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

Chapter 20

Coleen was trying in vain to wipe the bile stains off the floor with her hands, and not really making any progress. It just got worse. Most of this was getting pretty ripe, and the smell was making her want to vomit as well.

"Axer," she pleaded -- or at least tried to.

"NO!" yelled Axer, fury still in his eyes. "You'll use your HANDS for this!"

"But it's not working!"

"Neither did your plan, but you didn't think of that, did you?"

Axer stormed off and checked on Bill, who had stopped vomiting. His skin was still bone-white, but his limbs had stopped shaking. He could even understand words now, which was a big improvement over his condition an hour ago. The Carafate also worked wonders. It was intended for folks with ulcers, but it also worked wonders for alcohol problems.

"How are you doing, laddie?" asked Axer, kneeling down by Bill's side. Bill had been cleaned up -- again, by Coleen, who had to sense (four out of five senses) entirely what a mortal went through during severe alcohol poisoning. The vomit had been washed off, and his mouth cleansed with several different rinses.

"I'm doing a bit better," Bill tried to laugh. "I thought I was just sick until you told me about the aqua vitae. I guess Coleen's even with me now."

"Don't think of it that way," snapped Axer. "I'm punishing her suitably, so just put it all out of your mind -- and get those hair-combing fetishes out of your mind, or do it yourself when you feel the need to ride an animal."

Even though the blood was drained out of Bill's face, he managed to blush. Axer laughed, "Who knows, I might even straighten you out!" His expression suddenly turned sour as if he just realized something.

"You're concerned about Coleen?" Bill asked.

Axer paced back and forth, somewhat nervously. "It's just not right! We were created as man and woman for each other, not man for man or woman for woman! It's unnatural!"

Bill's eyes took on a faraway look, "Connor MacLeod was told a similar thing when the people of his village learned of his immortality. A totally different Kate said to him in the village tavern, 'It's unnatural!' Is immortality any different than sexual preference?"

"You've opened up a can of worms, laddie boy, and I've enough scientific training to know when not to open a debate. Save your strength, and I might just take you up on that debate once you're better."

Axer stopped as if he sensed something. It wasn't like he sensed an immortal -- it was more like a feeling that he should pay attention to something behind him. He turned around and saw LaCroix turn the corner, and by the look on the vampire's face, he'd had a similar sensation.

"LaCroix... we have to talk."

"About the sensation you just felt?" For some reason, LaCroix seemed nervous.

"We've had months, and never even talked about it. I think it's time."

LaCroix nodded, and they left for the back room, where they'd had their philosophical discussions before. Nervously, Axer lit up a Shermans, and relaxed a little.

"I think if we can attack this in a scientific manner, we can solve the problem," Axer suggested.

"But how can you explain vampirism or immortality scientifically?" LaCroix was almost shocked. "You can't even explain human life scientifically."

"Wrong. Anything can be explained scientifically -- it's just that some explanations take longer to reach than others. But let's attack one problem at a time. First, let's define the problem. It seems that only Coleen and myself can sense you, and vice versa. It doesn't happen with anyone else. Suggestions?"

LaCroix thought about it for a moment. "Mulder had an idea. I thought it was a crazy man's rambling, but perhaps he was right. He claimed that I had died that day you slaughtered my invasion force, and that I had somehow made a quantum decision to live, which made me no longer dead."

Axer laughed loudly, "That is an unproven extrapolation of quantum physics! Did he ever tell you that? It was such a long time ago that I can barely remember it, but from what I remember, I let you live -- I just slashed you up pretty badly. If you came back an immortal, you would have woken up without injuries, but instead, you had to heal for a few weeks."

LaCroix nodded slowly, "Yes, I did take a few weeks to heal -- and then my daughter brought me over, so I wouldn't have known how long true recovery would have taken. But do we really know? What if I was immortal, could I have become a vampire?"

Axer's eyes lit up with life, "THAT is a crucial question! If both vampirism and immortality are a function of chemical and physical processes in the body, then there might be a chance that one might exclude the other... or act as a catalyst, producing something unexpected! But the way you vampires act, you think that vampirism is something spiritual... unexplainable. And many immortals believe the same way about their immortality. I think I'm the only one who believes that both conditions can be produced by some kind of physical change."

LaCroix looked disturbed, "Are you suggesting that we came about by some *natural* process? That we're the natural products of evolution? Or that we were somehow *created* by some kind of physical agency?"

"We don't have enough data to say for sure, but I've done enough thought experiments to show that we might have definite origins -- that we might have sprung from a single source."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that we might have been created by some mortal agency with an incredibly superior scientific base of knowledge -- biochemistry, biophysics, and so on -- perhaps even extraterrestrials!"

"I have a hard time believing that!"

"So do I -- believe me! -- but I'm willing to consider all the options."

Their discussion quickly slingshot off a on tangent, and their original topic was totally forgotten.

* * *

Joe was still at the police station, drinking coffee like a madman and handling the immense number of phone calls and faxes that came into him. Most were overlapping sightings that could act as secondary evidence in court -- if this ever got there -- but none of the information told him what he needed to know.

That changed. A rogue walked through the door, showing no signs of having beaten his way through a line of policemen to get here. When he spoke, his voice had a distinctive Irish accent. "I understand you need some help finding the black-box killers."

"Who are you?" demanded Joe, reaching for his gun.

"Relax... My name is Mulroney... former employee of the Invisible Ones. I'm quite sure you saw me that day the Odinssons' church was sacked -- I most certainly saw you and that telescopic camera. Don't tell me you didn't get a picture of *my* face!"

Mulroney sat down and stuck his feet on the table, an impudent grin on his face, "I've had my ears open on all levels, and I heard that you're trying to find some heads. I read between the lines and figured you're looking for the spilled guts.

"You want to read the endtrails of the black-box killers and see what the immediate future will bring. Will you find the Invisible Ones? Will you gain understanding of what happened in Canada? Will you unravel all the mysteries that haunt you?

"...Will you learn why the Invisible Ones arranged for you to walk into a mine field for the purpose of getting only your legs blown off, and arrange for you to not only be rescued by an immortal, but also to be induced into the Watchers?"

Joe sat back in shock. "You certainly know what questions to ask. What are your answers?"

"Not a chance -- unless you're willing to pay. I charge... a thousand USA dollars a question, and I've got a lot of answers."

Joe was angry now, "What the hell are you trying to pull?!" "Now calm down," soothed Mulroney, patting Joe on the shoulder. "You're forgetting the first law of economics: everyone acts in their own self-interest. In that case, you should be assured that I'm doing you a big help because I know I'm going to be paid handsomely for all the questions I'm going to answer. If I offered to do this without any apparent gain, then you *should* be worried." He grinned even wider, "You'll also have to admit that in the long run, I'm the least expensive way of getting information."

Joe seemed to think about it. "All right. Start talking."

Mulroney stuck out his flat hand, "What do you want me to answer?"

* * *

Halscombe sat in the barricaded room, held in a straight- jacket and chained to the wall -- courtesy of LaCroix' torture room supply downstairs. Everyone who was at the Raven -- minus LaCroix, Axer, and Coleen -- was debating as to what to do about Halscombe.

Nat had recovered enough from her... earlier activities... to be able to join the discussion. Her eyes were almost normal now, the wild and dilated look gone. But her "spaced out" gaze was still somewhat evident. Nobody seemed to notice it, however.

Nick and Nat did pretty well, considering all that took place -- they just didn't look at each other or say anything directly to one another.

Janette had somehow managed to cling to Nick without attracting attention -- Nick's included. Nat couldn't care less. That seemed to frustrate Janette for some reason.

In the locked room, Halscombe was shivering with fear. So many memories returned to the surface, along with all the unexplained compulsions. He had a compulsion to kill Mulder, to flee from Scully, and to torture Axer. He didn't know why, but he hoped -- and feared -- that with enough effort, those memories would emerge. Though he had been 'himself' for a while now, there were still holes in his memory.

If he wasn't gagged as well, he'd have screamed to keep the fears and demons away. As it was, they assaulted him from all directions. The shadows were devils, the squeaking floorboards were the chattering of monsters, and the man sneaking into the room through the vents was... *POWYS*.

"You'd do well for an Iron Maiden cover," whispered Powys silently. "It's such a good thing they remembered to gag you as well -- it would have been quite inconvenient for me if they hadn't have done that."

Halscombe tried to rip the strait-jacket away, but he didn't make any progress. All he did was pull his own arm muscles. Powys continued his monologue, "And don't hope that the immortals will sense me. I can sense them, but I am like a man walking silently through a house with squeaking boards - - I am unsensed, but *very* real. I was a thief as a young man very long ago, and I've found that analogy is a very powerful tool in developing new skills."

He nodded with his head towards the east, "Duncan asked me what I was when he met up with me during that Jin Ming affair, and realized that he *had* seen me in Italy when he and Fitzcairn roamed the land. In the 1640s, I believe. He even had a hint of what I was and what I did, but he didn't have the ability to observe and understand the obvious."

Halscombe's eyes were now wide with fear as Powys continued, "I am counting on the others' lack of the same ability this very moment. Did you know that in your family, immortality runs through it? Your own father -- of course, in all reality, your adoptive-father -- was an immortal, and for most of your life, you were obsessed by it. When you made a pact with the Invisible Ones, it was because of your obsession. I believe your obsession with life, death, and immortality will reach a new high."

Powys pulled out a black obsidian short sword and an orb. Holding the orb in his left hand and the sword in his right, he thrust the sword through Halscombe's heart, and twisted it three times, as if he were trying to stir the insides around like soup.

Under his breath, Powys chanted and sang in a guttural, consonant-dominated language, none of which Cancerman recognized as he lay dying.

Halscombe died, and his twitching stopped.

* * *

The others still argued about what they should do, and how they should go about it. They weren't getting anywhere, so it was a good thing when Mulder held up his hand, his expression the same as a puppy trying to zero in on a sound. His head was even tilted the same way.

"What is it?" asked Scully.

Just then, Axer and Coleen came sprinting through the hallway with their swords drawn -- apparently Coleen's punishment didn't hold during crisis situations. Everyone else followed them after a moment of hesitation and arrived at Cancerman's room.

"Identify yourself!" yelled Axer, ready to kick down the door.

"What's going on?" demanded Mulder.

"There's an immortal here!" snarled Axer, who kicked down the door when no answer was forthcoming.

They all were introduced to a blood-curdling scene. Cancerman had been ritually-sacrificed and lay in his own congealing pool of blood. Axer and Coleen gasped in shock when they realized that Cancerman was the source of the sensation they were feeling. Somehow, someone had snuck into this room, killed him, and revealed his immortality.

Heimdall, observing all this, said, "Anyone feel like a beer?"

When everyone looked at him in askance, he shrugged, "Hey, whatever works -- it sure calms my nerves!"

* * * *

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