The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part V -- Riding the Wave
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995



Chapter 9

Surtur paced back and forth, the glow from his cigarette bobbing up and down as he did so. "You know, you've really fallen into a deep little hole. You've attracted too much attention to yourself. I mean -- trying to target Axer? Don't you know he's too notorious to target with a smear campaign?"

The Invisible One tilted her head, "Isn't that contradictory? How can a notorious individual not be a good target?"

Surtur snorted, "For all of your technology and scientific knowledge, your kind has a poor understanding of humans! The simple fact is that he's developed his reputation -- all the agencies know that Axer is a drunk and rogue, but he's *not* a murderer! He was even working *with* the police when one of your boys tried to bend his mind, and you know how well *that* worked out!"

"What do you mean?"

Surtur was shocked, "You mean your own employees are making their own decisions, and you didn't know? Or could it be one of your partners who made the call? A few nights ago, one of your 'black-box' killers decided he'd go after one of the survivors and witnesses of your target practice sessions, and make sure he couldn't testify in court. What the man couldn't know, of course, is what Axer is -- and that he was offering his services to the police so that they could track down your killers.

"So, when Axer started behaving uncharacteristically, it raised a lot of alarm flags -- and revealed even more about the nature of your devices and public-testing experiments. Can you honestly tell me you had no idea that this went on, and *this* is what it produced? I mean, if you targeted Axer, then you should have known what would happen! It was Reece himself who gave me a call and forced my action!"

The Invisible One was silent. "And what do you wish to gain by telling me this information? It will not influence my decision."

Surtur blew out his breath slowly. "This is going take a while..." he muttered to himself. "Why don't we get some light on the subject?" He drew a Viking long sword, but the blade was no ordinary blade. It looked as if it was red-hot, and lit up the room as much as a camp fire would. "I don't like striking a deal when I can't see the other's face."

* * *

Axer sat against the wall of the tunnel, the dust mostly settled out of the air. He was totally covered with grit, so much so that it would take a half-hour of bathing to take off all the crud. His breathing came easier as well, but he knew that if he ever got out of this, he'd have to flush out his lungs the direct way to get all the dust out of them.

"So, this is how it ends..."

He had long since stopped asking whether this was a sophisticated hologram or the real thing. It was a real experience, though, and since he couldn't just stick his hand through the wall, he had to take it at face value.

Axer could remember telling the Great Mother that he didn't like life, and that he wanted to die. He snorted. When it came down to it, there were many things about life that he didn't like, but he didn't want to die after all.

"What was the difference?" he asked aloud. When he was truly alone, he always talked to himself. "Why is it that I don't want to die anymore? Could it be that I'm now facing limbo, and I realize that life is better, compared to this? Or could it be Kate?..."

His face fell, and he hugged himself tightly, realizing that this would be the one thing that would most certainly kill him in his very soul -- Kate was ripped away, and he didn't even have a trace of her to keep him company. No photograph or love notes in his wallet, no ring on his finger, no hand-knit sweater, no necklace -- nothing. Only the memories of their time together.

Such a *short* time by anyone's standards, and the memories only hurt him more. Every glance, every touch, and every kiss that he remembered only hammered in the pain of his loss.

The memories were so strong that he could almost see her in front of him, and feel her -- but when his hands passed through insubstantial memories, he felt as if he would die then and there.

"If you miss her that much, then why don't you go to her?" asked another voice. There was no light, so Axer couldn't see the speaker, but he knew that the voice wasn't in his head.

"Who are you?"

There was a soft chuckling, "I have many names, and have many faces." A soft crimson glow filled the room, and Axer saw a distinguished businessman sitting on a boulder. It was the man's hands that glowed red. "Perhaps Lucifer -- Light Bearer -- would be suitable."

"First Viking Gods, and now Roman ones? What next?" Axer's voice had grown muddled from the vanishing air. He slumped a little bit.

Lucifer chuckled again, "You could also think of this as being in your head. You're only imagining that you're seeing me and talking to me. It could be that I'm an immortal who got passed down to you during the Game.

"Think of it this way -- I can offer you a way out. All you have to do is listen."

"I'm listening." But he wouldn't be for much longer.

"The reason that you haven't been able to escape is because your own perceptions trap you. I can easily lead you out, but I need to have control of your body."

Axer gained some life back, "I'm not convinced. Reality is reality -- how can your taking over my body help matters?"

"A good question, and I think you can answer it yourself. Why don't you ask yourself what's happening here?"

"I really thought about it," Axer sighed. "Either this is a really good holograph or I'm being somehow taken from place to place. I'll be practical and say I'm in a holograph."

Lucifer smiled at that, "So if you're in a holograph, then why is it that you can't just walk through the walls?"

"Maybe the have other instruments that add together all the other effects -- one of those black-box force fields to keep me from walking through, speakers to make it seem real... But I have to tell you, it's pretty hard to fake a cave-in like this!"

"So you think it's even more technology that's holding you back?"

"I think so. I'd have to be really impressed at the technology... but I think it's the only defendable theory at this point."

Lucifer shrugged, "That's not my concern."

//What is it then?//

"My concern is to get the both of us out of here. If you're stuck here and die, then so do I."

"So we both die. You'll go back to the elements just as much as I will."

Lucifer began to show irritation, "I don't want to die. I want to escape, but the only way we can escape is if I take control!"

"Why can't you tell me how to escape? If you want existence so much, you can go on as you've been doing it -- without any change."

"It's too complicated, and we don't have the time."

"I don't trust you."

Lucifer jumped at Axer, pulling him up by the shoulders, "No more games! I'm taking over, whether you like it or not!"

Axer smiled then, as suddenly as a switch turning on a light. He ignored the hands on his shoulders and whipped out his knife -- a unique blade a step above a Bowie knife -- and gutted Lucifer so viciously that the knife clacked on the spine on the way through.

Lucifer fell to his knees, his torso falling back as if he were doing some Yoga stretch. He flopped around in pain, his movements pushing out whatever intestines didn't spill onto the floor.

"You're not a good liar," said Axer then, his spirits renewed as Lucifer tried to scream in pain. "That must make you the gamesmaster."

Though the man was still flopping around, amazingly enough, he was able to speak. Most gutted men only managed to scream and howl -- none in Axer's long lifetime, not even an immortal, ever had spoken after being gutted, or even stabbed through the heart. "How did you know it was me?"

Axer shrugged. //Might as well be civilized to a dying man -- or whatever he is -- he seems human enough.// "I don't know you, but when you threatened to take me over, I knew you had to be the gamesmaster. I already came to terms with the more aggressive residents in my head, and they know better than to fight me."

"How did you do that?" He groaned in pain, his voice weakening. "How did you know about your inner residents? How did you manage to keep your sanity?"

"I might as well tell you -- not much you can do about it anyway. Everything went to hell after one of your guys used that black box on me. The way I see it, the Quickening and my own immortality aren't mystic things, even though they're still unexplainable -- their natures should be able to be simplified to observable sciences... like chemistry and physics. That black box did some remote-control chemistry on my brain, and in doing so, opened the floodgate. I almost went insane when countless immortals tried to take me over, and I had to kill them off one by one.

"I answered your question -- why don't you answer mine: why is it that the Invisible Ones are doing all this? Why the plots, the murder, and the kidnapping? Why do you order the murders of vampires and immortals? What do you hope to gain?"

"That's more than one question," the Invisible One was almost dead, but he continued to talk calmly as if nothing were happening to him. He still flopped around though, the pain evident on his face. "We have been here for a long time, and have a goal. We wanted to create a race that can climb the Tree of Life. Do you know what that means?"

Axer remembered the Landing, and what Powys told them about Yggdrasil's Root -- the manifestation of the Tree that none of them saw, except for Powys, who'd seemed a little annoyed that only he could see it. A physical road, a mechanism for traveling to the Many Worlds -- something that Axer was still quite skeptical about when looking at a scale above electrons and photons.

"Tell me."

"It means that we needed a superposition of states, and that we had to slaughter the Elves because they threatened to destroy what we were creating. We destroyed the Dwarven race, and the only ones who exist know nothing of what they once were. We destroyed them to the point that they are only childrens' tales ...just as we must destroy what remains of Vanir, Aesir, Jotun, and Hunters."

"Hunters?"

"They are the weeders of mankind. The one you care so deeply about is a Hunter. They regulate the population of mankind, and with our extermination of the Hunters, the world population has exploded, which serves our purpose." His eyes closed and his voice trailed off, "With the crowding and overpopulation comes what we desire... chaos... superposition... chance....."

The Invisible One was dead.

Something just hit Axer in the head. "He said 'we'. He's an Invisible One!"

Axer callously searched him and found something the size of a remote control. On taking it off, Lucifer's appearance changed to what he had been at first -- a monkish-looking albino.

Just like the black boxes, this device was made of a seamless material that was cleaner than Teflon, and perfectly black. There were three dials and a button -- none of which had any markings.

"What the hell -- can't stay here forever!"

He pressed the button, and the surroundings smoothly vanished.

He was back in the sewer, surrounded by several odd instruments. //These must be the holograph and force field generators...// Several feet away, LaCroix stood. On the ground next to him was a very dead Roman woman with bone-white skin.

LaCroix was softly applauding, smiling grandly. "A good show -- I must congratulate you."

Axer ignored him -- he still searched for Kate. She wasn't here.

"Kate?" Axer called. His frantic voice echoed up and down the sewer. "*KATE*!!"

LaCroix tapped him delicately on the shoulder. "She's that way."

This was an intersection, and they ran down one of the tunnels, which led to an alcove. The alcove was an upward-access or escape ladder chamber, full of the same holograph generating equipment.

Kate was chained to the wall, her face with a dead expression.

"Kate?" whispered Axer.

She looked up at him, her face uncertain. "Is it really you? Is this some trick?" Apparently she had gone through her own mind-screw experience.

He smiled. "There's only one way to find out, isn't there?"

LaCroix rarely cared for the feelings of mortals. Considering what they both had gone through, he decided to consider those feelings for once -- he only *pretended* to give them some privacy.

* * * *


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