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Diogenes' Lantern

Part 2


Scene 4

The interior of the trailer was all that Kuli's mountain cabin wasn't--cramped and dirty, lit only by a smoky kerosene lantern hung in the center of the ceiling. The sole modern amenity was a chemical camping toilet; a metal pitcher and basin served for shower and bath. The entire unit swayed and creaked with every motion as Joe settled himself in for the night.

{If I kept a dog in a kennel this small, I'd get carted away as cruel.}

He stripped to his shorts and propped his prostheses in the corner formed by the trailer's wall and the alcove that held the bed. Size was the only good feature of his quarters--no part of it was out of reach.

Except maybe the door. Joe eyed the lantern swaying on its hook and wondered what his chances would be if it decided to fall and break. Panic flashed through him at the thought of being trapped in a burning trailer and he fought to keep his shakes under control.

It wasn't fire that truly bothered him; it was nerves, pressure, and the certainty that Kuli had no intention of letting him live. Joe listened to the oil sloshing in the bowl of the lantern and felt for a moment like Dorothy in Oz as she watched the sand run through the Wicked Witch's hour glass.

{A classic no-win situation. If I gain Callie's trust, Kuli will kill me. If I lose the bet, Kuli will kill me. If I say nothing, he'll kill me anyway because I know too much. What I really need right now is Kuli's Watcher to report in--"Hey, guess who my Immortal just kidnapped!"}

Joe sighed. {With my luck, the guy is right now recording the whole thing for Kuli's Chronicles and saying nothing to nobody--just following his instructions to "never interfere."}

A few choice words expressed Joe's opinion of his predicament and his options.

{Bet Mac would be impressed by my efforts. He's not the only one willing to save ladies in distress.}

But would convincing Callie that Kuli was deliberately fooling her really help her? Suppose Kuli wasn't lying--what if he really believe what he said?

Joe lay back and considered those questions. Immortals passed their history and lore through word-of-mouth, Teacher to Student, in a chain probably unbroken since whoever or whatever determined the Rules of the Game. Like any oral tradition, sometimes the story got corrupted in the telling.

{Maybe Kuli is telling her what he was taught. Maybe his Teacher believed that Immortals actually ruled the world; there are stranger things in the Chronicles. Hell--maybe that woman he talked about was Amanda on a wild tear. She'd think it hilarious to tell some pompous ass that he really was a Prince of the Universe.}

Although the mental image of Amanda spinning a tall tale for Kuli made him chuckle, it didn't help Joe decide if the Immortal was mistaken or deliberately lying.

{I might as well pick one and lying just feels right. Kuli's got some scheme and he needs a compliant and deluded woman to help him.}

The thought of Callie Hodges Ayles, preacher's wife and blues singer extraordinaire, being that woman fired his resolve.

{Not while I'm alive. Damn the rules; damn the danger. While I'm at it, damn Kuli, too.}

That settled one question. He rolled over, ignoring the creaks and complaints of the rickety trailer at his shift in position, and considered the other one.

Would telling Callie the truth about her new life help or hurt her? Yeah, knowing about swords and the Game would keep her alive after she got away from Kuli--if she got away from her captor.

Joe grimaced while he faced that nasty fact. Giving Callie the true facts about Immortality probably guaranteed her the same fate he faced--death as soon as it suited Nadir Kuli.

{Good thing he expects me to fail--maybe I can at least give her enough info to keep her alive after Kuli is done with her.}

It wasn't much of a hope but, with the chill seeping into the trailer and only the heat from the oil lamp, a threadbare blanket, and his coat for warmth, Joe was unable to work up any more optimism. He rolled back over and waited for sleep to calm his worries until morning.


Scene 5

The mountains about her were straight out of National Geographic; the meadow at her feet could have been the set for "The Sound of Music" and the late afternoon air was so fresh and light that, if she could bottle it, she would chose it over the finest perfume. Even the companionship of Nadir Kuli, his stories, his deference, and the lovely meals and clothing, were all that she could ask. Callie, however, was deep in thought and barely heard Nadir's tale of how he bested an Immortal and won from him his palazzo in Northern Italy.

Over the past two days, whenever Nadir had been occupied elsewhere, Joe Dawson had filled her ears with another version of Immortality. His stories told of challenges and combat for both men and women, of irrevocable death and a transfer of power called the Quickening, of a final gathering of Immortals that would end in the death of all but one. That one would hold all the memories and power of every other Immortal and would gain a Prize. This, according to Joe, was what drove Immortals although none knew what the Prize would be.

She walked along and tried to sort out how she felt about the two very different versions. Nadir's was simple and compelling--why wouldn't there be something more advanced and more powerful than human beings? After all, evolution went up, not down. It made perfect sense that such evolved beings would have their own separate culture and would be more powerful.

On the other hand, Joe was so earnest. It seemed so very important to him that she believe him and his version. He also was trying hard to be fair about it; he hadn't once mentioned Nadir in a bad way or dumped on him. Callie suspected that Joe thought Nadir was the mugger who killed her; the mortal had let that much slip during one of his hurried chats with her. He also admitted that he could not prove it.

"Some Immortals," he had said, 'hunt down pre-Immortals just for their Quickenings; they're easy prey. Others kill them because a youthful Immortal has a better chance in the Game. A few use new Immortals as bait to trap experienced Immortals."

"You think Nadir wants to use me like that?" she had asked.

Joe had shrugged. "I wish I could tell you. I think it's likely but I can't prove it."

As she walked along, Callie wondered if Joe didn't simply resent Nadir's treatment of him. Maybe Joe's Immortal friend had an ulterior motive for telling him this convoluted myth about Immortals. Maybe that Immortal liked fooling mortals with fancy stories. Nadir's version, after all, was much simpler and easier to believe.

"I don't think you have heard a word that I've said, my princess. What has captured your attention?"

Callie stopped and turned to face Nadir. "Do you know that Dawson thinks you're lying to me about Immortality?"

Nadir smiled. "Oh? Why does he think that?"

She told him all that Joe had said to her. Nadir's smile never drooped, not even when she relayed the mortal's suspicion that Nadir had deliberately murdered her to trigger her latent Immortality.

Telling everything to Nadir drained her and left her shaky and afraid of what she would hear from Nadir.

{Please, let there be a simple explanation. I'm too old to swing a sword and kill people. Make Nadir give me a good reason to believe him.}

"You look frightened. Come over here, sit down, and I'll tell you why that mortal is trying to scare you."

He led her to a low rock ledge and offered her his arm for support. She looked down to pick a comfortable spot then she looked back at Nadir. His wide generous smile eased her worries as she settled down to hear his explanation.

He took her hand and patted it. "I had hoped to spare you this until we were safely away from here and from Dawson but I wasn't aware of how far he had gone. It's time you learned the truth about him and about Watchers."


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