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An Iffy Proposition

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"Name and planet of origin, sir?" The face on the vidscreen was young, female, attractive; but the woman had barely glanced at her own screen before looking away. Methos knew the fingers he couldn't see were flying over a keyboard as she made a series of checks.

"George Adamski," he said casually. At least one person on New Caledonia is old enough to get the joke. If he isn't senile. Relaxing at the controls of his one-man star cruiser, he added, "Coming from Pomona, but I'm a native of Earth." More precisely, I assume I am.

When the security officer looked at him again, she was frowning. "I'm surprised, Mr. Adamski, that you haven't requested a stop on our moon, Evergreen. Perhaps you don't realize you can use our storage facility free of charge?"

"That's very hospitable. But I'm only planning a short visit, and I prefer not to use storage." As her frown deepened, he added, "Everyone's worried about the Iffies these days."

"Y-yes. But it's a big Spiral Arm. The terrorists haven't struck anywhere near here."

And you're wondering whether I have inside knowledge that they're about to.

He favored her with his most charming smile. "I'm just a Nervous Nellie who prefers to be on the safe side."

"Uh-huh." She looked away again, and he knew she was running more checks, investigating his background. As always, most of it was phony; he could hardly admit to being seven thousand years old. But the fakery was so expert that not even another Immortal would have detected it.

Has to be maddening for these spaceport security people, when they don't have a clue who the Iffies are or what their grievance is.

Lucky for me they don't.
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"George Adamski's" ID passed muster, as he'd known it would. But his orneriness had been noted. As he walked through the sparse crowd of blandly good-looking locals in the terminal, he realized he'd picked up a tail.

Fifteen minutes later, he'd lost it. You didn't stand a chance, kid, with someone who's spent millennia dodging the Watchers.

Huh. I wonder if they've disbanded? No one's headhunting these days, and Immortals who live like everyone else can't be very interesting.

Unless, of course, the Watchers have discovered the goings-on that are extremely interesting.

He visited a public information kiosk, and in less than a minute, he'd learned the address of the man he sought. Once again, his old friend was using his favorite name: Duncan MacLeod.

MacLeod lived in the nearby capital city. Five more minutes in an airborne taxi, and Methos alighted at his door...or rather, the door of a charmingly old-fashioned shop devoted to the repair of all kinds of timepieces. So he lives over it, Methos thought with a smile. Just like he would have in the 19th or 20th century.

Not surprisingly, his opening of the door was announced to the proprietor by a cuckoo clock.

Something else had "announced" it to Duncan MacLeod. He looked up with the same quick, instinctive wariness Immortals had shown in the old days.

Interesting.

In more ways than one.

"Methos!" MacLeod relaxed only slightly. "It's been a long time. What are you calling yourself now?" They were alone in the shop; Methos knew MacLeod wouldn't have used his real name if they weren't.

"George Adamski."

MacLeod's chuckle proved he hadn't gone senile. But then he said, "Sometimes I wish we really had run into those friendly aliens Adamski babbled about."

Methos decided to get down to brass tacks quickly. "At least you and I both know humanity hasn't encountered hostile aliens. Unless Immortals are really ETs, of course."

Their eyes met and locked. Methos saw that he'd been right; the Highlander understood the Iffies' agenda as well as he did.

Understood why they'd murdered a billion people.

At last MacLeod said heavily, "You didn't stop off on Evergreen."

"No. I don't have much experience with this...I was surprised you could tell."

"Oh yes, I can tell. It's the mind that does the sensing."

"But it needs something physical to sense."

"Yes."

Meaning MacLeod had been well aware Methos couldn't sense him.

Probably the only person on the planet, Methos thought wryly, who's so satisfied with his looks that he had the android body made an exact replica of his real one.

The physical bodies of the world's inhabitants - doubtless all of them, since MacLeod's was included - were in cryogenic storage on Evergreen. The minds and (if such existed) souls that had animated them were now housed in near-indestructible androids. They could, in theory, live for thousands or millions of years - but only if nothing happened to the physical shells they'd vacated. The link to their bodies was crucial.

What Methos said aloud was, "I'm surprised you're willing to take the risk of keeping your body on Evergreen now. It could be blown to smithereens along with everyone else's."

The terrorists had blown up a dozen planetary storage facilities - with horrific consequences. After every strike, they'd beamed the same cryptic signature/message throughout the Spiral Arm: "IFI."

Methos knew what that meant. "Immortality For Immortals."

For old-style Immortals only.

"I've already had a long life," MacLeod said evenly. "I love this world, and I don't want to be the sole survivor if it dies."

"Hmm. Selfless of you."

"Why are you keeping your body with you? Are you just set in your ways, or...?"

Methos saw the narrowed eyes, and reflected, Couldn't be more like the real thing.

MacLeod hesitated, then blurted out, "Do you know Evergreen's about to blow up? Do you know what all the plans are?"

Methos didn't answer directly. "I'm building a storage facility for myself and Immortal friends," he told him. "One that will be safe, nowhere near an inhabited planet. I came to offer you a place in it."

"You didn't answer my question. Are you keeping your body with you now because you know Evergreen's about to be blown up?"

"Is this an act, MacLeod? Are you keeping your body on Evergreen because you have inside knowledge that it's not going to be blown up?"

In that instant, both men sensed that their friendship was withering. Like a thousand other Immortal friendships, it had fallen victim to a mutual suspicion that couldn't be dispelled.

They stood, staring at each other, in a lengthening silence broken only by the relentless ticking of antique clocks.
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(The End)