Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
The green side along the side of the highway finally got close enough to read.
Las Vegas - 50 miles
I rolled my head around for a couple seconds, trying to release the muscle tension and general tightness that was building up. After two or three rotations, I was rewarded with a short series of satisfying pops. Driving long distances always developed tension in my neck and the middle of my back. For the past year and a half, though, I'd had the option of pulling over and letting Andrea take a turn.
But I didn't have that option anymore. Andrea had been killed a couple weeks ago, a target of an Immortal that killed her for the simple reason that she was a Watcher.
I sighed sadly. It'd been tough, (and it still was) but I was coming to grips with her loss.
Meanwhile, I was traveling some. I'd left Seacouver over a week ago, traveling down the coast. The San Diego Zoo had been fun. The handprints in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles were neat. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was something of a disappointment, though. It was just . . . a bridge. I don't know what I was really expecting, I guess.
After seeing the only places on that coast I had ever been interested in seeing, I headed inland. Vegas was going to be my first stop on my gradual drift eastward.
Pulling into a rest stop five minutes later, I got out to stretch. The visitor's center there had most of the information I needed. Brochures on all the major hotels and several maps of town were stacked neatly in a wire rack. Looking through the brochures, I picked several hotel casinos that would work. Pulling out my calling card, I walked over to one of the public phones to see who had a room available.
I hated lines. I always have, and I probably always will.
Unfortunately, I was in one now.
I was part of a long line winding its way through the Excalibur. We were all in line for the late showing of their version of a floorshow, featuring jousting knights and sword fights. At the very least, I figured it'd be entertaining.
At my current skill level, I had already done all the gambling I was willing to do. More to the point, I had already blown all the money I had earmarked for that purpose. I'd spent all morning walking up and down the "Strip" as the street was informally called. I watched erupting volcanoes and pirate attacks, saw roller coasters and Roman statues. If nothing else, just walking around Las Vegas was entertaining.
I looked idly at the slot machines as we slowly shuffled past. I never could understand the popularity of those things. Feed it money, pull the handle, and hope it decides to give you money back. I snorted to myself. Of course, it'd probably take me longer to lose money on one of those nickel slots than I did yesterday afternoon at the blackjack tables. Oh, well. Everyone's idea of entertainment was different.
The line continued its slow crawl forward and I finally reached the door to the arena. And a Buzz hit me. I nearly growled in frustration. Great. Just what I needed tonight.
I frowned in concentration for a moment, trying to gauge the Immortal that I was approaching. I relaxed immediately, though. Whoever it was, they were very young. Less than ten years Immortal, and only a few head's worth of power. This person wasn't likely to try to hunt me down.
The guy behind me nudged me discreetly and I realized that I had stopped the line. Blushing, I showed my ticket to the person standing just outside the door. As he gave me directions to my seat, I distractedly listened as my eyes scanned the room, trying to spot the source of my unease. It was a pointless exercise. There were hundreds of people already sitting here and more coming in. I sighed and gave up. Besides, nobody would be so insane as to issue a Challenge in the middle of a crowd like this.
Shaking off the concern, I located my seat and took it. To kill the time before the show started up, I casually looked around. The oval arena covered in sand was clearly the center of action. One end had large doors, presumably for the horses. A dozen or so tiers of seats came up from near floor level. The ceiling had the usual collection of spotlights and cabling you'd expect. Hung over each section of seats was a banner with the name of a region I vaguely recognized as Brittanic or French: Nottingham, Normandy, and so on. Each banner was done in differing colors and styles. I could only assume that they were done in the color scheme of the home territories that they represented.
My gaze idly flicked over the crowd. Rather more families here than I would have expected for Las Vegas, but then I remembered that the casino owners had been trying to increase the family trade. As I glanced around, I saw one couple who caught my eye. Sitting two rows down and about a dozen seats over, she looked like a relatively short auburn haired lady and he was an average height medium blonde. What caught my eye was that she was looking around continuously, looking tense. He just looked concerned. She was also wearing a trench coat. I almost smiled to myself before forcing my eyes to continue the casual scan of the crowd. I believed I'd found the other Immortal in the room, but how to test it?
Leaning back comfortably in my chair, I fixed my eyes on the opposite wall, just keeping the woman in my peripheral vision. Calling on the training Cassandra had given me two years previously, I cloaked my aura. The unknown woman immediately relaxed and leaned over to say something to her companion. After about ten seconds, I let my aura resume its natural strength. She tensed up again immediately. Yep, she was Immortal.
The waitress (excuse me, serving wench to fit in with the motif) came over to take my drink order.
I smiled at her. "Would it be possible to change seats? I just saw a friend that I haven't seen in quite a while and was wondering if I could sit by her."
The server thought it over for a few moments. "Where is she?"
She glanced over before turning back to me. "If the seat next to her remains empty, then I'll ask her. Who should I say wants to sit by her?"
"Just tell her I'm an old friend. I'd like to surprise her." I casually pulled a couple bills out of my wallet and dropped them onto her serving tray. I hoped she would take my gesture as a wish for relative anonymity.
"Sure," she shrugged before moving off.
The flow of people trickled off within five minutes, leaving the place about three quarters full. The server leaning over the woman's shoulder, saying something I couldn't catch from my seat. The brunette visibly tensed up even further at the conversation. The server pointed me out, and both of them looked over at me. I gave them a smile that I hoped was non-threatening. The woman appeared to give it a moment's thought then nodded. I took that as my cue and stood up. Walking over to them, I casually took off my jacket and hung it over the chair next to the Immortal. Two pair of eyes tracked the movement; two eyebrows rose. They clearly recognized that I had effectively disarmed myself. I smiled at the server who was still hovering nearby. I was tempted to ask for a tankard of ale, just to see everyone's reaction, but settled for a Killian's before taking my seat.
Once she moved off, I stuck out my hand. "Ryan Chessman."
She cautiously shook it. "I'm Natalie Lambert, and this is Nick Knight." She indicated her companion with a tilt of her head.
I smiled at her. "Don't worry. I'm no older than you are."
Both her eyebrows became lost high on her forehead at that comment. The server returned with my drink, and I dropped a ten on her tray with a thank you. I turned to the couple beside me. "Can I get either of you anything?"
She slowly shook her head, never taking her eyes off me. I noticed that Knight's posture was slowly relaxing, but his attention never wavered either. Seeing no more business here, the server continued her rounds.
"How do you know how old Nat is?" Knight asked.
I thought about it for a second. "Call it a special skill."
Hesitantly, she said, "What do you want?"
I shook my head. "Nothing. I just wanted to announce myself to you. This way, we can both relax some."
She looked almost amused. "Oh, and how can I relax? You're a totally unknown Immortal, who spotted me with apparently no trouble. That makes me concerned."
Good, she mentioned Immortals, and he didn't react. He knows about us. That solved several problems. In answer to her comment, I indicated my coat. "I disarmed myself. If that doesn't prove I'm harmless, what do you want me to do to prove it?" I paused and said sarcastically, "What, you want to run a background check and frisk me too?"
She seemed to think that over for a moment as Knight asked, "And how do you know that you can relax around us? From what I understand about the Rules, that's almost naively trusting." Lambert gave her companion a glare but didn't say anything.
I sighed at the question. "Look, you can either trust me or not. If not, I'll go back to my seat now. But I think we could be friends if you're willing to give it a try."
She slowly relaxed, but he wasn't letting it go. "How do you know you can trust us?" he repeated.
I rolled my eyes. "She has less than ten years as an Immortal. She's taken probably two or three heads. With those two facts, it's unlikely that she's a hunter." I raised a hand. "And before you ask how you can trust me, I realize I can't prove it to you. I can tell you that I'm only two years Immortal myself, that I've only taken three heads, and that they were all in self-defense. However, there is no way I can prove any of it." My gaze hardened. "If I were a headhunter, I would have already Challenged her. If my disarming myself within reach of you isn't enough to prove my intentions, then I guess we're all just outta luck." I knew she wasn't a threat, but based on the questions, it was obvious that they were VERY uncomfortable around unknown Immortals. I was trying to prove to her that not all Immortals were dangerous.
She leaned over toward Knight and whispered with him for a few moments.
While they were whispering to each other, the server brought the meal that came with the tickets. Placing one in front of me and another in front of Miss Lambert, she walked off to get some more. I looked down at my plate: Cornish hen, twice baked potato, and biscuit. And no silverware. Well, at least the napkin was pretty big.
As the server came back with a tray for Knight, he and Lambert broke off their discussion. He started talking to the server as she turned to me. "I'm sorry if we're not terribly trusting, Ryan. I've had bad experiences with a few other 'folks' I've met. It's no reflection on you." She smiled. "And Nick's pretty protective."
I smiled. "I noticed. Look, if you're uncomfortable, I can leave now. We don't have to become best friends here, but I thought that letting you know who I am would make the rest of the evening at least a little less tense."
She nodded and seemed to relax a little more.
The rest of the evening passed peacefully, at least for us. The English king who acted as the arbiter of the fight made the expected Elvis reference by singing the opening bars of "Viva Las Vegas" before the fighting started. The jousting tournament that they put on for us was interesting to watch. I vaguely wondered how they trained the horses to put up with that. The mandatory group sword fight at the end was entertaining as well. Not a one of those guys could stand in a real sword fight with any Immortal. But in all fairness, their fight was designed to look good but be as safe as possible for them. They weren't Immortals, they were actors / stuntmen. Nick seemed even more amused by some of the action than I was for some reason.
I briefly considered trying to find some armor to wear for my next Challenge. After perhaps ten seconds of consideration, I decided that the armor would be at least as much hindrance as help. It looked like heavy stuff. Not to mention pretty tough to conceal in public. Hmm, perhaps use Kevlar. That would be worth some thought.
I almost laughed out loud as another thought occurred to me. Maybe as one of my future personas, I could come back here and apply for one of those "swordsman" positions. Or maybe as an instructor?
Through the show, I spent almost as much time watching the couple beside me as I did the events in front of us. Based on the rings and handholding, they were recently married. Which was slightly odd given how she introduced them to me. A lump formed in my throat as I considered the impact his eventual death would have on her. And the similar circumstance it'd already had on me.
Earlier, Nick had apparently told the server that he didn't want dinner. I couldn't imagine why, though. It was pretty good stuff. The "uncivilized" method of eating without utensils was actually kinda fun. Perhaps I'll eat like a barbarian more often, I mused.
Back in the arena, the good guy won in the end, of course. If only real life were so predictable. After the applause wound down and the crowd started moving to the exit, I stood and turned to Nat. I stuck out my hand again. "Nice to meet you, Nat. Hopefully, we'll meet again peacefully." She smiled and shook my hand. I offered it to Nick. "Nice meeting you, Nick." His cool grip enclosed mine, and I got quite a shock. He FELT old, something like seven or eight hundred. But he had no Immortal Buzz and his "strength" was zero. And there was something else about his not-quite-an-aura that I couldn't figure out. What WAS this guy?
My shock must have been written all over my face, because he asked, "Something wrong?"
I shook my head to bring myself back on track and frowned at him. "No," I answered slowly, "but . . ." I shook my head again. He wasn't Immortal, and that's all that really mattered at the moment. "Nothing. Nice meeting the both of you." I looked over at Nat. "Watch your head."
Pulling my coat back on, I melted into the flow of people.
After leaving Las Vegas, I saw the petrified forests, Carlsbad Cavern, and the Grand Canyon. I stopped in Saint Louis and saw the Arch. It'd been a little over three weeks since leaving Seacouver, and I was now traveling through Missouri on my way to Chicago.
Stretching out the perpetually tight muscles in my shoulders, I spotted a sign informing me of the fast food joints in the next town. Glancing at the clock on the dash, I decided to stop for lunch. Fifteen minutes later found me finishing off the sandwich and leaning back in the booth, watching the world go by.
Bringing my drink up to finish it off, I felt a Buzz come into range. Sighing in exasperation, I concentrated on it. Uh, oh. 350 to 400 years old, LOTS of heads, but most of them were pretty weak. That combination screamed "Hunter" to me even before I could see him.
I had hoped to get out the side door before he came in, but I had hardly stood up with my tray in hand before he made it in the door. Just over six feet tall, well muscled for the frame, black hair, lantern jaw, and wearing a black trench coat and sunglasses. He spotted me immediately of course. With only half of a dozen people in the place, it wasn't tough.
He looked at me in the same way that a snake looks at a mouse. He was trying to be intimidating, and it was working. Though I tried to maintain a defiant stare right back, he saw through it and smiled. Tilting his head back toward the door he'd just entered, he turned around and marched out. Since my car was out that door, I had little choice but to follow. Even if I didn't, I had the distinct feeling that he'd just track me down on foot. Dumping my trash in the proper spot on my way out the door, I braced myself for an ugly situation.
He was standing beside a Harley Davidson motorcycle as I walked out into the parking lot. Not wishing to prolong the inevitable, I walked toward him and stopped about ten feet short. He tilted his head and looked me up and down before asking, "Have you ever read the story 'The Most Dangerous Game' by Richard Connell?" An evil smile formed on his face.
Great, I had run into an intellectual headhunter. The story to which he was referring was about some crazy guy on an island who hunted shipwrecked people for sport. Wanting to deflate him a little, I shot back, "What are you, a smaller version of Schwarzenegger in 'Terminator'?"
His smile only got bigger. Spreading his arms out as if inviting me to inspect his clothing, he replied, "Yes, actually. You like the look?"
Wonderful. An intellectual headhunter with a sense of humor. It kept getting better and better. "I don't suppose we could shake hands and each go our separate ways?" May as well try for an easy out.
"Afraid not. You see, a friend and I are in a contest. The first one to take twenty Quickenings wins."
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't plan on becoming just another notch on your sword hilt." My face brightened and I snapped my fingers as if having a revelation. "You know, you could behead this friend of yours, and that would guarantee you win your contest."
One of his eyebrows rose and a faint grin appeared. "Thank you for the suggestion, but I'm afraid not. Shall we?" He waved a hand toward a boarded up restaurant two hundred yards or so away across a couple parking lots.
I shrugged. "May as well," I replied with as much nonchalance in my voice as I could manage. The truth was, I was scared. Getting beheaded in some town that I didn't even remember the name of wasn't my idea of the way to go out. I suddenly wished that I hadn't buried my gun among all the stuff as I was packing.
We headed toward the back door of the restaurant while keeping a safe distance between us. As we got to the door, I could see the signs announcing that it was scheduled to be demolished within a couple weeks. We both turned and scanned the immediate area. Nobody watching. With no further ado, the guy lashed out at the door with a well-placed kick. The frame around the latch gave with a splintering crack and door slammed open. He smiled and waved a hand at the now open door. "After you."
"Thank you, but age before beauty."
He gave me a mocking smile and headed in with no hesitation. I debated trying to shut him in, but decided against it. He'd be able to go through one of the plywood covered windows, and then he'd be pissed. So far, he seemed to be following the Rules, and I wanted to keep him that way.
Letting him get about a five second lead, I cautiously followed. He led me through the abandoned kitchen and into the front of the empty restaurant. Heading to the far end, he began to take off his coat, revealing a gray t-shirt and a depressing number of muscles. Enough sunlight slipped past the blocking plywood that the room was lit well enough for the situation at hand. Based on the bolt holes in the floor at regular intervals, the room had once held tables and chairs, but they had been removed long ago. The whole room was something like thirty by twenty feet.
Pulling my sword and knife out, I said, "My name's Ryan Chessman, by the way."
He straightened from placing his coat on the floor in the corner with a simple long sword in hand. In mock cheerfulness and politeness, he replied, "Terribly sorry, I'm Charles Clay. En garde."
Two minutes into the fight, I knew I was in trouble. He had already landed a cut on each leg and one across my left arm. I could still move all right, but I was losing blood. And I hadn't even touched him yet.
Realizing I'd better do something before I lost this one in a blaze of glory (quite literally), I suddenly darted forward with both blades extended straight forward. It was a desperate move, and I knew it. It'd either work very well or very poorly.
The wrong one occurred.
In a flowing spin, he parried the wakizashi to my left, pulling that arm into my other and throwing off the aim of the knife as well. While I was stumbling away, trying to regain my balance, he planted a kick into my lower back. I vaguely heard three or four snaps before I went face first into one of the windows. It didn't shatter, but my nose did its best to go through anyway. Bouncing away from the now red smeared window, I landed on my right shoulder before my back hit the floor.
Yes, I was definitely in trouble.
As I struggled to get up, I realized that I had lost my sword somewhere along the line, but the knife was still clutched in my left hand. I had made it to my knees with my right hand still on the floor before I felt a razor thin line being drawn on the back of my neck. I froze in position and tilted my head slightly to the left to see Clay standing beside me, his sword extended calmly. The bastard had hardly broken a sweat.
He slowly drew the sword back. A cruel smile grew on his face as he said, "There can be only one."
I closed my eyes. He probably thought I couldn't stand to watch the end coming, but in truth I was concentrating. I had exactly one chance to pull this off, and my life quite definitely depended on it.
Fighting through the pain radiating out of my shoulder, face, and lower back, I forced myself to focus. Cloaking and uncloaking my aura as quickly as possible, I also shifted my radiated "frequency".
I had startled Richie with this trick once, and now it looked like it was my last chance at survival. Richie's description of the event was that it felt like a dozen Immortals were walking in the door. Based on Clay's reaction, it was pretty consistent with Richie's observation.
He stopped his swing and turned to face the kitchen area, sword held defensively.
Unfortunately for him, that meant he turned away from me. As quickly as I could manage, I tried to get to my feet and thrust my knife at his side. My plan was to sink the blade between his ribs when he wasn't looking. If I was lucky, it'd kill him. If not, he'd be immediately wounded to the point that I may have a fighting chance. That was the plan anyway.
It started breaking down immediately. He must have broken part of my backbone, because my legs weren't working right. I fell forward, knife blade leading. He must have caught me moving out of the corner of his eye, because he tried to twist out of my way. Instead of hitting his side, I watched my knife blade slashing across his thigh, nearly amputating the leg.
With the loss of support of his right leg, Clay fell over, screaming in agony. Pulling myself along as well as I could with my right arm, I got within reach of Clay's prone form. Swinging as hard as I could at his neck, my knife buried itself halfway through the back of his neck. He immediately stopped moving. Good, he was dead. For the moment, at least. I started to pull the knife back out to finish the decapitation when I noticed a familiar blue glow starting to seeping around the edges of the still embedded knife. How was a Quickening starting without a full decapitation?
That was my last coherent thought before a surge of power turned out all the lights.
Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . . Blasted alarm. I vaguely tried to swat in the direction of where my alarm clock usually sat. But something was tangling up my right arm. And my left arm was pinned in place.
Both facts were unusual enough to get me to open my eyes. White walls, white ceiling, white sheets, window with an uninspiring view of a brick wall, TV, couple chairs, an IV tree, and what looked like one of those heart monitors you keep seeing on TV during those hospital scenes. This last one was what was making the annoying sound that had awakened me.
Uh, oh. I'm in a hospital. This is NOT good. Hospitals were full of doctors and nurses that asked all sorts of health questions. Having them see my rapid state of healing would not be a good thing.
I took a quick inventory. I could see what was left of my clothing folded on one of the chairs, but I couldn't see any of my weapons. I had a brace on my nose, my left shoulder was bandaged, my left arm was in a sling, and I could feel a rigid plastic brace on my back. The most unusual thing I noticed, though, was that the IV wasn't stuck in my arm. It was just taped there. And it wasn't dripping liquids all over my wrist.
Shaking off the minor mystery, I started to pull my arm out of the sling. I had to get out of here before something really ugly happened.
Too late. I felt a Buzz come into range. What the hell else could go wrong today?
Quickly lying back down and pretending to be unconscious, I studied the aura. Just under a thousand years old, he or she had only taken a few heads, two dozen perhaps. I could hear the door open and close and footsteps approach but stop at the foot of my bed.
I tried to keep my breathing regular. It was tough. I was totally defenseless, and with one arm in a sling, even my unarmed capability was compromised. However, the relative shortage of heads this Immortal had taken for the age, plus the fact that they were standing there and not attacking, made me feel slightly better.
"I expect you're awake, Mister Chessman. I'm not a headhunter. My name is Doctor Ian MacGregor." The voice had hints of English accent but was soft and non-threatening.
Deciding I had nothing to lose, I opened my eyes. Doctor MacGregor looked to be in his late forties, was a couple inches short of six foot, slightly on the heavy side, brown hair, and calm, blue eyes. He was dressed in a generic white lab coat with a stethoscope casually hung around his neck and carrying a clipboard. He was studying my face as I studied him. So far, he hadn't seemed the least bit dangerous.
Hesitantly, I started, "Pardon the mundane question, but where am I?"
He smiled. "Mercy General. What do you remember?"
I thought about it a second. "Charles Clay Challenged me. I remember killing him, but not completely beheading him. I think I saw a Quickening start, but I can't be sure. After that, I woke up here." I waved my free hand to indicate the room. Despite the fact that he was a doctor, I couldn't imagine him getting me into trouble over killing Clay. There can be only one, after all. Even those not active in the Game understood that.
He nodded. "The Quickening must have brought the building down. The rescue workers dug you out of the rubble and brought you here a few hours ago. You were mostly healed by the time you got here of course, but the blood made it look like you were hurt pretty bad. All the bandages and such are just for looks. The sword cuts can be explained by flying glass, and a piece of falling concrete crushed your shoulder pretty good. There's no medical reason to keep you here now, though. But for safety's sake, perhaps you'd better spend a few days."
I nodded at that. If someone saw me come in blood covered after being pulled out of a destroyed building and then saw me walk out the same day, it'd be pretty suspicious.
I felt another Buzz approaching and swiveled my head toward the door as Doctor MacGregor did the same. Seven hundred some years old and three times more heads that MacGregor had, I realized as a man walked in. He was black, looked to be in his mid forties, right at six foot, a little on the light side, and wearing a county sheriff's uniform complete with service revolver and badge.
He looked at me with two raised eyebrows. "Ah, this explains a great deal." His accent was pure Midwest American. He smiled at me and introduced himself. "I'm Sheriff John Clark, Mister Chessman. Your Immortality explains a great deal about some of the . . . items I found in the destroyed restaurant."
I tried to offer him my hand, but the IV kept getting in the way. Grumbling under my breath, I replied, "Thanks, Sheriff. Um, I hate to sound ungrateful, but how are you going to explain the body?"
His eyebrows came back up. "Body? What body?" A smile kept trying to twitch the corners of his mouth. "All I know is that some sort of explosion occurred in that building, probably gas. You presumably saw or smelled something and rushed in to try to fix it."
I smiled in relief. These two were clearly a godsend.
He continued, "We found your keys and wallet in your coat, and a call to the Washington DMV got us which car was yours. Don't worry about anybody knowing anything. I'm the only one who's been into the restaurant since the paramedics pulled you out. You were several feet from your opponent, and they didn't see him. Two swords survived the collapse, but the knife didn't. With your permission, I'll put whatever you want into your car."
I nodded. "The wakizashi's mine. I guess I'll have to find an army surplus store for a new knife." I shrugged as well as I could in a sling. "It did its job, anyway. The long sword is too big for me. One of you can have it if you want. If you could put the wakizashi into my car and out of sight, I'd appreciate it."
Sheriff Clark nodded. "Probably a good idea. I'll take care of Clay's body, too."
I blinked in astonishment. "You know him?"
He sighed. "Damn fool kid tried to Challenge me a few years ago. I just shot him and walked away. He has been headhunting along the highways of the Midwest since then. You just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." He shrugged and pulled something out of his jacket pocket. "And what should we do with the rest of Clay's useful possessions?" He displayed a set of keys and a wad of cash.
I frowned. "I have no use for the bike, either. The money, however . . ." A smile crept over my face. "I'm sure the hospital's going to want me to pay for whatever's been done so far. It seems a kind of poetic justice to use his money for that, don't you think?"
The sheriff nodded and gave a crooked smile. He placed the keys back into a pocket and dropped the cash onto the stack of my clothes. "I'll take care of things on my end."
"Thanks." I frowned a moment. "No offense, Sheriff, but you've been an awful lot of help for someone who you've never met before. To what do I owe this?"
He shook his head. "Ask the doctor here." He turned to Doctor MacGregor. "Dinner tonight at my place still on, Ian?"
Doctor MacGregor grinned. "Just dinner? Then I'm going to be so disappointed."
The sheriff grinned and left after giving the doctor a wink. Okay, so they're a couple. I shrugged to myself. Not that it really matters, of course.
"Are you okay?" asked the doctor in sudden concern.
Huh? "What do you mean?"
He tilted his head. "You looked . . . hurt there for a moment."
I grimaced and shook my head. "No. Just seeing that you two are together reminded me of Andrea, I suppose."
He apparently understood instantly. "And that's why you left Washington?"
I mutely nodded, a lump forming in my throat.
He shook his head sadly. Coming over to the side of the bed, he laid a comforting hand on my shoulder. "Young, old, Immortal or not, it never gets easier." In an obvious attempt to lighten the mood, he asked, "Anything I can get you or do for you?"
I cleared my throat. "I know I'm going to have to stay here for a few nights to keep the suspicion to a minimum, but could you at least take this thing off my nose?" I waved a hand at my own face. "I feel ridiculous."
Laughing slightly, he began to tear the taped brace off my face. Fortunately, it was surgical tape so it didn't sting coming off. Much, anyway. As he was doing that, I asked, "I really do appreciate all this help, but seriously, why are you two helping me like this?"
He shrugged without looking away from what his hands were doing. "I was traveling through the area about a decade ago. I got into a car wreck in a nearby town. John was the one who investigated the crash as a 'young' state trooper. I spent a few days here while I was trying to find another car and tie up the loose ends from the crash. The local papers told about another mysterious decapitation and power surge at the hospital. They were trying to hype up the murders since they'd been spread over nearly a decade and nobody had ever been charged. Since I was a certified MD, I applied for a job. Once here, John and I started looking for the head hunter." His eyes tightened, and his tone became hard. "It turned out to be one of the nurses. She would behead any Immortal or pre-Immortal that came to the hospital. Newborns, auto accidents, old folks who were dying of heart disease, it didn't matter. She'd been waiting here for people to come to her." He sighed as he finished removing my facial accessory. "After we found her, John was so mad at the whole thing that he Challenged her. He won, of course. I was so horrified that a NURSE would do such a thing that I decided to stay here and help the town as much as I could. We've had the occasional Immortal come through, and we've taken a few students ourselves, but you're the first Immortal I can ever claim to have treated." He smiled at me.
I chuckled. "Well, I can honestly say that you're the best doctor I've ever had work on me. Of course, you're the ONLY doctor who's worked on me." He made a small grunt of amusement. "That answers why you're here, but not why you're helping me," I pointed out.
He shrugged. "What can I say? We're a couple of perpetual do- gooders." I rolled my eyes at him. "Besides, you seem to be a good kid."
One eyebrow went up. "Kid? Who says you're not younger than I am by a thousand years?"
He gave a careless shrug. "Nothing. But you ARE physically younger. Besides, you treat us with way too much deference to be very old."
He had a point. If I wanted to hide my age, I had to act differently. I gave him a semi-amused smile. "Okay, I'll buy that. You're right, by the way."
He nodded, apparently pleased with his accurate guess. "Unless you have a better idea, I'll release you the day after tomorrow, first thing in the morning. Nurses will come in several times a day to take blood pressure and temperature, but nobody will do anything else that may expose your Immortality." While saying this, he also removed the fake IV standing beside the bed and put a bandage over the unbroken skin of my wrist. Must keep up appearances, after all.
True to his word, a nurse came in every four hours or so to take the blood pressure and check temperature. They all commented on how lucky I was to have Doctor MacGregor as my physician and how quickly I was healing. One of them was a cute Oriental young lady who reminded me a great deal of Hoa from back in Seacouver.
The next morning, Doctor MacGregor came back in for a "checkup". I assured him that everything was fine, then asked a question that had been kind of bugging me. "Doctor, I don't remember beheading Clay. I DO remember cutting through the back of his neck, but not completely through. Does that make any sense to you?"
He nodded immediately. "John mentioned that he noticed the same thing. I haven't made a systematic study of it, but I'd guess that the critical point of the beheading is actually the spinal column, somewhere between the middle of the shoulder blades and the base of the skull." He smiled. "That's in layman's terms, of course, but you get the idea."
I nodded. "Thanks, Doctor. I was just curious."
He nodded and then pulled himself up and took on an "official doctor" voice. "After due consideration, it is my professional medical opinion that you could be discharged from this hospital tomorrow morning, provided we get no complications overnight."
I raised an eyebrow and gave a twisted smile. "We'll ignore the fact that I could've been discharged ten minutes after being admitted yesterday."
"There is that," he admitted. We both chuckled. "Tomorrow morning, then?"
"Sure. It'll be tough, but I'm sure I can force myself to lie here and submit myself to the ministrations of all the cute nurses you have running around."
He gave a mischievous smirk. "Not my type."
I shrugged. "To each his own."
I heard his chuckle as he walked out the door.
The rest of that day passed much as the previous one had. The only interesting item was when I saw a blue tattoo on the inner left wrist of the cute nurse I had seen the previous afternoon.
Doctor MacGregor came in the next morning and officially released me as promised. Getting dressed in some clean clothes that Sheriff Clark brought up from my car before putting the sling back on, I also put on a back brace that was uncomfortable to wear but necessary if I was going to continue the charade. Walking downstairs to the business office, I settled the account with the hospital (Doctor MacGregor didn't charge me anything himself, but the hospital wasn't nearly so generous). Stepping back out into the lobby, I was met by Sheriff Clark. Waving me out the front doors, he walked me to where he'd parked my car.
"Get a good price out of his motorcycle and long sword?" I asked casually.
He shook his head. "Ian and I are keeping them. It's handy to have a small supply of swords when you train as many Immortals as we do. As for the motorcycle . . . well, we'll have to move on soon." He gave a sudden grin. "And I've wanted a Harley for a while now."
I laughed. "Thanks for everything. Anything I can do for you, name it."
He shook his head. "Ever hear the phrase, 'Don't return a favor, pass it on'?"
I chuckled. "I hear you. Anyway, thanks for everything. Oh, how do I get back to the highway?"
He pointed. "East on Washington to Main. Take Main north two miles, then follow the signs."
I nodded and stuck out my hand. "You two take care of yourselves."
He watched me awkwardly climb into my car with the back brace on and one arm in a sling. Glancing into the back seat, I saw the hilt of my wakizashi sticking out of the pile of luggage. Next to it was a sheathed Ka-Bar, the combat knife preferred by the US armed forces. Shaking my head, I looked back out at Sheriff Clark with a raised eyebrow. He flashed me a huge smile and waved. I laughed and waved back before starting up my car and pulling away.
This world isn't exactly overrun with good guys, but they are there to be found.
Glad to get out of the hospital without any undue problems, I continued my cross-country trek. Chicago's Brookfield Zoo was a solid two days, with one evening devoted to watching the Cubs get creamed by the Braves. After that, I continued eastward, stopping at Niagara Falls for a while before hitting the outskirts of Washington, DC area at suppertime.
Deciding I'd made enough distance this day, I picked a convenient cheap hotel and got a room. Since there was a restaurant across the parking lot, I just hiked the hundred yards. As I was approaching the door, I idly noticed two folks wearing black trench coats approaching from the opposite direction.
Who stopped dead in their tracks the same moment I felt a Buzz. No, two of them.
Jeez, what was it with this trip? Six Immortals in a week? I must be approaching some kind of record. I began to wonder if there were more Immortals running around the world than I had initially suspected.
Shaking off the errant thoughts, I studied them as they studied me. He was right at six foot, looking in his late thirties, with a long, solemn face. She was just a few inches over five feet, looked to be in her mid thirties, and had flaming red hair. Their auras told me that one was something like two hundred, but had taken only three or four heads, and the other was VERY young, with no heads yet. They both looked tense, but neither had reached for a weapon.
Arbitrarily deciding on an unconventional approach to see what reaction I got, I approached the two, locking my eyes on the redhead, ignoring her taller companion, and keeping a soft smile on my face. As I made it to within arm's reach, she cautiously offered to shake my hand. Instead, I captured it with my own right hand and brought it up to my lips for a soft kiss on her knuckles. Still holding her hand and now running my thumb lightly over the back of her knuckles, I said, "My name is Ryan Chessman. How may I be of service to such a beautiful lady?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his mouth drop open in apparent shock. She gave a slight smile, one eyebrow raised. "If you're not careful, Mister Chessman, you may bring chivalry back into style."
Her reaction apparently got his hackles to rise. He possessively put a hand to the small of her back. It was almost amusing to watch.
It was also not lost on her. She shot him a disgusted look before turning back to me. Pulling her hand back, she stuffed it into her pocket. "I'm Dana Scully, and this is Fox Mulder," she said with a nod toward her companion. I offered my hand to him for a conventional handshake, which he hesitantly took.
After shaking his hand, I said, "Sorry for my forwardness. It isn't everyday that I run into such a lovely Immortal." I waved toward the door we'd all been heading to before bumping into each other. "Allow me to buy you dinner as penance?"
The two looked at each other for a moment before Dana turned to me and nodded their acceptance. Holding the door open for them, I followed them into the restaurant and toward one of the empty booths. As they were sliding into their seat, I took off my coat and hung it up on the nearby coat rack. Taking my seat, I noticed Fox looked at my coat, then turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "Rather trusting, aren't you?"
I gave it a moment's thought. In truth, one was too young to scare me, and the other had so few heads that I was convinced that one wasn't a hunter. I still hadn't decided which was which. Besides, I didn't want my little skill to become common knowledge. "Would you believe that I'm the trusting type?"
He gave me a sour look.
I shrugged. "Okay, I'm a very good judge of character. I don't think my head's in danger from you two." I smiled. "Please don't prove me wrong, Fox."
"Mulder," he replied immediately.
I blinked. "Pardon?"
Dana answered, "He doesn't like 'Fox' very much. Everyone just calls him 'Mulder'."
I shrugged indifferently and looked down at the menu in front of me. "As you will. Call me whatever you wish." I waited a beat. "Just so long as it's polite." I looked up at Mulder just in time to see him shut his mouth with a slightly crestfallen expression. I turned a smile upon the female half of the pair. "And what shall I call you, lovely lady?"
She smiled back, clearly enjoying the show. "Dana, please."
The server came and took our orders before we had said another word to each other. I leaned back in my bench and studied the two Immortals across from me. They weren't acting like a teacher / student, but that's what they had to be. They didn't act like husband and wife or lovers, either. They seemed closer to siblings than anything else. Venturing a guess, I asked, "Teacher, student?"
Mulder looked at me. "Pardon?"
I waved my hand back and forth between them. "Your relationship." I almost missed Dana's blush. "Teacher and student?" I tried again.
Mulder turned to Dana with a small smile. She continued looking down at her hands and the blush deepened. Mulder's smile got a little bigger before turning back to me. "I suppose that's as good a description as any."
I frowned. What did THAT mean? They were obviously in some deeper personal relationship than that, but it was hard to pin down. I gave a small shrug. Oh, well. It was their life, not mine.
Our meal came a few minutes later and we silently began eating.
Toward the end of the meal, Dana asked, "How did you know that we are teacher and student?"
Pushing the remains of my meal away, I pointed at their hands. "Neither of you is wearing a wedding ring, so you aren't married." They looked toward each other for a moment, but she looked away again almost immediately, blushing furiously. He grinned widely before turning back to me. Curiouser and curiouser. I continued my earlier thought, "Though I suppose you could have been teamed up for protection, the age difference is a little much for that."
Mulder perked up. "Age difference?"
Damn. So much for that trick being secret. I sighed. "Yeah, one of you is significantly older than the other." I hoped that would be enough.
It wasn't. Mulder cocked his head at me. "And how do you know that?" Even Dana looked interested in the answer.
I grimaced. "Magic?" May as well go for an easy out.
He smiled delightedly, and she frowned skeptically. The more I saw of these two, the more confused I was. Mulder suddenly frowned. "Wait a minute, you said that ONE of us was older. Therefore, you don't know which of us it is. Therefore, neither of dropped a clue as to our relative ages. Once again, how did you know?"
Damn, this guy was good at figuring things out. "Call it psychic, if you must," I muttered, expecting the answer to generate absolute disbelief before they dropped the topic.
Their reaction was the polar opposite of what I was expecting. Mulder's smile returned tenfold, and Dana was still looking interested if a bit wary. Mulder asked, "Psychic? In what way?"
Boy, I had painted myself into a corner here. I frowned in thought before I said anything. Only the truth was left. Now how to answer him. "I don't know if I can even explain it. I can tell more about the auras I run into that most seem to be able to. I don't know how or why. The teacher I went to for this training called it a psychic gift, and that's what I think of it as. Whatever you call it, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't tell anyone about it. It's saved my life a few times, and if it became common knowledge, then it'd become almost useless."
They both nodded.
I looked at them for a few moments. "Can I give you two a piece of advice?"
Mulder looked at me warily, "What's that?"
"You're clearly not hunters. Since there're two of you, there may be a easy way to avoid fights." Dana's interest perked up again immediately. "If one of you is Challenged, the other can threaten to behead the opponent after the Quickening if one of you is killed. That probably sounds callous, but it may keep you two out of fights. I can't think that any hunter is crazy enough to fight under that threat."
Mulder seemed to like that idea, but Dana looked saddened. "Out of curiosity, how old are you?" she asked.
I smiled. Hell, they knew everything else about me, why not? "Only about two years older than I look, actually."
They both seemed relieved at my answer for some reason.
Dana stood up. "If you two will excuse me for a moment." As she walked away, I asked the waitress for the check.
Once Dana was outside my sensing range, I realized that Mulder was the younger of the two. Funny, I would have thought it was the other way around.
I looked over at Mulder only to find him still following Dana with his eyes. Playing a hunch, I asked, "Are you two more than just teacher and student?"
He turned his eyes to me. "Why?" he asked. Nothing in his expression changed, but the answer to my question was obvious all the same.
I nodded. "In that case, I envy you. Quite a catch." My voice lowered as my memory went down a familiar but painful path, "And you two may have eternity together. Were that only possible for all of us." I shut my eyes and took a deep breath. When I opened my eyes again, Mulder was looking at me with a quizzical expression. I smiled sadly. "I envy you," I repeated.
The check arrived and I led the way to the cashier, snagging my coat off the rack on my way past. After settling the check, Mulder and I walked out the door just as Dana was emerging from the washroom. I turned to them as she stepped up to his side. Bending forward into a flourishing bow, I said, "Fare thee well, Lady Dana. Always know that I shall come to thy aid if so requested."
She giggled; he rolled his eyes and grinned. Straightening up from my bow, I smiled at them. "Take care of yourselves." I turned and walked back to my hotel, a slight spring in my step.
The next morning I started doing the tourist stuff in Washington that I'd been interested in. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington Monument, tour of the White House, et cetera. During the tour of the White House, I noticed lots of Secret Service personnel in various corridors.
I idly wondered if any Immortals had ever tried for those positions.
It also made me thankful that I'd left my weapons in my hotel room despite the danger. There HAD to be metal detectors all over the place.
The second afternoon, I took an old school friend out to lunch. After that, I took one of the guided tours of the FBI's Hoover building. In the middle of a hallway on the first floor near a door marked "Forensics Laboratory", I was shocked to feel a Buzz. What WAS it about this trip?
Concentrating momentarily, I realized that I already knew this Immortal. It had the same signature that Dana Scully had had two nights previously. So that's what she did. I shrugged to myself. Interesting, but not really important.
Getting back to my hotel after a second full day of sight seeing, I turned the TV to CNN before crashing for the night. The lead news story was about a little brush war being fought between two unpronounceable little African countries, with the UN trying to mediate the dispute. Like any of that was news. One of the smaller items of news was the recent theft of a map from a Toronto museum. Apparently Henry Hudson drew this map during his explorations of the territories that would later become Canadian Provinces. The police were stumped on the case, because the thief was so good as to leave no clues.
As I got ready for bed, the map theft story kept coming back to me. A truly exceptional thief with a taste for antiques. Now who might fit that description?
"Pull your nose out of that paperwork, Richie. That stuff'll make you go blind." I smiled as I envisioned him looking startled. I had awakened that morning determined to see if my hunch would pan out.
"Ryan? Is that you?"
"Yep. How's things back at the homestead?"
"Oh, same ol', same ol'. Mac's still in Paris, so I'm stuck here. Hoa sends her love by the way. Where're you at?"
"Washington, DC at the moment. Just calling to see how everyone is, and to ask a question."
"Do you happen to know where Amanda lives?"
I heard his laughter before he calmed enough to speak coherently. "Remember what I told you two years ago, Ryan? She's outta your league."
I tried to put a little hurt dignity into my voice, "Hey, I never said I was going to try anything. I was just curious, that's all."
"Uh, huh," his disbelief was nearly visible. "This doesn't happen to have anything to do with a recent map theft, does it?"
I chuckled. "I see you also watch CNN."
"Yeah. As to Amanda, yes, she does have a place in Toronto. Here, I'll look up the address . . ." he trailed off. I could distantly hear desk drawers opening before a long pause.
After duly copying down the phone number and address he read, and repeating them back to ensure accuracy, I said, "Thanks for the help, Richie. I'll let you know when I settle down somewhere." I paused. "Perhaps you could visit on a honeymoon trip."
I wasn't expecting an answer to the comment, but I got one anyway. "Perhaps," he said calmly.
That's interesting. I shook my head and brought the conversation back on track. "Thanks for the address. Give Hoa a kiss for me."
I heard his chuckle. "I'll give her a HUG for you, sure."
I smiled. "Spoilsport," I teased. "Take care, Richie."
Two days later found me walking down a hallway toward Amanda's apartment. Penthouse may be closer to the truth, though, based on the number of doorways on this floor and the size of the building. I shrugged. Whatever Amanda's official sources of income, she definitely knew how to live.
As I approached the correct door, I walked into a Buzz. Concentrating briefly, I recognized Amanda's signature. Stopping in front of her door, I knocked and waited patiently.
After perhaps thirty seconds, the door was opened by a fifty- something woman who was looking at me with some suspicion. "May I help you?" she asked.
I smiled at her. "May I speak with Amanda?"
She looked at me for a moment. "Who shall I say is calling?"
"My name is Ryan Chessman. She'll know me. We're friends."
The woman let me into the front room and introduced herself as Lucy before disappearing. As I was wandering the living room admiring the decorations, Amanda came breezing in.
It'd been months since I'd seen her last, but she was as gorgeous as ever. Though I liked her hair better when it was black rather than this platinum blonde look she was currently going with.
"Ryan!" she said, walking over. She gave me a quick hug and polite peck on the cheek before offering me a seat. Her face fell into a "gravely concerned" look. "I heard about what happened in Seacouver. Is there anything I can do?"
I shook my head, not trusting my voice for the moment. I cleared my throat once or twice before trying to speak. "I'm getting over it, but thank you."
She nodded and perched herself onto the edge of the couch across from my chair. One leg casually crossed over another, elbow resting on knee, she fixed me with an expectant stare. "And to what do I owe this visit?"
I glanced over at Lucy who was puttering about the room, no doubt curious as to who I was. I raised my eyebrows and looked back at Amanda.
She smiled and shook her head. "I have no secrets from Lucy."
I nodded. "After Seacouver, I've been traveling around, looking for a new place to settle down. I was in Washington, DC a couple days ago and caught a most interesting tidbit on CNN." The smallest of smiles formed on Amanda's face, and I knew my guess from two days ago had been accurate.
I turned to Lucy to see that she was staring at me with a speculative gaze. Deciding I'd better explain who I am to her, I said, "I know who and what Amanda is. I have no intention of doing any harm. I met her about two years ago in Seacouver shortly before Duncan MacLeod began my training." Lucy's face had grown more relaxed with nearly every word I'd said. She nodded and quietly sat down.
I turned back to Amanda and continued, "Based on what was taken and the reported skill of the thief, I guessed that you lived here. A call to Richie in Seacouver got me your address." She nodded at my recital of how I got here. "I guess the purpose of this visit is twofold. One, to visit one of the most beautiful women I know." Her room-brightening smile caused me to stumble for a moment before continuing, "And two, to see if I'd like to settle here in Toronto."
Amanda stared at the wall for a moment, apparently lost in thought. "I'm starved," she announced. "Let's have lunch and we can catch up on the last few months."
Two hours later found Amanda and me finishing a leisurely lunch at a nearby outdoor cafe. I'd told her about losing Andrea and the subsequent hunt for her killer. Until that point, I hadn't realized how much I'd missed having a friendly shoulder to cry on.
As we chatted, I felt something. It was almost an Immortal Buzz, but the age and strength were non-existent. As I was pondering that one, I noticed a forty-ish man walk in, look around, and head to our table. Amanda looked up just as he stopped behind one of the empty seats, looking at me. "Nick!" she said. "I'd like you to meet a friend, Ryan Chessman. Ryan, this is Nick Wolfe, my business partner."
I stood up and offered him my hand. Raising an eyebrow, I asked, "Business partner?"
"I work for a security and investigative firm here in town. Amanda and I occasionally team up for some of the assignments," he replied as he took a seat.
I turned back to Amanda. "Dare I ask?"
She appeared to give it some thought. He smiled at her and said to me, "We occasionally make use of some of her special skills."
I managed to not laugh out loud, but it was a chore. "I bet," I said in as straight a tone as possible.
In an apparent attempt to change the subject, Amanda quickly said, "So, Ryan, you said you're looking to move?"
I nodded. "Yeah, moving away from Seacouver seemed to be the thing to do after what happened." I turned to Wolfe and said, "I recently lost a . . . close friend there." He nodded at my partial explanation.
Amanda continued, "Well, there are a few Immortals here in Toronto that I know of, but nobody particularly dangerous."
Wolfe and I glanced at each other. I had just learned that he knew about Immortals, and he had just learned that I was one. That certainly did wonders for the mood of the conversation.
I nodded at Amanda's comment and thought about it a little. My decision depended on at least as much the potential headhunter population as the job market. I hadn't been around nearly long enough to be financially independent as most Immortals were.
As I was thinking about it, I noticed that Wolfe was still looking at me. As I turned to him, he asked, "I don't mean to pry, but how old are you?"
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. "My, my, pretty forward, aren't you? Would it really matter if I said I was three thousand, three hundred, or thirty?"
He appeared to think about it. "I guess I'm just curious if I should expect you to reminisce with Amanda about the Middle Ages."
She turned a scolding look on us. "Now, boys, play nice."
I turned an amused smirk to her. "Yes, mother." She pouted. I turned back to Wolfe to see his chuckle. "Actually, I'm younger than you are, Mister Wolfe."
He seemed relieved at the answer. "Please, call me Nick."
I nodded. "And I'm Ryan."
He said, "It's so tough talking to someone who looks younger than I am, but is vastly older. It's nice to meet someone who looks close to their real age."
I turned to Amanda. "Haven't you told him that it's impolite to talk about a lady's age?" I referred to one of our first discussions, two years previously.
She smiled. Nick looked confused. She shook her head at him. "Inside joke."
Glancing at my watch, I realized the afternoon was half over. I stood up and retrieved my coat off of the chair back. "Well, much as I'd love to stay and chat with you all afternoon, Amanda, I'd better do some looking around town to decide if I'd like to settle here or not."
She nodded. "Would you like a guide?"
I chuckled and shook my head. "Much as I'd love one, I probably can't afford your tastes. I haven't had as much time as some to . . . accumulate wealth."
She gave me a mischievous smile. "And here you were the one telling Nick that it's impolite to discuss a lady's age."
Nick smothered a laugh behind his hand.
I gave her a brief nod and a half smile. "TouchÃ©."
Nick stuttered through his laughter, "At least he was discreet regarding your method of income."
She turned a glare on him that was pure venom. I covered the case of the snickers that threatened to come out with a hand over my mouth. Once I had sufficiently recovered, I said, "Oh, come on, Amanda. Anyone who knows you knows that you're a . . . how should I phrase this?" I stared off into space for a few moments before finishing diplomatically, "Procurer of rare items."
She almost smiled. "Though nobody's ever proven that for over two hundred years."
I smiled at her. "Nobody doubts that you're very good at it."
I spent the next day and a half looking through the newspaper's classifieds section for apartments and jobs, driving around getting a feel for the city, and basically looking around.
I had lived my entire life in the United States, but I found that Canada worked much the same. Hardly surprising, I suppose. The two countries are so close ideologically as well as geographically that it was inevitable.
In the end, I decided to stay. The city had a decent enough market for what my education trained me and there were no headhunters in town. Also, I'd heard that there was quite the nightlife here. All in all, not a bad place to live, at least for a young Immortal that wants to stay out of the way.