Rule 1: Watch the news, even if it's boring
Amanda had a nice long list of things that annoyed her. Most of them had something to do with jobs being ruined or partners going behind her back or someone coming after her head or all the new technology she couldn't use because Immortal bodies rejected and destroyed cybernetic implants. Then there were the smaller annoyances. Ones that wouldn't cost her anything long term but were a damn pain in the ass short term. Things like high-tech AI security systems and the way her current lover would carry on multiple conversations in her head while they were supposed to be having a romantic night in bed.
That last one was really frustrating. Not literally, since Motoko was excellent at multitasking with only the slightest response delay. But a girl liked to feel important. Taking the back seat to whoever had decided to interrupt just didn't cut it.
So when Amanda noticed Motoko was just a little bit absent, she sighed and got up to pour herself a drink and wait. It didn't take long. It never did. While she waited she watched Motoko, who had sat up and started to get dressed. The woman was breathtaking. Amanda was fairly certain she really had caught her breath when she first saw her. Then again, she would be. You didn't go to the trouble of getting an entirely artificial body and have it be anything but perfection.
At least, Amanda wouldn't have, if she'd had the choice. Motoko finally finished whatever was going on in her head and looked over at Amanda.
"Sorry, big case. I've got to get going." Motoko shrugged on her jacket while Amanda sighed and tried not to pout. Pouting didn't work at all on Motoko; she just laughed at it.
"Hurry back?" Amanda asked. She got up and walked over, catching Motoko's hand and then kissing her cheek. Really, it was amazing that she felt so real.
Motoko shook her head. "I might be gone for a couple of days. I'll call."
"What is it?" Not many cases took her away completely for that long. Amanda would have been more disappointed if she hadn't had a job planned and a partner breathing down her neck to get it done. Not having to explain her own absence to Motoko made it that much easier. She shook her head a bit when she realized Motoko was trying to get her attention.
"You'd think you were talking to someone else," she teased when Amanda smiled at her. "Anyhow, I can't talk about it. You know, if you were plugged in you'd probably already know."
"And then we'd really never see each other." Amanda grinned and kissed her again. "I'll stick with what I've got and watch the news later."
Motoko nodded. "I'm sure it'll leak out soon. I'll call." And with that she was out the door and gone. As soon as the door clicked shut, Amanda turned on the newscast and flipped through the available channels. Nothing, nothing, nothing, then there it was.
The newscaster was a pretty little construct who needed some adjustment in her vocal inflections but Amanda didn't need to hear what she was saying to know what was going on. "Headless body found
on the roof of Takasaki Industries." The text scrolling across the screen was far more useful than the voice-over as the screen showed the roof of a building. Several fires were being doused and the building itself was a mess. Windows were blown out, leaving blackened curtains to flap in the wind. Smoke curled out of the doors on the ground floor and from any opening further up.
Another bit of text scrolled past: "Building gutted. Investigators say every piece of circuitry appears to have been melted. Takasaki CEO has issued a press release." There was a pointer to the press release itself being broadcast on another channel but Amanda ignored that. The newscaster's next statement caught her attention. "The body has been identified as a man named Neil Hughes."
Well, damn. Now she had two problems right off her top five list of annoyances. For one, she had to find a new partner for her job, and, for another, now there was a crazy Immortal who might well be after her head.
Rule 2: Keep on top of the latest in technology
Since Paris in the 1990s, Amanda always kept Methos on her radar. Even if she didn't speak to him for decades she knew where he was just in case. Right now, she definitely needed him. If Neil had been killed then it stood to reason his challenger might be coming for her next. After all, Neil was careful. He didn't precisely advertise his presence to others and he avoided fights. Or, well, he had. It was a moot point now, wasn't it?
Amanda eyed the warehouse where she'd tracked Methos; it didn't look much like a home. The building was stained and rusted – definitely not state of the art now and probably never had been. A warehouse was a warehouse, no matter what was inside. The only door that wasn't barred and welded shut was at the end of an alley running alongside the building. Amanda walked up to it and banged on it a few times.
She almost missed the camera scanning her but a telltale flicker of red light caught her eye. A few moments later the door opened and she had to look up at the man who'd answered it.
"I'm looking for Paul," she told him. He stared at her for a moment before shaking his head.
"No one here by that name."
Amanda sighed. "Okay, Ben. Or Adam."
Another pause, another shake of the head. The guy was huge. Looked like he was all muscle and no brain and Amanda had a brief surge of doubt. Maybe Methos had moved on? Then there was another red flicker and the man stepped aside.
"Please come in, Miss Montrose."
Oh for fuck's sake, he was an android. Amanda rolled her eyes and stepped into the building. The android shut the door behind her and stopped moving.
"Well?" Amanda said to the immobile hulk by the door. "Where is he?" No answer was forthcoming, not that she expected one. Obviously the thing had one job and that was door duty. Amanda looked around and frowned at the dark expanse that reached up to the ceiling and the walls that blocked off the rest of the warehouse from view. Now that she was inside she could tell that someone was nearby. Methos or another Immortal, that much was obvious. But where?
"Amanda?" She jumped and spun around. There he was, except it couldn't possibly be him. Whoever was in the warehouse wasn't close enough.
"Follow me, please." The thing that looked like Methos turned and opened a doorway hidden in the shadows. Amanda ducked through it and waited.
"So, is that you or just a dummy?" Amanda asked as she was led past a bank of computer terminals merrily humming away with what seemed to be as much business as any minor corporation did. After that was a large open area with what might have been tanks shrouded by drop cloths. Each space was blocked off by another set of walls. The entire warehouse had been made into a series of rooms and cubicles and Amanda fairly itched to scale the walls and get a good look at the layout. It would be a maze to anyone without a guide.
There was a pause and then a reply: "Both."
Amanda frowned. "That's some feat."
The android opened another door and stepped through. On the other side was a room that looked remarkably homey, aside from being in the middle of a warehouse. A bed was set up in one corner and a table and couch in front of a vid screen were arranged nearby. As she scanned the space, Amanda spotted a kitchen counter and another door to what could be a bathroom.
Methos himself sat at another bank of computers at the far end of the room. The machine that had escorted her stopped moving as soon as Methos got up.
"It definitely is a feat," he assured her as he peeled off a microphone and headset and shut down the screen he'd been using. "But I find it useful. Keeps me from having to go out there. He's programmed to come back here from the entrance on his own."
"Unlike that hunk who answered the door?" Amanda walked over and kissed Methos' cheek lightly. "Now Methos, don't tell me you're letting a fine thing like that go to waste as a bouncer."
"Who says I am?" Methos asked as he kissed her back. "And don't use that name. I've got this place shielded to hell and back but you never know what new surveillance tech is being cooked up."
"You're far too paranoid," Amanda chided, following Methos over to the couch. Never mind her own paranoia. A little bit was healthy but Methos, well... He was a breed apart sometimes. "You need to relax more. Get out of this little nest you've built. I assume you have some sort of security grid in the rafters?"
Methos smirked at her and waved a finger. "Now, now. No snooping, Amanda. Tell me why you're here and I might be willing to make you tea."
"That's not very welcoming." Amanda sank back into the couch and watched Methos go over to the kitchen area. "Can't a girl drop in on one of her nearest and dearest to catch up on things? You've been out of touch for so long!"
Methos glanced back at her over his shoulder, clearly not buying the innocent act one bit. To be honest, Amanda would have been surprised if he had. At least the old man wasn't slipping.
"Fine," she sighed. "I need a favor. I think I've got someone after me and I'm trying to find Duncan. You're hard to keep tabs on but he's damned impossible. He used to be so easy to find but now? I know he's not dead." She stopped and glared at him. "You'd have found me and told me if he was dead, right? Methos?"
"Yes. If I knew he was dead, I would most certainly seek you out to be the bearer of bad news." He sounded sarcastic but Amanda was sure he really meant it. He was probably just snippy because she'd used his name again. It was his own fault for letting it slip to her so long ago.
"So where is he? If anyone knows, it's you."
Methos didn't turn around or answer right away. From where Amanda was sitting she could see him very carefully pouring out two cups of tea and setting them onto a tray. He didn't respond until he was back at the couch and the tray was on the table in front of them.
"If I tell you where he is, you'll owe me a favor."
"Of course." That was expected, at least. "So spill. Where's he been hiding?"
Methos picked up his tea and sat back. "Well away from all of this," he told her, gesturing at the computers in the corner and at the rest of the building in general. "He's been at some monastery in the mountains for the past ten years. Good luck getting there. Pack your hiking heels."
Rule 3: There's nothing wrong with the occasional break
Methos hadn't been kidding when he'd suggested hiking shoes. In a way, it was nice to get out of the city and away from all her troubles but after just a few hours trekking through the hills, Amanda was more than ready to get back to civilization. It would figure that Duncan would pick somewhere that had no actual roads leading to it. He didn't care about tromping through the wilderness. He probably thought it was the perfect way to approach holy ground or something ridiculously wholesome like that. Amanda had checked to see if maybe she could fly in, but no. The whole place really was isolated.
It took all day for Amanda to get there. The temple was perched on the side of a mountain, looking like it was one strong gust of wind away from tumbling down into the valley below, but from what she'd found out once Methos had coughed up the location, it had been there for hundreds of years.
There was a path twisting up through rocks to the temple gates. As Amanda climbed it, the sense of another Immortal grew stronger. With luck it would be Duncan but holy ground was a popular destination these days. Amanda walked up to the gates and scowled at them. She was just mustering up the indignation to pound on them when they opened and a young monk looked out.
"Hey, I'm looking for someone," she said at his questioning look.
The monk nodded. "Your name?"
"Amanda. My friend's supposed to be here. Duncan MacLeod? Tall, dark, probably brooding over something?"
"Ah." He nodded again and Amanda smiled brightly at him. Duncan never really changed. Not so much that it would be hard to identify him to a total stranger. The monk stepped aside and gestured for Amanda to enter and then to wait in the courtyard while he hurried off.
Amanda spent a few moments wandering around the courtyard, inspecting the walls and working out entrance and exit plans she'd never need because, really, when would she ever need to break into or out of this particular temple? But it was a good exercise for the wait. She'd just given up and taken a seat on one of the hideously uncomfortable and cold stone benches when Duncan came striding through a doorway at the far end and sighed when he saw her.
"Amanda. I should have known. What trouble are you in now?"
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Duncan! That's a horrible greeting. I haven't seen you in decades. Why assume I'm in trouble?"
"Maybe because you haven't seen me in decades?" Duncan crossed his arms over his chest and gave her one of those ever-so-disapproving looks, like he'd caught her with a pocket full of someone else's diamonds. Which wasn't quite totally unfair but was irritating. He wasn't nearly as easy to charm as he used to be.
"Okay, fine. You know you're as bad as the old man. No trust whatsoever." Amanda stood up and slipped one arm around Duncan, going up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "I really think I'm in for it this time, Duncan. I could use a hand with this." She punctuated that with as coy a look as she could manage without totally throwing the whole thing, and was rewarded with a resigned nod.
"Let's go inside and you can tell me all about it."
Duncan led her through the door he'd come from and down a hallway into a small sitting room. Amanda took off her shoes and left them by the door, glad she'd gone for something simple instead of the boots she'd initially planned on. It looked like the only seating option was the floor. Amanda rolled her eyes at the austerity of the room but sat -- as close to Duncan as she could without seeming utterly desperate.
"Okay, so I was working with this guy, Neil Hughes. Ever heard of him?" Duncan shook his head. That was good. Maybe he wouldn't press the issue of just what they'd been working on. "Well, he lost his head a few days ago," Amanda confided in a whisper.
"That's a shame." Damn. He was totally unmoved.
"It is! He was a good guy, Duncan. Not my type really, but smart and careful and I'm really worried now."
Duncan nodded and stared at her for a moment, apparently waiting for more.
"I think whoever killed him might come after me next."
"Why would you think that?" Duncan asked. "Maybe because you pissed off the wrong person? Again? Amanda, you're too old to go playinggames like this and not know what the consequences are. Let me guess: You and this Neil guy were going to rip off another Immortal?"
Well, there went the idea of keeping it discrete. Amanda sighed and nodded. "We had it all planned out and it's not what you think. Tanaka's already a crook so it's not like we were stealing from a little old lady or anything. It was more like when we worked with Cory!"
"Oh now I really don't want anything to do with this." Right, that had been the wrong thing to say. Amanda thought fast.
"Anyhow, that's not the point! The point is that I think Tanaka's going to come after me next and I don't know if I can take him. And I think the police suspect terrorism because he killed Neil on top of some cybertech company's labs and it's a mess, Duncan, really."
Duncan sat back and regarded her solemnly, leaving Amanda with the uncomfortable realization that she had no idea what he was thinking. That was definitely new, and not a welcome development.
"Let me get this straight," Duncan began after a few minutes of silence. "Your partner's dead and you think this other Immortal might come after you. Do you even know he did it? Has he spoken to you? Challenged you?"
Lying was always an option. Given how Duncan was wording things and the tone of his voice, plus his body language and a number of other tells Amanda had long ago learned to look for in him, her chances of help would definitely be better if she could say she was, without a doubt, in danger. But in the time she'd learned to read Duncan, he'd certainly learned to read her. No lying. It would only make things worse.
"Okay, no. He hasn't. But it's only a matter of time."
Duncan shook his head and Amanda knew that was it. "Amanda, you're asking me to leave here and get back in the Game after forty years out, just for someone who might be angry at you but, in fact, hasn't actually challenged you and probably doesn't even know who you are? I'm sorry, Amanda. I'm not doing it."
Rule 4: Choose your battlegrounds carefully
Spending the night at the temple had not been Amanda's plan, but after she'd given up trying to get Duncan to help her out, they'd ended up talking. By the time she'd realized the hour, it was pitch black out and there was no way in hell she was climbing back down that mountain. Duncan and the others at the temple had agreed and she'd spent the night on the least comfortable cot she could remember sleeping on in the past four hundred years.
By the time she got home, Amanda had given plenty of thought to her predicament. Maybe Duncan was right and she wasn't directly in trouble, but the only way Immortals got by without undue notice these days was by keeping out of the public eye. And that was harder than ever. Whoever would take a head in such a public place, and draw so much attention, well, they needed to be stopped.
Which was why she was currently scaling the walls of Kanaye Tanaka's home. It would have been nice to have Neil in place to monitor the security system, but there was no fixing that now. The best she could do was make sure Tanaka didn't go taking any more heads in public.
When she and Neil had cased the place, it had seemed pretty simple to get past the security. For some reason, Tanaka didn't have the complex systems most people had these days. It was all old school stuff like pressure plates and heat sensors and sonic alarms. No robotics, no AI. But Amanda hadn't quibbled. Now she wondered just why he avoided it. Methos sure didn't. He had every system he could rig to work without needing augmentation himself. And then there was the fight on top of the Takasaki building. Why up there? Neil had no reason to be on the roof of a cybernetics company, unless he was working two jobs, and Tanaka was a recluse. That one Quickening had sent the company's stock plummeting and their subsidiaries scrambling to keep from going under.
Amanda unlatched a window and let herself into a bathroom on the fourth floor of Tanaka's home. If she was right about him, then there was more to it than Neil just getting himself caught, and she wasn't going to go climbing back up to see Duncan to try to convince him. He was right. She could handle it herself.
The bathroom was pristine, almost a shrine to antiquity with a claw-footed bathtub and gold-framed mirror. Amanda took a split second to appreciate the expense then got moving. By now she could feel Tanaka nearby, so it was a sure thing he could feel her. She wanted this over with and she wanted it done in the house. There wasn't anything so vital here that it would matter if the Quickening blew it out.
The rest of the house was as classic as the bathroom but in such a mish-mash of styles and time periods, Amanda almost flinched. Not only was the guy a total jerk with his money, he had no taste. Amanda shook her head and crept down the hall towards the room he had to be in. On instinct she kept close to the wall - a good instinct, as the door flew open and a gun fired, bullet hitting a vase at the other end. She ducked as Tanaka fired again.
"Whoever you are," he said as Amanda threw open the closest door and darted into the room, "You won't get out alive."
"What, you'll shoot me and take my head?" Amanda scoffed. "That's hardly a fair fight, Tanaka."
"Oh you'll get a fair fight," he called down the hall as he approached. Amanda drew her sword and backed up against the wall to the side of the door. "Just not here. You can come with me on your own or I can carry you."
Amanda saw his shadow near the door and braced herself. He was a big man. Hand to hand, he could easily overpower her. The gun came around the doorway first and fired, just barely missing Amanda's shoulder. She dropped to a crouch and swung around, stabbing him through the gut. The shock of it made him stagger back as Amanda yanked to free her sword. The gun fell from Tanaka's hand, landing on the carpet in the hall. Amanda kicked it away and brought up her sword again.
"Fair fight, Tanaka. In here. You're not getting me like you got Neil."
Tanaka grabbed a sword from a rack mounted on the wall behind him and swung at her. "That was a fair fight," he said through gritted teeth as their swords clashed. "You should understand. We all should. Companies like Takasaki make our lives hell. Your friend died to help us all live easier."
"You're an idiot," Amanda muttered, dancing out of the way as he thrust towards her. "You think you can take out all the cybernetics companies in Japan? In the world? It'll never happen and I'm not going to sacrifice myself for something so stupid." She blocked his attack and kicked at his leg, feeling his kneecap break as she made contact. Tanaka went down and she stabbed him again. He never had a chance to bring up his sword a last time before she swung and took off his head.
She had expected his Quickening to be more powerful but it wasn't much different than any of the others she'd taken before. When it was over, she was on her knees. Her head was pounding and she wanted nothing more than to go home, take a shower and crawl into bed. Hopefully with Motoko.
Amanda got to her feet and sighed as the air in the hallway seemed to shimmer. That wasn't something she'd seen before. It was like a heat mirage and she fought off a moment of panic at the thought that she'd caused a fire somewhere in the building. Then the shimmer disappeared and she sighed in relief; Motoko appeared in front of her.
"What the hell are you caught up in?" she asked Amanda.
Rule 5: Cut your losses when necessary
The trip home was conducted in silence. Amanda was itching to ask what sort of tech Motoko had been using to blend in with the hallway, but she figured that probably wasn't the best thing to be inquiring into just then. Once they were upstairs in Motoko's apartment, Amanda hesitated by the door while Motoko stripped off a dark grey bodysuit.
"Camouflage?" Amanda ventured, seeing a network of wires on the inside. Motoko nodded and carefully folded it up.
"It's useful when you have my job. And no, you can't have one. Now, try explaining to me just what happened so I know what sort of lies I have to tell my boss to keep you out of jail."
Amanda sighed and walked over to her. "Come on, can't we just forget it? It's better that he's dead, really. He was going to cause you no end of headaches at work, I'm sure."
"That I know," Motoko muttered. She glared at Amanda and shook her head. "Stop trying to avoid it and explain. We knew Tanaka was involved, but everything I've seen for the past three days tells me he wasn't just some crusader against cyberization. Who are these men you were talking to? The one at the temple we've got some intel on, but the guy in the warehouse is a cypher. I couldn't even get in there. You owe me, Amanda."
Amanda stepped back. Motoko had been following her for three days? Tailing her like a Watcher but better equipped. Or maybe not. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen any Watchers in a long time. Maybe they were all invisible these days. Or doing their spying remotely.
"It's a little complicated," Amanda told her. She went over to her dresser and started to pull out her clothing. "Tanaka was a nutcase. You got that much right. But I really can't explain much more than that. And I don't owe you. You followed me and I got rid of one of your problems. I don't see how that means I owe you anything."
"You lied to me," Motoko said simply. "I don't know what you're involved in or why you're associating with people who have government files going back centuries. Or how that's even possible. We ran one man through the recognition software and got hits going back to a painting done two hundred years ago. None of you have cyberbrain implants. Neither did Tanaka. You can see why I'm a little suspicious."
"I can. Honestly, I know it looks bad but I swear, all I wanted was to keep out of the news," Amanda assured her. "There's no conspiracy, really. Duncan and Adam and me, we're just trying to live normal lives."
"Normal isn't what I'd call this," Motoko muttered. "I see you're packing."
"Well, I'm assuming you won't want me to stay," Amanda said with a sigh. "I can't tell you any more, and you can't really explain why you're living with someone you caught at the scene of the murder of a suspected terrorist, right?"
"I'm going to have to explain this whole thing to my boss. If you really want to stay out of things I'm going to have to falsify evidence."
"You mean recordings of me and my friends? I wasn't doing anything wrong by talking to them. Anyway, I'm done with Japan. You won't have to worry about me once I'm out of the country."
Motoko sighed and sat down. "Probably not. For what it's worth, I don't think you're about to go doing anything that would get my boss's attention. You may be mysterious, but you never struck me as a terrorist."
Amanda paused in her packing and went to sit down next to Motoko. "I'm not," she promised. "I wasn't using you or planning anything." Much. Anyhow, it didn't matter now. The job was botched to hell, Tanaka was dead and Motoko would never trust her again. Just the thought of having her lover following her through the streets, invisible and sending reports back to who knew where made Amanda's skin prickle unpleasantly.
"It was a fun year," she told Motoko, leaning over to kiss her one last time. "Do me a favor and don't go pestering my friends? They'll keep to themselves if you leave them be, I swear. There are just some people who don't fit in with the world today."
Motoko nodded. "We'll keep an eye on them," she warned. "But if they don't do anything, we won't do anything."
"That's all I ask." Amanda smiled and got up again. She pulled the last of her things out of the closet and slid them into her bag. She'd go to Methos first, get him to get her drunk for an evening, then maybe go back to Paris. Methos would get word to Duncan to watch out for mostly-invisible agents and she'd be well out of reach.
"Will you ever come back?" Motoko asked as Amanda checked to make sure she had everything. She'd never really settled in all that much, just in case.
"Maybe." Amanda shrugged. "Or maybe you could take a vacation. Somewhere in France? You never do take the time off you're owed."
"Maybe," Motoko allowed. "Take care of yourself. Drop me a line if you ever upgrade."
Amanda schooled her face into something cheerful and nodded. "If I ever do, you'll be the first to know."