Apologies for the belated post, but here comes the next chapter. Once again, if you missed the last installments, I recommend going back to the beginning.
THE THREE-EDGED SWORD
A Babylon 5/Highlander crossover
“Understanding is a three-edged sword.”
– Kosh, Vorlon Ambassador to Babylon 5
CHAPTER THREE: Miranda’s Next Mistake
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
– Robert Burns, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up In Her Nest With the Plough”
It had been two weeks since the destruction of the Korolev. Miranda was feeling as secure as was perhaps possible in the circumstances, spending her nights and an increasing part of her days Downbelow. She’d had a brief run-in with the station’s commercial telepath in the first week, nearly colliding with her at an intersection in the station’s winding corridors. Thankfully, the woman had evidently remained true to the law. She had not attempted to scan Miranda. Either that or she was one hell of a good actress, and was hiding Miranda’s complicity in the deaths of hundreds for her own reasons. Miranda laughed hollowly. Yeah, right. A teep protecting a normal? Not that Miranda quite qualified as a normal. There was little normal about Immortality.
Across the trash-strewn corridor, a man looked up abruptly at the sound of Miranda’s grim laughter. She dropped the smile immediately and glared at the man. He shrugged and went back to whatever it was he’d been doing. Miranda didn’t care. Caring wasn’t a survival skill here.
It hadn’t taken long for Miranda to fall into the world of Downbelow. It was the most logical place to hide out. Even station security thought twice about visiting down here, and it was an excellent place to find employment that nobody tracked. But it wasn’t a world where it paid to be too attentive to what other people were doing. There was a small amount of safety in minding one’s own business. Unobtrusiveness was the key.
She hunkered down in the nook she had temporarily colonized, pulling her coat higher up over her like a blanket. She hadn’t initially been able to afford rent in the unregulated housing Downbelow and had joined the squatters. Unfortunately, it made it difficult for her tend to her sword or practice without drawing too much attention. Fortunately she hadn’t felt the other Immortal at all in the past week, and odds were good that he had left the station. She had managed to work through her guilt for not pursuing him at the time; after all, she really hadn’t had the opportunity to even work out which face in the crowd was the Immortal one.
In the meantime, she had found an occupation of sorts. She had secured a job as a bodyguard for a rather shady mortal. It had already netted her a nice chunk of money, her advance retainer fee. She could theoretically find quarters now, but she had other plans for the money. Besides, security was much tighter in the more official parts of the station. It was too easy to be spotted. The last thing Miranda wanted was official attention.
Of course, she knew official attention could find her anyway, especially with her new job as a bodyguard. It all depended on what Mister Samson’s real business was. But it wasn’t likely she’d find another job that paid as well, not without risking too much. Her emergency identity couldn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Thus, crooks were her best bet for employers.
The man across the corridor was looking at her again. Miranda pretended not to notice and watched out of the corner of her eye. He was being surreptitious about it and Miranda began to take an interest in the man. He could be working for one of Samson’s enemies, or possibly a dissatisfied client. It wasn’t as if Miranda really knew what it was Samson did. The man across the corridor was writing something in a notebook. Miranda couldn’t tell what from her vantage point, but he kept glancing at her. That was not good. Perhaps he wasn’t one of Samson’s enemies at all, but one of Miranda’s. What if he were working for Psi Corps? What if the teep really had scanned Miranda, and had reported her? Miranda wasn’t a telepath, but she knew Psi Corps was looking for her all the same. They were looking for Cassandra, weren’t they? The Corps was ruthless, and although they had good PR and were fastidious about spouting the party line, Miranda had little doubt they would hunt down every one of Cassandra’s associates. And once they learned she was Immortal, there was no telling what they’d do.
It had taken days to shake the tail they’d put on her. Her spontaneous trip to Babylon 5 should have gotten rid of them. If they’d found her this quickly, it could only mean one thing. The teep really had scanned her, and had ratted her out.
But Talia Winters could wait. First Miranda had to get rid of the creep watching her. He probably wasn’t a teep, since he hadn’t done anything to her yet and she certainly hadn’t been discreet in her thoughts for the past few minutes. A normal, then. Probably a paid stooge. And maybe Miranda had been right the first time, and he was just something to do with Mister Samson. It would be necessary to find out before she tried something as risky as confronting the teep.
He was looking at her again. This time, Miranda smiled at him. Startled, he did not look away. “Hey, handsome,” she said. “You’ve been watching me. Want to get to know me better?”
The man swallowed. Miranda couldn’t tell if he had been fooled into thinking she was attracted to him, or whether he was afraid that he’d been spotted. It wasn’t important. Under her coat, her hand closed around the hilt of her sword. If the man noticed the sudden predatory glint in her eye, he gave no indication.
Ted Carson and Duncan MacLeod strolled down the Zocolo. It had been a frustrating week. The idea of coming to Babylon 5 in search of Miranda had seemed quite manageable when they were sitting in a bar in Paris, but now that they were actually here, the task had ballooned impossibly. Babylon 5 was enormous. It helped that they’d be able to sense her, but they had to get close first. There were miles of corridors, thousands of apartments, thousands of smaller berths, and any number of other hiding places less easily tracked. Being the child of the 23rd Century that he was, Ted had suggested going to station security, but that was completely out of the question. They were here in part to preserve the secrecy of the Game. They couldn’t afford to invite many questions. MacLeod wasn’t even eager to ask station residents if they’d seen her, but Ted had concocted a story about a missing cousin who had come to the station with a hare-brained business scheme and who hadn’t been heard from in weeks. MacLeod could only consider it a blessing the young Immortal was leaving out any mention of the Korolev.
“I could use a drink,” said Ted, spying a bar tended by an alien who deftly flipped a shaker through the air as he prepared a martini for a tall, slim customer. The customer sported the baroque attire and distinctive hairstyle of a Centauri. After a week on the station, this no longer seemed novel to MacLeod.
“I think I could use a drink, too,” he said, gesturing for Ted to lead the way. As they approached the bar, MacLeod examined its other customers. In addition to the Centauri, there were two station officers. They were sitting at one end, laughing as they shared some private joke. MacLeod’s guard went up immediately. Part of him wanted to leave immediately, but Ted had already ordered a Jovian Sunspot and was enjoying the show the bartender gave as he mixed the drink, juggling the bottles with perfect accuracy. He sighed and sat down next to Ted just as the drink was finished. Ted was practically glowing with enthusiasm. The bartender looked at MacLeod. He wasn’t in the mood for such theatrics. “Scotch, neat,” he said. The alien poured the drink without the slightest bit of drama. Perhaps he had detected MacLeod’s mood.
The Highlander closed his eyes as he brought the glass to his lips. Then, to his chagrin, he heard Ted asking the Centauri about Miranda.
“. . . she’s my cousin, you see, and we’re worried about her. I haven’t heard from her in weeks.” He showed the Centauri the only picture they had of Miranda.
“No,” said the Centauri, his voice betraying irritation at the interruption. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
Ted sat back, deflated. The Centauri slammed back his drink with startling vehemence and then left. MacLeod smiled at Ted. “Better luck next time.”
Ted spotted the two officers. Mercifully, neither of them had noticed the two Immortals and appeared thoroughly absorbed in their conversation. “Hey, maybe I could ask them.”
“Don’t you see they’re already having a conversation?” said MacLeod, a little more irritably than he’d intended. He softened his voice. “We can take a break for a little while.” Ted turned glumly back to his drink, obviously stung. The bartender slid across to unobtrusively refill the two officers’ glasses. Curiously, one of them was only having water. A teetotaler, or was he still on duty? His partner, a rather serious-looking African in a slightly different uniform from his companion, was not exactly drinking heavily, but enough to suggest that he, at least, was off-duty.
“It’s hopeless, isn’t it?” said Ted. “For all we know, she could have left the station by now.”
MacLeod shook his head. “I doubt it. You said she was running on emergency funds. She can’t have much left.” He took a drink from his glass and rolled the whiskey around in his mouth, savoring the sensation. It wasn’t the best, but this far from the distilleries of his beloved Scotland, it was probably the best he was likely to find. He swallowed it, cherishing the burn as it went down his throat. Truthfully, he was just as frustrated as Ted. This could prove to be just as much of a wild goose chase as the hunt for Cassandra had been.
“We couldn’t find Cassandra,” said Ted, mirroring MacLeod’s train of thought. “What chance do we have of finding Miranda?”
MacLeod shook his head. “I don’t know.” He smiled to reassure his companion. “But look on the bright side. At least we only have this station to search.”
Ted rolled his eyes. “Like that’s any consolation. This place is huge!”
“I know what you mean,” MacLeod replied. “We’ll just have to be patient.”
At the end of the bar, the officer with the glass of water received a call on his link. He gave his apologies to his colleague and got up. His colleague said something admonishing to him, but it wasn’t audible at the distance. MacLeod nodded. Evidently duty had called for the non-drinker. At least it got him away, but now the remaining officer would have no distraction preventing him from listening in. MacLeod smiled ruefully. I’m getting as paranoid as Methos, he thought. He finished his drink and excused himself to visit the shops along the Zocolo. They could rest from their search for a while, but Amanda would kill him if he didn’t bring back a souvenir for her.
Rest was eluding Michael Garibaldi, the station’s chief of security. He figured he should be used to it by now, but what with everything that had happened in the last couple of months, it had become difficult to spend enough time with friends. As it was, when the call came in on his link, he had to walk out on a very pleasant conversation with Franklin on the Zocolo. Franklin had been a huge support to Garibaldi, pushing him to return to duty after his convalescence. Everyone had been happy when he’d returned to duty, but it just wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. The wound had cut a lot deeper than mere physical pain. Pain he could deal with. But he’d been shot in the back by his second-in-command, a man he’d trusted like a brother. The bitterness of betrayal would take a long time to fade. That was assuming it ever did, of course.
The transport tube took him to Brown 12, and his feet took him the rest of the way to the scene of the crime. Four of his men were standing around a sad lump of tattered clothing in the middle of a dark pool. As he got closer, he recognized it as the mortal remains of a Lurker.
“Talk to me.”
“It’s a murder, Chief,” said one of the men, an older one named Rogers.
“Yeah, I guessed,” said Garibaldi. “So who was he? How’d he die?”
Rogers glanced down at the corpse. “His name’s Matthew Sorenson. He’s been cut up pretty bad. It’s safe to say most of this blood is his. Maybe all of it.”
Garibaldi nodded. He knew how hard it was to cut someone up so they’d bleed this much before their heart stopped beating. “Tell me what you know about this Lurker.”
Rogers shook his head. “That’s one of the weird things about this, Chief. He’s not a Lurker.”
Garibaldi blinked, amazed. “What?”
“He’s not a Lurker,” repeated Rogers. “He’s got quarters, paid up through next week. And he’s only been here a couple of weeks.”
“I don’t get it,” said Garibaldi. “A guy comes to the station, rents quarters for three weeks, but ends up dressed like a Lurker and is murdered Downbelow.” He shook his head. “Do we know anything more about him yet?”
Rogers shrugged. “Just one thing. He’s got a weird tattoo.” He bent down to lift the corpse’s left arm. On the inside of the corpse’s wrist was a monochrome blue tattoo. Garibaldi stooped to get a better look. It was an unfamiliar symbol, a circle with a curiously bent Y-shape in the middle. It appeared to be an amateur job.
“Any idea if this means anything?”
“Sorry,” said Roger, shaking his head. “I’ve never seen that symbol anywhere before. It could be anything.”
Garibaldi nodded. “It’s someplace to start. Maybe he’s connected with something. Find out everything you can about this guy. Why he was on the station, whether he was living here or in his quarters, who he knew, what hours he kept, who his friends were, who his enemies were, that kind of thing. Meanwhile, you,” he pointed at one of the others, “get this taken to MedLab for an autopsy. I want to know what kind of weapon did this.”
“Mister Samson isn’t accepting visitors,” said the thin, greasy man who answered the door.
“I know,” said Miranda. “But I have to see him anyway.”
The man sniffed haughtily. “He isn’t accepting visitors. You can state your business and I can try to pass the message along.”
Miranda’s eyes narrowed. The man was holding one hand out, practically begging for a bribe. “I need to ask him a question. I will see him.”
The toady withdrew his hand and clasped both hands behind his back. “I’m sorry,” he said. He stepped back as if to shut the door, but Miranda stepped through before he could do so. In one smooth motion, she drew her sword and brought the point up to the arrogant mortal’s chin. His haughtiness evaporated into terror. He backed away, but Miranda followed, the sword point never leaving his throat, until he backed up against a sofa and almost tipped backwards over it.
Miranda grinned. The mortal swallowed loudly, his Adam’s apple bobbing against the sword point. “I said I was going to see Mister Samson,” she said. “I’m his bodyguard, you see. He hired me a week ago. Normally I only interact with him when he’s out and about, but something happened that I need to know more about. I’ve been followed, and I want to make sure it wasn’t one of his . . . business associates.”
The mortal whimpered and Miranda relented. “All right,” said the mortal. “All right.” Miranda moved the sword out in a clean arc to the right, then gently brought it down into a less threatening ready posture, the point aimed at a spot of ground just a few feet directly in front of her. “I’ll go tell Mister Samson you’re here. I suspect he’ll know your name already.”
“Miranda,” she said.
The mortal nodded mutely and walked into the adjoining bedroom of Samson’s spacious quarters. A moment later, he returned.
Behind him was Mister Samson. He was a short, stocky mortal with dark hair, dark eyes, and the sort of rough physique that came from hard use. It was clear he hadn’t always been prosperous, and Miranda could only speculate on what had made him choose to pursue business on the fringes of legality. She wasn’t clear on exactly what Samson did, but it apparently involved a lot of intense negotiations, often held in private back rooms of particularly seedy taverns. Her best guess was smuggling, possibly weapons.
“Miranda,” said Samson. His voice was surprisingly silky for such a rough appearance. “You didn’t have to frighten poor Niemen. You could have simply called and made an appointment.”
“No,” said Miranda. “I needed to see you now.”
Samson shrugged elegantly, as if her apparent haste were of no matter. “Very well,” he said. “What can I do for you? I trust your retainer fee is adequate. I understand that you’re still living Downbelow.”
She nodded curtly. “The fee is adequate. What I choose to do with it is my own business.”
Samson raised an eyebrow curiously. “Indeed it is,” he said, “although I admit to some curiosity about what you are saving it for.”
“A ship,” she said.
“Ah,” he said and nodded sagely. No doubt he thought Miranda was planning to leave. “But if your salary is adequate and you don’t wish better quarters, why have you come?”
“A man was watching me,” she said. “Downbelow. Nobody should’ve followed me. I need to know if it was anything to do with you.”
Samson’s dark eyes narrowed, becoming darker still. “I think you are hoping that I will say yes,” he said. Miranda nodded. “Interesting. So you have enemies of your own. That’s not entirely unexpected, you understand. A person willing to take the job would have to be in a certain amount of trouble, and very much in need of funds.” He crossed to the tiny kitchenette on one side of the room and unstoppered a silver decanter. “Would you like a drink?” he asked.
“No thank you,” said Miranda.
He nodded approvingly. “Very wise.” He poured himself a drink, then swirled it around in his glass, watching the way the sweet liquid adhered to the sides of the glass. “A nightcap. I go to bed very early when I don’t have business.” He smiled. “That was why Nieman said I wasn’t taking visitors.”
If he expected an apology from Miranda, he was doomed to disappointment. “There are those who might be following me,” she said. “I believe I lost them before coming to Babylon 5, but I can’t be too careful.”
“And is that why you need the ship?” he asked. Miranda tightened her lips and said nothing. “Never mind. So you are ruling out the possibilities?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I don’t think it was anything to do with me,” said Samson. Miranda watched him closely for signs of deceit. Not for the first time, she wished she had Cassandra’s power to bend people to her will, but the ancient Immortal had declined to teach her that particular skill. But he seemed to be telling the truth, at least as far as Miranda could tell. “I wouldn’t send someone to spy on you; I have no need. I hear enough through the grapevine. And if one of my clients wished you harm, they would simply have you killed. They wouldn’t waste time spying on a bodyguard.”
Miranda nodded. “Very well. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” she said, her words clipped short. “I will pursue other possibilities.”
Nieman stepped hesitantly forward as if to shoo Miranda out. He almost collapsed with relief when she smoothly turned and walked to the door. As the door shut behind her, she considered what she had learned. Samson’s story was plausible enough. Unfortunately that only left the worse alternative — that Psi Corps had found her. Tomorrow, she would find the teep and get some answers.
It hadn’t taken long for MacLeod to find a suitable gift for Amanda. Babylon 5 was amazingly cosmopolitan, and an alien color-changing gem set into a golden pendant had seemed appropriately exotic. MacLeod returned to the bar with his purchase. He hoped that Ted had been sensible enough to stay put. When he arrived, however, MacLeod’s good mood soured. Ted had stayed put, but he was speaking with the officer.
Ted looked up as MacLeod approached. “Mac!” he said excitedly. “This is Doctor Stephen Franklin. He’s in charge of all the MedLabs here.” MacLeod stifled a groan. Not just an officer, but a doctor as well. “And Dr. Franklin, may I introduce Duncan MacLeod, my very good friend.”
Dr. Franklin extended his hand politely. MacLeod swallowed his misgivings and shook the man’s hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. MacLeod.”
MacLeod smiled tightly. “And you,” he said.
The doctor seemed to notice MacLeod’s defensive attitude, but was polite enough not to comment. “I understand you’re looking for your cousin.”
“She’s Ted’s cousin,” said MacLeod. “I’m just a concerned friend.”
Dr. Franklin nodded. “Your friend, then. I was just telling Ted that I have seen Miranda.”
MacLeod resisted the temptation to be optimistic. This was the first break they’d had since arriving, but it didn’t seem encouraging that it was a doctor bearing the news. “Do you know where she might be?”
The doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I haven’t seen her in two weeks.” Right after her arrival, then. Franklin leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “She was one of the survivors of the Korolev. They all had to be checked out. Most had only minor injuries. She was lucky. You’ll be pleased to know she was completely unhurt. Not even a scratch.”
MacLeod glanced automatically at Ted. They were going to have a talk later. He looked back at Franklin. “You’re sure? You didn’t find anything at all unusual about her?”
Franklin shrugged. “Elevated levels of neurotransmitters and some unusual neurologic activity, but that’s not uncommon after a traumatic event.” He frowned. “She did seem very agitated. It was difficult to keep her attention during the exam. I prescribed some relaxants and recommended she speak to a therapist. Are you concerned that she may be in trouble?”
“What are you implying?” asked MacLeod.
“Well, if she has a history of depression or mental illness, she could be in great danger.” The doctor scrutinized MacLeod. He felt distinctly uncomfortable under that probing gaze. This doctor was dangerously perceptive.
Ted spoke up. “She has had some problems at home.” Franklin turned his gaze away and MacLeod felt strangely relieved. “Ever since . . . well, we’ve had some rough family troubles. Miranda’s been very alone, and we’re all worried about her.”
“I see,” said Franklin. “Are you afraid she might hurt herself?”
Ted shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t know.” He sighed and slumped his head forward. “I’m not even sure she’ll want to speak to me when I do find her.”
Franklin nodded. “Well, if a former patient is possibly in danger, I think I have an obligation to get involved.” Ted looked up in surprise. Franklin smiled. “I’ll see what I can find out for you. Don’t worry.”
The encouraging words rang hollow in MacLeod’s ears. “That’s very kind of you, Doctor Franklin, but I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.”
“Oh no,” said Franklin. “It’s no trouble.”
MacLeod tried another tactic. “Thank you. But I’d like to keep this on an unofficial level. If station security gets involved . . . well, it could spook her.” That wasn’t entirely honest, but it would do.
“So she is in some kind of trouble.” Franklin grinned smugly. “Well, don’t worry. There is such a thing as doctor-patient confidentiality. I have no obligation to report her to the authorities unless she presents a imminent danger to herself or others. You’d don’t think she might hurt somebody, do you?”
Ted shook his head emphatically. “No, not Miranda.”
MacLeod wasn’t so sure of that. One could argue that Immortal challenges were self-defense, but it was stretching the very limits of the phrase to say that challenging every Immortal one met constituted self-defense. And after the destruction of the Korolev, part of him wondered whether Amanda had been right after all. Maybe it was stupid to put two Immortals into Miranda’s path on board a huge, densely populated space station. But it was too late to worry about that. Miranda constituted one of the biggest threats this station was likely to face. He had a responsibility to deal with her now, because the mortals couldn’t be allowed to discover the danger they were in.