Highlander Fan Fiction » Against The Tide


DISCLAIMERS: Neither Kronos nor Silas is mine. They belong to Rysher
Corporation, Gaumont Television and Gregory Widen. Ernest Zerwas and Joshua
Helman are mine.

Thanks to Gillian Leeds for providing the poem so that this story could be a
part of the Poetry Lyric Wheel.


Against The Tide
By Farquarson


On a moonless, starless June night, in the cold, inky and treacherous waters
of San Francisco Bay, three men struggled toward shore. All were gripping
the remains of their half-deflated raft, a sad-looking thing stitched
together from the linings of old raincoats.

"We're never going to make it!" one of the men, a long-headed, long-limbed
fellow, cried out. His voice became shrill and tight. "We're all going to
drown out here..."

A wet, callused hand reached across the half-sunken raft and clouted him in
the face, bringing the first man's nascent panic to an abrupt end. "Shut up,
Zerwas! Do you realize how clearly sound travels over water? Do you *want*
them to catch us?"

"But nobody's after us, Kro-uh, Floyd," said the third, a behemoth of a man.
He pedaled frantically to keep his head above water as he spoke. "I checked
before we crawled out of our cells, and again while we were climbing from
the roof down to the cliffs. I didn't see any guards at all. There was one
spotlight on the cliffs, but it didn't shine anywhere near us. I don't think
anybody at Alcatraz knows that we're gone."

"Don't worry, Silas," muttered Kronos. He fought and paddled and kicked,
straining to break free of the undertow which was slowly and mercilessly
pulling the three of them, and their raft, toward the Golden Gate Bridge and
out to the Pacific Ocean. A salty, kelp-filled wavelet splashed across his
face, causing him to splutter and cough. "Don't worry. They'll figure out
that we're gone." *Helman will see to that.*

*

When he had been transferred to Alcatraz from Leavenworth after an escape
attempt, Kronos had barely remembered Joshua Helman. Not too surprising;
Helman had never been of any importance to Kronos. He hadn't been an
opponent or an ally, a slave or a brother. Helman wasn't even Immortal,
which made him doubly insignificant, in Kronos' eyes. *Mortals,* Kronos
thought derisively, *are sheep.* Consequently, he wasn't prepared when a
tall, muscular guard with a face like a gravedigger swaggered up to his
cell.

"Well, well," the guard drawled in an exaggerated Texas accent. "If it isn't
little Felix DiFalco of the United States Marine Corps. Been a few years.
Damned if you don't look exactly the same. What the hell did you do, sell
your soul to the devil in exchange for immortality?"

Kronos' mouth went dry. The guard was getting just a little too close to the
truth. "I don't know what you're talking about," he lied. "I'm Floyd
Marston, not Felix Whatshisname."

The guard impaled him with dead, steel blue eyes. "So I heard. I saw you
checked in; I read your file. You killed a U.S. Marshal during a bank
robbery. And by coincidence, it just happens to be our old C.O. The only
other guy, besides you and me, who survived that ambush at the Tamun River
eleven years ago. The only other one who knew that you sold us out to the
North Koreans."

"I did *not*," growled Kronos. Really, this was infuriating. Not that he
hadn't betrayed hundreds of armies, let alone one paltry unit, in four
thousand years, but he hadn't betrayed this one. Korea ranked among his more
unpleasant memories, all sweltering summers, bone-freezing winters, filth,
hunger, and the stink of diseased and dying mortal bodies. *If I had
betrayed that ragtag band of boy soldiers,* he thought disdainfully, *I
would have made certain that I received something pleasurable in return.*

"Liar!" The guard's voice lashed at Kronos. His eyes narrowed speculatively
as he stared at the prisoner. "I know what you did," he said at last,
running a bony hand through his unruly auburn hair. "I just can't prove it.
Fortunately, I don't need to, not in here. And since you're serving life for
murdering a U.S. Marshal in the course of a bank robbery..." He grinned like
a coyote stalking its prey. "Well, that just makes it perfect, doesn't it?"

He started to amble away casually, just as Kronos began calling every curse
known throughout the ages down on him. Then, as if a sudden thought had
struck him, the guard turned back. "By the way, you got a package in the
mail a few days ago. No name, no return address. Naturally, we confiscated
it. After all, what do you need with a sword?" He exited, laughing, as
Kronos stared after him, speechless with rage.

The next few months were humiliating for the former Horseman. Helman didn't
beat Kronos up, or try to terrorize him; the mortal was too smart for that.
Instead, Helman implemented a form of the Chinese water torture.
Kronos--"Marston" to his fellow inmates--was given the worst jobs, the worst
food, and the worst punishment Alcatraz had to offer. His first task in the
penitentiary was to clean the toilets and bathrooms. All of them. For a
month. After that, Kronos was transferred to the tailor shop, where he was
compelled to occupy a hot, stuffy, airless room and push a dull needle
through heavy, damp pieces of denim for eight-and-a-half hours a day.
He got the worst food, all bone and fat and gristle. At the slightest provocation--
or even without any provocation at all--he was ordered into "the hole" for ten days
or more of solitary. If it hadn't been for the men who occupied the cells on either side
of Kronos--Ernest Zerwas and Kronos' "brother" Silas--Kronos thought he might
have gone insane from boredom, frustration and powerlessness.

Ernest Zerwas was a "fish"--a new, na´ve, rather inexperienced inmate.
Zerwas had been in and out of prison for nearly twenty years, but he was
still a fish. He was a follower, rather than a leader; nothing made him
happier than to obey a direct order. Kronos enjoyed Zerwas' company; it was
hard to find bright, willing slaves these days.

As for Silas, he had not changed appreciably since the Bronze Age. He was
still the cheerful, simple, homicidal man he had always been. He was
unsurprised by the fact that Kronos was still alive. "I knew you were alive,
brother," he said in a deep, baritone rumble. "Methos is the only one strong
enough to kill you and to handle your Quickening. He will never kill you.
And no one else would survive the attempt."

Then, four months after Kronos arrived at Alcatraz, he was ambushed in the
shower room.

The beating itself was painful, even agonizing--at least temporarily--but
not severe. Kronos had endured many infinitely worse ones in his lifetime.
What worried him, despite the considerable damage he had inflicted on his
attackers, was the certainty that there would be another assault. Not that
he was going soft. Far from it! But dying at the hands of a fellow inmate,
and then resurrecting in front of both prisoners and guards, was definitely
a fate he wanted to avoid.

The other possibility--that another Immortal would be transferred here and
try to take his head--was also dangerous. He had no intention of taking a
Quickening in front of an audience of inmates and guards. Not that he
wouldn't enjoy killing all the witnesses, but what if one or two evaded him,
to accuse him of murder later on? What if some paranoid official listened to
their tales, and decided that it would be wise to find him and run a few
million experiments on him? No, too risky. He had to find a way out of this.
But what? And how?

He could hardly take the escape route so many younger Immortals would have
used in his situation: a quick suicide, and the immediate removal of his
body to a mainland morgue. Because of his age, he healed far too fast for
this to work. He wouldn't stay dead more than three minutes, tops. No. If he
wanted to stay alive, and remain undetected, he had to escape, and soon.

Three days later, Silas strode into the prison library, where Kronos and
Ernest Zerwas were attempting to play chess. "I've just found a way out," he
whispered eagerly. "It's in Cellblock B, in Cell 364D. I found it today when
I was sweeping out that cell. The ventilation shaft goes straight up to the
roof, to a blind spot the guards can't see. It's almost big enough for a man
to crawl through. We'd have to make it bigger, of course..."

Preparing to escape had taken six months. The first order of business was
not only to enlarge the escape vent, but to widen the "tunnels"--actually,
the air vents-in their own cells. For three months, during every free moment
during the day and through the night as well, four men painstakingly scooped
crumbling WPA concrete away from the walls of the vents. They used spoons
when they could smuggle them from the prison cafeteria (hiding the worn-out
stubs inside their mattresses), and their hands when they could not. It was
hard, dusty work, made even harder because every speck of concrete dust had
to be disposed of without the guards noticing. Kronos was emphatic about
that. One fleck of concrete on any of their uniforms might betray them.

The "excavation work," as Kronos called it, became both easier and harder
when Ernest Zerwas invented a kind of jackhammer/drill, made from a used
vacuum cleaner motor--a vast improvement on teaspoons, but also much louder.
Disguising the drone of the drill was difficult, and more than once Kronos
narrowly missed being caught with the drill in his hands by a guard.

The other prisoners of Cellblock B helped tremendously. A fair number of the
men there were members of a ragtag orchestra. In exchange for favors,
cigarettes, extra rations, and so on, they agreed to start their daily
practice sessions twenty minutes before Kronos and his cronies arrived to
drill the escape vent, and to end them twenty minutes after Kronos and crew
had departed. It worked; the cacophony was so appalling that within days,
the guards in that section of the prison, including Helman, began wearing
industrial-strength earplugs. Kronos and Zerwas couldn't blame them--a
cellblock of men singing/shouting "Hit The Road, Jack" was enough to give an
elephant a migraine.

Silas, of course, loved it.

As the months wore on, Kronos labored over the raft in the tailor shop,
studied the tides in the bay, and waited.

*

*I hoped,* Kronos thought bitterly as he pushed through the impenetrable
wall of water that seemed to be between himself and the shore, *that we'd be
able to escape quickly, before they noticed we were gone.*

An unduly optimistic thought, perhaps, but reasonable. Barely two hours
before, the three of them had crawled through the air vents to Cell 364D,
shimmied through that air vent to the roof, climbed down from the roof to
the sheer cliffs surrounding the prison, and crept backwards down the cliffs
to the shore. All this without tripping an alarm, being seen by a guard, or
being caught in the spotlight that swung back and forth across those cliffs.
They'd even gotten past the first and most treacherous current that had
threatened to force their fragile raft back to the shore of Alcatraz Island.

The raft had sprung a leak about a half-hour ago. They'd lost their
broom-handle oars to the current about fifteen minutes later. They'd been
fighting to swim to the mainland ever since.

Seven miles away.

Seven *miles.*

That was a long way for anyone to swim. Even an Immortal.

There was no alternative, though, unless you counted drowning. Kronos
grimaced to himself. Drowning was his second least favorite way to die. The
first, of course--one he hoped never to experience--was decapitation.

With a sound somewhere in between a sigh and a snort, Kronos took a deep
breath. *Time to fill--what would Methos have called it?--the unforgiving
minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run.*

He spoke two words. "Kick. Hard." Then he flung himself against the current
as if it were the cruelest, most savage opponent that he had ever faced.

Kronos battled the undertow, trying to get over the waves, under the waves,
any place that he could escape it. Silas grimly soldiered on, plowing
through the water like a human-sized battleship. Zerwas flailed about,
choked, dog paddled, floated and kicked. Kronos was amazed that the mortal
was still conscious, never mind keeping up.

On and on and on. An iron band was tightening around Kronos' rib cage,
crushing his lungs every time he inhaled. He ignored the undamaged but
exhausted muscles that were turning leaden, the arms and legs that no longer
had the will to move, the roar that might have been the ocean, a motorboat,
or merely ringing in his ears. The salt water splashed repeatedly into his
eyes, blurring his vision and reducing the shoreline to an amorphous blur.

A vague half-formed thought crossed his mind: *If you can force your heart
and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone...*

At last his feet touched bottom. Determinedly, he staggered through the
blackish, kelp-filled waters toward a narrow strip of rocky beach near the
ruins of what had once been a dock. It would have been easier to crawl to
shore, but somehow it seemed very important that he walk there as a free
man, capable of taking on the world. He was free now. Not a prisoner, and
not a slave.

Kronos was dimly aware that Silas was beside him on his right, his knees
gouging the wet sand, his thick wrestler's body shaking with great labored
gasps. On his left, Zerwas was prone on the beach, his eyes closed, his face
pallid and dotted with specks of sand. He seemed to be dead, but as Kronos
looked closer, he realized that the man was breathing, if feebly. His
fingers were gripping the soft wet sand with desperation, as though trying
to reassure himself that he really had survived, that the gritty sand that
smelled of salt and fish and pollution was not an illusion passing through
his fevered brain before he died.

*Mortals,* Kronos thought with exasperation. *They never know when they
should quit.*

"What now?" asked Silas, ever the pragmatist.

"Now," a Texan voice drawled behind them, "you come with me back to
Alcatraz."

The three escaped prisoners didn't move. They didn't even react. Kronos and
Silas glanced at each other, each one's expression saying to the other: *Did
you hear that too, or did I imagine it?*

Joshua Helman was grinning with a smug, cat's-in-the-cream grin as he
circled around to face the three escapees. He held a large, blue-black steel
revolver in his hand. Kronos noted with displeasure that the safety was off.

"You weren't as careful as you thought," he said in an oily gloating tone.
"Oh, yeah, I figured out months ago that you were going to break out of
Alcatraz. The drilling in Cellblock B? The flour stolen from the commissary
to make paste for those papier-mache heads you left on your pillows tonight
to fool the guys doing the bed checks? Little things like that. And lately
you've been much more excited than usual." He shrugged. "I called the Coast
Guard and asked them when the next exceptionally high tide was. They told
me. Then I went to the warden and requested three days off, starting on the
night of that tide. Well," he shrugged, "would you waste an opportunity to
destroy an old enemy?"

"No," said Kronos in a lethal whisper. "Candidly, I would not. But I would
have expected you to show more imagination. Guns are so...ordinary."

A spark of bitter humor lit Helman's cold blue eyes. "The gun is for Zerwas
and Potok. They get to die quickly. You"--here he smiled cruelly--"get
this." With that, he reached behind a large, barnacle-encrusted rock, picked
up a duffel bag, and removed a long, gleaming broadsword.

His own sword. The one Helman had confiscated ten months ago. Kronos could
feel the blood in his veins bubbling and frothing with rage.

Helman stared at Kronos, all traces of humanity gone now. "First, I'm going
to shoot you. Then I'm going to cut your stinking head off, like they used
to do with vampires. Just to make absolutely sure you stay dead." He put the
sword atop the rock, and lifted the gun.

Without thinking, Kronos grabbed Zerwas' half-conscious body and flung it at
Helman, bellowing, "No, Zerwas! There's no point--you can't cut him!"

Helman, seeing an escaped prisoner hurtling toward him, hearing Kronos'
shouts, reacted instinctively, though he knew, somewhere in the back of his
mind, that what he was doing was senseless.

He shot Zerwas three times in the chest.

As the gun fired for the first time, Kronos nudged Silas, who no longer
looked quite as drained as he had a minute ago. "Go up the pier till you
find a pay phone. Dial 0. Then have the operator call the police. Tell them
there's a madman on the loose, and if they want to find him, come to the old
docks immediately."

Silas obeyed, unquestioning.

As the third shot was fired, Kronos pretended to stagger forward and to fall
against Helman, knocking the mortal off balance. As Helman stumbled
backward, Kronos righted himself, bent down and grasped the hilt of the
sword.

A ghastly expression lit Helman's eyes. Kronos advanced, his mouth contorted
by an insane smile.

Helman closed his eyes.

Kronos crept up behind Helman, and carefully placed the sword in the guard's
hands, placing his own hands over Helman's in order to better guide the
sword. Helman struggled, but it was futile. Slowly, inexorably, Kronos
brought the sword back...and then swiftly brought it down on Zerwas' neck.

Immediately, before Helman could spin around and stab Kronos with the sword
both were holding, Kronos brought his arms up about Helman's neck in a
chokehold. He had to take care not to break the bastard's neck, much as he
wanted to. No, he had a far worse fate in mind for Helman.

Deprived of air, Helman crumpled to the sand, unconscious. His hands were
still loosely gripping the sword.

Kneeling down, Kronos took the blade of the sword in his hands. He had to
work quickly before the police arrived. Gritting his teeth, he cut his bare
arms over and over again, until Helman's face and hands and clothes were
liberally soaked with too much blood to be attributed to Zerwas alone. Then,
as his arms healed, he headed for a clothing store near the docks that he
could break into. After that--who knew?

Kronos grinned to himself, thinking of the frame Helman would find himself
in when he awoke. The cops might have believed Helman's story that one of
the escaped inmates had killed another; after all, Helman was a guard. One
of their own. But they would inevitably realize that the amount of blood in
the area implied that there had been another murder, and that in this case,
Helman had had time to dispose of the body. The more Helman protested, the
less he would be believed. In fact, the police would probably have Helman
charged with every beheading in the San Francisco area for the past ten
years. Kronos laughed joyfully.

*Let's see how he likes being punished for something he didn't do.*

Helman would probably never understand it, but he had done Kronos a favor by
showing up. Kronos would have killed Zerwas anyway. Zerwas would have
started bragging of their escape from Alcatraz the minute he hit his first
bar. Kronos didn't need any witnesses. He had hoped the mortal would drown
on the way to the mainland and save him the trouble, but this way was even
better.

The only dim regret Kronos had was Silas. He would have liked to remain by
the side of the former Horseman, at least for a while. Unfortunately,
staying together might well mean recapture. *And I didn't go through all
this to be tossed right back into jail.*

It hardly mattered. After all, he had eternity to reunite with Silas. And,
quite possibly, Methos. Silas seemed quite sure Methos was alive. That would
be an interesting project, trying to find the old man. Or maybe he would go
to Cuba. Both the CIA and Castro's forces seemed to be having a lot of fun.
Or maybe he would go to work in a biological weapons factory. Give his
talents room to expand. He could do anything. His was the earth, and
everything that was in it. By the gods, he loved being free.


***


NOTES: This story is based on the June 13, 1962 escape from Alcatraz by
Frank Lee Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin. Morris was serving
fifteen years for bank robbery (*not* life imprisonment for killing a U.S.
Marshal during a bank robbery) and the Anglin brothers, who had been
transferred from Leavenworth after an escape attempt, were serving ten for
bank robbery. The method that Kronos, Silas and Ernest Zerwas used to escape
is that used by Morris and the Anglins. The rest--the description of their
struggle against the current, and especially the character of Joshua
Helman--are pure imagination.

Silas was put in this story because he kept hanging around, plaintively
begging for something to do. So I decided, arbitrarily, that, while Kronos,
at the end of "Comes a Horseman," didn't know that Silas and Caspian were
still alive, he might have thought that Silas had died rather recently,
between 1962 and the late 1990s.

The lines used from the poem were:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute/
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew/
To serve your turn long after they are gone.
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it.

If-by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master;
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run--
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!



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