XTC
by Henry Wyckoff
Crossover: XF, DW (4th Doctor), HL, ST:Voy, and the world of David Eddings



Chapter 18

Using the Pressure-Vacuum Regulator


Chakotay sat on the slightly-tilted roof. There was enough tree cover for him to be undisturbed by just about anyone who didn't have reason to hunt him down. Zedar, Chuck, and Janeway crouched nearby while he lay flat on the roof, his special ingredients for a mind trip ready.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Janeway.

Chakotay silently nodded, then said softly, "I have often wondered where I go when I talk with my animal guides. I still don't know, but I'm convinced that it's a real place. Vulture told me that it's in the Dreamworld that I'll be needed, so I might as well go."

"I could go with you," offered Janeway.

He shook his head, "I think there's someone who needs you more." He nodded below.

"Clovis," she said softly.

He nodded.

* * *

Silk spoke with the narcotics agent as he threw some stuff out of the van into the very back seat. "So, what do you know about this 'opium lord'?"

The agent, a white-haired (not blond, but snow-white) young man, looked up, "Nobody knows much about him. He lives in a big house, never goes out, and they say he doesn't even open the windows." He stepped out of the van. "He is very active in the world, though. The FBI has kept taps on the guy's phone and e-mail, but he's been clean. But we have other indirect evidence pointing to him. If we can find any connection to XTC there, he's toast."

The agent walked back into the house, and Silk knew without a doubt that the agent was a pole cat. Not a cute ferret that hops around, arching its back, and making, "Eeep! Eeep!" noises. Nope. This was a weasly pole cat, the type that any chicken farmer would gladly decapitate on the tree stump.

Silk slipped underneath the van, lashing his ankles to the frame, and then securing his wrists. He just hoped that he didn't get scraped against the ground.

* * *

Scully and the Doctor stood over Jan's body. "You're a doctor, Doctor! What would you say is causing this particular condition?"

The Doctor smiled, opposing Scully's serious frown, "I'm a Doctor of Philosophy, Agent Scully, not a Doctor of Medicine. But to answer your question, I'd say that there are two things."

"Which are?"

"If you're the type to believe that we can cause injuries to ourselves, then Jan is somehow creating these wounds himself." Scully was skeptical of this. Her expression said so. "The other explanation is that something else is doing it to him."

Whatever sarcastic remark she might have wanted to make, she didn't. "That isn't helpful." Jan was an immortal, so she knew that he wasn't going to die in the accepted sense. However, she also knew that deep down he was feeling a great deal of agony, and it made her feel sick that there was nothing she could do to help him.

The narcotics agent came back in, "Everything's ready. Let's go!"

Scully looked around. Pancho, Methos, Duncan, the Doctor, Sarah, and the two cops were there. "Where's everyone else?"

Duncan spoke up, "They're on the roof. I don't think they have plans to come along."

She shrugged, "I have no problem with that. Let's go."

Everyone else left, leaving her as the last in the room. For a moment, she strongly considered putting a bullet through Clovis' head. It might not save Jan, but it would make her feel better.

<<There's no time for that nonsense!>> snapped a dry voice that sounded very familiar. <<You have a job to do!>>

Scully looked around, "Huh?"

The voice managed to sound exhausted while remaining emotionless. <<Look. Is it going to change anything if you blow his brains out?>>

"Where are you?" She looked around, trying to find the speaker until she realized that the voice was in her own head. "Uh oh."

<<You're not going crazy. Listen to me. I _need_ Clovis very soon. Don't blow it for me. ...Forgive the pun.>>

Pancho yelled from outside, "Hey, Scully! You going to take forever?"

Scully reflexively ran to the van, leaving Clovis to a different fate."

* * *

It wasn't all that difficult to come here. After all, things like 'bounds' and 'rules' didn't really apply to him. When presented with the opportunity, he had wanted to run away on the branches of Yggdrasil, but he'd chosen to do the responsible thing and stay in this world.

Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The Aesir used it to travel through what those of that place and Midgaard called the "Nine Worlds". To most others, it was just a legend, except perhaps to the Vanir. Because of recent events, others knew of it. In his mind, he went back to that frozen day above the Arctic Circle. Scully's partner, Mulder, had been out of commission for a while, and so 'missed the action' so to speak. Mulder hadn't liked that a bit.

That day, they'd spoken a lot about Yggdrasil, and Powys had even left a hint for Mulder. Mulder had even asked an amazingly-insightful question, without knowing how insightful it was. Mulder had asked him, "What is Bifrost?"

Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge. Just as Yggdrasil touched the Nine Worlds, so did Bifrost. Only it was different . . .

"What is Bifrost?"

"The Rainbow."

Mulder thought about it some more. "Is that real too?"

"You're talking about the large-case Rainbow? It's certainly real. What's so special about a rainbow?"

"It contains the whole spectrum of light."

"Can light be used for physical transportation?"

Mulder'd been shocked at the implications. "It can't be! Star Trek is one thing, but this is the real world!"

"Go back to your assumptions. Follow the logic chain. I think you'll find your truth. If you're going to pronounce your 'truth' with an upper-case 't', I think you'll only be able to find it by deductive reasoning. Although I had a strong urge to kill Doyle, his character said it best; 'Eliminate the impossible, and no matter what remains, no matter how improbable -- must be the truth.'"

"You misquoted him!"

"So? You got the message, and that's what counts."

Powys smiled at the memory. Despite transporter technology that Janeway's ship relied so much on was an established technology in her time, even those scientists did not realize the full utility of the transporter. Not only could you travel to places, you could could also travel to different aspects of the same place.

He closed his eyes, and in his mind, he could see the colors of the rainbow, red all the way to purple.

Black is the absorption of all light.

White is the reflection of all light, and underneath the reflection is the true darkness.

He opened his eyes, and he was there.

Powys smiled crookedly as he faced a large mansion with an immaculate lawn. The lawn was real enough, but looked like it had been cut with a very fine laser. Looking around, he could also see a table shaded with an umbrella, and at the table sat a man who looked very familiar. //I thought it was you.//

He approached the man, who just sat at the table, sipping tea. Wrong time of the day for tea. "Who does your lawn?"

The gentleman in the conservative business suit shrugged, "She does." He gustured towards a young girl dressed in rags (Powys hadn't seen her before, even when he had looked in her direction), who crawled along, measuring the grass height with a ruler and cutting it with scissors. "She was always good at things requiring precision, so I have her keep my lawn trimmed."

Powys' eyebrows raised, "She's that fast?"

"Fast enough to know she'll be hurting when she slows down. See? She's slowed down."

Chains ripped from the ground, wrapping around her body, but not covering her mouth. The screams were blood-curdling as she was roughly pulled into the ground. Powys almost expected the turf to immediately fill in the spot, but no, the hole remained there. He heard no further screams.

"When she returns to her duties, she will have one more responsibility." The gentleman was unconcerned at how unfeasible this might be.

"Let's cut to the meat of it."

"Fair enough. I understand that you have the objects for certain."

Powys nodded, "Yes. The question is, what are you going to do about it?"

The gentleman interlaced his fingers, smiling softly, but without warmth. "I've already begun my move. If you had paid any attention, you would have seen the signs."

"Like a drug that kills mortal and immortal alike?" Powys smiled, "You're as subtle as a brick in the groin."

"Maybe, but at least it's not as cliche as an anvil falling from above."

Powys laughed, "I heard of an Invisible One who used a platinum anvil. You can't get more original than that."

The gentleman laughed for a while, wiping tears from his eyes.

* * *

Chakotay opened his eyes. He was back in the Dreamworld, but it wasn't a place that he knew. It was a night-time slum, complete with randomly-thrown trash and the occasional trash can on fire. Dark shapes popped out of the gloom here and there, not moving.

The stench was what really touched him. He pinched his nose at the unpleasant smell and looked around, trying to find a way out.

"...hey you..." whispered a voice from all around him. He thought it sounded like the pimp. "...Mexi boy..."

Chakotay grinned crookedly. Even in his own day, when Earth- based racism was nonexistent (Earthling bigots had gotten with the times and started hating other races), different people in the same crowd would think he was Mexican, Indian, Spanish, or some alien race with natural markings on his face.

He looked around, trying to find the source of the voice, but didn't. One thing he'd learned from his own dreams was that if you were to control them, you had to be almost suicidally-macho. "Come out, pimp! You a coward, hiding in the shadows?" He looked around as his voice echoed, but there was no movement. No reaction.

The voice chuckled, but said nothing more.

* * *

Sarah sat next to Scully as they were en route. Wherever it was, it was on the northeast edge of town, nearing the mountains that formed a border along the northern edge of Tucson. The Catalinas, she remembered. Nice country really . . . but only when you were looking at it. Sarah thought it was much too hot for her own taste. She preferred an English climate, herself, with rolling mists (but without the perpetual rain).

She had kept to herself most of the time -- observing, listening, and asking questions to herself. Now, she believed she knew enough to ask intelligent questions of others. "Agent Scully?"

Scully seemed almost startled. Sarah was always there, but she always _seemed_ like she wasn't for long periods of time. "Yes?" Scully raised her eyebrows.

"How much of this do you really believe is happening?"

Scully had to fight to keep from smiling. "What do you mean?"

"I'm sure as an FBI agent in the States, you have to deal with gunfights all the time," Scully smiled at that, "but what about all this stuff that you don't see everyday... the crazy things that some people have been talking about here."

Scully shook her head, "Like grand confrontations with a capital 'C'? Frankly, I'm skeptical about there being any truth to it myself. Maybe it's just an excuse for a few lunatics to fight it out and get as many innocent people involved as possible."

Pancho, who sat in the seat behind the two, interrupted, "Though when it comes down to it, you have to wonder how many people are truly innocent. Take these XTC users, for example. If they didn't die on this, they might die from some bad cocaine, in a drunk driving accident, or get killed by a falling piano." His voice had taken on a slightly rough-toned New York City accent, perhaps without his knowing it, but it matched his mood.

Sarah shook her head, having been briefed earlier about XTC by the Doctor. "But the chances of that happening are so rare. How many people die of falling pianos?"

"I'll grant you that; you'd have to be living in Chicago or New York for that to happen. However, irony kills as many people as bad drugs."

Scully couldn't help but shake her head at that one. "It sounds like you're fishing, Pancho."

He smiled, bowing as much as he could in the seat, "Sophistry is what I live for."

The van hit a bump in the road. Nobody suspected that at that moment, Silk was cursing pretty loudly.

Scully thought about it a bit more, "There's a lot about these grand confrontations that I have a problem with. You have to ask the question, what is time? Do events happen because they are predestined, or because they just happen to happen? Complete chance."

Pancho shook his head, "That's a debate that's lasted since the Greeks."

"Before," corrected Methos. "Gilgamesh asked the same question."

"I thought he was just struggling for immortality..."

Methos smirked, "So is everyone else in the world. What he also did was ask the question, why do we ag>. He had to attack it from a purely philosophical point of view, and all of his theories were absolute garbage, but he knew what questions to ask."

Athens was the greatest city of the world. Or at least the world as the people living in the reach of the Mediterranean would say. As far away as the lands of the barbarian Celts (who, by the way, respected the learned men of Greece), Athens was a known name.

That's why Methos felt severe disappointment on reaching the city on foot. It was, well, a poor and filthy shantytown. Most of the people here were practically beggars, and while there were a few breathtaking buildings, that was about it.

"You are a pilgrim, no?" asked a young boy, who wasn't Athenian by any stretch of the imagination. He was nearly a walking skeleton, which was a vast improvement over those who _were_ walking skeletons.

"Of sorts," nodded Methos, looking around, "but not for much longer."

"Then see the sights while you are here! Just give poor Gasga a bite of food and I will show you the Agora! I will show you to the wise men!" The boy was very enthusiastic, knowing his life might well depend on this sale.

Methos wasn't a very pitiful man, and was feeling less so than usual right now. "Like who?"

"Socrates! The wisest man in the world!"

Socrates... that was a famous man indeed. As controversial as he was famous. "Some meat when I talk with him. Not before."

"But of course!" the boy's eyes widened with barely- veiled anger. Maybe he'd planned on cheating Methos, even a little. But now he had to be honest.

The Agora wasn't that far away from where he was; maybe a few moments' walking. It was as filthy as the rest of this city (if it could be called such), but was distinct in the fact that most of the males were currently concentrated in this place.

A single man, white of hair and wearing a full beard, spoke in front of a small crowd of perhaps ten people. (Methos snorted at this man of perhaps forty years being called old!) There was a larger crowd elsewhere, but the people listening to this man didn't seem to care.

"What is time?" asked the man, obviously a native Athenian by his accent, but with the features of a northerner. (In the Agora, origin or accent weren't always obvious.) "Is time something that we imagine? If no living man existed, or if no living man was awake, would time mean anything? What controls this time?"

"Time is the creation of Chronos! Who are you to question it?" shouted one man, a foreigner by accent.

"I am Karubdos, son of Wat," he spoke calmly, as if the near-insult were a calm question. "I question it because there is no answer."

The boy tugged at Methos' arm, "Come! Socrates is that way!"

Methos gave the boy a strip of meat from his side-pouch. Rough jerky, and goat meat at that. "Here is your food. Now go, boy, you bother me!"

The boy spat at his feet, but took the meat and ran off. Methos soon forgot about him as he continued to listen to the speech.

"I ask this question of anyone, and dare anyone to answer. What quality is time, that it may seem to change depending on our mood, and yet remains unchangeable by the hourglass?"

Nobody answered at first, because everyone was too baffled by the question to be able to figure out an answer. Methos, however, had an answer. "Time is a fleeting resource, as common as the sands under our feet."

Karubdos looked surprised, while everyone else just looked more confused. "Is time the chaotic falling of sands through an hourglass, or the discovery that the blowing wind reveals, as the sands shift?"

Methos spread his hands, "Who are we to know? We are but men."

Now Methos looked down, "There was an Athenian philosopher known as Karubdos who believed that there was a destiny laid ahead of us, but not predestiny. He would say, 'Flip a coin and call beforehand what side will fall towards the sky. Those who accurately call it, will be called fortunate or prophets. I say that they see that for every moment of time, it moves because there are invisible actors that define where it will next move. It was not predestined, and yet there was no other way it could have happened.'"

* * *

Janeway knelt in front of Clovis. She felt very sad, because she was one of the few people who knew for certain what most had only wondered about. Clovis _was_ Pancho from four centuries ago.

"You'd have to be immortal to evolve."

Who could believe that Pancho, a disturbed yet generally good person, could have once been an XTC-addicted... whatever he was. She didn't even know this person, and Pancho seemed to distance himself from Clovis more than everyone else had. Of course, he could have been doing his best not to influence _this_ person... but still, the distaste seemed there.

She didn't know why Clovis and Jan had sat down in this XTC meditation circle, but she knew one thing: that something deadly was happening. It seemed quite suspicious that Jan would be in such a condition as he was, while Clovis remained as tranquil as a monk, totally untouched.

Well, she was about to find out what was really happening. She entered the Dreamworld, just as she had learned to do from Chakotay all those months ago...

...and appeared in a subterranean maze. For some odd reason, she thought of them as sewers. Sewers, in which nothing ran. There was just enough light to see, but she couldn't tell from where it came. Very soft light. Heavy breathing echoed down the hall, sounding like the breaths of someone in great agony. Some other sounds reached her ears as well. Mostly metallic sounds.

One quality of this place instantly registered in her brain. It was just as real as the world she'd left! She might as well have transported here. The Dreamworld was normally like a dream. She knew that she dreamt, and her senses told her so. Here, though, it felt totally real.

Her heart began to pound.

The tunnels wove randomly to the point where she didn't know if she was going up or down, and her compass direction was a lost cause.

"AAAAAA--!!!"

Janeway nearly jumped out of her skin, the scream was so close and so full of tortured agony. Pulling out her phaser, she set it on kill. Whatever lived here might not respond to a mere stun.

"AAAAAA--!!!"

Her instincts told her to run, and so she did, doing her best to make no sounds. The tunnel came to its end, a large cubical room. What she saw made her want to vomit.

"AAAAAA--!!!"

It was Jan, and he was bound with spiked chains that ran with fresh blood. He was strapped to a table, lying on his stomach, and a monk with an axe was breaking each of his ribs where it met the spine, one by one.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!"

Janeway raised her phaser, "Stop that, or you'll die!"

The monk stopped, stepping off the table where he stood, and slowly approached her. He lowered his hood, and she could see that it wasn't Clovis.

Jan, who could see the man too from where he was bound, howled as if his very soul were being shredded. "DAVID!"

Apparently someone Jan knew.

Janeway fired, because it was quite obvious by now that 'David' was not about to behave. A bright red flash hit David, and hung around him for a moment, then vanished. He smiled mechanically and approached her.

She sawsee others begin to enter the room from other doors, including the one that she had used. About thirty people, all moving like zombies. None of them were Clovis.

* * *

The two paramedics looked at the thirtieth corpse that hour alone, both close to hysterics.

"What the hell is going on?" demanded one of them. "I don't understand it! There _can't_ be this many cases of bad opium in a night!"

"And I didn't know there was such a thing as bad opium!"

Their beepers went off in unison suddenly. They looked at the messages, then at each other. Normally they didn't get called through the beepers, but tonight things were so bad that it had to be done.

"Another one near First and Glenn."

The other one looked sick as he said, "Another one at Campbell and Broadway."

Two different parts of town, and yet they were expected to do both. "Huh?!" they both asked.

This wasn't shaping up to be a good day at all.

* * *

Scully stared at the buildings as they drove by. They had just reached Wilmont, a major road on the east side of town. Now they'd be heading north. By now, the general plan had been finalized: they'd get there and meet a lot of reinforcements, who would take the form of policemen and a few local FBI agents. One of the narc agent's friends had already grabbed the warrant from a very agreeable judge (his daughter had just died of XTC, and apparently the judge had gotten the news just a few minutes before). So, all the legal stuff was in place, and she just hoped that the logistics would work. She was afraid that the reinforcements would all be idiots and make more noise than they were meant to, and at the wrong place, or something

The conversation had died down, and so she couldn't help but enter her own thoughts. The voice that had spoken in her head at Pancho's house ran through her mind, and she recalled that it was the same voice as in that strange dream she'd had, where she was underground.

//Are you there?// she thought in her mind. There was silence, so she snorted, //I thought so.//

<<No you didn't.>> The voice was back, and it sounded like it was speaking from all around her. Nobody else seemed to notice it. If it had had the quality of thought, then it wouldn't have bothered her, but because it had the quality of a spoken voice, it bothered her very much.

//All right, who are you?//

<<I thought we went over this all before...>> The dry voice sounded very annoyed.

//That's strange. I don't think we did.//

<<What is it that you want to know?>>

//How do I know that you're not a figment of my imagination? You could be a stray chemical I unknowingly ingested, or the beginning of some strange insanity. This certainly isn't normal!//

The dry voice laughed. <<We're all a little crazy inside... But the fact is that you know that I'm not a part of you because this isn't normal. If you're looking for a drastic event, you're not going to get it because it wouldn't convince you. If I made you walk across the ocean, it wouldn't be good enough because you'd say that I was diverting your attention from something else. If I gave you some great unknown truth or answer, you'd say it didn't prove anything because I just happen to have a bigger knowledge base than you have.>>

//True. So how are you going to prove it?//

<<How about if I don't? How about if I give you a pep rally instead. You don't really want to do it this way, do you?>>

//Why do yo say that?//

<<This whole business of confrontations bother you. You can handle political in-fighting and lunatics blowing away a crowd full of children. Government conspiracies don't faze you. True, you question a great deal about what Agent Mulder believes, but you're at least willing to accept its possibility. Yes?>>

//Go on.//

<<Well, grand confrontations bother you because you begin asking questions which cannot be answered to your liking. Paradigms control your senses. If you ask the question, 'Who is it that moves the chess pieces?' you know that the answer would be frightening, because it could only be no mortal agency, or a mortal in contact with a non-mortal agency.>>

//You're right. That does bother me. How am I to know who these chess players are for sure? They're not flesh and blood, and the implications would be that they control the flow of time. Some people in this group believe that this confrontation will control destiny. People can't control destiny!//

<<Can't they? In ancient times, a triumvirate -- three men -- controlled an empire that stretched from Iberia and Gaul to Egypt and the edge of Persia. Three men controlled destiny. No, make that one man who led the three. Again and again, before and after, small groups or even individuals set destiny by surviving a few private brawls and having the vision and will to forge a future. Do you know what a true prophet is?>>

//Someone who can accurately predict the future.// She recited it with a dreariness that didn't indicate the intensity she really felt.

<<No. It's someone who can envision something and make sure that it happens. Do you realize that all the movers and shakers were those who had dreams? A few even had visions that blocked out all their senses. Their next step was to put all their focus into doing earthly, visible, and mortal deeds that would forge their dream into reality. Mikkyo, if you will.>>

//Huh?//

<<Mikkyo. Binding the three into one. You have your will, your word, and your deed. By themselves, they are powerful, but if you bind all three... then you have something that nobody can break. Think about Mulder. He unknowingly has the secret, except that he binds only two at a time. Three at blind moments of chance, and only for a moment. Just long enough to give him an insight.>>

Scully knew all the wrong foreign languages and religions to recognize the word 'Mikkyo.' It sounded Oriental.

<<It's Japanese, and a word used by mystics. You're a Catholic. Catholics have their own imagery that even skeptics may appreciate.>>

//Like what?//

<<Contemplate the numbers 1, 3, and 7.>> The voice had a tone of interest for a moment. <<I wonder what the next number in that sequence would be...?>>

It was that question which sparked a thought in Scully. //You have so many possibilities, but three numbers at least give you a finite number of patterns to use, and a reason for making your guesses. The more numbers you get, the more you can narrow the patterns... but if you start narrowing down from the beginning...//

<<...then you may intelligently and logically anticipate the future. Randomness and dice throws are usually thrown out.>> It almost sounded pleased.

Scully didn't feel any more resolved about it, but it did kill some time. They had left the city and entered the desert (or what passed for it).

* * *

Janeway blasted at the chains holding Jan, but they were total energy sinks. Jan didn't even scream from the heat build-up, and the phaser was on the maximum setting. "I'll come back for you!" she yelled as she fired at some of the zombie-like people approaching her. They at least exploded. She cleared enough of a space for her to run into the tunnels again, which were empty.

There was something pursuing her, however, and it didn't sound like it had two legs. Turning around for a brief moment, she could see the loping of some pig-like dog with boar tusks. It howled and grunted as she looked in its eyes, and she sprinted even faster. It was closing in fast.

Janeway panted, "It's a dream! It has to be a dream!"

But that didn't take away the realness of where she was. She fired, and it yelped in pain, crawling towards her.

Janeway ran off again, and noticed that there were some side passages that seemed to angle upwards, but didn't have any more or less of the faint light that seemed to be everywhere.

She took the right one (why not go for symbolism when you didn't know where the hell you were going and had some pig-dog with tusks chasing you?), entering a zig-zagging tunnel that forced her to make really sharp turns at a full sprint. It was a strong hope on her part that these turns would slow down her pursuer.

The tunnel abruptly ended, and she found herself in a very large room that somehow seemed less hellish than the rest of the place, but the aura about it was not heavenly. The walls were filled with bookshelves, the floor sparsely filled with some leisure furniture, and a computer center was in one corner.

Clovis sat near a fireplace, reading a book and smoking a pipe. He had his feet kicked up on a footstool, and a glass of scotch on a table next to him. He seemed totally focused, and so didn't hear her or her panting from the hard sprinting. Looking behind her, she saw that the door had shut on its own.

There were no other exits.

* * *

Duncan was thinking about past events. What else could you do when you were riding towards an uncertain future? A lot of people dreamed in their sleep, scientists were saying, so that people could sort out what happened in their waking world. Duncan didn't know if he agreed with that, but he agreed that dreams could be useful for that purpose, as could daydreams.

He was daydreaming some real memories to the extent that they blocked out his current senses. Maybe one could say that he was having a flashback, but not in the accepted sense.

Duncan was in Paris, recuperating after a very intensive torture session involving a monk who used a drill to empty out all his teeth (among _many_ other things), the beheading of Richard Sharpe, and an undressed woman who had quite nearly made him go nuts.

The mess was over. Lenny had shown his true colors, and had been killed. Things might not be going back to normal, but at least the business with the Invisible Ones was finished.

He breathed in the river from the deck of the barge. Nobody else was here, or so he believed. Then he felt a presence. It was an immortal approaching.

"Ey there," said a tired voice. "Have another chair?" It was a question to which the speaker already had an answer. It was the Welshman, Axer Carrick. Not much of a Welsh accent left -- most certainly a State-side vocabulary -- and he'd been out of the country for the last few centuries, but at least he'd identify with Wales, just as Duncan still identified with the Highlands of Scotland. He pulled up a lawn chair and leaned back, breathing in deeply.

"Axer Carrick. This would be the last place I'd expect to see you."

"Change is good."

They sat in silence for a while, just watching the water flow. "What brings you to Paris?"

"Kate wanted to see the nightlife. Turns out that vampires have a cultural base in Paris, just as much as Immortals. Did you know that you had your equivalent of Darius among vampires, except that he thought that mortals were food? Maybe he was just as old too."

Duncan opened his eyes, raising those eyebrows. "Really?"

"Yes. In fact, I'm surprised that you didn't meet any vampires before the last few years, and then you met a whole lot of them at once, relatively speaking... and none of them ever knowingly encountered an immortal." He made a face. "I met them off and on, but we didn't recognize one another. Too many centuries passed each time." He sighed deeply.

"What was that?"

He sighed again, "It's just time. All this damn time passes, and all I feel is just more cranky. I tried being drunk for a few centuries on end, but I ended up sobering up. And now that the Invisible Ones are dealt with, and Odin is in parts unknown -- most likely scattered across a wide area, I'd bet -- I don't have anything to do." Axer laughed. "To think that the only thing that keeps a romantic relationship together is a war."

"What makes you say that?"

"Well, my relationship with Kate isn't working out too much anymore. While we were occupied with the Invisible Ones, we all had the Holy Bejeezus scared out of us, so much that we were genuinely glad to spend every single moment with one another. My heart would threaten to die on me when we parted, and when we'd meet again, I was in heaven.

"But now, there's nothing to say. Nothing to do. She's into Wheel of Fortune, Seinfeld, fancy clothes, and the high society thing. I'm into philosophical movies, hard and fast music, and kicking back with a scotch and a good book. Maybe it's just now that we're staring to let these little details sink in. In the beginning, those differences attracted us. She was normal, and I guess I was someone mysterious. Now? We're just different."

Duncan wanted to crush his own head. Here he was again, playing the role of marriage counselor. Did he wear a sign on his head, saying, 'Please dump all your marriage troubles on me?'

Duncan finally spoke, "So what's the problem."

"She thinks I'm boring now, and I think she wants to leave me. We're not married, you know, and so she has nothing to keep her with me -- in a social sense, anyway. No having to deal with changing last names on her stationary and official records, or explaining to people that she's Kate O'Leary again, rather than Kate Carrick."

Duncan rubbed his hands on his face.

He didn't know if those two were still together, but he thought it gave him some insight into why an immortal like Clovis would get into the drinking and the drugs. Though he knew the Pancho of the future (or maybe of _a_ future?), the man he knew had changed a great deal since the Borg had come, to the point where the older Pancho was dead. The Pancho he had known before then was a stranger that he had met only for brief moments.

There was a logical reason, anyway, even if it might not be acceptable. Axer Carrick was about 2500 years old, and he'd felt a great depression. In fact, that drinking binge he alluded to was quite legendary, among the immortals who knew better and the mortals who often didn't.

Clovis, who was certainly no older than a thousand years in this time and place (the real age was unclear -- Duncan'd have to check with Pancho after this was over), might have gone through more than enough hell to call for a drinking binge. And anyone in a binge immediately wanted something that would intensify the escape.

* * *

Powys looked at the occasional flashing coming from the tunnels. "It looks pretty lively down there."

"I should imagine," shrugged the gentleman. "Now that the XTC is 'killing' many more people, I'm pulling them here. I should imagine that any of the opposition coming here should be quite inconvenienced. The immortal that Clovis brought with him is already feeling some minor discomfort."

"You've never felt pain before, have you?" Powys' eyes narrowed.

The gentleman shrugged, "No." His eyes lit up with interest. "Is that something you would advise?" Then his eyes became shrewd, "I would bet you would. It may be an interesting sensation which I might sample at a more strategic moment, but now now, I believe."

Powys laughed, "It was worth a try. On another note, where is the other chess player?"

He raised his eyebrows. "You mean my opposition? He doesn't believe that chess players should meet in the same location. We communicate through other means."

"Telepathy?" Powys smiled.

"Nothing so prosaic. We communicate through our actions... as do we all."

"You're a fountain of information, you know that?" Powys snapped.

The gentleman just smiled. "It looks like we have more visitors."

* * *

Silk had to fight really hard not to sigh in relief. The trip was finally over, and he was very glad that he had strapped himself to the bottom. If he had held on with his hands and feet alone, he was quite sure he would have long since fallen off. As it was, he had suffered enough to make him want to collapse into a hot tub with a crowd of ladies.

Even though he wore a leather coat, he had been bruised, scraped, and beaten by the black road, and later the dirt road.

It was with great inner strength that he remained perfectly still and let everyone exit from the van before he even contemplated unstrapping himself.

Everyone who had arrived here the proper way were very quiet and stealthy, not wishing to announce their presence to the owner of this grand estate. All he saw from the bottom of the van was a brown brick wall, but he could feel waves of moisture hitting him. Whatever it was, it had lots of water, unlike the desert that had surrounded him before.

Scully whispered to the narc agent, "Where is the backup?"

He looked worried, "I don't know. Maybe they're hiding better than I'd give them credit for, or they're not here yet."

She was worried too. "Should we wait?"

"We'd better."

She nodded. "Let's get to a better position."

They abandoned the van, leaving it partially hidden by some large desert trees.

At last, Silk could collapse onto the ground, letting his aching muscles begin to relax. He almost fell asleep in exhaustion, but managed to wake himself up and get away from the van, crouching below the wall.

About a few stone throws away, he peeked his head above the wall. It was a green-lawned estate, with a large mansion in the center. Only the occasional ornamental tree stood in the lawn, which would make sneaking in from any direction hard.

Off in the distance, he could easily see the others. Silk shook his head. If they were that obvious, then they were already lost.

Silk felt it before he heard it, so when Pancho's hand grabbed for where his neck, he had enough warning to move aside just a few inches. The hand grabbed air.

Pancho and Silk immediately recovered, facing one another. Pancho was almost angry, "You have some explaining to do."

Just then, the noise of a hundred yells at once startled them both. A private security team converged on Scully and the others, subduing them within moments.

That is, everyone except the narc agent, who was standing free. It was too far away to see or hear clearly, but the narc was clearly saying something. The others were cuffed and taken furhter into the grounds, while the narc started barking orders.

Silk swore. "I _knew_ it! I didn't trust that pole cat one bit!"

Pancho snortled, "Just like I didn't trust you. What now?"

"What do you mean?"

"It looked like Powys had you along for a special reason. He never said what it was, and I didn't ask him, but after seeing how you managed to get here without riding inside... by the looks of it, you rode under the van... I think I know why he brought you."

"How is that?"

Pancho smiled, "You're the one who's supposed to lead me unseen across this open spot of grass."

Silk shook his head, wondering if destiny was doing this to him on purpose. There were those who could talk to the awareness of destiny, but he had never been one. If he could have, then he would have some sharp words on hand. A tall arsenal, that was for sure.

* * * *


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