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

Chapter 21

Halscombe was coming slowly back to life, overwhelmed by sensations wracking his whole being. It wasn't like some tingly sensation, or some psychic phenomenon -- rather, it was a knowledge that Axer and Coleen stood a few feet away -- a knowledge that was as maddening as knowing that a faucet in the other room is dripping.

He began screaming again. The fears already in the back of his mind, Powys killing him, him coming back to life... it was all too much.

Mulder ripped the gag off his head, "What happened?" His tone was as harsh as an interrogator's. "Who killed you?"

Halscombe was so full of shock that it took a long time for him to respond. When he finally whispered, "It was Powys," the whole room exploded.

A jumble of independent and chaotic opinions filled the room, making it sound as muddled and crazy as the Wall Street exchange floor just before the final bell rings the day to a close. "What?!" "It fits..." "Impossible!" "He's lying!" "Quiet!" yelled Mulder, restoring some calm to the room. "How did he get in here?"

Halscombe looked up, nodding at the vent. "He crawled in through there, and left the same way just as you came in." Axer inspected the vent, shaking his head, "There's no way anyone could have come in through here. It's thin enough to give a small girl trouble, not to mention that the screen's covered with years of dust. I don't see a single disturbance -- not to mention that it would take a while to get these screws loose." He looked at Halscombe, "I don't like liars."

Halscombe didn't really care what Axer thought. "You're going to kill me anyway. Why should I care what you think?"

Axer moved over to him, lifting him up by the neck, "You've just entered the next level, where all of your past privileges are nonexistent, and we control your fate. Are you sure you want to lose while you're ahead by being a smart alec?" He wasn't in a good mood to begin with, and all the recent aggravations only made him worse. "Now, I think we've babied you long enough. You're going to tell us what we need to know, and you're going to tell us now."

Halscombe began to leave his state of shock, and defiance entered his eyes. "There's nothing to tell."

Mulder smiled so viciously that Scully began to get worried, "There's a great deal to tell, and I know just how to make you talk." He looked around, "Do we have a screwdriver and some wood screws around here?"

Axer shook his head in disgust, "Not now... Do you think you all can leave the room for a moment? I think I know how to handle this."

Everyone reluctantly moved out, except for Coleen -- he stopped her with a sharp glance, and she stayed, with uncertainty in her eyes. That changed when he gave her a thumbs up sign and whispered, "Hey, nice shot -- but next time, cover up your tracks better and don't overdo it. And remember; nobody can pick up lies and trails like an alcoholic. Why don't you use a mop now and check up on Bill?"

Utterly confused, and hoping that she would make sense out of his odd behavior -- and that statement -- she scurried off. She knew when to quit while she was ahead.

Axer closed the door and stared at Halscombe. "Do you realize what you have become? I knew you were an enigma when you were brought in. Powys told me he fixed your parachute -- after you tried to trick him -- and you died on the ice after a rather high drop. And you came back -- but not feeling like an immortal until now.

"So the question is: how did you survive your trip to the Arctic?"

Halscombe just stared at him, but the fear remained in his eyes. Axer paced back and forth, and idea forming in his head, "You know, for the many centuries that I've been alive, I've heard this so-called Quickening Myth -- that with each head we take, we gain the power and *knowledge* of the slain immortal..." He looked at Halscombe piercingly, "I always wondered where all the knowledge fit in -- I only came out knowing what not to do next time. But I think this is a *perfect* opportunity to test it out, don't you think?"

Halscombe started shivering, but maintained his silence. Axer drew and fingered his glaive, smiling viciously.

* * *

Duncan was injected with enough insulin to keep him immobile for a long time. In a mortal, this much insulin would have caused to body to use up so much glucose that death would result -- in an immortal, it just meant a temporary death. Methos paced back and forth. "I'd say that he got put through the whole treatment, physical torture, and when they realized that he wouldn't tell them everything, they went to the other extreme. I've seen it done a great many times."

"But why's he a basket case, Methos? A little pain shouldn't hurt him!"

Methos looked at Richie like he was an idiot. "There's a lot you have to learn, boy. The first is that an inquisitor will have more success with an immortal than a mortal any day. Have you ever been on the torture rack?"

Richie shifted uncomfortably, "Well... no, but --"

"But nothing. You simply have no experience with it -- I do, and I can tell you that they probably used the most drawn-out tortures possible and gave him chemicals to enhance his sense of touch." He looked down at Duncan with pity. "I think we'll just have to assume he's out of the game for now. His mind was overwhelmed, and I think I know the right way to underwhelm it." He pulled out a cellular phone and began to dial.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm calling Amanda. If he was mentally conditioned by a beautiful woman, then it'll take a better one to bring him back to our world. I'm also calling Connor -- he should be enough of a Devil's advocate to fight off the effects of the inquisitor.

"In the meantime, I think we're pretty close to the Invisible Ones. When Amanda gets here, we can make a good hit."

"What are you planning?"

"Hush -- let me make my calls, then I'll tell you."

Amanda answered the phone, and Methos quickly explained the situation in clinical detail -- what they were doing, what had happened, and the condition Duncan was in and what would most likely be necessary to bring him back to the land of the sane.

Richie blushed at some of the stuff that Methos was saying: it was like Methos was telling a whore in a monotone doctor's voice exactly what he wanted in lewd, extensive detail. By the sound of the one-way conversation, Amanda understood and wasn't having that much of a hard time with it.

Methos hung up the phone and made a few calls to some Watcher friends, then to Connor. Again, Methos told the whole story and said, "He needs a good prodding to pull him out of his current state. Can you get to Paris?"

Methos cut the connection and looked at Richie. "I'm going to fix a Greek feast fit for Agamemnon, then we're going out. Prepare yourself in your own way."

"Prepare myself for what?"

He smiled. "We're going climbing, and then we're going to turn some floodlights on the Invisible Ones. I've been making some other calls..."

Richie shook his head as he just remembered something, "You know, in all the excitement, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't see Sharpe."

Methos' expression was full of pity, "I'm afraid you did see him, but it never registered to you. He was beheaded next to Duncan." He looked at Duncan again, "Poor man. It must have been quite a shock to him."

* * *

Reece glared at the computer screen. He hated any form of computer, but he realized that sometimes they had a use. The argument in his office had shaken him in a way that a good fist fight couldn't -- it had somehow taken hold of his nerves so strongly that he'd had to lie down after a few hours, and couldn't even get up out of bed for a whole day. His strength had left him, and the feeling that he had been severely yelled at stayed with him the whole time.

All of that had finally begun to wear off, and it was then that he gathered enough guts to use one of the department computers with Internet access. After about half an hour, he could at least use basic functions with the web browser, and it tookanother hour to figure out how to pick out biographical information.

When he finally looked into the Department of Energy records (he could remember Axer referring to that), it took a bit of hoop-jumping to find Axer Carrick's name. Unfortunately, when he clicked on it, the screen blacked out, and was replaced by a line that said, "Talk requested. Accept?"

That startled Reece pretty badly, but he decided to accept. A moment later, type started flying onto the screen: "You're taking a big risk, captain. Did you know you were just a touch away from tripping a pretty nasty alarm?"

Reece had no idea that would have happened. "Who are you?"

"One of the best friends you'll ever have in your life. Don't be too concerned about my name right now. If you really need to know about Axer Carrick, why not ask one of the best historians in the world? He's sitting a few rooms away."

"Who is he?"

"His name is Joe, and you'd better catch him before he decides he's been working too long a shift. I understand he likes single-malt scotch."

"I don't, and I don't like being diverted. For all I know, you interrupted my search and are trying to keep me off the track."

"That's the price you pay. I can back off and let you trigger that alarm. Can you live with the knowledge that a single mouse click might condemn you to death? What if they decide to do a full-scale proscription and kill your friends and family too? Don't feel confident just because you're living in Canada -- they'd laugh if you did that."

Reece turned off the computer. This was getting too weird - - and too dangerous. He walked down the hall, where Joe was talking to some scumbag who somehow found his way into this floor. He barged into the room, and demanded, "Who the hell is he and what is he doing in my police station?"

"My," smiled the scumbag, standing up to his full height, "what a *charming* host! It's a pity he doesn't say that to everyone who comes in here -- we might solve that 'overcrowded jail' problem pretty quickly!"

//God! Not another smartass!// Reece lost his temper pretty quickly, but he'd learned enough from last time to hold it in. "Well, let me worry about that. You can go on your merry way." He looked at Joe, "You and I need to have a talk. Now."

Mulroney left with that ever-present impudent grin on his face, while Joe leaned back with fury in his eyes. Two very thin muscles on each side of his jaw were pulsing.

Reece ignored all the warning signs as he sat down and said, "I've just had an interesting experience. I tried to find some information about Axer Carrick, and someone intercepted me before I could find anything. He warned me that if I found out anything about Axer, I might get myself killed. Then he suggested that you would be able to enlighten me -- that you're the best historian in the world. Perhaps you have something to tell me."

Joe was now shocked, instead of angry, "Who was it?"

"He wouldn't tell me! But he has a point -- his name isn't important, but your story is."

Joe sighed heavily, "I suppose I'd better tell you what I know.... Axer Carrick was born in September 14, 1944, in Wales --"

"Not that specific!"

"OK, he got his college degree at MIT in nuclear physics and went on to Waterloo to get a few more degrees in hydrology and environmental science --"

"Waterloo? Isn't that here in Canada?" Reece interrupted again.

"Yes!" Joe ground his teeth. "If you wouldn't keep on interrupting, I'd actually be able to tell you something!" "Sorry..."

Not very far away, Powys grinned, folding up his laptop computer and walking out the front door.

* * *

Coleen had washed off the last of the bile-vomit off her hands, but no matter what kind of soap she used, the smell wouldn't leave. She glared at her hands, then at Axer, who was conferring with the feds, LaCroix and Nick. Bill was still half-comatose, and Kate was keeping watch over him. Nat had left full of regret, causing a scene as she'd kissed Coleen good-bye. Nick and Axer were visibly holding back their anger for two different reasons.

Janette moved in behind Coleen, "I thank you for doing such a good job." Her whisper was barely audible.

"Don't mention it!" Coleen snapped. "Now get out of my face!"

Janette firmly grabbed Coleen by the jaw and lifted her up in the air a little bit, "Discourtesy is a bad habit to pick up so early in life. What angers you so? Is it that Axer is trying to teach you some responsibility?"

"No, you idiot! It's because I can't get this damned smell out of my hands!" It actually came out as a muffle, but Janette could understand what she said.

Janette was quite surprised to find herself one moment holding Coleen up by the jaw, and the next getting her head slammed full-force into the tile floor, and her right arm twisted in a leverage hold aligning her arm so perfectly that even with her enhanced strength, she couldn't shake her off, let alone tense a muscle.

"Complacency and overconfidence are bad habits to pick up later in life," whispered Coleen. "They might actually kill you." Cautiously, she let Janette go, since her point was proven.

Janette stood up with such dignity that it seemed she had merely slipped. Nothing in her expression showed any anger or shame for being bested by a youth a fraction of her own age. If she did feel those emotions, she was a good actress.

* * *

Amanda entered the boat just as Methos and Richie were leaving. She raised her eyebrow, and Methos nodded. "He's in there. No holds barred."

"I hope not," she smiled.

* * * *

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