The space between, p.1
The Space Between, p.1Part #7.50 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
BY DIANA GABALDON
(in chronological order) Outlander
Dragonfly in Amber
Drums of Autumn
The Outlandish Companion (nonfiction)
The Fiery Cross
A Breath of Snow and Ashes
An Echo in the Bone
(in chronological order) Lord John and the Hellfire Club (novella)
Lord John and the Private Matter
Lord John and the Succubus (novella)
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (novella)
The Custom of the Army (novella)
Lord John and the Hand of Devils (collected novellas)
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (novella)
A Plague of Zombies (novella)
The Scottish Prisoner
The Space Between is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2014 Dell eBook Edition
Copyright (c) 2013 by Diana Gabaldon
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, A Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Dell is a registered trademark of Random House LLC, and the colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
This novella was originally published in The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius, edited by John Joseph Adams, published by Tor Books, a division of Macmillan, in 2013.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-55339211-1
Cover design: Marietta Anastassatos
Cover image: Shutterstock
Other Books by This Author
Paris, March 1778
About the Author
Excerpt from Written in My Own Heart's Blood
Paris, March 1778
He still didn't know why the frog hadn't killed him. Paul Rakoczy, Comte St. Germain, picked up the vial, pulled the cork, and sniffed cautiously, for the third time, but then recorked it, still dissatisfied. Maybe. Maybe not. The scent of the dark-gray powder in the vial held the ghost of something familiar--but it had been thirty years.
He sat for a moment, frowning at the array of jars, bottles, flasks, and pelicans on his workbench. It was late afternoon, and the early spring sun of Paris was like honey, warm and sticky on his face, but glowing in the rounded globes of glass, throwing pools of red and brown and green on the wood from the liquids contained therein. The only discordant note in this peaceful symphony of light was the body of a large rat, lying on its back in the middle of the workbench, a pocket watch open beside it.
The comte put two fingers delicately on the rat's chest and waited patiently. It didn't take so long this time; he was used to the coldness as his mind felt its way into the body. Nothing. No hint of light in his mind's eye, no warm red of a pulsing heart. He glanced at the watch: half an hour.
He took his fingers away, shaking his head.
"Melisande, you evil bitch," he murmured, not without affection. "You didn't think I'd try anything you sent me on myself, did you?"
Still ... he himself had stayed dead a great while longer than half an hour when the frog had given him the dragon's blood. It had been early evening when he went into Louis's Star Chamber thirty years before, heart beating with excitement at the coming confrontation--a duel of wizards, with a king's favor as the stakes--and one he'd thought he'd win. He remembered the purity of the sky, the beauty of the stars just visible, Venus bright on the horizon, and the joy of it in his blood. Everything always had a greater intensity when you knew life could cease within the next few minutes.
And an hour later he thought his life had ceased, the cup falling from his numbed hand, the coldness rushing through his limbs with amazing speed, freezing the words "I've lost," an icy core of disbelief in the center of his mind. He hadn't been looking at the frog; the last thing he had seen through darkening eyes was the woman--La Dame Blanche--her face over the cup she'd given him appalled and white as bone. But what he recalled, and recalled again now, with the same sense of astonishment and avidity, was the great flare of blue, intense as the color of the evening sky beyond Venus, that had burst from her head and shoulders as he died.
He didn't recall any feeling of regret or fear, just astonishment. This was nothing, however, to the astonishment he'd felt when he regained his senses, naked on a stone slab in a revolting subterranean chamber next to a drowned corpse. Luckily, there had been no one alive in that disgusting grotto, and he had made his way--reeling and half blind, clothed in the drowned man's wet and stinking shirt--out into a dawn more beautiful than any twilight could ever be. So--ten to twelve hours from the moment of apparent death to revival.
He glanced at the rat, then put out a finger and lifted one of the small, neat paws. Nearly twelve hours. Limp; the rigor had already passed. It was warm up here at the top of the house. Then he turned to the counter that ran along the far wall of the laboratory, where a line of rats lay, possibly insensible, probably dead. He walked slowly along the line, prodding each body. Limp, limp, stiff. Stiff. Stiff. All dead, without doubt. Each had had a smaller dose than the last, but all had died--though he couldn't yet be positive about the latest. Wait a bit more, then, to be sure.
He needed to know. Because the Court of Miracles was talking. And they said the frog was back.
The English Channel
They did say that red hair was a sign of the devil. Joan eyed her escort's fiery locks consideringly. The wind on deck was fierce enough to make her eyes water, and it jerked bits of Michael Murray's hair out of its binding so they did dance round his head like flames, a bit. You might expect his face to be ugly as sin if he was one of the devil's, though, and it wasn't.
Lucky for him, he looked like his mother in the face, she thought critically. His younger brother, Ian, wasn't so fortunate, and that without the heathen tattoos. Michael's was a fairly pleasant face, for all it was blotched with windburn and the lingering marks of sorrow, and no wonder, him having just lost his father, and his wife dead in France no more than a month before that.
But she wasn't braving this gale in order to watch Michael Murray, even if he might burst into tears or turn into Auld Horny on the spot. She touched her crucifix for reassurance, just in case. It had been blessed by the priest, and her mother'd carried it all the way to St. Ninian's Spring and dipped it in the water there, to ask the saint's protection. And it was her mother she wanted to see, as long as ever she could.
She pulled her kerchief off and waved it, keeping a tight grip lest the wind make off with it. Her mother was growing smaller on the quay, waving madly too, Joey behind her with his arm round her waist to keep her from falling into the water.
Joan snorted a bit at sight of her new stepfather but then thought better and touched the crucifix again, muttering a quick Act of Contrition in penance. After all, it was she herself who'd made that marriage happen, and a good thing, too. If not, she'd still be stuck to home at Balriggan, not on her way at last to be a Bride of Christ in France.
A nudge at her elbow made her glance aside, to see Michael offering her a handkerchief. Well, so. If her eyes were streaming--aye, and her nose--it was no wonder, the wind so fierce as it was. She took the scrap of cloth with a curt nod of thanks, scrubbed briefly at her cheeks, and waved her kerchief harder.
None of his family had come to
"Voulez-vous descendre, mademoiselle?"
"Eh?" She glanced at him, to see him gesturing toward the hatchway that led downstairs. She turned back, blinking--but the quay had vanished, and her mother with it.
"No," she said. "Not yet. I'll just ..." She wanted to see the land so long as she could. It would be her last sight of Scotland, ever, and the thought made her wame curl into a small, tight ball. She waved a vague hand toward the hatchway. "You go, though. I'm all right by myself."
He didn't go but came to stand beside her, gripping the rail. She turned away from him a little, so he wouldn't see her weep, but on the whole she wasn't sorry he'd stayed.
Neither of them spoke, and the land sank slowly, as though the sea swallowed it, and there was nothing round them now but the open sea, glassy gray and rippling under a scud of clouds. The prospect made her dizzy, and she closed her eyes, swallowing.
Dear Lord Jesus, don't let me be sick!
A small shuffling noise beside her made her open her eyes, to find Michael Murray regarding her with some concern.
"Are ye all right, Miss Joan?" He smiled a little. "Or should I call ye Sister?"
"No," she said, taking a grip on her nerve and her stomach and drawing herself up. "I'm no a nun yet, am I?"
He looked her up and down, in the frank way Hieland men did, and smiled more broadly.
"Have ye ever seen a nun?" he asked.
"I have not," she said, as starchily as she could. "I havena seen God or the Blessed Virgin, either, but I believe in them, too."
Much to her annoyance, he burst out laughing. Seeing the annoyance, though, he stopped at once, though she could see the urge still trembling there behind his assumed gravity.
"I do beg your pardon, Miss MacKimmie," he said. "I wasna questioning the existence of nuns. I've seen quite a number of the creatures with my own eyes." His lips were twitching, and she glared at him.
"Creatures, is it?"
"A figure of speech, nay more, I swear it! Forgive me, Sister--I ken not what I do!" He held up a hand, cowering in mock terror. The urge to laugh made her that much more cross, but she contented herself with a simple "mmphm" of disapproval.
Curiosity got the better of her, though, and after a few moments spent inspecting the foaming wake of the ship, she asked, not looking at him, "When ye saw the nuns, then--what were they doing?"
He'd got control of himself by now and answered her seriously.
"Well, I see the Sisters of Notre Dame, who work among the poor all the time in the streets. They always go out by twos, ken, and both nuns will be carrying great huge baskets, filled with food, I suppose--maybe medicines? They're covered, though--the baskets--so I canna say for sure what's in them. Perhaps they're smuggling brandy and lace down to the docks--" He dodged aside from her upraised hand, laughing.
"Oh, ye'll be a rare nun, Sister Joan! Terror daemonum, solatium miserorum ..."
She pressed her lips tight together, not to laugh. Terror of demons--the cheek of him!
"Not Sister Joan," she said. "They'll give me a new name, likely, at the convent."
"Oh, aye?" He wiped hair out of his eyes, interested. "D'ye get to choose the name yourself?"
"I don't know," she admitted.
"Well, though--what name would ye pick, if ye had the choosing?"
"Er ... well ..." She hadn't told anyone, but, after all, what harm could it do? She wouldn't see Michael Murray again once they reached Paris. "Sister Gregory," she blurted.
Rather to her relief, he didn't laugh.
"Oh, that's a good name," he said. "After St. Gregory the Great, is it?"
"Well ... aye. Ye don't think it's presumptuous?" she asked, a little anxious.
"Oh, no!" he said, surprised. "I mean, how many nuns are named Mary? If it's not presumptuous to be named after the mother o' God, how can it be highfalutin to call yourself after a mere pope?" He smiled at that, so merrily that she smiled back.
"How many nuns are named Mary?" she asked, out of curiosity. "It's common, is it?"
"Oh, aye, ye said ye'd not seen a nun." He'd stopped making fun of her, though, and answered seriously. "About half the nuns I've met seem to be called Sister Mary Something--ye ken, Sister Mary Polycarp, Sister Mary Joseph ... like that."
"And ye meet a great many nuns in the course o' your business, do ye?" Michael Murray was a wine merchant, the junior partner of Fraser et Cie--and, judging from the cut of his clothes, did well enough at it.
His mouth twitched, but he answered seriously.
"Well, I do, really. Not every day, I mean, but the sisters come round to my office quite often--or I go to them. Fraser et Cie supplies wine to most o' the monasteries and convents in Paris, and some will send a pair of nuns to place an order or to take away something special--otherwise, we deliver it, of course. And even the orders who dinna take wine themselves--and most of the Parisian houses do, they bein' French, aye?--need sacramental wine for their chapels. And the begging orders come round like clockwork to ask alms."
"Really." She was fascinated: sufficiently so as to put aside her reluctance to look ignorant. "I didna ken ... I mean ... so the different orders do quite different things, is that what ye're saying? What other kinds are there?"
He shot her a brief glance but then turned back, narrowing his eyes against the wind as he thought.
"Well ... there's the sort of nun that prays all the time--contemplative, I think they're called. I see them in the cathedral all hours of the day and night. There's more than one order of that sort, though; one kind wears gray habits and prays in the chapel of St. Joseph, and another wears black; ye see them mostly in the chapel of Our Lady of the Sea." He glanced at her, curious. "Will it be that sort of nun that you'll be?"
She shook her head, glad that the wind-chafing hid her blushes.
"No," she said, with some regret. "That's maybe the holiest sort of nun, but I've spent a good bit o' my life being contemplative on the moors, and I didna like it much. I think I havena got the right sort of soul to do it verra well, even in a chapel."
"Aye," he said, and wiped back flying strands of hair from his face. "I ken the moors. The wind gets into your head after a bit." He hesitated for a moment. "When my uncle Jamie--your da, I mean--ye ken he hid in a cave after Culloden?"
"For seven years," she said, a little impatient. "Aye, everyone kens that story. Why?"
"Only thinking. I was no but a wee bairn at the time, but I went now and then wi' my mam, to take him food there. He'd be glad to see us, but he wouldna talk much. And it scared me to see his eyes."
Joan felt a small shiver pass down her back, nothing to do with the stiff breeze. She saw--suddenly saw, in her head--a thin, dirty man, the bones starting in his face, crouched in the dank, frozen shadows of the cave.
"Da?" she scoffed, to hide the shiver that crawled up her arms. "How could anyone be scairt of him? He's a dear, kind man."
Michael's wide mouth twitched at the corners.
"I suppose it would depend whether ye'd ever seen him in a fight. But--"
"Have you?" she interrupted, curious. "Seen him in a fight?"
"I have, aye. BUT--" he said, not willing to be distracted, "I didna mean he scared me. It was that I thought he was hau
That dried up the spit in her mouth, and she worked her tongue a little, hoping it didn't show. She needn't have worried; he wasn't looking at her.
"My own da said it was because Jamie spent so much time alone, that the voices got into his head and he couldna stop hearing them. When he'd feel safe enough to come to the house, it would take hours sometimes before he could start to hear us again--Mam wouldna let us talk to him until he'd had something to eat and was warmed through." He smiled, a little ruefully. "She said he wasna human 'til then--and, looking back, I dinna think she meant that as a figure of speech."
"Well," she said, but stopped, not knowing how to go on. She wished fervently that she'd known this earlier. Her da and his sister were coming on to France later, but she might not see him. She could maybe have talked to Da, asked him just what the voices in his head were like--what they said. Whether they were anything like the ones she heard.
Nearly twilight, and the rats were still dead. The comte heard the bells of Notre Dame calling sept and glanced at his pocket watch. The bells were two minutes before their time, and he frowned. He didn't like sloppiness. He stood up and stretched himself, groaning as his spine cracked like the ragged volley of a firing squad. No doubt about it, he was aging, and the thought sent a chill through him.
If. If he could find the way forward, then perhaps ... but you never knew, that was the devil of it. For a little while, he'd thought--hoped--that traveling back in time stopped the process of aging. That initially seemed logical, like rewinding a clock. But, then again, it wasn't logical, because he'd always gone back farther than his own lifetime. Only once he'd tried to go back just a few years, to his early twenties. That was a mistake, and he still shivered at the memory.
He went to the tall gabled window that looked out over the Seine.
That particular view of the river had changed barely at all in the last two hundred years; he'd seen it at several different times. He hadn't always owned this house, but it had stood in this street since 1620, and he always managed to get in briefly, if only to reestablish his own sense of reality after a passage.
Only the trees changed in his view of the river, and sometimes a strange-looking boat would be there. But the rest was always the same and no doubt always would be: the old fishermen, catching their supper off the landing in stubborn silence, each guarding his space with outthrust elbows, the younger ones, barefoot and slump-shouldered with exhaustion, laying out their nets to dry, naked little boys diving off the quay. It gave him a soothing sense of eternity, watching the river. Perhaps it didn't matter so much if he must one day die?
The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon / Fantasy / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes