The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part IV -- Reading the Endtrails
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
Axer's grogginess quickly faded as he stumbled along with
Mulroney. That 'other Axer' seemed to be gone as well.
Because Axer still wouldn't admit that the odd moment had
happened, Mulroney kept silent about it, thankful that at least
Axer had returned to normal.
Axer seemed at ease with sneaking across guarded facilities, making Mulroney wonder where the immortal had developed that ease. Breaking out of prisons? Being in the modern wars? Being a thief? He pushed those questions out of his mind.
A bright light clicked on behind them, and they both spun around to find two beefy security guards with drawn revolvers aimed at their faces. Thankfully, the flashlight wasn't aiming in the same direction.
"You have a lot of explaining to do," the shorter guard said in a New Jersey accent. He looked more like a street cop than a security guard -- he even had that thick and trimmed mustache.
"What seems to be the problem, sirs?" asked Axer in a convincing North Carolina accent.
There was suddenly a loud bang, and a section of the electric fence started snapping and hissing with such intensity it would be painful to look at it. The two guards made the fatal mistake of turning around to see what had happened.
They were dispatched pretty quickly.
* * *
Mulder felt chills run down his spine as he recognized many
of the sights. He couldn't help but think, //I was dragged
up those very stairs,// or, //Behind that wall is where
Cancerman put screws in my back.// He held on to that
shotgun of his rather tightly, as if that would see him through.
Scully was right by his side with only a handgun, but she seemed a lot less worried. But then, she wasn't fighting with flashbacks either.
The three vampires were hovering around several dozen feet above, scanning the ceiling framework, the catwalks, and the rest of the ground floor. It was almost like looking at a maze -- because it was a warehouse, the builders thought a roof for the first level was pretty unnecessary, so all they put up were dividers. It gave the vampires a certain advantage, because few people ever looked up nowadays.
The place was dead-silent. There were no sounds of any kind, not even from rats or insects. It was too quiet, but nobody ambushed them once that thought entered their minds. Even LaCroix began to get edgy. This was the place -- they *knew* that -- so they'd expected to find some sort of life. Nothing. Not even the faint sound of a heartbeat.
Powys sat cross-legged on one of the steel beams high up, patting the black box on his belt rather lovingly. //Isn't interference wonderful?// Taking his rifle, he silently loaded his ammunition: a sliver of oak attached to a specialized bullet.
He took aim at LaCroix, who hovered in place right below him.
LaCroix' body spread-eagled itself, tense with pain and shock -- a thin sliver of oak punching through his heart.
All the others saw was LaCroix stiffening up and then falling to the ground. When he landed, he looked horribly old and wrinkled.
Janette and Nick landed at his side a few moments later. They were just as shocked, but tended to have good reaction times in situations like this. Nick felt like he was going to be sick -- he relived a time in Russia during the Napoleonic War, when LaCroix lay before him with a splinter of wood impaled through his heart by a dying soldier.
"Nicholas..." whispered LaCroix, barely able to speak. "Pull out the wood..." His eyes weren't pleading or commanding, but they were father-like.
Nick fought within himself, and wanted in his very heart to just leave him be, but another part of him forced his shaking hands to reach for the wood. A pause and a deep breath later, he prepared himself, and...
"LaCroix... I don't know how else to tell you this, but it snapped -- it's still in your heart, and I can't pull it out now."
Powys stayed put, observing all this with a lazy smile, and leaned his head back. From his left pocket, he held a single, well-worn figurine in his hand. It was of a black cat with a white spot of fur around its eyes and near the tip of its tail.
LaCroix closed his eyes, and breathed out his last bit of life. Nick and Janette were so shocked by this event that they just sat there, not even considering that now that the first shot was fired, the battle had begun.
Floodlights from the ceiling snapped on suddenly, and this got everyone's attention. The front doors slammed shut on their own, and a voice with a thick German accent spoke through some hidden loudspeakers, echoing throughout the warehouse, "Blasphemers. Heretics. Freaks."
That's all the voice said, and then the speakers clicked off.
Mulder looked at Scully, "That's pretty original." They hadn't recognized the voice, but they could guess what kind of man it was who had just spoken. They ran over to where LaCroix had landed.
* * *
Mulroney waited a moment before he opened up the door, "Here
The door opened and led to a large hangar converted into an electrical engineering lab. Some of the instrumentation was as big as a house, whereas a lot of others were very compact and were integrated with personal computers.
There was only one person here, the woman that Mulroney had described. Even by looking at her back, Axer knew who she was. He had known her very well, and even in the days when he had a cold and closed heart, he could say that he called her a friend.
"Jamie," he whispered, his voice echoing through the hangar. Jamie turned around slowly and deliberately, smiling arrogantly as she faced and recognized him. "So the abomination returns..."
Axer blanched at that one, "So I'm an abomination now, am I?"
"Not you," she corrected, pointing at Mulroney. "Him. The Irishman."
Mulroney shrugged helplessly, "She's right. What can I say?"
"Could someone here tell me what's going on here?" Axer was starting to get annoyed.
"What do you want to know? You know, of course, that you'll never be able to leave here alive, but while you're here and living, I'll answer whatever question you ask. Consider it something of a last request."
Axer considered. He'd have something to say about when he died if it came down to it, but for now, he'd play her game. "What is your role with the Invisible Ones?"
She looked at the floor, but not in shame -- it was more like her particular way of thinking, the same way others put their heads on their chins or scratched their heads. Then she looked back up, "I'm something of an independent consultant. They finance my research into electrogravity and supply me with everything I need, just so long as I produce certain items that would be useful to them."
"Does your research also involve remote-control chemistry? Like making blood polymerize just by flipping a switch?"
"That?" she asked disdainfully. "That wasn't my doing. My work only involved electrogravity!"
Axer pulled at his chin, disturbed. He didn't trust her. "And what are the applications involved with your electrogravity research?"
"I think you already know the answers."
"Then you know I'm thinking the worst... DAMMIT JAMIE!!! HOW THE HELL COULD YOU SELL YOURSELF?!" He stared her in the eye, those tiny muscles along his jaw clenching and unclenching.
She looked back at him, unconcerned and unruffled. She started picking at her fingernails, saying nothing.
"I would have expected better of you!" Axer continued ranting. "You could have had any appointment you wanted! You could have nailed down any grant you wanted!"
She finally spoke, "Yes, I could have played 'the game' and done the respectable thing, but I wouldn't have had the freedom I have now. Here, I'm actually making progress. I don't have to defend myself in front of professional societies that will ignore anything and everything I say unless I've either let the 'big daddies' be first names on *my* papers or let them ream me up the ass.
"Here, I'm respected. I don't have to fight uphill to get anything done, and I'm judged solely on my merits."
"Jamie," Axer shook his head, sad and angry, "Jamie, Jamie... It's not like that at all. It *was* that way even twenty years ago, but things have changed. Don't you realize that's the treatment *everyone* gets? You're just being treated like one of the guys now. We all have to get reamed up the ass to get somewhere in this world."
Her look was smugly superior, "Of course -- you're male. You never had to take the second position because of your sex, instead of your qualifications. You were never told to stay out of the professional societies because of your sex, or to accept a sub-standard wage."
"You're a spoiled brat!" snapped Axer. "You think you're being oppressed? Why don't you --"
Mulroney tapped him rather firmly on the head, "We don't have time for this."
Axer grudgingly let it drop, but was about to launch into a full tirade when he saw Jamie's face was dripping with smugness. Fighting against himself, he said, "How did it happen?"
"You mean, how did I get recruited? Easy -- I was desperate and in between jobs. The Invisible Ones sent me a letter stuck in a newspaper, asking me to join them, saying they knew that I was uniquely qualified. When I came here, it was already equipped with everything I needed."
Her look was one of heavenly bliss as she exclaimed, "The instruments they gave me would have blown MIT and Berkeley out of the water! I'd never seen anything like them before!"
"That's because they weren't on earth before," spoke that 'other' within Axer that Mulroney had seen emerge back at the fence. Mulroney took a step back, uncertainty in his face -- the last thing he wanted was something *totally* beyond his control: things were bad enough as they were. Jamie looked at Axer in shock, not sure what had just happened.
"Are your brains packed with wool?" demanded Axer, his gestures wild and emphatic as he slowly walked towards her. "Does not all this tell you something obvious?"
"What's obvious?" asked Jamie, her eyes narrowed in confusion.
"The fact that you were given heavy bribes and access to instruments that have *never seen the light of the scientific world*! If something *seems* too good to be true, have you never thought that it might *be* too good to be true? There are geniuses on this world, but if there was anyone brilliant enough to come up with that! --" he pointed to a specific instrument as if he recognized it, "--even I would have known about it. Their genius would have rocked the world!"
Jamie shook her head. Perhaps she understood what lay between the lines, "You're wrong. It's not like that!" The last was a sobbish-scream. "You just can't appreciate my genius! You can't accept the fact that a *woman* is working on a project that you could never touch!"
Axer stood still for a moment, and then he seemed to move at light speed as he rushed over to her chair and grabbed her roughly by the throat, lifting her body out of the chair, and slamming her against a mainframe. He slammed her head against it a few times, and let her slide to the ground when she went limp.
Mulroney looked a bit scared and made a gamble. "Tesla?" he asked. "Nikola? Is that you?"
"Of course it is me! Who else could it be?" Then he stopped and looked around. "But you might want to explain why I am here, and why my body feels so... different." He looked at his hands with an expression of wonder and curiosity.
"Nikola? How did you die?"
He sneered, "Some federal agents barged into my hotel room and --" he stopped as his eyes widened. "An immortal came for my head. He took my head!" he screamed as the memories came back. "What is happening? I DIED!"
"Calm down!" Mulroney ran over to him, trying to quiet him down. "You *did* die, and if the stories I heard about the immortals are right, Axer killed the man who had killed you and taken your Quickening. I knew that you were immortal -- my employers told me so -- and I knew that you died under mysterious circumstances, so I figure that has to be the case."
He knew what he said to be fact, but he'd never believed that it was possible to "harness the power of the Quickening". For all their talk of power, it seemed that about the only power they gained was a faster healing rate and a stronger sword arm. But now he was beginning to doubt everything he believed he knew. //Could it be possible? I *know* the two never met -- could this really *be* Nikola Tesla?//
That staggered Axer/Tesla, who began to display mixed body language, "That is impossible -- I can't -- it cannot -- my soul --"
Mulroney's smile was sardonic, "I'm not an immortal, and I'm here after more than a century. Now tell me what's impossible."
"But it makes no sense!" Tesla screamed. "Are you telling me that there is no heaven or hell? That my soul is taken up by the one who kills me, and I must be taken by every victor after that? Is there no order or reason?"
"You?" snorted Mulroney. "You wanting a reason to life?"
"There has to be a reason! Things can't happen randomly! God wouldn't do that to us!" He put his hands to his head and screamed, and when he stopped, he put his hands down, looking around with a confused expression on his face.
"What happened?" asked Axer.
//Is this insanity?// Mulroney still wasn't sure whether this was real or some elaborate mind game. "You were possessed."
"What do you mean?" he looked at Mulroney as if he had claimed he had danced naked on a table, singing 'In Heaven There Is No Beer.'
"I mean what I said. You were talking with her, and then you were suddenly talking in a Croatian accent, and did that to her." He pointed at Jamie's body, still unconscious. "You claimed you were Nikola Tesla, and until a moment ago, was screaming about how nothing seemed to be making any sense."
"That makes two of us..." he muttered thinking back to what Kate had told him. "I wonder..."
Axer leaned back against the mainframe, rubbing his face. //Tesla? Are you there?//
There was no answer. Axer swore, slamming his hand on a mainframe. Then he stopped and seemed to realize something. He walked over to Jamie and nonchalantly took off her head - - it was a mortal head, spraying out blood like a geyser. He looked at Mulroney, "I had to make sure. Do something with her body while I take a guided tour of the place."
Mulroney looked worried. His worry changed to disgust as he began to get blood on his hands.
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