RETURN TO COLLINWOOD

Night falls on the great space station of Babylon 5 where something naff is probably going to happen as usual. My name is Kai Travis and Iím on a journey Ė away from here before that happens.

When last heard from, the happy firm of Collins, Dracula, Travis & Co., were split up fighting a war against some ancient entities called Shadows. Thought Iíd clear that up in case you thought weíd gone into narcotics. Well, that didnít last long. The war finished not long after and it wasnít due to us. Not entirely. No, basically, Sheridan managed to fight them to a standstill and then gave them the Royal Order of the Boot. Told them "On yer bike and out of the galaxy and take your playmates (Vorlons, First Ones, Second Ones, Third Ones, Last Ones) with you". Just hope they donít turn up in ours Ė for their sakes. We arenít so forgiving. Try your mind games on the Daleks and see how long you last. About as long as it takes to say "Ex-term-inate". And if theyíre out to lunch, there are still the Cybermen and, of course, the Ensovaari. And worst of the lot, Madam President, Servalan.

Any road, weíd seen a lot of action and were now back on Babylon 5. You can take the joyful reunion with Barnabas and Janette as read. Barnabas was not a happy camper. "I am concerned," he said one evening in the bar, "that we have lost our way. While it is well and noble to have saved the galaxyÖ"

"Helped save. Do I look like Roj Blake?"

"It is getting us nowhere closer to tracking down those renegades and their infernal machine and no closer to reversing the damaged timeline which has seen Collinwood a ruin. It is weeks, months since the war ended but Sheridan seems to have his own agenda."

"Iíd noticed. He wants to sort Earthgov and isnít shy about using the alien allies. Bangs on about the Shadows being gone but needing to deal with their Ďdark servantsíÖ

"I really donít see the need to concern ourselves with other peopleís coloured domestics. Such a silly fad, anyway, having those little boys scarce big enough to hold a wineglass, all tricked out in turbans and things, acting as pages."

Erm, yes. You can take the Barnabas out of the 18th century but you canít take the 18th century out of the Barnabas. However, all I said was, "Itís rapidly turning into the ĎJohn and Delenní show around here and she always was a weird bint. And as for himÖ"

"There are some people death does not improve at all," was Barnabasís crushing assessment of the not-so-late, born-again station commander. Being a Collins, he should know.

We rounded up Marcus and Janette who had gone to a concert. Marcusís opinion of Sheridan was short, succinct and sulphurous with all the scorn of old nobility for the upstart and laced with the deep suspicion Sheridan would make himself king. Of what, I have no idea but thatís a Roman thing. Not what Iíd have accused him of, any road. Janette indicated she had been bored since about five minutes after the war ended. "All the interesting people are either dead or promoted," she complained.

"Amounts to the same thing. So we are agreed. Anyone know what Sheridanís done with the Rangers these days?"

Turns out we didnít even need to track them down to find Dracula. He turned up a few days later with Xena and Gabrielle. They had just resigned the Rangers as they didnít like the way things were going, either. For an aristo, Dracula is remarkably Bolshie and Sheridanís high-handedness (well-meaning though it might be, he conceded) was not what he signed up for. Heís already been down that road serving with the Male Auxiliaries and the delusions-of-godhood boss and look where that little basinful had ended up. Xena didnít think she could do much more good here and Gabrielle wanted a change of scenery and something interesting to write about besides Sheridanís ego. By the way, Iíve read her scrolls on the Shadow War. Laughed like a drain, I did. Theyíd certainly dent a few reputations.

So we simply went out the way we came in, as it were, located the portal and scarpered through it.

Well, there was a howdy-do. Yes, we were in Toronto again but it was now 2005 not 1995. The funny thing was no one noticed we or Janette had been gone so long. It looked as if the timeline had been mucked around with again. Wished that Menalek was here to explain like it did in 1897. At least, Janette was still the owner of the Raven and the decor was more or less the same.

I was more concerned that Xena and Gabrielle were still with us. I hadnít realised they had come through with the Count. I had words. I explained why This Was Not a Good Idea which is probably why I was left in the back of the bus to Collinsport while everyone else was up front.

Collinsport hadnít changed much, either. There was now a MacDonaldís but in an old shop with a tasteful signboard which just said the name of the establishment in gold letters on a black background. No golden arches, no clown. It looked like a tearoom. There was also a sushi shop and a very familiar face looking down the high street toward the bus stop as he closed up: Fuma Kotaro, last seen in 1967. Big reunion and we all piled into the tiny shop. Kotaro had arrived not long before in response to the temporal hiccup. He had found work at the sushi shop while living at the Old House.

I stuck my head in the Collinsport Fish Packing Plant and found I still had my old job as if I hadnít been away. I was rostered on the next night.

Collinwood was still a ruin and everything was much as it was. The Old House had changed little except Kotaro had added a small shrine in the kitchen. It was dark by now so Barnabas had made his nightly appearance and went to check everything while Kotaro lit the lamps. Everyone sorted themselves out: Marcus back in Josetteís room, Dracula in the master bedroom, me in Uncle Jezzaís. Kotaro had Barnabasís old room while Xena and Gabrielle went into the one used by Countess Natalie du Pres when she was here in 1795, as Barnabas informed us.

Over dinner (takeaway from the squishy shop), we held a full debrief. During a lull in the conversation, we heard a car pull up outside and Pernadis abn Fornadar walked in. "You didnít tell me the captain was here," I complained to Kotaro.

"Not asked," was the terse reply.

Greetings were exchanged then Marcusís mobile phone went off. He looked startled, having forgotten about it while we were on Babylon 5. He eventually found it. "Yes? Here is Marcus Valerius. Who is Ė ah, Davus. You are well? Oh? Dead body?" He got up and moved outside.

I hate that. Mobile phones are a nuisance and their owners are pests but when one goes off, the punter always moves out of earshot just as the one-sided conversation starts to sound interesting. You only get to hear the whole thing when youíve got a pratt talking mindless drivel.

We brought Pernadis up to speed and made the necessary introductions. I was beginning to think we'd all better wear those badges you get at training courses and conferences. Pernadis and Xena eyed each other appraisingly. Not surprising since Xena is obviously very different from any other human woman and her height, colouring and bearing are not too far removed from an Ensovaari. Plus thereís that whole warrior business. Pernadis had come with Kotaro as there was nothing happening in 1967 and a lot of traffic further up-time.

With her usual loose-limbed grace, she draped herself in one of the chairs. I noticed she was wearing a dress, a figure-hugging thing split up one side, and high-heeled sandals. Obviously dressed to kill Ė literally. She had a job as a taxi driver, hence the car. I could see Barnabas wanted to ask the whereabouts of Lasaraleen Calavar but didnít want to appear to anxious. Pernadis assured him, anyway, "Lasaraleen is on her way here."

Marcus returned. "That was Davus" David Collins to you and me. "He asked me to got to Bangor tomorrow. There has been murder and the Nipponian owner of building where it happened is not cooperating." He frowned. "When I said why not put him to the torture, he was silent, then asked if I joked. Apparently this not their way. Well, it is not ours, either, unless it is slave." He put the phone away, then added, "Already, before I came to Tarentum.."

"Toronto"

"I performed several services for Davus using my knowledge of Nipponian language and laws. That is why he asked me to help police."

A murder involving Japanese Ė several of us looked at Kotaro who was sharpening a sword. The rhythmic swish, swish of stone on steel had underscored the discussion. "Nice shoes," I said to Pernadis, knowing full well sheíd chosen them because of their potential as a weapon.

"Please donít you start," she sighed. "The women here, some of them at least, are so obsessed with footwear. They refer to them by name. ĎBlahnikí I think is one such. They seem to worship them. If the one who sold these to me knew why I bought these and not another, she would doubtless curl up and die. Silly females. Shoes are either badly or well made. Nothing more."

Next couple of days saw us getting re-acclimatised. If anything, the general political situation was even naffer than before with a right berk in the White House, or at least an even bigger berk there, and government by public relations. Things were still run by the same mental midgets with their obsession with meetings, performance appraisals, training courses and so forth with the same useless results. Not what you know but how well you sound in an interview. Nothing much to get used to, really, only it was hot. Really hot. It was summer but I donít recall either the summer of 1967 or 1995 being so hot. If it was so hot during the day, it was no cooler at night where it was often still 30. Even Barnabas felt it. Still didnít appear in anything less than a three piece suit or, what was worse, his 18th century togs, all velvet, brocade, lace and silk. Marcus asked him several times why he wore so many clothes.

Marcus abandoned his Armani suit and reverted to his toga as it allowed the air to circulate and was not so unpleasantly confining. The Japanese businessmen who came to consult him doubtless wondered but were too polite to say anything. Or maybe they thought that was some kind of local dress, not realising they were being received by a Roman noble in his house. When not seeing his clients, he just wore a tunic and was often found with a watering can trying to keep his herb garden alive. He and Kotaro also tended the rose garden which struggled to survive. There were water restrictions but they didnít apply to us as we didnít have mains. All our water came from the well at the back of the house.

The Old House was better suited to keeping out the cold and, once warmed up in the sun, it retained the heat. Opening all the windows and doors to create a non-existent breeze helped but only a bit. In the evenings we moved outside. The house had that warm musty smell of a superheated old building with lots of wood fixtures in it. We did seem a bit crowded with Pernadis living there instead of the Collinsport Inn like she had in 1897 and 1967, Kotaro and the rest of us and this despite there were plenty of bedrooms.

Dracula must have felt the same way because one evening, he asked Barnabas, "Friend Collins, is there not on this estate a house by the sea no one has lived in since 1870 or thereabouts."

Barnabas frowned, "Yes, there is. Miss Winters and Devlin wished to live there when they were married but Elizabeth said that under the terms of Caleb Collinsís will no one could live there until one hundred years had elapsed since Calebís death."

Thatís the thing about Collinwood Ė thereís always a history lecture somewhere.

"I would say that time has long since elapsed. I wonder if it is still standing?"

So off we trooped right that minute through the warm, moonlit night. Hardly any need for torches especially with two vampires leading the way. The Caleb Collins domicile was right where it should be and in one piece. Boarded up, dusty, unfurnished and so forth but still standing. Barnabas stood in the moonlight, staring up at it, hands folded over his wolfís-head cane, obviously lost in memories. I knew he had found a hankie there with someoneís initials embroidered on it. Never did find out which of his dodgy ancestors it had belonged to. He was pretty sweet on that governess back in 1967, too, and couldnít stand a bar of Burke Devlin.

"Bit of paint, a few sticks of furniture, itíd do you up a treat, Count," I said, trying to be encouraging. "Closer to the sea, youíll get a breeze."

"Itís a palace," Gabrielle said, looking around, eyes sparkling.

Says a lot about palaces in Mycenaean times, doesnít it?

So it was that the Count and the Greek ladies moved out, leaving Kotaro, Barnabas, Marcus, Pernadis and me. At least we didnít feel so underfoot. Even less so when you recall that Barnabas is diurnally dead, I worked night shifts as often as not while Kotaro worked at the sushiya during the day.

We were having a quiet night in, sitting in the drawing room. The windows were wide open and the sea could be heard in the distance. Kotaro was sharpening some of his other weapons (assorted throwing knives, sickles, daggers and so on), Barnabas was reading a book, I was doing the crossword in the Collinsport Star, Marcus was writing something on his laptop at the desk in the corner and Pernadis was repairing a radio. Suddenly, Barnabas sat up and put the book down (it looked like one of his spiderweb specials, probably published no later than 1795), "Listen! Do you hear that?"

"Hear what, Bun?" Barnabas in weird mode I could do without.

Then I did hear something. Did I tell you the house is supposed to be haunted? Barnabasís kid sister is one ghost. So is Josette, his fiancee and occasionally his Uncle Jeremiah but no oneís seen him since the 18th century whereas Miss Vicki saw Josette and Marcus was taught English by sister Sarah. So it was with relief I saw the others had heard something, too. Footsteps were coming along the hall outside yet the front door was closed and we had not heard it open. I charged my laseron, rose to my feet and moved silently to the door. Kotaro, I noticed, had a handful of throwing knives poised in his hand. Marcus had drawn his dagger from his belt and Pernadis was reaching for her handbag for the small energy weapon I knew she kept there.

The door was flung open and I nearly collected it in my face as Lasaraleen came sweeping in, followed by Kongo of Koga, Kotaroís brother whom I hadnít seen since Berlin, and two Black Daleks. Barnabas was delighted to see her while Kotaro and I were surprised and happy to see Kongo. Donít imagine there was a riot of backslapping and hugging, not given the cultural backgrounds and personalities of the participants. It went like this:

Barnabas: "Lady Lasaraleen, what an unexpected pleasure." He bowed and kissed her hand. The he turned to the Daleks and made a leg and said, "Gentlemen."

Kongo and Kotaro bowed to each other, then Kotaro turned to Barnabas, saying, "Barnabas, may this superfluous person present his wholly undistinguished and stupid younger brother, Kongo of Koga. Kongo, here is Barnabas Collins, our host whose home this is." Barnabas made a leg, Kongo bowed. It suddenly occurred to me that Barnabas and the Kazama brothers were near contemporaries, being from the late 18th century. Then Kotaro said to Marcus who was still standing by the desk, his dagger now sheathed, "Senator, you will remember this oneís totally forgettable younger brother?"

"Yes. Well met, Kongo of Koga."

Lasaraleen sat down on the sofa next to Pernadis. Kongo walked to the window, looked out, then took a chair near the fireplace. We all sat down except Marcus who stood staring at the Daleks as they glided fully into the room. I guess you donít see too many of Skaroís finest in Rome of the 1st century BC.

Lasaraleen remembered her manners even if the rest of us were busy catching up. "Marcus, may I present Menalek and Arralek, Black Daleks of Skaro. Menalek, Arralek this is Senator Marcus Valerius Corvinus Messala."

Nice attention to protocol there. Seems Roman senators of old patrician families outrank Black Daleks. Kotaro bowed to them in recognition, saying only, "Tono", as if he were addressing high-ranking samurai.

"Senator," Menalek responded, echoed by Arralek in their harsh, grating voices, lights flashing against their black domes, a contrast the dim candlelight only accentuated.

Marcusís face was a picture. His jaw dropped open and he exclaimed, "Io Saturnalia!" Now that is a pretty strange reaction to a Dalek, as if they were part of the topsy-turvy world of the Saturnalia where anything can happen and often does as Rome runs riot. Obviously, Menalek thought so, too. "Daleks have nothing to do with your winter solstice festival," it said in Latin every bit as refined with the same long patrician vowels as Marcusís.

"Forgive me. You startled me. You had been so silent." Marcus sailed forward, toga flowing out behind him, and clasped first one then the other Dalek by the upper arm in the Roman fashion. I winced. "Greetings, Menelaus and Arrius of Skaro." I rolled my eyes. Trust a Roman to Ė er Ė romanise even Dalek names.

ĎWhat a journey!" Kongo exclaimed. "You have no idea the trouble youíve caused, Older Brother. There were all sorts of ghastly rumours and reports about whatís going on with the Male Auxiliaries, people disappearing, including you and TravisÖ"

"What? In Berlin?" I wanted to know.

"In the Ensovaari Embassy Ė and I suppose ultimately in Berlin as a lot of peopleís brothers, uncles and husbands and things hadnít come back. So I called in a few favours at the Embassy and got myself to the moonbase, then shipped out with a trader to Spirodon which was the last place youíd been assigned to. Not one of natureís great attractions, that planet. Never going to rival Nikko or Miyajima. Talk about if you donít like the weather, just wait. Revolting plant life and invisible natives."

"Yeah, itís a bit rubbish, Spirodon."

"The only sign of habitation was a base which was in ruins but there were some paper lanterns with the Hojo crest on them which showed me you had been there. So I sent a message in our code not really expecting much since the transmitter I scrounged was rather small. Two days later, Lasaraleen Tarkheena arrived in the Dalek timeship. Fortuitous really, as I was down to the last pickled plum in rice. So what have you been up to?"

"We have a big mess. Time has been altered. Perhaps two or three times," Kotaro began.

"Oh, please donít talk to me of temporal anomalies. The Daleks have already explained all that and even though they were most clear and precise the whole thing made my ears bleed and my brain retreat gibbering to a corner of my skull. Thatís why they have come back, you know. They think the nexus is here. Isnít there someone we can assassinate to put things right?"

"Tried that. Didnít work." And I told him about our adventures in Toronto and beyond.

Next thing I knew, I had a Dalek in my face Ė literally. I really hate that. It pounced on the alternate reality which was created Ė then uncreated Ė in Toronto. First time a Dalek paid keen attention to who owned a nightclub and who was Ė or was not Ė on the force of Torontoís plod, I can tell you. Asked a whole lot of questions I hadnít a prayer of answering. Iím not a physicist.

"This is of some significance, Menelaus?" Marcus interrupted, a rather bemused expression on his face. " Otherwise I would take you for a philosopher of tiresome sort who seizes on passers-by and questions. Socrates was one such."

The eyestalk swung away from me and fixed on Marcus. "I believe there is a time fissure on the Collinwood estate. There was insufficient time to investigate this hypothesis when we were here in the 1897 timezone. It is necessary to ascertain that it exists and its extent."

Iíd bet London to a brick Marcus hadnít a clue what the Black Dalek was talking about. I doubt they teach temporal physics at Athens or Rhodes or Alexandria. But youíd never know it. He just leaned back, half reclining in his chair and looked mildly amused as if the Dalek were a tame Greek philosopher who had just said something rather clever.

"Very well. How do you propose to do that?"

"It will be necessary to search the records for reports of any unusual phenomena."

I spluttered my coffee across the table. "This is Collinsport. Unusual phenomena are the norm."

Marcus obviously agreed for he remarked, " You will be very busy. Is always something Ė lemures appearing, lights seen, voices wailing, even man who turned into wolf or so Kotaro has said. This is strange place. In Italia we have Lake Avernus. I think mundus is here. Doubtless there is public record office you can search."

He shrugged, picked up his phone and then frowned. I saw it, too. It had changed. When he took David Collinsís call, it was the one he had in 1995. Now it was squarer and had a proper keyboard on it. Suddenly the Dalekís arm extended and seized it in its sucker.

"If you wish to borrow portableÖ" Marcus began rather waspishly, only to be interrupted by the Dalek. "This device is giving off chronotron energy. Time has shifted recently and this must have changed with it." And more to that effect. Kongoís right. Your ears do bleed. This Black Dalek was a temporal physicist, after all. It handed the phone back to Marcus with surprising grace.

Fitted right in with the fact there was a ten year gap in our lives. At my suggestion, we inspected Marcusís laptop. Sure enough it had undergone an upgrade and was running on something called XP. Still Windows, though and so a bit rubbish. I could build a better operating system and Iím not even a computer tech. On that happy note I went to work as Iím on nightshift.

 

(Continues on from Unfinished business in Multiverse #30)