Chaos Unleashed

by TheTwins (aka Loui & tag)

Highlander is copyright © Rysher Entertainment. Earth: Final Conflict is copyright © Tribune Entertainment and Roddenberry/Kirschner. No infringement of these copyrights are intended by this story.
"Chaos Unleashed" is copyright © 2001, Loui & tag.
Authors' Notes: Please note the following... 1) In the EFC timeline, this takes place after the episode "Phantom Companion". 2) In the HL universe, both the sixth season of Highlander: The Series and all of Highlander: The Raven have occurred; however, "Highlander: Endgame" does not exist. 3) TheTwins are very fond of the Double Quickening.

Part One

People now felt free to express doubts about the Taelons and their agenda without having to fear for their lives. Unfortunately, as with most things in life, there were no one hundred percent guarantees. While people were free to speak their views, all it took was one statement to be taken the wrong way by the wrong people, and chaos would ensue.

Here, in the city of Seacouver, such chaos had erupted.

The onlookers winced in sympathy as they saw the man with the dark hair finally slump to the ground - out cold thanks to superior numbers, not superior fighting skills. It was not the first incident of its kind, nor was it likely to be the last. There were small but increasingly violent groups of Volunteers who were chafing under the restraints placed on their activities by the Taelons' new agreements with the ANA.

In this usually friendly bar run by ex-cop Andy Baird, three youths in their early twenties had, after one too many beers, been less than complimentary about the Taelons and their affairs in general - and specifically about the jack-booted thugs called Volunteers. Unfortunately for them, the other patrons and the bar décor, there had been several 'off-duty' Volunteers present - Volunteers of the old school. Volunteers happy to instill terror through physical brutality and intimidation.

A saviour had appeared in the form of a tall, good-looking man, with dark hair and a friendly smile. He had a faint hint of an accent - Scottish, maybe, or Irish - a strong, kind face, and a calm air.

It seemed at first that he would manage to calm things down enough to allow cooler heads to prevail. The fact that the silk shirt he was wearing did nothing to disguise the lithely muscled body and air of confidence with which he carried himself might not have hurt either.

Unfortunately, he had stepped between the youths and the angry Volunteers, putting himself between them and harm's way. The man hadn't been fully able to see the angry glances that were being traded by one of the Volunteers and the loudest-voiced of the youths. Behind the bar, however, the owner cum head bartender had.

Andrew - 'Andy' - Baird had shouted a warning to the man just before the first blows were flung. He knew the man in question, and knew he could take care of himself, but, trying to keep himself between the Volunteers and the now suddenly less-vocal youths, the man was letting blows get by that normally wouldn't have reached him... and numbers began to tell.

When he had realised that Mac was going to be overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers, Andy had hurriedly placed a call to the police dispatcher, calling on his old colleagues to come to his aid - 'and fast', that last plea being hurriedly made as Mac had slumped to the floor of the bar, unconscious. Unfortunately, he had not been the only one making calls. So had one of the Volunteers - and their help got there first. More Volunteers - more thugs. Over the shouted protests of the bar's patrons, they'd gathered up their colleagues, the three youths and the unconscious man, pulse rifles making sure that nobody got in their way.

The police had been unable to trace the Volunteers and the situation had been swiftly shoved up the chain of command. Within the space of two hours, the City Commander for the Volunteers was on site, as was the man who supervised the Volunteer Corps, Agent Ronald Sandoval.

As an ex-cop and the owner of the bar, Andy Baird had been allowed greater access to the scene of the incident than was normal. Sandoval's arrival had soon put paid to that, but he'd overheard enough. The group of Volunteers was rogue; they had removed their sub-dermal implants and couldn't be tracked. Agent Sandoval was clearly enraged; in the present political climate, the Taelons could not afford any incidents like this.

When he had been politely asked to leave his own bar, Andy hadn't grumbled, he had a call to make anyway. He called the University of Seacouver and asked to speak to Dr. Adam Pierson. Relating his news, he'd blanched at the cold fury that replaced the initial swearing on the other end of the line.

Shaken, he stared at the blank screen that had replaced the normally quietly reserved face of Adam Pierson. For the first time since he had met the pair of Pierson and MacLeod, Pierson looked the more dangerous of the two.

Nine hours later, Joe Dawson - now semi-retired and living in Paris - sat down in his chair with worry in his eyes and a tremor in his hands.

Duncan MacLeod had been kidnapped by Volunteers; and Adam - no, not Adam, Methos - was out for blood.

The ancient Immortal had stayed in Seacouver for longer than he'd ever remained anywhere else in the past two centuries solely because of his friendship with the Highlander. Joe had suspected, back when he'd first realised it, that it was because Methos felt Mac needed a keeper. After all, the man was - as Methos was fond of pointing out - an Immortal trouble magnet.

And what happened nine hours ago just proved that once again, Joe reflected, a shiver going through him as he remembered the call.

Methos's words had chilled him to the bone.

"You're going to call in whatever favours you and the Watchers are owed, Dawson. I want Duncan and those Volunteers found.

"You've got twenty-four hours to get something done. If you find nothing by that time, I will start tearing this entire planet apart until I find him - stone by stone, if necessary - and damn the consequences!

"Do you hear me, Joe? Find him!"

That had most definitely not been Adam Pierson speaking. No, that had been the oldest living Immortal - the man who had been Death. He wanted his friend back - and the kind of chaos he could create when provoked didn't bear thinking about...

Joe Dawson bypassed all correct Watcher procedures and went to the top - to one man with a great deal of power, connected to a family with ancient Watcher connections, but a man who was not a Watcher himself...

In his office in the White House, Chief of Staff Hubble Urick accepted the call that came through on his private, secure line, saying, "Joe! To what do I owe this honour..."

Part Two

"So, what exactly did he tell you?" Major Liam Kincaid asked, as he followed his companion into the Washington DC main Portal Terminal.

"Not much," replied Renee Palmer, sounding more than a little disgruntled. "Just that we were to be here at this time to meet a man named Joe Dawson, who's elderly and walks with a cane - and needs our help with something. Oh, and a code phrase to identify ourselves as the good guys."

"No explanation as to why he needs our help?" Liam queried, looking around the terminal in an effort to spot anyone who matched the description Hubble Urick had given Renee.


Renee sounded disgusted, as though she couldn't possibly believe that Hubble Urick would keep her in the dark.

Liam was much more accepting of it; after all, he was accustomed to not getting the complete story - it had been that way his entire life. Da'an, Doors, Sandoval, Renee herself - they all told him just as much as they felt he needed to know in order to do what they wanted him to. Hubble Urick was just one more name to add to that list.

It was rather amusing to watch Renee react to it, however, and he was just about to respond when he caught sight of a tall, grey-haired man with a cane at the far end of the terminal. "Could that be him?" he asked, pointing the man out to Renee.

"Maybe - let's check," Renee replied, already moving in the man's direction.

The terminal was unusually crowded today, so it took them almost five minutes to catch up with the man, who had stopped beside a pillar near the exit.

"Mr. Dawson?" Renee inquired as they came up to him.

The man turned around to look at them, scrutinising them both cautiously. "Yes, I'm Joe Dawson," he replied. He had a gravelly voice with a soothing undertone to it.

He isn't 'elderly', Liam thought, a bit indignantly. The man might need a cane to walk, but he was obviously fit, and he couldn't be much more than mid-sixties. And for some reason he wasn't entirely sure of, Liam found himself taking an immediate liking to Dawson.

Renee smiled and held out her hand to shake. "I'm Renee Palmer; this is Liam Kincaid. Hubble Urick sent us."

"Did he give you a message for me?" Dawson asked, his tone wary as sharp grey eyes flickered between the two of them.

"Gilgamesh and Enkidu," Renee replied promptly.

Dawson relaxed slightly and shook Renee's hand firmly, giving Liam a glimpse of an unusual circular blue tattoo on the inside of his wrist. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Palmer, Mr. Kincaid. I only hope that you'll be able to help as much as Hub seems to think."

Renee looked somewhat irritated by the bluntness of that comment, but Liam found himself liking Dawson even more. The bluntness was... refreshing, after the intrigue and plotting he had to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

"If you don't mind my asking, Mr. Dawson, what exactly is it we're supposed to help you with? Hubble wasn't terribly forthcoming," Renee explained.

But Dawson wasn't paying any attention to her just at that moment; instead, he was looking at Liam with an expression of dawning recognition on his face. "You're Major Kincaid - the Companion-Protector - aren't you."

Despite the fact that it hadn't really been a question, Liam nodded. "Yes," he responded.

He was expecting either awe or a touch of fear, or both - that seemed to be the usual reaction to him these days - so Dawson's reaction surprised him immensely.

"Thank God!" the older man breathed, in obvious relief. "We might just actually stand a chance of pulling this off, then."

"What do you mean?" Liam asked, getting worried now. Exactly what was going on, and why would his position as Companion-Protector be useful?

Dawson sighed, shifting a bit uncomfortably, and Liam realised that the reason he used a cane was because he had prosthetics. Finally, he answered. "About eleven hours ago, a very... special friend of mine was grabbed by a squad of rogue Volunteers. We have less than twenty-four hours to find and rescue him before all hell breaks loose." Then, lowering his voice to a whisper so soft that even Liam's extremely keen hearing almost didn't pick it up, Dawson added, "Literally."

Renee frowned, studying Dawson. "Why twenty-four hours?" she demanded.

Dawson hesitated for a moment, and then shook his head dismissively. "Because that's all we have," he stated with finality. It didn't answer the question, but something about his tone told both Liam and Renee not to argue.

Looking around, Dawson added, "We should really get going. Are we going to be meeting Hub?"

Renee nodded and gestured toward the exit. "That's the plan," she replied, as Dawson followed her and Liam trailed behind them. "My car's just outside, and Hubble's waiting for us."

Exiting the terminal, they started to head toward the carpark - and then Dawson abruptly stopped short, staring at a large group of people who were gathered around an SUV, loading luggage into it. "What the hell-- Adam!" Dawson almost shouted.

The group by the SUV - two women and five men - all stopped and looked in their direction. One of them - a young woman with short dark hair - grinned and waved at Dawson before one of the others, a dark-haired man dressed all in black, grabbed her hand and pulled it down, looking exasperated. Then a tall, slender man - wearing jeans and a loose sweater, covered by a long trenchcoat, whom Liam guessed to be about twenty-five - said something quietly to the rest and started walking in their direction as his friends finished loading the SUV and got in.

"Joe," the young man said, as he reached them. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to meet you, but Gina and Robert brought enough luggage for a three-month stay - although how they managed to do that with only three hours warning I don't know - and I thought there might be a bit of supervision needed.

"So, who are your friends?" he added, looking curiously at Liam and Renee.

Dawson's mouth tightened. "These are Renee Palmer and Liam Kincaid. Ms. Palmer, Major Kincaid, this is Adam Pierson," he added; and then he grabbed Pierson's arm and pulled him off to the side.

Renee sighed. "Wonderful," she muttered, glaring at Dawson and Pierson, and then transferring her gaze to Liam. "I'll go get the car and call Hubble to let him know that we might be a bit delayed. You stay here and keep an eye on Dawson and his friend. And see if you can find out what this is all about," she added curtly, turning away.

Liam watched as she stalked off in an obvious huff, and couldn't keep himself from grinning. Renee looked to be having a very bad day - and since he wasn't the reason for it, nor was he having one himself, he was finding it quite amusing.

Then he returned his attention to Dawson and Pierson. His instincts told him that there was something weird going on, and that neither Dawson nor Hubble Urick would willingly explain everything, which meant that he was going to have to discover whatever he could on his own.

The two men were speaking quietly, but Liam could hear them if he concentrated.

"--gave me twenty-four hours, Adam! So what are you doing here?" Dawson was demanding, his tone harsh - and somewhat nervous, Liam realised, wondering why.

"I thought you could use a hand," Pierson said calmly.

"And I thought you were going to be searching Seacouver!"

Pierson shook his head. "First of all, Joe, Seacouver is currently crawling with cops and Volunteers, all of them searching for the rogues. FBI Agent Sandoval - the Taelons' chief Protector - is in charge of the search. If they find the rogues and MacLeod, Mac's perfectly capable of dealing with the situation. Agent Sandoval may be a Taelon lackey, but he's clever, and he knows that the Taelons can't afford to lose face on this one. They have to find the rogues and their hostages. And if the rogues are still in Seacouver, I give them no more than another four hours or so before they're located.

"My concern is for what happens if they've left Seacouver. According to Andy Baird, these guys were just looking for a fight, and seemed to get a kick out of beating MacLeod up. What happens if they decide to do that again?"

Dawson went pale. "Shit... I was trying to avoid thinking about that. You just have to bring up the worst-case scenario, don't you, Adam."

Pierson nodded grimly. "Only way to survive, Joe.

"My guess is that they've already noticed some of Mac's... peculiarities. And that they've either left Seacouver, or are going to. Which means that the cops and Agent Sandoval and his Volunteers won't find them. Which, in turn, means that we might be Mac's only chance."

Dawson echoed Pierson's nod. "So what was the second thing? You said that was the first..."

"Secondly, in situations like this, I have a very simple philosophy, Joe. Start at the top, and work your way down."

"Let me guess - that's why the rest of them, huh? And you said you called the deValicourts three hours ago... You had this all planned out before you called me, didn't you?" Dawson demanded.

Pierson shrugged. "Of course I did, Joe. Planning is what I do best. And as I said, there is no way in hell that I am going to leave MacLeod in the hands of the Taelons."

Then Liam saw Pierson's expression darken. "And speaking of which... I called you almost two hours ago," the young man continued, his eyes narrowing. "As of fifteen minutes ago, there still wasn't anything on the network about Mac's abduction.

"The news that Duncan MacLeod has been captured by rogue Volunteers should have hit the entire network within five minutes after my call. Why didn't it?"

Liam blinked in surprise at the sudden sound of steel in the young man's voice. Pierson didn't look old enough to have that air of command about him - and yet, just at the moment, Liam could almost see it.

Just who is this guy? Why does Dawson seem to be taking orders from him?

And what 'network' is he talking about?

Dawson took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He now looked very nervous, Liam noticed, and wondered why. "Do you remember Hubble Urick, Adam? I think you met him a few times..."

"Hubble Urick? You mean the nephew of the North American Director in the 1980s? Yeah, I remember him. Why? What does he have to do with this, Joe?" Pierson demanded.

"He's now President Thompson's Chief of Staff and one of the main movers and shakers behind the Atlantic National Alliance," Dawson explained. "He has a much greater chance of helping us rescue Mac than any of the Watchers. I called him directly, and he sent Ms. Palmer and Major Kincaid - who's a Companion-Protector himself - to meet me here. We're supposed to be meeting with him as soon as--"

There was a loud honk right beside him, and Liam jumped, startled, in spite of himself.

"Mr. Dawson, Liam..." Renee said pointedly, as she pulled the car in right next to where Liam was standing. "We really need to get going."

Using his cane, Dawson moved with surprising speed over to the car, Pierson trailing behind him.

"Why don't you sit in front, Joe?" Pierson suggested. "Major Kincaid and I will take the back."

"Wait a minute!" Renee exclaimed, obviously shocked. Liam wasn't nearly as surprised by Pierson's decision, considering the conversation he'd overheard, but he was a bit stunned at the way the young man had abruptly taken charge of the situation. However, Pierson seemed to be involved with this problem Dawson needed solved... "You can't--" Renee continued, looking at Liam in an obvious plea for support.

Liam felt a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth, and, looking at Pierson, saw a hint of mischief on the young man's face. So, ignoring Renee's expression, he opened the back door and slid obediently in.

"He's with me, Ms. Palmer," Dawson said firmly, opening the front passenger door. "I'm sure Hub won't mind."

Renee's mouth tightened. "I'm sure he will," she returned, equally as firm.

Pierson, ignoring the argument, got into the back of the car next to Liam and then leaned forward. "Ms. Palmer," he said calmly, "you are here for the sole purpose of helping Mr. Dawson with his problem. I'm also here to help. If Mr. Dawson says I come with him, I come with him."

Renee opened her mouth to protest, and then closed it again, most likely realising that she wasn't going to win this one. "Fine," she said curtly, turning the steering wheel and directing the car out into traffic.

Liam leaned back in his seat and grinned again, not at all surprised when Pierson glanced at him and grinned back. Dawson's problem might be - and probably was - quite serious, but that didn't stop him from enjoying the sight of Renee being defeated at her own game.

Ms. Palmer stopped the car just outside a public park, and Joe glanced around doubtfully. "This is where we're supposed to meet Hub?" he demanded.

"Yes," Ms. Palmer replied curtly. Joe figured she was still upset by the way Methos had forced himself into their little trip - and the way her friend Major Kincaid hadn't objected.

"C'mon, Joe, you know that there are very few places safer than a public park for a secret meeting," Methos said from the back seat, and Joe grimaced slightly. The ancient Immortal was being charming, which - ordinarily - would have been amusing, since it was obvious that Ms. Palmer had no intentions of being charmed; but in the present situation, Joe was afraid that it was just an attempt to cover what Methos really felt. And what he was planning.

Which was something the semi-retired Watcher didn't even want to think about.

How the hell Methos had managed to persuade Cory Raines, Gina and Robert deValicourt, Amanda, Nick, and Connor MacLeod to help him was something he didn't want to think about either. Of them all, only Amanda knew who Methos really was, and Joe doubted that any of them except Connor and Amanda - and perhaps Nick - would have come running if all 'Adam Pierson' said was that Mac was in trouble.

Actually, no, the deValicourts have met Adam, haven't they, Joe corrected himself. But Cory Raines... no.

For that matter, how the hell did Methos find Cory Raines? I know for a fact that Amanda hasn't seen him in years, and Mac hasn't seen him in since that incident with Amanda and Richie...

"Joe? You coming?" Methos said suddenly, breaking Joe's train of thought, and he looked up to see that Ms. Palmer and Major Kincaid were both out of the car and waiting for him - Ms. Palmer rather impatiently.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," Joe muttered, opening the door and swinging around in the seat. He'd been given the option last year by the Watchers, when he'd gone into 'semi-retirement', to see if the new Taelon medical advances could re-grow his legs; but remembering the last time he'd been offered his legs back, and the claims the Resistance was making about the Taelons, he'd put the offer on hold. If the procedure was ever thoroughly vetted as safe by someone Joe trusted - like Methos, perhaps, in his Dr. Adams persona - then he might try it. Otherwise, he'd stick with his prosthetics.

Standing up, he looked toward Ms. Palmer. "So where exactly are we supposed to meet?" he demanded.

"This way," Ms. Palmer replied.

They walked for about three minutes, following a faint jogging trail until they came to a deserted picnic area. Ms. Palmer sat down on one of the benches, and Joe copied her. Methos and Major Kincaid both remained standing, Kincaid leaning against one of the tables and Methos - his hands in his pockets and his trenchcoat wrapped tightly around him - just behind Kincaid.

They stayed there, in silence, for about two minutes - and then a jogger from the trail veered off and approached them. As he got closer, Joe recognized Hubble Urick.

Struggling to his feet, he held out his hand as Hubble reached them. "Hub," he said, smiling faintly.

"Joe, good to see you again," Hubble replied. "Renee, Liam..."

Ms. Palmer stood up next to Joe and shook Hubble's hand, and Kincaid nodded to him.

Joe motioned Methos over. "Hub, I don't know whether or not you remember Adam Pierson..."

Hubble looked at Methos, and a flicker of recognition crossed his face. "Oh, yes... I remember. MacLeod's student, isn't it?"

Methos had been outed as an Immortal - in his 'Adam Pierson' persona - after the events of Jacob Galati's death. When he'd returned from Tibet, he, Joe and MacLeod had arranged the story that his First Death had occurred when Kalas had come hunting him, and that he'd become MacLeod's student. Luckily the Watchers had bought it - and even luckier, Amy hadn't spilled the beans when Morgan Walker had identified 'Adam Pierson' as Doctor Benjamin Adams, from two centuries ago.

"That's right," Methos said shyly.

"So what exactly is going on, Joe?" Hubble asked then. "You said something about Duncan MacLeod being kidnapped by rogue Volunteers..."

"That's right," Joe replied. "Adam actually knows more of the details than I do, since he's the one who informed me."

Hubble turned to look at Methos, as did Ms. Palmer and Major Kincaid.

"Apparently, Mac was in a bar that we frequent in Seacouver when some youths - probably students at the university, though I couldn't say for certain - started making some smart remarks about the Taelons and Volunteers. There was a group of Volunteers in the bar at the time, and they took exception to it. Mac tried to step in, and got thoroughly beaten up. The owner of the bar - a friend of ours - called the police, but before they showed up, another squad of Volunteers did, and they took Mac and the youths with them. That was almost eleven and a half hours ago," Methos said solemnly. "What I'm concerned about is... what happens if they find out about MacLeod?"

"Find out what about this 'MacLeod'?" Ms. Palmer demanded.

Hubble, who knew exactly what Methos was referring to, waved his hand dismissively. "That isn't important, Renee. What is important is the likelihood that they'll turn him over to the Taelons - particularly if they're in trouble with the police."

"And Agent Sandoval," Methos added. "According to our friend, he showed up just after the Seacouver City Commander of the Volunteers did."

"Then if they find out, they'll definitely go to the Taelons," Hubble declared, frowning as he sat down. Methos nodded in agreement, and Joe found himself becoming even more worried. Hubble dealt with Volunteers and high-level Taelons on a day-to-day basis, and as such, knew more about them and how they'd be likely to react than either himself or Methos did.

"So what exactly are we supposed to do, Hubble?" Ms. Palmer demanded.

Hubble's frown deepened. "At the moment, there isn't much, if Sandoval is looking for them. Liam, you should go back to the Embassy, keep your ears open for any hints about an... unusual 'guest' of the Taelons. Renee, see if you can figure out which areas of Seacouver - and Washington, for that matter, just in case - a group of Volunteers could hide out in. As soon as you get the information, send it to Sandoval anonymously.

"If worst comes to worst, we'll need to get MacLeod away from the Taelons ASAP."

"I'll be able to help a bit with that," Methos offered, a hopeful - almost eager - tone in his voice, and Joe frowned. Methos didn't like to fight, at all; and yet here he was, sounding as if he'd enjoy a good fight.

Methos may not like to fight... but Death does, came the sudden thought, and Joe felt an involuntary shiver go down his spine. We'd better find Mac - and fast.

"Joe and I have rooms at the Regency Hotel," Methos continued. "As soon as you find anything out, give us a call."

Hubble nodded, even as Joe blinked in surprise.

"We'll start back to the car," Methos continued. "Ms. Palmer, you can drop us off at the hotel. C'mon, Joe."

Joe followed him, absently noticing that Methos's casual statement had left Ms. Palmer sputtering and Major Kincaid perilously close to laughter.

"What the hell is going on, Hubble?" Renee demanded, as soon as Dawson and Pierson reached the jogging trail. "Just what is so important about this guy you want us to rescue?"

Liam watched - feeling equally curious - as Hubble got up and started to pace back and forth. He'd never seen the man so unnerved before, not even after Zo'or and Sandoval's assassination attempt. And then, of course, there was Pierson...

"I told you already, Renee, you don't need to know that. All you do need to know is that Duncan MacLeod is important - and that if we don't keep him from the Taelons, all hell could break lose," Hubble replied irritably.

"That's exactly what Dawson said," Liam commented, pushing away from the table he'd been leaning against. "And how am I supposed to find out if the Taelons have an unusual 'guest' if I don't know what's unusual about him?"

"Trust me, Kincaid, if you hear anything, you'll know," Hubble said. "But unless and until you need the information, the less you know, the better.

"You'd better go now," he continued, glancing at his watch. "Any longer, and someone's going to get suspicious about the distortion field."

Renee and Liam glanced at each other, and for the first time since Renee had picked him up at the Embassy with the message, "Hubble needs us," Liam found himself in agreement with the CEO of Doors International. He wanted answers... but it was obvious that Hubble wasn't going to give them any, and Liam suspected that questioning Dawson and Pierson wouldn't help any either. He sighed, and started to follow Renee down toward the jogging trail that would take them back to the car.

"Oh, and Renee?" Hubble added. When they turned back to him, he gave her a firm look. "Joe Dawson is a very good friend of mine - and Duncan MacLeod, the man who's been kidnapped, is a very good, very close friend of his. Remember that."

As soon as they were out of hearing range, Joe turned to glare at Methos. "What's this 'Joe and I have rooms' bit?" he demanded.

"Well, we do," Methos replied innocently. "You and I are sharing a suite with Amanda and Nick, and MacLeod, Cory Raines, and the deValicourts have the suite next to us."

They walked a bit farther on in silence, and then Methos said, "Joe... what do you know about Major Kincaid?"

"Major Kincaid?" Joe repeated, puzzled. "What do you mean? Is he one of you?"

Methos shook his head. "No..." he said slowly. "But there's... something about him..." The ancient Immortal frowned, and then shook his head again. "It's probably nothing. Or if it does mean something, it'll have to wait until we find Duncan."

Joe took a deep breath. "And if the Taelons do have him?" he demanded. "What then?"

Methos stopped and looked at him, and Joe froze in his tracks. The expression on Methos's face was mild, but the look in his eyes...

"Then the Taelons will be taught a lesson they won't ever forget."

He'd been right. If they didn't find Mac fast, Methos would loosen the reins - and the Horseman known as Death would be unleashed upon the world.

Part Three

For the past hour, there had been silence in the room. MacLeod had given up trying to get Derek and Mark to talk. They were too lost in their own fear to listen to what he had to say.

Suddenly, there was a noise at the door of the storeroom.

From their position on the floor, leaning against the far wall of the room, three sets of eyes darted towards the sound of the door of their makeshift cell as it was flung open. Two sets were terrified, the third calculating.

The half-conscious form of the youth who had been the most vocally damning of the 'jack-booted Volunteer thugs' was half-carried, half-dragged into the abandoned storeroom that had been their prison cell for the last two hours.

Duncan MacLeod looked at the boy - he looked to be barely twenty - who had been selected by these animals to demonstrate their intent of inflicting as much psychological terror as they could on their captives. Through the ragged mess that was all that was left of Tommy's shirt, Duncan clearly saw the imprint made by a combat boot that had obviously connected with unprotected ribs.

Swearing softly, Duncan strained at the magnetic cuffs that held his hands restrained behind his back. There had to be something he could do. These children were no match for these animals.

Once the two Volunteers that had dragged Tommy into the room had left again, wearing self-satisfied expressions that made MacLeod's blood boil, he scrambled to his feet and made his way over to Tommy's slumped form as quickly as he could.

Awkwardly, he dropped to his knees and twisted his body so that he could use his fingers to check for a pulse. It was there... weak and thready, but it was there.

His head snapped up as the door was flung open once again. The so-called leader of this band of Volunteers - the one who had had the presence of mind to call for help when in the bar - swaggered into the room.

Eyes clearly indicating that he was relishing the reversal of fortune that had befallen the do-gooder that had done his best to spoil their fun in the bar, Colin Fraser looked down at MacLeod and the vulnerable position that he now found himself in and said, "So... you're still trying to be the hero, tough guy?"

Knowing full well what the outcome of talking back would be, Duncan MacLeod did it anyway.

"And you believe I'm going to care what you think? A coward and a bully-boy? Someone who has to prove the rightness of his cause by beating defenceless children who have no chance of standing up to you in a fair fight?!"

Fraser's eyes narrowed and he scowled furiously. This man refused to acknowledge the truth. No matter... he would be persuaded. He turned to two of his cadre of fellow Volunteers and said, "Bring him."

As he was yanked roughly to his feet, MacLeod - much to the annoyance of the Volunteers - had a half-smile on his face. What they didn't realise that they were doing exactly what he wanted them to do. They were focusing on him and leaving the kids alone.


Sandoval's head turned at the call. He watched as one of his Volunteers hurried across the room towards him. He and a hand-picked team of Volunteers had set up shop in the local Volunteer recruitment centre. They weren't exactly in the way.

In recent months there had been a sharp decline in the numbers of people wanting to join the Volunteers. Well... the 'right sort' of people, anyway. They still attracted all the fanatical thugs they wanted - in fact, it was amazing how many of them got past the psych screenings.

"What is it, Volunteer?" demanded Sandoval.

"We may have caught a lucky break, sir. We've got a positive ID on one of the rogue group that was in the bar.

"His name is Colin Fraser; he was a staff-sergeant here in the Seacouver Volunteer division. His supervising officer put him on a mandatory two-week stand down subject to a full psych work-up."

Eyes suddenly intent, Sandoval used his CVI to search through the reams of data that his head contained about the Volunteers. He looked at monthly updates of the global Volunteer roster. Even with his CVI doing the work for him, that much information always came with the price of an excruciating headache - but occasionally it was worth the discomfort.

Sandoval gave a feral smile. Fraser was a local. He'd only ever had one duty assignment away from Seacouver and that was as a lab security officer on the mothership, but he'd been back home for ten months now. They had a place to start. Raising his voice, he said, "Can I have everyone's attention, please?"

Silence fell as though somebody had flicked a switch. Agent Sandoval had been in a rage for hours. Nobody was about to do anything to aggravate him any further than necessary.

"One of the rogue Volunteers in the bar has been identified as Staff-Sergeant Colin Fraser from the Seacouver Volunteer Division.

"He's lived here all his life. His father worked in the warehouse district in the south of the city. I want searches done on every single building in that sector of the city that is capable of being a bolt-hole for this group.

"At the same time, I want a thorough background search done on Fraser's father. Where did he work? For what companies? Do any of those warehouses still exist? Are any derelict?

"Somebody notify the police as to what we're doing and why. They have the local knowledge, and could quite possibly find the information we need in a shorter period of time."

Sandoval's eyes surveyed the room with an almost laser-like intensity. His voice was soft but his tone was chilling as he said, "I want these rogues found. I want their hostages returned safely. And I want this done by day's end. Is that clear?!"

A quiet chorus of "Yes, sir"s echoed round the room before the Volunteers quickly got back to work.

A bucket of cold water roused Duncan MacLeod from his state of near-unconsciousness. Wearily, he staggered to his feet and prepared for the next round. He'd lost track of time... it had probably only been an hour or two, but it felt like he'd been fighting for days.

Exhausted, his eyes focused on the side wall of this ad hoc arena that he had been thrust into when the Volunteers had dragged him from the storeroom that had become his prison. For some reason, pride and sheer pig-headedness probably, he'd been freed from his restraints. The leader - Fraser - was shrewd enough to realise that he wouldn't run, not if it meant leaving the kids in the tender care of the Volunteers.

Instead, each of the Volunteers had decided that he was going to be the one to bring down the do-gooder, that the ease with which he had been besting them in the bar was just a fluke. He'd knowingly risked their wrath by not holding back; worst come to the worst, they'd take their rage out on him and not the kids.

They'd quickly learned the error of their ways, and that was why there were still at least two semi-conscious forms propped against the side wall of the warehouse.

Seeing Fraser and his two senior 'officers' - if they could be called that - coming towards him, Duncan shifted his feet slightly and fell once again into a ready fighting stance. It looked like playtime was over. Those were combat knives in their hands, and it looked like the odds had changed on him yet again.

One on one had changed to two on one, and now, it seemed to be three on one, with those 'three' armed to boot. Duncan schooled his face into his best impersonation of the Old Man's blank expression, striving to mask his sudden fear. Not of the weapons, or the stacked odds; in his lifetime he'd seen - and overcome - much worse. No, what he feared was what would happen when they saw what happened when they cut him - and with odds like these, that was bound to happen.

So far, the Immortals had kept a low profile during the Companion Era - even the more ambitious and evil ones. It had been the one occurrence in the whole span of history that had actually managed to shock their entire race. They had long been accustomed to being the most unique lifeforms on the planet - but times had changed.

The Taelons had never heard of the Immortals, let alone got their hands on one. It looked like that was due to change in the very near future.

Duncan thought furiously, but could think of no way out of the mess that he was in. The Taelons had introduced a new fear into the collective consciousness of the Immortal race. Capture.

Oh, the mortals had come close to learning about them on several occasions, that was true enough. By and large, though, the worst problems humanity had produced were the rogue Watchers - and even they had the sense not to let the secret of the Immortals go public.

The Taelons were a new terror. In all their history, beheading had been the only way to kill an Immortal. These were alien beings, and all reports to the contrary, they were not benign beings of good. They had the technology, the capability and the ruthlessness to do great harm, and now, barring a miracle he was going to be experiencing their hospitality in the near future.

Another fear crossed Duncan's mind, well... more a wry thought of condolence to the bad guys. Methos would not let his kidnapping by Volunteers go; if he discovered that he had been handed over to the Taelons... Duncan winced. The Old Man would not be a happy camper - most sensible people would run for cover at that point.

Fraser grinned at the wince, and MacLeod saw him do it. Fraser had obviously mis-interpreted his reaction as fear. I'm not scared you're going to hurt me, you cretin. I'm scared of what's going to happen when you cut me and I heal. You, personally, are the least of my problems.

Calling on every bit of the skills he had learned over the past four centuries, Duncan managed to last ten minutes without being injured. Of all things, it was a minor victory that led to his downfall. One of Fraser's cohorts whom he had knocked to the ground stumbled into his side when staggering to his feet. Duncan felt himself falling off balance, and that was when Fraser's knife embedded itself in his upper arm.

There was a sort of momentary truce as everyone took this injury as a chance to regroup. Sighing, Duncan bowed to the inevitable, and firmly grasping the hilt of the knife, pulled it from his arm and flung it to the floor with a hiss of pain.

Fraser and his thugs gaped at him in amazement, and Duncan saw Fraser do a literal double-take as he realised that the wound was not gushing blood as it should; that it was, in fact, healing in front of their very eyes.

"What the hell?" breathed Fraser. Duncan just stood there with a resigned expression on his face. Speculation gleaming in his eyes, Fraser snapped his fingers at one of his thugs and said, "Knife. Now."

He stepped towards MacLeod and snapped, "Get the cuffs back on him and hold him still."

Faces perplexed, his two senior accomplices did so. Their faces betrayed more than a bit of confusion when Fraser literally cut the sweat-soaked shirt from the prisoner's back. Then they saw him make a firm diagonal cut on MacLeod's back. In spite of themselves, they were more than a little impressed when the man betrayed nothing more than a slight hiss of pain. Then, they saw for themselves what Fraser had obviously realised. A wound just didn't do that.

Fraser, eyes gleaming with feral pleasure, turned and called, "Wallace, get a call through to one of our friends on the mothership. I want to talk to Mit'gai."

Fifteen minutes later, an extremely angry Mit'gai was mollified about the presumption showed by his former lab security officer when Fraser demonstrated the 'unique' characteristic of his prisoner.

Alien eyes gleaming with anticipation, Mit'gai said, "I want the specimen on the mothership within the hour. I'll inform Zo'or. And Volunteer Fraser, if the others you took do not exhibit this one's characteristics - kill them."

The communication ended and MacLeod turned to Fraser, half-pleading, half-demanding, as he said, "No! Dinnae hurt those kids!"

Fraser ignored him and turned to one of the Volunteers who hadn't fought MacLeod - and hence was still standing - saying, "Take Rodriguez with you, Novak. Check them. If they aren't as 'interesting' as Mr. MacLeod here, shoot them."


MacLeod made an effort to charge down Fraser, but was clubbed from behind for his trouble.

Eyes cold, Fraser looked down at his unconscious form and said, "I want him cleaned up, placed in full restraints, and gagged. And I want him ready to leave this place within the hour."

He then turned to another trio of Volunteers - these ones exhibiting cuts and bruises courtesy of their earlier run in with MacLeod.

"Get the portable portal set up outside the building on the left-hand side of the grounds and then start packing up ready to leave. If we can't carry anything with us, destroy it. No traces, people."

"Colin - I mean, sir - why not set the portal up inside, where there's more cover?"

"Because, Radcliffe, once Novak and Rodriguez have dealt with our other guests, they're going to be rigging up a signal that will give fake life-signs to any Volunteer equipment doing a sensor sweep.

"It won't take your team that long to get things taken down and squared away. You should have plenty of time to set some booby-traps for the police and the Volunteers.

"They'll be looking for us, and they'll realise that I know this area soon enough. After that, they'll go through a process of elimination till they settle on this place.

"That should give us just enough time to arrange a very warm welcome for our former brothers. Now move!"

Exactly one hour later, the rogue Volunteers were ready to depart their bolt-hole. The place was rigged ready to blow and the three unfortunates from the bar had been dealt with - a single shot each to the head at point blank range. Messy, but quick.

Novak and Radcliffe had found themselves tasked with escort duty for their remaining prisoner. Taking into account his fighting skill and his demonstrably strange recuperative powers, they had been quite thorough in implementing Fraser's instructions.

MacLeod's hands were restrained behind his back with magnetic cuffs. These cuffs had microfibre extensions built into them that connected up to the ankle restraints that the big man wore - he had proven beyond shadow of a doubt that his legs and feet were just as dangerous as his hands. They allowed him a little room to wander along at a sort of shuffling walk, but not enough freedom to act. The sturdy gag he wore finished off his new accessories, but nonetheless, Novak and Radcliffe kept a firm and wary grasp on him as they moved him out. The rage in his eyes at what had been done to his fellow prisoners was almost palpable. They had the distinct impression that if he got loose he'd tear them all limb from limb.

Half the team had already gone through the portal when the sentries called in the report that they'd been half-expecting for the last hour.

"They're here! Cops and at least two full Volunteer squads. Sandoval's with them!"

At that, Colin Fraser blanched a little. Sandoval was the man they had reported to for years, and while right now he was toeing the line as stipulated by the ANA, they all knew that it wouldn't last. When he decided to get back to regular operating procedures, he was not going to be happy with them. Still... it was too late to do anything about it now.

"Double time, everyone!" snapped Fraser. Just because they couldn't warn Sandoval about what was going to happen didn't mean they had to stick around to see the aftermath.

Unsurprisingly, Sandoval had insisted on being part of the assault team that was going through the front door. He and his hand-picked team had rappelled down from hovering shuttles that had popped into normal space mere metres from the main entrance of the warehouse.

A similar team had taken up position at the rear of the warehouse. They made ready to move in once the flanking teams had moved into position. The sensors in the shuttles had picked up multiple life-signs, enough to account for the Volunteers in the bar fight, those who had been called in to help them, and the hostages. They weren't too late.

The two ground teams that were tasked to come in from either flank - consisting of a mixture of police and Volunteers - moved into position as quickly as they could. It was one of the Volunteers on the team on the left flank that caught - out of the corner of her eye - the flare of a portal being used.

Bringing her field glasses to her eyes, she zoomed in on the location just in time to see one of the hostages - in full restraints - being dragged to the portal by two of the rogues. He was struggling madly, his face a mixture of rage and terror - but his gaze wasn't focused on his captors. Instead, he was staring at the warehouse with a look of intense desperation on his face.

Putting it all together, Andrea Turner broke position and ran towards the team about to breach the front entrance of the warehouse, fumbling for her communications gear as she did so, screaming, "It's a trap! All teams abort! It's a trap!"

She was just seconds too late. She saw the door explode outwards as the advance pair triggered some sort of booby trap. Andrea also saw that there was one person she could reach in time. Sandoval.

For just that split second after she'd sent her warning he must have turned his back on the warehouse, ordering the remainder of his team back to a safe distance. He hadn't seen that the first of the traps had already been sprung.

Thanking her lucky stars that she had been a track star at school, Turner put on another burst of speed and launched herself at the unsuspecting agent, knocking him down. She never saw the team at the back breach another booby trap - this one causing a chain reaction that levelled the warehouse.

She also never saw the aftermath of the explosion. The concussion from the blast knocked her clear of Sandoval and she landed head first on the hard ground outside the warehouse, breaking her neck instantly on landing. She never knew that four of her fellow Volunteers had perished in the explosion or that several police officers had been hit by flying debris.

Nor did she know that while she had succeeded in saving Sandoval's life, she hadn't succeeded in keeping him from all harm. A sliver of metal sheared from a girder from within the warehouse had lodged in Agent Sandoval's back, very near his spine. The onsite medics worked furiously to stabilise him, but the prognosis wasn't good.

Fraser and his team found subdued mayhem on the mothership. Reports were beginning to come in of the atrocity at the warehouse in Seacouver, and that Sandoval had been seriously injured. Deciding that - even though they had friends on the ship - discretion was the better part of valour, they quickly deposited their prisoner in Mit'gai's private laboratory and headed for a secure portal to get back down to Earth and go to ground. Zo'or was not in a good mood; the mothership was not exactly the safest place for them to be.

Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod found himself manoeuvred into position by two impassive Volunteers and bound - neck, wrists and ankles - to what was obviously a medical bed. These same Volunteers used laser cutters to quickly and efficiently cut his trousers and the T-shirt that one of the rogue Volunteers had handed him - to replace the shirt that Fraser had ruined - from his body.

Lying there in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts, completely restrained, and confined in the Taelon mothership, Duncan had never felt so alone. Unable to stop himself, he shivered.

The face that suddenly appeared in front of him did nothing to ease his anxiety. This was the Taelon that Colin Fraser had called - Mit'gai.

This was the first Taelon that he had ever come into contact with, and he filled MacLeod with dread. Over the years, he had seen much of the worst that mankind had been capable of doing to itself. Torture and terror had been something that humanity had perfected, as had depravity and the unconscionable. The blue glowing eyes that assessed him like a lab specimen were eerily familiar. The last time that he had seen eyes like that had been in Nazi Germany. It had been a meeting in passing at an Embassy ball - and if he'd known then what he knew now, Dr. Mengele would never have left the party alive.

"Well, will you make life simpler on yourself and tell me how you regenerate your wounds?"

Mac glared up at the blue monster in front of him, entire face screaming his defiance.

The Taelon actually seemed pleased as he said, "As you wish."

He turned away to issue a command to someone that Duncan couldn't see.

The four lasers that cut gashes in his arms and legs caught him by surprise, and feeling no shame, he screamed out at the pain. The beams lasted for about ten seconds and then stopped. He could feel those eyes on him again, cataloguing, assessing, as the wounds healed in front of the Taelon's watching eyes.

Over the next half an hour, though it seemed like an eternity to him, Duncan MacLeod's body was repeatedly cut with lasers. The beams varied in intensity and in duration, and each time his healing response was calculated.

Blessedly, the burning beams stopped completely. Duncan sagged back in his restraints the best he could, gasping painfully for breath. He felt his heart sink at Mit'gai's next words.

"Initial testing on subject's response to wounds caused by incision is now concluded. Next phase will be to test response to blunt force trauma."

The same two Volunteers that had strapped him down reappeared carrying black truncheons - kind of like the ones British police officers used to use, a part of Duncan's mind noted abstractedly.

He let out another scream of pain as both his shin bones were shattered at the same time...

Forty minutes later, Duncan was literally shaking as the spasms of pain ran through his body. Every wound healed, but the constant pressures on his body by repeated healing was also taking its toll.

Then Mit'gai decided to escalate things. A long cut was made along the muscle of his right upper arm, and before it had the chance to heal, clamps were moved into place to keep the flesh pulled back, and then a laser cut at the bone. Never had he felt anything so painful, and he was literally shaking when the clamps were taken away and the length of time he took to heal was measured once again.

Mit'gai then obviously decided to get creative. As the laser cut down the centre of his chest, MacLeod realised that Mit'gai seemed convinced that he had all the data he needed and was ready to see what happened when fatal wounds were applied. The torture had just entered a new phase. Once Mit'gai saw him revive...

He'd screamed himself hoarse already, and, as the latest wave of pain crested over him, MacLeod gave in to death, mind crying out, Methos! Help me!

Part Four

Methos followed Joe into the main room of the suite he would be sharing with the mortal, Amanda, and Nick Wolfe. Ignoring the drawn swords of the six other Immortals in the room - they were all more than a little bit on edge - he scanned the room and then headed for the most uncomfortable-looking chair and sat down. He was exhausted - he'd been up for more than thirty-six hours straight at this point - but he couldn't afford to give in to the exhaustion. Not while Duncan - and, by extension, the entire Immortal race - was in danger.

He was distantly aware of the surprise on Connor MacLeod's face, and the confusion on the faces of Cory Raines and Gina and Robert at his dismissal of their presence, but paid no heed to it. It wasn't important.

"Adam," Amanda said, giving him a quick nod, and then turned her attention to the other new arrival. "Hello, Joe," she greeted the Watcher, giving him a quick peck on the cheek.

"Amanda," Joe replied, and then nodded to the other two Immortals he was acquainted with. "Nick, MacLeod, good to see you. I only wish the circumstances were better."

"You and me both, Dawson," Connor MacLeod said gruffly. Nick Wolfe - whom Methos tended to think of as 'Amanda's baby Immortal' - simply nodded. No surprise there - Wolfe and Joe respected each other, and liked each other well enough - as long as it was at a distance. That was Amanda's fault, as far as Methos had been able to find out; Joe and Wolfe's first set of meetings hadn't been under the best of circumstances.

"Gina, Robert, Cory, this is Joe Dawson," Amanda continued blithely. "Joe..."

As she continued with the introductions, Methos leaned back in the chair and studied the group.

Six Immortals - four of whom he knew personally - and one mortal 'semi-retired' Watcher. Eight of them in all, including him. Not a large group - certainly no one looking at them just at the moment would believe them capable of taking on the Taelons, much less winning. Yet Methos had the uneasy feeling that that was exactly what they were going to have to do.

Of course, as a group they did have a few aces up their sleeves - and he in particular had more than the rest of them combined...

Amanda stepped over to him, focusing his attention back on the conversation going on around him.

"Connor, Cory, since you didn't get a proper introduction at the portal terminal, I'd like you both to meet Adam Pierson," she said, giving Methos a slight, conspiratorial smile. "Adam, as you already know, these two 'gentlemen'," Methos could hear the amusement in her voice at the term, "are Duncan's cousin Connor, and Cory Raines."

"Nice to meet you at last, Pierson," Connor said. "Duncan's told me a bit about you. He mentioned you used to be a Watcher..."

Methos simply nodded.

"Well, now that the introductions are over," Connor continued, turning back to the rest of the group, "we need to--"

"MacLeod," Methos interrupted him sharply. As all of them turned to stare at him, he pulled two pieces of paper from the pocket of his jeans - this wasn't the sort of information he was about to commit to a global. "The first things we're going to need are supplies." He glanced down at the papers, and then handed one to Gina and the other to Cory Raines. "Gina, you and Robert get the items on that list - I've included the names of some possible suppliers. Raines, you do the same with this one. I want the three of you back here within four to five hours at most. I have a feeling that we don't have very much time."

Everyone - including Joe and Amanda - gaped at him, startled by his sudden, forceful assumption of authority.

For the most part, Methos's personal preference was to guide and advise, not to lead - it had been so since before the Horsemen. Being a leader - even of only a small group - put one, for all intents and purposes, in the spotlight. That drew attention, which was something that Methos, the oldest living Immortal, avoided assiduously.

In the present situation, however, he didn't have much of a choice. In order to rescue Duncan and ensure that the Taelons left Immortals alone in the future - for Methos was becoming more and more convinced with every passing second that the Volunteers had already turned Duncan over to the Taelons, though he couldn't explain to himself, let alone anyone else, where the feeling was coming from - they were going to have to use the plan that Methos had spent the past several years developing; a plan that required that the other Immortals involved obey his orders without question and without hesitation. Which in turn meant that he had to establish himself as the group's leader now, before someone else - like Connor - took the role.

There would be no time for discussion or arguments over leadership later.

His main concerns were Connor, Raines and Wolfe. Gina and Robert trusted him - well, Gina trusted his 'devious mind', at least, and Robert would follow her lead; and even if they hadn't had any idea of how clever a tactician Methos could be, Amanda - and Joe, for that matter - would follow him. After all, not only did the two of them consider him a friend, they also knew who he was, which the others didn't. To Connor, Raines and Wolfe, he was 'Adam Pierson', Duncan's unassuming and comparatively - to Connor and Raines, at least - young friend. Just because he was the one who had called them all here didn't automatically grant him the authority - in their eyes - to take charge.

Of course, if he told them who he really was, Methos had no doubt that they'd pay attention then. But that was something he had no intentions of doing if he could help it. If it became necessary - which was, unfortunately, a definite possibility if his plan was to succeed - he'd tell them then... but not before.

"Well?" he said pointedly, gazing back at them calmly. "I'm quite serious when I say that I don't think we have much time. We're going to need those supplies."

There was a long pause, and then, "You have a plan?" the only mortal in the room demanded.

Thank you, Joe; you couldn't have done better if I'd coached you myself! Methos thought, pleased. "Of course! This is me, Joe. Have you ever known me to be without a plan?"

Joe gave him a tight smirk. "Does the phrase, 'I wasn't thinking, I was improvising' ring any bells?" the Watcher returned.

Methos winced slightly at the reminder of how badly he'd misjudged Christine Salzer's hatred of Immortals. Despite his apparent calmness throughout the whole mess with Kalas, Christine and the portable database, he'd been as panicked as Mac, Amanda and Joe. He'd simply hidden it better. Much better. "That was different, Joe. How was I to know she'd go sideways on us like that?"

Joe shrugged. "I know, I know, you're 'just a guy'. And I do have to admit that that was the only time I've ever seen you without a plan, even if that plan is just 'do nothing'."

"Trust me on this, Joe - that's not the plan this time." Methos met the Watcher's eyes. "We're going to get Duncan back." And teach the Taelons a lesson I intend to see that they never forget.

"So you've got a plan," Connor said, his tone aggressively neutral. "What is it?"

"First of all, we find out where Duncan's being held," Methos replied, leaning back in his chair and letting himself appear relaxed. It would help put the older Highlander more at ease. "Joe's got some friends among the higher-ups in the Atlantic National Alliance, one of whom is from a Watcher family and so knows about us. They're going to be paying close attention to the search for the rogue Volunteers, and will let us know as soon as something happens.

"Meanwhile, it's quite possible--" More like 'absolutely certain'-- "that we may find ourselves facing at least a squad of Volunteers - perhaps even some Taelons - in the process of rescuing Duncan. To deal with that sort of situation, we're going to need some specialized equipment, which is where Gina and Robert - and Cory - come in. The three of you need to get as much of the items on those lists I just gave you as you can within the next few hours. The suppliers I have listed there - those that are still in operation, at least, as it's been a while since I've had any dealings with them - are the sort that won't ask questions, for the most part. Any that do, just say that the South Wind blew past, and they'll get what you need."

Methos was aware of the fact that the entire group was staring at him, bemused by his last sentence, but he ignored them. Not even Duncan knew about the connections he had with the Resistance.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" he demanded, giving the deValicourts and Cory Raines a pointed look. "We don't have much time!"

Hubble Urick took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he stared at the screen.

It was a disaster. An absolute, utter disaster.

He'd only been back at his office in the White House five minutes before his aide had walked in with information concerning the operation in Seacouver - almost all of it bad.

The three youths who had been hostages with MacLeod had been killed; the rogue Volunteers had escaped with the Immortal - and obviously knew that there was something unusual about him, or they would have just killed him and left him with the others; and a great many police officers had been killed in the assault on the warehouse the rogues had been hiding in.

The only bright spot to the entire mess was the news that Agent Sandoval - humanity's greatest traitor - had been critically injured, and while he had been rushed to hospital, his situation was apparently quite grave.

Opening his global, he made two quick calls - one to Renee Palmer, to inform her of the full extent of the situation, and one to Major Kincaid, to ask that he meet Hubble and Renee outside the Regency Hotel. At Renee's suggestion, he mentioned nothing of Sandoval's condition to Kincaid.

Then, standing up, he headed back out of his office, instructing his aide to contact him if there was any further news of the situation in Seacouver.

Methos scowled as he stared down at the grain of the tabletop.

Gina and Robert - and Cory Raines, whom he'd sent after the non-essential items - had left half an hour ago on their shopping expedition. Amanda was in the bedroom she and Nick had chosen, unpacking. Joe was finally - and none too soon, in Methos's opinion - putting the word out on the Watcher network that Duncan had been kidnapped. Nick and Connor MacLeod were on the other side of the main room, talking to each other quietly - and judging from MacLeod's frequent glances in his direction, Methos figured that they were most likely discussing him. Not that the older Highlander would learn anything about him from Nick. Amanda understood the concept of 'discretion' a great deal better than Duncan did.

As for him... well, there wasn't much of anything he could do but twiddle his thumbs until they found out what was happening with Duncan. He needed details to build on in order to ensure that they managed to rescue Duncan - and deal successfully with the Taelons - without risking themselves too much in the process. That was the only reason he'd granted Joe the twenty-four hours in the first place.

His scowl darkened.

Most of the time, Methos could be patient, which was a virtue that one could hardly avoid acquiring over the course of 5,000 years. Most enemies made during the course of a mortal lifetime could be escaped or evaded by the exercise of a bit of patience. After all, even a mortal with a long life still lived only a small fraction of Methos's lifetime.

But there were situations when he simply couldn't afford the time to be patient. This was one of them, and the fact that he had no choice but to wait was grating on what little patience remained to him.

"Adam," came a quiet voice from beside him, and Methos reined in his frustration and turned to look at Joe.

"What is it?" he demanded, knowing that he sounded curt - but also knowing that Joe would understand.

"Why don't you try to relax for a bit?" the Watcher suggested softly. "At a guess, I'd say that you haven't slept at all since your friend called to tell you what happened to Mac - and you had a full day at the university before that. I know better than to think that you'll sleep - but the better rested you are, the better off we'll all be."

Despite the situation, Methos couldn't help but smile at that. There were times when Joe reminded him very much of Mac. Both seemed to have this absurd need to mother-hen him at times, ignoring the fact that he'd been taking care of himself millennia before either of them had been born. Not that that had ever stopped him from taking advantage of it whenever he felt like it.

Now was, however, not one of those times; but before he could reassure Joe that he'd be fine, Nick interrupted from the far end of the room, where he and Connor had been scanning through the channels available on the room's vidscreen.

"I think you'd all better come take a look at this," the young Immortal said grimly, urgency clear in his tone.

Methos, Joe and Amanda all hurried over.

The image dominating the vidscreen was one of absolute devastation. The remains of what was most likely a warehouse smouldered away in the background, with bodies littered around it like broken dolls; while the foreground was dominated by emergency vehicles, a Taelon shuttle, and a reporter whom Methos recognized - one of Seacouver's local news anchors.

"Listen!" Nick added, turning the volume up.

"We are standing at the corner of Elm and Highland, where an hour ago, a raid by a combined unit of police and Volunteers on a warehouse believed to have been the hideout of a group of rogue Volunteers has resulted in massive casualties, including three of the four hostages the group was holding. The hostages were taken almost sixteen hours ago from a bar in downtown Seacouver after a minor altercation between them and the rogue Volunteers.

"According to the report of one of the shuttle pilots participating in the raid - one of the few people involved to emerge relatively unscathed - the warehouse was turned into a massive trap for the raiding party; and the rogue Volunteers fled the scene via a portal - taking with them the fourth hostage, a local businessman by the name of Duncan MacLeod - moments before the explosions that destroyed the warehouse began.

"Aside from the three hostages - who were, according to the forensic experts now on the scene, shot to death before the rogue Volunteers' escape - there have been a large number of fatalities among the raiding party, most of them officers of the Seacouver Police Department, and an even larger number of wounded - including the unit's leader, Companion Agent Ronald Sandoval, who is said to be in very critical condition at Mercy General.

"This is Patti Fraiser, signing off, from Seacouver, Washington State."

There was a long moment of silence as the report finished and Nick, scowling furiously, shut off the screen; and then the only mortal in the room said softly, "She doesn't like Volunteers much, does she."

"No, she doesn't," Methos agreed. "But she at least knows how to be subtle about it." Certainly it was more than he could say for Greg Harper, the current leader of the Seacouver Resistance cell, who had to stay underground because he was known to despise Taelons and Volunteers.

His attention wasn't on Joe's observations, however. Instead, he started cursing under his breath in Etruscan, ignoring the curious look MacLeod shot him, wishing both the rogue Volunteers and their masters, the Taelons, to perdition.

There had been absolutely no reason for them to keep Duncan alive - unless they had discovered something unusual about him. Unusual enough to approach the Taelons with in an effort to gain forgiveness for the public relations disaster they had precipitated. Duncan's Immortality - or certain aspects of it, most likely the rapid healing effect - would definitely serve.

Abruptly there was a knock at the door, interrupting Methos's cursing spree just as he was starting to get a good head of steam up.

Joe started to move away from the group around the screen to get it, but Methos was faster. He didn't think that whoever was knocking was a threat, but there was always that chance; and he could recover from being shot or stabbed a great deal quicker than Joe could.

"Who is it?" he called through the door, motioning Joe to get back to the safety of the rest of the Immortals.

"Hubble Urick," came the reply.

From behind him, Methos heard MacLeod hiss in surprise and whisper, "The Chief of Staff?!" to Joe, but he ignored that - as he had the looks the older Highlander had been giving him - and opened the door to find not only Urick, but Renee Palmer and Major Liam Kincaid as well.

"Come in," he invited, stepping aside to let them enter. He carefully hid the touch of confusion he felt as Kincaid brushed against him.

He doubted that the other Immortals in the room would feel anything from Kincaid - he was more sensitive to Quickenings and energy fields than any other Immortal he'd ever met - but there was very definitely something strange about the major. Standing close to him, Methos could feel an energy radiating out from him - an energy that felt unlike both an Immortal's Quickening, and the faint hint of presence that pre-Immortals had. He'd never felt anything like it from a human - or an Immortal - before.

An interesting puzzle, he reflected thoughtfully, as he closed the door behind the three mortals and turned back to face the rest of the group. But one that will have to wait.

Liam glanced around the suite as he followed Hubble and Renee in. Dawson and three other people whom he recognised from the portal terminal - they'd been three of the six who'd been with Pierson over by the SUV - were standing at the far end of the room, next to the vidscreen.

The woman was the one who had waved to Dawson, and one of the men was the one who'd pulled her arm down. The other man...

Liam felt a definite sense of wariness fill him as he studied the other man in the room. He had dark sandy-coloured hair, and was wearing jeans, a casual t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Nothing in either the man's dress or his demeanour suggested an explanation for the wariness Liam felt, but something told him that this man could be utterly ruthless when he felt the situation called for it. A very dangerous man.

"Well," Dawson said, as Pierson closed the door and started toward the centre of the room, "guys, these are Hubble Urick, the President's Chief of Staff; Renee Palmer, CEO of Doors International; and Companion Protector Major Liam Kincaid. Hub, Ms. Palmer, Major Kincaid, I'd like you to meet Connor MacLeod," that was the man wearing tennis shoes, "Amanda Montrose, and Nick Wolfe."

Liam heard a slightly strangled sound come from his right, and turned to look at Hubble in surprise, aware that Renee was doing the same thing. President Thompson's Chief of Staff - the man who had stood up to Zo'or on more than one occasion - was gaping at MacLeod and Amanda Montrose in mingled surprise, disbelief... and was that awe? What was going on here?

Dawson grinned at the Chief of Staff, obviously not at all surprised by Hubble's reaction. "We've also got the deValicourts and Cory Raines here - they're just out running some errands," he explained, walking over to the large table in the centre of the room while Liam began to puzzle over Hubble's reaction to the introductions. Dawson sat down and gestured for them to join him.

Liam obediently sat down opposite Dawson, while Hubble and Renee took seats at the foot of the table. Wolfe and MacLeod remained over by the vidscreen, both of them sporting wary expressions, while Amanda Montrose came over to sit next to Dawson. Pierson slipped into the seat between Dawson and Liam, leaving an empty seat between Renee and Liam and between Hubble and Amanda.

"Duncan MacLeod's clan is a large and varied one," Pierson said calmly to Hubble, in what seemed to be a response to his surprise, and then flicked his eyes over the three of them. "You have some information for us, I assume," he continued.

Tearing his eyes away from MacLeod and Amanda, Hubble nodded in response. "Yes, I do," he replied. "It seems the hostages were being held in a warehouse in--"

"--Seacouver, we know," MacLeod growled curtly, leaning against the wall next to the vidscreen. "We just saw it on the news."

Hubble looked surprised at that, Liam noticed.

"The rogue Volunteers killed the other three hostages, booby-trapped the warehouse, and escaped with Duncan just before the cops and the Volunteers raided the place," Pierson added. "There were massive casualties, with a large number of police and Volunteer fatalities. Most of those not dead are in serious condition - or worse.

"In fact," he continued, "even the leader of the raid, Companion Agent Ronald Sandoval, got caught in the explosion. According to the news reports, he's in critical condition."

"What?!" Liam blurted out, shocked.

Pierson blinked at the outburst, and then nodded. "According to what the reporter said, he's in intensive care at Seacouver Mercy General," the young man said slowly, studying him with an intensity that Liam found uncomfortable.

Turning away from Pierson's stare, Liam started to ask Hubble why he hadn't heard about that part of it, only to see Hubble glancing at Renee with a slightly guilty look on his face.

That explained things. He must have called Renee first, and she told him not to tell me anything about Sandoval. And he had a very good idea as to why. He had never forgotten Renee's reactions when Sandoval had been in the hospital with that blood disease, nor how she'd reacted when he and Augur had told her that Sandoval was his father. She knew that he cared about Sandoval, though not why, and probably hadn't wanted him to be concentrating on Sandoval when there was a job to do for the ANA.

Admittedly, there were times when he himself didn't understand why he cared for Sandoval so much - especially after what he'd done to Lili, and that still all-too-vivid torture session on the mothership a few weeks ago - but there it was. After all, Sandoval was the only family he had left - and despite outward appearances, there were some times when he felt very much like the two-year-old he really was.

As soon as this meeting is over, I'm going to Seacouver to see him. I need to know how bad it is. And then, once that's done, I'm going to have a long talk with Hubble about keeping me in the dark concerning things having to do with other Companion Protectors.

Perhaps sensing the sudden tension between Liam and the other two, Dawson spoke up. "Do you have any more information, Hub? It's all very well to know where they were, but what we need to know is where they are - where Mac is."

"Only that the portal they used to escape was a portable--" Hubble started, and then stopped abruptly, staring toward the head of the table.

Everyone turned to look in time to see Pierson suddenly convulse.

"Adam!" Dawson and Amanda cried out in unison, as the young man tumbled off his chair toward them, limbs jerking spasmodically, and crumpled to the floor to lie still. Liam stood up and started to go over, but Amanda beat him to it, and crouching down, reached one hand out to feel Pierson's pulse - only to jump back in shock as he started convulsing again.

Liam leaned over the table anxiously; even though he'd only met Pierson a few hours ago, he'd found himself rather liking the man - anyone who could get on Renee's nerves that easily had to be good people. To his surprise, he saw a few blue-white sparks of static electricity flicker between Pierson and the carpet before the convulsions stopped a second time. He'd thought that all hotels had anti-static carpets to prevent the guests from getting shocked. None of the others appeared to have noticed, so he decided against mentioning it.

"What's wrong with him, Joe?" Amanda demanded, anxiety clear in her voice.

"How should I know?" Dawson responded tersely, standing up as well. "I've never heard of anything like this ever happening before!"

Renee walked around the table and crouched down next to Amanda. "It looks like some sort of seizure. Does Mr. Pierson have epilepsy?"

"Of course not!" Amanda declared in a tone of utter exasperation.

"That's impossible," MacLeod growled at the same time, sounding absolutely certain.

"Or, at the very least, highly improbable," Dawson countered, but it was obvious from his own tone that he was simply playing Devil's Advocate.

"It's ridiculous to think that Adam, of all people, should suddenly develop epil--" Amanda broke off abruptly, cocking her head to one side while her eyes flicked warily around the room.

"What's that?" MacLeod demanded tensely. His hands went to his side in what was obviously an automatic reaction - Reaching for a gun? Liam wondered - and then, when they didn't find anything, clenched into fists. He was also looking around the room, as though at any moment he expected an enemy to pop up from behind the couch or appear on the other side of the drapes.

"I don't know - I've never felt anything like it before," Amanda said anxiously.

"Like what?" Wolfe asked impatiently. "What are you two talk-- Oh, Christ!" he exclaimed suddenly, going white around the mouth.

"What?" Dawson demanded, his expression growing even more concerned. "What's going on? Amanda?"

"I don't know, Joe!" the young woman wailed. "I--"

Once again she broke off abruptly, and then grabbed Renee's arm and pulled her forcibly away from Pierson. "Joe, stand back!" she ordered sharply.

Everyone - except Renee, who was still looking at Pierson with a certain amount of concern - stared at Amanda in confusion, wondering what was going on. A moment later, Renee gave a sudden gasp. "Oh my god!"

Following her gaze, Liam echoed her gasp of shock with one of his own.

Pierson was lying with his arms outstretched, palms upward, and his back arched, obviously in the middle of another seizure; but that wasn't what shocked Liam - and, judging by the reactions of the others, everyone else as well.

Bolts of blue-white lightning were arcing up from Pierson's open palms to impact against his chest, just above his heart.

Later, Liam realised that it hadn't lasted more than a minute or two at the most, but standing there, watching Pierson endure bolt after bolt of lightning shooting through his body, it seemed to last for hours, if not days, before the lightning finally stopped and Pierson went limp again.

"Adam?" Dawson said hesitantly, as Amanda returned to crouch down next to the young man. "Amanda, is he...?"

"He's unconscious," Amanda replied.

"What happened to him?" Renee demanded, as Dawson sank back down into his chair in relief.

MacLeod, Wolfe, Amanda, Dawson - and, to Liam's surprise, Hubble - all looked at each other for a moment, and then Dawson gave a small shake of his head. Hubble nodded slightly - Almost as though acknowledging a silent order, Liam thought suspiciously - and leaned back in his chair, while Dawson turned to answer Renee's question. "I don't know," the older man said. "I've never seen anything like this before."

That's a lie, Liam thought to himself, faintly surprised by the knowledge. Whatever had just happened to Pierson - well, the lightning part, at least - was something Dawson had seen before. And so, judging from the reactions, had MacLeod, Wolfe, Amanda, and Hubble.

A soft moan came from the floor, and once again everyone turned to look at Pierson.

"Adam? You all right?" Amanda asked tentatively.

Hazel/gold/green eyes opened, and Liam found himself stiffening with an unexpected wariness as Pierson's gaze locked onto his. He had the sudden realisation that - despite what he'd thought when he'd first entered the room - MacLeod was not the most dangerous man present. Pierson was.

For just a moment - no more than a few seconds at most - Liam read in those eyes an expression of cold, controlled rage backed by an adamantine will. Then Pierson blinked and the rage was gone, replaced by a determination that was mild, even laughable, when compared with what Liam had just seen.

"What happened, Adam?" Dawson demanded anxiously. "I mean, one minute you're fine, and the next you're having some sort of seizure that, frankly, scared the hell out of me! I've never seen anything like it!"

Pierson shrugged, and then flinched.

"Pierson?" MacLeod questioned sharply.

Pierson hesitated for a long moment, and then let out his breath in a sigh. "It's Duncan. They're..." he took a deep breath, almost a sob, "they're killing him."

Methos had been watching Kincaid, noting the way he reacted to the news that Agent Sandoval had been injured - perhaps fatally - when he felt a sudden... 'tug' on his Quickening. For a moment, he'd wondered if it had anything to do with the peculiar energy signature he was sensing from Kincaid, but he dismissed the thought almost as soon as it occurred to him. This 'tug' was definitely Quickening-related, and Kincaid's energy - whatever else it might be - wasn't a Quickening. So it wasn't the major. But then, who - or what - was--

Abruptly, a surge of pain coupled with a few words and a very familiar sense of Presence sent him reeling back in his seat.

{Methos! Help me!}

It was the link, that damnable Quickening link that had been forged between himself and Duncan in Bordeaux with the deaths of Kronos and Silas. Before this it had been a passive link - it had let them recognise each other's presence, but nothing more than that. In fact, he had almost forgotten it existed - until now.

He focused on the sense of the link, only distantly aware of Joe and Amanda's worried voices, and the fact that his body had fallen to the floor. Whatever it was that had happened to activate the link, the only thing that mattered just now was that Duncan needed him. And in the entire time that they'd known each other, he had only ever been able to refuse Duncan his help once - when it would have done more harm than good.

Forcefully pushing away all thoughts of Ahriman, Methos reached out through the link of entwined Quickening energies, feeling his own Quickening become active as he did so.

The sense of Duncan's presence was very weak - weaker than it should be, even if he was currently dead. Something had been taking a dreadful toll on his Quickening - and Methos had the unpleasant feeling he knew exactly what it was.

If an Immortal was wounded repeatedly in a short span of time, it quite often weakened his or her Quickening to the point where it could take several hours to heal a wound that would ordinarily heal in seconds or a few minutes. Torture would do that. So would 'experimentation', which - in Methos's opinion - was just another name for torture.

Sooner or later - most likely later, due to his weakened Quickening - Duncan would revive, and when that happened, whoever had him would know that they couldn't kill him by ordinary means. And with his Quickening so weakened, whatever they did to him after he revived would be even more painful.

Unless Methos could strengthen Duncan's Quickening through the link.

With that thought, he focused his attention on the link, blocking out the physical world completely, and 'directed' energy from his own Quickening toward it. He was literally able to feel it flowing through the link, and could feel Duncan's Quickening strengthening in response...

And then, abruptly, he felt agony spear through him as Duncan revived. The killing wound had been to Duncan's chest, and Methos could feel their combined Quickenings working to heal it. The agony mounted, as he felt flares of pain from all the areas of Duncan's body where his Quickening had been overstressed, and then died down again. The pain didn't disappear completely, but it was much muted, and he found himself re-focusing on the physical world again.

He could hear Joe and Amanda talking - they sounded worried. He forced his eyes open, unable to keep a soft moan of pain from escaping as he did so.

The first person he saw was Major Kincaid, and as they stared at each other, Methos saw the young mortal's expression suddenly become wary. It took less than a second to realise that the mask of 'Adam Pierson' had been torn away by what he'd just experienced, and to replace it.

He could only be thankful that it hadn't been MacLeod - or Hubble Urick, who along with the rest of the Watchers, had bought into the 'Adam Pierson, somewhat na´ve researcher' persona - who'd seen that all too revealing expression. Kincaid wouldn't know what it really meant - that he was far older than he pretended to be - MacLeod, and most likely Hubble Urick, would.

Joe interrupted his thoughts. "What happened, Adam? I mean, one minute you're fine, and the next you're having some sort of seizure that, frankly, scared the hell out of me! I've never seen anything like it!"

Methos shrugged, looking at the Watcher with an expression of blank incomprehension. Seizure? What does he mean by that? the Immortal wondered, and then flinched as he felt a sudden, though muted, flare of pain through the link. Wherever Duncan was, and whatever had been the reaction to his revival, it appeared that the torture had begun again.

"Pierson?" MacLeod said sharply, and Methos bit back a sigh of furious exasperation.

How the hell am I supposed to explain this?

Easily reading the expressions on the faces of the seven people staring at him, he thought for a moment, and then let the sigh loose. "It's Duncan. They're..." He drew in a sudden breath as he felt another jab of pain. "They're killing him."

The expressions on five of the faces asked the question, 'literally?', and Methos gave them a slight nod.

"How do you know this?" Renee Palmer demanded.

Methos glanced at her. He felt no compulsion to like, much less trust her. Even on just a few minutes' acquaintance, there was something about her that reminded him of Duncan's friend Ingrid Henning, although he suspected that Renee Palmer had always had a great deal more ruthlessness in her than Ingrid had before 1944.

"He just does," Joe put in, before Methos could respond. "'How' he knows is not important. What is important is rescuing Mac."

"And to do that," Methos continued smoothly, taking charge again, "I... we... need to know where he's currently being held." He held one hand up authoritatively, and Amanda grabbed it, pulling him to his feet. "I think we can safely assume that the Taelons have him by now - but there are a lot of different places they could be holding him. At the moment, our only possible leads are in Seacouver."

"I'll go," Major Kincaid volunteered instantly. "As a Companion Protector, I should be able to gain ready access to all the information that they've managed to discover so far."

"Excellent idea," Methos replied, noticing even as he did so that Ms. Palmer didn't look at all pleased about the proposed plan. Not that he cared what she thought, any more than he cared about Connor MacLeod's opinions. "Wolfe, you go with him."

"What?" Nick demanded. "Why me?"

"You used to be a cop, you're still a PI - and Duncan might still be held in the vicinity of Seacouver. It's quite possible that these rogue Volunteers might have only portaled a short distance away," Methos said calmly. And if he is nearby, you'll be able to sense him if you get close enough. And even if he isn't, at least you'll be in a position to keep an eye on Kincaid.

Not that Methos distrusted Kincaid - after all, Urick had as much reason as the rest of them to keep the Taelons from discovering the existence of Immortals, so it would make sense that he would pick people whom he felt he could trust; in fact, Methos found himself trusting Kincaid a great deal more than Ms. Palmer. All the same, there was still the matter of his strange energy signature. Methos definitely wanted more information about this man.

Evidently recognising the fact that it was Methos in charge, not Joe, Urick asked him directly, "What about the rest of us?"

"You and Ms. Palmer both have contacts among the Taelons - and among the Volunteers. Use them," Methos ordered. "The sooner we know where Duncan's being held, the better off we'll be. MacLeod," he added, turning to face Duncan's kinsman, "you'll go with Mr. Urick."

He saw Urick's eyes widen in surprise, and MacLeod's narrow in irritation, but he ignored them both - something he seemed to be getting quite a bit of practice in lately when it came to the elder Highlander. It was obvious from the way Kincaid had reacted to the news about Agent Sandoval that Urick had a thing about 'need-to-know', and they couldn't afford to let something like that get in the way of the search for Duncan. Having MacLeod shadowing Urick would help prevent it.

And it would have the added benefit of keeping him out of Methos's way.

"What about you?" Ms. Palmer asked acidly, as Kincaid and Wolfe both moved obediently toward the door.

Methos smiled tightly. "Joe is going to be getting in touch with his own contacts." And hopefully the Watchers will have found something. "And I..." His smile tightened even further, becoming more of a grimace. "I have some... errands to run."

Part Five

Reviewing the streams of data that had been collected from the various monitoring devices that had been scanning his recently deceased test subject, Mit'gai turned his back on the body on the medical table. He hadn't even bothered to order the restraints removed - he was too intrigued by the recuperative powers displayed by the subject. None of the other human test subjects he had been provided with had ever displayed any such characteristics.

Was this human an isolated case, a genetic aberration? Or had he grossly miscalculated in his previous experimentation? Had he overlooked this potential in other subjects? Mit'gai scowled. No! He had been thorough. No human had ever displayed such abilities.

Could the human race have successfully hidden such a person from their allies? Until this day, he would have discounted such behaviour as beyond their capabilities. Not any more. If they could hide someone with this ability from the Taelons, then what else had been concealed?

His furious musings were interrupted by an unexpected sound... a strangled gasp for breath. Mit'gai whirled around, ready to remonstrate his two Volunteer helpers for daring to disturb him - they knew better. His angry words died on his lips as he stared in surprise. It wasn't the Volunteers. They were staring at the same thing he was, their faces shocked and unbelieving.

One of them shook their head and said, "No! No! That's impossible! He's dead!"

The Volunteers - for once - ignored his menacing glare; focused on what they were seeing, they were seemingly unaffected by his fuming. The one who had spoken before was instinctively backing away as he said, in a terror-filled voice, "It's impossible! He was dead!"

Temporarily ignoring his terrified and currently useless Volunteers, Mit'gai stared at the breathing body on the table. For the first time in his long existence he felt the terror of the unknown - as any being did when they came face to face with something beyond their ability to understand. For over a thousand years, he had experimented on, dissected and terminated species from all across the known universe... and one thing had been constant for all of those species. Death was death.

When the physical body ceased to function, life stopped. Even the Taelons, once they had embraced the void and transcended this level of existence, had no way to return life to the shell that had been the body. Not even Da'an had managed that feat; he had come close once, but had not fully let go of the physical plane, and thus Boone had still been able to reach him.

Moving forward somewhat apprehensively, Mit'gai reached out to touch the face of the human that he had killed. He turned the head as much as he was allowed to do so by the restraint that was still around the subject's neck, and looked into the face of the impossible. The skin around the eyes of the man on the table was still etched by lines of pain, but the eyes themselves were open and aware, not blank with death. They burned dark brown with hatred - it was an emotion Mit'gai had come to know well from the faces of his victims.

The living, aware state of the body on the table was clearly too much for his helpers. One of them whipped out a global, obviously ready to call for assistance. Then his eyes locked with the hate-filled gaze of the subject on the table, and Mit'gai watched with narrowed eyes as the global fell from the Volunteer's suddenly nerveless fingers.

These Volunteers were going to have to be dealt with before he could proceed. They were obviously incapable of dealing rationally with the unexpected resurrection; for which he couldn't fault them - it was outside the realms of his experience as well. But they were also apparently determined to call for outside assistance from their colleagues, and that, he couldn't allow. Assistance from the outside would call Zo'or's full attention to his actions - and he wouldn't allow the insane plans of the Synod leader to interfere with his research. Not this time.

Needing to show that he was in control here - even though he had no idea what he was dealing with - Mit'gai grabbed a primitive human scalpel and plunged it in the human's shoulder. It served as a release for his shaken nerves and distracted the shocked and terrified Volunteers.

Turning his gaze away from his 'prize', Mit'gai then punched in a command to a nearby console. The implants attached to his helpers' necks did their job and - to use the human term - fried their central nervous systems. They collapsed like the empty shells they were. Mit'gai snatched an energy weapon from the body of the Volunteer nearest to him and fired calmly. The bodies dissolved into nothingness. Distraction removed.

Mit'gai then turned back to his subject, studying him, making sure once again that he hadn't imagined the whole thing. He stepped back a pace from the hatred in the man's eyes, eyes that burned with angry defiance; but then regained control and smiled. A challenge. It had been a long time since he had had such a fascinating challenge.

Suddenly, irrationally wanting to remove the expression of hatred from his subject while he contemplated his next actions, Mit'gai fired the energy weapon - which had been resting on the console where he had discarded it - point blank at his subject's chest.

Then, moving back to his control console, he input a whole new series of protocols. He had a subject who could apparently survive death. That talent would be tested, and it would be re-tested; eventually, he would learn how it was accomplished. This talent, though he still had to determine exactly what 'it' was, was potentially the most beneficial thing that his experiments on the humans had discovered. If a way could be found for the Taelons to harness this ability, the death stasis that awaited them could perhaps be avoided for longer, if not completely.

Duncan MacLeod rested his head wearily against the table on which he was restrained. The burning in his chest was abating and the cold hand of the Taelon was gone from his face. The 'doctor' - though that appellation was certainly debatable - had been shocked by his revival, that had been easily apparent. His cool extermination of the Volunteers had been unsettling, to say the least, but Duncan had seen too much senseless death to be truly shocked by it. The Taelon's eyes, though... they scared him. Those cold, cold eyes were full of... The closest words he could think of were 'malevolent bloodlust'. This 'doctor' was ready to unleash torments on him.

Duncan shut his eyes. He wanted to block out the sight of his new personal hell for as long as he could. With desperation, he did his best to hold on to the strength flowing through the link he had with the Old Man, and the feeling of concern that he was sure was behind it.

He could almost sense the unvoiced concern transmute into rage as the ancient Immortal felt the first arcs of electricity that were sent through his body as the Taelon began the next phase of the torture.

He clung desperately to the vestiges of Methos's Quickening that remained within him, and - for once - blessed the memory of the Horsemen. It was thanks to the double Quickening from Kronos and Silas that he and Methos had this link - and he had the sinking feeling that, before long, it was going to be the only thing keeping him sane.

Lapsing into temporary unconsciousness, Duncan's last thoughts were of Methos and the link. The Old Man was coming for him, that was a given. All he had to do was hang on... and he would, for Methos. Methos, who would find him and rescue him - even if he had to temporarily release Death to do it.

Despite the horror that the thought of Death unleashed should have caused, Duncan couldn't find it in himself to be angry, or disgusted, or disappointed at the thought. His friend would do whatever was needed, and that was all that he cared about.

Nick Wolfe glanced curiously at the man that he had been 'assigned' to watch. He was not na´ve enough to be oblivious to the fact that that was why Adam had sent him with the Companion Protector, nor was he na´ve enough to miss the undercurrents going on within his own group.

He'd thought, after meeting all the others at the portal terminal, that either Connor MacLeod - Duncan's cousin - or Amanda - the oldest of them - would be 'in command' of their group.

Cory Raines, whom Nick had met once with Amanda, was a grand-scheme planner, but not very practical. The deValicourts were businesspeople, not warriors or tacticians. Dawson, although both clever and practical, with a knowledge of war and tactics from Vietnam, was mortal. And Pierson was younger than any of them - except possibly Nick himself - and a bookworm to boot, not a fighter.

Or so he'd thought.

That entire scene in the hotel room had been something of an eye-opener. The way Pierson had simply grabbed command spoke of experience; and the way both Amanda and Dawson had instantly deferred to him made Nick suspect that there was a great deal about Adam Pierson that he didn't know. That not even Duncan's cousin knew, since Connor had taken him aside and asked him about Pierson before they'd noticed the news report.

Adam - whomever or whatever he really was - at least had a valid reason for him being here in Seacouver with Kincaid. The Protector was easygoing enough, but there was more than a simple kidnapping/hostage situation going on here. The survival of the entire Immortal race could very well be at stake; precautions were justified, and Adam obviously understood that.

"We're here, Wolfe."

Nick jogged his attention back to the present, nodded at his companion and got out of the car that had been waiting for them at the portal terminal. Once outside, he stretched tired and cramped muscles, shooting Kincaid a rueful grin as the Protector did the same thing.

Wordlessly falling into step at each other's side, he and Kincaid walked through the main entrance of the hospital in Seacouver that was treating the injured members of the rescue team.

Kincaid walked past the camera crews cordoned off by police and Volunteer barricades as though they weren't even there, absently nodding acknowledgements of the greetings offered him by the Companion personnel stationed throughout the hospital. Trained observer that he was, Nick noted the expressions of respect and relief on their faces as they saw someone here with the authority to do something about the attack on their people.

When he and Kincaid emerged from the elevator onto the floor that housed the injured, anticipation seemed to hang in the air. Heads turned to watch the path of the two tall, striking men as they made their way towards the nurses' station. Nick noticed the curious gazes he was getting, but he was more interested in the reaction to Kincaid.

The officious looking nurse currently manning the station had glanced up at the momentary silence that had fallen in the corridors as they walked down, but kept her head buried in her work as they drew closer to her station. When they reached her, Kincaid didn't say anything. He just stood there, waiting.

The nurse eventually looked up, unnerved by his silently looming presence. Nick watched with a slight smile as the irritated greeting she was going to give died on her lips under the steady stare of Kincaid and the Companion ID that he opened and held under her nose. Instead, a quiet voice said, "I'll call Dr. McCormack for you, sir. He's heading the team treating the wounded."

"Thank you."

Kincaid looked around the personnel stationed in the corridor and said in a mild voice, "Senior Volunteer, report now."

A stocky looking man with slightly greying hair at his temples approached, stood to attention, and said, "Volunteer Sergeant Connelly, reporting as ordered, Major."

A few pointed questions from Kincaid soon had the story of the entire disaster laid out. Connelly's voice was controlled and calm, but underneath that was a barely hidden fury. Nick glanced around the corridor and realised it was a feeling shared by the rest of the Volunteers there.

Their entire organisation had been shamed by the actions of these rogues and that had been bad enough. That these self-same rogues had killed innocent civilians, police officers and their fellow Volunteers was not to be borne. They would be called to a reckoning. Justice for the victims - both Volunteer and civilian - of this atrocity demanded nothing less.

Kincaid recognised that fact, and the quiet and determined words he offered the Volunteers did much to calm their barely simmering anger. Nick Wolfe watched and noted it all. Whatever else Adam had intended him to do here, he had learned one thing he had not expected. It was commonly accepted fact that, as an organisation, Volunteers were almost universally despised. He had wondered why Kincaid - who obviously had ANA sympathies at the very least - could have been so upset by the deaths of people who served the Taelons unquestioningly. There had to be something more going on with him... some reason why a man with his ANA and probable Resistance sympathies felt this way and still served as a Companion Protector.

Nick gave himself a silent talking to. He should have known better. He should not have let outside influences shape his own assessments. These Volunteers, at least, were good people and clearly determined to do their duty and bring the guilty parties to justice.

His full attention was drawn back to the matters at hand when he heard his own name being mentioned.

"Sergeant Connelly, this is Mr. Wolfe. I've called him in to help with the investigation."

Nick nodded a silent acknowledgment to the brief greeting that the Volunteer gave him.

"We're going to visit with those of our people that are up to talking, and then I would like you and your deputy to accompany him as he checks in on the injured police officers. It's been few years now, but he is a retired police officer and I'm sure he'd like to check in on his brothers in uniform."

"And where will you be after you talk to the Volunteers, sir?"

"I'll be with Agent Sandoval, Sergeant."

The silence that followed that little bombshell was clearly telling, but Kincaid ignored it and said, "Well then, let's get started."

Forty-five minutes later, making his way down the corridor to the rooms housing the injured police officers, Nick shamelessly eavesdropped on the hushed conversation that was taking place between his Volunteer escorts.

"Did you hear the tone of his voice?" asked Volunteer Robinson.

"Of course I heard it! Keep your voice down," hissed Connelly sharply.

Nick strained to hear the rest of the conversation; and what he heard next was... very interesting. Adam would definitely want to know this.

"How can he be worried about him?! I mean... if the rumours are true, Sandoval tortured him for fun! How can he be anything other than happy about what has happened?!"

"Enough, Robinson. You know better. Just keep your mouth shut."

Nick could almost see the younger Volunteer's sudden recollection of the fact that they had an outsider with them. Silence fell around them as they walked down the corridor, but it was too late for them to retract it now. It appeared as though there might be more going on here than Adam had realised... much more - especially between Kincaid and Sandoval.

The door shut quietly behind him and Liam stared at Sandoval's motionless form as he lay on the hospital bed surrounded by the machines that were keeping him alive. He had to fight not flinch in despair.

Why was it that each time he saw Sandoval like this that he had to fight the overwhelming urge to cry? It wasn't as though Sandoval did - or ever would - treat him the way a father was supposed to treat a son. So why did he care?

Walking forward slowly, Liam pulled over a seat from the side of the room and sat at Sandoval's side. He didn't reach out... he didn't touch... he just watched.

The machines hummed with quiet energy, monitoring Sandoval, breathing for him, feeding him the medications that soothed his pain. Liam's mind drifted back a few weeks - to a chamber on the mothership, and a very different scenario. Him laid out on a table and being tortured by Taelon instruments that were being almost gleefully administered by the man in front of him.

Sandoval had no firm orders to do that other than Zo'or's vague demands for answers; he'd done it because he could, and had shown no remorse afterwards. The physical pain had been bad enough, but it was the new scar to his psyche at the latest atrocity perpetrated on him by his father that he still had trouble with. Liam sighed. Sandoval's actions had been approaching the limits of even his capability to forgive for some time now.

And now he had been injured, perhaps fatally. It could be a release. This might be the end to all the mixed feelings and tortured nightmares. For all his manipulations and machinations, his father could die now, nobly... in the line of duty. Wouldn't that be ironic?

Unable to restrain the urge any longer, Liam reached out with gentle fingers and clasped at his enemy's... his father's... hand. It might be the simple way out, but he didn't want it. He wanted Sandoval. Liam said two words, the only ones that he would utter while in the room.

"Live. Please."

Reaching into the pocket of the black jeans that he was wearing, Liam pulled out something that had hardly left his presence for a year and a half. His mother's pendant. The rune, Sowulo. She had used it once before in another hospital room, when Sandoval had been injured by the atavistic Da'an.

Wordlessly, Liam gently placed it on his father's palm and then closed the fingers into a gentle fist. Watch over him, Mother. Please.

Taking a deep breath, Liam rose to his feet and walked out of the hospital room without a backward glance. It was time to meet up with Wolfe and head back to Washington DC and see what the mysterious and intriguing Adam Pierson wanted done next.

Twenty minutes later, their car pulled up at the portal terminal, with Kincaid and Nick still quietly discussing the information they had gathered from the Volunteers and the police. There was nothing much new to go on; the one piece of information of any importance was one they had already known - that Duncan MacLeod had been portalled out of that warehouse seconds before the assault by the authorities. Kincaid had said that he could, offhand, think of at least half a dozen places they could have gone, including the Taelon mothership.

Kincaid's global interrupted their discussion, and he turned his body slightly to shield his companion from view while he answered it. Nick's eyebrow rose slightly at his companion's next words.

"Zo'or! How may I be of assistance?"

The faint voice of the Synod leader could be heard saying, "Report to the mothership, Major. At once."

"I'm at the Seacouver Portal Terminal, Zo'or. I will on the mothership within the next five minutes."

Kincaid closed his global with a sigh and said, "Sorry about this, Wolfe. Tell Pierson what we've learned and tell him that I'll be back in Washington as soon as I can."

Nick nodded his understanding. After all, there was not much the Companion Protector could do about a summons from the Synod leader.

They made their way into the terminal and Nick watched as Kincaid walked to the start of the queue and commandeered the portal on an emergency override as a serving Companion Protector. Nick waited patiently in the queue, amid the quiet grumblings of the other travellers about 'damn Companion personnel running roughshod over common courtesy' and waited for his portal to Washington DC. He had a report to make to Adam - a report that would cover both the information provided by the survivors, and what he had managed to learn about their ally, Major Liam Kincaid.

"Yes, Zo'or. I understand."

"See that you conduct your investigation with all due speed, Major Kincaid. Dismissed."

Almost absently, Liam nodded his acknowledgement and took his leave of both Zo'or and the bridge.

Well, looks like another complicated situation has just become immeasurably more so...

Liam stifled a sigh as he wandered down the main access corridor to the command deck of the mothership. Zo'or was even more in the dark than the ANA, the Volunteers and Pierson's group were... and that was deeply disturbing.

Zo'or wanted to know why MacLeod had not been killed like the other hostages - a very good question - and why there seemed to be a renegade group of Volunteers operating under direction of another party - another very good question.

There was an outside player involved here, one affiliated with one of the usual factions, but not operating under direct supervision - at least, not Zo'or's. He could read Zo'or well enough to know that the Synod leader didn't have a clue what was going on, and that he didn't like that fact.

Using his global to interface with the main computer and the emergency access codes which were his by right as Sandoval's designated deputy in the event of his incapacitation, Liam began a cursory sweep of the portal records of the Volunteers currently present on the mothership. All the portals on the mothership monitored the IDs and implant profiles of the people that used them...

There was a strong possibility that MacLeod was on board somewhere, and if so, he had to have been brought aboard by portal. It was more than likely that the renegades had used another portable portal, but he had to eliminate the obvious first.

Nothing. No surprise there.

Liam sighed again, not even bothering to hide it, as he checked the power consumption logs. The attack on the warehouse had taken place at about 12 noon Washington time. Any portal use on board the mothership would show up as a spike in the logs, whether it was an official portal or a temporary, 'unofficial' one.

There were a total of three power spikes with the signatures characteristic of ID portal activation in the ten minutes on either side of noon. One of them came from an official portal. The other two were apparently activated in restricted areas of the ship, one near the shuttle bay, the other somewhere around the labs. And he doubted that the rogues would have tried to nab a shuttle.

Liam turned to take the access corridor that led toward the labs, only to be interrupted by the strident tone of his global signalling a message. Flicking it open, he was about to say hi to Hubble when the greeting died on his lips. Hubble looked shaken. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, when Hubble beat him to it.

"Kincaid, get yourself planetside, now! All hell is breaking loose down here!"

To Be Continued...
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Last modified August 29th, 2002.
Trudy A. Goold/