It’s been another busy, busy week, but here’s a fanfic to relax with anyway! The continuing story — what will be the consequences of Miranda’s act?
THE THREE-EDGED SWORD
A Babylon 5/Highlander crossover
“Understanding is a three-edged sword.”
— Kosh, Vorlon Ambassador to Babylon 5
CHAPTER FIVE: Out of the Shadows
Morn came and went–and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light
— Lord Byron, “Darkness”
Sheridan leaned back in his office chair and sighed deeply. It had been such a good day. And then Ivanova had called him on the link to deliver the bad news — another ship had suffered a reactor core overload in hyperspace, just on the other side of the gate. He dreaded to contemplate what all of the diplomats would have to say. Babylon 5 was supposed to be a neutral port of call where races could settle their differences peacefully. How could they do that if the jumpgate was unsafe? One more thing to smooth over, somehow.
Ivanova walked into his office. “Captain?”
“Commander,” Sheridan said, acknowledging her. “What have you found?”
“You’re not going to believe this,” she began. “Zeta Squadron was able to rescue the pilot. She’s in Medlab now, being checked out. Her name is Miranda Stevenson, and she was also aboard the Korolev.”
Sheridan blinked. “Say what?”
“She was aboard the Korolev. Now that’s one hell of a coincidence if you ask me.”
The captain nodded. “Too much of a coincidence. Either she’s got the worst luck in history or . . .”
“Or she had something to do with the accident,” finished Ivanova. “It gets better. Garibaldi did some digging, and she only bought the Pandora this morning.”
Sheridan frowned. “It doesn’t add up. Why would she buy a ship just to blow it up?”
Ivanova shrugged. “A hell of a coincidence?”
“It had better not be,” said Sheridan. “I’m already on edge waiting for the diplomats to start complaining about how unsafe our jumpgate is.” He sighed. “All right. Let’s get down to Medlab and see what Miss Stevenson has to say for herself.”
“Shouldn’t we leave that to Garibaldi?”
Sheridan shook his head. “No, this could affect diplomatic relations. I want to know as much as possible, as soon as possible.”
Ivanova nodded. “Then let’s go. Garibaldi’s already on his way; if we hurry we can meet him.”
Miranda sat mutely on the edge of a hospital bed in a private room while Dr. Franklin checked her out. He asked her questions, but she didn’t listen to them. It wasn’t important. He had found her sword and turned it over to security, but that wasn’t important either. Nothing was important.
There was a terrible empty pit in her stomach. When Ted’s Quickening had come over her, it had expanded her mind again, just as with Simon. But as she reached out into hyperspace, only silence had filled her perceptions. There were no voices as there had been aboard the Korolev. And Cassandra had not answered.
So she had searched as long as she could before stumbling upon something else, the first sound her mind had encountered while spreading across hyperspace. It was a living mind, she had been sure of it, but it was not speaking.
It was screaming.
The agonized cry had cut through her, had torn into her subconscious, and had caught her mind at least as tightly as the encounter with Cassandra. Perhaps it was Cassandra again? In torment? What had happened to her?
As the Quickening faded, she had tried to reach out, and the screams had reverberated even louder, as if pained by her efforts. She had called out Cassandra’s name as loudly as she could, but she could not tell if the mind heard. And then the energy was gone, and she had been pulled back into her own body, her perceptions narrowing around her until she was back in the Pandora, trapped with Ted’s headless corpse and a significant amount of blood floating in the cabin. There hadn’t been time to deal with it. The core was overloading. She had sent out a distress signal and then entered the lifepod.
Someone was tapping on her shoulder. With difficulty, she wrenched her mind back to the present. It was Dr. Franklin. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.
She stared at him as if he were speaking another language. How could he possibly understand?
Dr. Franklin shrugged. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know. In the meantime, can you explain how you came to have so much blood all over you, even though I can’t find a single scratch on you?”
She shrugged. The answer was simple enough, but she didn’t see any reason to make his job easier.
“Huh.” Franklin shook his head. “Well, it might interest you to know that someone’s looking for you.”
She caught her breath a moment. The Corps? Her eyes narrowed, and she caught Dr. Franklin’s eye. “Who?” she asked.
“Their names were Ted Carson and Duncan MacLeod. They seemed very worried about you, especially Ted.”
She closed her eyes for a moment. She was not going to break into tears. She had decided that already. “Couldn’t be,” she finally said.
The doctor shrugged. “Have it your way. I just wanted to know if you objected to me telling them that I’ve found you again.”
Her head snapped up again. She pinned him with her best steely gaze. “Do. Not. Tell. Them.”
Dr. Franklin rocked backwards, taken aback by her vehemence. “Okay. I won’t.” She kept staring at him. “All right,” he said, “I promise I won’t tell them. Okay? Even though, professionally, I think you’re going to need all the friends you can get. You’ve had a very traumatic experience.”
“Can I go?” she asked.
“I’m afraid not,” said Franklin. “Security wants a word first. I’ll let them know you’re ready. It should just be a few minutes,” he added apologetically before backing away.
She sighed and resumed her silence. Let them ask their questions. The outcome really wasn’t important.
Where are you Cassandra? Why won’t you answer me? And who was screaming?
Not that it mattered. Perhaps the scream was whatever entity supervised the Game, made sure the Rules were followed, for certainly, Miranda had broken them. She had taken Ted’s head without a fight, murdered her friend. She had thought it was worth it to contact Cassandra, but since that had failed, the sheer magnitude of what she had done was beginning to settle in.
I thought I knew who I was, she mused. Immortal. Disciplined. Honorable. The Game is what we are. But it was so easy to throw it away for a few minutes . . . .
Several new figures had entered the room and were discussing something in low voices with the doctor. Two men and one woman, all in uniform. Security, presumably. She paid a bit more attention and was startled to realize that one of them was Captain Sheridan. The command staff was interested in her case? Why?
The woman caught Miranda’s eye and smiled. It was a strange smile, polite but distrustful. She whispered to her colleagues and they all looked at Miranda. The other man, she realized, wore a security uniform. The three walked over to her. Sheridan spoke first. “Hello. You must be Miranda Stevenson.” She gave a noncommital grunt for an answer.
“Okay,” said Sheridan with a smile, boldly plowing through despite Miranda’s frigid demeanor. “I’m Captain Sheridan, this is Security Chief Michael Garibaldi, and this is Commander Susan Ivanova. We’ve got a few questions for you.”
Miranda shot him what she hoped was a withering look. “I’m sure you do,” she said.
“Look,” said Garibaldi, “we can do this the easy way or the hard way. I’d prefer the easy way, but if you insist, we can do it the hard way. Up to you.”
Miranda shrugged, refusing to be intimidated by this mortal. “Ask.”
“Where were you headed?” asked Sheridan.
“Fomalhaut,” she replied. They’d have her flight plan by now, so they could only be asking to challenge her willingness to cooperate.
“Now, why would you go there?” asked Garibaldi. “See, I know you filed a flight plan to Fomalhaut, but what I don’t get is why there’s no record of provisioning. It’s a three-week trip in a pile of scrap like the Pandora. Didn’t you even pack a lunch?”
That wasn’t a question Miranda had anticipated. She had no answer, so she gave none.
Ivanova spoke. “Are you running from something?
Miranda almost laughed. “That presupposes I have anywhere to run to.”
“Not Fomalhaut, then?” asked Ivanova.
Miranda shrugged. It had been as good a destination as any, given that she’d had no intention of actually getting there. Perhaps they had realized that, and connected the Pandora‘s fate to that of the Korolev. Did they think she was a saboteur? Why would she sabotage her own ship? Surely they didn’t think that.
“I was wondering,” Sheridan began in a calm, almost calculatedly diplomatic way, “if you have any idea what caused your ship’s reactor core to overload. You see, I’m an old pilot myself, and I’ve never seen that happen spontaneously. Sure, you can set a reactor core to overload deliberately, and sometimes I’ve seen it happen due to battle damage, but not spontaneously in a working ship. Yet it’s happened twice now in as many weeks, both times at our jump gate.”
Ah. So they didn’t suspect her. They suspected the jump gate. She relaxed a little. “I don’t know what caused it to overload. I got through the gate and then lost power unexpectedly. I don’t know what happened. I tried to analyze the situation, but then the system started warning me of the reactor core overloading. I barely had time to send out the distress signal and get into a lifepod.”
“Wow,” said Garibaldi. “That must’ve been quite an experience.”
She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again. He had no idea.
Garibaldi got a speculative look on his face. “But what surprises me about the whole thing is that through that entire story, you never once mentioned what happened to your shipmate.” Miranda’s head snapped up. “What, you think we don’t keep track of who comes and goes here? It’s not like you tried to smuggle him out. Ted Carson.” In the background, Miranda saw Dr. Franklin look up. He’d heard the name. “Arrived on the station a week ago, has been looking for someone of your name and description according to my sources, and he was last sighted heading towards Bay 9. Which, in case you don’t remember, is where the Pandora was berthed. And here you are, covered head to toe in blood but totally uninjured. Interesting. And you’re armed with a sword, which is also covered in blood. Now, the logical conclusion is that you killed him, probably for some personal reason, and blew up the Pandora to cover it up, which is why you only needed a ship with one lifepod. But that’s a little too obvious, don’t you think?”
She stared at him, not sure whether to be impressed at his acumen or aghast at the fact that he realized there was more to the story.
“Thought so,” said Garibaldi. “Well, when you decide you want to tell me the rest of the story, I’ll be ready to hear it. In the meantime, I’ll be taking you into custody. Since the good doctor says you’re fit, we’re moving you to a cell.” He smiled with exaggerated pleasantness. “I hope you enjoy everything it has to offer.”
Once out in the main Medlab area, the officers conferred in low voices. “What did you mean by too obvious?” asked Sheridan.
Garibaldi shrugged. “Gut feeling. But think about it. If she blew up the Pandora to cover up a murder, why would she take the murder weapon with her? And why not take the time to clean up before setting the reactor to overload? In any case, it’s a hell of an expensive way to hide a crime. Besides, if you’ll remember, we had another sword murder a week ago. Lurker who wasn’t a lurker, named Matthew Sorenson. I still haven’t found a suspect, and now here this Miranda Stevenson turns up, covered in blood and armed with a sword.”
Ivanova frowned. “Yeah, but there was no attempt to cover that one up. How can you be sure it’s connected?”
“Gut feeling,” said Garibaldi.
Ivanova’s frown deepened. “I’d want something a bit more substantial than that.”
Garibaldi blinked. “What, do you like the idea of two murderers on board the station?”
“I can’t help it,” she said. “I’m Russian. Prepare for the worst, so you’re ready when it inevitably comes.”
Sheridan sighed. “The worst is yet to come, I’m afraid.”
“Aren’t you the optimist today,” she said.
“I’m still waiting for the diplomats to start complaining, especially with this developing situation with the Centauri and the Narn.” He shook his head. “It’s not going to be pretty. In the meantime, Garibaldi is right — there does seem to be more to this situation. I want you two to find out what, and fast.”
Doctor Franklin cleared his throat.
“Yes?” asked Sheridan.
“I think I might have a lead for you,” said Franklin. “Yesterday, I met Ted Carson. He asked about Miranda.”
“What?” asked Garibaldi. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Franklin shrugged. “They asked me not to, and at the time, it only seemed to concern Miranda. There is such a thing as doctor-patient confidentiality, you know.”
“Fine, fine,” said Garibaldi, rolling his eyes. Then he paused. “Wait a minute . . . you said ‘they’ asked you not to. Who was with Carson?”
Franklin smiled. “I knew you’d pick up on that. He was with a man named Duncan MacLeod. He’s got quarters on the station; you should be able to contact him at your leisure.” He shrugged. “I promised Miranda I wouldn’t tell him she was here, but I didn’t promise not to tell you.”
Garibaldi smiled. Things were starting to look a little bit better. “Thanks, doc,” he said.
“Don’t mention it.”
MacLeod fumed. Things were starting to look a little bit worse. Not only had he missed Miranda at the docking bay, but now Ted was nowhere to be found. I knew I shouldn’t have let him storm off like that. But he had, and it was too late to do anything about it. Now he had to decide whether to concentrate on trying to learn Miranda’s destination, or to give up, find Ted, and go home. He had half a mind to abandon both options and head home alone, leaving Ted to fend for himself.
He took a deep breath. Fuming wouldn’t do him any good. He’d been angry ever since Ted stormed off. It was time he calmed down. He closed his eyes and took another deep breath. Then he bent at the knees and began a Tai Chi kata. But before he could really get into it, the door chimed.
He sighed, stood up straight, and opened his eyes. He knew it couldn’t be Ted; Immortal presence was conspicuous by its absence. Probably someone trying to sell something or looking for a previous occupant of these quarters. Or . . . A thought struck him. It could be one of the contacts Ted had made while they were on the station. “Come in,” he said.
It wasn’t any of these things. It was a security officer. MacLeod snapped on his best mental disguise, acting at ease. Then he realized the foolishness of acting at ease, and decided to let his earlier frustration show a little. Maybe the man could be made to feel guilty for interrupting his meditation, and would then leave all the quicker.
“Hi,” said the man. MacLeod abruptly realized that it was the man Dr. Franklin had been drinking with at the bar. The man who had ordered only water. “I’m Security Chief Michael Garibaldi. Are you Duncan MacLeod?”
MacLeod was unable to hide his surprise that the top-ranking security officer had come to see him. But he clamped down on it quickly and turned up the charm. “Yes,” he said. “Is there some sort of problem? I’m not used to meeting with security personnel.”
Garibaldi shook his head. “No, no, there doesn’t have to be any problem,” he said. MacLeod caught the implicit threat. This man was shrewd, and he would have to be careful with him. “I’m just wondering if you can tell me anything about Ted Carson. My information says he arrived here with you.”
“Ted? Do you know where he is?” asked MacLeod.
“Maybe,” said Garibaldi.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means ‘maybe’,” said Garibaldi with an expressive shrug. “We’ve got some information, but we’re looking for more.”
MacLeod nodded. “We came here together a couple of weeks ago, but got separated not too long ago. I’ve been a little concerned, to be honest.” He moved over to the tiny kitchenette. “Can I get you anything?” he asked. He’d long found that playing the host could draw attention away from awkwardness when concealing truth. And anyway, he was parched.
“No thanks,” said Garibaldi. MacLeod shrugged and poured himself a glass of water. No alcohol in a situation like this. Garibaldi got a speculative look on his face. “What would you say if I told you that Ted Carson left the station with a woman named Miranda Stevenson?”
MacLeod’s eyes widened. He abandoned the gracious host routine. “He found her?” he asked, astonished. “When? Where did they go? How do you know this?”
“Whoa,” said Garibaldi. “I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions.”
MacLeod’s eyes narrowed. “Is this an interrogation?”
“Not yet,” replied Garibaldi. “Ted Carson passed through security to depart Babylon 5. He was with Miranda Stevenson. They left together aboard a small freighter.” He was studying MacLeod’s face carefully for signs of a reaction. MacLeod tried to disappoint him.
This was very bad news. It had to be the freighter she’d bought from the Drazi. And she’d taken pains to get one with a lifepod. The conclusion was obvious. While MacLeod had been wasting time with wiring diagrams, looking for a safe place for a Quickening, she’d gone and bought a ship for the same purpose. The only real question left was whether or not Ted had succeeded in talking sense into her.
Finally, he shook his head. “Miranda was an old friend of Ted’s. We’d come here looking for her, because he was worried about her. If they left together . . . well, maybe they patched things up.” He grinned ruefully for added effect. “I guess he thought I was a fifth wheel.”
Garibaldi shrugged. “Then you probably won’t be too happy when you find out how things ended up.”
“How?” asked MacLeod, though he could probably guess.
“We received a distress call from the Pandora; the reactor core was overloading.” MacLeod looked away. A Quickening, surely. But whose? Garibaldi supplied the answer. “We recovered a lifepod. One occupant. Miranda Stevenson, covered in blood and acting like she’s never heard of Ted Carson.” He closed the distance between himself and MacLeod. MacLeod was an imposing presence, but Garibaldi was not in the least bit cowed. “Now you tell me what to think, Mr. MacLeod.”
There wasn’t anything to say. “I think you should go,” he said.
“I need answers,” said Garibaldi.
“Arrest me if you feel it’s necessary. But Ted was a friend of mine.” And under my protection, he added mentally. “I’d like some time alone, please.”
After a moment, Garibaldi nodded. “All right. But stay where we can find you. I’ll have some more questions for you soon.”
As he left, MacLeod smiled sadly. I’m sure you will, he thought.
Miranda shuffled along the corridors, manacled and hobbled, flanked by guards. She had considered making a break for it, but decided it would be a waste of time. Her guards were depressingly alert. Anyway, they had her sword, and after buying the Pandora, she didn’t have much ready cash left for a replacement. She felt naked without it.
“So,” she said to one of her guards. “How long have you been here?”
He glared at her. Evidently casual conversation was not on the agenda. She sighed.
There was one good thing about her transfer up to the brig. The walk was helping to pull her out of her funk. This situation was temporary. That was always the big lesson when it came to getting tied up with mortal law. Escape would only require patience.
They were taking less-used corridors, but it was impossible to get from Medlab to the brig without passing through a least a few common areas. The guards were especially vigilant.
There was such a wealth of alien life on this station, more so than on any planet from what she’d heard. Perhaps it could have been a good hiding place. If only Ted hadn’t come to muck things up. The damnable Game.
The guards led her around a corner to a set of transport tubes. Abruptly, her mind was filled with a dizzying rush of Immortal presence, catching her off guard and almost making her stumble.
One of the tubes opened up. The sensation deepened, took on an oddly familiar character, and a man stepped out. He paused and met Miranda’s eyes. He was of average build, with dark, well-coiffed hair and intense eyes that belied the easy-going expression on his face. He smiled pleasantly at Miranda and gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod. Then his eyes flicked to the guards. He smiled somewhat less pleasantly, and turned to leave.
“Are you MacLeod?” asked Miranda.
The man stopped, turned, and shook his head. “I’m afraid not,” he said. His accent was Midwestern American, and his voice was a pleasant baritone. He smiled. “Perhaps we will meet again,” he said, and left. The curious presence went with him.
Miranda did not call after him again, rooted to the spot. She had never seen this Immortal before, but there was something about him. Almost as if there were more than one of him, which was a strange thing indeed. And something . . . something bizarrely familiar. It felt almost like a whisper of her last Quickening.
“Move,” said one of the guards, prodding her roughly in the back. She allowed herself to be lead onto the transport tube, her mind spinning with the implications of this unexpected Immortal encounter.
Ted had said MacLeod was on the station, but this was not him. And this Immortal did not throw caution to the winds when meeting another Immortal; he had deferred in the presence of the mortal guards. Perhaps he intended to challenge her later? It wasn’t what Miranda would have done. Had she been in his position, she would have attacked the guards, freed the Immortal prisoner, and then challenged her on the spot. Was he a coward? He didn’t seem remotely afraid. Was he a pacifist? There had been an undercurrent of danger to him, so although she couldn’t pinpoint why, she was certain he was not a pacifist at all. Maybe he was simply a pragmatist, or maybe he already had an appointment with MacLeod.
She shrugged. It didn’t matter at the moment. But try as she might, she couldn’t dismiss this stranger from her thoughts.