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


Chapter 20

Nat paced back and forth impatiently, looking at the clock every half-minute.

"It's not going to happen faster by looking at the clock." Nick was quite patient and tranquil. Whether it was the fact that he had some slim hope of recovery -- as opposed to none -- wasn't known. Perhaps even he didn't know.

She stopped, wiping the sweat off her face, "I know! I just can't sit still! One hour left!"

The patient spoke. Over this last hour, he seemed to be gaining his spirits. The apathetic expression had left his face, and was replaced by a healthy interest in life. "Nick. Do you still feel a dryness in your upper throat and the back of the roof of your mouth?"

"How did you know about that?" Nick looked surprised.

The patient looked annoyed, "Because we're both diabetic! You'll be feeling some different sensations, but there are a lot of things we have in common. I'd also bet that you feel like the veins in your hands and feet are about to burst, that you have very little energy, and that you want to drink a whole lake."

Nick just stared at him. "I'd almost say that you enjoy being what your are."

"Diabetic? No. I've just learned everything about it. I can say with certainty that I'll be one of the few people in the world who will know everything about my death as well as my life. I know precisely which body parts will stop functioning, in which order, and what it will feel like."

"Isn't that a bit morbid?" asked an annoyed Nat.

He shrugged, "Why should it be morbid? Wouldn't you rather know the truth than stick your head in the sand? Besides, when you have to pinch pus out of your skin every day, it ceases to be a gruesome subject."

He looked upwards, "Who knows... If I insist for nothing but the truth, I might even find a better way out of my situation than a good death. I'm hoping that if death turns out to be an angel, and comes for my soul, I can pummel him into submission and go on my merry way. I'll make him sign a promise to make me immortal and ageless, a living illusion that's untouched by life, and touches nothing."

Nick looked horrified. "That's a fate worse than death!"

"It's nothing worse than living in a bad dream you can't wake up from."

The mood in the room suddenly turned colder. There was a visitor, and Nat recognized him well.

"So," asked the Invisible One. If anything, he was sneering even more. "What will it be? Does Nick live or die?"

The patient spoke before Nat or Nick could say anything, "Nick enjoys his new mortality so much that he passed the gift onto me, and I have no qualms about it."

The Invisible One looked at him with a mixture of annoyance and interest. "Be silent."

The diabetic shrugged, "It was worth a try. No harm in that, is there?" He looked at Nat, "Before you say anything, would you allow me to perform a fast test?"

"I *told* you to be silent!"

Nat looked at him with distaste, but nodded.

"*I* make the decisions here!" snapped the Invisible One.

The patient completely ignored him. "Take this and run a glucose test." He pointed to a blood test kit that rested on the stand next to his bed. "Do you know how to use it?"

She shook her head.

"OK. I'll set everything up -- you just follow my orders." The Invisible One looked at all this with fury, but surprisingly enough, he said nothing and didn't interfere. The diabetic assembled everything necessary: the lancet, cotton, and digital glucose reader. "Put the lancet against the fleshy side of his finger. Press it." There was a snap, and Nick flinched for a moment. "Put the blood drop on the chemstrip -- don't smear it! Press start on the reader. Let it sit for sixty seconds." Sixty seconds passed. "OK. Now rub off the blood with the cotton and wait sixty more seconds for the color to develop."

When the time had come, the digital reader beeped, and strip was inserted into a slot. A number came out: 600.

The patient shook his head, "It looks like that beef insulin did the trick. The question is, do you want to spend the rest of your life as a diabetic, falling away at the seams? Trust me, Dr. Lambert, you might feel relief now, but let a few years pass, and you'll be wishing he was a *healthy* vampire."

"I would rather live a life as a diabetic than as a vampire," swore Nick impulsively.

The patient shook his head once more, "It's your life."

The Invisible One nodded, the muscles along his jaw clenching and unclenching. "So you've found a way out. It doesn't matter to me either way, but I thought I should let you know what my alternate plan is."

"What alternate plan?" asked Nick and Nat simultaneously.

"This." He had been standing with his arms crossed, and with a flash, he pulled a syringe out of his sleeve. The needle slammed into Nat's shoulder, and he punched in all the syringe's contents.

Nat fell to her knees, her eyes dazed. A moment later, her eyes regained their focus. "What have you done to me?" she demanded, slowly getting back to her feet.

"It's called Irony. Think about it."

The Invisible One left, and the patient began howling with cynical laughter. Whatever he said was incoherent on account of his howls.

"Stop it!" roared Nick. It didn't do any good. He looked at Nat. "Are you OK?"

"I'll live," she managed to stand up. "I just feel a little strange." Her eyes widened, "What the hell?!" She started looking around wildly.

"What's happening?" Nick was a little shocked by her sudden change, and it was evident in his voice.

"I'm seeing in infrared!"

Nick's head fell back against the pillow. "No..."

The patient's laughter had eased off, "This is *sooo* rich!"

"What are you talking about?" demanded Nat, whirling on him.

His smile was wide, "My dear, he's just made you a vampire. 'Ironic,' isn't it?"

"It can't be!" Nat stared at her own hands.

"It is. I imagine it'll take a few hours for your DNA to change over, and your organs to start changing their functions, but you'll certainly see the changes before sunrise." He was obviously enjoying this.

"What do *you* know about vampirism?"

His eyes narrowed, "Change me into a vampire, and I'll tell you." Nat clenched her fists. "Or kill me. Either way, I don't care."

* * *

Axer and Kate walked down the hallway hand-in-hand. Mind you, this wasn't out of any romantic urge, but rather out of necessity. They had to know the instant that one of them entered a 'zone', and if they held hands, they figured that one of them would make some odd movement -- such as a sudden jerk.

Axer coined 'zone' from his time in the sewers the night before, when an Invisible One had made him run a gauntlet of illusions that seemed like the genuine article.

Apparently, Surtur was an Invisible One as well, judging by the illusions that they had both been subjected to. Either that, or he'd picked up the art from them. If Surtur had restricted them to Axer, it would have been a sound move -- but making Kate go through her own illusory ordeals had been a tactical blunder.

"The question I have is how he does it?" muttered Kate. "I don't see any odd equipment. No light projectors, no speakers..."

"That makes me wonder." He jumped up and pulled some paneling from the ceiling. There was nothing unusual. "I thought that they might have hidden it up there, but I guess I was wrong."

"Hidden what?"

"The hologram and force field projectors. There's got to be something causing it..." His eyes suddenly widened, but he kept the thought to himself. //It's impossible!//

A ways behind them, a very tall man walked unsensed. Flame- red hair hung from his shoulders, and a walrus mustache hung from his thin and angular face. He looked at them with narrowed eyes, frowning.

"What are you thinking?" asked Kate.

"Nothing..."

She stopped and looked at him straight in the eyes, "I *know* you, and I know when there's something on your mind. Now out with it!"

Axer frowned, "You wouldn't believe it."

"Try me."

"If Surtur is a Jotun, then it makes me wonder if the descriptions out of mythology have any truth to them."

"What do you mean?"

He shook his head. "Not yet. I still have to think about it..." He shrugged and moved on.

Kate was frustrated. //Stubborn as a mule!// She moved with him, however, with a stiff arm and a clenched hand.

When they walked through an open door that led into a dark conference room, the scene totally changed. They were no longer in the building, and now stood at the edge of a tall cliff overlooking a peaceful fishing village. A pleasant chill wind blew from the north, the moon was full, and the surf was calm.

The overall scenery suggested that this might be somewhere in Norway, south of the Arctic Circle. There could have been one or two hundred people down there, and they all were scurrying about as boats came in to shore. Torches were lit all over the village, as well as at the boats' bows.

The fact that it was nighttime didn't strike him as odd, because he could remember how many villages did their fishing at night, many times when the boats returned home long after the sun set.

"We've been taken back in time," murmured Axer. "I don't recognize the village, but I know the people."

"Who are they?"

"Vikings. They're bringing in the fish, and maybe the loot."

She shook her head, "I know Vikings were tall, but are they *that* tall?"

"What do you mean?"

"Look at the men, and then look at the horses."

He did, and though his vision wasn't as good as her's, he could see that the men towered over the few horses in the village. They were all used to carry baggage, and they were carrying some pretty heavy loads.

"They could be ponies."

"Or the men could be fourteen feet tall."

"Jotuns."

"Exactly."

They watched as the villagers continued their work unloading. A sudden event, however, shattered the calm of the evening.

From the sea came a fleet of longboats filled with countless men carrying torches, shouting loudly and firing flaming arrows.

As thatched roofs began to ignite, the villagers reacted as one, and drew out weapons. Many returned to the boats and cast them off.

Within moments, boat was locked with boat, and some of the invading longboats hit the shore, where the torch-bearing Vikings began to attack the landed villagers.

"We should do something!" snarled Axer. He looked down below, and froze once he realized that he'd have to survive a hundred-foot fall first.

"And why would you want to do something like that?" asked a bitter voice behind them.

Both turned around -- they hadn't heard or smelled anyone coming -- and found the Mayor facing them. The Mayor, however, was now fourteen feet tall and wore clothing that would be more appropriate for the Viking era. He wore baggy woolens and a half-cloak.

"It's a massacre, that's why!"

"People die all the time. Why should you be concerned?"

"Because we don't know what's happening!"

The Mayor sat down at the ledge. "I'll tell you what's happening. The year is 912 AD. The villagers from a neighboring island discovered the fact that this is a more ideal place for a fishing village, and they want it for themselves. They also learned that this is where a tribe of Jotuns have lived for countless time. That didn't matter. They killed the villagers and took the spot."

"If it makes you feel any better," muttered Axer, "the Vikings treated everyone like that. You should have seen what they did to my own homeland."

The Mayor looked up at him. "You, a human, presume to identify with me?"

Axer snorted, fighting an urge to kick him off the ledge, "I think you've been with yourself for too long." He looked below at the slaughter. "If you hate them so much, why don't you do something about it?"

"Because you were right all along..." the Mayor muttered. "You wondered if I had the skills of the mythological Jotun. You are right." He waved his hand, and the scene was replaced with a modern conference room. At the far end of the room was a stand with coffee and doughnuts. "Illusion was our one gift, and I hoped to gauge you."

"Why?"

"Powys. He warned me of your arrival and said that you came to kill me. I don't trust him, and I am beginning to suspect I was right, though I don't trust you two either." He poured himself some coffee, and then looked directly into their eyes. "I wanted to see for myself whether you are heartless killers." He paused, "He was wrong. If anything, the two of you are the most red-hearted killers I've ever encountered in my life. Time and time again, I threw you into situations so that I could see what kind of people you were..."

He sat down, "All I know is that I can trust you enough to listen to what you have to say. Convince me why I shouldn't kill you two right here."

"I don't think you'll do it." Axer sat down, leaning his feet on the table. Kate winced at that, but he didn't care.

"Oh?" He looked amused.

"Because you're not a killer. You never were. The fact that you're here proves it."

"And what does my being here imply?"

"Tell me if this thought chain is correct:

(a) -- you are a Jotun;
(b) -- Jotuns are illusionists;
(c) -- your fellow Jotun kept Thor and Loki at bay with illusions, in the myths;
(d) -- you 'died' at Ragnarok in a sword fight.

Therefore: you used an illusion at Ragnarok and faked your death so that you wouldn't have to kill or be killed. If you were a killer, either you or Heimdall would be a smoking corpse. Both of you are alive and well in this world."

Surtur frowned, "Not quite accurate, but you have the idea. How is he, by the way?"

"Well. Last time I saw him, he was tailing Powys."

* * *

At this very moment, Peter Caine and Heimdall were busy crawling through the sewers.

"So much for *that* idea," muttered Heimdall. "I searched the other end, and I tell you that there's *no* way we can get into the building through the sewers."

"Shit!" Peter slammed the slimy concrete wall.

"Yes, I believe that's what you've slammed your hand into."

* * * *


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