Joe called the meeting to order a good ten minutes after it was due to have started. Coffee and pastries had been provided and people were still eating and drinking when he lowered the lights and fired up the projector. His laptop computer took a moment to switch over to the secondary display leaving the screen an intense blue color.
The distinctive voice of Mary Culver rang out, “Oh, good. Derek Jarman’s movie … I never did get around to seeing it when it was showing.”
Joe made frustrated noises as he wrestled the technology into playing ball. Finally he had it – the blue screen switching to show a globe with controls at the bottom to change the view – spin, zoom, pan – and a search panel on the left. Previous locations were highlighted in a list – Joe clicked on “Geneva” and waited a moment, letting the simulated planet rotate and the point of view fly in to hover above the Watcher’s Geneva HQ.
“As many of you know we have consolidated much of the regional structure of our organization into a central hub, here.” A shaky red laser pointer dot wobbled to and fro across the building on screen.
“However we have a number of other significant projects around the globe especially with the merger of departments.” he zoomed out of the display shrinking the planet and coloured pins appeared marking the location of other facilities.
“Now, let me overlay the last month’s tracking data from field agents.”
A halo of new pins appeared around each of the major watcher projects.
“Immortals have been vanishing – fights planned but their opponentt being snatched away at the last minute. Anyone have comments?”
Someone suggested a leak, which was high on Joe’s list of possible problems. Alasdair, Methos’s young assistant, was waving at him across the table like an eager puppy.
“Alasdair – you wanted to share something?”
“Yes. I read about this.”
Joe looked interested, “While scanning the Methos chronicle?”
“No. Ray Bradbury.”
Joe looked confused, “Who?”
Duncan was leaning against the wall at the very back of the dark room, heartily chewing on an apple danish. With mouth half full he said, “Sci-fi author.”
The room erupted into laughter and Alasdair seemed glad that the lights were down to cover the red flush on his cheeks. He persisted once the laughing had died down, “No – one of his short stories, A Sound Of Thunder – crappy movie by the way, dont bother with that, read the book – has these time travelling hunters. The ultimate biggame hunt – T-Rex – chosen to be shot at almost the precise moment that he would have died anyhow.”
Joe was laughing again, “Time travelling big game hunters, huh? Have the preservation chemicals from the scrolls gone to your head? OK – any other suggestions?”
Discussions ranged to and fro on the topic of a leak, with various people vowing to get to the bottom of it, to stamp it out. Joe looked pleased as they filed out. Four people remained, three seated one standing. Joe looked at Alasdair, “Meeting’s over, could you close the door on your way out?”
The young man looked pained, like he wanted to say something to Joe about the treatment in the meeting but he kept silent. On the way out the door he swiped a plate of pastries.
“Great. Thats all I need. If he thinks crazy theories like that are going to get him anywhere in the organization…”
Methos interrupted Joe’s annoyed tirade, “Joe. He’s young and enthusiastic. Its all still new to him. Im sure he was only trying to help. So, why do you want us to stay?”
Joe nodded, “I need your help. One of the teams, headed up by Zechariah Judd, ” at the mention of the name Methos’ face fell, “has requested extra security. I figured that you and Duncan would be the perfect candidates.”
Methos waited before speaking, chewing over possible things he could say. Finally the words spilled out, “Judd’s a freak, a whack-job.”
Joe corrected him, “He’s also head researcher on the field team digging up details on the Methos project.”
“I know. He’s a nut. Last I heard he was chasing a rumour out in the Middle East.”
Joe nodded, and fired up Google Earth again. He dragged the globe around until he was focussing on a remote region of Northern Iraq near the border of Turkey.
“He told me that he’s investigating a haunted wadi. According to local legend, Djinn live there. He also said that over the past three weeks he’s lost several members of his team. One was beheaded. Two simply disappeared. He’s working with the UN, and they confirmed the disappearances and reported that two of their soldiers vanished during the same period.”
Methos laughed derisively, “That’s Judd. Losing men on a wild goose chase.”
Joe looked pained, tossing a set of dog tags onto the table, “Duncan pulled these off a man who was part of a team abducting an immortal known as Hans. I spoke with his watcher – Hans has spent fifteen years in the German army as a cook, before that he worked as a chef. I dont think these men were after him for his recipes. While I have people looking for a leak internally, I want you two to be on the lookout. I think we have a new player in the game.”
Mary had been silent watching the interplay. She grabbed the tags and looked at them, “What’s the writing?”
“No vowels. Like Hebrew?” she asked.
Duncan walked around the table to Joe’s laptop and pulled up a web browser. He went to a website claiming to be the ultimate source for crossword puzzles, and crossword solving tools. He closed the slew of popup ads and began looking for a link.
Methos was obviously tetchy, “Great. We’re talking about a possibly paramilitary organization, or a leak in the Watchers, and you want to solve the Times crossword?”
Duncan held out a hand, “Toss those things here would you?”
Mary threw them. She threw like a girl and they missed the hand completely.
Duncan retrieved them and punched the text into a web form – “N_S_P_H_R_S” – and clicked “Submit”. The screen popped up a bunch more popups and reported “No hits”. He played with it a while, taking out and adding blanks. Finally he hit on one that came back, “Nosophoros”.
He switched to another website and searched for a definition. He read to the rest of them, “Nosophoros: Greek, meaning plague carrier. The corrupted term for vampire nosferatu comes from Old Slavonic word nosufur-atu, originally deriving from the Greek. (also see Vampire, Undead, Immortal)”
He looked around the room, “That doesnt help much does it?”
Joe nudged him out of the way, “Back to the matter at hand, Judd. I would like one or both of you two out there. Mary has contacts in the military – you’ll be travelling as civilian contractors – an the plane is scheduled to leave tonight.”
In the end Methos managed to refuse Joe’s plea for help opting instead to “stay and guide my young Padawan learner.” Duncan was issued a uniform, kit bag and a long lecture from Mary about the modern military. There was something about the woman that grated on his nerves. He tolerated her for the sake of Joe mostly but partly because of the size of the rottweiler dog that was glued to her hip.
They changed plane at a nondescript air-force base in who-knows-where. Duncan and Mary were joined by two American UN soldiers whose uniforms declared them to be “Conwel” and “Lancaster”. Duncan sank back into his seat as they climbed back to cruising altitude again, pulled a hat down over his eyes – “let the other two be annoyed by Mary’s inane chatter for a while” he thought.
Nigel kept a close eye on his partner Shannon as they travelled. He was masking his reactions well, but in hand signals he indicated that the tall dark and hansomde man with the long hair was a potential target. Something wasnt right – the buzz should have gone off a lot sooner – it was only once they were seated a few feet away that he had noticed this fact.
Nigel pulled out the tracker to get a reading on the man. The screen was ghosting badly. He could understand himself and Shannon – currently wearing the old style anti-buzz stealth unit against his skin – there should be 2 masked traces. What he couldnt understand was the ghosting around the dark haired man, or the way that a ghost trace appeared to be fading in and out around his mousy haired travelling companion. It was a rhythmic change and seemed to be cycling every minute or so. He let his mind absorb the patterns and make sense of the message they conveyed, if there was one.
Mary was bored and let her perception drift. Duncan was a mess, energistically speaking, his aura looking sickly pale. It reminded her of a brown dwarf star she’d seen: unable to maintain nuclear fusion at its core, cool (as stellar bodies go) and dormant. The Chinaman had said he needed a quickenning but none of the others couldnt see quite how much he needed it.
The two UN soldiers were far more interesting. At first glance they looked and felt ordinary enough but it was as though the skin of normality was mere millimetres thick. As she probed under the surface she saw the glow of a young immortal in Conwel. The cloaking of his energy profile was clearly artifical and imposed from outside.
It began as a tickle around her tailbone and expanding upward along her spine. She looked up and noticed that Lancaster was running some kind of scan. She smiled to herself, leaned back in the seat and made contact.