Thanks to: My marvelous beta readers, mackiedockie and Steven.
Disclaimers: The characters and concepts of Highlander belong to Davis-Panzer productions. I don't get paid. I'm just in it for the glory.
Author's Notes: This is the long-promised sequel to "The Price of Interference". "The Secret War" can be read without it; just know that Joe has met and befriended an Immortal named Jean-Pierre. The events of this story are woven in and around the canon of late 4th season Highlander.
Sunday October 15, 1995
I settled down in front of my laptop with a big mug of the industrial-strength coffee Katie makes for the bar each morning. The Academy stat sheets come out on October 15 each year. Every supervisor gets a copy, through the Watcher's encrypted network. Each Academy recruit due to be placed for internship in the coming year has their own sheet, with their picture, current class rank, place of origin, languages, and specializations. The Pacific Northwest isn't the most glamorous spot, so I try to pull in good interns early.
I skimmed through the first pages. When I came across a recruit with Marksmanship skill noted on his sheet, I saluted him with my mug. As a former Marine, I was an expert shot with a rifle myself. My year had two at the Academy, both of us military veterans. I saw a second recruit with the same skill. And then a third. I started skimming through the records, a sinking feeling in my gut. A half hour later, I'd found that 12 out of 105 recruits had Marksmanship on their sheets. No way was that a coincidence. What was going on?
There are three ways the Watchers get new recruits. Some come from old Watcher families. Those generally come to the Academy when they're around 20 years old. Then there are folks who are in the right place at the wrong time. They see a Quickening or an example of Immortal healing and ask too many questions. We bring those folks into the Academy, too. They come in all kinds of ages and conditions, but they make good Watchers. That's how I got recruited by Ian. Then, very rarely, we'll go out and recruit someone with a special skill we need. Like that pair of hackers back in the 80's that set up our encrypted network and got us into all the travel and financial databases. Or our Assistant Curator, a sword-expert we swiped from the British National Museum.
I didn't recognize the names of any of these 12 recruits, so they weren't from old Watcher families. Unless someone fought a Challenge in front of a whole Olympic rifle team, they weren't brought in for seeing too much. That left option number three. Who was recruiting shooters, and why?
I took a moment to remember if I had any contacts at the Academy this year. Of course – Fatima. I pulled out my address book to find her new number, remembering how I first met her.
Don Salzer was Fatima's mentor at the Academy twelve years ago. He called me up and asked me to take her on as an intern. Fatima was a bright young lady, but she was painfully shy. She wouldn't talk to her supervisors at all. Don told me that the only time she managed to speak up in a meeting was if someone said something truly outrageous. Don was convinced that I could bring her around. If not, she'd spend the rest of her career working for assholes with half her talent and the balls to take credit for all her ideas.
So, when Fatima showed up, I spent two weeks playing the ugly American. I was as ignorant as I was opinionated, until she started yelling back at me in pure self-defense. Pretty soon she was so used to talking back to me that she'd even do it when I said something reasonable. That's when I let her in on the joke. I found out Fatima could cuss like a sailor in four languages. She forgave me, eventually.
Fatima had been appointed Professor of Forensics at the Academy last year. I was sure she'd help me out. I dialed the number.
"Fatima? Hey, this is Joe Dawson."
"Joe! Are you back in Paris already?" Fatima's scratchy alto always reminded me of Garbo. I felt a twinge of guilt. I hadn't spoken to her since Christine Salzer's funeral.
"Nah, still in Seacouver."
"That's too bad. Marco finally got up the courage to attempt one of my mother's roast goat recipes. We're having some friends over to try it out next Saturday." Marco's a great cook. I think Fatima proposed to him the first time he prepared a four-course meal for her.
"Well, tell Marco I'm sorry to miss it. I actually called because I was checking out the Academy stat sheets …"
"And you want the pick of the litter?" She continued immediately. Obviously she'd already thought this through. "You'll want to check out Emily Hargrove. She has a real instinct for surveillance. I think the woman could walk across a pool table in the middle of a game without anyone noticing."
"And the problem with her is…" Fatima's always had a thing for the underdog.
"Well, she's an older woman, and only speaks American and bad French, but that shouldn't be a problem for you," Fatima teased gently. Pretend to speak crappy French for two weeks and some folks never let you forget it.
"All right, I'll have a look at her sheet," I conceded. "But that's not actually why I called."
"No?" she asked, leaving me an opening.
"I noticed that twelve of the recruits have skills in Marksmanship. You know anything about that?" Maybe there's some simple explanation.
"Twelve? That doesn't seem right." She paused for a moment. I could hear static crackle over the international line. "It could be the Security Department is doing some recruiting. There have been some rumors about them tightening up after the Kalas incident. Would you like me to look into it for you, Joe?"
"I'd appreciate it, Fatima. But be careful. If it's not the Security Department, it might be some of Horton's people looking to get back into the Game."
"Oh." Her tone is completely serious. "I'll be discreet, Joe. And I'll get back to you in a few days with whatever I find."
"Thanks, Fatima." I couldn't help but warn her again. "Watch your head, OK?"
"Oh, Joe" she laughed, "You really have been spending too much time around Immortals. I promise, I will be careful."
"Give my love to Marco."
"I will, Joe. Good-bye."
"Bye." I looked at the phone in my hand, wondering if I'd just made a mistake.Tuesday October 17, 1995
Reading the weekly supervisor updates from Headquarters is pretty dull, but you just have to do it. No one else has the clearance, and occasionally there's something important in there. The final section is called "We Ring the Bell." It's obituaries for active Watchers. We're a big organization, so we often lose one or two members a week.We Ring the Bell …
For Dr. Fatima Tubic, professor of forensics at the Academy. Dr. Tubic was killed in a hit and run accident near her home on Monday, October 16. She is survived by her husband, Marco Tubic. The family invites her friends and students to a memorial to be held in their home this Saturday.
It was like a punch to the gut. That was no accident. God, Fatima, Marco, I'm so sorry. You deserved better. I should never have brought you into this.
Back when I was a young and stupid recruit, I asked a sergeant what the difference was between a police action and a war. He told me that when your friends' bodies start hitting the ground, you're at war. So, there I was, at war with the faceless enemy that killed Fatima.
Numbly, I planned my next moves. I bought a handful of phone cards so I could contact people on public phones without worrying about wiretaps. Not taking that basic precaution might have led directly to Fatima's death. I didn't know. I'd probably never know. But I wouldn't make the same mistake again.
I didn't call Marco. I had no idea what to say. Later, my guitar let some of the bitterness out, playing a long solo before closing with "Death Letter." The early crowd was very quiet as I handed them over to the night's scheduled band. A little unfair to them, maybe. I didn't give a damn.
Tomorrow, I'd call Adam. Adam Pierson, the Watcher. Methos, the survivor. Together we'd hunt down the Hunters.