James O'Reilly was proud of himself. He wasn't really sure why. He had secured no major victories, won no vital battles; he was no richer than he had been twenty-four hours previously; he hadn't acquired some beautiful woman to help make the nights a little less lonely - but he was still proud of himself. Maybe it was just the immeasurable satisfaction of putting a bullet into Anthony Geddes, self-styled soap king of the Involution. He smiled to himself as he remembered seeing that immaculate, pampered body crumple to the floor. Six hundred pounds worth of imported London shoe leather, scuffed by impact with the ground; not to mention the fortune in hand-tailored silk that was currently no doubt mouldering away in its secret grave. It was a satisfying thought in every way. O'Reilly smiled to himself, and reached out for his large cup of frothy coffee. A toast perhaps, to satisfaction. A toast to insufferable twits everywhere, and their pleasantly unpleasant annihilation.
"What are you grinning at?" The voice was heavy and dry, as though coming from a sore or wounded throat. O'Reilly raised a guilty eyebrow.
"Just thinking about Geddes." He tried out another smile, this time rather more tentative. "Should set the Involution back a few more years."
"Do you really think that I still care about petty little Watcher-Involution feuds?" The owner of the hoarse, dry voice scowled around the stub of an inexpensive, locally-rolled cigar. "I hate the Watchers. As far as I'm concerned, the Involution are a fair bet as an ally." He held up his hand to forestall the expected interruption. "And no that doesn't mean that I'm angry with you. Geddes would never have agreed to an alliance with me. He wanted full control of everything, like some ancient king ruling over his dominions. He might have considered me as a lieutenant, but never as an equal." He stubbed out the cigar in an ashtray filled with smoking residue and reddish-brown tobacco leaves. "But it was thoughtful of him to donate such a pleasant headquarters."
"Excellent tactical potential." Drinking his frothy coffee with the air of a connoisseur, even though it was as cheap and as local as his companion's cigar, O'Reilly waved the cup in the air like a flag to celebrate his own glory. "Were we to be attacked here, I think we'd be sure to be the victors. We're almost entirely underground, the exits are guarded by highly-trained units who are absolutely convinced that we're acting under the orders of their Mr Geddes... Provided nobody decides to check out our credentials, I think we're on to a winner here." He drained his coffee. "So just what is the plan?"
"To sit back and see what happens." The second man reached for another cigar, then hesitated as though reconsidering. "Our prospective allies are no doubt watching our every manoeuvre with bated breath. I don't want any slip ups."
"There won't be any trouble." O'Reilly pushed his sizeable girth out of his chair and headed for the coffee maker. "Who's going to get in our way?"
"Oh I don't know." His companion waved a hand in a sarcastically dismissive gesture. "Half the Immortal world, half of the Watchers... the oldest warrior the world has ever seen and a man who's already returned from the dead once. Child's play, perhaps, to you."
"You're worried about that?" O'Reilly laughed. "Do you really believe that Kronos died? Really died I mean, not this theatrical equivalent that the Immortals do if they catch a bullet in the wrong place. For all we know, he was 'killed' by some mortal who didn't know what he was, and who buried him before he could revive. You can't go deifying these people. They're not like the rest of us."
"He died." His companion spoke with quiet confidence. "His head was taken by Duncan MacLeod - who isn't given to lying about these matters. Kronos was as dead as my brother is now - as dead as Geddes, or Lord Byron. Something brought him back to life, and that, in my book at least, makes him a force to be reckoned with. People who can return from the grave aren't usually afraid of very much, and if he decides to make life awkward for us, I want to know that I can handle him."
"He might well be dead by now, for all we know." O'Reilly took a mouthful of his fresh coffee, and smiled into the foam. "That is, if he's capable of being that way. Geddes had them all sealed in a big glass room, under orders to kill each other or get their friends killed in retaliation. It looked to me as though the fight could have gone either way, but your man Kronos was up against Duncan MacLeod. If he's as good as his reputation--"
"Well then." O'Reilly hoisted his coffee mug in salute. "There's nothing to worry about. Kronos will be dead, and probably at least one of the others that you're so worried about as well. I reckon if Methos killed Connor MacLeod, Duncan probably killed him as well. Could be there's only one of them left now - either that or just the two MacLeods. They're not going to come after us. Neither of them met me, and there's no reason for them to suspect your involvement in any of this." He made a somewhat disparaging face. "And why are you so worried about them anyway? I know that you and your brother have had a feud with Duncan MacLeod going back to the mid-nineties, and I know that you've had your differences with Methos as well. But why worry about Kronos? You've never even met the guy. You said as much yourself."
"I have my reasons." His companion finally gave up his losing struggle, and lit another cigar. "And as for whether or not they're all a problem solved, we'll just have to wait and see, won't we." His eyes narrowed. "And what's all this about friends? What friends of Duncan MacLeod could Geddes possibly have had that would have made such a white-armoured do-gooder fight with his friends?"
"Don't know." O'Reilly wandered back over to his chair and sat down. "A couple of Involution traitors I don't know anything about, and some Watcher guy from Seacouver. Daughton or Dalton or something."
"Dawson." The other man stood up very slowly, his movements gaining a peculiar precise quality that for some reason made O'Reilly feel decidedly nervous. He fluttered a smile in reply.
"Yeah, that's it. Dawson. Joe Dawson."
"Joe Dawson." His companion smiled, and his yellowed and tobacco-stained teeth showed a few more interesting stains in the clear, bright light of the underground room. A hundred reflections grinned back at him from the ranks of bottles and glasses in the late Anthony Geddes' well-stocked mini-bar. "I think I'd like to go and have a talk with him."
"Yeah?" O'Reilly was beginning to think that he was supposed to know who this Dawson fellow was, but without a little more information he wasn't prepared to hazard a guess. "Want me to come along?"
"No. No need." His associate nodded at the coffee. "I'd hate to make that get cold. You stay here, and get security on the intercom. I want the guard details doubled, and I want every corridor covered. If Dawson's here, Duncan MacLeod will be soon. You can count on that."
"Yeah?" O'Reilly looked as though he was looking forward to the visit. His companion shot him a withering glare.
"If he gets in here it'll be over your dead body. Is that clear?"
"As crystal." O'Reilly reached for the intercom. "I'll get the guards ready."
"I see a little hut." MacLeod reined in his horse and stared down at the tiny, ramshackle building before him. "I don't see an impressive stronghold of a mountain army, Involution or otherwise." He looked accusingly at Kronos. "I thought you said you had an infallible sense of direction?"
"The stronghold is beneath the hut." Methos stared down at it. The car that he, Kronos and Joe had used to drive from the airport was still parked by the side of the road, their luggage on the roof just as they had left it. Joe's gun was in there somewhere, which might be useful. Other than that he could see nothing of any use at all. "Given that the Involution know that we know about this place, though, I still don't see why we've come here. They'll be expecting us."
"They'd be expecting us if we tunnelled under the sea and came up through their floorboards." Kronos gestured at the hut. "At least they're less likely to expect us to use a doorway we've already used once before." He smirked. "Besides, I thought that our honourable Highlander here might like to go ahead and check things out. If he gets beheaded we'll know to use another entrance."
"Funny man." Duncan eyed the hut without enthusiasm. "And I suppose the plan is still just to ride at it yelling very loud, and hope it'll look suitably impressed?"
"It's a hut MacLeod." Methos chose to ignore the sarcasm. "It doesn't get impressed."
"You know what I mean. We've come all this way, and yet nobody seems to have come up with a plan any better than 'let's ride at them out of the sun'. It may have worked three thousand years ago, but this is the twenty first century."
"Still the twentieth, if you want to get technical." Methos folded his arms. "And I don't see what that's got to do with it. The element of surprise--"
"The element of surprise is hardly ever surprising. They've probably got security cameras, early warning devices, motion detectors, lasers... any number of things hidden in the scenery that will tell them well in advance that there are four suicidal men on horses riding towards them. Yelling very loudly won't change matters, and neither will fancy face paint and lots of black leather. We need something a little more subtle."
"Subtle won't work if they're expecting us. It's possible that an all out attack is the best option." The soft, authoritative voice of Connor MacLeod caught his cousin's attention, and made the younger Highlander turn about to face him.
"Whose side are you on?"
"It isn't about sides, Duncan." Connor had to smile. They had travelled together as four warriors in search of blood, but had arrived at their destination as a bunch of squabbling schoolboys. Somehow he wasn't surprised. "It's about which plan makes the most sense." He gestured at Methos, who was sitting off to one side with a determinedly ambivalent expression on his face. Clearly he wanted no part in the argument, which was reason enough to bring him into it. "What do you think?"
"Hmm?" Methos sat upright, looking about as though wondering whether the question might actually have been posed to some other person, perhaps seated behind him. There was nobody but him, however, and it was to him that Connor had directed his inquiry. "What?"
"Do we go with brains or brawn?" Duncan sounded vaguely smug, as though certain of the answer - which clearly he believed was going to be in his favour. Methos frowned.
"It's a big complex. There are at least four entrances, probably more, and the guards were trained by an expert. They know that we know where they are, but we've probably got some level of surprise on our side. They probably think at least some of us are dead."
"But they're still sure to think that we'll be coming after them." Duncan folded his arms, looking determined. "Which means that a subtle attack would work best. We could try a distraction first, if Mr Suicide over there really wants to go galloping in with all his guns blazing; and then whilst they're all ripping him to shreds, the rest of us can slip in and rescue Joe."
"Good plan, MacLeod - but with one minor alteration required." Kronos pointed down to the tiny shack before them. "You can't slip in through there. It's not possible. The entrance is hidden, and it leads to an underground complex reached only by a lot of tunnel. The whole place is wired for sound and vision, and the cameras aren't visible. If you try and sneak in that way, you'd never make it six feet without somebody realising that you're there. You'd be a sitting duck." He smiled. "A headless sitting duck, which has some bonuses obviously."
"Are you sure that the security's that good?" Methos was rubbing his chin, a gesture that Kronos recognised even if the others didn't. It was the sign of his thought processes kicking into gear - the sign which meant that a plan was formulating itself in the remarkable mind he had been exploiting for so many centuries. The Leader of the Horsemen nodded his head.
"I spoke to your friend Reuben about it. He was very proud of the systems he designed. You spoke to him too, and you saw what kind of a professional he was."
"True." Methos was nodding, although apparently not in response to his brother's comment. Instead the movement seemed to be tied to his own thought processes, as though it helped to make the ideas flow more easily through the synapses of his brain.
"So maybe the subtle method does have its drawbacks; but I still don't see the point in riding down there like the dawn of the apocalypse when everybody's underground. We ride up shouting and yelling, and all we're left with is a shack that refuses to fight back. They'll stay in their tunnels where it's safe, and we get left looking like idiots." Duncan caught the glint in the oldest Immortal's expressive eyes, and began to glower. "Although of course if you're determined to win back your misspent youth, I don't suppose there's anything I can say that's going to stop you."
"Does there have to be?" Methos did not appear to have his full attention on any of his friends, but did not seem to be looking very closely at the distant shack either. Instead his eyes were focussed on sights within. "On the way over here you looked like a vision out of the pages of history, MacLeod. One of the Horsemen, ready to ride again. What's changed? Suddenly the world's a different place just because the hooves have stopped thudding in your ears?"
"Maybe it is." Duncan looked from Connor to Kronos and then back to Methos. "Oh for pity's sake stop looking at me like that, all of you. You're making me feel like I'm spoiling your fun. We're here to rescue Joe, not to play Horsemen."
"We're here to find an Immortal who wanted us dead." Connor was also staring towards the shack, his eyes mysterious and dark. Perhaps it was simply the fact that he did not know Dawson as well as the others, but he seemed to have an agenda that was all his own. Duncan raised an eyebrow.
"I didn't think you were the revenge-seeking type."
"I'm not." The soft eyes of his cousin swivelled to stare at him from beneath the level, dark blond brow. "But that man conspired with a mortal to put us in a very unpleasant situation. I'd like to talk to him about that. I'd like to see what makes him tick."
"And you think that waving a sword above your head, and galloping down a mountainside to attack a little hut is going to answer that question?" Duncan sighed, exasperated. "You're supposed to be the sensible one."
"More sensible than whom?" Turning aside, Connor frowned at the hut, at the dusty road, at the car parked beside it. Even from the considerable distance it was possible to make out the articles of luggage on the roof of the car, and the presence of an old and battered sign above the door of the hut. Had he been able to move closer, he would have seen that the sign marked the building as a place in which to hire boats; improbable given its tiny size and impractical distance from the sea; but from his remote position the faded and peeling paint of the sign was invisible.
"Certainly more sensible than a Horseman." Duncan let out a long, exasperated sigh, raising his eyes momentarily to stare towards the heavens. Kronos glowered, his ice-chip eyes showing all of the ill-restrained anger to which the others were by now becoming so used.
"Are we going to debate this all day? If we're going to creep down there and cut a few throats in secret, so be it; or if we're going to ride down there and destroy everything we touch, fine. But let's do one or the other. Sitting here isn't going to accomplish anything at all."
"And riding at nothing is going to accomplish even less." Duncan folded his arms, trying not to look too exasperated. The last thing that he wanted was to spark off yet another fight. The look that Kronos gave him was almost pitying.
"If we ride down there with a full on assault, we can destroy that hut and blast our way through the tunnel entrance. We can take care of the security devices and the guards, and be into the main complex before anybody has had a chance to prepare for our arrival. It makes sense to me. In any event, we have to do something, and we have to do it quickly, before the day gets any older. The last thing we want is to be riding into the sun. It rather diminishes the visibility."
"I'm still not sure." Duncan eyed the hut, considered the distance between it and his current position, and wondered what the chances would be of finding Joe alive if the assault met with greater resistance than expected. He didn't want to take any chances on getting his friend killed when they were so close to finding a way to rescue him. Kronos rolled his eyes and turned away.
"This is crazy. Trying to make the four of us agree is like trying to get blood from a stone. We can't fight them if we don't stop fighting each other."
"Spoken with commendable sense." Methos smirked. "For once." With a heavy sigh he jumped neatly from the back of his horse, and slid into a cleft in the rocks that afforded him a good view of their objective. "We still have a few hours before the sun gets too high to make our original plan workable. Provided we're all prepared to leave Joe to his fate for a little while longer, perhaps we can come up with a plan that we all agree on."
"Perhaps." Connor also slid to the ground. "But for the record I think we're wasting time. Better to get this finished."
"Better to get this accomplished with some degree of success than act like a bunch of hot-headed young fools and get Joe killed as well as ourselves." Duncan jumped down beside his cousin. "Okay, I'll admit that on the way over here I was prepared to do just about anything - but you can't tell me that that charge didn't get to you too. Maybe I'm just seeing things a little more clearly now. I'm sorry if that disappoints you, but I think I'm in the right. We have to be careful."
"You're probably right." Methos was eyeing the shack as though longing to ride towards it with his sword drawn and ready. Kronos shook his head.
"Great. Once again you choose the Highlander above your own instincts. Time to listen to yourself, brother. Time to decide who you really are."
"I know who I am, Kronos." For a moment there was a hot look in the eyes of the oldest Immortal. "I don't feel that I have to prove that to you, of all people." Silence hung between them for a second, then he smiled and pointed towards the shack. "I'll give you your daily quota of blood. Don't worry about that."
"I'm counting on it." Making no move to dismount, Kronos stared towards the distant hills. "How many Involution agents do you reckon there are around here? Should we be thinking about mopping up strays, as well as dealing with the main nest?"
"Could be." Connor was frowning, lost in thought. "I wonder if the group that captured us came back here? If not they're still out here somewhere. We might have to deal with them before this is over."
"Then we'd better come up with a decent battle plan." Duncan sounded vindicated. Kronos shot him a cold look.
"You do that. Have fun."
"Going somewhere brother?" Methos kept his voice light, but there was a tone of warning hidden within it. Kronos shook his head.
"Just to look around. There might be some sentries posted around here. It's a good place to watch from, and I'd certainly leave a few men up here, if that was my headquarters down there. I'd rather deal with them before they can get word back to whoever is in command down there now."
"Kollias perhaps." Methos nodded. "Okay. Be quick."
"Death is always quick, brother." Kronos turned his horse about. "Don't do anything terribly exiting whilst I'm gone."
"The chance would be a fine thing." They exchanged a dry smile, before Kronos tapped the horse with his heels and guided the mount away. Methos watched after him as he vanished from sight around the winding and uneven track. Duncan glanced up at the older Immortal.
"We think we might have a plan," he announced, obviously referring to himself and his cousin. Methos glanced back at the pair, patently uninterested.
"Oh." He took one final look after Kronos, then turned back to his vigil over the distant hut. "I'm sorry MacLeod, but I already have the only plan I need."
"Suddenly agreement seems a hard thing to find." Duncan smiled in spite of himself. "We'll wait until Kronos comes back, and then we can talk this thing through together."
"If you like." Methos drew his sword, beginning to play with the sharpened edge. Behind him the talk of his colleagues faded into a muted buzz. He felt as though he had been denied something - promised much and then refused his allotted prize. His blood sang for the climax offered and then removed. Part of him breathed a sigh of relief. Sometimes it was still easier to be Adam than it was to be Methos; but at least he could smile at the distinctions now. Perhaps his old and new selves were at last beginning to find a balance. His eyes trailed back to the path his brother's horse had taken. Now if only Kronos could find the same thing.
Joe Dawson had come to the conclusion that he had been spending far too much time just recently locked up in dungeons. Involution dungeons, for the most part; not that that made them any more different from the average, run-of-the-mill dungeon favoured by other criminal elements. He wondered what the time was, staring morosely at a watch that had clearly decided to keep such things to itself from now on. He couldn't remember when it had stopped, nor when he had first noticed that the time it showed could not possibly be right. He didn't really care, in all honesty. He just wanted to be able to look at his watch in the sunlight, and know what hour of what day it was, and then use that knowledge to help him do whatever he wanted with his time. Being locked up was boring; worse than that, it was becoming extremely tedious. Predictably so.
"Want another game of cards?" Andros Thane, former second-in-command of the Involution security forces and now Joe's fellow prisoner, spoke with the kind of irritating enthusiasm more in line with an overly friendly tourist than a prisoner facing probable execution. Joe glared at him.
"Nobody wants another game of Snap."
"We could play something else." Andros shifted about on his bunk so that he could look directly at Joe. "Poker?"
"Take a hint, Andros." Costas Reuben, the room's other occupant, had even less enthusiasm for his cellmate's tattered pack of cards than did Joe. "Nobody wants to play games."
"No. You just want to sit around getting mad at each other." Andros sat up, narrowing avoiding fracturing his skull on the low ceiling of uneven grey rock. "There are better things to be doing with our time, you know."
"Very true." Joe completed another stomping circuit of the cramped little room. "But playing Bridge with a pack of cards missing all four queens and two of its kings isn't going to get us any closer to the outside world, is it." He swiped at an empty metal mug that lay on the floor, using his cane like a golf club to send the offending utensil skidding under the nearest bunk. He wouldn't be needing the mug again, apparently. The guard who had brought them their most recent meal had made it quite clear that there would be no further provisions for any of them. Costas and Andros, who had been locked up in the cell for considerably longer than had Joe, seemed almost glad. Maybe execution was preferable to another day in prison; or perhaps their Involution training just made them more accepting. Dawson found their apparent lack of concern rather disturbing. Execution wasn't something he was especially prepared to look forward to, even if he wasn't the kind to show any overt fear.
"Sorry I'm sure." Andros gave a long and heavy sigh. "I actually don't really enjoy sitting around in here waiting for one of my former colleagues to come along and blow my brains out. Maybe that makes me unique, I don't know; but I like to have something to take my mind off what's about to happen." He shuffled at the cards, his hands noticeably more clumsy than they had been in the past. Joe began to resent his former uncharitable thoughts.
"Yeah." He looked away. "I guess we all want to think about something other than dying. I just can't sit around playing endless card games." Costas snorted.
"Can anyone?" He jumped down from his bunk, crossing to the door to listen for signs of activity out in the corridors. "Maybe that guy was lying when he said they were going to kill us."
"You're joking." Andros finally stopped playing with his cards, and set them down on the bunk beside him. They fanned out under gravity's guiding hand, spilling their faces ceiling-ward, and proving that Joe had not been exaggerating about their shortcomings. The four queens and two kings were not the only ones missing from their number. "This is the Involution, and we're traitors. I think we can count on death as a pretty fair certainty." He looked sour. "I always accepted that in the past. I didn't even flinch when Geddes had that Australian guy executed last year. I even helped walk him to the execution room."
"Perspectives change." Joe looked towards the door, wondering, like the others, just who was on the other side of it, and what their plans were. Costas was still listening, eyes narrowed in a slight frown that leant his bushy white eyebrows a startling mobility. "Hear anything?"
"Yes." Costas turned away from the door. "Feet. Three sets."
"Three? Doesn't sound like an execution party." Andros shrugged. "Unless they're taking us one at a time of course."
"Yeah. Looking on the bright side always helps." Joe shot the younger man a look that started out as a glare, but turned into a reluctant smile. He liked Andros, for all his overly-enthusiastic attempts to rope his cellmates into card games.
"Maybe they're bringing us news on the others." Lowering himself onto his bunk, Costas leaned back against the wall. He had been thinking often of Methos and Kronos - perhaps almost as much as had Joe himself. The Watcher had updated the two former Involution men on events following their capture. They had been aware of the agenda Geddes had been following, having been present when Kronos had tortured the nephew of the Involution leader in order to discover their plans. It was hard to imagine what must be going on in whatever out of the way den had been adapted for use in the warped 'Games' Geddes had set up. Costas didn't know a great deal about the fabled MacLeod cousins, and with his knowledge of all that Kronos was capable of it seemed strange to wish disaster on two innocent strangers in order that a psychopath could survive - and yet that was precisely what he had been hoping for. He didn't know where Joe's loyalties lay, but he doubted that the situation was anywhere near straightforward in the Watcher's eyes.
"What news could there be?" Joe sounded despondent, as though the fight between the Immortals was something that he was trying not to think about. "If they're coming to tell us that's there's been an over all winner, I don't want to know which one it is. Especially since they're just going to kill him anyway."
"You wouldn't prefer knowing either way?" Costas sounded surprisingly gentle. Dawson cast him a sidelong look.
"I can live without ever knowing that piece of information. Duncan MacLeod and Methos are the best friends I've ever had. They used to be close, until different branches of your damned organisation started messing them around - and now it's all coming to a head. I don't want to know which of them has killed the other; and for some reason I don't much want to know what's happened to Kronos either. Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age." There was the sound of a key rattling in the lock, and he turned to face the door with a look of trepidation upon his increasingly pale face. The door handle shook.
"If this is the execution party, I'd just like to say that I've enjoyed being locked up with you both." Andros reached for his cards once again, scooping them up as if they might somehow possess the ability to protect him from a firing squad's bullets. Costas glared. He might have resigned his post as leader of Involution security, but he was finding it harder to resign as Thane's exacting commanding officer.
"If this is the execution party, I'm going to make sure that they shoot you first." He scowled heavily, before looking back at Joe. "I wouldn't mind, but being led to your death by your own successor is rather galling."
"Very likely." Dawson could hear the rustling of the playing cards in Thane's hands, and tried not to think about the possibility of it being the last sound he ever heard. Wherever the escaped queens and the pair of runaway kings were, he envied them a very great deal.
"Dawson?" The door was still opening, but already there was a voice echoing through from the corridor beyond. Joe sighed.
"What?" He walked forward cautiously, watching as the door swung wide to reveal a pair of uniformed Involution guards. Both men were cradling heavy guns.
"You're to come with us." The nearest of the two men gestured with his gun, and Joe took a wary step forward.
"Because I want to talk to you, and this isn't exactly a comfortable, homely place for a reunion." The clipped tones with their definite East coast flavour made Joe's cane pause in mid air. He groaned.
"Oh no. Not you."
"Always think you've got rid of me, don't you Joe." Wandering into view just beyond the door of the cell, Frank Horton took the long, thin cigarillo from his mouth and peered at Dawson through a cloud of bitter grey smoke. He smiled. "I've been hearing all kinds of things about you and your friends just lately. An old friend of mine has just come back from the big fight. It's not going well for Methos by all accounts. You know, I'm actually quite sad about that. Admittedly I can't stand the man, but I have always entertained some rather pleasant thoughts about killing him myself. Still, you can't have everything."
"What do you want, Horton?" Tired and on edge, the last thing that Joe wanted was to have to play the madman's warped games. Horton himself seemed positively jovial however, and not at all inclined to let sleeping dogs lie. He gestured at the cell door.
"Like I said, I want a chat; so come on out here and join me in a little walk. I thought you might like to reminisce; mull over old times. Hang out."
"Somehow I find that very easy to resist." Joe glanced back at his two cellmates, wondering how best to explain this latest twist. Horton, however, decided it for him. With a wave of his hand he directed the two guards forward. One seized Joe by the arm, the second pressed the muzzle of his gun firmly into the Watcher's ribs. Joe winced.
"Okay. I get the message." He leaned with unnecessary force upon his cane, in an effort to prevent his being manhandled too severely. "Where are we going?"
"Just come with us." Horton stepped aside to allow the mismatched threesome to step back out of the cell. Both Thane and Reuben watched as Dawson was hurried from the room, glancing back at them momentarily before the door clanged shut. The footsteps of the little party faded away down the corridor, and once again the two men were left alone. Costas sighed.
"This is getting depressing."
"We're still alive." Thane held up his cards. "Fancy a game?"
"Yeah." Costas snatched the deck and began to shuffle them quickly, the precise movements helping to focus his mind. "When we get out of here, remind me to buy you a new pack."
"You reckon we will get out?" Thane was watching the sliding cards, envying the sharp and practised moves of his former boss. Costas glared.
"I'm certainly planning on it. Aren't you?"
"Of course. I just--"
"Well don't." He split the deck in half, and handed one pile to his associate. "I'm sick of this place. If you're with me, I think I might just have a plan. I wasn't sure before, with Dawson here - but if they're going to be keeping him somewhere else for a while, I think we've got a chance. Are you in?"
"I'm in." Thane glanced over his cards, seeing both kings and all four aces. His grin widened. "Let's just finish this game before we go."
Kronos took longer to return than Methos had anticipated, although now that his own initial bloodlust had lessened somewhat he found that he was much more calm in waiting for his brother to finish his clandestine operations. The horse came eventually, the hooves soft on the dusty track. Kronos rode low in the saddle, no traces of blood on his clothes or hands, his eyes empty of anything that might have told the others of his recent activities. Methos smiled up at him.
"Maybe." He stayed up on the horse's back, apparently preferring the extra height. If nothing else it gave him a better view of the ramshackle hut that was their objective. It also allowed him the opportunity to look down on the MacLeods from on high, which apparently offered him some satisfaction.
"Were there many guards out?" If Methos was looking for all the gory details, he was disappointed. Kronos gave a shrug.
"One or two, here and there." He nodded at the others. "Have we decided anything yet?"
"MacLeod seems to think so, but I'm not holding my breath." The oldest Immortal smiled ruefully. "We might be four men with horses again, but Silas and Caspian they aren't. Remember the old days? Being obeyed without question, having our every whim catered for. If we wanted to attack something, we attacked it. Nobody asked any questions, or suggested that there might actually be a better way to do it. Can you imagine the four of us riding out of the sun in the old days, and Silas suddenly stopping short and announcing that we were being foolhardy?"
"We're not dealing with Silas and Caspian now." Kronos stroked his horse's neck with a gentle hand, apparently lost in momentary reflection. "These two have minds of their own. Agendas of their own too."
"Is that so bad?"
"Yes. We could be in there by now. We could have rescued your precious Dawson, and had Kollias cowering at our feet. Instead we're sitting here on a mountainside, admiring the view." He stared towards the distant horizon, brighter now as the sun continued its upward climb in the heavens. There was a detached feeling to the world, caused by their continued inactivity, which had in no way been diminished by his recent excursion. A strange sensation of empty suspension had gripped him, diminishing his usual ice and fire, and leaving him feeling increasingly uneasy. He sighed, staring morosely towards the urgently whispering Highlanders.
"This doesn't feel right." Restlessness written all over his face, Kronos rubbed the back of his neck in disquiet thought. Methos flashed him a small, sad smile.
"Maybe you're finally realising that you can never go back."
"Maybe." The cool blue eyes regarded him with little emotion. "But I don't think that's it."
"Don't tell me you're getting cold feet." For some reason this suggestion made the oldest Immortal laugh as he voiced it, but the answer was a tight, cold smile in return.
"I don't get cold feet, Methos. This is more like sixth sense."
"You always did have a fairly accurate one of those." Methos glanced towards the two MacLeods, as their quiet huddle buzzed momentarily, for a second becoming audible due to a rise in volume from their quiet conversation. One or the other of them was disagreeing about something; but soon the moment had passed and the volume seeped away once more into virtual nothingness. "What do you suggest?"
"Not following any plans they come up with." Kronos jerked his head towards the Highland pair, a noticeable flare of contempt in his voice and his movements. "I'm not being negative, brother, but they don't have a thousand years between them. Between us we've got nearly ten. I don't think it takes much to figure out who's best qualified to make any tactical decisions."
"You could be right." A faint smile was playing about in the corners of Methos' expressive mouth. "Although I don't think that they're going to agree."
"That not my problem." Kronos let his hand fall to the hilt of his sword. "I want to head on in there on my own. I can find that hidden entrance. I know what I'm looking for this time."
"I thought you told MacLeod that it was impossible to sneak in there unseen?"
"That was before I had a chat with a pair of sentries a little way up the track." The remembrance of a little direct action made Kronos smile. "I can get in there, and open the way up for the rest of you." His lips thinned and his eyes showed their familiar glow. "Count on it."
"Fair enough." Methos glanced back to Duncan and Connor, then gave a brisk nod. "You'd better get going. Don't take any unnecessary risks, and try to keep things quiet. If you find the way in, give me the signal. We'll meet you down there."
"Alright." The younger Horseman smiled his acquiescence, then slid from the back of his horse and drew a long, wicked looking knife from inside his jacket. It gleamed in the hot daylight, reflecting the sun back into his eyes, and into those of his brother. "I'll be seeing you."
"Soon I hope." Methos stood back to let him pass, watching his oldest friend as he skidded down the slope and across the dusty, empty stretch of land leading to the ramshackle old building beside their abandoned car. He paused at the vehicle, briefly, rummaging around in the luggage on the roof to extract Joe's gun. Even that brief pause, with its accompanying blind search, was executed with a perfect speed and smoothness of movement. Time, clearly, had dulled none of the skill of the Horseman. Just watching the operation made Methos touch the hilt of his sword, eyes narrowed in gentle concentration. The desire for action that now stirred his senses was strange, like a mechanism dragged into rusty action after years of severe under-use. Such feelings he had once believed lost many years ago, to his new way of life, although recent times had proved him wrong in that belief more than once. Clearly his hidden instincts were doing their best to prove once again that they knew him better than he did.
"Where's he gone?" Methos had expected Duncan to be angry when he discovered their companion's decision to make the next move alone, but in the event MacLeod sounded more interested than annoyed. Kronos was no longer visible from the ridge, having vanished to goodness knew where. The oldest Immortal gestured rather vaguely at the last place in which he had been able to see his brother, crouching near to the abandoned car with Joe's gun in his hand.
"Down there. He picked up some information that he thought might be useful. He's gone to find us a way in." Something approaching unfriendly sarcasm showed in his voice. "Sorry. I hope we're not destroying your plans by taking action of our own."
"Not really." Duncan frowned slightly, staring at the ground, before finally sighing and looking back towards his improbably ancient friend. "Methos, I-- Well I'm sorry, that's all." His smile was so typically Duncan - so soft and gentle and almost impossible to resist returning - that even the irritable old man couldn't help beginning to thaw. The Highlander's light hand rested on the older man's shoulder. "Everything seemed so clear cut before, and then I suddenly realised that I couldn't do anything that might put Joe at risk. I guess I'm something of a disappointment. Not the Horseman apprentice you'd hoped for." Methos sighed, the irritation seeping gently from him.
"I didn't really think you'd let us ride on in there - and if I'm honest I'm probably a little relieved." He smirked. "But as for you being another Horseman... Sorry MacLeod, but that's as daft as the idea of Kronos joining the Royal Ballet."
"I'd have thought that the idea of you being a Horseman was daft too, once." MacLeod stared down at the hut, certain that, for a moment, he had caught a glimpse of a tiny, black-clad figure moving briefly in and out of vision. Funny to have Kronos back in the real world, instead of just flitting to-and-fro inside his mind. Methos smiled.
"We've come a long way Duncan. Or at least I hope we have. Is the idea really so ridiculous now?"
"The idea of you being a Horseman? The idea of you - the quietest, least violent person I know - being one of the most violent people ever to walk the face of the Earth?" MacLeod laughed a short laugh, the sound harsh, although the light in his eyes was warm and amused. "No, it's not daft. Not really. When we were riding over here I experienced the most..." He shrugged, unsure how best to word it. "It was intoxicating. For a moment I could really believe that I was one of you - riding into battle, ready to hack a whole army to pieces. It was incredible. I understand now Methos." He dropped his hand once again onto the other man's shoulder, gripping it more tightly this time. "I really understand. And I know that any one of us, in all of the world, could have done what you did, especially back then, in that world. I used to feel so... so let down, by all that you used to be. As though you'd somehow betrayed me, and everything I liked to think that you were. Now I know that I was the one betraying you - just by thinking that way. I have so much to apologise for. Ever since the day I found out about your past I've been treating you differently. I've mistrusted you - hell, I've tried to kill you more than once. And now... one little horse ride across a piece of Greek mountainside, and I'm ready to understand." He shook his head, caught between sheepishness and a very real kind of pain. "It's at moments like this when I really notice the difference in age between us. I still make such stupid mistakes. Time was I thought I was so old. Three hundred years makes the mortals sound so young. And then I met you, and now I know that there's still so much that I have to learn."
"Don't be daft MacLeod." Methos pushed the hand away from his shoulder, unable to look at his friend for several moments. "You think age makes you immune to mistakes? You think that I don't do stupid things still? So you mistrusted a friend, so you thought I wasn't who I pretended to be. Maybe you're right. I killed thousands of people on a whim - destroyed homes and villages and lives in the blink of an eye. I conned myself that it was a part of my past - that it was something I'd done in my hot-headed youth, and had grown out of in time. Truth is, I could go back to it like that." He snapped his fingers and MacLeod blinked. "I've been living these last years in a lie - a lie to myself and to my friends. I felt hurt by your lack of trust, but you were right in feeling that way. It was me that was wrong - and having Kronos back has shown me just how wrong. I'll always be a Horseman, and in that you were right to think I'd betrayed you - because I tried to make you believe that those days were far behind me. I tried to act as though that Methos was an entirely different person. But he isn't, or wasn't, or whatever. I'm not angry at you, MacLeod. How could I be? You have your youth as an excuse if nothing else. Me? I'm five thousand years-old and I'm still hopeless."
"Then you're not angry?" MacLeod was unsure how to follow such a speech. Methos smiled.
"I'm a little annoyed that you've had me sitting up here admiring the scenery for the last three hours. Other than that, no." He held out his hand. "New beginnings, MacLeod?"
"No more arguing over past mistakes?"
"But not necessarily no more arguing." They gripped hands for a moment, both of them grinning, before Duncan pulled the oldest Immortal into a sudden, powerful hug. Methos backed away, coughing.
"I do wish you wouldn't do that."
"For a five thousand year-old citizen of everywhere, you can be pretty damn British at times, old man."
"Call it a curse. I think it goes with the accent." Methos shook his head. "Can we change the subject now? Too much sentimentality makes my head spin."
"If you like." Duncan glanced back at his cousin, seated on a nearby rock, expression amused. "You want to join the group hug?"
"No thankyou." He rose to his feet, stretching to work out the kinks caused by the uncomfortable seat. "But I'm glad for you both. When we find friends amongst ourselves, we should keep them. We are all each other's greatest allies. Letting mortal influences come between us is more than just foolish - it's fatal. It's differences like that which may one day lead the Game to destroy us all... which, correct me if I'm wrong, is what the Involution was intending when it tried to drive the two of you apart."
"Yeah." Methos smirked, looking at the ground in dry embarrassment. Connor wasn't much older than Duncan, and yet somehow he seemed to possess all of the wisdom and sense that the oldest Immortal had been unable to secure in all his years of learning and searching. Clearly age wasn't everything. "That was one plan that nearly worked."
"Nearly." Duncan was still smiling his gentle smile. "We beat them though, old man. Maybe we haven't finished with them yet, but we've come through their nasty little games more or less unscathed."
"We nearly took each others heads. That's hardly unscathed. Connor's sword took a chunk out of my neck, you and Kronos nearly beheaded each other at least twice in the space of twenty-four hours..." Methos smiled. "But yeah, I guess we did come through it."
"Eventually." Duncan looked faintly sheepish. "If I promise not to try to kill you again for a while, will you have a drink with me at Joe's club when we get back?"
"So long as it's not one of my nights behind the bar." Methos didn't seem too cheered by the sudden memory of his new duties helping Dawson run his jazz club. The days locked in mortal danger in the foothills of Greece had a certain appeal when the alternative was scraping chewing gum off barstools, or sweeping rubbish off the floor. Duncan laughed.
"Oh yeah. You haven't served me a beer yet, bartender. I'm going to look forward to that."
"Oh joy." Methos glanced back at the hut. "Just don't forget that you've still got to survive today."
"I plan to."
"Good for you." Turning morosely back to watch for his brother's signal, Methos thought about the impending return to his old routine at the club. Sometimes death had a whole new appeal.
It was hard work being a hero - or at least, it was hard work living up to a name like Hero. Louis Hero, deputy security chief for the Greek branch of the Involution had been momentarily swept along on a tide of his own glory when his - admittedly unplanned - actions had resulted in the capture of Kronos and the two MacLeods. On the crest of that stupendous wave of fame within the organisation, he had volunteered - a remarkable event in itself given his allergy to all forms of work - to supervise security of the prison section of the organisation's underground complex. In charge of such glamorous detainees as his former superior officers, Reuben and Thane, he now found himself in the somewhat awkward position of having to pretend to be very good at his job when, not only did he hate the job itself, but he was also clearly rather useless at it. He was in charge of two of the most important prisoners that he was ever likely to see in his career, and yet he was rather of the attitude that, so long as he was fairly sure the door was locked, Reuben and Thane would stay suitably contained. His second-in-command in his new posting, a smoothly capable all-round soldier named Jakob Kristov, was well aware that his superior's joy at being the centre of congratulation was fast wearing off, and that all pretence at capability and enthusiasm was about to take a rather serious tumble off the top of a metaphorical Mount Everest. Naturally enough, however, nobody paid any attention to Jakob Kristov. The only person that might have done so, Paul Deltos, the head of security, was in charge of providing an honour guard for the guesting rogue Watcher, Frank Horton who, for some reason best explained by the man's own aura of inflated self-importance, had decided to go on a walkabout with one of the prisoners, a Watcher by the name of Joe Dawson. As for Horton himself, his only pretence of interest in the incarceration of Thane and Reuben was to inquire why they were still alive, and to make rather vague suggestions that they ought to be executed fairly soon - but since nobody seemed to know where Anthony Geddes was, and since the absent leader was the only person cleared to order an execution, it seemed that the doors were to stay locked on the pair for a while longer yet. They had been told of their imminent deaths, naturally enough, by an insanely posturing Hero wearing a silly grin and a dress-uniform, extracted from a dusty old wardrobe for the occasion of Horton's visit. Quite apart from the fact that Hero's habit of always forcing his hands deep into his pockets produced the unfortunate after-effect of sending cascades of mothballs pouring out of this particular outfit, his own general lack of impressiveness meant that Costas Reuben in particular had treated his impending doom with some considerable amusement. Kristov might have been annoyed had he not had an even lower opinion of Hero than did Reuben himself.
There was, then, a rather less than sombre feel to the mood of the prison section on the day that Joe Dawson, bored of confinement and almost certainly not in any way cowed by the experience, was taken out of his cell by Frank Horton and a pair of heavily armed guards. Kristov watched them go with a suspicious expression on his face. He rather believed, as did those of his colleagues more capable than the general rank and file, that Anthony Geddes had met with an unenviable fate somewhere in the foothills - and that it was very likely his 'devoted ally' Horton who had brought him to it. Kristov was also of the opinion that the mysterious plan Geddes had devised, involving four Immortals, had in some way backfired. He couldn't help expecting the walls to suddenly begin crashing in around him, as the malevolent quartet came to exact their revenge. He had heard all kinds of stories of two of their number; cities sacked, treasures looted, countless thousands murdered. Horton's hasty departure in particular hardly boded well for the future of the complex, not least since he had crept out by a back route known only to a few. It all seemed to indicate that he knew something the rest of them didn't.
"Have you fed the prisoners yet?" Looking up from his magazine - something to do with chartered accountancy as far as Kristov could see - Hero raised a questioning eyebrow and tried out his best superior stare. In turn, Kristov did his best to look subordinate.
"I didn't think we were going to bother. You told them they'd had their last meal, and that they were going to be executed. Might look a bit odd if I take them a plate of sandwiches."
"Well we can't let them starve." Hero looked at his watch. "It's getting on for noon. Are you sure there hasn't been any message from Mr Geddes yet?"
"Quite sure." Kristov wished that his colleague would put out his herbal cigarette, and hoped that he managed to make it to the end of the sentence without coughing. Hero was likely to assign him the graveyard shift if he showed any kind of intolerance for the foul-smelling smoke. "They'd have called us if he'd got back. Face it - if he was going to call, he would have. My guess is that he's lying out there in the hills somewhere, with one of Horton's bullets in him."
"I wouldn't let Mr Horton hear you say that." Hero's eyes turned immediately to the door, even though Horton himself had already departed. Kristov smirked.
"I wasn't planning to. Either way, you've got to make a decision. Paul's off with Horton, which makes you the senior officer in charge of security for the whole complex. There's nobody else to ask - so so we leave Reuben and Andros sitting in their cell, or do we kill them?"
"How the hell should I know?" Clearly the insinuation that he was now in charge had worried Hero immensely. "Mr Geddes might--"
"Geddes was planning to execute them, He just didn't get around to giving the order. So long as they're alive, they're a liability. Half of the security section is still likely to follow Reuben, if he gets out and gives the order." He didn't add and that includes me.
"So you think I should have them shot?" Hero stared at the pages of his magazine, as if he could somehow find enlightenment in the investment advice of a Berlin-based accountant who was clearly in the pay of the steel industry. He glanced up momentarily. "If we do kill them, what happens if we need them? As hostages or something?"
"Hostages for what? There's nobody left to bargain with. The boss is AWOL, Horton has run out on us, those Immortals are supposed to be dead by now. Who cares what happens to a pair of traitors? Word is that Geddes was dealing with some Immortal, and that they had some plan together to make us into a world-wide power again. The last thing we need is a pair of traitors throwing spanners in the works. Who knows who they might be working for?"
"So we kill them then." Hero still looked undecided, but appeared to be coming around to the idea. Kristov shrugged.
"Your decision, not mine. Personally I'd get somebody else to do it. Pass the buck. Make sure nobody can point the finger too much if Geddes does come back, and it turns out that he wanted them alive."
"Makes sense to me." Hero turned a few pages of his magazine, flicking through stories about the impressive investment opportunities in e-commerce, and the relative benefits of hiring a personal accountant. He wasn't sure why he favoured reading about foreign accountants, especially since the magazine articles themselves were all written in English, a language he spoke fluently but could hardly read at all. Damn silly in his opinion. The letters didn't make an ounce of sense. Something on the page, about responsible decision making - although it might just as easily have been reprehensible deltoid marketing - caught his eye, and he stared in thoughtful silence for some moments at a complicated flow diagram illustrating projected interest rates. He had to confess that Kristov's suggestion made sense. With this in mind, he nodded happily to himself and glanced up.
"Okay what." Having very little faith in Hero's ability to come to any kind of a decision. let alone put in motion so crucial an operation as the execution of his former commanding officer, the unwilling deputy in charge of prisons folded his arms and waited for the excuses. Instead, however, Hero fixed him with a surprisingly firm gaze.
"We execute them. In the cell is probably safest. After that we can get rid of the bodies somehow - chuck them over the cliff maybe. It's a long drop, and the sea's pretty rough down at the bottom. Nobody goes down there except fossil hunters, and it's the wrong season for them. They always wait until the tourist rush is over."
"Fair point." Kristov was almost impressed. "You want me to call somebody down? We could get one of the younger lot to do it. Somebody junior, who nobody will miss if it turns out we were supposed to be keeping Reuben alive."
"I don't think we need to bother the others." Hero got to his feet, putting his magazine carefully down on the table. "You're going to do it."
"Me?" Kristov stared at him in amazement. "Why would I want to kill Reuben? I told you, we need a junior so that we won't have to take the heat if--"
"Listen, if it turns out that we've done the wrong thing in executing those two men, I don't intend to be caught in the middle of the recriminations. Nobody is going to know that I was involved." Hero smiled. "So you are going to go in there right now, and execute the pair of them. If you've done right, all well and good. If you've done wrong... well it was your idea in the first place." He smiled sweetly. "Why blame it on somebody else?"
"You--" Kristov broke off, aware that Hero could have him incarcerated alongside Reuben and Thane with one press of the intercom button. Sure enough, the other man's hand was hovering dangerously close to the intercom, the fore finger extended as though already anticipating treachery, and preparing to deal with it accordingly. He sighed. "And do I get the credit if I'm doing the right thing, as well as taking the fall if I'm not?"
"Who knows." Hero smirked, showing a side of himself that he had previously kept well hidden. In the past Kristov would never have believed the cowardly buffoon to be at all capable of acting so unpleasantly - if only because he had always appeared to lack the brains for such behaviour. Clearly appearances could be wrong. Smiling tightly, the temporary security chief headed for a rack on the wall, extracted a slim, powerful hand gun, and handed it to his assistant.
"No time like the present." His smile did not fail. "Kill them. Both of them. Now."
"Thanks a bunch." Weighing the gun in his hand, Kristov seriously considered using it on Hero instead, if only because the man infuriated him so. In the event, however, he merely turned sharply on his heel and headed for the cells. He reached the outer door feeling Hero's scrutiny clearly upon him. The man's eyes almost physically hurt his back, so intently did they focus upon him; so determinedly did they follow him towards his goal. With a feeling of growing trepidation, he unlocked the door. On the other side of it, far from being safely locked in his cell, there stood Costas Reuben, a quietly confident smile etched onto his lined and rugged face. He eyed the gun in Kristov's hand.
"Execution party?" He asked it almost politely, his bushy white eyebrows raised in what was almost a gentle mockery of his former colleague's awkward position. Kristov looked self-consciously at his weapon.
"No explanations necessary, Jakob." Costas was still smiling pleasantly. "We understand completely, don't we Andros."
"No." Young Andros was looking decidedly unfriendly, which was more to do with the fact that Kristov was his brother-in-law than anything else. Imminent execution was one thing - executions were, after all, a fact of life in the Involution - but execution at the hands of a relative was soemthing different. Costas shrugged.
"Okay, apparently we don't understand." He nodded at the gun. "So are you going to shoot me with that, or are you just going to stand there and look pretty?"
"He's going to shoot you." There was a slightly high-pitched edge to Hero's voice, as though his usual cowardice was fast crawling out of the hole his ambition had temporarily buried it in. Kristov wanted to glare at him, but didn't dare take his eyes off Reuben.
"How did you get out of your cell?" He asked it as though it were a personal insult - as though the former head of security had escaped simply to annoy his successors. Reuben smiled.
"I was watching on the monitors when Methos and Kronos escaped the last time. Took me a while to work out what it was that they did... but it worked in the end." He clapped his hands together. "So... we'd really like a word with Mr Geddes. Is he in his office?"
"No." Kristov answered immediately, ignoring Hero's insubstantial squeak of protest. It was simply too hard to avoid slipping back into the old routine, answering Costas Reuben's questions quickly and efficiently; acting as though the redoubtable old man was still his much feared and admired boss. Hero's squeaks grew in pitch.
"How about putting the gun away then." Andros sounded heavily sarcastic. Kristov stared straight at him. Some part of his brain was telling him that it had been his idea to execute the two men - that his career, and very probably his life, could depend upon his being able to raise the gun right now, and to pull the trigger before either man was able to speak further. Hero squeaked again, still trying to articulate his indignation more effectively.
"Geddes is missing." Kristov stared at a point slightly to the left of Reuben's shoes, for all the world as if he were once again a raw recruit, making his first, shaking report to his new boss. "Some guy named Frank Horton was here, telling stories about those damn Immortals we've been chasing around after."
"I know about Horton. I saw him taking Joe Dawson away." Reuben sounded brisk and businesslike. "And there's been no word at all from Geddes? How long now?"
"Twenty-four hours maybe. I've never known him go for more than three without calling in. If nothing else, he usually wants somebody to redo his hair. There's been nothing at all since he went off to handle his business with the Immortals."
"And Joe Dawson?"
"Gone with Frank Horton. They left about an hour ago. Paul Deltos went with them, with a couple of guards; and those two technicians that run the computer-zone. They took the mobile HQ equipment, and a whole load of computer gear. Only light weaponry though, plus they took a couple of swords."
"You shouldn't be telling him this." Finally regaining control of his tongue, Louis Hero managed to advance a couple of steps before his nerve failed him again. He hovered uncertainly nearby, trying to summon up the courage to go for a gun. Costas flashed him a cheerful grin, which took both Kristov and Hero by surprise. Costas Reuben had never been the grinning type. It was far more in his style to glower or to grimace; or at the very most just to remain steadfastly impassive. Maybe imprisonment had been good for him, or maybe it had given some buried characteristics time to escape.
"Louis, Louis, Louis. You know, I never could understand why Geddes gave you a job - but now I do. It's because you're too big a coward ever to be a traitor." He reached out, hand touching Kristov's own very lightly, very gently, very persistently. Kristov stared down at the fusion of fingers, a frown crinkling his forehead. He wasn't sure what would happen if he gave Costas the gun. Reuben, however, simply smiled in a vaguely beguiling way, and held the captured hand a little tighter. Slowly, very slowly, Kristov let his digits relax. In some strange fashion that seemed more osmosis than actual movement, the gun found its way into Reuben's waiting palm. Hero made an uncertain, gibbering sound.
"Mr Geddes is on his way back here." He said it with the sort of steadfast confidence that came with a child's conviction in his father's unfailing power to save him. Costas shook his head.
"Somehow I doubt that. You poor fools don't know the half of this. You're puppets, just like I was. Well I'm not a puppet anymore. I've lost a son I was never allowed to care for, a job I wasted my entire life on - all for one man's daft plan to get a bunch of Immortals fighting it out in an arena, to help some other Immortal try to become God. You don't even begin to understand what any of this is about."
"Geddes is dead, I understand that much. I think Horton killed him. Him or that Australian guy he's got with him at the moment. O'Reilly or whatever his name is." Kristov looked from Costas to Andros, and then, fleetingly, towards Hero. "Where does that leave us?"
"Where does it leave any of us?" Costas shrugged. "Trying to escape I suppose. Or trying to execute each other in a vague attempt to keep up appearances." He pointed the gun at Hero. "Or trying to find our own way out."
"Hey!" Hero held up his hands, backing away from the accusing gun barrel. "What did I do?"
"Stood in the way?" Costas gave him a placid smile, a faint hint of sorrow drawn, perhaps, in the corners of his mouth. The gun fired once.
"Louis?" Kristov stared at the fallen body of his comrade in ill-disguised shock. Hero twitched once, mouth gasping wretchedly, before his shivering form gave one last frightened shake. Reuben glanced towards the remaining guard.
"Where is everybody?"
"Where you'd expect them to be. Doing what they're supposed to be doing. This is still a working Involution branch, even if the boss is dead." His eyes trailed nervously to the gun. "You don't have to kill me you know."
"Really? Because I don't know. You were coming to execute me, Jakob. Maybe you didn't want to, and maybe you did - but you suspected Geddes was dead, and yet you still followed his orders. That's not the mark of one of my loyal men, is it. Could be you prefer me out of the way. Could be you like being a little higher up the ladder."
"That's not the way it was." Trying not to think of the increased privileges, not to mention the better living quarters, which had been allotted to him following his recent promotion, Kristov blanched noticeably. "Look, things have been pretty weird here. I--"
"I know. Believe me, I understand." Reuben's smile was the image of patience and benevolence. "I know what it's like, Jakob. I've been there. I had to execute my first CO. He was surplus to requirements, he didn't fit into the big picture anymore. Somebody handed me a gun, I went into his office, and I shot him right between the eyes. He smiled at me as I pulled the trigger. Involution practice, pure and simple. You don't want to do it necessarily, but what else is there to do? What else is there to say? Loyalty counts."
"Exactly." Kristov felt relieved. "And I'm loyal. Really. Honestly."
"I know." Costas clapped him on the shoulder. "You're loyal all the way - always have been. The trouble is, Jakob, that I'm just not interested in loyalty anymore. Personally I don't give a damn if the entire Involution spontaneously combusts. I just want out of here. I want to find my friends, if they're still alive; I want to find Geddes, and I want to ask him why his stupid machinations got my son killed. After that I want to take the first holiday I've ever been on, and find out if I still have a life to live. I haven't been in the real world since I was ten years-old, when I went to my first Involution meeting. It's funny, but it took an overgrown schoolboy and a psychopath with a leather fetish to make me see that I've been deluding myself for six decades. I want out."
"You know where the door is." Kristov had gone very pale. Quite apart from his shock at Reuben's words - virtual blasphemy to a loyal member of the Involution - was his growing sense of fear. Every Involution man expected to die one day, when his usefulness to the organisation was at its end, or when somebody more qualified for the job turned up, ready to take over. Being gunned down by a traitor making a bid for freedom was different. It was premature; unexpected. Worse than that - it was failure.
"Yes. I know where the door is." Costas Reuben, who had personally inducted Kristov into the Involution, and had been the best man at his wedding - to the sister of Andros Thane - pulled the younger man closer to him, into what was almost a hug. Kristov barely felt the muzzle of the gun pressing against the side of his head. He tried to struggle, but the other man was too strong for him. He felt a heavy, hard hand gently brush his cheek.
"Nobody's going to get in my way, Jakob." The words whispered themselves very lightly, Reuben's breath hardly disturbing the hair on the younger man's head. When it came, Kristov didn't hear the shot.
"Now what?" Andros stared down at the body of his brother-in-law with the lack of concern characteristic of a member of the Involution. Reuben glanced at the security monitors on the desk.
"I want to use these - see what's happening around here." He nodded towards the door, "Keep an eye on that. If standards haven't slipped too much, the chances are that somebody saw all of this. There might be somebody on their way down here."
"I don't have a clue." Reuben smiled, beginning to run his security checks, looking to see which exit might give them the best chance of escape. "I was hoping that Methos or Kronos might be out there somewhere, ready to give us a few pointers."
"It's as good a plan as any, I suppose." Andros bent to pick up Hero's weapon, then positioned himself opposite the door. "Maybe Methos and Kronos are on their way here now." Costas nodded.
"Yes." It was a long shot, and they both knew it - but it was better to think that they might not be entirely alone. "Maybe."
The hut looked just the same as when Kronos had last been there, the chipboard door swinging gently in the breeze, the sign still hanging loose. It rattled at him as he looked up at it, but he did not stay put for long. There was, he had learned from his hilltop sentries, a camera hidden within the sign, which roved the land with its constantly moving eye. The knowledge of its presence had given him the chance to watch for it; to look for the glint of sun on the secret lens, and to be sure of the direction in which it was pointing before he made his move. Pushing open the door, loose now, its padlock already lost to his previous visit, he stepped into the hut. The familiar gusts of dust and long-abandoned cobweb met him, but he stepped through the choking mists without pause. There was one more camera that had to be dealt with before he could relax - a simple time-delay system set up on the wall opposite the door. It was designed to warn the Involution of any intruders, but did not work immediately on the off-chance that those entering the hut had legitimate business there. He reached it quickly, slid aside the almost invisible panel that hid it, and was faced with a small black control box. A tiny red light flashed at him, indicating his presence as an unidentified threat.
"And hello to you too." Voice too soft for the camera's accompanying microphone, Kronos spoke to the tiny panel as though it were a person set there to thwart him. His fingers reached out for the panel, tapping in the code number his sentries had passed on to him. The red light gave one final flash, and then changed to green.
"You may enter." He grinned, highly pleased with himself, then crossed to the wall where the hidden door to the underground complex was positioned. He stroked the wall with his fingertips, feeling the tiny, hairline crack that betrayed the presence of the door. Eyes alone could not lead him to the secret entrance, for it was built so well that it was all but invisible. He ran his thumbs along the top edge of the door, feeling the slightly raised surface that concealed the opening mechanism. According to his forcibly obtained information, the tunnel should open at the exact touch of a certain measured pressure. He experimented carefully, feeling his way with restrain. With barely a sound, the raised surface moved beneath his hands.
The tunnel yawned wide, sloping gently, leading down into the darkened depths. The last time he had walked down that innocent-looking passage it had been at the point of a gun, a collection of Involution guards around him. Methos and Dawson had been with him then; this time he had no knowledge if the latter was even still alive.
There was nobody in the tunnel. He entered it carefully nonetheless, looking out for hidden sentries, or further surveillance equipment. There was supposed to be one further camera, hidden just around the corner from the entrance, in the bracket for one of the unlit candles that were intended to light the way. He reached for it, found it easily in the dark. There was no sign of infra-red capability, which told him that for now at least he was invisible to the lens. It couldn't see him in the almost total darkness, but he wanted it removed anyway. He didn't like the idea of it being there, watching him. His fingers found buttons, and he wondered which one to press. In the end, annoyed by the lack of co-operation from the mute object, he ripped away part of the casing and tore the camera free. It hit the ground at his feet, breaking apart, a faint shower of sparks momentarily lighting up the jumble of plastic and wire. A thin trail of smoke hovered uncertainly. Kronos smiled.
"And now for you, my dearest brother." He returned to the main room, hovering for a moment by the door. Up in the hills the second Horseman waited, surrounded by his do-gooder Highlanders. It would be difficult to get them past the camera in the sign without one of them setting it off. Duncan MacLeod had a habit of failing to take the older man's advice, and he wouldn't take kindly to being ordered about by a Horseman who was rather better informed than he. A thin smile found its way back onto Kronos' curiously dark and pale face. Better to leave them where they were then, until he could deal with security, and make it safe to put that tell-tale camera out of action. Drawing his sword, he turned about and slipped back into the tunnel.
It was longer than he remembered it, but decidedly less cramped. The last time they had been hurried along by Andros Thane and his Involution cronies, Costas Reuben towering over all with his shock of white hair and his fiercely observant eyes. They were probably both dead by now, no doubt executed very promptly by Anthony Geddes. Kronos did not feel any regret, but he did feel something. He didn't wonder about what it was - feelings like that were for Highlanders.
There was only one sentry at the tunnel's end, his tie undone and his jacket open and unbuttoned. There was a can of beer on the ground at his feet, and a plate of something that looked like the remains of a vegetarian lasagne. Clearly discipline had crumbled during Geddes' absence.
The guard mumbled something indistinct as Kronos approached him; a murmur that came from a place approaching wakefulness, yet still held back by sleep. Kronos kicked his foot.
"Huh?" Jumping in fright, the guard made a grab for his gun, then peered up at the Immortal through bleary eyes, muttering indistinctly in a mixture of English and Greek. Kronos waved his sword in indication of his status as a hostile, but his only response was a heavy frown.
"You'd better stay here." The guard peered a little more closely at him, in the manner of a heavily short-sighted man who had lost his glasses. "I'll call someone."
"Don't bother." With a dull feeling of something very like regret, Kronos ran him through, watching dispassionately as the body crumpled to the floor. He had been looking for a challenge - something to help dispel his lingering irritation at having to do nothing for so long whilst the MacLeods made their plans. Instead he had met with no one but a drunken fool, incapable of putting up much resistance. It had seemed almost a shame to waste energy on killing him - but blood, nonetheless, was still blood. The smell of it in the air sharpened the old Immortal's keen senses, lending his stride a new sense of purpose.
He crossed through three rooms, down a short stretch of corridor, through a large chamber filled with stores. He was deliberately taking a different route to the cells than before, his powerful sense of direction making him positive of the right direction to take. His feet clattered on the hard flooring, his sword occasionally clanged loudly as it struck the walls. He was being purposely noisy, actively searching for confrontation - but none came. Avoiding it on the surface, when he had still had a way to go, was one thing. Being forced to avoid it now, when he was already safely in the enemy stronghold, was quite another. He was frustrated. More corridors led him onwards; more doors led off to further rooms. He saw armouries and laboratories, food stores and barracks; all the paraphernalia of military life in this vast underground complex hewn of stone. When he reached the cells it was almost a relief. Maybe now he would meet somebody. Even if it was only some hapless guard left to watch over a scattering of unfortunate colleagues it would be something. There was sure to be somebody in the prison - guards found drunk; a few misdemeanours awaiting correction - he didn't care. He just wanted somebody to fight, to make the last of the cobwebs blow away before they gained an even greater hold upon his mind.
Sixth sense made him hesitate at the door to the prison complex. Perhaps it was the final culmination of his growing unrest - where were the guards? He had long since ceased to avoid the security cameras and the many scattered sensors - perhaps it was the faint noises that he could hear from the other side of the door. He raised Dawson's gun, glad to have a second weapon, liking the combination of pistol and sword. It brought to mind his buccaneer days, when he had waited more than once on the other side of a door, waiting to burst in, fully armed, to seize the captain from his cabin, and take the treasure from his safe. The memory was enough to bring the smile back to his face, and to brighten the glimmer in his eyes.
"Dawson... Deltos and Horton... up to something." They were disjointed words, but enough for Kronos to get the distinct impression that his brother's mortal friend was still alive, and had gone off somewhere in the company of at least two other men. He knew Deltos, for that had been the name of one of the men making up the small army which had captured him along with the MacLeods. They had taken the threesome to the secret arena, although they not gone inside. Kronos let his hand rest on the door handle, listening intently.
"Take over... suggestions? ...impossible surely." The conversation continued, a little more faintly than before, as though the people talking had moved further away from the door. Kronos leant his head against it, letting the vibrations of the sound pass through the barrier, amplifying the words and bringing them to him more closely.
"Do you really think it will work?"
"Well if you're prepared to stand around here and wait to be recaptured, that's your problem." Kronos recognised that voice - knew the resonance of it, and the harshness diminished only by a vague sense of affection for his companion. So Costas Reuben had survived - which meant that the man he was talking to was almost certainly Andros Thane. His smile hardening into a new resolve, he pushed open the door.
"Don't move!" Costas reacted with a speed that was quite admirable, although, given both his training and his hard life, it was not surprising that a man of his age should still be able to move so fast. Kronos made no move with either of his weapons, but neither did he show any sign of halting. Instead he sauntered rather casually into the room, looking about with detached interest.
"You decided to join in the party then? Good of you to negate the need for a rescue party." Not that he had been planning a rescue party anyway; more of a massacre, had the mood taken him. Costas slowly relaxed.
"That's a good way to get your head blown off." He looked past Kronos, towards the corridor. "Are you the only one still alive?"
"No. The other three are up in the mountains. I came in alone to have a look around." He stared down at the two bodies on the floor, vaguely irked that yet again he had been denied his sport. "This place is a graveyard. I've only seen one person so far, and I've covered most of the ground. They're all asleep or drunk by my reckoning. Did the news come through about Anthony's death?"
"He's dead?" Andros sounded interested. "We suspected, but we hadn't heard for sure." His eyes narrowed. "The guards are probably taking advantage of the lax discipline. I would never have thought that I'd live to see something like that."
"The computer-zone will still be running as normal." Costas slipped his gun into his belt. "I'd suggest we head on down there. If anybody knows what's going on, they will." He looked rather sharply towards Kronos. "What about Kollias? Do you know what's happened to him?"
"I haven't seen him. If he was around, he left after Geddes died, before my friends and I were able to escape." He nearly stopped then, to consider what he had just said. Friends? Fortunately the others hadn't been present to hear that. "Geddes was killed by somebody named O'Reilly. He's a Watcher, apparently. I don't know any more about him than that."
"James O'Reilly. He's from the Australian branch of the Watchers, although rumour has it that he was loyal to Horton rather than to the Hierarchy. We knew that of course, but I suppose the Watchers failed to pick up on it." He smiled slightly, strangely proud despite his growing estrangement from the organisation to which he had devoted his life. "Even at less than half strength the Involution has more eyes and ears than the Watchers. They're so busy watching others they never think to watch themselves."
"Horton?" Kronos frowned, turning his long memory back through the years to before his recent death. "That's the name that the serving girl mentioned back at the arena... He's a nutcase. Hates Immortals. Tried to wipe us out some years back. Rumour has it that he killed Darius. Surely the Involution doesn't have anything to do with a liability like him?"
"Not these days, certainly." Reuben had raised a speculative eyebrow, beginning to wonder just how much the Immortals as a whole knew about the ways of the Watchers and the Involution. Perhaps it was time that they all started to work on their secrecy. "James Horton was killed some years ago. I have to confess that I don't know much about what happened. I was busy on a rather involved project for Geddes at the time, and I didn't get much of a chance to spy on international events. I assume it was Duncan MacLeod that killed him, though. Goodness knows he tried often enough."
"For a man who claims to be a hero, Duncan MacLeod dispenses his death sentences with predictable regularity." Kronos spoke sardonically, although the true depth of his sarcasm was lost on Reuben and Thane. "So if Horton is dead, how does Joe Dawson come to be with him now?"
"This is Frank Horton, James's brother. Frank was never really a Watcher; his application was turned down, on the grounds of psychological unsuitability as far as I'm aware. He hated the Watchers, largely due to his brother's influence. James's death seems to have pushed him over the edge. He's been trying to wipe out Watchers and Immortals in equal number ever since. He has the company tattoo, although he drew it on himself - as a disguise presumably - and he has access to most of the Watcher's resources, largely due to his brother's extensive contacts. The man is undoubtedly a genius, if heavily warped. Rumour has it that he's been dealing with the Russian Mafia of late. Goodness knows what they get from the deal, but he's benefited enormously. Money, weapons, prestige. It's given him increased power over his brother's old followers. We knew all about it of course, but we were planning just to let the drama unfold. Not our problem." He frowned, his lips narrowing into an expression of distaste. "Might well be now though."
"The Involution getting together with a bunch of renegade Watchers?" Kronos scowled, shaking his head. "Sounds to me like it's everybody's problem, and it's not often that I get community spirited. They're just as likely to wipe out the mortals as they are to kill off my lot, and if they have the organised crime circuit behind them, that's obviously what they're planning to do. Take out the Watchers, probably the other branches of the Involution, enough innocents as well to ensure themselves a reputation..." He nodded slowly, as though in some way approving of the thesis. "Likely to work too, especially with a few Immortals like Kollias onboard, with their special kind of knowledge and experience. Most Immortals aren't exactly the moral type. Oh you get one or two, like my two Highlander friends outside-" There it was again; this 'friends' business. He was going to have to watch that- "but most of the time they couldn't give a damn. There are enough of us out there who are bored enough to be swayed by something as interesting as a plan to give the world a good shaking."
"You're joking." Andros was staring at the old Immortal with eyes widened in disbelief. "Nobody could come up with a plan like that, much less a madman like Frank Horton. He's a fool with a bunch of weak-minded idiots following him around. What you're talking about is--"
"Is a fully workable plan. Believe me, I know. It's exactly what I'd do in Horton's position. Actually..." He smiled, enjoying a particularly pleasant memory... "it is what I planned, more or less. My brothers and I, a little virus of glorious simplicity... the water supply for a few cities..." He sighed. "You'd all be living in a terrorist glory age if Duncan MacLeod hadn't got frisky with his katana back in '97." An awkward silence followed this revelation, and he allowed himself a more satisfied smile. "In this instance, though, I'm not inclined to offer sympathy to a like-minded sociopath. I'd suggest that we get after them."
"O'Reilly didn't go with them. He's sure to still be here." Suddenly coming back to himself as though awakening from a long and uncomfortable sleep, Costas went to the security monitors on the desk. They were not as comprehensive as those in his own office, but there were enough of them well-placed in key corridors to give him a good overview of the complex. Guards lay asleep at their posts, most of the posts were no longer even manned. The rose and violet battle flag, hanging on its mast in the central chamber, had clearly not been replaced that morning with a clean and starched relief, and instead hung limply, creased by its antics under the influence of the powerful air-conditioned cross-breeze. By contrast the computer-zone was spick-and-span, the technicians sitting at their posts as though all was as normal. It probably was to them, mused Reuben. To the technicians of the computer-zone most of the toings-and-froings of the world were beneath them, and it would take something of earth-shattering importance - such as the release of a Pentium IV processor, for example, or the creation of an entirely new system making Microsoft obsolete - in order to make them look up at what was going on around them. They probably hadn't even heard that Anthony Geddes was missing. It was galling that these untidy, ill-disciplined fools, who couldn't even wear their uniforms properly, should remain at their posts so loyally, and show up his own drilled and - or so he had always thought - dedicated troops. He played about with the controls, losing the image of the typing masses, but could not find a camera to show him a picture of the inside of Geddes' office. That, almost certainly, was where James O'Reilly currently was.
"I think he's in Geddes' office." He looked up at Kronos, but the black-clad Immortal did not seem to be paying him any attention. Instead, following the mortal's lead, he had turned to the security monitors and was playing with the control dials. He had already tuned one of the screens back to the computer-zone, and had focussed another on the hidden camera in the boat-hire sign. He could see nothing of Methos and the others, but the computer-zone afforded him some measure of interest. He zoomed in on the screen of the nearest programmer, eyeing the neat rows of text on the monitor. It was all in Greek, naturally enough, and in computer language beyond that - but it made perfect sense to him. He nodded briskly.
"Forget O'Reilly." He tapped the screen before him. "This is where we start."
"But O'Reilly can tell us--"
"Tell us what? That Horton is up to something? We don't need to know what he's doing, we need to know how to stop him. I doubt that anybody but him knows enough to tell us that. O'Reilly will die noisily and tell us little. These people, however, may be of some use."
"What can a bunch of computer geeks tell us?" Costas sounded somewhat disparaging, but Kronos, who was by now in rather a good mood, let this inadvisable tone of voice pass without penalty.
"You'd be surprised. All those computers, all that information... we'd be fools to ignore it. Horton may well have got so far ahead by now that we'd never find him - but those computers might be able to tell us where he's planning to go. They could tell us the names of his contacts, the details of any plans. Even bank account numbers, credit transfers... and we can use that." He smiled at the blank look on Reuben's face. "I can use that. Get me to those computers, and I can bankrupt him in seconds. I can isolate him from his backers, from his allies... I can throw enough spanners in the works to have the Involution spinning in their own convoluted circles for years." He grinned wickedly. "I could do the same to the Watchers too, but I don't know that Dawson would be too impressed." Shadows danced in his eyes. "Wait, no... I really don't care what Dawson thinks. I might just do it anyway."
"I don't understand." Andros was frowning at the zoomed-in picture of the rows of neat programmer's code on the monitor. He had thought that he understood about computers, and was fairly competent with them; but this was just gibberish, albeit gibberish in pleasant colours that rolled and streamed as the screen scrolled at manic speed. Just how fast was this man typing anyway?
"I'm talking about the future of chaos." Was that sadness that showed, very faintly, in the cool blue eyes of the ancient warrior? Was it regret that coloured the distant recesses of his modulated voice? "Techno-terrorism, my little mortal friends. I could take this place apart, and tear every living thing in it to pieces, as I wanted to when I rode here... but none of that would have the same effect as what I can do if you take me to that room. In 1997 I created a virus that might have wiped out half of the world with its poisons and its mutations. Here I can create another type of virus." He rubbed his hands together, the darkness in the centres of his eyes making his face shine with a peculiar fervour. "Another kind of apocalypse. Question is, do we limit it to the Involution or do we grant it wider freedoms? I could destroy every networked computer system on the planet."
"Er... I rather think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves." Beginning to feel increasingly nervous, Costas trailed his eyes from the monitors back to the Immortal. The shadows were everywhere, twisting and turning in the face and eyes of the man who looked young and old, and innocent and evil, all in the same blink of those frightening ice-blue eyes. "Are you sure that you can write this virus?"
"Death, famine, pestilence... keystones of the Apocalypse. Or haven't you read your legends and fables recently? All of them have their electronic counterparts. I deal in all branches of my field, gentlemen. I can maim and destroy in the virtual world just as effectively as I can on a good old fashioned battlefield."
"I think that's a yes." Andros looked faintly shell-shocked. Kronos looked across at him, and his strangely placid face twisted into the most evil grin the Involution agent had ever seen.
"Oh yes." The voice was a whisper - a whisper that was somehow a shout, that echoed and crackled and shone with twisted joy. "The world denies me my battlefields, gentlemen, but it won't deny me my chaos. Show me where those computers are, and I'll rewrite our whole world in my own image." Something in his eyes flickered and flashed, like a note of gentle humour toying with the two mortals, and playing with their perceptions. "Or perhaps I'll just destroy the Involution, and let the world live on untouched. That's the beauty of it all, isn't it. We just won't know, until I press the final key."
"You're nuts." Thane's voice sounded thick and heavy, as though his tongue were a dead weight in his mouth. Kronos laughed.
"Nuts? No my friend." He turned off the security monitors before him, then turned about to head towards the door. "I'm the future." He disappeared out into the corridor, his words trailing into fitful echoes in his wake. Andros stared after him.
"I don't think we know what we're getting ourselves into," he said at last, when his voice was certain of itself once again. Costas shook his head.
"You know your legends better than most, my boy. You know as well as I do who that man is. Question is, do we want to be a part of that?"
"Yes. I think we do." In the end there was nothing more that needed to be said. They were Involution after all, not saints in search of paradise. Costas nodded.
"Then let's get after him. It seems to me that there's a battle taking shape, and I want to be there to see what happens next." He headed towards the door to follow the Immortal, Andros at his heels. The long and empty corridors of Involution Headquarters offered them no obstacles, no difficulties in reaching their objective. The computer-zone was a hapless victim, like a goat tethered to a pole, as bait for a hideous beast from the pages of myth. Kronos made only one diversion from his goal, and that was to a chamber he had so far not set foot in - for as he strolled through the doors into the computer room, regal and proud like a king surveying his new realm, there was one minor alteration to the palace of rock and stone around him. In the central chamber the rose and violet flag lay in tatters, and a new flag billowed in the breezes above it. Four galloping horses, silhouetted against the rising sun, and all with eyes as red as the fiercest flame.
Joe Dawson stared morosely out of the window of the powerful jeep that was taking him up the side of yet another mountain. He had no idea where they were going, save that it was a long way away from any likelihood of rescue. Frank Horton sat in the front, stoically ignoring the very existence of his fellow travellers, and particularly his prisoner. Joe had tried polite conversation, pointless threats, angry retorts and - he hoped - meaningful silences. None of it had worked. Instead he had earned himself a heavy blow over the head from the man sitting next to him, a jab in the ribs some time later with the muzzle of a rifle, and finally just more lingering silences. The jeep rolled on over the rough terrain, bouncing and juddering over loose stones. Joe watched the horizon waver and jolt, and wondered where the others were. He had a nasty suspicion that Andros and Costas were probably dead by now - executed by the crowing head of the prison block most likely, although Joe didn't think that a gutless wonder like that would be pulling any triggers himself. He wondered if Thane and Reuben would be alone in their new-found death, or if Duncan MacLeod and his cohorts would be there too. He had no idea if things had gone as planned; if there had been one survivor, who had in his turn been killed by Kollias. Perhaps none of them were dead; perhaps all of them were. There was just no telling. Not here.
"Thinking of something?" Horton's voice made him jump. He refused to answer. If Horton himself could play the silence game for so long, Joe Dawson could play it as well; maybe even better. Horton laughed.
"Not speaking to me? Shame. And here I was wanting to chat. We've got so much to talk about, you and I. So many plans to make."
"Plans?" Joe shook his head, inspired out of his silence by a suggestion that almost hurt. "We've got no plans to make. Whatever you're up to, I want no part of it."
"Guess what. No choice." Horton glanced back at him, eyebrows raised. "You have access to the Watcher files, and I want them. Not just the information on the Immortals you guard, but the information you have on your fellow Watchers. I want names, addresses, personal information. I want to know who I might be able to trust, and who I have to wipe out."
"And you think I'm going to tell you that?" Joe shook his head. "No chance. Why would I help you to kill my colleagues? You've killed good friends of mine in the past, and I'm not planning to help you do that all over again."
"Like I said. No choice." Horton seemed unperturbed by his determined refusals, and instead smiled broadly. Whatever he had been thinking of during his long period of moody silence, it had apparently revived his spirits no end, for he seemed now to be positively ebullient. "How many Watchers would you say that there are, Joe? World-wide I mean. Ten thousand maybe? Or more? My brother estimated that there were about fifteen thousand, including the ones that no longer actively Watch. People like your friend Pierson used to be, in records and research. The harmless sort, that I should be able to wipe out with ease. Necessary I'm afraid. Bookworms are no use to me."
"And what makes you think you can get me to help you try something like this?" Joe was in no mood for threats. He had encountered plenty of them in recent days, and the last few hours of his latest bout of captivity had seen even more than usual. Horton waved a dismissive arm.
"Details, details, details. I'm really not in the mood. Suffice to say that you are going to tell me what I need to know. Why wouldn't you?"
"Why would I?"
"Because, my dear Dawson, your daughter would be terribly upset if you didn't." He smiled a bright and broad smile, which cut right through to Dawson's heart. He was aware that his face had paled by several shades, but still he forced himself into some semblance of impassivity.
"Daughter?" The word stuck in his throat, hardly making his feigned confusion seem convincing. Horton laughed out loud, turning back to face the front of the car, staring out once again at the jagged track that was leading them onwards to their destination.
"That's right." He sounded self-satisfied and smug, and filled with his own blooming pride. "Your daughter. She's a beautiful girl; and with your help she'll stay that way." He spread his arms wide, almost clouting his driver across the head in the process, oblivious to the wild swerve that resulted as the driver ducked aside. The engine coughed and spluttered, but didn't fail. The jeep crested a hill.
"Where is she?" He was abandoning himself to a fate he did not want to think about, but he had to know. "I want to see her."
"You will. Once you've done what we want you to do. After that you and your daughter can sit back and watch the world go by."
"Whilst you tear it down around our ears." Joe could not keep the disgust from his voice, despite his worries about Amy. "You're just another nutcase who wants to rule the world."
"You overestimate my ego, Joe." Horton's tones were now clipped and harsh, although still he spoke through a rather strained smile. "I don't want to rule the world. I don't even want to shape it in my image. All that I want is a place on the world stage; a voice in the way of things. Of course, if I happen to have an army of immortal warriors to back me up, and the massed ranks of those Watchers and Involution members who survive my initial take-over... well perhaps my voice will be a little louder than most. Quite unavoidable really."
"Quite unavoidable." Joe rested his head against the glass beside him, looking out across the top of the hill. Already they were beginning to descend, his spirits descending alongside them, and with a far greater speed. Thoughts raced through his head - could he betray his colleagues for his daughter? And more persistently, more frantically - how could he not?
"What exactly is this sign that we're waiting for?" Staring down at the rickety hut into which Kronos had vanished, Duncan MacLeod did not bother hiding his growing irritation. It was clear what he believed had happened - that Kronos had decided to go in without them, presumably so as to cause maximum destruction without the hated Highlander to attempt to impose some kind of restraint.
"Sunlight on the sword blade. Three long flashes, three short flashes." Methos stood alongside the Highlander, also staring down at the hut. Unlike MacLeod he had no suspicions about what Kronos was doing - he knew his brother well enough to be far beyond mere suspicion. "We all had our own signal, but that was his."
"And he knows he's supposed to be using it?" MacLeod glanced towards his cousin, who remained apparently relaxed and unconcerned. "What do you think?"
"I think he's probably not going to send the signal." Connor smiled. "Question is, do we go in there after him or wait out here?"
"Wait for what?" Duncan sounded angry, his impatience growing fast. "Damn him. We had an agreement."
"No." Methos kept his voice steady and even. "You had an agreement. The plan was yours. Kronos had his own ideas, remember? He came here with a very definite plan of attack. Just because you pulled out of the charge doesn't mean that he did."
"He could be dead in there by now. Doesn't that worry you?" Duncan sounded unusually taut, but Methos shook his head, still smiling faintly, unconcerned by the Highlander's frustration. In his opinion MacLeod was letting far too much of this get to him. Taking the unrestrained actions of Kronos too personally was foolish and pointless. After all, wherever in the world he was, and whatever he happened to be doing, Kronos would always go his own way, and do his own thing. There was nothing that Duncan MacLeod - or an entire fleet of MacLeods for that matter - could do about it.
"Kronos isn't dead. He's just down there being Kronos. I gave up expecting anything less a long time ago. You have to stop taking this personally, and just think about getting down there before we waste any more time planning how we'd have acted otherwise. I'd apologise for his jumping the gun, but to be honest he's probably done us a favour. I don't think nicely thought out plans count for much against the Involution."
"You don't have to sound so pleased." MacLeod didn't actually sound as angry as Methos had anticipated, which was a relief. Connor didn't seem annoyed at all, but then he so rarely did. With Connor you weren't likely to know he was annoyed until he took your head off, which was something that he didn't seem inclined to do just now. Instead the blond Immortal smiled lazily, and gestured down at the ramshackle building.
"Can I make a suggestion?"
"What?" Duncan sounded as though he was anticipating something of a betrayal, which made his cousin's eyes glint in a manner surprisingly reminiscent of Kronos, during one of his more wicked moments.
"Giving in gracefully, and leaving the carefully thought out plan of attack for another time? I think it should be safe to go in through the front door now without worrying about the guards. We've probably wasted enough time expecting everybody else to play this little game our way."
"Precisely." Methos was feeling restless again, in the slightly annoying way that told him his old instincts were longing for conflict. The fact that they just couldn't seem to lie down and let him continue being an unlikely pacifist was becoming a constant source of frustration. He tried out a winning smile, which he very much doubted would serve to thaw Duncan's simmering irritations, and then did his best to look reassuring. "Kronos is probably sitting in Geddes' office right now, sipping brandy with Dawson."
"You think so?" Duncan sounded unsure, although there was the suggestion of a grudging kind of belief in his voice. Methos shrugged.
"Well it might not be brandy necessarily. To be honest with you I've always had a problem getting Kronos to appreciate the finer alcohols. Expensive wines, fine cognacs; they're all the same to him. Beneath that gentle and loving exterior, I suspect there beats the heart of an uncultured lout."
"Yeah." Duncan heaved a heavy sigh, then turned away from the others and started to descend the steep slope leading towards the hut. Connor stifled a small smile.
"I could almost believe that your psychopath brother will be good for him."
"They still have to get through this without killing each other." The older MacLeod shrugged. "I'll defer judgement until we've successfully avoided that."
"Good point." Taking the reins of two of the horses, Methos began his own descent of the mountainside. Behind him, still smiling faintly at the manner in which the wind had been stolen from his cousin's overly-starched sails, Connor caught hold of the two other animals, and started to follow on after.
The computer-zone staff had not bothered paying attention to the new arrivals at first. Perhaps it had been the appearance of a man armed with a sword and a pistol that eventually made them turn their heads; perhaps it was the fact that a complete stranger had suddenly taken a seat at one of the vacant terminals, and had begun to type with a passion. The fact that the stranger in question was dressed in jeans and a customised leather jacket certainly caused a few eyebrows to raise, not least because even the lax discipline of the computer-zone demanded some small concessions to uniform. No uniform meant no membership of the Involution, which in the closeted surroundings of one of the most top secret sections of the compound was all but unprecedented. The stranger was likely too old to be a new recruit, or a prospective initiate, and as a rule the Involution did not deal with contractors. One of the younger members of the room's dedicated staff rose to his feet eventually, wandering over with a stride just a shade too studied to be truly casual.
"Hello." He spoke first in Greek, but at the lack of response from Kronos tried French and then English. Costas barked a series of orders at him, but either the young man had heard about the former head of security's fall from grace, or he really didn't care much for the older man's supposed authority. Instead he leaned closer to the terminal Kronos was working at, and repeated his greeting in German. Kronos finished typing in a string of commands, looked up briefly, then picked up his gun and shot the young man down. The shot rang out loudly in the large, underground room. One or two of the other technicians jumped to their feet in shock, but one meaningful look from the leather-jacketed madman made them return to their seats.
"Just stay sitting down, and keep out of my way." Kronos spoke in Greek, then for good measure repeated the instructions in English. One or two of those unfortunate enough to be sitting near him exchanged decidedly nervous glances.
"You think you can do what you planned?" Uneasy about the gross imbalance of numbers against their favour, Andros glanced down at the monitor. Kronos did not look up.
"One or two things have changed. I haven't had much chance to use a computer since early in 1997." He typed for a while longer, apparently unconcerned by the need to work largely in Greek. If it required some adjustment to use a keyboard devoid of Roman symbols, or indeed a keyboard that bore no resemblance to the 'qwerty' layout he might once have been more used to, he gave no sign of it. A slightly manic grin was already spreading its way across his face as he typed.
"But everything is still going to work out?" Costas, who didn't understand any of the computer talk, and didn't really even know what Kronos had meant by his talk of viruses, frowned without comprehension at the on-screen text. Kronos glanced up at him, one eyebrow raised.
"I know what I'm doing." A movement caught the corner of his eye, and he turned in an instant, gun raising in a blur of fast-moving steel. Costas heard the gunshot before he was aware which technician had attracted the Immortal's attention. Although he turned quickly he was only just in time to see the body fall. Kronos was already typing again, eyes on the screen as though he had never been interrupted.
"Interesting." He frowned slightly at the screen, glancing up momentarily. It was to Andros that he looked, clearly guessing at Reuben's complete ineptitude where computers were concerned. "Do you know the passwords?"
"Passwords?" Andros peered at the screen over his shoulder. "Are you ready to upload your virus already?"
"No. I need to check the network first though. According to this..." he tapped out a few more commands... "I should be able to get into the other networks too - the Polish section, and the one in Kazakhstan. I can break into the Watcher system easily enough. I've been doing that since they computerised their files back in the eighties. Anthony's security isn't much better. He's left his footprints all over this system, and his bank records are practically unencrypted. I can't break the logarithms guarding the Involution though."
"The usual passwords are kept in Geddes' office. He changes them every so often, and he keeps a notebook full of them. I could go and look..."
"No need. Somebody here is bound to know." Kronos rose to his feet, lifting his voice so that it carried across the wide room. "Your attention everybody." He smiled sardonically, and added, "please." A sea of heads turned to face his way, every one moving stiffly and awkwardly, and very unwillingly. "Some of you have to be high rated enough to know the passwords for the Involution network. Do you want to volunteer yourselves? I can find out on my own, but it'll take up a lot of time that I'd rather use for... other pursuits." He smiled again, his eyes showing suggestions as to what those 'other pursuits' might be. There was no response from the obviously terrified technicians.
"You're not doing yourselves any favours." Andros had one or two friends in the computer-zone; or had thought he had, before his experiences in the prison section had suggested that nobody within the organisation could ever truly be a friend. He looked straight at these particular individuals now, letting them see some of the urgency of his warning. He thought about Thomas, Anthony Geddes' ill-fated nephew, and remembered the sounds of those horrible, high-pitched screams.
"Why do you want to know the passwords?" One of the older technicians, a tall, thin man of an age that suggested he might well have been one of the original computer whiz-kids, rose uncertainly to his feet. He was wearing a uniform that was more than a size too big for him, the jacket undone, the tie loose, and the shirt creased enough to suggest that he had slept in it at least once. Even so, he carried himself with an authority that might have been earned, or might just have been self-assumed. He certainly seemed to think that he had some level of authority over this leather-jacketed outsider who had dared so forcefully to enter his realm. Kronos smiled.
"And you are?"
"First Technician Bright." He sounded British, probably from south-eastern England by the mark of his accent. There was a trace of Surrey in his clipped tones and equally clipped moustache; as though he should be wearing a twill jacket in a vague attempt to present the image of a country gent. His eyes behind his severe glasses were a watery fusion of shades, like hazel viewed through blue wood smoke. Like the rest of his colleagues he was unarmed, but he carried himself as though he knew how to use his hands to some effect. "And who might you be?"
"My name is Kronos. Anything else is none of your business. Now I asked you a question, First Technician Bright. You'd be wise to answer me, before I take offence at your attitude."
"Just who do you think you are?" Exploding in a burst of indignation, Bright stepped away from his console, eyes hot behind the lenses of his spectacles. "You can't come in here threatening my operatives without a damn good explanation. If Mr Geddes gave you authority to be here, I want to see it in writing. And there had better be a bloody good story behind your reason for being in the company of a pair of traitors too."
"Your operatives?" Kronos smiled a lazy smile, stepping away from his terminal and surveying the crowd of technicians with a new glint in his eyes. "My apologies. I had no idea that they were so important." He had drawn his sword again, apparently having lost interest in the less satisfying gun. "I'll tell you what, Bright old man. You can choose the next person to die. If they're your operatives, that honour should lie with you."
"Next person to--" Bright shook his head. "This has gone far enough. I'm calling security."
"Security are too drunk to be of any use to anybody." Deciding that it was time to make his presence felt, Costas stepped forward. "Geddes is dead, Harry. There's no point in protecting his secrets anymore. It's every man for himself now. Haven't you heard? Frank Horton thinks that he can take over. This whole complex is going to pot; which you'd know if you ever set foot out of this room."
"I know that Mr Horton is working with Mr Geddes. That's why I'm in charge at the moment - he took Leader Craven and Deputy Hendon with him. But Mr Geddes dead? You're just grasping at straws, Reuben. Security would never abandon their posts. You trained them too well for that."
"Nevertheless..." Kronos broke back into the conversation as if incensed at being cut out of it. "He's telling the truth. Most of the people out there are asleep, or too full of the pleasures of living to care much about what's going on in here. I doubt that there's any love lost between you people and security anyway. I can't see any of them dashing to your assistance even if they could string two steps together. They know that Geddes is gone, and they know that whatever Horton might be doing, he certainly isn't doing it with their best interests at heart. The man's a madman by all accounts, which is something I can sympathise with, in the usual scheme of things." He offered the room another light, almost entirely pleasant smile. "Now where were we? Oh yes. I was just about to kill one of you."
"You wouldn't." Perhaps it was the fact that Kronos had abandoned his gun that made Bright so sure. Perhaps he couldn't quite bring himself to believe that anybody could commit murder with a sword. Whatever the reason for his conviction, his voice was filled with a haughty certainty that had no effect other than to heighten the flashes of purity in the intense coldness of the Immortal's unrelenting eyes. He scanned the room, perhaps searching for somebody of junior status, perhaps hoping to be sure that he did not choose somebody who might later be of some use to him. In the event he abandoned this methodical approach, and with a grin that made warmth flood his countenance for one brief, descriptive moment, he moved suddenly towards one of the technicians, raised his sword so quickly that there was no time even to see it fall; and let the swinging, razor-sharp blade slash open the young man's ivory-white throat. Red, red blood gushed forth, pouring in an apparently impossible stream from the suddenly ripped neck. The technician gripped at his throat with his hands, apparently trying to hold himself together, to keep his blood in as though trying desperately to save his own life. The man seated next to him let out a yelp, making a move to help, only to be silenced and stilled by one cold glare from the watching Immortal. He sank back into his seat, shaking furiously, watching with horror-stricken, helpless eyes as his colleague slumped to the floor. Still the blood poured free, seemingly determined to escape the flesh vessel that had held it captive for so long. The wounded technician, no longer able to gasp, or even to whisper, was making feeble kicking motions with his legs. He stared up at Kronos, seeing the pale blue eyes and the curiously speculative expression; seeing the coldness and the lack of sympathy; seeing the total detachment that always came to the Leader of the Horsemen at such moments. Had he but known it, the technician might have wondered at the fact that he was not the first of his family to die by this Immortal's hand. He might have thought about the last - a woman, two and half thousand years previously, who had met her end in a similar way after trying to come between Kronos and her Immortal lover. He might have wondered if her last sight had been the same as his; the gradually paling vision of the world, dominated by the cold, unyielding stare of the man who rode at head of the Apocalypse. Instead he had little enough time to wonder about anything, except his own helplessness. Part of his mind was telling him that he knew the information this man was seeking. Perhaps, his fast dimming consciousness began to speculate, if he could only reveal the passwords his attacker would save him. He tried to speak the words; tried to make his half-severed throat form the sounds. Nothing came from his mouth but a further gusher of soundless, uncooperative blood. He was still choking on this last, grim eddy when he died, passwords unspoken, final thoughts uncompleted. Kronos knocked him on the side of the head with his sword point, to check that he was really dead.
"Disappointing," he announced finally. "I did think that one of you might offer to ease his passing. All that I want are the passwords, ladies and gentlemen. I'm not asking for the world. That's mine for the taking whenever I want it. Just a few inconsequential entry codes... a few little words to stop any more of you from dying. Magnanimity used to be a favourite pastime of mine, between massacres. It isn't often that I offer to save as many lives as this."
"Failsafe." The man who had tried to help his dying neighbour didn't look up as he spoke. His voice shook, and beads of cold sweat flew from his lips as he stammered the words. "That's the password for our internal network. That gets you in so that you can begin making changes." He frowned, certain that he had heard the word 'virus' when these intruders had first come into the room. It hurt him that his beloved computer system might be about to be violated in some way, but a mixture of fear and grief were beginning to wash his confused loyalties away. Kronos folded his arms.
"And then... 'Aphrodite' gives you access to the uppermost levels of network security. 'Kureyev' gives you access to the Kazakhstan branch, and 'Lydia' gets you into the Polish network." He swallowed very hard, aware of every pair of eyes in the room - every living pair of eyes he corrected himself - fixed intently upon him. He felt anger, relief, hatred and accusation all flying about in the big, cold room. All those eyes and all those emotions, all directed at his miserable, shaking little form. He looked up at Kronos again, wishing that those cold blue eyes would soften a little, or at the very least lose some of their terrifying intensity. "The password for the whole network, that will allow you to control the entire system, is 'Bathsheba'." He raised one quaking hand. "My identification disk has my number on it... you'll be prompted to enter a number when you use the passwords. Mine should get you access to all areas. My security rating is one of the highest in the Involution."
"You're young for that." It was several moments before the shivering technician realised that he had been paid a compliment. He managed a twisted smile with lips too dry on the inside, and too slick with sweat on the outside, to be entirely co-operative.
"I'm good at my job."
"Obviously." Kronos strode towards him, reaching for the outstretched hand. The technician had to focus all of his concentration to avoid flinching away, but Kronos merely smiled lightly at him, and took the disk with a hand that was incongruously gentle. He glanced down at it.
"First Technician Stephen Day. And you're an American?"
"C-Canadian." He wished that the man would go away and leave him alone now. Kronos nodded.
"Thankyou Stephen. I appreciate your assistance. Please take your seat again. I don't like potential hostiles hovering whilst I work, and it would be bad manners to have to kill you when you've been so helpful."
"Er... right." Day sat, very suddenly. Kronos flashed him an oddly paternal smile, then turned briskly about and headed back to his terminal. Bright, somewhat foolishly, was standing in his way. Kronos raised an eyebrow.
"Mr Bright, I'd be failing my responsibilities as a well meaning psychopath if I didn't give you fair warning of your approaching demise. Sit down, or I'll make you watch your intestines unravel. It's an unpleasant way to die, and an even more unpleasant sight to witness. Even I find it a little over the top, and I used to spend much of my time thinking up suitably unpleasant ways in which to kill people."
"You think you're something pretty special, don't you." Bright was angry, apparently simmering just on the edge of violence; but with a firmly guiding hand Kronos moved him out of the way and sat down at his terminal. He began to type again, fiercely indifferent to the threatening presence of the technician. Bright boiled with outrage.
"If you think--" he began, his voice rising in pitch. Andros tapped him on the shoulder.
"I'd quit while you're behind, Bright. If you haven't seen yet what happens when he's provoked--"
"I don't care about provoking some posturing terrorist. I care about looking after this department. This is my first time in command here, and if I let this continue Craven will never leave me in command again."
"There'll be a good reason for that." Reuben's voice was dry. "Dead men aren't known for their command capabilities. Anyway, this department is finished. This whole complex is finished unless Kronos here manages to make this work. If we don't deal with Frank Horton he'll probably kill the lot of us. He's taken the two most senior technicians; the two with the greatest capabilities; and he's left the rest of you here. Something tells me that it isn't to keep this place running smoothly whilst he's away."
"You don't know what you're talking about." Bright's voice was heavy with a sneering kind of cruel amusement. Kronos laughed.
"I really think that he wants you to kill him, Costas. I should oblige him and do us all a favour. I need to concentrate."
"You're not going to kill me." Chest puffed out with his own self-importance, Bright folded his arms and smiled broadly. "I'm the only man here who knows everything about these computers. If you plan to make any major changes to the network, you can't do it without my assistance."
"You think?" Kronos did not pause in his typing as he spoke. If anything his fingers seemed to move with even greater speed across the keys; just as if, thought Andros, he had found some new meaning in his actions; as though the new purpose his plan had given him had in some way rejuvenated a disillusioned man. Before him his monitor screen blinked, flashed and changed, and he found himself looking at the main control information for the Involution network. A surprisingly childish grin began to take over his face.
"How-?" Staring open mouthed at the terminal, Bright took a step forward. Andros stopped him with a strong arm.
"Now now now. I think he can manage without your input."
"That's impossible." Bright shook his head, gesturing at the screen. "It can't - he shouldn't - there's no way."
"Don't fumble like that Bright. It's most unprepossessing." Costas stepped up to the terminal and peered down at it. None of what he saw meant anything to him, no matter how much he wanted it to. Bright was still gaping at the technical gibberish, apparently attempting an impersonation of a startled codfish. No longer the self-confident genius, he now looked more like an ignorant fool. He began to shake his head from side to side, with a curious, unwavering rhythm.
"Who are you?" He asked it to Kronos, although it was not Kronos who answered. Instead a voice echoed from the doorway.
"He's my brother. Why. What's he done this time?"
"Methos." Costas turned in surprise, hesitating at the sight of the tall and ancient man framed in the doorway. "What? I mean how-?"
"Don't fumble like that, Costas. It's most unprepossessing." Methos smiled and strode into the room, ignoring Bright in order to stand at the right arm of Kronos. He peered over the other Immortal's shoulder, looking down at what he was writing. "Hmm. Very impressive. When did you learn how to do that?"
"Night school." Kronos smiled as he spoke, but he did not look up from the faintly glowing screen. "Where are the do-gooders, or did you finally see sense and behead them both?"
"I left them wandering around in the corridors. They're very impressed. Duncan kept talking about comparative architecture, so I thought I'd leave him to it." He frowned. "You really went to night school? I thought you preferred to spend your evenings stalking innocent civilians?"
"I do. Actually I lied." Kronos gestured at the screen with one hand, the other never ceasing in its restless excursions over the keys. "I'm a genius, brother. This stuff is child's play. I didn't need to learn it."
"Now that sounds more like my brother." Methos glanced back at the others. "At the risk of revealing my ignorance, what exactly is he up to?" The look exchanged by Reuben and Thane told him that the two men probably knew little more than he. "To hazard a guess, something unpleasant. Revenge, cyber-style." He sighed. "Kronos, we're here to deal with the Involution. I don't need to remind you of that do I? If that's a virus you're writing there, and it escapes into the public domain, I'll tell the FBI all about you. I'm very fond of my computer."
"Relax brother. I'm not going to interfere with you playing Space Invaders. This little virus is going to destroy anything resembling a feasible Involution network. The rest of the world should be fine."
"I'm glad to hear it." The voice of Duncan MacLeod, suitably interlaced with a meaningful gravity, came from the doorway. Kronos did not look up from his manic typing.
"Don't try on your high and mighty act in here, Highlander. My finger could still slip and send this little fellow tunnelling through every computer currently connected to a modem." He glanced at his watch. "Which, given the current time of day in much of Europe, is probably an awful lot."
"Always looking for the last word, aren't you Kronos." MacLeod joined Methos in looking over the Horseman's shoulder, but the words on screen meant nothing to him. He understood enough of ordinary Greek to be able to make conversation, but the words on screen did not even appear to be real words. Whatever language computer programmers spoke, he decided, it was nothing that ordinary people had any chance of understanding as well. What had happened to the old days, when computers spoke Basic, and he could understand them? Well, nearly understand them - about one word in three, anyway.
"One of these days, MacLeod--"
"Gentlemen... Not in front of strangers." Connor's softly incisive voice made them all turn to look at him, and he surveyed the roomful of inquisitive eyes with his usual cool stare. "Who do we have here?"
"The Anthony Geddes Think-Tank, apparently." Methos folded his arms, regarding the massed technicians in faintly amused curiosity. "Wonder why they've been left here. You'd think somebody would have sent them to join their lord and master."
"Somebody took what he wanted. He didn't care about the rest." Kronos typed a few more characters, then glanced up at the others. "This was a lot easier before you all decided to chat."
"Sorry." With his usual complete lack of guilt, Methos smiled, then turned to Andros. "My brother is in one of his more reticent moods. What did he mean?"
"Two of the technicians are missing. Traitors, I presume. They've gone off with all of the mobile equipment." Andros glanced towards Duncan, as though guessing that he would be the one most interested in the next piece of information. "Dawson too. He was taken along, although he didn't want to go. I assume they're going to try to use him to gain access to the Watchers."
"Watcher information?" Kronos raised his eyes to the top of the screen. "Give me another five minutes and I can scramble their computer system too. Horton will never get what he wants then."
"Horton?" Methos spun back to stare at his brother, who had once again lost interest in the conversation. "Then that serving girl wasn't imaging things. Frank Horton rises out of the mire once again. I'm beginning to think that that nut is one of us after all."
"Hold on." MacLeod raised his voice. "You're to leave the Watcher files alone, Kronos. If you do your job with the Involution computers, you won't need to attack the Watchers as well. As for Dawson, that shouldn't be a problem. He's got a homing beacon in his walking stick that I put there before we left the States. We can find him any time we choose."
"Aren't you the smart alec." Kronos ignored the apparently brewing storm. "Now that's interesting."
"What is?" Connor was leaning over his shoulder, although nobody could remember seeing him move there. He seemed to understand the mishmash of characters on the screen, and frowned slightly as he looked at them. "Security?"
"And how." Kronos sighed. "Your friend Horton doesn't like to make things easy for me, Methos. He's set up all kinds of barriers to this mobile place of his. I've isolated my terminal from the main network, and unleashed the virus. It won't take long before the entire Involution is drowning in its own encrypted logic strings; but Horton's a different matter. He's connected to the network for information and communication purposes, but he's isolated himself. I can't send the virus to him, and I can't trace him to infect his system by less direct means."
"Meaning he's untouchable?" Duncan barked out the question, as though he considered himself to be the commander, surrounded by his experts. Kronos glared.
"No mortal is untouchable, MacLeod, one way or another. I'll get him. It'll just take time."
"Fine." There was no point in showing any doubt, since Kronos himself seemed to be immune to such things. Duncan nodded. "Perhaps the rest of us should think about finding Kollias, or this O'Reilly guy that the serving girl told us about. The one that supposedly killed Geddes."
"O'Reilly was in Geddes' office earlier," Costas offered languidly. "He's probably still there, making the most of the drinks cabinet. He's Horton's link to the renegade Watchers, but to be honest I don't think Horton still needs him. If he did he'd have gone with the main group."
"Odd that he'd leave a loose end like that," muttered Methos, rather savagely. "You know what Horton's like. The man leaves trails of bodies all over the globe."
"Maybe he isn't really finished with him. He'd need a senior operative to help him gain access to the rest of the organisation. He likes to think of himself as an honorary Watcher, but he was never actually one of them." Andros looked to Reuben, still his superior despite their loss of position within the Involution. The bigger man nodded in a thoughtful kind of agreement, leaning back against the wall, in evident contemplation.
"One of my duties as leader of security here was to keep an eye on the Watchers and their activities," he commented eventually, "and it's mostly the rank and file who have gone over to the renegade cause. O'Reilly must be invaluable as a source of information."
"Except that they have Joe now, who's one of the most senior Watchers in the North American branch." Duncan MacLeod looked sour. "And something tells me Horton would rather force the information he needs out of Joe than get it from O'Reilly without even needing to ask." He nodded with sudden conviction. "I'm going to find O'Reilly. I think it's time we had a word."
"Have several. Just have them somewhere else." Kronos might have embraced the rôle of computer genius with gusto, but that did not stop his characteristic coldness from filling his voice now. "I need to concentrate."
"Finding it hard without the smell of blood to keep you focussed?" Duncan's false sympathy earned him a bloodcurdling glare, but the Highlander was as usual unimpressed. Instead of bothering to reply, he turned his attentions to the room at large, searching for some form of weaponry that might be of more use to him than his sword. There was a cabinet against one wall which revealed, after a brief assault with the point of his sword, a rack of automatic and semi-automatic rifles. There was also a number of handguns, of varying calibre. He selected a stocky machine pistol. "Anybody coming?"
"Of course." Connor did not bother collecting one of the guns, clearly preferring to trust in his sword, or in Duncan's ability with his pistol. He followed his cousin to the door. "Methos?"
"Yeah." Deciding that there was nothing he could do to assist Kronos, Methos clapped his wayward brother on the shoulder and headed towards the two MacLeods. "I'll come. With a bit of luck this O'Reilly might have Kollias with him." He smiled. "Not that I'm planning to fight him myself of course."
"Perish the thought." Handing him a gun, Duncan waved him through the doorway. "The rest of you think about hurrying up. We should get out of here before the guards sober up, or before any patrols that might be out in the hills start coming back. Last thing I want is to get stranded underground with an army blocking the exits."
"I'll use a laptop." Kronos was already rounding off his work, reaching instead for a portable computer on a shelf beneath his keyboard. There was a handful of leads there as well, along with a mobile telephone and a pile of blank, rewritable CDs. He caught up a fistful of the latter, stuffed the leads into his pockets, and tucked the laptop under his arm. Less the manic warrior today, his subconscious told him sourly, more Computer Geeks R Us. Still, as he was already beginning to learn, chaos in the twenty-first century didn't always mean bloodshed. It stung, but he could live with it. Maybe.
"Ready to go?" Costas had grabbed a few of the automatic rifles from the gun cabinet, handing one to his companion. Kronos shook his head at the weapon offered to him, already heading towards the door. He wanted to be outside, where he could see what was going on, and maybe tangle with a few of the back door guards.
"Think we should tidy up before we leave?" Reuben did not so much seem to be asking a question as considering the options himself. Kronos glanced back at the technicians at their desks.
"Never leave a loose end untied." He frowned. "And always repay a debt."
"Point taken." Costas nodded towards Andros, and the pair of them raised their guns in unison. Bright let out an indignant shout, but neither man reacted. Kronos was already gone, his footsteps echoing away down the corridor outside. Neither Involution man bothered wondering if he knew the way out; somehow they were sure that he would find it.
"You can't shoot us." One of the female technicians, a particularly striking Swede with long blonde hair, half rose to her feet. Andros turned to look at her. She was an old girlfriend, who had once taught him to use computers. That had been invaluable to him in the past. He thought about what Kronos had said, about always repaying a debt; but before he could think about suggesting it to Costas, his CO began firing. The Swedish girl collapsed over her monitor, the screen caving in under the force of the bullets. Sparks flew high. Somebody shouted.
The gunfire lasted more than a minute, leaving the room a smoking wreck filled with periodic flames and angry sparks. A monitor exploded. A computer tumbled in on itself in a burst of acrid smoke. A body slipped to the floor and caught halfway, hanging from the footrest beneath its desk by one blood-soaked leg. In the midst of it all stood Stephen Day, unharmed, hands clamped over his ears and his eyes shut tight. Costas smiled.
"I'd get moving if I was you, Stephen. Make sure we don't see you again."
"Yeah." Day stared around at his dead colleagues, apparently unable to move straight away. A glare from Costas finally persuaded his legs to begin moving, and with a false start and a stumble, he staggered from the room. Costas watched him go.
"I don't think compassion's really my thing," he commented, as the young technician hurtled out of sight. Andros raised his gun as though to fire after their former colleague, but Reuben shook his head.
"No. Leave him."
"What's wrong?" There was a joke in Thane's voice. "Scared of Kronos?"
"Yeah." Costas shouldered one of his weapons and cast the other aside, no longer interested in it now that it was empty. "I think everybody is. Even the ones who have never met him."
"The reluctant computer genius." Andros smiled. "I get the impression he would rather be destroying civilisation than using its tools for his own ends."
"You think?" Costas began to walk down the corridor, taking a different route to Stephen Day, listening to the sounds of his own feet echoing on the floor as he went. "The way he's going, I think he's going to find he can do both. I think Mr Apocalypse has finally found a way to create his own special dream world. If I was you, I'd do everything I could to stay on his good side. Chances are, if that virus of his gets loose, come this time tomorrow we'll all be living in the Bronze Age."
The jeep - or jeeps, for there were three of them forming an unruly caravan - ground to a halt on a wide hilltop overlooking a small, white-roofed settlement of some thirty or forty houses. They were fishermen's dwellings by the look of things, with nets hung out to dry, and a faint smell of dried seaweed and shellfish rising up the hillside with the wind. Dawson felt quite taken by it; or would have done, perhaps, had the situation of his arrival been rather more happy. He was led towards a large building, white-washed and pretty, almost palatial when compared to the cottages at the bottom of the hill. On closer inspection if proved to be just as cheaply built as those other buildings, however, the walls made of adobe or something very similar, the roof of corrugated iron. The only indication of wealth came in the profusion of satellite dishes and aerials that decorated the roof, some moving, some fixed, others buzzing, or flashing with little coloured lights. Dawson raised an eyebrow.
"Let me guess. From here you're going to rule the world?"
"I've already told you. I have no intention of ruling the world." Horton strode ahead, opening the door with a flourish. "My main ambition hasn't changed since the first time we met. I only want to bring your pathetic little Watcher Hierarchy to their knees. All that's changed is the scope of my ambition."
"Meaning that you're just a little more mad now than you were before." Dawson stomped over the threshold without bothering to wait to be pushed. Horton followed.
"What's madness? I have you, Dawson, and I have your daughter. Your band of immortal white knights were removed for me without me having to lift so much as a finger. I might have had to wait years for the chance to put this plan into operation. Instead I find that I can go ahead now. Duncan MacLeod is either dead or friendless, Methos undoubtedly is dead. The Involution have provided me with a place to make the centre of my operations, the Russian Mafia have given me the money and the contacts to build my support quietly from behind the scenes, and now, with Anthony Geddes out of the way, I have all of my pieces in place, and his much vaunted 'limitless funds' to help me on the final steps of my journey. My Mafia friends can get me weaponry - do you know how many nuclear weapons of uncertain ownership there are in the former Soviet Union? Oh I wouldn't actually explode one necessarily... but they are the ultimate threat. Who won't take me seriously with a nuclear arsenal at my disposal?"
"Anybody who's been witness to any other of the insane attempts at similar plans just recently. You think this place is invisible?"
"It is. To radar anyway, and to satellite espionage." The door behind them swung shut, and Horton gestured at two of the occupants of one of the other jeeps. "Meet my two associates, Jay Craven and William Hendon. Geniuses, if you'll permit me such unqualified praise. I hate to gush, but these two can do with computers and the like what the rest of the world can only dream of. There isn't a soul anywhere who could find this place with these two working their magic. They've turned it into the greatest nerve centre in the world. I can access any major computer network from here; I can intercept electronic credit transfers at the touch of a button. Threatening world leaders with nuclear weapons is only the tip of the iceberg, Dawson. From here I can bankrupt nations. Who knows; maybe I can even put the world on nuclear alert?"
"You're sick." Dawson shook his head. "What's happened to you? I always thought you had a brain at least. I even thought that you were the sensible one, compared to your brother. But this - all of this. It's insane. You can't hide in a rickety old hut on the top of a hill, and expect the world to hail you as the next major figure in world politics. So what if your Mafia friends can get you all the weaponry you ever dreamed of? So what if the Immortals think you're something special? Sure, there are plenty of them out there who don't like the way the world is nowadays - but to throw in with you?"
"I'll be handing them the Watchers on a plate. Those of them that know about you can't stand you, with your all-seeing eyes, and your long reaching tentacles, poking and prying into everything. They'd like the Involution even less if they knew how close it's been getting just recently, to becoming involved in the Game again. I loved my brother, Joe, and I'll destroy the Watchers in his name. But he was short-sighted. He thought that the Immortals needed to be wiped out. He was wrong."
"Let's see if you still think that way when they decide not to join up with you." Dawson shook his head again, feeling foolish for being so unable to do anything more decisive. "You've got big ideas, but I don't think you realise just how stupid they make you sound."
"I think you'd better shut up now." All sign of good humour and pleasantness had vanished from Horton's voice. His eyes were cold now, vicious and hard. "Time for you to spend a little time with your daughter. Maybe she can make you see how capable I really am. Maybe she'll convince you that you'd really better not antagonise me."
"What do you mean?" Joe's eyes narrowed. "If you've hurt her..."
"I haven't." His host shrugged, with a small, tight smile that made his eyes gleam. "But if I do, it'll be entirely your own fault. Think about that." He nodded to one of his guards, and Dawson found himself being pressured onwards, towards a small wooden door set into the far wall. He glared back at Horton as he went.
"Don't be so sure that you're winning this, Frank. Don't be so certain that the others are dead. If there's one thing I've learnt about Immortals during my years as a Watcher, it's that death doesn't find them easily. Particularly that bunch. Don't be fool enough to believe that Methos has survived for five thousand years by chance, or that the MacLeod cousins became so famous amongst their kind by accident. Every Immortal has heard of the MacLeods for a reason. As for Kronos... well he's actually been dead. For real. They'll be here, eventually. Time doesn't pose much of a constraint to a man who counts a decade as less than a blink of an eye."
"Indeed." Horton shrugged. "Well we'll see. But just remember, Joe, that if they do come here, I'll have both you and your charming daughter to make sure that they behave. I'm not too worried."
"I've heard that before. I've heard most of your ideas before come to that. Believing in your own invincibility is usually the first nail in the coffin lid." Joe felt his guard gripping more tightly onto his arm, but refused to wince. "Oh, what's the point. I don't know why I'm bothering. You're nuts, and you always were. You actually succeed in making your brother seem level-headed and sane, and that's quite an achievement. At least he was consistent. You seem to have changed your master-plan every time I encounter you. Different allies, different outlooks... There's a word for people like you."
"Is there." Horton, clearly, was not interested - in fact his patience seemed to have dissipated entirely. He waved an arm at the guard escorting Joe, and the Watcher felt himself propelled forward which such suddenness that he almost lost his cane. He grabbed at it at the last second, losing the rhythm of his step and almost falling. The guard, gravity, or perhaps mere chance allowed him a second to regain his footing, but he was annoyed nonetheless. He tried to pull free from his forceful companion's obtrusive grip, but a second guard moved instantly to support his apparently beleaguered associate. Horton laughed.
"Now now Joseph. Don't make me kill you just yet. I'd still like to make some good use of you first."
"Damn you." Joe spat the words out, still struggling to stay upright as the two guards all but dragged him into the doorway. The floor seemed to be increasingly elusive, as though it were actively trying to avoid the pressures of his feet. Horton laughed one final time, before spinning around and turning to the banks of computer equipment set up around the room. His two technicians, Craven and Hendon, were already setting up new equipment, checking links and initialising new programs. Joe's last vision of the room was of the self-styled leader of the new union, staring down at his hard at work disciples as they began to put the pieces of his dream into place. None of them had eyes for the Watcher, being manhandled at speed towards the cells. Joe felt that he should have been angry, but for some reason he wasn't. Maybe it was the uncertainty about the future - maybe it was the worry that his Immortal friends might really be dead after all. Or maybe it was fear. In the past, despite his deeds, Horton had always been something of a figure of fun - a madman who had been convinced of his own immortality; a lunatic with unrealistic dreams. Now, however, he seemed to have moved up a scale, and had become an entirely new type of madman; one with dangerous allies, dangerous resources and a whole new aura of capability.
"I want to be up and running before nightfall." Horton's voice followed Joe out of the room and down the corridor beyond, but it was some time later; when he was locked in his cell, with Amy by his side; that he actually heard the words. So Horton would be putting his plan into action by nightfall, ready and waiting for the information he needed from Joe to bring the Watchers to their knees. Joe still wasn't sure how he was going to play his rôle in that stage of the game; and never before in his life had he wished so much that Duncan MacLeod was with him, ready to spin his katana to save the day.
There was a pleasant breeze on the hillside, although the sun raged down unchecked. Occasional birds - sea birds for the most part - flew overhead in uneven patterns. Insects buzzed. The only sound that was not one truly of nature was the tapping of the keys on the computer keyboard, as Kronos sat on a rock some way from the hidden exit he had used to leave the Involution's vast underground complex. His eyes were half-closed against the glare of the sun, dimming the glow of his pale eyes. It was difficult to discern any clear emotions on the shadow-crossed face, but even the narrowed eyes, diminished by the play of light and dark, revealed something of their host's turbulent feelings. Costas and Andros had kept away from him since emerging into the sunshine, and hadn't bothered reporting Technician Day's safe flight. There didn't seem to be any point.
"Everything going okay?" Kronos glanced up at the unexpected sound of his brother's voice, frowning into the glare of the post-noon sky. For a second he was silent, staring up at the light-shrouded silhouette of the ancient Immortal. Then he turned back to the keyboard and resumed his typing.
"Would you expect everything to be okay? My apologies brother, but I came here to kill and to maim. Instead I find myself playing with computers like some meek-minded student at a school science fair. I don't feel especially okay."
"I thought that might be it." Methos sat down beside him, looking back towards the distant shapes of his other friends. James O'Reilly was easily visible amongst them, trying to act as though he was not a part of the main group. Connor was watching him with his usual quiet scrutiny, which O'Reilly was clearly finding very off-putting indeed. "We got O'Reilly. If it would make you feel better, you could always try torturing him."
"I feel sure that Duncan MacLeod would find something to object to in that plan." Kronos glanced up from the screen, as though surprised to find that Methos was still sitting beside him. The silence stretched between them again, made all the more evident by the cessation of the relentless typing. Methos broke the silence by reaching out and shutting the laptop with a sharp click. Kronos looked as though he were about to object, but instead he made no sound at all.
"What's wrong, brother?" Methos spoke so softly that his words were almost lost in the rustling of birds' wings overhead. "We're in the middle of a war here. You don't seem to be enjoying it."
"It's not the same as it used to be. You and I, fighting with our enemies. Drawing them onto the battle field, washing our hands in their blood..."
"Running up an enormous dry-cleaning bill in the process..." Methos smiled. "Sorry. You were being serious, and I apologise. But times change, brother. We've had this conversation on a dozen occasions, in a dozen different centuries. There's nothing either of us can do to change it."
"Yes there is." Kronos ran one hand, surprisingly gentle, over the laptop. "In here is a virus that has already destroyed every file in the Involution computer network. Every piece of equipment they own that is computer controlled in any way, is now useless. There's no way to combat it; no cure; no way to repair the damage. It's the ultimate virus in the electronic world, just as my virus back in 1997 was the ultimate tool of destruction against the mortals. With this keyboard I could send the world back to our time, brother. We could ride again. It could all be like it was before, with swords and knives and horses, and chaos to make your heart sing." He leaned over, grabbing Methos by the hand. "You miss it. I know you do. You pretend, you think, you hope... but I see it in your eyes. You miss the old days. You miss being a god."
"Yes." Methos had lied to himself and to Duncan, but he would never presume to lie to Kronos. There was no way to do it anymore. Too much had happened. "I miss it. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, after I've had a dream... you know the type. And I lie in the dark with my eyes closed, wondering - hoping - that if I open my eyes I'll be lying by our campfire with you beside me, and all of this will have been a dream. The last three thousand years, all a night's drunken hallucination." He smiled and shrugged. "And then the radio turns itself on, and some inane DJ starts prattling on about what a wonderful day it is, and I'm thinking no it isn't. Because how can it be a lovely day when I'm living in this world, with its code of conduct I don't recognise, and its rules I don't understand? How can it be a lovely day when I'm lying in an apartment in Seacouver, listening to the traffic outside, and knowing that I'm going to go and live another quiet life in the biggest sea of anonymity I've ever encountered? And I think sometimes, when I'm in a restaurant or a museum, or when I'm serving drinks at Joe's bar - what would all of these people do if they knew who I really am? How would they react if I was to pull out my sword and create a little chaos? A little blood, a little carnage?" He grinned, and his eyes burned very brightly in the midst of his face. A sudden flush raced across his cheeks, illuminating his eyes all the more, and emphasising the sudden pallor when the flush itself had passed. "I can't deny that I think all of that, and that sometimes I wish so much that I could go back. But then I remember something else. I remember the days without food, and the scarcity of decent drinking water. I remember the lice and the rats, and the rotting meat disguised with all of those spices. And I realise then that it's not just the world that's changed. It's me too. I'm different. I just don't know if I really could live that life all over again, brother, no matter how much it hurts to admit that. In this world I can eat what I want, and drink what I want, and relax back in my air-conditioned apartment with my music playing. We never had Queen three thousand years ago; or Bruce Springsteen or The Who. I'd miss all of that in a world without electricity. I'd miss my microwave oven, and my refrigerator, and my bottles of beer. Truth is, if we went back to the Bronze Age, I'd be a good deal less happy than I am now."
"You've gone soft, brother." It wasn't an accusation; more a gentle statement of facts, as though it were Kronos that needed to hear it rather than Methos himself. The old man nodded.
"Yes, I have. In some ways. But in others I haven't changed, and I never will. There are many ways to create chaos, brother. There are many ways to live in the present. I lost you once before to an inability to adjust to modern times. Is that going to happen all over again?"
"No." It was a hot statement, once again as though it were spoken for the speaker's benefit, rather than for that of the listener. "No, of course not. I just--"
"You just wish. Yeah, I know." Methos reached out, opening the laptop again, and glancing at the screen to see what was going on. He actually understood some of it, which was a distinct improvement to before. "If wishes were horses we'd have enough animals in the stable for the Hundred And Fifty Horsemen, let alone the Four. But life isn't about wishing. It's about making changes, and adjustments, and making the most of things even when you do think that the world needs a pretty hefty kick up the backside. You've got a rare gift, brother. You always did. Science and technology always worked for you, even when the rest of us were finding it impossible to... to do whatever the sixteenth century equivalent of programming our video recorders was. You've shown today that you can use that gift, and all of the trappings of the twenty-first century, to create a little merry hell all over again. Why give up and go back to the Dark Ages now?"
"Not the Dark Ages." Kronos was smiling tightly, as though warming to his brother's words, although his voice itself carried a ring of seriousness with it. "The Dark Ages were full of weird people trying to burn us at stakes."
"And the Bronze Age wasn't? As I recall it was full of people trying either to worship us, or to hack us into pieces. Gods or aberrations. Some choice."
"You don't like the idea then." Kronos was staring at the horizon now, very likely seeing it as it had been once before, in the long ago days when the world had been his. "Just say the word, brother. A few keys, a few seconds to let the virus spread... I could wipe out the world, so that we could start again."
"But what good would it do? It wouldn't be the same, would it. It would just be... different to how it is now, that's all. It wouldn't actually be three thousand years ago. It would still be now. People would still think the way they do now, and they'd still have their machines and their attitudes." His voice became softer and more gentle. "And Silas and Caspian would still be dead."
"I know." Kronos lowered his eyes. "I was just thinking."
"Nothing wrong with that, brother." Methos gestured at the screen. "Any luck with Horton?"
"Maybe. I still haven't been able to get into his computers, but I have been able to crack some levels of his system encryptions. And I've intercepted every signal coming out of his computers. I can't get into them, but I can stop anything else getting out."
"Great." Methos jumped to his feet. "Then it's time we got going. If he's well and truly isolated, that's got to have cut him off from a fair slice of his funding."
"All of it, I'd say. I've re-routed dear Anthony's entire fortune into a series of untraceable accounts. Horton won't be able to use them."
"I've also toyed with the Watcher network." He held up a hand to forestall the expected objections. "Not to any major degree. I haven't deleted anything. Anything much, anyway. But he shouldn't be able to get the information we assume he's after, such as names and addresses. Nobody should be able to access that for a few days. I put in a time lock."
"You work fast, brother."
"Chaos is my middle name, even if it does have to be chaos in a little grey box. I just wish I could have done more to Horton's own computers. Apparently his main backers in terms of weaponry deals and such like are the Russian Mafia. Even without Tony's money he might still be able to get hold of some pretty serious ex-Soviet hardware. I've played with some of that stuff myself, and it's all out there for the taking, if you have the right contacts. There's no denying that Horton has exactly that." He smirked. "We could all be heading back to the Bronze Age even if I don't release this virus."
"Now there's a pleasant thought." Methos reached out and pulled the smaller man to his feet. "We'd better get moving."
"Yeah. I guess so." His smiled broadened. "So do you think I really can torture O'Reilly?"
"I think MacLeod really would object."
"He objects about a lot of things, doesn't he."
"Especially where you're concerned." They shared a smile. "Still, he can't deny that you might just be the one to save the day here."
"Me saving the day." Kronos shook his head. "That's one honour I don't want to steal from MacLeod, if it's all the same to you, brother."
"Really? You surprise me. I always thought you'd look rather good in shining white armour." They had reached the others by now, and Methos gestured towards his companion with a flourish. "My brother here has some good news."
"Good. We need some." Duncan gestured at O'Reilly. "James here doesn't feel at all inclined to help."
"Really?" With a bright smile Kronos handed his laptop to Methos, along with the mobile phone and profusion of leads. "Jolly good. I was getting tired of being the intellectual." He drew his sword as slowly and as smoothly as he could, so that it did not make so much as a sound against its sheath. O'Reilly blanched.
"Get this madman away from me." He backed away slightly, but froze when he realised that his trajectory was taking him dangerously close to the quietly observant Connor. His eyes darted from one to the other, clearly trying to choose the lesser of two evils. Kronos was upon him before he had had a chance to make his choice, but strangely Duncan made no move to intervene.
"I believe Mr MacLeod asked you a question." So soft was Kronos' voice that none of the others present could hear him. O'Reilly nodded, although the movement was a tiny one. Too enthusiastic a nod would have taken his throat horribly close to the sword point wavering about near his chin. "And what was that question?"
"A-about Frank Horton." O'Reilly's face seemed to have gone as pale as the whites of his eyes. Sweat was already drenching his body, staining his shirt and soaking his hair. It mingled with his brylcreem, creating oily patches that caught rainbow colours from the sun. Kronos pressed harder with his sword, and his voice became softer still. Methos could see his lips moving, but they moved so little that it was impossible to lip-read. O'Reilly swallowed hard, feeling cold steel tickle his Adam's apple. He nodded, faintly, imperceptibly; then harder and more firmly. Kronos grinned and released him, stepping back.
"Then speak." His voice was normal now, or as normal as it ever got, the theatrical connotations making it carry plainly across the surrounding hillsides. A flock of birds perched on a nearby rock flew away in a sudden cloud of flapping white. Humanity might not remember the Horsemen, but nature, it seemed, still knew Kronos by the sound of his fearsome voice.
"I don't know where he is, but I can contact him. He gave me an E-mail address for emergencies. Said I shouldn't contact him unless it was a matter of life and death - security reasons and all that. He gave me a program to encrypt the message so he'd know it was from me."
"Then you can give the program to us." Duncan glanced across at Kronos. "I presume you can send your virus via E-mail?"
"Easily. I can also set it to release itself as soon as the E-mail is open. It'll show up as a message attachment, but if Horton thinks that the message is from his friend James here, there's a good chance he won't suspect anything is wrong."
"His technician friends might."
"Very likely. But I'm counting on Horton to read the message anyway. If he doesn't it's not the end of the world." He smiled. "Figuratively speaking. He should be pretty drastically slowed down by now, anyway. His technicians will be trying to break through the barriers I've set up. They won't get any real work done for some hours yet."
"Good. And I've got a fix on Joe's position. We can be there by dark if we can get hold of some motorised transport." MacLeod was silent for a second, then managed a tight little smile. "Thankyou, for making O'Reilly talk."
"Sometimes it pays to have a Horseman in the ranks." Kronos turned away. "I have a few preparations to make. Why don't the rest of you see if you can find us a car?"
"Sure." MacLeod turned away, uncertain what else, if anything, to say. It was Kronos who spoke in the end.
"One little suggestion. This time when we get to enemy headquarters, let's spend a little less time standing around talking, and a bit more time making an outright assault. This time we're going to be dealing with a known quantity, and the certainty that Dawson is alive and in there with the enemy. We won't have the luxury of fighting among ourselves."
Duncan nodded. "Point taken."
"Good." Kronos turned about and strode away, without further exchange. Duncan stared after him.
"What were the two of you talking about?" he asked eventually. It took Methos several moments to realise that he was being addressed.
"Oh. This and that."
"When you're as old as we are, MacLeod, you'll find that it's nice to reminisce every once in a while. Actually we were talking about his virus."
"Which he wants to unleash on the world."
"Something like that."
"Do you think he will?"
"Meaning will I let him? Or will I let you stop him?" Methos shook his head. "I don't think he'll do it. He's changed. Maybe it's the shadows of Peter Kerensky, or maybe it's just that being dead gave him time to think. He's still a warmongering maniac, but I think he's beginning to realise that it's never going to be the same for us."
"Meaning that he's finally growing up?"
"Not at all." Methos smiled, looking surprisingly degenerate. "If Silas and Caspian were still alive, he'd release that virus like a shot. I know that much."
"And would you help him?" There was no reply, and he frowned at his friend. "Would you?" Methos laughed.
"That's quite a question MacLeod. Quite a question."
"And what's the answer?" But the only answer he got was the sound of the oldest Immortal's feet as he began to walk away, his laugh growing louder all the time. "Methos?"
There was still no answer. Duncan could only assume that there was none to give, but for some reason that did not make him angry, or apprehensive in the way that it would once have done. Perhaps, he mused to himself, Kronos was not the only one who had changed - and his smile grew a little broader as he headed off in search of transport. Left alone with the returning seabirds, James O'Reilly hugged his knees and closed his eyes. It seemed to him that he alone was sane, and that the whole of the rest of the world was mad. Or perhaps it had ceased to exist, and the whole of the rest of the world was here, and that was all that there was now - a stretch of hills and mountains in Greece, filled with insane Immortals planning to topple civilisation with swords and computer viruses. It made the hair on the back of his neck tingle and dance. Perhaps it was the fear of what was about to happen, or perhaps it was the stirring of age-old memories in the ground beneath his feet, but he thought, for a moment, that he saw two men standing nearby, in the shade of the only standing tree. One man was big and blond, the other man smaller and dark-haired. Both were dressed in leather, and were decorated extensively in tattoos and the twisting, black marks of face paint. One carried an axe, the other a sword, and both of them were watching him intently. He shivered and the moment was gone, and he told himself that the men had been merely shadows, and seabirds, and branches waving in the breeze. The breeze itself knew differently, and even though the figures were now gone, it began to blow with a fierce and brutal strength. Perhaps it was trying to wipe the hillsides clean of the savage apparitions; or perhaps, in its heart of hearts, it was trying to join them. Either way the hillside was soon shaking beneath the mad assault of a raging, lashing maelstrom; and it seemed to O'Reilly, huddled alone amongst the rocks, that he could hear the sound of a multitude of hoof beats, pounding in the heart of the storm.
It was good to hold his daughter again, even if it was in the least auspicious of circumstances. Amy pressed tightly against him, resting her head on his shoulder, talking to him in a soft, slightly shell-shocked voice. She knew all about Frank Horton of course. Amy was a conscientious Watcher, good at her job and well acquainted with the small details so many others overlooked. She had listened to her father's sheepish explanations; his talk of Immortals in the pay of Watchers, and Involution agents working for Immortals, and all of the other tangled pieces of information that he wasn't entirely sure of himself, but needed to pretend to be knowledgeable about so that Amy felt a little more secure. He held her hand now, listening to the sounds beyond the cell door, which told him that the guards were on the move. He estimated that there were at least ten of them in all; for there had been two in the jeep with himself and Horton, another six in the middle jeep, and a further two in the third and final jeep with the technicians. There might even have been more, stationed in the building to guard Amy before the others had arrived. He wasn't sure how he was going to get past them all, or how he was going to get Amy past them as well. He knew that he had to escape; self-preservation told him that if nothing else. He just didn't see how he could make it happen without losing his own life, and that of his beloved daughter in the process.
"Why are we here?" She had avoided the question so far, certain that her presence was tied to that of her father; certain that there was no reason to kidnap her in her own right. Joe didn't answer immediately. It was hard enough to accept his own planned betrayal of the Watchers, without letting Amy in on the secret. He wondered what she would think of him, and whether she would expect him to sacrifice her in order to keep the Watcher databases secret. Presumably Horton's two technicians could break into the Watcher files without his help anyway, so he wasn't sure that he was prepared to lose his daughter's life for so pointless a moral stand. Maybe she would understand that. Maybe she would hate him for it. Maybe she would reveal herself to be less the dedicated Watcher after all, and much more her father's daughter. He hoped that the latter would be the case. Better to be human, however weak, especially after his recent exposure to the frighteningly dedicated Involution.
"Horton wants to be able to contact the Watchers; all of them, individually." It was a mild way of putting it; Horton didn't really want to talk with any of them; he just wanted to know who they all were so that he could start to decrease their numbers. He had tried to wipe them out before of course, and had proved to be particularly adept. With a list of names and addresses the situation could only be far worse.
"And you're going to help him?" She didn't sound accusing, and he took heart from that.
"He wants me to."
"Which is why I'm here."
"Yeah." He stroked her head absently with one hand. "I'm sorry. This isn't your fight."
"It probably is. If he's planning to try and wipe us all out, it concerns all of us." She lapsed back into silence again, shifting slightly in his grip so that she could relax more comfortably against him. "So are you going to give him what he wants?"
"Would you hate me if I did?"
"I don't know." She stared at the ground, and he fancied that he could feel her heart beating against his ribs. "I don't especially want to be murdered by some psychopath."
"But maybe you don't want your friends to face the same fate." He nodded thoughtfully as he spoke, and his chin tapped lightly against the top of her head.
"You said it." Her hands sought his. "Where are the others? Methos and Duncan MacLeod? They're supposed to be here to help."
"I think they're a little busy worrying about their own problems right now." Or maybe just a little busy being dead. "Horton only recently stepped into the shoes of the Involution. MacLeod and the others were in a whole lot of trouble before he even showed up. I don't even know if they realise they still have him to deal with."
"That bad huh." She smiled. "Ever think about a change of career?"
"Until recently, no." He returned the smile, although neither of them could see the other's expressions. "But quite suddenly, yes. I suddenly have this powerful desire to be a chartered accountant, or a bank manager. Even a geography teacher."
"Not a geography teacher." This time he knew that she was smiling, even though he couldn't see. "I'm still only just getting used to the idea of you being my father. There's no way I could accept it if you were a geography teacher. Or any kind of a teacher come to that."
"The shame of it, huh." He hugged her more tightly. "There's a lot of movement outside the door. I think they're coming this way."
"Then we have to decide what we're going to do."
He frowned. "What we're going to do?"
"Yes. We're going to see this through together aren't we? We have to take this decision together. It affects both of us."
"True." He let go of her, pushing her away so that they could look at each other properly. "So what are we going to do?"
"If you give them what they want, they can't start killing anyone right away. There'd still be time for us to try and do something. But if you don't tell them, we'll both be dead, and they'll probably get what they want anyway."
"So I should tell them." It was the obvious decision, even though it hurt some honourable part of him that had been loyal to the Watcher organisation for so many years. He remembered his anger, how incensed he had been when Horton had been murdering Watchers before, when they had first met.
"I think you should. Of course it's up to you..."
"No it isn't. It's you they'll hurt, if I don't give them what they want." He pulled her close again. "I can't let that happen. You know that."
"I guess." There was the sound of footsteps right outside the door, and they both looked up, moving as one, reacting together. Amy rested her head against her father's shoulder one more time.
"I'll be waiting for you. You'd better come back."
"I kind of thought you'd be glad if I didn't. I mean--"
"I know what you mean." She shrugged. "I've hated you in the past. I can't deny that. When I realised you were my father... well. I don't know what I felt then. Not really. But I do know that I don't plan on losing you before I've really decided absolutely how I feel."
"Well that put me in my place." He stroked her hair. "If I promise to come back, you have to promise to be here. No letting them kill you when they think you're not looking."
"I promise not to get murdered without your permission." She glanced up at the sound of a key in the lock, then climbed to her feet to help her father rise. On reflection, sitting on the floor probably hadn't been the best idea - but then there hadn't really been very many alternatives. Standing was the only other option, and it wasn't a terribly comfortable one.
"Come on Dawson." The man in the doorway was a shade short of seven feet tall, with the build of a beanpole. He looked about seventeen, although the lines around his eyes suggested otherwise, and he was brandishing a rifle - of old Russian military stock, Joe noticed. With a sigh the Watcher made his way towards the door.
"I hope you're ready with the computers." He said it as though he was a guest, pushed for time and anxious to get his work done; not a prisoner being dragged out to complete a task under pressure. His guard ushered him through the doorway.
"The boss is waiting for you." Waving Joe forward with his rifle, the guard slammed the door shut. Inside the cell Amy heard the lock clicking into place, and stared morosely at the door. She wasn't sure if she was more concerned for her father, alone with the enemy, or for herself facing death if he didn't behave himself. Even after several years of experience, it wasn't easy thinking in terms of a father-daughter relationship, having another person to care for. Life had been easier before. She felt a pang of guilt at the realisation that Joe probably felt the same. She had never thought of herself as a burden before. Maybe he would have made a different choice if she hadn't been there as a threat to be waved in his face. That made her feel guiltier still.
In the main room, surrounded by the computers, Joe was feeling anything but burdened by the spectre of his daughter. All of those computers, doing whatever it was that computers did, were telling him that Horton was going to find and kill his Watcher enemies whether Joe gave him the passwords, got him into the Watcher databases, or personally handed him the names and addresses of every single Watcher he had ever met. Amy's presence didn't change that. Neither did his. It just gave Horton another shot at harming an old enemy, by threatening to hit him where it really hurt.
"Joe!" Horton greeted him like an old friend, gesturing at the rows of equipment and impressive banks of suitably expensive-looking dials and switches. The place had a strange look to it, like some bizarre mix of the truly modern, and the vision of the year 2000 in a nineteen fifties science fiction film; or maybe something from one of the TV series Joe had watched when he was at college, where people ran around fighting wobbly alien beasts armed with hairdryers sprayed silver by the props department, whilst scientists in crumpled suits and lab coats pretended that their cardboard boxes topped with little flashing lights were powerful enough to save the world. The thought made him smile, although it was something that he dredged up from deep within him, from some little reserve where he kept all that he could that was positive and untouched by despair.
"Shall we just get this over with?" He walked over to the computers, standing between the two expectant technicians. Both were looking up at him as though he were a teacher about to pass on some new and fascinating theory for them to copy down in their notebooks. He wondered who they were, and where they had come from originally, and what had made them think that any of this was a good idea. Was it really all for just the money and prestige?
"Okay. You can hack in past the preliminary security, right?" He was watching the monitors screens, seeing pictures that he didn't recognise. It worried him for a moment, until he realised that it was because he had never gained access to the databases by this route before. This was the back door, with its impressive warnings against hacking, all of the crests and symbols hidden away from prying eyes.
"Everything's ready." Craven had his hands poised over the keyboard. "Just give us the first password."
"It's not a word. It's a code - a number." He hesitated, thinking about Amy. Thinking about all the other Watchers back home. Just as well none of them could see him here. They had a low enough impression of him anyway, thanks to his determination to support Methos just lately, at the expense of his primary oath. "Two-seven-seven-eight-nine-zero-one-seven-two-zero." He watched Craven type it out, then wait, finger hovering over the enter key. "That's all." Craven hit the button, and the screen changed. Welcome it flashed chirpily. Please enter name and personal number.
"Joe Dawson," Joe dictated rather redundantly, then added, "seven-seven-nine-eight-seven-six-seven-four." Craven keyed it all in, and the screen changed again. Welcome Joe Dawson, it read now, a bouncy little cursor running on ahead of the words as they wrote themselves across the screen. Which section do you want to browse today? A menu appeared. Joe pointed out the relevant item for Craven to click on. It was disguised; the last layer of security between who knew how many thousands of Watchers, and death at the hands of Frank Horton. Craven clicked. Immediately the screen went blank.
"What's going on?" Horton pushed forward, almost knocking Joe over in his haste to look at the screen. Craven was typing, pounding away at the keys in a petulant frustration that appeared to be in serious danger of breaking the keyboard altogether.
"Something's keeping us out." He typed harder, in an even greater frenzy than before. "But it's also keeping us in." He pounded away furiously, then spun away on his rotating office chair, seizing the plug from the wall so that the computer blacked out. There was the sound of the fan inside winding down, then silence. Craven waved the dangling plug at Dawson.
"You'd better have a pretty good explanation for this. If I've lost anything switching off like that..." He let the threat hang, then turned back to his beloved computer. "It was like a virus, except not quite. I can maybe break through, but it leaves us open to potential tracing in the meantime. I don't think we can risk that."
"Then don't." Horton turned to the long and lanky guard who had brought Joe to him. "Kill the girl. Now."
"No!" Joe tried to intervene, but the guard pushed him away. "I didn't know that was going to happen. I swear! Somebody must have changed the procedures. Maybe they heard about you somehow, and they've put up extra security. Maybe--"
"Maybe you're trying to play us for fools. You think we haven't noticed what's been going on here? I'm shut out of my accounts. I can't contact my allies. As far as my computers are concerned, Russia doesn't even exist. The entire Involution network has ceased to exist, under the influence of something that my technicians can only describe as the most virulent computer virus ever written. Oh I think it's pretty obvious what's going on here Joe. Your friends are alive, and are trying to stop me, and you're helping them. What is it? Did you think you could stall me long enough for them to try and find you? Well they're not going to do that, Joe. Nobody is going to find this place. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week. It's just about invisible. Undetectable. There isn't a satellite in space or an instrument on Earth that can pick up this building on its sensors. To all intents and purposes, we don't exist - and very soon, your daughter won't exist at all." He nodded to the guard.
"No!" Dawson tried to get in the guard's way, but his cane slipped on the floor, and his legs refused to co-operate. One swung out of rhythm, nearly depositing him onto his backside. He caught hold of the guard's arm. "You can't do this."
"I can." The guard swatted at him as though he were a fly; and a particularly small and insignificant one at that. "I have a job to do. Back off."
"But--" Held now in the grip of two further guards, Joe stared after the tall, thin man, with his deceptively young face, and his unnaturally old eyes. The door swung shut. He heard footsteps on the other side - footsteps receding into the distance. Head hanging low, body feeling unusually heavy, he leaned back into the grip of his guards, and waited to hear the shot.
The jeep stood at the deepest part of a valley, the headlights turned off and the early darkness swathing the hillside in shadows. Oblivious to the battering wind, Duncan and Connor MacLeod stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing up at the faint smudge of light above them that could only be the latest retreat of Frank Horton - providing, of course, that he had not already found and disposed of the homing beacon. Duncan was trying to shut that possibility out of his mind, but the silence above him, and the apparent complete lack of activity beyond that smudge of light, suggested that he might be living in false hope.
"We can't stay down here much longer." Duncan glanced back at the jeep, where Kronos sat guarding O'Reilly, and Methos was apparently asleep. Duncan doubted that he really was dead to the world, but at least the pretence had saved him from O'Reilly's blustering threats. Whether or not the renegade Watcher truly believed that he would be released if he demanded it often enough was unclear, but certainly he seemed determined to try. Duncan wasn't quite sure why Kronos hadn't killed him yet, but he was certain that it was only a matter of time. He tried to summon up the will to care, and had to decide that he couldn't be bothered. Truth was, O'Reilly had annoyed them all nearly enough to make killing him a very real pleasure.
"You want me to take a look up there?" Andros Thane had appeared from nowhere, startling Duncan, who had almost forgotten that he was present. The young displaced security guard had been silent for most of the trip in the jeep; hardly surprising, perhaps, since he was here to attack former colleagues, and not through any real sense of righteousness. It was not exactly a secret that both Costas Reuben and young Andros had been loyal to the Involution for years, and it was impossible to know quite what they believed in now. Costas seemed to resent his former dedication to the organisation, but Duncan did not believe for one moment that the old chief of the guard would have jumped ship at all, had it not been for the strange dealings of Anthony Geddes. Losing his son had made the old man think, but there had been enough meaningful silences and lingering, pondering stares into the middle distance to make it quite clear which side Costas was really on, in principle at least. There did not seem to be any real doubt as to his trustworthiness, but it was still difficult to side with a man who was - had been? - a part of something like the Involution - someone who had helped them with who knew how many diabolical plots in the past. Connor had apparently read his mind, or perhaps was thinking along much the same lines himself, for he reached out with a typically gentle hand, and touched his cousin on the shoulder.
"No thankyou, Andros." His voice, so strangely soft and sharp all at once; serious and yet not serious; casual and yet very astute, made Duncan return to himself with a jolt. He glanced up.
"We should all go in together. There won't be time for preliminary manoeuvres." He glanced at Connor, automatically looking to his mentor for some kind of leadership. Connor gave a brief nod, a simple acceptance of the reins of command, and then strode back over to the jeep. He knocked sharply on the driver's window, and Kronos looked up.
"Ready to go?" He sounded derisive, as though, left to him, the assault on the building above them would already be underway, and possibly even complete. Connor nodded.
"We're ready." He glanced over at Methos, who unfolded himself from his seat like a flower awakening with the morning sun.
"Just as I was getting comfortable." He gave a long yawn and rubbed at his eyes. "Why don't you lot go off and handle this. I'll keep the jeep warm."
"Out." Connor hooked his thumb in a firm gesture that demanded obedience, and the world's oldest Immortal scowled.
"Spoilsport. I was having a wonderful dream. A hot beach, the soft sound of surf, and one of Caesar's best serving girls peeling grapes picked that morning..." He shrugged. "But then of course who wouldn't rather risk life and limb against a superior armed force, when they could be sunning themselves in paradise?"
"We should be up there by now." Connor opened the door on O'Reilly's side of the jeep, and indicated that the larger man should climb out. O'Reilly did so, with an expression suggesting considerable disdain. The soft-voiced Connor, with his young face and intense eyes, clearly represented something that James O'Reilly despised. Perhaps it was the simple fact that, as a Watcher of the Horton breed, he had no great love for Immortality. Connor MacLeod's unmistakably ancient eyes marked out his Immortal status more plainly than the tattoo upon Methos' wrist showed him to be a Watcher.
"You don't know what you're getting yourselves into." His snide, unpleasant voice, not at all softened by an accent more commonly associated with smiles and sunshine, rang on Connor's ears. "Frank has a lot of men up there."
"Yes?" Connor's own voice was light and airy, more the voice of carefree conversation than of interrogation. "Suppose you tell us how many men?"
"Suppose you go up there and find out." The Watcher seemed to have discovered a new reserve of courage, for he had displayed no inclination towards such fierce defiance before. Connor's smile did not waver, remaining gentle and friendly. Only his eyes changed, darkening and deepening, and flashing with a hot kind of light.
"I would be very careful if I was you, Mr O'Reilly." The soft voice seemed to crackle in the still air. "You're surrounded by men with swords. Death can be very unpleasant at the point of a blade of steel."
"You're all insane." O'Reilly began to turn away, only to find himself face to face with Kronos, materialised from nowhere as was his want.
"Correction." Even his smile seemed to glitter, with shades of menace such as even the mercurial Connor could not match. "I'm insane. The others are the least of your concerns." In the darkness his eyes were narrow, as though he preferred to have as little light as possible to see by. O'Reilly's own eyes narrowed, although for different reasons. He took a step back, colliding sharply with the side of the jeep.
"How many men?" Kronos did not raise his voice, nor place any great suggestion of a threat within the words. Against the backdrop of the rainless storm he was barely audible. O'Reilly looked away, staring at the ground, at the feet of those others who were nearby - and then finally back at the cold blue eyes before him. He swallowed hard.
"Fourteen guards, plus the two technicians." His eyes did the rounds again, spinning in aimless circles between the many sights there were to look at. Finally they settled on the distant glimmer of light that was Horton's supposedly untraceable HQ. His shoulders slumped.
"Have you sent the E-mail?"
"Yes." Kronos had lost interest in the conversation, and he turned his back even as he gave his short answer. His own eyes were now fixed on the gentle light glow, undoubtedly thinking of the men beyond that distant yellow blur. Battle possibilities, war strategies - or possibly even just the thought that he might not survive the night. Methos didn't know what ideas might be uppermost in his brother's mind. He only knew what he himself was thinking; and that was simply that it would be best to get the manoeuvres started before the pressures of awaiting battle made the two sides of his personality crash and crack. Eagerness for battle, and eagerness to avoid it, with neither one paramount as yet.
"Six of us, seventeen of them." Costas made Methos jump with the sudden volume of his voice. "Best to attack from two directions if we can. The technicians probably won't be armed, but that still leaves fifteen guns to think about. We have five."
"Some of us don't need guns." Kronos folded his arms, gazing at Costas with a steady scrutiny. "If my virus has taken hold, the place will be in turmoil; and this wind will prevent them from hearing our approach. This is the perfect time to attack no matter how out-gunned we might be." He didn't need to add that he was going to make his move on his own if the others did not show some sign of readiness to move with him. Duncan nodded sharply.
"I agree. Even if the virus doesn't have a chance to take hold, or if they don't open the E-mail, they're still likely to be off guard right now. They think they're safe. They have no reason to suspect that we're out here and ready to attack." He hefted his gun in his hand, weighing it for a moment as though considering his options; then swung it in an arc that intersected sharply with the base of O'Reilly's skull. There was a hard, sharp sound, like a bone drum being played by an inexperienced drummer, and the renegade Watcher collapsed to the ground. Costas lifted him with Duncan's assistance, hefting the heavy, awkward form into the back of the jeep. Andros reached in to tear out the radio, then used the short length of electrical cord to bind O'Reilly's wrists to part of the vehicle's cold steel frame. The unconscious man moaned softly, but showed no sign of waking. Duncan glanced around at the others - Andros and Costas with their automatic rifles; Methos with his sword and his heavy looking machine pistol, the twin of Duncan's own pilfered gun; Kronos with Joe's pistol in one hand, drawn sword in the other. Only Connor was without a contemporary weapon, although given the marked lack of replacement ammunition between the group, it would very likely not be long before they were all left with only their swords to rely upon. He considered ordering Costas and Andros to remain in the rear, especially since they had no back up weaponry of their own, but he knew that neither man was likely to agree. He only wished that he understood why they were here to take part in the battle at all.
"Everybody ready?" Connor had taken the first few steps up the slope without any of the others noticing. In answer he received a jumble of silent nods. O'Reilly groaned again, but that was all. "Okay then." The blond Immortal turned his back, looking up now at the crest of the hill, and the building that was invisible behind its own glow of light. "Let's get moving. We could have a lot to do before the night is over."
"E-mail from Mr O'Reilly sir." Glancing at his screen, Jay Craven frowned. "It's a little irregular. There's an attachment."
"So? Maybe he's sending me something. It has to be important or he wouldn't be using this address." Frank Horton crossed to the computers, frowning thunderously all the while. "He'd better be using the secure server."
"He is. It's the only thing working at the moment, with all of the trouble going on." Craven glanced back at Joe, still held in the grip of the guards by the door. "That's what worries me sir. This virus..."
"O'Reilly wouldn't be sending me a virus." Horton reached out for the mouse, hesitating before he clicked on the new message. "Unless of course it isn't him sending the message." He frowned. "Check it out. I want to know exactly what that is before I open it. In the meantime..." He went to the intercom and pressed the talk button. "Merrick?"
"Sir?" The voice of the young guard sent to execute Amy came over the speaker sounding tinny and strange. Horton looked faintly relieved.
"Report back to your post, Merrick. I want the girl kept alive for now." He looked up, his eyes meeting Joe's across the room. "There's a chance she could come in handy later on. Just be ready to carry out the execution at a moment's notice if I call you. Is that understood?"
"Yes sir." There was a crackle of static as Merrick stopped talking, and Horton switched the unit off. He smiled at Joe, an entirely unpleasant expression that did little to make the Watcher relax. Somehow he did not quite believe that his daughter's life was safe. "Keep an eye on that screen, Joe." Keeping his voice oily and soft, Horton summoned a new smile that was hot with vicious intent. "If that E-mail contains any trace of the virus that has wiped out the Involution Network, I'll have your daughter killed very slowly, and very unpleasantly; so if you know how to get in touch with your friends, now's the time to speak up."
"Get in touch with them? How would I know how to get in touch with them? I don't even know where they are!" Joe tried to keep calm, but was finding it hard just to concentrate. To make his daughter's life dependant on so ridiculous a demand seemed grossly unfair.
"Too bad." Horton's lack of concern was blood-chilling. "But at least you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that your friends will be entirely responsible for her demise - unless you can tell them to end it now."
"Leave her alone. Please." Certain without a shadow of a doubt that the immortal quartet he so longed to see were indeed behind the E-mail - just as certain that they were also behind the virus - Joe felt helpless and sick. His entire body was heavy, his head hard to hold up, his fallen stick a support that he doubted would have been able to hold him just now. Only the two guards with him kept him upright; only sheer force of will seemed able to prevent him collapsing into their embrace. Sometimes being a father was the hardest thing on Earth.
"I have every intention of leaving her alone. The ball is in your court, Joe. Call your friends, and Amy can walk out of here unharmed." Horton paced closer, eyes narrowed. Outside, the growing wind rattled the aerials and satellite dishes on the roof. There was a heavy clatter from the corrugated iron roof, and the thunder of many echoing crashes from the fishing village down below. In his mind's eye Joe could see the fishermen racing from their homes, dashing to secure their nets and their boats; not one of them aware of the drama unfolding above them. Amy's plight was the last thing on their minds.
"I don't know how to. I don't know where they are." He searched desperately for some argument that might make an impression on Horton, and get him to see sense. "I thought they were dead. How was I to know that they were writing a computer virus? I didn't even know that they could do that kind of thing. Just - just send an E-mail back. Tell them yourself."
"Too easy. Besides, who's to say that they'd read it?" Horton shook his head, smiling tightly all the while. "No. I'm sorry Joe, but your daughter is the price I demand for this kind of vandalism. If you want her to survive, you'll just have to hope that your friends decide to let me have my day in the sun."
"But they don't know! You've got to tell them; give them a chance to back off. At least try--"
"No." Horton was already turning away, marching back towards the computers. "Any luck, Craven? Does that mail contain the virus?"
"The mail itself is blank. I can't get much data on the attachment. It's a program file, I know that much. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's the virus, but it certainly points to that conclusion. I'm just trying to find out a little more without taking any unnecessary risks. If the destruction of the Involution Network is anything to go by, this thing spreads like wildfire. This whole place would be dis-operational in minutes. Even pulling all of the plugs - if we could do it quickly enough - probably wouldn't be enough to prevent the damage being irreparable within the first few seconds." He couldn't avoid looking admiring. "It's quite a piece of work. I wouldn't mind meeting the man responsible for this."
"I fully intend to give you that opportunity." Horton had returned to his side, and was glaring over his shoulder at the data on the screen. It meant little to him, save that his precious headquarters was at risk. So many assurances that the place was invisible to all save the naked eye; so many precautions with the computers, with the security - with everything that he could think of. Now he was facing unseen assailants threatening to bring everything down. With a sudden burst of rage he pushed Craven aside, deleting the E-mail with as much furious satisfaction as he might have displayed were he actually deleting its sender. Craven and his associate Hendon exchanged a nervous glance.
"Sir? Can I suggest that we shut the computers down for a while?" Hendon spoke very quietly, almost as if he did not want his suggestion overheard. "At the moment we're risking the integrity of our security precautions, and we don't know where we're going to be hit next. We're obviously up against an expert..."
"We were supposed to be ready to deal with experts! Do you think that the FBI, or MI5, or any of the other organisations around the world that investigate units such as ours, would be put off by a tough encryption program? You assured me that we were untouchable - and we had better be. Just know that you're as dispensable to me as that man's daughter. You'll go the same way as her if you disappoint me." He turned away, eyes shouting his silent rage. Hendon drew a shaky breath.
"Yes sir." Again he exchanged a look with Craven, who this time shrugged rather vaguely. They both turned back to their computers. Almost immediately something caught Craven's eye, and he tapped out a command with something of the resignation of a man being led to the gallows. Horton seemed to sense the awkward tension growing in the air, for he turned around again, this time looking expectant.
"Well? What is it?"
"Security cameras are down sir." Craven tried a few more commands, but was forced to shake his head in defeat. "It must be the storm. The aerial is down."
"Aerial?" Horton looked exasperated. "Whatever. There's no point in fixing it just yet. In this weather it's doubtful we'd see anything on the cameras anyway. Just make sure that nothing else goes wrong." He turned back to Joe. "And you had better think very fast. Your daughter is already living on borrowed time. If something doesn't happen very soon, I'll have her brought here so that you can watch her die."
"I keep telling you--" Dawson broke off, a distant sound catching his sensitive ears. Horton frowned.
"You keep telling me what? That you don't know anything? That you can't do anything? That's not what I want to hear, Joe; and I don't think it's what your daughter will want to hear either. How will she feel knowing that her father cares more about his grudge against me than he does for her life?"
"That's not what this is about, damn it. If having you escape again is the price it takes to get my daughter free, I'd take it like a shot! If Duncan MacLeod or one of the others is behind that computer virus, I don't see what you expect me to do about it. Perhaps if you were to let me go..."
"I don't think so, Dawson." Horton went over to one of the windows, staring out at the wailing dark. There were few trees in view, and all that he could clearly see was a patch of grass just beneath the window, the stalks waving and blowing, and chasing each other about under the force of the wind. There was no rain, but he was certain that he could hear crashes of thunder. If there was lightning, it was steadfastly refusing him the opportunity to see the outside world. He sighed. So much darkness; so much noise and confusion. It was like a metaphor for whatever was going on within the chips and processors of his vastly expensive computer equipment. So much for invincibility.
"No reply from the guard outpost by the main door, sir." Hendon's report was nearly as unwelcome as Craven's earlier one about cameras. Horton glared daggers at the pair.
"Do you really think I care about guards? I want my system up and running. I want to be able to use Anthony Geddes' money to buy weapons from my Russian contacts. I want to have something to show for the money that my Mafia 'friends' have already invested in me. Do you have any idea how angry they're going to be if I don't show them something positive soon, after all of the promises I've made? They won't care about a bunch of computer geeks hiding in a tree somewhere, throwing spanners in the works. They're not going to care about my tales of immortal warriors seeking revenge. If they so much as hear an inkling that this has anything to do with immortality, they'll laugh me out of the room and then shoot me in the back of the head - if I'm lucky. So you get things going, and come to me about security guards when I can see Geddes' bank records up on that screen."
"We're having some problems with that." Craven was increasingly living up to his name in his attitude when speaking to his boss. "We keep getting these messages saying that he's transferred his accounts."
"He's dead, Mr Craven. He can't have transferred his accounts. They were all there when we checked up before moving here. How can he have done anything since then?"
"I was rather assuming that..." Craven trailed off, well aware that Horton did not want to hear more tales of the creators of the mystery computer virus. He lowered his head. "I'll get onto it sir. You'll have your money."
"That's better." For a second Horton smiled, and his head technician began to think that it might be safe to breathe again - when the expression on the older man's face changed abruptly. "If I don't have the money, Craven - I'll have your head. Is that understood?"
"Yes sir." Craven stared at his keyboard, already feeling his neck prickling. He knew Horton too well to suspect that he did not mean what he said; or that he had meant it only figuratively. The technician was left in no doubt as to the certainty of his fate should he fail his commander now. Horton had a sword, ready in case of Immortal attack; and he was not at all averse to using it against a mortal. Craven had seen it happen before.
"Sir?" Hendon was sounding increasingly apprehensive, but clearly felt that he should say his piece nonetheless. "I really think somebody should check on the guard outpost. If somebody is trying to nobble our computers, isn't it possible that--"
"That what, Hendon?" Horton's voice was pure ice. "You don't think I'm doing my job properly do you. You think I'm risking the integrity of this operation. If you have doubts about my abilities as leader, just say so. You can leave right away. Go back to the Involution, and see how welcome they make you."
"No, no. No need for apologies." Horton was smiling, the expression like some cardboard façade held up by failing glue. "I don't mind your questions, William. I welcome your criticisms. A healthy alliance depends upon the ability to question one another in such a fashion. Don't you think so Jay?"
"Huh?" Craven glanced up, eyes showing panic, then looked back at his computer screen again. "I don't know. I'm, uh - I'm busy." He avoided Hendon's frantic stare, frowning in overly-emphasised concentration at the rows of data before him. Hendon took a shaky breath.
"I didn't mean that--"
"No, you probably didn't." Horton folded his arms, expression now rapidly turning thunderous. "Alright William. If you want somebody to check up on our two friends outside, I'll send somebody. You."
"Me?" Hendon swallowed hard. "I can't-- I mean-- well I'm not even armed."
"So I noticed." The unpleasant face of his commander loomed close to his own. "But if there's nothing wrong out there, it won't matter will it. Now get out of my sight. And if you should happen to think about coming back, make sure that it's with a very fine apology. Understand me?"
"Yes sir." Speaking very quietly, Hendon rose to his feet. He looked, thought Joe, like a broken man as he crossed to the door, hand hesitating on the handle. One of the guards seemed about to speak, as though thinking of offering his assistance. A colleague glared him into silence. Nobody wanted to annoy Horton any further, no matter what dangers might be waiting beyond those barricaded doors. Hand shaking slightly, Hendon unlocked the bolts and pushed the door wide open. A fierce gust of hot, dry wind pushed at him, catching him by surprise and knocking him almost from his feet. One of the guards jumped. Hendon recovered himself quickly. He took a deep breath.
"I'll, er... I'll be back in a few minutes." He directed the comment at Craven, who glanced up at him as he spoke. There was the shadow of a smile in his suddenly drawn face, as if he wanted to wish his colleague well, but didn't have the courage to speak aloud in the face of Horton's rage. Understanding, sympathising even, Hendon gave a brief and almost imperceptible nod, before stepping out into the furious gale. He stopped short.
"Cold feet already?" The contempt in Horton's voice was palpable. Hendon took a tiny step back.
"Lock the door." The voice was hoarse and gasping; afraid and desperate, and yet determined besides. His breath shook. "Quickly."
"William?" Jay was already rising to his feet, summoned by something indecipherable in his friend's tone. As the younger technician took a step back, feet faltering on the edge of the door, Craven froze. There was something sticking out of Hendon's back - something which had been invisible before, in the inky darkness outside the frame of light. It was visible now though - caught along its length by the glare of yellow from inside the room; flashing and reflecting the glow even through its gory coating of thick and heavy red. Blood dripped onto the floor. Hendon collapsed in the doorway.
"Hello everyone." Standing over the body, already pulling his sword from the dead man before him, Kronos grinned cheerfully about at the assembled company. "It's good to finally meet you all."
"Kronos." Horton was drawing a gun, fingers scrabbling at the material of his jacket, even as he himself was back-pedalling furiously to reach the protection of his guards. Kronos drew his pistol, moving without ceremony, shooting twice after the retreating figure. Horton threw himself to the ground, and two of his guards took the shots instead. One died, collapsing to the ground in a shower of blood. The other one fell on top of him, gripping one arm and rolling about in a fitting display of agony. He looked oddly like a football player, miming his pain for the benefit of the referee.
"Don't just stand there!" Hiding behind a group of guards, looking as though he were trying to make a break for the inner door, Horton yelled at his guards in obvious panic. "Kill him!"
"That's not as easy as you think." Striding in through the doorway in the Horseman's wake, Duncan stared dispassionately at the fallen technician. "Believe me, I've tried."
"But you're not a bouncy little coward with an army behind him." Kronos stepped forward, looking out for the fallen leader. "Where are you Frank? Come and say hello. I've heard so much about you."
"As have we all." The guards had been on the verge of attacking, ranging themselves in formation with their guns half-drawn. The sound of Connor MacLeod's voice, so soft and yet so sharp, brought every one of the men to a halt. One or two of them exchanged nervous glances.
"Did I say something?" When Connor stepped over the threshold it was almost as if the spell were about to be broken. With his boyish face and faint smile he did not look at all dangerous; until the light caught his eyes, and reflect the bright patterns of the centuries. Instead of advancing, one of the guards took a step back.
"Now this is interesting." Kronos returned his gun to his jacket, smiling all the while. "Retreat by all means, gentlemen. But I plan to kill you anyway."
"Kill them!" Sounding almost as though he were siding with Kronos, due to the timing of his order, Horton rose into view momentarily from behind the ranks. "Attack! Damn it, I gave you an order!"
"So you did." Duncan was watching him with a curious expression on his face - the expression of a man who had come face to face with a potent symbol. His eyes were curiously flat and dull, his mouth a thin line. Perhaps it was his final decision to turn over a new leaf; to try to make his peace with Kronos, if only for a while; but there was something about the set of his features which told the world that his intentions towards Frank Horton were not nearly so enlightened. He raised his machine pistol. There were half a dozen men between the gun and its target, but for a handful of lengthened seconds, Duncan MacLeod did not care.
"Fight them damn you!" Horton's words broke from his lips just as the guards seemed finally about to stir themselves. They were moving forwards, struggling to encourage each other into action, terrified by the prospect of three men who seemed about to kill them whatever happened. Somebody fired a shot; somebody ran towards the inner door. There was a burst of concentrated gunfire, and the large, reinforced window on the other side of the room burst apart in a shower of frozen glass rain. The wind tore into the room, and the lights flickered. Backed by the storm, illuminated by the chattering flashes from the guns of his two Involution companions, Methos stepped into the room. Andros fired his guns in a circle, churning up the floor, sending sparks and flames leaping from the computer terminals. Scrambling for cover, Jay Craven stumbled and fell. The last thing that he saw before he died was the blood blossoming forth from his own chest. He felt the spray on his face.
"Damn you!" Horton was yelling at everybody - at his guards, perhaps, for failing to protect him; at Methos for bringing the fight in from another direction; at Kronos and Connor and Duncan, for catching him unawares in the first place. Costas advanced further into the room. The gun in his arms juddered and leaped, rattling out its final breath as the ammunition ran out. When it gave a last cough and fell silent, the whole room seemed to follow suit. There was an uneasy lull.
"Time to fight." Kronos stepped forward as the surviving guards, panicked and confused, began to make their first effort at regrouping. The noise of the wind, the only sound now that the gunfire had ceased, churned through the room, feeding the flames that had begun to caress the computers. The firelight danced on the Horseman's drawn sword. In its manic light even Duncan MacLeod looked insane, his soft brown eyes tranformed by flickering demons. Horton, stumbling on legs that were suddenly numb, made a break for the inner reaches of his sanctum, just as Methos, Costas and Andros began to advance to close off all retreat.
"No!" Seeing the direction Horton was taking, Joe Dawson leapt forward. Released by his guards at the start of the confusion, he had been standing against the wall, sheltered by the worst of the gunfire, mind resting with the knowledge that Amy at least was protected from the bullets. Now Horton was heading for the door that led to her cell, with who knew what plans in his twisted mind. The Watcher felt the floor resisting his attempts to keep his balance; felt his legs swinging too fast for his cane to keep up. Horton loomed up ahead, gun raised, drawing aim. The muzzle was dark, the barrel stretching away behind it, long and black and hypnotising. A creature, staring as though to mesmerise its prey. Joe stumbled. Horton fired. Joe fell.
"Joe!" Methos and Duncan shouted at once, moving forward as one, hurtling towards their fallen friend as Frank Horton grappled furiously with the inner door. It stuck, catching in the frame, struggling with him as he fought to open it. When at last it gave in, opening with a furious screech, Methos was standing beside him. His eyes were hot and bright.
"Joe..." The word came from his mouth with the same force as the wind, filling the room as though it had burst forth from the heavens. If it was grief that filled his voice, it was something else that filled his face - a hot rage, burning at once with contempt and hatred. Green shadows summoned from somewhere deep within him flecked the hot centres of his eyes. Horton fell backwards through the doorway, landing hard on the solid floor.
"Methos!" The shout came from three directions at once - from Kronos perhaps, or from Costas and Andros, all better placed to see what lay beyond that inner door. Methos looked up - saw the sword blade rushing towards him - saw the man standing in the shadows beside the door. He tried to duck; found that there was no time, and no room to manoeuvre. He felt the breeze of the blade as it fell down - and felt the heavy blow of something landing in his back. He collapsed, landing heavily on top of Horton. A dull thud behind him told him what it was that had saved his life. He turned.
Costas Reuben lay in the doorway, his decapitated head just a short distance away. The dark eyes beneath their bright white lashes stared up at the oldest Immortal as though saying their final farewells. Methos stared back, his own eyes wild. He saw the father, saw the son; saw the mix of plans and intrigue which had brought them all together. He saw the whole, long string of events which had come about since the day Daniel Reuben had walked into his life. He saw the sword of the man behind the door as it began to descend again. Thane's gun fired one last time.
"Get off me." Even as the faithful Merrick was collapsing in a shower of blood, Horton was fighting his way back to his feet. He kicked out, the blow catching Methos between the shoulder blades, knocking him back and to one side. The wall and the floor hit the Immortal hard, and the sword fell from his hand. He struggled to lift his heavy machine pistol, but the stocky weapon refused to be raised. It caught on his clothes and on the sheath of his sword, his weakened hand unable to pull it free. Winded by the fall and the blow he found his limbs incapable of proper function. Horton was beginning to stumble away down the corridor. Andros pushed past Methos to follow him.
"Leave him." Methos could hardly get the words out. Behind Andros, Kronos was also preparing to give chase. He glanced down at his old friend, sprawled on the floor.
"Why? I want to find Kollias."
"He's not here. The complex is too small. We'd feel him."
"Horton might know where he is."
"I doubt it." He struggled to rise. "Horton always gets away, Kronos. Leave it."
"No." Joe Dawson, voice creased by his own strain and exhaustion, was struggling to rise. Duncan was trying to help him, but Dawson's clear panic was making the operation too confused. "He'll kill her."
"Kill who?" Methos looked after the departing Horton, recognising the plea in Dawson's eyes. Andros pushed the old Immortal aside.
"Does it matter?" He was already running, Kronos in his wake. Methos groaned. Tired and stiff, he began to follow. He had not got far before Connor was moving him gently aside, taking away his gun with quiet force.
"No." His voice, so young and yet so old, was always the voice of experience. Methos felt so glad for its reassuring sound. Good old Connor, the rock upon which so many of them were founded. He felt a tired smile grow upon his face. Geddes might have tried to kill them all, but it had been that very plan which had brought the elder Highlander to their assistance - and without his presence, Methos didn't think that any of them would still be alive.
"Stay here." The soft voice bade him remain, and Methos nodded obediently. Instead he turned to Costas, staring down at the dead man as though at a dear departed friend. He wasn't sure what he felt. Connor's hand touched his shoulder, then was gone. Duncan shouted something after him, before turning his attention to the jumble of guards still left standing. There were five of them. He was doing some hasty arithmetic - fourteen in all, O'Reilly had said, presumably in truth given the circumstances. There were two dead outside, one in the corridor beside Costas, and five others dead in the main room around him. That made thirteen. Somewhere was a man as yet unaccounted for. He wondered where that man was.
Andros ran after Horton like a man possessed, unsure quite where his anger was coming from. He felt no small amount of pain from Reuben's death, which was unexpected, given his ruthless Involution training. Death was nothing, after all. The Involution met death without surprise or remorse - or at least they were supposed to. He didn't understand why he felt differently now. Certainly Reuben's death had not directly been Horton's fault, which rather negated the passionate desire for retribution. His feet did not slow their forward motion, however. He didn't care that his gun was empty.
At the end of the corridor, Horton paused, possibilities running through his mind. Did he have time to get to Amy? He doubted it. The chances were that he would be dead before he was able to open her cell door. Perhaps he could get out through the back of the building, and make a run for it down the hill. If he could make his exit quickly enough, he might be able to utilise one of the jeeps parked outside in order to make a proper escape. Making a hasty decision, he chose a direction and ran with it, nearly losing his footing on the hard wooden floor. He heard feet following him, certain of the identity of his pursuers. He had seen enough to know that one of the Involution traitors was following him, and Kronos as well. There was one other, he thought, although he didn't know who.
He burst into the back room of the complex just as Paul Deltos, its sole occupant, rose to his feet from the settee where he had been taking his carefully time-tabled sleep. The two men froze, the one recognising the panic in the others eyes.
"Deltos!" The relief in Horton's voice was obvious. "We're under attack. Quickly, we have to--"
"Through here." Taking command with easy professionalism, Deltos pushed him towards the nearest window. One blow from the barrel of his gun broke the less than secure frame, and he pulled the window open. Horton stumbled through, landing heavily on the grass. Deltos jumped after him, his own landing neat.
"I didn't hear anything." He glanced back, hearing the approach of pursuers. "What's going on? Who-?"
"Never mind that now." Horton was rushing for the nearest jeep, the wind apparently determined to push him back. There was a crash from the room behind them, and Andros Thane tumbled out upon the grass. He rose to his feet in an instant, empty gun pointed at both men.
"Back inside." He jerked the gun at the window. Deltos frowned.
"Andros?" Surprise filled his voice. "What the hell-?"
"Shut up Paul. I'm not in the mood." They had trained together, lived and worked together for years. Neither man had ever expected to be on opposite sides from the other; not that there was time for either of them to think of such things now. There was a tinkling of glass as Kronos used his sword to blast the window behind them into pieces. He made his own exit smoothly, almost balletically, landing softly on the balls of his feet. The on-going stand-off made him smile.
"Well well. What do we have here? The last retreat of the fallen. Put your gun away, Mr Thane."
"This is my fight, Kronos. Paul here is my colleague. This is about the Involution."
"No, it's about who I'm going to kill first. I've had my fill of technological warfare for today. Now I need a little blood on my hands."
"Once we've got a few answers." Connor appeared silently, his arrival unseen. "Such as the whereabouts of this man Kollias."
"Kollias has gone. I haven't seen him." Horton was backing away, almost as if he hoped to be able to reach the nearest jeep without anybody noticing. The daggers Connor glared at him froze him in his place. "Maybe he didn't like the set up. O'Reilly was the last one to speak to him."
"Who gives a damn about some Immortal?" Andros was advancing. Deltos stared at the gun cradled in his former associate's arms.
"You'd better be ready to use that, Andros." At some point he had drawn his own gun. "I don't want to shoot you, but I will."
"Not before you die." Andros might have forgotten that his own gun was empty, or he might not have cared. Horton began backing away again, and this time it was Kronos who made him halt, making his own advance across the grass as though the opposing wind was nothing to him. It tore at his jacket and his hair, threatening to throw him from the hilltop, down onto the fishing village below. He ignored it.
"Let's go back inside." Connor's voice remained level, carrying despite the wind. The others had been shouting, but he seemed to see no need to raise his voice. "There's no need for anybody else to die here."
"Don't bet on that." Deltos was pointing his gun at them all. "Maybe my bullets can't kill you, but they can slow you down." His voice slipped back over his shoulder, now aiming its sharp bark at Horton. "Make for the jeeps."
"With pleasure." Horton broke into a run. Andros lifted his gun. Deltos fired. At the same moment, Andros pulled the trigger of his own weapon. There was no shot, no burst of heat and sound. He frowned. Confusion framed his face for a second, before Deltos fired again. Thane fell.
Kronos and Connor moved forwards as one, the former clashing with Deltos even as the latter was chasing after Frank Horton. Deltos had drawn a sword, aware who he was fighting, and properly equipped for the encounter as befitted a man of his professionalism. Perhaps it was this that had drawn Kronos to him, for the Horseman no longer seemed to care what happened to Horton. Instead he threw himself into the fight with Deltos, ducking and weaving, swinging his sword with evident joy. In contrast Deltos moved with reserve and quiet energy, parrying without impulse, trying to keep the fight within his own limits. Kronos, however, was not a man to fight within many limits at all. With a yell of reckless abandon, unleashing the frustrations brought on by too long at the keyboard of his pilfered computer, he swung his sword with furious strength. Paul Deltos saw the world spinning by him for one perplexing, disorientating second - before his tumbling head came to a standstill, and his whole world went unendingly black. Kronos stared down at the headless body. There should be blue lights, and the thrills and joys of the Quickening to finish it off. Instead there was only silence. He took a deep breath. Still, his newly energised mind told him, even if there was no reward of gathering energy, at least it had been fun. He drew in a long breath, letting the excitement of the kill enthral him; then, wiping his sword on the grass at his feet, he set off after Connor, wondering what the Highlander was doing to thwart Horton's panicked bid for freedom.
Connor was standing before Horton's jeep, eyes illuminated by the glaring headlamps, refusing to blink in the fierce and unexpected light. He couldn't see the man on the other side of the lamps, but he could feel his presence as surely as if Horton had been a fellow Immortal. He raised his machine pistol.
"Climb out of the car, Mr Horton. At this range there won't be enough of you left to fill your shoes." He made a show of clicking and clacking the magazine into place. Horton laughed.
"You won't kill me. You're a MacLeod. Your cousin is a white knight, and you're just as bad. I know all about you."
"All about me?" In his hot yellow spotlight, Connor was smiling. "Then you know that he's not really my cousin. To the best of our knowledge, no two Immortals are related by blood. There's no reason for us to share outlooks, or feelings, or ethics. Don't make the mistake of thinking that I share anything with my cousin other than my name. Even that is something I hardly use these days. Connor MacLeod was a teenaged warrior who died in battle against a superior enemy. I had killed men before my eighteenth birthday. Don't think that I won't kill you."
"You wouldn't kill me in cold blood."
"No?" Connor shrugged. "Like I said. I'm not my cousin." Before him the jeep's engine revved and roared. "Turn off the ignition, Horton."
"No." There was the sound of a gunshot. Connor stumbled, the gun falling from his hand as a bullet tore through the bone of his upper arm. The jeep began to move forward, rattling on the uneven ground, gathering speed. Connor did not move aside. There was no way that he could use his sword at this distance. He looked down at the gun at his feet, but there did not seem to be the time to retrieve it.
"MacLeod!" He heard Kronos, turning only slightly towards him, feeling the breeze on his face of the other pistol flying towards him. He reached out with one hand, plucking it from the air even as he was turning back to the racing jeep. It was mere feet from him now, Horton's face invisible, his form a vague shadow behind the burning headlamps. Still moving in the same, fluid arc, raising the gun even as he was catching it; turning to face the charging jeep even as his fingers were still closing on the pistol's contoured grip, Connor was firing. The gun's depleted clip fired off six shots; six loud shouts in the windblown dark; six loud screams above the roar of the oncoming jeep. The vehicle jerked, tearing wildly off to one side, speeding towards the hill's edge on a suddenly altered course. With a crunch of missed gears and a screech of wheel axles on uneven ground, the jeep tipped over the edge of the hill, meeting a slope too steep to support it. There was a roar of the engine as the wheels spun in mid air - before the jeep toppled over the edge of the hill, speeding on helpless wheels towards the fishing village. It struck with an almighty crash, the fuel tank exploding with a bright, clear flame that lit up the entire village, showing the raging hearth fire that had triggered the jeep's demise, before the flames of the one fire met with the fury of the other, and everything was obliterated by the glow of orange torment. Connor let out a long breath.
"I told him I wasn't my cousin." He didn't need to look at the Horseman beside him to know that Kronos was smiling.
"I think he got the message."
"Yes." Connor did not smile, the coldly clinical feel of his latest encounter still gripping his storm drenched mind. In the end he turned away from the fiery vista, and began to head back to the building where the others awaited. "I think he did."
The building was quiet, resting in a strange kind of thoughtful silence. Everybody looked up as Connor and Kronos entered by the front door. Methos frowned.
"Dead." Connor spoke with a matter-of-fact sense of calm. "Horton too."
"You hope." Methos was thinking about the time that he had seen the mortal fall from a rooftop, to almost certain death on the concrete far below - only to return some time later completely unscathed. Somehow Hortons did not seem to die any more easily than did Immortals. Connor shrugged.
"It seemed pretty final to me."
"Along with a lot of other things around here." Joe's voice sounded startlingly cold. "And a whole lot more too, if things hadn't gone the way they did." His eyes were searching everybody, as though some restless anger within him had been triggered by the return of the two final members of the group. "You - all of you. It had to be one of you. And I have an idea that I know exactly who."
"Joe, what are you talking about?" Methos' voice showed confusion. Since narrowly avoiding Horton's bullet earlier, Dawson had been lost in silence, apparently sealed within his own bewildered thoughts. Now it was not so much bewilderment that gripped him, as a new and uncontrollable kind of rage.
"You!" Erupting with hatred and fury, Joe launched himself at an unsuspecting Kronos. Startled as he was the Immortal did not find it hard to dodge aside, for despite his very real anger Dawson could not hope to catch the Leader of the Horsemen truly unawares. Kronos dropped his hand to his sword, eyes spitting rage.
"Kronos!" Intervening with speed, Methos planted himself firmly between his two friends. Kronos hesitated on the draw, but showed no sign of backing off. The older Immortal stared at Dawson in disbelief.
"What the hell's going on, Joe? He's on our side, remember?"
"That!" Dawson seemed to be pointing at something, and it took Methos several moments to realise that it was at the quietly smoking computers that lined the room. "It was him, right? It had his twisted signature all over it." Oblivious to the danger he was very likely putting himself him, he tried to push past Methos, glaring madly at Kronos all the time. He seemed almost on the verge of tears, so intense was his wrath; so furious was his apparent pain. "You and your damn tricks. I couldn't get them the information they wanted from the Watcher database. They were going to kill my daughter, and it's all your fault!"
"Amy's here?" Methos looked up in amazement. "Hell Joe, we're sorry. We didn't know. We were just--"
"Just trying to get one step up on Horton, just like always. You don't think Methos. None of you ever thinks. It's all about now, and about getting the upper hand in your stupid little battles. You never think about who might get hurt."
"Joe." It was Duncan who spoke, walking out of the shadows like a phantom. Dawson turned to stare at him, the anger apparently now wearing itself out. Instead he seemed tired; very tired; as though there were nothing left inside him at all. He shook his head.
"Not now, Mac. If you're going to start on me again, it'll just have to wait. I'm sorry I didn't tell you that Kronos was back. I'm sorry you think that I sided with Methos against you. Just not now."
"Joe." The Highlander's voice had gone very soft. "That's not why I'm here. I - I've had a lot of time to think about things. I've been through some pretty awkward times since I last had the chance to sit down and share a beer with you. I'm sorry about Amy, and I'm sorry that we put you in danger." He took a step forward. "But most of all I'm sorry that you were here on your own. I should have been there for you Joe. I should have stopped any of this from happening in the first place. If he had got hold of the Watcher files there's no telling how many people might have died - and all because I wouldn't listen to my friends." He held out his hand, the sword no longer in evidence. "Please Joe. I'm sorry. We're all sorry."
"You really mean that?" It was impossible to tell what the expression on Dawson's face said; or even if it said anything at all. It was the picture of exhaustion, and anger that could no longer sustain itself. It was filled with sorrow and regret, and the beginnings of a new, desperate kind of hope - like that of a man thrown a lifeline during a storm at sea, but unsure if there was anybody at the other end to reel him in. He stepped forward. Behind Methos, Kronos relaxed slightly, and his hand fell away from his sword. Methos punched him on the arm.
"I thought you were through trying to kill my friends?"
"Every truce is just a betrayal waiting to happen." The Leader of the Horsemen turned to watch Dawson and MacLeod, now gripping each other tightly by the hands, and each looking as though he were trying to resist the temptation to draw the other into a fierce hug. "I think it's time to bow out, brother. We've reached the sentimental conclusion."
"There's nothing wrong with a little sentiment." Methos was smiling at his two friends as though he wanted to go and join them himself. It seemed such a ridiculously long time since they had all been together as friends. He remembered a firework party, and realised with a jolt just how many weeks it had been. He felt Kronos' hand on his shoulder.
"Leaving so soon?" Methos didn't need to ask to know what was on his brother's mind now. They had known each other too long; travelled together too many times, not to know the moment of parting when it came. His mind flooded back over the long years of their acquaintance, remembering the other times; the other crossroads. The beach in Southern Italy, when Methos had decided to sail to Egypt, and Kronos had elected to move north to Gaul; the mountain road high in the Andes, when Methos had felt like spending some more time with the mountain tribes, and Kronos had chosen to move further west. So many partings, all touched with their own sense of melancholy, no matter how many greetings there had been to offset the sadness. He raised his hand, placing it on top of the one still gripping his shoulder.
"Any idea when I'll see you again?"
"Probably when you least expect it." Kronos smirked into the shadows. "Or when MacLeod least expects it."
"Where will you go?"
"Here and there. Thanks to you and Peter Kerensky, I'm still wanted over much of the world. I'd like to start thinking about clearing my name, so that I can try living my life without looking over my shoulder all the time."
"And to you brother. You'll need it if you're going to carry on hanging around with that overgrown boy scout. I don't know how you manage to put up with him."
"I see it as a kind of therapy." Methos let his hand fall back to his side. "Stay in touch."
"Not by computer. I've had enough of them to last me a life time. I think I'll revert to carrier pigeon, if it's all the same to you."
"Whatever. Just stay in touch. And no going off the rails, brother. I don't want to hear that I've lost you again, after all the trouble it took to bring you back the last time. If you find you don't like the world we're living in, come and see me. We'll work it out together."
"Thanks." There was a silence, during which Methos could have sworn that he had heard his brother smile. He wanted to turn around to see it, but he held back. He still wasn't sure that it was safe to take his eyes off Horton's unruly bunch of guards; especially when Dawson and MacLeod The Younger were still locked in some sentimental discussion in the middle of the room. If they remembered that they were surrounded by the enemy neither gave any sign of it. They were more interested in talking together. Methos could lip-read well enough to know that they were talking about Amy, and about Horton, and about anything they could that made them feel united again. MacLeod was unscrewing the tip of Dawson's cane, showing him the homing beacon with a guilty expression on his face. Dawson laughed out loud. It wasn't until the laughter abated that Methos realised that the hand on his shoulder had gone. He put up his own hand once again, as though to touch it anyway, and then turned slowly around. He left MacLeod and Dawson to their bonding, and Connor to guard the enemy alone.
"Kronos?" Outside, the black-clad Immortal was already walking away down the hillside. Methos ran to catch up with him. "You weren't thinking of slipping off without saying a proper goodbye?"
"We don't do goodbyes, brother." Kronos seemed to think of something, and reached into his pocket to extract a compact disk. In the blackness it was practically invisible, but as Methos took it the lights from the building behind them caught the shining surface, bursting it open into a spectacular array of spinning rainbows. Kronos nodded at it. "For you. I'd recommend that you don't load it up unless you're very tired of your computer."
"Then you're not going to use it?" Methos sounded impressed. Kronos shrugged.
"I can always write it again."
"Spoken like a true Horseman."
"Yeah. A true twenty-first century Horseman."
"Not so bad is it?"
"No. Not really." He smiled slightly, looking faintly abashed. "Beats being dead."
"Good. Then I'll see you when I see you. Try not to destroy the world in the meantime."
"Try not to be too bloody good."
"You never change do you. Always after the last word."
"I am the last word, brother. The last footnote in history. The first chapter of a whole new future."
"You always did have a disproportionately large head, you know that?"
"So did you. It's why we get along so well." Kronos nodded at the disk. "Look after that. If your place ever gets burgled I might get my Armageddon after all."
"I'll remember that." He tossed the disk in his hand, watching the spinning rainbows merge and contract. "Till next time, brother."
"Yeah." They stood together for a moment, staring down at the tiny fishing village beneath them, filled with flames that did not want to die. As they shared the view in the silence of their mutual reflection, almost unseen by his brother, Kronos turned about and walked quietly away. Left behind Methos stared at the disk in his hand, thinking about the virus it contained. For a while he had almost believed that Kronos might release it into the world; but maybe this really was a new beginning for all of them.
And on his way down the hillside, Kronos sunk his hands deeply into the pockets of his jacket, feeling the bite of a handful of other disks against his fingers. He smiled to himself. Six disks, each bearing a copy of his virus. Six beautiful Doomsdays just waiting to happen. Not that they would ever happen, necessarily.
But it was nice to know that he had the means to find out.
"Methos!" Joe sounded elated, which was some cause for celebration. Methos strode over to him, shaking him firmly by the hand.
"You two work things out?"
"We've agreed to shoot each other if we fight again." Joe frowned. "Actually I think Duncan gets the better end of that deal. We might have to come up with a different plan."
"Use a twelve bore." Methos could not keep the contentment from his voice. "It'll blow his head off."
"Speaking of which." Duncan's soft voice rang out, proving that he too was showing no interest in guarding the prisoners. "Where's the hell-storm?"
"Gone." Methos sat down in the nearest chair, spinning idly in circles before the large, smoking computer consoles. It was a temptation to put Kronos' CD into the least damaged disk drive, just to see what would happen. He knew that he couldn't take the risk, but it was a nice thought to entertain. "He sends his regards."
"How very thoughtful." Connor was suddenly standing close by, leaving Dawson to wonder just who exactly was watching over their captured enemies. Clearly nobody at all. "Perhaps it's time I was following in his wake."
"Oh no you don't. You're coming back to Seacouver with us. The least I can do after dragging you into all of this is to buy you a beer in my favourite bar." Duncan slung an arm around his cousin's lean shoulders. "Stay for a day or two."
"I'd like that." The soft voice of his cousin, at once both serious and amused, made Duncan smile. He was beginning to feel as though the many pieces of his life, spread to the four winds after the past few years, were finally beginning to draw themselves back together, reconnecting with every breath. Had it not been for the voice of his cousin in his ear, he might have believed that the lean shoulders resting in his grip belonged to Richie. As it was he felt sure that there was one more ghost in the world that tonight was finding some rest.
"Let's go home." He said it to the room, to the prisoners, to his friends and to the world at large. To hell with the enemy. To hell with seeing them delivered into the arms of a sceptical and largely uninterested police. He just wanted to be on that aeroplane, winging his way back to Seacouver, where cold breezes blew in over the water, and every ramshackle, abandoned old warehouse seemed to hide an evil Immortal with plans to take over the world. He wanted to be back there, listening to the music in the jazz club; breathing on his hands as he walked the lonely roads at night; being aggravated by unexpected visits at odd hours by a certain ancient Immortal in search of a can of beer. He wanted to lie awake at night listening to strangers shouting in the streets, hammering on their car horns and filling the air with pollution. Somehow this hot, pleasant, idyllic Greek coastline just couldn't seem to compare.
"Home." Joe was smiling too, thinking of the jazz club, or of trying to repair his splintered Watcher career with tales of his triumphs over Horton and Involution alike. The thought brought his mind back to Amy, and the ever improving relationship with the daughter he had thought he was to lose forever. She was probably still waiting in their cell, wondering when her father was going to come back for her - or if he was ever going to come back at all. He grinned broadly, and clapped Methos on the shoulder for no reason other than the fact that he was standing close by. "Yeah. Let's go home."
"Is this going to be one of those disturbingly sentimental moments? 'Cause if so, I'm going to wait in the car." The oldest Immortal was already heading towards the door. One or two of the enemy guards, not quite believing their luck, were slipping out past him. He let them go. So long as they didn't take all the jeeps he didn't mind. He didn't seem to mind anything actually, which was something of a new experience, especially of late.
"Stop being so damn British, old man." Duncan sounded exasperated and amused, all at the same time. "I was born in Britain, which makes me a damn sight more British than you are. So if I can live with the sentimental moments, so can you."
"Ah, but it's not where we were born that matters, is it MacLeod. It's where we've ended up that counts."
"Which is where?" Connor was regarding him with interest, as though Methos were expounding some fantastic philosophical concept that stood without rival in intellectual history. The world's oldest man shrugged.
"Joe's a father; MacLeod's a hero again; I still can't figure you out. And Kronos is..." He had to laugh then. "Kronos is Kronos, which is about as much as anybody can say really. The world's oldest moody adolescent."
"And what about you?" Joe was eyeing him with a familiar sparkle in his gaze. There was a teasing smile beneath the beard, and a joke in the very way in which he stood. "Where have you ended up?"
"I don't know." He shrugged, any pretence at philosophy gone as he reverted once more to the very image of scruffy mortal youth. "I'll decide that one when I get to the end. In the meantime, I'm tired and I want a beer. Somebody said something about going home, before you lot got all sentimental again. I'd suggest we get there, before the next crisis overtakes us, and we all start hating each other again."
"No." Duncan's voice was very soft. "If anything ever comes between us again, it'll be time for us to end it all. I swear it, old man. It doesn't matter who your friends are, or what you got up to five thousand years ago, or how many skeletons you have in your closet. We're friends, and that's all that matters."
"You mean that?" Methos sounded touched. Duncan nodded. Connor smiled in his usual, almost parentally approving way.
"Good. I like to see you all being friends again. It makes me feel better about leaving you alone if I know that you're not going to start killing each other." He ignored the jumble of sheepish expressions. "Now perhaps we should pick up Joe's daughter and get out of here; before Horton's Mafia friends turn up to find out what's been going on."
"Good point." Joe was already hurrying off. After a moment Connor followed him. Perhaps he wanted to take a closer look at the building, or perhaps he just wanted to give his cousin some time alone with a regained friend. Either way Duncan and Methos were left alone. All of Horton's guards had slipped away into the vanished storm, and there were only dead ears left to overhear what went on.
"We came pretty close, didn't we old man." Duncan's soft brown eyes fixed intently on Methos, the ghost of a painful smile haunting the strong lines of his face. Methos nodded.
"But like I said, Highlander. It's where we've ended up that counts."
"Yeah." The smile on the deceptively young face broadened with a childlike delight. "Especially if you meant what you said, about all the skeletons in my closet."
"Why?" Duncan frowned. "Just how many of them are there, anyway?"
"In a life as distinguished as mine?" The childish grin became positively wicked. "Wait and see."
"I have a feeling I'm going to have to do just that. But just as a matter of interest... you don't have any more dead friends who are planning on coming back to life... do you?"
"No." Methos turned on his heel then, heading towards the door without a single look back. "But there are quite a few things about me that you don't know yet, MacLeod." He hesitated in the doorway. "Maybe quite a few that I'm only just beginning to understand myself."
"I think that's the way it's supposed to be." Duncan joined him on the threshold. Somewhere below them was a jeep, with a renegade Watcher still tied up on the back seat. They should do something about that, Duncan thought. Probably sooner rather than later.
"Maybe. Maybe none of us is ever supposed to know all of the answers."
"Five thousand years and you've only just worked that one out?"
Methos smiled. "That's not quite the way I meant it. I just meant-- Well it's a lot to work out. Being a Horseman... not being a Horseman... being a pirate - spending a large chunk of an entire century being a pirate, if we're being totally honest... I can't actually claim that Pompeii was my fault, although that teacher bloke did tell me I should probably start an evacuation... sort of being responsible for the Great Fire of London..."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Granted. And anyway, your cousin helped there, it's not entirely my fault." He smiled. "I did warn you. Skeletons and all that."
"Yeah, Methos. Skeletons I can cope with. We all have a few of them. We don't all have entire armies of the undead in our closets."
"We're not all five thousand years old."
"True. We're not all bloody irresponsible either."
"I thought we were going to be friends from now on?"
Duncan threw an arm around his shoulders, beginning to lead him back down to the jeep. Behind them Connor and Joe were re-emerging from the inner chambers, Amy holding onto her father's hand. "Give it a rest. We're friends, alright? So you were one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It's not as if you've ever done anything really bad."
"Is this going to be one of those disturbingly sentimental moments?" Grinning, Joe caught them up. Methos glared at him.
"Suddenly I'm surrounded by comedians."
"Well at least they're friendly comedians." Turning to Joe, Duncan glanced back towards Connor, only to find that his cousin was nowhere in sight. The dying wind whipped up the shadows, the first faint light of dawn illuminating each twisted shape. Of Connor MacLeod there was no sign. Methos had also noticed the departure, and he smiled. He was used to mysterious Immortals who came and went with the shadows. Connor was like a phantom, who emerged from nowhere when his wisdom was required - and then vanished again as soon as the wind changed. Duncan scowled.
"One of these days I'm going to catch him doing that. He's been doing it to me for nearly four hundred years."
"Kronos is still doing it to me after four thousand. It's a talent some people have. You attract trouble and your cousin attracts artistically placed shadows."
"I attract trouble? I'm not the one who forgot to evacuate Pompeii."
"MacLeod!" Methos sounded indignant. "There are Watchers present!"
"Yeah, and you're one of them." Joe took his arm, indicating the blue tattoo. "Although I'm not so sure that I am. Everybody seems to know that Kronos is back. The Watcher Council is never going to believe that I knew nothing about it."
"I'll convince them." Methos thought of the CD in his pocket - the means with which to convince the Watcher Council to do practically anything he wanted. The means to convince just about anyone to do whatever he wanted. He smiled.
"What's so funny?" Duncan asked him, as they all climbed into the jeep. O'Reilly was awake, glowering at them all as though he hoped to strike them down with intent alone.
"Oh, nothing. Just... opportunities."
"Yeah. And a few old ones." He slid into the back of the jeep, the other three sharing the front between them. "And a whole lot of new beginnings as well."
"Yeah, well we're all starting off with a barrel-load of those." Duncan threw the jeep into gear, and started it off on the way back to civilisation. Methos nodded.
"I guess we are."
"And it feels great." Amy was still holding onto Joe as though she was planning never to let go. "The bad guys are defeated, the good guys are heading off into the sunset..." She frowned. "Well. Sunrise, technically I suppose." MacLeod laughed, putting on a deep, cinematic voice.
"And once again evil is defeated, and the heroes have saved the day." His voice reverted to normal. "Right old man?" He glanced in the rear view mirror, but Methos appeared to be distracted, gazing at something shiny in his hands. "Right old man?"
"What?" Methos glanced up. "Oh. Yeah. Evil is defeated. New beginnings all round." He smiled, and lowered the shiny whatever-it-was into the shadows that still surrounded him. Duncan smiled back, and put his foot down on the accelerator, driving the powerful vehicle faster across the hills - and in the darkened rear of the jeep, on the rainbow-spiralled CD in Methos' hands, an impossible reflection showed two men standing side by side. One was big and blond, the other smaller and dark-haired, and both wore the patterns of furious black paint. And as the jeep sped on to the sound of its driver sharing his joy with the hills, the two men in the reflection stared mutely out at a world that had long since left them behind. Perhaps it was a mirage, or a trick of the light; perhaps it was just the way that the shadows fell - or perhaps it was something else.
After all, when you were five thousand years old no beginning was ever really that new.