It was a pleasant stretch of beach; one that invited hours of gentle strolling, in ankle deep white sand washed with bright blue sea. The trees reached down to the beach, the jungle waiting expectantly just beyond the idyllic silence of the shore, ready to swallow up the unwary in its almost impenetrable greenness.
For Methos it was home; or home for now at any rate. A place to which he had gone in order to escape the endless broken nights of the Blitz. He had been content to stay in London at first, enjoying the camaraderie and the shared sense of danger as he worked as a fireman. He had enjoyed being useful. Then one day an unexploded bomb had chosen a most inconvenient moment to go off, and he had awakened later in the morgue. An old attendant with a gammy leg - lately everybody seemed to be old, or to have gammy legs; some managed both - was busy telling some local newspaperman that a fireman had been killed heroically rescuing two children, and a woman who had turned out - on later inspection - to have already been long dead. Methos had considered this to be his cue to leave, and with his picture in every paper sold around London, he had found his way eventually to this distant coastline of Africa, where the war was a million miles away. There were no blackout curtains, no late night air raid sirens, and no relentless bombing to keep him awake. He was happy.
"Tom!" The childish voice calling his name startled him from his waking dream of Britain, and he looked up, taking time to allow the name to seep into his subconscious. Tom. He was Tom, for now at least. He remembered choosing the name from a packing crate on the ship he had signed onto, after leaving the capital. He could not give them the name of the fireman who had just been killed, and so he had chosen Tom London, hoping that it would be easy to remember, and to adjust to quickly. He rubbed his eyes to clear them of his day dreams and looked back up the beach. No doubt his immature herald was one of the children from the mission, sent by the priest to fetch him back for lunch. It had been a fortunate day for Father Henry Samms, when a strange young man had dragged him and his flock of young charges onto the beach, after their ship had been torpedoed by an unseen U-boat. For Methos it had carried mixed blessings. He now found his life ordered into a regimen of cooked meals, with five nurses and fourteen children to think about. He tried to think about them as little as possible, but Father Henry, with a priest's talent for involving himself in the lives of others, was doing his best to make Methos believe that he loved his fellow man. It was tempting to tell the priest that in actual fact he had killed a good many of his fellow men, and would probably kill a good many more before he finally succumbed to the sword of another Immortal; but so far he had resisted the voice of mischief. Father Henry liked to try and convert him, and seemed to have discovered a new lease of life since realising what a challenge he had found for himself. Methos was content to allow the old mortal to try and persuade him to change his ways, even though he was certain that nothing would ever come of it.
"Tom?" The voice came again, and this time Methos turned to walk towards it. It sounded like Joshua, a boy of about nine who was the priest's star pupil. All of the children had been given European sounding Biblical names by the priests at their last mission, in a move that was so typical of the White Christian "We Know Best" attitude of the time that Methos found it hilarious. To his ears, educated in a world where peoples' names were so very different to those of the modern age, all European names sounded the same, which confused him no end. He had begun by calling the children by their real names, speaking to them in their own languages; but that had bewildered them even more.
"I'm here." Quickening his pace, Methos went to the edge of the jungle, where the boy stood alone amongst the trees. "What's wrong?"
"Father Henry wants you." Joshua spoke in an accent that was a strange mix of Irish and wherever his native land had originally been. None of the children seemed to know where they were from, except that it wasn't here. Methos could sympathise with their confusion; he had no idea where he was from either. Certainly not some mission several hundred miles south that he had no idea how to get back to. Father Henry had taken the children on a pleasure cruise a supposedly short distance up the coast, and had wound up here, miles from nowhere, with no way back home and with a crowd of increasingly confused children who were falling more and more under the influence of the strange young man who had saved their lives. Fortunately, thought Methos, Father Henry was more open minded than most, or he might have decided to take his flock back to where they had come from. They would never have made it, although there were times when the old Immortal wondered whether he really cared. Now, he was willing to concede, was one of the times when he wouldn't have cared if the whole mission was massacred by some immensely fierce (and very hungry) wild animal.
"What is it this time?" Suppressing the heavy sigh that came so naturally, Methos headed back towards the mission, the small boy at his heels.
"Dunno." Joshua shrugged his thin shoulders. "Maybe he wants to hear your confession."
"I hope not. We'd be there for the next three centuries." They reached the home-made fence of the mission and parted company, as the old man headed for Father Henry's office. It was a rudimentary structure built from logs and occasional beach junk, which Methos had made himself in an effort to keep the ageing mortal happy. He knocked on the crooked door, and heard a faint voice from inside, inviting him to enter.
"Morning." Throwing the priest a casual nod, Methos turned in surprise when he saw a tall man standing by the desk. He looked somewhere indistinct between young and middle age, and was dressed in the unmistakable uniform of a United States marine.
"Good morning." The marine nodded at Methos, who found a smile from somewhere and looked questioningly at the priest. Father Henry rose to his feet, gesturing from one to the other of the men.
"Major Steve Cord, Tom London. Major Cord is part of a unit sent here to help defend against German attacks."
"German attacks? The Germans don't even know we're here." Methos frowned suspiciously at the officer. "This is officially listed as uninhabited ground."
"True. We didn't even know this place was here until we arrived." Cord smiled the smile of one who was going to do what he had been ordered no matter what the look of blatant mutiny on this man's face. "But the Germans are coming here. Our intelligence tells us that they're planning to start a base somewhere along this stretch of coastline, in order to make strikes at British colonies in West Africa. My job is to stop them."
"They won't come here. Why would they? Most of the jungle is impenetrable, and the sea out there is alive with sharks." Methos shook his head. "You'd be better to try further north, closer to the colonies."
"This place is the perfect choice because of just those reasons. They have cover here, and it would be easy to defend. Nobody could find them all. You chose it as a base; why shouldn't the Germans?"
"We didn't choose it." Methos smiled sardonically. "We're here thanks to a mixture of bad navigation, and somebody else's damned unsociable war. None of us chose to be here."
"That's as maybe. Either way, we're ninety per cent sure that the Germans are coming here, and my job is to see that they don't." Cord clapped his hands together. "We'll need to call some kind of a meeting together, of all the adults who live here. I didn't come with many men, so you people will have to do what you can to help." He smiled. "I'm drafting you all into the US Army. How many men below fifty are there here?"
"Seventeen. There are twenty-eight adults here in total." Father Henry held up a piece of paper. "I have a list here."
"Thankyou." Cord took the list, glancing through it. "Anybody with any military training?"
"Now hang on just a minute." Methos stepped forward. "What makes you think that any of us want anything to do with your little war? This doesn't concern us."
"Doesn't concern you?" Cord stared at him as though he had just announced that the Earth was flat. "They are coming, Mr London. Probably sooner rather than later. If we allow them to gain a foothold here, there's no telling how many places they could expand into. Remember Czechoslovakia. Poland. France."
"I remember." Methos was unmoved. "We're not soldiers, Major. This isn't our fight."
"It's every man's fight!" Hot rage burst up from within the previously gentle voiced man. "How can you stand there and tell me it doesn't concern you if Hitler takes over the African continent? Do you have any idea what kind of man he is?"
"Of course." The old Immortal sighed, realising that he was treading on very thin ice with this particular officer. "He's a jumped up little dark-haired Austrian with a thing for blond Germans. Silly moustache, boring speeches. I know the story, major. If he wants to try coming here, let him." He shrugged. "He'll soon give up and go home."
"You think so?" The rage had lessened to a sort of quiet menace which had no effect on Methos whatsoever. "I don't share your confidence, Mr London. I think he's a dangerous man who has to be stopped at all costs. And you are going to help me to defend this place."
"Am I." Methos turned away. "I'm sorry, Major, but you've come to the wrong man. Talk to the others, and maybe they'll help you. I can tell you this for nothing, though; not one of the men I came here with would even know which end of a rifle to point at a man. They're school teachers and scientists for the most part."
"Then they can learn. You can all learn." Cord smiled unpleasantly. "Some might ask what a man of your age was doing on a ship headed for Africa, when there's a war going on not thirty miles across the sea from his homeland."
"My homeland?" Methos smiled back, matching perfectly the unpleasant glint in the major's eyes. "You think I'm British? Well in that case I'm sorry to disappoint you."
"Really. Well it doesn't matter. Wherever you come from, this war concerns you. Every man has a duty to do, and you'll do yours if I have to chain you to your rifle." Cord turned on his heel, smartly stepping towards the door. "I'll see you all tomorrow. My men and I will try not to get in your way, Father."
"Thankyou, Major." Father Henry followed the marine to the door, smiling all the way, then glared at Methos as soon as their guest was gone. The old Immortal did not flinch, despite the clear ferocity in the old mortal's eyes.
"What was all that about, Tom? How could you say those things?" He was shaking his head, his finger pointed at the Immortal as though he were a small boy being scolded. "You're no coward; you proved that when you went into that sea to drag my children out. Most of the others around here would have been happy to let them drown, or be taken by the sharks."
"Stop trying to be the voice of my conscience, Father. I keep telling you that I don't have one." Methos turned away. "I'll see you later."
"You're a strange man, Tom London." Father Henry turned back to his desk, making no objection as Methos walked away. "But there's something in you that hears me talking. I know there is."
"Guess again, priest." Methos left, walking away across the yard where several of the women in their group were trying to grow what looked like flowers. Nobody could convince them that it made more sense to grow food, and they zealously guarded the small piece of earth where they were convinced that flowers would grow in the spring. It amused him that this Major Cord hoped to turn these people into soldiers. The thought of it sunk him into a black mood, and he paid no attention to the offer to join in with a game of football as he passed the children. He had come here to avoid the war, and to let it run its course as far away from him as possible. He didn't care about accusations of cowardice, and he didn't care what Major Cord, or any other mortal, thought of him; but it bothered him that in the next few days he could be back in the thick of a war zone again. He had had enough of fighting, and of battles. He had come here to get away from all of that.
"Damn war." Kicking at the ground, he headed back to the beach, and his broad sweep of warm blue sea where nothing living could be seen. "Damn soldiers." It wasn't that he wanted the Nazis to win - he did care about the mortals enough to know that that was not a good plan - it was just that it was so easy to distance himself from all of it. Five thousand years of putting personal survival above all else made it something more than instinct which had led him to this distant place. He sat down at the water's edge and gazed far out to sea, wondering if there really was a German U-boat heading towards him; or some aeroplane bringing a unit of soldiers ready to parachute into his own personal paradise. He scowled. If these people wanted to stay here and fight for a piece of jungle that was worth nothing to anyone, he was happy to let them. Perhaps it was time for him to move on.
"Mr London." The politeness was so icy that Methos smiled, unable to prevent himself. He nodded at the major, before leaning against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. He liked to lean, despite the stiff backed stances of all the others in the room. He had learnt long ago that there was little point standing erect when you could lean at your leisure, and give your legs a nice rest.
"By now most of you are going to know why we're here." Beginning to pace slightly, Major Cord nodded at his accompanying officers, of which there were four. Pitifully little support with which to begin the defence of the African coast, in Methos' opinion, but he was more than aware that Cord did not want his opinion; now or quite possibly ever. "We have good reason to believe that there's a platoon of German soldiers on its way here; probably as many as fifty men. We've been sent here to see that if they land, they don't take over."
"Five of you?" The voice dripped with scepticism, and Methos grinned, glad to see that he was not the only one seeing past the glory and the patriotism to the essential stupidity of all of this. Cord glared.
"There were more," he said coldly. "We had some problems getting here." He squared his shoulders. "There are five of us now, but I've just found some new recruits. I trust that you do want to defend this place against enemy invasion?" There was a doubtful silence. "Once the enemy has been successfully dispelled, I would be more than willing to see to it personally that you all get wherever it was that you were heading to before your ships were sunk."
"Why don't you just call for reinforcements?" somebody asked. Cord shook his head.
"I can't do that. The plane crash that killed the rest of my men also destroyed our communications equipment. If we can capture a German radio, we might have a chance to call for help then."
"I see." One old man, a loud voiced, very British type with a white moustache, stepped forward. "I'm with you, major. I was in the forces during the last war, and I don't intend to let my country down this time." He glared around at the roomful of people, with a look that challenged any of them even to dare to back out. "We have a duty to help the British colonies."
"Thankyou." Cord nodded his gratitude, looking out at the sea of hands raised in a spontaneous vote. His eyes lingered on Methos, still leaning against the wall with his arms folded, clearly not joining with the others in their vote of support for this venture. He smiled grimly and Methos smiled back, then turned to leave.
Cord caught up with him as he crossed the courtyard, heading for the hut he had built for himself at the edge of the mission. The marine grabbed the old Immortal by the arm, spinning him around. A moment of indignation blazed in Methos' eyes, but he controlled it, and settled on a dispassionate smile instead.
"Yes?" he asked. Cord stared coldly at him, looking deeply into the green eyes so close to his own.
"You're no coward," he said. "I can see it in your eyes. What the hell does it take to get you to fight for something?"
"Not a whole lot." Methos pulled himself free, thinking back over the various causes he had fought for in the past. None of them had been particularly meaningful, or grand. "Don't try to analyse me, major."
"I had my men search your hut." Cord straightened his shoulders again, folding his arms in a manner designed to make himself look intimidating. He saw a flush of indignation pass briefly across the face of the man before him, before it was controlled with admirable speed. "I was suspicious, when you said you weren't British. I wanted to know how a man who claims not to be from a country comes to speak the language like a native, and was on a boat heading away from that country. That suggests to me that you might be a foreign agent."
"Does it?" Methos was amused, and a smile played across his face. "Alright; I'm an enemy agent. So shoot me."
"Don't tempt me." Cord shook his head. "You're no enemy agent. You were a fireman in London. I found your badge, and some photographs of you in uniform. I also found a newspaper cutting, saying that you were dead."
"You did?" Outwardly Methos appeared unconcerned, but inwardly he kicked himself. He remembered thinking that it was stupid to keep that cutting, but somehow it had been special to him. There were few people prepared to speak as well of him as that article had done. He had been a real hero, for however brief a moment. "I feel pretty healthy for a dead man."
"Exactly." Cord glanced back, to where he knew his men were lurking in the shadows. "Are you really that uncaring about what happens to the world?"
"Uncaring?" Methos shook his head. "You fail to see the point, major. The world has known tyranny before, and it will know it again. These things always come around. I see little point in standing in the way of destiny. Hitler will fall, either today, or tomorrow. No regime can last for a thousand years the way he claims that he can. Not these days. The world moves too fast."
"So your theory is that we should let him take over, because he can't last long?" Cord shook his head. "You're trying my patience."
"Then don't talk to me." Methos turned away. "Given time, the German people will realise what a twit they've thrown in with. I don't see why I should risk my life--"
"You no-good, lousy..." Grabbing the old Immortal by the shirtfront, Cord flung him against the nearest tree, slamming him as hard as he could against the unyielding wood. He held him there, an arm firmly against the other's throat, pressing as hard as he thought that he could without causing any lasting damage. "Do you know what's going on in Europe at the moment? Do you? Do you know what Hitler's people are doing to the Jews? To anybody else they think they can get away with persecuting? Do you know what it's like to be forced into a ghetto, and left to starve?" The anger and madness seemed to suddenly drain from his body, and he released Methos. "No, of course you don't. How could you? I only know what my cousins told me, when they finally managed to escape from Poland. I doubt even they know it all." He took a deep breath. "If there is an ounce of decency anywhere in you, London, you'll help me in any way you can."
"Maybe there isn't any decency in me." Methos straightened his clothes, his eyes glimmering with suppressed anger. "You can't play on my conscience, because I don't have one - so you go ahead and fight your war, major, but leave me out of it. I make my own way in life." He turned away again, walking back towards his hut. Cord stared after him, slowly regaining control of his breathing. He could not believe that a man with that much fire in his eyes could be so blasť about something like the war. He remembered the sword that he had found amongst London's scant belongings; recalled the feel of the cold steel. It was the weapon of a warrior, and the faint scars on the blade showed that it had seen action somewhere. He knew that there was more to Tom London than he was being allowed to see. Now he had to find something that would allow him to see the rest.
Long, drawn out screams echoed about the huge, stone room, mingling with the half-muted sobs of those no longer strong enough to shout. The cold damp air hung over them all, sapping their strength and cooling their thoughts of escape. There was nowhere to escape to, no way to get there. No one had the energy any more, to fight the guards and to find a way out of the fortress; let alone to get far enough away from it to make recapture something other than a certainty. At first they had tried to escape, and to fight the men who brought them the occasional crust of bread; but now there was no longer any spirit left in any of them. They just lay together, waiting for the end that they knew would not come, and wondering how much longer any of it could go on for.
At the corner of the room, one figure stirred, shivering slightly against the cold. He had been lying there for what seemed like an eternity, but he knew that he had been brought here long after the others. He was not sure how they had known what he was; what small thing had given him away; but they had known, and they had descended on him in the darkness of the night, bringing him to this sealed room, where the gasping cries of others of his kind had surrounded him. The guards had beat him just for the sport of watching the wounds heal, and they had called him every cruel name he had ever heard, plus many more that he had never wanted to hear. Finally they had left him, locked away with the others, leaving the other cold, lonely figures to tell him why he was here, and what was to become of him. Somebody had found out what they were, and the local people had been thrown into a panic; so now they found what Immortals they could, and they threw them into this dungeon, where nobody could get to them, and they could get at nobody. Food was scarce enough to keep the Immortals weak, but they could not die of starvation and they could not kill themselves or each other, for there was nothing anywhere with which to perform a beheading. Nobody knew that that was the way to kill an Immortal, which was probably just as well.
Methos stretched, looking about at the sea of faces, wondering how many of them cared any longer about life; how many of them were willing to end it all rather than face another day of this. They lay in the darkness, waiting for the guards to come looking for their sport, eager to drag another anonymous figure from out of the crowd, to see what they could do to him or her, before he or she died; and to wait for life to return in those painful, shuddering gasps of renewed breath. Soon, somebody would crack, and would beg for decapitation to end it. Then the mortals would find out, and it would be over for all of them. Methos was not prepared to wait for that moment. Perhaps it was the fact that he had been brought here last that gave him that extra strength; or perhaps it was just his strong determination to go on living. Either way, as he curled up on his own in his dark, damp corner, he was formulating plans. He had to get out, and he had to destroy these people; this town of barbarians who were doing these things to his people. He had to get back to the life he had planned for himself. He no longer knew how old he was, but he was determined to get a lot older. He had to escape.
A plan was formulating itself, in the darkest recesses of his cunning mind. It would not be easy, and it might get him killed; but staying here would certainly kill him. The day had to come when he no longer had the strength to even make plans, let alone carry them out. He had to strike now. His mind played over all that he had seen whilst he was here; the cold brutality and the organised, calculated cruelty. The one thing that encouraged him was that, in this world, news did not travel fast unless the gods chose to spread it. Nobody else would know what these people had discovered; and it was up to him to make sure that none of them survived to spread the word. He smiled grimly into the darkness. He would do this; he would escape. He would destroy this whole fortress, and the town that surrounded it. Evil like this could not be allowed to continue.
Waking with a start, Methos rolled out of his bed - a few, largely home-made blankets on a mat of animal skins - and reached for his sword. His hands caressed the metal, taking strength from the ice cold blade, and he heaved a heavy sigh. Night time was rough, when it brought dreams like that one. It had been years - probably centuries - since he had last thought about that hell-hole, with its screams and its cries. It had been worse when he had finally escaped; waiting until the guards had chosen him as their random victim, letting them have their fun until they thought that he was dead. He had killed them both, then let the other Immortals free. Most of them had been too weak to move, and he had taken their heads where they lay, letting their powers flood through him, until his strength had returned completely. The Quickenings had surged through him, one after the other, and the dark, damp room had split apart under the relentless assault. The burning torches in the corridors outside had set the walls ablaze, and the air had been filled with screaming. He had climbed out of the burning wreckage of the fortress, pursuing all that he could find with a sort of fierce, hot madness that he had never known before, killing every living thing that stood before him. No one had been able to stop him until - until he had stood, finally, in the centre of the small town, his hands shaking, and his sword running with blood. A young woman had come from one of the ruined houses and had told him to lay down his weapon, and he had done so. He had stayed with her, hiding from everything and everyone; afraid that everybody in the world shared the evil of the people he had just destroyed. Finally, when she had died in his arms, ancient and weary, he had walked away and kept on walking. He had wandered aimlessly for what he knew to have been countless years, although there had been no way to measure the true passage of the time. He had merely walked; and he had not stopped until that strange, fateful day when his weary feet had carried him to a train of wandering nomads, carrying with them one who was so like him.
"Kronos..." Methos smiled at the sword blade, and at his reflection within it. His brother would have been happy to fight in this war with Major Cord; just so long as he had not been expected to take orders from some neatly uniformed mortal. Kronos would have stood alone on the beach and single-handedly terrified the Germans into leaving. Just one look at his wild face with that joyous grin and those bright, excited eyes, and half of the world would run away. The thought made Methos smile again. The same could have been said of him once. Where was the fire and the fury which had led him to obliterate that town all those years ago? What had happened? Why was he so unwilling to raise a weapon against an enemy that was not so very different to that one from before? Cord had spoken of prisons and unspeakable cruelty, and Methos had seen it all in his mind. Now it seemed that he was prepared to let it all go on, because he didn't want to get involved. He didn't want it to be his fight.
"Snap out of it, old man." Leaning his forehead against the cold metal, Methos closed his eyes. Surely he wasn't that afraid of dying? Surely his strong desire to survive wasn't so powerful that he was unwilling to risk even the slightest of chances? Maybe he was just afraid that if he started to fight, he wouldn't be able to stop. He groaned. Now he was trying to analyse himself. He had got angry at Father Henry for trying it so often these past months, and he had warned Cord against it just last night. Now he was even wondering himself what made him tick. He stood up and stuck the sword into his belt, pulling his long coat around his shoulders to hide it. It was still cold enough at this time of the day for such attire to fail to raise suspicions.
"Damn mortals." Muttering the words to himself with a ferocity that seemed somehow contrived, Methos looked around at the collection of belongings that he had managed to save from the shipwreck. Nothing was of any real importance to him save the sword. He turned away and left it all behind, not slowing his pace or looking back until the mission was far behind him. He did not want some half-witted marine resurrecting the conscience that he had gone to such pains to bury. The mortals could fight their own battles. If there was one thing that five thousand years of life had taught him, it was that he should mind his own business. This was not his war.
Major Steve Cord, US Marines, gathered his rag-tag group of supporters around him, pointing at the distant targets tied to a circle of trees. The children had made them from old boxes, painting them with plant dyes so that they looked vaguely professional. One by one the band of shipwrecked civilians and the five female nurses raised their US issue rifles and fired at the targets. Even at this distance, Cord could see that not one of them had come close to hitting. Theoretically he should have started them off on close-by targets, letting them familiarise themselves with the weapons first; but there simply wasn't time for such pleasantries. The Germans were coming, and he knew that they could be expected any day now; or more likely any night. They had to come, because if they didn't his plane full of young, enthusiastic marines had come here for nothing; and consequently had died for nothing.
It had been three days since Tom London had disappeared. Joshua, one of the mission children, had seen him walking away along the beach, wearing the battered old overcoat that Cord remembered seeing when he had searched the hut. When he had realised that London wasn't coming back, he had gone to the hut and looked through everything again, to see what the strange Briton - no, not Briton, he reminded himself, although he had no idea what other nationality London could be - had taken with him. It appeared that he had chosen only the sword. Cord had no idea what the peculiar young man could hope to do in the jungle with a sword - except, perhaps, for the decent thing - but he had been able to uncover no trace of the man. He had disappeared. Father Henry had shown no undue concern, saying merely that London was a very resourceful young man; but still it bothered Cord. He had seen so many bizarre, conflicting things in those dark green eyes. There was so much that didn't add up. He couldn't believe that London was a coward, and yet he didn't know what else to believe.
"The light's bad. I can't see a damned thing." One of the recruits, a tall, middle-aged man who had turned out to be a world class authority on spiders and insects, travelling the world in order to write a book, frowned at the distant targets with a look of increasing frustration. "We can't hope to hit these dratted targets at this time of night."
"What?" Startled out of his reverie, Cord looked about. It was true that the light was not good, but he had been hoping to teach these people to shoot in the night time, as well as in the light. He sighed to himself. The way things were going, he would be lucky if they even learnt to load the guns, let alone fire them with any level of accuracy. He nodded slowly.
"Alright, turn in. Linwood, Casen, take first watch. I'll send somebody to relieve you in four hours."
"Right." There was a glum nod from the pair, and they wandered away looking less than thrilled with their assignment. Cord waited for the other civilians to disperse, then glanced towards his second-in-command.
"Do you think I'm pushing them too hard, Holt?"
"Yes." The young lieutenant smiled. "But what else can you do? Listen sir; less than a week ago we were stuck in the jungle on our own after that crash, with no way of making this mission a success. Now we have twenty-eight people to help us." He shrugged. "Well, twenty-six. I can't count the priest, and I don't think London is going to be much use to us. Can you figure that guy? I sure can't."
"Twenty-six people might not be much good to us if they can't fight." Cord sighed heavily, then scowled, hating to hear himself sounding so forlorn. "I'm going to turn in, lieutenant. I'll see you later."
"Sir." Holt snapped off a salute which was not quite regulation style, and walked off in the opposite direction. Cord scanned the skies, a heavy feeling in his heart. Somehow he could not quite convince himself that these measures he was taking were going to be anywhere near enough to combat what was coming.
Methos uncurled himself from his position of deep relaxation in the broad, spreading branches of a pleasantly large tree. It was one of the most enjoyable facets of his character that he was able to make himself comfortable wherever he happened to find himself, and for the last few nights he had been proving that theory correct in quite admirable style. He sat up, unwrapping the heavy overcoat from his arms, and unfolding his fingers from the hilt of his sword. Lately they seemed to be reaching for it by reflex each night, grasping for their familiar hold. It was almost as if his instincts were trying to tell him something. He stood up, gazing about at the surrounding area. He could not see much, given that most of the trees seemed to be taller than his, but he could see far enough to make the view pleasant. On one side was the sea, endless and blue and calm. In the other directions, all save for up, stretched the jungle. He glanced over towards the mission, wondering for the hundredth time why he had stayed within sight of it. He could see nobody, which surprised him, and he frowned. There was not even any sign of the children, who were invariably out by this time, playing football in the yard.
"Hello. Something's up." Swinging down from his tree, sword in hand, Methos slipped through the undergrowth, his senses on full alert. The silence was deafening, for the camp was never entirely silent and still. Every night a light stayed on in the doorway of the children's hut, and was not put out until they were all up. He could not see the light.
"Don't get involved, Methos," he whispered to himself, but all the same he moved closer to the mission, keeping low and using all his long-ago learnt skills to move silently. He thought that he heard talking, but so fluent was he in so many different languages, that it did not at first register that the voices were speaking in German. He realised it finally, and suppressed a gasp, flattening himself against the wall. German voices, here? That could only mean that Cord's intelligence reports had been right. Methos groaned silently, wondering how the invaders had managed to move so quickly. They must have parachuted in, landing some distance away where the sound of the plane could not have been heard, and then made their way closer and closer to the camp. It was certain that they had taken over. He could tell that just by listening to the conversation going on nearby. Part of him wondered what had happened to Cord and the others, but another part was telling him that he didn't care.
"I put in a call to HQ as soon as the take over was complete," a harsh voice said, sounding suddenly loud. Methos jumped. "I'm expecting reinforcements to arrive this evening. We should have fifty new men by nightfall. Enough to start thinking seriously about putting our plans into action."
"How long before we make our first strike?" a second voice asked.
"At least a month. We have to train, to be sure that we're ready. We're to be contacted when it's time for our first mission." The first voice came again, the German words second nature to Methos, as much as was the English he now used so readily. He slipped into a recess in the uneven wall, thinking fast. Clearly the mission was now in enemy hands - odd how quickly he had switched to thinking about them as the enemy, although in all honesty he had probably been thinking of them that way since '39. Very soon there would be little chance of hoping to liberate it.
Even as the thoughts came into his head, Methos heard the soft sound of feet which told him that the two men were almost upon him. He waited, counting seconds in his head, frozen in the harsh grip of tension. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. He listened carefully, hearing the footsteps, listening to them coming closer and closer until they were almost on top of him; then he leapt out from his hiding place with his weapon raised.
"What the-?" The first German, his eyes widening in surprise, fell instantly as Methos cut his chest open with one powerful stroke. The second, his face white, reached for his service revolver. Methos flicked it from his hand with his sword point, sending it spinning away into the undergrowth. Slowly the German raised his hands. Methos gazed at him, seeing the pale face and the wide, frightened eyes, and recognised all too easily that this man would not stay scared and silent for long. He smiled sadly at the German.
"Sorry pal." The German's eyes widened further on hearing his own language spoken with barely a hint of an accent. "But my people never signed the Geneva Convention." He drove his sword deep into the other man's chest, feeling a moment of remorse as he did so. Still; if this was going to be his war after all, he was going to fight it his way. He faded back into the shadows, making his way cautiously around the perimeter. A single guard stood by the rickety old gate, and Methos slipped easily up behind him, using his sword to cut the mortal's throat. The man fell without a sound.
"Good move." The voice was clipped and icily polite, and it came in English, heavily accented. Methos froze, then slowly straightened up, turning away from the body towards the voice. A man stood before him, dressed in a German army uniform, with two armed guards standing beside him. Methos smiled.
"Hello," he said cordially, in his almost perfect German. "Could you direct me to the nearest post office? I seem to be lost."
"Raise your hands." There was a sudden harshness in the German's tone, and Methos sighed, slowly lifting his hands into the air. He let the sword fall to the ground first, watching as one of the guards pounced on it, holding it at arm's length as if he expected it to explode. Methos grinned.
"Don't worry," he said cheerfully, still in German. "It's not loaded."
"Silence." The leader of the small group pushed him up against the wall, frisking him with firm and practised hands. "You have killed three of our unit." His prisoner, for all his earlier carelessness, seemed to have lapsed into moody silence, and he scowled at the man's back, wondering who the hell this was, and how he came to be in the middle of the jungle, armed with a sword and speaking German like a native. "You will come before the Commandant."
There was still no answer, and the officer, swallowing his frustration, jammed his gun into his prisoner's back. "Move." Slowly Methos moved, turning away from the wall and heading for the gate. Suddenly he did not feel quite as optimistic as he had done just a few minutes earlier. He thought about the penalties for being captured whilst not in uniform, and tried not to wince. Things were not looking up.
Steve Cord, feeling extremely uncomfortable now that the sun was beginning to grow hotter, shifted his position on the wooden chair, and wondered if Tom London had done his best to salvage only the hardest and least relaxing pieces of furniture that he could from the wreckage of the two ships. In all honesty it was a miracle that he had been in any sort of shape to bring things ashore at all after his own shipwreck, given that his fellow survivors claimed to have been unconscious the whole time. Cord was rather of the opinion, however, that if the miracle had extended to allow him to remain uninjured whilst the others had been battered and bashed about by the wreck, it could at least have extended that bit further, and allowed him to salvage some comfortable chairs.
He stretched his legs, then stood up and began to pace, wondering how the others were. He knew where they were being kept, and had caught a quick glimpse of them every so often, but he had been here on his own for nearly twelve hours now, with no one to talk to save the guard who made an appearance every so often. There had been some kind of a ruckus an hour or two back, but he had seen or heard nothing since. It was all less than encouraging.
As if in answer to his frustrations, the door swung open and two guards stepped in, supporting a third man between them. They threw him to the floor, turning around and marching out before Cord could truly react to their presence. The door shut, and he heard the snap of the padlock. The invaders were capable of turning even this ramshackle construction into a prison, although he had no idea why their mission equipment had included a supply of padlocks.
"London!" Recognising the inert figure almost instantly, Cord ran to him, turning him over as gently as he could. Clearly the young civilian had been through some kind of an interrogation, although it looked as if there had been rather more hitting than talking going on. He helped the man into the chair, and supported him so that he could sit up. "Where the hell did you spring from?"
"Came to help." Methos frowned, trying to see through the haze of blood that was hampering his vision. His confused mind was trying to tell him that he had to get away before his injuries started healing, but the various warning bells in his head were failing to ring properly. None of his thoughts seemed able to fully connect. "Got three of them."
"You killed three?" Cord whistled. "I knew you weren't as useless as you wanted to make out. Dammit London, why didn't you help us earlier? With you here we might have had a chance."
"No chance. If they got you they'd have got me." Already Methos was starting to think more clearly, and he stood up, pushing away the supporting arm. "Where are the others?"
"In the big room. The main sleeping quarters. This is the VIP room."
"Aren't we lucky." Methos went to the window, staring out at the yard and the jumble of other buildings. He rarely looked at them from this angle, and it surprised him to see just how ramshackle they all were. It looked as though one strong gust of wind would bring the lot down. "I suppose you've tried escaping out of the window?"
"It was my first thought, but the place is crawling with Germans. We wouldn't get ten feet." Cord shook his head. "No escape that way."
"Fine." Methos pulled the piece of sacking across the window hole, trying to shut out the intermittently marching German soldiers. "They're getting reinforcements tonight. Fifty men."
"Then it's all up." Cord sat down heavily in the chair. "We don't have a chance against that many."
"We have to." Methos rubbed some drying blood away from his mouth. "In case you hadn't noticed, major, there are twenty-eight adults here who aren't wearing uniform. They've already threatened to hand me over to the Gestapo. I don't plan to let that happen."
"They can't do that. Any fool can tell you're all a bunch of civilians." Cord sounded doubtful, and Methos smiled sardonically.
"Yes, of course. Civilians always crawl around killing enemy soldiers with a sword." He turned back to face the marine, no longer caring that the marks on his face had all gone. "I can't pretend that I wanted to be a part of all this, but now that I'm in, I've got to do what I can. I don't plan to be taken apart by a bunch of Nazi scientists."
"Your face..." Cord moved closer, reaching out to pull the sacking away from the window. Methos tried to stop him, but the mortal was stronger, and light flooded back into the room. The marine stared at his fellow prisoner, who began to feel decidedly uncomfortable. "They beat you to a pulp. I saw it."
"Maybe you did." Methos went to the door, trying to open it with little hope of success. "I don't know what you saw."
"I know that I saw your face covered in blood. There were bruises, cuts..."
"Forget it, Cord." Methos pulled the sacking back across the window, and leant against the wall, closing his eyes in thought.
"I can't forget something like that. I--"
"I said forget it." The old Immortal's eyes snapped open. "If we're going to get out of this, we have to work together, and that means no facetious questions."
"I don't think it's a facetious question." Cord stared at his companion, his eyes wide and wondering. "If we get out of here - when we get out of here - will you tell me then?"
Methos stared back at him, seeing the desire to understand something strange and unexplained. He nodded briefly.
"Yes," he said, hoping that he didn't come to regret it. "When we get out."
The days passed. The reinforcements came as expected, and soon the small, rickety collection of buildings was changed completely. The soldiers cleared a huge space in the jungle, using the trees to construct new buildings, and to reinforce the old ones. They built a small prison complex; three huts within a yard surrounded by a shoulder high fence, and escape seemed to grow more and more distant as the guards settled into an ordered patrol around the perimeter. In the first of the huts Father Henry, the children and the women - of which there were eleven including the nurses - spent most of the day, with the old priest preaching that their hardships were all the will of God, and that they should make the best of things as well as they could. In the second hut, the men spent their time a good deal less patiently, whilst in the third hut, Cord and Methos were the least patient of all. During the hours when they were allowed outside they spoke when they could to their fellow prisoners, sharing ideas and plans for escape; but they were not allowed in each other's huts, and at no time when they were outside was it possible to be sure that they were out of the hearing of the guards.
"Are you crazy, sir?" Sitting beside one of the huts, in the small amount of shading that it offered, Lieutenant Holt shook his head. "I mean - London? I thought we'd agreed that the guy is a no-good coward. He didn't want anything to do with this operation until they caught him."
"I'll admit that I haven't quite got the measure of the man." Cord stood up, beginning to pace uncertainly. "But I do know that he came to try and help us. He didn't have to come back here."
"For all you know, he could be a plant."
"No. If he is then he's the most determined spy I've ever heard of. Four times they've taken him for interrogation now, and each time he's come back unable to stand. They certainly think that he's something special; probably a special forces agent for the British government."
"You think they could be right?" Holt asked, his eyes widening. Cord paused, then shook his head.
"No. He's not military, he couldn't be. Him, marching in line, and saluting? I can't see that at all." He sat back down. "No, he's something else. I don't know what, but I'm going to find out."
"Then you think we can trust him?"
"We can trust him." Cord nodded slowly, wishing that he could understand these strange misgivings that he found he still had. "One thing's for sure; he wants out of here as much as we do. They're still threatening to hand him over to the Gestapo, and that scares him."
"Whatever you say, sir." Holt rose to his feet, brushing the dirt from his clothes. "But I for one don't trust a guy who keeps newspaper clippings reporting his death, and who carries a sword around in the jungle, slicing people up; even if it only the enemy he's been slicing. There's something weird about that guy."
"I don't disagree." Cord watched as the lithe figure of his lieutenant disappeared over to the other side of their small exercise yard, soon lost in deep conversation with his fellow marines. It was almost immediately that the major felt a strange prickling sensation at the back of his neck; almost as though he were being watched. He turned around, finding himself face to face with Methos, who was lurking nearby.
"London!" Caught somewhere between anger and guilt, Cord jumped noticeably at this sudden appearance. "What the hell do you think you're doing creeping about the place like that?"
"It's the best way not to get seen." Methos smiled lightly; the sort of faint, half-amused smile which Cord had come to recognise. London was up to something, he was sure of it. He saw the faintly superior glitter in the other man's eyes, which told him that try as he might he would never get on the same intellectual plain as this infuriating Briton - or whatever the hell he was.
"What are you up to?" he asked, extremely suspicious. Methos' eyes widened in deepest innocence.
"Such trust," he said with amusement. "I'll see you in the cabin."
"But--" Already Cord realised that he was speaking to empty air. London had vanished, heading off towards the group of children sitting beside their cabin. Father Henry shouted out a greeting, and Cord smiled to see the manner in which London tried to avoid going to talk to the priest. The old Catholic's repeated attempts to look after London's soul had become something of a joke to the major. In this small yard, it was impossible to avoid the priest, if one wanted to remain outside.
"Not now, Father," Methos said, sitting down beside the nearest child in an attempt to escape the old mortal's latest lecture. The boy beside him was reading from the Scriptures he realised with a groan, and turned his eyes away to look at the jungle instead. He felt Father Henry's presence beside him almost as if the old man had been an Immortal, and he closed his eyes briefly, steeling himself for what was to come.
"You should come to my services, lad," the priest said. "I worry about you, all on your own out here while I'm reading the Word."
"Don't worry about me, Father." Methos rose to his feet, but felt the old man's hand on his shoulder. "I keep telling you--"
"You keep telling me that you don't have a conscience, and that you don't have a soul for me to guide, I know." The priest shook his head. "But everybody's got a soul, lad."
"Not me." Methos pushed the priest's hand away, his eyes glittering curiously. "I'm not one of your parishioners, Father. Leave well alone." The last three words were punctuated by a strange, clear emphasis, which made a frown crinkle its way across Father Henry's lined forehead.
"You're not the man you think you are, Tom," he said gently. Methos turned, staring back at him with a sudden, broad grin on his face. There was something in his eyes that the priest could not quite define.
"I'm not the man you think I am, priest," he said darkly, and strode away back to his hut. Father Henry stared after him, pondering over the strange gleam in the extraordinary young man's eyes.
"He's strange." Ruth, the small girl sitting by the priest's feet, looked up, first towards Methos and then at Father Henry.
"In what way?" the priest asked, in the voice of an indulgent adult who was not entirely paying attention. There was a short pause as the small girl looked for the words that she wanted.
"Your face looks old," she said finally, "but your eyes are quite young. With him it's the other way round... sort of."
"What do you mean, sort of?" he asked her, a smile in his eyes. She frowned.
"It's like... like part of him is young, and can't ever be anything else. But another part is very old. But those are the parts he doesn't want us to see. He only want us to see what's like everybody else." She shrugged and returned to her reading, clearly thinking no more of it. All adults were strange to her eyes, and Methos was no more so than most. The priest smiled, wondering what inspired children to say such fanciful things; but the more that he thought about it, the more he was certain that Ruth had been exactly right. There was something about Tom London that did not quite fit. Something which made him different to all of the other prisoners in this little place. Slowly the old priest walked back into his prison hut, deciding to return to the books he had been studying all of his adult life. Within them, he believed, were the answers to most things that he could not understand, and this problem was no different. Whatever Tom London was hiding, he was sure that he would find it somewhere, in one of the books, just as long as he looked for it long enough.
"So what's the plan?" Cord asked, striding into the hut. Methos, who was lying in his hammock by the window, looked up.
"What plan?" he asked innocently. Cord scowled at him.
"You've got something up your sleeve," he accused. "Have you come up with a plan to escape?"
"Maybe." Methos smiled secretively. "Does that mean that you're interested?"
"Of course I'm interested!" Infuriated, Cord came close to bellowing the words. Methos' smile became a grin.
"We know which of the buildings the radio equipment is in," he said confidently. "I got that from one of the guards. Josh - the little guy with the blue T-shirt? He thinks he can sneak out of his cabin tonight and get to the radio. I'm going to help him get over the fence. Nobody will see a little fellow like him, especially in the dark. He can send off a message to your people, and tell them to send us some help. All we need from you is the right frequency, and whatever code words he's going to need."
Cord blinked, staring at him for several seconds, as though wondering how serious he was. Finally he shook his head.
"You're crazy. A kid that age? You're planning to send him into their radio shack, to send off a message in a language he barely speaks, knowing that if they catch him they're likely to put him up against the wall and blow his brains out? No way."
"It's the only chance we've got. Any day now they're going to get the orders to begin their raids on the British colonies. Once they've got started in Africa there'll be no holding them back, and you know that as well as I do. Josh understands the risks, and I won't let them shoot him."
"And just how are you going to stop them?"
"That's easy." He smiled, another of his secretive smiles that distanced him from his audience by some undrawn line. "I'm going to make sure that the last thing they're thinking about is that radio. I'll call the commandant, and tell him that I want to come clean; tell him what he's been wanting to know. I can make up a good enough story to hold their attention until Josh has finished."
"You're going to tell them you're a spy. Are you mad? They'll shoot you; or send you straight off to the Gestapo, who'll tear your fingernails out first, and then shoot you. Either way you're dead."
"Not necessarily. They won't shoot me until they're sure they've got all the information they can. As for the Gestapo, you must have noticed these people don't hold much store by initiative. It'll take a couple of days before they get the authorisation through to send me to Germany; and I'm gambling that by then our reinforcements will have come through."
"If they come through."
"That's why it's got to be Josh that makes the call. Who else can make it to the shack without being seen? So long as the codes are right, and he transmits on the proper frequency, I don't see how it can go wrong. Maybe he can send some kind of a personal message from you to show he's on the level."
"Maybe." Cord nodded slowly. "I was wrong about you, London. Really wrong. I thought you were a coward."
"I'm not a coward." The secretive smile returned. "But I'm no hero either, and I don't plan to be. Everything I do is to make sure that I stay alive. Getting the rest of you out is just a bonus. Don't forget that."
"I won't." Cord frowned, trying to take in these words. In the space of a few sentences, London had gone from man to possible martyr to hard man, without it seemed, anything in the way of a conscience. It was hard to believe that he could be everything he claimed to be, but he certainly was determined that that was the image he was going to project. "You're sure about this?"
"Quite sure." Methos folded his hands beside his head, beginning to swig gently from side to side in the hammock. "We're going to do it tonight. I'll go to Josh's cabin as soon as the night guard goes on. They come out of those lit up shacks, and they can't see anything at first. They won't see Josh and me. The last few weeks I've been testing a little theory, and at certain times there are places along the fence that the guards can't see for up to three minutes at a time. I'll get Josh over, and then kick up a fuss, so that nobody will see him making a break for the radio shack."
"It sounds pretty far fetched." Cord leant against the wall. "We should have lulled them into a false sense of security by now though. They're not going to be expecting anything."
"Exactly." Methos sat up, somehow managing to effortlessly keep his balance in the rocking hammock. "So how about those codes?"
Cord paused, remembering his collection of recent conversations with Lieutenant Holt, about whether or not London could be trusted. It struck him that this was the perfect opportunity to get exactly the kind of information that the Germans would be after. He frowned, then nodded slowly, coming to a decision. He had to start trusting somebody some time.
"Okay. The code words are simple. When he begins the broadcast he should say Uncle Jack is coming to stay. He might have to say that a few times. When there's an answer, the next line is How is Aunt Mabel?"
"Aunt Mabel?" Methos grinned. "Where do you people get this stuff from?"
"Never mind." Cord scowled at him. "After that, they'll have established which side he's on, and he can deliver his message. It'll have to be quick."
"Don't worry about that. I've already told him what he has to say."
"Good." Cord nodded slowly, beginning to pace. "You'd better get him to tell them to ask Colonel Strauss about our last game of golf. That should confirm that the message comes from me. The colonel is my brother-in-law. We played a lot of golf before Pearl Harbour."
"Fine." Methos lay back down, beginning to resume his endless rocking. "How about the frequency?"
"I'll tell you that at the last minute, before you go. Just in case." There was a hard edge to Cord's voice, and Methos smiled, closing his eyes.
"Sure. I'll go and pass all this on to Josh when the guards are up at the other end of the yard." He began to whistle and Cord stared at him, wondering exactly what was going on in that razor-sharp mind. One thing was for sure; he was glad that he and London were on the same side. At least; he thought that they were. It was that uncertainty which was still making him nervous.
"Hey guard! Hey guard!" Banging his fists on the wooden fence, Methos raised his voice even louder, hoping to attract the attention of everybody in the camp. "Hey! Guard!"
"What's the noise?" Appearing out of nowhere, a pair of soldiers flashed their torches at him. "What do you want?"
"I want to speak to the Commandant." Glaring at them in his most imperious manner, Methos reached through the fence posts, grabbing the nearest guard by the shirtfront. "I have something to tell him."
"Hands off." The second guard raised his rifle, clearly intending to use it to hit Methos on the arm. The Immortal whipped his hand away at the last minute, clicking his tongue in reproach.
"Naughty naughty. I said I want to see the Commandant. Do you understand? Or would you rather I asked in German?" He smiled nastily. "Or Yiddish?"
"What's all the noise?" Walking up to the fence, having obviously dressed in a hurry, the Commandant looked from his men to Methos and back again. "What's going on?"
"I want to confess." Drawing himself up to his full, not inconsiderable height, Methos hooked his fingers into the increasingly threadbare remains of his lapels. "I'm a British double agent, also working for the Soviet government, and I want to tell you everything." He smiled. "Please?"
"Let him out." The Commandant waved a hand, and the small gate opened. "I'm warning you, though; if you are lying--"
"I know, I know. Bang bang." Methos nodded, stepping out of the enclosure and obediently raising his hands. "Just lead the way, boss."
"My office." The Commandant strode ahead and a pair of soldiers fell in behind him, leaving the other two to remain on guard at the prison. Methos marched smartly in line, acutely aware of the twin rifles just inches from his neck. By the time that they reached the Commandant's office, there were numerous guards standing around watching the little procession, and Methos smirked in triumph. So far everything was working. All that he had to do was to time things right so that Josh would be able to make it back into the prison without anybody seeing him. If he remembered his orders, and had put one of the oft-abandoned empty supply boxes against the fence, he should have no trouble getting back in.
"I want to tell you everything." Turning around and addressing the camp as a whole, Methos launched into Russian, then broke off. "Sorry, wrong language. I've decided that I want to come clean, and tell you all that I know. I'm a Soviet agent. I was acting as a spy for the Communist government before the war, and now I'm acting as a spy for the British government. And the Communist government." He grinned. "I could tell you things you people would never believe. The whole of the British secret service is in here." He tapped his head. "I used to play golf with the Home Secretary. I know everything. All of the plans for the future deployment of spies from both Britain and the Soviet Union."
"Then how about telling us everything?" His voice dripping with suspicion, the Commandant drew his pistol. "Or are you just wasting my time?"
"Wasting your time?" Methos shook his head. "I'd never do that. Look, I want to come clean, that's all." He let his two guards push him into the Commandant's office, and then sat down in one of the home-made chairs. "What do you want to know?"
"How about starting with your real name?" Sitting down opposite him, the Commandant toyed with his pistol. "Who are you really?"
"My name is Nikolai Grishanovitch. I was born in Kiev. My father was executed for disloyalty, and I joined the secret police the following year." Methos was confident that he knew enough about Russia to be able to hold up under any questioning about Kiev. "But that doesn't matter. I was sent to Britain in 1935, and recruited by the secret services there in 1940, when they realised that I speak fluent German." He leaned forward. "Did you know that the head of the British Secret Service is a woman? Her name is Doris Ledbetter. They think that a woman is far less likely to be suspected than a man. Many of her best men are women, in fact. I did hear that some of the wives of top Nazis are straight out of Miss Ledbetter's cache of operatives. Personally appointed by the lady herself. Of course, I can't confirm that." He grinned. "And you realise that all this bombing London is no good? The British government moved to a remote outpost in the Scottish Highlands about six months ago. They broadcast from London by radio trickery; but they've been miles away since February, at least."
"Doris Ledbetter?" The Commandant stared at him, his face filled with scepticism. "Do you think I am a fool?"
"You see? You don't believe it. I told you it was brilliant." Methos grinned at him. "Relax, Herr Braun. I'm telling you the truth. What else do you want to know?"
"I want to know about Russian plans for attacking Germany. They are planning to attack, yes?"
"Oh yes." Methos nodded enthusiastically, although he was more than aware that Russia had almost all of its resources tied up in repelling the Germans from their borders. "Soon, I should think. They plan to parachute men into Germany. They've been training them since before the start of the war; even before the Pact Comrade Stalin made with your chap; the one with the moustache. They've had operations to make them the absolute image of top Nazis. Why, right now in Moscow there are probably three or four Heinrich Himmlers. And I'd reckon at least twelve Hitlers. They have competitions to decide who's the best, and who will be parachuted into Germany first."
"You are lying." Braun rose to his feet, his eyes gleaming with rage. "These things are impossible."
"You'd be a fool not to report it." Methos could see the anger beginning to boil over, and hoped that he had not taken his flight of fantasy too far. The problem with his tendency to improvise was that sometimes improvisation flew unchecked; and that created more problems than it solved.
"We shall see whether or not you are lying." Braun nodded at his men, who pulled their prisoner to his feet. "Pretty soon, Herr Grishanovitch, you will be begging to tell me the truth."
Steve Cord stood in his cabin, gazing out of the window. It had been three days now since the order had gone out that they were not to be allowed out of the huts. He had spoken to no one since wishing Tom London good luck as he had slipped out of the cabin three nights ago. Young Joshua had made it back into the prison yard unseen, and had waved briefly at the major's shadowy figure in the window, before climbing back into his own cabin; but that was the last that Cord had seen of him, or any of the others. The occasional glimpse of somebody at a window was all he could catch, but communication was not allowed. He had tried waving to Lieutenant Holt once, but a bullet had almost relieved him of a chunk of hair from on top of his head, and he had not tried it again.
He stared towards the Commandant's office, wondering if he could persuade the man to let up on this sudden regime of strict discipline. Braun was angry, and everybody knew it. No doubt it had something to do with the pack of lies that London had tried telling him, and was apparently refusing to retract. Some of the stories had found their way to Cord, when the guards brought him food, and he had had to admire the man's audacity. If he continued to tell the same stories, half of Germany would soon be made aware that the head of British Special Operations was a little spinster woman of sixty-eight, called Doris Ledbetter. She had, apparently, three cats and six goldfish, one of which was being trained to carry capsules of poison gas.
"Why couldn't you think of something a little more believable?" Staring towards the lone figure of the young Briton - Russian? - who was still tied to a post several yards beyond the prison yard fence, Cord smiled slightly. The answer was obvious, of course; if his claims had been at all believable, Braun would never have believed them. They would have been too run-of-the-mill, and too ordinary. He was more likely to believe something outlandish, especially if London could stick to his story for just a little longer. It seemed incredible that he had held out for so long as it was; without food or water, in the killing heat that the days could reach. Word had come, somewhat prematurely as it had turned out, that he had died that morning. He seemed healthy enough now, gazing about at the camp, nodding politely at the patrolling guards. If the day went according to ritual, Braun would be out at any time, to interrogate him again. Cord grinned. He couldn't wait for the Commandant to report all of this to the German High Command. The order would go out to find Doris Ledbetter, and German agents would be scouring London - or more likely the Scottish Highlands if they chose to believe that bit of the tale - hunting under every rock and thistle for a little old lady with a specially trained goldfish.
The distant drone of an aircraft engine sunk slowly into Cord's consciousness, and he glanced up at the skies. He could see the plane - clearly a German one - as it came closer. The soldiers in the compound scrambled for their weapons, but the small plane merely flew low, waggling its wings in greeting. A few soldiers on the ground waved. The plane flew in a circle, dropped something, and then rose higher, soon vanishing from sight. A pair of soldiers ran towards the object which had been dropped. Its shape seemed familiar to Cord, but he could not quite put his finger on it. He squinted at it, trying to get a better look, trying to remember where he had seen such an object in the past. Even as the memory was beginning to fade into focus in his mind, the soldiers reached the object, and there was a sudden, brilliant flash. Thick grey smoke began to seep from the canister, filling the air. Almost immediately the sound of aeroplanes came again; more than one this time. Cord closed his eyes, counting engines. He thought that he could hear six planes at least.
"Posts!" The shout came from somewhere amidst the billowing cloud of smoke. The soldiers ran for their machine guns, scanning the skies in a futile attempt to see past the clouds. One or two of them fired as the planes came closer, some of them no doubt hitting something; but there as no way to see their airborne attackers. Machine gun fire raked the ground, and a grenade exploded, showering earth into the air. Cord heard a second explosion, and saw the stake to which Tom London was tied knocked suddenly backwards. The bound man, apparently unhurt, struggled free from the stake; and with his hands still tied, he disappeared into the jungle.
"Keep down!" Yelling as loud as he could, in the hope that his companions would have the sense to keep away from the windows, Cord flung himself to the floor, covering his head with his hands as another grenade exploded. Almost as soon as the blast had died away, he heard the unmistakable sound of feet landing on the hard ground. He stole a quick glance through the window, and saw several men parachute neatly to earth, taking advantage of the lingering smoke to disentangle themselves before taking up their positions. Machine gun fire filled the air.
"Alright!" Excited, Cord crouched on the floor, trying to quell his desire to see what was going on. He saw more men land, before another explosion sent him ducking for cover. There was a rattle of gunfire from very close by, and then the door of his cabin was torn open.
"Major Cord?" A voice, lost somewhere in the confusion of fading smoke and rising dust, echoed slightly. "This is Captain Phillips, sir. I have a gun for you here."
"Nice work!" Keeping low, Cord ran for the door, taking the proffered weapon. "There are kids in one of these cabins, captain. Go easy."
"Right." The captain nodded. "Sir, there was a man I thought I saw. It looked like his hands were tied...?"
"London." Cord nodded. "He's one of us, more or less. He'll be trying to get his sword back. Don't worry about him."
"His sword?" Phillips frowned, but did not question his superior. Instead he led the way back outside. Gunfire filled the air, and they saw one of the newly landed parachutists fall. The powerful smoke grenade which had covered the initial landings was no longer nearly effective enough.
"We have to give them some cover. Come on." Cord took off at a run, Phillips behind him. Another grenade exploded close by, but neither man ducked. Cord grinned to himself. It was like the old training courses he had run as a cadet. It was almost fun.
"We have to get out of here." Standing in his office, Commandant Braun checked the load in his service revolver and then stuck it into his belt. His deputy, a tall, thin man with small, round glasses, nodded in obedience and raised his own rifle.
"Out the back way, sir," he said, reaching for the door. He pulled it open, only to come face to face with Methos, standing in the doorway with a pistol in his hand. A length of rope was still knotted about one wrist, and his clothes were streaked with mud from the explosion which had freed him, but he did not seem to be any the worse for his experience. He grinned crookedly.
"Drop your guns."
"You're outnumbered. There are two of us," Braun's deputy reminded him, levelling his rifle. Methos shot him, and then smiled angelically.
"Wrong." His eyes met with Braun's. "Drop your gun, Herr Commandant."
"Why should I? You won't shoot me."
"I won't?" Methos sounded surprised. "I have to kill you. That way no one will ever know that I confessed. Remember?"
"You mean all of that was true?" Braun gaped at him and Methos grinned, almost taking pity on the man.
"Of course it was true. There was so much else I could have told you, Commandant. About the Russians, about the British..." His eyes shone teasingly. "About the Japanese..."
"The Japanese?" Braun's eyes bulged. "Surely not...?"
"Why ever not?" Methos snapped to attention, and barked out a few sentences in Japanese. It sounded impressive enough to the Commandant, although the Immortal had merely quoted from his favourite Japanese poet. "You could have been famous, Herr Braun. The man who won Germany the war, and who brought the great Japanese war engine to heel. Hard luck, pal."
"Then it is hard luck for you, too." Braun, clearly no longer caring whether he lived or died, made a grab for his gun and brought it to bear on Methos. He fired just as the Immortal did the same. The Commandant fell, a bullet tearing through his chest wall.
"Ow." Leaning against the door, Methos put his hand against his own chest, discovering fresh blood. The bullet did not seem to have hit anything vital, and he staggered over to Braun to check that the man was dead. Dying eyes blinked up at him.
"You're a dead man," Braun gasped, on seeing the chest wound that he had inflicted. Methos smiled.
"Sorry old chap. I'm a little harder to get rid of than that." He began to search the office, finally finding his sword on the roughly made desk, under a pile of maps. A sharp pinging noise told him that the bullet had just ejected itself from his body, and he reached down to pick it up, faintly amused. He tossed it at Braun. "Here; a souvenir. You can give it back to me one day."
"One day?" The pre-Immortal's eyes closed, and Methos picked him up, carrying him outside. In the confusion no one paid him any attention, and he threw the body into the jungle. No one was likely to find it there, and Braun could revive in his own time. There was no way to take his head now. Somebody would see something, despite the confusion, and he did not feel up to carrying the body through the thick jungle, just for the sake of a Quickening; even if the world was likely to be a better place without Herr Commandant Braun.
"London!" An excited voice came to him and he turned towards it, raising his sword automatically. Cord came towards him, grinning all over his face. "We've got just about all of them. A few got away, but they won't get far in this jungle." An explosion rocked the ground, and both men grabbed for trees to steady themselves. "Come on. I want to introduce you to our reinforcements."
"Thanks." Methos smiled, suddenly glad to see the marine unhurt. He had been a pain in the neck, but in all honesty he had meant well. "Lead the way."
"Of course." Cord took a step towards the camp, then stopped, suddenly turning back to look at Methos. "That blood on your shirt..."
"A scratch." Methos made as if to push past him, but Cord held him back.
"Oh no you don't. That's no scratch. You've been shot."
"No I haven't. I'm fine." Methos stretched out his arms, waving them about. "See?"
"There is something almightily weird about you, boy." Cord was still frowning. "We had a deal, remember?"
"We're not home free yet." Methos tried to push past him again, seeing something in the corner of his eye. A warning leapt to his lips and Cord began to turn, only to go suddenly limp as a bullet slammed into his chest. Methos raised his pistol, sending all of his remaining shots at the figure in the jungle. He thought that he heard a yell of pain, but could not be sure.
"Damn." Cord barely managed to get the word out, and Methos saw immediately that the major was done for. It hardly seemed fair, that this man had to die whilst Braun got to be immortal. He took the marine's hand.
"Take it easy, major."
"Don't be bloody silly. What would be the point?" Cord frowned up at him. "Are you going to tell me who you are, London, or am I going to have to come back and haunt you?"
"I'll tell you." Methos glanced up, hearing the sound of approaching soldiers. He could only hope that none of them had especially sensitive hearing. "My name is Methos." He was surprised that he had decided to reveal that particular fact. "I was born five thousand years ago, and I'm immortal."
"Immortal?" Strangely, Cord did not sound surprised, or unbelieving. He mumbled something else, but Methos could barely catch the words. It sounded like: "You poor sod."
"Dammit." Closing the major's eyes, Methos straightened up. A sharp sound in the undergrowth startled him, and he spun around, only to see that it was Father Henry. "What do you want?"
"Nothing." The old priest glanced towards Cord. "The others are heading this way. They're sweeping the jungle. I'll take care of the major. You'd better get out of here."
Methos hesitated, wondering if the priest had heard something that it would have been better for him not to know. Father Henry smiled.
"I'm not trying to guard your soul, lad; just you. It would be better if they didn't find you with that hole in your shirt."
"I suppose." Methos still hesitated. The priest laughed.
"Go on, man. Do you want them to find you? They'll have to find out who you are, and as far as Britain is concerned, you're a dead man."
"I suppose." Methos turned to leave, then glanced back. "Thanks, priest."
"Don't mention it." A smile lingered on the priest's lips as the strange young man vanished from sight. "You're not the man you think you are," he whispered to the departing Immortal, and touched the cross around his neck; then he turned back to Steve Cord.
Methos walked for hours in the jungle, unsure exactly where he was heading. He knew that he could easily make it to the British colonies, but beyond that he wasn't certain what his plans were. He had come to like Africa, that much was certain, but as for the rest of it... He thought about Steve Cord, and smiled. The major had been right; he did have some kind of a duty, although who it was to, he wasn't sure. Not to the mortals, that much was for sure; not to Britain, or to France, or to any of those other countries that had no claim on his soul. Maybe his duty was just to Cord himself. That thought pleased him in an odd sort of way, and he shouldered his sword and set his sights on the British colonies. It would be easy to go from there to the war being fought in North Africa. He nodded to himself, satisfied with this plan, for he had been away for too long. He had a war to get back to.
Er, okay... 1939-1945. I think we all remembered that one. 1941-1945 from Steve Cord's point of view I guess - if you want to be really accurate - but I don't, so hard luck. Anyway, he's dead so he can't complain. Nazi-Soviet Pact, signed August 23rd, 1939, by Molotov and Ron Vibbentrop, one of Hitler's more sillily named devotees. As for Kronos, he refused to tell me what he was up to during the war, so he didn't put in an appearance. It was classified, he said. I didn't like to press the issue, for obvious reasons. He said he was on the winning side, anyway, but that's only to be expected.