December 12, 2010

War of the Dark Ones

Chapter 1

Part 1 - Prologue

As we ran across the rooftop of the half-built skyscraper on the edge of the city of Colombo in exotic Sri Lanka, I couldn't get the thought out of my head that had nearly locked my mind in a catatonic loop – I had taken a human life.

I had been a field agent with the C.I.A. for four months. And probably even more relevant – I had suffered my first death and discovered I was immortal twenty-four days ago. Both could be scarily dark and dangerous, but neither facet of my suddenly complicated life had forced me to take another life until today. I had been in almost too many combat situations to count for such a surprisingly brief period of time, but I had never killed anyone before. I had used my body as a weapon. I had shot at people when it was absolutely necessary. Back in Paris, I had created a situation where Amanda and Duncan had been forced to kill two other Immortals in an attempt to stop yet another arms deal. However through it all, I had never killed anyone with my own hands.

But today, barely five minutes ago, I had killed someone. Oh, he was an evil arms dealer and certainly deserved 'death', as his actions over the last few years had probably resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people. And I hadn't been intentionally trying to kill him, but had merely been trying to keep him from killing Ben as the two fought on the small, rickety piece of scaffolding cantilevered from the side of the building. However it was the blow from the section of pipe I had picked up that had knocked him from the platform and sent him plummeting to his death.

How would I ever survive in the world of Immortals, if killing tore me up like this, I was wondering when my circular thoughts were interrupted by a shout from Ben.

"Move it, Annie! There are still a lot of Artigas' men in the building." Then he grabbed my arm and gave a brisk tug in the direction of the waiting helicopter.

Jai was helping Professor Sabine into the chopper, as Ben and I reached them. Immediately, Ben grabbed the dazed Professor's other arm to hoist him aboard. I was almost surprised Jai accepted Ben's help after the near catastrophic confrontation between the agent and the former agent only minutes earlier. I knew the men had at one time been friends therefore I had been disappointed at how calmly Jai had seemed to accept Arthur's instructions to take out Ben, if it became necessary. They seemed able to work together for the moment, but I knew inside that things had to come to a head before they could truly move forward.

Abruptly a shot rang out. And then another. The two men reacted faster than I did. Ben stepped protectively between the shooter and me while Jai pivoted to return the fire.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion as the impact of the slugs into Ben's back drove his body forward slamming me into the side of the helicopter. As Ben's body bounced backwards, I pivoted and grabbed him. Thankful for the increased strength of my immortal body, I virtually tossed him inside the chopper.

As I turned, out of the corner of my eye I got a look at the shooter and instantly recognized him. It was the big, ugly, bald-headed brute I had danced with earlier. After he had tossed me around for almost a minute, as my enhanced immortal strength hadn't been enough to compensate for the man's nearly two hundred pound weight advantage, I had ultimately managed to grab a large construction spike and had used all my might to slam it deeply into his thigh; taking him out of the action, or so I thought.

But even as I saw Jai drill two rounds into the big man, I knew I had had the chance earlier to take him out permanently and hadn't been able to do it. If I had known I was going to kill another man within the next two minutes anyway, would I have held back? Would two deaths have been any harder on my conscience than one?

I was still standing by the side of the helicopter, my gaze frozen on Ben's crumpled body and my thoughts a turmoil of 'might have beens', when Jai grabbed my arm.

"Annie, get in. We have to go now!" Jai shouted, as he pushed me through the large open side of the helicopter.

I tumbled nearly on top of Ben and then quickly rolled to pull him into my arms.

"Ben," I whispered as I slowly rocked his body, even as the helicopter made an abrupt jerky departure from the rooftop. At one time, for a long time, this man had been at the center of my thoughts. Then he had simply walked away for two years. Finally, only days before he suddenly reappeared, I had connected with Auggie, so I was much more ambivalent than I would have been if he had reappeared only a week earlier. But that didn't mean I was ready to watch him die.

"You should have left me," he whispered back with a grimace, as I heard Jai shouting into a microphone about a medical emergency.

Heading out over the ocean, I knew the helicopter we were on was from the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship with thirty helicopters, eight Harriers, and more importantly, a six hundred bed hospital. Unfortunately, Ben couldn't make it to that hospital and we both knew it.

"Help me," he whispered, his voice rapidly losing what strength it had shown only moments earlier. Almost immediately his body began to convulse, as he fought to remain conscious and struggle towards the still open door.

I wanted to restrain him, to hold him. But from the moment he had been hit, I think I knew what I was going to have to do. Therefore while working hard to look like I was trying to restrain his dying movements, I actually rolled us towards the door. I planted one final quick kiss on his cheek, as I saw the light fade from his eyes. He was already dead as we slid out the yawning opening. I caught the edge of the door with one hand and was left dangling as I watched Ben's body begin the long, long drop to the ocean below.

Only four days earlier, I had been in London on another assignment. And I had pulled almost the same stunt as Ben. I had used my body as a human shield to protect Vivian Long, a junior counsel at the American Embassy, from Patricia Ridley, who was actually Lara Kormen a former Turkish intelligence operative turned mercenary as I later learned. I had willingly risked my career, my whole life as Annie Walker. If I had been shot I would have had to walk away from my old life. But that day I had gotten lucky and Jai took out my opponent first.

But today, Ben hadn't been that lucky. And he had obviously decided in a split second that saving my old life was more important than his. And he was doubtlessly right. He would never be fully accepted back into the Firm after two years of being rogue. But my loyalty wouldn't be questioned. So, if one of us had to 'die', he was the logical one.

"Annie, I've got you," yelled Jai, as he grabbed my arm and pulled me back inside.

I took one last look down at the distant water, but Ben's body had already vanished beneath the waves. And I couldn't help but wonder when and where I would next see him again. The old 'pre-Auggie, pre-Immortal' part of me hoped it wouldn't be another two years while the new 'Immortal' me suddenly wasn't particularly bothered if our next encounter didn't happen for another hundred years. But with the 'Dark Ones' sponsored troubles escalating, like this latest incident in Colombo, it seemed likely Ben would be back in touch in a matter of weeks if not days.

Part 2 – Twenty-one days earlier

I dropped Auggie off at his apartment before heading home to my sister's guest house. Auggie had wanted me to stay and I had thought long and hard about it, but I had been living out of my carry-on bag for the last five days and definitely needed to pick up some fresh clothes. And, frankly, after the nonstop events in Paris where I had discovered my immortality and then entered the blossoming relationship with Auggie, I desperately needed some 'alone time' to think.

But as I pulled into the driveway and saw the lights still on in the kitchen of the main house, I knew I had one more task I had to accomplish before retreating to the comfort of my bed with its deep pile of pillows.

After parking my car in the garage, I grabbed my overnight bag from the trunk and walked to the guest house. I had intended to just drop off the bag before heading over to the main house. But once inside, I decided to slip into my more comfortable P.J.s and robe first. I debated about a shower, but decided to postpone it for the moment before I lost my nerve.

Sliding the door to the guest house closed behind me, I padded around the pool in my bare feet until I reached the door leading into the mudroom and then on to the kitchen. I paused for one deep breath and then opened the door. Quietly I made my way into the kitchen and found my sister, Danielle, sitting at the kitchen table, a half eaten bowl of chocolate ice cream in front of her and Jon Stewart doing his opening monologue on the TV.

I was several steps into the room when Danielle must have seen my movement out of the corner of her eye and jumped.

"Annie, I didn't know you were back."

I smiled. "I just got back five minutes ago."

She gestured towards her bowl and then asked. "So how was Paris? Meet any interesting guys?"

Danielle only knew about my cover job with the Smithsonian and not my true job with the C.I.A. So I couldn't tell her about my adventure at the Louvre where I had strutted down the fashion show runaway barely half dressed and then how I had battled against weapons' dealers who were trafficking in nukes and nerve gas.

And if she couldn't know about the C.I.A., she certainly couldn't know about the world of Immortals, which meant I couldn't tell her about my death and revival or about Amanda and Duncan.

Which only left her second question; I definitely could tell her about Auggie and would have to eventually, as he was an important part of my life now. But that could wait for morning, assuming my sister and I were still speaking to each other.

No, I had come in here about a different matter and I couldn't let myself be sidetracked.

However before responding I got my own dish of ice cream. Everything was usually calmer and easier when chocolate was involved.

Sliding into the seat across from her so I could watch her face, rather than my normal place next to her, I asked. "Where's Michael?"

"He's in Baltimore for a conference. He'll be back tomorrow evening. So it's just us girls tonight. I finally got Chloe and Katia to bed an hour ago."

After one more mouthful I set my spoon down quietly by my bowl. "Danni, have you always known I was adopted?"

Back at his barge when Duncan was explaining to me about Immortals, there were two points he had made clear that were common to all immortals. First, they couldn't have children. And second, they were all foundlings. None of the Immortals had any idea where they came from; perhaps storks really did leave us on people's doorsteps as infants. But wherever we were from, we apparently weren't 'born' in the normal sense.

And the thought my Mom and Dad weren't really my Mom and Dad had been prying on my mind ever since. My sister and I were both blondes, but aside from that we didn't look much alike. And our temperaments were certainly very different with hers being a lot more like our parents, the more I thought about it. But deep inside I hoped Duncan was wrong and the differences I suddenly saw between myself and my family were all just in my head.

Danielle's eyes had been on the TV, but now they shot over to me. "How did you find out?"

No attempted denial or anything. I guess I knew after everything else Duncan had told me had turned out to be true, that this would, too. But I found I was a little disappointed to learn Danielle had known and never told me.

"Is it important how I found out?" I responded. I found I couldn't keep the pain and sense of betrayal out of my voice.

"No, I guess not," answered Danielle. "I'm sorry, Annie. There were times when I wanted to tell you, times I should have told you, but Mom and Dad have always been against it and it was easiest to just bow to their wishes."

I forced myself to take a slow, measured breath. It was not Danielle's fault I was Immortal and therefore had to be adopted. The situation was outside our control and I couldn't let it destroy the good relationship I had always had with my 'family'.

"Can you tell me what you know about it, the adoption I mean?" I asked quietly.

Danielle shrugged. "I don't really know anything. I was five years old when they brought you home one day and said you were my new baby sister. I didn't think anything special about it at the time. It wasn't until I had sex education in middle school that it registered that Mom hadn't been pregnant before you arrived. I asked Mom about it and she admitted you were adopted, but she asked me not to tell you, as you were just as much a part of the family as I was and that telling you would just upset you to no purpose. And since you were only seven at the time and had always been my sister, I did what she asked. I considered telling you when you were older, but again I didn't see any point. That's pretty much all I know. If you want to know more, you're going to have to talk to Mom and Dad."

I sat there in silence staring off into space. My whole life had been a lie. I wasn't who I thought I was. I wasn't Annie Walker; I was just some Immortal who was wearing that name.

Danielle must have misinterpreted my silence, or perhaps not. "Annie, are you going to go looking for your birth parents?"

I shook my head. I didn't have any birth parents to go searching for. Then, as thoughts of birth certificates danced through my head, I wondered about my files at the Firm. My birth certificate had to state I was adopted, so it must be in my records at the C.I.A. I was almost surprised it had never come up when I was getting my clearances. No, not almost surprised, but completely surprised, as I had seen people washed out or reassigned to non-sensitive positions for less. With the standard paranoia they always worked under, I was surprised I wasn't suspected of being a sleeper agent or something. Suddenly, there was more and more about my situation both at work and at home that I no longer seemed to understand.

"No, or at least not now," I said finally in response to her question. "If I was given up, there must have been a strong reason. However I do want to hear Mom and Dad's story, but it is something probably best done face-to-face rather than over the phone. I need to find some time to get up to visit them, but please don't tell them I know before I get a chance to talk to them."

Danielle got up from her chair and move around the table. She pulled me to my feet and wrapped her arms around my body. "I'm still your sister whether you were adopted or not. You understand that don't you? This doesn't change anything."

I hugged her back. Her words suddenly meant a lot. "Thanks, Danni."

When she pulled back a little, I saw tears in her eyes and realized there were tears in mine, too.

"Annie, you're welcome to spend the night like in the old days," Danielle said as she wiped at a tear running down her cheek.

When I was seven or eight I went through this period where I had a lot of bad dreams. Often I had ended up in Danielle's bed and she would hold me until the terror went away.

"Thanks, but I'll be okay," I said while wiping at my own eyes. "Besides I need to go call Auggie, I promised to call him after I talked to you."

"Auggie?"

"A guy I met over in Paris," I said with a smile.

"Is he French? You have to tell me all about him," Danielle suddenly said all excitedly.

"No, he's American. Actually, he lives right here in the D.C. area - over in Colonial Village near Arlington Cemetery. He even says he has a view of The Mall from his loft. Anyway, he was in Paris on business and then arranged to come back on the same flight."

"Excellent. I was afraid it was going to be one of those long distance relationships that never work."

I don't know if she was commenting about long distance relationships in general or about Ben specifically. Danielle had been hounding me for at least a year saying it was time to move on and get back out in the world.

"So tell me about him," Danielle continued. "Is he cute? No wait, he is obviously cute or you wouldn't be with him. How hot is he?"

Was I that much of an open book to my sister? But then she had met most of the guys I had dated more than once or twice in high school and college, so if there was a pattern, she had probably spotted it.

"Okay, he is extremely hot. Six foot, brown hair, lean body with a lot, and I mean a lot, of definition." Auggie might not be in the same league as Immortals for muscles, but by mortal standards he had to be in the top one or two percent.

But then there was Auggie's one big issue. I could put off mentioning it, but then it might give the impression it bothered me more than it did.

"But there's something I need to warn you about him so you won't be surprised the first time you meet him. Auggie was with Special Forces in Afghanistan two years ago and he was wounded. Danni, he's blind. He has adjusted to it very well and now has a tech job with some government agency. After you have been around him for awhile you will almost forget about it, but I wanted to warn you before you meet him, as he will certainly hear it in your voice if I just sprang it on you."

"Blind?" Danielle just repeated.

And at that moment I realized all thoughts about me being adopted had faded from her mind. And I also realized how unimportant it was in the overall scheme of things compared to something like Auggie's blindness. Whether I was adopted or not, my life would go on pretty much the same.

"Danni, it's okay. Auggie is so special, it's not that important," I answered. And it felt like a hint of levity was called for. "Okay, so I will have to play chauffer on our dates."

Part 3

Danielle and I chatted for another twenty minutes, but then we both started yawning and decided it was time for bed. I wished her good night and headed back out to the guest house. I was in a much better mood with both the topics of my adoption and Auggie out in the open. I almost wished I could have broached the immortality issue, too, but knew that would have been pushing my luck too far.

I was halfway around the pool when I felt it. 'The Buzz'. There was another Immortal close by and the only place he could be was in the guest house, my guest house, my home.

Instantly, Duncan's reminder about 'Holy Ground' sprang to mind. There was a cemetery eight blocks away that had to qualify as 'Holy Ground', but even if I made it there, what could I do? The only people I knew who might be able to help me were Duncan and Amanda and they were back in Paris. Was I supposed to spend the next twenty-four hours lurking around a cemetery and hope a panicky call to Duncan would have him rushing to my rescue? Besides, if this Immortal knew where I lived, he could easily abduct Danielle or her daughters to force me to come to him. No, running for Holy Ground wasn't going to be the solution this time.

Which only left confronting this stranger and with that thought, 'Little Dragon' seemed to jump into my hand with barely a thought on my part. In the two and a half days we had stayed in Paris after the events at the Louvre, I had managed to squeeze in three hours of training with Duncan. That training plus the home field advantage of my guest house would have to be enough. I knew in my heart it wasn't and if this stranger was here for my head, my life might be ending in the next couple of minutes. But I couldn't simply run, not with Danielle and her kids less than a hundred feet away. I was just glad I had parted from Danielle on good terms and that her last memories of me wouldn't be some stupid fight.

I had left a light on in the guest house, but the curtains on the French doors leading out to the pool kept me from getting a view of the person in the room. Oh, if he moved I might see a shadow against the curtains, but for now all I saw was the pale yellow glow of the bed side lamp illuminating the sheer curtains.

There was nothing for it, but to open the door and step into the room. I got a firm grip on 'Little Dragon' with my right hand and then reached out my other hand to swing the left hand door open. Quickly, I dashed through the open door with a quick stutter-step to the left to get myself near the left side of the room. If my opponent was right-handed that would at least help nullify his strong side. Perhaps I had learned a useful thing or two from my brief time with Duncan.

"Annie, it's me," announced the man sitting in the chair in the far opposite corner of the room, as though he was intentionally trying not to be more intimidating than absolutely necessary.

And then his voice and face registered.

"Ben?" I asked and almost felt stupid at the remark. The man I had thought I had loved for almost two years was sitting less than fifteen feet from me and I call out his name as though I hadn't instantly recognized him.

But then I hadn't seen him in two years except for a fleeting glimpse in the middle of a fight in the subway of someone who looked more or less like him. And now suddenly here he was in my home and on top of that, he was Immortal, too.

"Ben, what are you doing here?" I asked with a definite edge in my voice as I slowly lowered 'Little Dragon'. He disappears for two years and then abruptly turns up only days after I become Immortal. Hell, the time could be easily measured in hours whether you started counting from my return to the States or even counting from my first death.

"There are things you need to know now that you are Immortal."

"Like why you simply walked away from me back in Sri Lanka with only a five word note?" I said hotly. For almost two years I had thought I would just spring into his arms if he ever returned to my life. But now that it had happened, I felt more anger than joy. And it felt like it had nothing to do with my new relationship with Auggie. No, I suddenly had this feeling inside I would have felt the same if it had happened last week instead of this week. However, now there was the whole additional immortality issue that wouldn't have been there a week earlier, or wouldn't have been there from my perspective. But if it was like Amanda said and Immortals could sense the presence of pre-Immortals, then Ben would not only have recognized it in me last week, but also two years ago. Had there been a whole secret agenda to our relationship from day one?

"Some Immortal business came up and it had to take precedence," Ben answered.

"Immortal business?" I harrumphed. His comment seemed to be utterly consistent with my thoughts of a moment earlier. "Was I just some Immortal business, too? Did you hook up with me on that beach strictly because I was a pre-Immortal?"

Ben seemed to stare off into space for a long fifteen seconds before nodding. "I could say it wasn't a factor, but that would be a lie. So, yes, the initial reason I made the play for you was because of your potential to become Immortal. But after the first few hours, it turned into something more. And that's the truth."

I wanted to pursue why Ben had disappeared two years earlier, but then I remembered 'Little Dragon' still dangling from my hand. Since Ben didn't appear to be here to take my head, I went ahead and 'snapped' it back out of existence. And that action reminded me of how I had been an Immortal for only three days, which left me wondering how Ben had learned of my change in status so quickly.

"Ben, how did you find out I had suffered my first death and had become immortal? I mean I have only been Immortal for three days and unless you have been keeping tabs on me on almost a daily basis, how did you learn about it? Certainly if you had gotten close enough to me to feel 'The Buzz', I would have felt it, too. And I don't remember any unexplained 'buzzes'."

"When I received word MacLeod was seen training an unknown in the use of swords, I had photos forwarded to me."

"You know Duncan? And why would you have someone watching him?" I asked, suddenly more confused than ever.

Ben shook his head. "No, I've never met MacLeod. I have crossed paths with his friend, Amanda, a few times, but never MacLeod."

"So why would you have someone watching him?" I repeated.

Ben sighed. "This is going to take awhile and is part of the reason I'm here. Do you have a beer or anything?"

I walked over to the mini-frig and pulled out a pair of bottles. After handing one to Ben, I walked over to the only other chair in the room. The bed would have been more comfortable and convenient, but it also would have sent a message I definitely didn't want to send at the moment.

After taking a quick swig from my bottle, I cocked my head at an expectant angle.

"I, ah, we watch all the Immortals we know about, which is why someone was watching MacLeod and spotted him training you."

That one sentence raised several interesting questions. Therefore before he continued, I asked. "How many Immortals are there?"

"The number hovers around four thousand."

"And you have people watching all of them? How is that possible?"

"We set up an organization a long time ago. It is now sort of self-perpetuating."

The 'a long time ago' remark immediately brought back the conversation I had had with Amanda and Duncan while we girls were getting our hair dyed. And that in turn reminded me I had to call in the morning for an appointment to get my natural hair-color restored. It might not matter to Auggie what color it was, but I liked being a blonde.

But then I forced my thoughts back to the 'a long time ago' comment. I had known about Immortals for only a couple of hours when I had learned Amanda was more than a thousand years old. So I had to wonder how old Ben was and I had the sudden feeling it was a lot more than a few decades or even a few centuries.

"Ben, how old are you?"

Ben stared at me for a minute and then slowly nodded. "I guess that's as good a place as any to start."

"I was born in the city of Gebal on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Lebanon in the year 1257 B.C. At the time, it was the leading city-state of my people, the Kenaani, who are these days better known by their Greek name, the Phoenicians."

I could feel my eyes begin to boggle, as Ben continued to speak. Amanda was almost twelve hundred years old and it was hard to believe. Now to learn Ben was almost three times as old was utterly beyond comprehension. Particularly since he looked a youthful thirty and had what I now understood to be the prototypical immortal body covered with highly defined, rock-hard muscles.

As my mind struggled with the concept of Ben being over thirty-two hundred years old, I forced myself back to listening to his words.

"During that era, the Phoenicians were the dominant sea-faring race in the Mediterranean with colonies, settlements, and trading posts from the Middle East to Greece, Egypt, Sicily, France, Spain, and even up to Britain."

Ben paused to reach over to the small jewelry tree on the nightstand between the bed and his chair. He lifted the small seashell bracelet he had given me back in Sri Lanka from the place of honor were it still hung after two years.

Fingering its small shells, he continued quietly. "I spent most of my first life on the water, traveling the world to learn my father's shipping business. The Phoenicians and their ships were the driving force behind the development of advanced civilizations in that portion of the world through the redistribution of goods. It started with a locally produced purple dye the Greeks coveted. In fact, the name Phoenician is derived from the Greek word for 'purple'. But the trade quickly grew to include papyrus from Egypt, gold and silver from Spain and even tin, used in the production of bronze, from Britain."

Hearing about Ben's first life was fascinating and I wanted to hear it all someday, but at the moment I was far more interested in the present. His first words on my entry into the room had been how there were things I needed to know now that I was immortal and I doubted it revolved around day-to-day life in ancient Phoenicia.

"Ben, your first life sounds interesting and I want to hear all about it someday, but you said there were things I needed to know."

Ben had gotten this faraway look while he had been talking about his first life and now it took a few seconds for his eyes to clear and focus back on me. With a small sigh he placed the bracelet back on the nightstand.

"Sorry, you're right. There will be time for stories later," he said. Then he changed the direction of the conversation. "Since MacLeod was training you in the use of the sword, either he or Amanda must have explained about Immortals. Right?"

I nodded.

"Perhaps it would be easiest if you tell me what you know and then I will try to fill in some of the gaps about things the younger Immortals don't know."

"Okay," I said before pausing for a moment to marshal my thoughts. "No one knows where the Immortals come from. We are all foundlings raised by mortals. Until our first deaths, we all appear perfectly human. But then, after our first deaths, our bodies are transformed. We no longer age. We heal from injuries very quickly. Our bodies become stronger and faster than those of normal humans. And we can only be truly killed by having our heads separated from our bodies, which leads to the whole topic of 'The Game'. Even though we are able to live forever, instead we fight to the death to take each other's 'Quickening'. But Immortals don't fight every time they meet. I mean Duncan and Amanda have been friends for centuries and they don't try to take each other's heads. So I don't really understand the rules of 'The Game'; I just know I have to be ready if some other Immortal comes for me."

At that point I sort of ran out of steam. There were a few more details I knew, but that had covered the gist of it.

After waiting a few seconds, Ben must have decided I was finished. "Okay, that's more or less what I was expecting."

"So, do you know more?" I asked.

Ben nodded. "Yes, the truth of what is going on is known by a handful of the oldest immortals. And in this regard, even I fall into the 'younger Immortals' group, as only they have direct memories of 'The Others."

"The Others?" I repeated, suddenly feeling more confused than ever.

Ben paused to take a long pull on his beer. "Let me start over from the beginning. Long ago, something like five thousand years ago, the scattered pockets of early human civilization got caught up in a long, on-going war between two alien star-faring factions. In the words of George Lucas, one side was mostly benevolent and could be considered on the side of light. The other side wanted to enslave all races it considered inferior and can be thought of as the dark side.

"The light side didn't like to get its hands dirty doing its own fighting, so it developed warriors from the local indigenous populations on the various worlds caught up in the conflict. On the planet Earth, it created and deployed the Immortals to be its soldiers. To maximize their effectiveness, the soldiers were engineered to have superior strength, speed, and healing powers compared to the source genetic material. And to maintain their control of the soldiers, they were all engineered to be sterile.

"The great war on Earth between the forces of the two alien factions occurred right at the beginnings of recorded history in places like Egypt, Ur, Chin, and the early, now lost civilizations of the Americas. It was a long, hard battle which lasted for decades, perhaps centuries; I'm not sure as the handful of Immortals who survived are reticent to talk about it. But in the end, the forces of light prevailed and the 'Dark Ones' were driven out of this region of the galaxy. Then sometime later, but still well before my own time, the forces of light also departed. However they left behind a device that continues to this day to create and disperse several hundred infants a year who will grow to be Immortals in case these warriors are ever needed again."

I stared at Ben with what had to have been a dumb-founded expression on my face. Aliens? The Immortals were created by aliens? For a moment that struck me as absolutely crazy. But then what better explanation did I have? As Arthur C. Clark said, there is science and then there is magic. And from some perspectives it is difficult to tell them apart. For this 21st Century girl, alien science made a lot more sense than most of the theories Auggie and I had discussed on the plane ride back from France.

"Then what's the deal with 'The Game'?" I asked.

"If they were ever needed again, the light side didn't want to have a large group of complacent, old Immortals, but rather a smaller group that had been honed to a keen sharp edge. The Quickening was engineered into the Immortals' bodies to maximize the fighting skills and abilities of the victors. And 'The Game' was also structured to keep the Immortals from organizing into a single united force, which might subjugate the 'mortal' portion of the populace."

Ben's story was making a crazy sort of sense. Or at least it seemed to make more sense than anything Duncan or Amanda had been able to tell me.

"Why are you telling me all this? I mean it sounds like most Immortals, even those who have been around for hundreds or thousands of years, have no idea. Yet you're telling me and I've only been Immortal for three days."

Ben rose from his chair and walked over to the mini-frig. He pulled out a couple more beers and handed me one before returning to his seat.

"The old Immortals, the four who survived the First War, felt it was in their best interest to keep tabs on the new, younger Immortals. But the younger Immortals were too numerous and too scattered for them to do it by themselves. And there was also 'The Buzz' to consider. So the old Immortals set up an organization called 'The Watchers' to keep the others under observation. Since the field agents for the Watchers were all mortals, none of the younger Immortals would even know they were about. For thousands of years, the Watcher organization has been collecting data about Immortals – who fought who, how many victories each Immortal had accumulate and so forth.

"Recently, well recently from an Immortal's perspective, things have started changing. It was first noticed twenty years ago, but it has steadily gotten more pronounced. Immortals are disappearing or are being killed off by unknown agents. There are always a few Immortals the Watchers have never uncovered, usually new ones within a few decades of their first death. But the unexplained killings and disappearances are too numerous for that explanation. Then within the last few months the pattern has changed yet again. Based on this data, the old Immortals have concluded the 'Dark Ones' have returned. Oh, it is not like the last time; a vast armada of alien ships hasn't arrived, or at least not yet. For the moment it appears only a limited number of infiltrators are here. Their primary assignment has to be to prepare the way for those that will follow. And since the Immortals were responsible for their defeat last time, eliminating the Immortals must be their primary objective."

Great, I thought. I had been an Immortal for only a few minutes when I learned there were other Immortals out there, ones with incredible fighting skills and centuries of experience, who would be trying to kill me. Now, three days later, I find out aliens want my head, too. Being Immortal was turning out to be a lot less fun than it had looked at first blush.

"I still don't get why you are telling me all this."

"A couple of reasons," responded Ben. "First, it is apparent the 'Dark Ones' have infiltrated the Watcher Organization to be able to track down so many of the Immortals. The old Immortals intend to fight the return of the 'Dark Ones', but one of their primary tools, the Watchers, has been compromised. So they need to set up another network the Watchers are not aware of. A few selected Immortals, like myself, have been recruited, but their primary resource is going to be new Immortals like you, who aren't yet on the Watchers' lists, and pre-Immortals. Immortals can sense pre-Immortals, but the mortal Watchers can't.

"The old Immortals intend to find, turn, recruit, and train pre-Immortals for the upcoming battle. But to hunt for the 'Dark Ones' they also need some organization already in place, which has a global reach and which isn't too squeamish if things get rough, an organization like the C.I.A. Several Immortals are already situated within the upper echelons of Langley who can instigate investigations without the true motives coming out. Since you may encounter these individuals when you return to the facility, it seemed best to give you an early head's up."

I nodded; my mind already racing to guess who these others at the Firm might be. However with thousands of people working at the central headquarters, I might not personally know any of them.

"You said there were a couple of reasons for telling me," I responded.

"The second reason is because of your position as a field agent. You're task will be to find and identify pre-Immortals for recruitment. Fortunately for our purposes, pre-Immortals seem to be drawn to particular locations during each time period. And for the present, one of those locations is D.C. When you are out and about in the city or when you are on assignment you will need to be on the lookout for pre-Immortals."

"You make it sound like I have already agreed to help you," I stated with a shake of my head.

"We are talking about the survival of mankind here. I spent twenty-three years as a slave in a Roman silver mine in Spain and it still haunts me two thousand years later. Trust me; you don't ever want to experience that first hand. And if the 'Dark Ones' conquer the planet, that will be the life of all survivors. I don't see where you have any choice but to assist us."

When he put it like that, and assuming everything he was telling me was the truth, I was forced to agree. I didn't want to see Danni or her daughters dead or enslaved.

"How soon do you think things will come to a head?" I asked and couldn't keep a small quiver from creeping into my voice.

He shrugged. "Not tomorrow and probably not next year. The 'Dark Ones' are long-lived like Immortals and won't make the big move until they feel confident of success. It might even be decades, if we can successfully block some of their operations."

Ben paused and then looked me straight in the eye. "Annie, I don't want you to think I am trying to drop all of this on your shoulders. Dealing directly with the 'Dark Ones' or their agents is not your near-term responsibility. For the moment, just go back to doing your assigned tasks while keeping an eye out for pre-Immortals. Well, and start practicing with that sword. I don't want you losing your head before things even get interesting."

'Just do your job' was easy for him to say, but my mind was chocked full of new data from what he had just told me, as well as everything else that had occurred since I had experienced my first death back at Sarondi's apartment in Paris. I was Immortal. Other Immortals might be hunting me. An alien race was preparing to invade and conquer the planet. How was I supposed to just go back to doing my job?

End of Chapter 1

Author's Note:

I enjoy reading big, grand scale adventures the most, so that is what I try to write. I decided, if I was going to do a sequel to 'We'll Always Have Paris', I wanted an overall arc to the story which would explore the origins of the Immortals rather than just do a simple little story about Annie's first adventures as an Immortal. So where do Immortals come from? I don't believe the movies or TV shows ever gave a satisfactory explanation. The best, most interesting ones I have seen have been in Highlander-Stargate cross-over stories. So I am toying with turning this story into a Stargate cross-over. What do people think? I haven't ever done a Stargate story, but it might be fun if told from Annie's unique perspective.

Also, I'm afraid you can't expect daily updates to this story like I did with the previous one. At the moment most of my free time available for writing is focused on an original story I can potentially sell, so my fan fiction writing is going to be more sporadic and primarily when I need to take a break from working on the other project. If you are curious to check out that work in progress (which is what I call historical sci-fi since it is set in 1936 and involves rocket planes, jet packs, and the like), follow the homepage link on my fanfiction page.

Have a great day,

Duane