The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part VI -- Cats Eyes
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995

Chapter 16

Nicholas . . .

Nicholas . . .

For so long you longed to be human. Why was that? Was it really because you loathed your vampire nature? Because you couldn't bear to take another life?

Come now, Nicholas... Life and death are intertwined. When there is life, death must come, and where death must come, there must come life. Surely you understood this as a human, which is why you so desperately wanted to come across, because you knew that with the necessity of death, you would remain alive.

You must have understood that the balance of the world would adjust itself once you crossed over. Because you were alive, and would remain so, people would have to die in your place.

I wonder if even the blood is necessary. I wonder if you could sustain your life simply by killing with the *intention* of maintaining the balance.

It was just a thought... You can stop glaring at me now.

But no, think about it. Can you tell me with full sincerity as well as honesty that as a human you will cease to be a monster? Have you ever stopped to think about the havoc that human beings cause in life? Imagine the terror that those poor cattle possess in their very souls as they sit in cramped boxes, drowning in their own wastes...

You must have heard how much energy goes into a single piece of toast, but have you ever considered how much terror, torment, and pain is locked up in a single slab of steak?

Think about it. If you truly seek to be human because you feel guilty about drinking human blood, then you should rather seek to exit the cycle of life and death. You should lose all form, all energy, all consciousness, and become true nothingness...

I'll leave you to your misery. You will remember my thoughts, but you will not remember me...

Fade to black.

* * *

"I'm sorry, Dr. Lambert, but there's nothing we can do." The doctor stood in an almost military posture, her face rigid in expressionlessness. Her eyes, however, showed some semblance of compassion. For some reason, she reminded Nat of Janette... but she knew that this woman was not Janette. She was human, and though her accent was 'French', she had been around enough native French speakers to distinguish accents. The doctor's accent was certainly not any that she could recognize.

Nat sat in shock, tears openly falling down her face. She clamped her mouth shut, afraid that she might say the wrong thing.

The doctor left her alone to deal with her grief, saying nothing before exiting.

"Why?" she screamed to the ceiling, her eyes clenched in grief. "All these years, and Nick finally gets his wish, and then you take it away from him!"

Nat's head fell into her hands, muffling her uncontrollable sobs.

"He might have lost his gift, but it *can* be exchanged," said a new, crisp voice. It was one she didn't recognize.

Nat looked up with hooded eyes, and saw a clean-cut man who looked a little too Nazi-like for comfort. He didn't wear any swastikas or Nazi flags, but the cut of his clothes and his overall bearing screamed 'Nazi!' If her mind screamed anything milder, it was 'clean freak!' He could probably wade through a slop pit and come out looking white and spotless.

His smile was open, almost masking his cold eyes, "I have the will and the way to heal him, but I'm terribly sorry to say that he won't remain human... in the accepted sense."

Nat knew that the sun was down now, so she knew who it had to be. She whipped out a cross from underneath her blouse, one she kept for very special occasions such as this. "Go away!" She sobbed.

He smiled even wider, "Right religion; wrong race. I'm not a vampire."

"What the hell are you then?"

His eyes narrowed, "I believe you know me as an Invisible One."

That shook Nat to the soul. Her earlier feelings now made a lot more sense. What she sensed would make a Nazi seem pale in comparison. "Why are you here?"

He spread out his arms ostentatiously, "I'm here to improve the quality of life! The life of your Nicholas will end without intervention, so what more need be said?"

"A lot more." She stood up, an iron focus replacing her grief. "What are your *real* motives?" It was pretty significant that she didn't tell him to get lost... yet.

"I just told you!" He didn't show any anger, if he was angry. "I'm here to improve the quality of life! Do you want me to save him or not?"

Nat's eyes narrowed, "Tell me more. *How* will you save him?"

The Invisible One laughed, "How suspicious you are! I'm beginning to wonder if you truly care about his life." He saw the look in her eye, and stopped laughing. "I'm the one who gave him the cure... indirectly. I gave precise directions that he didn't follow. I'm truly sorry that the both of you are going through all this, but am I to be blamed if he is too forgetful to follow the directions? Would you be any less unforgiving than I am?"

Nat stared at him, unsure of what to think.

He continued, "Have you ever wondered what vampirism truly is? Of course you have, and still do. Over the centuries, I've had an occasional interest in vampirism, and isolated the specific mechanisms that cause, maintain... and eliminate vampirism.

"When a human either becomes or ceases to be a vampire, the pancreas is one of the organs to be affected. When he took the cure his pancreas required a 24 hour fast, which Nicholas did not maintain. Thus, he caused irreparable damage. I can't undo it; however, I can bring a specialist who can make him a vampire once more -- and on becoming a vampire once more, his body will heal."

Nat lost her breath as she paced around in shock. "I can't believe what I'm hearing! He's spent centuries trying to become human once more, and you're trying to bring him back! What kind of monster are you?"

"I'm a very humane monster," said the Invisible One gravely. "The question is, what kind of monster are you? Would you rather obey your high and mighty morals than save a life?"

"Leave me alone."

He bowed grandly. "As you wish, but I think I must tell you one other thing. The rest of the price is that you must cross over with him."

* * *

"I'll have a Suicide Burger with extra grease!" he snapped, sitting down. "And don't give me seeded buns!" He muttered, "I *hate* seeds!"

He had lost his excess weight in the recent years, even if his diet hadn't changed. His appearance had become somewhat neater: his face was so cleanly shaved that he didn't even have a faint shadow, and his hair was slicked back so precisely that not a single hair was out of place.

He also looked quite alive. He looked anything but dead. Don Schanke was pretty proud of that. It took talent to walk away from a plane crash when not possessing any of the special gifts that his assignment, or the other brand of immortals that he had discovered, might have possessed.

"Your greaseburger," muttered the bartender, looking at him with distaste. When he realized that Schanke really didn't care a bit about him one way or the other, he went about his business, muttering, "He'd better give me a good tip..."

Schanke looked around, snickering under his breath. //Pretty amazing... Looking around, you wouldn't know that a full-scale riot took place only yesterday, and this place got trashed by the crowds. An Invisible One died here... Another Invisible One almost got Axer.//

He smiled, //Axer... Now there's one enigma. I really wonder if it would all have turned out differently if he'd 'died' in a more remote alley, or the two Feds hadn't get involved. Just like you told Nick, 'remember nonlinearity.' A pity you wasted such a rich thought on such a dense brick. Like I say, you can take a man from the Crusades, but you can't take the Crusader from the man. He must have been a good soldier -- dense as a brick... I wonder how many people he had to hypnotize to get to the rank of detective.//

Schanke started taking big bites from his greaseburger, reveling in the rich, saturated fats and oils rolling down his throat. All the ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and Tabasco sauce blended with the grease, blending into a heavenly taste that brought him to a new level of existence.

A vampire lady -- he *could* pick them out in a crowd -- who had been eyeing him with interest suddenly got disgusted. He looked directly into her eyes from across the room and chewed with his mouth wide open, red grease rolling down his chin. She turned away, utterly revolted.

He laughed loudly at that, and finished his burger.

"You've always been disgusting, but you've really topped it off."

It was LaCroix, and he wasn't in a good mood.

Schanke leaned back against the bar, still seated on the stool, and smiled impudently, "I wondered how long it would take for you to figure it out."

"Figure out what?"

"That all wasn't as it seemed." It was odd, seeing Schanke this way. It was like watching a possessed man -- his personality, body language, and everything else had changed. Nothing was the same.

"You have a lot of conceit if you think you were so important that I would have noticed."

Schanke shrugged. "It really doesn't matter to me. What do you want? I know you run the place, and all, but what brought you over to my neck of the woods?"

LaCroix gripped his hand quite firmly around Schanke's shoulder, tightening his grip. "You're coming with me."

Schanke was firmly escorted to one of the back rooms. The bartender snickered, "Fate worse than death."

* * *

Nat softly touched Nick's face. He was sound asleep, deep within some nightmare. He fought whatever it was, his hands twitching and his face jerking back and forth. He spoke in French, but it was so much of a mumble that she couldn't catch any particular words.

The skin of his face looked so human... and so unhealthy. It was partially red from broken capillaries, and other parts were white from lack of circulation. It made him look so ugly and old, but she looked past it.

"Nick." She gently shook him awake at the shoulders, her tears dripping on his chest like rain. "Wake up."

Nick woke up with a start, his hands reaching to choke Nat, but he realized who she was, and pulled away at the last moment. "Nat?"

"Nick." She couldn't say anything, and her head dropped on his chest, where she sobbed so uncontrollably that she couldn't speak coherently. The only thing he could catch was, "I don't know what to do."

"Nat... Nat..." He draped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her in closer. For some reason, the fact that she smelled like chamomile seemed more significant than anything else. "What happened."

"An Invisible One came. He said that he could help you, but the only way he'll do it is by bringing you back across... and bringing *me* across."

"Damn!" Nick stared up at the ceiling.

"What do I tell him?" She was frantic.

Nick didn't even hesitate. "Tell him to move on. I'm not interested."

"But you'll *die*!"

Nick's eyes were already dead. "This is what I've been waiting for all these years. I'm mortal once more, and the last thing I want to do is lose what I've regained." He smiled softly, "Time heals all wounds. I'll be a memory, and you'll move on."

"DON'T SAY THAT!" she screamed, pounding the wall. "After all this time, DON'T quit on me!"

"But how is this quitting?!"

"You're not checking out all the options, that's why."

The soft voice startled them both. It came from the other side of the separation curtain. Apparently there had been another patient here the whole time.

Nat rushed over and ripped it open. What she saw nearly made her shut it again. It was a young man, perhaps in his twenties, but at the same time he looked so *old*. He wore a medic alert necklace that said, 'diabetic.' //My god! He looks like Nick!//

He didn't look like Nick in appearance, but more in terms of condition. Both had the look of hopelessness, and both had the same cast of skin.

The young man smiled, "You know, all this time I thought you were a pair of Wiccans, but the more I thought about it, the less I doubted. It was a rather grand thought experiment you've both given me, actually. What is it that makes a vampire distinctive from a human? What kind of changes take place? After hearing all about Nick's problems, I realized that a pancreas problem would be the logical explanation."

That set back Nat a few paces. "Who are you? What do you mean?"

He shrugged. "I'd rather not have you know my name. I don't have the courage to kill myself outright, but I can at least make sure the world doesn't know me. As for what I mean, I meant exactly what I said. To make it short, the vampire physiology would have to be vastly different from a human one. I won't bore you with all the details, but I have a thought."

He produced a small vial, handing it to Nat. "I think that the reason that Nick can't handle insulin is because they've been giving him the wrong kind. Try this one. See if it pulls down his blood sugar in the next two hours, and if it does, get a few bags of it."

A look of skeptical hope entered Nat's eyes, but it was hope nonetheless. She read the vial, "Beef insulin?"

He shrugged. "They gave it to me by mistake. I only use Humulin, and they gave me that beef insulin crap." He laughed, "And they gave Nick the Humulin without even checking! I figure, what the hell -- it's worth a shot!"

He leaned back, "God. I wish to hell I was in his place. Luck and bad genes of the Scottish'll scare the death away from me..."

Nick frowned, "What do you mean?"

The patient laughed bitterly, "I have Scottish blood in me, and when I was a young lad, I had hopes. I did all the right things, and then it hit: luck and genetics. I got diabetes by the time I was nineteen -- nothing I could have done -- which comes from my Scottish blood. As for the luck... you've heard of the luck of the Irish. Scottish luck is a lot gloomier -- it's the luck that ensures you'll live to see another nightmare day."

* * * *

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