The warehouse had stood beside the Thames for longer than anybody could remember - a vast testament to the historic importance of the river, and the trade that it brought to the city. Other warehouses had been built around it over the years, but none were quite so big, quite so imposing. On the outside it was a tower of grey stone, unbroken by windows save far up on the walls, where nobody could hope to see through. On the inside, where prying eyes had never yet managed to gain entrance, the picture was very different indeed.
It was a place of great industry. That much at least was obvious at a glance. A workshop and laboratory combined, with a floor of white stone, heaving with huge pipes and machines. Steam engines and electricity generators dominated, powering the equipment necessary for the work that went on in the centre of the room. There were work benches piled with sheets of metal, chunks of wood, pipes, wires, and nuts and bolts of every size and description. Everything gleamed, everything shone, the whole kept spotless and ready for use by a mind as concerned with majesty, with power and strength, as it was with the business of science. The workshop was a place built as a testimony to scientific endeavour, where experimentation and labour could be carried out on a daily basis, but it had also been built as an illustration of something else - of one man's ego, and his desire to fulfil his dreams. A man who had spent thousands of years learning all that science could offer to somebody who would never grow old, and as such had no limit to the span of his learning. A man who had so far outstripped the scientific knowledge of mortal men, that his already powerful ego had grown beyond all measure. He was a god among them, in his view if in nobody else's. There, in his workshop, surrounded by machines that were far beyond the imaginings of humanity, he could stretch his immortal dreamery to its limits, and test his own powers of reasoning. It was not just a workshop; not just a laboratory. It was a throne room, glittering and golden, filled with the trappings of royalty - and the greatest of them all was standing towering above everything else. The jewel in the crown of the whole spectacle. A work of great genius - or, perhaps, the ultimate display of one man's measureless folly.
It stood upon a tripod with thick, arching legs - a perfect sphere, fashioned from brass and iron, and set about with round windows of thick glass. Some nine feet high at the tallest point, though towering far higher due to the tripod, it was connected to a network of pipes and wires that snaked and coiled around the floor beneath it; the arteries that fed the beast. Occasional sparks - flashes of captured lightning - fizzed and spat around exposed copper wires at the foot of the tripod, and gasps of steam that burst from the many pipes around the room wreathed it in ropes of ethereal white. Lit by ribbons of orange from the dying sun outside the windows above it, and by oil lamps that flickered upon the ground, it gleamed and glowed and reflected back a subdued sunset that was entirely its own. It looked alive. It might very well have been. Certainly anybody who looked upon it could not help but stand and wonder; to gaze and question and dream. And, no doubt, to covet it, and desire it to be their own.
Should anybody give in to such temptations, however, and try to take it for themselves, then they could expect only to regret it, with every last, failing breath that they possessed.
"It'll never work." Sprawled on a pile of sacks, Methos raised a bottle of beer in a slightly mocking salute. "Bet you."
"Oh?" came the slightly acidic reply. "How much?" They had been arguing along similar lines for much of the last few weeks, and Methos was beginning to wonder if his somewhat explosive brother might be nearing his boiling point. He smiled.
"Well it's your scientific integrity that's at stake. You should tell me how much it's worth. Greece, perhaps? Or how about China? You always did like China."
"Yes, but I already own China. You lost it to me two hundred years ago, after you failed to kill that gold merchant at the docks." Kronos straightened up from where he was busily connecting some electrical wires to some sort of gas canister. Methos had long since stopped bothering to ask for details. "And Greece is mine too. It always was."
"You won China? Really?" Methos flopped back onto his sacks, staring up at the ceiling. "Oh. Very well then. You can have Australia. And if you lose, I shall have China back. How's that?"
"I don't want Australia. It's too far away, and it's too hot." Kronos stepped back, admiring his handiwork. "I think we should play for more interesting stakes."
"Beer?" suggested Methos immediately. Kronos went over to join him, taking the beer from his hand, and almost draining it in one swallow. He handed back the bottle with a smile.
"Thank you. But no. Our wagers are growing tired, Methos. We swap countries, but we can never collect on the deal nowadays. There are too many politicians and governments who would try too hard to oppose us. You might be willing to give me Australia, but those blasted Australians would be sure to argue."
"You have a point." Methos finished what was left of his beer. "But I'm not giving you my head if I lose. And anyway, I shan't lose."
"And neither shall I." Kronos went back to his work, beginning to hammer upon a sheet of metal with a large mallet. "This is going to work, Methos. Why shouldn't it? I am a scientist, and you know that I can do anything I set my mind to. The world has seen that many times in the past."
"True." Methos fetched another beer, standing up with a smooth, catlike motion, and going to stand beside his companion. "But this is different. This isn't storming a city, or stealing some priceless jewel. This is about flying into space. My dear brother, I could never doubt your scientific credentials, but don't you think this is just a little overly-ambitious even for you?"
"No." Kronos ceased his hammering, then picked up his sheet of metal, and headed towards the giant tripod that held his current project; the culmination of many weeks of extremely hard work. "You've seen my calculations. You know that they can work. I've been a scientist for four thousand years, Methos. Just because these mortals are barely able to grasp the most basic of concepts does not mean that I am bound by the same constraints. This will work." He stepped over a wire that spat sparks of blue light at him as he passed it. "And besides, even if it doesn't, what then? It will hardly kill me to fail."
"It will if this wretched machine of yours explodes," Methos told him, carefully negotiating several more of the churlish wires in order to follow him. "Which it will. You and that fool head of yours will get vaporised. And then where will you be?"
"Undoubtedly somewhere decidedly more interesting than London." Kronos leant his battered piece of metal against the wall. "Here. Hold this for me, could you?"
"And get nailed to something?"
"All right. Just tell me where to hold it." Methos joined his brother beside something that looked distinctly like a giant clockwork engine. "Kronos...?"
"What?" The other man was halfway up a large ladder, resting against his imposing spherical creation.
"This invention of yours. It won't really blow up, will it?"
"Worried about me, brother?" The younger Immortal glanced back down at his old confederate, a smirk making his eyes gleam. Methos glared.
"Of course not. Just... well, it would make a mess. I've put quite a lot of work into this too, you know. I shouldn't like to think that all of it had been in vain."
"As I recall, you've hammered in a total of two nails, and complained an awful lot about sawdust." Kronos slid back down the ladder. "Now, bring that sheet of metal over here, and hold it up against that pencil mark."
"Yes, oh master." Methos complied, frowning about as he did so. "What is this bit going to do, exactly? It looks sort of like part of a steam engine."
"It is part of a steam engine. It's part of the firing mechanism." Kronos knelt down, beginning to work on screwing the sheet of metal into place. Methos frowned.
"Yes?" This time his brother's voice showed all the signs of patience wearing rather thin. Not that this was enough to discourage Methos.
"You're not honestly building a steam-powered spaceship? I mean, with the best will in the world, you are not going to get off this world in that way."
"Oh?" Finishing the first screw, Kronos turned his attentions to the second. "What makes you say that?"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but the fastest steam trains in existence are not known for their alarming habit of suddenly shooting off the planet and into space. I'll admit that I don't exactly follow the news very closely nowadays, but I'm quite sure I'd have noticed that. Somebody would have mentioned it in the alehouse."
"Methos, speaking of alehouses..."
"My dear brother, I have no intention of abandoning you just to go and buy more beer." As Kronos's shoulders slumped in what might have been disappointment, Methos hauled out his pocket-watch in order to check the time. "Or at least not just yet, anyway. Judith doesn't start work for another half an hour."
"I can't decide who is more lucky," muttered his companion. "Me or Judith. Yes, Methos, part of this device is steam-powered. No, Methos, I am not intending to get into space that way. It's far too inefficient, and I could never carry enough coal with me. My main fuel is quite different. The steam engine is just a part of the initial process."
"And the pretty little clockwork thing in the corner?"
"My countdown device. The clockwork machine powers down at a carefully calculated rate, and activates the steam engine. The steam engine then powers up the vehicle itself." Kronos finished his screwing and stood up, giving the engine a cheerful slap. "I've thought it all out, I assure you. After take-off, I'll head on a very precise trajectory, and arrive on the moon about four days later. It all has to be carefully calibrated beforehand. Otherwise I shall miss the moon altogether, and keep on flying more or less indefinitely."
"The moon." Methos stepped back, eyeing the steam engine critically. "The moon hardly seems very interesting, given all of this effort. It's only a stone's throw away."
"Far enough that you still think it impossible, though." Kronos turned away to look at his somewhat haphazardly drawn blueprints, spread out on a table nearby. "Anyway, I might change my mind when I get up there. I might go and look at something else instead. Find another planet, perhaps, with other creatures living on it."
"Find another planet to conquer, you mean." Methos pushed the blueprints aside, jumping up to sit on the table in their place. "Admit it, you're bored with how this world has been just lately, so you've cooked up this whole insane scheme just so that you can find yourself another playground. Some fool you'll look if the locals on Mars see you coming, and shoot you down."
"You'll get up there, and..." He trailed off, looking over at the giant, spherical object nearby. "Wait a moment. Four days? You'll never have enough air in that thing for four days. Eight days, rather, unless you're planning to set up home on the moon."
"There should be enough for that long. And if there isn't, then it's not exactly the end of the world. Listen, are you sure that you wouldn't like to leave for a bit? Perhaps you'll get lucky, and Judith will have arrived early."
"Anybody would think you were trying to get rid of me." Methos jumped down from the table, going over to climb up the ladder instead. Kronos rolled his eyes. The one thing more annoying than a lazy, sprawling Methos, was a suddenly animated one. He followed his old friend up the ladder, trying to make sure that he didn't touch anything too sensitive. "Anyway, you were wanting me to show more of an interest. Now I am."
"Yes, so I noticed. I think I preferred it when you were half asleep in the corner. Methos, get down. If you knock anything up here, then I shall be delayed for weeks in trying to fix things. I've practically finished. I don't want to have to start anything over again."
"I'm not an idiot." Methos stood on tiptoe on the ladder, peering in through a thick glass window. He could just about see the interior of the vessel then, although the rapidly diminishing light prevented him from seeing much. A large red sofa stood on a circular rug that appeared to be of Arabic design, and something that looked like a control panel had been bolted to the floor nearby. It looked as though somebody seated upon the sofa could control the vessel, although by the look of it, that would be no easy task. The control unit, made of brass and wood, was a mass of switches and dials, and looked utterly incomprehensible. Methos shook his head.
"You're a madman," he announced finally, and attempted to climb back down the ladder, immediately tangling himself up with Kronos beneath him. "And there's no way that you'll be able to carry nearly enough fuel. The whole thing must weigh tons. You've not exactly gone out of your way to make it light, have you."
"I didn't need to. And besides, according to my theories, and those of several other Immortal scientists, I won't need all that much fuel. Space is different to the Earth. There isn't all of this air getting in the way, and slowing everything down. Think of Newton's Laws of Motion. Give something a push, and it keeps on going, but eventually it slows down and stops. Friction, yes?"
"Yes." Methos rolled his eyes. "Newton's Laws of Motion indeed. Did he think that none of us had ever noticed that before? Might as well have called them Methos's Laws of Motion. I'd figured them out millennia ago."
"That's as may be." Kronos glared, indicating that he did not appreciate being interrupted mid-lecture. "Up in space it's different. There won't be any friction from the air around, and in theory I won't need any more fuel after I've got going. I'll just be kept going by my own momentum. All that I'll need is fuel to leave the Earth, some to stop me when I reach the moon, and then some more to take off again. If I decide to ignore the moon, and just keep going, then theoretically I could carry on forever."
"Lying dead, sprawled decorously on your nice sofa." Methos jumped down the last couple of rungs. "You'll have suffocated, remember? I don't know, Kronos. I'm sure it would be very exciting to be the first man to explore space, but I'm sure there's a better way of doing it than this. You need to take more air with you, so you can actually breathe. Otherwise how will you steer your little... whatever you call it? You'll be bumping around all over the cosmos."
"I call it a cosmosphere. What else would I call it?" He saw Methos opening his mouth as though to speak, and glared. "Don't answer that. And no, I won't be bumping around everywhere. Not exactly. Anyway, I won't be dead all of the time."
"No. You'll be constantly reviving and then dying again. And you're planning to do this for how long? If it takes you four days to reach the moon, then how long will it take you to reach Mars, or Venus?"
"Longer," said Kronos, and taking his brother by the shoulder, propelled him neatly over several giant cobwebs of pipes and wiring, and back out into a less obstructed area of the room. "And anyway, I don't know that I shall go to either of them. I don't really think there's much point. Venus would probably be too hot anyway."
"Meaning what? That you're going to pick some other bright light in the sky, and aim for it instead? You'd be floating around out there for years."
"Millennia, quite likely. Thousands and thousands of years, drifting through space." Kronos continued to propel the unresisting Methos across the warehouse, stopping only when they reached the door, where he picked up his old friend's coat and hat, and helped him into them. "It sounds quite nice and peaceful."
"It sounds completely mad." Methos glanced down at himself. "Where are we going?"
"You, my dear brother, are going to find yourself some more beer, and spend the evening flirting with your friend Judith."
"We still have plenty of beer here," protested the older Immortal, somewhat half-heartedly. Kronos nodded.
"But think how much nicer it'll taste freshly poured. Now go on. I'm going to stay here and work on my ship."
"Yes, of course. And then blast off into space and spend the next thousand years suffocating yourself on a regular basis, all in the name of science. Kronos, did anybody ever tell you that you're one wheel short of a carriage? It's certainly the daftest way I've ever heard of avoiding getting your head cut off. What exactly are you planning to do with yourself in that tiny little vessel for a thousand years?"
"It'll quite likely be a lot longer than just one thousand. And anyway, it's not as though I shall be alone." Kronos rapped sharply on top of Methos's hat with his knuckles, before pushing him out of the door. "Why do you suppose I've put a sofa in there, and not just a single chair? You shall be with me, my dear brother. We can keep each other entertained for the next millennia or two. Now leave me alone for a bit. I have work to do on the controls."
"I-You-What?!" Methos shook his head. "Oh no you don't. I'll go from one end of the world to the other for you, Kronos, and I have done many times. But I will not go jaunting off across the universe with you, in some bashed about bundle of nuts and bolts that you've thought up on a whim. We'd probably wind up in the heart of the sun, or in the heart of somebody else's. There is no way that you're going to make me go flying off with you in that thing. No way."
"You'll like it when we're up there." Kronos held up a hand in a wave of farewell. "I'll see you later."
"Kronos, we are going to talk about this!" The door closed, and Methos snatched off his hat, almost ready to throw it. "Kronos!" There was no answer. Glaring ferociously at the door, the world's oldest man jammed his hat back on his head, then turned sharply on his heel and strode away. Well, he'd show the insufferable upstart. Talk about presumption! He just wouldn't go back there; that would show Kronos. If he didn't go back, then he couldn't be roped into this stupid cosmological nonsense, could he. He would stay at the alehouse. He nodded to himself, and quickened his step. Yes, that was exactly what he would do. He was quite resolved. The fact that he would inevitably change his mind and go home later on anyway was quite immaterial. Bloody Kronos. One of these days, thought Methos, as he slowed back down into a more comfortable stride, he was going to have to start associating with less troublesome Immortals. Ones who didn't insist on getting him involved with such wretched tomfoolery every five minutes. He was an old man, damn it. Old men should not be dashing off into space, they should be taking things easy. They should be doing sensible, respectable things. Five minutes later, as he put his feet up on the table at the alehouse, with a foaming mug of beer in one hand, and Judith the barmaid in the other, he smiled contentedly, and thought back upon his earlier resolution. Sensible, respectable things.
Kronos arrived at the alehouse some two hours later, a smudge of oil on his face, and his waistcoat and cravat in disarray. Judith was standing on a nearby table, singing lustily and waving a tankard of ale in the air. She smiled at the sight of her favourite patron's best friend, and waved him on towards Methos's distant table. Not that he needed the direction. Methos always sat at the same table; a strategically chosen one, half in shadow, and with a good view of all of the exits. He was half asleep by now, his feet still up on the table, his own cravat hanging undone. For some reason he was still wearing his hat, although it was at an impressively crooked angle. Kronos knocked it off, then sat down on the bench alongside him.
"Evening, brother." He was smiling, although clearly tired from his work. Methos smiled back, slightly the worst for alcohol.
"Kronos. My favourite galactic adventurer. How are you this fine evening?"
"The wind is up, and it feels like we're due a storm. If that's a fine evening, I should hate to see a bad one." A waitress arrived, bearing two tankards of beer, although from where Kronos was sitting it looked as though Methos had already had more than enough. It took a lot to get an Immortal drunk, and the oldest of them was clearly well on his way.
"Wind is good," announced Methos happily, and abandoned his half-empty tankard to start on one of the fresh ones. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "It will blow you to the moon all the faster, brother."
"Indeed." Kronos settled back on the bench, the better to watch the rest of the room. Judith's song had grown in volume with each verse as the rest of the room joined in with it, and there was precious little chance of the two Immortals being overheard. "Although I have no intention of taking off just yet. You, on the other hand, appear to be in full flight already."
"Yes." Methos frowned, as though having only just considered the notion. "Do you know, I think Judith is trying to get me drunk."
"I think she may already have succeeded."
"You may be right." Methos took another drink of beer, clearly none too bothered by the situation. "Do you suppose she has dastardly plans in mind?"
"More likely she just wants to make some money." Kronos took a mouthful of his own beer, and returned to watching the room. There were no likely threats in a place like this, but he was a warrior, and as such he was always on the alert. "I certainly doubt she has designs on your body."
"Just as well. You do anything too friendly with the waitresses around here, and the proprietor is rumoured to go for the horsewhip." Methos broke into applause as Judith's song came to an end. "And I can't exactly invite her back to my place, can I. Not with you there, along with several tons of alleged spacecraft, and a security system you claim would terrify an army. Not that I've seen anything of it."
"Yes, there's been a rather disheartening lack of break-ins recently." Kronos was clearly somewhat disappointed by this fact. "Anyway, security system aside, it's a warehouse, brother. Hardly a charming place to invite your lady-friend to." As they spoke, the lady in question began to work her way over towards them, pausing occasionally as she took further applause from several customers. She was beaming by the time that she arrived, and she sat down heavily on the seat opposite the two Immortals.
"There," she said, apparently out of breath. "That's me done singing for the evening. Somebody be a dear and give me something to wet my whistle. I'm about done in."
"Here." Methos pushed one of his two tankards across the table, and she smiled her thanks.
"There, that's the ticket." She downed the lot in one gulp, then waved the tankard at one of her colleagues for a refill. "Can I get either of you two boys another?"
"Well..." began Methos, eyeing his own rapidly disappearing beer. Kronos put out a hand, closing it tightly around his companion's wrist.
"Thank you," he told Judith, with the sort of perfect politeness that only Methos could tell was false, "but we shall be leaving soon."
"Oh no we won't." Thoughts of being press-ganged into space set Methos's personal alarm bells ringing, but Kronos rolled his eyes.
"Not that sort of leaving. It's not time yet. And besides, I have no intention of jeopardising the project by attempting anything with you half-drunk."
"In that case, my dear brother, I'll make perfectly sure that I am a bare minimum of half-drunk for the next year or two at least." Methos attempted to drink some more beer, only to realise that his tankard was empty. "Oh."
"Enough for this evening." Kronos tossed a few coins onto the table, then flipped another at Judith. He had no real time for the woman himself, and failed to understand Methos's fondness for her, but it didn't hurt to keep her sweet. She caught the coin, favouring him with a particularly dazzling smile that might have warmed his heart, had it been much inclined to be warmed by anything. "Come on, you." He hauled Methos to his feet by the back of his coat. "Home."
"My hat," objected Methos. Judith retrieved it for him from the floor, giving it a thorough dusting before she perched it back on top of his head.
"There. Quite the proper gentleman you look. Walk home carefully now, and mind them roads. Blasted carriages hurtling about the place the way they do nowadays, and nobody with a thought for people walking along minding their own business." She frowned at him, as though gauging his sobriety. "Oh, you're not too bad. Least you've got your friend here to look after you."
"At times, my dear Judith, I suspect that having Kronos look after me is rather like setting a lion to guard a herd of antelopes." Methos allowed his companion to propel him away from the table. "I shall see you tomorrow night, if I've not been shanghaied."
"Or thrown in front of a passing carriage," suggested Kronos, speeding up as they headed for the door. "A little discretion, for goodness sakes. My name here is... well, I don't happen to remember right now what my name here is. But it is not Kronos."
"Oh." Methos nodded. "You're right there. Damn and blast it, do you know, I think I may be a little light-headed? Somebody must have been tampering with my drinks. We should speak to the management."
"Methos, you have no money to speak of, you hardly dress as though you do, and your address is a warehouse. Why would anybody want to do anything to your drinks?" Kronos sighed. "I should leave you in the gutter."
"Ah, but then who would keep you company?" Methos slung his arm around his old friend's shoulders, and smiled the happy smile of the decidedly tipsy. "And who else would you manage to haul off into outer space on some half-brained piece of cosmic idiocy?"
"You know, when you're drunk you talk far too much." Kronos struggled to manhandle his companion out of the door and into the street. "Although you're hardly known for keeping quiet when you're sober, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."
"Why I am the very--" Methos broke off as a sudden gust of wind caught him, knocking the hat from his head. "Bloody hell. You could have warned me it was windy."
"I did. You probably weren't paying attention." Kronos let go of him so that he could stagger after his hat. "Do be careful. If you get squashed, we'll have to leave town. That or you'll have to stay shut up in the warehouse until my work is finished, and I don't think either of us is prepared to put up with that."
"No carriage would dare hit me." Methos made a grab for the hat, which promptly skidded out of his reach again, caught by the foot of a passer-by. "Oh, confound it. Kronos..."
"A little help would be appreciated. I like that hat. That hat and I are friends. We've been halfway around the world and back together. Lord Byron gave me that hat."
"All the more reason to let it get trampled by a horse." Kronos watched as his rapidly sobering companion made another attempt to recapture the thing. "Oh, for goodness sakes. And stop calling me Kronos!"
"Help me catch it, then." Methos pointed to his left. "You go that way, look. Then we can sneak up on it, and catch it in a pincer movement."
"Methos the great tactician." Kronos sighed heavily, although the fact that he would end up helping had never really been in any doubt. Together they closed in on the hat; just as a carriage came around a nearby corner. It was not going fast, but the street outside the alehouse was hardly quiet, and the sounds from the road were dampened by the general carousing. The neighing of the horse alerted Methos, and snatching his hat up off the ground, he leapt aside at the last moment, managing to turn the movement into a sweeping bow aimed at the carriage's occupants. The vehicle lurched to a halt, and the sound of a young woman's laughter floated out into the street. Methos looked up.
"My apologies," he said, in the most grand style that he could summon on the spur of the moment. "It was the wind, you see. My hat took it upon itself to go wandering, and I had no desire to lose it."
"It is only a hat, sir," said the carriage driver from up above him. He sounded rather strained, the near collision having clearly done no good to his nerves. "It is hardly worth your life."
"Oh, nonsense. A good hat can quite make the gentleman." A young woman had emerged from the shadows within the carriage, and looked out of the window at Methos. "Good evening. I trust that the hat is undamaged?"
"It is, madam." Methos held it up in indication, although in truth it did not exactly look undamaged. "A trifle dusty, perhaps, and somewhat annoyed with me for spoiling its fun, I think. But that's all." She laughed, in a manner that he found quite delightful. Nearby, Kronos rolled his eyes.
"We should be going," he said. The young woman glanced across at him.
"Your friend does not seem terribly moved by the tale of your hat," she observed. Methos nodded.
"He has the heart of a scientist, madam. Not of a poet. His head is filled with facts and figures, and a recent unhealthy obsession with the stars."
"And with very sharp objects," growled his brother, in a obvious threat. Methos shot him a sidelong glance, the light of mischief showing in his eyes.
"There may be hope for him yet, however. He has a dream of flying into space, which I suppose is at least a little poetic. His work in the field does have some artistic merit, it must be said."
"Really?!" She looked delighted, and turned her head towards Kronos. "Oh, you must tell me more. A voyage into space? But surely that must be impossible."
"Nothing is impossible." Shooting Methos the sort of ferocious glare that had been making mortals tremble for millennia, Kronos tried and failed to summon a polite smile for the benefit of the young woman. "If I set my mind upon the stars, then I will reach them. I do not fail."
"Fascinating. That really is fascinating." For a second she drew back into the carriage, then reappeared at the window again, another of the lurking shadows from within now seated beside her. It proved to be a middle-aged man, with fierce and bushy sideburns, and a uncompromisingly rigid high collar. "This is Lord Highbury, a scientist of some considerable repute. What say you, Highbury? A voyage into space would be a wonderful thing, would it not?"
"Indeed, ma'am." He nodded his head graciously. "But an impossible thing too, I fear. There is no way that a man could break free of the pull of the Earth. It simply could not happen."
"Ah ha! We have a conflict, then." The young woman smiled happily, turning back to Kronos. "And you, sir. Do you have a counter-argument?"
"Only that Lord Highbury is clearly no equal of mine." Kronos gave the slightest, most contemptuous of bows. "And now if you will excuse me..." It was not a question. He had clearly had enough of the conversation, and of standing around in a high gale in order to conduct it. "Good evening. Brother...?"
"Oh, ignore him," said Methos, as his companion strode rapidly away. "He never was much of a conversationalist."
"He's a scientist. A man whose mind does not work in the same way as ours, perhaps. I have met many of the kind." She smiled at him, her eyes seeming strangely old all of a sudden. "I imagine that I shall meet a good many more. All the same, it was a pleasant diversion. Tell me, were you merely teasing your friend, or does he really believe himself capable of making this journey?"
"Oh, he believes himself capable of it." Methos turned his head to watch Kronos disappear down the road. "Whether or not it truly is possible, I doubt even he knows."
"Foolish nonsense," said Lord Highbury, then turned his head towards the young woman. "Though no doubt most pleasing in a romantic sense, ma'am."
"Oh, do not treat me like a child, Highbury. I am quite capable of knowing what is possible and what is not. Nonetheless, there is no reason not to set one's aims high, whatever the confines of probability." She smiled back at Methos. "You had better catch up with your friend. I fear that we may have hurt his feelings."
"Oh, he'll get over it." Probably in some act of random violence, which was reason enough to wait for a while before catching up. Methos had no wish to be at the receiving end of one of Kronos's outbursts of temper. However much he might have hoped to prolong the conversation, however, it seemed that it was at an end. Lord Highbury was turning to look up at the coachman.
"Make haste now, if you please, David. We have stayed out more than late enough, and the weather is hardly clement."
"My lord really, we are on the verge of summer." The young woman looked exasperated, but he merely smiled.
"My apologies, ma'am, but I have your health to think about. I have been charged with your safety by your mother."
"Oh..." The young woman looked as though she were fighting the urge to say something rude about that particular lady. In the event she merely smiled graciously, and inclined her head. "Very well. At the double then, David." She looked back to Methos. "And a good night to you, sir. Thank you for a most diverting interlude. My best to your friend."
"Good evening, madam." He waved his dusty hat in another extravagant bow, and heard her laugh as the carriage started off again. He was rather sorry to see her depart, he realised, and he stood for a moment to watch as the carriage clattered away down the road. For a moment he thought that somebody inside it was watching him - staring out of the window in the back with an intensity that was quite off-putting - but it was moving too fast for him to be sure. Shaking the thought off, he turned about and looked in the direction taken by Kronos. There would be ruffled feathers to soothe, or possibly hurled daggers to dodge; best, therefore, not to head home by the most direct route. Instead he chose a direction more or less at random, setting off upon it none too swiftly, his mind drifting to thoughts of these same streets in centuries past. In no time at all the carriage and its occupants had slipped from his mind altogether. A man met many people in the street, and most were of no great import - even someone as cautious as Methos could not worry unduly about everybody. As the streets slipped by, and his stroll progressed, he gave not another thought to his newest acquaintances. He had other things to occupy his mind. There was somebody in the carriage, however, who had no intention of so quickly forgetting him.
It was not a long walk back to the warehouse, at least by the usual route, but like Methos Kronos chose to meander. He was spoiling for a fight after the confrontation with the people in the carriage, annoyed by their attitude to his work, and with Methos for talking about it. Methos at least he would forgive, for he always forgave Methos - but the mortals were a different question. He thought briefly about tracing the carriage, but had to conclude in the end that it would be too difficult. It had been grand enough, but without any coat of arms or other obvious decoration. The man who had been introduced as Lord Highbury would be easier to track down, however, and he mulled over the idea as he walked. A man with such a title would never be hard to find. It was something to think about, at least.
For the time being, however, he was in need of satisfaction. Not at some indeterminate time in the future, after he had tracked his quarry to its lair, but now. Now that his temper was up and his pride insulted. He considered picking a fight with the labourers on the docks, but the working day was long over, and most of them had likely gone home. He wandered restlessly past his own warehouse, onto the walkway beside the Thames, looking for somebody to provide his sword arm with a little exercise. A few rats picked over whatever the river had washed up for their entertainment, and a gaggle of small boys fought over the bigger pieces of debris down by the water's edge, but there was nothing to interest him. Even the wind had dropped, and the calmer, almost sultry weather was no friend to his lively temper. He scowled. Children were no sport, which left him with the prospect of heading back into town, by which time his righteous indignation was likely to have faded somewhat. If he was going to engage somebody, he wanted it to be now. Otherwise what was the point? A man needed to fight when the urge was upon him. It made no sense to allow rages to dissipate gradually when it was possible to work it all off with the clash of steel against steel. That was what swords were for, and sword arms too. In the event, to his delight, he did not have to look far.
"You're out late." The words came from behind him, as much a demand as a statement, and he turned slowly around. It amused him that somebody would dare address him with so little respect, and a smile lit up his face as he moved. There were two men there, dressed in the by now familiar uniform of London's new police force; the Peelers, so often the subject of public disdain. Kronos walked towards them, still moving slowly, taking in the situation with a practised eye. Two men, alone. No other adults in the vicinity. One man was drunk, or at the very least had been drinking, the smell of alcohol on more than just his breath. His eyes had a faintly glassy look to them, and the smile on his face was that of a man who was not quite in the grip of full reason.
"It's not that late," he told them both, although it was likely close to midnight. They were spoiling for a fight in just the same way as he, no doubt anxious to throw their weight around. Perhaps they were new to the job. Kronos could not help but smile at that idea. If they wished to grow old in it, they had better find themselves another hobby. Baiting him was not good for the health.
"It's dark," declared the slightly more sober looking one. Kronos looked around. It was dark, certainly, for although the moon was more or less full, the sky was not as clear as it might have been, and the wider world around them was lost in a gloom. Pointing out that it was dark was somewhat unnecessary, and was further proof that the pair were looking for trouble. He was quite delighted. Fortune, yet again, had smiled upon him.
"It could certainly be lighter," he told them, and sauntered a little closer. They could not fail to see his sword now, hanging at his side as it had always done. He couldn't remember if it was actually illegal now to bear arms in London, or if it was merely frowned upon in polite society - damn the mortals and their blessed laws. How was he supposed to keep track of them all? - but he knew from experience that the police didn't like such things. Sure enough, the slightly more sober one gave it a sharp look, and folded his arms. It was clearly a gesture intended to make himself look bigger and more threatening, but in fact only emphasised the ill fit of his uniform, and the paunch that showed he was far from being in the best of condition. He had a good foot in height over Kronos, however, and that was undoubtedly all that he needed in his own mind.
"You're carrying a weapon," he said. Kronos nodded. Half a dozen, in actual fact. Aside from his sword, there were at least two daggers and a pistol on his person, as well as a hammer and a sizeable screwdriver. They were tools from his work back at the warehouse, but anything was a weapon if somebody chose to make it such. With Kronos, everything was a weapon.
"Out after dark, and armed to boot." The slightly drunk policeman straightened his shoulders, smiling lopsidedly. "I daresay there's a tale here. Got anything else on you there, have you sir? Rope? Sacks? Perhaps a cosh?"
"You think me a thief?" Kronos smiled pleasantly, his pale blue eyes glinting in the moonlight. There were several lamps along the docks, but either the lamplighter had not yet been this way, or the boys down beside the river had blown them out. It was a favourite trick of theirs, to aid them in their various misdemeanours. Kronos was not at all inclined to object.
"If the cap fits," said the drunk one. Kronos's smile broadened slightly, his pale eyes warmed by his own good humour. He pulled the sword from his belt, moving very slowly, and held it out, hilt first, towards the more sober officer.
"Then take my sword," he said, the very image of courtesy. "I should hate to break any laws."
"Oh, look. He doesn't want any trouble." The drunk one swaggered closer, leering slightly. "He'd hate to break any laws, he says. Well, I think we can help him with that. With a little payment, of course, for our trouble. Just how many laws is it that you don't want to break?"
"I need to pay a fine, you mean?" Kronos allowed himself a smile of puzzlement, rather enjoying playing the role of innocent. "Because of the sword?"
"Yeah. Something like that." The sober one came closer as well, then, reaching out a slow, casual hand towards the weapon. "Course, we'll have to negotiate on the price. It's means tested, shall we say. You show us how much money you've got, and we tell you how much you have to pay. Sound fair to you?" His hand closed around the hilt of the sword, and Kronos nodded, his voice dropping to the low, cold whisper that so many of his previous victims had heard in their last moments upon the Earth.
"Oh, very fair. Very fair, I'm sure." His own hand tightened its grip, just as the policeman tried to pull the sword away. Instead of disarming Kronos, the policeman found himself pulled closer to him; closer and closer until their eyes were mere inches apart. The old Immortal smiled again, and his teeth glinted slightly in the pale, white light of the moon. The last thing that the policeman saw was that smile, with its pale blue eyes gleaming brightly above it. Even as he was looking into it, and finally beginning to appreciate the danger that he was in, a small, sharp dagger was slicing him open lengthways. Blood blossomed out of him, spilling all over the docks, drenching Kronos as well the second policeman.
"What-? How-?" The drunk man took a step back, staring at his blood-soaked shoes. Kronos gave him no chance for future words. He merely spun his sword idly, until it rested properly once again in his hand. Then he smiled, and with all the strength in his wiry frame, swung the sword around. The drunk policeman's head flew neatly through the air, and disappeared into the Thames. There was a dull splash, and for the first time, the boys beside the river looked up. They could have seen little, however, for none of them gave any sign of alarm. The blood would have been invisible to them in the limited light, and they had no reason to suspect what had just happened. Kronos crouched down, cleaning his sword and dagger carefully on the cleanest patch of police uniform available to him; and then, one by one, he dragged the two bodies into his warehouse. He was a man with no fear of the law, or of the thoughts of others, but even he was not prepared to leave dead bodies lying around in full view. Not when his work was nearing completion. It would be annoying to have to relocate now.
"Goodnight, sweet prince," he intoned, as he dropped the last of the pair down into the cellar beneath the warehouse. There was a soft thud as the body landed on the previous one - or perhaps on one of the others already down there. Kronos had rather lost count, but there were at least a dozen. Fortunately the cellar had a very dependable trapdoor. So far there had been no unpleasant odour, and not the least trouble with flies. He fastened the door shut again, and dragged a chest over it, then looked about. There was a trail of blood, which Methos would doubtless complain about later, but then Methos liked to complain. Some dust and straw would see to the mess on the docks, and come morning nobody would be any the wiser, certainly by the time that the next rainstorm passed this way. The head that had fallen into the river would probably resurface again some time, but Kronos had no care for that. It might be recognised, it might not. Certainly nobody would ever know how it had got there. He smiled to himself, then wiped his hands most thoroughly on his shirt, and headed off back to his great invention. His spirits had been completely restored. He was content. The occupants of that blasted carriage would trouble him no more tonight.
Lord Highbury threw what remained of his brandy into the fire; then, as though supremely bored with the entire business, threw the glass in after it. The fire spat at him, apparently not appreciating the gesture. Had he been able, he would have gladly spat back.
"Fed up, by any chance?" His companion, his insufferably cheerful younger brother, finished his own brandy in rather less demonstrative a fashion. "Honestly, Daniel. Most people would be at least mildly happy after the kind of day that you've just had."
"Must you always be so concerned with social climbing, Arthur?" Lord Highbury turned away from the fire, and stalked across the room as haughtily as was humanly possible. "I have a good deal on my mind. Perhaps you could have the decency to find somebody else to bother for the rest of the evening."
"You're far more entertaining than most people." His brother leaned back in his chair, and smiled particularly aggravatingly. "Besides, this is a most excellent brandy. They've certainly nothing this good down at the club."
"Hmph." Lord Highbury had fallen into pacing, his hands gripped tightly behind his back. Arthur watched him from his position of enjoyable luxury, his smile never wavering in the slightest.
"Money troubles again?" he asked. The answer was a glare so poisonous that a less self-centred man might have quailed. "Ah."
"'Ah'? What is 'ah' supposed to mean?" His brother ceased his pacing, although he did not cease to glare. "For goodness sakes, Arthur, if you cannot contribute anything useful, then--"
"If you're so blasted concerned about money, do something about it." Arthur rose to his feet, setting his empty brandy glass down on the little card table nearby. "Don't just pace and glower, and then end up sinking with your ship. What good will that do you?"
"A gentleman does not--"
"A gentleman does whatever he can to stay afloat. Don't give me any of that Code nonsense. Do you think that the aristocracy would have lasted as long as it has if we hadn't all done the necessary once or twice? Now, how much money do you need?"
"Too much." Lord Highbury finally gave up on the glaring, and rubbed a tired hand over his face. "Fifty thousand pounds. It might as well be fifty million."
"It is a lot." His brother took up the pacing where he had left off. "Gambling, I take it?"
"That, and one or two other things. Arthur, I--"
"Never mind the explanations. You've never asked any questions of my leisure pursuits, and I'm happy to return the courtesy." Arthur frowned. "Fifty thousand, though!"
"I told you it was hopeless." Lord Highbury sat down in a chair at the side of the room, where the firelight scarcely reached. The gas lamps in the corners cast strange shadows that gave his face a peculiar appearance. "I should do the honourable thing, I suppose, but it's hardly my style."
"Good Lord, man. Kill yourself and I shall inherit the title. Father would spin in his grave, and the entire House of Lords would likely resign in protest." Arthur smiled, "No, we shall have to think of something else. There must be some way to gain capital fast. How about your scientific work? Can't you invent something? People are always doing that nowadays, and surely some of them must make some money out of it."
"I wouldn't imagine so. One doesn't study science and engineering for the money, Arthur. It's a hobby. A gentleman's diversion. A--"
"Oh, tommyrot. Plenty of people make a good career out of engineering - and for goodness sakes, Daniel, you need the money. Stop worrying about the proper way to behave, and start thinking like a desperate man. It's what you are, isn't it? Now come on. There must be something that science can do for you. You've done enough for it over the years."
"There's nothing. I'm not nearly far enough along in any of my experiments to cause a stir; and it's only something truly new that could really be counted upon to make any money." He sighed, memories coming to him of his coach ride earlier - of the strange couple that he had spoken to, with their talk of voyaging into space. Now that would be a way to make some money, he was sure of it. If he could only travel into space, then he would be the talk of London - the talk of the entire country. People would come from miles around to hear him speak, and he would be guaranteed to make his fortune lecturing all over the world. That honour was to belong to somebody else, however. He swore, and stood up again with sudden force.
"Trouble, brother?" asked Arthur. Lord Highbury glared at him again.
"What do you think? Everything is trouble to me just at the moment. Here am I, drowning in debt, and about to lose everything - and across town there's some... some unknown little pipsqueak of a man who's about to know the sort of scientific glory that the rest of us can only dream about. Hardly looks like a scientist, either. Wearing a sword, if you please! And quite openly, too. Probably a sword that gave him that scar across his face, as well - and this is the sort of man who's to make advances in the field nowadays, I suppose?" He thumped the wall in disgust. "Well I'd like to see the Royal Academy welcoming him."
"My dear Daniel, you're not making an ounce of sense." Arthur poured himself another brandy, and sipped at it delicately. "Pipsqueak? Sword?"
"Oh, I met a man today whilst I was out in the carriage with cousin Victoria. Two men, actually. One was drunk, and had a very loose tongue. He told us all about his friend's scientific endeavours. Seems that he plans to fly into space. Into space, Arthur! It's the sort of thing that the rest of us would never dare dream about, and this man has apparently cracked it - or is about to. And the look of him! No gentleman, that's for certain. It's not right, you know. The sciences have always been the preserve of gentlemen."
"I could argue that anybody with brain enough is capable of taking up the hobby." Arthur smiled. "Never mind, Daniel. It's not the end of the world. And the fellow could well be lying anyway."
"Yes, I had considered that he might be. At the time it seemed certain, but having thought about it since... I don't know. There was something about the way he looked when his friend spilled the beans, that convinces me somehow that there's more to it than just an empty piece of boasting." He sighed, as though the weight of the world rested upon his shoulders. "Not the end of the world, though? Good grief, man. Do you not understand? His fortune is assured, scrappy little wretch that he is. Him and his gangly drunkard of a companion." Lord Highbury's mouth twisted into an unpleasant sneer. "Companion. Ha. Probably a fine scandal there, too. Not that the lower orders care, I suppose."
"I didn't mean it quite like that." Arthur finished his brandy in a rush; then, in a sudden decisive action, threw the glass into the fire after Daniel's. "Think about it. You need money. This man stands to make some. Well for heaven's sakes, Daniel. Who is going to miss some unknown amateur scientist who has had no chance to publicise his discoveries? Why not claim his work as your own?"
"I..." Daniel's eyes widened. "I don't... It's really not done, Arthur."
"So it's not done. Not done be damned! Who will ever know? We track this fellow down, we take his research, and whatever machine he may already have built, and we say that you're responsible. All you need do is take a quick trip in it, and you'll be set up for life." He smiled. "We both will. Come on now, brother. All of your problems will be solved in an evening."
"But cousin Victoria..."
"What of her? She's been sequestered away her whole life. Who does she ever speak to, but the carefully chosen guests of her mother? You hardly need worry about her causing a fuss. Besides, she stands to come into her inheritance any day now, or so they say, and she'll have other things on her mind then."
"You make it sound ridiculously simple." Highbury shook his head. "But no, we could never get away with it."
"Nonsense. Of course we could. And never underestimate the family connections, Daniel. As I said, cousin Victoria soon stands to inherit, and that puts us in a fine position. She's not the sort to stand for this sort of thing I'll grant you, but the name, Daniel. The name. And besides, her mother has always ruled the roost. We shall be practically untouchable, with the right words in the right ears."
"Perhaps. But there's still this fellow to think of. The real inventor."
"Oh, he's easily enough dealt with. We can hire somebody if you'd rather not dirty your hands yourself, although it'll have to be somebody that we can trust. Not one of the servants, though. Couldn't live with a fellow with him knowing something like that about you."
"Do away with him?" Daniel's voice was hushed, but not with shock. On the contrary, he seemed more excited; fascinated, perhaps. "Do you really think that we could?"
"Why in heaven not? People die in London all the time, you know. Murders happen every day, and who cares about them? This fellow will be no different, especially if he only has some drunkard associate to miss him." He shrugged. "And who says that we shouldn't take care of him as well anyway, and make a clean sweep of it? The Thames has bodies enough floating in it to keep the Peelers busy for the next decade, and most don't have names to go with them. They certainly aren't known for giving up their secrets. A bullet will take care of a good deal of problems, Daniel. Or a knife." He smiled. "Even a length of rope, although it would take a stronger stomach."
"Not rope." Lord Highbury looked uncomfortable. "A bullet perhaps. I'd just as soon not trust a stranger with the job, and I don't think I could..." His voice dropped to the faintest whisper, "strangle a man."
"And none would think any the less of you for that. It's an unpleasant business." Arthur approached his brother with a cheering smile, and clapped him on both shoulders. "Now, we have to think about finding this fellow. Do you have any idea where to begin looking?"
"Well, as I said, the one man was drunk. There was a public house nearby, so I suppose it's fair to assume that they had just left it. Perhaps certain inquiries could be made...?"
"Excellent! Give me the address, and I'll see to that side of things. I don't want your name brought into anything. Nobody will be surprised to see me wandering around in the less salubrious drinking places, so it won't be an issue if I'm recognised." He gave one of Lord Highbury's shoulders a bolstering squeeze. "In no time at all this will all be dealt with, brother, and your money worries will be a thing of the past. Now, what say you? Are we agreed?" Daniel stared back at him for a moment, clearly not entirely convinced. "Come, now. You're not about to see scientific glory go to a pair such as that? Are you?"
"No." Daniel's voice was stronger again; determined. "No, I'm not. Very well, Arthur, it's agreed." He crossed back over to the brandy decanter, and filled two more glasses. "To science, then, and its timely defence."
"Indeed." Arthur took one of the glasses, and raised it in salute. "To science. And to riches."
"Ah, well." Daniel smiled, and took a thoughtful sip. "Them too. Obviously."
Methos enjoyed his walk home, glad that he had decided to allow Kronos time to calm down, and glad that it had given himself time to work the alcohol out of his system. He strolled for some way along the side of the river, watching the boats come and go, and doing his best to avoid the giant rats and other local wildlife. The night was well advanced by the time that he arrived back, and Kronos was once again busy, the sound of diligent hammering echoing through the old walls. It was a sound that made Methos think twice before going inside. Hammers were heavy. Hammers hurt. Nonetheless, he pushed open the door and strolled into the vast and spectacular interior, a cheerful smile lighting his face. It was his home, even if it was a large warehouse filled with bits of spaceship. He was not going to be put off going into it. Kronos didn't bother to look up.
"Your security is decidedly lax, dear boy," Methos told him, and went to sit on the nearby table. "I could have been anybody come to take your head."
"I know your approach. Trust me, when we need it, the security will be anything but lax." Kronos began hammering louder, which suggested that he was in no mood for conversation. Methos, however, when he was in the mood for attention, was a man constitutionally incapable of allowing himself to be ignored.
"So am I forgiven?" he asked. Kronos shot him a sharp glare, before returning to his industrious hammering.
"Go to bed, Methos," was all that he said. The older Immortal smiled.
"I shall take that as a yes. And anyway, it's far too early for bed." He jumped off the table, wandering over for a better look at this latest piece of engineering. "What is this bit going to do?"
"Do you really care?"
"Of course. If I don't know all of the ins and outs of the blasted thing, how can I be sure of escaping from it effectively when the time comes?" Studiously avoiding the hammer, which seemed to be aiming itself progressively closer to him, Methos eyed the work with apparent fascination. "No, I'm sorry, I give up. It could be anything."
"If you're trying to be as annoying as possible, so that I'll think twice about taking you with me when I leave, then you're succeeding." Kronos straightened up, and prodded his companion rather hard in the chest with the hammer. "Did you find out who they were?"
"Who what were? Oh, the people in the carriage. You were there when that scientist fellow was introduced, weren't you?"
"Scientist." Kronos looked distinctly unimpressed. "No mortal can ever truly be a scientist. Their lives are over before their work has even begun."
"There's this little thing called 'co-operation'," Methos told him. Kronos merely glared at him again.
"They inch their way forward, taking tiny steps in experimentation and exploration. It takes them centuries to reach conclusions that our kind reached millennia ago. That man has the audacity to consider himself a scientist, and yet belittle my work when he has no understanding of it." Kronos shook his head. "Mortal arrogance. Anyway, I didn't mean him. I meant the others. The woman, the people with her that we couldn't see. Do you know who they are?"
"Not a clue, I'm afraid. Does it matter?" The answer was a raised eyebrow, and a smirk that made his brother's pale blue eyes glitter icily. "Kronos..."
"You told them my secrets, brother. If they should have to be silenced, then there is no point in looking at me like that. It will be your fault, not mine."
"But why should they care about your secrets?" asked Methos. "They didn't even believe that your plans were possible. Relax, for goodness sakes. It's been a good hour or more since we saw them, and we're probably long forgotten; so concentrate on what you're doing here, not on some little group of mortals who count for nothing." Kronos did not look convinced, and he rolled his eyes. "Oh, do get a sense of perspective. You always did have an unhealthy fondness for killing people."
"And you always did have an unhealthily loose tongue." Kronos sighed, and tossed his hammer down onto the floor. "Never mind. Are you sober now?"
"Perfectly. Horribly so, in fact." Methos frowned. "Why?"
"Calm down. I'm not ready to fly yet." Kronos moved him out of the way. "If you're not still stumbling about like a drunken oaf, and you're not prepared to go off to bed and leave me in peace, you can get us some food. The usual place should still be open."
"The 'usual place' sells the sort of pies that beggars won't touch." Methos shook his head. "I know you have an inexplicable fondness for the proprietor, but whatever it is that they're putting in those pies, it makes stray dogs blanch. If you ask me they're raiding the graveyard for their meat."
"Probably," said Kronos, and turned back to his various bits of machinery. "If you don't want to go to that shop, there's another about a mile away. Go there instead. There are clouds gathering, though. It could well be raining before you get back."
"I hate you," Methos told him, but didn't object. He was hungry, and the beer that he had drunk earlier wanted company. Remaining where he was would likely only lead to his being pressed into service as a distributor of tools, or as some sort of aid to advanced hammering. Retrieving his hat, he summoned a theatrical sigh. "I shall see you later, then."
"Goodbye," Kronos told him, his head once again buried in his work. Methos glared.
"You know, just so that we're clear... I am still the oldest man in the world. Thousands of years of distinguished personal history, remember?"
"I'm hungry, Methos," was all that he received in answer. The old man nodded a long-suffering head.
"So I gather. You know, sometimes I wonder why I keep coming back to you."
"Irresistibility," came the muffled reply. Kronos had vanished behind the great, domed steam engine that was a peripheral part of his masterpiece, and his voice was now filtered by several layers of metal and improbable spacecraft. For a moment Methos smiled almost fondly.
"Don't blow yourself up before I get back," he muttered, in the general direction of the voice. There was no reply. Turning about, he strode back across the warehouse towards the door. Setting off into the night, in less than promising weather, in search of pies made from stolen corpses - his life never ceased to delight him. He smiled as he went, however. At least it was only something as simple as going to buy a pie; hardly the sort of mission that was likely to become awkward or complicated. The thought cheered him immensely, and he almost had a spring in his step as he set off on his errand. A quick walk might even be fun. Hint of rain or no, he would be back safe and sound soon enough.
It was late before the last of the customers finally staggered out of the alehouse, to make their various wobbly ways home. Judith cleared up the last of the mugs, and dumped them all into the large sink in the back room. Happily it wasn't her job to wash them all; that task fell to George, the young apprentice boy, currently curled up asleep under one of the tables. She nudged him with her foot, and he stumbled out looking very small and very confused.
"What?" He was sulky about having been woken, and she glared at him.
"None of your cheek, you. Get back there and get those mugs washed up. Make sure the kitchen is cleaned up as well. When you're finished, there's some bread and cheese on the shelf beside the door - but not until after you've done your work, right?"
"Right." He yawned so widely that he seemed in danger of falling into his own mouth, then stumbled off in the direction of the kitchen. She smiled when he had gone. He was no more than nine, and was probably even younger, but he more than pulled his weight - not that his weight was very much. She was just surprising herself with a moment of almost maternal fondness when the door leading to the street swung open, and a tall man wrapped in a travelling cloak came in from outside. She turned to face him, looking at the huge half-hunter that was fixed to her apron.
"Sorry, it's past closing time. I'm not supposed to let anybody in now."
"It's quite all right, madam." The man bowed low, and she almost giggled. It was an extravagant gesture, and she did not often see its like working in the alehouse. "I wasn't looking for refreshment, but merely for an answer or two." He fished around in a pocket, and produced a large purse, that he made a point of jangling loudly. "I always pay for information."
"Oh, well. That's different then, isn't it." She pulled out a chair for him, and dusted it off with a corner of her apron. "Sit down. Rum?"
"I thought it was past closing time?" he asked, beginning to unfold himself from within the voluminous cloak. She saw him properly for the first time, then. Youngish, with a good deal of dark hair, and clothes that had clearly cost him more money than she was likely to see in a year.
"Rum's different. I was about to have a tot myself." She went over to the bar, returning with two of the cleaner looking glasses, and a small bottle that she kept for her own use. He raised an eyebrow.
"Ah. Medicinal, is it?"
"No. Purely pleasure." She smiled, and filled both glasses with rather more than the recommended measure. He smiled as well.
"Always the best reason for drinking. Your health, then, madam."
"And yours." She knocked back the drink, then set the glass down again on the table. "So. You said that you wanted information?"
"Indeed." He sipped his own drink rather more slowly. "I'm looking for my cousin."
"Oh, it's that sort of information, is it?" Her eyes narrowed. "I know your type. Looking for your cousin, you say, but you're really working for the beak. Well I invited you in as a guest, so finish your drink and welcome. Then leave."
"You misunderstand me, madam." He was still smiling, and she couldn't help thinking that it was rather a nice smile. His eyes were rather nice as well. "I really am looking for my cousin. He had a big falling out with his father some years ago, and left home. I hear reports of him every so often, living in various parts of London, and frequently consorting with the types of people that would make his poor mother faint clean away." He lowered his eyes. "If she weren't dead already, that is. Anyway, recently his father died as well, and whatever their argument was, it appears that he'd been forgiven completely. There's a sizeable legacy, and it falls to me to find him, and see that he collects it. So you see, if you can help me to locate him, you'll be helping him come into a considerable fortune. He would be quite grateful, I assure you."
"Oh." She frowned, not entirely sure that she believed him. "You're not just spinning me a tale?"
"Not at all. I have letters from the family solicitor..." He held up a packet of papers, which she glanced at briefly. Her reading skills extended to little more than coping with the writings on the bottles and barrels of her profession, however, and the papers meant little enough to her.
"Hmm." Still, it sounded convincing. He jangled his purse again, and she relented slightly. Clearly he had money. The informers that she had seen scouting around in the past had never been dressed so finely, or shown off any great wealth. After a moment she nodded. "All right. Who is this cousin of yours?"
"His name is Stephen Westbrook, but I have heard that he prefers to use an alias these days. I suppose his family name has unfortunate associations for him. He's easily spotted, however. He has something of a slender build, and dark hair. Tall, or tallish, with a most distinguished nose. He's often in the company of a friend of his, some way smaller, and with a scar across his right eye. A scientist, I believe, although I admit that I'm not acquainted with the man myself. Does any of this mean anything to you? I was told that he was living near here, and I hoped that he might have been seen in this... charming establishment."
"And what if he has?" asked Judith, who was quite clear now about who her guest was looking for. He smiled, and counted out five gold sovereigns onto the table between them. She licked her lips, but did her best to appear aloof. "All that, just to tell you if I've seen him?"
"Not quite." His smile had still not wavered. "All that, if you can tell me where I can find him. I did tell you that it was a sizeable legacy. I'm sure that he'd not object to me using a little of it to reunite him with his family wealth."
"Fair enough." She nodded slowly, her misgivings dispelled by the gleam of the coins. "They live near here, in a warehouse right by the river. Just a few minutes walk, if you're not the type to dawdle. They need space for whatever work it is that they do. Lots of things get delivered to them. Machine parts, and that sort of thing. It's all something to do with engineering, as I understand it."
"A warehouse?" He slid two of the coins towards her. "Perhaps you could be a little more precise?"
"It's old. Older than most of the others in the area. Most of the windows facing the street are bricked up, and there's a sign painted on the wall. Bishop & Sons. I don't know who they were. Been gone longer than I've been around."
"I see." He pushed another of the coins towards her. "And they spend much of their time there, do they? I mean, if I should happen to miss them, is there somewhere else where I might be able to find them instead? I'm anxious to get this business finished with as soon as possible. For personal, sentimental reasons, you understand."
"Of course." Her eyes were fixed to the two remaining coins. "Well, when I've finished up here of a night, I sometimes go to buy myself a little supper, and I've often seen them doing the same thing. If they're not at their quarters now, I suppose it's likely that they're off getting some food. They do seem to keep quite late hours."
"And is there a particular place that they frequent?"
"A shop near the river. Belongs to a man called Henrikson. He sells meats and pies, and things like that. You can't miss it." She smiled brightly. "The smell alone will tell you where it is."
"A delightful aroma of fresh pastry, no doubt." He pushed the two final coins towards her, and stood up. "Many thanks, my good lady."
"Not at all." She stood up as well, watching him as he went to the door. "Good luck, then."
"Thank you. Thank you, indeed." He offered her another bow, then curled his cloak back around him, and disappeared into the night. She drank down the remainder of his rum, then collected up her sovereigns, and bit one of them thoughtfully. It struck her that she had taken rather a lot on trust, and that perhaps she had been somewhat too free with her tongue. On the other hand, business was business and money was money. It wasn't as though she had ever been paid for her silence. Pulling off her apron, she slung it over the back of a chair, and headed for the door. A faint sense of guilt lingered, for she was rather fond of Methos, and had no real desire for anything bad to befall him; but the feeling did not last long. Customers came and went. Money, however, was a lifetime's necessity. In the scheme of things, it was so very much more important than a friend.
The wind had picked up a little again, but despite its occasional attempts to waylay his hat, Methos rather enjoyed his walk. The earlier drunkenness had worn off entirely, his Immortal constitution easily dealing with the effects of the alcohol. Even so, he appreciated the fresh air, and the way that it helped to clear his head. He smiled to think of he much how had drunk earlier. It had been careless of him, for anything could happen when a man was drunk; and it was certainly no great sport to be challenged by a fellow Immortal when barely able to stand. Nonetheless, it had been fun to let his guard down a little, and the beer really had been excellent. The frustration that it had inspired in Kronos had been amusing too, and his smile broadened at the memory of the carriage that had so nearly run him down. It had been fun to regale the occupants with tales of Kronos and his planned journey into space. The poor mortals must have thought them both madmen. That notion also amused him. Kronos was a secretive man, and would never dream of sharing his work with anybody - much less mortals - so whether or not his project was a success, none would ever know of it. The people within the carriage would doubtless entertain at least one dinner guest with the tale of the men that they had met, and their claims of being able to fly off into the stars.
It was the smell of the pie shop that eventually pulled him from his better mood - the smell of bad meat, and of sun-dried carcasses hanging for too long out in the back. He had been joking when he had claimed that the proprietor indulged in grave robbing to supply his meat business, but when confronted with a smell like that, it was next to impossible not to wonder. Methos winced. After having spent most of the day hard at work sitting watching Kronos, he felt in need of greater sustenance than a crudely made pie stuffed with suspect meat - especially if that meat had once been human. Or, more to the point, if it had once been long dead, buried, rotting human. Fresh wouldn't have been quite so bad. He thought about the only other place open so late at night, and considered going there instead. It would be a longer walk, however, and the owner would not be remotely pleased to see him - a minor incident, involving Kronos and a sword, that Methos in no way blamed himself for - and whatever he bought would be long gone cold by the time that he got it home. It was not a terribly difficult decision to make. Offensive though the smell might be, the food at the nearer shop did not always taste so very bad. Also the owner could usually be counted upon to produce a mug of beer, and that was hospitality of the sort inclined to make Methos blind to a good many ills. Consequently he had quite a spring in his step as he rounded the last corner before the shop, and had almost managed to persuade himself that the smell was not so very bad. His mind on pies and meat and beer and Kronos, and a hundred other things beside, he almost collided with a man standing just out of sight around the corner, swathed from head to toe in black and grey.
"My apologies." Methos did not like to apologise, but sometimes it was best to bow to convention. Besides, he was hungry, and did not want to be distracted by offended pedestrians. The man did not appear in the least offended, however, and fell into step with him as he continued on his way.
"You seem a man with a purpose, sir." The stranger's face was largely hidden by the high collar of his cape, but his voice sounded friendly enough - and clearly he was no Immortal. "Might you perhaps be heading towards that shop over yonder? I was hoping for a quick meal, but I find myself a little discouraged. The smell is... somewhat disheartening."
"Few complain," Methos told him. It was a bald-faced lie, but then he had no particular care for the man's stomach. His new acquaintance nodded.
"Good." He paused, falling silent for the duration of several footsteps. "Although to be perfectly honest, it's not really pies that I have a taste for this evening. I'd rather have some information."
"You'll not find much of that in there." The comment had seemed innocent enough, and Methos pitched his reply to sound likewise, but it was clear that it was not really the shop that interested his new companion. His hand went towards his sword, but before he could touch the hilt, he saw a little gun appear out of the other man's sleeve. "Sir, this is hardly polite. I don't have much money with me anyway, and my watch is barely worth the price of a loaf of bread."
"I don't want your money." A hand closed about Methos's wrist, and the old immortal felt himself tugged towards a nearby alley. It was a dark and grimy place, barely wider than a man's shoulders; not a good place to fight in, he could see. He would barely be able to draw his sword, whilst his opponent's gun would be just as much use as ever. He thought about his own gun, concealed inside his coat, but knew that he would not be able to draw it without getting shot. He didn't much like the idea of dying, and then reviving whilst being searched; or of being wounded, and having his injuries healed in an instant. Either was likely to leave his attacker with more questions than he seemed to have already. Both would also be unacceptably painful.
"Suddenly I have a pressing need to be elsewhere." He tried a sudden bout of struggling, hoping to catch his captor unawares, but for all his vast age and power as an Immortal, Methos was not blessed with a great deal of physical strength. His assailant threw him up against the wall, one arm suddenly pressed against Methos's neck, the gun jammed hard to his head.
"Your death won't exactly assist me, but I assure you that it will not put me at any great disadvantage either. I suggest you co-operate." He tapped the gun rather hard against his prisoner's skull as though to emphasise the point, but Methos merely smiled rather breathlessly. His attacker could not watch him properly like this - they were at far too close quarters. His hand managed to slide to his belt, reaching this time not for his sword, but for the dagger that lay close beside it. It slid out of its sheath, resting in his hand.
"Since you put it that way, I think that I would rather co-operate." He made his voice suitably contrite. Let the fool think that he had the upper hand. Let him think that it was all going his way. All it would take was a swift movement of the hand; a quick, stabbing thrust that--
"Arthur! He has a knife!" The shout startled both Methos and his attacker, but the old man, cursing the cruelties of Fate, recovered his wits first. He stabbed with the knife, the blade meeting only empty air as his attacker pushed away from him. Methos was not to be discouraged. He came forward to rejoin, stabbing again and again, slashing fiercely to discourage the other man from trying to aim his gun. Where the second man was he had no idea, for whoever it had been who had shouted that damned sneaky warning, he seemed to have disappeared. Methos slashed again with his knife, too concerned with his current opponent to worry too much about another. He slashed again, and this time his knife caught his attacker across the gun hand. There was a gasp of pain, and the gun clattered to the ground. Methos grinned, and tossing the knife across to his other hand, drew his sword as well.
"And now I think that the tables are turned. I don't give a damn for your life, so what's it to be?"
"You damned impudent son of a--" His attacker - Arthur, the second man had called him - left the insult unfinished, choosing instead to make a sharp dive for his gun. Methos kicked it aside, then in a neat move of which he was really rather proud, brought his foot back to slam with satisfying force into the man's shoulder, causing him to slump into an undignified heap upon the pavement. He pressed the tip of his sword against the back of the man's neck, revealed now by the general collapse of his neatly arranged cape.
"There." He looked up, searching for the second man. "Where's your friend? The one who warned you?"
"I have no idea what you mean." Sprawled on the ground, his face pressed into stone, Arthur was clearly simmering with resentment and rage. He was no coward, that much was clear, but Methos was in no mood to be impressed by another man's courage. He pressed a little harder with his sword.
"An injury to the neck can be extremely unpleasant," he warned. "Now, who was the man who warned you, and where is he now?" He raised his voice. "I suggest you come out of hiding, whoever you are."
"I'm here." There was a familiar note to the new voice, but Methos couldn't place it. He put it down to the simple fact that some voices sounded alike. A dark shape moved nearby, all but invisible in the gloom. "We merely wish to talk to you. There's no need for unpleasantness."
"It wasn't me who brought weapons into this," Methos reminded him. He looked around quickly, sizing up the situation. Aside from the nearby pie shop, the street was in darkness. He knew none of the locals, and the owner of the shop would not take kindly to him turning up with two prisoners in tow. Moreover, if things became any more rowdy, somebody in the area was sure to call for a policeman. Unpopular though the Peelers might be, there were plenty of people who were still prepared to scream for their help when frightened enough. Methos didn't like London's new policemen. They tended to turn up in great number, demanding information, hoping for bribes, and generally being much the worse for alcohol. Killing them appeared to be Kronos's new favourite sport, and at times it was hard to disapprove. Consequently there seemed to Methos to be only two options available. He could kill both of these men outright, or he could simply run away. The former had a pleasing finality to it, but the latter was undoubtedly both easier and safer. He made his choice instantaneously; and sweeping the street with a sharp, intense gaze, he gave his pinioned victim another poke for good measure, before turning and running from the scene. The second man gave a shout of what sounded like indignation, but no footsteps came immediately in chase. Methos slipped easily up a side alley, swung himself over a brick wall at the end of it, negotiated a foul-smelling little backyard with all of the speed that he could muster, and was back out upon another main road in moments. He straightened his clothing with an air of definite smugness, stowed away his weapons, and looked carefully left and right. Nobody was looking. Everything was in darkness - there were no gas lamps to spoil the fun of the night-time miscreant in this part of town. He felt enjoyably victorious. Therefore it was with a new spring in his step that he began to walk off down the street, boots clicking with a pleasing tone and rhythm on the paving slabs beneath them. It was good to win, and it was always good to escape. Grinning merrily, he set his sights for home. Behind him, however, his immediate future was looking a little less triumphal. Standing together to stare into the empty, darkened streets, Lord Highbury and his younger brother - for it was they who had been his attackers - were clearly displeased by the loss of their intended victim. Highbury's hands tightened into white-knuckled fists.
"Get the household staff together," he said after a moment, his throat thick with ill-disguised fury. "Next time we go straight to the source."
"I thought you hoped for secrecy, brother?" asked Arthur. "You didn't want the servants involved before."
"That was before. Now I think differently." Highbury was still staring out into the darkness, almost as though he could see Methos sauntering off several streets away. "We know where they live. We should forget taking them one by one, and just go there mob-handed. There's no need for subtlety - not at this time of night."
"As you say, Daniel." Arthur nodded in agreement, unconcerned by the notion of gathering an army to fight a scientist. As far as he was concerned it was just another brawl; and brawls were a favourite form of entertainment. "Besides, when it's all over you'll be the most famous man in England, and who'll quibble over messy details then? I'll gather the men. We'll meet you there, shall we?"
"As soon as possible, yes." Highbury nodded curtly. "I see no need in spinning this out any longer than necessary. Just be sure that the staff know they're to leave the smaller man alive. I'll want him to talk me through his - my - invention."
"It will be yours by sun-up, Daniel." Arthur touched his hat. "I shan't be long."
"Thank you." Highbury spoke the words emptily, his mind on other things. He didn't notice Arthur turning around to leave, and didn't hear his brother's boots clicking loudly on the stones of the quiet street. He heard only applause, as he presented his latest discovery to his peers, and saw only his own awaited glory. The spacecraft would be his, and it would be his soon. Now that the notion had been given to him, nothing else upon the face of the earth would do instead.
Methos had been gone only a short while when Kronos became bored of waiting. He was hungry, and Methos was a man not generally known for speed - unless there was the suspicion of danger to escape from. He would certainly not hurry on his errand for food, and by the time he returned, whatever he had bought would be cold and inedible - always supposing that it had ever been edible in the first place. Sending him out had been as much to allow Kronos the chance to work in peace as it had been to acquire food, but now he found that he wanted something anyway. He threw down his tools, and glared at his cosmosphere as though it were personally responsible for his hunger. There was nothing else for it - he would have to hunt. It was the only reasonable solution. Drawing his sword, and fetching his long coat, he headed out into the night. There was precious little game along the banks of the Thames - not this far into town - but there was one animal that he could always be sure of catching. The city was teeming with them; and here, along the banks of the rubbish-choked river, they were the biggest that he had seen in years. Kronos felt the people of London to be rather foolish, shutting themselves up inside their houses, and worrying over food brought in from the countryside, when they had a plentiful supply of rats outside their very doors. The people of London held a rather different opinion, but in his view that was merely proof that they were fools.
It was quiet outside, as he had known that it would be. One or two boys still scoured through the muck at the edges of the river, searching for things that they could salvage, but as before they paid him no mind. He watched them for a moment, struggling in mud that reached up past their knees, squabbling amongst themselves over pieces of junk that nobody else would have spared a second glance. He had no worries that they might find the severed head that had fallen into the river earlier, for it had flown far enough to catch the current, and would have been swept along some distance by now. He knew from experience how fast the river moved in places, and how easy it was to be dragged along by it for miles. Even if they did find the head, they would not know how it had come to be there. He smiled, his eyes gleaming in the darkness. Knowing them they would stow it away on their cart, and haul it off to see how much it was worth. The last thing that they were likely to do would be to raise an alarm.
Turning his back on the boys, he drew his sword and headed into the shadows that ran between the warehouses. The rats here were as big as small dogs, but even so that did not necessarily make them easy to see. They were fast and they were cunning, but he knew that he was faster. The trick was catching that first sight of them; being silent enough to trick them into coming out into the open. Once they did that, all it took was a swift jab from his sword for a quick, clean kill. It was a method that he had been employing for centuries, and it had not failed him yet. As he prowled quietly about the darkened riverside, he knew that it would not fail him tonight either. Dark shapes loomed on the edges of his vision, scuttling quietly in the gutters, and he allowed himself a small, sharp smile. He chose his target without looking at it directly, picking his moment carefully as it moved closer, fooled by his stealth and apparent lack of movement. A second later, with the briefest flash of steel in the moonlit air, the rat was skewered on the end of his blade. He smiled in grim satisfaction, then turned around and headed back into the warehouse. It was a matter of mere moments to prepare a fire in the middle of the floor, and skinning the rat with the ease of long practice, he set it to cook. A makeshift spit was an easy enough construction, fashioned from off-cuts from his work, and set across the fire on iron legs. He cleaned his sword as the rat cooked, rubbing the blade carefully on a soft cloth, and burnishing it with an old piece of leather. The task completed, he leaned back against a roll of leftover carpet, thick and rich and red, the sword laid across his lap. Methos would be back soon, he imagined, and a slow, satisfied smile spread itself across his face. Methos had a hatred of rat cuisine that bordered on the pathological. He could always be counted upon to react in the most entertaining fashion when offered a meal involving even the barest hint of rodent. It was sure to be entertaining when the door at last opened, and he came back inside the warehouse to be greeted by the scent of roasting rat, and the sight of his favourite dish crackling and spitting jauntily above a cheerful fire. That was, of course, one of the reasons why Kronos had such vast experience of hunting rats. Baiting Methos was a pastime that brought almost infinite pleasure.
On this occasion, however, it seemed that the pleasure was to be a belated one. He pulled out his watch, opening it, and listening to the heavy ticking as he sprawled alone on the warehouse floor. The light from his fire cast strange patterns on the underside of the cosmosphere, and the beauty of it did not escape him. It gave him no great delight, however. Methos should be here to share in it; to watch the flames dance in his usual, imperious fashion, whilst complaining about the food. Life's little enjoyments were often better with an audience, to Kronos at least. Methos would have argued, but then Methos always argued. He should be arguing now. Kronos glared at his watch impatiently. Where was the old fool? He should have returned at least an hour since. The idea was just occurring to Kronos that perhaps he should consider worrying, when he felt the electric glow of another Immortal's presence, and smiled lazily up the glowing spaceship. Panic averted - not that he had really been intending to panic anyway. He clicked the watch shut and stowed it away again, leaning back to lie flat on the stone floor, and stare up at the distant ceiling. Hundred year old cobwebs stared back at him, in shadows that the fire could barely dispel.
"Well I'm glad to see that you're comfortable." Banging open the door with the sort of explosion of noise that he usually liked to avoid, the older Immortal stomped into the room in much the manner of a sulky child. The door crashed shut again, and raising a luxuriously lazy eyebrow, Kronos tilted his head slightly, in order to watch the other man's approach.
"Bad evening, brother?" he asked. Methos's footsteps came closer, the volume dimming as he began to lose the desire to keep the show up. A moment later, the fight apparently vanishing out of him, he sat down heavily next to Kronos. He was clearly tired, and there were streaks of dirt on his clothing. He didn't even complain about the smell of the cooked rat.
"Bad evening? Why whatever gave you that idea? I'm half cut to pieces, my cloak is likely ruined, and I've lost my blasted hat!" Methos shuffled closer to the fire, holding out his hands to it, although he already looked rather hot. "I liked that hat."
"I'll buy you a new one." Propping himself up on his elbows, Kronos frowned at his companion. "How on earth did you manage to lose it, anyway? You rarely let it out of your sight."
"You will not buy me another one. That hat was a present from Lord Byron." Methos's expression darkened into a glower that Kronos knew very well indeed. "And you, my dear brother, are no Byron." His shoulders slumped slightly. "You'd probably buy a metal one, with a gun inside."
"I think I would prefer some sort of explosive," offered Kronos by way of reply, not in the least insulted. "Anyway, what exactly did happen? You look... out of sorts."
"I am out of sorts. I've had a long walk, a longer run, a fight, and I've been shot at. And I--" Methos broke off, giving the makeshift spit above the fire a particularly unimpressed glare. "And now I come home to toasted rat. You know how I feel about rat."
"Yes." Kronos didn't elaborate. He certainly didn't bother adding that that was precisely why he so often cooked it. He didn't need to. Methos just glared.
"I'm hungry," was all that he said in answer in the end, and pulling a sizeable chunk of meat from the spit, he began to chew it down. It was a little dry and tough now, after its long wait, but he seemed to have no objection. When he had finished, Kronos handed over a large stone bottle of beer, and Methos nodded his thanks.
"So are you going to tell me what happened?" asked Kronos, once Methos had come up from the bottle for a little air. His old friend scowled, settling down into a more comfortable position beside him.
"I was attacked," he said. "Damned suspicious, too. I was walking towards that pie shop of yours, and these two men suddenly waylaid me. One of them seemed familiar, but I can't place him. Don't care to, either."
"Mortals?" asked Kronos immediately, and Methos nodded.
"That's what so bloody silly about it all. Or suspicious. Or... oh, I don't know. I mean, if it was Immortals, then at least I'd know the motive. Instead it's a pair of mortals, and I haven't got the slightest notion what it could all be about. Who have we annoyed lately?"
"In London?" Kronos shook his head slowly as he thought. "Nobody. Not that's still alive, anyway. Could it be something else? You did get into a fair bit of a stir with Byron, after all."
"Yes, but that was overseas. We didn't do anything in London." Methos scowled, slowly leaning back to lie alongside Kronos. "They could have killed me, you know."
"They'd have a job."
"Not if they know what I am. I don't know what they're after, so who's to say that they don't?" Methos frowned up at the distant roof. "Samuel Headingsley was killed by a couple of mortals last month. Seven hundred years and then some, all gone up in smoke just because some of them found out what he was." One of his arms waved in the air, as though to represent the passing of a lost Quickening. "We may all need to be more careful now."
"Samuel Headingsley got trampled to death by a crowd of horses in front of half a dozen witnesses, and then went back the next day to get his things." Kronos rescued what was left of the beer from Methos, somehow managing to drink whilst still mostly flat on his back. "That's what got him killed. He was seven hundred years old, yes, but that didn't stop him from being an idiot. You're not that big of a fool."
"Why thank you." Methos swiped back the beer, and Kronos raised an eyebrow.
"It wasn't exactly a compliment. Has anybody seen you coming back to life recently?"
"No. No, I haven't even been dead recently. Not since the South of France." Sitting up slightly, so as to better be able to drink, Methos frowned down at his brother. "All right, so perhaps I don't have to worry about being killed by mortals. All the same, apparently I do have something to worry about. They were after me, you know. It seemed quite specific."
"Well just as long as they weren't after a ransom." Kronos dug around in one pocket, producing what looked like a shilling, two pennies and a button from a policeman's uniform. "They might be a little disappointed, and that wouldn't go well for you."
"Thanks." Looking less than impressed, Methos grabbed the meagre haul from Kronos's hand, eyeing it with a distinctly unimpressed expression. "This is really all that we have left? What happened to the money that we won in that card game last month?"
"You ate most of it." Kronos gestured about. "And equipment like this doesn't come cheap, you know."
"You usually steal what you need," Methos told him, and Kronos nodded drowsily.
"True. It's harder with scientific material, though. I need things that have been built to order, and you can't steal those. Well, not easily, anyway. You'll just have to find us another card game."
"Shouldn't be difficult in London." Methos sighed, throwing their worldly wealth back at his companion. "I should have known better than to leave you in charge of the finances. Five thousand years upon this Earth, and what do I have to show for it but a sword, three coins, and a part-worn brother with no common sense."
"You also have a haunch of rat," Kronos told him, his eyes now closed as though he were settled for what remained of the night. "Best eat it before it spoils."
"You're a cruel man, Kronos." Nonetheless, Methos collected what remained of the meat from above the fire, then settled back down again to eat it. Up above, the cosmosphere still reflected the firelight, gleaming impressively like some captured sun. He gestured at it with a rat bone. "So is that thing worth spending all our hard-earned money on?"
"It wasn't especially hard-earned," Kronos told him, without opening his eyes. "Not with the way that you deal a pack of cards."
"That's as maybe." Methos gestured once again at the ship. "I mean, I know what it's supposed to do, but I have no real idea if it's capable of doing it. I've not even seen inside it properly. Just a glimpse through the window."
"And I'm supposed to believe that you're really interested?" asked Kronos. Methos hesitated, then shrugged rather vaguely. Lying beside him, Kronos felt the movement and smiled to himself. It was always good to have the chance to show off.
"I could give you a tour if you want," he offered. Methos didn't answer at once.
"I didn't actually say that I was interested," he said eventually. Kronos sat up, propping himself up on his elbows, and staring down at his still prone companion.
"But you are?" he asked. Methos shrugged again.
"I... well, that is..." He sighed, looking rather irritated with himself. "Well yes, all right. So I'm interested. I mean, it's sitting up there, all glowing and shiny, and I've been living with the bloody thing for weeks now, and... yes, I'm interested. Happy?" He sat up, glaring at Kronos across the short distance between them. "You knew I'd be interested. Some big, annoyingly beautiful ball that you claim can fly into space, and how could I not be? Anybody would be. That doesn't mean that I want to go flying across the universe in it, though. Let's just get that well and truly clear."
"It's clear," Kronos assured him, with all the lack of sincerity of a man who really didn't care anyway. "So does that mean that you want a tour or not?"
"Don't push it," Methos told him. Kronos grinned.
"Just checking." He stood up, holding out a hand. "Come on. Come and see where we spent the money. Or where I spent it, rather. You were mostly over in the alehouse, flirting with Judith."
"We all have our priorities, brother." Methos eyed the outstretched hand suspiciously. "You won't hit the start button and fly off with me?" Kronos rolled his eyes.
"How many more times? It's not ready for flight. And anyway, there isn't a start button. More a series of them." He waved his hand impatiently, and after a moment Methos caught hold of it. Kronos hauled him to his feet. Somehow the fact that Methos was much larger than him had never seemed to be much of a problem, and he pulled the older man up with barely an effort. "This way."
"I can see which way it is. I'm not a complete idiot." Methos began to trail after him towards the waiting cosmosphere, a dubious expression growing within his eyes. "Is all of this going to end with you giving me a lecture on space-flight?" Kronos glanced back at him, smiling in a manner that suggested he was planning to do just that.
"Would I? This was your idea, anyway. Don't try to pretend that I'm forcing you into it."
"That's not much of a consolation." Reservations aside, as they neared the tripod upon which the device stood, Methos slowed to a halt, unable to resist taking a moment to admire it. From the chunky clockwork of the initial countdown device, to the elegant, sweeping curves of the steam-powered section, to the great dome of the cosmosphere itself, the sight was a breath-taking one. The brass sections of the sphere gleamed in the glow of the fire and the oil lamps, and the thick glass of the windows, with their brass rims, did strange things to the lights that played across them. Much though he liked to feign indifference, it was hard not to be in awe of the creation. Kronos caught sight of him admiring it, and smiled again.
"Do you like what you see?" he asked, with the air of a man who was basking in the glare of his own ego. Methos mastered his wonder, and glared.
"It's still just a big, shiny ball until it actually takes off," he pointed out. Kronos shrugged.
"Perhaps. But it's a very impressive big, shiny ball. Come on." He began to lead the way up the ladder, Methos close behind, until finally they had reached the hatchway that gave entrance to the sphere. It was sealed by means of a large, brass locking wheel, and it took an effort to loosen it at first. Soon enough it was spinning easily in Kronos's hands, and a moment later the hatch opened. Kronos hauled himself up inside, and, with an unexpected feeling of excitement, Methos followed him. He had some idea of what to expect, but never before had he had such a detailed view. Clambering through the hatch, he stared around, and, for all that he thought he was prepared, his eyes widened in unaffected awe. Alongside him, Kronos smirked. His old friend's obvious delight was a pleasant boost to his ego, and he could not help but enjoy it. In many ways he had a right to, for Methos's delight was not misplaced. The interior of the sphere was the perfect partner to the exterior, a work of quite remarkable engineering, and decorated by a man who could not help but show off. Panelled in wood to provide a more forgiving surface in case of rough voyaging, it had an air of luxury about it, like a study, or a gentlemen's club. There were shutters for the windows, in case of dazzling from the sun, and the floor was covered with thick carpet. The sofa, large and suitably commanding, was dark red in colour, complimenting the dark wood of the walls, and highlighting the brass fittings on the instrument panel nearby. The ship's wheel, wood and brass again, that stood in the centre of the floor, added a nautical flair and a sense of waiting adventure.
"I have to admit, I'm impressed." said Methos after a moment, going over to examine the instrument panel. It looked as impressive as everything else - all chunky switches and levers, mostly labelled in neat, copperplate Latin - and it all looked spectacularly unlikely. There were labels talking about ignition, about flying the ship through the stars, and he was almost tempted to press something, just to see what it did. Beside him Kronos sat down on the sofa, and leaned back against a tapestried cushion that he had included on a whim. Luxuries were hardly his style, but the design, of the Earth as the centre of the universe, with the sun circling around it, had amused him.
"Thank you," he said, and for once sounded almost modest. Methos flashed him a smile.
"I'm still not going with you, though. In that, my dear brother, you are alone." He went over to sit down on the sofa as well, staring around at his impressive surroundings. "Although it's certainly very comfortable."
"You'd enjoy it," Kronos told him. "You know you would. Speeding through space, seeing sights that no other being on this world has ever seen before."
"Darkness, mostly. Besides which, we'd be dead from lack of anything breathable, and wouldn't be seeing anything at all." Methos shook his head. "No, you can try to make it sound as attractive as you want, but it's still not going to do you any good. I shall keep my feet planted firmly on the ground."
"You have no soul, brother." Kronos stood up, hauling Methos to his feet alongside him. "Your heart has no poetry."
"Coming from a man who just fed me a dead rat, that's a bit rich. My dear Kronos, you and poetry have never exactly been comfortable bedfellows. No, you can be up there, looking at an infinity of darkness, and I shall be down here, where there's light, air, and food. And beer." He clapped his companion on the shoulder. "Which is my cue to leave, before you decide to get sneaky. It certainly all looks plenty finished to me."
"Sadly not. You're perfectly safe, I assure you." Kronos gestured around. "This is all finished, yes, but the guidance system is nowhere near ready. That's the stuff outside. I'd like to have at least some say over where I'm going." He followed Methos back over to the hatchway. "It'll be another day or two until I can finish my work on that, and there'll be all kinds of adjustments and experiments. Just as long as I can continue here uninterrupted, and don't have to go worrying over your loose tongue."
"Oh, for goodness sakes, I'll not tell another living soul about your wretched invention. The last lot clearly didn't believe a word that we said anyway, so there's no need to assume that--" Methos stopped, legs dangling through the hatchway. "Ah."
"Has the ladder fallen?" asked Kronos. Methos looked up at him, his expression beginning to grow cagey.
"No. Although I admit I'm considering making a fast exit down it, and then making sure that it does fall. Kronos... my dear, good brother..."
"What have you done." The phrase was not voiced as a question; more an expression of resignation. For a moment Methos almost bridled, then he looked away, down at the distant, stone-flagged floor.
"The people who were just chasing me. Remember? When I was hunting for food."
"What of them." There was suspicion in Kronos's voice now, and a hint of something very like the dawning realisation of just where this was going. Methos tried out a smile, but his lips didn't entirely want to co-operate. Instead what he produced more closely resembled a wince.
"It suddenly occurs to me that one of them may have been in that carriage earlier. Maybe. Possibly." Kronos's eyes began to glint with an unmistakable light, and Methos's mind, inevitably, turned towards escape. "The scientist fellow," he babbled uncomfortably, wondering if it would be possible for Kronos to take his head from his current angle, and if the open hatchway might perhaps offer some sort of protection from a swinging blade. "Lord Something-Or-Other. I did think that one of them looked familiar - well, I told you that. And--"
"How did he know where to find you?" asked Kronos. The threatened storm had not broken, at least as yet, and Methos chose to take this as a promising sign. He cast his mind back, and frowned.
"Good question. They were certainly waiting for me."
"They went somewhere to see if they could get one of us alone." Kronos's expression darkened, and his fists clenched into tight balls. "If they know that much, they must also know where we live."
"It's a fair assumption, yes." Methos's eyes drifted back to the ladder. "Which means probably we're about to have company. If not now, then soon."
"Very soon, I would imagine, once they realise they have no hope of finding you out on the streets." Kronos shook his head. "We could have had plenty of warning, Methos. We could have been ready for them. Instead they could come through that door at any moment, and what have we been doing with our time? Eating, and admiring the view. Have you learnt nothing from the last five thousand years?"
"How to run away when the situation demands it?" Methos almost flinched under the force of the answering glare, and summoned a placating smile. "Well can I help it if I have a better survival instinct than you? And don't glare at me like that. If you behead me here you'll ruin your fancy carpet."
"Don't be absurd. If I was going to kill you, I would have done it millennia ago." Kronos turned around, heading back for the sofa, and sitting down once again on the soft cushions. "There were two of them, you say?"
"I didn't see any others. They seemed to know each other well. They worked together well. Perhaps they feel confident enough to keep their numbers low?"
"If so then they're already dead men." Kronos shook his head. "No, I can't believe it. Even if he is just a mortal, that man must have brains of some kind, to be considered a scientist. He wouldn't be fool enough to leave such things to chance."
"More than two men, then." Methos's face showed his disgust quite plainly. "In that case, I shall definitely leave before they arrive. I suppose it would be stupid to ask if you're coming?"
"You expect me to abandon all this?" Kronos gestured about with one hand, as though somehow Methos needed reminding of the cosmosphere. "I won't let them get hold of it."
"And so you intend to stay here and fight goodness knows how many people, all on your own? Kronos, it's just a thing. Just a piece of metal. It's pretty, yes, I'll grant you that. Beautiful even, and if I'd made it, I suppose I'd... Well, no, I wouldn't risk my life for it, but--"
"We both know that there's nothing you'd risk your neck for. That's beside the point." Kronos stood up, heading back towards the hatchway, where Methos still sat. "Anyway, I have a few tricks up my sleeves. Whoever's coming, they won't take this place easily."
"Your security system?" Methos raised his eyebrows, interested despite his powerful survival instincts. "I've heard a lot about that in the last couple of weeks. I'm almost tempted to stay and see it in action."
"If you don't leave soon, you may not have a choice." Kronos slipped past him, taking the ladder at a speed that seemed unnecessarily risky to his watching companion. "It wouldn't be too hard to surround this place. The windows are too high up to escape through, and we're a little short on other exits."
"A very good point." Clambering after his brother, Methos paused at the top of the ladder for a look out of the nearest window. "I have no intention of being caught like some rat in--" He broke off, frowning heavily as something beyond the glass caught his eye. "Is there much going on out on the docks tonight?"
"No. Some boys burrowing in the mud as usual. I saw a pair of policemen earlier, but other than that it's been dead out there tonight." Halfway across the floor below him, Kronos looked up. "Why?"
"Because there's somebody out there." Frowning into the murk, as though somehow the mere act of looking harder could make things more distinct, Methos scowled when the ploy failed to work. "I can see a light. Looks like a lantern. Looks like several lanterns actually." He slumped against the rungs of the ladder, looking suddenly defeated and forlorn. "It's them, isn't it. Mortals, after your wretched invention. Kronos, if I lose my head over this, I just want to make it abundantly clear that I'll... I'll..."
"Haunt me?" asked Kronos. Having crossed to the far side of the room, the younger Immortal was busy fiddling with something that Methos could not see. Whatever it was, it was clearly of more interest to him than his brother's complaints. Methos glared.
"You're bloody right I shall haunt you. I'll be one of those vengeful ghosts that you read about in strange old books on dusty shelves, and I'll come after your head with a phantom sword. You and your confounded meddling. Why of all the things in the world did you have to develop an interest in science?"
"Science is the future, brother." Kronos was still paying him no real attention, and instead had opened a panel within the wall. Hope flared within Methos for a moment, with the possibility that it might be a secret passage, but the hope vanished again immediately when he saw nothing but some kind of engine. He turned his glare up a notch, even though Kronos was still not looking at him.
"Science is a lot of nothing. What good is the future to us if your blasted science gets us killed tonight? If you'd had some normal hobby, instead of some insane idea about flying into space, we'd be happy and safe right now, instead of facing a mob."
"And if you'd kept your mouth shut, and not told the people in that carriage what I was up to, we'd also be happy and safe right now." For the first time, Kronos looked back at him, and Methos, unable to deny that he was right, could do nothing but try to increase the ferocity of his glare. Predictably enough, Kronos was not bothered by it, and instead merely brandished a small knife. If he intended to battle the advancing mortals with it, Methos could only assume that his companion had finally tipped the scales and gone completely mad.
"You're going to need rather more than that," he said, hurrying down the ladder as best he could. "It's hard to be sure, but there looked to be at least half a dozen of them out there. More, I think."
"Half a dozen?" Kronos sounded positively insulted. "I've fought armies, and they think that half a dozen men is enough to conquer me?"
"I was with you when you fought those armies, Kronos." Methos drew his sword, looking from it to the door and back again. A moment later he put it away again, not at all convinced that it was going to do any good. "And as I recall, you never actually beat any of them. You usually wound up full of holes. Anyway, when I said half a dozen, it was only an estimate. I was only counting lanterns. Now what are we going to do?"
"Fight them," Kronos told him, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. Methos rolled his eyes.
"Hello? Am I talking to myself here? Lots of men, presumably armed. Two of us. Two. A number slightly larger than one, but not by very much. They outnumber us, they're bound to outgun us - and confound it, Kronos, they're bound to want to know how your giant space machine thing works. That's going to mean torture, isn't it. I hate torture. I'm really not in the mood right now."
"Have you finished?" Having turned his back quite early in the tirade, Kronos was now halfway across the floor, bending down to open the trapdoor that led to the cellar. "I didn't mean that we we'd fight them personally, although I'm sure we could manage it if you'd only relax and get stuck in. I have a security system, remember? This is the perfect opportunity to put it to a proper test."
"Will it work?" asked Methos immediately. Kronos glared.
"My inventions always work." He gestured to the cellar door. "Now, if you don't want to be a part of the battle, I suggest you go down into the cellar and wait."
"Is it still full of bits of dead policeman?" Methos was too far away from the trapdoor to detect any odours so soon, but he was quite sure that the smell of rotting meat had already reached him. Kronos made a show of peering down into the darkness.
"Dead policemen or a mob after your blood. You take your pick. For goodness sakes, when did you get so squeamish? I've seen you tear men apart with your bare hands, and here you are worried about getting your feet dirty?"
"It's a dark hole full of half-putrefied corpses, and you don't think I have a right to be wary?" With a very long-suffering look, Methos joined his old comrade, staring down into the cellar. "Oh, that delightful aroma."
"Yes, I know. Policeman soup or angry mob." With a last, regretful look towards the main door, Methos crouched down beside the cellar entrance, and lowered himself into the darkness. His feet immediately struck something soft and wet, and he heard a faint crunching sound that he had no particular wish to identify. The sound of tiny, scratching feet showed him that something at least was happy about the cellar's contents. He winced.
"There's rats down here."
"Of course there are rats." Jumping down beside him with the sort of enthusiasm that only Kronos could display in such circumstances, the younger immortal gave a tug on a trailing rope to close the trapdoor. The darkness that resulted only seemed to make the tiny, scratching feet sound even louder. Methos fumbled for a match, and lit it on his thumbnail.
"I hate you," he told his brother. Kronos's smile was bright in the match light.
"I know. Relax, Methos. What are rats going to do to you?"
"Gang up and take revenge for all the ones that we've eaten?" Methos held the match above his head, looking for a lantern. "Is there anything down here to use for light, or are we going to be left in darkness for the duration? And what are you doing down here anyway?"
"The controls for the security system are down here." Kronos turned away, heading for something indistinct on the edges of the match's glow. "I can always go up if it fails." The match went out, but the return to darkness did not seem to slow him, for just a few seconds later there was another, bigger flare of light, as he lit a small, swinging oil lamp. A second followed, filling the space with a warm, flickering glow that illuminated far more than Methos might have liked. The scratching feet departed in a hurry, which was at least one consolation.
"I shall never be able to wear these boots again," he commented irritably. Kronos flashed him a cheerful smile from over by the oil lamps.
"You won't want them up in space anyway. Not big leather things like that."
"Not funny." Making a vain attempt to rub away a mess of rotted flesh from one toe, only to realise immediately that it would just be replaced the moment he took a step, Methos curled his upper lip in an expression of distaste, and made for the oil lamps. There was a table of sorts there, with some machinery that was presumably a part of the fabled security system, and with luck there would be a minimum of rotting policemen. He found himself stumbling a moment later over a step that he had failed to notice, allowing him up onto a low, wooden dais that held the lion's share of the machinery. Kronos was busy doing something that looked complicated, and gestured vaguely towards a huge metal pipe that appeared to be dangling from the ceiling.
"Check up on them, would you?" he asked. Methos bent obediently towards the pipe, and found that it was a periscope, allowing him a dim, narrow view of a part of the warehouse above. A figure wandered briefly into view, but the focus was not good, and it was hard to be sure quite what he was seeing.
"I think they're in," he said, frowning at the figure, and wishing that whoever it was, they would retreat to a more convenient focal distance. Kronos grumbled something indistinct, pulling a huge lever that looked to be almost the same size as he was. A plume of steam arose from something nearby, and a faint vibration ran briefly through the dais.
"If we're about to explode, I'd like to object in advance," said Methos. Kronos glared, his face barely visible in the shadows that gathered amongst his pieces of machinery.
"If you can't think of anything helpful to say, Methos, don't bother." He pulled another lever, and a second plume of steam burst forth from something, thicker this time, and lasting for longer. This seemed to make Kronos rather pleased.
"I'm in a cellar with what looks like several hundred dead men, with a rabble above my head who probably want to kill me, just so they can steal your spaceship. I'm not in a terribly helpful mood." Methos peered once again through the periscope, this time catching a glimpse of what looked like a well-dressed man. The lighting had improved, which suggested at the presence of more lamps, but it was still hard to see exactly what was going on. They were isolated in their little underground hideaway, with nothing to hear save each other. Kronos nudged him aside in order to look through the periscope himself, before turning his attention to another piece of machinery. This one emitted sparks of a rather cold-looking blue light, and Methos was reminded, somewhat uncomfortably, of Frankenstein. Being surrounded by dead bodies didn't help, and as Kronos continued to fill the air with the low sounds of grumbling machinery, he found his eyes roaming unwillingly over the dead men in their decaying sprawl. A thought occurred to him, and he glanced back towards his companion with a growing sense of unease.
"It had better be important, brother." Kronos took a moment to heave at another lever, so large that Methos was left wondering why so small a man would insist upon building machinery that appeared to require at least three of him to operate it. "I'm a little busy just at the moment."
"Yes, it's not exactly the most handy of security systems, is it. I'd suggest that it might be easier just to call the police instead, but..." His eyes turned back to the bodies, and he therefore missed the infuriated glare that Kronos threw his way.
"I've just about finished," his brother told him, in the sort of voice that suggested Methos might be about to face the sharp end of a sword if he didn't shut up. Methos nodded vaguely, not really listening.
"Good. Anyway, I probably don't want to ask this, but - and the question really only suggests itself given that you've been in charge of the food for most of our stay here - is there some particular reason why most of these bodies don't seem to have heads?"
"Yes," was the only answer that he received. He glanced back again, in time to see a last plume of steam erupt from something unfathomable, and a new flash of light suddenly illuminate the whole of the dais. Kronos flashed him a smile so bright that for a second Methos could not help but smile back, regardless of the situation and his uneasiness.
"And that reason would be...?" he pressed, only to receive the previous smile's twin in reply, and a surprisingly flippant wink from one of the ice blue eyes that he knew so well.
"Here." Kronos held out a hand towards him, and despite the feeling that he was probably going to regret it, Methos took hold of it, feeling himself guided gently towards the towering periscope that dangled so overbearingly from the ceiling. Kronos gave it a tap, his spirits apparently now at a considerable high. "Watch," he said, with all the drama of a man of the theatre, and leading Methos to suspect that watching was probably the last thing he wanted to do. "Soon enough you may just find out."
"This is the warehouse over here." Holding up a large torch that he had taken from a nearby stable boy, Arthur let the glow illuminate as much of the building as possible. It wasn't a lot. The warehouse loomed above them, with no windows within reach, and no obvious means of climbing up to them. "Looks like we'll have to take the door."
"I had never intended anything else." Stalking forward, every inch the lord of the manor, Lord Highbury stared up at the tall building. "Clambering through windows is the work of foot-pads and the like. I'll not stoop to such behaviour."
"No, of course not." Well aware of just how many windows his brother had been forced to clamber through, when some wandering husband had returned home earlier than expected, Arthur kept his smile in check. "The front entrance, then. Should we knock?"
"I don't think there's any particular need for that." Highbury headed for the door, then stood before it as though expecting it to open itself. When it didn't, he looked back at his assembled staff. "James, you're a good, strong fellow. Throw open this door, and make yourself look menacing."
"Yes, my lord. At once." With long experience of his employer's sometimes baffling demands, James hurried to obey immediately, wary of the man's unpredictable behaviour. If he was supposed to look menacing, then menacing he would look. Taking a firm hold of the door, he gave it a powerful shove and sent it flying open, to crash loudly into the wall behind it. The vibrations transmitted themselves through the floor, trembling beneath Lord Highbury's gleaming boots, and stoking his sense of urgency. There was no clamour of voices, and no bullets flew through the doorway. It seemed almost as if no one was home.
"Only silence," observed Arthur, and Highbury nodded. He had half expected the hapless James to be shot down the moment he had thrown open the door, but since nothing continued to happen, Highbury elbowed him aside with peremptory force, and stalked onwards into the warehouse. He was eager for his first sight of the spacecraft that he believed would make his name, and if nobody was present to object, he saw no reason to dawdle. Instead, quickening his pace with every step, he hurried on in search of his glory. He found it as soon as he stepped over the threshold.
The cosmosphere stood just as Methos and Kronos had left it, illuminated by a circle of lamps that set its great, spherical body glowing in their warm light. The top of it was all but in shadow, disappearing into the darkness that swallowed the higher points of the warehouse, but the rest was visible enough. More than enough to show off the beauty of it - the artistry of its metal walls, and the gleam of its polished windows. High on its tripod it stood like some long-legged creature, ready to parade out of the building, or bear down upon the intruders that stood before it. Arthur let out an involuntary whistle.
"It's... more than I expected," he said hoarsely, once he had regained his voice. Highbury nodded, unwilling to pull his eyes away from the sphere in order to look at his brother.
"It's magnificent," he breathed, and for once his brain was too preoccupied to think of his reputation or his coffers. "I must have it. I must. Nothing else can... Nobody else can... I must have it, Arthur."
"You already do have it," his brother reminded him, walking forward rather stiffly a few paces to stand alongside the other man. "The trick now is to learn how to use it."
"Yes. Yes, I should familiarise myself with the workings. I..." For the first time, Highbury tore his eyes away from the cosmosphere, and looked at the machinery that surrounded it. It meant nothing to him, a futuristic mass of electronic parts and steam-powered machinery; of clockwork, metal and wood. "It does look a little complicated, I must admit."
"You're a genius, Daniel. You'll work it out." Arthur headed over to the nearest piece of machinery, and peered at it hopefully. It meant nothing to him, but then few things did that did not concern cards or horses. "Do you suppose the ceiling opens up, or does one have to drag the whole apparatus outside?"
"A reasonable question." Highbury tipped back his head, but the ceiling remained invisible far above them. It would be light soon, but for the time being the far away windows were no use at all. "I suppose we shall find out eventually. In the meantime, these cogs here... ah. Now that is interesting."
"I doubt it," said Arthur uncharitably, and wandered off in search of something that might be of more immediate value. He did not expect scientists to be particularly rich, but generally they had a lot of equipment, and there might be something that would fetch a reasonable price from the right dealer. Alternatively, since equipment had to be acquired somehow, there might be some money lying about. All that he found were the ashes of a fire, and a spit that smelt faintly of roast meat. The scent reminded him of just how long he had been hurrying about the city on errands for his brother, and his stomach complained.
"Who cooks meat over an open fire in this day and age?" he asked loudly, in an attempt to mask the grumbling of his stomach. Daniel, bent over the cogs that had attracted his attention, glanced up briefly.
"They've been cooking," Arthur told him, and gestured pointlessly at the fire. Highbury had already returned his attention to what, in Arthur's opinion, was a lot of very unedifying - if pretty - metal. "On a fire. With a spit. It's positively mediaeval."
"It's a warehouse, Arthur. I doubt it has the proper facilities." Highbury straightened up again, looking back at him with a frown. "Is it hot?"
"Is what hot?" Having decided that it was best to move away from the scent of roast meat, Arthur was already looking at something else. Highbury glared at him.
"The fire. The spit. The meat, even, if there's any of it left. Is it hot?"
"Oh." Heading back, Arthur crouched down, holding a hand above the ashes. "Yes, it is quite." He drew his dagger, and poked experimentally about. "It's still glowing underneath. They've not long abandoned it, then."
"So did they eat their meal and then go to bed, or did they go out on some errand?" Highbury turned back to his perusing of the cosmosphere's attendant machinery. "An odd time to be out walking, but I'd be the first to admit that a lot of my colleagues are strange fellows. I see no reason why some play scientist shouldn't be just as erratic."
"Perhaps they saw us coming, my lord," suggested a servant, hovering nearby like some twitchy bodyguard. "I could arrange a quick search of the area?"
"If they left because they saw us coming, I would expect the fire to still be going." Highbury shook his head. "No, there's probably more to it than that. Organise a search, though, by all means. Inside the building rather than out. If they have living quarters here, I want them gone through. Any books or journals that you can find, bring them to me. If you find any people, I want them as well."
"Yes, my lord." The servant set off, gathering his confederates about him as he went. They seemed filled with confidence, even if they were confused as to why they had been dragged from their beds to search a warehouse in the middle of the night. Some of them even appeared to be enjoying the unusual adventure. The confidence died in an instant, however, when a strange, guttural noise suddenly ran through the frame of the building. Unbeknownst to them, it coincided with a particularly energetic jet of steam that had issued from the machinery beneath their feet. They froze, and Arthur stared up at the ceiling, as though the thought had crossed his mind that it might be about to collapse.
"You've not done something that might start off that space contraption?" he asked his brother, but Highbury shook his head.
"I've not pressed anything. It must be something automatic, perhaps to alert our friends that they have... guests." He seemed quite taken with the theory, and looked around expectantly, clearly hoping that somebody was about to put in an appearance. When no doors opened, however, and his quarry did not deliver himself into his arms, he shrugged. "Or perhaps not. Carry on, gentlemen, please."
"Yes, my lord. Of course." Hurrying onwards again, the servant who had been charged with the job of leading the search once more headed across the building's great breadth. This time he managed only a few steps. Slowly, with an ugly grating noise like that of machinery in need of oil, the shadowed walls began to open up. In the gloom it was hard to see details, for the edges of the room were still in darkness despite the many lamps, but it seemed as though shutters, previously flush with the walls, were beginning to swing open. Arthur whirled around, his pistol at the ready, but he could detect no immediate threat. He frowned, suspicious but baffled.
"If we're about to be surrounded by Peelers, my dear brother, be aware that I don't have much in the way of bribery money on me." He lowered his pistol, though slowly. Performing an uneven circle, staring into the greyness that lurked at the edges of the room, Highbury shook his head.
"They won't come here. They don't give two figs for what goes on at the docks at night, and I hardly think our two friends have money enough to make it worth their while. Not in any sort of number that we can't deal with easily enough, anyway." He narrowed his eyes. "No, this is something different."
"Guard dogs then," suggested Arthur. "Or lions." One of the younger servants smiled, apparently amused by the suggestion. The smile soon fell away.
"Sir..." he said a moment later, raising a slightly shaky hand to point at the nearest wall. "Sir... what's that?"
"What's what?" The servant's younger eyes had spotted something that neither Arthur nor Highbury had seen as yet, but a moment later it became clear to both of them. A shape, looming out of the half darkness that ringed the room, jolting and jerking in an uncertain motion. It took several seconds for it to resolve itself into a clearer shape, and only then could the intruders see what it was; by which time they could also see that it was far from alone. They were surrounded, by machines, clearly, though of what sort it was still impossible to tell. As they came nearer, seemingly faltering and unstable, it became a little more obvious. It was a security force, after a fashion. A swaying, creaking security force, presumably intended to make any intruders depart in a panic.
They were absurd things. Creations from the mind of Kronos - a glimpse, perhaps, of what curiosities dwelt within the dark recesses of his brain. Vaguely human-shaped, but with no trouble taken to reproduce the complexities of the form - mere echoes of humanity, fashioned from off-cuts and leftovers - they trundled along on small and noisy wheels in place of legs. Each was coloured a familiar shade of dark blue, a paintbrush having been applied here and there to decorate them accordingly in the livery of London's new police force. The finishing touch to each was a police hat, fixed to the top of each squared-off, near featureless head. Some of the hats were stained with the blood of the men piled up so haphazardly in the cellar, but their gruesome origins were not apparent to the men facing them now. Highbury and his companions saw only strange, lurching monstrosities, and as one they began to laugh. Beneath their feet, Kronos saw through the periscope that they were laughing, and a smile grew across his face.
"Toys! Giant toys!" One of Highbury's employees, approaching the nearest of the curious machines, reached out to poke at it, knocking it in what roughly represented its chest. It rocked backwards and forwards slightly on its wheels, and the empty holes that were, as lifeless suggestions of eyes, the only features that the face possessed, stared dumbly back at him. He laughed again. "Are we supposed to be afraid? I see nothing here but some over-sized children's toy."
"That's it, yes!" One of his associates came forward, also laughing. "A giant clockwork soldier, is that it? I should hate to be the man whose job it is to wind all these things up. It must be a devil of a task."
"Be that as it may." Unimpressed by the metal policemen, and by his childishly giggling employees, Highbury moved forward. "If we have all finished baying like boys in the schoolyard, perhaps we can do what we came here for? I want that contraption, gentlemen, and I want it now. Whichever of you brings me the inventor alongside it will earn himself a dozen gold sovereigns for his trouble."
"At once, Lord Highbury," said one of the men, clearly greatly chastened. The laughing had immediately subsided, and the little group of his household staff moved forward again, their attention returned to the towering cosmosphere. Arthur drew alongside Highbury, lowering his voice to a hoarse whisper.
"A dozen gold sovereigns? Do you have that much?"
"I doubt I have more than half a sovereign to my name at the moment. They needn't know that." Highbury's eyes were almost as dark and cold as those of the metal policemen. "I cannot allow these men to become aware of our plan, Arthur. Once it becomes public knowledge that I am the creator of this device, there must be none left who know otherwise. It would make my position too precarious - and I shall be damned if I'll lay myself open to blackmail from the likes of this rabble."
"I quite understand." His brother smiled thinly, the suggestion of ridding themselves of their companions no great issue at all to him. If anything he seemed almost proud of how his brother's attitude had changed during the course of the night. "I'll see it dealt with. It's best if you don't risk implicating yourself."
"Thank you. I appreciate that." Highbury smiled at him with a warmth that was greatly at odds with the subject matter. "We are a fine team, my dear brother. Are we not?"
"The finest in London, Daniel." Arthur smiled back at him quite disingenuously, as though to say that he was quite aware his brother would betray him in a moment, should it profit him - and that he would be just as happy to do likewise. Highbury looked rather amused.
"And for now I suppose we should supervise the troops," he said. Arthur nodded. Sure enough, without their immediate lead, the staff had fallen into difficulties, having found that whenever they attempted to converge upon the cosmosphere, the metal policemen likewise converged upon them. The things were an irritation, jolting clumsily around and blocking their way, apparently attempting to round them up and push them back towards the door. The burly James, who had looked after the stables at the Highbury estate for some fifteen years, finally look the initiative, raising his voice to address his fellows.
"We can take them down one at a time, lads. It just need co-operation. All together we can knock the blighters over, and then they're done for. There's no way they can stand themselves back up again." There was a chorus of approval, and Arthur looked across at his brother, to see what he thought of the plan. Highbury was frowning.
"Do you wonder how these things know to chase the men about like this?" he asked. "You don't suppose they can see?"
"Take one apart later," suggested Arthur. "See how it functions. It can be another of your inventions, perhaps. Cheap security for those as can't afford a night-watchman."
"Perhaps." Highbury was still frowning nonetheless. "I'm not sure, though. There's something queer about this whole business. Metal policemen rolling about the floor, and trying to chase us out of the building. Do you not think that odd, Arthur?
"I think it pointless, Daniel. A child's trick, designed to scare away urchins, that's all. Trying to chase us out? You make it sound as though you believe they're alive."
"Of course not. I merely think... Oh, I don't know." Whatever had so bothered Highbury clearly did not survive his brother's display of scepticism, and he shook his head. "At any rate, the men appear to have formed a plan of attack. Shall we advance?"
"I see no reason why not. "Arthur's smile was confidence itself. "I see nothing here to hold us back." Smile broadening to a grin of pure - if premature - triumph, he started forward, just as the men took hold of their first intended victim. The metal creation wobbled under their combined assault, and beneath their feet, unbeknownst to them, Kronos began to laugh. It was a low sound, a quiet sound, a sound that spoke of the darkness in which he hid. Beside him, Methos stirred.
"Is this likely to be messy, brother?" he asked. Kronos glanced across at him, his face a mask of great innocence. Methos rolled his eyes.
"Never mind. 'Messy' is a relative term anyway, when you're standing up to your kneecaps in bits of dead policeman."
"Indeed." Kronos held something out to him - a black box bedecked with buttons and switches. Would you like to do the honours?"
"Drive those intruders out of our home. Stop their stupid giggling." Kronos's pale eyes glittered in the half-dark. "Enliven things a little."
"Not that I don't appreciate the offer, Kronos..." Methos took a step back, raising a hand to indicate his refusal. Kronos gave a shrug.
"No matter. The choice is yours." He looked back to the box in his hands, and his smile dropped away in a moment. "Just as it was theirs to come here." With that, eyes bright and cold, he pressed down hard on the centremost button. Sparks of electricity flew from the box in his hands, and above them, in answer to those bright bursts of light, the metal policeman that was currently being manhandled by Highbury's staff emitted identical sparks of its own. For a moment the black and empty eyeholes lit up bright blue, and around it its fellows followed suit. The redoubtable James let out a yell, falling back in a panic that made Arthur bark loudly in laughter.
"Parlour tricks, you fools!" he shouted. "Take hold of it again. The lights have gone out already." The harassed 'policeman', however, seemingly had ideas of its own. With a jolt forward, it pursued the retreating servants, apparently homing in on the now panic-stricken James. His fellow servants fell back, rather unsportingly leaving him alone to face up to a wobbling mechanical creation that until a few moments before had been nothing but a figure of fun. Arthur was still laughing, greatly entertained by all the consternation that had been caused by the brief light show.
"Strike it!" he told James eventually, quite breathless with mirth. "It's designed merely to frighten, nothing more. Strike it. Push it over."
"Ye-yes, sir." Still clearly worried, James moved forward, reaching out once again for the metal policeman. It lurched towards him, but, biting his lip, he did not retreat. Instead he reached out with both of his hands, and pushed hard at the misshapen thing's solid chest. There was a crackle of blue light - a flash of lightning trapped within the metal - and James uttered an agonised scream. A second later it was all over. His body crumpled lifeless to the floor, staring eyes a testimony to his fate. The policeman stayed where it was, rocking slightly on its small wheels. Then it turned clumsily around, and started back towards the others.
"Stay together," ordered Highbury immediately, anticipating panic. "It can only hurt you if it touches you."
"But it is not alone, sir! Tom, a sturdy gardener in the earliest bloom of his twenties, had gone pale beneath the darkness of his permanent tan. Highbury glanced back at the other constructions. So far they were remaining still, but he had no doubt that they had the same defensive capabilities as their fellow. He frowned.
"Then avoid them all. It shouldn't be hard. They have no great speed."
"But--" began Tom, only to be glowered into silence.
"Find wood," Highbury ordered, as though the interruption had never happened. "There's plenty of it about. It doesn't conduct electricity, so it will make a good weapon. Hit them with wooden staves if they come near you, and perhaps that way they can be stopped without injury. You can forget the one that attacked James. It's no doubt expended its charge." There was a look of general incomprehension from his employees, and he sighed. "It's as though it has run out of steam. It can't make more unless it's filled with coal again, yes? Honestly, at times I wonder if any of you saw even a glimpse of a schoolroom. Now, find yourself weapons."
"And do it quickly," added Arthur, who had already seized a great chunk of wood whilst his brother had been talking. "And then onwards to the... the ball thing. Remember that we are here to take it back from foreign agents. It's an English invention. It is Lord Highbury's invention!" There was an unenthusiastic muttering of agreement from a group of men who had had undoubtedly worked out at least half of the truth. They might lack the education to know much about electricity, but they were none of them stupid, and they had realised that they were here for their employer's glory. Some of them had gone without pay too often as a result of his infamous inability to care for his finances, and were no doubt less than overjoyed by the idea of risking their lives for a man who cared little about theirs. In response Arthur smacked his weapon against a nearby barrel.
"For your country, and for your employer!" he said, a steely glint in his eyes. "Do not make the mistake of fearing a lump of metal with a hat more than you fear my brother and I." This time there was a louder jumble of mutterings in answer, and Tom waved an arm in the air in an unconvincing attempt to look inspired. Seizing up a piece of wood of his own, he swung it around towards the nearest of the policemen. It had not moved in some time, remaining static and somehow comical, a rocking, unsteady caricature of authority. The weapon never made contact. As he swung it through the air, the metal thing before him turned slightly, its eyes flashed with a sudden burst of blue, and a great fork of lightning erupted from its chest. Like a tentacle it reached out for him, breathtakingly fast, striking him direct on the point of the chin. Unlike James, he did not have the chance to scream. For a moment his body remained standing, jerking and dancing under the onslaught of the deadly light. Then, as it blinked out of existence, he fell to the floor. It was apparent to all that he was dead - that he had been so from the moment the weapon had first touched him. For a moment, silence reigned; then, of a sudden, all hell was let loose.
The metal men lurched into life together, their eyes flashing in unison as they begin to converge on the human beings in their midst. The humans, for their part, were in a frenzy, their orders to find wooden weapons forgotten entirely as they ran first one way and then another. They crashed into each other, tripping over the odds and ends of Kronos's work that lay about the floor, in a terror for their very lives. Occasionally, one of them made some attempt at forming a defence, and several even recovered their wits enough to arm themselves as Highbury had suggested. It was little use. Sometimes their blows struck home, but rarely, and only once did the weapons seem to have any effect. A lucky blow caught one sentry across the chest, and the creature wobbled furiously, causing, for a moment, a visible surge of hope amongst the mortals. The thing did not fall, however; and yet something within it had been damaged, for the front of it swung slowly open, to reveal the workings inside. Cogs and levers, ticking like clockwork, were piled up upon each other amid sparks and flashes of light - and something else as well. Down in the cellar, peering out at it all through the periscope, Methos frowned in an effort to get a better look. He soon wished that he hadn't. Nestled amidst the cogs and wires, wide-eyed and staring, was the head of a man. The long-dried bloodstain around his nose and mouth told Methos that he had been beheaded, and suddenly the reason for the missing heads of some of the bodies in the cellar became clear. He took a step back away from the periscope, just as, above him, the mortals retreated from the same sight.
"You are one sick man, Kronos." Up above, the gaggle of doubly terrified servants were even more helpless now than before, too afraid to even attempt to escape. Methos cared little for that, but the sight of the decapitated head had unsettled him. "Its eyes are open in there. It's like it was looking. Was it?"
"Do you really want to know?" Kronos had obviously realised what had happened, and as always was unmoved. Another thought occurred to Methos, and he turned back towards the periscope for another glimpse, only to find that the action had moved on. The movement of the metal sentry had caused the door to swing shut again, sealing the grim sight within.
"It wasn't rotted. It wasn't even discoloured. Do I want to ask why?"
"Probably not." His companion smiled at him, still busily watching his machines and instruments. "Don't fight it, brother. Just enjoy the battle for what it is."
"It's not a battle. It's a massacre." Not that he cared, on one level, but what he had seen still bothered him. He didn't turn back to the periscope, and didn't really need to. The outcome was inevitable now. The metal policemen crackled with energy, their darting, lethal bursts of lightning pre-empting any further attempts to fight back. About them the panicked servants blundered helplessly, their mindless running confounding their attackers in a fashion that none of them were focused enough to appreciate. Soon enough, however, even their own random blundering ceased to be a defence. Caught one by one by the deadly light, they fell before their assailants. Some died instantly; some, like James, had the chance for one last scream before they were killed; but none were spared. In a matter of moments the slaughter was complete, leaving only Arthur and Highbury untouched. They stared at each other, having retreated to the edge of the room in a panic, their recent laughter now a thing of the dim and distant past.
"We surrender!" shouted Arthur, but his voice, cracked with fear, was not loud enough to reach downstairs to the only man who could save him - not that Kronos would have taken pity on him anyway. The noise did seem to register with the machines, however, who as one began to move towards him. In a blind panic, Arthur did his utmost to climb the sheer wall behind him.
"Daniel!" His voice cracking more than ever, he fought for a hand hold where none could possibly be found. "Daniel!" There was no answer. It seemed impossible that the monsters had been attracted by Arthur's shout, but clearly Highbury was in no mood to test the theory. Instead, in silence, he began to back away across the floor. "Daniel!" The sentinels moved inexorably forward, and in a panic Arthur pointed towards his retreating brother. "Over there! Look! Behind you! He'll get away!" There was no response, and jolting along on their tiny wheels, the implacable guards advanced still further. Arthur's eyes narrowed in hate as he fired one last look at his brother. "They'll get you next!" he roared, and for the first time since the deaths of the servants, his voice did not crack. Daniel, however, had apparently already considered this. The last sight that Arthur had, before he was engulfed by the crackling energy of the guards, was of the terrified Lord Highbury clambering unsteadily up the ladder that led to the cosmosphere. Moments later, as the lifeless body of the younger brother collapsed onto the floor, the monsters turned, one by one, to face the elder.
"You won't get me." Even as he spoke, Highbury's feet slipped on the ladder, and he almost fell. He wrapped his arms around it immediately, clinging on desperately as he struggled to regain his footing. Seconds later he began to climb again, missing rungs as often as he found them, his terror lending his actions a clumsiness that slowed his progress to a painful degree. He was barely halfway up the ladder when the guards reached its foot, collecting around it in a confused jumble. Some stray blue sparks erupted from them, but the ladder was wooden, and Daniel laughed out loud.
"You see! Stupid metal monsters, you don't even understand your own powers! Electricity can't do anything to wood! Don't you know anything?" Even as he hung there, however, laughing at the stupidity of the machines, one of the tendrils caught at a rung. Seconds later, with a crackling that might almost have been the wood laughing, the ladder began to sparkle with fire. Daniel's eyes widened, and with even greater desperation than before, he returned to climbing. The wood was dry, and it caught quickly, the flames beginning to rush up the outside of the ladder; and down below, the confused guards jostled against each other what might almost have been an attempt to climb up. Almost shaken loose several times, Daniel reached the cosmosphere with little time to spare. Luckily for him, the door had not been shut when Methos and Kronos had left the contraption earlier, and it stood open in welcome. As the flames rushed up around him, Arthur threw himself through the door, and banged it shut immediately. The fire flashed up around the cosmosphere, but there was nothing on it that would burn, and as the ladder ceased to exist, so too did the flames. Instinct caused Highbury to whirl the locking wheel around, protecting himself against whatever might try to reach him. He ran to the centre of the floor then, ignoring the couch, and merely curling up into a ball on the thick carpet. Down below, the guards had split up, clearly perplexed by the disappearance of their final target. Occasionally they banged into the tripod that held up the cosmosphere, and although they were not nearly powerful enough to dislodge it, at least when working alone, the vibrations transmitted themselves upwards to Highbury. He got up, running to the nearest window, and peering down at the sights beneath. What he saw terrified him. The creatures were still spitting occasional sparks, and the tripod was most definitely not made of wood. His scientific mind, dimmed by fear, struggled to work out how much danger he might be in. Could the electricity transmit itself up to him? Would he be safe on the carpet? His eyes roamed the interior of the cosmosphere, oblivious to the beauty of it, and caring only for the search for a potential refuge. If the guards took it upon themselves to attack the tripod, would he be safe on the couch? He ran to it, drawing his legs up beneath him, and hugging one of the cushions close to his chest. A moment later, however, he jumped off again. What if they attacked the tripod, and the cosmosphere were knocked off? He tried to remember how high off the ground he was. What would the fall do to him? Could the guards open the locking wheel of the door? What of the men who had designed all of this? Would they pull him out, and leave him at the mercy of their grotesque servants? The thoughts made him quake, and in a terror he stared around himself again. His options seemed limited. He could stay and risk death, or-- One thought occurred to him. One thought that might mean his escape. As another random bump from below sent a tiny tremor through the walls of the cosmosphere, Highbury ran to the control bank beside the couch. He had never seen anything like it before, but for all his posturing and snobbery, he was a clever man. Common sense told him what the controls themselves did not, and with barely any hesitation, he reached out his hands. All that he needed to do was to perform a short flight. Just enough to get out of the warehouse, and somewhere safe. Perhaps, if he tried very hard, he could even fly it to his own house. He was be safe then, and the publicity would be invaluable. It would be the perfect opportunity to claim the invention as his own; and the bodies of his brother and his servants would be more than enough to remove the cosmosphere's true inventor from the picture. His rival would hang before the week was out. Grinning slightly vacantly, Highbury began to operate the controls.
Far beneath him, in the dank cellar from which the slaughter had been conducted, Methos was listening carefully. Although they were very limited in what they could hear, some of the sounds of the massacre had made their way down through the flooring, and yet now there was only silence. Somewhat unwillingly, he made his way back to the periscope, and peered up at the world above. The position of the lens made it hard for him to see many of the bodies, but one or two were visible. He turned away from them, trying to gauge what was going on.
"Careful," said Kronos, without looking up from whatever he was doing. "If that moves too much, the guards will home in on it, in a manner of speaking. You don't want to get electrocuted."
"Does anybody?" Taking his advice, Methos moved the scope more slowly. The guards seemed to have other things on their minds, however - not, he suspected, that they had minds to begin with. They were fussing around the base of the tripod that held the cosmosphere, bumping into the legs occasionally, as well as each other. "Your creatures. Are they all right?"
"I don't think they could ever described as that, no." Kronos glanced up. "Why?"
"They seem inordinately determined to attack your spaceship thing." Methos frowned. "Did you take the ladder away?"
"No. I was..." Kronos looked up again, much more sharply this time. "What?"
"There's no ladder there now, anyway." Oblivious to his brother's sudden interest, Methos turned the periscope around a little more. "Oh, well. I suppose everybody must be dead. Lovely. Always a good start to a day, that is. Clearing up dead bodies. One of my absolute favourite things."
"The ladder can't just have disappeared." Standing up, Kronos edged Methos out of the way, taking his place behind the scope. "It can't have. It shouldn't have fallen over, either. I've always made sure that it's well stabilised."
"Scared of falling off?" asked Methos. Kronos shot him a dark glare.
"Let's see you doing precision welding on a wobbly ladder. Anyway, that's beside the point. The only way it can have fallen over is if the guards attacked it. And why would the guards attack it?"
"Don't look at me." Methos wandered a short distance away, although he did not venture off the raised dais. "I'm not a mindless robot thing."
"You won't be surprised to learn that that could easily change." Kronos did not look up from the periscope, and so missed the glower that Methos sent in his direction. He smiled anyway, quite well aware of what his brother was doing. "They attack when things move. Somebody must..." He fumbled ferociously with the periscope, and Methos smiled.
"Careful, brother. You don't want to get electrocuted."
"I don't especially want to get incinerated either." Kronos swung the periscope roughly, tilting it back as far as it would go. In his place over at the edge of the dais, Methos blinked slowly, then headed back over towards his companion.
"Incinerated?" he repeated, in a tone of voice that was almost comical. "When did incineration become a possibility? Kronos, if those blasted toys of yours are about to--"
"It's not them." Abandoning the periscope, Kronos thumped it in a fit of something very like petulance. "It's my cosmosphere. Mine. How dare he... How..." With one last blow aimed at the unfortunate periscope, he turned around and left, striding across the floor like a man on a mission. Methos hurried after him, the prospect of possible incineration still uppermost in his mind.
"You can't just leave it there! What's this about incineration? Kronos?" No answer seemed forthcoming, so he sped up, taking care on the treacherous, rotting-meat-slicked floor. "Kronos!"
"Leave, brother, if it bothers you so. You can always get out through the old cargo hatch." Kronos pointed, rather vaguely, towards the far wall. "There were some bodies blocking it, but there shouldn't be much left of them by now."
"And you'd rather get burnt to a crisp, I suppose?" Methos headed off immediately in the direction indicated, stopping after a few feet to look back. "And if it's not a stupid question, why are you about to get..." He trailed off, the various clues suddenly putting themselves together in his mind, now that the prospect of his own immediate death by fire no longer seemed a likelihood. "He's going to take off in your space whatsit, isn't he. I thought you said it wasn't ready?"
"It's not ready. Goodness knows what he'll do if he tries to launch it." Stopping momentarily, Kronos looked over towards Methos, their eyes meeting easily, even though, in this part of the cellar, the darkness was almost complete. "I don't know that he'll manage it, but he's inside it, and those things are sure to have him panicked enough to try anything. You know what mortals are like."
"If you mean that they like to stay alive wherever possible, then yes, I do. It's a trait that I rather admire." Methos glanced up towards the ceiling. "And if he takes off... there's a lot of fire?"
"I've never actually fired the engines. To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure what will happen. There's a sizeable exhaust system, though, yes. Primarily based in the secondary equipment up there. The steam-powered component alone is--"
"Kronos! Enough with the engineering lesson." Methos was tempted to leave immediately, the idea of being cooked alive in the cellar making his pulse race uncomfortably. "Look, why not just forget about it? If he's going to take off, he might do it at any moment. Like you said, you don't especially want to be incinerated. Leave that fool to his fate."
"I don't care about him!" Kronos's voice rose with indignation, as though Methos had been suggesting that his headlong dash to get upstairs was due to some powerful desire to save Lord Highbury. "That machine represents some of my finest work. I've spent months building it, designing it, perfecting it. And you want me to stand back now and let some idiot mortal blow it to kingdom come?"
"Well, it's one way of finding out if it works," protested Methos feebly. Kronos shot him a glare so powerful that it almost lit up the dark cellar.
"It's not ready," he said, with venom. "And even if it were, why would I want him to be the one to test it? I didn't build the thing so that he could go exploring the universe. Besides, launching it now will prove nothing. Goodness knows where he'll end up. Nothing is calibrated, none of the guidance components are--" He shook his head. "Never mind. Save yourself. I'll see you later. You'd best stand some way back after you get out. I have no idea what kind of mess it might make."
"Should I evacuate London?" asked Methos facetiously, but Kronos seemed to take the question seriously.
"No, I shouldn't think so. This building is strong. Any explosions are sure to be contained within it." He frowned. "Or probably, anyway. You might want to give those boys in the river a yell, if you're feeling charitable." Up above, a loud noise made the ceiling shake, and a powerful growling began to build from some indeterminate point. Kronos muttered something indistinct, in a tone that suggested it had likely been very rude.
"My spaceship," he muttered furiously, and started off once again for the trapdoor. Methos rolled his eyes.
"Kronos... face it, he's already started things off. How the bloody hell he's managed it, I don't know, but he has. If you go up there, you'll get blasted to pieces, and... well, and then I'd miss you. I don't have a whole lot of friends left, you know. Not ones that I really want to have anything to do with." His brother showed no sign of having heard, and Methos sighed loudly. There was a powerful temptation just to turn his back, and run quickly for the other exit. Tempering it, however, was the desire not to be left alone. Kronos could be a pain in the backside, but that didn't mean that Methos really wanted him dead. Not most of the time anyway. Muttering in a long-dead language that was so very much more satisfying than English in such moments, he started off after his friend. "Kronos! Look, knowing our luck just lately, it won't even kill you. You'll have to spend the rest of time as some half-cooked remnant. And don't think that I'll go putting you out of your misery. I'll make you live like that, and it'll serve you bloody well right."
"Go away, Methos." Kronos had reached the ladder that led up to the room above, and he put one foot on it as he looked back at his old friend. "This is my problem, not yours." Another rumble shook the building, louder this time, and far more ferocious. "Somebody is sure to notice this. You'd better leave now if you want to make a clean getaway."
"There's plenty of gunpowder stored in these warehouses. They explode every so often. Nobody will think twice about it." Methos had no idea if that was actually true, but it sounded reasonably convincing, even to him. He laid a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Kronos, forget this. Look, I might be risking my life by arguing with you. Doesn't that count for anything? Forget the pretty space thing. I like it too, but it's not worth getting blown up over. If that mortal fool wants it, let him have it. You can always build another."
"No." Shaking off the hand, Kronos started up the ladder, his eyes fixed determinedly upon the hatchway just above him. Methos glared, muttering once again in the long-dead language. He hesitated for a moment, watching the small, lithe figure as it climbed higher, until it had vanished completely into the darkness. He reached to his belt then, pulling out a dagger that had served him well for several centuries. Its leaf-shaped blade made it more or less perfect for throwing, and he weighed it in his hand, staring all the while up towards the top of the ladder. A second later, as Kronos began to open the hatchway, he was framed briefly by a small edging of brightness, a combination of the oil lamps and the first grey light of dawn. It was enough. Hurling the knife with the confidence of long experience, Methos watched it slam home, finding its target directly between Kronos's shoulders. He wobbled briefly, one hand wavering in mid air, before he toppled backwards down the ladder. The hatch slammed shut again, and Methos stepped back out of the way, allowing the body to crash solidly onto the ground at his feet. He didn't stop to pull out the knife. Instead, grumbling incessantly in a language that at that moment even he couldn't have identified, he lifted Kronos up, slung him over his shoulder, and began to stagger over towards the other exit. Bits of dead policeman stuck to his feet, and things that he didn't want to know about brushed against his knees. By the time he reached the old loading hatch, his boots now filled with slimy residue, and his clothes undoubtedly long past saving, he was not in the best of moods. As the perfect ending to a perfect adventure, he was still only halfway out of the hatch when the building above him blew itself to smithereens.
Kronos had had better days. Standing in the remains of the warehouse, faced with the inescapable fact that his cosmosphere was lost, it was hard to feel any pride over its apparently faultless launch. Everything seemed to have gone as intended - save for the fact that he hadn't wanted it to happen in the first place. Now the ship had disappeared, and everything else had been ruined, destroyed either by the wave of heat from the launch, or by falling debris from the explosion of the roof. Despite what Methos had thought, the warehouse itself had not exploded - the walls still stood, even if they were somewhat blackened in places - but the ceiling was gone entirely. A neat rectangle of blue hung above the warehouse now, representing a vast swathe of the heavens; somewhere within which was Lord Daniel Highbury. A very surprised, and probably extremely panic-stricken Lord Daniel Highbury, not that Kronos cared. Had he been the type to feel sympathy for anybody, it would not have been for the man who had just stolen his pride and joy.
With a sigh that might have meant anything, Kronos turned away from his perusal of the empty skies, and turned his thoughts instead to the mess around him. His metal guards, all of whom had been clustered around the tripod, had been destroyed by the launch. Some recognisable chunks lay here and there, but the human remains within had been cooked away completely. Peculiarly, several of the hats had survived, lying dotted around the room as little reminders of what the guards had once represented. Presumably the manufacturers at least would be pleased. Kronos, for his part, did not think that a scattering of police hats was much compensation for a spaceship; even if the hats apparently were indestructible.
The damage was widespread, that much was obvious. None of his machines and equipment were recognisable now, and there were bodies as well of course. Spread about the room, and protected by various machines and other sundries, Highbury's ill-fated servants had fared rather better than their killers. They lay where they had fallen, covered now with bits of ceiling tile and left over pieces of metal, looking for all the world like casualties of the explosion. Certainly that was what anybody who found them would think, and was also presumably what their families would end up believing, even if they did wonder how their loved ones had come to be in a warehouse to begin with. Such things did not matter Kronos. His interests lay more in the equipment that was spread in pieces around him - the steam-powered machines that he had so carefully constructed, and the clockwork ones that had once stood alongside. All were ruined now, but the absence of another type of wreckage - the absence, that was, of anything remotely resembling pieces of the cosmosphere - was his proof that the ship really had launched itself into the air. Something swelled within his chest then, and he realised that he was smiling. Perhaps he was a little proud, after all. Just a little, underneath the sense of loss.
"It worked, then?" asked a voice from nearby. Kronos did not look up. The arrival of his fellow Immortal was hardly a surprise, when his very presence made ancient fires spark inside his soul. He had felt the other man's approach, just as he always did, but would never had admitted that it was at least a part of the reason for the smile that had come to him so unexpectedly.
"It worked," he confirmed, kicking over a piece of burnt metal with one foot. "Or at least I assume that it did."
"Congratulations?" asked Methos. Kronos smiled again, this time somewhat ruefully.
"Thank you, I suppose. I would rather have been in it myself, and I would rather have had the chance to properly calibrate the launch. Goodness knows where it is now. Still, it's not a complete disaster."
"I doubt Lord Highbury is thinking of it quite like that." Methos hauled out his pocket-watch, and eyed it with the expression of a man who very much wanted to be somewhere else. Kronos laughed shortly.
"I care very little for what Lord Highbury thinks. Nobody asked him to come here and steal my spaceship." He sat down on a large piece of overturned machinery, as ever looking completely at home in what resembled a battle zone. "So where have you been? You must have woken up ages ago."
"I did. Not that you apparently care." Advancing upon his brother across a treacherous stretch of loose machine parts, Methos struggled to an ungainly halt. "And since you raise the subject, where have you been? And more to the point, where were you when I woke up?"
"Here." Kronos gestured about him with one arm, frowning with apparent confusion. "Am I supposed to wait with you now, and hold your hand when you come back to life? It's not as if you haven't done it before, Methos. Many times."
"That's not quite what I mean." Extending a long, rigid forefinger, Methos jabbed his companion hard in the chest. "Next time you come back to life and find me sprawled in the street next to you, you might move me. I woke up to find those charming boys pawing all over me. It's a wonder I've still got my clothes."
"You stabbed me in the back," Kronos reminded him. Methos retracted the finger, and shrugged rather vaguely.
"Technically it wasn't a stabbing. It was more of a throwing. And besides, if I hadn't done it, you'd have been blown up. At least a stabbing is something that you know you can live through."
"I suppose." Kronos smiled, and after a moment Methos smiled back, not entirely sure why he was doing so. "Would it help if I apologised?"
Methos raised an eyebrow. "Would you mean it?"
"What do you think?"
"Hmm." Sighing a little wearily, the world's oldest man sat down beside his friend. "More fool me for raising the subject, I suppose. All the same..."
"All the same, you still have your clothes, and you clearly still have your watch. You don't have more than a ha'penny or two to your name, so they can't have taken a lot. You were dead, Methos. What do you expect them to do?"
"I expect them to act like the scavenging little river rats that they are. You, on the other hand, I expect to... Oh, what's the use. Just as long as we're clear that the next time I find you lying dead somewhere, I shall leave you to be picked clean by whoever happens to pass by."
"That's fair." Kronos smiled lazily, reaching over to clap his companion lightly on the shoulder. "Oh relax, brother. Why so tense? And why so preoccupied with that blasted watch? If you're worried about somebody finding the bodies, don't be. Nobody will blame us for it. Nobody will ever know how they really died."
"Perhaps. There's a pile of dead policemen in the cellar who'll be a little harder to explain away, though." Methos shook his head. "But that's not what bothers me. Haven't you noticed the lack of a crowd? Listen, when I woke up I went for a drink, and--"
"Now there's a surprise." Kronos had already returned his attention to the surrounding wreckage, picking up one or two of the smaller pieces for a closer look. Methos glared.
"Are you going to listen to me or not?"
"You're giving me a choice?" Well aware that Methos was fast losing patience, Kronos set aside whatever it was that he had been looking at. "Very well. You went for a drink. And? Did Judith the barmaid sweep you off your feet? Did a beautiful ball of iron and brass speed majestically by?"
"No." Methos shot him a glare that spoke volumes. "And I hope that the blasted thing blew up. It'd serve you right - you and that idiot inside it."
"He's dead anyway," Kronos told him, rescuing one of the apparently indestructible police hats from a pile of brick dust nearby. "Soon if not already. No mortal could survive what happened to him." He smiled suddenly. "And so what if we have a cellar full of dead men? Nobody has come near the place. There are no crowds poking about, and there's nothing here to interest the London Fire Establishment. I haven't seen hide nor hair of a policeman."
"I'm surprised there's any left," muttered Methos. "That's beside the point, though. It's like this all over. A warehouse blows up, and nobody seems to notice. When I went for that drink, it wasn't just about feeling thirsty. I thought I'd better have a look around. A spaceship doesn't launch itself out of London every day, and I wanted to know what people had seen. Whether we're in any danger of reprisals. You know how superstitious mortals can be - and giant flaming meteorites flying backwards out of a warehouse in the middle of London is just the sort of thing likely to set them off."
"Oh." Kronos didn't sound remotely interested. "So?"
"So nobody seems to have noticed a bloody thing. They just think there was a fire or something." Methos sounded almost insulted. "Spaceships firing through the sky, gigantic explosions lighting up the docks, our home obliterating itself in a ball of flame... Nobody gives a damn. They're more interested in the morning's news."
"As are you," observed Kronos. It had not escaped his notice that his brother was still inordinately fascinated by the progress of the hands around the face of his pocket-watch. "What is it? Revolution? Another war? It seems to have you strangely bothered about the time, whatever it is."
"Some of us have at least a basic sense of self-preservation." Snapping shut the watch, Methos stuffed it back into its pocket. "But no, it's none of those things. The king died last night."
"So? It was nothing to do with us." Kronos frowned. "Unless he happened to be killed by a flying spaceship, that is, in which case it was still nothing to do with us. We didn't launch it."
"And if he had been killed by a flying spaceship, I'm sure you'd have mentioned it by now. Probably with squeaking."
"I do not squeak," said Methos, somewhat indignantly, and Kronos smiled.
"Calm down. They can't pin anything on us, and they have no reason to try. I haven't killed a king since the sixteenth century."
"Eighteenth," corrected Methos automatically. "Granted he was deposed, but he was still a king. Anyway, that's not exactly the point. As far as I know, his heart gave out - and no, not because of anything to do with unexpected flying whatnots. He'd been ill for months."
"The girl, Kronos. The girl in the coach last night. She's his heir. That means that if she takes it into her head to wonder where her friend Highbury has got to, she's got an awful lot of hands to join in the search. It also means that you cannot, under any circumstances, fall back on last night's plan, and go and kill her if she turns out to be a nuisance. She's the Queen of England - or soon will be. Kill her, and somebody would be sure to complain."
"Are you sure about this?" Kronos did not sound convinced, but Methos nodded, leaning back against something wobbly that smelt like it might still be on fire.
"There are already pictures of her around town. The news about the king is spreading, and you know how people get at times like this. Sudden bursts of nationalism, and pictures hanging all over the place. I recognised her. Kronos, if Highbury can find us in a matter of hours, than I think that the Queen of England, with all of her resources, can probably do rather better. Now I have no idea how long it will take before somebody realises that he's missing, but once somebody notices that the people who died in our warehouse are all connected to him - and they must be, somehow - then I rather think that they're going to start wondering where he's got to."
"They won't find him," said Kronos. He did not sound as though he was particularly concerned by Methos's news. His brother glared.
"Listen to me, you stupid ass, I am trying to save your life!" He stood up, lurching slightly as he put too much of his weight on too unstable wreckage. "Fine. Okay. You stay here, see if I care. Lurk in London somewhere, build another spaceship. You won't get beyond hammering in the first nail before a troop of the queen's guards arrive outside your door, and haul you off to the Tower of London. Royal types have always been rather fond of beheadings, in case you hadn't noticed."
"She's not going to behead me for owning a building that her friend's hired help died in," argued Kronos. Methos's voice leapt several decibels in volume.
"She's the Queen of England! She can do what she bloody well likes! I'd certainly behead you, if I was the Queen of England. Goodness knows you look like you deserve it."
"Fortunately for me - and undoubtedly for quite a lot of other people - you're unlikely to be made queen of anything." Kronos sighed. "You're sure that I can't kill her?"
"With her security? I'd like to see you try." Methos winced, clearly concerned that he might have made that sound too much like a challenge. "I take that back. No I wouldn't. Look, she lives in a palace. There'll be high walls and lots of guards, and she has a ridiculously protective mother who hardly lets anybody see her." He scowled. "And you're going to make your own mind up anyway, so I don't know why I bother."
"You're really worried," said Kronos, after a moment to let the news sink in. Methos rolled his eyes.
"No, not at all. I'm actually quite looking forward to being on the run from the entire population. Why would you think any different?"
"They haven't found the bodies yet," Kronos pointed out. "Perhaps they won't. This is my warehouse, brother. I don't have to let anybody inside it."
"The building blew up, Kronos - or some of it did at least. Things like that get investigated nowadays, you know. You can't have buildings blowing themselves up all over the place. People will come - official people, who don't like to be ordered around by the likes of us. They won't take no for an answer, and these days you're not allowed to kill government officials. Even annoying ones."
"I do so love progress." Kronos heaved a sigh, his eyes trailing around over the wreckage. "You know, I could argue that this is all your fault."
"I know." Methos did not sound in the least bit sorry. "And I'd apologise, but there's not really a whole lot of point." He smiled faintly, apparently beginning to recover a little of his sense of humour. "Besides, you lost your spaceship, yes - but then I lost my hat, so it all works out even in the end."
"A hat is hardly the same as my cosmosphere." Kronos kicked out sulkily at what looked like the twisted remainder of one of his guards, and Methos quirked an eyebrow, half expecting the thing to electrocute him. It didn't. Whatever power had given it its deadly ability, it had clearly gone.
"I liked that hat," he said, and Kronos smiled faintly in answer, turning over the policeman's hat that he still held in his hands.
"I'll buy you another," he offered, then held out the one that he was holding. "Or you could always have this one. It's a practical colour, and they're very hard-wearing."
"And so charmingly daubed with bloodstains."
"Details, details." Kronos stood up as well, tossing aside the unwanted hat. "Oh, confound it all. I suppose there's not a lot left here to stay for anyway. My work is all gone, and what's left isn't worth trying to save."
"At least nobody will be able to tell what it's for," said Methos, in an attempt to be reassuring. "Certainly not without the cosmosphere itself. It's not as though anybody who finds it could use any of it to steal your secrets."
"I know. The only bit that might be able to tell anybody anything is lost to all of us now." Kronos tipped back his head, staring up through the vanished roof to the great slash of blue sky visible above. Methos looked up as well. Somewhere in all that dazzling vastness was Lord Highbury - assuming that he hadn't merely crashed into the Thames. It might have been a sobering thought, had either Immortal been much inclined towards empathy. As it was, Kronos was thinking mostly of science, and Methos of making himself scarce. It was Kronos who moved first, however, returning his eyes to earth with a sigh.
"I suppose we're leaving, then," he said quietly. "I've not examined the rest of the building, but some things probably survived. If there's anything personal here that you want, you should take it."
"I have my sword. There isn't anything else here to speak of." Methos glanced around at the blackened and towering walls of the warehouse. It had never exactly felt like home. Leaving was scarcely a wrench. "How about you?"
"I always travel light." Kronos gave a shrug, apparently none too bothered. He smirked faintly. "How about your store of beer?"
"It was right beside your wretched spaceship, as you very well know. It's nothing but vapour now." Methos looked a little forlorn, not least because a drink would have been a nice way to remove the faint, lingering taste of burning from the air. There was no other liquid within reach barring the grey and unappetising Thames. The thought of the world beyond the walls stirred him to action, and he clapped his brother on the shoulder suddenly, anxious to be off. "Come on. The death of the king is keeping the crowds away for now, but it won't last. They'll wander this way soon enough, and then, my dear brother, your little hobby of collecting dead policemen will be the end of both of us."
"You worry too much." Nonetheless, Kronos began to head towards the door. "Where to, then? I shall need somewhere with a lot of space. I have a whole new cosmosphere to build."
"Witness my untrammelled joy." They stepped out of the building, or what was left of it, and began to walk away along the docks. "Do you have to? I had in mind something a little more interesting than sitting around watching you building more toys."
"You don't have to stay with me," pointed out Kronos, and Methos nodded.
"True. Life is just a little safer with you by my side, though. There are rather a lot more of us around these days."
"Coward." There was fondness in his brother's tone, and Methos smiled.
"I prefer to think of it more as 'cautious'. Besides, you enjoy fighting, so it's a good deal all round. That's beside the point, though. You've spent months sitting in a warehouse, hammering nails into things. Wouldn't you rather be outside for a bit? I was thinking perhaps France. I'm sure the authorities over there will have forgotten about us by now, and this new queen isn't likely to look for us abroad."
"She's not likely to look for us anywhere, except in your imagination." They took a right turn, heading towards the street that they had walked so many times during their stay at the warehouse. "I don't want to go to France. Somebody always tries to hang us there."
"That doesn't happen when I'm alone," Methos told him. "Or not usually, anyway. How about Spain?"
"Spain wouldn't be so bad, I suppose. The language is more interesting, and the sea is certainly warmer." Kronos nodded slowly. "Very well. How are we to get there, though? We don't exactly have a great deal of money right now."
"I wouldn't have thought that was much of a problem for you," said Methos. Kronos shrugged.
"Maybe not. It gets tedious travelling all that way with a knife at somebody's throat, though. We could steal a boat, but you're no use at all at sea. Ever since that trip across the Atlantic with those monks, you've moaned every time it gets a little choppy."
"Well we can't exactly fly over there, can we." Methos folded his arms, beginning to look rather petulant. "Or at least, not anymore. Not since somebody stole your toy."
"Not funny." Kronos shot his companion a glare that turned into a frown. "I thought we were leaving?"
"We are," said Methos. His brother pointed ahead, looking exasperated.
"Then why are we heading for the alehouse? Or do you just go this way now through force of habit?"
"Perhaps." Methos was beginning to smirk. "One for the road?" Kronos rolled his eyes.
"They have beer in Spain as well, you know."
"I know. We have plans to make, though, don't we. Perhaps a purse or two to lift? Beer is a good tactical decision, brother. Trust me."
"You're a lunatic." Following on nonetheless, Kronos felt in his pockets for some coins. By now several steps ahead, Methos all but bounced up onto the kerb.
"And what does that say about the man who's chosen to spend most of the last four thousand years in my company?" He shot a brief look back, before vanishing into the gloom of the inn. Kronos glared after him, having failed to find a suitable retort.
"That's probably a good point," he agreed, speaking to nobody in particular. After all, here he was about to chase off to Spain for no particular reason, just because the world's oldest man was worried about a very young queen. If anybody was a lunatic, it probably wasn't Methos. As usual, however, he found that he didn't seem to mind; and, also as usual, he didn't really know why. Up ahead, Methos was waiting for him by the doors, still smirking to himself. Kronos chose to carry on glaring.
"Were you wanting something?" he asked, knowing full well what it was that Methos was after. His brother nodded, catching hold of his arm, and steering him neatly towards the bar.
"Money," he said, waving a hand to catch the publican's attention. "And beer. Also a fast boat out of London, but first things first."
"And if your queen should come looking for us while we're here?" asked Kronos, dragging out the few coins that they had left. Methos gestured vaguely towards the rear of the inn.
"Back way out," he said, in the tone of voice of one who had used it before. "Anyway, she's probably got a few more important things to worry about for the time being. We can spare five minutes for a beer."
"You'd say that if the world was about to end," observed Kronos. Methos merely smiled, the old, familiar smirk that Kronos had been seeing for the last four thousand years. Somehow he got the distinct feeling that he would be seeing it for the next four thousand as well.
"Priorities, dear boy. Priorities." The money was now in Methos's hand, although Kronos wasn't at all sure how it had got there. "Besides, we have a journey to plan. Always be careful with the travel arrangements, brother. It really doesn't do to rush into these things."
And in a beautiful iron and brass ball that had just left the Earth's orbit, as he gasped out the last of his air, Lord Daniel Highbury would probably have agreed.
King William IV of this, that and the other (but mostly Great Britain) died in the early hours of June 20th, 1837. History doesn't recall if a warehouse in London blew up on the same night, but then history is renowned for never remembering the really interesting bits. Or history books are, at any rate. Queen Victoria, his young niece, was as Daniel and Arthur observed, raised very strictly and in virtual isolation. Her mother was a control freak, determined to keep her daughter under her thumb for as long as possible. Victoria put up with this only until she became queen - when she made it perfectly clear that she wasn't standing for her mother's nonsense any longer. Given her reputation, had she taken it upon herself to find out what had happened to Highbury, I imagine that she would have succeeded with great alacrity, so Methos was quite right to want to make himself scarce. Not that he could have known that at the time, but then he always has been the canny type.
As for the other details... Arthur gave Judith five gold sovereigns, which amounts to approximately two hundred pounds sterling in today's money. Daniel's debt, of fifty thousand pounds, is today equal to some two million, which explains his desperation - if not his willingness to murder his entire household staff.
There was a full moon on the night of the 18th June, 1837, so it would still have been more or less full on the 19th - 20th. What the weather was like I have no idea, though. Since it's England, it's fair to assume that it wasn't brilliant.
London's police force came into existence in 1829, at the instigation of the then Home Secretary, Robert Peel (from whom they took their various nicknames). They were a drunken rabble to begin with, and their uniform included a heavily reinforced top hat. Whether those could have survived the launch of a nearby spaceship, I have no idea, as rather unsportingly nobody ever seems to have put it to the test.
Science, of course, didn't allow the building of a working spaceship for some time after 1837, at least as far as history records (see above). Kronos is an Immortal, however, and as such has had a bloody long time to figure everything out. Consequently, anything is possible. Even indestructible police hats.