Light At The End Of The Tunnel
by Karen

The world came to an end and it's all Johnny Smith's fault. Oh, sure, he could argue against that assessment all that he wants. One, niggling, unavoidable fact remains.

He had been given the power to see what might happen, along with several chances to prevent it from coming to pass. "Face it, man, you blew it, one those All Time Big mistakes."

He can argue that there really had been nothing he could have done to prevent the ozone layer from collapsing. It was bound to happen sooner or later, with or without man-made interference. After all it was humanity who created the problem in the first place.

Of late, his attempts to soothe away nagging guilt that is tearing him up inside have met with spectacular failure. Johnny realizes that he is just one man; one man who through no choice of his own, the powers that be assigned the task of preventing the end of the world. "Should have known it was impossible from the get-go."

Freezing time: A useful talent if he could have stopped his enemy before that half-baked suggestion to the government to create a smart missile to loaded with anti-toxins to wipe out the accumulated pollution in the Earth's atmosphere. "Maybe, just maybe, I might have had chance. Now it's more like a snowflake's chance in hell."

Speaking of hot places, Johnny can feel the sweat making the fabric of his loose cotton shirt stick to his back. He knows that it has always been hot in this part of the country, but now it's scorching.

Not that he had really paid much attention to the debate on the effects of green house gases and global warming on the environment.

He had been too busy trying to out maneuver and out guess his own personal nemesis in Greg Stillson. In the back of his mind, Johnny wonders why the folks up in the Washington D.C hadn't given more thought to what it might happen if it really did lose that layer of atmospheric protection. "Go figure?" he mutters and continues his trudge up the slope to the top of a steep hillside, one hand in his coat pocket the other firmly grasped around his cane.

And it is rather ironic to Johnny that most people, right up to the end, believed that if mankind could avoid a nuclear meltdown than an energy crisis would be a cakewalk.

And in the grand tradition of leaping at sweeping solutions to the hole in the ozone layer, Greg Stillson came up with the half-baked idea of a mart-missile. The politicians on Capitol Hill swallowed like it was the greatest idea that they had ever heard.

"Which is fine, except the next big crisis we would have to deal with as a species would be one related to the big energy and dwindling fossil fuels. Sure it would be a pinch in the pocket books, but it wouldn't be so bad in the long run, would it?"

On the surface that concept of fixing the hole in the ozone layer wasn't such a bad idea and Johnny knew better than anyone else left alive just how charismatic and persuasive as his enemy could be.

"Too damn bad, I had to be the one who saw through the act to the real man below. Repentance, huh, Damn it, really should have followed Bruce's advice and admitted what was going on a lot sooner than this,"

"And I alone, escaped to tell the tale." Johnny shakes his head and shuffles his feet, wondering where he'd remembered that line, dredged up from his memories.

As he gazes around at the parched and scorched surroundings, he wonders if he should be doing something more than feeling sorry for his singular self.

Maybe he should move away from here and start searching for survivors, or go look for his friends, Walt and Bruce.

Johnny wishes that Walt Bannerman were here beside him because Walt always had a way of tempering his more passionate enthusiasm and his more sober depressed moments with either logic or a bit of levity.

Instead of searching blindly, he tries to formulate a plan, but nothing comes to him so here he stands, poised atop the summit of a hillside overlooking a valley.

At the instant he makes the decision to go down and look Johnny spots an upright figure moving towards his perch. He takes several steps forward and leans over the edge of the hillside, breast bone level with the protective guardrail.

He raises his free hand to shade his eyes, staring through the mingled haze of scudding clouds and rising heat. If he squints he can just make out two upright figures, seemingly engaged in the give and take of a fight.

Johnny can't make out details from this distance, but he feels sure that it's more than a dance, and the fight appears to be in deadly earnest.

He takes his gaze off of the pair long enough to move away from the edge of his perch and scramble down the edge, then get closer to the action.


Duncan MacLeod can't afford to spend too much of his concentration speculating on how he ended up in this spot because he is too busy fighting for his life.

His booted feet stumble in the loose soil and gravel of the dry and dusty terrain and he staggers in order to regain his balance. Steady once more he brings up the tip of his sword, the katana with the carved dragon hilt, and parries a glancing blow from his opponent.

Aside from the unusual ringing sound echoing in his ear drums and the fact the he can't exactly recall the circumstances of having been challenged by the other man, Duncan wonders how he manages to get himself into these kind of messes.

Macleod is certainly no wet-behind-the-ears novice when it comes to fighting other Immortals. After all he's been around, for what, the better part of the last four hundred plus years? Of late it's become more and more difficult to tell the difference between reality and the dark fog inside his mind.

And speaking of messes, situations like this have become more common ever since that debacle in Paris on that deserted race track when he fought far more than shadows and the bizarre hallucinations of his own mind.

He would prefer not to think about the demon Ahirman, or anything else that happened that night. It's too much, and too much of a distraction, and he has to concentrate on the fight at hand.

Duncan narrowly dodges a glancing blow that if it had connected would have crippled his left knee and follows up with a riposte of his own.

When the metal of his weapon makes contact with other man's, Duncan, for the first time since the fight began, finally meets the other's gaze. If Duncan expected to see reflected in light washed-out blue eyes, malice, spite, anger, or even determination to win, he is disappointed.

"Why fight so hard, sonny, there never was any Prize to be won," the other said, taking one hand off his weapon and waving it around in a broad semi circle. "Look around you, there's nothing to be seen, nothing moving for miles around. And for your information, It's all my doing."

"I really don't care," Duncan grunted through his clenched teeth, the sweat from his exertion and the rising temperature making the fabric of his shirt plaster to his back, his muscles tense, the knuckles on the backs of his hand white with tension.

"Oh, I think you do, my boy. I have to admit, introducing you into the great game has to be one of better strokes of genius, and I have a long list of those, not to toot my own horn or anything." He glanced around and then back at Duncan. "I do hope you understand that I do require an audience for some of my more spectacular moves. It's a part of my nature."

"Well, goody gumdrops for you. It must be very uncomfortable to pat yourself on the back." Duncan was long past fed up with this vain, smug, and annoying little man, and more than ready to take his head and acquire his Quickening.

"My last rival and counterpart in the Game proved to be something of disappointment. He gave up too easily."

"I do not intend to make that mistake, I assure you."

"MacLeod, I would expect no less of you."

"I would be very sad to disappoint you," MacLeod grunted in reply, his arm held out straight from his body, "After all, it might be the last thing you'd ever experience before I take your head."

"You let me worry about my head, you just worry about your own."


Just below where the two men are fighting another man crouches underneath an overt-turned oak tree, its spreading branches drooping in the incessant heat. Walt Bannerman's car having become stuck in a steep ditch about twenty miles back, its engine stalled, he'd been forced to walk in search of a gas station. That is until he came upon the two fighting men. Mind you, the weapons of choice in the duel weren't the mundane everyday weapons; no guns, no fists, no knives. No, they were using swords.

His devil-may care attitude and curiosity kicking into high gear, which is far more than can be said for his vehicle, Walt stops to watch. Even as he gets a comfortable seat on the hard-packed ground he wonders, 'Why are they fighting with swords? Intriguing, but hardly practical, when fists would have done the job just as well."


It is difficult for Johnny, spectator that he is at the moment, to not cheer for the underdog in this fight. After all, one of the participants in this peculiar event taking place is the man who murdered his wife, okay while he'd been in a coma, Sarah actually went on to marry his best friend, Walt Bannerman. Even so, the memory of that still stings, more so than he is willing to admit to anyone except in the privacy of his own mind.

Johnny has an excellent view of the fight, and his own momentum pushing him down the slope of the hillside he arrives just in time to catch a glimpse of his friend Walt kneeling behind his over turned vehicle.

Johnny can see that the tall dark- haired man who fought with an antique looking sword, now the winner of the fight stands over the sprawled figure of his opponent, take a swipe with the blade, and proceed to remove the head of his opponent. To Johnny's surprise he registers that there is very little blood, but in the space of his sucking in great gasps of air, having forgotten how to breathe while this plays out, Johnny blinks his watering eyes, and breathes out again.

He has just now realized that, out of nowhere, a thick fog bank has risen up out of the ground and covered everything in sight. When he is able to see through the haze, he catches a glimpse of electric silver and blue aura surrounding the winner of the fight. He gasps as the blue silver glow erupts into wicked looking jagged bolts of electricity. "What in the hell?"

"Which question do you want to me to answer first?" Duncan demanded both angry and exhausted as he kneels on the ground with one white- knuckled hand wrapped around the hilt of his katana. He is both irritated and curious about how and why this person is standing here, unfazed at what is effectively ground zero in the aftermath of an Immortal Quickening.

The tall man wearing the remains of some kind of official looking uniform came running up, his hair standing on end and hands stuffed into the pockets of a pair of faded denim blue jeans. The tall man also had a queasy-looking smile plastered on his face, and he rubbed his eyes as if he could not quite make himself believe what he had just been a witness to.

It gradually sunk into Duncan's rather abused and battered senses that the tall man had not only witnessed a Quickening but he was also shaking off the effects of being hit by the electric surge of the released energy, "Great, this is all I need." Oddly enough Duncan can not feel any lingering aftereffects. Apparently both men were quite mortal.

"So what the hell are they doing here? And for that matter, what the hell am I doing here?" Duncan mutters.

"This is probably a dumb question at a time like this," Walt began, 'but are you all right?"

"Do I look all right?" Duncan snaps.

"Not so much." Walt shrugs.

"You look really hilarious with your hair standing on end like that, not that you had much hair to begin with, Walt." Johnny shrugged.

"Lay off the hair," Walt replied, annoyed and rubs his hand through the spikes of hair in a futile attempt to smooth it down; the friction created making sparks jump from his hands. "I must look terrible."

"Trust me, you do."

Walt startled, whirling around in an attempt to locate the source of the voice. He finally spots three women coming up the road that leads to where the impromptu trio stands. One of three women is someone that he and Johnny would know anywhere at any time: Sarah Bannerman.

The late Reverend Purdy killed Sarah Bannerman. Now Sarah exists only as a memory and a footnote in Johnny Smith's lengthy crusade.

In keeping with all the other weirdness that had gone on tonight Walt feels that being struck by lightning and the growing lump on his forehead from when he collided with his overturned truck might account for the fact that he literally could see right through her. "My mind must be playing tricks on me."

"That's one explanation, and one that I would expect you to leap to, being the most logical of our little inner circle."

"Sarah?" Walt gasped.

"You always were quick on the uptake, Walt, dear." The Sarah apparition replied. "Hello, Johnny,

"Hello, Sarah," Johnny replies. "Logic went out the window several hours ago. Fancy meeting you here."

"MacLeod," the blond woman nods at where Duncan is fuming with impatience, "Nice of you to join us for our little gathering."

Meanwhile, Duncan stands up, the effects of the Quickening having finally worn off, and he brushes the dust and grime from the front of torn and ragged shirt, the hem of his duster coat dragging on the ground.

Duncan sheathes his katana sword and wonders what Johnny and Walt are staring at.

Two women, one auburn, the other a blond. The blonde woman bore an uncanny resemblance to his mortal lover, Tessa Noel, a French artist he had met in Paris and who had been murdered at the hands of a street punk looking for some quick cash. The memory still stings, even though it's been at long time since then.

"Tessa!" Duncan whispered. Memories come surging back: Tessa making dinner in the kitchen of their riverboat. Their first meeting was when he had been trying to outrun another Immortal and he had jumped over the guardrail and onto her riverboat full of tourists.

He can recall fond memories of Tessa working in her studio blow- torching another sculpture; how she would laugh, cry, tease him and alternately lecture him; how she understood that part of his life that involved other Immortals and the Game. Somehow, Tessa had always understood. All of those memories made him realize that mortals had something that in his four hundred years of immortal life he would never have. Duncan clenched his fists and cursed under his breath.

As it all came flooding back, for a long interval Duncan was speechless and overwhelmed by the memories before he regained his faculties long enough to ask: "How you can be here when I saw you die!"

"I'm glad to know that you haven't forgotten me Duncan," Tessa replied, "but our time is short and our window of opportunity is rapidly closing." She turned to Sarah; "We'd better make this short and sweet."

"Right, Tessa." Sarah said. "Look around you, gentlemen, what you see here is a reflection of what might yet be because time is not linear."

"Great, I'm so not in the mood for a metaphysical lecture," Johnny interrupted.

"Well, you'd better be, Johnny, because this is important," Sarah replied.

"There are an infinite number of possibilities," Tessa said.

'If this heat apparition really is Tessa,' Duncan thought.

"You happen to be in a point in time where you get a second chance to go back and correct mistakes made in the past," Sarah said.

"I don't understand," Walt said, 'but I'm game for whatever you're asking of us."

"What he said." Duncan nodded.

"This a pocket dimension, and in a sense we have all stepped outside of the time line," Tessa began, "We can send you back to the point in time right before the disaster occurs that made this current reality happen."

"Once we send you back, the three of you must Greg Stillson from convincing the United States government from launching that missile into the upper atmosphere," Sarah said.

"If you don't," Tessa added," "Well, just look around you."

"We get the big picture," Johnny said, "Let's go back and do it again."

"Spare us the pop culture one-liners, please," Walt muttered under his breath.


Washington D.C

Johnny blinks and the next he knows he is standing in the anteroom of a ballroom dressed in a rental tuxedo tugging at the clasps of his black bowtie. Walt and their friend Bruce are impatiently waiting for him to finish up struggling with the small piece of fabric. The Senate Community for Global Warming is not his idea of a pleasant way to spend an evening, but it's important to Walt and Bruce that he be present.

Aside from that factor, another one of his precognitive visions of the future told him in no uncertain terms that somehow this event was pivotal to how future events would play themselves out, thus he wore the black tie, pinstripe suit, and leather shoes. Too bad that potential pivotal events required that he dress up and shmooze with a bunch of politicians and sundry business tycoons, but if has to do so for the sake of saving the world than so be it.

In the senate committee chamber the atmosphere is tense, stuffy, and heated, and it isn't due to the poor ventilation system. The blades of the ceiling fans whir in a light background murmur. The debate has going on for over six hours and nobody has made any motion for a break in the proceedings.

Johnny has heard any number of suggestions, some rather common sense, other less so.

The man that they have come to stop has yet to be recognized but Johnny does not understand how any sane elected official would even consider some fancy sci-fi 'smart missile' as a viable solution to fixing the hole in the ozone layer.

Neither he nor Walt could understand the ins and outs of politics, but they understood enough to appreciate that the process was about as slow as turtles having a marathon race.

Johnny glances to his left where Duncan MacLeod sits scanning the room as if he's missing something, swiveling his head and darting piercing dark eyed glances at every conceivable angle of the small chamber as if he's looking for someone. Stillson probably, but in all his dealings with Stillson, Purdy and their like he has never encountered anyone quite like MacLeod, and he could have sworn he would have remembered a man with a Scottish accent and who carried a Japanese dragon-headed sword.

Duncan could not place his finger on it, somehow Greg Stillson, the man that they had come back in time to stop, caused the small coarse hair on the back of his neck to twitch. It felt similar to the "Buzz" of another immortal, but more like an over-sensitive allergic reaction. 'Damn odd,' Duncan thought.


Several hours later, after the politicians had presented their arguments, pros and cons, and it came time for the experts and civilians to speak, Johnny stuffed his hands into the pockets of his slacks and stood up.

"The chair recognizes Mr. Smith, please proceed."

"Look, I don't have any official backing or area of expertise, but I do have something important to say about this whole fixing the hole in the ozone layer."

"This had better be good," Stilton mutters from his chair in the back rows.

"For years we've talked about how to clean up our planet's environment, well I 'I will tell you right here and now, it ain't going be some fancy, expensive high tech measure like this missile to clean up the toxins in the air. So ditch any ideas of using Mr. Stilton's 'smart missile' and go low-tech. It's cheaper, it's better, and trust me, the future will thank you for it."


"After all that, you'd think we'd end up better off," Walt said, shaking his head, running his hands through what was left of his black hair. "The hole in the ozone layer is still there and we're still here, so I guess it all balances out in the end."

"How the hell do you figure that?" Duncan demanded, not that he had paid much attention to the arguments and counter arguments both for and against the global warming theory. And it occurs to him that maybe he should have asked his old protégé, Riche Ryan a few more questions when the young Immortal had brought the subject up at the dojo.

Again it was one more thing in a long and growing list of things he should have, might have done, if he had not mistakenly taken the young Immortal's head in the midst of a Dark Quickening or the tender ministrations of the demon Ahirman. The memory of that night at the deserted Paris race track still stings, but he ruthlessly shoves the memories and thought aside and concentrates on what the others are saying.

"Hell if I know, I ain't a rocket scientist. Speaking of which, would a smart missile loaded with anti-toxins really have plugged up the hole in the ozone layer or was it all just a hoax?" Johnny asks.

"There have been many other bigger hoaxes in history, if memory serves." Duncan smiled enigmatically as the various hoaxes, both scientific and some just genuine hoaxes played on the general public by its government, played out in flashes through his mind.

"I don't know and I really don't care," Johnny said, folding his arms across his chest. I am just glad it's over, that is more weirdness than even I'm accustomed to." Johnny grinned and then pumps Walt's hand, "Thanks for sticking by me, old buddy, through the weirdness, through the good times and the bad. I mean, you're the best friends a guy ever had, and I don't tell you that often enough, so thanks, I guess."

"I think it's over then." Duncan asked. "Weird, but then that's all relative."

"You leaving then?" Walt asked.

"Moving on, really," Duncan replied.


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