Wednesday, July 27, 2005

At the Crossroads of Immortality

Jack Champion grabbed hold of the cane and slowly pulled himself up out of the chair. He'd started using the damn cane about 10 years ago. It had been about 5 since he'd been able to comfortably get into and out of his favorite chair. He muttered to himself as he slowly crossed the room to the kitchen. It was a modest home, but well-kept. His staff was very efficient, even the in-home doctor and nurses his kids had forced him to accept.

Martin met him at the kitchen, standing with a pose of deferential reproach. "Should you desire anything from the kitchen, sir, I would be happy to see to it."

He looked at Martin and scowled. Martin had been with him 25 years. Hired on just as his career as a world-renowned adventurer was ending. After Harold had...

It was still hard, nearly a quarter-century on. He grunted something non-committal to Martin and hobbled past him toward the library. Once there he shut the doors behind him. As he made his slow way to his massive desk, a familiar sensation traveled up his spine. He'd not felt it in over 30 years, but it always meant--

"Jack Champion," a voice came from the shadows, the same lyrical baritone he'd heard all those years ago, "how wonderful to see you again."

He stopped in the center of the room, gripping the small revolver in the pocket of his robe. Not much use against who he thought this was, but... "Dr. Eternal," he said, his own voice now thin and rasping. "Come to kill me on my deathbed?"

Dr. Eternal stepped from the shadows of a towering row of bookshelves and had clearly not aged a day since the first time they'd met in battle, almost 70 years ago. "Hardly," the ageless man said. "Though we last met as enemies, I hope that you will end this life my friend."

Jack considered his old adversary carefully. Of all his old enemies, Dr. Eternal had been the most challenging. With each plot and sinister gambit, the clues and riddles grew harder to solve, as though Dr. Eternal enjoyed challenging him. The immortal villain also differed from his other enemies in that he'd never killed anyone.

Until that last time.

"I know what you're thinking," Dr. Eternal said, dragging over a chair and helping the old adventurer into it. Jack was too shocked by the situation to complain.

Eternal continued, pacing a bit as he spoke.

"It's no coincidence that the last time we saw one another was the first time I'd killed someone during one of our little games."

"You still seem so surprised," Jack said. "You regularly plotted the takeover of the world," the aging detective ticked off his fingers. "You owned, at one time, three separate doomsday devices." He fixed his old enemy with a stern glare. "How could you not think someone might get hurt?"

Dr. Eternal looked away from Jack. "I was a fool." He shook his head and began to talk. "Before I was granted immortality --oh yes, it was given to me, more on that in a moment-- I was little more than a drunken pickpocket. I stole just enough money from the people in our small village during the day so I could buy liquor at night."

"Little changed when I became immortal," he continued, "save that my exploits became more dangerous and my drinking more prodigious." He chuckled ruefully. "It took a three-month hangover before I finally quit drinking entirely."

He shrugged. "After that I just wandered around doing whatever struck my fancy. I was going to live forever and could not be killed. I made a name for myself in the army, but then had to vanish when my persistent youth became alarming to those around me. I took up thieving, mercenary work... anything that kept me moving. I continued on that way until one night in Berlin, 1939."

"The night we met."

Dr. Eternal smiled and stared into the distance, reliving the memory. "Yes. A good night it was for me, too. You were there on a secret mission for which you'd been hired by the British government. I was a Nazi officer--"

"I was told later that you were spying for the Americans."

The immortal smiled, spreading his hands wide. "I was. But I was also spying on both for the Russians. I was always up to something." His eyes gleamed. "But after that night, I knew I'd found a higher calling. I knew almost from the first moment that you were going to be a force in the world, and I wanted to be a counterforce."

"Why?"

Another sigh, and Dr. Eternal looked down at the floor. "I was bored. After almost 300 years, I wanted my life to mean something. The man who'd made me immortal had to trade his immortality for my mortality. I was returned to the prime of my life, and he aged before my eyes." He shook his head again.

"I never understood why he gave this to me, or what I was meant to do with it. After killing that girl, I hid myself away. I'd killed before, but this was my first innocent. I couldn't bear to face you again. Somehow, our game was no longer so fun to play. " He sighed. "I went back to drinking for a couple of decades, but finally quit again. It was while I was drying out that I had time to think on my life, and how it could mean something; and about what I was supposed to do with my immortality."

There was a brief silence, during which Dr. Eternal looked up at the old adventurer. "I'm supposed to give it to you."

There was a brief pause, and Jack smirked.

"Well, obviously."

He pushed himself slowly and with great effort from his chair, waving away Eternal's offer of help. He walked the rest of the way to his desk, and settled himself in the large chair behind it. Dr. Eternal took a seat across from him.

Jack looked across the desk. "I knew that was why you'd come the minute you told me it was given to you. The thing is," he shook his head, "I don't want it."

"But--"

Jack held up his hands. "Oh, don't get me wrong. Old age is a pain-in-the-ass. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit interested in taking 25 for another spin." He shook his head again. "But no. Thank you, truly, but I'm fine with dying. I've lived my life, as fully as I knew how. I don't mind leaving it."

Dr. Eternal considered this. "Your life had meaning," he said eventually.

Jack nodded. "It does."

Dr. Eternal rose, nodding. "I understand. Perhaps I am meant to keep this," he mused. "I too will be released from this life only after I've given it meaning."

"Perhaps," Jack said, then coughed. That cough turned into a fit, which led to Jack doubled over, hacking uncontrollably.

He waved Eternal off again when the other man tried to help him. "I'm fine," he said. "Happens a lot these days." He sat back wearily in the chair behind his desk.

Dr. Eternal stepped forward, so that he towered over Jack. "Then allow me to make you another offer, if you are not interested in my first."

Jack looked up at him as he approached and smiled. "Yes," he whispered as Dr. Eternal's hands closed around his throat. "Yes, I think that will do nicely."

12 comments:

rohitramgiri said...

cool one !
though predictable the treatment was good

Chris said...

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the journey, even though you knew where it was going. :)

Kat said...

I like the that he refuses it. And his old adversary gives him relief from the pain of being old and sick.
Excellent!

Chris said...

Thanks Kat!

rob said...

As usual, you have wrapped up a story in short form with greatness. I enjoy your stories and look forward to the next one. Thanks for your support on my blog. Not nearly in the same league, you are at a level worthy of admiration. I am just putting ideas on paper. Waiting for the next one...

Chris said...

First of all, thanks for the kind words.

Second, I think you judge yourself too meanly. Your stories rock, and I've wanted to link to you for a while. Give me the all-clear, and I'll put up a link so that all can bask in your awesomeness.

I think the kids call that "blogrolling".

Rae Ann said...

Wow, that was great. I wouldn't want to be immortal but sometimes the thought of it is appealing. I didn't find it predictable though.

Hope-So said...

I really loved it. It flowed so well and the characters appeared right beofe my eyes. Thanks Chris!

m said...

i LOVE the idea of being immortal until you're done with it...going back to the mortal life when you're ready. THAT was the coolest part. that's the way i'd do it if that were ever an option.

Chris said...

Yeah, I've gone back and forth as far as immortality goes. It's funny, but as I get older, I'm less interested in it. Maybe that's where this one came from.

Rae Ann, Hope and M, thanks for the compliments!

akropp said...

i dunno, i think he shoulda taken the immortality. its not like it was never-ending immortality anyways. he coulda just put along doing stuff until he got sick of it and gave it to someone else. seems like a sweet deal to me. cool story nontheless though

Sar said...

Awesome story, and great imagery, especially your descriptives concerning the old adventurer. Excellent writing; like Hope said, it flowed really well.