The Holyground Highlander Forum Midweek Challenge
Archivist’s Note: The stories and vignettes offered here from various Holyground Forumlanders have not been edited or changed other than having a spell-check performed and being reformatted for this website.
The Challenge by Leah CWPack
What You Don’t Know by Wain
Shades of Gray by Storie
Dragonslayer by Palladia
Another Day at the Mall by Ghost Cat
Time for the MID-WEEK CHALLENGE: SERIOUSLY MALLED
Your challenge, should you decide to participate, comes from a suggestion by Hayden:
Write about 2 Immortals in a shopping mall or giant warehouse store (like Costco, Sams etc.). Incorporated into the theme should be one of the following elements:
1) Duncan MacLeod showing a decided Scottish thriftiness
2) Richie Ryan trying to pick up a gal
3) A robbery takes place
Any mood or style may apply.
DISCLAIMER: If you wish to have your entry archived, remember to put MWC in the title of your subject header.
MWC: What you don't know . . .
Tessa stopped the sigh before it had a chance to become audible and reminded herself that, as much as she hated comparison shopping, the reward for accompanying Duncan on today’s adventure was a perfectly authentic salade niçoise in the lovely little waterside restaurant that lay a few miles beyond the huge electronics store that was fourth on their list. Lunch overlooking the bay was worth the inconvenience of helping—watching, she corrected herself—Duncan buy a new CD player. If she had learned anything in her thirteen years with her Immortal lover, it was how to compartmentalize her feelings when necessary, even though she sometimes let a worried "be careful" slip. Tessa felt more than heard Richie drumming with his index fingers on the back of her seat, knowing that the electronics store itself was a far bigger attraction to him than the restaurant was.
As the Thunderbird sped down the highway and away from town, Tessa grabbed a lock of hair that the wind had dragged loose from her ponytail and tucked it back again. Shopping for big-ticket items was so much easier for her than for Duncan. She was never one to buy the most expensive thing; just find the highest and the lowest price and aim for the middle—well, slightly higher than the middle, when she was being brutally honest with herself.
Duncan eased the black convertible smoothly off the highway, decelerated through the off ramp, and cruised the familiar road toward the shopping and strip malls. The car passed several blocks of suburban homes, most of them identical. In front of one house, on a well-manicured lawn, stood a hand-made mobile fashioned from wooden poles, clothes hangers, string, and dowels. A rough, sandy stone spun slightly, balanced by a stair-step of sticks. A coat hanger supported a descending triangle of dowels suspended by knotted strings. The whole sculpture danced and vibrated and reached out further than seemed possible.
Next to the mobile sat a white-haired man in a wheelchair. Whenever she drove this way, Tessa would watch him to catch glimpses of the artist at work. Right hand cradled unmoving in his lap, he would use his feet to inch his wheelchair around the sidewalk in front of his creation, reaching up with his left hand to adjust a stick or slide a coat hanger. Today, he was satisfied with his work and sat facing the oncoming traffic, swinging his good left arm forward and up in wide arcs and smiling greeting to all who passed. Tessa waved back, grinning broadly.
"What are you doing?" Duncan asked.
Before Tessa could answer, Richie interrupted, "She always waves at that guy, Mac. Haven’t you been paying attention? She’s saluting a fellow artist."
Tessa nodded agreement. Duncan gave her a fond look, raised her left hand to his lips, and gave it a kiss in apology.
Having passed the man with the mobile, there was only a mile or so left until the next shopping adventure. Stores and parking lots began to replace houses and lawns. Duncan pulled the T-bird into a parking space, and he and his passengers walked past cars, shoppers, and thin little trees in their rectangular oases adrift in a sea of asphalt.
The store was cavernous, crowded, and unbearably noisy, and the driving bass line of rock and the staccato beat of rap competed as they boomed simultaneously from different speakers. The noise drifted up the corrugated metal ceiling and bounced down again mercilessly. Tessa watched Duncan stop for a moment, survey the crowd and the building with intense concentration etched on his face, and then relax. Tessa let out a breath and felt her own shoulder muscles loosen. Only in the past year or so had she realized how dangerous the Game was and how much it affected not only Duncan, but those who loved him as well.
"I used to think that I could do anything, work anywhere to support my art," Tessa said. "But I think I would go mad if I worked here. So much noise, so many different songs."
Duncan gave her a quick squeeze on her arm. "I won’t be long. I promise."
Richie headed off toward the video games section of the store; Duncan strode toward the CD players, a no-nonsense look on his face and a well-thumbed, dog-eared copy of Consumer Reports magazine shoved in the pocket of his duster. Tessa took a slow, deep breath, reminded herself once more of the lovely waterside restaurant where they would have lunch, and began to walk around the perimeter of the store, hoping to find a quiet corner.
She looked up at the cobalt blue columns rising at a diagonal, at the brilliant yellow accents that led the eye around the store, and at the cold, too-white paint that covered the rest of the interior. What looked to be a quiet room turned out to be the automotive audio section. A sudden blast of noise sent Tessa scurrying down the aisle of refrigerators. She idly flipped through the compact disks, their jewel boxes encased in tall vertical cardboard sleeves and wrapped in plastic. Finding nothing to her liking, she strolled past the audio components and fondly watched the look of burning concentration that Duncan was directing toward the compact disc players. Her little wave went unnoticed.
Past the computers, the level of noise increased with jarring beeps and repetitive, mechanical music. Richie stood in the video game section, controller in his hand, punching buttons with his thumbs and punctuating his moves with jerks of his shoulder and nods of his head.
The video cassettes were located far enough away from the video games so that Tessa no longer had to contend with the annoying beeps, but the racket inside the huge space with its soaring ceiling was nearly unbearable. She settled into the aisle of foreign and classic movies and tried to focus on them.
Unable to concentrate, she returned to Duncan and the shelf of sleek black compact disc players. Duncan stood with an air of barely contained impatience, the rolled-up Consumer Reports in his hand. Tessa watched his grip tighten on the magazine. A sales clerk in his twenties was pinned under Duncan’s stare.
"Well, this CD player has a remote, a three-disk carousel . . . " the young man said, squinting at the box. "And that one has five."
"Yes, I can see that myself," Duncan said, "but what’s the difference between these two models? One hundred and seventy-five dollars is too much if the difference is only a three- or a five-CD carousel."
Tessa made a beeline away from Duncan and the sales clerk. Richie was still in front of the video game controller, but his attention was focused on a beautiful blond girl about his own age. Peeking down the aisle, she watched Richie put the controller in the girl’s hand and reach around her waist to position her hands on the buttons. Tessa walked down the next aisle to eavesdrop.
"I don’t have to be Princess just because I’m a girl." The blonde’s pouty voice drifted over the stacks of video games.
"No, no, of course not," Richie said smoothly. "You should be Princess because she’s got the most awesome jumps. She can float over her enemies and drop stuff. Just push here and here at the same time. See?"
Tessa walked back to Duncan just in time to hear the sales clerk offer the extended warranty on the compact disk player Duncan had tucked under his long arm. His offended scoff sent the clerk scurrying.
"Extended warranties are nothing but a waste of money. You might as well buy a lottery ticket," the dark Scot muttered as he ushered Tessa toward the checkout. As they passed the beeping video game display, he barked a sharp, "Richie!" and the younger man left off trying to press a small piece of paper into the blonde’s unwilling hand.
"Man, in another five minutes, she would have taken my number. Ten more, and I would have had hers," Richie groused, hands shoved in his pockets.
A commotion that drowned out even the atrocious din of the store caught their attention. An employee in a red polo shirt sporting the company logo had detained a thin, balding man from leaving and was insisting on checking his coat pockets. A quick spread of his coat and a duck of his hand later, the thin man stood with a knife in his hand. Tessa froze; Duncan continued for another step; Richie dashed ahead and sent the armed man sprawling with a flying tackle.
Tessa stood disbelieving as Duncan shoved his box into her hands and assisted Richie and the employee in holding the man, his face pressed against the industrial vinyl floor tiles, until a uniformed guard appeared. A few shoppers applauded; another clapped Richie on the shoulder. The blond girl walked by him and pressed a white piece of paper into his hand. Duncan returned to Tessa.
"Why do all young men think they’re immortal?" she asked in a frightened and exasperated voice.
A worried look crossed Duncan’s face, and he answered his mortal lover with a quick, tight smile. In the checkout line, he evaded all of her attempts to make eye contact.
Tessa only half listened to the angry lecture that MacLeod leveled at Richie from one end of the parking lot to the other and into the Thunderbird. Her mouth was dry and her fingers tingled. Turning to look at Richie, settled into his place in the back seat of the car, Tessa saw not the teenager trying to hide pride at his feat of derring-do, but something quite different instead. For the briefest of moments, dread filled her mind. What if Richie were Immortal? She pushed the thought away and spent lunch and the trip home trying to keep it at bay, neither enjoying her salade niçoise nor truly seeing the route they traveled.
"Hey, Tess," Richie patted her on the shoulder and pointed behind them. "You forgot to wave to your friend." Tessa turned and waved to the artist sitting in front of his mobile, still waving to passersby.
She tried busying herself with mindless tasks in the antiques store while Duncan and Richie engaged in the male bonding ritual of connecting electronic equipment, but found her thoughts straying again and again to the quick, tight smile Duncan had given her after the incident at the store and to the way he evaded her look afterward in the checkout line. Deciding that she needed something that required more focus, she changed clothes and strode into her studio, pounding away at a copper sculpture in progress until, distracted by the awful thought that had shadowed her, she hammered her forefinger.
Crying and sucking on her sore finger, Tessa went into the kitchen. She prepared dinner and ate in distracted silence while Duncan and Richie discussed the best placement of speakers in the living room. After dinner, she welcomed the basketball game that drew Duncan and Richie to the television. She went for a walk, but her thoughts followed her. She took a warm bath with a good novel, but found her mind wandering. Exhausted, she retreated to bed early.
Alone and in the dark, the floodgates opened; she could no longer keep the idea away. What if Richie were Immortal? she asked herself. Is that why Duncan had taken him in? The thought that Duncan and Richie would have each other’s friendship long after she was dead stung her. Tears welled up in her eyes, rolled down her cheeks, and soaked her pillowcase. It was so unfair! How could fate taunt her like this? If anyone should be with Duncan forever, it should be her. And why wasn’t Duncan teaching Richie sword work? She opened her eyes and grabbed for a tissue. She sat up and blew her nose and suddenly stopped, almost laughing.
Of course Richie wasn’t Immortal, she told herself. The Duncan MacLeod she knew and loved wouldn’t allow anyone, much less Richie, go through life unable to defend himself. She chided herself for being foolish, mentally asked Duncan to forgive her for imagining that he would keep something so important from her, and took a moment to shake her head at how hard life would be for an Immortal who was perpetually eighteen years old. Tessa turned over her damp pillow and allowed herself to drift off to sleep.
At five thirty, her traitorous mind startled her awake with a terrible thought. Richie was not Immortal but was destined to become one, it whispered to her. Tessa looked around the bedroom, the early dawn light painting a symphony it of gentle grays. Here was a thought so clear, so present, that she could not deny it.
She listened to the sound of her lover’s soft and even breaths. The room gradually brightened until she could discern the painting that hung over their bed; stripped of its color by the faint morning light, the soul of its composition was laid bare for her inspection. She found room in her mind for the painting and the truth she had intuited about Richie.
Gazing at Duncan’s face, where the peace of slumber had erased the ever-present vigilance of his waking hours, Tessa felt overwhelming sadness and a fierce need to protect her protector. She couldn’t bear to think that she might lose both Duncan and Richie to a mysterious Game that she accepted but never believed in.
Tessa reminded herself that she knew how to compartmentalize her fears. It would do Richie no good to know the truth. Tessa firmly and resolutely tucked what she knew about Richie into the furthest corner of her being. She would confront his Immortality when the time came. Until then, she would lock her secret in her heart to protect Richie and to protect herself.
Duncan awoke and stretched drowsily. He smiled at Tessa and wished her good morning, reaching his arm out and enfolding her.
"You seemed upset last night. Do you want to talk about it?" he asked in a low and gentle voice.
She nestled her head against his chest so he wouldn’t see her tear-stained face and swollen eyes. "No. It’s alright now."
MWC: Shades of Grey
Shades of Grey
Cassandra sniffed gingerly at one sampler of cologne after another, wrinkling her nose in distaste. Too loud, too ordinary, and a few were downright feminine; certainly not the kind of scent Duncan would choose to wear. She didn't have to bring a gift, of course, but since the visit was a last-minute decision on her part and would be a complete surprise to Duncan, it would be a nice touch…
She stiffened and tipped over a bottle as her senses responded with their familiar thrumming to the presence of another immortal. She glanced down the aisle at three generations - an elderly woman with her daughter and granddaughter - in the other direction, a man dressed in black was walking away. Her breath caught in her throat as a possible identity teased her memory. Cassandra slipped to the end of the aisle to look after him, but a voice from an adjacent aisle resolved her dilemma. Gripped immediately with the hatred bred of ancient injustice, honed to precision with constant practice and nurtured through many years into a monster she barely controlled, she stalked behind the speaker and waited until the store employee had confirmed the price of an item and gone to search out another patron in need of assistance.
Methos glanced her way and smiled, confirming he had known she was there all along. "Ah, it's you."
Cassandra seethed at his relaxed courtesy. "What are you doing here?"
He gave her one of those patented looks - you can't possibly be serious? - and answered with the obvious, "Shopping." He moved away and Cassandra went after him.
"Why here? And today, now, this instant? Why are you really here, Methos?"
He regarded her with the perplexed amusement one might show toward an errant child on the verge of making the same mistake yet again. He sighed at some point over her head before meeting her eyes. "I am purchasing mass quantities of cleaning supplies and paper products for my apartment. I do not enjoy spending my time on the acquisition of such mundane articles, so I come here every three months to stock up. Now if you will excuse me, I will expedite the process to relieve tedium on my part, and obvious discomfort on yours."
"Right," she nodded vigorously. "And where are your purchases? If you've been shopping, why aren't you carrying anything?"
Methos extended a long arm theatrically toward a loaded dolly a few feet away, raising his eyebrows and smiling as Cassandra folded her arms across her chest and fell silent, her lips pressed in anger.
"Just why, exactly, did you think I was here?" Methos countered. "For that matter, what are you doing here? I live nearby and I have a valid reason. What is yours?"
She answered before she could stop herself. "I stopped to look for a gift for Duncan."
"Here," Methos laughed, "in a wholesale warehouse? You must really think the old man's tastes have declined. Unless, of course," he held up a package, "you wanted to gift him with a year's supply of dental floss."
"My gift for Duncan is none of your business," she flared. She selected an item off the shelf behind them, and sneered icily at Methos. "But since we're here and it has been so long, perhaps I should offer a gift to you as well." She grabbed Methos' hand and pressed something small and cold into it.
He studied the object. It was a clear plastic case, the kind that holds cheap cosmetics; this one contained a woman's eye shadow.
It was blue.
Methos' only reaction was a smile, slightly bitter. "It's not my color." He held it out to her, but she stepped backward.
"Oh, isn't it?" she snapped, angrier still that he refused to take her bait.
Any further argument was negated by gunfire erupting across the front of the store. Chaos ensued; women screamed and children cried out as shoppers farther back attempted to hide or find alternate routes out of the warehouse. In the midst of the melee, Methos and Cassandra were abruptly distracted by the assault on both their senses of the presence of another immortal.
Cassandra spun and backed into Methos. He placed a hand on her arm and gave it a tug. "This way, come on."
"What? Where? You don't even know who it is!"
"I have an idea," Methos said, leading the way into the automotive department.
"Not a friend, or you wouldn't be running away," Cassandra jabbed.
"No, not a friend." Methos turned abruptly and ducked under a garage door into the darkness of a body shop, empty at the moment of vehicles. He guided Cassandra into a nook between two sets of steel shelving and stepped in front of her.
"Tell me!" she hissed.
"Cromwell…keep quiet now."
"Any relation to Oliver?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Don't gamble much on that. What if I told you that Cromwell is after me?"
Methos met Cassandra's eyes in the near-darkness. "That's right, Methos. You're a bit late with the chivalry, and this battle is mine."
A figure momentarily darkened the doorway as it slipped into the shadows. Methos moved forward and pulled the door all the way down, closing the only escape back into the store. He flipped on a light switch and turned to see Cassandra, sword in hand, facing down a mutual enemy.
A man shouted at the front of the store and voices cried out in panic. It all seemed so very far away. Cromwell formed a macabre grimace that passed for a smile. On his slim face, the expression appeared obscene.
"Never mind the money-hungry crew with the masks," he said. "Although I will credit them with perfect timing. Well, Cassandra, and we meet again, at last. I am saddened that our relationship has to end this way. You were good for me once; strong and decisive. There is still," he carved intricate designs in the air with his blade, "time for you to reconsider. Not much, by necessity; you'd have to do it now. What do you say, Cassandra?"
"Nothing has changed, John. As recently as ten years ago you were agonizing over the loss of your title and your prosperity as if only yesterday you were dismissed by Parliament. You are still the same man who committed suicide in an effort to escape the same depression that you are still running from. All that was hundreds of years ago, John! I can neither be your strength nor your scapegoat, I can't be the reason for, or the answer to, all of your problems. You have to resolve those things for yourself. No one else can do that for you. Let go of the past, John."
Cromwell lowered his eyes for only a moment, and when he raised them once more to Cassandra, they were filled with tears of anger. "So you won't come with me? That's your final answer?"
Cassandra swallowed hard and nodded, gripping her sword with both hands, ready to fight.
Cromwell sniffled. "Well, if I can't have you willingly, I'll just have to take you with me the only other way that I can." He pulled a revolver from under his coat. Cassandra heard Methos call out only a moment too late as the gun fired and Death took possession, the Breath of Life escaping her body and awaiting the soul that always called it back instead of abandoning the corpse and escaping to Eternity.
Cromwell appeared oblivious to Methos' presence as he dropped the gun, stepped toward Cassandra and raised his sword. His path was intercepted by Methos, angrily standing over Cassandra, balancing his own sword in his right hand, joining the battle that she had not.
Cromwell did not want to fight Methos. He was ever passive, never a warrior, and had survived nearly three hundred years by hiding behind disguise and taking refuge on Holy Ground; by capitalizing on bluffs no one ever called, by coercing others to fight his battles for him. It was now too late to fall back on any of those efforts. He was defeated and he knew it, even as he lifted his sword and lunged at Methos for the sake of final appearances. He was afraid to live, afraid to die, and in the end he forced another person to make even that decision for him.
Methos was still panting from the impact of the Quickening when Cassandra revived and staggered to her feet. One glance around the garage provided sufficient explanation. As Methos stood, she picked up his sword and held it long enough to make him nervous before handing it to him. He held it close to his body until she sheathed her own blade.
Sounds of sirens, emergency and police vehicles, surrounded the warehouse, voices shouting throughout the store, but with authority, now; Methos raised the garage door just enough to slip Cassandra and himself back into the shopping center. He was walking away when Cassandra's voice cut in and he slowed, weary, to listen.
"Methos, Darling…" dripping with sarcasm… "I can hardly believe you just saved my life."
"I have saved your life more than once over the past several years."
"After ruining it long before that! Don't think I'll ever forget! Don't think today erases yesterday! Don't think you will ever earn my forgiveness!" She yanked at his sleeve.
Methos turned on her so quickly that she had to tiptoe to keep from running into him.
"Forgiveness is not something you understand, Cassandra; it's not something you have ever done. 'Nothing has changed' - and you should know. Five thousand years, Cassandra! You have carried a grudge for five thousand years! Did it ever occur to you that perhaps you are not even capable of forgiveness? Try to not use the word so loosely, when you don't even know what it means!"
Methos stepped back and shrugged the sleeve of his coat back onto his shoulder. "Besides, if you no longer hated me, what purpose would you even have for existing?"
He walked away, leaving Cassandra simmering with hatred even as his words reverberated through rooms in her heart that she had long ago emptied out, sealed shut, and walled over with layers of antipathy; the effect left her to receive and to take, but sadly deficient of even the simplest gesture of compassion. She was trembling. She hated the way Methos made her feel. She hated that Methos *could* make her feel. Even with Duncan she was in control of her emotions and, she thought smugly, of his. But Methos was beyond her control, and the only way she could stay beyond his control was to hate him, hate him; because if not she would hate herself for ever submitting to love him in spite of what she knew him to be, and that was a matter she had never been able to reconcile with herself. Accepting responsibility for her own feelings, sharing the guilt for her own acquiescence to their relationship, was too threatening to the walls of self-protection she had built and fortified over the years. It was easier just to hate him, permitting no respite from that hatred for Methos…or for herself.
But he had made her think. "What purpose…?" And she would have to concentrate to work up enough anger to make that burning question go away.
Police were leading away the last of the robbery suspects, other officers attempting to speak with patrons who were close enough to the front of the store to have witnessed or heard the event; Cassandra stepped aside as two EMT's carried out a young man with a bullet wound to his arm. She pulled her coat tighter to conceal the front of her own bloody dress and made for the door.
As she exited past the checkouts, a young girl waved at her and held up a small paper bag. "Are you Cassandra? Your friend paid for this as he left and asked me to give it to you when you came by."
"You're actually doing business?" Cassandra was appalled.
The girl nodded. "People still want to buy stuff. Manager said it would keep our minds off what just happened. I'm glad you and your friend weren't hurt, Ma'am." She looked like she was going to cry.
Cassandra took the sack and moved swiftly through the doors to the parking lot. Safely inside her car, she upended the bag into the passenger seat. It contained her acerbic offering of blue eye shadow and a small handwritten note, scribbled on the back of the receipt.
"Nor does it look good on you."
Posted By: hayden1
Date: Sunday, 6 May 2001, at 8:04 a.m.
I'm posting this for Palladia of the scifi BB.
"Black" had just made a mistake.
Kilted, his hair flowing over his shoulders down a gray wolf's pelt, MacLeod held his claymore by its quillons, with its point between his hide-wrapped feet. From this stance, he could flip it into a fighting position faster than the audience would readily guess, but he was grateful that he wasn't actually going to do battle. It was hot in the sunlight streaming through the glass roof onto the marble squares of the parquet flooring.
The note the page handed over advanced MacLeod two squares forward and one to his left, facing an equally kilted, fearsomely bearded MacDonald chieftain, but staring down the diagonal at Methos, the White bishop who grinned at him wickedly. They were living chess pieces, performing in large a game being played on a standard chessboard up on the mezzanine floor overlooking the costumed players.
It amused Duncan to consider Methos as a White bishop. It was even funnier to consider Amanda as the White queen, protecting a child king. Between the Seacouver chess club and the local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Mall was getting a pretty good show. Troubadours and jugglers circulated, and there was the hum of well-entertained humanity.
If the White player was on his toes up there, MacLeod was going to be
eliminated very shortly. Sure enough, a page handed Methos a slip of paper, and
here he came, marching down the diagonal, crozier held like a quarterstaff
across his body. MacLeod flipped up his sword, and slowly, in a deadly dance,
he and Methos fought for possession of the square. The crozier swung from
outside the claymore's perimeter, stopped just before crushing MacLeod's skull.
He crumpled to the floor, gracefully, remembering not to skewer himself on his own sword.
Methos stood triumphantly on the square the vanquished knight had defended, pounded the crozier's foot once, in a death-knell. The audience variously cheered and booed this development. Squires ran out with a stretcher, loaded the fallen MacLeod, and paraded off the chessboard.
Out of sight of the game, MacLeod rose from the stretcher and set out to visit some of the special displays that were part of the mall's promotion. He felt more than usually out of time, dressed as he was: as though he'd put on an old set of attitudes with the plaids. When people talked to him, he fell into the speech pattern of his youth. This was an almost incomprehensible burr roughening his words, rolling some letters and eliding others.
When some teenagers asked for an autograph, he'd clutched the pen in his fist like an unknown instrument, marking a rough "X" on the paper. "There, lassie," he said, handing the pen back to the girl, "Ye write under that, 'Duncan MacLeod, his mark.' "
"You can't even write?" the girl was amazed.
"That's why there were troubadours," the White bishop said, coming up behind them. "I can write, because I am a cleric, but someone like Duncan? No, child, he would not be lettered. Just be glad he's not still a savage." Methos drew him away from the teenagers.
" '. . .Still a savage?' Why, Adam, thank you. What are you doing off the board already?"
"The Black queen knocked me off. Cassandra's been wanting to do that for a long time. She got me after White castled. I figure it made her day, maybe. . ." Methos looked around quickly, "her century."
The men strolled down the mall, still in regalia, being stopped often. MacLeod was angling toward a kiosk selling kitchen tools.
"Mac, really. You've got enough knives to flense a whale. You can't possibly need another knife."
"Can't have too many sharp knives. Can't cook with dull ones. Look -
these are good names: Sabatier, Solingen."
MacLeod selected a slender boning knife, and tried to shave a few hairs off his forearm. Not sharp enough.
"Those are only samples, sir. We don't display really sharp knives. We'll prepare your order at the factory and send them to you. You can't get an edge on a blade like the factory can." The salesman, sensing genuine interest, came over to the men.
"You're sure of that, laddie-buck?" MacLeod asked, producing a skean dhu that easily bared a bald patch on his arm.
"Is that carbon steel?" the salesman asked.
"Yes," MacLeod admitted.
"It's easy to hone. The alloys we're using today are pretty difficult to get an edge on, but they hold it, forever. We have a computer-designed alloy coming along that's going to be better for cutlery than any that's ever been produced. We expect that it will shear through a Japanese katana. They're working on it at Northwestern University.
"Do you know anything about katanas?" the man asked MacLeod.
MacLeod was absently flipping and catching the little knife he'd shaved his forearm with, oblivious to the stares of the people who had seen him do that, his attention on the salesman from whom he wished to extract all the information he could. His hand seemed to work independently, automatically, and the knife traced identical arcs every time, placing the hilt in his palm. The salesman stared at the skean dhu's travels, fascinated.
"I've had some experience with them," MacLeod murmured, and Methos snickered.
"Look, Mac, I'm starved. We can come back. There's nothing here that needs cutting, right now."
They wandered over the food court, visited several outlets, and found a table.
"You know what he's talking about, don't you," Methos asked.
"I've been keeping some track of it, but has something happened lately?"
"Some students are working on a high-purity steel and titanium alloy, and they're throwing in meteorite for good measure."
" 'I do so love the old ways best,' " MacLeod quoted to Methos, who had heard that particular line before.
"Dragonslayer," Methos supplied. "They're expecting to have the sword out in the fall of 2002, and it will be auctioned off by Christie's. They're hoping Bill Gates will buy it."
"I can't let that happen. I'd never be able to outbid him.
What we need here is a pre-emptive strike. I've got to get dibs on that thing before it is, indeed, a Dragonslayer."
Oddly, the burr had faded, and his speech was thoroughly modern. They
emptied their trays into the bins, and headed back to the cutlery kiosk. There
was someone there with the salesman, and when they approached, the salesman
said, "This is Dr. Olson. He's heading the research on
the Dragonslayer. You might want to talk to him."
"Most steel, microscopically, is like Swiss cheese. We're figuring out how to make it truly solid, removing all impurities, and we're almost there," Olson said.
"What do you figure it will bring at auction?" MacLeod asked.
"Somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. That's why we're thinking about Bill Gates. Who else would spend that kind of money for a sword? It's only a decoration, really, no matter what it might be able to do. It's really just a lark, something to catch the imagination of the students. It'll never be used for anything."
"Could I buy it now, before it's done? Think of it as a commission. Use
the money to help fund the research."
MacLeod seemed relaxed, but Methos could see a certain tightening around his eyes.
"Why would you want to contribute that kind of money to metallurgical research?" Olson sounded astonished that a rough-looking man dressed in plaids and hides for an event like this could afford that kind of outlay. Never could tell about these SCA types, though, might be some software executive.
"Everyone has a hobby. I'm interested in blade weapons. Is it a deal? One 'Dragonslayer,' to be delivered in the fall of 2002, never goes on the market. I'll front you the $25,000 now."
The two men stared at each other. "Well," Olson began slowly, "you'd want a contract. Something to guarantee performance."
MacLeod pulled a napkin saved from the food court out of his sporran, and began to write. His hand was perfectly legible, clear as a felt-tip pen could produce on soft paper. He outlined the terms of the agreement, and signed it, unmistakably, "Duncan MacLeod." Producing a checkbook, he drafted a check for the agreed-upon amount. He marked a line for Olson's signature, then caught up the salesman and Methos for witnesses.
When they got back to the chess game, Cassandra was slowly closing the pincers on Amanda's boy king.
" 'Dragonslayer' may hang on my wall forever, but I like that a lot better than facing it in some other Immortal's hand, I think," MacLeod commented to Methos as they stood, watching the trap close Amanda's regency. "I probably saved a fortune today, what do you think?" he asked Methos.
"You no doubt saved some money. You may have saved your life, at least for a while. I've had to upgrade my weapons here and there. Lucky we were here, today, to run into Olson. How high would you have gone, at Christie's?"
"I had to have it, the first of its line. There will be others, but at least I'll be ready. Look at that: checkmate. Shah mat," MacLeod congratulated Cassandra, commiserated with Amanda, and they all went upstairs to talk with the puppet masters whose game had decided the fates of the chessmen.
N.B. There really will be a "Dragonslayer," and it's being worked
on by the Steel Research Group at Northwestern University, with additional input
from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon
Information from "A cut above them all," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4-30-01, p. A-8.
MWC: "Another Day at the Mall"
Another day at the Mall
MacLeod sighed deeply, wondering how he had managed to end up at the Monster Mall, again. The tiniest smile twitched the corner of his mouth for a fraction of a second; Deb would have some choice words for him if she knew he called this place the Monster Mall. She loved these chrome canyons as much as Duncan loved the rugged hills of home, but he for one preferred his wide-open spaces not to have a roof overhead. Some things just weren't meant to be this big. Besides, there were enough ways for his hard earned, long invested money to disappear without all of them being in the same place. Richie, on the other hand, was experiencing West Edmonton Mall for the first time, with his usual enthusiasm. Gazing around in wide-eyed wonder, he was like a kid in a candy shop--of which this Mall had several. Duncan hadn't been able stop the boy from wasting perfectly good money on thrill rides; as if day to day survival wasn't enough of a thrill.
Duncan stood just outside one of the mall's more unusual tenants; he hesitated in the face of a hodgepodge of conflicting cultural images--here an Egyptian cat, there an Incan serpent, all larger than life. Taking a deep breath, he forged ahead: past jewellery and incense; past key chains and pewter figurines; past ceramic dragons and wildly patterned T-shirts. Near the back of the store were the items the author had promised: a broadsword took up an entire wall alcove; an arching display of axes and pole arms, there was even a crossbow.
His eyes sparkled as he caught sight of a breathtaking display of Japanese sword art: from the Zen-like simplicity of a braided hilt in a black enamel scabbard all the way to most elaborately carved pieces. On instinct, his fingers wrapped themselves around a very familiar grip, only to discover that everything in this place was tied down. A smiling saleswoman appeared as if by magic, with a perky "May I help you, sir?" The girl was friendly enough, but there was a cautious wariness in her eyes. "I'm sorry sir, but in the interest of safety and security, weapons are only to be shown to mature individuals." Her voice had the crisp, over-enunciated tones of memorized store policy.
Richie turned from ogling figurines of barbarian women in chain mail bikinis, unable to suppress a boyish grin. "Trust me, this man definitely qualifies as a mature individual." The sight of the younger Immortal did little to reassure the salesgirl. MacLeod took over with his most winning smile, "I assure you, I'm a serious collector. I've been searching for a piece like this one; if I could just get a better look at it."
He gave a little tug to demonstrate his difficulty, which immediately brought staff out of the woodwork. A larger male staff member was obviously backup in case of trouble. "That's against store policy, sir. An item will only be taken down if it is purchased."
This was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. He couldn't quite keep his voice level; "Let me get this straight, I can't look at a blade unless I'm going to buy it. How am I supposed to know if I want to buy it if I can't see it?" The man looked as sympathetic as a retail salesman could be; "You have to understand, we're very close to the bars here, the risk is just too much..."
MacLeod lost all interest in the subject; he turned his back and walked away, dragging poor Richie behind him, still trying to get the salesgirl's phone number. The boy groaned helplessly, "Oh come on Mac, I almost had her!"
They were supposed to meet her on Bourbon Street; but Mac wasn't quite sure where she was. He scanned the crowds, secretly relieved to get past Death By Chocolate without an incident; he could get a full meal for the price of some of the desserts in that place. A redhead leaned casually against a rail and waved, Richie's charming grin fractured as he felt the Buzz. Mac wasn't a bit surprised, graciously making introductions. "Sheila Woodyard, this is Richard Ryan; Richie, this is Sheila." She blinked a second, a faint frown creasing her brows, but otherwise hid her surprise-another Series fan learns the difference between truth and fiction. She recovered instantly with a mischievous grin; "I know where to take you young man. Follow me."
She lead them further down the indoor boulevard, knowing exactly where she was going. They stopped in front of a wood patio, under a sign that sported a wide-eyed owl. Richie's eyes grew almost as large as the bird's, and Duncan had a very bad feeling. He noticed the souvenir booth at the entrance and sighed; this was one of those overpriced theme restaurants. He picked up a menu, scanning it quickly; "Have you seen the prices here?"
"Oh come on Mac," Richie grinned. "No one comes to Hooters for the food." At that moment, their hostess bounced in, clad in very high-cut shorts and an extremely low-cut T-shirt. The boy's eyes nearly popped out of his skull as the waitress squealed, making her chest heave even more. "Sheila, it's you!" The two women hugged like long lost sisters, leaving one man confused and the other supremely jealous. MacLeod admired the female form as much as any man, but he never imagined that the blatant exposure and sheer exploitation of the Americans had made it this far north.
Sometime during the reunion, Richie managed to pull his eyes away from the woman's... owl. Nudging MacLeod, he pointed to a T-shirt on display; "I think we both know someone who'd appreciate that one." On first glance, it looked like just another gimmick left over from the millennium hype, as he read the message a second time, a burst of laughter bubbled up from within. It read "Y3K: A thousand years ahead of everyone else." Methos would love it. He turned to the equally underdressed girl behind the counter, pointing to the item, "How much?" The woman quoted a ridiculously high price; even as he started to protest, Duncan saw her eyes go wide.
He spun around; saw an armed, heavyset man confronting Sheila and the hostess. The man was none too steady on his feet, but when it came to guns that could make him even more dangerous. Everything happened at once, before even MacLeod had time to react. Sheila shoved the hostess aside, pushing her into Richie's eager arms. The fiery redhead tripped the would-be robber, her knee coming up strategically under the man's chin as he went down. A shot rang out, firing wild into a wooden post; the startled hostess screamed, Richie pulled her close in a gesture that was not entirely selfless.
When the alleged attacker groaned and opened his eyes, his first sight was an angry MacLeod looming over him. Half-drunk and clearly in over his head, the man meekly surrendered, staying put until security arrived. Duncan would have rather disappeared into the crowds, but he didn't want the thief to bolt either. Richie, meanwhile, was comforting the frightened young girl; "You've been through a lot...Linda, just take it slow. If you need anything, and I mean anything, don't hesitate to call me." Duncan couldn't believe it, the boy was incorrigible; the worst part of it was, the card the kid was scribbling on was probably one of his.
There, I'm finished this one, I've posted, I feel so much better now. Deep, cleansing breath--Aaaah!
Now, what should I work on next?
The Ghost Cat