|School for New Guys
by Maxine Mayer
"Rubbing my shoulders doesn't help, Mac!" I didn't precisely shout at him, but I did shove away his hands with a shrug. "Just leave me be till I finish this!"
I'd been at the computer for two days straight, not leaving the loft I now shared with Mac for anything, stopping work only to go to the john and splash cold water on my face. I'd drunk so much beer, coffee and even a couple shots of scotch that my tongue was thick and there was a disgusting taste in my mouth which wouldn't go away even after I brushed my teeth. And still I wasn't finished.
Mac was not taking it well. I suppose the fact that I refused to explain what I was doing and that I wouldn't let him see the screen was part of it. He was getting anxious and I was becoming pissed with him. If he'd stop pacing and let me concentrate I knew I could finish by the end of the day - which was my deadline. If not - I didn't want to hear Quentin's disdainful comments on my tardiness, as he would call it. He'd blame Mac and he wouldn't be wrong and I didn't like to defend Mac but I would and the circle of foolishness would begin again. Things had come to an "accommodation" of sorts between my ancient friends Quentin and Lamartin, and my beloved Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, and I wanted it to stay that way. It irritated me that I couldn't control my space - not to speak of my friends - at least long enough to finish the project I'd been assigned. Irritated me unspeakably. Damn them all, the lot of them!
"Sorry," he said in a low depressed tone and it was all I could do not to stop working then and there and comfort him.
As it was, I stopped keyboarding for a moment and swiveled to face him, grabbing his hands. "Don't be sorry - it's my fault. But I can't tell you what I'm doing and I can't stop. Please try to understand."
"I do understand," he replied, pulling his hands away. "You're doing something for Quentin, for that Glass Bead Society of yours, and I'm not privy to it. It's okay, Methos. I just wish I could help." His voice trailed off in a confused hush.
"You probably would be a great help if this wasn't secret stuff, Mac. But Quentin particularly asked me not to talk about it with anyone and you know he meant you. It was the closest he could come - without actually speaking the words - to asking me to leave you while I did this. He didn't have the nerve to require that, but I know what he wants. And after all, he is the Arbiter." I spoke earnestly. I really did think Mac would be able to help, if he'd been permitted to do so. I really was pissed with Quentin for cutting Mac out of the loop, since Mac already knew about our Society and much of its work. And I really didn't want to hurt Mac in any way.
"Yes, he's the Arbiter and you're only the lowly Scribe," Mac added with a small smile. "I understand. I shouldn't know about your secret Society and your plans to shape the Game the way you think it should go. But I do know. But I'll be patient. Your deadline's tonight. Then you'll be finished and we can relax. I can wait."
I stood and drew him to me in a tight embrace, letting some of the tenseness in my body bleed away for a moment while he held me and murmured "I love you" in my ear. I smiled and repeated his words to him, then brushed his lips with mine, pulling away reluctantly. "And now, back to work," I told him, sitting once again and resting my fingers on the keyboard, staring at the screen without really seeing it. I had to tell myself - for the hundredth time - that this was important work, perhaps the most important I was ever called on to do for the Society, before I could focus and continue.
What was I doing? I was reorganizing the Teaching Assignments for the next half-century, for our Members. But it was not enough to make one Organizational Chart - oh no! Not in our Game! I needed to devise seven of them! Contingency plans in case one or another of the Glass Bead Society Members lost his head. We did this every few decades, of course, or rather, when the Arbiter - whoever that was at the moment - reminded me, I did it every few decades. I'd always been Scribe.
Chart all known Pre-Immortals, position ourselves to step in when they achieved First Death, to become their Teachers, to prevent those who'd taken the Evil Path from doing so.
It didn't always work out as we planned. Sometimes bad things happened. Sometimes good - as when Richie Ryan stumbled across Duncan's path, and he stayed.... But we tried. There weren't so many of us Glass Bead Society Members around - Old Ones tended to die out, or take the Evil Path themselves, or become reclusive, odd, incapable of teaching anything much except swordsmanship.
That was not enough. Those few of us who were viable wanted much much more. We wanted to indoctrinate the new Green Boys in the history, philosophy and "ethics" we professed. We wanted, somehow, absurdly, to "teach" Justice, Love, Humanity, Wisdom - the works - to a bunch of twentieth century atheists who could scarcely read and write, most of them. Instill our concept of Right and Wrong into the hearts and minds of men who lived in a century without moral foundation. Convey our "culture" - an impossibility from the get-go - to men who'd grown to adulthood, in many cases, without home, family, or any sense of humanity whatever. To say that the Glass Bead Society's aims smacked of hubris - not to speak of absurdity - was a given.
But I believed in this. At least this aspect of our goals was worthwhile. Only possible of achievement in part, of course. But worth the effort.
And Mac could have helped but Quentin didn't want him to, and Quen was our Arbiter. So....
At last I'd finished, printed out one copy of the set of Charts for myself, encoded everything and posted it to Quentin. He acknowledged receipt so quickly that it was clear he'd been waiting at his computer for my work. Then he phoned.
"Methos, this is fine, very good work. Thank you." He spoke as if I'd done it for him, rather than for our Kind. Quen was always proprietary - seemed to believe he owned all Immortals, rather than just his own beloved Lamartin.
"You've read it all, already?" I asked, knowing the answer.
"Of course! Unfortunately, the list grows shorter every time you prepare it. Now that we've lost Damon Case and Haresh Clay, and Darius - it's become virtually impossible to continue this. But the Charts become really easy to follow. I suppose I should be grateful for small blessings."
Careful not to say anything Mac could understand, should he be eavesdropping, I told Quentin, "If it's any consolation, the newbies don't seem to be popping up quite so frequently, either."
"Hmm, I suppose not. Perhaps - yes, perhaps it's drawing to a close, our work. The time of the Final Gathering is at hand. It might not be far off, the moment when we no longer need to seek one another. When we find each other. And the One is selected for all time."
"That's a cheerful thought, Quen. I'm still banking on another solution, that in the End there can be More than One."
"Don't be a fool, Methos. No chance of that. The rule is clear on that point. In the End there can be Only One. I wish it were otherwise, but it's not. Face it. It's time to accept the truth and school yourself to impassivity. Otherwise, the pain will be - unendurable."
He meant, as the Gathering drew to a close we'd lose our loved ones in Ritual Combat. He meant, get the hell away from Mac. As he was planning to distance himself from Lamartin. He meant, harden our hearts before the End. I not only couldn't do that, I wouldn't consider it. I was still seeking a miracle. The body count of Pre-Immortals achieving First Death was not feeding well into my search. We were dwindling and we were not getting an influx of new Immortals in anything like the old numbers. Our Kind was nearly gone. It was breaking my heart.
Quentin's strictures were not the only reasons I didn't want Mac to know what I'd been doing for the Glass Bead Society. If I told him, showed him, I couldn't keep the entire dark truth from him. He was good with math. He'd grasp the truth immediately. But there was no need for him to know how close we were to the End. Why worry him unnecessarily, torture him? He didn't need to know.
"Well, Quen, we all have our crosses to bear. I, for one, intend to bear mine right up to the finish line. Kicking and screaming as I go. If you want to jump the gun and destroy what little happiness you get out of life before you need to, that's your decision. It's not mine."
"Methos -" Then he stopped speaking, changed his tone of voice and told me, "Lamartin's come in - wants to say hello to you."
"Sure, put him on."
The rest of the conversation was filled with platitudes, invitations extended to visit one another, to vacation together, to party together, all tentatively accepted but unlikely to come about. When I hung up the phone after speaking with Lamartin my depression was like a rock in my belly. I didn't know what I hated more - lying to Lamartin and Mac, or the rule that would kill all but One of us off. Since lying was going on now, and the other was only a speck on the horizon, I figured the lying disturbed me more.
How long I'd be able to keep it up was a good question. I asked myself that while I booted down my computer, turned off the light and crawled into bed without bothering to undress.
My uncontrollable shivering against his body woke Mac.
For once he asked me nothing, only clasping me to him, my head resting on his breast, and murmuring, "Shush, shush, it'll be all right, it'll be all right," until my body quieted and I warmed enough so the rock in my stomach eased its thumping somewhat.
"Oh, Mac," I whispered, tears starting in my eyes. I drew away from him, turned onto my back, so he wouldn't feel the tears.
"I know, I know," he told me, pulling me close again, laying his head on my heart. "But all that matters is that we love one another, that we're together. Nothing else counts. Nothing else is worth a damn."
"It's all I care about, too," I replied fiercely, forcing away my tears with anger. "If only it would stay this way forever -"
I didn't reply. Fifty centuries of secrets and silence held me in good stead. I didn't break down and tell him what was giving me anguish. To his credit, he knew enough not to ask.
Instead, I wrenched myself into the moment, into sensation, and switched to love-making mode. If I couldn't have him forever, I'd take what I could, now.
He responded, as always, with love and caring, gentling my tense body with warm caresses, kissing me softly, tentatively, holding me for long moments in his most tender embrace. Until I'd gotten a grip on my fear and was able to respond in kind, make love without transmuting my terror of losing him into violence in taking him.
It was beautiful. But it merely postponed the inevitable. I could see I'd need to tell him because in the morning I was no longer able to hide my fear. It was back again in full force, brought to the surface by my work on our Charts, and I was a pitiful basket case by noon. I needed help.
"We'll go to Joe," Mac said, when I'd managed to stifle my gulps and tears sufficiently to gasp out the story - that Pre-Immortals were down and we were dwindling fast and the Gathering was at hand and I couldn't bear to lose him. "We'll go to Joe. He'll know more than your Society, even if it is made up of Immortals who can sense Pre-Immortals. The Watchers are a big organization - much bigger than the Glass Bead Society. They can track us better, more efficiently, on a larger scale, everywhere. Joe will know if what you guys think is really true. That fewer and fewer of us are achieving First Death - that there are less of us than there used to be."
"It's bad enough I've told you, Mac," I said, wiping my eyes and settling on the sofa close to him, my head back, resting on his shoulder. "We can't drag the Watchers into this. Quentin will take my head himself, if he hears of it."
"He won't hear of it. We'll make certain of that. Joe will keep the secret. He can search without anybody knowing why. He's done it before."
"Not without anybody knowing," I replied, remembering Joe's trial for treason to the Watcher Society.
"Yes, he can do it. Quentin will never know. And Joe would do anything for you."
"Of course. He loves you, Methos. He'd turn the world upside down if he had to, to help you."
I smiled. "Well, it's certainly a mutual admiration society we've got going here."
"Yes, it is. Far cry from the beginning, when we first knew one another. But even then we worked together, all of us, and succeeded in what we wanted to do."
"Thanks to your strong sword arm, Mac, not to us!" I grinned, still shaky but feeling better every moment, now that Mac knew.
"Whatever. You up for the trip or should I ask Joe to come here?"
"No, let's go to him. When you ask a favor, you've gotta humble yourself. Don't you know that yet?" I teased.
"Always learning something new from you, old timer," Mac replied with a smile, clearly relieved to see I'd begun to recuperate from my anxiety attack and needle him again. "Get dressed while I call him." He ruffled my hair, planted a kiss on my brow, and went to the phone. I got up slowly, still a bit off my stride, and threw on a pair of jeans and a sweater, and a pair of old boots that were easy to pull up. I wasn't in the mood to struggle with anything. It was all I could do to stand.
"Exactly how'd you two find out about this?" Joe asked, scraping back a chair and joining the two of us at a table in his Seacouver bar. It was early and the bar was closed. He'd made a pot of coffee for us - we three were the only ones around.
"Methos has friends - Immortals - who take an interest in our Kind. Not for any bad reasons - just to be around and offer their services as mentors, when the opportunity arises. To draw the new Immortals to the side of - righteousness, I guess." Mac's definition seemed accurate. I didn't think I needed to add anything.
"Friends?" Joe sounded skeptical.
"More than friends," I admitted. "We're a - society. Something like the Watchers. But for Immortals. The Glass Bead Society. Among other things, we mentor Immortals when they first come into their own."
"And just how many of you are there, Methos? In your Glass Bead Society? How many Immortals are involved in this - School for New Guys?" Joe's tone was sarcastic but there was a serious look in his eyes. His fine mind had grasped some of the implications already. Particularly, the concept of Immortals banding together to change the Game. Banding together at all. He didn't like it much, I could tell.
"Members and Adjuncts taken together, a couple hundred, give or take."
Joe and Mac's eyebrows went up. I wondered what their reaction would be - so many of us or so few. They surprised me. Joe merely asked, "What's the difference?"
"A Member is someone who's got a voice, a vote in our deliberations. An Adjunct simply does as he's told." When neither of them looked satisfied with this reply, I continued. "When we began we were a mere handful of Older Immortals - Quentin and Lamartin, Darius, Erasmus Minor, Frederick the Falcon, Simeon - he's dead now - Rebecca, me. We enlarged the circle of Members over the course of a few centuries, until there were about fifty or so. All Old Ones. Then we realized we'd grown too large. Simply assembling our number to hold a meeting back then could take months. So anyone else who came on board was considered an Adjunct, with no real voice in our decisions. Like Mac, here, who follows orders from the Members - particularly, Quentin, our Arbiter. Most of the Adjuncts are young, of course, though none so young as Mac."
Joe stared at me as if I'd grown two heads. "So - besides grooming new Immortals to follow the rules as you guys see them, what else do you do?"
"We keep our own Chronicles - complementary to the Watchers' work. And we -" I stopped.
"Tell him, Methos. You can't expect anybody to help you if you keep them in the dark."
"Mac - this won't sit well with a Watcher. You know that. It certainly didn't sit well with you, and you're an Immortal!"
"Tell him." Mac's eyes were dark and his voice implacable. "He's gotta know. He will know, sooner or later. Might as well tell him now."
"Very well." I turned to Joe. "We search out Evil Immortals and challenge them to Ritual Combat. In the hope that they'll lose, of course, and we'd have rid the world of one more bad guy and made the outcome of the Game that much less dangerous for Mortals."
"Wow!" Joe didn't sound as impressed as his one word response indicated. He sounded angry. "So let me see if I've got this part straight. You don't take on Immortals at random. You don't just wait until somebody challenges you. You go after the bad guys?"
"That's about it."
"Mac - you accepted this? Immortals ganging up on other Immortals?"
I interrupted. "It's not like that. Combat is one-on-one. Just - we choose the time, the place, and the combatants." I didn't like it when Dawson found something I did unacceptable. He was a tuning fork for right and wrong, compassion, justice, love. What he thought was bad, usually turned out to be bad.
"I see. You don't fight as a group, you just search as a group."
"That's right, Joe," Mac said. "I didn't like the idea at first either. But I see the good in what they're doing now. It's not so different from what any decent Immortal does. Challenging Evil Immortals. Singling out people like Kalas or Kronos for destruction. Making things safer - "
"Mac - you can slice this whatever way you want - they're manipulating the Game. It's not like when you challenge a guy because he's a nasty sonuvabitch who needs killing. They're interfering -"
"Joe," I said coldly, "it is our Game. We've got a right to interfere." Technically, that wasn't true, but he'd know what I meant.
"Sure. Sure." Dawson shook his head. "Whatever." He looked defeated. After struggling for decades against his own impulse to interfere in the Game, it wasn't easy for him to condone a society - the Glass Bead Society - that was founded for the express purpose of doing just that. Let alone accept that such a Society could be doing the right thing by interfering.
Mac changed the subject, returning to our reason for calling on Joe for help. "According to Methos' information, new Immortals are not being - born - in the numbers they used to be. We're talking about Pre-Immortals - nothing to do with whether they're achieving First Death. Just, how many of us are around, fully functional or not. And I've got another concern," he added, glancing at me. "It looks from the Teaching Charts Methos just made, as if there aren't enough really Old Immortals surviving to cover the work of mentoring the few new ones still coming into their own."
"What do you want me to do, Mac?" Joe asked wearily. "Confirm or deny?"
I interrupted. "I'm interested in the truth, Dawson. That's all. Is it true? Are we dwindling? Have we missed anything, anybody? It's possible, I suppose. There aren't enough of us in the Glass Bead Society to cover all corners of the earth. The fact is, I have no doubt we're dwindling. It's just the rate of attrition I'm interested in. Is the End Game really around the corner or farther down the road? Can you find out?"
"I dunno. Watchers don't normally know who's a Pre-Immortal. That's your bailiwick, Methos, you and other Immortals. We can't sense Pre-Immortals. We only learn about First Deaths by accident or by seeing the way other Immortals react to somebody."
I slumped in my chair. "I didn't really think you could help," I said disconsolately. "Mac, there's nothing Joe can tell us. As it stands, we've gotta go with my numbers. It's not good."
Dawson raised his hand. "Wait a minute, Methos. Don't be so quick to give up."
"I'm not being quick. I'm being realistic. How the hell could you - the Watchers - know what we're asking you to know? There's no way!"
"Actually, there is. I just never had anything to do with it."
"Tell us, Joe," Mac urged. "Please."
"There are some of us who specialize in this. In finding Pre-Immortals."
"I never heard of them," I responded.
"It's not a big group, it's not official. It's a - hobby, I guess. Some of us take an interest in that aspect of Immortality - the way you guys get here, the influences of your early experiences on the kind of Immortals you become. That type of thing."
"That won't help."
"No, but something else will. These Watchers, the ones who take an interest in your - beginnings - they have a burning desire to be in position at First Death. To Watch from the moment you guys become functional. They do a lot of research, looking at orphans, searching for kids who were abandoned at birth, or seemed to be. Kids with no valid record of birth or parentage, who somehow just showed up. They've got an incredible set of criteria they use, to figure out whether a child or a teenager really could be a Pre-Immortal. Then they maneuver the suspect into the orbit of an Immortal and check for reactions. Sounds crazy - even dangerous - but that's what they do."
"You're kidding!" I said, my voice reflecting my astonishment. "There are Watchers actually doing this?"
"Absolutely!" Joe said with a grin. "Some of us are field guys, some of us are historians, some of us are bureaucrats, and some of us are just plain kooks! The kooks think up different ways to amuse themselves because they're bored with Watching and reading about you guys, but they love Immortals. This is one of the ways - the search for Pre-Immortals has been going on for as long as there have been Watchers. Of course, nowadays, with all the sophisticated technology, computers, databases, and so forth, it's become all the rage. But I don't imagine it ever occurred to one of us that Immortals were on the prowl too."
"We've got a big stake in this, Joe. Not as big as yours - as Mortals - in the End. But big enough."
"One other thing, Joe," Mac said, concern in his voice. "About us, I mean. The Older Immortals - are there any we don't know about among ourselves. Not as old as Methos or Quentin. But - in the middle range. Immortals who might help out with the Teaching. Who might be approached to join the Society, become Adjuncts. Mentors. Worthy Immortals who simply don't engage in the Game aggressively. Who stay out of the limelight. But who might be interested if they knew what we were doing."
"To fill out your numbers. That must be a big concern," Joe responded. "I'll check my database. That's a lot easier than looking for Pre-Immortals." He smiled. "The middle range. What would that be? Over a thousand years old good enough?"
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. Mac's idea was a good one. We needed more Teachers because the Old Ones were fewer and fewer. At least, the viable ones.
But I knew something Mac did not suspect. There were no Immortals in the middle range. None I didn't already know about. There were only youngsters - Green Boys like MacLeod - to pull into this work. In my mind, that was the only way to go, for our influence to survive in some form, however imperfect.
But I knew Quentin wouldn't accept that. Theoretically, Quentin was only Arbiter of the Game - he wasn't our Leader or Ruler. But in practice, because of his age and dedication, he had tremendous influence in the Glass Bead Society. His word was pretty much law with us. The rest of us - Members and Adjuncts - didn't take an active interest in things, not like Quentin. Most of us figured he knew best. Most of the time, we allowed him to lead, take command. Implicitly trusted his judgment and decisions. Went along.
So if we wanted to change our traditional age barrier against Teaching with Credentials from the Glass Bead Society, we'd need to change Quen's mind. Otherwise, nothing would get done.
Changing Quentin's mind hadn't occurred to me before. Now, it did. I wanted our work to survive. For that, we needed the active participation of younger Immortals. Men like Mac.
I especially believed that Mac should share in this work, be as much a part of it as I was. Not simply because I loved him and wanted him with me in all things but because this was his kind of job - he'd been doing it for a long time, without any Society behind him. Richie Ryan and Claudia Jardine were just two examples of his efforts to assist New Immortals.
We needed a man like Mac, needed new blood, good blood, and strong. As much as I didn't want to admit it, even among the Green Boys there weren't so many we could enlist in our work. But there were some.
But I'd have to gain Quentin's agreement before recruitment could begin. So I started to spin a plan, a way to effect a change in the thinking of Quentin of York. It would take all my cunning and it would not be easy. Then, nothing worthwhile was ever easy. Thank God.
"Quentin, something's come up," I told the Old Immortal when I called him one week to the day after our visit to Joe. "You've gotta see this."
"I'm not leaving the chateau. Post it to me, Methos."
"No can do, old friend. Won't fit through the e-mail door." I turned slightly and grinned encouragingly at the group of young men with frightened faces who were sitting in front of me in Mac's loft. "Bigger than a breadbox. Better come along. We'll be waiting." I hung up the phone.
Mac asked, "Do you think he'll come?"
"Oh yeah. Lamartin will convince him."
"And you think it'll work?"
"That's another story. Hard to say. Quentin's heart is in the right place but he's stubborn. He's resigned himself to the End of the Game being around the corner. To giving up Lamartin. Probably has plans to enter a monastery for the last phase, to get away."
"He'd do that? Just - abandon his lover of two thousand years?" Mac was astonished.
"In a heartbeat. He's got the nasty disposition of an old codger who doesn't care what anybody thinks, combined with the physical and emotional resiliency of a seventeen year old who can jump on the next one's bones without a thought. He adores Lamartin but he lives in a different mental world from the child. He doesn't need him."
"You keep calling Lamartin a child! He's older than Quentin. They're both older than you."
"Mac, keep it to yourself. And chronological age is irrelevant. It's emotions that count. Passion. Quen comes up a bit short in that department."
Mac glanced at me with an exasperated expression and returned to the group before us, raising his voice slightly to get their attention. It was time for him to tell them the truth. This was not going to be easy.
"My friends, you've been asked to come here in a special cause. I have news for you - good news and bad. And when you hear it, you're going to be given some options, and asked for a favor. Please think about what Adam and I tell you. Consider it carefully. Talk about it among yourselves and sleep on it tonight." Bedrolls were neatly stacked in the corner. These seven people were not leaving this loft any time soon. But I knew the decision would be made now, not in the morning.
One of the men said, "I'll listen to your proposition - that's the least I can do for what you gave me."
"Mac - what did you give him - them?" I asked, alarmed.
"Five thousand dollars per man, for a week of their time."
After a moment while I did the math - thirty-five thousand dollars out-of-pocket expenses and we hadn't even fed them yet - I muttered, "You'll be reimbursed, Duncan, if I've gotta steal a painting from Quentin's chateau myself and sell it."
"Don't do me any favors, Methos," Mac whispered with a grin. "You couldn't steal candy from a baby. I don't wanna have to come up with bail money to get you out of jail right now! I'm a little short on the ready."
He turned to the group. Seven men, all young - in their twenties - all healthy, fit, English speaking. Culled by Joe Dawson through his contacts among the Watcher-kooks who studied Pre-Immortals. Joe's people had made no mistakes. Every one of these men buzzed steadily with the faint aura Pre-Immortals emit, although they didn't experience us or each other that way. Not yet.
"You are all potential Immortals," Mac told them with a small sweet smile as they gazed at him with interest bordering on trepidation. "Ordinarily, you would be allowed to live out your lives in peace, without knowing anything about this, until the time of your death - First Death, we call it. Then you'd waken to your Immortality and begin your lives all over again, leaving your family and loved ones behind, learning what you need to know to survive. Hopefully, under the guiding hand of an experienced Old Immortal who'd protect you until you were ready to survive on your own."
"This is a joke, right?" This from the young man who'd spoken earlier. I couldn't recall which one he was, what his name was, from the printout before me.
"No joke. You would truly die, usually violently, in a car or plane crash, or you'd be murdered. In the old days you'd most often die in battle. But however your First Death came about, you'd revive. It would be very confusing, very frightening for you. You might wander for years, knowing nothing about what had happened to you, or what you must do to make a life for yourself. To survive."
"So, what's different about this?" the boy asked.
"Hey, what's your name?" I asked, wanting to take him on as a student myself. He had the kind of spirit which made for greatness in the Game. I didn't know whether he'd be good with a sword, but his inquisitiveness and fearlessness in the face of a very strange situation boded well for him. He reminded me of Richie. I thought this fellow's heart might be strong.
"I'm Peter Croft. Maybe we should go around the room, say our names, like in school," he teased.
"No, no. I'm terrible with names - you'll simply confuse me." I grinned. "But thanks for the thought, Pete."
"Hey, Adam, my pleasure." Peter grinned back. "You one of them, too, the - Immortals?"
"Yes. Mac and I both are."
"So, you've been around a long time?"
"You might say that."
"How long?" Peter asked bluntly.
Mac put in smoothly, "I'm over four hundred years old, and Adam is quite a bit older than me. Now, can we get back to the business you're here for?"
"Sure." Peter slouched back in his folding chair - Mac had rented several for this meeting - and gestured to indicate he was willing for Mac to go on.
"Ordinarily, no decent Immortal would - rush - your First Death. We'd want you to live out your lives normally, for as long as possible. But there are circumstances that have come about which are not ordinary. We need you to die now, achieve Immortality now, to convince a friend that he must admit younger Immortals to the task of teaching new Immortals."
"You're getting me confused," Peter said. "Younger Immortals? Like - how young?"
"Let me start again," Mac replied. "Right now, a group of very very Old Immortals searches for newly made Green Boys of our Kind, to take them under their wing and teach them what they should know. Adam and I believe there are not enough truly Old Ones around to do that effectively. We want to push the point with a man named Quentin. We want you all to die and revive at the same time. This would stretch our resources significantly. We wouldn't have enough very Old Ones to go around, who aren't already occupied with teaching other new Immortals."
A hand popped up and another young man spoke. "I'm Lewis Crosby. I'd like to be sure I've got this straight. You're asking us to die? Or let somebody kill us? Now? To prove a point?"
"Ah, Lewis," I replied, "got it in one. Bright boy."
"You're insane," Lewis asserted. "Even if I believed all this stuff about Immortality - which I don't - I'd never let anyone kill me, not if I could help it. Besides, this scheme of yours would pervert the natural order of things. As I see it, we'll die anyway - or not - and that's the way it's meant to be. Anything else, you're screwing with some Cosmic Plan. I doubt if you understand that Plan. Certainly not well enough to mess with it."
Another fine mind - there must be a nest somewhere. Maybe I'd let Mac take on Peter, and I'd mentor this Lewis fellow, I considered.
A third voice from among the group of Pre-Immortals timidly entered the conversation. "Excuse me."
Mac said, "Yes?"
"Is there anything you or Adam can do to prove at least part of what you're telling us? I'm having a lot of trouble believing any of this."
"Well, yes. I haven't mentioned several aspects of Immortality that you should be aware of. When you achieve First Death and rise to Immortality, you don't age any further. You remain the age you were at the moment of death. In the case of you men, early to late twenties. Forever."
"Is there any proof of that? I'm Roger Camden, by the way," the youth said with a smile. He was the youngest of the lot, according to the data Joe'd given me. Twenty on the nose.
"Not easily shown to you," Mac replied. "But there's something else. When you become Immortal your healing powers are enhanced. Injuries heal very quickly. You cannot be killed by normal means - a bullet, a knife wound, a blow to the head, hanging, being burned alive, drowning -"
"Whoa! I get your point!" Roger said with a laugh. "So, you're gonna do what - die - to show us you're telling the truth, at least about yourselves?"
"We could do that," I replied, "but we could do less, and still prove we're telling the truth."
I took a dagger from the lining of my jacket and slashed my hand. The group watched me with round eyes. My wound healed and I wiped the blood away with a dish towel. "How about that?"
"Wow!" Peter said. "Do that again!"
"I will." MacLeod grabbed the dagger and slashed his own hand, carefully holding it away from his clothes so he didn't bleed on himself. "See?" he asked, exhibiting his hand for their inspection.
"Well, that proves that you two are different, but it doesn't say anything about us," Lewis remarked.
Mac looked at me beseechingly. We needed just one of them to agree to try, to allow himself to be killed, to prove the truth to the rest. He thought I'd be able to select the one who'd likely be the first of them to come around to daring this.
I nodded and pointed. "Peter."
"What? What about me?" Peter's voice was more a croak than I'd expected. He was very frightened because he'd already agreed in his mind. He intended to do this.
"You want to try?" I asked bluntly.
"Why not you?" I volleyed back. "Come on. You believe. Let's prove it to the rest of them." I enlisted him as if he were one of us - an Immortal like Mac and me - already. Us against them. Spoke to him as one of the elite. He wouldn't be able to resist.
He didn't resist. "Okay," Peter said, standing and coming forward to Mac and me. "Just - do it quick." He took a deep breath. "Real quick." Then he grinned.
"Not a problem," I remarked, shoving my dagger into his heart before he had a chance to change his mind. The group let out a collective gasp, half-rising in their chairs. I held Peter's body carefully as it slumped to the floor. To all intents and purposes, Peter was dead.
"Please, just come up one at a time and listen to his heart, check his pulse. Do whatever you must to convince yourselves that Peter Croft is dead." When nobody moved, Mac repeated, "Please. Come now."
"I'm Frederick Cunningham. I'm a physician. Let me check this man out. If he's dead, if you've murdered him, you won't get away with it." He lifted his medical bag and brought it with him to where Peter's body lay. Taking out a stethoscope, he crouched down and listened to Peter's heart. Looking up at me with awe and disgust he said, "This man is dead. I'm calling the police."
"Wait," I told him. "He'll be dead for a while. It takes some time to revive after First Death. You can call the police a little later. Meanwhile, anybody want a beer?"
"How can you be so casual, so unfeeling? You've just killed a man! You're a monster!" Frederick told me.
"He's not a monster," Mac replied. "This man will revive. When he does, Peter Croft will be Immortal."
"So you say!"
"It's true. Wait and see."
They waited. We all waited. It didn't take long - about twenty minutes. Peter coughed, opened his eyes, put his hand to his chest and then looked down at the place where I'd stuck him with the dagger. I'd removed it immediately, to hasten his revival. Then Peter looked at me and grinned. "I knew you were telling the truth, Adam. You're not the kind of man who'd bother with us if you didn't have a really good reason."
"Bright boy," I told him. "How you feeling?"
I gave him a glass of juice which he gulped down quickly. Then he looked at the others in the group. Grabbing my dagger from the counter where I'd put it, he quickly slashed his left hand. It healed almost immediately - the cut wasn't deep. He wiped away the blood and held up his hand. "Don't you love it?"
"Now what?" one of the others asked.
"Now, you all do it," I said. "Mac, I'll kill them one at a time, so each of them can watch the others and be certain we're not putting something over on them while they're out."
And that's what I did. Killed them one at a time, waiting patiently for their revival as Immortals before I killed the next one. I did them all. I wouldn't dream of making Mac soil his conscience this way, knowing as I did how he felt about letting Pre-Immortals live out their lives normally, in ignorance of their destiny, for as long as they could. Besides, I had much more experience with a dagger than Mac.
When I'd finished and they'd all risen to their Immortality, one of the new Immortals asked, "Now what?"
"Now we eat a good dinner - take-out, I think - and wait for Quentin's visit. Let's see what he'll say about this, about assigning Old Ones as Teachers to you seven." I went to the fridge. "You can give Mac your orders for Chinese. Meanwhile, anybody want a beer?" I had seven takers.
"They'll make do without," Quentin told me, pulling me into a corner of the loft none too gently when he'd arrived and learned what Mac and I had done. "This is an unprecedented piece of criminal stupidity, Methos, even for you!"
"You'd have them wander around without mentors, Quen?" I asked innocently, ignoring his fury. "Prey to any Evil Immortal who happens by?"
"Methos, you are impossible! You will not force me to change the rules of the Glass Bead Society. The two of you can find Teachers for this crowd. On your own. I won't dirty my hands."
"Quentin, we need your expertise. Mac and I will take two -"
In spite of himself, Quen interrupted, "No! Not MacLeod! He's a Green Boy himself!"
"Then who? I can take one. What about the other six?"
"I don't know. Nobody. But not a Green Boy as mentor. Never!"
"If you don't assign someone, Quen, I promise you that Mac will take one. And we'll choose among our friends who will take on each of the rest. Parcel them out like so many kittens. Don't you want some input? Don't you want to supervise? Don't you want to help?"
Quentin inhaled, then expelled his breath. Shook his head. "Methos. Methos."
"What? I know Lamartin will take one. He won't refuse me this favor, no matter what you say."
"Methos." For the first time in centuries, in a matter of the Game, I heard desperation in Quentin's voice. Agony. "Please don't do this. I'm begging you. Don't pervert our design, the work of millenia. Don't."
"It's done, Quentin," I told him in a hard voice. "They're new Immortals. Seven of them. They need protection and tutelage to survive. Otherwise, they're goners. What say ye?" I added in the tongue we'd spoken when we'd met two thousand years ago, Latin.
For a moment he was silent and I thought I'd misjudged him and lost. Then he said, "Very well. I'll take one. You'll take one. Lamartin will take one. That leaves four."
"Silence!" He'd got hold of himself, nearly simultaneously with his despair. Taken charge. "Let me think for a moment."
"I'm all for thought," I said with a grin, relieved and happy beyond measure that he'd fallen in with my plan. "I'll fetch you a brandy. And - thanks, Quentin."
"What are you thanking me for? Perhaps I'll decide to drown your kittens."
"Not you. Accept my thanks graciously, mon ami."
"You're premature in offering them. I haven't made a decision on your proposal yet."
"I'm thanking you for considering it," I told him solemnly.
"You've left me no choice. As usual."
"It's my way, old man."
"No one but you - not in six thousand years -" Quentin sighed, shaking his head.
"But you love it, don't you? Ain't life grand?"
"Yes, Methos, life's grand. It's good to be humbled, every now and then. Helps to clear the cobwebs."
"Good that you see it that way."
"I learned from a master," Quentin said with a smile. Two thousand years ago I'd been his Teacher, although he was older than me. "You're still one step ahead, Methos-mine."
After dinner and some desultory conversation the new Immortals were tucked into their sleeping rolls and Quentin, Mac and I went down to the dojo office to talk some more.
"Who'd you have in mind, MacLeod, to mentor the others?" Quentin asked.
Startled that the Old One would ask for his opinion Mac said, "Not all Green Boys. Amanda's twelve hundred years old. She could take one -"
"No. I don't think so."
"They're all men. While it's not a rule, I don't think it's wise to mix the sexes, unless, of course, some of these men are homosexuals who wouldn't be attracted to Amanda."
"I don't know what their preferences are," I retorted, "but there's no pupil alive who isn't attracted to his Teacher, no matter what sex. It's human nature. Rebecca had male students."
"Rebecca was a saint, or close to it," Quentin told me. "Amanda is different."
"Very well," Mac replied. "Is Marcus free?" Marcus Constantine was over two thousand years old.
"No. He's in mourning. He's not fit to Teach at this time."
"Then, Erasmus Minor?" Mac was clutching at straws by now. Erasmus was twenty-five hundred and a Charter Member of the Glass Bead Society. There was no time when he wasn't mentoring somebody. I admired Mac's diplomatic attempt to mention only Older Immortals but knew he'd have no luck. Quentin told him that Erasmus had a student at the moment.
"Then, Cory Raines? He's not very old but he's smart, skilled with a sword, a man who moves with the times -" Mac tried.
Quentin interrupted. "Not Cory. He's got the morals of an alleycat. What's the point of us choosing mentors for these people if the mentors are incapable of instilling good principles in their students?"
"How about Kirin? He's been both - Evil and Good. He's changed, redeemed. I can find him, track him down, with the help of the Watchers. I know he'd want to be part of this," Mac said.
"Not Kirin. He's still struggling -"
"How the hell do you know?" I asked, finally adding my voice to the deliberations.
"I make it my business to know," Quentin replied. "I've been studying Kirin. He's a very important case -"
"Damn you, Quentin," Mac shouted, "Kirin's not a 'case,' he's a man! Instead of studying him, maybe you should have invited him to the chateau and helped him!"
"Perhaps I should have, but I didn't. And he's not suited to Teach, not yet. Please, MacLeod, let me be the judge of this."
Mac grimaced. "You're always the judge, Quen. But you're not always right!"
"Perhaps not. But I'm Arbiter. If you wish the Endorsement of the Glass Bead Society for your choices, you will listen to me and do as I suggest." He shrugged. "If not -"
"All right, all right." Mac sighed. "Sorry. I'm just worried."
"I know you are," Quen said gently. "This is utter madness. I cannot believe you let Methos convince you to kill these seven people."
"Neither can I," Mac replied.
"Well, you did, and we have. Now, let's get on with it," I told them, incensed to see them making cause against me. I was doing this for Mac's sake, damn it.
"Ceirdwyn?" Mac made the suggestion in a doubtful voice, knowing that although his friend was old enough to suit Quentin, the Arbiter would object to her on the grounds that Ceirdwyn was a woman, or that she was already 'busy' teaching somebody else. It turned out that both were true.
Finally I said, "Maybe we should ask Joe to come by. We seem to be running out of candidates."
"Not a bad idea, Methos," Mac answered. "We can do this systematically, work our way through his database. Joe'd be happy to help."
"The Watcher?" Quen asked.
"That's right. What do you think?" I half expected Quentin to refuse out of hand. But I'd underestimated him.
"Yes. Good thought, Methos. Call him."
"It's three in the morning," Mac said, "Can't it wait?"
"No, it cannot. Call him now."
The phone rang just as I reached to lift the receiver.
"Hello?" I said, a frown forming on my brow. I glanced at the others, worried. "Who is it?"
It was Joe Dawson with bad news. He asked to come over.
"We're up. And we're waiting. Come ahead, Joe."
"What's the problem, Methos?" Mac asked, frowning with anxiety.
"There are several Immortals converging on Seacouver as we speak. They've been following our Pre-Immortals all along, and now they've tracked them here. I'm quite certain they're not coming to congratulate them on their newfound Immortality."
"What kind of Immortals?" Mac asked, already knowing.
"The kind whose heads we take, when we can. The bad kind."
"Already your plan bears poisoned fruit, Methos," Quentin pronounced dogmatically. "I told you so."
"This is a first - a person who actually says 'I told you so' without blushing!" I was furious.
Quentin ignored me. He turned to Mac. "Get on the phone, MacLeod, now. Call whoever you know and trust. Get them here. We'll need their help in the battle ahead. Afterwards, we'll see about Teaching assignments. Right now, I just want those poor bastards whose lives you've ruined to survive at least one full day!"
It was an odd group of Immortals that assembled in Mac's dojo office, one after the other, over the next several hours. The new Immortals slept on in the loft, with the help of a mild sedative I'd slipped into their wine, just enough to put them out. Their exhaustion after traveling to Seacouver, making First Death and reviving as Immortals did the rest.
Amanda, Kirin, Cory, Ceirdwyn, Erasmus. A few others. The age range spanned millenia. And Richie Ryan came too - so young he didn't even merit the title Green Boy. In the normal course of things he'd be termed a newbie - he was only about five years into his Immortality. We didn't tell Quentin about Richie, but he knew. He didn't raise an objection to the young man's presence among us.
I pulled Mac aside. "You called Richie? The boy's scarcely out of puberty!"
"Richie's strong, a fine swordsman. He'll do anything he can to protect the weak - these new Immortals. I'm not suggesting him as a Teacher, only for combat."
"Right. Like you don't have his name in the back of your mind for Teaching."
Mac stared at me. "I said I didn't. I don't lie."
"Well, I do. Have Richie in the back of my mind for Teaching. He learned from you, Mac. From the best. He's privy to secrets most Immortals never discover - about the Watchers, for instance. And he knows the difference between right and wrong. Good and Evil. When it comes down to it, that's really all we want to pass along - the rest is footnotes."
"You're crazy. Richie's a child -"
"Richie's an Immortal. And he's a grown man. If Quentin agrees, I think he'd make an excellent mentor. And he could use the companionship."
"He's got plenty of friends."
"Not Immortals. You tossed him out on his own. He's too young to be friends with the Immortals he really should know, considering his background - people like Quentin, Lamartin, Erasmus, Amanda - Old Ones. They won't bother with him. Maybe now, they will."
"You're crazy, Methos."
"No, I'm not. MacLeod, you don't seem to grasp what we're doing here. This is not intended to be a stop-gap measure, something Quentin's forced to do this once because we've killed a litter of Pre-Immortals. I plan for him to change his policy. To acknowledge the truth that age alone is no barrier to Teaching. That there are other factors to consider. Who better than Richie to open Quentin's eyes?"
Mac looked at me for a moment. Then he smiled broadly. "If I didn't already love you, Methos, I'd fall in love with you right this minute. There's nobody better. You taste good."
I grinned. "Savoring me on your tongue, Mac, or swallowing me whole?"
"A little of both," he said, drawing me near for a kiss.
Breathless, I told him, "Let's not shock the 'children,' MacLeod."
"Let 'em learn. Never too 'young' to learn." He kissed me again.
We managed to take all their heads - the Evil Immortals who'd come to kill new Immortals, or worse, take them as students. Richie acquitted himself brilliantly, fighting bravely against skilled opponents so much older and more experienced than he, even I was astonished. Afterwards, Quentin took Rich aside and spoke to him alone for some time. I could see that the boy was nervous around Quentin. Richie knew an Old One when he met one.
At last, Quentin gathered all of us around him on the dojo floor and spoke.
"Duncan MacLeod and Methos Valerius did a terrible thing yesterday. They stole the normal lifespans of seven Pre-Immortal men. They challenged the Order of Things. Did Evil that Good might come, some would say. As we in the Glass Bead Society do, they tried to manipulate the Game for their own purposes. In their minds, they did Good that Evil might not come.
"I'm not certain yet whether they were right. But I do know this. We have seven new Immortals sleeping soundly above us, who need mentors now. Today. To protect them from harm and teach them how to live as Immortals. Explain the rules of the Game. Guide them. Curb their tongues, introduce them to those who will help them evade the technology of the day, the law, the government, so they can remain viable in our times.
"These mentors must be dedicated, devoted, relentless, courageous, loving, knowledgeable and skilled. And flexible. They must be excellent swordsmen. They must know every form of martial art. They must be familiar with every type of weapon. Indeed, they must be the best of the best, so our new young Immortals will survive.
"But above all else, these mentors must be humble. Willing to accept counsel and assistance from anyone who offers it. Whenever necessary. They must not be loners who think they know everything. They must become partners with other Immortals in this Game which has always taught us that we're alone. They must know who to trust and how to teach their students that most important lesson.
"Finally, when these mentors have invested their souls in their pupils, given their hearts to them, taught them all they can, they must bestow the final gift. They must cut their students free. Each of you knows the dreadful price the Teacher pays when he gives that gift.
"I ask you all to reflect for a moment, on the task of a mentor. Then I beg you to give me your suggestions about who we'll assign to the new Immortals sleeping above. That is all."
The silence was profound after Quentin spoke. His authority could not be gainsaid. The man was brilliant, sincere, thoroughly inspiring. My Quentin. My student. I loved him.
Later, after suggestions were offered and mentors assigned - though no general announcement was made concerning who they were, only Arbiter and Scribe were permitted to know - and after the others had gone to their hotels to sleep a couple hours before returning at dawn to meet with the new Immortals, Mac pulled me into his arms.
"You did it, Methos! Quentin spoke of everything except age and sex, as criteria for a Teacher."
"That's right. He's come around. He won't consider age or sex as a barrier to mentoring, not ever again. Once Quen's learned a lesson, it's his forever."
"Still teaching, old man?" Mac asked with a grin.
"You said it."
"He spoke to Richie for a long time. What do you think he'll do about him?"
"Quentin will take Richie with him, back to Switzerland, to the chateau."
"He hasn't assign a new Immortal to him?" Mac was puzzled.
"No. He'll let Richie learn the ropes from Lamartin. And Quentin will teach him, as well. While they all work with the newbies."
"Lucky Richie," Mac murmured wistfully.
"Richie was your student. It's a tremendous accolade to you," I told him, hoping to divert his thoughts.
"Maybe." He still sounded sad about Richie studying with Quentin and Lamartin. Mac would have loved to sit at their feet but they'd never liked him, barely tolerated him. Definitely hadn't offered friendship to this man they resented, my protege.
"Mac, Quentin learned what he knows from me. Remember? I was his Teacher. You're not missing out on anything." I kissed him gently. "Everything I have is yours, beloved. Everything I know."
"That's all right then," Mac replied, returning my kiss. "I have the source. I have all I need."
We wandered into a dark corner of the dojo, sank down on a large mat and made love until dawn. I still worried about the End but I was more easy in my spirit, knowing so many of our Kind were working together to solve what problems we could manage to solve. I think I finally accepted that in the End there could be Only One. If the End was very near, so be it. I'd live with Mac and love him for as long as I could. I refused to kick against the pricks any more. I'd live for today, for as long as I could.
"Well, looky, looky, what have we here!" Joe commented with a smile. He'd entered the dojo and walked over to the mat where Mac and I slept curled up in each other's arms. "Wake up, guys! I've got some good news for you!"
We went up in the freight elevator to the loft where our newbies snored on, oblivious to the early morning sunshine streaming through the windows. I think I must've put too much sedative in their wine.
Mac started a pot of coffee brewing while Joe and I leaned against the cooking island.
"Tell us, Joe," I said. "I can't take the suspense."
"Let me at least have a cup of coffee first."
"Speak, or you won't get any coffee at all!" Mac joked.
"All right. The thing is, when you told me your theory about the dwindling number of Immortals this century - that it probably meant the Final Gathering was at hand - I decided to check it out."
"And?" I said, unable to keep still. Good news, he'd said.
"It's cyclical. Comes in cycles. Every thousand years or so there's a culling -"
"What's that mean?" Mac asked.
"A kind of reduction in the population by selective slaughter. A mini-Gathering, I guess you could call it."
"Go on, Joe," I said. I was tense now.
"Well, along about the time of the culling there's a hiatus in new Immortal 'births' too. Then, it all starts up again. Most likely, that's the explanation for why there are so few Immortals in the middle age ranges right now. At least, that's the theory," Joe added with a shrug.
"Yes," I said slowly, thoughtfully.
Joe went on. "And that's why nobody can really predict when the Final Gathering will take place. It's not a question of how many of you are left. Or how many of you are being 'born.' It's a mystery."
"A mystery. Great." I was elated and disappointed both.
"That's right. Nobody knows, nobody can figure out when the End Game will be. Not by counting heads, at any rate. Thought you'd be glad to hear this. Just because fewer of you are around at the moment, and there are fewer Pre-Immortals coming along right now, that doesn't mean the Game is nearly over. Most likely it's just another turn in the cycle."
Mac beamed. "Thanks, Joseph. Thank you for researching this."
"Yeah, thanks," I said flatly.
"Methos, this is wonderful!" Mac told me. "Your numbers don't prove anything. You should be happy."
"I am happy," I replied morosely. "I'm happy." Mac looked skeptical. "Truly I am."
"Jeez, you can't win with this guy!" Dawson said. "Nothing pleases him!"
I ran my hands through my hair. "When you said there was good news, I thought you'd discovered more Pre-Immortals, or more Immortals that we didn't know about."
"Methos - this is just as good. Better. Have a little faith. The End is not at hand!" Joe said earnestly. "It's just a turn in the cycle. You can relax!"
"If I were any more relaxed, I'd be dead!" I quipped.
"Well, we wouldn't want that, would we, Mac?" Joe teased.
"Certainly not!" my beloved replied. "I think this calls for a celebration - I'll open a bottle of champagne!"
"Shouldn't we wait until Quentin returns?" I asked. "And the others?"
"No. This is our secret, from everyone. We'll drink to it before anybody gets back," Mac told me.
"You don't want to tell them?" I was puzzled. Why wouldn't Mac want to share the good news?
"Not yet. Probably, not ever. If Quentin finds out it's a cycle, that we're not really dying out, he might try to change things back to the way they were. That's just what we don't want to happen," Mac explained seriously. "Then everything we've done would be wasted."
"Well, waste not, want not," I said. "Our secret?" I asked, raising my coffee cup in a toast.
"Our secret," Mac and Joe answered, grinning broadly.
"Then let's drink up, to seal the bargain!"