And now . . . the conclusion!
THE THREE-EDGED SWORD
A Babylon 5/Highlander crossover
“Understanding is a three-edged sword.”
— Kosh, Vorlon Ambassador to Babylon 5
CHAPTER SEVEN: Higher Powers
THE THREE-EDGED SWORD
A Babylon 5/Highlander crossover
“Understanding is a three-edged sword.”
Â — Kosh, Vorlon Ambassador to Babylon 5
CHAPTER SEVEN: Higher Powers
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly –
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their condor wings
— Edgar Allen Poe, “The Conqueror Worm”
The interview with Garibaldi followed by the disastrous meeting with Miranda had left MacLeod even more unsettled. There was no hope of going back to his room and losing himself in meditation. Instead, he prowled the corridors of Babylon 5 restlessly. He was now certain that Miranda had killed her Watcher. This, plus his unsettling dream of Darius, had reopened some very old wounds. Â Darius had been murdered by Watchers gone rogue, and he had himself very nearly gone on the warpath to avenge him. Only the intervention of his own Watcher, the irreplaceable Joe Dawson, had stopped him.
If Sorenson were Miranda’s Watcher, her reaction was entirely predictable and also exactly why the Watchers hid themselves at all costs. Many Watchers had been killed by their assignments. Sometimes MacLeod wondered why they kept bothering, wasting their brief mortal lives for something which, most likely, no one would ever know about. He could relate to that part, given the secrecy with which he had to live his own life, but they at least had a choice in the matter.
The really bad thing about that was that Garibaldi now had a lead on them. He had to get Miranda off the station, preserve the secrecy of Immortals, and also the Watchers too.
Amanda had been right. He shouldn’t have come. And damn, but he knew she’d say it too. At least he’d found Miranda, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t bring himself to see that as a silver lining in any way.
What he really needed was a drink, MacLeod decided, so he turned his path towards the Zocolo.
Garibaldi frowned as he reviewed the security camera footage from MacLeod’s interview with Miranda. So Psi Corps was after her, and she’d killed Sorenson believing he’d been sent by them? He knew she was wrong about that part, because he hadn’t yet had to bear the stench of Alfred Bester. And that meant Miranda had more enemies than she realized.
He pulled up the reports on Miranda’s blood soaked clothing and sword. The blood on her clothing was definitely not hers, but belonged to a white male who could fit Ted Carson’s description. There was enough of it that he had almost certainly been killed. Traces of Carson’s blood were also on the sword, as well as traces of other people’s blood — including that of Matthew Sorenson.
So he had his killer after all. But there was one thing he still didn’t understand. Why? Why kill a man who had no connection to her?
Obviously there was a connection. He just hadn’t found it yet.
The tattoo. Of course. And MacLeod had clearly recognized it, even though he’d denied it. Â Maybe it was time to bring in a little help. This had the stink of a secret society all over it, and he knew a guy who collected secrets.
The bright lights of a nightclub danced but failed to penetrate MacLeod’s morose internal monolog, as he nursed a Scotch and tried to stop obsessing. It wasn’t working. Amanda was right, and because he didn’t listen, everything was falling apart. On the other hand, Miranda would’ve killed Sorenson in any case, so it wasn’t really his fault that the Watchers were now under scrutiny. Which meant that now he had a totally new responsibility and absolutely no idea how to carry it out. How was he supposed to get Garibaldi off the Watchers’ backs? Who else had Garibaldi already told?
“Ah, you look sad,” said a thickly accented voice. MacLeod didn’t recognize the accent, but when he looked up he couldn’t help but identify the race of the person speaking to him. The man was a Centauri, with a particularly grand sweep to his elaborately coiffed hair. There was a roundness to his features, but a hardness as well, and he was clearly no longer a young man, with liver spots beginning to appear on his exposed forehead. “What could possibly make you so sad when there is this?” he said, waving his hand to indicate the Centauri dancing girls on the stage, and then raising his own glass in a sort of toast.
“I won’t trouble you with it,” said MacLeod.
“That bad?” asked the Centauri. He shrugged expressively as if to say ‘been there, done that.’ “Well, perhaps I can at least buy you a drink. It is an old Centauri custom when you see an unhappy stranger, and your drink seems perilously low.”
MacLeod had to grin. “Well, I won’t say no to that,” he said.
“Excellent!” said the Centauri, who directed the bartender to bring MacLeod another of the same, and one for him as well.
MacLeod raised an eyebrow. “Ever tried Scotch before?”â€¨
“Oh yes,” he replied. “My good and dear friend Mr. Garibaldi warned me off of it, so I knew it must be good.”
This drew a laugh from MacLeod, who quietly marveled at how easily the alien had drawn him off of his bad mood. “It tastes like home to me. Like Scotland.”
“Scotchland?” asked the Centauri.
“Scotland,” repeated MacLeod. “What they have here isn’t bad, but you should taste the really good stuff.” The Centauri raised an eyebrow, and MacLeod had a sudden magnanimous impulse. “My name’s Duncan MacLeod. Give me your name, and I’ll have some of the good stuff sent when I get back to Earth.”
“I am Ambassador Londo Mollari,” said the Centauri, with a grand bow, and MacLeod’s eyebrows went up. The ambassador grinned at him. “Drinking establishments are a great equalizer of social status here. It is one thing I really like about you humans. Anybody can get a drink anytime, and it’s amazing who you meet.” He raised his glass to MacLeod, then drained it in one go, not even spluttering as the strong alcohol met his throat. “Thank you, and I am glad to have made you smile.”
Ambassador Mollari inclined his head again towards MacLeod in farewell, and allowed himself to be swept away into the crowd, in search of another drinking companion, no doubt. MacLeod smiled. His problems would not go away so easily, but Mollari’s gesture had allowed him to set them aside for a moment.
His stomach rumbled, bringing MacLeod’s mind back to more prosaic matters. He ordered a burger, and leaned back to wait.
“What can I do for you?” asked Sheridan.
Garibaldi shrugged. “This is a little out there, even for me, but I know you collect secrets. I was wondering if you might have collected this one.” He dropped a piece of paper on Sheridan’s desk.
Sheridan picked it up. “What’s this?”
“A tattoo,” said Garibaldi. “We had a guy murdered recently, name of Matthew Sorenson. Some of Miranda’s stuff has his blood on it, so she’s our prime suspect. Sorenson had that tattoo on the inside of his wrist.”
“Okay,” said Sheridan. “What makes you think there’s a secret involved?”
“I had the computer look for reports of that symbol, and only three showed up. All three were police reports. Two involved homicides — beheadings, one definitely by sword because the murder weapon was found. All of the people with this tattoo tried to hide it, or make up a story to explain it. This happened over a wide enough time period that I think we’ve got a secret society on our hands.”
“Interesting,” said Sheridan. “I can’t say it looks familiar. I’ll see what I can find out, though.”
“Thanks,” said Garibaldi.
“What’s your next step?” asked Sheridan.
He shrugged. “Well, I’ve questioned Miranda and MacLeod. I’ve got enough evidence to hold her pretty much indefinitely at this point, and for now I can keep him from leaving the station as a witness. I guess next it’s looking for more of her contacts, which is gonna mean going Downbelow.”
“Friend of the decedent,” said Garibaldi. “Not the last person to see him alive, but close, and he knows more than he’s letting on. I could swear he recognized that symbol. Oh, and it gets better: Miranda thinks Psi Corps is after her.”
“Oh, that’s just lovely,” said Sheridan, shaking his head. “Do you think she’s right?”
“Wonderful.” Sheridan and Garibaldi shared a long look that said it was anything but wonderful. “Let’s hope she’s wrong. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can find out for you, and you keep me informed on the progress of your investigation. Good luck.”
“Thanks. I think I’ll need it.”
MacLeod’s burger arrived, and he dug in, smiling at how pervasive burgers had become since the twentieth century. For a moment, it made him think of Richie Ryan, child of the twentieth century, and at one time his student.
And at another time, his victim.
MacLeod sighed deeply. The pain had faded in the past few centuries, but it was just one more regret upon a litany of regrets. And now it seemed he had a new regret to add to the pile.
But before he could sink too far into guilt, the unmistakable sensation of another Immortal washed over him. A powerful one. He sat up straight. Ted was gone and Miranda was imprisoned; was this the Immortal he’d felt the other day? The one who’d led him to the Drazi and then disappeared?
He turned in his seat. The other Immortal was looking straight at him. He appeared young, with dark hair, a burgundy suit, intense eyes, and a smile that was a little too casual. What’s more, MacLeod recognized him, and that was odd because this was a young man, not one who should feel so powerful.
“Morden,” said MacLeod. “Where have you been?”
Morden paused for a moment. His smile grew. “Amazing places, MacLeod. Amazing.”
Morden was a young Immortal, younger even than Ted, and he’d been Methos’ student until quite recently, when he’d gone off on an IPX expedition and vanished. Methos had promptly assumed he’d been kidnapped by sinister forces and disappeared off to a new identity on Proxima 3. Now here he was, alive and well and apparently doing fine for himself.
“Methos was worried,” said MacLeod.
Morden laughed. It was a free, uninhibited laugh, but yet at the same time something didn’t feel quite right. “Of course he worries. It’s how he survives.”
“And you?” asked MacLeod. “How did you survive? We heard about the Icarus.”
Morden cocked his head to one side for a moment, almost as if listening. Then he nodded and smiled. “We found something, MacLeod. Something older than all of us, older than Methos. Something that made sense of it all.”
MacLeod raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Really,” he said.
“I’m serious,” replied Morden. “There are creatures out there that have been living far longer than he has. And you know what?”
“The Game,” he said. “Methos always doubted the Game, but taught me that I had to play it anyway if I wanted to survive. He was more right than he knew, because the Prize is a lie.”
MacLeod blinked in astonishment. “Seriously?”
“Seriously,” said Morden. “Fight to stay alive, but don’t bother hunting. It’s all a waste of time, created to keep us under control and out of the way.”
MacLeod scoffed. “Well, it’s a new conspiracy theory at least.”
Morden smiled tolerantly, and backed off. “True,” he said. “But it’s not important. I know you care more about your friends than any prize anyway.”
MacLeod chuckled. “You’re right,” he said. “So what brings you to Babylon 5?” he said, deliberately changing the subject away from whatever harebrained idea had gotten into Morden’s head.
“Business,” he said brightly. “I have powerful associates who seek opportunities to further the development of promising individuals.” MacLeod snorted. Morden’s smile deepened, unoffended by MacLeod’s disdain. “It’s a rewarding position,” he said. “And you? What do you want, MacLeod?”
“At the moment? To finish this burger before it gets cold.”
Morden chuckled. “That’s not what I meant. What do you want?”
MacLeod looked back at his plate, and the rapidly cooling food. His eyes settled on his second Scotch, nearly drained, and he realized it must be obvious that something was bothering him if two different people were coming up to ask about it. He sighed. “I have a problem,” he said.
“What’s the problem?”
MacLeod sighed. “I came here with a friend. Ted Carson. We were looking for Miranda, a friend of his and a student of Cassandra’s. Did you know Cassandra?” Morden shook his head. “I suppose not. She and Methos were . . . not on good terms. Anyway, Cassandra disappeared, and since she’s telepathic, Ted was afraid Psi Corps had gotten her. In the meanwhile, Miranda had turned up at Babylon 5; she’d taken a Quickening on board a liner in hyperspace, which destroyed the liner.” He closed his eyes. “A lot of people died. So Ted and I came to find Miranda. Turns out, she was looking for Cassandra too, and she thinks she saw her in hyperspace.”
Morden’s gaze suddenly became more intense, and MacLeod continued. “During the Quickening, she saw a vision of Cassandra. So when she found Ted at the station, she lured him onto a ship, flew it into hyperspace, and took his head.” He closed his eyes. “She wanted to see Cassandra again.”
Silence stretched between them, while the general noise of the club surrounded them. After a moment, Morden broke it. “Did it work?”
MacLeod shook his head. “No. She murdered him for nothing. She said all she could hear was screaming.”
MacLeod completely missed the flash of alarm that passed over Morden’s face.
“And it gets better,” he said. “Before she killed Ted, she found and killed her Watcher too.”
“Did she know about the Watchers?” asked Morden.
“I doubt it,” said MacLeod. “But the security chief here is trying to find out what the guy’s tattoo means, and I don’t think he’s the kind of guy to give up.”
Morden nodded as if absorbing the information. Then he looked MacLeod in the eye again. “So. What do you want?”
MacLeod sighed. “I want her off the station; she’s seeking Quickenings, so she’s a danger to everyone here. And I want her stopped, because she’s a danger to all of us. She’ll get us exposed. God knows how we’ve lasted this long, what with Psi Corps. And I want Garibaldi off our backs. If he finds the Watchers, we’re done for.”
Morden nodded again. “Okay,” he said. He smiled. “I think my associates can handle this for you.”
MacLeod blinked, startled. “What? Why?” he asked.
Morden shrugged. “For a start, they know about Immortals too and wouldn’t want us exposed. It’s best we stay the stuff of legend.” He smiled again, and MacLeod was suddenly put in mind of an insurance salesman. “Besides, I think I’d like to talk to her, find out more about what she saw in hyperspace.”
“Be my guest,” said MacLeod. “She barely gave me the time of day.”
Morden smiled broadly. “I can be very persuasive, and my associates can ensure she harms no one.”
“These associates,” asked MacLeod. “Who are they?”
Morden’s smile dropped. “It’s not for me to say. Not yet.” His smile returned. “Let’s just say they’re committed to the improvement of intelligent life in the galaxy.”
Later, back in his suite, MacLeod waited for his call to go through the tachyon relay system that connected Babylon 5 to the rest of the Galaxy. He smiled as it finally connected.
“Hello? Hang on, I don’t have the video encryption turned on . . . there.”
MacLeod’s smile grew to see the slender, elfin face that appeared on the viewscreen. “Hello, Amanda.”
“Duncan!” She frowned and shook a finger sternly at the screen. “You never call, you never write. It’s been weeks! What’s going on? Did you find her? Where’s the kid?”
MacLeod held up his hands in surrender. “One at a time!” he said with a smile. “Yes, we found her. Or rather, Ted did.” He sighed. “Ted’s gone.”
The irritation dropped from Amanda’s face, replaced with sympathy. “Oh no,” she said. “Young and reckless, eh?”
MacLeod nodded. “I had meant to stay with him, but we had an argument, and he ended up off on his own. But that’s not the worst part.” He took a deep breath. “Miranda took him into hyperspace to do the deed, and then the authorities caught up with her. She’s being shipped back to Earth now. I ran into Morden, of all people . . . ”
“Morden? Who’s that?”
“A student of Methos. Anyway, he promised to fix it; he says he’s got powerful friends now. I’m not sure which part scares me more – Miranda in prison or Morden’s mysterious associates. But I don’t have much choice. There’s nothing I can do; I can only hope he’s really in a position to protect all our secrets.”
“Lovely,” said Amanda.
“And he had more to say than that,” he said with a frown. “I didn’t understand all of it, and I’m not sure I believe any of it, but I think we can at least reassure Methos that his student is fine and not eaten by a government conspiracy.”
“And Cassandra?” asked Amanda, unusually gently.
MacLeod shook his head. “Miranda claimed to have seen her in hyperspace, but honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. I think it’s time we moved on.”
“Speaking of which . . . .?”
He smiled. “Yes, I’m coming home. I’ll be back in under a week.”
Amanda chuckled. “A week. It’s like the old trans-Atlantic steamers.”
MacLeod laughed outright. “The Universe has shrunk so much, but we keep coming back to the past, don’t we?”
“Yes,” said Amanda. “Well, travel that shrunken Universe safely, Duncan. I owe you dinner for not dying.”
“What do you mean we have to turn her over?” Garibaldi was livid.
Sheridan held his hands up. “This came right from the top. It seems this isn’t the first place she’s been making trouble.”
“Oh, no no no no no,” said Garibaldi. “They can’t pull this again. I checked her out; she had no record.”
“No official record,” said Sheridan. “I don’t know who she pissed off on Earth, but this order came from the office of the President himself.”
“So, really the top, then.”
“Yep,” said Sheridan. “I don’t know what this is about, but I do know we’ve been ordered to turn over all of our files on her and release her to the EarthForce squad that’s here for shore leave — which apparently is now canceled. They’re not gonna be happy either.”
“Damn,” said Garibaldi.
“I know,” said Sheridan. “You don’t like to leave a job undone. I don’t either. But she’ll see justice. We might just have to wait in line. I’m just glad she’ll be off the station, honestly.”
“What about MacLeod?” asked Garibaldi. “I’ve asked him to stick around for questioning, but I don’t have the authority to hold him until EarthGov is finished with her.”
Sheridan nodded. “You can let him go. Just make sure to get his address.”
“And what about the other thing?” asked Garibaldi.
“The symbol?” Sheridan shook his head. “Nothing yet. Sorry. I’ll let you know when I find something.”
The guards had come again. They pulled Miranda to her feet and led her dispassionately to a shuttle where an EarthForce squad waited. She didn’t care what these mortals did anymore, and allowed the numbness to wash over her once more. Vaguely, she was aware they were passing into hyperspace; this fact penetrated her awareness long enough for her to remember her utter failure. There was no Immortal here for her to kill, and perhaps that was for the best. At least she couldn’t fail again. Then the guards were telling her to stand again, and pulling her to her feet when she didn’t answer. The ship shuddered, a doorway opened, and she realized she was being transferred to a larger vessel.
Then a wave of Immortal sense flowed over her and forced her to pay attention.
They were standing in a sort of airlock, all black and organic looking, between the EarthForce ship and the new ship. Standing alone in front of them was the Immortal she’d seen so briefly on Babylon 5. A knight in shining armor here to rescue her, or a challenger prepared to free her to do things properly? He smiled as before, spoke to the guards, and accepted her as his new prisoner. Once again, Miranda had the distinct impression there was more than one of him, or that he was powerful. Very powerful. Too powerful. What was going on here?
The guards left, and the hatch sealed behind them. Seconds later, the ship shuddered as it separated and moved away. The strange Immortal led her deeper into his ship, which seemed to shimmer as she walked through it. It was not an EarthForce ship. It wasn’t even something humans had made. That was certain. So what was it? Where was it from? She didn’t know.
They reached a large room. The Immortal man made a curious gesture and the ceiling seemed to vanish, revealing the nightmare folds of hyperspace. An observation deck of some kind?
“Hyperspace,” he said. “You’ve been in it. You’ve taken heads in it. And I’m told you found something.”
She narrowed her eyes. He knew too much to be trusted. “What do you mean?”
“The Quickening did something in hyperspace, didn’t it? What did you see?”
“Who are you?” she asked.
He grinned disarmingly. “I’m sorry, I’ve been very rude. My name is Morden, and I arranged for your release from Babylon 5.”
“Won’t matter,” she replied. “Psi Corps was after Cassandra. I don’t know if you know her, but they’re gonna come for us too.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” he said. “I have powerful associates. They don’t want our secret getting out, and they have the right connections to ensure silence.” He raised up his hands to indicate the room around them. “This is one of their ships.”
“So where’s the crew?”
He appeared to consider for a moment. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I think you can find out. In the end it won’t matter. Meet my associates,” he said.
The air on either side of Morden shimmered and a pair of giant, insectoid creatures appeared. They clacked their mandibles and then advanced upon her. As she frantically looked back and forth between them, she suddenly knew that they, not Morden, were the source of the powerful presence she was feeling. She backed away, but they were too fast, and one of them grabbed her. She screamed, but they were unperturbed. “I’m sorry,” said Morden, “but please understand this is not personal. I need to see what you saw.”
And then she heard the distinctive sound of a sword coming out of a sheath.
Garbaldi frowned as he stared at his computer screen. No match? How could that be? This data crystal was locked and hadn’t even been in a computer since he’d last looked at it. But the message remained the same. No match. His files were gone.
He frowned. Then Sheridan entered his office.
“Do you know anything about this?” asked the captain, waving a data crystal in front of him.
“I’m having problems with the computer reading one data crystal already, and you want me to try another?”
Sheridan frowned. “You’re having trouble too?” Garibaldi nodded and Sheridan shook his head in disgust. “I won’t buy that as a coincidence. I tried reading this data crystal and it’s completely blank. It was full of stuff the last time I had it in, and now it’s blank. I think we’ve been hacked.”
Garibaldi sighed. “That’s not good. And I’ve got an idea who my first suspect is. If you tell me what was on that crystal, I might be sure of it.”
“That symbol,” said Sheridan. “I found some stuff. Some of it’s crazy — reminded me a little of that Deathwalker business — but there’s a conspiracy out there all right. I was keeping my notes on that crystal, and now it’s gone.”
“Yeah, I’m sure of it now. Want to guess what was on mine?”
Garibaldi nodded. “Got it in one. And I’ve looked at the public records too. As far as the computers can tell me, she never existed.”
“What? But you did a background check on her.”
“Yeah. It sure as hell wasn’t good enough, because someone somebody’s managed to erase all traces of it.”
“Tossed down the memory hole,” mused Sheridan.
“Oh. Old book. 20th Century. Someone wants her lost. And from what you described, I don’t think it’s herself.”
A pregnant silence passed between the two as they pondered dangerous possibilities. Garibaldi was the first to break the silence. “You said the order to release Miranda came from the top,” he said. Sheridan nodded. “I’ll bet you anything our attacker did too.”
“No bet,” said Sheridan.
“Damn,” said Garibaldi.
Hyperspace was a strange place at the best of times. In the throes of a Quickening, surrounded by Shadows, aboard a Shadow warship, it was even stranger still. The ship had been modified to contain the energies; this was not difficult for Shadow technology. Even so, it was pained and even after the last of the Quickening had subsided, Morden thought he could still hear the pilot screaming.
There was no other Immortal living here in hyperspace. He thought for a moment that he could feel another presence, but it recoiled too quickly to be contacted. He supposed that was the Vorlon ambassador back at the station; could Miranda have encountered Kosh’s mind instead, and mistaken that for her old mentor? He would have laughed, except that it wasn’t funny.
The experiment had been a failure. While a Quickening certainly expanded an Immortal’s consciousness in hyperspace, and apparently played merry hell with a fusion reactor, it did nothing else. It would have no value to them. More importantly, Miranda was no longer a threat to Immortals or to the Shadows’ plans. And with her gone, MacLeod would leave the station, away from the dangerous influence of Ambassador Kosh.
And that was another thing. They’d never been able to work out just what the Vorlons thought about Immortals. Oh, they knew the Vorlons were behind the Game, but that’s all. It was an effective means of control, but what else? Did they have plans for the victor? Did he even want to know?
A Shadow chittered at him, and he understood its request perfectly. Another strange gift of his Immortality that he didn’t try to understand. “No,” he said. “I’m afraid it won’t be of any use to us. And she hadn’t learned anything.”
The Shadow seemed to nod, a strange gesture with its segmented body, and then turned to order the ship away to their next destination. So they weren’t any closer. But at least the Vorlons weren’t any closer either. And if they did have a plan for the Prize, at least with him out of the Game, that plan would be a very long time coming.