Perceptions
by Michele R. Mason

First the Disclaimer: If you recognize them, they don't belong
to me. The characters of Richie Ryan, Duncan MacLeod, Tessa
Noel, Joe Dawson, and the concept of Immortality and the
Watchers do not belong to me. Neither do the characters of
Adam Newman, Ami Jackson, Megabyte Damon, Jade Weston,
General Bill Damon, or Frank, or the Tomorrow People. These
characters belong to Panzer/Davis, Rhysher/Gaumont
Television, Roger Damon Price, Thames/Tetra and ITV
television respectively. I use them here without
permission, but not for profit. Feel free to print this out
for personal use, but it is not to be archived anywhere
without my permission. (This excludes the TPFICT archives,
the HLFIC-L archives, and the Highlander fiction
.com archive.)

Thanks for taking time to read this tale.

As always, feedback, questions, and comments are welcome.
Michele R Mason

***********

Perceptions
By Michele R Mason
Chapter One

London had its charm.

It didn't have the magical romance of Paris, but it had a
certain elegance and charm that cried out to be noticed.
While not flamboyant like the streets and people of Paris,
there was a certain mystery and unique flavor to the city
that was unlike anything that Corey Lyle had ever
experienced. Of course, that only made sense because Corey
Lyle didn't really exist; Corey Lyle, a collection of
papers and documents and credit cards, had never
experienced anything in his life.

Standing beneath Cleopatra's needle, feeling the faint rays
of sunlight brushing his shoulders, Richie Ryan found
himself smiling. He still didn't know where or how Mac and
Joe, his mentor and friend, had gotten the identity of
Corey Lyle, but Richie had found it quite easy to settle
into the demeanor of the traveling university student. He
liked Corey Lyle more than he liked even Richard Redstone,
the last identity he had used in Europe. Richard Redstone
was wealthy and flamboyant; a ladies' man and a
millionaire. Richard Redstone attracted attention-Corey
Lyle moved through the London streets like a phantom,
invisible and unnoticed.

When you're Immortal, invisible and unnoticed are pretty
good things to be.

Of course, if you'd listened to Mac, you could still be
Richie Ryan, a nagging little voice inside his head
reminded him.

The reminder made Richie wince. If he allowed his mind to
stray too far, to remember too long, he would still feel
the flames eating away his flesh, he would still smell the
acrid stench of gasoline and burning skin and hair. Dying
in a motorcycle accident wouldn't have been bad; but dying
the way he did, burning and suffocating- well, it had been
enough to teach him a lesson about pushing the limits of
his Immortality. Richie Ryan "died" in Paris, France from a
motorcycle collision; he still kept the obituary as a
common sense reminder to take better care of himself.

The slight rumbling of his stomach pulled Richie from his
thoughts and his admiration of Cleopatra's Needle. Mac
always teased him about his stomach, but Richie didn't see
anything wrong with having a healthy appetite. Shoving his
hands in his pockets, he turned and headed up the stairs,
feeling the weight of his sword press against him
underneath the long leather coat. The movement of the sword
beneath his clothing was another constant reminder of who
and what he was.

Immortal. He would live forever. Well, that's if another
one of his kind didn't come along and lop of his head. That
was the problem with being an Immortal-it was a constant
race to remain alive. The sword was there for protection,
part of the ages old code of how Immortals were supposed to
duel. One to one, no witnesses, only with swords and to the
death. Richie never went anywhere without it; it was as
much a part of him as his heart or lungs. It was a constant
echo of what separated him from those around him.

"Oh!" The sharp exclamation came as he very nearly walked
into someone attempting to navigate their way down the same
flight of steps he was walking up.

Richie caught her by the arms, steadying himself as well
before they both went tumbling backwards. "Sorry about
that, are you-"

The words froze in his throat. The face he stared down at
was familiar. Richie didn't know whether to worry or be
pleased by the coincidence. In his experience, there really
wasn't such a creature as coincidence.

Familiar sooty dark eyes stared up at him from her youthful
face. The same mesmerizing eyes from the airport not a day
earlier; the same sculpted features, the same halo of
hundreds of plaited braids. The same dark skinned beauty
that had so poignantly reminded him of his own eternal
youth.

"You again!" She smiled at him, her voice ringing in
laughter.

"Yeah, small world." Richie returned her smile easily. "We
really have to stop meeting like this."

"Well, you were here first." She extended her hand, her
smile lighting up her eyes. "Ami."

Her hand was warm and soft, like her eyes and her smile.
"Richie."

Too late, he realized what he had said; too late, he
realized that he had given her his real name and not his
assumed identity. Richie gave himself a mental cuff, and
wondered what Mac would think.

He'd think that a pretty face has robbed you of your
senses, Richie answered his own question the moment that he
asked it. A pretty face that is way, way too young for you.
Get a grip, Ryan.

Despite his self-chastisement, Richie didn't release her
hand. He didn't want to release her hand. "Do you always
talk to strange tourists on the streets?"

"Only the ones I bump into."

"Have you had lunch yet?" Again, Richie's mouth was about
five minutes ahead of his brain. No, it wasn't his mouth
that was causing him problems; it was simple nineteen-year-
old physiology. Ami was pretty, clearly intelligent-

-and clearly too young for you. Do the words 'cradle
robber' mean anything to you?

"Actually, no, but-" Ami paused, throwing a meaningful
glance over his shoulder. "I'm meeting my Mum for lunch."

Richie followed her gaze until it came to rest on the older
woman who clearly had to be her mother. The woman sat on a
stone bench, reading a magazine. She would occasionally
look up, then pretend to be utterly engrossed in the
magazine again. Catching the young Immortal looking at her,
she snapped the magazine closed and returned his gaze
levelly. Richie could feel her eyes examining him even from
the distance, and he could tell by the twitch to the
corners of her mouth that he didn't exactly measure up.

As he met Ami's gaze again, she smiled apologetically. "I'm
late as it is. She hates it when I'm late." She crinkled
her nose attractively and sighed, lowering her voice
although it was clear her mother was too far away to hear
her words. "She's overprotective, too. Worries too much
about me."

"That's what mothers do." As he said it, he felt a stab of
pain and Tessa's face swam in his memory. She was the
closest thing he'd had to a mother; it was odd how he
remembered Tessa at the oddest times, and how much the
remembrances still hurt.

"It was nice meeting you again, Richie."

The feeling descended on him suddenly. The all too familiar
sensation that touched every fiber of his being. The
feeling that was both inside of him and outside of him at
the same moment. Every muscle, every nerve tensed with
readiness as he noted the ~Presence~ of another Immortal.
His heart pounded, his muscles tensed and the adrenaline
pumped into his bloodstream. The vague pressure built up
inside his head, not unlike a swarm of bees buzzed around
behind his eyes; it was more than enough to distract him
from the young woman before him.

He smiled as graciously as he could, trying to scan the
ebbing tide of people without appearing to do so. "It was
nice bumping into you, too."

If she suspected something, she gave no sign of it. With a
final smile, and words he didn't quite hear, she glided
down the stairs toward her mother.

The buzz was fading as he turned away from her and melted
into the crowd. He supposed that he could simply walk in
the other direction and not worry about it. After all, his
plane was leaving tomorrow-he could avoid another Immortal
if he wanted to.

But Richie knew first hand what some of his kind were like.
He couldn't risk the idea that an unknown Immortal had seen
him talking to Ami. If they had, she could become a target;
they could think that she meant something to Richie, that
she was a close and personal acquaintance.

No, he had to find the source of that fading awareness that
Immortals referred to as "the buzz."

It intensified as he neared an office building. The door
was just swinging closed, and he slipped quickly inside
before it closed all the way.

Inside the building, the buzz ebbed and flared, but it
wasn't hard for Richie to track its source to the roof of
the building.

Brilliant, fiery red hair cascaded over the leather-clad
shoulders of the figure leaning over the edge of the
building. Richie had to stifle a gasp as he noticed the
high-powered rifle she had aimed at the square below.

"They make shooting ranges for that."

"I don't have any battles with you." The accent was
melodical, mixed with different countries and languages,
but strongly accented with Irish. She didn't even have the
dignity to look at him. "Go away."

"Richie Ryan."

"I don't care who you are. Leave me to my business, and
I'll leave you to yours." She calmly began to load the
rifle.

Richie didn't think twice.

In a few fluid movements, his sword was in his hands,
pressed against her neck. Richie didn't really want to
fight her. And certainly not in broad daylight on the
rooftop of a downtown London building, but people who aimed
high powered rifles into crowds of unarmed civilians
weren't normally the sort you exchanged phone numbers and
recipes with. "Don't make me do this."

He underestimated her. Her calmness and callous disregard
for his presence should have warned him that this was no
ordinary woman. He was still on his back wheezing from
several sharp kicks to his sternum and kidneys when she
pressed her booted heel into the palm of his hand and aimed
the rifle at his face. Her eyes were a still, cold gray-
blue like the sky before a storm. "At this range, Richie
Ryan, I think that even a high powered rifle could remove
your head. Easy Quickening."

To punctuate her words, she dug in her heel. The pain
shooting through his hand and arm made Richie wince
although he didn't cry out. "Don't get in my way again,
little boy. Fire burns."

With those words, she turned and fled the rooftop.

Nursing his broken, but slowly healing ribs, Richie
realized he was in no condition to follow and challenge
her.

Instead, he lugged himself to the edge of the building to
see precisely who or what she had been aiming at.

When his eyes made contact, his blood froze in his veins.

From where he leaned, he had a perfectly clear view of Ami
and her mother.

Richie sunk back against the wall. Something told him that
he was not getting on that plane tomorrow.

End of Chapter One

******

Perceptions
Chapter Two
By Michele R Mason

Holding the telephone to his ear, Richie cursed silently as
he listened to the insistent ringing halfway around the
world. Where was Joe when he needed him? There was an
Immortal in London, who for some inexplicable reason wanted
to kill an innocent mortal, and of course, Joe wasn't
around to give the information he desperately needed.

Be fair, Richie scolded himself as the telephone reached
its tenth ring. Joe isn't supposed to give you any
information at all. You're not even supposed to know he
exists. And he is allowed to have a life.

Joseph Dawson was a Watcher. A high-ranking member of an
elite organization which observed and recorded the actions
and lives of Immortals. They lived by a code almost as
strict as that which Immortals followed: Watchers observed
and recorded, but never interfered. Immortals didn't even
know the civilian historians, scholars, and amateur snoops
existed. Well, most Immortals didn't, because most Watchers
stuck to their centuries old rules and code. However, Joe
Dawson, Watcher of Duncan MacLeod, had broken those rules
quite a while back and continued to do so with amazing
regularity.

Of course, it wasn't as if Joe had any choice in the
matter. Not originally. Richie's teacher and mentor,
Duncan, had learned of the existence of the Watchers by
accident. A renegade Watcher, James Horton, who believed
that Immortals were abominations and the scrounge of the
earth, had killed a very old, very close friend of
MacLeod's. On Holy ground no less. Not even an Immortal
would have done that.

Thus was the rather shaky and gruesome start of a
constantly shifting friendship between the Immortal and his
Watcher. Richie had been a little nervous at first; he
didn't like the thought of being in close contact with
someone who knew his secret, who knew how to kill him, who
belonged to an organization that had held James Horton in
high esteem and respect. Particularly when the James Horton
had also been the brother-in-law of Joe Dawson. But time
had changed his opinion; Joe had saved his life, and he
considered the man a close friend-even if other Watchers
still gave him the willies.

Right as Richie prepared to return the telephone to the
cradle, the ringing stopped.

"Hello?"

"Joe? It's Richie."

"Richie?" The young Immortal could almost see the color
fading from the other's face. "Is something wrong? What's
happened?"

"Well, nothing's happened yet." Richie sat down on the bed,
already feeling some sense of calm knowing that Joe was on
the other end of the telephone. "I ran into an Immortal
today. A woman."

"Yes?" Joe was waiting. Richie recognized the familiar,
patient lull in the other's voice.

"I didn't kill her Joe. I didn't even fight her." Richie
paused, replaying the scene slowly in her mind. "It was
weird. She was some sort of assassin, I think."

"Assassin?" Joe's voice rose in curiosity. "Last I checked
there weren't any Immortals in London working as assassins.
You are still in London, right?"

"Yeah. But, Joe, she wasn't trying to assassinate any big
political figures. She was trying to kill a teenage girl."

"Are you sure that was her target?"

"Yeah, I'm positive. I managed to stop her, but I don't
think that she'll give up."

"Did you get her name?"

Richie shook his head in defeat, although he knew the
Watcher couldn't see the motion. "No. But she's a redhead;
blue eyes. A little taller than me, willow, slim."

"Richie, you aren't going after this woman are you?"

"Joe, she's trying to kill a mortal. A very young mortal. I
have to find out what she's up to." Richie paused again,
looking down at the hotel notepad he had been scribbling
on. A name stared back up at him. A-M-Y. "Hey, Joe, you'll
look into it, right?"

"Yeah, Rich. I'll look into it. But until I find out who
this woman is, and what she's up to, you should probably
stay out of her way."

"Way ahead of you."

"There's something else isn't there?"

Richie nodded. "The girl, the one this woman was trying to
kill. I know who she is."

"I might have guessed."

"It's not what you think. I just wanted you to check and
see if you could find out why someone would want to kill
her."

"Does she have a name?"

"Ami."

"Ami?"

Richie tried to ignore the heat rising to his cheeks. "I
don't know her last name."

"That's not a lot to go on." Joe sighed heavily. "But I
suppose that one of my people probably saw her with you-I
assume she was with you at some point or you wouldn't know
her name?"

"I bumped into her at the airport and later by Cleopatra's
needle."

"You bumped twice into a mysterious girl who just happens
to be the target of an attempted assassination?" Joe
whistled softly. "Richie, doesn't that strike you as bit
more than coincidence?"

"Joe, please. Just look into it."

"All right, fine. But you watch your head. I'll call you
back as soon as I have something."

After he hung up with Joe, Richie noticed that he was even
tenser than before. Joe's words echoed in his head. 'You
bumped twice into a mysterious girl who just happens to be
the target of an attempted assassination?'

No, Richie didn't believe in coincidences of that
magnitude.

Grabbing his sword and his jacket, he left the hotel.

With any luck, Ami would still be at Cleopatra's Needle.

End of Chapter Two

*****

Perceptions
Chapter Three
By Michele R Mason

"So, now that we've managed to discuss everything under the
sun from politics to philosophy, do you want to tell me who
that young man was?"

Ami Jackson lifted her dark eyes from her empty dessert
plate and smiled brightly at her mother. "What young man,
Mum?"

"Don't you even try to get all cute with me, young lady."
Her mother was not to be distracted. Of course, once her
mother got an idea into her head, she didn't allow herself
to be budged.

With a heavy sigh, Ami tried to remind herself that her
mother only badgered her so much because she worried about
her. It didn't matter that Ami had just celebrated her
eighteenth birthday, or that she knew Ami was capable of
taking care of herself. In Sharon Jackson's eyes, Ami would
always be her "baby girl" and would always need protection
and guidance.

The problem was that her mother couldn't protect her from
everything. And most of the time, her mother couldn't
provide the particular sort of guidance and advice that Ami
needed. There had been a time in her life when her mother
had been the sole source of both of those things, but that
had all changed the day she met Adam Newman and Megabyte
Damon. That had changed the day that Ami learned that she
wasn't destined to be normal or live a normal life.

They were The Tomorrow People, the next step in human
evolution. She had met Adam and Megabyte when she began
receiving clairvoyant impressions from their sick friend
Kevin. Drawn into the puzzle and mystery of Kevin's
illness, she had quickly come to learn that there was
nothing normal about the tall Australian or the red-haired
American. And that she was non-normal as they were.

Their abilities to teleport, moving instantly from one
place to another in the blinking of an eye, and their
telepathic powers made them targets for any government
agency or scientist who wanted to shove them in a lab and
study them like rats. It also gave them a particular
awareness of the world around them- knowing and noticing
things that the majority of the population would never
know. And that the majority of the population was better
off not knowing.

That was what had attracted her to Richie at the airport.
He was different. He felt different to her psychic
awareness. With most people, there was only the faintest
mental impression, or the occasional image or thought
escaping them and coming to surface in her mind. It
happened almost every day, and the Tomorrow People were
used to it, calling it "background noise." But Richie's
signature had been significantly different; it was
stronger, more powerful, all the while being elusive. For a
moment, she had thought that the blue-eyed strawberry
blonde was one of them, but then she noticed the subtle
fluctuations in his psychic aura.

And she had never sensed anything like it before.

Ami had all but forgotten about it when she ran into him on
the steps in front of Cleopatra's Needle.

She had the strangest feeling that Richie wasn't at all
what he appeared to be.

Ami didn't think that he was dangerous; she had some inner
gut instinct that told her he wouldn't harm her or the
Tomorrow People. But, running into him twice in the span of
a few days couldn't be all coincidence.

However, she couldn't explain any of that to her mother.

Instead, she gave her mother the most reassuring smile that
she could. "Mum, it's nothing. I told you, we bumped into
each other and he was apologizing."

"That was a rather lengthy apology, Ami." Sharon Jackson
folded her arms across her chest. "This isn't some Tomorrow
People business that you're hiding from me, is it?"

Ami could never lie to her mother. She hated that. It would
have been a handy talent to have when these conversations
came up. "Yes, it is Tomorrow People business. But it isn't
dangerous, I promise you."

"But you can't tell me what it is?"

"Mum," Ami spoke with exasperation. She had grown tired of
these conversations years ago. Once her mother realized
that she couldn't ground her to prevent her from spending
time with Adam and Megabyte, she had actually gotten to
know the young men; but she hadn't stopped worrying. And
her mother didn't hesitate to take every opportunity to
remind Ami's fellow Tomorrow People that she worried.

Sometimes, Ami envied Megabyte. For all the disagreements
and disappointments he had with his father, General Damon
accepted Megabyte's status as a Tomorrow Person. He
accepted the Tomorrow People, and even occasionally aided
them or provided them with information, albeit grudgingly.

"Mum. It's fine, I promise you."

Her mother stared at her for what seemed an endless moment.
Then with some trepidation, she finally nodded. "All right,
then. I'm taking your word for it, Ami. Now, let's talk
about what you're going to wear to your cousin Megan's
wedding."

With a roll of her eyes, Ami nodded. Anything had to be
better than talking about the Tomorrow People and the
mysterious Richie.

End of Chapter Three

******

Perceptions
Chapter Four
By Michele R Mason

Somebody upstairs likes me, Richie thought with a bright
smile as he spotted Ami and her mother walking down the
busy London street.

After leaving the hotel, Richie headed straight back to
Cleopatra's Needle. Of course, as luck would have it, Ami
was gone. He waited, and waited, and when she didn't
return, he decided to stop for the day. He stopped at a
small café, grabbed lunch, and was strolling back to his
hotel when he spotted the young woman weaving through the
crowd across the street.

He followed them at a discreet distance, wondering what he
would say to her if he received the opportunity to speak to
her. Somehow, "Hey, do you know why someone wants to kill
you?" didn't sound like one of the best openings for
broaching the subject.

They wandered into a used bookstore, and Richie heard
opportunity knocking.

Loudly.

He found Ami in a far corner, browsing through a book of
Shakespeare's sonnets.

"My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun," Richie quoted.

Ami looked up, her eyes widening, startled by his sudden
appearance. She smiled, closing the book and placing it
back on the shelf. "Richie. Again."

"Small world." Richie motioned toward the book, "You like
Shakespeare?"

"I like literature." She gave him a long, curious stare.
"Are you following me?"

"Don't believe in coincidence, huh?"

"Not three times consecutively. No." Her eyes narrowed
slowly, her expression becoming guarded. "What do you- why
are you following me?"

'Because there's an Immortal who wants to kill you and I
want to know why,' didn't sound exactly like the
appropriate answer. Richie shrugged, feigning indifference,
and gave her a smile. "Would you believe that it's because
I want to have dinner with you?"

It wasn't exactly a lie. Just an omission of the truth.
Actually having dinner with her was a very appealing idea.
More than appealing.

"Are you asking me out to dinner?" She seemed surprised by
this turn of events. It was hard for him to imagine that
invitations like this weren't the norm for her.

"Unless you have something against Americans."

"Only the ones that follow me into bookstores," Ami shook
her head, long braids brushing her shoulders, and headed
further up the aisle. Richie noticed that she cast a
sideways glance back at him, and took that as an invitation
to follow.

"Is that a yes or a no?" He fell into step behind her.

The young woman spun to face him. "I don't even know you."

"That's why we have dinner. I get to know you. You get to
know me…"

"I - I can't." Ami turned again, ready to head away, but
this time he was faster.

Richie slipped in front of her impeding her progress. "It's
the haircut, isn't it? You know, I told Mac that women just
don't like the haircut, and he told me I was wrong. He's my
best friend, and he lied to me. I can't believe it." Richie
leaned against the bookcase, doing his best to look
chagrined.

"It's not the haircut."

Richie straightened up, and looked down at himself. Wearing
a long leather jacket and faded jeans, he definitely was
not one of Calvin Klein's latest models. "The jacket? It's
the jacket isn't it? I can get rid of it-"

Ami giggled, a smile appearing on her face. "It's not the
jacket."

"It's not the haircut, or the jacket?"

"No."

Richie scratched his chin thoughtfully. "You just don't
like Americans?"

"One of my best friends is American," Ami rolled her eyes
and shook her head. "You're good."

"That means you'll have dinner with me?"

"I don't know you. You could be a crazy, psychotic serial
killer who-who- chops his victims up and buries them in
the backyard."

"Considering my backyard is an alley back in the States,
you don't really have to worry about that."

"Are you always this insistent?"

"Only when I see something I really want. And I really,
really want to have dinner with you."

She folded her arms across her chest, staring at him.
Finally, she smiled. "Fine, but on one condition."

"Anything?"

"You don't follow me anymore."

Richie smiled. To the victor go the spoils. "Consider it
done."

End of Chapter Four

*****
Chapter Five

Of the two young men seated on opposite sides of the
chessboard, only one looked up when Ami appeared in the
space where only a few moments before there had been empty
air.

"Hello, Ami." Adam greeted her with a smile and a nod.

"Hey Ami." Megabyte threw his hand in the air, giving her a
half-wave. He didn't look around or pull his eyes from the
chessboard. Biting his lip in concentration, the
American's hand hovered over various chess pieces as he
debated which to move.

Ami dropped to her knees between her two fellow Tomorrow
People. "Who's winning?"

Megabyte snorted. "As if you really have to ask?"

"With a self-defeatist attitude like that, it's no wonder
Adam usually wins."

Megabyte ignored her. Mumbling something unintelligible
under his breath, he moved his bishop.

Ami gave the chessboard a cursory glance and cringed.
Megabyte had just handed the game to Adam.

"Sorry, Megabyte." Adam offered his apology as he moved his
piece. "Checkmate."

"I must be a glutton for punishment," the redhead grumbled.

"Another game?" Adam offered.

Megabyte rolled his eyes. "Right, Adam. Allow me to escape
with at least some of my dignity." He turned his attention
to Ami. "So, what are you doing here, anyway?"

"Thanks, Megabyte." Ami gave him a slightly exasperated
shake of her head. "It's always a pleasure to know that I'm
welcome here."

The boy paled, then turned a light shade of pink. "That's
not what I meant. I just meant that I thought you were
having lunch with your Mum."

"We did have lunch. Now we're done." Ami settled back on
her haunches. "I did want to talk to you guys about
something though."

The seriousness of her tone caught both of their attention.

Adam nodded, giving her his full attention. "Sure, Ami.
What's the problem?"

"I met this boy today-"

Megabyte snickered. "Sorry, Ami. Shouldn't you gossip with
Jade?"

"Megabyte, I'm serious. This is important."

Adam gave their friend a dark glare. "Go on, Ami. Just
ignore Megabyte if he can't be serious for a few minutes."

"He seems nice enough and all but…there's something about
him. Something different."

Adam shifted, his shoulders tensing slightly. "Different
how? You think he might be one of us?"

"No," Ami shook her head, once again struggling to wrap her
mind around the elusive psychic signature she received from
Richie. "He's not a Tomorrow Person. I'm not sure what it
is, I mean, maybe it's nothing."

"Or maybe it's something," Adam interjected. "If it has you
worried, it shouldn't be ignored."

"I'm not really worried. It's just a little odd." Ami
paused. "I was wondering if you guys would mind meeting
him? Tell me if I'm totally nuts or if there's something
else about this guy."

Megabyte raised an eyebrow. "Boy, have you got it bad."

Ami fought back the wave of embarrassment that washed over
her. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah, right, Ami."

Adam overrode Megabyte. "Sure, Ami. We'll be glad to meet
him. It should be interesting."

"Yeah," Megabyte muttered. "Absolutely intriguing."

End of Chapter Five

*****

Perceptions
Chapter Six
By Michele R Mason

The telephone insistently demanded Richie's attention as he
raced into the hotel room. Leaving the door half-open and
nearly tripping over several pieces of furniture, he raced
across the room and over the bed to snatch it from the
cradle.

"Hello?" Richie panted into the telephone.

"Richie. It's Joe."

"Oh." Richie felt his heart sink. Not that he wasn't happy
to hear from Joe; maybe the Watcher had information. But he
had been more hoping to hear a soft, clipped British accent
belonging to a certain young female.

"Thanks," Joe commented dryly. "I thought you wanted my
information."

"I do, Joe. I'm sorry." Richie apologized, sitting on the
bed. "I was expecting another phone call."

"Female, I suppose?" Richie could hear the laughter and
speculation in the Watcher's voice.

"Could be."

There was a pause while Joe waited for more, but Richie
refused to play the old man's game. Not today anyway.
Finally, Joe spoke again, his tone very crisp and business-
like. Richie could almost see the man leaning against the
bar back in Seacouver, his face drawn into a mask of
thoughtfulness. "There's only one Immortal in the area who
fits your description, Richie. A woman named Maris
Keillor."

"Assassin? IRA maybe?"

"No, nothing like that. She worked as a volunteer at a
hospital a few years back - a children's hospital. She
also did work with orphanages. The woman loves children."

"Joe, it was a high-powered rifle. Trust me on this. She
aimed it right in my face, so I got a pretty good look at
it. She may like kids, but she hates anyone over the age of
thirteen."

"If you say you saw her, Rich, I'll believe you. But I'm
telling you. It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't fit her
profile."

"Then look some more. There has to be something there."

"We are still looking. There are a few connections that we
haven't checked out yet. She did work for a woman named
Mulvaney a few years previously. Lady Mulvaney seems to
have been under surveillance by several government
agencies, so that might mean something."

"Yeah," Richie agreed. "Like maybe that's where she got her
rifle-training."

"What about that girl you wanted me to check out? Did you
find anything else on her?"

"Yeah. I have her last name." Richie wiped the foolish grin
off his face as he thought of Ami. "It's Jackson. Ami
Jackson. I think she's on the up and up, though. Grounded,
down to earth-"

"Pretty?"

"Oh, yeah. You should see her, Joe. She's got this smile
that just-" the young Immortal stopped suddenly, hearing
the light laughter on the other end of the telephone line.
"Laugh all you want, Joe. I don't really care this time."

"Seeing how you're obviously smitten beyond rational
thought, maybe I should remind you that we know about
Maris; we don't know about this Ami Jackson. There might be
more to her than meets the eye. If Maris wanted to kill her
- there has to be a connection somewhere. So be careful."

"I always am."

"I'll call you back when I have more information. You will
be there tonight?"

Richie smiled brightly, although he knew the Watcher
couldn't see him. "Well, I do have plans, but I should be
able to pencil you in."

"Watch your back, Richie."

Didn't he always?

End of Chapter Six

****

Perceptions
Chapter Seven
By Michele R Mason

Richie leaned against the wall of the movie theatre. He
resisted the urge to check his watch, knowing that he was
early anyway. The thing was, he was feeling like he was
back in high school again-and terrified that Ami might
decide not to show up after all. He kept telling himself
that his reasons for being here were purely innocent. If
Joe was right, and the mysterious Immortal was Maris
Keillor, and Maris Keillor wasn't the sort to decide to
assassinate innocent civilians, then there was definitely
more going on here than met the eye. That was what he tried
to tell himself.

The truth wasn't quite as clear and unmuddied. From the
first time he saw her at the airport, Richie Ryan had been
attracted to Ami. He didn't know why; she couldn't have
been more than a day over nineteen, and she wasn't his
normal type. She wasn't worldly and experienced but she had
a certain charm that made it hard for him to think
straight.

Richie realized he was smiling like a lunatic and wiped the
smile from his face.

Ami had made the arrangements. He was to meet her here
where she had already planned to enjoy the evening with
some of her friends. Richie would have preferred to meet
her alone; at least then, he might have been able to figure
out some way to broach the subject of Maris. But, if this
built her trust in him, then this would be an important
first step.

He was, however, growing increasingly impatient. And he was
just about to think that he'd mixed up Ami's clearly worded
instructions when laughter made him turn his head. And once
again, his breath caught.

Ami raised her hand in a wave, flanked on both sides by her
friends. Two male, and one female, and all of them not a
day over twenty. No, Richie had to reconsider as they
neared, the boy on Ami's left, tall and thin with dark
hair, seemed to be the oldest of the group; in fact, Richie
might have placed his age a few years above Ami's, and
certainly several years above the young blonde who giggled
on Ami's right.

"Richie, sorry we're late," Ami smiled at him as the group
halted in a small semi-circle around him.

"It was my fault," the blonde shrugged, smiling. "I
couldn't find anything to wear."

"It's a movie, Jade. It's dark. Who cares what you're
wearing?" That came from the redhead in the group. His
American accent took Richie by surprise.

That must be Ami's American best friend.

"Guys," Ami looked back and forth between the young blonde,
Jade, and the unnamed redhead. "Please."

"While they're going for one another's throats, I'm Adam."
The tall dark haired young man held his hand out to Richie.
"And you're Richie."

Richie shook his hand hesitantly. Not out of fear, but
again he was caught by surprise. He wasn't particularly
good with accents, but Adam's didn't sound very English,
Scottish, Irish…or anything in their area. "You're not from
around here?"

It might have been his imagination, but he could have sworn
that Adam frowned slightly when their hands met. It passed
so quickly though that Richie wondered if he had been
imagining things after all.

"He's quick," the redhead quipped.

From the corner of his eye, Richie saw Jade give him a
sharp poke in the ribs.

Adam ignored them both. "No. I'm from Australia."

Richie filed the information for later use. There was
definitely more here than met the eye. Two British girls,
one Australian, and one American made quite a mismatched
group. And their ages-the blonde had to be fourteen, maybe
fifteen. Richie didn't recall hanging around with very many
fourteen-year-olds when he was eighteen- and he certainly
would lose patience with one these days.

"And that's Jade, and that's Megabyte," Ami continued the
introductions.

"Megabyte?" Richie repeated the name slowly.

"It's a nickname." The challenging look the younger boy
shot him dared him to question it.

Richie didn't plan to question anything. Not yet at least.
For the time being, this group would be interesting to
watch.

Very interesting.

End of Chapter Seven

*****
Perceptions
Chapter Eight
By Michele R Mason

"So, what are you doing in England anyway?"

Richie was beginning to grow accustomed to Megabyte's
bluntness. After the movie, the group headed over to the
coffeehouse where they now found themselves, and the young
American had made it plainly clear that Richie was not only
not welcome, but not trusted either. However, Adam and Jade
didn't seem to mind his presence, and they, along with Ami,
made every attempt to make him feel welcome. For the most
part it worked, although at times he got the peculiar
feeling that there were things going on he couldn't see;
several times it seemed almost as if the four knew what the
others were thinking or were going to say long before the
words left their lips. That sort of behavior Richie
expected from old married couples - not a group of young
adults.

"What Megabyte means is, 'Why are you visiting London?' "
Ami shot the redhead a very dangerous glare which Richie
hoped never to be on the receiving end of.

Richie liked her, a little more than he wanted to. A little
bit more than was considered wise. Particularly when he
didn't know why Maris Keillor was after her, or whether or
not it was merely coincidence that he encountered her twice
since arriving in London. Coincidence or not, Richie
couldn't deny the attraction to her; he could almost hear
Joe and Mac teasing him about being suckered in by another
pretty face.

He kept trying to tell himself that she was only eighteen,
that this wasn't a road he wanted to travel, but his heart
and libido decided that his brain had clearly taken leave
of its senses, and set out to ignore any rational thought
or argument he sent in that direction.

Richie smiled, probably foolishly, because he realized that
he had been staring at her in silence for the space of a
few breaths after she uttered her question. "I was
delivering something for a friend."

"What?" Jade's couched her question in genuine curiosity
and interest, not the suspicious tones he had become
accustomed to hearing Megabyte use.

"He used to be an antiques dealer. He still purchases and
sells antiques, so he had me drop a piece off to a dealer
here in London."

Megabyte scoffed. It didn't surprise Richie. The boy seemed
determined to counter every word that Richie spoke.
"Antiques? What's the point? It's all old junk."

"Megabyte, antiques are a part of history." Adam stirred at
his coffee thoughtfully. "If people didn't preserve them,
we would lose a lot of history."

"Yeah, Adam. Whatever."

"Where are you from, Richie?" Jade continued her line of
questioning. "New York? Los Angeles?"

Richie had to laugh. Why was it that it seemed as though
everyone thought the only cities Americans came from were
New York or LA? "Actually, I'm from Seacouver."

"Seacouver?" Megabyte questioned. "Nothing big about
Seacouver."

"I've heard there's nothing big about Vermont either." Jade
remarked tartly.

Richie definitely wondered about the group dynamics at work
here.

"Are you going back to Seacouver soon?" Ami's voice drew
his attention.

Somewhat reluctantly, Richie nodded. "In a few days. I was
supposed to leave tomorrow-"

"Why aren't you?" Megabyte interjected.

"-But I decided to take a few extra days and see London."
It took Richie a good deal of self-control to ignore the
younger boy and keep speaking. "Maybe you can suggest some
good sights to see?"

"I could show you around," Ami suggested. As she did, her
voice dropped a few decibels, her eyes focusing on the
tabletop.

"We all could. It would be fun." Jade added, then suddenly,
her blue eyes widened in surprise as she stared across the
table at Adam. Her cheeks flamed red, and she quickly
looked down at her lap. "What I meant was-well-" She
trailed off, looking for all the world as though there were
a million other places she would like to be at that moment.

Richie looked from the tall Australian to the young girl.
Somehow, somewhere, he was certain that he had missed
something. Something vital and important. He understood the
reason for Jade's words-she was behaving as if she had
been chastised, but no one had said a word to her; no one
had even looked at her cross-eyed.

"Yeah, why not?" Richie said in the silence. "I mean, if I
don't say yes, I'll probably just end up bumping into you
again, right Ami?"

"Or following me," she returned his smile easily.

Richie decided that smile was going to be the absolute
death of him.

The remainder of the evening followed relatively
congenially, at least as congenial as things could be with
Megabyte doing his best to be difficult. The atmosphere was
relaxed, and Richie found himself taking a liking to both
Adam and Jade. However odd this group may be, his gut
instinct told him that they belonged together.

The question that continued to plague him was what could
have attracted the attention and the hatred of an Immortal?

End of Chapter Eight

****

Chapter Nine

Leaning against the lamppost, Adam only partially listened
to the conversation between Jade and Megabyte. If one could
call it a conversation; Jade continued to reprimand the
other Tomorrow Person for his rude behavior, and Megabyte
continued to deny that he had done anything wrong.
Occasionally Jade would ask Adam's advice, and he would
simply nod or mutter a general answer in their direction.
Adam had other things on his mind at the moment; things he
would prefer not to share with the other Tomorrow People
until he had mulled them over more.

He watched as Ami talked to Richie a few feet away. She
laughed every now and then, and would glance in the
direction of her fellow Tomorrow People, but the distance
was too great for him to make out the words. If Adam hadn't
been a Tomorrow Person, if he hadn't possessed telepathy
and empathy, he would have still be intensely aware of the
fact that Ami was definitely taken with Richie Ryan. Now,
that was an understatement if Adam had ever heard one.

It was odd watching her. It was like watching a movie that
he didn't quite belong in. Ami had never been the sort to
get coy and wide-eyed or giggly around the male populace.
Adam mostly remembered her turning away from interested
eyes with a kind, but firm smile and blink of the eyes. It
was funny, but he had never imagined that Ami would take an
interest in anyone and it felt odd to see it happening. It
was odd to see how she seemed to almost hang on every word
Richie spoke, and how she watched him covertly when she
thought no one else was noticing. It wasn't Ami - but then
again, he supposed that it was.

Adam supposed that in his mind, he never imagined that the
others would go off the deep end. Sure, Jade still harbored
a half-felt crush on Megabyte, and Megabyte's attitude
towards Ami at times made him wonder if the boy wasn't
harboring a half-felt crush toward his fellow Tomorrow
Person, but he never imagined the others would feel things
like that. He never imagined that one day Ami, or Megabyte,
or Jade might meet someone who affected him the same way
Lucy Allen had; the same way a certain Scottish young woman
had. But it was clear that he was short sighted; Richie
Ryan held Ami by the heartstrings.

And that had him worried. But not for the reasons most
would think.

"I think that you're jealous," Jade's words drifted to his
ears.

"Of what? Him? Right, Jade." Still, Megabyte's response was
clipped.

Adam turned his attention to the two. "Did you two sense
it? What Ami was talking about?"

Megabyte blinked at him. "No. Ami was probably swooning."

"Are you sure you didn't feel anything unusual from
Richie?" Adam had. Maybe it was because Ami had warned him,
and he had been waiting for it. It was an elusive,
nondescript feeling; different from the sense of his fellow
Tomorrow People and a far different sense of awareness than
that he received from non-telepaths. The psychic signature
seemed to flare in and out, muddied, unclear and hard to
read or pin down.

"You mean his how he feels to us? Psychically?" Jade asked.

Adam nodded. Jade was the youngest of the group, but she
was learning. And, sometimes, like now, she was clearly
more perceptive than Megabyte. "That's exactly what I
mean."

Jade pondered a moment, her blue eyes clouding. Then she
nodded. "It's like he's there but not there. I thought that
maybe he just has naturally strong shields."

Adam considered. "It's a possibility. He might."

Which worried him even more. Not only had he picked up the
odd psychic sense from Richie, but there were also images.
Very strange, very disturbing images that he played round
and round with in his mind. Dark, inexplicable images.

"You don't like him, do you Adam?"

"You're not jealous, are you pal?" Megabyte's teasing
laughter wavered.

If he hadn't been so keenly going over his thoughts and the
few images from Richie that plagued his mind, Adam might
have taken that as a perfect opportunity to bait and tease
Megabyte. As it was, he simply straightened up and shook
his head. "No, it's nothing like that."

That, in fact, was the third strike. He did like Richie.
The young man was engaging and fun. He was worldly, and he
got along well with them - all of them, even Megabyte who
did his best to be dour. His gut instinct told him that
there was nothing about Richie not to like; his gut
instincts told him that Richie was not a danger to him.
Richie wasn't even an emotional danger to Ami- the
American clearly returned her interest.

But the images and the innate knowledge Adam had gleaned
from one handshake wouldn't disappear.

Still, now wasn't quite the time to share it with the
others. Not until he knew more.

"Then what is it?" Jade asked quietly.

Megabyte added, "You've been distracted for most of the
night."

"I'm just a little surprised at Ami is all." Adam gave them
a wry smile, carefully guarding his troubled thoughts.
"I've never seen her act like this before."

"I know," Jade sighed. "Isn't it sweet?"

Adam watched as Richie leaned forward and whispered in
Ami's ear. She positively beamed at him before he waved in
their direction and turned and headed in the opposite
direction. Watching Ami approach, and watching Richie
leave, Adam felt the knot in his stomach tighten.

He hoped there was an explanation. He hoped the random and
chaotic images were wrong.

Because if they weren't - then Richie Ryan wasn't what he
appeared to be. It meant he had killed someone once - with
a very sharp, sharp sword.

And if that were true - Adam didn't plan to allow him
within one hundred miles of Ami or any of the other
Tomorrow People.

End of Chapter Nine

****

Chapter Ten

The insistent ringing of the telephone literally dragged
Richie from the depths of sleep. Eyes partially open, he
listened to the repeated chiming, his mind trying to come
to grips with the reason why his answering machine didn't
appear to be functioning. As that thought formed and
coalesced, reality also began to take shape, and he
remembered where he was.

And why he was waiting on a telephone call.

Rolling over, Richie clumsily dragged the telephone from
the cradle and lifted it to his ear. "Hello?"

"Hey, Rich. Did I wake you up?" Joe sounded far too chipper
for it to be the middle of the night.

Then again, in Seacouver, it wasn't the middle of the
night.

"No, I only sleep when the sun's up, Joe."

Joe chuckled. "One good wake up call deserves another. I've
been talking to some of our people in London."

The young Immortal shook off the last remnants of sleep.
This could be the information he had been looking for.
Sitting up, he turned on the lamp, forcing himself to focus
on Joe's words. "And?"

"She's cute. But don't you think she's a little young,
Richie?"

The heat that Richie felt rise to his cheeks made him glad
that the Watcher couldn't see him. He didn't even have to
think about asking what "she" Joe referred to. Simply
thinking about her, remembering her smile and her quiet
melodical voice was enough to make him smile like an idiot.

"She's eighteen," Richie defended himself. "She's not jail
bait."

"And you, my friend, are twenty-three. I never thought you
were the sort to take an interest in younger women."

Richie decided not to dignify the man's teasing with a
response. Besides, Joe's reminder made him a little
uncomfortable. He kept trying to tell himself the same
thing- she was too young, too inexperienced, but the more
he repeated the litany, the more it seemed to have a
reverse effect- he wanted to see more of her. Ami Jackson
intrigued him, and in many ways, she seemed a great deal
older than her eighteen years. Still, if he didn't find out
what Maris was up to, there wouldn't be anything for Joe to
tease him about.

"Tell me what you found out, Joe."

"Nothing that makes a lot of sense." Joe paused and Richie
could hear the shuffling of papers on the other end of the
telephone. "Maris Keillor was born in 1371 in what is now
Ireland. She spent her entire life helping others, although
she does seem to adopt some rather fanatical beliefs at
times."

"In English, Joe."

"She gets obsessed. And this is when her 'talents' as an
assassin seem to come in. She has dedicated a great portion
of her life to the pursuing Ireland's freedom. She also
made a great many strikes against Germany in the World
Wars. And a few times, her fanatical devotion has led her
to side with what we would call the 'bad guys.'

"Anyway, about three to four years ago, she began working
for an international government organization that
technically doesn't exist. The Anglo-American Alliance of
Paranormal Investigation."

Richie repeated the words slowly to himself. "The what?"

"They're a secretly funded agency that investigates
paranormal phenomenon."

"Paranormal phenomenon? You mean like spaceships and
ghosts?"

"Actually, the Anglo-American Alliance is mostly military
funded. They are more interested in things which can be
used on a military level- mind reading, clairvoyance,
telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation-"

Richie chuckled. "Sounds like these people could write a
few episodes of the X-Files."

"It might sound off the wall, Richie. But billions of
dollars have gone into this organization. Someone out there
clearly believes that these things are possible."

"Hey, I know that, Joe. When I was a kid, I got really into
a lot of that stuff. Man, I used to think that it would
just be great to be able to teleport or move things with my
mind," Richie remembered fondly. "I get the mind reading
and stuff, but come on, teleportation? This isn't Star
Trek."

"Some people would say the same thing about a race of
people who live forever and create a pyrotechnics spectacle
when they're killed," Joe reminded him dryly.

The remark sobered him, and again reminded him of why he
was talking to Joe. "So, Maris worked for this
organization. So what?"

"Well, she was soon afterwards drafted by a woman named
Lady Mulvaney. Mulvaney is under suspicion of working with
foreign powers to beat the Anglo-American Alliance in
discovering these abilities within humans, but there is no
proof."

The young Immortal reviewed the information in his head.
"That still doesn't explain why Maris would want to kill
Ami. Unless- hey, Joe, did these people use like human
subjects?" The thought of Ami being used as a lab rat
somewhere sickened and angered him at the same time.

"I'm sure they do, Richie. The psychic abilities they're
looking for can't be found in chimps and applied later."
Joe shifted through the papers again. "I thought of that,
but you can put your hackles down. No where in any of my
files does it show that Ami Jackson ever met or came into
contact with Lady Mulvaney. She's also never met Maris, but
Maris apparently has been putting a lot of time and effort
into knowing everything about Ami and some of her friends."

"What do you mean?"

"Maris has hired private investigators. They've been
following Ami for months. And Ami's not the only one. There
are three others that are under her surveillance as well."

Richie had the sinking feeling he knew who the three others
were. "A blonde girl, and two boys?"

"Yeah." Joe paused sharply. "How'd you know that?"

"I met them tonight. Ami's friends, I mean." Richie chewed
thoughtfully on his lip for a minute. "They're nice, but
something about them is different. Really different; it's
like they're not really normal teenagers. That's why I
thought that maybe they'd been tested or used by these
government people. But they haven't?"

"There is one connection between Ami's friends and Maris,
but it's a stretch."

"What? I'll take anything you can give me, Joe."

"About two and half years ago, Ami Jackson was detained for
questioning by the local authorities."

"What?" Richie thought about the young woman he'd met and
shook his head in disbelief. "She's not like that, Joe.
She's not-"

"Let me finish, Richie. She was questioned about a
kidnapping she had witnessed. A young boy was removed from
his hospital room. Ami, and her two friends, the two Maris
is watching, Adam Newman and -"

"Megabyte," Richie finished.

"Marmaduke Damon," Joe continued as if Richie hadn't
spoken.

Richie smirked. "Marmaduke? No wonder he goes by Megabyte."

"Do you want to hear this or not?"

"Sorry."

"Well, nothing ever came of it. The boy turned up at his
aunt's home, and the case was neatly closed and filed away
by World Ex Securities - "

"Aren't they like the International CIA or something?"

"Richie, you really should watch the news more often." Joe
sighed. "World Ex is dedicated to maintaining international
peace and security. At least on the surface. But yes, they
do seem to have a lot of international connections in
places they technically shouldn't."

"So, why did World Ex get involved?"

"The investigation was headed by a General William Damon."

Richie made the connection. "He wouldn't be related to
Megabyte would he?"

"He's the boy's father. General Damon also worked with the
Anglo-American Alliance for a short while."

The cold hand gripping Richie's insides tightened its grip.
The pieces were beginning to fall into place. "So, maybe
General Damon knows Maris Keillor?"

"It's a distinct possibility. But it still doesn't explain
her behavior."

"Looks like there's only one way to find out."

"Richie don't do anything stupid."

"Hey, Joe, you know me."

"Like I said, don't do anything stupid."

End of Chapter Ten

*****

Chapter Eleven

General William Damon quietly settled into his seat, laying
a rather thick manila folder onto the top of his desk. He
drummed his fingers lightly on the folder, his eyes focused
on the young man seated on the opposite side of the desk.
"Now, Adam, do you mind telling me who this young man is,
and why you felt it so urgently necessary that I do a
background check on him?"

Adam shifted in his seat, his dark eyes flickering toward
the folder beneath the General's fingers. He really had not
wanted to come to General Damon with this; whenever
possible, it seemed best to keep the General out of the
loop. Not because the man couldn't be trusted; the Tomorrow
People could trust him. They could trust him to protect
them, and shelter them and treat them like they were
children caught in a house fire. And they could trust him
to worry himself into a few gray hairs. No matter how many
scrapes they got into and out of, or how many times they
actually aided him, he still saw them as - well, children.

Unfortunately, there had been no other way to get the
information he wanted on Richie Ryan. He was certain that
Megabyte and Ami might have been able to dig most of it out
via computer, but he didn't want to reveal his suspicions
to them. After all, he kept telling himself, there was a
good chance that those suspicions were unfounded. There
wasn't any reason to worry anyone at the moment;
particularly not Ami. The American with the unusual psychic
aura had smitten his friend, and Adam didn't want to mar
that in anyway. It was so seldom that they had the
opportunity to be normal and to experience normal lives
that Adam didn't want to take that away from Ami if he
didn't have to. And she would never forgive him if he was
wrong.

"He's a friend of Ami's," Adam replied carefully. "He's
different."

"Different? Different how?"

Adam shrugged. He hated to admit when he didn't have an
answer. "I don't know. But he reads differently than other
people."

It took the General a moment to understand Adam's words.
"You think that he's one of you?"

"No," Adam answered quickly. "He's definitely not one of
us." Then he leaned forward, indicating the folder. "I take
it I'm not going to like what's in that report, am I
General?"

General Damon leaned back, picking up the report and
opening it to the first page. "No, you're not. Even without
knowing what it is you're hiding from me, and I know you're
hiding something, I don't like what's in it myself."

Adam rested his arms on the General's desk. He realized
that if he wanted to get any answers, he was going to have
to "come clean" as Megabyte would say. That didn't mean,
however, that he had to tell the man everything. "It was
just a feeling I had when I met him. That something's not
quite right. That maybe he's not what he seems to be. And
Ami is very fond him, so-"

"So, you didn't want to spill your suspicions until you had
verification?"

Adam nodded. Sometimes, he forgot how insightful Megabyte's
father could be. "Yes, that's it. If I'm wrong, I really
don't think Ami would be happy with me."

The Tomorrow Person knew that he didn't imagine the concern
that clouded the General's face. He stared down at the
folder a long moment, then looked at Adam again. "Ami's not
in the middle of this, is she?"

"No, it's nothing like that. She only met him a few days
ago at the airport. But it's a bit obvious that she's - "
Adam paused, trying to find the right word. 'Crush' just
didn't seem to fit Ami's feelings for Richie.

"-Been hit hard with cupid's arrow?" General Damon
offered.

"You could say that."

"In that case, you have even more reason not to like what's
in this report." The General leaned forward, opening the
folder and spreading its contents on the desk. On the very
top of the pile of papers was a photocopy of a passport and
some documents written in French. "I don't know who this
person is, but he is not Richard Ryan."

Adam stared down at the report and its contents. The face
staring back from the passport was the same face that he
met the day before. The hair was shorter, the features were
somewhat harder, but if it were possible, Adam would swear
that the face hadn't changed at all. "That's him."

"That can't be him, it may be someone who looks like him.
But it's not him." General Damon motioned to the documents
which Adam couldn't read. "These are police, hospital, and
coroner's reports, Adam. Richard Ryan was killed in a
motorcycle accident in France back in 1995. He died on the
scene, suffering from massive head trauma, internal
bleeding, and third degree burns over ninety-three percent
of his body.

"When you gave me the name, it sounded familiar. I didn't
know why until I saw these reports. I'd taken Megabyte down
there to see the race trials; he had a thing about
motorcycles back then. When we arrived, the ambulances and
police were there. We heard that a French national and an
American had been killed. The next day, it was in the
papers."

"General, I swear, this is the same Richie." Adam stared at
the passport photograph. "It has to be him."

"People don't survive that sort of trauma Adam. And we've
got the documentation to prove it."

"Then why would someone want to pretend to be Richie Ryan?"
Adam put the passport copy aside, his eyes on the General.

"Now that is the question, isn't it?" General Damon
shuffled through a few more pieces of paper. He produced a
birth certificate, and several other forms. "Richard Ryan
was orphaned at the age of five and placed into a number of
foster homes. Actually, the child was in and out of foster
homes with the frequency that most of us change our socks.
He was considered one of the problem children, a loose
cannon. By the time he was fifteen, he had a rap sheet as
long as my arm."

"A rap sheet?" Adam tried to poke through the American
slang.

"A police record. Richie spent a great deal of time in the
Seacouver police department and at juvenile hall. Petty
theft, burglary, breaking and entering, assault and
battery, I'd have to say his most minor offense was
underage drinking. Anyway, he dropped out of school, and
fell through the cracks in the system."

"Doesn't sound like it's a very good system," Adam
muttered, his eyes glancing over the various police
reports. It didn't sound like a very happy or pleasant
life; it didn't excuse turning around and killing someone,
but it certainly explained why someone might be bitter
enough to do it.

But, Adam reflected, the Richie that he met hadn't been
bitter or hateful at all. He'd been relaxed and calm; too
relaxed and calm for someone who had lived the sort of life
that the General was describing.

"People have been complaining about the social services
system for years, Adam. It doesn't get them anywhere."
General Damon snorted with some disgust. "But, you can't
fix the wiring if you can't afford to pay the electrician."

Adam glossed over a police report which depicted a rather
surly faced youth in a bandana. Younger, but definitely
Richie. "So, how does this Richie Ryan," Adam flashed the
picture at General Damon, "become the Richie Ryan who dies
in a motorcycle accident? And who is pretending to be a
dead man?"

"I'm getting to that." Again, General Damon leafed through
some papers. "Back in 1991, Richie Ryan gets the brilliant
idea to rob an antiques shop. Noel and MacLeod Antiques to
be precise-Adam, what is it?"

At the mention of the word antiques, Adam felt his heart
constrict. The conversation from last night played over in
his mind.

_"He used to be an antiques dealer. He still purchases and
sells antiques, so he had me drop a piece off to a dealer
here in London."_

"Richie mentioned antiques. He said he had a friend who
used to be an antiques dealer. It just seems like a really
strange coincidence."

The General nodded thoughtfully. "Interesting. Because it's
not coincidence."

"What do you mean?"

General Damon produced a picture, a black and white
photograph. In it, a very attractive couple, a petite
blonde woman and a dark haired man, smiled for the camera.
"Tessa Noel and Duncan MacLeod. When you do a background
check, it's sometimes helpful if you check out the people
associated with your subject. Noel was a French national,
living in Seacouver with MacLeod. They were never married,
but they owned what must have been a very profitable
antiques business, because MacLeod has a considerable
amount of wealth."

"Noel and MacLeod. That's the store Richie broke into,
right?"

"And that's where Ryan's luck changed. MacLeod and Noel
never pressed charges. Instead, they took him in. He lived
with them, he worked with them, he traveled with them."

"Kind of like an odd sort of family?"

"Probably the only family that Ryan ever knew."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Like I said, I did some checking on Noel and MacLeod.
Tessa Noel was everything she appeared to be. A French
national, a talented artist, and MacLeod's lover."

Adam caught the use of the past tense. "You said was."

"She was killed in a mugging about a year and half after
she and MacLeod 'adopted' Ryan."

Adam stared down at the grainy black and white again. This
time his eyes were drawn to the woman, smiling and radiant,
full of life and enthusiasm. It saddened him to think that
a life that brilliant had been snuffed out so easily and
purposelessly.

"I know," the General spoke softly, echoing his thoughts.
"That's how I felt. It really was a waste."

"What happened then?" Adam was still staring at the
picture; he was trying to reconcile the smiling woman with
the dark images he received from Richie. There was no way
that anyone with this woman's influence in his life could
do anything that dark.

"MacLeod sold the antiques shop. Moved back to Paris, took
Ryan with him." General Damon gently tugged the photograph
from Adam's hands, and handed him another police report.
"MacLeod's the interesting one. His name has come up
several time in police investigations."

"What sort of police investigations?" Adam had a sinking
feeling that he already knew.

"Murder investigations. Homicides." The General sat back,
clearly wondering if he should say more. Adam met the man's
gaze levelly, calmly waiting. "You really don't want to
hear anymore, Adam."

"Yes, General. I do. I have to."

"Duncan MacLeod was called in for questioning on a number
of beheadings."

- The flash of a sword swinging through the air, slowly
descending - the flash of a face, staring upwards in
resignation - then brightness, lightening, a storm brewing
- sightless eyes staring upwards from a severed corpse -

Adam blocked the remembered image. He noticed his hands
were trembling and he clasped them together to still them.
The calm of his voice actually surprised him. "Isn't that a
bit grisly?"

"A bit? It's very grisly. But it's not as uncommon as you
might think." General Damon stood and crossed over to the
water cooler. "All of the world, for years, at least since
this sort of thing has been recorded, there seems to be a
phenomenon of some sort of ritualistic decapitations."

"You mean this is a normal method of killing people?" Adam
was repelled.

"Well, it doesn't happen everyday," General Damon poured
himself a glass of water. "But it happens frequently enough
to not be discarded as a random fluke. There are two
schools of thought on the matter. One that it's some sort
of cult or quasi-religious thing; two, that it's a very
elite, very chameleon like crime organization-it would
have to be to have branches all over the world.

"I've studied the accounts, and I fall into the second
school of thought. Particularly when most of those who are
questioned fall into the same category with Duncan MacLeod.
No blood relations, and a past so clean as to be
unbelievable. Most of these people, even the victims, don't
even have medical records.

"Instead of the typical bullet to the head or drowning,
this organization uses decapitation."

Adam shivered and not from cold. He didn't want to ask the
next question, but he had to. "How? Do they use swords?"

The General paused, half-way between sitting in his seat.
He made no attempt to hide the surprise that flashed across
his features. "Adam, what exactly do you know about this?
How do you know about the swords? What does this Ryan
character have to do with the Tomorrow People?"

"If it was some sort of criminal organization, then they
would be able to change identities, right? Maybe even stage
someone's death?" Adam ignored the General's questions. He
was beginning to feel quite sick to his stomach. His only
relief was knowing that Ami was spending the day with her
mother and was no where near Richie Ryan, or whoever he
truly was.

"There are pictures in this report, pictures of the body.
There is no way that was staged. He's dead. Whoever this
person is, it's not Richie Ryan. But yes, an organization
with the clout and power to stay hidden all these years
could recreate an individual."

- The flash of a sword swinging through the air, slowly
descending - the flash of a face, staring upwards in
resignation -

"And that would make a pretty efficient assassin, wouldn't
it?"

"I want to know everything that you know about Ryan, Adam.
And I want to know it now."

Adam shook his head, standing. He had to talk to Ami. It
was entirely possible that Richie wasn't a threat to her,
but he couldn't afford to take any chances. "I'm sorry,
General. I really have to go."

"Adam-"

"Good-bye, General." Then closing his eyes, he focused his
mind and disappeared in a bright flash of light.

The last thing he heard before he disappeared, was the
General speaking into the intercom, "Frank. I need to see
you. Now."

End of Chapter Eleven

******

Chapter Twelve

Maris Keillor was an easy target. Following her was child's
play, and Richie couldn't help but think that perhaps that
was a bad sign. He stayed out of sensing range, so he knew
she couldn't have sensed him, but it was entirely possible
that she had glimpsed him from afar. Still, there was no
other way to find out what she was up to and he didn't have
anything better to do with his time anyway.

Ami was spending the day shopping with her mother. While
she hadn't sounded particularly pleased about the prospect,
Richie got the idea that her mother wore iron gloves and
that Ami bowed to the woman's whims more often than not. Of
course, he found it hard to imagine Ami being argumentative
with anyone- well, aside from Megabyte- something else
that he found charming about her. Not that she would bend
to his will, Richie was relatively certain that she had
other ways of communicating her displeasure, but she
wouldn't be the loud, shrieking, scene making type.

He bit into the deli sandwich, lounging against the wall of
the plain gray building. Across the street was World Ex
Securities and Maris Keillor had disappeared inside about
ten minutes ago. Richie had considered trying the "delivery
boy" routine, but realized how risky it would be. At least
from here, he could manage to stay out of range of her
buzz, but inside the building- he just might give himself
away.

There. He saw Maris's car pull out from the garage. Only
now, a man was seated in the backseat with her. It was hard
to tell from this distance, but there didn't seem to be
anything particularly memorable about him. But the woman
was on the move again.

Richie tossed the last remnants of the sandwich into the
trash, regretting the loss of those last few bites.
However, he reminded himself, he had a job to do. He
climbed on board the rented motorcycle, and donning his
helmet, eased himself into traffic, following behind the
sedan.

* * * * * *

"Ami, you're a million miles away," Mrs. Jackson snapped
her fingers in front of her daughter, grabbing the young
woman's attention. "Whatever is on your mind today?"

Ami smiled sheepishly. "It's nothing Mum."

"Nothing, mm?" Mrs. Jackson folded her arms across her
chest, eyeing her daughter speculatively. "This nothing
wouldn't have to do with that American boy that you met
would it?"

"No, Mum. It doesn't have anything to do with him." Ami
couldn't stop the smile that formed on her face as she
thought of him, however. "And he has a name. It's Richie."

"Richie. Richie. What sort of name is Richie? The next
thing you're going to tell me is that he's in a rock band
or something."

"No. He races motorcycles." Ami lifted a forkful of salad
to her mouth with a smug smile.

"Motorcycles! Do you have any idea how dangerous those
things are?"

Ami shook her head and rolled her eyes, allowing her mother
to follow another one of her "worried-about-my-baby-girl"
tangents. It gave Ami a moment to focus her thoughts inward
and concentrate on what was really distracting her.

She really did wish that the only thing occupying her mind
at that moment was a certain twenty-year-old blue-eyed
American. Richie Ryan had been the last thought on her mind
when she drifted off to sleep last night, and the first
thing she thought about this morning. Which was odd,
because Ami had always sworn to herself that she was not
going to get all doe-eyed and weak-kneed over some boy.
There were other things to worry about- like school,
classes and the Tomorrow People. Yet, she couldn't deny the
warmth that she felt when she thought about Richie.

But it wasn't Richie that preoccupied her thoughts at this
particular moment. Something was wrong, dreadfully wrong
but she didn't know precisely what it was. The others were
fine, Adam was a bit distracted, but he was perfectly fine.
He had mentioned wanting to talk to her this evening,
without Jade and Megabyte, but that wasn't the source of
her worry. It was unusual for Adam, but not enough to
warrant the tight knot of fear that was developing in her
stomach.

Knowing the others were all right, she had taken a moment
to call Richie. He was a bit sleep laden, explaining that a
friend from the states had called him in the middle of the
night, but again, there was no source for her worry and
fear. They had made plans to meet tomorrow, and then she
had allowed him to crawl back into bed.

Then it happened. She felt a sharp prickling in her neck,
almost like being jabbed with a needle. Crying out, she
slapped her neck and jumped to her feet. "Ow!"

"Ami-" her mother's concerned voice came to her down a
long tunnel.

The restaurant swam before her vision, blurring and fading.
She gripped the sides of the table, steadying herself. She
knew that these sensations were not hers, that they
belonged to one of the others-

[It's Megabyte,] Adam's telepathic touch on her mind gave
her something solid to focus on.

[Adam!] Megabyte's panicked cry was weak.

An image followed the weak cry. Just a flash. A gun going
off. And Richie; Richie falling with a pool of red in the
center of his chest.

"Richie," Ami whispered, her vision slowly beginning to
clear. "Richie."

[Ami. We need you.] Adam's voice was sharp and commanding.

"Ami, what's going on?" Her mother demanded. People in the
restaurant were turning to stare at them.

[I'm coming, Adam.] She turned to her mother, putting a
firm lock on her feelings, on the sickening fear she felt
for Richie. "Mum, I have to go."

"Oh no you don't. That Tomorrow People business will just
have to-"

"No, Mum. Megabyte's in trouble. I have to go." She turned
and hurried out of the restaurant, fervently hoping that
she wasn't too late.

End of Chapter Twelve

*****

Chapter Thirteen

Megabyte's appearance in the front hall caused his sister's
dog to begin barking at him. He glared at it, "Shut up,
mutt."

Odd. No one came to see why the dog was barking. But then
again, his mother and sister were on a shopping excursion
and his father probably wasn't home. General Damon seldom
had time in his busy schedule to devote a few hours to his
family.

"Dad?" Megabyte still called out his father's name
tentatively.

"In the office, Megabyte."

The response surprised him. Well, if his father was home,
maybe it meant that they would actually have dinner
together tonight. Wouldn't that be a pleasant deviation
from the norm?

The Tomorrow Person froze in the doorway to his father's
office.

His father sat in front of the desk, handcuffed. Beside him
was a woman with flowing red-hair and the most piercing,
yet cold blue eyes Megabyte had ever seen. She wore a short
skirted business suit, and looked like the typical office
executive. Aside from the gun she had pressed to his
father's temple. He was pretty sure that most his the World
Ex employees didn't walk around threatening their superiors
with guns.

"So nice of you to join us, Marmaduke." The woman purred,
her voice a mixture of various different accents, but
mostly Irish.

Megabyte calculated how quickly he could teleport to his
father and get him out of the room.

"Don't even think about trying your little disappearing
trick. Unless you think that you can teleport over to your
father, and teleport both of you away from here before I
pull the trigger." She inclined her head towards the door.
"And if you look behind you, you will see that I don't
travel alone."

Megabyte didn't have to look behind him to feel the cold
steel of gun butt pressed against his neck. "Who-who are
you?"

"I'm the one with the gun. I'm the one who'll ask the
questions."

"Maris Keillor, Marmaduke. She worked with Mulvaney and
Masters." General Damon supplied the answer to his son's
question. "Apparently, she has decided to go into business
for herself."

The woman, Maris, glared at the General. "I always thought
that Masters and Mulvaney never gave you enough credit,
General. But then again, they never gave me or the Tomorrow
People enough either."

"So this is about me, then?" Megabyte cast a worried glance
at his father. He wasn't worried about his own safety, but
he had to get this woman away from his father. He thought
about calling for the others, but if this lunatic was
trying to catch the Tomorrow People, the less she knew
about the others, the better.

"Oh my, what a large ego we have, Marmaduke." She yanked
the General to his feet, keeping the gun aimed. "This is
about all of you. All four of you. I almost had the Jackson
girl, but I encountered a little interference which caused
me to alter my plans. But really, it does work out so much
better this way. You'll understand that it's really nothing
personal, but I really can't allow your group to live. It
would be too dangerous to people of my nature and
demeanor."

Megabyte decided that the woman was a certifiable loon.
Which meant that he and his father were in considerable
more danger than he had originally thought. "You don't
think you're going to use me as bait?"

"I know that I am going to use you, and your father, as
bait."

"But why? I mean, you just told me that you're going to
kill me, so why would I even cooperate?"

"He's got a point, Maris." The General remarked. "I didn't
exactly raise my son to be an idiot."

"No, but you raised him to be weak, Damon. You're his
daddy. And I've got a gun to your head." Maris nodded to
her guards, "Let's get them out of here. And don't let the
boy anywhere near his father."

They were halfway to the front door when the woman came to
a sudden and complete halt. All the color drained from her
face and lifted her head as though expecting something to
materialize out of thin air. Her posture and stance seemed
to grow more rigid, and she glanced anxiously around the
front hall. "I know you're there. You may as well come
out."

"Oh boy, is she gone," Megabyte muttered under his breath.

"I know you're out there," the woman repeated. "And in case
you can't tell, I have a man here who has a gun pressed to
his temple. I will blow his head off. Now, show yourself."

"So, why don't you let him go and pick on someone your own
size?" the voice sounded vaguely familiar to Megabyte.

The entire group turned to the right to see Richie Ryan
step into the hallway.

"Richie?" Megabyte's voice croaked. "What are you doing
here?"

"Hey, kid, relax with the questions. I'm not the one at gun
point," Richie pointed out.

"You're Ryan?" Megabyte heard his father's surprised
question.

Megabyte wondered how his father knew about Richie; and why
he knew about Richie.

"Enough talk." Maris ordered. "Frisk him." She stared at
the American for a long moment. "You just don't learn do
you, Mr. Ryan?"

"I'm afraid I don't Miss Keillor." Richie held his arms up
and allowed the guards to search his person. To Megabyte's
amazement, the young man didn't even appear bothered by the
search at gunpoint; nor did he seem to care when the guard
removed a long metallic object from his coat. "Mac always
said that I have a hard head."

The object was a sword.

"A sword," General Damon commented dryly.

"A sword?" Megabyte shook his head. "You broke in with a
sword."

"Marmaduke, be quiet." The urgency in his father's voice
surprised him.

Instead of laughing at the sword, Maris handed the General
to one of the guards and took the sword in her hands. "If
either Damon or his son even sneezes, shoot them."

"We won't be much use to you dead, Maris."

"I didn't tell them to kill you, Damon. I told them to
shoot you." The woman held the sword out and admired it.
Her voice purred as she ran her fingers along the blade.
"English broadsword. It's a marvelous weapon, do you weld
your sword with skill and expertise, Mr. Ryan?"

"I've never had any complaints."

Megabyte felt himself blush at the only slightly couched
innuendo.

"Mac? Would that be Duncan MacLeod, Ryan?"

"You know him?"

"Was he your teacher or something?"

"Hey, when only the best will do-"

"Then it would really be a shame to have to kill you. You
see, Duncan and I were very old, very close friends." Maris
circled Richie with the sword, running the blade lightly
across his torso. "I would really hate to upset Duncan."

"Well, then it's a good thing that I don't plan on letting
you kill me." Richie eyed her. "Um, Mac never mentioned
you, by the way. He couldn't have been that impressed."

In a flash, she pressed the blade against his throat.
"Don't tempt me, boy. You've gotten in my way twice. I
don't know what your game is, but it's a very foolish one,
and you are a very foolish little boy. I don't want your
head, so if you stay out of my way, you'll get to keep it."

"Hey, lady, no arguments there. I kind of like it where it
is myself." Richie's eyes darted to the blade then back to
her. "But, um, maybe you could just tell me why you want
the kid and his dad? Oh, yeah, and why you were trying to
take out Ami?"

Megabyte blinked. He couldn't have heard right. He started
to say something, then remembered his father's warning. But
whatever was going on right now- it was weird. Normal
people didn't talk like this; normal people didn't carry
around swords as their only protection either.

"Does she mean something to you, Ryan?"

"Does she mean something to you, Keillor?"

"Enough talk." She turned to the guards and nodded. "It's
time to take a trip. And it's time for a little nap. A
shame that Mr. Ryan won't be joining us."

The scene unfolded too quickly for Megabyte's mind to clear
focus in on what happened. He felt a sharp pricking to his
neck and his vision began to swim. At the same moment,
Maris turned, and raising her gun, she pointed it at
Richie's chest and shot. The young man stumbled backwards,
a pool of deep red forming on the front of his shirt.

Megabyte was losing consciousness. His dad was in trouble.
Richie was hurt. [Adam!]

Then he was swallowed up by darkness.

End of Chapter Thirteen

*****

Chapter Fourteen

The three figures materialized in the empty front hall of
the Damon home. The door stood slightly ajar, the muted
purple and pink of the sunset filling the opening and
painting the hall in somber tones. The dog cowered under
the table, whimpering. He gave a half-hearted bark at the
sudden arrivals, but did not venture forward. A quick,
cursory glance around told them that no one was home, and
that Megabyte's assailants were gone.

"Shh, Duke, it's all right." Jade knelt down, her voice a
soft coo. She extended a hand to the frightened dog. "Come
on Duke. It's all right. Come on out."

While Jade tried to calm the dog, Ami and Adam looked
around the front hall. Ami peered through the door into the
empty yard. "No sign of anything or anyone."

"Let's try to reach Megabyte," Adam suggested. "If he can
answer us, he may give us some clue as to where he is."

"And if he can't?" The dog nuzzled Jade's hand. Her voice
quavered and Duke gave a little whimper.

"We have to try, Jade," Ami told her.

The youngest Tomorrow Person nodded in agreement, rising
from where she had been petting the dog. She was half
stooping, half-standing when all the color drained from her
face. "Adam-"

Adam turned, a sickening feeling rising up in his stomach.
He had a feeling that he didn't want to see whatever Jade
was seeing. He followed her line of vision, noticing for
the first time the few drops of blood in the front hallway.
Steeling his stomach, he stepped over in that direction,
Ami and Jade right on his heels.

"Stay here," Adam cautioned them, stepping into the room.

Though he steeled himself, the sight still took him by
surprise. His heart lunged and his stomach clenched, and he
fought to hang onto his lunch.

The mysterious American known as Richie Ryan lay on the
floor on his back. The front center of his shirt was
stained a dark, deep maroon red. His skin was deathly pale,
and he was eerily still.

"Richie!" Ami's cry from behind him was strangled. Her
emotional reaction was so powerful that Adam had to slam
his mental shields tightly in place to not echo her horror
and sorrow.

"Oh, no, Richie." Jade's cry was no less surprised, and the
girl seemed to teeter between crying and fleeing.

Adam took a deep breath and slowly approached the body, his
mind already working over the puzzle. Who, or what sort of
sick person would kill Richie Ryan, and leave his body
while taking Megabyte and the General?

Tentatively, trying to ignore the gaping hole in Richie's
blood-soaked shirt, and the blood-soaked shirt itself, Adam
searched for a pulse in the neck. He knew the effort was
futile- Richie Ryan had been dead the moment Megabyte sent
them that flash. It surprised him that skin so pale was
still warm to the touch; he hadn't been dead long enough
for all of his body heat to escape.

He could feel the tension from Jade and Ami, and an
overwhelming sorrow that no doubt came from Ami. Adam felt
a bit of sorrow himself; he didn't trust Richie, and he
didn't like what he'd learned about him, but he certainly
didn't like finding him dead in the Damon home.

Slowly, he stood, glad to turn his eyes away from Richie's
lifeless body. "We're going to have to call the police. We
can't do anything."

Adam took Ami in his arms, giving her a hug before he said
more. "I'm sorry, Ami. There's nothing that we can do."

"I'll go call the police," Jade turned, more than likely
intending to flee the grisly scene, but she collided right
into Frank, the General's aide. "Frank!"

Frank stared into the room over the heads of the Tomorrow
People. "What happened here?" Adam noticed the man was
strangely detached for someone who was staring at a dead
body in the middle of the Damon family living room.

"We don't know," Adam supplied quietly. Ami was crying
softly on his shoulder; he hadn't quite realized how
attached his friend had gotten to the young American in
just two days. Or maybe she was just crying over the
futility of it all. It certainly didn't seem important now
to mention the General's file on Richie Ryan. "Megabyte
called us, but when we got here-" Adam let his words trail
off.

"I'm going for the police," Jade explained. Adam noticed
she kept her eyes carefully away from the living room.

As she slid past Frank, the man grabbed her arm. His tone
was more firm and commanding than Adam had ever heard. "No
one is calling the police. No police, no doctors."

"But he's-" Jade gave a glance at Ami. Adam had to admire
the younger girl's compassion for her friend. She lowered
her voice. "He's dead."

"I can see that he's dead, Jade, but we can't bring the
police in." Frank stepped forward, ushering, Adam and Ami
out of the room. "Listen to me very carefully. If you trust
me, if you've ever trusted me, trust me now. No police."
Frank glanced anxiously at the dead body. "Hopefully, in an
hour or so, you'll be able to understand why.

"Now, do you trust me?"

Adam exchanged a wary glance with Jade. He felt Ami shift,
and she pulled away wiping her eyes. After a few wipes, she
faced Frank, her eyes darting between him and Richie's body
behind him.

[Adam?] Jade asked tentatively.

[It's up to Ami, Jade. Richie was her friend.]

Finally, after an extended silence, Ami nodded. "All right,
Frank. We trust you."

Adam tried to contain his shock.

Jade didn't do so well. [I didn't think that you would say
that.]

[It's just a feeling I have. Somehow, I think Frank knows
more than he's telling us.]

Now, why didn't that surprise Adam?

End of Chapter Fourteen

******

Chapter Fifteen

The pain that pierced his awareness was sharp, grating. He
felt every nerve impulse in his body fire at once, he felt
every cell shift. He felt the intense heat of the bullet
piercing his heart; the fiery explosion from within. The
air going into his lungs was cold fire, shocking and
piercing, forcing him to gasp. His body trembled as
awareness of itself and its unity returned. Slowly the
world began to coalesce and reform, memories began to whirl
and take shape-

The kid, his father, and Maris Keillor aiming the gun at
his chest. Too late he tried to back away; his reflexes
were too slow.

"How do you feel?" the voice was unfamiliar, wary even.

Richie slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position,
ignoring the stinging and itching of his chest as his body
worked to heal itself. Dying hurt like hell; he was
beginning to think that reviving hurt more. He looked
around, taking in what was obviously a living room. A
family portrait on the wall told him that it was the Damon
living room. However, a cursory glance around was all he
allowed himself. He had to find out what was going on.

"It's amazing, you know." The voice was still speaking. "I
never did get used to seeing that."

Richie turned to face the source of the voice. A dark
haired, spectacled, non-descript man was watching him with
mixed curiosity and wariness. Richie scooted an inch or so
away from the man. "Who are you?"

"Frank," the man extended a hand. "Frank Addleman. I'm
General Damon's assistant."

Richie took the hand tentatively, shaking it with some
reluctance. Frank had a firm grip. "Okay, Frank, what the
hell is going on, and why aren't you running scared?"

"What's going on is that you were killed, Ryan. Point blank
in the chest with a gun." Frank indicated Richie's stained
shirt with a wave of his hand. "Probably by Keillor or one
of her goons. Keillor escaped with my boss and his son in
tow."

"And the second question?"

"I know what you are. I know about Immortals."

"How?" Richie was instantly on guard, ready to bolt for the
door. He made a quick glance at the man's wrists, looking
for a familiar trefoil tattoo. Instead, all he saw was the
scar of a burn- or the scar of a tattoo removal. "You used
to be a Watcher?"

"Technically, I still am." Frank settled back on his
haunches, giving Richie space. He almost seemed to sense
that the young Immortal had gone into fight or flight mode.
"However, working for World Ex, the tattoo would have
attracted notice. I had it removed. Mostly, I keep an eye
out for Immortals and Hunters in high places; try to keep
tabs on them. I'm not really a field agent or a historian;
I'm an information person."

"Why are you telling me all this?" Richie didn't know if he
liked this. "Don't you know the rules?"

Frank winked. "We have a mutual friend. I was trained by
one of the best- Joe Dawson."

"Joe knows about you?" It seemed a stupid question, but
Richie was not about to trust this guy. Not any further
than he could throw him.

"Joe knows about you. He knows you're in London. And he
knew you were looking for Maris Keillor. He asked me to
keep an eye on you. Then when the General did your
background check, I got a little worried. I hadn't been
expecting that so I hadn't planned for it."

"Background check?"

"Yes, you wouldn't know about that." Frank scratched his
chin idly. Then, as if suddenly remembering, he reached
behind him and tossed Richie a clean shirt. "There's a wash
room down the hall on the right. Get cleaned up. We're
going to need your help to find the General, Marmaduke and
Maris."

Richie glanced from the shirt to Frank in growing
confusion. "Why should I trust you? I've never even seen
you before, and for all I know you might be a Hunter."

"I might. But I'm the only reason Cory Lyle isn't on a
morgue slab downtown right now." Frank shook his head,
standing. "And if I wanted you dead, you would be dead
right now.

"You can find us in the kitchen when you're presentable."

"You keep saying 'us' and 'we.' Who?" Richie decided that
he really had no choice but to trust the man. He had to
find Maris-before she hurt that smart mouth Megabyte, or
went for Ami again.

"Some mutual friends." Frank left the living area, leaving
Richie to ponder the implications of that alone.

* * * * * *

Adam looked up expectantly as Frank re-entered the kitchen.
For the past thirty minutes, the man had been promising
them answers, but he had delivered none. The first ten
minutes he spent on the telephone to the States, talking in
hushed tones to someone named "Joe" about Richie. Whatever
happened during that conversation, Adam could tell that
"Joe" didn't give Frank a very good reception. Most
recently, the man divided his time between the kitchen,
where the Tomorrow People drank soda and stared at a bag of
potato chips, and checking on Richie's body in the living
room.

Adam wondered why the man kept checking the body. It was
almost as though he expected it to get up and walk away.

Like that would happen, he could almost hear Megabyte's
sarcastic response.

Thoughts of his friend, missing and unconscious, reminded
Adam of why they were there. "Frank?"

Frank took a seat at the table. "We should be ready in just
a few minutes. I have to tell you kids, though, you're
going to be in for a very big shock."

"I don't think things can get anymore shocking," Ami
whispered softly, staring down at the kitchen table.

Jade reached out and gave her friend's hand a squeeze.

"Hey, all right, all right!" The voice from the hall caused
all three Tomorrow People to look up in surprise. The
accent sounded like- but no, it couldn't be.

"Who's here?" Jade called tentatively, exchanging a
frightened glance with her friends.

Adam would have shared her concern, but he was watching
Frank. And Frank didn't seem the least bit alarmed. Good,
maybe it means someone's here to answer our questions.
First, we need to know who grabbed Megabyte and the
General-

All rational thought flew from Adam's head as the
impossible happened. Richie stumbled into the kitchen,
trying to stop Duke from jumping on him and licking his
face. He glanced over at the Tomorrow People with a wide
grin, "Does anyone know how to control this beast?"

"Richie!" Ami and Jade cried out in unison, nearly over
turning the table as they jumped up.

"You were dead. We saw you. You were dead." Adam wondered
if his face was as pale as Ami's and Jade's.

It must have been because as Richie raked his blue eyes
over the group, and he registered Adam's words, his smile
began to fade. By the time that gaze rested on Frank it was
rather dark and somber. "Great, you didn't tell them, did
you, Frank?"

"You were dead," Ami echoed Adam's words.

With a disgusted sigh, Richie grabbed a chair and turned it
backwards, straddling it. "Yeah, I get that a lot."

End of Chapter Fifteen

******

Chapter Sixteen

Richie seriously wondered how sick and twisted Frank's
sense of humor was. After he sat down, with three sets of
curious, disbelieving, and somewhat wary eyes on him, and
had gotten a cup of coffee, Frank quickly recapped what the
three teenagers had told him. No, that wasn't precisely
correct. Frank told him that they had found him there dead,
probably not long after Maris left. Richie didn't know how
or why the three happened to be there; and Frank didn't
elaborate on how they had known Megabyte was in danger.
Frank wrapped up the story with convincing them to not call
the police and wait for understanding.

Understanding that Richie was no doubt supposed to deliver.

Richie looked from one anxious face to the other, and
finally focused his attention on Adam. It was pretty clear
to him that both Ami and Jade looked to Adam as some sort
of leader or big brother figure. And besides, it was easier
than seeing the wariness in Ami's dark eyes. "I'm Immortal.
I can't die. I can't be killed, at least not by an
convential methods."

"That's impossible," Jade objected, then turned five
different shades of red. Richie could almost read the
thoughts on her face: of course, it wasn't impossible-
Richie was living proof.

"No, it's not. I can be shot, or drowned or burned, but I
won't really die. My body will just heal itself and revive
me." Richie explained slowly, carefully. He wondered how
Mac handled giving this explanation. "I heal rapidly, so
even broken bones and internal bleeding aren't a problem."

Still noting their disbelief, Richie sighed. He glanced
over at Frank and motioned to the knife by the man's hand.
"Could I see that knife, Frank?"

Blinking in confusion, Frank handed him the knife.

"What are you going to do with that?" Ami asked quickly.
Something about the tone of her voice told Richie that she
had a pretty good idea of what he was going to do with it.
Still, this would go a lot faster, if they weren't stuck in
that tunnel of nonbelief.

"Proof." That was all he said. Then taking a deep breath,
and bracing himself, he sliced up his arm. It stung and
burned, and he winced in pain. There really had to be a
better way of proving this.

"Are you nuts?"

"Why did you cut yourself?"

"What are you doing?"

The three voices bubbled over one another, with the three
teens standing.

"Sit and watch," Richie ordered. He could already feel the
itchy, tickling beginnings of healing as the tendon and
muscles knit themselves.

The tone of his voice froze them in place. Richie watched
their faces while the familiar blue sparks of energy worked
their way up the cut, leaving his arm unscathed. He wiped
away the drying blood with a napkin, and held the arm out
to their astounded faces.

"That must be pretty handy," Adam remarked thoughtfully.

"Not exactly." Richie took the knife over to the sink and
began to wash it. He could feel their eyes on him. "I still
feel pain."

"Then why did you do that?" Jade's voice was heavily tinged
with undertones that said she was beginning to have doubts
about his sanity.

Richie turned to face them, leaning against the sink. "I
figured that you needed some proof. To know that my
surviving that gunshot wasn't just a fluke."

"So, you can just live forever? You don't ever die?" Ami's
voice was like music to his ears.

Oh, yeah, like you stand a chance with her now. Dying just
doesn't do it for impressing the girls, Ryan. And neither
does slicing your arm open at the kitchen table.

"Well, I can be killed."

"Decapitation," Adam said the word softly. "You can be
killed by decapitation."

Richie stared at him, feeling slightly ill. He noted that
Frank also looked to the young Australian with surprise.
"How did you know that?"

Adam kept his eyes averted. "I asked the General to do a
background check on you-"

"Adam you didn't!" Ami's indignation rang through the
kitchen.

Adam couldn't even make eye contact with her. "And there
were some things in your file about decapitations."

There was something that the Australian was not telling him
as well. Right now, Richie decided not to worry about it-
besides he got the feeling that Adam was going to get an
earful from Ami when this business was all done with.

However, he understood the young man. Or at least he
thought he did. He nodded in Adam's direction. "I wouldn't
worry about it, Ami. I'm sure Adam was just looking out for
you. A strange American-"

"Right." Ami didn't sound very convinced.

"What about the decapitations?" Jade asked. Some fear crept
into her voice now.

Richie shifted awkwardly. This was going to be the hardest
part to explain. "I'm not the only Immortal. There are lots
of us. Everywhere. The woman who grabbed your friend is one
of us."

"You mean there are people all over the world who can't die
unless you-" Jade stopped in midsentence. Clearly, that
concept didn't settle too well with her.

"Right," Richie agreed. "Since forever, or as long as
Immortals have been alive, we've been fighting for the
Prize. It's said that in the end there can be only one.
Only one Immortal."

"You kill each other?" Adam asked the question with some
fear and disgust.

"Since the dawn of time, it seems there have been Immortals
on the earth, Adam." Frank took over the conversation.
"They live, they breath and they survive, and occasionally
when they come together they fight; they fight because they
are taught to fight. They are taught to fight for the
Prize. They live by a certain code, and must honor certain
rules, and they only fight in private and with swords.

"Some are good, some are evil. Some enjoy killing. And
some, like Richie, are simply trying to survive the Game."

"The Game?"

"It's a really lame way of describing our eternal battle,"
Richie muttered. "Whoever coined that phrase had a really
sick sense of humor."

"When two Immortals meet and fight," Frank continued,
giving Richie a glare, "they fight to the death. The winner
takes the losers head and with it his power; his
Quickening."

"It's not a medical procedure, Frank." Richie muttered.
"You make it sound like it's all fun and games, and it
isn't."

"What's a Quickening?" Jade asked.

Richie wondered if it was his imagination, or if these
three teenagers were truly trying to wrap their minds
around this and accept it.

"It's our life force, I guess. Our experience." Richie
explained. "Every one has a little Quickening, but it's
stronger in Immortals. It's so strong that we can actually
sense one another. We call it the buzz, and I guess it's a
good warning signal."

"That must be what we sense," Ami remarked softly.
"Quickening. It must make the psychic aura stronger."

It was Richie's turn to quirk an eyebrow in confusion.
"What was that?"

"This Quickening," Adam gave Ami a cautionary glance and
turned his attention to Richie. "What's it like?"

"A first class pyrotechnics show," Richie sighed. "And it's
not exactly a carnival either."

Adam nodded as if Richie's words had somehow confirmed
something he had been thinking.

"How do you become Immortal?" Jade seemed to be at no loss
for questions.

"We're born this way. We don't know who our parents are,
we're all foundlings." Richie crossed the kitchen and
returned to his chair. That was good for the dog which
placed its head in his lap. He absently scratched behind
its ears. "We age, get hurt, get sick just like mortals
until the first time we actually die. That seems to turn on
our Immortality. After that, we don't age anymore, we're
pretty much frozen at the age we died."

"You were young," Ami remarked softly.

Richie had to smile. "I'm not that old yet, Ami."

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-three." Richie said the words softly. "I was
nineteen when I became Immortal. I'm pretty much an infant
as far as the Game. I've known Immortals hundreds of years
old."

After that revelation, a silence descended. He noticed that
the three teenagers exchanged glances, and seemed to be
having some unspoken conversation. The only sound was the
thump-thump-thumping of the dog's tail against the floor.

Finally, three sets of eyes turned to him.

"Well, I guess it's our turn now," Adam announced. "We have
a bit of a secret of our own."

Richie stared at the three expectantly, waiting.

"Richie Ryan, we're the Tomorrow People." Ami stood,
exchanging a quick glance with her two friends.

Richie cocked an eyebrow. Were they trying to tell him they
were some sort of rock band? "The Tomorrow People?"

"I think you should just show him, Ami." Adam smiled, and
Jade giggled.

Richie didn't know whether to be worried or excited. The
next moment however, he didn't know what to think at all. A
field of energy crackled and formed around Ami, and he was
vaguely aware of the hairs on his arms rising from the
static in the air. The field brightened, and with a flash
of bright light and a displacement of air, the young woman
disappeared.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when she leaned over his
shoulder a moment later. "You're not the only one with an
interesting talent."

"I guess not."

End of Chapter Sixteen

******

Chapter Seventeen

"Wow," Richie commented once they had finished their story.
"So, I guess seeing a guy come back from the dead wasn't
that out of field for you guys?"

"To say the least," Adam laughed.

"Look guys, this is really wonderful," Ami looked around
the table, her eyes resting particularly longer on Richie
than anyone else. Somehow knowing the life that he led,
forced into it and not choosing it, made him seem more
vulnerable than even the Tomorrow People were. It was odd,
to think of someone who carried four feet of steel around
for protection as vulnerable, but she did. "But we really
have to find Megabyte and the General."

"Right," Adam agreed. "Richie, you were here last. What can
you tell us? Did you see or hear anything?"

Richie shook his head. "No. I still don't even know why she
grabbed Megabyte and his father and I spent the whole day
following her around." Richie paused. "You guys can't
contact him with telepathy?"

"We haven't tried, guys. Not since we got here," Ami looked
from Adam to Jade. "It can't hurt."

"Right," Adam nodded. The three of them stood, and holding
their palms up, barely touching they closed their eyes.

For one moment, Ami wondered what Richie must be thinking,
but she had only a brief moment for the fleeting thought,
before her mind joined with Adam's and Jade's and they
began searching for Megabyte's familiar psychic signature.

[Megabyte? Can you hear us?]

They were met with dead silence, the silence of sleep or
unconsciousness.

Adam shook his head, breaking the link. "No. He's
unconscious. He can't answer us."

"You can tell that he's unconscious?" Richie asked.

"We're connected," Jade explained. "We're always aware of
one another. We can always tell if someone's hurt or sick
or unconscious or whatever."

"So much for privacy," Richie muttered.

"We've grown rather accustomed to it," Ami settled back
into her seat. "It's a lot like background noise."

"So what do we do now?" Jade looked from Adam to Ami and
back again.

"Maybe nothing," Frank commented.

Four sets of eyes rested on the General's aide.

"We know that Maris Keillor wants something. And it's a
very good possibility that what she wants is the Tomorrow
People. She probably intends to use the General and
Marmaduke as bait." Frank poured himself another cup of
coffee from the pot in the center of the table. "And that
means that either she will be contacting you, or she will
have Marmaduke contact you as soon as he's awake."

"But if she lets him wake up, what's to stop him from
teleporting away with the General?" Jade asked.

"The last time I saw Megabyte and his father, Jade, the
General had a gun to his head." Richie spun a spoon in a
circle on the table. "I don't know how that teleportation
stuff works, but are you willing to bet money on your
teleporting being faster than a bullet?"

"No, I guess not," Jade admitted rather glumly.

Ami saw the shadow flicker across Richie's face. He looked
genuinely injured; he probably hadn't meant to speak so
bluntly. She was pretty sure that he was more accustomed to
speaking to people who had a great deal of experience with
violence.

His next words only confirmed her suspicions. He reached
out and patted Jade lightly on the arm. "It's okay, kid.
We'll find Megabyte and his father."

Normally, Jade objected to being called "kid" or "squirt"
or anything in between. But in this case, she just gave
Richie a half-hearted smile.

"Yes, but how do we find them?" Adam asked. "We don't even
have any leads."

Richie turned his attention to Adam, a slow, sly smile
forming on his face. "Well, my friend Mac always taught me
to stay one step ahead of my enemies. So, it's time we got
one step ahead of Maris Keillor.

"And Frank and I have a mutual friend who might just be
able to give us the extra step that we need."

End of Chapter Seventeen

********

Chapter Eighteen

Consciousness crept up on Megabyte with the stealth of a
thief. His eyes opened first, squinting against the pain
that the dim lighting of the windowless room provided. He
was aware of something underneath him, aware of the fact
that he was lying on his back, a dirty, cobweb ceiling
hanging over him. His mouth felt as though he'd eaten a bag
of cotton balls and the muscles of his neck were taut.

Memories came with consciousness. His arrival home, the
barking of Duke. And his father, his father in handcuffs
with a gun pressed to his temple. The woman with the
velvety red hair - the sound of a gun, the sight of the
red blood on Richie Ryan's chest-

Megabyte forced himself to shut off the memories and
blinked in the dimness several times. He had no idea where
he was, or what was going. All he knew was that he was
probably in a great deal of danger, Richie Ryan was
probably dead, and he needed to contact the others. As his
eyes began to adjust to the light, he sat up. Too quickly.
The room shifted suddenly, as did the sudden rush of pain
to his head. He groaned, lowering his head into his hands.
The throbbing of his head banished all thoughts of trying
to contact the others telepathically at the moment.

"Oh, good, you're awake." The velvet smooth voice drifted
to his ears. "I was beginning to think that Sean had given
you far too large of a dosage."

Megabyte peered at her through parted fingers. It was her.
The woman with the flowing mane of red hair and eyes as
blue as the sky on a clear summer day. He might have even
thought she was beautiful if she hadn't been staring at him
like a laboratory specimen while she filed her nails with a
dagger. If she hadn't threatened his life, his father's
life and killed an innocent bystander in cold blood.

Okay, so he didn't have a clue what Richie was doing there.
Maybe the guy wasn't exactly innocent, but he didn't
deserve to be killed. Megabyte hadn't liked him much; he
hadn't liked the way Ami seemed to lose her wits around
him, but he hadn't wanted him dead. On the quickest plane
to Seacouver, yes. But not dead.

"Whatever," Megabyte croaked. He looked around the room,
noticing the one guard. "Where's my dad?"

The woman, Maris he thought her name was, rose and brought
him a glass of water. He hadn't even noticed the water
pitcher by her feet until she began filling the glass.
Megabyte took it hesitantly, staring cautiously into the
clear liquid.

"Oh, please, Marmaduke. I hardly think that I would waste
my time giving you drugs in water," Maris chastised him.
"It's perfectly drinkable. I know those drugs tend to make
your mouth feel like drier than the desert. And I need you
capable of communicating with me.

"As for your father, he's fine. And he'll be fine as long
as you cooperate. Which means, don't even think about
contacting your friends just yet."

Megabyte took a long drink of the water, taking in his
surroundings. She didn't have to worry about the telepathy
thing. Megabyte had the feeling that a telepathic whisper
would feel like boisterous yelling inside his skull at the
moment. Besides, it wouldn't do any good to contact the
others until he knew where he was and what was going on.

"So, who are you really?" Megabyte lowered the glass. "And
what do you want with me?"

The woman returned to her seat, folding her legs, one knee
over the other. She poured herself a glass of water, and
took a thoughtful drink while studying him. Finally, she
leaned back, and gave him a smile that made his blood
congeal. "My name is Maris Keillor. I was born in 1371 in
the village of-"

"Yeah, right." Megabyte nearly lost his grip on the glass.
This woman truly was a raving lunatic. His sarcasm was the
only thing that covered his fear. He could handle power-
hungry scientists and politicians; he could handle
fanatical cults. Raving lunatics who thought they were
hundreds of years old probably were the most dangerous
types. "Like that could happen."

"I'm Immortal, Marmaduke. I can not die."

"No offense, lady, but everybody dies." Megabyte gave a
quick glance at the guard. The man didn't seem affected at
all by her raving. Of course, he was probably used to it.
He was probably even paid to believe and encourage her.

"There are hundreds like me in the world. And eventually,
when only one of us is left, that one shall rule the
world." Maris shifted, placing her water glass on the
floor. She toyed with the dagger, twirling it between her
fingers. "Unfortunately, this means that there is either
room for your kind or room for my kind. We can't both rule
the world, Marmaduke. Seeing how I'm the one who's
Immortal, and mortals die so easily, guess who loses?"

Yep, the woman most definitely was not playing with a full
deck.

"You don't believe me, do you?"

"Sure. I believe that you're five hundred years old and you
won't ever die. Right."

"Six hundred and twenty-seven come summer."

"You look good for a six hundred year old woman."

"And you are an impertinent, rude boy who doesn't seem to
realize how closely his father's life hangs in the
balance." Maris snapped. She stood, crossing the room until
she stood directly in front of him, the dagger still
gleaming in her hand. "Watch and know that you have no way
out, Marmaduke Damon."

With those words, she sliced a fairly large rip up her arm
with the dagger.

Megabyte recoiled. He watched the blood swell up out of the
cut, the dark, deep blood of arterial blood. He averted his
eyes, his stomach clenching. A million questions formed in
his mind as he realized just precisely how out of touch
with reality this woman was.

"Look," Maris demanded.

Her free hand, the one attached to the uncut arm, gripped
his chin and turned his face. She forced him to stare at
the wound, the wound that didn't seem to bleeding very much
at all anymore.

No, that was impossible. People killed themselves like
this. Sliced straight up the arm, and the blood would just
keep pumping.

But there was no more blood. The initial rush still covered
her arm, and some of the floor, but the wound was no longer
bleeding. In fact, as he watched, his face held painfully
in her grip, the cut began to heal right before his eyes.
The muscle and skin knitted itself together, a small
lattice of blue sparks and electricity shooting through the
open wound. The streaks worked their way down the cut until
not a scar remained.

Megabyte trembled as the implications of what she had shown
him came to light. "What are you?"

"I told you, I'm Immortal. And my kind will rule this
earth. Your kind, will not live long enough to stop us."

This time Megabyte didn't reply with his usual sarcasm. He
stared at her, feeling his heart clench in fear.

This time the Tomorrow People might have encountered
something that they really couldn't handle.

*** End of Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

"The place looks like it should be condemned," Jade
commented.

Three Tomorrow People, one Immortal and Frank stood on a
hill overlooking a deserted factory. The Tomorrow People
had finally heard from Megabyte, and using the strength of
his telepathic signal and a mind-merge at the spaceship,
had been able to trace him to this location. He had been
able to tell them about their enemy: Maris Keillor. She was
obsessed with the Game and with the mistaken idea that
those like the Tomorrow People would eventually overcome
Immortals. Megabyte didn't entirely believe her story of
Immortality, nor did he understand her rambling about "the
Game" but after a long talk with Richie, the others did.
And they realized that Maris Keillor was a great threat.
Perhaps an even greater one than Galt or Masters had ever
been.

"Yeah, it looks like something right out of a bad movie,"
Richie noted. "Just the sort of place you expect a
homicidal maniac to hide out in."

Adam glanced over at the Immortal. Richie's words were, in
light of the circumstances, oddly ironic. After all, Adam
was certain that a great many people would consider all
Immortals homicidal maniacs. Of course, looking at Richie,
Adam was once again struck by the fact that the American
didn't look like a danger or a threat. He didn't look like
the sort of person who could weld a sword with skill and
expertise - or kill with the same skill and expertise.

But Richie could - he wouldn't be alive right now if he
couldn't. His youthful face could fool someone into
thinking he was exactly what he seemed to be- a rash and
reckless youth. The close observer would notice the other
signs that signaled he was something more. These same signs
that had set off warning signals for Adam; and Ami,
although she was loathe to admit it. There was a certain
hardness to his eyes, a certain wisdom that could only come
from years of danger and dealing with things that others
could only imagine. In Richie's case, a constant battle in
which he knew his participation might lead to his death. He
was killer, no doubt about it; but he also had a heart.

It was a chilling dichotomy. It was even more chilling when
Adam took into consideration the fact that Richie was on
their side. He was one of the nice guys in the play for
power that "Immortals" called the Game.

The idea itself still sent Adam's mind in circles, and he
made a note to talk to Richie more about it once Megabyte
and the General were safe. And he had to believe that they
would be safe.

"You didn't have to put it exactly like that," Jade
muttered.

Richie flashed her a boyish, charming smile. "Sorry, Jade.
I didn't mean it to sound so- well- "

"Frightening?" Ami volunteered. "Impossible?"

"It's not impossible," Richie objected, leaning against
Frank's car. The General's aide had insisted on
accompanying them, although the man had a pretty clear
indication that he wouldn't be able to stop or control
them. "We have a plan."

Jade wasn't convinced. "Maris Keillor has a plan too,
remember?"

"Yeah, well, if you're lucky, you guys won't run into
Maris."

"I still don't like this, Richie." Ami stared at the
Immortal, arms folded across her chest. If the situation
hadn't been so grim, Adam might have laughed at the look
she gave Richie. It was one he had seen Mrs. Jackson direct
at Ami quite often.

"If you guys want to get the kid and his dad, you need a
distraction." Richie didn't seem to be able to meet her
eyes. Adam thought that was interesting. Whatever the
dynamic between Richie and his fellow Tomorrow Person, it
would be interesting to watch when this was all over. "I am
very good at being distracting."

"But what if you run into her? Then what?" Something
shifted in Ami's eyes, a mixture of worry and fear. Adam
could feel the emotion radiating from her.

"Ami, I'm not going in there to challenge Maris." Richie
gripped her by the shoulders, a lopsided grin on his face.
"I can hide with the best of them. She'll be so busy trying
to find me that you guys should have no problem getting the
kid and his dad out of there.

"I'm a survivor, don't worry about me."

Adam wondered how many years it had taken Richie to polish
that charm of his. He could visible see Ami backing down.

"Be careful," Ami cautioned him.

"Hey, I'm always careful," Richie winked. Then he turned on
his heel and sauntered down toward the factory as if he was
simply going to buy lunch.

"Yeah," Jade whispered as he disappeared down the hillside,
"But what if Maris challenges you?"

It was a thought that none of the Tomorrow People wanted to
contemplate.

End of Chapter Nineteen

******

Chapter Twenty

Six hundred years old she was, but she certainly didn't
spend much time keeping up with technology. Then again,
Richie mused as he carefully inserted a small file
underneath the window and the sill, making contact with the
wire contact, this was a short term operation. Maris
Keillor probably didn't plan on having need of this
building very long. Who needed sophisticated machinery when
you only planned to use the premises for an execution
ground?

The thought chilled Richie's blood. He hadn't liked the
sound of it when the Tomorrow People reported what Megabyte
was telling them, and he didn't like the sound of it now.
He still could not fathom how the woman thought a group of
teleporting teenagers would be a significant threat to
Immortals and the Game; significant enough to warrant
killing them all off. Yes, they were pacifists, but in
Richie's opinion, that was a good thing. There weren't
enough pacifists in the world-that was the problem with
the world.

He wiggled the file a bit more and felt the catch. He heard
the soft sighing which told him he had made contact to
successfully fool the alarm system. Richie laughed softly
to himself; Mac and Tessa had given him the world and shown
him a better life, but moments like these reminded him that
no "talent" ever went to waste.

"Richie."

Ami's clear, crisp voice beside him nearly caused him to
leap out of his skin as she materialized from thin air.
Richie nearly lost his grip on the file, sucking in a
lungful of air and trying not to fall over backwards.

"Ami, what are you doing here?" Richie grabbed her wrist
and pulled her down into a squatting position behind him.
He kept his voice low, a trifle annoyed. Not because she
had slipped up on him so easily, but because he wondered
what would have happened if it hadn't been him she
teleported in beside. "And don't you guys have some kind of
warning system?"

She smiled apologetically. The smile made his heart skip
and also made it incredibly difficult to chastise her- or
to even consider it. "Sorry, Richie. But we thought that
someone should stay close to you. In case you need help."

"Ami, you really don't want to stick close to me." The
words conveyed far more than he actually said. He had taken
some additional time to explain to the Tomorrow People the
rules of the Game, and the often time necessity of
fighting. He didn't want to fight Maris, but if it came to
that…well, he would prefer that none of them, particularly
Ami, saw it.

"But what if she shoots you again?"

"We have rules." Richie turned back to the window, making
sure his re-route was still in place.

"What if she doesn't follow them? Richie, you said it
yourself, not all Immortals are the good guys. And some
don't follow your rules." Ami's voice was clear, collected.
If there had been some challenge to it, or some worry, he
might have found a reason to argue with her. As it was she
was being far too logical.

"And what are you going to do if she does kill me again?"
Turning his head, Richie met her eyes and the cool logic on
her face. It was a bit unsettling actually, to realize that
this eighteen-year-old kneeling in the dirt beside him had
dealt with enough danger to approach this with such
calamity.

"Teleport you out, of course."

"Ami." Richie stopped. He had seen that look before. He had
never seen it on Ami, but he did know that look. It was the
look of resolve and determination. It was a look that no
amount of arguing could erase. Richie switched gears,
taking her hand. He kept his voice soft, "It's too
dangerous. If Maris doesn't want to play by the rules, you
could get caught in the crossfire. You could do a lot more
good with Adam and Jade."

"Richie, I'm already caught in the crossfire. Remember?
That was me she was aiming that rifle at?"

"Are you always this stubborn?"

"We have to be." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "A lot
of people seem to want to protect us."

"Just promise me that you'll teleport out if things get
hairy?" He hoped that his voice didn't sound quite as
desperate and pleading as he thought it did. He was sick
with fear that something might happen to her; that might
get hurt, or even worse killed. He would never, ever
forgive himself if that happened.

"I promise," she agreed much more quickly than he had
expected.

He held onto her hand a moment longer before letting go and
turning back to the window. "I suppose I did all this work
for nothing. I mean, you can just teleport in there right?"

"All what work?"

"Fooled the alarm system." Richie flashed her a smile.

"How did you-"

"Well, before I had the pleasure of living forever and
having people come after my head with swords, I was in a
much less risky profession."

Ami tilted her head questioningly at him. "That was?"

"Petty thief."

The surprise on her face almost made up for the fact that
he felt like the Tomorrow People were trying to baby-sit
him.

Almost.

*** End of Chapter 20

Chapter Twenty-One

Megabyte never thought he would be as happy to see anyone
as he was when Adam and Jade materialized in his holding
cell. He jumped up off the narrow cot, and called a low
greeting. He was excited, but not stupid. There was a guard
outside his door, and he didn't want to attract the guard's
attention. "Adam, Jade."

He quickly switched to telepathy as he saw them preparing
to answer. [There's a guard outside my door. Maris doesn't
exactly trust me. Did you find my Dad?]

[No,] Adam replied with a shake of his head. [We were
hoping that you could help us with that.]

[I haven't seen him since I got here. I talked to him on a
radio, but that was about it.] Megabyte paused, [He's
alive. And Maris won't hurt either of us until-] The boy
did not finish the thought.

[Until she has all four of us,] Adam finished it for him.

[We're not going to let that happen, Megabyte,] Ami's voice
brushed his mind. [There's a corridor on this side of the
building. It's pretty well guarded. Richie thinks that the
General might be down there.]

Megabyte raised an eyebrow at Adam. What was Richie Ryan
doing here in the middle of all this? He could believe that
the young man was still alive but certainly not well enough
to be running around this old building with the Tomorrow
People.

[Richie's Immortal too,] Jade supplied the information
quickly.

"He's-" Megabyte forced himself to not speak aloud. Ryan
was like Maris. What was going on around here. [He's just
like her?]

[No, he's not just like her,] Jade snorted. [Richie's nice.
He's on our side.]

[Megabyte, later,] Adam promised. [Right now, we have to
find your father.]

That was an objective that the young American could not
argue with.

* * * *

Ami released the breath that she hadn't known she was
holding as Richie returned to her side. He had been
attempting to get closer to the corridor, to verify that
the General was there. She thought his behavior was
reckless and risky, even for someone who knew the bullets
in the guards' guns couldn't kill him.

"Did you tell them?" Richie whispered, leaning back against
the wall. It was clear that he still had some difficulty
accepting their telepathic abilities. Teleportation, yes.
But not telepathy - after all, you couldn't see telepathy
at work.

"They'll be here soon," Ami nodded. "Megabyte needed a bit
of convincing that you're one of the good guys."

"Why aren't I surprised?" Richie muttered.

"Well, you did show up in his house with no explanation."

"And I got shot for it, thank you very much." Richie
sighed, peering back around the corner. "Ruined a good
shirt for that kid and he doesn't even appreciate it."

"Are you always like this?"

Richie's eyes met hers in the dim light of the factory. He
had beautiful eyes; as blue as the summer sky, playful and
mischieavous. Ami immediately felt ridiculous and stupid,
noticing his eyes at a time like thise. The General was in
danger, Megabyte was in danger, and she was behaving like a
twelve-year-old with a crush on her Composition teacher.

He seemed ready to answer her, then Ami watched as a new
look came over his features. He stiffened, rising partially
out of his crouch. The same eyes that mesmerized her only a
breath before began scanning the corridor, wide and
haunted. If tension could be visible, then Richie was the
definition of it. He was suddenly wary, his eyes narrowing
shrewdly. The figurative cat preparing to stalk.

"Maris is close," Richie told her quickly, grabbing her
hand. He pulled her to her feet, roughly, dragging her down
the corridor behind him. The light hearted warmth had
vanished from his voice, his words and tone crisp and
professional. Briefly she felt a brush of fear and concern
from him, but it was gone as quickly as it appeared.

"What about the others, and the General?"

"Ami, I've got to keep moving. I'm the decoy, remember?"
Richie pulled her behind a pallet of tall barrels. "You can
stay here and wait for the others, but I've got to distract
her."

Ami shook her head. "No way. I'm coming with you. You might
need me." Ami spoke a great deal more boldly than she felt
at the moment. But she couldn't forget that the woman had
shot Richie once- and threatened his life. What was to
stop her from shooting him again and making good on her
threat?

Richie glared at her. There was no other way to describe
the look on his face. It was a glare of parental disdain.
"Yeah, I need you to get killed. I don't think so. The ride
ends here, Ami. This is where you get off."

"Richie, I've been in dangerous situations before."

"Not like this, you haven't." The American stared at her
and she held his gaze. Finally, he nodded curtly. "Fine.
Just remember, you promised to teleport out of here if
things get hairy."

He turned then, stalking up the next corridor.

Ami followed quickly on his heels. "Define hairy."

He paused in mid-stride, releasing a low groan. "Now, I
know how Mac felt all those years." Then he gripped her by
the elbow and pulled her along side him. "Are you Tomorrow
People always this stubborn?"

"Sometimes. Most times."

"Great," Richie grumbled. "Just perfect."

"Are Immortals always this surly?"

"Only when we're babysitting Tomorrow People."

Ami shook her head. Try as he might, Richie Ryan was not
about to upset her and get rid of her that easily. He might
be able to come back from the dead, but they were all in
this together. "At least we pay well."

The Immortal did not have an answer for that.

*** End of Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

She was close. Every cell in his body cried out in warning,
every physiological alarm rang inside of him. Richie could
sense her ~Presence~, he knew that somewhere in the belly
of the dark factory Maris Keillor lurked and waited.
Pressed against the wall, he reached into his coat and
slowly withdrew the broadsword. It made a slight whistling
sound as it brushed against the lining of his coat.

"Richie." Ami's voice quivered. "They found General Damon.
They're teleporting-"

Guided by instinct and by the image of her which burned so
deeply in his mind, Richie raised his hand and covered
Ami's mouth. Even he could barely hear his low, rough
whisper. The time for their playful banter had passed. This
was real, this was serious. It was time for him to have a
word with Maris. "Quiet. I can sense her."

"We can go now." As far as Ami was concerned their job was
done; it was time to go home. But his job was only just
beginning.

Richie spared her a glance. Her eyes were wide with
anxiety, alternating between his face and the sword that he
held like a second arm. It was an extension of him, one
that he could neither ignore nor deny. "She's not going to
let you walk away, Ami. None of you. I've got to talk to
her."

"With that?" The dark eyes indicated the sword.

"If I have to. It's what I am," Richie shook his head. He
didn't have time to explain. Not here and not now. "Go. Get
out of here."

"What about you?"

"I'm a survivor." He recognized the look on her face. He
had seen it on Tessa's face numerous times. He was certain
that his own had often mirrored that particular fear
mingled with panic and hurt. It cut into his heart far more
deeply than he thought anything ever could.

Richie grazed her cheek with his fingertips. "I'll be all
right. Wait and see. Remember, you promised."

Then he kissed her quickly on the cheek and disappeared
into the depths of the factory before she could speak
another word. To his relief, Ami did not follow.

He had to do this. He had to talk to Maris. He had to learn
what insanity drove her to this - this revenge.

"Maris?" Richie's voice echoed hollowly in the factory.

"Hasn't anyone ever told you that little boys shouldn't
play games with the bigger children?" She separated from
the shadows like a wraith. The fluorescent lighting of the
factory made her skin seem even more pale, her head a crown
of red. Blue eyes glittered darkly from the pearlesent
face. "I was hoping that it would not come to this. I could
show you such pleasures, Richie Ryan."

"I don't want to fight you, Maris."

"Is that why that sword is in your hands?"

Richie glanced at the sword, then at the Immortal across
the room. "I was hoping that you might see reason and leave
the Tomorrow People alone."

"Are you their champion now?"

Richie shrugged. "Maybe."

"They are a scourge Ryan. They will overcome us, and they
will destroy all that we are. They are an abomination and
must be destroyed."

"They're gone, Maris. They've escaped."

"I'll find them again." The sound of metal striking against
a scabbard rang across the room. The long sword flashed in
her hand like a beacon. "But first, I'll have to take care
of you."

"I don't want to fight you."

"Too bad."

She was on him in an instant.

* * * * * *

"Where's Richie?" Adam looked up expectantly at Ami as she
appeared in the clearing on the hilltop.

"He's - " Adam noted her slight pause, the tension near
her mouth as she spoke. "He's looking for Maris."

"Who's Richie?" General Damon looked from one Tomorrow
Person to the other. "And why is he looking for Maris
Keillor? That woman is a killer."

Ami turned her gaze to the factory, her soft response
carrying on the wind. "So is Richie, I suppose."

"Who is Richie?" General Damon demanded again. "And Frank,
get the police. I want that woman picked up-"

"Richie Ryan, General." Adam cut in smoothly, his eyes
still focused on Ami. He could feel his friend's pain, her
worry, and her frustration. He was worried himself.
Whatever Richie Ryan was- he was on their side, and he had
helped them. And most importantly, Ami cared a great deal
about the Immortal and what happened to him. "He's looking
for Maris."

"And we can't call the police," Frank added.

The General looked from Adam to Frank. It was quickly
evident that he didn't know what exactly to make of Adam's
information or Frank's words. "Richie Ryan is dead. I saw
him take a bullet wound to the chest. Now, someone had
better start doing some explaining. And I mean fast.

"What exactly has been going on while Megabyte and I were
being held hostage by a mad woman?"

"It's a long story, General," Frank supplied crisply.
"Perhaps we should talk about it elsewhere."

Jade shook her head. "I think we should wait for Richie. I
mean, he helped us right?"

Ami kept her eyes focused on the distant factory. Her words
chilled Adam's blood. "It might not make much difference,
Jade. It's started."

Only the General and Megabyte had to wonder what Ami was
talking about. Adam knew, and his heart broke for his
friend.

And for Richie Ryan.

* * * * * *

Steel rang against steel, as Richie brought his sword up in
defense, easily parrying the initial lunge. Again, Maris
lunged and again Richie parried, but the attack was so open
and frontal that it pushed Richie back a step.

He balanced himself quickly, defending against three more
quick, inside attacks. A swipe across his arm, too close,
too quick. Richie winced from the sting even as his body's
rapid and natural healing began to close the wound. He
backed up again, placing himself out of range of the other
sword.

"What's the matter Ryan? Can't you hit a girl?" Maris' eyes
glittered like ice that froze his blood, as Richie circled
her warily. "Your head is mine."

Richie took the first opening. He moved in sharply, drawing
blood with one hit before the woman could properly block
his attack. The attack left him open, and his opponent
closed in, attempting to regain control of the duel. Richie
continued to back off, luring her towards him, all the
while hoping that the Tomorrow People were all far, far
away by now.

Once upon a time, the open frontal attack Maris continued
to launch would have weakened him and signaled his defeat.
But Richie had learned from his errors; he had learned from
dying numerous times with Mac's sword in his chest or
abdomen that sometimes a risk had to be taken; sometimes
the moment of opportunity came only when the defenses were
lowered.

Richie knew that it was time to call upon opportunity.
Lowering his defense, he came in low and sharp, feeling the
sharp jerk of the weapon as his mark hit home. Almost at
once, the woman gasped, stepping backward as a dark red
stain began to spread across her snow-white sweater.
"That's for killing me earlier."

Maris looked at her blood soaked hand, and tightened her
grip on her sword. "First blood. I'm impressed."

"You ain't seen nothin' yet."

Richie circled his opponent, occasionally dropping his
defense to reach into any opening. He took a few cuts for
it, but nothing that didn't begin to heal almost before he
truly felt the pain. The clash of steel rang throughout the
factory. Closing in, her eyes wild with desperation, Maris
left her lower inside undefended. It was the opening Richie
had been waiting for. He allowed the woman to lunge,
feeling her sword slice through his thigh, sending a
thousand ripples of pain through his leg. He cried out. He
cried out even as in the same moment his sword sank up to
the hilt in her abdomen, her eyes widening in amazement.

"I told you that you hadn't seen anything yet." Richie
yanked the sword from the Immortal and the woman sank to
her knees. Richie panted, his breath coming hard and sharp.
His mind only now registered the sharp and biting aches
where she had scored hits; he could feel the beginnings of
healing, but the pain was still real. She cowered before
him, her head lowered, and he brought his blade to rest
against the skin of her exposed neck. "Walk away, Maris.
Don't make me do this."

Slowly her head turned, the cold ice of her blue eyes
eating into him. "Let me walk, and I swear I'll slit each
of their throats. They don't deserve to live. They are
unnatural."

"So are we."

"But we are meant to rule the world."

"No. We're not. They are."

"Have you ever seen a mortal bleed from a throat wound,
Ryan? It's beautiful. Kill me, because I won't stop until I
kill them, your precious Tomorrow People."

"Then, I guess there can be only one." Richie raised the
sword, and with a silent prayer, the killing blow fell.

* * * * * * *

From the hilltop, six pairs of eyes watched in amazement as
the lower floor of the factory filled with an eerie,
pulsing bluish light. Almost in slow motion, each of the
lower windows began to blow outward, one after the other,
and the faintest tentacles of lightening reaching beyond
them.

"What the-" General Damon's eyes widened, his voice
constricting.

Frank whispered one word. The word was a curse; the word
was a blessing. The word was a warning and a cry of hope
mixed with trepidation. It was a word that made Ami turn
away to hide her tears, and made Jade lower her head, her
own eyes misted.

It was a word that made them all afraid.

"Quickening."

*** End of Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Richie trembled in the wake of the Quickening, kneeling on
the floor of the factory some distance from Maris' body.
The last tendrils of power swept over him, making every
sense and every nerve intensely and acutely aware. He
panted, drawing in deep, ragged breaths. The aftermath of
the Quickening was always the worse. The sensations it
created were intoxicating; pleasure mingled with pain,
reminding him of the gift and curse of Immortality.

He forced himself to his feet, guided by some inner
instinct. The battle had been met, joined and won. It was
time to vacate the premises before the authorities arrived.
With any luck, Frank would have contacted the Watchers and
they would be here to clean up any loose ends. Whatever the
case, it was no longer his concern. His concern was
escaping. His concern was protecting himself. And maybe-in
a few days, his concern would be seeing that Ami and the
remainder of the Tomorrow People were all right.

Richie moved stealthily through the factory, retracing his
footsteps and chiding himself for any desire he had to
check on the Tomorrow People. Because he knew it wasn't the
Tomorrow People- it was a particular English flower with
coffee eyes and dark skin. He had to know that Ami was all
right; that she would be all right. Even if it was the
stupidest, most ridiculous thing that he could do.

She could never accept what he was. It was completely
opposite to her nature. And he could never stop being what
he was. The wisest thing to do would be to head back to his
hotel, pack up and catch the next plane out of London.

Then again, Richie hadn't always been known for being wise.

Twilight was falling as he left the factory behind. He
glanced in the direction of the hill, wondering if he
should head in that direction.

No, the Tomorrow People and Frank should be long gone by
now.

He would make it on foot; he'd done it before.

He barely had the time to notice the bright flash that
appeared in the middle of his path, barely had a moment to
catch his breath or brace himself before a figure collided
with him.

"Richie," Ami wrapped herself around him, her head resting
against his chest.

Reflexively his arms wrapped around her, and he held her
close, resting his cheek against the top of her head. He
could feel the slight tremors of her body, he could hear
her soft sobs as she buried her face in his chest. He
stroked her hair, his voice low in her ear. "I'm all
right."

"I was so afraid," her words were choked with ragged sobs.

"I'm all right," he repeated, tightening his hold on her.
They were completely incompatible, and from two very
different worlds. But all that mattered at that moment was
holding her, soothing her, and knowing that she was fine.

The rest he decided to worry about later.

* * * * * *

General Damon sat silently while the pieces of the puzzle
slowly fell into place. He had to admit, the story that the
Tomorrow People and Ryan told him was unbelievable. Men and
women who lived forever unless you decapitated them was
about as viable a story as teenagers who could teleport.
And, Bill Damon supposed, that was why he believed it. That
and the fact that the evidence couldn't be ignored. He had
been at a few of the scenes of an Immortal duel; he had
seen Ryan dead, shot through the heart; and he had seen the
Quickening rippling through the deserted factory.

It was hard for him to reconcile the vibrant young man
lounging on his family room sofa with a sword-wielding
killer. Richie Ryan, frozen at the age of nineteen, didn't
look out of place among the Tomorrow People. Outwardly, he
appeared no more dangerous than the Tomorrow People,
laughing and talking easily with them. For all appearances,
he looked the part- a nineteen-year-old tourist,
completely taken with his new friends, and completely
enraptured with Ami.

General Damon wondered if any of the other Tomorrow People
had noticed that particular complication.

"So, what will you do now, Richie?" General Damon eased
into the conversation. "Stay in London?" The thought of
that happening made the General long for the bottle of
antacid tablets he kept in his desk drawer. Ryan may look
young and innocent, and he certainly was charming, but he
was dangerous. He may have turned out to be one of the good
guys, but he was as deadly as the English broad sword he
carried. The thought of the young Immortal spending too
much time near the Tomorrow People worried Damon a great
deal.

Richie glanced at him, but only briefly. His blue eyes
seemed to drift back toward Ami of their own accord. "Maybe
for a few more days. I have to go home sometime."

"The sooner the better," Megabyte muttered.

Damon gave his son a sharp glare, grateful that only he was
close enough to hear the words. But he also felt guilt as
he turned back to the youngsters in the room, missing
whatever comment Jade made to set the others laughing.
Guilt, because as he watched Richie take Ami's hand, he
couldn't help but echo his son's sentiment.

The sooner the better. One thing the Tomorrow People did
not need was Immortals.

The sooner the better.

*** End of Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

It was time to move on. Richie knew this, had been telling
himself the same thing for the past two weeks, but it
hadn't helped him to put his feet into gear and leave
London behind. Every day he told himself that he would stay
only another day or two; every day for the past two weeks
he had told himself that. He didn't even think that he was
listening to himself anymore.

The truth was that Richie didn't want to leave London. He
didn't want to leave her. It was complete and total
foolishness and he knew it. There was absolutely nothing he
could do for Ami Jackson- except put her life in danger.
The Tomorrow People had an even bigger secret to protect
than Immortals did; namely because there were probably far
too many Immortals out in the world who thought like Maris
Keillor. And those who wouldn't want the Tomorrow People
dead would want to use them for their own twisted purposes.
His presence acted as a beacon, calling attention to them.

He should have been on the first plane to Seacouver the
moment he had Maris' Quickening. He should have headed
straight to the airport and never looked back.

But then again, Richie had never been known for doing what
he should do.

But this was it, Richie decided. He had called the airport
this morning. The ticket had been reserved and paid for
before Ami, Adam and Jade showed up at his hotel, before he
had a chance to change his mind when he looked into Ami's
dark eyes again.

Besides, Richie kept telling himself, she was eighteen. She
was a kid. Too young for him, and he was too old for her.

And that was why he'd been finding excuses to stay in
London for two weeks.

No, he couldn't even believe his own lies.

Still, it was definitely time to move on. He was beginning
to get too comfortable here, too comfortable with the
Tomorrow People. He had his life to lead, and they had
theirs. And their lives were far too different for them to
keep company for very long. He was a killer; like it or
not, he was definitely a killer. And they were - they were
the hope for a better world of tomorrow. Not the greatest
combination.

Saying goodbye was going to be the hardest part. Not just
to Ami, but to the others as well. Even to Megabyte, who
for all his sarcasm and indifference had actually managed
to grow on Richie as well.

"You're leaving." Adam sat beside him on the park bench.
The young Australian watched his fellow Tomorrow People
kicking a soccer ball back and forth between them.

Richie nodded. Adam had never been one lacking in
perception. "You don't seem shocked."

Adam shrugged. "I knew you would eventually. We all did. It
was just a matter of when." Turning to Richie, Adam studied
the Immortal for a moment. Although the look lasted only a
heartbeat, Richie felt like Adam had seen to the depths of
his soul. "We like you Richie. Even knowing that you are
what you are, we like you. It's nice to know that there are
still some good guys left in the world."

"You think I'm a good guy?" Richie's gaze challenged him.
"General Damon seems to think that I'm an armed and
dangerous killer, and you think that I'm a good guy?"

"If you had a choice, would you do it?"

The question confused him. "Would I do what? Be Immortal?"

"Would you kill? If you had a choice, would you be a part
of the Game?"

"Hell no," Richie didn't even think about the question.
Once, he had envied Duncan MacLeod's Immortality. That had
been before his own death, before he started carrying a
sword, before he began to carry the faces of those he
killed in his memory. Just fights or not, every kill
haunted him. He carried a part of every one of those
Immortals with him; even Maris.

"I wanted it once, but-" Richie shrugged, letting the
sentence hang unfinished.

Adam nodded as if the Immortal's words had confirmed
something he was thinking. "Then you are one of the good
guys. It's just a matter of perception. Everyone perceives
things differently."

Without waiting for a response, the Tomorrow Person rose
and joined his friends in their soccer match.

Richie sat back against the bench and watched. Maybe all of
life was just a matter of perception. Maybe, in a world
where everything was not simply black or white, people like
the Tomorrow People did see him as one of the good guys.

And maybe there was hope for the world yet.

End of Chapter Twenty-Four

*********

Chapter Twenty-Five

Richie hated good-byes. He really had hoped to leave London
without lengthy good-byes, but when he heard the knock on
the hotel room door that morning, he knew that was not to
be the case. The Tomorrow People, his newfound friends, had
come to see him off. Even Megabyte was in attendance, but
Richie had gotten the feeling that the young man was more
than happy to see Richie Ryan leave London once and for
all.

They had each said their bit, wishing him a safe trip, and
inviting him to return. Then, one by one, they disappeared
with bright flashes of light until only Ami remained. She
had been silent and watchful the entire time, allowing the
others to speak to him while she stood safely in the
shadows. Now, Ami stood a few feet away, hands shoved into
the back pockets of her jeans. She watched him expectantly,
through partially lowered eyes, rocking slowly on her
heels.

"I guess this is it," Ami remarked quietly.

Richie cursed silently. This was going to be the worse. A
part of him wished that Ami had left with the others; a
part of him was happy that she stayed. Slumping against the
wall, he shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and forced
a smile. "Yeah, this is where I came in at."

"Maybe you'll get back someday. See some more of London."

And more of each other. Richie knew they both thought it,
but neither of them said it.

"Maybe. I travel a lot, so you never know." He shrugged.
"And if you ever get to Seacouver, look me up."

"If I'm ever there, I will Richie." She smiled and he
wondered if it was biologically possible for a heart to
melt. "There can't be that many Richie Ryan's in Seacouver,
can there?"

Richie chuckled. "I never took a census or anything, but I
figure that I'm sort of unique and one of a kind."

"You are," Ami agreed.

"Yeah, well, so are you."

They stared at one another in an uncomfortable silence.

Finally, Ami sighed. "I'd better go. And you have a plane
to catch."

"Right. I wouldn't want to miss my flight." Richie leaned
down and picked up his bag and the sword case. His taxi
wouldn't wait forever, anyway. Slinging the bag over his
shoulder, he crossed over to where she stood. "Take care of
yourself, okay? All of you guys. You're all really special.
So try to stay out of trouble. I mean, I'd be really upset
if I found out something happened to you - guys."

"Right," Ami nodded. "You take care of yourself too. I
mean…just be careful."

"Don't lose my head?" Richie volunteered, with a bright
smile. "Don't worry, I happen to like it where it is, and
don't plan on letting go of it anytime soon."

"That's good to know."

Staring down at her, Richie felt the all too familiar lump
working its way into his throat. The one that made it hard
to breathe and cut off any and all rational thought. How
she'd managed to have that effect on him in just the span
of a few days, Richie would never know. He would never even
be able to guess. He wondered if this is what Mac felt the
first time he saw Tessa. If it was, he was beginning to
understand Mac and Tessa's relationship a lot more than he
ever had before.

He realized at that moment that he might never see her
again. There was a very good possibility that he wouldn't
see her again.

He didn't like how much that thought frightened him.

But what frightened him even more was the damage he would
do if he remained.

He leaned forward, intending to brush his lips across her
cheek and make a quick retreat, but it didn't happen that
way. As he leaned, she turned her face ever so slightly, so
that his mouth brushed softly against hers. Nothing more
than that; just a light touch against her mouth, but enough
to make his catch his breath. Enough to make his heart
pound painfully. Enough to make Richie realize exactly how
tempting it was to remain in London. More than enough to
tell Richie Ryan that he was falling in love with this
young woman.

Correction, he had already fallen in love in with her.

Richie hugged her, wrapping his free arm around her back.
He didn't trust himself to speak, so hugging her seemed the
next best thing. This was the reason he'd been in London
for two weeks too long; the young woman in his arms was the
reason he hadn't been able to think clearly half the time
that he had been here. The feelings she stirred up were
maddening and chaotic, a sense of longing and devotion that
he wasn't quite sure what to do with.

But staying there was far too dangerous to her and to the
Tomorrow People. He'd been over this territory already.
Time and again, he'd held this conversation with himself.
The Tomorrow People couldn't protect themselves against
people like Maris Keillor. After all, they didn't carry
swords, and while they may have been capable of some rather
fantastic feats, coming back from the dead wasn't among
them.

"Ami," he whispered her name into her hair. He wanted to
say something; anything to let her know how he felt. He
wanted to let her know the reasons he was leaving, to let
her know that it was for her own protection that he was
walking away. Instead all he said was, "Take real good care
of yourself."

She raised her head, meeting his eyes. "I know, Richie. And
I will."

She knew. Of course, she knew. She was telepathic. He still
wished that he could say the words.

Richie nodded. "Probably next year, you know I'll be back
in London. Mac goes to Paris once a year, so - " He let
the words trail off. He would never be back in London if he
could help it; and if he ever were to return to London, he
would probably be trying to keep his head and would
definitely avoid the Tomorrow People. They both knew it.

"Right," Ami agreed with a half-smile. Then she leaned up
and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Have a safe flight."
Then, before he could say another word, she slipped from
his arms, and giving him a small wave, disappeared in a
flash of light.

Richie forced himself to take several deep breaths. He
tried to ignore the knife twisting in his heart. He was
doing them a favor. Both of them.

It was a litany he repeated all the way to the airport.

End