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[Author's note: Last issue covered Hannibal's life in the thirteenth century; this one jumps to the eighteenth. For an intervening adventure of Hannibal's in 1593, and the first appearance of the Invisible College, please check out Legacy #13 and 14, "The Devill's Legacie," available in the Omega archives.—Marc]

"...and, did I consider myself a European, I might say my sufferings were great; but, when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a particular favorite of Heaven..."
(Olaudah Equiano)

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Number Four
An Omega limited series by Marc Singer

[Washington, D.C. July 25, 1995. Eleven o'clock at night.]

Jack Russell had all the time in the world.

He was an immortal, after all. Never mind that his father was dying (and Jack still wouldn't talk to him) and his mentor was missing (and Jack still had almost no leads). Jack would be around awhile... probably still be telling himself that reading stories was a good use of his time. But then why am I worried about wasting time, Jack asked himself, if I have all the time in the world? Because of all that stuff I keep trying to "never mind"?

He pulled his BMW up to his large estate on the bluffs above the Potomac river. Neither was his, technically; they belonged to some mysterious immortal friend of Hannibal's. He or she hadn't shown up yet to discover that the house was violated, the butler was dead (and dripping with a fluid Jack wouldn't mention in polite company), and the guest was gone. Jack hoped the situation would be solved before the owner returned.

He stopped the BMW just inside the fence, and returned the Mali tapes to his secret cache of Hannibal's journals. Those tapes had provided him with a lead he wanted to follow, another potential culprit in Hannibal's disappearance. Jack rummaged through the cache, searching for a later set of journals that pursued the lead. The Mali tapes told a story from the thirteenth century... Jack had already heard about Hannibal's major altercation during the English Renaissance... he skimmed ahead another two centuries, and found a thick bundle of journals. A few loose papers, apparently an extended clipping from some mortal's text, were attached to the bundle; Jack slipped those inside his shirt for later, and picked up the awkward bundle. He climbed back in the car and drove up to the house.

And slammed on the brakes. Someone had turned on all the lights while he was away.

Jack's time had just run out.

Jack unlocked the front door, and sheepishly stepped inside the large foyer. He'd barely coughed and started to call out when a large man with a Mediterranean face and an Olympian figure came running from the library. The man was wielding a large bronze sword. Jack recoiled and drew his pistol. "Who the hell are you?" he screamed.

"I live here!" shouted the sword-waving man. "Who the hell are you?"

"I'm Jack Russell! I'm your guest!"

The two men watched each other closely for a moment, their weapons held steady. The only sound was their heavy breathing. Then the owner relaxed and lowered his weapon, and Jack did the same.

"This is the last time I let Hannibal house-sit for me," the owner said. Jack couldn't help but laugh.

Jack and Kierthos were sitting in the kitchen, having a few beers to cement their friendship and soothe their nerves. Kierthos, a Hellenistic Greek, was garrulously cataloguing all the damage to his mansion. "How on earth did Prufrock end up in the freezer?" he asked.

"My doing," Jack said. "I needed to preserve him. This July heat, y'know."

"Ah," said Kierthos. "And why does he have gism flowing from his wounds?"

Jack held up his hands. "Beats the shit out of me, Kierthos." He was pleasantly surprised to see that not all immortals were pompous, mysterious numbers like Hannibal or Antigone; at least one of them could drink a beer and curse. Just like Jack used to.

"What about my library?" Kierthos asked. "Who trashed it?"

"Ah, that was my doing, too, I'm afraid. I was looking for—for some kind of lead. Secret passage, vault, something like that." Jack liked Kierthos, but he wasn't so trusting these days. Not since he'd gotten shot in the head and found out that even he wasn't what he seemed.

"I spent hundreds of years building that library, Jack," Kierthos said. "It all got trashed so quickly. A lot of those were first editions; it took longer for some of those books to be written than it would have taken to live them."

Jack took another swig, and said, "Tell me about it. Writing one day can take a week, writing a week can take months—how can you keep up? Where does the time go?"

Kierthos winked and said, "Took a look at the Shandy, huh? No?" Kierthos emptied his bottle and said, "So did you find what you were looking for?"

"Good fucking question. I guess not."

"Then I guess that hidden bookshelf behind the French collection was empty." Kierthos laughed and slapped Jack on the back, nearly causing him to spit out his beer. "And I guess that bundle of papers you're sitting on isn't anything important."

Jack finally swallowed his drink and said, "Okay, Kierthos, you got me. It's Hannibal's journals. I thought they might hold some clue as to what happened to him."

"That little bundle? That's Hannibal's journals?"

"It's the part I'm looking at now," Jack said evenly. "It's the next chronological set of entries on my current angle of investigation."

"Then let's take a look." Kierthos's massive body hunched forward over the table in anticipation.

Jack sighed and laid the journals out on the table.


[From the journals of Hannibal. Paris, February 1787.]

...The time has come at last to leave France and return to England. It has been nearly two hundred years since I broke the Vitalongae's treaty with the Invisible College of that country; all whom I offended are long dead, and I trust their successors do not bear such spite for me, assuming they even remember me.

Nevertheless, it cannot hurt to take precautions. St. G is in London now, scouting the situation and negotiating a truce with the College. Though I fully expect to return soon, I have set all my Parisian affairs in order. Much as it pains me to leave before my seeds of democracy bear fruit, I think I can trust my mortal allies to repeat the American experiment without me. They are, after all, men of immense reason. Perhaps when I return, the enlightened revolution will already be in full swing.

I have also concluded my personal business on the rest of the Continent. I could not return to London without first atoning in some way for the death of poor John Fletcher, Johann Favolius, last of the Fausts. Three generations of his family were exterminated by narrow-minded men who could not conceive of Omega powers as anything more than diabolism—I trust this Age of Reason will prove more tolerant—and I failed to save any of them. Johann's family is beyond my salvation, but I have convinced another Johann to salvage its reputation. I hope Goethe serves them better than I did.

Perhaps that is the real reason I have been so apprehensive in returning to London. It is the scene of one of my greater losses, and a man of my memory does not bear losses well. This time, I am convinced, I shall reverse my fortunes. I have done all I can against Monarchy here in Paris; now it is time to strike a blow against Slavery itself.

My affairs are settled, my courage is ready. There remains only one small bit of unresolved business, namely, the disposition of the very journals I am writing in now...


[From the journals of Hannibal; next page. Time and place unrecorded. The first sheet is written in a childlike scrawl, on the back of an almanac listing tobacco prices.]

A a A A A a B b B d b B d b C c c C C c C ... my MisTREss is GooD to mE dut but my MastEr is MEaN... wHEn hE wHips mE it HuRTS but hE does not STOP...

[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995. Twelve-thirty a.m.]

"What the hell was that?" Jack flipped back to the Paris journal, then back to the next page, but there was still nothing between them to explain the gap. He started flipping through the rest of the journals, but they were equally inscrutable. They were all scrawled hastily on pages from other publications. The writing was uneducated but it improved rapidly; the writer often practiced the alphabet and vocabulary, but more often detailed an escalating series of brutal beatings. Jack couldn't read it for long, and he shoved those pages back under the Paris entry.

Jack looked inquisitively at Kierthos, but the older immortal just shook his head. "Don't look at me. You have any clue as to what this means? What about his other journals?"

Jack glumly lowered his eyes. "Those led here. This doesn't tell me a damn thing."

"Ah, Hannibal," Kierthos said, raising his new beer, "I knew your mysterious ways would be the end of you. Couldn't even leave a clue for your buddies. Here's to you." He clinked his bottle against Jack's, though Jack didn't put much effort into the toast. After Kierthos drained the bottle, he said, "I'll be in the lounge, Jack. Let me know if you turn up any more journals."

"Yeah," Jack said as Kierthos's footsteps echoed down the hall. When they faded, Jack shifted to Kierthos's chair—with his back to the kitchen security camera -- reached deep inside his shirt, and pulled out the mortal papers. They were original manuscripts, in hard-to-read eighteenth-century writing. The first and last pages were marked "The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano," a name Jack dimly remembered from college—some professor claiming that some English businessman wrote the first 'slave narrative.' But in between that junk was another story, in the same hand, labeled "The Expurgated Narrative of Gustavus Vassa." Jack turned to its first page...


[London, England. April 14, 1787.]

The man called Gustavus Vassa—he was named, ironically enough, after a Swedish freedom fighter—threw his newspaper in the gutter with disgust. The Public Advertiser had just accused him of "advancing falsehoods as deeply black as his jetty face." This was the thanks he received for trying to protect his own people—to be called a mutineer, a race-baiter, and a liar. And to have the color of his face thrown back at him yet again. Gustavus pulled his waistcoat a little tighter and slouched on down the street, ignoring the curses of the white shopkeeper who had witnessed his act of littering.

This April morning was cold and damp, and Gustavus found himself shrinking further and further into his coat, as if it could hide him from the entire world. He was still reeling from the Advertiser's lies, unsure whether to lash out in anger or just go somewhere and hide. But the world had already made that choice for him; hiding was Gustavus's only option. He threaded his way through the busy morning crowds, stepping around merchants and carriages and sailors and generally trying to be noticed as little as possible. It was not uneasy to manage; if his black skin made him stand out, it also made the other Londoners' eyes roll right over him, as if he were nothing but the slightest wraith. Today, he didn't mind.

Eventually, Gustavus left the busy docks of the River Thames, and entered a small African neighborhood in Haymarket, one of many such that was springing up in the cheaper parts of the city. More and more Africans, free men and women, were settling in London. And why not, thought Gustavus—it's not like they can go home anymore. He, of all people, should know that. And then he arrived at his home; he entered the building, climbed up the stairs, and opened the door to his rooms.

Gustavus halted in the doorway, his jaw starting to swing open even before the door stopped. Sitting in Gustavus's main room, on his best reading chair, was a black man -- tall, dark, dignified, wearing a gentleman's clothes and a white powdered wig.

"Please, do come in," said the visitor. "It is your own house, after all." The stranger waved Gustavus inside, and Gustavus was shocked again. His desk, his shelves, even some of the floor—every available surface was covered with bundles of paper. For a brief instant, he feared they were all copies of the Advertiser, their abuse confronting him even here.

"I understand that you are Mister Gustavus Vassa," said the stranger, motioning for Gustavus to sit.

Gustavus was no longer accustomed to obeying the whims of other men, even gentlemen. "I am, sir, and this is my apartment. How did you get in here? Who are you?"

"How strange that an African man should have a Latinized Swedish name," the gentleman said, ignoring his question. "Tell me, Mister Gustavus Vassa, what is your real name?"

Gustavus folded his arms across his chest. "You have just said it. May I inquire, sir, as to your name?"

The gentleman chuckled. "Be careful, Mr. Vassa, I detect a hot current of anger breaking through that icy British veneer of politesse. Why, one might think you were not really an Englishman at all. But since you asked, I am called Blackmore." He pronounced it to sound almost like black-a-moor, only one of the many insults hurled at Gustavus and his countrymen over the years. "Hannibal Blackmore, to be precise." He rose from the chair and extended his hand; Gustavus only reluctantly shook it. "I have come here to give you a commission; but first, your real name?"

"I believe I was named Olaudah. Olaudah... Equiano? It was an Eboe name."

"Ah yes, the Ibo... Ola-uda, 'fortunate one,' Ekweano, 'if they permit, I shall stay.' A strangely appropriate name for a freed slave. Tell me," he said, "why do you go by your slave name?"

"Vassa was only the name given to me as a slave. It is also the name by which I bought my freedom, and I cherish that name as deeply as I cherish the coins which freed me. Mister Blackmore, you mentioned a commission?"

"Ah, yes," said Blackmore. He reached behind the chair, lazily producing—to Gustavus's chagrin—a copy of the day's Advertiser. "Your name caught my eye," said Blackmore, "as any name does when it is so vilified by so many men of high station. In just a few short weeks, your public letters opposing the plan to repatriate poor blacks to Sierra Leone have attracted the ire of nearly every leading British abolitionist. I should think, Mr. Vassa, that abolitionists would be exactly the last people you should wish to oppose."

"You shouldn't think so if you had been on the ship to Sierra Leone," Gustavus answered indignantly. "Hundreds of settlers crammed into the ship, with rampant illness and no provisions, sailing at a time that will put them in Sierra Leone just when the rains start and planting will be impossible. I was the only organizer protesting on their behalf, and for my troubles I was expelled from the boat at Plymouth. I have only brought my protests to the public because I have nowhere else to turn. And now even the honorable abolitionists attack me, because I have black skin and they take the word of the whites. But England must know that sending us back to Africa is no solution. It's far too late for that now. We must learn to deal with each other here." Gustavus paused, taking a deep breath. He realized he'd probably said far, far too much, but it felt good to get it off his chest. "That, sir," he said, resuming his speech, "is why I have been vilified. Merely for speaking the truth."

"No," Blackmore said calmly, "for writing it. The difference is profound." He leaned forward slowly, almost idly, but Gustavus sensed there was nothing idle about this man's motion—each seemingly innocent movement was part of a deliberate scheme. "Mr. Vassa," continued Blackmore, "I was wondering if I might entice you to preserve another written record. I have an appointment of some considerable importance, and I would like you to keep my journals for me while I attend it. I will, in all likelihood, be back to claim them in a week, but I must be sure they are safe. You seem a reliable guardian."

"Despite the judgments of the Advertiser?" Gustavus asked.

"Because of them." Gustavus thought he detected a faint, honest smile on Blackmore's face, but it vanished instantly. "It is an important job, Mr. Vassa, especially for one as dedicated to his countrymen as yourself."

"Then I accept," said Gustavus. "These are the journals?" he asked, looking around his room. "You have written a considerable amount."

"I have had a considerable amount of time in which to write." Blackmore donned his tricornered hat, indicating the audience was at an end. As Gustavus followed him to the door, Blackmore said, "In the meanwhile, Mr. Vassa, you might ponder a question for me. What do you think of the abolitionist movement?"

"It's doomed," Gustavus said, without hesitation. "They hatch useless plans like the Sierra Leone trip, and ignore the real problems facing Africans, like slavery itself or the widespread belief in Africans' inferiority. Sir, there is a play in town called The Padlock --"

"I know that name," Blackmore said, scowling. "A man in black paint plays an idiot African, inventing the most ridiculous accent I have ever heard. All 'dem's and 'dere's... a hurtful lie about our people. What has happened to the London stage, Mr. Vassa? Once, the theatres challenged such lies. Now they've all moved uptown; Shakespeare is played with a happy ending, and Marlowe... Marlowe is not played at all..." Blackmore snapped himself out of this odd reverie. "And even the abolitionists are packing us in boats and sending us off to die."

"But they are not truly abolitionists, Mr. Blackmore," said Gustavus. "After all, they did not really try to end slavery."

Blackmore opened the door. "That's very true. And come to think of it," he added with a wink, "neither did you."

Gustavus's face flushed into a deep, dark black. "Are you implying something, Mr. Blackmore?"

Blackmore grinned. "I imply nothing," he said, "Mister Vassa." And he closed the door.


[From The Expurgated Narrative of Gustavus Vassa.]

...This strange meeting had raised more questions than it had answered. I still did not know who this Blackmore was, or why he placed such a great importance on his journals. Greatest of all was my confusion over what he wanted of me. Soon after he left, I began to inquire after Mr. Blackmore, expecting perhaps to learn that he was some Charlatan or Schemer. I soon discovered that my estimate could not have been farther from the truth.

Though my name was much out of favour with the English abolitionist circle, I still had enough friends and acquaintances to ask them about Blackmore. I learned that in recent months, an educated African from Paris, named Blackmore, had been moving about in that Circle, making himself familiar with the Reverend Granville Sharp, William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, & others who had not been involved in the Sierra Leone business. (Not long after Mr. Blackmore's disappearance, Mr. Wilberforce and Mr. Clarkson formed the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, & I instantly perceived Blackmore's hand in it. Similarly, when I joined two dozen of my countrymen in a letter-writing campaign as the Sons of Africa, I found that most of them had been impelled to join by Blackmore as well.)

Yet the Blackmore name went back farther than that. Reverend Sharp informed me (when he was not excoriating me for my "inflammatory" ways) that in 1772, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield made his ruling on the Somerset Case only after a careful correspondence with a learned African in Paris. Mansfield then ruled that Slavery could not exist on English soil, & there too I perceive Blackmore's subtle hand.

Who was this man to achieve such influence? Why had he taken an interest in my humble self? And what importance was in his journals? The answer lay only in the journals themselves, & though at first I did not wish to betray his privacy, I came to reason that it would in no way violate his trust. Indeed, the lack of security made it seem that I was intended to read them. In my days as a Slave, I had profited well by reading anything & everything I could find, & I applied that Rule in my days of freedom as well. With little trepidation, I began to read the journals.

Dear Lord, a more terrible Fiction I have never read. The journals made this Blackmore out to be a frightful Creature, born before the Saviour & older than the Wandering Jew. I shuddered to think of such Fiction, & the sickened mind that could produce it. There is no place for such things in a rational world.

But as I read more, I began to wonder if it were not Fiction, but Fact. The volume of the journals was more than one man could write in a lifetime, in ten lifetimes, yet it was all penned in the same hand. There were also sketches of the man—among them a Velasquez, a Caravaggio and, if I may judge the signature to be truthful, a Da Vinci. If this Blackmore were not truly an Immortal, he was the most clever sort of Fake.

Now it remained to discern what an Immortal (or a Fake) wanted with me, and there the journals were no help. I have no special Powers like his other supposed companions did; I am but a Mortal, and some foul minds would say my Colour makes me even less. The last entry did say that Blackmore feared his trip to London and some enemies that were in it—an Invisible College that he offended two hundred years past. But the entry also mentioned an ally of his in this city, and I began to perceive where I could find answers about this Mr. Blackmore. For where would one Immortal dwell, but with another of his kind...

Making some inquiries with the folk of London, who are always more attentive to rumours and mysteries than the upper classes, I learned that Blackmore was not the only Immortal to visit London. There was another man, a black Demon who walked the streets of Southwark two centuries ago in the middle of a plague summer, with a German diabolist & a damned Playwright as his companions—from the journals, I knew this story to be Blackmore's own. There was also a current visitor, one man among dozens who were scattered around Europe, claiming to be a so-called Immortal who had died in 1784. Someone in London was claiming, though not too loudly, to be none other than the Comte de St. Germain. Known also as St. Germain the Deathless.


[London, England. April 18, 1787.]

Gustavus was not altogether surprised the second time he found Blackmore sitting in his Haymarket rooms. Gustavus dropped his day's newspapers on the table beside Blackmore—for Blackmore was again sitting in his reading chair -- and said, "Do you ever wait to be invited into a man's house before you enter it, or are you above such mortal courtesies?"

Blackmore smiled, but faintly. "You read the journals, then."

"Read them, yes, and believed not a word of them. I do not take commissions from charlatans, sir. You may take your journals and go." He pointed to the journals, which were neatly bundled and sitting by the door.

"I had hoped that such organization was meant for your benefit and not mine," Blackmore said somberly. "May I ask why you think me a charlatan?"

Gustavus snorted. "Is it not obvious, man? You claim to be older than our Saviour!"

"And?" Blackmore said, as if that were not blasphemous enough.

"And you are in the company of frauds," Gustavus replied. "There is a man in London claiming to be St. Germain—the 'immortal' who died three years ago, in Sleswig. I kept watch over his lodgings, and I saw you go there yesterday."

Blackmore leapt up from the chair, his seemingly unbreakable air of calm self-control suddenly shattered. "You did what?"

Triumphantly, Gustavus said, "I know sharks feed in packs, so I watched St. Germain's rooms, and soon spotted you."

For a moment, Blackmore looked as though he might strike Gustavus; but instead he broke away from him and paced around the room, kicking furniture out of the way with his immaculate shoes. Blackmore angrily ripped off his white powdered wig, exposing the kinky black hair underneath. "That undermines the whole point of giving you the journals in the first place," he shouted. "I have to hide them with someone they will never connect to me. If anyone saw you... an African on Bond Street!"

"Many people will see an African on Bond Street," Gustavus retorted, "but they will not see which African."

Blackmore ceased his tantrum and stared at Gustavus; the last comment had crystallized something for him. "Of course," he said, "of course. That's why I approached you in the first place."

Gustavus held up a hand. "Don't approach me anymore. Take your lies and go."

"So, you think me a liar." Blackmore sat back down in Gustavus's chair. "Fair enough. Will you then reject a fellow African abolitionist?" Gustavus was silent, dumbfounded, and Blackmore said, "I know you have been looking into my name and my works. Aren't those good enough to warrant holding onto the journals, even if you don't trust the journals themselves?"

Gustavus folded his arms obstinately. "I don't see how those journals help the cause of our people."

"They haven't helped them, yet. They only help when someone reads them. And acts on them appropriately." Then Blackmore grinned fully, the grin a grand master might use when checkmating a poor novice; the pleasure, Gustavus realized, lay not in the victory but in the instruction that was given to the loser.

Confused, Gustavus wandered around the room, but kept his eyes fixed on the journals by the door. "How... how then am I supposed to act from a bundle of lies?"

"Fiction may contain lessons for the perceptive reader. What lesson may be found in these journals?"

Gustavus continued to stagger around the room, stumbling across the floor but always fixed on the journals, like Herschel's new planet Uranus moving distantly around the sun. "To... to mistrust other Immortals..."

Blackmore laughed. "A paranoid lesson, formed in my youth and weakness. Look for something more lasting, that may apply to a mortal like you."

"To... to not dwell on death... to love those you love, no matter how different they may be... I learned this from the great African story, yes?" Blackmore simply nodded for him to continue. "To take charge of oneself... to resist the tyranny of men...? But I have no powers like the people in your stories..."

"Powers do not make the hero," Blackmore said. "You have all the powers any thinking human needs. Now what do you, an African in London, most need to learn from the griots and queens of Mali?"

Gustavus nearly stumbled to the floor; he could feel the journals' inexorable pull. "To reveal one's true story... to write it down?"

Blackmore stared at him, fixing Gustavus to one spot.

"But... but my life is hardly exemplary," Gustavus stammered.

"It is highly exemplary," Blackmore said, "of something so atrocious that many people would profit by learning to shun its example. You have seen the plight of the slave in the West Indies, have you not? The beatings, the rapes, the long months of labor in the sharp fields of cane... I accept this as evil on principle, thankfully not having experienced it myself, but others will need to be convinced. And for our own people, you are exemplary of how one person may escape those abominations. Indeed, your escape has been quite complete, save two oversights: first, Olaudah, you have not written down your own story --"

"My name is Gustavus. I'm not Olaudah anymore."

"--and that is your second oversight." Blackmore rose, replaced his wig, and straightened his clothing. "I do hope you choose to set your views to print, Olaudah. It would be a shame to let the Public Advertiser fix your image for all history."

Gustavus grabbed Blackmore's arm as he passed by him on the way out. "Mr. Blackmore," he said, "why did you... go to all this trouble?"

"Because you're worth it, Olaudah. Because an abolitionist movement needs African abolitionists. Should I... disappear... after these meetings, someone else will have to carry the tradition. Which reminds me." He plucked a sealed envelope out of his overcoat. "A record of my latest meeting. If I don't return for the journals, you steer clear of all the people mentioned in it. Leave all the 'charlatans' to me."

Gustavus still wouldn't let go. "What I meant was, why set up such an elaborate deception for me... why such strange lies?"

Blackmore pulled his arm free quite violently, cutting his hand on Gustavus's cuff buttons. "No, no, don't worry about it," he said when Gustavus tried to tend to the wound. Blackmore opened the door and started down the stairs to the street. "To answer your question, may I remind you that man has not thought himself the center of the universe for nearly three hundred years; nor is he always the center of strange conspiracies. Read the last entry, Olaudah. You may yet learn how an immortal can die, and how a dead man can rise again." He vanished down the stairs, waving good-bye to Gustavus with a stained but unwounded hand.

Gustavus stood there in shock for a moment. Then he opened the envelope.

[London, England. April 17, 1787. The first meeting.]

As soon as he entered the elegant parlor, he was greeted with a cry of "Monsieur Hannibal! My dear man! You are looking well."

Hannibal shrugged his shoulders. "You're looking very well yourself," he answered, "for a dead man." Hannibal allowed the footmen to take his coat and gloves, and then he seated himself by the fireplace. He did not find it the least bit strange that all of the footmen looked exactly alike—or that their host, the person whose visage they all reflected, now appeared some seventy years younger than he had the last time Hannibal saw him. In fact, the host had the cherubic, not-yet- wholly-formed face and body of a thirteen-year-old boy.

"I see you finally decided to get rid of the old body, Georges- Antoine," Hannibal commented. "Tired of notoriety?"

The little boy laughed, as a footman brought him his snuff-box. "So tired, I didn't wait for this body to mature. Even at Sleswig, I was too famous. Every mystic and charlatan in Europe visiting me, craving the secret of life. I was glad to bury the old St. Germain. That pompous asshole Cagliostro wouldn't leave him alone." He snorted a pinch of snuff, sneezed loudly, and cried, "Fuck!" Then he noticed Hannibal's widening eyes, and added, "Surely, old friend, a little drugs and profanity do not shock you! You have only known me, what, nearly six hundred years now!"

"It's just that the body... takes some getting used to."

"You're telling me," St. Germain said. "I thought I finally had the knack of the homonculus transference procedure, and suddenly I have to deal with a cracking voice and my first few pubic hairs again. But this is not why you are here. Osric, Seyton, if you please." The footmen (who looked older than their master for once) left the parlor, and locked the doors behind them. St. Germain hopped into a chair—he needed a stool to sit his feet on—and said, "You want to hear about the College?"

"Please."

St. Germain folded his arms over his immaculate gold-trimmed cream jacket and lacy white shirt. "Finding the Invisible College was easy enough—I only had to drop the name I've tried so hard to escape, and they all came running to me. They hide behind the Royal Society now."

"So like the College," Hannibal said, "to tell the world there is nothing outside their mechanical concept of rationality, even as they hide their own irrational powers."

"Yes, well," St. Germain said, a little perturbed at the interruption, "they were a little disappointed to find I was with the Vitalongae; they still bear us ill will from your breaking the last treaty. Do not blame yourself, Monsieur Hannibal; I think the mortal will always loathe the immortal."

"As I have said before, Georges, I disagree. May I have the summary and not the lecture?"

St. Germain laughed, but without humor. "I only have the body of a young student now, M. Hannibal. But as you wish," he said, shifting back to his whimsical tone. "You never truly did harm their organization, and it was two hundred years ago. Walsingham, Harriot, Dee and the rest are all dead. I think the College will forgive you, allow you to work here in England, if we make a few concessions."

"Such as." It wasn't a question.

The little immortal ran over to his mentor. "M. Hannibal, why do you need to visit England anyway? Why deal with the Invisible College?"

"Because England leads the slave trade, and slavery must be stopped. Stopped, as much as possible, by Africans."

"Monsieur, you let the recent success in America go to your head. The other Vitalongae are not with us this time—at least bring it up at the next centennial meeting. It's only nine years --"

Hannibal stood up, towering over St. Germain. "Do you have any idea how many slaves will be sold by then? How much nine years is to a mortal?"

But St. Germain did not cower as a little boy would. "Your affection for mortals makes you an excellent recruiter," he said, "but a poor diplomat."

"Is the student lecturing the teacher again?" Hannibal sneered. "Do not forget who saved you from the stake, and taught you everything you know."

"After six hundred years, cher monsieur, I do not care to be reduced to nothing more than your student and your prize."


[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995.]

Jack instantly felt sympathy for the little guy; being Hannibal's student was trying enough after six months, let alone six centuries. And Hannibal seemed even more obnoxious back then. True, St. Germain appeared to be a bit of a snot, but then Jack had to remember he was getting this through Hannibal's journal entry. He might never know what really happened in any of these times. Resigning himself to ignorance and blindness, Jack plunged back into the account.


[London, England. April 17, 1787.]

"After six hundred years, cher monsieur, I do not care to be reduced to nothing more than your student and your prize." St. Germain refused to say anything more.

The ornate wall clock ticked away a few minutes; then Hannibal said, "What concessions must we make?"

Now St. Germain sniffed and pouted. "They... they want my elixir of youth. My homonculus process. An artificial means to eternal life."

Hannibal stared at the boy. Then he snickered. Soon it developed into a full-grown bellow of laughter. "Let them have it!" he said. "They don't know that you're the only one who can transfer your mind to the homonculi." Hannibal had certainly learned that the hard way in the thirteenth century, when he'd used the then-newfound process to make homonculi of his wife and children in Mali. The little copies had come out senseless and stupid; the minds could not be transferred, and the homonculi soon died. If Hannibal chose to, he could have cried over it now as he did then; but he preferred to laugh at the irrational parts of the universe instead. It had helped his mind last over two thousand years.

But St. Germain wasn't laughing. "M. Hannibal, you are aware of my researches into generational anatomy. Our immortality stems from the same common factor that gave your Faust family their power... that gives the College its magic. It may be that some of them can use my methods to live forever."

"Then at the very worst, we will have some neophyte immortals who will be indebted to us. It's worth it if we can end this nonsensical feud, and if I can continue my work." When he saw that St. Germain wasn't exactly nodding in agreement, Hannibal said, "Trust me, Georges. A few more centuries will give you the perspective you need to see that it's better for us in the long run."

"Cher Monsieur Hannibal... it's always been 'a few more centuries.' It stopped being 'a few more centuries' a few centuries ago. But," he swung his hand in a lazy arc of perfect aristocratic indifference, "you are the elder. If that's the way you want it." He walked over to the fireplace, and knelt close to its crackling flames. "I suppose I won't ever repay you for rescuing me from the stake, will I?"

Hannibal placed a hand on the six-hundred-year-old lad's shoulder. "Nonsense. You're the best student I've ever had. That's why I've kept you with me all this time."

"I set up a tentative meeting with the Invisible College for two days from now," St. Germain said quietly. "It is to be held here, and we are both to attend. They will call off the feud, and I will give them my secrets." He continued to stare into the flames. "I suppose I shall go through with it."

"Good man," Hannibal said. Then he turned and left the parlor.

"M. Hannibal!" St. Germain called. "Would you rather stay here? Are you sure you will be safe in London, with the feud still on?"

Hannibal shook his head, and did not even break stride or turn his head to answer. "They won't act on the feud if they want your processes," he said. "I'm sure I'm perfectly safe."


[From The Expurgated Narrative.]

I never saw him again.

Blackmore's story ended midway through; he never returned for his journals, & I could only assume that meant the worst. Although it is possible that he is fine, & has decided to leave the books behind—but that suggests he was a Charlatan, for a only Charlatan would not come back to get his books, since they would be forgeries. He must have been a Charlatan, I think: he never came back, he left his books, he told the strangest lies. But it is an odd Charlatan who does not turn a profit from his Fakery.

And he was so right about so much else. He funded the anti-slave trade movement. He influenced our courts. He even convinced me to make this record of my own life (though this part, I fear, must never be seen by anyone else). For a Faker and a Fool, he was exceedingly wise.

He was not right about all things, though. Olaudah Equiano was my name when I was young and happy in Eboe. I am not in Eboe anymore; & as the Sierra Leone debacle taught me, I cannot ever go back. Nor do I wish to. Gustavus Vassa was my name as a Slave. But it was not my only Slave name, merely my last one—because it was the name under which I purchased my Freedom. And it was also the name of a freedom fighter of years past; does not "Hannibal Blackmore" himself demonstrate that the names of yesterday are Power?

I am still guarding his journals. Though my religion & my era & my own rational mind tell me they must be feigned, I guard them anyway. I often clung to some irrational Hope in times of need when my earthly faculties failed me; I do so now; I keep watch for the man who is absent. Even if he really is a Fake, at least I have a cause to keep now.

Out of deference to him who started it, when I complete my book I am going to name it The Life of Olaudah Equiano. But for myself, my Freedom, and my personal Power, I remain now and forever

Gustavus Vassa.


[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995.]

Jack tucked the Expurgated Narrative back inside his shirt. It had shed some light on Hannibal's previous disappearance, and it certainly increased Jack's suspicions, but it still didn't tell Jack what happened. If he couldn't even solve a mystery from two hundred years ago, how could he solve the current one? There weren't even any guarantees that the two were related.

And the only other journals Jack had to go on were these slave scribblings. Jack didn't like looking at them. The beatings were painful to read about, but the author's ignorant, primitive style was even more painful. Mostly because after looking at a few months' entries, Jack recognized the handwriting as Hannibal's. It was even worse than reading about Hannibal being brought as a slave before the first Hannibal; this hit closer to home, in every sense of the phrase.

Jack supposed he could try to slog through the slave writings, but he just didn't feel up to it after the long day. He also supposed he could go back to the cache and get more journals, but then it would be hard to keep the cache a secret. Instead, Jack wandered over to the lounge to find Kierthos.

Kierthos was watching a large television (its screen was tastefully concealed behind a fake bookshelf, to fit in with the decor; the rest of the house was filled with European furniture and art dating back to the Middle Ages). The screen was split into four smaller windows, each one showing a videotape of a different channel's news broadcast. The last several days' newspapers were spread all over the coffee table, but Kierthos was no longer reading them. "Just catching up," Kierthos said. "Another beer?"

"No thanks," Jack said, sitting down next to him.

"Find any more leads to Hannibal's disappearance?" Kierthos asked.

"Maybe," Jack said. He dragged out his words, as if carefully measuring them. "What do you know about the Invisible College of today?"

"The Invisible College? I thought they went out with ether theory." Kierthos rubbed his jaw pensively. "But... if any of them did survive, it's possible they'd still have it in for Hannibal."

"After four hundred years?" Jack asked.

"Hey, these are mortals we're talking about." Kierthos leaned back into the plush couch. "They can't remember their own history the way we can, so they pick up on any little grudge or hatred that does get passed down, as their only way of reclaiming the past." He took a swig of beer, then said, "Mayflies, all of them." Kierthos noticed Jack was staring at the table, and he said, "Sorry, pal, didn't mean to lecture... Jack?... what's wrong?"

Jack grabbed a Metro section which had been sitting on the top of the pile of newspapers, and started flipping through it furiously. "Oh, shit," Jack said, "oh, shit."

"What is it?" Kierthos said, leaning forward to get a closer look.


[Washington Post, July 23, 1995.]

POLICE DEVELOP LEAD IN OMEGA GANG WAR

Inside sources in the D.C. police department informed this newspaper that police have a lead in last Wednesday's brutal and mysterious attack on the Anacostia D Crew, the District's most notorious drug gang. Police are now searching for a well-dressed black man in his early thirties, known only as "Mister Lazarus," who may have an Omega ability to resist damage or heal wounds.

The July 19 attack left three gang members dead and six others wounded, including Tony Dennis a.k.a. "Tony Dynamo," the Omega speedster who led the gang. Dennis is currently hospitalized in critical but stable condition, after having his right hand and both kneecaps shot at point-blank range with an automatic rifle. Police still have no motive for the attack. Although Mr. Lazarus has temporarily shut down the Anacostia D Crew, police have issued a warrant for his arrest.

Other Omegas in the Washington area have been silent about the attack. Anne Benson, who had a highly publicized battle and lawsuit with Tony Dennis last spring, gave a terse "No comment" on whether she would pursue Mr. Lazarus as well. The Seekers also refused to comment on Mr. Lazarus, and have made no motions to capture him. However, inside sources indicate that Mr. Lazarus frequents Northwest, and the police are searching (see KILLER, B3, col. 1)


"Shit!" Jack said, slamming his fist into the coffee table. "I'm running out of time!" If only I'd paid attention to something besides those damn journals, he thought, I might have known a few days earlier.

"This Lazarus fellow," Kierthos said, "could he be Hannibal?" Then he studied Jack's frustrated scowl and his burning eyes, and he said, "Or is it you?"

Jack lowered his head down to his knees. "Yeah, it was me," he said. "My mistaken idea of community service. Damn." Jack figured if he could've called on Anne or the Seekers before—which he didn't want to, he thought he could handle this on his own—he sure couldn't anymore. The Seekers would know he was a killer, and the cops would probably be watching Anne because of her history with Tony D. He couldn't find Hannibal in the present, he couldn't find him in the past, and now he couldn't even find his own friends.

Kierthos grabbed Jack by the shoulders. "Snap out of it, will you?" he said. "This just means we have to find Hannibal fast, before the cops get any closer."

"It's not the cops I'm worried about," Jack said. "Much as they'd love to bust a black man in Northwest, they won't find me if I stay in here. The problem is, if I stay in here, whatever got Hannibal and Prufrock..."

"Say no more," said Kierthos. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Jack looked at Kierthos, and a plan started to form. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, there is. Get help. Get any immortal who liked Hannibal. He was your big recruiter, right? The liason for all the new guys? Get anybody who liked him down here."

Kierthos started shifting uncomfortably on the couch, directing his eyes anywhere but at Jack. "The problem, Jack, is that Hannibal had a sort of... cold relationship with his recruits..."

"Tell me about it," Jack said. "But there's one guy in particular who'll probably help us. Look up St. Germain and get him down here."

Kierthos suddenly turned pale. "Didn't, uh, didn't Hannibal tell you, Jack? St. Germain disappeared over a hundred years ago."

TO BE CONTINUED...


Next issue: Jack struggles through Hannibal's slave years... and he just may learn whodunit. Be here for some big revelations and a major confrontation in what I figure will be the penultimate issue of Epitaphs.


This issue's quote comes from my main source, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. I used the version edited by Paul Edwards in Equiano's Travels. I also used Donald Greene's The Age of Exuberance for invaluable information on 18th-century life, history, and ideas.

Kierthos is created by and c. Specter. Kierthos regularly appears in Slayer, also from Omega. All other characters written by, created by, and 1995 Marc Singer. A Legacy House production.

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