Mac watched her eyes get very, very large; small, strangled noises rose from the back of her throat. He was forced to grab the phone out of her hand, before she dropped it. "This is Duncan MacLeod. Who are you?"
The voice on the line was an echo of his own; "MacLeod, I'm glad I finally found you. This is Adrian Paul." Suddenly Deb's apoplexy made perfect sense, poor girl. The actor seemed to have the same thought; "Is she going to be okay?"
"You picked the wrong lass to call in person; I think she's having a fit. She'll come out of it though."
There was a mix of surprise and guilt in his tone; "She's going through Highlander Shock? But I thought she was—"
"Yes, she is," Mac interrupted quickly, "but she was also a Series fan. Still is, despite my best efforts. Are you familiar with the term Dunkie Junkie?" A sigh from the other end spoke volumes. "What do you want?"
"I was hoping to ask a favour from you. I was supposed to make an appearance, but it looks like I won't be able to make it. There was an accident during production of my last film…"
Remembering the demise of the Nobile, Duncan growled, "You seem to get into a lot of accidents during production."
"That was not my fault, that was F/X!" He quickly lowered his voice, as if remembering to whom he was speaking; "I wouldn't be asking this of you if it wasn't a charity event. There's a minimum $32,000 for the PEACE Fund, if I show up for broadcast."
"Wait a minute: broadcast? If this is going to be on television, I'm not going to do it."
"Relax, there's no danger; everyone will think you're me. Besides, the odds of an Immortal showing up at a live taping of Millionaire are—"
"What did you just say?"
"The appearance: It's Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I thought I mentioned that already."
Duncan let out a slow calming breath, which was the only thing that kept him from screaming. "No. No, you didn't."
"Please! It’s for charity, for the children. Regis isn’t all that bad; I did an interview with him once. And they practically hand you the answers up to $32,000. It’s not as if I’m asking you to come back with the million…"
Duncan sighed, "A children’s charity." Deb, having finally recovered her composure, heard this and began nodding vigorously. She knew the good things PEACE did for children; it was part of what she had first admired about Adrian. Old beliefs whispered in his mind: the Clan is all, always take care of the children. A decision was made, for better or for worse. "Will I at least be able to pick my own Lifelines?"
Relief coloured the actor’s voice, "Whoever you want; they haven’t been chosen yet." A pause, then "If you do what I think you’re planning, though, be careful. Give any phone numbers you want, but please use the names of the actors."
§ § §
Arrangements were made surprisingly quickly, possibly in fear that MacLeod might change his mind. Those who knew the truth made sure everything would seem as normal as possible, even as far as providing stories and such for the inevitable Regis banter. Duncan made a few phone calls, after much effort managing to convince Methos, Amanda and Cassandra to be phone-a-friends. Methos thought that the Scot had gone completely insane, while the ladies repeatedly assured him that yes, they would remember to answer to the names "Elizabeth" and "Tracy" if the precious call came through.
If anything, Deb's excitement outpaced Duncan's, being of the television generation. Finally she just couldn't contain herself; "When are we leaving?"
"We? We are not going anywhere. 'Adrian' is taking his good friend 'Jim Byrnes' for support."
Her pout of disappoint lasted only a second, quickly controlled. "You're giving Joe a free ticket to New York? Don't you even make him work for it anymore?"
Mac snorted his amusement. "Sometimes. Besides, you have to stay by the phone; you're one of my lifelines."
"Humph. I saw the list, with all that experience on your side, why would you need me?"
He brought out his best charmer's voice, "My dear, you're my resident science fiction expert. If I get stuck on an entertainment question, I'll know who to call."
"Oh, wouldn't that look great: Adrian Paul losing on an entertainment question! He'd never live it down, and he'd probably find a way to get back at you for it."
"I warrior never goes into battle thinking he's going to lose."
"All right, but I hope you realise this is a whole new form of combat."
§ § §
The plane to New York, the stop at the hotel, and the contestant orientation were all a blur. He was still reeling from the controlled chaos that is live television when suddenly they were being introduced: "Appearing for the third time on Celebrity Millionaire, Drew Carey!" (Applause, cheers); "Star of stage, screen and recent beknighting, Sir Sean Connery!" (Wild applause, and Duncan's own jaw dropping); "Actor, director, dancer, expert martial artist and well-known action star, Adrian Paul!"
The camera turned to him; he flashed a quick peace sign, knowing that was what "he" would do. More names followed, but he hardly noticed. The studio lights blazed down on him, sweat making his shorthaired wig itch maddeningly (Adrian hadn't had long hair in years, but there was a limit to what he would do for the man). All too soon, the first Fastest Finger question was being announced.
"Put the following films in order of their theatrical debut, starting with the most recent." He nearly panicked before he saw the choices: A: Highlander (groan), B: Excalibur; C: Dragonheart; D: Rob Roy. With a swordsman's reflexes, he put in his answer: C-D-A-B. The time limit elapsed and Regis announced, "And the ones who got the correct answers are…." He saw "his" name light up, along with Connery's and a few others. "…And the fastest time, by less than a second, is — Adrian Paul!" He was so shocked that for a split second he didn't even recognise the name. He had been certain that Ramirez (no, Connery! Ramirez is dead) had gotten it. The cameras turned to him once more and he leapt into the battle like a true Highland warrior.
Thankfully, Regis gave only the barest of introductions, nothing he would be expected to answer. After a brief outline of rules he had heard 5 times during the orientation, the questions began. "For $100: Which of the following is a whipped chocolate dessert, popular in France? Is it, A: moose; B: mouse; C: mousse; or D: too expensive."
Duncan relaxed visibly; this was a good sign. He smiled because it was expected of him, and even let himself joke a bit; "Well, Reg, I've spent time in Paris and I can tell you, everything is too expensive, but my answer is still 'C' - mousse." The host barely looked down at the screen (this being the part they tried to get through quickly); "You're absolutely right, it is chocolate mousse."
The first few questions just flew by, and as the choices became harder, "Adrian" found himself surrounded by suspicious coughs, hints and clues. To someone trained to detect the slightest signal from an opponent, it was as unsubtle as an axe blow. The man hadn't been kidding: they were ready to hand him answers on a silver platter until he got to the guaranteed $32,000. The idea offended his sense of honour, but the few times he tried to ignore the hints, even Regis himself would herd him in the right direction.
After the first commercial, Reg began questing for the prerequisite embarrassing story, which Adrian had supplied in advance. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the infamous "We're gonna need birth control" story; though Duncan found himself blushing through the whole tale— and it hadn't even happened to him!
The lights were as hot as ever, the music was pounding like a heartbeat, and they were getting into serious money now. Here was the true test of courage: when to keep going, and when to show "the better part of valour." The audience got him through the dreaded technology question, and suddenly he was going for $125,000. A rescue from Methos (err, Peter) was very tempting when a question on ancient Egypt appeared, but he forced himself to muddle through on a 50/50. Success! This kind of thing could get almost addictive, he was riding an adrenaline high all the way to the top. The quarter-mil question was on antique art and he breezed through it like it wasn't there. Suddenly he was at a half a million dollars: the furthest any celebrity contestant had been. How long could he ride the crest of the wave before it crashed?
They broke to commercial— Millionaire was the reigning king of artificial tension— and during the break Duncan remembered to breathe. Regis looked genuinely concerned, asking if he was all right. Duncan nodded and admitted that he was getting quite anxious, but he’d be okay. The host reminded him again that this was for charity and that there would be no shame in dropping out at this level. He was about to say something else when the signal came in they were back on the air.
The camera focused in on a $250,000 cheque, and another for $500,000, while Regis asked about the chosen charity. Once again, the words were memorised, but the idea of not having to think of what to say calmed Duncan somewhat. "The PEACE Fund is my own charity; PEACE is ‘protect, educate, aid children everywhere’. When I was doing Highlander, I discovered that children looked up to me, to what my character represented." Those last words sounded like they’d been added for his benefit. "I realised that I needed to do something to deserve that admiration, and so I started PEACE. This particular money will be going to the Schools Make a Difference program."
"Well, I’m sure the kids and the schools are behind you all the way, but right now it’s time to play Who Wants to be a Millionaire?—" music, lights, the whole spectacle as the half million dollar question was revealed. The host saw it a half second before the contestant and, looking up from the screen, Regis smiled. There was something in that smile that Duncan distinctly did not like, it made him nervous. He looked down at his own little screen… and broke into a cold sweat. They had been told time and again that the question "stacks" were completely random; there was no way this could have been arranged— a Highlander question.
Why did it have to be a Highlander question? If "Adrian" lost it all on this question, the humiliation would never end. Deb’s comment echoed in his mind: he’d probably find a way to get back at you for it. The question was being announced even as he read it himself. "Tracy Scoggins and Claudia Christian both played female Immortals in Highlander: the Series. In what other Science Fiction series did both actress appear— A: Sliders, B: Deep Space Nine, C: Quantum Leap, or D: Babylon 5 ?"
Regis must have seen the look of terror on Duncan’s face and, though it confused him, he reacted quickly. "Just relax now, read the question slowly. This game is never as easy as people think; I’ve had a lot of people tell me that a soon as they sit in that chair, things they’ve known for years just fly out of their head."
"I really wish you hadn’t used the word head." God! Had he really said that out loud? He heard laughter, the distraction gave him time to collect himself. As he reached for a sip of precious cold water, the glass almost slipped out of his fingers. Had he been holding a sword right now, it would likely fly halfway across the room. The only thing worse than getting this question wrong would be to refuse to answer it at all; he had to continue.
Regis was speaking again, "I hate to do this, but I have to remind you that if you get this question wrong, you will lose $218, 000. On the other hand, you do still have one lifeline; and you have to admit, this is the perfect question for a phone-a-friend."
Lifeline: never had the word seemed more appropriate; he felt like he was drowning. Everyone would expect him to call Ms. Scoggins, but Cassandra hated the Series; she wouldn’t know. Amanda only followed the show as long as she was the subject; Methos was a closet Series fan, but he might give the wrong answer just out of spite for that Chubby Checker incident. That left only one choice…. "Regis, I’d like to use my lifeline, I’d like to call Debra Campbell."
The frown on the host’s face showed that he thought it was a bad choice, but not long enough for the camera to catch it. He continued because he had no other option; "And who is Debra?"
Time for a little flattery, though she wouldn’t hear it until broadcast, after it was too late. "She’s an up-and-coming young author; she’s written several Rysher-approved novels and she probably knows more about Science Fiction than half the script-writers in Hollywood."
"All right, sounds like the person to call then. AT&T, please get Debra on the line; when she answers you'll have 30 seconds, starting as soon as you read the question."
Elsewhere, the young author in question was sweating bullets; the show was a same day broadcast, not truly live, so she had no idea what was happening. Suddenly the phone rang and she nearly hit the ceiling. She grabbed the receiver; "Hello?"
"Hello, is this Debra?"
"This is Regis Philbin calling from New York; we’ve got a friend of yours here, and it looks like he needs your help." Oh, Duncan, what have you gotten yourself into? "The next voice you hear will be Adrian’s, and you’ll have 30 seconds to help him answer a $500,000 question."
Great, no pressure! "I’ll do my best."
Duncan spoke slowly and clearly, taking no risks of misunderstanding. He paraphrased to save time, "Deb, Tracy Scoggins and Claudia Christian both appeared on what other Science Fiction show besides Highlander?"
She cut in before he could even start the answers: "Babylon 5!"
"Are you sure you don’t want to hear the choices?"
"Not necessary. Claudia played Suzan Ivanova, and Tracy was Elizabeth Lochley. It was Bab 5; I’m sure."
"How sure are you?"
Dammit, doesn’t he trust my instincts? "Du—Dear, I’m sure enough to risk my head, now say the words!"
"You heard her Regis; D: Babylon 5. Final Answer."
The host nodded once; "You said D and you are…" Deb, still able to hear everything, was sure the patented Regis Pause would be enough to drive Duncan over the edge, but finally he ended with "… Absolutely right! The answer is D: Babylon 5 and you have won a half a million dollars!" The entire studio sighed, and so did millions of viewers. Now, for the final question; Endgame, so to speak.
Regis, I’d like to take the money and walk away; the words were already on his lips and he’d feel no shame in speaking them. He practised in his mind even as they were announcing the last question: Regis, I’m taking the money; Regis, this a lot of risk, and I think I’ll take the money. "Regis—" his gaze strayed downward to look at the screen; he could not believe his eyes. "Regis, I’m going all the way."
The final, $1,000,000 question, the question no celebrity contestant had ever answered, was this: "Where did Charles Edward Stuart fight his last battle, before being forced to escape into France? Was it A: Edinburgh, B: Prestonpans, C: Derby, or D: Culloden?"
All the tension flowed out of him like a moment of perfect meditation; he smiled, a warrior’s smile, the smile of someone who knows he’s just won. "It’s about time you asked a question about Bonnie Prince Charlie!" He let his brogue show, and he didn’t care who heard it; "That’s the Battle of Culloden, letter D; Endgame, final answer."
"You said D: Culloden, and you have won one million dollars!"
Lights flashed, music blared, confetti fell from the ceiling; it was one step below a Quickening and nearly as chaotic. Half the studio audience leapt to their feet and the other contestants surrounded him to offer their congratulations. Someone handed him a cheque and he showed it to the camera; "I think even Duncan would agree; this is one time I hope there will be more than one."
He disengaged himself as quickly as possible; the show, after all, had to go on. Dawson was waiting for him off-stage with a grin that was almost too big for his face. "Another victory for the Highlander, eh? Nice touch at the end, by the way."
Duncan returned the grin and the two men embraced roughly as cameras watched. Thankfully, there were no live mikes back here. "If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s improvise!"
"You do realise, they’ll probably expect you to stay on and cheer for the others."
"Too bad, I might come back tomorrow. For now, I’m for
a hot bath and a cold Scotch." Side by side, the two men walked out of
the studio and into the streets of New York, in search of a private, but
well-deserved, victory celebration.