Two hours passed for Nigel in a heartbeat. After the young soldier had left he took the opportunity to wander around – to find the bathroom (officially) but in reality he wanted to get a feel for the layout of this level of the base. The lumpy kit bag that he’d been parted from on entering the facility was waiting for him when he returned to his room. He spent some of the time unpacking the bag and the rest of it sleeping, or apparently so, with his ear tuned to listen for snippets of conversation that might occur in the corridor outside his room.
“Two hours and two minutes, not that I was counting” he said as there was a quiet knock at his door.
The young NCO put his head around it and smiled, “You and my Dad would have gotten along just fine.” he laughed, “sent me to a military school because he thought it would knock some sense into me. He was all about punctuality. He even made me set my wrist-watch two minutes fast so that I’d always arrive places on-time or a shade early. Well, I have no watch, and base clocks are slaved to some atomic clock or other with millisecond precision. Im two minutes late – blame my Dad – and deal with it.”
Nigel unlaced his fingers from behind his head and stretched, rolling his neck too and fro working out a slight kink. He took his time to peal himself off the bed and put on his boots, all the while keeping an eye on the younger man. Were they running on a schedule? The NCO was obviously jumpy, shifting from foot to foot and watching Nigel’s activity with undue interest. Whatever he was going to be shown was clearly more than just the architecture of another room in the base.
Most of the off-duty soldiers in the other rooms ignored them as they passed. Conversations buzzed – baseball scores and friendly arguments about batting averages, two young men comparing notes on their bootcamp and most intriguing of all, as Nigel and the NCO passed one room the occupants looked up and made a movie reference – “Thunderdome” said one, the other nodded, “Two men enter, one man leaves.”
Nigel was surprised when they stepped inside a utility closet. His guide had slowed down waiting for the corridor to be clear before he’d ushered Nigel inside. Behind buckets, mops and cleaning supplies was a large metal shelving unit. Hidden in the shadows at knee height, out of sight unless you crouched down specifically to look there, was a numeric keypad. His young guide quickly entered the code and Nigel was careful to memorize the four digits – 1985 – so he could return later. There was a metallic click and the wall shifted slightly, responding to a push from the young man, taking the shelving unit with it.
The corridor beyond was dark lit only by the single bare lightbulb in the utility closet. Nigel was ushered through and quiet hand signals indicated that he should follow the slightly curving corridor to its end, up the ladder, and then to wait. What he found at the top of the ladder was a small room containing a group of about a half dozen men silently betting with an overturned crate doubling as a table, the only furniture. The walls were rough, raw concrete. Along the curving wall to his left Nigel noticed a series of slots conveniently placed at eye level. His guide arrived moments after him and pulled him over to the nearest slot and pointed. He seemed reluctant to speak so Nigel peered into the hole resolving to ask his questions afterward.
He found himself looking down into a large round room. He guessed it to be the size of a small highschool gymnasium. The hidden observation point was about fifteen feet above ground level with the view slots looking downward. Nigel estimated, given the curvature of the walls, that the whole room to be a clear two storeys tall. The walls were covered with overlapping scales of the same black composite material with recessed lighting at regular intervals also covered by the material. Someone had gone to extreme legths to eradicate any sign of the original concrete or metal power conduits he’d seen snaking along the walls outside. The covering over lights gave the room a twilight ambience but Nigel doubted that any lovers would choose to walk here for a romantic evening out!
A thrill passed through the observers as one noticed activity in the room below. Two men in black with swords on their backs were dragging another man between them. His head was covered by a bag his hands bound behind his back and he was dragging his feet giving the impression that he’d only recently been beaten close to senseless. He was dumped roughly in the centre of the room. One man stayed with him while the other stepped out of sight and returned moments later with a metal chair. The bound man was hauled into the seat and left sitting in the centre of the room.
From his vantage point Nigel could see occasional movements of the man’s hands and wrists firstly as he came around and then began working at the bindings. It gave Nigel the distinct impression that he’d been through this treatment before, that he knew what was coming, and knew his hands would be invaluable to later success or even survival. Activity in the hands ceased suddenly. A strange stillness. The door to the room opened and to Nigel’s surprise the Colonel himself stepped inside. Arrogance and contempt, even a sick pleasure at seeing the bound man flashed across his face as he stepped closer. A brief flash alerted Nigel to an ornate sword hilt at his waist replacing the gun holster he’d seen earlier in the day. In his hand was a sheethed, plain, slightly curving oriental sword.
When he spoke it was in a language Nigel wasnt familiar with. The words were distinct, enunciated in clear and precise tones. A short greeting, an introduction? Nigel let his yearning for comprehension take the fore, lead him to a place where the words flowed like a river. The let the phrases sink into his perception trickling down through his synapses. It was tough, the voices were low but moreso it was the distance. He concentrated and let the words soak into him. Becoming one with him. Comprehension bubbled to the surface of the river’s flow in his mind’s eye. The initial syllables resolved themselves into something he found had meaning.
It had been the bound man that had spoken first, “Tabal the Hittite”.
The Colonel responded, “Shepherd.” Wwo adversaries meeting once again and exchanging names, each seeming to know the other completely? Clearly the two men knew each other but the names confused Nigel – Colonel Michael Krankheit – Tabal the Hittite? Surely not!
The Colonel – “Tabal” he corrected himself – was slowly circling the bound man. Nigel finally noticed the long brown robes that he wore. The rope belt. The antique crucifix still hanging from his waist. The Colonel was interrogating a monk? Was nothing sacred these days?
He drew the sword and Nigel gasped at the workmanship. It gleamed in the pseudo-twighlight: silver with inlaid blue. A gently flaring leaf shaped blade perfectly balanced for single handed use with no crossguard. Nigel frowned, wracking his brain for where he’d seen the design before. It was clearly a modern replica of something he’d seen from the late bronze age, made from moderm materials. The blue inlay seemed to be a trailing vine that wound upward from a deep indigo pommel, around the hilt to blade tip. While ornate it also looked deadly carried in an obviously practiced hand.
Tabal swung the sword in a few practice arcs before bringing it swiftly down one side of the monk’s head. The bag over his head fell free cleaved by the razor sharp blade. Small amounts of white hair fell to the ground. As did the man’s left ear. Tabal was smiling as he continued to pace slowly.
The blade flashed again this time severing the monk’s bonds. He quickly pulled hands close to his body but remained still his eyes following Tabal’s movements. The circular pacing abruptly ceased and Tabal tossed the oriental sword into the air behind the monk. In a burst of activity he pulled the sword out of the air and faced his tormentor falling into a relaxed ready stance. Blood was flowing freely from his severed ear. Eyes remained locked on one another as they circled.
The blows they exchanged were fast and precise. Despite his white hair and visibly greater age the monk pressed Tabal back with a series of fluid cuts and thrusts. There was a brutality to the Colonel’s technique; maximum damage with minimal outlay of effort. The beauty of his sword marred by the ugliness of his brutally efficient style.
They traded several volleys of blows. Each pressed an attack that was turned aside. Fluid grace smashed aside by grim military handiwork. Vicious swings missing a quiet side-step by little more than a hair.
As the men circled Nigel saw they were breathing heavily. Nicks and cuts across arms and face bled. The monk was favouring his left leg while his opponent walked undiminished. With a swift feint Tabal opened his opponent’s defences and landed a bone shattering kick to the monk’s damaged leg. He went down. His sword was swept away in an instant.
Silence hung in the air.
“You failed to take my head then, and you’ve failed now. Your precious Methos isnt here to save you old man. I’ve waited twenty seven centuries for this moment.” he slipped the tip of his sword under the monk’s chin, raising his bowed face to look into his eyes, “There can be only one!”
In a flash of blue and silver his head fell. Nigel felt sick but couldnt look away. White mist surrounded the body with electrical discharges giving it an inner glow. As he watched the mist surrounded Tabal. Lightning arced wildly but the room seemed to focus is all back into the now kneeling figure of the victor. The sword crackled with energy glowing from hilt to tip. As quickly as it had begun the lightshow ended leaving Krankheit spent and kneeling. Nigel turned from the grisly spectacle to see men exhanging money – the betting he’d forgotten through the heat of the battle.