The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part IV -- Reading the Endtrails
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995

Chapter 11

It was Richie who paced back and forth now, driving Methos to distraction. "They should have been back by now!" Richie snapped nervously, gesturing like a dictator. "Duncan 's *NEVER* taken this long!"

Methos nodded gravely, "We might as well assume they're dead, until they prove otherwise. They could have met more than their match."

No matter how much Richie worried, and no matter how close Duncan or himself came to meeting their deaths, he'd always believed that neither one of them would die. A look of disbelief changed to uncertainty, and from that to fear. "No!... Don't say that."

//Poor kid...// He put a hand on Richie's shoulder, "You know the rules. We can die just as mortals can, so you'd better start accepting it."

He became nervous again, "So what do we do?"

"Do? We *do* nothing."

Richie hit the roof, "Duncan and Sharpe may be dead, and you propose to do nothing?!"

Methos lounged on the couch, putting his feet on the table, "That's *precisely* what I propose to do."

Richie couldn't contain himself, "Fine, you coward! Just sit there -- I'm going to do something!"

"And what are you going to do?" asked Methos as Richie reached the door.

"I'll think of something!" the door slammed shut.

Methos frowned and picked up his cellular phone, pressing memo-1.

* * *

Their plane ride was almost over. After hours of delays at Vancouver and Chicago, they were finally approaching Toronto -- just a few more minutes... Joe's cellular rang, but just before he picked it up, the stewardess rushed over and exclaimed, "Please turn it off! No laptops or cellular phones allowed!"

"What?!" demanded Joe, a bit bristled. "Since when?!"

She got a little angry herself, but bit the bullet and forced a tight smile, "Don't you watch the news? They interfere with the captain's radio. Would you rather reach Toronto and miss a call or answer your call and collide with a plane?"

Joe's look was skeptical, but Bill said softly to Joe, "She's right, you know -- it can wait."

Joe glared at Bill, but kept quiet and switched off the phone. Bill winked at the stewardess, who raised an eyebrow in his direction -- but she was smiling now.

It was a few minutes later when they landed, and they entered the terminal without any incident. With angry, jerky motions, Joe pressed a button and listened for a few minutes, walking with Bill at a fast pace -- his face confused and grave. Then he suddenly stopped.

"WHAT?!?!" the blood drained from his face. "When?" His voice was a lot softer now. "Thanks for telling me." He switched off the phone and leaned against the wall, nearly dropping the phone. Bill took it from him before it hit the ground.

"What happened?"

"That was Adam. He thinks Sharpe and Duncan are dead, and from what he's told me, there's another player in town." He swore, "Dammit! Duncan didn't tell me about any of this!!"

"You *ARE* his watcher," reminded Bill.

"Yes! But I can't follow him *EVERYWHERE*!"

"That's why you delegate the task to subordinates -- and you act as a manager and overall historian, especially when you can't get around as much as you used to."

That shocked Joe completely -- sure, they used that approach in the library... but in the *field*? "Are you nuts, kid? It'll never work!"

"Why?" he asked, walking once more. "Because it's never been done? Lots have things have never been done, and look at what we have. The simple facts are that (a) the immortals are more mobile, (b) the world has become a much smaller place, and (c) you're walking on two fake legs and couldn't sprint out of a hot zone if your life depended on it.

"All of you in the field have been taking this romantic approach: one immortal for one watcher -- but you can't get anything done that way anymore! In the old days, sure, you could follow him on a horse, wherever he went -- but it doesn't work like that anymore!

"Look at what I did -- I discovered Odin and took charge. Not only did I take charge of the situation by following him, but I also called for backup, telling them the precise situation and asking for specific help. When I followed him to Canada, I networked with EVERYONE on the way, gathering EVERY SINGLE bit of data, relevant or not.

"I think about a hundred and fifty people helped me out on this, whether they knew about it or not. Now think, Joe... just think! If I hadn't networked and delegated tasks, as well as earning favors, would I be standing here now with the information I gathered? No!

"The Watchers have to grow with the times -- and it's the Internet that gave me the whole idea: we need to be like an electron cloud."

Joe had been following -- he didn't like the kid's arrogant tone, but he could see where it made sense -- but the last bit confused him. The 'fake legs' part was still running through his head, and he had to restrain himself from clubbing the kid to death with it. "What the hell does an electron cloud have to do with anything?"

"Ever hear of an analogy?" asked Bill in an annoyingly smug manner. He was still a polite kid, but his confidence rubbed Joe the wrong way. "Take hydrogen -- it has single electron, and it's caused the greatest stir in the century, next to light. You know it's there and you can feel its effects, but you can't touch it. Just *one* electron, and all you can say is where it would most *likely* be. That's you.

"I envision a uranium atom -- lots of electrons weaving an intricate electron cloud that changes with time as the atom itself changes. Hydrogen rarely changes. You get what I'm saying? Hydrogen is nice, but the time comes when you need a good blast of uranium."

Joe stopped him again, "Where did you get this, kid? You're an economist -- not a scientist."

"Joe -- I consider that an insult! What else does an economist do but make the *REAL* world move smoother? Why do you think our economy is a mess? We don't have real economists running the world -- we have bean counters, gamblers, and psychics! A true economist needs to be rooted in the real world and know how it works.

"If a real economist had been working with Tesla, our world might be a much better place."

"You didn't answer my question," snarled Joe. "Who gave you that idea?"

"I *did* talk with Axer Carrick at a truckers stop on his way down south," admitted Bill, then he saw the look in Joe's face. "They don't know me! They just thought I was a talkative college kid on his way to an experimental station in Greenland."

He laughed without any humor as he started walking again, "That was the problem. Once Axer found out, he was asking me a million questions -- what kind of science was I in?... Where did I get my degree?... Who was my major professor?... What did I think about the theory that volcanoes were the only significant contribution to the ozone effect?..." He stopped when Joe looked at him oddly. "To answer your question," he concluded, "we were talking about the Internet, and he corrected me on my assumption of what it was. I made an innovation and applied it to our own organizational structure."

Joe needed a smoke, badly. "Got a smoke, kid?"

Bill looked shocked, "That's bad for your health!"

Joe looked down at him, "Look at me, boy! Do I look like I'm concerned about my health?!"

"I know you're sad about the possibility of Duncan being dead, but life goes on."

//Damn, that kid's sharp!// swore Joe to himself. Then he looked up and saw what could only be Kermit. Two feds walked with him, and Joe's eyes widened in disbelief. //What the bloody hell?!?!//

When the two groups met, Joe was frowning for good reason. Kermit and Mulder made a good team with their deadpan expressions, whereas Bill and Scully made up the 'polite, confused, and possessing living human expressions' team.

"Are you insane?" demanded Joe. "Have you lost your mind?!" He didn't spell it out, but Kermit knew what he was screaming about.

"Relax," smiled Kermit humorously. "They've known for years about them -- remember that episode with Patrick Morgan, later known as Krycek?"

Joe looked like he got slammed in a very special place. "You mean?--"

"Yep! It's better that they knew the *whole* story from one of us. Meet FBI agents Mulder and Scully. Now that you two are introduced, I'll be making my good-byes." He turned around and left.

"Now, wait a minute!" Joe nearly yelled.

"Nope! I did my duty, and I'm going back to my *real* job..." he faded into the crowd, and Joe slammed his cane into the ground, fuming silently.

"I'm Bill," he smiled at Scully for a brief moment, then shook Mulder's hand. Bill frowned when Mulder reflexively and unconsciously glanced at his left wrist. Then he shook Scully's hand, and smiled at her again. She smiled faintly, but seemed quite distant. "This is Joe."

Joe calmed down a little bit to the point where he was just barely civil, "Nice to meet you." He shook their hands as well, but scared Mulder for some reason. Scully, ironically enough, was charmed by Joe.

Bill shook his head, //Women! If I could at least *score*, I wouldn't have to care about not understanding them!//

Mulder took the initiative, "Let's go to our hotel room. We can come up with a plan, and give the both of you some time to relax."

Bill certainly looked forward to it. Joe was about to refuse, but Bill stepped in, "We'd be glad for a shower and a chance to eat some real food." Joe glared at him, but said nothing.

As they left the airport and reached the car, Mulder stopped, looking around -- not as if he saw something, but rather as if he were trying to see something that he sensed first. Joe and Bill exchanged significant looks, while Scully looked startled, "What is it?"

Mulder shook his head, "I don't know... For a moment, I thought it was Cancerman."

"But he's dead!" Scully protested. Mulder looked at her without saying a word, and she shook her head, "No -- even your friend said he was dead!"

"I won't believe anyone's dead until I see Death's cold grip around his neck." He looked around a little more, and gave up. "It must be me."

Before they all got into the car, Joe accidentally slipped and fell into Mulder, who scraped his hand on the ground as he tried to stop himself from hitting the ground.

"I'm really sorry!" Joe apologized. "It's these damned legs -- they give out at the worse moments!" He tapped his hollow legs, and Mulder's angry look faded, to be replaced by a deadpan expression once more.

"Don't worry about it," Mulder laughed as he helped Joe back up, blood oozing out of the nasty scrape. Bill kept a discreet eye on the wound, and saw that it hadn't shown the slightest sign of healing.

When they drove off to the hotel, Joe and Bill exchanged another significant look, asking themselves silently, //What the hell was that?!//

* * *

The car moved swiftly out of the parking lot. Halscombe breathed a sigh of relief, wedged between two closely-parked cars. He had wanted to take the first ticket out of here, but when he saw Mulder and Scully in the crowd, his instincts kicked in.

Halscombe's conscious mind had firmly re-established itself by now, with a few differences. Whenever he looked in the mirror, he saw that unspeakable horror with its fingers sunk through his skull, touching his brain. Sometimes, he would also see Mulder in the mirror, or entering his dreams. He didn't sleep anymore, now. The reflections and dreams were so frightening that he would avoid looking into any reflective surface.

He took to wearing sunglasses as well. The visions were too horrifying for him to see. His sanity couldn't leave him if he saw the visions, but he sorely wished it would. It was too much.

The most unusual difference was a newfound vitality. He hadn't become an immortal or a vampire -- he knew that much. Rather, it was like he'd been taken back two decades. Also, he found himself possessing reflexes and stamina that he never knew he had. He still looked like a street person, so he would occasionally be confronted by muggers or gang members, and when that happened, an unconscious reflex would save his life by taking over and dealing with the problem in a few moments that flashed by so fast he couldn't make sense out of it.

"One more mystery to solve..." he muttered, watching the car vanish into the traffic. Halscombe had already written down the license plate number, and in a few moments he would get to work.

Some things hadn't changed for Halscombe.

* * * *

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