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Covert_Affairs_New_Story

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					  12/11/2010

  Chapter 1

  Part 1 - Prologue

    As we ran across the rooftop of the half-built skyscraper on the edge of
the city of Colombo in exotic Sri Lanka, I couldn’t get the thought out of
my head that had nearly locked my mind in a catatonic loop – I had taken
a human life.
    I had been a field agent with the C.I.A. for four months. And probably
even more relevant – I had suffered my first death and discovered I was
immortal twenty-four days ago. Both could be scarily dark and dangerous,
but neither facet of my suddenly complicated life had forced me to take
another life until today. I had been in almost too many combat situations
to count for such a surprisingly brief period of time, but I had never killed
anyone before. I had used my body as a weapon. I had shot at people
when it was absolutely necessary. Back in Paris, I had created a situation
where Amanda and Duncan had been forced to kill two other Immortals in
an attempt to stop yet another arms deal. However through it all, I had
never killed anyone with my own hands.
    But today, barely five minutes ago, I had killed someone. Oh, he was
an evil arms dealer and certainly deserved ‘death’, as his actions over the
last few years had probably resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not
thousands of people. And I hadn’t been intentionally trying to kill him, but
had merely been trying to keep him from killing Ben as the two fought on
the small, rickety piece of scaffolding cantilevered from the side of the
building. However it was the blow from the section of pipe I had picked up
that had knocked him from the platform and sent him plummeting to his
death.
    How would I ever survive in the world of Immortals, if killing tore me up
like this, I was wondering when my circular thoughts were interrupted by a
shout from Ben.
   “Move it, Annie! There are still a lot of Artigas’ men in the building.”
Then he grabbed my arm and gave a brisk tug in the direction of the
waiting helicopter.
   Jai was helping Professor Sabine into the chopper, as Ben and I reached
them. Immediately, Ben grabbed the dazed Professor’s other arm to hoist
him aboard. I was almost surprised Jai accepted Ben’s help after the near
catastrophic confrontation between the agent and the former agent only
minutes earlier. I knew the men had at one time been friends therefore I
had been disappointed at how calmly Jai had seemed to accept Arthur’s
instructions to take out Ben, if it became necessary. They seemed able to
work together for the moment, but I knew inside that things had to come
to a head before they could truly move forward.
   Abruptly a shot rang out. And then another. The two men reacted
faster than I did. Ben stepped protectively between the shooter and me
while Jai pivoted to return the fire.
   Everything seemed to move in slow motion as the impact of the slugs
into Ben’s back drove his body forward slamming me into the side of the
helicopter. As Ben’s body bounced backwards, I pivoted and grabbed him.
Thankful for the increased strength of my immortal body, I virtually tossed
him into the chopper.
   As I turned, out of the corner of my eye I got a look at the shooter and
instantly recognized him. It was the big, ugly, bald-headed brute I had
danced with earlier. After he had tossed me around for almost a minute,
as my enhanced immortal strength hadn’t been enough to compensate for
the man’s nearly two hundred pound weight advantage, I had ultimately
managed to grab a large construction spike and had used all my might to
slam it deeply into his thigh; taking him out of the action, or so I thought.
   But even as I saw Jai drill two rounds into the big man, I knew I had
had the chance earlier to take him out permanently and hadn’t been able
to do it. If I had known I was going to kill another man within the next
two minutes anyway, would I have held back? Would two deaths have
been any harder on my conscience than one?
    I was still standing by the side of the helicopter, my gaze frozen on
Ben’s crumpled body and my thoughts a turmoil of ‘might have beens’,
when Jai grabbed my arm.
    “Annie, get in. We have to go now!” Jai shouted, as he pushed me
through the large open side of the helicopter.
    I tumbled nearly on top of Ben and then quickly rolled to pull him into
my arms.
    “Ben,” I whispered as I slowly rocked his body, even as the helicopter
made an abrupt jerky departure from the rooftop. At one time, for a long
time, this man had been at the center of my thoughts. Then he had simply
walked away for two years. Finally, only days before he suddenly
reappeared, I had connected with Auggie, so I was much more ambivalent
than I would have been if he had reappeared only a week earlier. But that
didn’t mean I was ready to watch him die.
    “You should have left me,” he whispered back with a grimace, as I
heard Jai shouting into a microphone about a medical emergency.
    Heading out over the ocean, I knew the helicopter we were on was from
the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship with thirty helicopters, eight
Harriers, and more importantly, a six hundred bed hospital. Unfortunately,
Ben couldn’t make it to that hospital and we both knew it.
    “Help me,” he whispered, his voice rapidly losing what strength it had
shown only moments earlier. Almost immediately his body began to
convulse, as he fought to remain conscious and struggle towards the still
open door.
    I wanted to restrain him, to hold him. But from the moment he had
been hit, I think I knew what I was going to have to do. Therefore while
working hard to look like I was trying to restrain his dying movements, I
actually rolled us towards the door. I planted one final quick kiss on his
cheek, as I saw the light fade from his eyes. He was already dead as we
slid out the yawning opening. I caught the edge of the door with one hand
and was left dangling as I watched Ben’s body begin the long, long drop to
the ocean below.
   Only four days earlier, I had been in London on another assignment.
And I had pulled almost the same stunt as Ben. I had used my body as a
human shield to protect Vivian Long, a junior counsel at the American
Embassy, from Patricia Ridley, who was actually Lara Kormen a former
Turkish intelligence operative turned mercenary as I later learned. I had
willingly risked my career, my whole life as Annie Walker. If I had been
shot I would have had to walk away from my old life. But that day I had
gotten lucky and Jai took out my opponent first.
   But today, Ben hadn’t been that lucky. And he had obviously decided in
a split second that saving my old life was more important than his. And he
was doubtlessly right. He would never be fully accepted back into the Firm
after two years of being rogue. But my loyalty wouldn’t be questioned.
So, if one of us had to ‘die’, he was the logical one.
   “Annie, I’ve got you,” yelled Jai, as he grabbed my arm and pulled me
back inside.
   I took one last look down at the distant water, but Ben’s body had
already vanished beneath the waves. And I couldn’t help but wonder when
and where I would next see him again. The old ‘pre-Auggie, pre-Immortal’
part of me hoped it wouldn’t be another two years while the new
‘Immortal’ me suddenly wasn’t particularly bothered if our next encounter
didn’t happen for another hundred years.

  Part 2 – Twenty-one days earlier

   I dropped Auggie off at his apartment before heading home to my
sister’s guest house. Auggie had wanted me to stay and I had thought
long and hard about it, but I had been living out of my carry-on bag for the
five days and definitely needed to pick up some fresh clothes. And,
frankly, after the nonstop events in Paris where I had discovered my
immortality and then entered the blossoming relationship with Auggie, I
desperately needed some ‘alone time’ to think.
    But as I pulled into the driveway and saw the lights still on in the
kitchen of the main house, I knew I had one more task I had to accomplish
before retreating to the comfort of my bed with its deep pile of pillows.
    After parking my car in the garage, I grabbed my overnight bag from
the trunk and walked to the guest house. I had intended to just drop off
the bag before heading over to the main house. But once inside, I decided
to slip into my more comfortable P.J.s and robe first. I debated about a
shower, but decided to postpone it for the moment before I lost my nerve.
    Sliding the door to the guest house closed behind me, I padded around
the pool in my bare feet until I reached the door leading into the mudroom
and then on to the kitchen. I paused for one deep breath and then
opened the door. Quietly I made my way into the kitchen and found my
sister, Danielle, sitting at the kitchen table, a half eaten bowl of chocolate
ice cream in front of her and Jon Stewart doing his opening monologue on
the TV.
    I was several steps into the room when Danielle must have seen my
movement out of the corner of her eye and jumped.
    “Annie, I didn’t know you were back.”
    I smiled. “I just got back five minutes ago.”
    She gestured towards her bowl and then asked. “So how was Paris?
Meet any interesting guys?”
    Danielle only knew about my cover job with the Smithsonian and not my
true job with the C.I.A. So I couldn’t tell her about my adventure at the
Louvre where I had strutted down the fashion show runaway barely half
dressed and then how I had battled against weapons’ dealers who were
trafficking in nukes and nerve gas.
    And if she couldn’t know about the C.I.A., she certainly couldn’t know
about the world of Immortals, which meant I couldn’t tell her about my
death and revival or about Amanda and Duncan.
    Which only left her second question; I definitely could tell her about
Auggie and would have to eventually, as he was an important part of my
life now. But that could wait for morning, assuming my sister and I were
still speaking to each other.
   No, I had come in here about a different matter and I couldn’t let myself
be sidetracked.
   However before responding I got my own dish of ice cream. Everything
was usually calmer and easier when chocolate was involved.
   Sliding into the seat across from her so I could watch her face, rather
than my normal place next to her, I asked. “Where’s Michael?”
   “He’s in Baltimore for a conference. He’ll be back tomorrow evening.
So it’s just us girls tonight. I finally got Chloe and Katia to bed an hour
ago.”
   After one more mouthful I set my spoon down quietly by my bowl.
“Danni, have you always known I was adopted?”
   Back at his barge when Duncan was explaining to me about Immortals,
there were two points he had made clear that were common to all
immortals. First, they couldn’t have children. And second, they were all
foundlings. None of the Immortals had any idea where they came from;
perhaps storks really did leave us on people’s doorsteps as infants. But
wherever we were from, we apparently weren’t ‘born’ in the normal sense.
   And the thought my Mom and Dad weren’t really my Mom and Dad had
been prying on my mind ever since. My sister and I were both blondes,
but aside from that we didn’t look much alike. And our temperaments
were certainly very different with hers being a lot more like our parents,
the more I thought about it. But deep inside I hoped Duncan was wrong
and the differences I suddenly saw between myself and my family were all
just in my head.
   Danielle’s eyes had been on the TV, but now they shot over to me.
“How did you find out?”
   No attempted denial or anything. I guess I knew after everything else
Duncan had told me had turned out to be true, that this would, too. But I
found I was a little disappointed to learn that Danielle had known and
never told me.
   “Is it important how I found out?” I responded. I found I couldn’t keep
the pain and sense of betrayal out of my voice.
    “No, I guess not,” answered Danielle. “I’m sorry, Annie. There were
times when I wanted to tell you, times I should have told you, but Mom
and Dad have always been against it and it was easiest to just bow to their
wishes.”
    I forced myself to take a slow, measured breath. It was not Danielle’s
fault I was Immortal and therefore had to be adopted. The situation was
outside our control and I couldn’t let it destroy the good relationship I had
always had with my ‘family’.
    “Can you tell me what you know about it, the adoption I mean?” I asked
quietly.
    Danielle shrugged. “I don’t really know anything. I was five years old
when they brought you home one day and said you were my new baby
sister. I didn’t think anything special about it at the time. It wasn’t until I
had sex education in junior high that it registered that Mom hadn’t been
pregnant before you arrived. I asked Mom about it and she admitted you
were adopted, but she asked me not to tell you, as you were just as much
a part of the family as I was and that telling you would just upset you to
no purpose. And since you were only seven at the time and had always
been my sister, I did what she asked. I considered telling you when you
were older, but again I didn’t see any point. That’s pretty much all I know.
If you want to know more, you’re going to have to talk to Mom and Dad.”
    I sat there in silence staring off into space. My whole life had been a
lie. I wasn’t who I thought I was. I wasn’t Annie Walker; I was just some
Immortal who was wearing that name.
    Danielle must have misinterpreted my silence, or perhaps not. “Annie,
are you going to go looking for your birth parents?”
    I shook my head. I didn’t have any birth parents to go searching for.
Then, as thoughts of birth certificates danced through my head, I
wondered about my files at the Firm. My birth certificate had to state I
was adopted, so it must be in my records at the C.I.A. I was almost
surprised it had never come up when I was getting my clearances. No, not
almost surprised, but completely surprised, as I had seen people washed
out or reassigned to non-sensitive positions for less. With the standard
paranoia they always worked under, I was surprised I wasn’t suspected of
being a sleeper agent or something. Suddenly, there was more and more
about my situation both at work and at home that I no longer seemed to
understand.
   “No, or at least not now,” I said finally in response to her question. “If I
was given up, there must have been a strong reason. However I do want
to hear Mom and Dad’s story, but it is something probably best done face-
to-face rather than over the phone. I need to find some time to get up to
visit them, but please don’t tell them I know before I get a chance to talk
to them.”
   Danielle got up from her chair and move around the table. She pulled
me to my feet and wrapped her arms around my body. “I’m still your
sister whether you were adopted or not. You understand that don’t you?
This doesn’t change anything.”
   I hugged her back. Her words suddenly meant a lot. “Thanks, Danni.”
   When she pulled back a little, I saw tears in her eyes and realized there
were tears in mine, too.
   “Annie, you’re welcome to spend the night like in the old days,” Danielle
said as she wiped at a tear running down her cheek.
   When I was seven or eight I went through this period where I had a lot
of bad dreams. Often I had ended up in Danielle’s bed and she would hold
me until the terror went away.
   “Thanks, but I’ll be okay,” I said while wiping at my own eyes. “Besides
I need to go call Auggie, I promised to call him after I talked to you.”
   “Auggie?”
   “A guy I met over in Paris,” I said with a smile.
   “Is he French? You have to tell me all about him,” Danielle suddenly
said all excitedly.
   “No, he’s American. Actually, he lives right here in the D.C. area - over
in Colonial Village near Arlington Cemetery. He even says he has a view of
The Mall from his loft. Anyway, he was in Paris on business and then
arranged to come back on the same flight.”
   “Excellent. I was afraid it was going to be one of those long distance
relationships that never work.”
   I don’t know if she was commenting about long distance relationships in
general or about Ben specifically. Danielle had been hounding me for at
least a year saying it was time to move on and get back out in the world.
   “So tell me about him,” Danielle continued. “Is he cute? No wait, he is
obviously cute or you wouldn’t be with him. How hot is he?”
   Was I that much of an open book to my sister? But then she had met
most of the guys I had dated more than once or twice in high school and
college, so if there was a pattern, she had probably spotted it.
   “Okay, he is extremely hot. Six foot, brown hair, lean body with a lot,
and I mean a lot, of definition.” Auggie might not be in the same league
as Immortals for muscles, but by mortal standards he had to be in the top
one or two percent.
   But then there was Auggie’s one big issue. I could put off mentioning it,
but then it might give the impression it bothered me more than it did.
   “But there’s something I need to warn you about him so you won’t be
surprised the first time you meet him. Auggie was with Special Forces in
Afghanistan two years ago and he was wounded. Danni, he’s blind. He
has adjusted to it very well and now has a tech job with some government
agency. After you have been around him for awhile you will almost forget
about it, but I wanted to warn you before you meet him, as he will
certainly hear it in your voice if I just sprang it on you.”
   “Blind?” Danielle just repeated.
   And at that moment I realized all thoughts about me being adopted had
faded from her mind. And I also realized how unimportant it was in the
overall scheme of things compared to something like Auggie’s blindness.
Whether I was adopted or not, my life would go on pretty much the same.
   “Danni, it’s okay. Auggie is so special, it’s not that important,” I
answered. And it felt like a hint of levity was called for. “Okay, so I will
have to play chauffer on our dates.”

  Part 3
   Danielle and I chatted for another twenty minutes, but then we both
started yawning and decided it was time for bed. I wished her good night
and headed back out to the guest house. I was in a much better mood
with both the topics of my adoption and Auggie out in the open. I almost
wished I could have broached the immortality issue, too, but knew that
would have been pushing my luck too far.
   I was halfway around the pool when I felt it. ‘The Buzz’. There was
another Immortal close by and the only place he could be was in the guest
house, my guest house, my home.
   Instantly, Duncan’s reminder about ‘Holy Ground’ sprang to mind.
There was a cemetery eight blocks away that had to qualify as ‘Holy
Ground’, but even if I made it there, what could I do? The only people I
knew who might be able to help me were Duncan and Amanda and they
were back in Paris. Was I supposed to spend the next twenty-four hours
lurking around a cemetery and hope a panicky call to Duncan would have
him rushing to my rescue? Besides, if this Immortal knew where I lived,
he could easily abduct Danielle or her daughters to force me to come to
him. No, running for Holy Ground wasn’t going to be the solution this
time.
   Which only left confronting this stranger and with that thought, ‘Little
Dragon’ seemed to jump into my hand with barely a thought on my part.
In the two and a half days we had stayed in Paris after the events at the
Louvre, I had managed to squeeze in three hours of training with Duncan.
That training plus the home field advantage of my guest house would have
to be enough. I knew in my heart it wasn’t and if this stranger was here
for my head, my life might be ending in the next couple of minutes. But I
couldn’t simply run, not with Danielle and her kids less than a hundred feet
away. I was just glad I had parted from Danielle on good terms and that
her last memories of me wouldn’t be some stupid fight.
   I had left a light on in the guest house, but the curtains on the French
doors leading out to the pool kept me from getting a view of the person in
the room. Oh, if he moved I might see a shadow against the curtains, but
for now all I saw was the pale yellow glow of the bed side lamp
illuminating the sheer curtains.
    There was nothing for it, but to open the door and step into the room.
I got a firm grip on ‘Little Dragon’ with my right hand and then reached out
my other hand to the swing the left hand door open. Quickly, I dashed
through the open door with a quick stutter-step to the left to get myself
near the left side of the room. If my opponent was right-handed that
would at least help nullify his strong side. Perhaps I had learned a useful
thing or two from my brief time with Duncan.
    “Annie, it’s me,” announced the man sitting in the chair in the far
opposite corner of the room, as though he was intentionally trying not to
be more intimidating than absolutely necessary.
    And then his voice and face registered.
    “Ben?” I asked and almost felt stupid at the remark. The man I had
thought I had loved for almost two years was sitting less than fifteen feet
from me and I call out his name as though I hadn’t instantly recognized
him.
    But then I hadn’t seen him in two years except for a fleeting glimpse in
the middle of a fight in the subway of someone who looked more or less
like him. And now suddenly here he was in my home and on top of that,
he was Immortal, too.
    “Ben, what are you doing here?” I asked with a definite edge in my
voice as I slowly lowered ‘Little Dragon’. He disappears for two years and
then abruptly turns up only days after I become Immortal. Hell, the time
could be easily measured in hours whether you started counting from my
return to the States or even counting from my first death.
    “There are things you need to know now that you are Immortal.”
    “Like why you simply walked away from me back in Sri Lanka with only
a five word note?” I said hotly. For almost two years I had thought I
would just spring into his arms if he ever returned to my life. But now that
it had happened, I felt more anger than joy. And it felt like it had nothing
to do with my new relationship with Auggie. No, I suddenly had this
feeling inside I would have felt the same if it had happened last week
instead of this week. However, now there was the whole additional
immortality issue that wouldn’t have been there a week earlier, or wouldn’t
have been there from my perspective. But if it was like Amanda said and
Immortals could sense the presence of pre-Immortals, then Ben would not
only have recognized it in me last week, but also two years ago. Had there
been a whole secret agenda to our relationship from day one?
   “Some Immortal business came up and it had to take precedence,” Ben
answered.
   “Immortal business?” I harrumphed. His comment seemed to be utterly
consistent with my thoughts of a moment earlier. “Was I just some
Immortal business, too? Did you hook up with me on that beach strictly
because I was a pre-Immortal?”
   Ben seemed to stare off into space for a long fifteen seconds before
nodding. “I could say it wasn’t a factor, but that would be a lie. So, yes,
the initial reason I made the play for you was because of your potential to
become Immortal. But after the first few hours, it turned into something
more. And that’s the truth.”
   I wanted to pursue why Ben had disappeared two years earlier, but
then I remembered ‘Little Dragon’ still dangling from my hand. Since Ben
didn’t appear to be here to take my head, I went ahead and ‘snapped’ it
back out of existence. And that action reminded me of how I had been an
Immortal for only three days, which left me wondering how Ben had
learned of my change in status so quickly.
   “Ben, how did you find out I had suffered my first death and had
become immortal? I mean I have only been Immortal for three days and
unless you have been keeping tabs on me on almost a daily basis, how did
you learn about it? Certainly if you had gotten close enough to me to feel
‘The Buzz’, I would have felt it, too. And I don’t remember any
unexplained ‘buzzes’.”
   “When I received word MacLeod was seen training an unknown in the
use of swords, I had photos forwarded to me.”
   “You know Duncan? And why would you have someone watching him?”
I asked, suddenly more confused than ever.
   Ben shook his head. “No, I’ve never met MacLeod. I have crossed
paths with his friend, Amanda, a few times, but never MacLeod.”
   “So why would you have someone watching him?” I repeated.
   Ben sighed. “This is going to take awhile and is part of the reason I’m
here. Do you have a beer or anything?”
   I walked over to the mini-frig and pulled out a pair of bottles. After
handing one to Ben, I walked over to the only other chair in the room. The
bed would have been more comfortable and convenient, but it also would
have sent a message I definitely didn’t want to send at the moment.
   After taking a quick swig from my bottle, I cocked my head at an
expectant angle.
   “I, ah, we watch all the Immortals we know about, which is why
someone was watching MacLeod and spotted him training you.”
   That one sentence raised several interesting questions. Therefore
before he continued, I asked. “How many Immortals are there?”
   “The number hovers around four thousand.”
   “And you have people watching all of them? How is that possible?”
   “We set up an organization a long time ago. It is now sort of self-
perpetuating.”
   The ‘a long time ago’ remark immediately brought back the conversation
I had had with Amanda and Duncan while we girls were getting our hair
dyed. And that in turn reminded me I had to call in the morning for an
appointment to get my natural hair-color restored. It might not matter to
Auggie what color it was, but I liked being a blonde.
   But then I forced my thoughts back to the ‘a long time ago’ comment. I
had known about Immortals for only a couple of hours when I had learned
Amanda was more than a thousand years old. So I had to wonder how old
Ben was and I had the sudden feeling it was a lot more than a few
decades or even a few centuries.
   “Ben, how old are you?”
   Ben stared at me for a minute and then slowly nodded. “I guess that’s
as good a place as any to start.”
    “I was born in the city of Gebal on the Mediterranean coast of what is
now Lebanon in the year 1257 B.C. At the time, it was the leading city-
state of my people, the Kenaani, who are these days better known by their
Greek name, the Phoenicians.”
    I could feel my eyes begin to boggle, as Ben continued to speak.
Amanda was almost twelve hundred years old and it was hard to believe.
Now to learn Ben was almost three times as old was utterly beyond
comprehension. Particularly since he looked a youthful thirty and had what
I now understood to be the prototypical immortal body covered with highly
defined, rock-hard muscles.
    As my mind struggled with the concept of Ben being over thirty-two
hundred years old, I forced myself back to listening to his words.
    “During that era, the Phoenicians were the dominant sea-faring race in
the Mediterranean with colonies, settlements, and trading posts from the
Middle East to Greece, Egypt, Sicily, France, Spain, and even up to Britain.”
    Ben paused to reach over to the small jewelry tree on the nightstand
between the bed and his chair. He lifted the small seashell bracelet he had
given me back in Sri Lanka from the place of honor were it still hung after
two years.
    Fingering its small shells, he continued quietly. “I spent most of my first
life on the water, traveling the world to learn my father’s shipping
business. The Phoenicians and their ships were the driving force behind
the development of advanced civilizations in that portion of the world
through the redistribution of goods. It started with a locally produced
purple dye the Greeks coveted. In fact, the name Phoenician is derived
from the Greek word for ‘purple’. But the trade quickly grew to include
papyrus from Egypt, gold and silver from Spain and even tin, used in the
production of bronze, from Britain.”
    Hearing about Ben’s first life was fascinating and I wanted to hear it all
someday, but at the moment I was far more interested in the present. His
first words had been how there were things I needed to know now that I
was immortal and I didn’t think it revolved around the day-to-day life of a
Phoenician.
    “Ben, your first life sounds interesting and I want to hear all about it
someday, but you said there were things I needed to know.”
    Ben had gotten this faraway look while he had been talking about his
first life and now it took a few seconds for his eyes to clear and focus back
on me. With a small sigh he placed the bracelet.
    “Sorry, you’re right. There will be time for stories later,” he said. Then
he changed the direction of the conversation. “Since MacLeod was training
in the use of the sword, either he or Amanda must have explained about
Immortals. Right?”
    I nodded.
    “Perhaps it would be easiest if you tell me what you know and then I
will try to fill in some of the gaps about things the younger Immortals don’t
know.”
    “Okay,” I said before pausing for a moment to marshal my thoughts.
“No one knows where the Immortals come from. We are all foundlings
raised by mortals. Until our first deaths, we all appear perfectly human.
But then, after our first deaths, our bodies are transformed. We no longer
age. We heal from injuries very quickly. Our bodies become stronger and
faster than those of normal humans. And we can only be truly killed by
having our heads separated from our bodies, which leads to the whole
topic of ‘The Game’. Even though we are able to live forever, instead we
fight to the death to take each other’s ‘Quickening’. But Immortals don’t
fight every time they met. I mean Duncan and Amanda have been friends
for centuries and they don’t try to take each other’s heads. So I don’t
really understand the rules of ‘The Game’; I just know I have to be ready if
some Immortal comes for me.”
    At that point I sort of ran out of steam. There were a few more details
I knew, but that had covered the gist of it.
    After waiting a few seconds, Ben must have decided I was finished.
“Okay, that’s more or less what I was expecting.”
    “So, do you know more?” I asked.
    Ben nodded. “Yes, the truth of what is going on is known by a handful
of the oldest immortals. And in this regard, even I fall into the ‘younger
Immortals’ group, as only they have direct memories of ‘The Others’.”
    “The Others?” I interjected, suddenly feeling more confused than ever.
    Ben paused to take a long pull on his beer. “Let me start over from the
beginning. Long ago, something like five thousand years ago, the
scattered pockets of early human civilization got caught up in a war
between two alien star-faring factions. In the words of George Lucas, one
side was mostly benevolent and could be considered on the side of light.
The other side wanted to enslave all races it considered inferior and could
be considered the dark side.
    “The light side didn’t like to get its hands dirty doing its own fighting, so
it developed warriors from the local indigenous populations. For the Earth,
it created and deployed the Immortals to be its soldiers. To maximize their
effectiveness, the soldiers were engineered to have superior strength,
speed, and healing powers. And to maintain their control of the soldiers,
they were all engineered to be sterile.
     “The great war on Earth between the forces of light and dark occurred
at right at the beginnings of recorded history in places like Egypt, Ur, Chin,
and the early, now lost civilizations of the Americas. It was a long, hard
battle which lasted for decades, perhaps centuries; I’m not sure as the
handful of Immortals who survived don’t talk about it much. But in the
end the forces of light prevailed and the forces of darkness were driven out
of this region of the galaxy. And then sometime later, but well before my
own time, the forces of light also departed. But they left behind a device
that continues to this day to create several hundred infants a year who will
grow to be Immortals in case these warriors are ever needed again.”
    I stared at Ben with what had to have been a dumb-founded expression
on my face. Aliens? The Immortals were created by aliens? For a
moment that struck me as absolutely crazy. But then what better
explanation did I have? As Arthur C. Clark said, there is science and there
is magic. And from some perspectives it is difficult to tell them apart. For
this 21st Century girl, alien science made a lot more sense than most of the
theories Auggie and I had discussed on the plane ride back from France.
   “Then what’s the deal with ‘The Game’?” I asked.
   “If they were ever needed again, the light side didn’t want to have a
large group of complacent, old Immortals, but rather a smaller group that
had been honed to a keen sharp edge. The Quickening was engineered
into the Immortals’ bodies to maximize the fighting skills and abilities of the
survivors. And ‘The Game’ would help keep the Immortals from organizing
into a single united force, which might subjugate the ‘mortal’ portion of the
populace.”
   Ben’s story was making a crazy sort of sense. Or at least it seemed to
make more sense than anything Duncan or Amanda had been able to tell
me.
   “Why are you telling me all this? I mean it sounds like most Immortals,
even those who have been around for hundreds or thousands of years,
have no idea. Yet you’re telling me and I’ve only been Immortal for three
days.”
   Ben rose from his chair and walked over to the mini-frig. He pulled out
a couple more beers and handed me one before returning to his seat.

				
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