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|"For him evidently
Mr. Kurtz was not in his grave; I suspect that for him
Mr. Kurtz was one of the immortals."
An Omega limited series by Marc Singer
[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995. Three-fifteen in the morning.]
Jack Russell's jaw slid neatly back into place, reattaching itself to the rest of his face. New teeth sprouted up to replace the bloody ones lying on the floor beneath him. They didn't quite grow back all the way before the Kierthos-homunculus's massive fist slammed into Jack's mouth, starting the messy process all over again.
"I can do this all night, Jack," Kierthos said calmly. "I can do it for as long as you live. So you might as well spare yourself a lot of trouble, and just tell us where the rest of Hannibal's journals are." Jack simply crouched down on the floor of "Kierthos's" foyer, dripping blood and new teeth onto the black-and-white tiles. He couldn't do much else, since his wrists were handcuffed. "I said talk, Jack!" Kierthos shouted, drawing back his fist for another blow.
Jack mumbled, "Iss harr to takk..." He paused while his jaw reattached itself once again. "Iss harr to talk when my jaw's broken, asshole. Gimme a minute."
The homunculus moved to strike again, but his master and creator held up an indolent, restraining hand. "Give the man a minute, Kierthos," said St. Germain the Deathless. "We do all have the time. Although," he added nonchalantly, "time is not such a blessing for this infant." Since he was eight hundred years old, the arrogant alchemist could almost get away with calling Jack an infant. St. Germain knelt next to his prisoner. "What'll it be, infant?" he asked. "Will you give us the journals, or shall we fill your immortal lifetime with pain?"
Jack didn't say anything. It was the only remaining move he could make against them; everything else he'd tried had failed dismally. Jack figured it was a pretty pathetic outcome for his first solo outing... and quite possibly his last.
"Come, infant," St. Germain said, affecting a sort of boy's-school camaraderie, "it isn't like you owe Hannibal anything," St. Germain said. "The bastard ran out on you, left you here to fall into our clutches."
Jack raised an eyebrow involuntarily. That sounded like Hannibal had escaped St. Germain and left here voluntarily. But then why would Hannibal leave without his journals? Or was St. Germain simply lying to provoke an answer from Jack... perhaps he already had Hannibal, but also needed the journals?
Jack needed more information before he could decide. His career as an immortal wasn't going very well, so he thought back to his days in P.G. County Homicide and all the questionings he'd conducted there; the mortal Jack Russell was actually pretty damn good at this sort of stuff. He'd seen the masterful ways some suspects would try to change the subject on their own interrogators... "Why don't you ask Hannibal yourself?" he said.
"What?" said St. Germain, slightly off-balance (in more ways than one, Jack thought). "What are you talking about?" He glanced around the foyer. "Is he still here?" He screamed at Jack, "Take me to his journals now, damn you!"
Jack realized St. Germain honestly thought Hannibal was out there. He decided to take another chance. "I hid them the same place he hid them. Inside the literary canon."
"Kierthos, teach him not to lie." As the homunculus punched Jack mercilessly, St. Germain said, "I've already checked behind all the bookshelves, and nothing is there. Don't waste any more of my time. Lead me to the journals."
"Lead you to the journals?" Jack asked, coughing up blood. "That's why you tipped off the cops about my encounter with the Anacostia D Crew as 'Mr. Lazarus,' right?" Jack knew it was a little too convenient how Kierthos left that article lying around, just waiting for him to read it. St. Germain wanted Jack to know the police were searching the area for him, so he would have to stay in the mansion and lead them to the journals. Jack suddenly thought of Tony D, who knew Jack lived in Northwest and pulled a gun on him in the middle of their deal.... "You tipped off Tony D about me, too, didn't you? Didn't you?"
St. Germain snapped, "I am conducting this session." He waved his hand at his henchman. "Kierthos?" The cloned immortal stepped forward and kicked Jack in his kidneys. But while Jack writhed, St. Germain paced around him and said, "Yes, in fact I did tip him off. I was hoping the gutter trash would actually kill you, or at least put you out of commission while I moved against Hannibal, but I should have known better than to rely on such filth. I could hardly abide cooperating with him."
"Black people freak you out that much, G?" Jack grinned.
"Kierthos!" At St. Germain's command, the homunculus leapt onto Jack, punching furiously. It was a few minutes before St. Germain nodded for Kierthos to stop.
St. Germain wiped a hand across his forehead. "...No, they don't, Mister Russell. Whatever gave you that idea?"
Jack's blood stained the black-and-white tiles, the fresher, redder fluid pooling up over the older, congealed stains. His bruises faded, his cuts closed, his jaw slid back into place, and new teeth started to sprout up. Then St. Germain and Kierthos started the whole process all over again. This time, Kierthos used his sword.
[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995. Four o'clock in the morning.]
St. Germain slumped down in the elegant Louis XIV chair he'd ordered Kierthos to bring in from the sitting room. Jack was still splayed across the foyer floor, and still repairing himself from the latest round of beatings. Kierthos was mopping around the edges of the foyer, keeping the blood from flowing into any of the carpeted rooms.
St. Germain sighed heavily and said, "You know, Russell, I'm doing you a favor by asking you for the journals this way. If you had the slightest grain of human intelligence, you'd tell me where they are now. Because I can always apply my homunculus process to you... take a few cell samples and grow a new Jack Russell who will be more than willing to tell me all about the journals."
Jack laughed. St. Germain had to really be running out of ideas if he was trying that one. "I know perfectly well that your cloning process can't really copy anyone's knowledge into a new body, except your own," Jack said. That was one of the things that had tipped him off about Kierthos... every now and then, Kierthos lapsed into some diatribe against mortals that sounded more appropriate for an arrogant dandy like St. Germain than a beer-swilling man of action. And of course, there was no way the real Kierthos, from Hellenistic Greece, would only fill his house with furniture and books dating from the Middle Ages forward. That was the sign of an owner who was too egotistical to even imagine the world existed before he was born back in the twelfth century. The sign, Jack thought, that St. Germain was controlling this house long before we ever moved in.
Come to think of it, Jack realized, Hannibal must have spotted the same signs long before I did. I only made the connection about homunculi after Prufrock got his seed spilled all over the foyer, and after I read about Hannibal once having an alchemist protege; from there, it was easy to guess St. Germain might be behind this. But Hannibal would have recognized the signs much earlier, and known that his old enemy was back. That's why he was ready when... More pieces clicked together for Jack.
Kierthos was apparently a friend of Hannibal's, Jack thought; St. Germain ambushed and replaced him a while back so he could catch Hannibal off-guard. He must have waited a long time, but St. Germain finally got his chance when Astral destroyed Hannibal's D.C. home in April, and Hannibal and I sought refuge here at Kierthos's house. But St. Germain wanted me out of the way, to improve the odds against Hannibal. He'd been expecting Tony D to knock me out of the picture last week, but I survived. Then I left the house to go to Harvey's birthday party, and St. Germain suddenly had a window of opportunity again. So Prufrock tried to get the drop on Hannibal, maybe with Kierthos and St. Germain helping him. But it was too late; Hannibal knews it was coming, so he killed Prufrock in self-defense and ran like hell. And since he knew it was coming...
"You can give it up now," Jack told St. Germain. "Hannibal was two steps ahead of you. He would have taken whatever it is you want along with him."
"You overestimate your mentor," St. Germain said. "He left everything behind. Including the journals."
"You underestimate your mentor," Jack said. Some of his teeth were still not quite realigned, but he managed a smirk. "He left me a clue pointing to the journals. He wanted them to be found here. Hell, he even left translations for the entries that weren't written in English. So you can bet that whatever he left, he meant for you to see."
St. Germain clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "That only means he meant for you to see them, infant. I speak many languages besides English. If Hannibal really wanted the journals out of my grasp, if he really cared enough about them, he'd have taken them with him. In fact," St. Germain added with a smile, "he'd have done the same with you."
Jack felt winded, like someone had just punched him in the gutfar more savagely than Kierthos ever had. "But... but... he did care about them," Jack said. "They kept him sane... they helped set him free... he took all those precautions to make sure they were safe...."
"Then he must be so very disappointed to see you keep the journals in this house, and lead me right to them."
Jack lifted his bloody head upwards. "You haven't found them yet, asshole."
"It is only a matter of time. I think you know by now what time is to my kind. Kierthos." The homunculus dropped his mop, picked up Jack, and carried him towards St. Germain. Kierthos propped Jack's head up until he and St. Germain were staring eye-to-eye. "Time for another trick from my dear, departed friends Cagliostro and Mesmer," said St. Germain. "Tell me where the journals are." Jack closed his eyes and tried to turn his head away. "Don't bother," said the alchemist, "this is no mere parlor-trick hypnotism. Listen to me. Feel the force of my intellect. You cannot disregard it. You cannot disobey it. Listen to me. Tell me where the journals are."
Jack's head felt like it was being stuffed full of steel wool. There was a buzzing sensation, like his skull was falling asleep, but after a while it became so ominpresent and numbing as to actually feel pleasant. Static filled him. Jack couldn't lie anymore, but he had one last trick. Maybe if he believed in it enough, he'd fool St. Germain. He muttered, "They're in the same place as before... hidden inside... the literary canon..."
"We have already looked there." St. Germain's voice echoed like there was nothing else inside Jack's head to block it. "They are not behind the bookshelves. Tell me where the journals are."
"Same as before," Jack mumbled. "Hidden... inside the canon..."
"We have been over this already." A hint of irritation cracked through St. Germain's calm facade. "The journals are not inside..."
Jack felt a sudden jolt. He opened his eyes, and gradually realized he was lying on the floor again. Kierthos had dropped him. Jack stared up at his captors. He was still woozy, but he could distinctly see St. Germain and Kierthos looking at each other, and hear them both simultaneously saying:
"-- the cannon."
Kierthos pulled Jack across the front lawn while St. Germain marched imperiously for the large War of 1812 cannon that sat in front of the mansion. Jack stumbled and was sometimes dragged across the dark lawn to keep up with St. Germain's pace, but the alchemist did not falter at all, even though he was also speaking to someone on a cellular phone.
"I know it does sound terribly strange," St. Germain said, "but Kierthos did vouch for me, and I have ample evidence of my own identity. And admit it, the information is something you're very interested in, yes? Once you can prove he broke the law, the law will protect him no more..." St. Germain kept silent for a moment, but nodded his head vigorously. "Yes, yes, I thought you'd see it that way. Bring whomever you like, and come through as soon as you can. Take magical or astral shortcuts if you must. This prize is worth it. Adieu, ma chere." St. Germain primly snapped the telephone shut and collapsed its antenna.
"They will be here shortly," St. Germain said to Jack and Kierthos, "but we should have just enough time." Turning around, he saw they were lagging behind. "Well hurry up, you fools, time is of the essence!"
"So much for all that laid-back immortal shit," Jack shouted, as he stumbled across the grass. "Hey, if time is so important, why didn't you do that mind-trick on me immediately? Why waste an hour pounding on me?"
St. Germain stopped short, spinning around to face Jack. "Perhaps I just wanted to pound on you, infant."
"Jealous because Hannibal cares more about me, huh, G?"
St. Germain tilted his head back and snorted. "He cares about you enough to leave you to die."
"Oh, then that's it... you're jealous because he actually lets me live on my own, and doesn't treat me like an... infant."
St. Germain's slap caught Jack completely by surprise; that, more than its miniscule sting, actually knocked him to the ground. St. Germain moved to strike Jack again, but at the last moment he regained his composure. "Time," he reminded himself, "time and the cannon."
At St. Germain's command, Kierthos looped Jack's handcuff chain around a spoke of one of the cannon's mighty, immobile wheels, pinning Jack there; then he started poking around the cannon's base, looking for any place where the journals might be hidden. "Hey, Jack, buddy," Kierthos said jovially, "you want to give me a clue on where to look for them? I'm gonna find them, anyway."
"The barrel, you idiot," said St. Germain. "It's the only place large enough for the whole collection."
Kierthos grabbed the edge of the barrel, hauled himself up with his mighty arms, and clambered down the barrel head first. Jack was still handcuffed to the wheel, but he had this fantasy that the cannon was loaded with shells and powder, and all he had to do was light a match to the fuse, sending little pieces of homunculus flying across the Potomac... Jack snapped out of it. This was no time to have fantasies -- fantasies wouldn't free him.
Besides, judging by the dull, echoing shout from inside the cannon, Kierthos had just found Hannibal's journals.
Scrolls, illuminated manuscripts, diaries, notebooks, audio tape... one by one, the journals dropped out of the mouth of the cannon. St. Germain greedily hunched over the pile, examining each new arrival and then tossing it aside when it wasn't what he was looking for. "Not quite so recent," he shouted, shoving aside the reels of tape that contained Hannibal's retelling of his days in imperial Mali. "I'm looking for something late nineteenth century, not long after he escaped slavery." Kierthos shoved more journals out of the cannon, but St. Germain discarded those as well.
"Mind telling me what you're looking for?" Jack asked.
"Yes, I do," St. Germain answered without looking at him. He rooted through the pile for a few more moments, but then turned to Jack. "I'll show you once I find it, though. Russell, you and I have both been greatly wronged by Hannibal. I want you to see what kind of a man he really is. What he did to me."
"What he did to you? You sent him into slavery!" Jack realized that this man was an actual slaver... an actual, living slaver, one of the people who had contributed so much to so many of this country's problems. He or someone like him was the reason Jack was in America... the reason he couldn't enter certain stores or neighborhoods without getting suspicious looks and calls for security... the reason creeps like Tony D were killing so many of their own brothers and sisters with guns and drugs. Not the only reason for those things, to be sure.
But the first one.
"You fucking prick!" Jack screamed, suddenly enraged. "You fucked up all those lives, and for what?"
"Hannibal was interfering with my business --"
"Business? You're immortal! If you had deposited a penny back in 1787, you'd own the goddamn Bank of England today! And you're an alchemist, you could brew your own gold! What does money matter to you?"
St. Germain looked up at Jack; he seemed both contemptuous and weary. "I can indeed 'brew my own gold.' I have also found the elixir of youth, the universal solvent, the homunculus process... but I didn't say 'money,' infant, I said 'business.'"
"Oh, what business was that? Shipping Africans off to a living hell just because you felt like it?"
St. Germain stared at Jack. "More or less."
Jack was shocked into silence. In that instant, another sheaf of papers dribbled out of the cannon. St. Germain crawled over to them, glanced at the top pages, and began laughing madly.
When he was done reading them, St. Germain placed them on the dirt, in Jack's eyesight but not in his reach. Jack's healthier-than-human eyes, already adjusted to the moonlight, could make out a very familiar handwriting.
[From the journals of Hannibal.]
[Kinshasa, Congo Free State. June 1890.]
I thought of Zipporah again today. She has been begging me to return to America and live with her and Ruth. Or she was several years ago; I haven't heard from her since then. I want to return to her. I also want to return to the Vitalongae and use my position there to bring some sense back to this world. But there is something darker that I want even more.
Though I regained my identity more than twenty years ago, I have only barely reclaimed my life. Revenge has occupied all of my time. I have gone to great pains to cover my tracks, but there are still signs of my work. Shortly after Miss Vessey gave me my journals and my identity, there was great civil unrest in Paris; an astute observer might have noticed that while Communards and Prussians stormed through the capital, a number of advanced laboratories were destroyed and a number of identical men were found dead. This past decade, London saw an experiment which disproved some major quasi-scientific theories, but only the most patient detective could learn that the College which secretly advanced those theories has also passed into extinction. The trail has never led back to me. But my revenge on the men who put me in chains is not yet finished.
I tracked the homunculi across Europe, from Paris to London to Brussels with many stops in between. No matter what Georges-Antoine must think, I did not take any glee in arranging the deaths of all those lookalike men. I only did it out of grim necessity; St. Germain abused me and thousands if not millions of other Africans, and he will do it all over again if given the chance. And now that I have killed his homunculi, he and I both know there is only one way this can end.
In Brussels, the last homunculus told me St. Germain is working for the Congo River Company as "Georges Antoine Klein," bringing development and industry to the heart of Africa. I am not surprised; King Leopold II of Belgium is said to encourage the most brutal and vicious exploitation on the continent, and I suspect his imperialism could not be so heinous if St. Germain's hand were not in it.
I have now seen the Belgian Congo for myself, and if anything, the rumors do not do it justice. I made an arduous trek to reach Kinshasa, and I saw what St. Germain and his Company have wrought in this country. The Bantu peoples are starved and liquored into extinction. Cliffs and trees that have stood since before the memories of the griots are blasted to make way for railroads and rubber plantations. Entire herds of elephants are slaughtered for a few pieces of ivory. The Company sees the country and all its people as nothing more than resources to be exploited, or obstacles to be removed. Belgian soldiers have become quite adept at removing those obstacles in the most efficient and bloody manner possible. The Bantu tribes are not humans anymore, but sums of francs.
Yet I cannot blame money and greed alone. No Belgians, no Europeans at all, would do this to other Europeans -- at least not so easily. No, another petty human weakness lies behind this exploitation. One I know all too well. Would the Company dehumanize the natives so easily if they did not already think their black skin made them less than human? I tell myself it is simple mortal ignorance, but that does not completely explain the depths of racism here. It certainly does not explain St. Germain.
America was bad enough, but the racism here is atrocious. Despite my personal finances, several Company soldiers have tried to impress me onto chain gangs or blasting crews. I have only been able to book passage to St. Germain's Inner Station near the Stanley Falls by signing up as a crewman on a steamer heading that way. The Company manager in charge of the ship says our job is only to recover several missing shipments of ivory from Klein's station, and in truth he cares about little else. But the ship also carries an inordinate number of Company gunmen.
The other Company official on the ship, a talkative young captain-in-training from Poland named Korzeniowski, tells me the Company is actually going to retire "Klein." He is ostensibly retiring due to illness, but they are actually firing him because of the strange rumors floating down the river. "Klein" is supposedly too sympathetic to the Congo tribesmuch, much more than sympatheticbut I am not deceived. However enlightened St. Germain appears, it can only be covering a deeper perversity. The man sent me to an eternity of slavery. He despises me, and everything about me, especially my race.
And I still have no idea why.
[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995.]
"That's a good question," Jack said. He and St. Germain were now reading the pages at the same time, crouching over them underneath the cannon's barrel. "Why did you go after us?"
St. Germain simply scowled at Jack. "This journal will make Hannibal's crimes apparent."
"I think I know what kind of crime you mean... the only crime Hannibal could really get in trouble for. But this happened in 1890, and you were into the slave trade long before then."
"And I made atonement for my crimes; Hannibal cannot say the same. You'll see, this journal will vindicate me. Now shut up and read." Another page fluttered from the mouth of the cannon. St. Germain snatched it in mid-fall and placed it on the top of the pile.
[On the Congo River. July 1890.]
As we have journeyed further upriver, the signs of imperialism have grown less frequent, but no less deep. The Company's stations are now few and far between, but they still existeach one surrounded by dirty African children, prostitutes, and mercenaries, all people prostrating themselves for European money and favor. They would make me as sick as the Belgians do, but I know that anybody who refuses the Belgian money instead tastes the Belgian guns.
The only other crewman who shares my repulsion is Korzeniowski, and so we have become companions of a sort. He also finds the imperialism demeaning and dehumanizing, which makes me think he will not last long in the Company, but he finds it dehumanizing for different reasons than I do. The further upriver we go, the Company station managers live more and more like natives. Korzeniowski is appalled by this, as much as by the Belgian irregulars' brutalityhe thinks both expose European civilization as nothing but a veneer that hides savagery. (I could have told him that centuries ago.) Sadly, he equates 'savagery' and 'African' a little too closely.
Yesterday, the river broke into a dozen small channels, forcing us to wind between many heavily wooded islands. The Company's axes had not reached there, yet; vegetation burst all over the ground, and soared up into the sky, and all the sunlight was filtered into a deep, luscious green. I felt like a young man of two hundred again, seeing the jungles of central Africa for the first time. Then I noticed Korzeniowski shuddering next to me. "Surely you are not cold," I said. We spoke in French.
"I am cold inside," he answered. "This reminds me that all civilization is but a flicker of light... once, we lived like this, too... and the trip back to this state is so easy."
"Any one civilization is but a flicker," I said. "But there is always another light flickering. To the Ngombe who live here, these trees are as holy as any cathedral in Europe." I pointed to the vaulting canopy of leaves. "They are certainly as tall, as beautiful, and as old."
"Exactly," Korzeniowski said, frowning. "Cathedrals are nothing more than trees... Europeans are nothing more than cannibals." He then looked at me and turned pale. "Sorry."
"You think we are only cannibals here?" I said, a little angrily. "You think we have no culture of our own?" I pointed to the trees and explained the religious significances and stories of each. I even spotted a few charms hanging from the branches, a sure sign that the Ngombe were nearby. "You are steeped in this culture, and you don't even know it."
"I know it," he answered, dolefully grabbing a pole and using it to push the steamer away from an island bank. "The further upriver I go, the more I am steeped in it. The more I see we are all steeped in it. We are all savages. All but the only humanitarian in this place... Klein."
I wanted to shout at him, tell him how wrong he was. But I knew that I was undergoing a similar journey. Every mile we sail, I see more pain inflicted by St. Germain's slavery and exploitation. I see the fruits of his racism, and I wonder how anyone, mortal or immortal, can be so mad. I almost dread the answers I will find at Stanley Falls.
I get closer to St. Germain with each mile. And I know what I will have to do when I find him. I pride myself on being at least as civilized as the brutes who plunder my homeland, usually moreso. But when I reach St. Germain I will commit an act so heinous, it violates the one law of my one true people. It is a law I helped create, which says no member of the Vitalongae may directly do harm to another. When I reach St. Germain, he and I will have no pawns to hide behind. I will have only his body to strike at, and my bare hands to do it with.
I want to prove Korzeniowski wrong. I know he is wrong. But I, too, am journeying closer and closer to an act of total savagery.
[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995.]
St. Germain was fidgeting as he waited for Jack to finish reading each new page, an action which did not escape Jack's notice. "What's the big deal?" Jack asked. "Why do you want me to read this? Your special guests are the ones you really want to see it."
"Only for the legal implications, infant... Russell." The alchemist leaned closer, his face mere inches away from Jack's. "You... I want you to see this because... you're his protege now, Russell. The first immortal protege since me. And you need to know that he was to blame. You've seen the way he treats us. It was only natural that I would undergo a little, ah, adolescent rebellion, yes?"
"It's only natural for people to grow out of adolescence by age six hundred." St. Germain seemed genuinely hurt by that comment; Jack pressed the attack. "It's not natural to get revenge on your father- figure by screwing everyone else who just happens to live on his home continent. It's not natural to show what a nice guy you are by binding and beating me just because I get along better with 'dad' than you ever did. No psychological double-talk can excuse what you've done."
St. Germain's wounded expression twisted into one of rage. "What an ingrateful piece of gutter-trash --! I tried to make amends, for you and your whole damned race -- you'll see--"
Before he could rant any further, Kierthos's voice sounded from within the cannon. "I found the last of them!" The homunculus dropped from the barrel, clutching more pages in his hand.
"So this is what you went to all this trouble for," said Jack. "A couple of musty pages which you think will help you expel Hannibal from the Vitalongae."
St. Germain raised one eyebrow. "You're smarter than I thought."
"You remember that for later."
"How did you guess?"
"The timing, mostly. The Vitalongae first met in 205 B.C., and seem to convene at regular intervals. The other journals suggest they meet around once a century now. That should put the next big meeting on the 2200-year anniversary of the Vitalongae's founding... 1996. The proximity suggests that your plan involves them as well as Hannibal. And since they have only one rule, you obviously want to kick him out by proving that he broke it. Of course, once he's out, any immortal is free to kill him. If your guests have already arrived and are just eavesdropping on us, I think they can come out now. I know who they are, too."
Ozone filled Jack's nostrils and static crackled through his hair as a magical field was dispelled nearby. Three people were standing on the mansion lawn, had probably been standing there for some time. Jack had never seen any of them before, but knew them all by reputation. The tall, muscular man with a scarred Celtic face and a stern Roman demeanor had to be Quintillus Marcus Graekki; the scar was eleven years older than the Vitalongae, having been caused by a piece of Hannibal's knife which was probably still floating around inside Marcus's skull. The wizened old man with wrinkled female breasts was Tiresias; he was probably the one who'd transported and concealed them, since he was the high priest and seer to the third figure, the cold, calculating, beautiful woman called Antigone. She was the founder of the Vitalongae, and Hannibal's second-greatest enemy.
Antigone walked up to St. Germain, regarding him with considerable amusement. "So you really are alive, Georges. How wonderful. You must formally rejoin us at next year's meeting." To Kierthos, she said, "Strange to see you again, as well. I take it you and Hannibal have had a falling out?" Kierthos simply nodded his head.
Antigone then faced Jack, feigned a pleasant smile, and said, "And it's so nice to finally meet you in person, Mr. Russell. You should consider looking for a new mentor -- assuming Georges has the evidence he claims."
They didn't waste any more time. All six immortal beings crowded around the journal's final pages.
[Philadelphia. November 1890.]
Looking back, Zipporah had every reason to be angry with me.
I finally reunited with her in Philadelphia. I noticed the buildings were much taller than they had been the last time I was in an American city, and the styles were more ornate: wrought-iron vines and curlicues replaced the staid neoclassicism that immediately followed the Civil War. The people, too, were different. Their manners were much more reserved, almost modest to the point of fanaticism like the British. It seemed the very acceleration of change was accelerating. Yet I believed that Zipporah and Ruth had not changed a bit.
When I met Zipporah in her parlor and told her I had finished the last of my "important tasks," I expected she might be happy. The slap across my face told me otherwise. (I healed the injured skin cells instantly, of course, but I can still feel the sting.) I had rushed in too quickly, too casually, and it never occurred to me that I was hurting her by doing so. The slap made me step back and take stock of the situation; I realized that Zipporah's lovely red hair was mostly gray now, while I looked the same as I always had. Except, perhaps, for the haunted look in my eyes.
"Do you think you can just come back from your little trips and pick up where you left off?" Zipporah shouted. "Ruthie is thirty now, Hank! She's married and has a boy you've never even seen! And I..." She ran a hand through her hair. "I'm old now, Hank."
I stepped forward, my arms open. "I don't care how old you are, Zipporah."
"I do. I can't stay young like you. And I need someone who will stay with me."
"I will, Zipporah."
She started to get angry again, but instead, she just looked hurt. "That's what you said ten years ago, Hank. And ten years before that. You'd stay, 'just as soon as you were done.'"
"I am done now, Zipporah."
"Well, what took you so damn long?" She sank down to her parlor couch and dabbed at her eyes with an elegant, lacy handkerchief. "What was so important that you had to leave Ruthie and me?"
How could I answer her? How else, but the truth? "There was a... a very evil man, Zipporah. He sent me into slavery. Maybe you, too, at least indirectly. I had to make sure that he wouldn't hurt us ever again."
"Well, he hurt us one last time," Zipporah said. "He cost us a life together."
"I can still be with you for the rest of your life, Zipporah --"
Zipporah stared at me, with the same fire she used to defy her father over thirty years ago. "Get out."
"But Zipporah, who will take care of you?"
"I take care of myself, thank you. And Andy keeps me company."
"Andy?" I asked. I now wish I hadn't.
"Androcles. From Walker Grove. He lives a few blocks away."
I sputtered a moment before I could say his name. "Androcles? But he was an overseer for the Colonel!"
"And he keeps me company now. He kept me company for a long time while you were off getting your revenge. I hope you're happy."
I was anything but happy. I slouched towards the door, accepting my loss. Accepting what my choice had cost both of us.
Zipporah chased after me, catching me on the front steps of her brownstone. "Hank," she said, "please don't leave mad at me. I still --" For an instant, her culture's new emphasis on modesty and decorum choked back her words, but she soon transcended that pressure. "I still love you."
I pulled her into my arms, letting that action be my answer.
"I'm still glad I helped set you free," Zipporah whispered. "I just hoped... you wouldn't be this free..."
We kissed, our tears mingling along with our lips. It was my most passionate embrace in centuries. Then I remembered myself, realized I was kissing her right there on the street. I broke off, and readjusted my cravat and hat. She similarly straightened her collar.
"Will I see more of you now?" she asked.
"Of course," I told her. But I knew it would be as an old friend, not as a husband. I bid her goodbye and stepped out onto the busy street, turning my back on what I could have had. It could not be mine anymore. I had seen to that.
It is time to resume my place among the Vitalongae. And to help prepare this world for its mad, headlong rush into the twentieth century.
[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995.]
"That's too far ahead!" St. Germain screamed. He pulled his hand back, and nearly struck Kierthos, but then looked at his companions and thought the better of it. "Go back!" he spat.
Kierthos obligingly flipped back several pages.
[Stanley Falls. The Inner Station. July 1890.]
I have elaborated on many of the incidents that hounded us on our journey up the Congothe slaughtered hippopotamus, the mad Russian pilgrim who idolized Klein, our helmsman getting a spear tossed through his chest. None were quite so shocking as the tall, ornamented pikes that were the first signs of Klein's Inner Station. When we got closer to the camp, we saw that the "large wooden ornaments" were actually human heads. Korzeniowski was particularly shocked to see this; he kept repeating how the noble Klein had written monographs for the Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. Korzeniowski's beliefs about Klein were nearly shattered, but mine were confirmedhe had to be St. Germain.
We anchored the steamer and went ashore near the pikes, planning to find St. Germain in his camp. Instead, he found us. No sooner had we all climbed off the boat, than dozens of Ngombe and Rega warriors poured out of the thick trees and grass. Within instants, the warriors aimed their bows and spears at the Company men, and the Company men aimed their carbines at the warriors. For minutes, everybody stood completely motionless. The only sounds were the distant rushing water of Stanley Falls, and the trilling of a jungle bird.
Then a party of women came through the trees, bearing a litter. On the litter was a human figure, wrapped in a multicolored cloth. As he passed the warriors, the figure sat up and raised his arms. The cloth fell away, and everyone could see the Comte de St. Germain in all his sick glory.
He must have worn the same body that condemned me to slavery in 1787, preserved through his elixir of youth to the age of one-hundred sixteen. By now, the body was pallid, old, and gaunt. Mottled white sores spread up from his lower torso, and his eyes were two tiny, dark pools sunk back in his pale bony head. But he had a certain magnetismMesmer's magnetism, no doubtand even I could perceive why the very tribesmen he was exploiting were bowing down and worshipping him as a god. It was because St. Germain was thoroughly permeated with evil, a complete and palpable evil normally associated only with stark Manichaean deities.
St. Germain gave a command, and the warriors did not execute us then and there; instead they slipped back into the jungle. (I wonder if our party was only spared because I was one of the African deckhands, and thus did not merit a single glance from St. Germain.) St. Germain was lifted up to the steamer, and then his women retreated as well. Korzeniowski and the manager met with St. Germain in a small cabin, while the gunmen and crewmen were ordered to walk up to the Station and carry ivory back to the boat. I never went to the Station; casting a quick concealment spell, I crept up beside St. Germain's cabin and listened. I have recalled every word of the conversations at the Inner Station, through the mnemonic tricks of the old griots; but these I would have recalled anyway.
St. Germain berated the manager for coming to claim his ivory. The manager did not stay long before St. Germain's terrible presence forced him to flee, but Korzeniowski was tolerated, perhaps because he held St. Germain in quiet awe. I was amazed that St. Germain had allowed himself to be taken onto the boat at all, but he quickly explained his actions: "I wanted someone to know," he told the Pole, "someone from Europe. I had such immense plans, so much larger than ivory --"
"Your success in Europe is assured in any case," Korzeniowski said. "They know of your humanitarian efforts. You are the only humanitarian here."
"Humanitarian!" he cursed. "To look out for humanswhy bother? Savagesall savages! I was going to elevate them, Josef. Repay them for all I had done. I came here to help them, make them no longer inferior. The same as their betters. And nownow! I was too late, Josefwe were already the sameinsidesavages!"
Shortly after Korzeniowski left the cabin, I entered the dark little room. St. Germain was sleeping, but I made lots of noise. When he stirred, I called, "Georges-Antoine."
He sat up and squinted at me. "A nigger," he muttered. "It's too late, nigger. The god is going home. And you are the same as he."
"Not by half," I said, lighting a match underneath my face.
He nearly jumped out of his bed, but was too terrified to say anything louder than a whimper. I think he was especially afraid of my crewman's clothing. "Ha... Hannibal... you found me.... Re... remember the Vitalongae law, Hannibal... you may not directly harm me...."
"I don't care," I said. "You aren't reaching Europe alive."
I blew out the match.
St. Germain suddenly had an incentive to return to the Inner Station; he would rather forsake Europe and live with "savages" than be trapped on the steamer with me. That night, while everyone else on the boat slept (for the manager would not leave until we'd had time to load all the ivory), St. Germain dragged himself out of his cabin and off the steamer by his brittle, centenarian arms. I watched him splash out of the river and crawl back towards his camp, and for a moment I considered letting him go; it would make a more civilized ending to our little story. He would stay in Africa, and never bother the rest of the world again. For fear that I would be there.
But he would still be in Africa. And I could not let him go.
I sneaked off the steamer, and dashed into the jungle. I raced through the trees to head off the little bastard, arriving at the Inner Station well before he did.
The camp was full of devout worshippers, but it housed more dead bodies than living. The heads of those who had opposed St. Germain were strewn everywhere, a sure sign of his "humanitarianism." But these were vastly outnumbered by the huge piles of bloody ivory, testament to all the elephants killed in Empire's name. Their ancestors, perhaps, had once carried me across the Alps. If only we'd taken Rome... Would things be any better, or would Bantu warriors be plundering the Rhine?
I donned an unused mask and walked past the worshippers, who were keeping a noisy vigil for their god. The headmen and headwomen were pondering whether to attack the whites, or honor St. Germain's wishes; not surprisingly, most were content to let him go. I walked back to the trail that led to the steamer.
I saw that Korzeniowski had awoken, left the boat, caught up to St. Germain, and was now trying to reason with him. The Pole insisted on bringing St. Germain back. Though he did not want to kill his sainted "Klein," Korzeniowski's reasons for wanting St. Germain back may not have been so very different from mine. We both wanted to know how a man could degenerate into such madness. I think I was merely the only one who recognized the madness as racism.
For a moment St. Germain looked as if he might shout, bringing his devotees to his rescue and killing this poor, misguided man. I could not let that happen, so I strode forward, my back against the fire, and threw my arms up high. My shadow fell across St. Germain and Korzeniowski, and they turned to look at me. They instantly saw my frightful wooden face and tall antelope horns. St. Germain could not have seen my face under the mask, but he knew it was me, in his camp.
After that, St. Germain put up little struggle. He finally turned his back on Africa, no doubt imagining me lurking behind every tree. He was partially rightwhile Korzeniowski dragged him back to the steamer, I ran alongside them. I was reasonably sure I had scared St. Germain enough that he would never disturb my continent or race again. And I had not broken the immortals' law.
But a persistent tingle in my back, the sight of countless whippings, screamed for more.
St. Germain's condition worsened as we journeyed back downriver. Korzeniowski insisted he had some illness, but I thought my constant presence on the steamer caused his degeneration. Still, I could not bring myself to murder him. I didn't fear Vitalongae lawwho would ever know I'd killed him here, so far from "civilization"?but my own conscience. I didn't want to prove St. Germain right about Africa's inner savagery. Yet if ever a man deserved murder --
We made rapid progress down the Congo towards Kinshasa, and St. Germain made rapid progress towards total catatonia. I had to act quickly. I sabotaged the steam engine, just enough to ground us on an island for a few days. This rattled St. Germain; I think he knew the end was near. While the "educated" Company men labored over the engine, I was free to lounge in his dark cabin for hours, staring at him on his deathbed as he stared back at me.
"I tried to make amends," he rasped one evening, "for what I did to you... you and your people."
"You make amends by plundering their homes?" I answered.
"I did that at firstjust for the money -- a new kind of slavery. But once I was here, surrounded by the blacks, the misery, the horrorI knew I had to make amends. I would work with them, elevate them to civlizationgive them a leader to followundo what I had wroughtdon't you like it, Hannibal? I did it in your memoryand it was good --"
"Then why are you leaving?" I whispered.
"You heard me telling Josef," he said, and I was a little surprised he knew. "It is too late to elevate themnowhere to elevate them to. I looked at our beautiful civilization, nuzzling inside the jungle, and underneath all the finery, I saw it was just as brutal as theirs. Just as vicious and dark. I could not take them anyplace other than their own savagery. It repulsed me, Hannibal. It terrified me."
I could not listen to him any longer. "Was it the savagery that repulsed you, Georges? Was it our savagery?" I leaned close over him. "Or perhaps you couldn't accept that we were as noble and cultured and intelligent as you. You never could; I think I was only enslaved for the 'crime' of being smarter than you. But only a truly, truly sick man would enslave everyone else to get back at me. Of course, that wasn't the only reason you enslaved them, was it?"
St. Germain's dark eyes widened, and seemed to glaze over. "I know I was wrong, Hannibal..."
"You say it," I said, pressing my head closer, "but you don't admit it. In fact, you're fleeing an admission of truth, aren't you?" I leaned still closer. "Well, I won't let you."
He tried to shrink away from me. "Josef!", he cried.
Josef was working on the engine, and could not reach us for a few minutes; I knew I had just enough time to kill St. Germain, if I wished, or to speak with him. I reached out with my hands, planning to end his blight on the world, and he looked up at me imploringly.
And then I realized I could not kill him. It would be his ultimate escape from himself. I looked at him honestly, trying not to be blinded by my own need for revenge, and I saw that he truly was dying anyway. It wasn't just the elixir of youth failing him, and the lack of bodies to flee to; his sores were from some infection which had swelled to lethal proportions in the depths of the Congo. And considering his guilt, I could guess what it was.
"You know what you're fleeing," I told him. "You've known since you got here, you've definitely known since those sores started spreading across your body. Your own body is telling you what you will not admit. And that means you can never escape the truth." I leaned closer.
"Venereal disease. Whoever she was, Georges, you never should have raped her." I was reasonably sure of my assumption; if it did not apply to any one woman, it did to the entire continent. "You had the same cells, Georges, the same weaknesses, the same bodies, the same illness. And now you have the same fate, as the worst germs Africa has to offer extend into your body and eat it away from within. The same fate, Georges. And you know why."
Then Korzeniowski entered the cabin, and I left it. Korzeniowski thought nothing of my presence in the cabin; despite his guilty conscience, I was still just another invisible black to him, a minor character passing through his own story. But I had to hear how the story ended, had to know if I'd said enough to force St. Germain to confront himself. So I waited at the cabin door, peering through its small window.
St. Germain's expression was one of the deepest despair. I have only my own conjecture for what he was thinking then, but I think I can guess more accurately than anyone else. He looked down at his sick, enervated body, and just might have realized that his body was the same as ours. And not just his body: his mind, his culture, his civilization were all no better than ours, some much worse. All were equally consumed from within by his racism.
Perhaps St. Germain realized this racism was not born in a fear of the different, the unknown, or the savage, as so many mortals claim theirs is. His madness was a fear of being the same. The same as the cultures he so desperately had to think inferior, to sustain his own colossal ego. I may never understand that, but I can see it now. And I think he saw it, too. As he lay there dying, he knew that no matter how hard he denied it, he would always be the same as us. Or, because of his denial and his crimes, quite a bit less.
St. Germain's mouth cracked open, and two breaths escaped his lips. They would prove to be his final words. Korzeniowski later speculated on what motivated him to say those words, but I think I know.
When St. Germain parted his lips, he was looking right at the small window in the door, right at my perfect, angry black face. But when he said "The horror! The horror!" --
-- he was looking at himself.
Then Korzeniowski blew out his candle and left the cabin, left the pathetic old man with his personal horror. And left him alone. I reentered the cabin, flexed my hands, and advanced towards his prostrate, weeping form.
[Stanley Falls. The Inner Station. July 1890.]
I'm not sure what kept me from killing him. Perhaps the good influences in my life have actually outweighed the bad ones. But I stopped, and looked down at him, and realized he was too pitiful to be murdered. Better to let him linger in his own agony.
St. Germain looked up at me, begging me to do it, I think. I shook my head no. He closed his eyes and wept some more. I think he lost his will to live after that. For when I checked in on him a few minutes later, his old, twisted body had finally breathed its last. I walked on deck, where the Company men were resting, and I had the pleasure of being the first to report this fortunate news:
"Mister Kleinhe's dead."
[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995.]
The immortals were all silent for a moment. The final page slipped from St. Germain's loose, limp fingers, and dropped to the dusty ground. If St. Germain hadn't realized those truths before, Jack figured, he was surely forced to confront them now that he'd read them in Hannibal's journal.
But St. Germain was the first to recover from the surprise. "Hehehe had to be lying," the alchemist sputtered. "He killed me! He strangled me in cold blood, with his bare hands!"
"You look fine to me," Jack said, stifling a laugh.
"Only because I hid a spare body, and left a ritual that restored my mind to it after a certain amount of time elapsed. But Hannibal still killed me!"
"That's not what our only evidence says," said Tiresias, retrieving the piece of paper. He sounded vastly disappointed.
"It has to be faked!" St. Germain screamed. "Hannibal could have faked it this very evening! Russell even told him where it was, with his 'cannon' wordplay! He was listening, you know!" The other immortals stared at St. Germain, their expressions ranging from Kierthos's pity to Antigone's outright contempt. Apparently, St. Germain was seeing Hannibal behind every tree again.
"You brought me here for this?" Antigone screamed. "For proof that Hannibal is a decent human being? What were you thinking?"
St. Germain tried to grab Antigone and plead with her, but Marcus held him back. "It's a fake I tell you," St. Germain shouted. "This is all some elaborate scheme of Hannibal's! He's been watching me all along!"
Antigone regarded St. Germain with complete disgust. "You know, Russell was exactly right when he pegged your obsession with Hannibal. Let me assure you that I personally have a great reason to mistrust anyone with an Oedipus complex." Antigone pulled her white cloak around her shoulders and stepped back, her retainers following her. "If you ever find evidence that supports your claims, I'll welcome it. But tonight, you're just wasting my time."
"He was right about one thing," said a new voice. All six people searched for the speaker, feeling chills down their spines despite the July heat.
He slowly appeared from the gaping black absence of the night, where there had been nothing before. As he walked closer, he became increasingly present and distinct. But he was still as dark as the sky behind him.
"I was watching you all along," said Hannibal.
Hannibal casually strolled towards the group, gradually reaching one hand inside his long, unseasonal trenchcoat. Kierthos drew his bronze sword, and St. Germain shouted, "There he is! Arrest him, for breaking the law of the Vitalongae!"
"On what evidence?" growled Antigone. She was even angrier than before.
"There is ample evidence of lawbreaking here," said Hannibal, "but I am not the lawbreaker." Hannibal addressed Antigone and her followers, while completely ignoring Jack. "If you would all be so kind as to watch my good friend Kierthos." Hannibal suddenly pulled a mongwanga, a three-bladed African throwing dagger, out of his trenchcoat and hurled it at Kierthos. Since he was a rapid-healer, Kierthos instinctively let the weapon slice through his left arm and thought little of it. Then St. Germain screamed; Kierthos quickly dropped his sword and clapped his right hand over the wound.
Antigone laughed. "I don't believe you, Hannibal! You were going to get away scot free, and you just broke the law right in front of me! You directly harmed an immortal!"
"Did I?" Hannibal calmly nodded towards Kierthos. Despite his best efforts to stop the flow, milky white semen was pouring out of his wound, not red blood. "This is not Kierthos at all, but one of St. Germain's homunculi. St. Germain replaced the real Kierthos at least two decades ago, certainly harming him in the process."
"Lies!" St. Germain screamed. "Lies!"
"Then where is the real Kierthos?" Antigone said coldly.
"It's hard to tell now," Hannibal said, "but I can guess where St. Germain sent him. Who made dramatic medical advances in the last two decades, creating pharmaceuticals that might one day rival our own natural healing processes? Who had an uncanny knowledge of the inner workings of Omegas? Who was privy to all the innermost secrets of biology, thanks to St. Germain's foolish fixation?"
Antigone, Tiresias, Marcus, and even Jack all hissed the word at the same time. "Dynamax."
Antigone turned on St. Germain. "You insufferable fool! What have you done?"
"Kierthos apparently escaped last year, but the damage is already done," said Hannibal. "St. Germain has committed the one crime which is even greater than harming one of us. He's harmed all of us." Hannibal's posture was perfectly straight, his voice perfectly measured; Jack thought the man was in control before, but he'd never seen him like this. "This is a crime that cannot wait for the meeting next year, cannot even wait for a formal acknowledgement that he's alive. As a member in good standing of the Vitalongae, I immediately expel the Comte de St. Germain from our ranks, and I revoke from him the protection of our law. He is now a non-Vitalongae, a non-immortal, and a non-person, to be killed at the earliest opportunity." He stared at his old enemies. "Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly." Antigone smiled as she said it, and Jack realized she was looking at Hannibal with... admiration. "This was quite a maneuver you worked up," she said. "And here I thought you were only an apprentice in the art of scheming."
Hannibal permitted himself to smile. "You recognize me as a master, then?"
"Well, as a journeyman. This oaf --" she pointed to St. Germain, who was cringing behind Kierthos -- "is no longer protected by our laws. But he is no longer bound by them, either, and may kill any immortal he pleases. Good luck executing him, Hannibal. You'll need it."
Hannibal lunged for Antigone, but she and her retainers winked out in another one of Tiresias's spells. Hannibal landed in the dirt in front of Jack, and looked at his protege. "You know," he said, "I actually did anticipate that." He reached for something else inside his trenchcoat.
But the Kierthos homunculus suddenly leapt onto Hannibal, pinning him. St. Germain walked up to Hannibal and closed his eyes, and Hannibal suddenly winced. While he assaulted Hannibal's brain, St. Germain said, "I'll make you confess everything to the Vitalongae. I'll make you beg them to kill you."
Hannibal tilted his head back and looked at Jack imploringly. Jack had a lot of conflicting feelings at the moment, but he shoved them aside and concentrated on stopping his lunatic predecessor. Jack kicked out, but couldn't quite reach St. Germain or Kierthos; he had to get out of the handcuffs.
Then he saw the sword, lying right next to him where Kierthos had flung it. "Get them away from here," Jack cried.
Hannibal nodded, then rocked forward and head-butted Kierthos. It was a savage blow, sending blood and semen everywhere. The homunculus didn't lose his grip, but he'd lost enough balance that Hannibal could rock them over, sending both of them rolling down the lawn's slight incline towards the bluffs over the Potomac. St. Germain chased after them, still attacking Hannibal mentally.
Jack quickly snaked out one leg towards the sword, and started inching it back towards him. Once it was close enough, Jack propped the sword against the cannon's wheel and started pounding his handcuff chains on it.
Unfortunately, the modern handcuffs weren't going to give way to a bronze sword, no matter how sharp it was. Jack saw Kierthos pinning Hannibal once again, and St. Germain catching up to him.
Jack supposed Hannibal had a moment like this, in the burning pig-shed on Walker Grove. Now it was his turn. Jack pulled his arms back. He tried not to think about what he was going to do.
He slammed his left wrist onto the blade. Pain ripped through his arm; to keep from screaming, he bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. He tugged the wrist off the blade, then slammed it in again. And again. When Jack reached bone, he started to saw.
Kierthos and St. Germain were just starting to subdue Hannibal, physically and mentally, when they heard footsteps behind them. Both men turned just in time to see Jack hurtling downhill towards them. Jack's right hand was wielding Kierthos's sword; it was also still cuffed, although an empty, bloodstained cuff flapped along behind it. Jack's left hand wasn't in the cuff anymore, nor was it attached to his left arm.
St. Germain was taken completely by surprise, but Kierthos still had a fighter's instincts (whether they came from the real Kierthos or St. Germain's twisted upbringing). He dropped Hannibal and blocked Jack's attack. Jack's clumsy slice cut a deep gash in Kierthos's arm, but the homunculus showed no pain and healed it almost instantly.
Jack and Kierthos began to circle each other, Kierthos always keeping between Jack and St. Germain. Jack continued to hack away at Kierthos, but to no avail. The homunculus seemed unstoppable. Jack made one thrust at Kierthos's chest, and to his surprise, got past Kierthos's guard. The sword stuck in Kierthos, and then Jack realized what he'd done; he couldn't pull it out quickly enough. Kierthos grabbed Jack's sword arm with one hand, and delivered a painful uppercut with the other. "Sorry, Jack," Kierthos said. "If it's any consolation, I kind of liked you." He started beating Jack soundly.
St. Germain took the opportunity to slip his foot under Hannibal's chin, and nudge his head up so he could watch. Even though Hannibal was physically unbound, St. Germain still held his mind; Hannibal was curled up in a fetal ball and not moving anywhere. "See, your little black helper is worthless," St. Germain said. "I'm going to take great pleasure in killing both of you. Perhaps I'll preserve some cell samples, and make a Hannibal homunculus who will lead me to your real journals. You think that is a good idea, slave?"
"Of course it is, St. Germain. Your alchemical methods are flawless." St. Germain smirked, and noted that all of Hannibal's thoughts were thoughts of subservience and submission.
"For example," Hannibal continued, "your universal solvent." Hannibal's body suddenly rolled out of its fetal position, and St. Germain suddenly realized Hannibal had used the position to slip his hand inside his trenchcoat once again; it was holding a large phial now. St. Germain commanded Hannibal to freeze, and Hannibal's surface thoughts said he would, but the African still snapped his arm forward and tossed the phial into Kierthos's back.
The glass shattered on impact.
St. Germain and Kierthos both screamed.
Freed of its constraints inside the magical phial, the solvent began to do its work. It burned into the artificial man, finding his internal chemicals surprisingly uniform and easy to break down. Expanding outwards from a small spot on his back, "Kierthos" began to smoke and steam and turn into a white liquid mess. The solvent ignored the sword stuck in him, allowing Jack to pull it free while the homunculus shrieked and thrashed around the lawn. It wasn't long before its torso was completely gone, and the homunculus was merely a head, arms, and legs flailing from a gelatinous globtrying and failing to detach themselves before they, too, were unmade. In the end, the homunculus was little more than a sticky pile of goo which smelled strongly and disgustingly of sex.
Nobody watched its destruction the whole way through; St. Germain bolted for the house, and Jack and Hannibal chased after him. Hannibal and Jack were tired from their battles, and St. Germain had the speed that came with desperation. He actually started leaving them behind.
"How the hell did you get out of his mind-control?" Jack shouted to Hannibal as they ran uphill.
"Using my surface thoughts to tell him what he wanted to hear, while believing something quite different -- a time-honored method of resistance for thralls everywhere," Hannibal said. "Now hurry, we can't let St. Germain get away."
"Yeah," Jack answered bitterly, "you went to so much trouble, using me to flush him out for you."
"This will have to wait until after we catch him, Jack." And Jack had to admit that it would. St. Germain was gaining more distance from them, and approaching the mansion's garage. Hannibal continued to chase the alchemist, but Jack suddenly reversed directions and sprinted back down the lawn. Hannibal shouted, "Where are you going?", but Jack didn't answer.
Hannibal supposed he deserved thathe hadn't told Jack any of his plans, either, and St. Germain might escape because of that. Hannibal retrieved his mongwanga and reached the garage just as its doors started to rise. They had only risen a few feet when St. Germain, wasting no time, crashed a sturdy Rolls-Royce limousine through the doors and sped down the driveway towards Hannibal. Hannibal knew his own body couldn't stop the limo, and he dove to one side. He did snap out his arm, though, jabbing the car's right front tire with his mongwanga; for his troubles, the limo ran over his right arm. But the blade struck the tire.
While his mangled arm repaired itself, Hannibal watched St. Germain race down the drive. The tire was punctured but not completely deflated, and St. Germain could definitely leave the mansion grounds. He was making good his escape.
Then Hannibal saw a bright, cobalt flash down by the gate at the end of the drive, and heard Jack's scream.
Jack picked himself up off the ground. He vowed that would be the last time he cut a power line with a bronze sword if he could help it. The sword had conducted the electricity right into Jack, and though it couldn't kill him, it stung like hell. But the ploy had worked; the motors that opened the mansion's iron gate by remote control had lost all power. Even if St. Germain did try to drive out, he couldn't open the gate without stopping.
Then Jack saw the large Rolls careening down the lawn, and he realized that St. Germain wouldn't have to stop. Hannibal must have blown it; it was up to Jack now.
Jack grabbed the live end of the insulated power line, and tried to touch it to the iron gate, but he'd cut it a little too far awayit wouldn't quite reach. Jack thought of making the connection between power line and gate with his own body, and wondered how much longer he'd be using his own pain to fight his enemies.
The Rolls charged towards him, tires squealing.
Jack grabbed the charred, partially-melted bronze sword and placed one end on the gate. He tugged on the power line, until the exposed wires just touched the bronze hilt. Sparks crackled across the sword.
The Rolls sped up to the gate, and Jack could see St. Germain furiously jabbing the remote control on the dashboard. But the power line was connected to the gate itself, not its motors, and the gate didn't open. The Rolls crashed into and through the heavy iron bars.
And for one instant, before the sword was dislodged, a powerful electric surge ripped through the body of the car. Sparks shot off of the grille and the inside instrumentation panels, and St. Germain threw his arms across his face. Fire and smoke started curling out from under the hood, and the car only rolled a few feet across the street before it crashed into a tree and came to a halt.
Jack ran up to the car and peered in at St. Germain. St. Germain wasn't a healer like Jack, whose charred skin was already repaired and who had a tiny, babylike hand on the end of his left arm. St. Germain could only achieve immortality by transferring his mind from body to body, and this body was injured. The car had mostly insulated him from the power surge, but he still had several electrical burns and cuts. St. Germain opened the glove compartment and fumbled around for a small pistol, but Jack quickly opened the door and pulled him out of the car. "I've been shot by better people than you, St. G," Jack said, "but I won't be shot again." Jack used his child-hand to twist St. Germain around to face him, then punched the alchemist squarely in the jaw with his good hand. The alchemist stared at Jack, and Jack started feeling a little woozy, but he quickly punched his enemy again. Jack's head cleared, and St. Germain fell to the ground. "Now tell me why I shouldn't kill you."
St. Germain wiped blood from his lips and chuckled. "Kill me, don't kill me, it's all the same. I have more emergency bodies waiting, and my mind will eventually be transferred to one of them. I am truly Deathless, and I will be back to plague you."
"I don't think so, Georges." Hannibal appeared at the gate, clutching his mangled-but-improving arm. "You're going to tell us exactly where all of your replacement bodies and homunculi are, and then we are going to kill them."
St. Germain scoffed at him. "You know you can never pull that secret out of me."
Hannibal strolled forward. "Oh, not out of you, Georges." He let go of his arm, reached inside his trenchcoat, and produced a small test tube and scalpel. "Out of your next homunculus." Hannibal nodded to his partner. "Nice work, Jack. If you could please help me get a cell sample, I think we need to be on our way."
St. Germain tried to jump up and run away, but Jack tackled him instantly. Jack began punching and kicking St. Germain to subdue him, and soon found that he didn't want to stop. "Jack, please," Hannibal said, "it's not the time to avenge the crimes of the past. Or to perpetuate them."
Jack looked at his mentor. "This guy was a slaver, Hannibal... but I guess if you of all people can say that..." Jack dropped St. Germain to the pavement, and reached inside the car. "I guess I can forget about the past." He produced St. Germain's pistol and pointed it at the deranged immortal's head.
"Wh-what happened to forgetting the past?" St. Germain pleaded.
"This is to make sure you don't fuck up the future, too." Jack pulled the trigger. St. Germain's end was much quicker than most of his victims' torments were.
Jack stepped over the dead body and looked at Hannibal. "Lots of cell samples for you." He didn't stick around to see where Hannibal took them from.
[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995. Four o'clock in the afternoon.]
Hannibal led Jack through the winding paths of an herb garden in the National Arboretum, discussing their plans for the future. They had only stayed at Kierthos's mansion long enough to retrieve their possessions (especially the journals) and remove any evidence that could lead back to them. They were once again without a home in D.C., but that was acceptable; as soon as the new St. Germain homunculus told them where the spare bodies were stored, they would be jetting around the world to deal with them.
Or so Jack assumed. "I don't think you'll need to come with me initially," Hannibal said. "I'll just be growing and training the homunculus, and you have more important matters."
"No way," Jack stated. "Not after all I went through. I finally caught up to you after you ditched me and left me in jeopardy --"
"I was nearby all along," Hannibal said.
"That just makes it worse. Do you deny that you just used me to flush St. Germain out of hiding? That you kept me in the dark so I could lead St. Germain to the journals, he could try to bust you, and then you could bust him?"
Hannibal frowned and paid too much attention to a small, budding plant. "I did use you for that, yes," he said quietly. "With his mental abilities, St. Germain would have learned my plans if you were aware of them."
"That's all you kept me around for? To be a useful pawn? You know, you treated me worse than you treated St. Germain."
"No, I treated you far better. I coddled and insulated him, and perhaps reminded him too much of his own inferiority to me, and that came back to haunt us." Hannibal left the herb garden and started walking up a small, grassy hill. At the top of the hill was a large, reconstructed open-air Greek building. "But you, I set free."
"You let me get captured and tortured."
"That's always a danger of being free. You passed through it remarkably. Tell me, Jack, if I was so manipulative of you, why did I work so hard to push you away right before St. Germain's attack?"
The most apparent answer was the cynical one. "So I would leave the house, and St. Germain could attack you and tip his hand."
"Well, yes, there was that. But there are matters you needed to confront on your own." Hannibal faced Jack. "You were being eaten up inside, Jack. By your race, your immortality, your family and your history. I couldn't guide you through all of those things. You've made it yourself, most of the way at least, and you're not just my 'black cop sidekick' anymore. At the meeting next year, you will be a full-fledged member of the Vitalongae and a hero in your own right. This was as much for you as it was for me, Jack."
Hannibal walked the rest of the way up the hill, and Jack jogged after him. "But... but that doesn't answer everything," he protested. "Like your journals, and their translations... were those all true?"
"Every last one of them," Hannibal said. "They're epitaphs for all the people I've known. I wouldn't lie in them."
"Even in the Congo journal? Even St. Germain's death?"
Hannibal clapped a hand on his partner's shoulder. "Jack, remember the Mali story? Writing is for truths everyone needs to see. Orality is for truth that must be kept secret."
Jack understood that, but still wanted to cut through all the bullshit. "So did he die of natural causes, or didn't he?"
Hannibal smiled enigmatically, waving his arms to encompass the field below him, the Arboretum, all of Washington, D.C. in the full flower of summer. "'And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth'... 'America' is but a flicker, and swampland was here yesterday." Hannibal told Jack, "Josef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski thought St. Germain died of natural causes. He even wrote a story about it, after he moved to London and anglicized his name. But Josef was sadly naive about many things. He could write beautifully about the plight of the poor imperialist, but ignore the stories of the Africans that were hidden in and behind his great literature. Our own stories are quite strong within that literature, if you just know how to look for them. And our endings are sometimes very different." He looked at Jack and said, "Mister Kleinhe's dead."
Jack grinned. "Glad to hear it. That bastard deserves a million more deaths."
"And he'll get them," Hannibal said, "when I clean up after his bodies. But I think you have a more urgent matter here. Some family business?"
"That's another thing," Jack said, following Hannibal into the tall Classical columns of the reconstructed temple. "My family, we... have this story about how we got our name."
"After my ancestors escaped slavery, they didn't want to keep their former master's name. So they picked a new one... 'Russell.' Because..." Jack choked a little. "Because their hair... was dark red --" He leaned against a column for support. "And my great-great grandmother was named Ruth. We think she was one-quarter white. There's no record of who her father was."
"So you think I was your great-great-great grandfather, Jack? Is that it?"
"There were times when I wanted to think that. I was actually a little hurt when your tape said you didn't have any wives or kids after Sogolon and Djata. But then I realized you only said you hadn't taken any wives since then, or sired any childrenwhich isn't really the same thing as conceiving a kid." Jack wiped something out of his eyes. "And you never exactly said who Ruth's father was. So maybe it was you, after all."
"Would it please you if I was your ancestor?" Hannibal asked.
"It would have, a week ago... but now..." Jack wiped his eyes more furiously. "That would mean I'm also descended from Colonel Walker." Jack slumped down to the base of the column. "And I don't know what that would make me. The product of a slaver and a father of kings."
Hannibal knelt by Jack's side. "Those impulses, those origins and potentials, are in everybody. This hypothetical ancestry of yours just makes the twin forces much clearer. It was a lesson that St. Germain could never learn, that madness and nobility are common to all people. But Jack," he added quietly, "would being Walker's descendant make you any less of a hero? Would being mine make you any more of one?" Jack tentatively shook his head. "Of course not," Hannibal said, "because history and heritage have their place, but so does free will.
"I've done some bad things in my time, Jack. I abandoned Hannibal in his moment of need, and stole his name and glory. I let the griots of Mali tell lies about Sogolon. I failed Fletcher and Marlowe. I treated St. Germain like a spoiled child, even if he was one. I left Zipporah and Ruth to pursue revenge instead. And now I've cruelly used you. But we can both rise above our history, Jack. You needed me to be a model for a while, but you don't need me to be your replacement father anymore. Especially when you still have a natural father."
"That was why you pushed me away? Even though you said you wanted me to sever all my mortal ties?"
Hannibal nodded. "They're one and the same, Jack. There's one mortal tie you need to deal with damn quickly." He stood up and smoothed his clothing. "So. I'm off to Cairo tomorrow, to grow the last of the St. Germains. Are you coming with me?"
Jack looked up at Hannibal. "It's my choice?"
"Of course. Everything can be your choice, if you're willing."
Jack scratched his head and thought a while. "Are you really my ancestor?"
"Does it matter now?" he answered wryly. "Especially bearing in mind that Abner Russell is definitely your ancestor?"
Jack stood up and glared at Hannibal. "You have a hell of way of offering a guy a free choice."
[Washington, D.C. area. July 26, 1995. Eight o'clock in the evening.]
It didn't seem like just one day had passed since Jack was last here. It didn't seem like just one week since this whole mess had started; it felt like entire months had passed by. Jack was again reminded of Sterne and his staircase, and he figured it would take him a long time to set all this down in his own journals. But Jack had plenty of time for that.
This task was a little more urgent. Jack slipped through the halls of the Prince George's County General Hospital terminal care ward, making sure nobody really noticed him. He'd gotten quite adept at sneaking around; Hannibal might even teach him a few spells...
The place still smelled of death, but Jack could deal with it today. After all he'd learned and been through in the past twenty-four hours, a simple smell wouldn't scare him away. Ruth Russell (nee Walker) and Sogolon Kedjou and nearly every other person mentioned in the journals had died. Even the man called the Deathless was soon going to die, permanently. It was something Jack would have to get used to. But it wouldn't have to make him cold. Even Hannibal, much as he might hate to admit it, still had a deep love for the human race, mortality and all. Jack could at least emulate him in that respect.
Jack confidently walked into room 317, closing the door behind him. Jack's father lay in a bed, hooked up to a dozen tubes. His eyes flickered open, and he saw Jack.
Abner Russell fought to speak, fought against his own cancerous lungs. After several tries, he managed to rasp, "Oh... oh God..."
Jack moved to his father's side and grabbed his hand. "It's okay, dad. It's me. I'm okay."
"Does this mean... I died...?"
"No, dad, no. It means I'm still alive. I know I waited too long to tell you, but --"
Abner Russell dug his fingers into his son's hand. "Tell your mother," he rasped. "She would be so... happy..."
"I'll tell her, dad." Was his father still thinking of his mother, so close to his own death? Were people really that unaware of their own mortality? But as Jack looked at his father's wedding-ringfilled with three ring guards so it wouldn't slip off Abner's emaciated fingershe was again reminded that mortals had their own ways of finding immortality. Or at least believing in it.
"Dad," Jack whispered, "I'll tell her. But first, I have some things to tell you." Some were things he'd always meant to say. Some were things he thought he hadn't said enough. But most of all, they were the things he'd recently learned. Both men had learned to accept Abner Russell's death; now it was time to accept Jack Russell's life.
This issue's epigraph comes from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. That novella, and the actual events that inspired that it, inspired this issue's journal sequence.
I'd like to thank everyone who read, proofread, and reviewed this limited series, especially Chad Imbrogno, Jeff McCoskey, Ted Vician, and Kan Mattoo for their advice and encouragement. This series has taken a lot of effort and time, but I really think it's worth it. It's the culmination of pretty much all of my writing for the last several years. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks for creating the perfect forum on which to create and display it.
Antigone, Tiresias, and Marcus are created by and © Matt "Badger" Rossi. Kierthos (the real one, anyway) is created by and © Specter. Kierthos regularly appears in Slayer, also from Omega. All other characters written by, created by, and copyright 1995 Marc Singer. A Legacy House production.
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