Another late day in the run-up to Christmas, but I’ve got the next chapter for you, barely in time for Fanfic Friday. 😉 We’re getting close to the end now. As always, if you’re just joining, use the links below to start at the beginning. And remember: on Babylon 5, nothing is what it seems.
THE THREE-EDGED SWORD
A Babylon 5/Highlander crossover
“Understanding is a three-edged sword.”
— Kosh, Vorlon Ambassador to Babylon 5
CHAPTER SIX: Voices In the Dark
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us–if at all–not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
— T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
Tucked away in a holding cell, Miranda dreamed.
She was in Scotland. The cool mists of late autumn wreathed the countryside. Miranda was dressed rather inappropriately for the weather, wearing a diaphanous white gown, but she did not feel the cold. Birds sang overhead as if it were spring, and sunlight made dappled patterns in the mist.
She came upon a small cottage with diamond-paned windows, straight out of a painting or a fairy tale. It was Cassandra’s cottage. Without knocking, she moved forward and through the door, drifting like smoke on a breeze rather than walking.
There was a fire in the fireplace, and a pot of stew simmering gently over it. The smell was intoxicating. Miranda drifted over to peer into it. It looked like rabbit stew. Cassandra always set her own snares to trap wild rabbits in the area, and as Miranda remembered this, she noticed a fresh rabbit pelt hanging over a rod by the fire, drying.
The door opened with a creak and Miranda looked up.
Cassandra stood in the doorway, framed by the afternoon sunlight and wearing a dress of golden velvet. Autumn leaves drifted through the doorway on either side of her. Miranda ran to greet her, ecstatic.
“Cassandra!” she called.
“Miranda,” said Cassandra.
Miranda suddenly stumbled, collapsing to her feet as if she’d run smack into a brick wall. “Did you do that?” she asked her teacher.
Cassandra did not answer. “Why are you still here?” she asked.
Miranda frowned. “But I just got here.” She picked herself up and tried to approach again, but fell once again. “What’s going on, Cassandra?”
Cassandra still did not answer, but dropped down to Miranda’s level, kneeling beside her, peering into her eyes as if searching her soul. Finally she shook her head with deep regret. “What have you done?” she asked.
Miranda frowned, confused. “I don’t understand.”
Cassandra examined Miranda’s face closely. “You have dabbled in dangerous things, child, and searched where there are no guides to lead you. A teacher cannot protect you from this.” She sighed. “You are contaminated.”
Indignant, Miranda stood, wincing a little as she put weight on her leg. Evidently, she had sprained it when she fell. It was a mystery why it was not healing. “Contaminated?” she asked. “Says who?”
“It is true,” replied Cassandra. “You must go. Now.”
“But I don’t want to,” said Miranda.
“Now!” said Cassandra, her voice carrying the resonance which Miranda had learned to associate with Cassandra’s psychic ability to dominate weaker minds. Miranda instinctively felt herself complying, limping backwards. But Cassandra stood in the cottage’s only doorway. There was no escape. “You seek the scent of darkness, and have forgotten who you are,” said Cassandra. “And so you cannot stay.”
Miranda frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Understanding is a three-edged sword,” said Cassandra. There was something like pity in her eyes. “You will never understand. Go, now!”
The dream ended.
Miranda sat bolt upright on her bunk, a cold sweat covering her body. She took a few deep breaths, then laid back down. She did not fall asleep again for some time.
Elsewhere on the station, MacLeod dreamed.
It was Paris, in the year 1993. It was a lazy summer afternoon. MacLeod sat in the rectory of St Julien le Pauvre studying a chess board intently. He wasn’t sure whether he’d been playing black or white this time; in any case, things didn’t appear to be going well for white. Perhaps he could ask his partner when he arrived.
MacLeod had played chess with his friend Darius for many years, and their games often stretched on long enough that they could leave the board set up and return to it days later. Darius was late today.
With that thought, Darius was abruptly present.
“Pondering your next move, Highlander?” asked the old monk.
MacLeod smiled ruefully. “To be honest, I can’t remember which side I was playing.”
Darius nodded as if this made perfect sense. “You will have to decide in your own time. Immortals have a particular gift — we may choose our side. But you, I think, will only be happy when you play white.” He moved close to the board, considered for a while, and then moved a white bishop to take a black rook. “Checkmate,” he said.
Startled, MacLeod studied the board. Darius was right. Whatever white had done, it had maneuvered black into exactly the position he wanted it. He smiled ruefully. “You always did have a few extra tricks up your sleeve.”
Darius smiled back, not unkindly. “There is something troubling you,” he said.
MacLeod nodded. “A friend of mine has just been killed.”
“Murder, or the Game?” asked Darius.
“Hard to say,” replied MacLeod. “We were looking for one of his friends, but she tricked him into coming with her alone. She took his head.”
“And you came to me for advice, yes?”
MacLeod nodded. “I have to get her away. She’s a menace.”
Darius nodded sagely. “Your problem is simple. You are Immortal. Challenge her.”
MacLeod shook his head. “Many might die.”
Darius smiled. “You do not have to challenge her here. Learn from her strategies. Use them.”
MacLeod stared at Darius, shocked that the old priest would recommend murder. “I can’t do that.”
MacLeod considered. Why did that seem wrong? “If I do what she does, I am no better than her.”
Darius nodded. “You’ve grown wiser, my friend. But you must still do what you must do. You are a chieftain’s son. You have responsibilities, and the mortals here must be protected.”
MacLeod sighed deeply. “I cannot commit murder,” he said.
Darius stared deeply into MacLeod’s eyes, until the younger man could no longer stand it and had to look away. “Women have always been your weakness, MacLeod,” he said. “You are a protector. Let that guide you, and you will find a way.”
Morning, or what passes for morning on a space station. MacLeod hadn’t been surprised at the invitation from security, nor that the security chief had insisted on doing things formally. But as he sat in the interrogation room, waiting, he wondered how much Garibaldi really knew, and what he’d do if he found out too much.
The dream of his long-dead mentor had left him unsettled. Darius had been a man of peace, living on holy ground so that he would never again need to play the Game, until mortals came and cut him down in the one place where he could not defend himself. MacLeod owed it to his memory to seek the peaceful option, and yet Darius had seemed to counsel violence.
“You are Immortal. Challenge her.”
A simple suggestion, but a complicated reality. Quickenings were hazardous, and the dream Darius had been right – MacLeod had a very real problem when it came to fighting women, and this time Methos the pre-chivalrous wasn’t around to do it for him. He had been raised to protect them.
“You are a protector. Let that guide you.”
Protect! Had he been going about this entirely backwards the entire time? He had been raised to protect women; should he now protect Miranda, even after what she had done? It would be insanity to board a ship alone with her, given her track record, but maybe MacLeod could buy her a ticket off the station and convince her to leave by herself. It depended on why she had come to Babylon 5 in the first place, of course, but she was a student of Cassandra’s. There had to be a glimmer of the protector in her as well, and he could appeal to that and persuade her that Babylon 5 was no place for an Immortal.
If he could persuade her of anything, that is.
Garibaldi walked into the interrogation room, cutting into MacLeod’s contemplation. “Good morning, Mr. MacLeod,” he said. “Did you have a good night?”
“Good morning, Mr. Garibaldi,” replied MacLeod. “I’m afraid I didn’t.”
Garibaldi grinned. “Guilty conscience?”
MacLeod shook his head. “Lamenting missed opportunities.”
“Yeah, I can relate to that,” replied Garibaldi, with a rueful grin. He dropped the grin quickly. “Let’s get to business. What’s Ted Carson to you, and what’s your business at Babylon 5?”
“For the record?” asked MacLeod. Garibaldi nodded. “He’s a friend. We came together to Babylon 5 to find Miranda. She’s an old friend of Ted’s, and he was worried about her.”
“What made him worried about her?”
MacLeod studied Garibaldi’s face to try to gauge how much the other man knew, but got no help. He made a mental note never to play poker with him. “She had disappeared very suddenly, and then Ted noticed her on the news reports about the Korolev. We had no idea she was coming here until then, and Ted really wanted to see her. I came along in case it was bad news.”
“What kind of bad news?”
“She disappeared with no explanation, Mr. Garibaldi,” said MacLeod. “Ted was naive enough to think there would be an innocent explanation, but I figured she was probably running from something.” He sighed for Garibaldi’s benefit. “I was afraid she was running from Ted.” That was just barely true, and MacLeod nudged in a little more misdirection with an actual lie. “They’d dated. Ted wouldn’t say if they’d parted amicably.”
Garibaldi grinned. “So you assumed the worst? That’s a nice suspicious mind you’ve got there.”
MacLeod shrugged. “I’m a Scot. What do you expect?”
“Fair enough. What about the ship?”
“What ship?” asked MacLeod. “Oh, you mean the one she bought.” Garibaldi nodded. “Ted and I had an argument. I was ready to give up the search for Miranda, but he wasn’t. He went storming away, and must have found her. In the meantime, I literally bumped into a Drazi who’d just sold a ship to her.”
“Literally?” asked Garibaldi, an amused grin dancing on his face.
“I wasn’t watching where I was going,” said MacLeod. “We both dropped everything we were carrying, including my picture of Miranda. He saw it and recognized her. He told me where the ship was berthed, but by the time I got there, it was already gone.”
“Hell of a lucky coincidence,” Garibaldi said.
“Not really,” said MacLeod. “More of a cosmic irony. They’d already left, so it didn’t do me any good.” He shook his head, frustrated. “An hour earlier, and I could have saved him.”
“How?” asked Garibaldi.
“I could have talked to them. Maybe come along with them.”
“Then you’d be dead too,” said Garibaldi.
“No,” MacLeod said. “If I’d been there, maybe she wouldn’t have . . . ” He caught himself. He’d almost said too much. Did Garibaldi know?
Yes. Garibaldi was looking intently at his eyes. “Do you think she blew up the ship on purpose?”
MacLeod sighed. “Don’t you? She was covered in blood, you said. She must have killed Ted, and blown up the ship to destroy the evidence.”
“She blew outta that ship covered in evidence,” replied Garibaldi.
MacLeod nodded. “I’m sure she wasn’t thinking straight. If she was, she wouldn’t have killed Ted in the first place.”
Garibaldi nodded. “Sounds reasonable enough. But how does Matthew Sorenson fit into it?”
MacLeod frowned, startled at this non sequitor. “Who?”
“Matthew Sorenson. Do you know him?”
MacLeod shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”
“Pity,” said Garibaldi.
“Who is he?”
Garibaldi shook his head. “A possible connection. Doesn’t matter. Although . . . how about this?”
The security chief slapped a picture down on the table. MacLeod’s eye was drawn to it, and he immediately recognized it.
The Watcher seal. Every Watcher wore it as a tattoo on the inside of one wrist, identifying them with the ancient secret society devoted to passively observing and recording the activities of Immortals. If Garibaldi had it, this Matthew Sorenson had to be a Watcher. Miranda’s Watcher? And if Garibaldi was asking MacLeod, did that mean something had happened to Sorenson?
He immediately clamped down on his reactions, but he doubted it was quick enough for Garibaldi to miss his flash of recognition. This security chief was too suspicious by halves. “What’s this?” he asked. “Something to do with Miranda?”
“Maybe,” said Garibaldi.
MacLeod shrugged. “I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.”
Garibaldi studied MacLeod, his face inscrutable. “Miranda was in trouble, but I don’t think she was running from your friend Mr. Carson. And he wasn’t the only person she killed. If you’re hiding anything that would help put her away for a very, very long time, I’ll make sure you never see the light of day again. Capice?”
Threats now; Garibaldi was shifting tactics. And getting a bit Italian in the process. “Yeah, Mr. Garibaldi. Capice. Look, I wish I could help you, but I don’t . . . wait. You said she killed someone else. I’m sure she didn’t have anything to do with this symbol. Was this to do with the other person you say she killed?”
Garibaldi grinned. “Oh, curious all of a sudden? I’m afraid I can’t comment on a pending investigation.”
“Not even off the record?”
Garibaldi shook his head.
“Fine,” said MacLeod. “Are we done, then?”
Garibaldi appeared to think it over for a moment. “Yeah, we’re done for now. But stay where I can reach you.”
“Sure,” said MacLeod. “Now, can I talk to Miranda?”
“I’ll arrange it,” replied Garibaldi. The session was over.
Shackled to a table in the interview room, Miranda felt the presence before the door opened, of course. But it wasn’t the dark-haired stranger. A sudden twinge from Simon Baudette’s Quickening somehow told her this was the famous Highlander at last. She wasn’t really sure how to feel about that. Disappointed? Happy? Worried? Angry? Afraid? None of those. The hollowness she’d felt ever since the nightmare of Cassandra was unrelieved.
A nameless guard led Duncan MacLeod into the room. “You gonna be okay with her?” he asked.
MacLeod was staring at Miranda. “Yeah,” he said, distractedly, as if he’d already forgotten about the guard. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’m right outside if she tries anything,” the guard said, and retreated out of the room, ostensibly to give them privacy. Miranda was sure they were being watched, though.
MacLeod sat down on the other side of the table. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Duncan MacLeod.”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “I know that,” she said, feigning irritation. Maybe it would shake the emptiness out if she could get mad.
“Is there anything you want to tell me?” asked MacLeod, evenly. “Maybe about Ted?”
Miranda dropped her head to her chest. She wasn’t stupid enough to answer that one.
“What about Cassandra, then?”
She looked sharply up at him. “Cassandra’s missing,” she said.
“I know,” said MacLeod. “I helped Ted look for her. We didn’t find any trace. Do you know where she is?”
Miranda nodded. “I think so. But it won’t do any good. She’s gone where nobody can find her.”
“Hyperspace, I think.” She cocked her head to one side. “It’s . . . different there, and when . . . when the Korolev exploded, I actually saw her. In my head. So I think she’s out there.”
MacLeod’s eyes had widened. He obviously could tell exactly what she was implying. Good. Maybe he could carry on the search. If he weren’t so damn noble.
Miranda laughed. “You think you might look for her too? Take a head? Blow up another ship? Nah.” She leaned in close. “You’re too goody two-shoes. You forget who you are. You forget what we do.”
MacLeod blinked in surprise. That hit home, she could tell. Of course, he wasn’t the only one who forgot. She’d forgotten too, because killing Ted had been outside the rules of the Game. And now she actually did get angry, and that finally filled the hollowness inside.
“You think this is easy, MacLeod?” she asked. “Living like this, out here, on the run? Ted didn’t help me find her; all I got with him was screaming. But I’ll keep trying. I was with Cassandra the day they came for her. I’m pretty sure she got away, but I never could find out.”
MacLeod had gone white. “What? Miranda, who came for her?”
“Psi Corps, who else?” Miranda shook her head. “She’s a teep, you know. That Voice of hers isn’t a kind of magic. Of course the genetic tests never picked her up, but rumors get around and finally Psi Corps came for her.” She went quiet, remembering.
The crunching branches.
Cassandra’s footprints, leading away.
“She got away, though,” repeated MacLeod, as if seeking assurance.
Miranda looked him in the eye again. “I can’t be sure. But the Psi Cops saw me. They’re relentless, and if they haven’t found her, they’ll come for me, and you know damn well what it would mean if they caught me.”
“But you’re not a telepath.”
Such naivety! She had to laugh. “You’re kidding me, MacLeod! You have to be. How the hell do you think they’d figure that out? By scanning me. Deep scan. They’d see I’m no teep, but they’d also see things we don’t want them to see. And I think the only reason you and I are alive out here today is because they didn’t catch Cassandra and they don’t know yet what they should be looking for.”
MacLeod went silent. She could almost see the wheels turning in his mind. After a moment, he spoke again. “What about Matthew Sorenson?” he asked.
She frowned. “Who?”
“I don’t know. Thought maybe you would,” he said.
“Well, whoever he is, he doesn’t matter,” she said. She leaned in across the table. “You have to get me out of here. I want to look for Cassandra, but I know now I was doing it the wrong way.” She shook her head, remembering the dream Cassandra. “I have to get out of here. Before Psi Corps comes again.”
“Again?” asked MacLeod.
“Yes,” she said. She knew she shouldn’t say more, shouldn’t incriminate herself, because security was surely watching, but she was too angry to stay quiet. “I was followed here. I don’t know how they found me, but a guy was watching me.”
MacLeod became very still. A little respect for Psi Corps, finally? “And?”
She shrugged. “I took care of him. He’s not following me anymore. But it’s only a matter of time before they send someone else.” She hated to beg, hated to plead, but Cassandra had always held MacLeod in high regard. If anyone would help, it was probably him. “Get me out of here. I don’t care how or who you have to kill to do it, just get me out of here.”