Duncan drew a blank. It was if the small Scottish Doctor had vanished into thin air. The harder Duncan searched the less likely it seemed that the little man would be found. Eventually he gave up in frustration. He lifted his face to the sky and howled his frustration gaining him some really strange looks from passing scientists. Instead of looking for Smith he turned his attention to tracking down Judd.
The balding leader of the expedition was surrounded by advisors and other bringing requests. Duncan couldn’t help but smile as the scene reminded him of a royal court.
“If you can get your equipment together, you can take over this afternoon’s window.” he said to the red-headed Irish woman. She seemed satisfied and hurried off to tell the rest of her team.
“Duncan. What leads do you have on the latest round of vanishings – I am told that the UN lost three soldiers.”
Duncan corrected him, “Four, sir.”
Judd’s forehead creased his balding head remaining smooth. Duncan suppressed a smile as it looked like a small pie-crust had formed, like the man had become a Klingon.
“I count three: Bailey, Conwel and Lancaster.”
“…and Culver.” Duncan added.
Duncan sighed. “Whatever. I think you will find that your vanishing soldier will be at an end. If I am not mistaken, there was a lull in the dissapearances when the first two UN soldiers vanished?”
Judd’s frown deepened, “Now you mention it, yes.”
Duncan nodded, “Then things resumed when I arrived?”
Judd agreed with him and smiled, “Is this an admission that you’re to blame? It would be the perfect cover you know – turn up and frame someone else for the crime that was yours all along. I’ve seen it before of course: Agatha Christie’s ‘Miss Marple’ would swan into a situation and someone would die – she would solve it of course and no-one would see that death followed whereever she went. Or take that horrible Angela Lansbury – what was the name of the detective?”
Duncan thought a moment, “Jessica Fletcher”
“Yes. ‘Murder, she wrote’ – bah – more like, ‘Murder that I’m framing you with’. Communities ought to have detective insurance. Big pay-off to these people to stop them visiting their town. Am I the only one who’s noticed that Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Poirot just to name three are possibly the worst serial killers, yet we cheer them on anyhow?”
Duncan scratched his chin. This wasn’t the conversation he’d planned to have, “So you’re saying you’d prefer that no-one look into murders?”
Judd shook his head, “Not at all. I’m just saying that I think there are people out there who’re fabulous at misdirection and subterfuge. They’ve been crawling around in shadows for so long that the cold clear light of day will hurt them.”
Duncan sighed as he remembered Methos in Geneva. He thought of Judd as a quack who chased after random shadows.
“So what do these theories have to do with anything?”
Judd looked pained, “Everything. Look at what we’re doing here: I am on the trail of a serial killer who’s slid down between the pages of history using amazing skills of misdirection to escape justice. This Methos character is the consumate master – he’s the pinnacle – the cream of the crop as far as this is concerned. How could I not want to track him down through the centuries?”
Harmless quack or not, Duncan felt a chill go through him at the explanation. Enough people like Judd and the deepest secrets of the immortals would be out in the light for all to see. Well, all Watchers, but if there was ever a true breach …
“Judd, these latest discoveries – the jar and the sword – they vindicate you in the eyes of the academic community, don’t they?”
Judd looked up at him. He’d been caught off guard. “Hmm? Yes. All the naysayers that pushed me to the fringes of the community. Methos a myth? No. These artifacts place him clearly in the 8th century BC. Fact. Do you have a lead on what’s missing from Forbes tent?”
Duncan shook his head.
“Forbes is heartbroken. This would have made his career. We have no idea of the contents of the jar. Subtefuge, misdirection … coverup. Say, you’re not Methos come to cover your own tracks are you?” Judd joked.
“No I’m not. Suppose I said that I think I know who did take them?”
Judd’s eyes widenned, “Then don’t hold out on me. I want the perpetrator.”
“I saw that new UN scientist – Doctor Smith – hurrying away from the tent. They first discovered him hanging around that part of the camp anyhow. He’s connected. I don’t have evidence, I can’t even find the man, but I don’t like him.”
“I’ll let people know. Keep looking.”
Duncan nodded, “Will do.”
Duncan went for a run to clear his head. By the time he returned he was no closer to understanding the place that Smith had in the whole affair. Judd caught him as he was eating a slice of toast.
“Duncan, there you are. The survey team are heading back to the wadi as we speak. Could you…?”
“… Finish my late lunch? Certainly. By the way – it looks like your stock of strawberry jam is running low.”
“No. Could you make sure they don’t vanish?”
Duncan sighed, “I think you’ll find that the disappearances are done with. Finished.”
“Even so, as a favour to me?”
Duncan pressed a little more toasted bread into his mouth than there was polite room for.
“Mmmph.” he said.
“Is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?”
“Mmmph.” Duncan repeated.
Judd shrugged and left Duncan to his toast.
Duncan managed to give himself a nice dose of indigestion by running to catch up with the departing survey team. He caught them just as they were within earshot of the wadi, quiet groaning from the landscape to accompany the stomach ache and groans that Duncan wanted to make himself. The team was split, torn whether to revisit the section of caves they had mapped a few days earlier – to investigate the unusual rock formation – or to map some nearby caves to see if there was an alternate way into the chamber that they’d seen beyond. As they walked along the dry stream bed the debates finally settled on the latter.
For his part Duncan was there to provide peace of mind and as a result felt pretty well useless. He’d brought his sword along as comfort but it still boded to be a boring afternoon. Then he remembered the fight. Bailey, Conwel and Culver all died on the cliff above this wadi. The bodies were never found. The question of which man had killed Duncan still hung in the air. Lancaster, the UN soldier, was a suspect as was the little Scottish Doctor. Yes, the Doctor, the man who’d been poking around with his own agenda since the moment he was spotted in the camp. The man who was prime suspect in the theft of the artifacts. Who would have more motive to take out the man charged with Security for the camp?
The scientists began climbing. Equipment was hauled up to a different cave mouth than they had used last time. Duncan began scouring the dry stream bed for signs of bodies or their disposal. He came up a solid blank on both counts. The caves would be a logical next step, but there were dozens to choose from. The wind played the caves like its own woodwind orchestra. Wheezing, groaning, howling. Was it any wonder that the locals thought the place was haunted? The brooding presence of the sword would have been felt by some too. That would definitely cause the rumours of Djinn.
Duncan climbed to the cave where the sword had been found. The skeletal remains of the sword’s prior owner had been removed and all that remained was a carefully staked out dig area. It looked like the team planned to return so he made sure not to disturb anything.
What had the scientific survey team said, something about a chamber beyond a strange rock formation? If the gap was large enough that would certainly provide enough of a hiding place. Duncan climbed down the rope ladder and found the trail of pitons up the cliff wall and headed into the cave. It was close and narrow, twisting to and fro heading into the cliff wall at ninety degrees to the flow of the wadi outside. Then he heard it, a tuneless whistling. He wasn’t alone!
Duncan dropped to a crouch and inched forward silently stalking the person. He could see the shadow up ahead – small enough to be the Doctor who’d been so hard to find at the camp. No wonder if he was poking around in the caves! Duncan advanced until he was close enough to see the mismatched clothing. In the moments just before he was going to spring on the little man and wrestle him to the ground he spotted what had got the survey team so interested. The sonar trace had showed them a regular shape and now Duncan could see it clearly, seven feet tall, blue and box shaped. It clung to the shadows like it was hiding.
The short Scottish man stopped turning his head a fraction in Duncan’s direction, “Well?” he asked.
Duncan remained still.
“I know you’re there. Now you have a decision.” he walked toward the shadowy blue box. A glint of something small and metallic appeared in his hand. A key. The box was opened and the Doctor turned to face Duncan looking directly at him.
“You have a decision. Red pill. Blue pill. The rabbit hole, by the way, extends another thirty feet in that direction, ” he nodded with his head toward the chamber on the other side of his box. The box was blocking the passage almost completely.
“Like I told Kierkegaard, it’s a leap of faith. With all that you suspect will you let me go? Will you jump me and drag me back to the camp to atone for whatever crime you believe me to have committed? Or, will you make a leap of faith and follow me in here and let me show you what’s really been going on?” The man turned and vanished into the deep shadow of the box interior.
As Duncan watched a light came on above the box, on its roof. The door was open. If he walked away now then he’d have to explain the disappearance of the UN Doctor as well. If he was guilty then there would be no way to resolve matters. If he followed him in then he could always drag him out and back to the camp. What if he was right, what if there was more going on here than meets the eye? Letting him leave would mean never knowing, or he could follow the man inside and see.
The decision made itself for him. He rushed forward as the howling of the wind intensified. There was a rasping, a groaning. The door closed behind him as he landed over the threshold and found himself in a brightly lit room. The groaning, wheezing wind was still there. It seemed to rise and fall in cadence with the movement of a structure in the centre of the room at the centre of a gleaming six sided bank of controls. To his left was a hat stand, to the right a chesterfield sofa.
The Doctor looked up from a monitor screen and smiled, “Nice of you to join me. Now, we need to talk.”
Methos woke up with a foul taste in his mouth. Perhaps a fowl taste? Had a pigeon visited his mouth and nested there? He’d heard rumours that Australians joked that the ‘poop fairy’ had paid his mouth a visit. He sat up and pulled a blanket off him. He was on Joe’s couch. He didn’t remember making his bed here so he’d have to thank Joe later for the blanket. He headed into the bathroom. Joe only had the one toothbrush. Plenty of toothpaste. With the tap running he brushed his teeth making a mental note to tell Joe to buy a new toothbrush later. As he turned to find a towel his sleeve snagged the brush and toothpaste knocking them both off the counter. In slow motion he watched toothpaste arc gracefully and bounce off the toilet seat. The toothbrush wasn’t so lucky, sliding down the pan into the water. Methos paused at the dilemma then fished it back out and rinsed it briefly under the tap before putting it back on the counter. He then wandered out toward the kitchen in search of breakfast.
Bacon and eggs, toast. The small amount of milk smelled off. Methos was tucking into his first slice of toast when he heard stirrings. Door opening. Door closing moments later. Toilet flushing.
“Joe…” he called.
A couple of minutes later Joe appeared, “Yes?”
“There’s toothpaste on your beard.”
Methos couldn’t bring himself to really meet Joe’s gaze as they ate breakfast.
“So you didn’t finish your story from last night. Something about being captive in a cave, and an Assyrian soldier offering you a deal?”
Methos nodded, “Though I don’t think he really was Assyrian…” he continued on with the rest of the story – taking the immortal Pul’s head, saving Aleric from Tabal and the parting of ways with pieces of the Methuselah Stone. Joe got up to make coffee but the lack of milk or creamer put an end to the plan. Minutes later they were in the car and pulling up to a Starbucks coffee shop. Two grande lattes with non-fat and a couple of comfortable chairs got Methos talking again. He skipped forward by years – Isaiah’s ministry spanned five separate kings of Judah. Methos stayed close to the old man as the years passed. Pul’s dying words echoed in his ears: “You may have won, old man, but in death I will claim all that you hold dear. I have people, even now, poised to kill your friends. My son – oh you didnt know that about the Stone? I fathered a mortal son and he will destroy your precious Judah.”
“One dark night there was an urgent knocking on my front door. Ela-Jehu answered it and ushered the old prophet in to talk with me. Quiet words were exchanged. The prophet was crying, held out a piece of parchment. Ela-Jehu gasped at the extravagance of such a gift. Even kings only received prophesies orally. He knew that Isaiah cared for me dearly but even the costly gift didn’t make the message any easier to take. I was pale and shaking like a leaf. We embraced warmly and the prophet made his way out of the house. It took me a few minutes to get over the effects of hearing his quiet prophesy, and even then all I could do was stagger to the wine and drink until my senses were numb.”
Joe looked taken aback, “Isaiah, as in the guy who wrote the book in the bible?”
“Yes. The same. I’d given him a piece of the Methuselah Stone some years before on my return from Assyria. He had been contemplating the way the light played off the crystal. The way he explained it was that he was reminded of teachings of light and dark in the oral traditions of his people. From there the LORD spoke to him regarding my specific circumstance. I have spent years wanting him to be a crackpot. Seven hundred years BC he made predictions. I watched and waited. I drank to numb the cold shiver that the prophesy left me with. He’s been solid, right and true, all the way along the line Joe. How am I supposed to deal with that?”
Joe shrugged, wiping Cappuccino foam from his beard, “So did anything happen?”
Methos laughed, “Shit happens. Live with it. Yes, something happened – I went to his house the next night to ask about the prophesy and he told me that he had been sitting on it for years. He kept coming back to it but was reminded every time that the LORD’s word never returns void – always accomplished all that it was spoken to achieve. There was a knock on the door and he answered it. While our attention was focussed on the front, two men came in the back door. A knife slid between my ribs, “Courtesy of the Lord Tabal” a voice whispered in my ear. The last thing I saw was the old man being dragged away between them”
“When I came to, the place was trashed and deserted. The thug who knifed me only succeeded in puncturing my lung. I struggled home and ordered Ela-Jehu to pack his stuff. He looked wide eyed and didnt complain – something to do with blood soaking my shirt. I dont remember what I told him, something about staying hidden and safe, but he took off taking my sword and the prophesy that had been given me. I stayed behind and sure enough, some thugs appeared. It wasnt really a contest. I ended up dead on the floor of my small house.”
“I searched long and hard for Isaiah. When I found him I nearly threw up – he had been executed by the group of thugs. Half of him was on one side of a tree, and half on the ground the other. They’d sawn him in two like they were felling a tree. Whatever became of his fragment of the Stone I dont know – probably passed through the hands of Tabal.”
Joe looked at his coffee then back to Methos, “Thanks. I dont think I’ll eat for a week after that description.”
“You’re welcome. Anyhow, that was the end of my stay in Judah. Tiglath Pileser proved true to his word – I was separated from those I cared about, though I suspect that Ela-Jehu’s self preservation instinct kicked in and he found a particularly good place to hide. Shalmaneser was his son, and he destroyed the nation of Judah in place of his father. By that time I was travelling the quieter roads of North Africa.”
Duncan sat down on the chesterfield sofa trying to make sense of what was going on. Moments before he had seeing the strange Scottish Doctor walk into a seven foot tall blue box. When he followed it turned out to be … bigger on the inside than on the outside? He looked around the room trying to make sense of it.
“If I tried to explain it to you, you wouldnt understand.” the Doctor told him, anticipating the question.
Duncan nodded and closed his slack jaw. He thought of another question, then shook his head closing his mouth again. The Doctor seemed to be oblivious to the questions. He bustled around the console mumbling to himself and settling down into a tuneless whistle while he worked.
He clapped his hands together, “Got you!”
Duncan looked at him positive that he was the strangest person he’d ever met in the last four hundred years.
“Who have you got?”
“Nothing sinister. I ran through a scan to see where the resonance came from, surely you noticed it?”
Duncan continued to frown, “The buzz sitting on the base of my spine and shoulders?” he asked.
“That’s be the one. Interferece patterns in our bio-electric fields. I felt it the moment you were close. One of the other UN soldiers to – the who tried to kill me.”
Duncan stood up and began pacing around the room to get aquianted with the inside of the mad Scottsman’s blue box. The walls were white, giving off a quiet hum that he both heard and felt, round depressions marking their surface in a regular pattern. The hatstand and sofa seemed utterly out of place given the console in the centre of the room yet the whole place orbitted the presence of the Doctor. With him in his proper place to give it all context it all made sense.
“So you’re immortal?” Duncan asked.
“Oh no. With proper care and feeding I’ll make it a few thousand years but not immortal. Im limited to twelve regenerations – occasionally this old body just needs to reboot and start over. Follow me.” the Doctor abruptly turned on his heel and opened a section of the wall that led off into a white walled corridor, “Well? What’re we waiting for?”
In glimpses along the corridor, through half closed doors, Duncan thought he saw a library, swimming pool and walk-in closet. The place was a maze. The corridor led them eventually to a laboratory that was cluttered with equipment from a variety of periods. A piece of workbench had been removed to make way for a huge projection TV set.
“Hold out your hand.” the Doctor ordered while Duncan was fixated on all of the equipment.
Without thinking Duncan extended his right hand. He felt a sharp little bite and he looked closer at what the Doctor had done. A neat little cut had appeared on his finger. The Doctor was watching with fascinating as the edges of the cut sparkled with energy and closed. In his hand was a sample container with a neat slice of Duncan in it.
The container was dropped inside a squat little machine that hummed and burped. The Doctor looked at a screen on its side.
“That explains things. Lets see…” he pressed a sample container to his own thumb and Duncan watched it bite and close around a slice of the Doctor’s flesh. Unlike Duncan, the cut didnt sparkle or close. It stopped bleeding faster than he expected but it looked angry and raw. The Doctor dropped the sample container into his machine and sucked on his hurt thumb. Again the machine hummed, longer this time, then burbled a response.
Duncan stood there in rapt fascination as the Doctor became a powerhouse of nervous energy. Cables appeared from under the workbench and the innards of the machine exposed. Crocodile clips, paper clips and something that looked like a small spanner all came into play as he jury-rigged an interface to a nearby Commodore 64 computer. He leaned back, cracked his knuckles and began tapping at the keyboard. A few minutes later two displays appeared on the TV screen. It looked like DNA - a helix of connected circles.
“See here?” The Doctor pointed, “and here.” he pointed again. The display cleared as he tapped keys. “Just a second. Lets see, isolate the genome, correct for phenotype and remember to carry the one…”
Two dozen vertical pairs of bars appeared on the screen. Several areas were highlighted, pulsing from red to white and back.
“In simple terms, you’re not entirely human.” The Doctor explained.
Duncan laughed, “Look, if you dragged me down here to tell me that, I would have to say you’re a quack. No offense.”
“None taken. Lets see if this convinces you then – this area of the genome regulates the machinery that kicks in to start decomposition once a person dies. You have what looks like a redirect mapped into the DNA. If I read things right, it takes you over here, ” more handwaving by the little man, “where a compressed set of instructions have been stored.”
“You havent always been immortal have you? Something to so with how you died? Am I on the right track … no dont tell me … there’s something else in here. Tucked away where I thought it wouldnt be noticed. OK, what’ve you hidden in there?”
The Doctor punched a few buttons on the squat piece of equipment and it spat out a sample tube. This was placed into a tall, silver, high-tech looking machine resembling a blender. It bleeped and spat out low-tech ticker-tape that the Doctor read with great interest.
“Your biodata is a mess. Writing and rewriting. Its like a scrapbook of patches and scribbles. Extensive evidence of conflicting entries. If I didnt know better I would call it a patchwork of dozens of … yes, thats it, isnt it. The lightning, the mist. A transfer. Ingenious.”
The Doctor turned to Duncan, “Oh, you’re still here. Lets see, you died some time ago and the machinery of death transformed you. Since then you’ve experienced hundreds of biodata transfers from other immortals and well, this is a little embarassing, but I have to break it to you that some of the DNA redirect overlaid genes controlling procreaction. You’ll never be able to have children.”
Duncan was dumbfounded, “If an immortal’s head is separated from their body, its game over. The game says holy ground is sacred and we cannot fight there. In the end, there can be only one of us left standing.”
The Doctor nodded toward the sword Duncan carried, “Hence the need for that. Now, I assume the extended bioelectric field you radiate alerts others to your presence?”
The Doctor continued, “It’s a neat piece of biodata engineering. I have to admire it. I cant condone it however. Its barbaric. You’re a labrat – you and all of your kind. Someone has been experimenting on the human race. I would have asked if the Rani had done this, but I dont see her signature in the bioediting. Are there any stories of your origins?”
Duncan shrugged feeling suddently very dumb in the face of the technobabble.
“Of course – you’re sterile. New immortals come from somewhere.”
Duncan jumped in, “Pre-immortal humans?”
The Doctor nodded and hurried past him to the door, “Come on. Lets see what we can find out.”