waste lands

The dreams focused to clarity on the day Edgeworth left on his personal quest. For the days and weeks beforehand, even though the nightmares of the gunshot and the earthquake and the scream had finally ended, he had still been dreaming; endless white corridors, a confused wandering where he was not entirely certain what he was looking for, only that he had to find it, and a woman in the distance screaming that someone had been murdered.

(That was, of course, when he would always wake up. Why should he expect life to make things simple for him?)

His seat in the plane (first class, of course) was comfortable enough to sleep in. He had been up all night beforehand, setting his things in order, writing a few last letters to colleagues or subordinates, organising his files, and so on. There was little he could do now except wait to be somewhere else, and try to think. Sleep was acceptable.

He was aware that he was dreaming as he came to the end of the white corridor and put his hand on the smooth door panel.

"Come in," a voice called from the other side.

He opened the door, and forgot that he was dreaming as he stepped out onto a balcony overlooking a desert of white and black sand. The balcony was the same white stone as the corridor, smooth and immaculate.

Two men sat at a table on the balcony. They were both dressed in plain white robes, as stark as the architecture. A third chair stood empty at the table, and a tea set was laid out: the teapot steamed, the milk was somehow less than perfect in its merely natural colour.

"Miles Edgeworth the prosecutor, I assume? Please take a seat," said one of the men. He looked older than the other one (a sleek criminal type with smooth white hair and half-shut eyes), and he had a dominating presence. "We have been waiting for you. Would you like a cup of tea?"

"That would be very kind of you," Edgeworth said, taking a seat. The platitudes were an automatic reaction while he tried to assess the situation. "Might I ask where we are?"

"Hueco Mundo," the sleek one said.

Edgeworth raised his eyebrows. "I thought that the Hollow World hypothesis was a disproved fantasy of deluded occultists."

"A different hollow world," the older man said smoothly. "Another sort of location. My name is Aizen Sousuke. This is my subordinate, Ichimaru Gin."

"Pleased ta meet you," Ichimaru said. He smiled, but didn't bother to open his eyes.

"Ah," Edgeworth said, for want of anything better. He took a seat at the table, hitching up his trouser legs. "Some tea would be very pleasant, thank you."

Aizen poured.

After some discussion of milk and sugar, Edgeworth thought that it was time to open the interrogation. "Might I ask why I am here?" he began.

"I have always had a great deal of admiration for your career," Aizen answered. "You have done magnificent service for the public good. When I heard that you were considering throwing it all away -- well, you can hardly blame me for being concerned."

Edgeworth blinked. "You have heard of me here? Wherever here is," he added punctiliously.

Aizen sighed. "Unfortunately, Prosecutor Edgeworth, we have criminals here as well."

"And you want me to prosecute them?" Edgeworth demanded.

Aizen shook his head. "No, not as such. But a good leader monitors goings-on in other realms that are relevant to his own interests. I would regret it if you should give up your profession due to misplaced feelings of guilt."

"Hardly misplaced," Edgeworth muttered.

Ichimaru sipped his tea. "But I thought it had been all sorted out," he said. "That it weren't you at all who did . . . anything . . . to your father."

Edgeworth felt old responsibility and newer anger curl up in his chest. He suppressed it. "That is not the reason why I now feel guilty," he said curtly.

"Ah." Aizen leaned forward. "Then perhaps you would care to explain to me why your guilt is not misplaced?" He smiled charmingly. "Consider us projections of your subconscious."

Edgeworth looked at him, then at Ichimaru, then out at the barren landscape of empty sand and sky. He was hardly the sort of person who had supernatural experiences. That was the domain of people such as Wright's assistant with all her Kurain tricks. "Perhaps that is all this is," he said slowly. "Another dream."

"And do you never have worse dreams?" Aizen said.

"True." Edgeworth nodded sharply. "Very well. It's simple enough. I question my purpose in life. After all, if I am wrong in it, then I have been wrong throughout. I may have condemned innocents."

"Ain't nobody innocent," Ichimaru purred, half to himself.

Aizen made a small gesture with one hand, and Ichimaru fell silent again. "You are a prosecutor," he said. "The word, originally, comes from the Latin. You are a warrior in the battleground of law, Prosecutor Edgeworth, a man who cuts through lies. You should take into account what you have achieved. How many criminals went to jail because you fought to see them properly punished?"

"A large number," Edgeworth admitted, with a hint of pride.

"And did you ever regret it?"

Edgeworth shook his head. "Why should I regret something like that?" He sipped his tea. It was good tea. "In every case I proved them guilty."

Aizen nodded. "I can see your problem," he said, and there was something understanding, something sympathetic about his voice and bearing that made Edgeworth truly believe he understood. "Your mentor was a murderer. Naturally you now question his guidance in everything that he taught you."

This was true. Edgeworth nodded.

"An excellent position. But you are pushing yourself too far." He refilled Edgeworth's cup. "You admired the man. You weren't wrong to do so. He felt guilt himself, or why would he have taken you in? He acted for the law, and dedicated himself to bringing criminals to justice. You may hate him for the other things he did. But don't hate him for the good that he also did in his life. And don't reject what he passed on to you."

"I fear that I never understood him," Edgeworth said quietly. "Surely I should have seen something in him --"

"Admiration is the farthest thing from understanding," Aizen said, calmly and patiently. "You should not blame yourself for that."

And it was at that moment that Edgeworth tasted something in the man's voice and manner, as barely perceptible and yet as patently foul as the rottenness of milk gone sour.

"No," Edgeworth said slowly. "That is not necessarily true. Proper admiration should provoke understanding. A student should seek to emulate what they admire. If there is a lack of understanding, then it is either the failure of the student, for not trying hard enough, or . . ." He hesitated, thinking it through. "Or the fault of the master, for deliberate deception."

"His deception --" Aizen began.

Edgeworth put the teacup down. "And my own failure," he said curtly. "A prosecutor cannot simply question the suspects. They should question their own behaviour, to be sure that it is correct. They should question the law, to be sure that it is just."

"A prosecutor's duty is to the law," Aizen corrected him.

"The law is not served by blind obedience!" Edgeworth snapped. "Any more than a student learns through blind obedience! The law is a servant in its turn, a servant of justice and truth! To regard the law itself as the be-all and end-all of justice is to deliberately and wilfully blind one's self!"

"He's got ya there, Aizen-taichou," Ichimaru purred. He seemed to be regarding the conversation like a spectator at a tennis match, leaning back and admiring both sides with a smooth neutrality.

Aizen turned his own teacup in his hand. "You would rather blame yourself than your teacher?"

"I would not give my teacher more blame than he deserves," Edgeworth said.

"But surely . . . " Aizen began, and Edgeworth somehow knew that the words would go on and on until something in him bent and believed in them, until he was caught in their nets (so much worse than any defense attorney's babbling incoherencies), until he freely chose the easy path that the other man was offering him.

The thought was not acceptable.

He rose. "Thank you for the tea," he said flatly. "I'll see myself out."

"You really should stay, you know," Aizen said.

"No," Edgeworth answered. "I don't think I should."

Ichimaru lifted his cup in what might have been a toast or a salute.

Edgeworth turned to the door behind him. It swung open without a moment's hesitation. The long white corridor led . . .

. . . it led . . .

". . . the plane will be arriving in London in twenty minutes. We repeat, the plane will be arriving in London in twenty minutes. Please shut down all electronic equipment and restore your seats to an upright position . . ."

Edgeworth opened his eyes on human chaos: mothers fussing over children, other professional men and women closing briefcases and snapping laptops shut, stewardesses bustling back and forth and picking up glasses and shutting trays and putting away cushions. It was as far from the bare, empty landscape of white and black as he could have imagined.

And yet, the thought came to him, it was a truer world and a truer understanding than anything from that place, or from the men who lived there.