you have flight times, let me know. Terry and I will be there earlier, so we'll pick you up. That goes for the whole family."
"Fair enough. I'll spread the word. Thanks. By the way, the timing of the meeting is a little awkward for family members," I referred to the fact that it was beginning before dusk. "Why'd you make it so early?"
"Would you rather have a meeting of a hundred people starting at ten in the evening? That would look more than a little odd to the hotel workers. Not to mention that most of the attendees won't find six to be unusual whereas ten would be."
"Another good point. I'm glad you're thinking of these things."
"You're welcome," he answered wryly. "Don't forget the flight times. Talk to you later."
"Welcome to Las Vegas," Terry greeted us in the airport very early one March morning. She smiled at the five faces of her family and then stopped at the somewhat nervous face of Duncan MacLeod. "Mister MacLeod," she greeted him smoothly. "You shared a flight with these delightful youngsters?"
"He's with me, Grandma," Korin spoke up, slipping an arm through his.
Terry's eyes hardly flickered. "I see. Well, as long as you're dating my childe, then you are to call me 'Grandma Terry'."
I nearly snickered. She was telling a four hundred year old man who looked to be roughly her physical age to call her "Grandma". I already knew that she was perfectly aware of his true age.
He smiled at her, but it looked a little forced. "It's Duncan or Mac, and I would feel more comfortable calling you Theresa if you don't mind."
She sighed with a much put upon air. "If you insist. But it's Terry. Theresa sounds so . . . formal." She waved further along the concourse. "You boys go on to the security station for your business there. The girls and I will get the bags and meet you out by the taxi stand." Without waiting for permission or comments, she swept up the women with merely a look and led them toward the baggage claim. Excited chatter and laughter were immediately coming from the foursome.
Duncan stared after her for a moment before turning to Rich's and my amused smiles. "She's not at all what I was expecting."
We laughed. Rich asked, "Didn't you listen to all of our stories of the family? Or were you just thinking, 'ancient vampire' and had a cross between Bela Lugosi and Methos in mind?"
"Well . . ." He managed to look sheepish. We laughed at him again.
"This isn't the first time you've met her," I pointed out as we started drifting over to the security desk. "You met her at the wedding and again when you went to Paris on your recruiting trip."
"Met," he emphasized. "I didn't actually talk to her at your wedding. Plus, I didn't see her when I spoke with Aaron last year."
"Get to know her," Rich suggested. "She's a lot of fun."
The three of us chatted easily while waiting to retrieve our swords. Once they were firmly in hand, we met the women near the taxi stand. The four were still talking a mile a minute, a pile of luggage scattered around their feet.
Noticing us, Terry called, "There you are. We were just talking about you." Hoa and Jen smiled. Korin dropped her eyes to the ground, apparently in embarrassment. I almost laughed when Mac hitched a step.
Terry meanwhile was frowning slightly. "I really wasn't expecting this many people. Duncan, could I prevail upon you to take Korin in a cab? I'll pay for it, of course."
He waved that aside. "No problem at all. Caesar's Palace, correct?"
She nodded. "There's a room reserved under her name."
He nodded, and between the two of them, they gathered two arms full of luggage, flagged a cab, and took off.
Terry nodded as the cab left. Taking two of the heavier remaining bags in hand, she started walking down the aisle of cabs toward the parked limousines. "How serious are they?" she asked directly.
"Very," Jen answered easily. "They've been going out since shortly after this whole idea started. He may be older than she is, but that hasn't been a problem."
"About us?" Hoa asked. At Terry's nod, Hoa continued, "Yes. We told him when we got engaged. He found out about her specifically shortly before they started dating."
"How's he adjusting?"
"Pretty well," Rich opinioned. He suddenly started laughing as Terry led us to a limo with 'Caesar's Palace' markings. At Terry's questioning look, he said, "Sorry. I was just remembering when he asked me and Ryan about her."
I started laughing, too. "The guy's four hundred, and he taught the two of us how to live as Immortals. Who'd have ever guessed that WE would have to give HIM a 'birds and bees' talk?"
Duncan, Korin, Jen, and I were at the airport Sunday evening to pick up Harm and Diane from Chicago and Nick and Nat from Toronto.
As the newly arriving Chicago passengers flowed past us, I felt Diane approach. Leaning against a wall in plain view of the arriving passengers, I smiled at them as Harm pointed me out to Diane and they made their way over to Jen and me. "Harm," I greeted him cheerfully, shaking his hand firmly. Diane got a quick hug as Jen greeted her childe warmly. Waving toward where Mac and Korin were standing, I said, "I'd like to introduce you two to Duncan MacLeod and Korin Duvir. Mac was my initial teacher. Korin is Terry's latest childe." Harm and Diane smiled at them (Diane a little more reserved at meeting a new Immortal) as I reversed the introductions, "Harmon Rabb and Diane Schonke. Harm is Jen's second childe. I met them when we were living in DC." Duncan and Korin greeted them cordially enough and we all started drifting toward the security station.
They got their weapons and luggage and we all parked ourselves in the Air Canada concourse to wait for Nick and Nat. The four who did not know each other gradually gave each other shortened life stories and warmed up to each other.
When Nat and Nick emerged from the flow of disembarking people, I repeated the introductions of Duncan and Korin, then describing Nat as Aaron's student and Nick as an honorary member of the family. Harm and Diane already knew Nick and Nat since the two Canadians helped Jen and me when Harm had "died". The vampires in the group immediately recognized Nick's seniority and deferred to him for leadership.
Duncan kept looking at Nick with a puzzled frown as we all walked and chatted. As Nat was getting her sword back from security, I pulled Mac aside. "What's wrong?" I asked him.
"He looks a lot like an old friend of mine," he admitted.
I shrugged. "I can assure you that Nick's like Korin, and that he's older than you."
Mac shook his head. "No, Michael was one of us." I caught the past tense and the sad tone and left the rest of my questions unasked.
Shortly after breakfast Monday evening, Harm appeared at our door, wearing swimming trunks and with a towel casually draped over a shoulder. He cheerfully announced that a fair number of the family were going swimming in the outdoor pool. Not having anything else planned until the following evening when the major meeting was going to take place, we agreed and quickly changed before the three of us went out to the pool.
Getting outside, we dropped our towels onto empty lounge chairs and quickly dove into the pool, joining Rich, Hoa, and Diane. It wasn't long before Mac and Korin joined us in the pool. More splashing and horseplay occurred than actual swimming, but since it was shortly after dark we had the pool all to ourselves.
Finally tiring of the play, we climbed out. The girls opted to retire to the large hot tub where they all soaked up the heat and chatted quietly with occasional laughter drifting out. The guys dried off and gathered at a table next to the outdoor bar.
"What brought this on, Ryan?" Harm asked me.
"This," he waved his hand around, apparently indicating the entire situation. "Why are you trying to build this city?"
"Several reasons. The selfish one was that if this works, there will be a safe place for me and Jen to live for a very long time. The slightly more noble version of that is the same opportunity for all Immortals and vampires. Finally, one of the stipulations of Michelle's Will was to protect Jen and if possible all other Immortals and vampires."
"You were a beneficiary of Michelle's?" Rich asked curiously.
"Yeah. Only Aaron and Terry knew, but Jen and I inherited a . . . substantial sum."
"If you don't mind my asking, how substantial?" Mac asked curiously. He knew who Michelle had been, and he also knew how much money ancient Immortals could accumulate even without really trying too hard. Those same rules applied to vampires of Michelle's age.
I smiled slightly. "I doubt we're quite to your level, Mac, but more than comfortable."
He smiled back. "Good on you. I was curious on how you thought you could pull this off if nobody was willing to contribute a lot of money."
"We're talking about tens of millions of dollars to do this right," Harm pointed out calmly.
"Yep," I agreed.
"Damn," Rich breathed.
I shrugged, embarrassed.
"So why did you try to talk money out of my kinsman?" Duncan asked.
"I'd really rather not finance this whole thing on my own. If it falls through, we still need a means of supporting ourselves. Besides, if we spread out the costs, it'll be less likely to catch the attention of the IRS."
"A real, functioning town?"
I nodded. "That's the plan. Two possibilities, depending on size of our population. The bigger one I haven't found a site for yet. On the smaller end, I have an island already scouted out. That isn't to become public knowledge yet," I cautioned. Getting nods in agreement, I continued, "An island produces several logistical problems but increases our security. Consumables will have to be flown or shipped in. I was hoping someone would be willing to do a weekly grocery run for the entire population by either helicopter or boat."
"Probably have to be by boat," Mac mused aloud. "The weight in groceries will add up quickly for fifty households."
"Fifty?" Harm blinked in astonishment.
"Hopefully," I confirmed. "We're already at a hundred counting all the various types of people. Mostly couples or singles, but some families like the Roberts."
"Any cities within easy commuting distance of this island?" Duncan asked, staying with the previous topic.
"Little town within easy boating distance. Goodly sized city in helicopter range."
"Why not do an aircraft instead of a helicopter?" Harm asked.
"I doubt the island's big enough to support that many homes, whatever commercial buildings we'll need, an administration building, plus an airport. A helipad is the best we'll probably be able to fit."
He nodded, a little sadly. "Cheer up," I consoled him. "You probably won't get to fly much, but you and Diane will be more than adequately employed. On top of that, the island will have enough privacy from the outside world that you can just fly yourself whenever you want."
He smiled a little smile and nodded again.
"What'll we do for jobs in this town?" Rich asked.
I shrugged. "Whatever we want. Harm here is a lawyer, so that's easily enough figured out. Enough fitness buffs running around that a small gym would probably work out. A small grocery store, a bar, and a bookstore. Probably be call for a home contractor even after this place is built. There will be enough equipment that a repairman might be needed. There will probably be call for a good metal smith with this crowd. The biggest thing, though, that I hope for is that the corporation can do artisan and other professional contracts." I leaned forward. "Think about who all will be here. Text translations, small art items by commission, antiquity authentications, whatever. In addition, enough doctors, medical researchers, and lab techs are in the mix that I expect some of them to want to do research into one or another of the various unusual medical conditions that are prevalent in our little community." All three men grinned.
"Who will be in charge? You?"
"You keep laboring under the assumption that I want to lead," I sighed, rolling my eyes heavenward. "I just started the idea and am following through since nobody else seems to want to. To answer the question: I hope we'll hold elections. Elect a council of three, maybe. One for each of the main divisions. That's something that the whole group can decide."
"Why not a true democracy?" Duncan asked. "Put every decision to vote, and everyone votes. The problem in the past with true democracies was keeping the voters informed. In such a small community, it'd be a lot easier."
"We'd need an administrator to deal with the day-to-day stuff, but for major choices, a true democracy could work," I agreed. "Like I said, that's the kind of thing we'll need to hammer out as a group."
"That's the stickiest one that I can see," I nodded. "Cost of living is going to be high since we have to import everything. As far as who gets paid what and where that money comes from, that's something that we'll need to work out later. The folks who help pay for the startup should get some sort of compensation for that, for instance." I took a breath and continued, "I freely admit that I haven't thought everything through. I've been more focused on discovering what kind of turnout is possible. I know there is more work to be done. At the moment, the main focus is getting a group together who is actually willing to do this. THEN we can figure out the minutiae."
"I'd hardly call money and government trivial, but I take your point," Harm said dryly.
Three of us at the table felt an Immortal approach. It took a moment to sort through the three other Immortal Buzzes I was already immersed in to identify Aaron. I was also the one facing the door to the hotel, so I saw him exit and look around.
Waving my hand to get his attention, I said to everyone at the table, "It's Aaron." Rich and Duncan immediately relaxed. Harm looked over toward the approaching Aaron calmly.
For his part, Aaron pulled a chair from a nearby table and joined us. "Hey, guys. I'm glad I caught all four of you together. Terry and I would like to take the family to dinner. We know of someplace here in town that can handle all of us with our various dietary needs. I've also managed to find a special treat for those of us with normal appetites."
"Should I ask?" Duncan asked tentatively.
"It'll be a surprise," Aaron smiled. "Dress is casual. Everyone meet at the lobby at three?"
Everyone nodded agreeably. Having delivered his message, I expected Aaron to head back into the hotel to tell Nat and Nick about dinner, but instead he leaned back in his chair and gazed around at the reasonably crowded pool and bar area. While we'd been talking, the pool, outdoor bar, and patio area had slowly filled with couples and single men and women. It wasn't yet crowded, but Las Vegas's famed nightlife was clearly gearing up.
His scanning eyes stopped at a point over my shoulder and a slight smile made it to his face. "Some fine looking women there, gents."
"Aye, that they are," Mac agreed with a small smile as he was also looking that way. Harm only nodded his agreement.
I turned to see what had caught their attention and saw that they were looking at the four women in the hot tub. A slim brunette with laughing brown eyes wearing a lime green bikini; a black-haired, fashion-model sexy vision in an electric blue swimsuit; a tiny, dark-haired oriental woman wearing a cherry red material against her dark skin; and lastly the emerald green bikini top of the woman with her back to us was just visible around a mid-back length spray of brick-red hair.
The four were, of course, our wives and lovers.
"What I wouldn't give to be simmering in there with them," commented a voice at the next table.
All five of us turned. Two men were cradling beers and looking in the same direction as we were. They were both well-dressed, apparently enjoying Las Vegas and looking for some company. One, apparently the one who had just spoken, had a small grin on his face. His companion nodded in accord.
I turned back to look at the women and bit my lip to keep from laughing. Those two couldn't have any idea who they were. They'd taken their table long after we had seated ourselves.
Since I was looking in that direction, I saw Korin's eyes flick up to us for a split second before focusing her attention back to whatever Jen was saying to her. Once Jen finished, all three of the other women laughed lightly for a moment. Korin said something, causing Diane to blush.
Hoa looked over at our table and gave Rich a coy smile and wink. Rich smiled.
"She likes you, man," commented Guy One.
"I could only be so lucky," Rich said wistfully.
"Go for it. Go on over there —" Guy Two broke off his urging when Korin gracefully stood and stepped out of the hot tub. Diane threw a quick glance at our table before saying something to Korin. Korin answered calmly, causing smiles. She picked up her towel and started drying herself off, running the towel down one shapely leg after another and giving us the full view of her well-toned body. Hoa threw another flirtatious glance our way.
Finally dry, Korin casually draped the towel around her shoulders and turned resolutely toward our table. She walked over in what could only be described as a saunter. She stopped at our table and looked all five us over very carefully.
Nobody said a word. I guessed she was going for the shock value, and I know it was certainly working on me. After appraising each of us, she started speaking, letting her natural French accent show much more than she usually did. "My friends and I were noticing you gentlemen. Perhaps one of you could help me?"
Guy One and Guy Two nearly fell over each other offering to help her in any way that they could.
Without moving or even speaking loudly, Mac said something in French.
Korin's face lit up. Answering his comment with more French, she slowly circled the table until she was standing behind him. He didn't turn in his seat but kept up what I could only assume was a conversation. Once behind him, she casually rested one hand on his shoulder and leaned over to whisper into his ear. Whatever she said caused him to cock his head in thought for a moment. Finally nodding in assent, he stood and gallantly offered her his arm. Demurely slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow, she allowed him to lead her back into the hotel.
I chanced a glance at our audience. They were both staring at the retreating backs in stupefied disbelief. I didn't dare look at any of the guys at my own table.
"Some people have all the luck," Aaron commented, watching Duncan and Korin.
As if she'd heard, Diane stood from the hot tub. Gathering her towel, she delicately blotted herself dry, ending with slowly drying her neck. Never once did her gaze stray from our two tables. Draping the towel over one shoulder so that it was covering half of her lime green bikini top, she slowly stalked over to our two tables. She circled around both tables, clearly sizing up each of the remaining six men.
We all kept our eyes riveted on her. She finally stopped next to Harm's chair and squatted down so her head was just below his shoulder level. One hand came up and she lightly ran a fingernail over Harm's bare chest.
He didn't move, keeping his gaze locked onto her eyes.
Her eyes strayed from what her hand was doing and met his smoldering stare. Her hand stilled for a moment before it moved again and came to rest over the back of one of his hands. She gently pulled him upright and toward the door to the hotel.
Neither of them had spoken a single word.
Eyes still on the newest pair of retreating backs, Rich cleared his throat and asked in a rasping voice, "Ryan?"
I swallowed dryly and managed, "Yeah?"
"Do you like oriental women?" He kept his voice low enough that the guys at the next table could hear it, but it wouldn't carry as far as the hot tub. If it weren't for vampiric hearing, that is.
I cleared my throat and turned to him. "Yes," I answered, "but I'm also partial to redheads."
Hoa and Jen, meanwhile, were climbing out of the hot tub. They stood next to the chairs where their towels had been sitting and languidly dried themselves off. Hoa kept looking over at us and smiling flirtatiously at Rich. Jen had managed to keep her back to us, only turning enough to reach around in order to dry her back. Even then, her long, thick hair hid her face entirely. She finally gathered her hair in one hand to drape it over one shoulder, allowing her to dry the back of her neck.
So it was a complete shock to the guys at the next table when Jen turned around, revealing the fact that she was not only a redhead but also clearly of partial oriental descent.
"No way," Guy Two breathed.
The two women walked side by side straight toward us, parting ways only when they reached our table. Hoa rounded the table and stopped right next to Rich. Twisting his chair around slightly, she gave herself enough space and immediately threw one leg over his lap. Settling herself down, she leaned into him and started kissing him passionately.
I only noticed her actions peripherally, though. Jen was walking around the table toward me, eyes smiling in a definitely predatory manner. She cocked on hip casually onto the table right next to my arm and looked me up and down for a moment before saying, seemingly to herself, "Yes, you'll do nicely."
"What will I be doing nicely?" I asked hoarsely, keeping my attention locked on her face. It definitely wasn't safe for me to look anywhere else right then.
She slowly leaned forward until one hand came out to balance herself against my knee. Bringing her mouth next to one ear, she spoke just loudly enough that Aaron and the two audience members could hear, "We have hours. I'm sure we can think of all sorts of things to do with ourselves." Slowly straightening back up, she captured my wrist with one hand and slowly pulled my unresisting self along toward the hotel. Hoa and Rich were already disappearing through the door by the time I was standing up.
I didn't dare turn to see the reactions of the two guys to our various exits.
"That was fun," Hoa said cheerfully, swinging into the barstool next to mine. It was still a bit before three and Jen and I were waiting for the rest of the family in the bar.
"That was evil," I corrected, grinning at her widely. I blinked and let a frown form. "Assuming you're talking about what you four did to those two poor guys. If you're talking about what you and Rich might have gotten up to in the meantime, I don't want to hear it."
Hoa waved the bartender off and leaned her elbow onto the bar top. Resting her head on her hand, she let her hair hang down around her propping arm. She just grinned at me, refusing to answer my comment.
I didn't even have to turn to see it. I just knew Jen was rolling her eyes as she muttered, "Men!"
Hoa's smile got a touch wider.
"Rich on his way?" Jen asked.
Hoa nodded. "Are we the first ones here?"
"Yep," I answered. Checking my watch, I added, "We still have ten minutes before we need to be in the lobby."
Hoa nodded and opened her mouth but then closed it again immediately. I turned in my stool when I felt a presence at my back.
A man who was too perfectly groomed to be quite believable kept alternating his attention from one of the women to another. Eyes stopping on me momentarily, he said, "Share the wealth, pal."
I blinked at him. "I beg your pardon."
Eyes doing one more circuit, he asked me, "Which one is yours?"
I felt Jen stiffen behind me. Hoa's smile tightened up just a little bit.
Finally seeing what he was implying, I turned around completely to face him. "Unless I'm very much mistaken, slavery has been illegal in this country for quite some time. Therefore neither of them is 'mine'."
A slight frown was his only visible reaction. "You know what I mean."
Curious to see what the girls' reactions would be, I merely moved my left hand down to rest on Jen's knee.
He nodded and stepped sideways so he was standing half behind Hoa. One hand came out to lightly trace along her arm. "How much are you worth, honey?"
Quick as a striking snake, Hoa's hand clamped over his offending wrist and pulled it a few inches away from her arm and twisted it enough to cause the man to pale. Coldly, she said, "If this hand touches me again, I'm going to keep it and use it as a paperweight. If you ever again imply that I'm for sale, I'll rip your spleen out through your nose and force feed it back to you." I could see her tighten her grip slightly, causing the remaining blood in the man's face to drain away. Hoa shoved him away, causing him to stumble and grab his numb arm. "Now go away before I get angry."
Glaring at me for a moment in a combination of shock and anger, the guy turned and silently left the bar, still holding his wrist.
"Why the hell do bores like that keep thinking we're available?" Hoa asked in a huff.
"Two stunningly good looking women, in a bar, in Las Vegas, at three in the morning, sitting with one man?"
Hoa made a sound of disgust, but she didn't comment directly.
Rich chose that exact moment to come into the bar. Scanning around for a moment, he came over and sat at the barstool on Hoa's other side. She snuggled up to him so thoroughly that she nearly ended up in his lap.
He looked down at her in mild surprise. Glancing up at my amused grin, he asked, "Not that I'm complaining, but what's up?"
"She's marking herself as taken," I answered.
"What?" Rich asked in confusion as Hoa glared at me and Jen smacked me on the shoulder.
Chuckling, I stood and waved everyone toward the lobby. "She can explain it. We'd better go; it's almost three."
To the girls' annoyance, Rich had the same reaction to the story that I did: amusement. He was still chuckling and the girls were muttering to themselves as we joined the other four couples near the doors leading to Las Vegas's infamous "Strip".
"What's so funny, Richie?" Duncan asked.
"Hoa's reaction when she was mistaken for a prostitute."
All six guys smiled. Of the six girls, only Terry didn't frown.
"Face it," Aaron said to them. "This IS Las Vegas and all of you ladies are extremely good looking. A fact which you four certainly put to good use a few hours ago."
"What?" Natalie asked in confusion.
Aaron repeated the story of what had happened as he led us outside and down the neon lit street. By the time he was relating Jen's and my exit, everyone was laughing. "You should've seen their faces. Here they were, thinking they were such hot stuff and you four dismissed them so thoroughly. Took them down a peg or two, I assure you."
We continued to walk down the Strip in companiable silence. There was certainly entertainment enough around us. The flashing neon signs, drunken singers, one or two street performers, the list of entertainments went on.
I nearly stopped in shock at the sight of an elderly man in an impeccable white tux walking arm in arm with a teenaged model wearing an iridescent rainbow string bikini. I was still shaking my head over that when Korin started mumbling.
"What's wrong?" Mac asked.
"All these people. This place is too crowded."
"It IS tourist season," Harm mentioned.
"Is it?" Terry asked with a bright smile. "What's the bag limit?"
All the vampires chuckled. The Immortals grinned, but it was more restrained for us. Our views on hunting were somewhat different, of course.
We'd made it another block and regained our relaxed atmosphere when Terry started laughing. I could see Aaron cock his head at her in a clear question. Still laughing, she shook her head, pointing up at a huge marquee. Looking up, all of us read that there was going to be a professional wrestling match in a couple weeks between "The Exsanguinator" and "The Usurper".
Harm said, "Exsanguination is to drain of blood, if I'm not mistaken." Nat, Duncan, and Jen nodded. Harm continued cautiously, "You don't think that this wrestler really could be . . ." He trailed off, looking around at all of us.
Terry waved that off. "No, the Enforcers wouldn't let something that blatant happen. I was more amused by the . . . ostentatiousness of the names. One of these days, someone's going to screw up and take a professional name of Fornicator."
We all smiled. Someone suggested, "Abdicator."
This only set off a series of ridiculous professional names.
This last one caused us all to explode into laughter.
Chuckling along with the rest of us, Terry stopped and waved us toward a shadowed doorway. Instead of a garish neon sign like most of the other places had, this door was only marked with a single word in softly glowing violet script, "Eyrie".
Aaron held the door for Terry, entering without hesitation. Nick escorted a hesitant looking Nat in next. The remaining eight of us looked from one to another in trepidation. The dark doorway amidst all this cheerful lighting looked very forbidding.
After only a few more seconds of delay, Duncan silently led the rest of us through the doorway.
We emerged into what was clearly a bar. Multiple doorways led off in all directions, none of which were marked. The lighting of the room was very uneven. The center of the room was at almost a normal lighting level, illuminating a cluster of tables at which thirty or so people were sitting. Surprisingly, only four of them were male. The rest of the roughly hundred people in the place were lurking in the deeper shadows along the walls.
A long bar along one side of the room had a single bartender standing behind it. He was paused in the act of wiping down the bar, his attention diverted to us. The dim lighting just illuminated an intricate tattoo of an Eastern style dragon that started on his left cheek and curved around behind one ear and ended on the top of his shaved head. There were surprisingly few bottles in view behind the bar.
The room was also supernaturally quiet. Every face in the place was aimed at us, most expressing interest, a few showing naked hunger.
Even as I was tensing up, I felt every Immortal Buzz save one showing immediate signs of stress. Through my tense attention, I noticed all six vampires in our group were slowly maneuvering themselves to stand between the Immortals and the rest of the bar.
"Theresa!" called one of the women in the center of the room. She stood and started advancing on us, smiling slightly.
"Rhiannon," Terry greeted her with a deferential nod. "Allow me to present my family plus guest and our chosen mates."
Rhiannon's gaze flicked from one face to another, pausing slightly longer on the vampires.
Once she returned her attention to Terry she said, "I was surprised to get your message, Theresa. Now I understand some of the more unusual parts of it. Come, I've a room reserved for you." She sounded friendly enough, with a light English accent. She turned and summoned a petite, blond waitress who'd been leaning against the bar. The waitress came forward, bowed to Terry, and gestured us toward one of the doors.
Following the silent invitation, Terry tossed over her shoulder, "Rhiannon is the Mistress of Las Vegas and an old friend of mine."
"Indeed," Rhiannon agreed. She smiled at each of the Immortals and stated loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear, "You have nothing to fear here."
The tension slowly lowered as the two senior vampires in the room made it clear that we were not to be touched.
We followed our silent waitress down a short hallway and into a room with a large table and twelve chairs. Each place had an empty water glass, but nothing else in front of it. Following Aaron's lead, all the men helped their significant others into their chairs before seating ourselves.
Once we were all sitting, Rhiannon looked from one vampire to another before stopping her gaze at Terry. Slowly shaking her head with a smile, she said, "Still have your fascination with mortals, I see. You have even somehow managed to pass that on to your offspring."
Terry merely smiled, not correcting Rhiannon's incorrect assumption regarding the mortality of anyone in the room.
Not getting any further reaction from Terry, Rhiannon shrugged and turned to the waitress. "MacNair, these people are honored guests. See that they are treated accordingly."
"Yes, Mistress," she answered calmly.
Giving us one last smile, Rhiannon left.
"If any of you would like something to drink before dinner is served, please let me know and I shall fetch it from Dragon. Otherwise, dinner will be served momentarily." She looked around the room for a few seconds, waiting to see if anyone would take her up on that offer. When nobody did, she nodded sharply and left the room, quietly closing the door behind her.
"Okay, this place is just eerie," Diane deadpanned after several seconds of silence.
The three oldest people in the room smiled. The rest of us chuckled nervously.
Aaron calmly stood and retrieved the pitcher of ice water from the middle of the table and started filling the glasses of the Immortals. "Rhiannon is an old friend of Terry's. Once we heard we were going to be here, we arranged a dinner."
"Uh, Aaron," Rich leaned forward, "if this is a vampire bar, will they even know HOW to fix dinner?"
"Probably not," Terry calmly answered. "Rhi will have hired a mortal for the evening. Many of the older of us have human retainers, so this isn't a problem."
"This world will take some getting used to," Duncan muttered.
"Indeed, but that isn't the topic of tonight's conversation."
"Then what is tonight's topic?" Hoa asked.
"How vampires will fit into this town Ryan's trying to organize," Aaron answered.
Before anyone could get another word out, we heard a knock on the door followed immediately by it opening.
MacNair entered but stopped immediately inside the doorway. She addressed herself to Terry, "Ma'am, I understand that you are all honored guests, but I must ask. How freely and directly may I speak?"
"They are our mates. They know what we are and are comfortable with it," Terry answered easily.
MacNair nodded. "I have several pitchers of warmed blood ready. If any of you would like it chilled, please let me know. We also have a small supply of virgin blood if that is more to your liking." She looked around, catching the eye of each vampire.
As she looked at them, they whispered some variation of, "Warmed regular is fine," with the exception of Nick. He grimaced slightly and shook his head. MacNair cocked her head, but didn't say anything.
"Non-sapient?" Nick asked quietly.
MacNair blinked once, apparently in surprise. "Bovine?" she asked back after a moment.
At Nick's nod, she exited the room. She came back in immediately with a large serving tray balancing two pitchers of what I assumed was warmed blood and five goblets. She placed the tray onto a caddy next to the table and poured a goblet full of blood and placed it in front of Terry, taking the unused water glass away. She repeated the steps for Harm, giving him a flirtatious wink in the process. This of course elicited a frown from Diane. After serving Jen, Korin, and Hoa, she placed the still full pitcher into the middle of the table. She exited, only to return a minute later with a goblet that she placed in front of Nick. Next, she brought a large serving pan in and placed it onto the middle of the table. Next came two bread baskets, then a plate and a set of silverware wrapped in a heavy cloth napkin appeared in front of each Immortal.
Once done, MacNair quietly left, closing the door again.
"She serves the vampires but just drops our food off," I commented, standing to serve. "That just seems downright unfair," I finished facetiously.
"Such are the rules of our society, Ryan," Nick commented, taking a sip of his dinner.
I lifted the lid of the serving pan, wondering what Aaron and Terry had arranged. I was shocked to find myself staring at a delicious looking lasagna. Diane uncovered one of the breadbaskets. The room immediately filled with the scent of fresh garlic bread. The truly amazing thing was that all the vampires in the room were still calm.
I looked over at Aaron in shock. He was smiling at my reaction. "There is a very rare form of garlic that tastes like regular garlic but does not have the same effect on vampires. I secured some and had a lasagna meal made out of it as a treat for those of us who don't get any garlic in our diets any longer." The other Immortals in the room were smiling at him by this point.
"Still," Terry cautioned, "I would suggest we don't feed from our mates for at least forty-eight hours. While the odor does not affect us, the taste still does. That said, dig in!"
I laughed and grabbed the serving spatula. Cutting generous helpings, I rapidly had the six plates full, and the Immortals were indeed digging in.
"Wonderful idea, Aaron," Diane said some time later as she leaned back and dropped her napkin on top of her again-empty plate.
"Almost as good as your lasagna, Hoa," I said teasingly, also just finished.
Hoa laughed as Jen looked at me strangely. Rich explained, "Before you brought her across, Hoa made some of the best lasagna this side of Rome."
Aaron converted a bark of laughter into a cough. I grinned as I remembered that he was originally a Roman. A real one.
Rich apparently remembered, too. "You know what I mean," he said, grinning at Aaron. Most everyone at the table chuckled.
"Before the food arrived, you were saying something about the real reason for us being here?" I asked Aaron.
"Yes. I was asking about how the vampires would fit into the town."
"Other than some lifestyle differences between us and the other inhabitants, plus needing to secure a blood supply, I don't see any problems."
He shook his head. "What if one of the Immortals notices that Terry isn't aging but doesn't have an Immortal Buzz?"
I sighed. "Jen pointed that out a while ago, too. I don't have an easy answer for you. I'm hoping that either nobody will notice, or if they do notice then they won't say anything."
"What happens if they DO say something?" Diane asked.
I grimaced. "That's a question best asked of Terry and Nick. As the two eldest vampires that I'm aware of, you two will have the hardest decisions to make regarding your little Community."
"Thanks," Nick dryly answered.
"Would you rather I lied to you?" I asked. "Personally, I think we should tell the truth to anybody who notices. That, however, isn't really my call. It's yours."
At five the next evening, I walked into the Coliseum Meeting Room and looked around. The room was huge. One side of the room contained a buffet line with hotel workers still setting things up. No food was present yet. A small stage and podium was at the far end of the room, and a bar was at the near corner, across from the buffet. The remainder of the space was taken up with thirty round tables, some small, some much larger.
"Nervous?" Aaron asked me quietly from where he'd followed me into the room.
"Terrified," I answered hoarsely, staring at the podium.
"You can do this," he assured me. "You're the one that had the idea. You can present it better than anyone else. The fact that so many are showing up proves that it has a receptive audience."
Swallowing dryly, I asked, "How many?"
"A hundred and thirty-nine confirmed. According to Joe, all of them plus a few are in town."
"A hundred thirty-nine Immortals?"
He shook his head and I felt a little better. "No, fifteen are mortal, and ten vampires."
Oh, that made me feel SO much better.
My expression probably echoed my thoughts, because Aaron grinned at me.
One of the hotel caterers came over and discreetly cleared his throat. When he knew he had our attention, he said, "Mister Grey, everything is proceeding well. Dinner will be served at six thirty as requested. One hundred and fifty, correct?"
Aaron nodded. "That might be a little high, but better safe than sorry." He paused a moment before going on, "Due to the confidentiality of the proceedings, I'm going to have to make a few unusual requests of you and your staff."
The man gave Aaron a slight smile. "We take our confidentiality issues seriously, Mister Constantine." Before Aaron or I could be more than surprised at the change of address, he discreetly pulled up the cuff of his left sleeve to show us a blue tattoo.
Aaron groaned. "I should have known."
The Watcher's smile grew just a fraction. "I'm the only Watcher among the caterers, though. You're aware that several Watchers will be here as guests?"
We nodded. I knew Joe Dawson was going to have a tape recorder going, and there was probably a camera catching all the faces coming into the room, but Joe swore up and down that the Watchers were laying on the security thick and heavy.
"Any specific orders, Mister Grey?"
"We'll be providing the security," Aaron got back to the planning. "Please have all of your people assembled right here in ten minutes so Miss Ryan and Mister Knight know who they are. After you set out the dessert, please have everyone leave. What we're going to discuss won't be for the ears of most mortals. No telling how long we'll be, so don't bother to come for the cleanup tonight. Is the other room being prepared?"
I looked at Aaron. What other room?
He nodded. "Twenty-three starting at eight, correct?"
"Two of which are children," Aaron confirmed.
What in the world were they talking about?
Nodding, the Watcher — caterer turned on his heel and started gathering his troops.
"What idea have you hatched, Aaron?" I asked as most of the vampires in the family came in and started looking around the room. They were the security for the night, and they were serious about their duty.
Aaron smiled at me. "Some of the Watchers you invited. Just a friendly surprise for some of our guests. Terry is letting them know to stick around afterwards. Nothing for you to be concerned with, so don't worry about it."
I rolled my eyes at him but decided to take his advice and ignore it. I had enough to worry about as it was.
I watched idly as the caterers were introduced to Terry and Nick as the senior "security".
Everyone already knew the rules of behavior for the night. Terry would be manning the reception desk and would check the given names against her master list. If it was someone she knew, she'd allow them past. If not, she would inquire who invited them and then get that person's acknowledgment before allowing anyone in. If an Immortal tried to force the issue without an invitation, then the vampires would quietly escort the gate crasher out. With a half dozen vampires running security, I had no concerns on that front.
"Nervous?" Mac asked me in amusement as I was sitting, drumming my fingers at a table near the entrance.
I looked at him in exasperation as he took a seat. "Why does everyone keep asking me that?"
"Maybe because you look worse now than I did on our wedding night," Rich volunteered as he took the next over from MacLeod.
I grimaced at him. "Ha, ha."
He shrugged. "It wasn't meant to be a joke. Seriously, are you okay?"
I let out a sigh. "I hope so. What if they don't like the idea? What if I blow the delivery so bad that I poison the idea? What if —" I stopped as Mac held up one hand.
"It's no use playing the 'What if' game, Ryan. We all think the idea has merit, which is why we're all here."
I took a slow, deep breath and nodded. "Yes, you're right. Now I just have to survive this evening without throwing up."
Rich laughed. "Good idea. I don't think that would impress the crowd."
It really shouldn't have surprised me how smoothly things went after that. Aaron had voluntarily taken over the role of the event coordinator, and everything went without a hitch. Unless, of course, you count the mild panic attacks almost every Immortal had upon entering the room and hitting so many Buzzes at once. Due to the large number of overlapping Buzzes, I also tried to tune it out of my consciousness as much as possible.
Knowing I'd not be able to eat anything, I drifted from table to table, visiting with everyone I knew. After all, nearly every Immortal that I was acquainted with was in the room.
Finally, the tables were cleared of empty plates and the desserts were put out onto the buffet tables. As the last people were making their way through the buffet line again, the mortal caterers quietly left. Terry shut the door and each vampire moved to the table that held their better half.
Taking one last breath, I headed toward the podium. It was time.
Standing up there, I immediately had everyone's attention.
Looking around, I saw every Immortal I knew and would willingly call friend.
Mulder and Scully were sitting with three red-heads whom I took to be Scully's mother, brother and sister plus a woman who looked vaguely familiar.
Harm and Diane were sitting with a older, distinguished man.
Aaron and Terry were sitting with Marcus Constantine, two other men, and a woman.
Rich and Hoa were sitting at a table full of younger looking Immortals, none of whom I recognized.
Amanda and Nick Wolfe were sitting with Robert and Gina de Valicourt, plus three individuals I didn't recognize.
Nick and Nat were sitting with two women and two men. Only Nat's place had the remnants of food in front of it.
Duncan and Korin were sitting with Connor and Rachel Ellenstein. I was amused and unsurprised earlier to find Connor had been trying to charm Korin with Mac looking on in annoyance and Rachel in amusement.
Cassandra with another remarkably composed woman.
John, Ian, Amy, and Jessica. Mom, Dad, Rob, and Christi. Father Riley. Methos. And those were only the ones I recognized.
Everyone was actually here. The thought scared the shit out of me.
Swallowing on a dry throat, I silently prayed to whatever deities were really out there and opened my mouth to speak.
"First, I'd like to thank you all for coming. I think this idea has some serious possibilities, and the turnout here shows me that I'm not the only one that believes that.
"For those of you who don't know me, my name is Ryan Chessman. In case it matters to anybody, my initial teacher was Duncan MacLeod. Further, just so we all know where we stand: this room is on Holy Ground and everyone here either is Immortal, or at least knows about us." A slight wave of noise and shifting as everyone acknowledged these facts, unsurprising as most of it probably was.
"Okay, now why are we here? In the past year, someone came to you with a possible way to stop the Game. We're here to discuss that.
"My idea is to build a small city on Holy Ground. If enough Immortals were willing to live there, hopefully we could get the Game to stop.
"The side benefit of this is that with so many of us in one place, we could start one helluva historical consulting firm." Scattered chuckles sounded.
"I have a possible place lined up. The purpose tonight is twofold. First, talk it out among ourselves, looking for ideas. Second, to find out who would be interested in living in such a city.
"Looking among the Immortals in the room, we're actually a relatively young bunch. With a few notable exceptions," I added catching a few grins, Methos and Marcus Constantine among them. "The younger of us have the most to gain in terms of security and safety, but I'm hoping that the elders in the room will also see the benefits of what I'm proposing. Namely: stability of home and not having to live by the sword.
"I'm sure you all have questions. I'll answer what I can, but I'm afraid I can't answer some things until we have a confirmed population."
"Are you completely insane, or is this just a partial thing with you?" Methos asked casually.
I smiled slightly as a wave of nervous laughter spread around the room. I'd just dropped a huge bombshell on them, and everyone was still trying to grasp the idea. "I'm not even fifty yet. Please allow me the idealism of youth." More nervous chuckles.
"How will you protect this place from the world?" a young looking, black man asked from Rich's table.
"A level of isolation is the most immediate answer. Make it a little difficult to get to, and very few people will casually visit."
"That won't stop mortal hunters," the man persisted.
"Marc, we'd still be armed, and I'll bet nobody would attack a hundred armed Immortals if they thought about it," Rich answered.
"Where is this place you've lined up?" Marcus Constantine asked.
"I'm afraid I can't answer that." A few angry mutterings quieted as I raised a hand. "Like most everyone else in the room, I'm paranoid to a degree. I'll only reveal the location to people once we have a committed group. We wouldn't be completely isolated from the world if that's what you're worried about."
"What's to stop someone from getting the information for their own purposes?" one of the women sitting with Gina de Valicourt asked.
I smiled grimly. "We're a little past the use of sodium pentothal, but there are other ways of learning the truth. Without resorting to torture, if anyone's worried."
"Is it legal?" one of the men at Constantine's table asked.
I shrugged as Duncan MacLeod answered with a grin, "A great deal of what Immortals do doesn't technically qualify as legal, Matthew."
"Who all would be invited to live there?" one of the men sitting with Nick asked.
"Everyone in the room," I answered, catching his eye so that he knew what I meant. When he nodded fractionally, I continued, "Immortals and any others who want to join us and we can vouch for. It wouldn't do to let any random mortal join us, so we'll have to figure out a way to keep uninvited folks from buying homes there."
"Gated community?" another Immortal at Rich's table threw out.
"Good idea, Nathan," Rich agreed.
"What would we do?"
"Anything we wanted," I shrugged. "As I said, a historical consulting company is obvious. Translators and authenticators for museums and collectors. Contract artisans of all shades. There are at least four medical doctors in the room plus two nurses, so medical research is a possibility. At least one professional writer is here with us. Musicians, teachers, you name it. Plus there is a statistically high number of antique dealers in the room," I added ironically. "Lastly, if Father Riley is there," I indicated him in the audience, "or any other clergy, then we'd have a non-denominational place of worship."
"Despite being a relatively young crowd, more than one person in the room predates Abraham, Muhammad, and Jesus of Nazareth. I personally am not completely sure know who or what to worship. If we want to keep from pissing off everyone, it must be non-denominational." I saw more than a few frowns in the crowd, but several nods and most especially Father Riley's agreement made me feel better about what I'd just said. "Listen, I'm going to work hard to make this place as tolerant as possible. Religious, sexual preference, racial, you name it. If you want to have a different partner for every day of the week, that's fine with me. Just so long as you don't start infringing on other people's rights, anything you do is your business."
"How will you keep the peace?"
"There are at least four current law enforcement officers in the room plus many more who were cops in previous professions."
"Fine, but that's not what I was getting at. How will you prevent someone using this town as sanctuary while they hunt?"
I grimaced. "The only way I can see of preventing that is to set up the laws to be pretty strict on that count. Overall, the laws we'd live under can be decided once we're there."
"You seriously expect us to live under your tyrannical rule, cut off from the world?" someone asked incredulously.
"First, it wouldn't necessarily be mine to rule. I'd hope we'd hold elections once we're there. Second, we wouldn't be cut off from the world, merely hard to get to."
"What's the difference?" he asked sullenly.
"Look, if this place was one of the suburbs of New York City, it'd be way too easy for us to be invaded by hunters working together. We'd also be much more vulnerable to people noticing we don't age. I'm trying to get us far enough from others that nobody will notice and force anyone to move every ten years."
"What if we wanted to leave?"
I shrugged. "Then you leave. I would only ask that you not reveal the location of this town to anyone."
"Ask?" he repeated sarcastically.
Who the hell is this asshole? "Yes, ask," I nearly growled. "Very insistently. Before you ask the next obvious question, yes, I probably would try to kill you if it meant protecting the town. Incidentally that includes my wife and a lot of my friends."
"All these restrictions you're placing on us are designed to protect us, yes?" asked another voice, this one much calmer.
I nearly snapped out the obvious answer before his eventual point became clear. While what I was doing was aimed for the protection of us all, I suddenly realized that the methods smacked of a totalitarian regime. I nearly winced as it occurred to me what I was proposing without having thought it all the way through. We all knew what good intentions paved the way toward.
My shoulders started to slump. I'd already lost this cause. I still thought it was a good cause, but getting it accomplished would defeat the initial purpose.
Duncan appeared beside me and placed one hand on my shoulder. "You gave it a good try, Ryan. They just aren't ready for it," he quietly consoled me.
Keeping my eyes down, I nodded. He gently pushed me to the side and toward the seat beside Jen. I expected the room to start clearing as I heavily sat down. Through the shocked and defeated haze surrounding my mind, I wondered how much I had harmed the reputations of Aaron, Duncan, and Rich with this fiasco.
It took a few minutes of self-recrimination before I realized that not only wasn't the room clearing, but Mac was still behind the podium.
" . . . so a few of us have another proposal. We will build an exclusive resort on Holy Ground. Immortals can come and go as they wish, staying months at a time if they want to. This isn't as good as a permanent town, but it gives us all a place to escape the Game if we need it."
"One of the Bahaman Islands was originally colonized by the Spanish. The first thing they did upon landing was to consecrate the land. I intend to approach the Bahaman government and offer to buy the island."
"You're going to turn this place into a beach resort for Immortals?" I didn't recognize the voice, but the note of incredulity wasn't tough to distinguish.
Mac smiled slightly. "I'm just over four hundred. Please allow me the idealism of youth." General laughter came from the audience, and I spotted Connor mark a point for Duncan in the air. "Seriously," Mac continued, "we're planning on building an ultra-exclusive, discreet resort. The kind of place movie stars and millionaires go to get away from the world for a while. High staff, few guests, high security."
"Then how will WE afford to stay there?" Rich asked pointedly. It was clearly a leading question. Neither he nor Hoa looked the least bit concerned, though several of his table-mates did.
As Mac was explaining how people could work there if they wanted to stay for a time and not have to pay, I turned to Jen, shaking off my depressed mood. She also didn't appear to be surprised at this turn of events. "How long have you guys been planning this?" I asked her quietly.
"Almost from the beginning. Your idea was good, Ryan, but none of us thought it would work. Immortals living together indefinitely sounds good in the abstract, but everyone had concerns about the long term. You're all too damn individualistic and reclusive. Plus having us there," she subtly indicated the vampires around the room, "isn't something that Uncle Nick or Grandma Terry thought was a good idea. So we came up with this alternative plan if it appeared that the original idea was going to fall through. It's not a permanent answer to your idea of stopping the Game, but it's better than anything else out there right now." She grinned. "Besides, financially it could even show a profit."
Mac was winding up his presentation, "With this plan, there is no need for anyone to decide anything right now. It'll be some time before we're ready for our next steps. If anyone decides they want more information, want to help finance this resort, or want to help with the actual construction, please feel free to contact me."
Sitting under the hanging sign proclaiming "Haven Main Lodge", I watched the sun sinking below the horizon. Once the sun disappeared, the resident vampires could come out and join us. The other Immortals and mortals on staff were still inside, finishing their dinner.
"We actually did it," Rich remarked in wonder.
"Yes, we did," Nat agreed, coming outside with a handful of drinks.
It was just over three years since that day in Las Vegas. Haven Corporation had bought Isla de los Dios from the Bahaman government and built the resort that Duncan had described. A small number of bungalows for the guests and the main lodge for everything else we needed, the island was as close to a habitable paradise as anyone could possibly imagine. It even had the price tag to prove it.
I raised my bottle to Natalie and Rich. "To Haven. I don't know if it's going to work, but it's gonna be fun to find out."