Chapter Four - No, Sir--This One's Not In The Manual....
Walter O'Reilly never felt more alive than when he engaged in a fight for his life. It was part of the mixed nature of being an Immortal, at least for those who had a conscience. But the other side of the coin always came crashing back after a narrow victory. He made for his room, where Erin Hunnicutt, aged 27, awaited her 45-year -old-but-would-always-look-20 lover.
"Are you all right, honey?"
Walter sat down on the bed. He was on the verge of tears.
"Erin---I had to kill him. He didn't give me no choice. I tried ta talk him down. But some of these older guys--round past 3000, I guess--there's just no talkin to em."
Erin zapped his sword over, and caressed it tenderly.
"The first rule, my darling--There Can Be Only One. Its not just a good idea---its the law."
He looked up, and nodded.
"Don't I know it. But Erin--I sometimes feel like life ain't supposed to be this way. I should still be with Cindy. You and me shoulda never happened. I'm supposed ta be fightin' off middle-age paunch. Stead, I still get pimples!"
Erin pulled the side of her cheek, and zapped up a Grape Nehi. She smiled.
"I'm a witch. So's my Mom, Grandma Endora and Aunt Sam. You're an Immortal, just like Sydney, and just like poor Colonel Blake was. Hawkeye, Margaret, Max and Soon-Lee are evolved beyond most of us. But we're still people, Walter. My Dad's a Doctor, and you worked with healers when you were growing up fast in Korea. Killing won't ever come easy to us because killing never should be easy. You are so damned gentle, that what you have to do to live eats at your soul."
Walter's eyes, long past needing glasses, looked empty.
"I told him he could walk away. I was gonna let him walk away---I had to cut off---"
He started crying openly, and into her shoulder. After about five minutes, she grabbed his face and kissed him.
"Ya know--you, you were just a baby when I first met ya."
"I'm not a baby anymore. And I never did get over that crush."
Before they began, Erin looked at the room, and chanted.
"While we are together, we shall know no fear, the sounds that emerge, my parents will not hear!"
"C'mon--lets go make us some noise!"
In reality, Erin's parents could not forbid the full-grown woman to date one of their oldest, dearest friends. But she also knew them quite well, and she knew also that they would try. She hoped that, if worse came to worse, Sidney Freedman's friend Doctor Hartley could talk Peg and BJ down.
Right at that moment, though, The Hartleys were busy talking themselves down.
Bob and Emily tried to digest what they had seen and heard along with a garlic shrimp dinner. Emily thought she might have a mental bicarb, but it would prove to be carbolic acid instead. Bob just hated that.
"Okay--you saw this Walter O'Reilly have a duel with our meek little Mister Petersen. Bob--what does that tell you?"
Bob tried, and Bob failed.
"Tha-That there's a hidden world behind ours that invalidates about 40% of what we know about life, the universe...and pretty well just about everything?"
Emily shook her head in an Emily-way. Being Emily, she could do no less.
"Bob, what has Sidney always said about the MASH 4077th? The pasttime they engaged in when the sex became stale, and the booze became flat?"
Emily raised both open palms. That meant the dismissal was getting serious.
"Nooo! Bob, these vets--are inveterate practical jokers. Add to that, so are some of our friends--the ones we've been trying to get away from? You just pushed Eliot Carlin's buttons, too. Maybe that ----long-term patient-----"
Bob gave a thumbs-up to this euphemism.
"---thanks. Maybe Carlin hired an actor to play Mister Petersen, and then the 4077th bunch threw in. Maybe even with Sidney's blessing. The rest--was all smoke and mirrors."
Bob sat down, fragile reality temporarily back on the high shelf.
"Emily, I want to laugh. But I can't. I told Sidney when I took this job how upset I was. For him to throw in with the people that are making me--making us--crazy. I-I can't--let this-let this go."
He got up, and Emily seemed concerned.
"Where are you going?"
"To speak to O'Reilly. Sidney told me that he was uneasy about practical jokes unless someone had it coming. Well, I didn't. And if I see Sherman Potter, I'll tell him to take his space vampires and bite down hard!"
As he left, Emily's face revealed that she too was upset by this. It was all very unlike Sidney Freedman. Dressing for tennis, Emily sought to work off some tension. On the court, she found Max and Soon-Lee, The Klingers, about to begin a match.
"Ok, pretty-lady. Your winning streak ends here. It ends now."
Emily was impressed by how well the Klingers had kept themselves, over the years. Max had to be in his early 50's, Soon-Lee in her early 40's. Neither remotely looked it. Certain cultures just had that way, she reasoned. She would reason wrong.
"Not so, husband. I am going to send your lovely butt all the way back to Wiejanbou. Give my family your best, please?"
Max was a 2nd Generation immigrant. Soon-Lee was an immigrant. Emily strained to hear a trace of accent on either. That is, until they each missed shots.
(You piece of...)
Max had cursed in flawless Korean. Soon-Lee in perfect Lebanese. Emily knew them slightly from the greengrocer's circuit. Again, no trace of accent. Max looked over at her.
"This lady is Sidney's pal. No one else is here, honey."
Soon-Lee twirled her racket like a sword. She smiled.
"Then lets take this downtown."
Emily's heart nearly gave out as the two began moving at speeds she'd never witnessed outside of films about cheetahs. The ball was all a yellow line, with neither combatant allowing it to leave the court. Then, they made a mistake. The ball began to bounce between their upright rackets, looking like one of those Pong games when the kids would lock the screen up by positioning their electronic paddles just so. But if the Klingers seemed heedless of the laws of physics, the ball was very mindful. It finally split apart. The pieces made a beeline for Emily. At that speed, they would hit like shrapnel.
As the Klingers stood dumbstruck, a blur that made their speed seem puny scooped up almost every piece before they hit Emily. But Margaret Houlihan howled one word as the last piece struck Emily's shoulder. Emily felt a world of pain and passed out as she heard that word.