Nigel Lancaster had the build of a footballer. Some might have described him as “burly” in previous years but recently he had been working to slim down and lose some of the bulk yet staying fit; exchanging raw muscle mass for a focus on speed and agility. His mop of blond curls had been cut and he’d added a four hundred dollar suit yet somehow felt both dwarfed by the man across the desk from him and somehow under-dressed. Hardly a rational reaction, he told himself. At six foot four Nigel was a clear five inches taller, and the man across the desk was wearing a standard army issue uniform with rank insignia indicating his rank as Colonel.
Michael Krankheit looked up from the file assessing Nigel with cold grey eyes. With deliberate slowness he closed the file and slid it away from him, finished with the contents.
“Im not going to beat around the bush Mr. Lancaster. You come with credentials that pique my interest but I find little in your service record that argues for your presence here. The CIA has had an interest in my project for a long time now and I want to preserve our mutual understanding more than I want to see you out of my presence. Let me be perfectly clear on one thing: I will tolerate you working here as long as you remain (a) loyal and (b) useful. Fail in either regard and I will have your head.”
Something about the way he’d made the threat sent a shiver through Nigel. It was a statement of fact, not just a threat, and it came with a conviction of tone that suggested he should take it literally. The colonel’s voice was nasal with a steely edge, his eyes penetrating and he dominated the room with his mere presence. Something about him made Nigel’s skin crawl.
“My staff will arrange quarters and show you around. Expect your first assignment by 0800 tomorrow. That will be all.” Krankheit picked up a lightweight mobile phone earpiece and fitted it to his left ear and rotated his chair away from the desk, the interview clearly over. He began speaking in a language that Nigel couldnt immediately place that had a semitic feel to its sound. Before he could get more of a handle on what the Colonel was saying a young NCO stepped in to escort him to his guest quarters.
Joe was finally pleased with something Mary had done: through her army contacts she had arranged shipment of Duncan’s body to Geneva in a USA Army coffin. She had also booked them seats on a train directly from Paris to Geneva, a trip of only four hours, and organized a car at the other end to bring them to the Campus location of the Watcher’s HQ in time for a breakfast meeting with Adam Pierson, the public alias of an immortal known to Joe as Methos. Joe nodded, he would want to be involved and his research staff would be invaluable in tracking down The Chinaman. The journey went without a hitch and even better, Mary slept the whole time on the train. Silence truly was golden!
The NCO lead Nigel out of the Colonel’s office and once they were out of earshot seemed to relax.
“So…” Nigel offered to get the younger man talking, “…the Colonel runs a tight ship?
He was answered with a laugh, “You could say that.” He hurried ahead to catch an elevator going down, taking the opportunity to smile at a female soldier already in there. Quiet words were exchanged and it looked to Nigel like his guide had landed her phone number in the space of the 5 floors they traveled together.
The new level of the base had tasteful grey concrete walls with occasional doors with numeric codes. Nowhere in their journey was there a single sign or map. It reminded Nigel of rats in a featureless maze and he wondered if Krankheit was watching the staff as they navigated these spaces. The corridor was comfortably wide enough for three men to walk side by side. As they walked Nigel’s guide seemed to be counting.
“Is that how you find your way?” He asked
The younger man nodded, “Right-36-Right-48-Left-Left and first on the right gets us to the officer’s mess from the elevator. He smiled, “Everyone has their own way of getting around down here. I’d lose my ass if I wasnt sat on it most of the time.”
They passed a set of double doors made of a different material to the rest – a black composite that drew in the light. Nigel nodded toward them, “What’s in there?”
His guide paused, looking thoughtful. He seemed reluctant to give something away. His mind made up he turned back to the direction they were already headed saying, “I’ll collect you in two hours. Its easier to show you but if I do, you mustnt breathe a word of it to anyone…” His voice took on an immitation of the Colonel’s, “…or heads will roll.” He turned and winked at Nigel and they both laughed at the parody.
As they walked they passed a room that looked to be some sort of infirmary. Two lines of beds filled the room each one encased in a plastic bubble and nurses in biohazard protective gearwere caring for the people in the bubbles. Next to the infirmary was a brightly lit room that looked like a cross between Doctor Frankenstein’s laboratory, a denist’s office complete with a metallic dentist chair and a state of the art operating theatre. Finally they arrived at a section of the floor devoted to double occupancy rooms. Men and women could be seen in a variety of off-duty pursuits from playing cards, reading … and Nigel blushed at the view he caught in the room furthest from the one he’d been assigned. Obviously there were few rules about personel fraternizing!
“This will be your room for the duration of your stay. Remember, two hours.” his guide said, turned on his heel and left, counting off his paces.
Joe felt a sense of returning home when he was on the Watcher’s campus. He knew that any random person he passed in the hallways would know his dark secret. It lightened the load and offered him the opportunity to relax. Not that the place wasnt full of its own secrets and intrigues. Any sizable family had a few members who were in a snit over something, others who were just getting over a spat and others who were odd in that way that makes you cringe slightly to mention their last name since its the same as yours.
Duncan’s coffin had been whisked off by orderlies to a section of campus with facilities for dealing with biological … what had the man said, “samples”. A far cry from the book-heavy Watchers of his early years, the new blood seemed to have brought the organization a new sense of purpose. New blood, new direction, new challenges. The old passivity of merely “watching” had given way to an active “observation” and “study”. There was gossip in the halls of an upcoming symposium where departments would be presenting papers – a far cry indeed from the days of writing chronicles that would never be read by anyone else in your lifetime.
Men and women bustled through the wood panelled corridors carrying on converstaions with little regard to the paintings on the walls or the antique furniture they passed on the way. Joe found himself smiling by the time he reached the library where he was told that the Methos chronicles were being re-examined. When he reached the designated room he was suprised to find a metal door and code lock waiting for him. He looked at the ID badge he’d been issued and keyed in the sixteen digits he found on the back. The machine gave a contented ‘burble’ flashed a green light as the doors slid open. He found himself in the ante-room of a high-tech clean-room. Two men clad in white were carefully handling ancient manuscripts, scanning pages with a minimum of disturbance to the scroll or book they’d been assigned.
A bleep to his left alerted Joe to the presence of a computer interface built into the wall. It was asking for his clearance to proceed into the changing area, before letting him into the clean room proper. He keyed in his badge number and the screen flashed a red “Access Denied.” He tried again and was rejected a second time. A small blue link at the bottom of the screen offered him the opportunity to find out more. He clicked the link and found himself on an intranet page detailing the scanning efforts. Software pulled images from the archive as he clicked through a list catalogued by approximate age. This was new! His virtual tour of the Methos chronicle came to an abrupt end when a precise English accent spoke behind him.
He turned around looking sheepish – the look of a schoolboy caught reading a magazine when he should have been reading thermodynamics – “That’s me.”
The other man smiled and extended a hand. Joe looked at it a moment, following it to the edge of a white shirt cuff underneath a brown tweed jacket, back to the smiling face. He shook off the surprise and shook hands with the man.
“Rupert Giles. I understand you worked closely with my predecessor, Adam Pierson?”
“Yes, thats right. Is he here?”
Giles pointed to the clean room, “You’ll have to wait until he comes out. We’ve had to limit access to the original manuscripts but these infernal machines…” he waved a hand toward the computer screen, “…have been a boon to widening the number of minds who can crack a tough problem. Join me for breakfast – Adam will be along in a short while?”
Joe nodded, not sure that this was the same Watcher organization that he’d originally joined.
Joe was shovelling bacon and eggs into his mouth when Adam Pierson and his assistant arrived carrying their own food trays. Adam, better known to his closest confidents as the immortal Methos, had found the perfect cover: while the Watchers were searching for him as the oldest living immortal he had quietly infiltrated their ranks and become head researcher on the project. He controlled the flow of information, allowing occasional small victories but most of the time he played a shell game of dead leads and obscure research topics. His replacement as head of the project came as a result of the recent mergers. An eager accademic who’d flown back to Europe from an extended assignment in California was brought in. Rupert Giles. The man was a bookworm of the original variety. A technophobe to boot. Ever the survivor, Methos took to the scanning room where his assisant Alasdair had laboured for months on end to digitize the ancient manuscripts. Now he felt back in control. He chose which of the documents to scan, and which to down-prioritize. He had made a few minor scanning errors when it wasnt possible to avoid a given tome – a page missing here or there – he was counting on the academics trust of the computer imaging archive to keep things under wraps though. Knowing which books to re-scan, which pages were missing – would tie up the project for months if not years when it finally came out that the archive was flawed. In the meantime he would find other ways to keep prying eyes off his back.
Methos stood a lanky six feet in his bare feet. His assistant Alasdair a mere five foot four. Methos wore a bored expression, his companion an eager smile. The boy could be a pain in the rear sometimes but so far he’d either not noticed the efforts Methos was making toward covering up the data-trail, or he was covering for him, either way he was gratful and wanted to stay on the better side of the lad.
Rupert waved them over, making space for them at the table, “Sit down, sit down, you’re making me feel tired just watching you stand there. Eat.”
Joe wondered for a moment if his project management style was as motherly. He made a mental note to ask Methos later.