Gareth D. Williams
A Dark, Distorted Mirror.
Volume 5 : Among the Stars, like Giants.
Part 5 : The Three–Edged Sword
At first word came slowly from Narn. The ships, overburdened and slow and drifting, arrived on other worlds. Angry and traumatised and incoherent refugees tumbled out. Initially they were not believed.
Dark Stars and scientific patrol vessels arrived in neighbouring systems, sent from Babylon 5 by Commander Kulomani. They picked up more refugee ships and helped to escort them to safe havens. Some worlds were at first reluctant to admit so many fugitives, but the military might of the Dark Stars convinced them.
The Dark Stars kept trying to force jump points into the Narn system. They experienced escalating problems - system failures and jump engine damage. Eventually a more conventional military vessel, a Brakiri troop carrier, managed to jump into the system.
It was destroyed in a collision with a huge asteroid cloud that had not been there before.
After that, the truth of what had happened to Narn was obvious. The shock was palpable, the fear more so. Narn space was shut down completely, the governors on Narn colony worlds closing down jump gates and fortifying their systems. Governments across the galaxy waited nervously for word from Babylon 5.
The Vorlons said, and did, nothing. As far as they were concerned, there was no need for explanation or apology.
Elsewhere, Sinoval had his own response to the tragedy.
MATEER, K. (2295) The Second Sign of the Apocalypse. Chapter 9 of The Rise
and Fall of the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the
Beginning of the Third, vol. 4, The Dreaming Years. Ed: S. Barringer,
G. Boshears, A. E. Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.
* * *
G'Kar didn't talk at all on that long journey from home, other than those first few words to me. I was a little scared of this tall, imposing, badly–wounded figure. He had clearly been attacked. My young eyes saw him as a great soldier, although what he was doing in that cargo ship I had absolutely no idea.
I remember very little of my life before that moment. It was not just my name that changed that day, it was my life and whatever destiny had been laid out for me. I realised later the enormity of what Lennier had done for me, sacrificing his life and his entire future for mine, for someone he did not know. That realisation has permeated my life all these years. I have forgotten what he looked like, how he spoke, what he was wearing that day, but I have always remembered that I owe my life and everything I am to him.
It is a chilling thing to know, that, but sobering and welcoming as well. I have always been able to feel him watching me, watching the young Narn girl who took his name and his life and his destiny. I hope he is not disappointed in me.
I stayed close to G'Kar throughout the journey, talking to him when I could, and thinking in scared silence the rest of the time. I was not entirely sure what had happened, but from the faces of the adults around me I could tell it was something serious, something very bad indeed.
I had never been away from Narn before. I had little comprehension that there were such things as other worlds. Thus, the first sight of a Dark Star, visible through the windows of the cargo hold, filled me with both awe and terror. I had to strain to see it, but the few glimpses I could catch were both wondrous and horrible at the same time. I seemed to behold a face screaming beneath its surface.
The Dark Star escorted us to the nearest world. I forget which one, and in truth I do not want to remember. Seeing all those sad–faced, black–eyed adults moving out into the blinking sun that seemed too.... bright, was a chilling image. I looked around frantically for my parents, but everyone seemed the same, alike in misery and disbelief.
I finally found my way back to G'Kar, who was talking with a very strange alien I later learned to be a human. He kept addressing this human as 'Captain', and I thought she was some soldier whom G'Kar had fought beside. He kept mentioning a place called Babylon 5, and a Council, and I remember the captain promising to take him there
That was when I said I had to go as well. G'Kar and the human captain, whose name seemed to be B'thany T'kopai, tried to persuade me to look for my parents, but of course they were nowhere to be found. In any event, I wasn't sure I wanted to be with them. My eyes had been opened, and I could see far more clearly than before. Besides, I knew even then that they would not understand the value of my holy quest. I had a message to deliver to Londo Mollari, and I would hold to that mission.
G'Kar relented, and convinced the human captain. Then we set off on the second stage of the journey that has consumed my entire life and is still not done.
Only now, I walk it alone.
My tears still soak these pages as I remember that sight.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.
* * *
He will come.
The treacherous and the wicked will come to this place. They will look to their leaders for answers. They will look to their leaders for succour and shelter. They will look to their leaders for revenge.
We will permit them. We will know which of their leaders have betrayed us. The virtuous and the loyal will accept what has happened and understand why it was necessary. They will know with no need to ask. Those who question, those who disagree, those are the traitors and the Shadow–tainted.
But they are ours. They are beneath your attention, Most Favoured Servant. He will come. He will have to. He will bring his fleet and his servants. You will be ready for him.
Come to this place we have built for the good of these races. Look for the threads of his webs and cut them where you find them. Draw him out here and run him to ground. When he arrives, as he will, destroy him.
We have always trusted you. Since you were enjoined to our service, you have proven your worth. You are our most trusted, our most favoured. Perform this task for us and prove us true in our trust.
We have faith in you, Sebastian.
* * *
There were four of them, friends and strangers. Four of them walking slowly towards an uncertain and increasingly bleak future. y
Sheridan to Corwin to Kats to Tirivail. A leader to a warrior–turned–builder to a creator to a warrior. o
To Kats, Babylon 5 had once seemed such a hopeful place. It was a place built to symbolise peace and unity, somewhere new, apart from all the old grudges and the old hatreds. She had watched her world and her people torn apart by war and she wanted no part of that. She wished she could have visited the station under better circumstances. u
Word had reached her the day after General Sheridan arrived to see David. She had been planning a visit to Babylon 5 anyway, to study the work that had been done there and to make arrangements for the appointment of a permanent Ambassador. w
The Grey Council had gathered aboard their ship, in dark and shadowed silence. Takier had walked into the centre of the circle. i
"Something has happened," he said, in his sonorous voice. "We learned recently that the Narn Government had given shelter to some of the former vassal races of the Shadows. Very recently, the Vorlons also learned of this. Their response was to blockade the Narn system and deliver an ultimatum to the planet. They had one day to evacuate their homeworld. When that day was past, they destroyed Narn." l
There had been shock, followed by anger, followed, inevitably, by disbelief. l
"I have dispatched patrol vessels and probes to the area to confirm this," Takier said. "But the Alliance has contacted us. They seem convinced. I doubt that they are lying. Refugees from Narn are arriving on nearby planets. Given some of their recent activities, it is doubtful if many will be prepared to accept them, and their own colonies cannot support so many people. We will inevitably be asked to take on as many as we can support. I propose we refuse." o
Debate followed, compassion against planetary security. Takier, a warrior to his fingertips, had not surprisingly suggested a war footing. b
"We should close all our jump gates and double all system patrols. We should recall all ships and troops currently in service to the Alliance and declare a Federation–wide war footing. All aliens, especially Vorlons, should be expelled from our space." e
It had fallen to Kats to speak up against him, as it often did. "The Alliance has yet to issue a formal response to the incident. I have made arrangements to visit Babylon Five in any event. I think my plans should be hastened. The Alliance will have a meeting on this matter, and we should be there. I agree with the increase in security, but I think any other measures would be premature. Let us first wait to hear the response. y
"And compassion and mercy dictate we should shelter as many of the Narns as we can. It is not so long since we both dealt and received such a blow. If we are to prove ourselves better than the Vorlons, we must show how much we have atoned for our own guilt." u
"Take bodyguards," Takier advised coldly. "Things may be dangerous there." s
"Too many soldiers may cause the Alliance concern. Tirivail may come if she wishes, but I will need no one else." y
"Tirivail?" Takier mused. "If you wish." o
Back in the cabin of the warship Miya, Kats closed her eyes and touched Kozorr's necklace. "I wish you were here," she whispered to his spirit. "I miss you." u
Tirivail was pacing up and down, too angry to meditate, too filled with fire to find true peace. Sheridan and David were talking quietly in their native language. Kats was too weary and too grief–stricken for the mental effort of translating. w
She looked up at Tirivail. "Why me?" the warrior woman asked. i
"I trust you," Kats replied. "I have faith in you." l
Tirivail snorted, but said nothing else. l
Babylon 5 grew closer with each second. Kats felt like a drowning woman reaching vainly for the sun, only to realise the light she could see was the surface of the lake on fire. o
"I wish you were here," she whispered again. b
* * *
"God Almighty!" y
She was pacing up and down, tears streaming from her eyes, running down the furrows of her scarred face. Sinoval knew enough to realise that they were tears of anger, not grief. o
"Good God, I just want to.... I feel so angry I can't.... I just want to go and kick every damned encounter–suited butt I can find." u
Different people react to shock in different ways. Sinoval had turned his rage inwards. He already hated the Vorlons as much as it was possible to hate anything. He doubted there was a single thing they could do that would make him hate them any more. w
But this.... the destruction of a planet, of billions of people.... He understood death. He could look at it with eyes that were colder and more dispassionate than others. He could see the patterns behind it, and heading out from it. i
He remembered the feeling of all those lives expiring in one instant. And not just the Narn deaths. The plants, the animals, the grass and the air and the planet itself. Narn had been just as much a living, breathing organism as anything that had lived and moved and crawled across its surface. l
The Well had shaken with the loss, with the Narn souls therein sensing the deaths of their living brethren and crying out in grief. Soul Hunters had visited Narn, although not for many centuries. The Well knew that world. l
Just as it, and Sinoval, knew that this would not be the last. o
"How can you not be angry?" Susan spat. "I.... well, there really isn't a big enough word. Furious might just about cover it." b
"I am angry," Sinoval replied. "But I am a leader. I must think as a leader, and that means not letting anger cloud my thoughts. Was it not you who was sent here to ensure that did not happen? To make sure I understood that the Vorlons have to be destroyed because it is right that they be destroyed, and not just for some personal vendetta?" e
"Well.... yes, that was part of it, but surely this is right now. After what they did, can you really say it isn't right to wipe out every one of the sons of bitches?" y
"Maybe it is, but why do you want to wipe them out? Is it because it is right to defeat them, or is it because you hate them and want them dead?" u
"I.... well.... To hell with it, does it matter?" s
"Yes, I am very much afraid that it does." y
"As far as I'm concerned at the moment we should just go into Vorlon space and blow apart every single planet there." o
"And how would that make us better than them?" u
"We're on the side of the angels." w
Sinoval smiled; a sly, sardonic smile. "Ah, but Susan.... they are the angels. It is a strange thing, but no one ever believes themselves to be evil. Everything is justified. Even the Brotherhood, even the worst of them, they could justify everything they did and have it make sense. The Vorlons are no different." i
"So what are you saying? Forget it? Well, that would be easy for you, wouldn't it? You've done this before! It's fine for you." l
Sinoval rose to his feet, eyes flashing in the darkness. "I will forgive your anger, but never say that again! The Vorlons will pay for what they have done, just as surely as we did. But it will be when the time is right, and it will be because it is right to do so. What they have done is wrong, and I will make them see it." l
"So what now, then?" Her breath was coming in harsh, ragged gasps. "What do we do now?" o
"We carry on our journey to Tuchanq. The Vorlons have destroyed a world. If we are to be better than they are, we must prove ourselves better. We will restore a world, and bring the Song back to Tuchanq. There will no doubt be many there who will say the Narns deserve what they are suffering. It is easy to hate when hate is all you have known. I will give them back their world, and then maybe they will see that the Narns deserve pity and help, not hatred." b
"And then?" e
"We go to Babylon Five. Things are starting to happen there. The peace, the slow night of terror and nightmares, is over. The war will start again. The Vorlons have seen to that. And this time it will not stop short of the final ending. For us or for them." y
"So, we will have revenge after all." Her tears were of fire, her eyes blazing in the night. u
"Vengeance is for lesser men." If her eyes were fire, his were death. "We will have justice." s
* * *
"That's it?" y
"You were expecting something else?" o
"It's a box. It's a big box. I can't wait to tell my friends. They don't have a box like that." u
Talia elbowed him in the ribs, and Dexter grunted. "It's not just a box," she said firmly. w
"It looks just like a box. Ow, that hurt. Unless it has some all–powerful weapon inside it. I mean it, that really hurt." i
"Oh, don't be such a baby. Al found it.... God knows where. I managed to salvage it from one of his safety deposit boxes. It's how we've been fighting off the Hand of the Light. It's been helpful in other ways too." l
Dexter looked at it. Nothing in its appearance hinted at it being anything other than.... well, a box. Ornately carved and made out of some alien material he couldn't quite place, but a box all the same. It looked like a jewellery case, or a musical box he had seen in a shop once. l
But he had a feeling that any music that came from this wouldn't be nice at all. The whole thing gave off an aura of.... He wasn't quite going to say 'evil', but malevolence would come close. Whatever was in there hated him, and everything else. If even he could sense that, with his very limited telepathic talent, he wondered what it was doing to Talia. o
"It's called the Apocalypse Box," she said, walking around the table, running her hands over the box's surface. "At least, that's what Al called it." b
"Nice name," Dexter observed - but he was not looking at the box, but at her. Her eyes were dull and unfocussed. He was growing to like the box less and less. e
It had taken the best part of three months to get everything Talia required through customs, involving a great deal of influence, bribery and connections. He was getting no help whatsoever from Mr. Edgars, and he had not even approached the old man after that last conversation. He had spent every day of those three months dreading the presence in his mind that indicated the Hand of the Light had found him. But after that last time, there had been nothing. y
He had managed to smuggle in almost all of Talia's telepath group, the survivors of the Vorlon witch–hunts. Captain Ben Zayn remained out–system, still looking for other satellites and stations that might have survived elsewhere. He was a little too recognisable in certain places, and he was not best suited to this operation anyway. u
Organising the underground haven had taken a lot of work. He had had to take a less active role in the Senate, but that had been no great loss. The less time he spent involved in politics, the more he realised how useless it all was. Mr. Edgars and his coalition ran almost everything, whether openly or not, and behind them, as always, were the Vorlons. s
His gradual withdrawal from public life had not gone unnoticed. Humanity magazine had come up with several interesting rumours, including that he was planning to marry Captain Bethany Tikopai. As it happened, she was on near–permanent patrol duty at Babylon 5, so he hadn't seen her in weeks anyway. y
He had had several nightmares about the Hand of the Light, of their horrible, rasping voices and their soul–less bodies. He hated them with a passion he had seldom felt for anything. If nothing else, he would do that. He would wipe them and their Masters out of existence. o
"So, can this Box tell us who we're meant to be meeting?" he asked Talia. u
"I don't think so," she said, still staring at the box. "It's not omniscient, although sometimes it seems close. You still think this is a trap, don't you?" w
"The benefits of a paranoid upbringing." i
Most of Talia's telepath allies were hidden around Sector 301, parcelled out in various businesses and projects. Bo had acquired a new barman who was, unfortunately, completely hopeless. Dexter had managed to place a couple of them on his research staff. A couple had joined 301 Security. l
He found himself liking most of them, his 'brothers', as the Hand of the Light would call them. Some of Talia's telepaths were a little stand–offish and introverted, but most were just.... normal people. Chen, the new barman at Bo's, was nice enough, and not a bad poker player, while his girlfriend Lauren smiled a lot and had an opinion on almost everything. l
He hated the thought of any of them being turned into one of those monstrosities, or fed into a Dark Star, or worse.... o
It had been Chen and Lauren who had brought them the invitation. A strange man had approached Chen, and spoken telepathically while placing an order for drinks. He had asked for their leaders to come to a specified place at a specified time, and he had known altogether too much for comfort. He was not one of the Hand of the Light, that was sure. b
Dexter thought it was a trap. Talia pointed out that the Hand of the Light knew where he was, and could just scoop both of them up if they wanted to. Dexter had, in the end, reluctantly given way and come with Talia to this meeting place, but they had brought the box. e
"Insurance," she had called it. y
And so they waited. They had grown comfortable with silence over the past three months. Their relationship had never regained the passion of that first night, but they had definitely moved beyond simple friendship. Dexter was still not sure of his feelings for her, but while her Al was still alive, or until there was solid news of his death, he was content to wait. They flirted, and occasionally kissed, and they worked together for a greater goal. u
"Greetings," said a voice, and Dexter started. A man was standing before them, tall and.... somewhat innocuous–looking. He matched the admittedly vague description Chen and Lauren had provided, but.... "Senator Dexter Smith, and Miss Talia Winters, she of many names." s
"Usually 'She Who Must be Obeyed'," Dexter observed. "I think you have the advantage of us. For one thing, you got past our sentries without any of them giving a word of warning, and secondly, you know far too much. So who are you?" y
The man smiled. "Me? Nothing but an emissary, or rather a voice." He pulled off his coat and laid it on a chair. o
Talia started. "I thought you were a myth," she breathed. "Or long dead." u
"We prefer to have it thought that we are," the man replied. "But we are very real. We are observers, recorders of history - rarely actors within it, but occasionally it is time to act. We have been asked to lend you our assistance." w
"And who is 'we'?" Dexter asked. i
"We.... are the Vindrizi." l
Dexter looked at him, and then at Talia. Her eyes were still wide with disbelief. l
"The who?" he said. o
* * *
On their way home.... y
"I thought.... I really didn't think this would ever happen again, not to anyone...." o
"Least of all like this. Do you know what I mean, now?" u
"Yes.... no.... I don't know. It was supposed to be something beautiful, something safe. The Alliance was meant to protect people. Whatever the Narn Government was doing, whatever they have done.... the people didn't deserve this.... the innocent.... the...." w
"Do we know anyone who survived? G'Kar?" i
"Oh, God. Delenn said something.... He was on Narn, I think. Oh God, I hope he got away." l
"Would he really have left if it meant taking up a place someone else could have used?" l
"No, of course he wouldn't." o
"You see, John, there's a darkness at the heart of the Alliance, a cancer even. I was too afraid to confront it before. Now.... I'm still afraid, to be honest. Who wouldn't be?" b
"But what can we do? Do you want another war? I don't. I'm sick of fighting. That's all I've ever known, and that war cost me my wife, my friends, my daughter, my son, my father, my home.... Do you want to go through all that again? Because I don't." e
"'We.... in this generation are by destiny rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of the world's freedom.'" y
"David, I can't think, and I'm too tired for word games." u
"You told me that. You gave a speech the night after Mars, the night we fled our solar system for the last time." s
"I remember now. I was quoting President Kennedy." y
"We do what we must. We do what we have to do. That's me quoting you. I don't want a war either, but my eyes have opened a little. What good is peace if it's the peace of quiet and darkness and terror? What's to stop the Vorlons doing it again to somewhere else?" o
"If there's another way...." u
"And if there isn't?" w
The tall, dark–eyed Minbari woman turned to look at them. "You are dreamers," she spat, in harshly–accented English. "You are fools. There will be war." i
"You sound just like Sinoval." l
"Never mention that name to me again!" l
She turned back, resuming her grim pacing up and down. o
"I wonder if there's even any point to this now. I was going to speak to Delenn, but.... what good is it even to try? Why bother trying to build when something big and all–powerful can just reach out and bring it all crashing down?" b
"That's the only reason to build anything. If we hold back because we're afraid it might go wrong, we'll never do anything." e
"Well, you would know." y
"Hey! I've been scared ever since the last war ended, and I'm more tired of fear than I am of war. I don't want to fight, but I will if I have to. It's better to light a candle than to sit and curse the darkness." u
"Enough with the quotations. I don't know. I just.... s
".... don't know...." y
* * *
Somewhere in this galaxy a world died screaming, a reservoir for so many memories. Every rock, every leaf, every blade of grass had a memory, and all were now gone forever. y
Susan Ivanova folded her arms angrily as she watched Sinoval walk through the dead place that had, according to her hosts, once been a city. Now it was a silent, black jungle of houses and streets and towers. The Tuchanq were an elegant race, who had built with slender, fragile beauty. Their buildings were slight, and the few that still stood looked ready to collapse in the faintest breeze, but somehow they had endured, their fragility concealing enormous strength. o
Until the Narns had bombarded their world from orbit and made slaves of their people. u
And now the Narns themselves knew fear, knew what it meant to lose their home. w
But they had known that before, hadn't they? They had been enslaved and tortured by the Centauri. i
Christ, circles everywhere. What becomes of us? Do we all end up becoming our parents? Do we fight monsters for so long that we end up becoming them? l
She closed her eyes to fight back the tears. She was briefly ashamed of crying, but at least it showed she was still human. At least it showed she cared. At least she could cry for the dead. Which was more than Sinoval was doing. l
She opened her eyes and looked at him, blinking. He was kneeling, holding a piece of metal in his hand. She was not sure what it was, and judging from the expression on his face, neither was he. He suddenly dropped it and continued his walk, moving in slow, careful, precise circles. o
Did he not even care? All those deaths and.... No, what could he care about death? Did he even know how to cry? Did he even know what it meant? He probably thought of it all as a great journey or something, some nice, philosophical way to get around the fact that billions of people had just been murdered. She tried to imagine that many people, and could not. One person, two, five, ten, a hundred, yes, easily. A thousand, yes. But billions? The mind had no comprehension of it. b
His probably did. e
She wondered why she even bothered. Her task had been to make sure he understood the stakes he was fighting for. He was meant to be fighting to protect the innocent, not just to wage some personal and private war. He should be getting angry, he should be raging and screaming and.... y
.... hating? u
She had tried to prevent him from hating them, but how could she when she hated them so much herself? s
She lowered her head, still crying. Lorien, she called out. I can't make sense of this. y
Sometimes she wished she was back there again, in that warm, black womb where they had spent a year together, undoing and healing all her wounds. The scars on her flesh did not matter, but she thought all the scars on her soul had been healed. o
Nothing of value ever comes easily, came his infinitely wise voice. She hated him as well. Sanctimonious little.... What could he know? Had he seen his home die in fire? Hell, Sinoval and he were probably used to this. u
Go away, she sighed. She wished there was someone she could talk to, someone who could understand. David's memory opened up inside her heart like a knife wound, and she found herself wishing he were here. They had spent so many nights together, talking and crying and commiserating and dreaming. That had been before her first trip to Z'ha'dum, before she had been broken down and re–made the first time around. w
She hated the quiet. It just gave her more time to think about what she was. She did not know any more. She remembered all those whom she had used without success to try to fill the void in her heart, all those who had left her. i
She looked up. There was someone who would never die. That was his curse. Immortality. She would be with him until the end of the universe, and perhaps beyond. She would not be able to look at anyone else without realising how near to death they all were. l
That was her curse. l
He walked back to her side, completing his circle. nuViel Roon and a few others were there as well. It was taking all the resources the Tuchanq could muster to hold back the rising tide of madmen. There were so many insane, and as nuViel Roon had sadly remarked, they grew exponentially, spreading insanity with each contact. It had taken noMir Ru only a handful of years to conquer the entire planet. o
"I am ready," Sinoval said. b
nuViel Roon bowed her head. "We await you, Saviour." e
Sinoval looked at Susan. She had to turn her head to avoid his gaze. The last thing she wanted now was to lock eyes with that dark infinity. She did not even want to look at him. y
Then he turned away and walked to the centre of the circle. He threw his arms wide and, looking wholly out of place in this time - like a prophet of doom, or a messiah, or an ancient king - Sinoval, Primarch Majestus et Conclavus, began to sing. u
* * *
The shard of the necklace was both warm and cold in her hand; warm with memories of love and happiness and cold with the realisation of present grief. Kats wore it always, but the comfort it provided was never consistent. y
Tirivail was still pacing up and down. David and General Sheridan were talking quietly. Tirivail suddenly stopped to look at Kats. o
"There will be war," she said flatly. "Do you think it can be avoided?" u
Kats gripped the necklace more tightly. "I hope so," she breathed. "But.... I do not know. I do not want a war." w
"I do. It is what I live for." i
"Have you not had enough of war?" l
"Never. I am still alive." l
Kats sighed. There was no way to reason with her, and she did not see why she should. Tirivail was a warrior, and however much time she spent with warriors she would never be able to adjust her philosophy to theirs. It could take generations to build a work of great beauty, and only moments to destroy it. o
When she was younger, that was all she had thought warriors to be: destroyers. That belief had been changed by her experiences. She had seen the compassion and courage and infinite gentleness in the eyes of some warriors. They were like everyone else: each one different. b
Kozorr had tried to explain it to her more than once, and she had started to see. There was an ancient code, from simpler days, one of honour and nobility and a tight bond between warriors. Trust was a necessity, to place your life and your honour and your fane so completely in the hands of another and know that they were doing the same to you. e
Kats had tried to imagine that, in the warm days on the balcony of their home looking out over Yedor, resting against him. Could she trust anyone that much? Could she place so much trust in one person knowing they were doing the same to her? y
Then she had wrapped her arms around him and understood the answer. u
As she looked up at Tirivail, she realised she had found another person to trust like that. Tirivail was difficult and awkward and fiery, but she was a friend. s
It was hard to hate someone who loved the same person as you. y
Kats rose from her seat and walked over to her friend, taking her hand. Tirivail jumped back. o
"Sit," Kats said. "And tell me what you fear." u
"I fear nothing!" Tirivail said, a little too defensively, but she did not protest as Kats sat down, and joined her a moment later. "There will be war," she said again. Kats nodded. "I am scared," she whispered. "No, I am a warrior. I do not know fear." w
"Fear is nothing to be ashamed of." i
"It is not shame! Do you know nothing of our ways? I am not afraid because I might die. I am afraid because I do not have a cause to die for. I do not want everything to end in quiet and silence. What is there for me to die for? I do not have a lord, I do not...." She reached out with surprising gentleness and touched Kats' necklace. "I would have died for him. I would have died for Sonovar. I might even have died for Sinoval. l
"But they all abandoned me. Where am I? Whom do I serve? For what cause do I fight? My father has made it very clear that I will never be worthy in his eyes. I do not want to die for no reason." l
"You can fight for your people, for your home.... for me. You are my friend, Tirivail." o
The warrior turned her head away. "At least he loved you," she whispered. b
"Maybe you will not have to die after all." e
"You know nothing." y
"Maybe." Kats took her hand again. "And he did care for you. He admired you greatly." u
"But he did not love me." s
Babylon 5 grew nearer. u
* * *
"I don't care what he says, I've never heard of them." y
"Dex, dear...." o
Talia leaned in and kissed him once, gently, on the cheek. "Never mind. A bit of healthy paranoia is.... well, healthy." w
They were gathered in one of the safe houses, one of many abandoned buildings scattered throughout Sector 301. Talia had sent out a call in their dreams that night, and slowly, one by one, they had arrived. She had insisted on bringing the Box, and the Vindrizi. i
She had tried to explain to him who the Vindrizi were, but her explanations had been a little.... well, vague. An ancient race of parasites created to observe events and, just.... remember them. They possessed living beings and saw through their eyes, using their senses. And they'd existed all this time without anyone noticing. Five hundred millennia was the time–span Talia had mentioned. l
But when he tried asking sensible questions like who had created them and why and where were they now, did he get any answers? Yeah, right! l
He leaned back, looking at the telepaths gathered in a circle around them, acutely aware of just how unalike them he was. They were.... different. Whatever powers or talents he had - or others claimed he had - he still thought of himself as human. These were not. Even Talia. She could do things he could not even dream about. o
At heart, all he was was a poor poker player and a failed soldier. And the man who had murdered the saviour of mankind. b
The Vindrizi was there as well. Whatever his human name had been he was not inclined to say. e
"Are they all here?" he asked. y
"Everyone who's going to be here," Talia replied. u
Dexter looked around. This place should be safe enough. There were enough members of Sector 301 Security outside maintaining irregular patrols that were just a little bit more regular than usual. And everyone here would be aware of any Hand of the Light who came within a mile of the place, but.... s
The Vindrizi stepped up, and looked around at the circle of telepaths. y
"You do not know me," he said. His voice was strange, with emphases on the wrong words, the wrong sounds, as if he were having to concentrate to sound human. "My name does not matter. We are ancient, my people. We were created to be observers and recorders of the images of the galaxy. o
"We are called the Vindrizi. We are sworn to peace and neutrality. We take no part in the wars of mortals, younger race or First One. But we will defend ourselves. We have debated amongst ourselves, and a path has been chosen. There is a war, and we will fight. u
"Our enemies seek to control us, to bind us to their ways. They have sent their agents in pursuit of us, and some have been captured and fed into their network. Memories and images, forever lost in time. This cannot be permitted. w
"We once aided a mortal, one bound by a great destiny and purpose. He seeks to fight the enemy we speak of. He will raise an army and a banner and he will lead the galaxy to war. He is the consummate warrior. i
"We speak here on his behalf. You fight an enemy. We fight an enemy. He fights an enemy. Align your cause to ours, and we can help you. You desire knowledge, we can provide it. We have a weaponsmth. Weapons will be provided. Safe havens, military strength." l
"Why do you need us?" Dexter suddenly asked. "Why does this warlord of yours, and I think we all know who you're talking about, why does he need us to help him?" l
"You have power, a unique power. The enemy would use that power against him, but you.... you can use it against them. Cripple their control over you and your kind, and they will be gravely weakened." o
"The network?" b
"They have much power here. Destroy their base, and they will be weakened." e
Dexter looked at Talia. She shrugged. "I think we will need to talk this over." y
"Of course," the Vindrizi said. "We will wait elsewhere." He bowed in a formal but somehow misplaced gesture and walked slowly from the hall. u
"Well?" Dexter said. s
* * *
Babylon 5 seemed quiet, almost dead. The docking bay was empty, the corridors silent. The few people John passed on his walk were silent, moving quickly, heads bowed. He didn't see a single Narn. y
Kats and Tirivail had left them almost immediately. "We must go to our embassy," Kats explained. "I will have to contact the Grey Council and.... arrange meetings." o
David had gone with him some of the way, before breaking off to find somewhere to stay. John had had to make the final part of the walk himself, passing grim–faced Security guards on the way. There were more than he remembered, many more. u
Delenn was in her office, looking dead–eyed at a report. She looked up as he entered. "John?" she whispered, slowly putting the report down. w
He did not say anything, but merely opened his arms. She rose and walked around the desk, falling into his embrace. She rested her head on his chest while he stroked her hair. Her heartbeat seemed so loud, her hair so soft. i
Alive. She was alive, and so was he. He felt as if he had been dead for years, and now he was alive again. He knew what it meant to feel, to love.... l
To know pain. l
"It's been so quiet," she whispered. "Everything has been so quiet. Even the Narns. Especially the Narns. G'Kael and Na'Toth have practically locked themselves in their offices." o
"I hardly saw anyone on the way." b
"Most people are inside their quarters. We've suspended almost all flights in and out of the station. Commander Kulomani was expecting trouble, but there's been.... I almost couldn't believe it." e
He continued to stroke her hair, recognising the undercurrent of grief in her voice. She had felt guilty for so long for what had been done to Earth. She was more or less over it now.... or so he thought. He hadn't been paying enough attention to her recently. If she had been upset, he doubted he would have noticed. y
This could not help but remind her of Earth. u
"G'Kar?" he whispered, not truly wanting to know the answer. s
"Alive," she replied, and his heart gave a little leap. "He contacted me from Dros. He's on his way here now. He should be here soon. He sounded.... I don't know. He was alive." y
"That's good." o
"Yes, but.... someone died. Lennier. I don't know if you remember him.... He came with me and Londo when I was.... ill. He helped me. He.... didn't make it away. So many didn't." u
She kept talking. John kept holding her. w
"I did not know him well, but he was a good man, and a good friend of Londo's. He was a.... reminder of my past.... and now he's gone. I look around sometimes and I wonder what is left of my life. All the pieces I once knew are disappearing one by one until I fear there will be nothing left." i
"I'm here," he said. But he had not been. For so long he had not been. He had left her on Z'ha'dum. He had not been there when their son died unborn. He had failed her time and time again. l
Just as he had failed Anna. l
"What are we doing now?" o
"There's going to be a meeting of the Council. As soon as G'Kar gets here. We need to work out.... what to do. The Vorlon Ambassador hasn't been seen since.... it happened. Some people are screaming for revenge, others for some kind of agreement. But until the Vorlons talk to us, we don't know what to do. I need to talk to G'Kael, and G'Kar. Especially G'Kar. Ambassador Durano hasn't done anything, which worries me. Lethke doesn't know what to do. We're all just.... trying to stay standing while the earth moves beneath our feet." b
"We're on a space station. The ground is always moving beneath our feet." e
"I know." y
"Delenn.... there's.... something we need to talk about. About us. I know things have been distant between us recently and I'm as much to blame.... more so, but.... This isn't the right time, is it?" u
"I am sorry, John. I cannot think, but I do want to talk to you." s
She nodded. "Tonight." o
He kissed the top of her forehead and reluctantly pulled back from their embrace. "I should go and.... do things. Talk with Kulomani, perhaps. Let me know if G'Kar shows up, and I'll see you later." u
"Yes," she breathed, her green eyes awash in an ocean of tears. w
* * *
The song spoke to her in a language she had never before experienced. It was a song of mourning and memory and joy. Sinoval stood in the centre of the ruined city, his arms spread wide, his face upturned to the heavens, and sang. y
Through eyes sparkling with tears, Susan saw again her last goodbye to her brother. She saw the last conversation with her mother. She re–lived the last argument with her father. A hundred images filled her mind at once and she wept for each of them. o
Remembering the feel of David's skin on her fingers, she sank to her knees, holding her head in her hands. Laurel's voice touched her mind. Everything she had ever done, everything she had ever known, everything she had ever lost. u
Hunched into a ball, she crouched there, shaking, furious at the invasion of her privacy, at the violation of her memories and her emotions. w
She fell forward and thrust out with her hand to steady herself. As she touched the ground, she pulled back sharply. i
The ground was warm with heat and with life. Opening her eyes, she looked at it and saw red light crackling beneath the greyness and the blackness. l
Blinking away the tears, she looked around. The Tuchanq were on all fours, heads raised towards the sky, crooning along with the song. The sound was so alien, so full of love and power, that Susan wanted to cover her head and hide. l
She felt like an outsider, like a trespasser at a sacred and holy ritual. This was not her world. Her world had been blasted to rock and rubble. These were not her people. This was not her cause. o
She should not be here. b
And yet she could not find the strength to rise and leave. e
Sinoval seemed lost in the song, standing still as a statue. Around him burned a golden glow, and then, before Susan's eyes, ghosts began to appear beside him, rising from the earth and shimmering beneath the sky. Tuchanq, human, Narn, Drazi, Centauri and a hundred races she had no name for or comprehension of. There was even a Vorlon flickering below the slate–grey clouds. y
The light was almost blinding. u
Sinoval's face was emotionless as the souls joined him in his song. Susan had not thought him capable of singing. Her mother had told her that to sing involved laying out the secrets of one's heart to public view. Susan did not think Sinoval had a heart, let alone any secrets there to lay out. s
But the way he sang, the power and majesty in his voice.... it fitted. It was a song of war and a song of the peace that comes after war. It was a warrior's song, and a peacemaker's song. It was the song of a leader and a prophet and a messiah. y
And a saviour. o
The song stopped, the spirits vanished and Susan again found the courage to look up and around. The sky was a bright blue, a colour so intense it almost blinded her. The ground was red and gold. u
The Tuchanq were on all fours, heads bowed before Sinoval. w
"Saviour," they whispered. "Saviour." i
"One world dies," Sinoval intoned. "And another is returned to life. Such is the way of the universe." l
Susan wanted to hit him. l
* * *
"In case you didn't hear me the first six hundred times, I don't want you doing this." y
"Which of us is in charge of me?" o
"I'm telling you, I don't like this. I may not be able to read minds, but I have pretty good instincts. That's what Mr. Edgars thought my telepathic powers were: hunches and minor premonitions. Something bad's going to happen, and that Vindrizi and that Box are at the centre of it." u
Talia's eyes flashed with momentary anger. Dexter stood there, arms folded, staring at her. "Whatever force controls the Box is on our side. It helps us." w
"But we don't know what it is?" i
"We know enough. It helps us, it is anathema to the Vorlons and the network in some way, and it can foretell the future. I don't need to see a 'Made in Proxima' stamp on the bottom." l
"I can tell enough of the future, thanks, and I don't like it. The Vindrizi, either." l
"You couldn't understand!" Dexter took a step back, as if he had been struck. "I am going to commune with the spirit within the Box. All you have to do is make sure nothing interferes with me. If that's too hard for you, I can get someone else to do it." o
"If it's too hard for my mundane little mind, you mean." He looked at her for a long while. He had seen her pass through numerous personae. Bester had trained her as an infiltrator and saboteur, and she was a master of disguise. There had been times when he had been with her that he had not been sure which persona was real and what was crafted illusion. b
Now, he was sure that what he was looking at was real. She was angry, her eyes blazing. A leader and a soldier and a protector of her people. e
Which did not include him. y
"Do what you like," he spat, walking away. He wanted to be as far away from that accursed Box as possible. u
He did not see the expression on her face, but he did not want to. He walked out among her people, her telepaths, and was stricken afresh by how different he was from them. These weren't his people, and this wasn't his war. His people were the inhabitants of Sector 301. He had sworn to protect and help them, and what was he gaining by getting involved in telepath matters? s
He wished he could go to Bo's, have a drink and a game of poker, or find Bethany and talk to her, joke and flirt and share gossip. y
He leaned against a wall, irritated and tired and wanting a drink. o
He knew that even if she were here, he couldn't talk to Bethany, not about this. He liked her. She was attractive and intelligent and they shared a lot of the same interests, but he didn't feel anything for her. He had only loved two women in his life, and he had killed one of them and just finished arguing with the other. u
"You look troubled," said a voice. Dexter turned to look at the Vindrizi. w
"I'm not in the mood," he said. "I've had enough of this." i
"'This' what?" l
"This. This isn't my concern at all. I want to make Proxima as safe and secure and well–off as I can. I want people to stop using Sector Three–o–one as a dumping ground. I want to find someone I can care for, and live a happy life and have children. I'll fight for those I love. I'll fight for my home. l
"But I don't want to fight in some galaxy–wide war between Gods. I don't want to save the entire universe, and I don't want to be the two of hearts in someone else's galactic poker game." o
"You have strong beliefs." b
"Yeah, guess so." He drummed his fingers against the wall. "God, I wish I was.... somewhere else." e
"Where would you rather be?" y
"Anywhere." He rubbed at his eyes. "I've got a headache coming on." u
"Do you know why we were sent here?" s
"To recruit us as cannon fodder in this war of yours." y
"No. The one we represent is a warlord, a leader of soldiers and perhaps of worlds. But he is not human, and he cannot think as a human. He is a.... man of great potential, for darkness as well as for light. He is fighting for all the peoples of this galaxy, and he cannot fight for humanity unless humanity wishes to fight beside him. There is no point in your being some card in his game - and we do not believe he plays games of cards anyway." o
"Smart man," Dexter drawled. u
"He wants you to lead humanity, fighting for the same cause as he is. Or rather, he is fighting for the same cause as you. Everything you want, the enemy will strip away from you. If you want to protect your ideals, you will have to fight the enemy for them, and he wants to help you do that, for your enemy is his, and your victory serves his goals." w
"We were sent to find you. Personally." l
"You would be surprised where our eyes see and what our ears hear." o
"Do you not want to be a leader?" e
"Tried it once. It didn't work. Get this, I'm not a hero, I'm just a man trying to do the right thing without screwing up too much." y
"Most heroes are. Apart from the female ones of course, but the basic principle is the same." u
Dexter shook his head and winced. "Christ, I need to lie down. Listen, I'm not a.... not a...." He tried to blink. There were lights flashing in front of his eyes. The air had suddenly become very acrid. "What the.... Oh, God, Talia...." s
He turned away and made to go over to Talia. His legs gave way beneath him and he almost fell. The Vindrizi caught and supported him. A trickle of blood was coming from the human host's nose. y
"Talia...." He limped and ran to where he had left her. "I knew it," he whispered. "I knew it." o
She was still, sitting cross–legged before the Apocalypse Box, as if in a trance. The others were the same. A thick, acrid red mist was seeping from the box. u
"The Dead Ones," the Vindrizi muttered thickly. "It is the Lords of Death." w
"The Lords of.... You mean.... your leader and...." i
"No. The Others. The beings from beyond the gateway of worlds." l
Dexter reeled and fell, his head spinning. It took every effort he had simply to lift his head. The Box was wide open and something seemed to be emerging from it. It was only half–visible, shrouded by the thick mist, and Dexter was extremely grateful for that. It was hideous enough as it was. Massive, and the grey–white colour of a bleached skeleton. One long tendril slid out from the mist, lashing at the air, green spores seeming to drift from the tip. l
He could see two eyes, enormous black things that spoke of incredible hatred, for him and for Talia, and for everything that lived. The creature slowly raised itself out of the box. o
"There is danger," whispered the Vindrizi, as if in a trance. "Remember." b
* * *
The garden was empty and oddly silent. Even the normal noises appeared to have ceased. The station seemed to have stopped turning. y
General John Sheridan, Shadowkiller, was sitting looking idly at the rock garden. He was not even sure why there was a rock garden here. He supposed the Minbari or the Rangers might use it as a meditation aid. Perhaps G'Kar had insisted on it. A rock garden would certainly suit him. o
Sheridan was glad G'Kar was on his way. He needed the Narn prophet's wisdom right now. He had so little wisdom of his own to call on. u
He supposed he should go to his office. There was so much work to do. He would have to review Dark Star positioning, make sure everything was as it was supposed to be. He might need to call on a substantial part of the fleet. He would have to talk to Kulomani, see how things had been on the station. w
He wanted to talk to Delenn. He wanted to ask her. A part of him felt it was wrong to be thinking of such a personal situation at a time like this, but another part realised that he had to, because he was still alive, and because he was still alive he had to live his life. i
He remembered marrying Anna, not long after Earth.... He remembered the expressions of joy on the faces of his companions. l
He would ask Delenn tonight. He should have asked her a long time ago. l
He should have told her just how much she meant to him a long time ago. o
He should have done a great many things a long time ago. b
"Pardon me," said an unfamiliar, flawlessly spoken voice. "Is this seat taken?" e
Sheridan looked up. There was a human standing there, dressed in an antique costume consisting mostly of black. He wore a top hat and carried a silver–topped cane. Sheridan felt a cold wind pass straight through him. y
"No," he said. u
"You are no doubt wondering whether you should recognise me," said the newcomer. "Rest assured I know precisely who you are, General Sheridan. I have been kept fully abreast of your career and activities." He made no move to sit down. He seemed like the sort of man who would never relax, even in such an ordinary way. s
"Do I know you?" y
"Perhaps. It might be more accurate to say you almost certainly know of me. We have some mutual acquaintances, one in particular of whom I wish to speak." o
The man smiled, a chilling expression that had not the slightest hint of warmth in it. "Precisely the person I was alluding to. I understand you may have had some dealings with him recently. Tell me, General Sheridan, have you been happy these past months? You have had many questions, yes?" w
"Too many." i
"As I thought." He sat down. "Perhaps I can help you with that difficulty, if you can assist me with mine." l
"Do I know your name?" l
"Probably not. How remiss of me not to introduce myself. My name is Sebastian." o
* * *
They do not understand, Cardinal.
Understanding is not necessary.
They speak of opposition. They speak of insurrection. Some speak of war.
They have not learned. Fear is the greatest motivator for their kind. Put them to fear.
And those who will not fear.... they shall be destroyed.
* * *
* * *
"'Individuality' is the name you give to your sickness. It is a deviation from correct functioning. We have come to free you from chaos and uncertainty. And 'individuality'."
Are you afraid of us? There is nothing to fear. What do we represent, after all, but stability? Your greatest fear is of the unknown, and we will remove all that is unknown. You will be granted what your kind, with your short–sighted eyes and your transitory lifespans, have always desired.
Tomorrow will be as today.
* * *
I had heard of Babylon Five before I saw it for the first time, but my comprehension had been limited. My parents had spoken of it darkly, as a place where people lived who claimed to rule us. I tried to question them about it once, for I had thought we were ruled by the Kha'Ri, a Council of our greatest leaders and thinkers.
My father then told me his version of the Alliance. It was a council dominated by aliens. He did not distinguish between different kinds. They were aliens. I had heard of some other races and I had even seen a Drazi on the streets. And of course I knew of the Centauri, although I was not sure if they were real or not, since my mother used their name as a threat to persuade me to obey her.
The first alien I had met and spoken to was Lennier, and he was different from what I had expected. He was nice to me, and he apologised for almost running into me. At the time, I thought that was the most exciting moment of my life. Now that I have spoken with Emperors, Lords, Generals, the Well of Souls and of course the Prophet G'Kar himself, I still look back at that first meeting with a child's wide–eyed wonder. Every journey must begin somewhere.
But I digress. I fear you will have to put up with a great deal of digression in my words, dear reader. I am not sure if I am writing a holy book as G'Kar so often dreamed of doing, or simply the tale of a young Narn girl who, by chance or destiny, became something greater.
Anyway, my father told me that the Alliance was a group of aliens who had got together and decided to rule us all. Some of the Kha'Ri were cowards and traitors and were content to let them. Others were heroes who tried to fight these aliens. G'Kar, it seemed, was a good man, a holy man, who had been tricked by the aliens into helping them. That was the only possible explanation my father could give for why G'Kar sought peace with the Centauri when we could have destroyed them. These aliens lived at a place called Babylon Five, far, far away, and they had a mighty army they used to make sure everyone did as they said.
I was not sure where this Babylon Five could be, but as my father had said it was far, far away, I believed it was on the other side of the G'Khorazar Mountains. I gave these aliens appearances in my mind, appearances of horror and nightmare, monsters from legend. Babylon Five itself I imagined as a tall dark castle, made of black stone, from which fire burned and soared, filling the sky with smoke.
And then I saw it.
The point of this story, dear reader, is to relate my wonder at that first sighting of Babylon Five. As I said, I have seen so many wonders that they threaten to become commonplace. I hope they never will, for then I will know that it is time to die. But when I look back on that first visit to Babylon Five, in spite of all the horror that happened there, I remember the image of all those lights, shining so brightly in the night sky. At first I was afraid we had come to the wrong place, for this was hardly the castle of horrors I had envisaged.
This was instead a beacon of light and hope, truly a place of wonders....
But as G'Kar taught me, evil can live in the most beautiful of environments.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.
* * *
At home the atrocity had seemed so far away, as they always did. Minbar was a world scarred by war and devastation, her people divided and fractured. Kats remembered her first steps on the torn and brutalised world she had called home, and the memory had horrified her. That was war and the price of war. yo
She remembered also what her race had done to another, and she remembered the vicious counterstrike that had poisoned her home. She knew better than to seek retribution. She knew that revenge was a path with no ending, just an eternal cycle. uw
Home was so far away, and the Grey Council was concerned with itself and their own people. But Kats was here, on Babylon 5, and here the threat was close. il
Everyone moved quietly, faces downcast, scurrying about their business. Tirivail, who normally had to match her long stride to Kats' more sedate steps, seemed to find it more of an ordeal than usual. Her face was clouded by constant wariness, one hand always on the hilt of her weapon. lo
Tirivail remained outside for this meeting, of course. It was a private affair, between allies and powers and.... friends. be
"It is good to see you again," Delenn said, gesturing to Kats to enter her office. The room looked.... uncharacteristically untidy. There were reports scattered everywhere, unfinished drinks and so on. Kats sat by the door, away from the desk, and Delenn sat opposite her. An expression of equality and friendship. yu
"It is good to be here," Kats replied. "Although I wish it could have been under happier circumstances." sy
"So do I. Is this meeting personal, or business–related?" ou
"A little of both. I thought it appropriate to forewarn you of the Grey Council's proposals for this.... problem." wi
"I do not think I will like the sound of this." ll
"I do not blame you. I do not. Satai Takier proposes the complete closure of our borders and the recall of all Minbari ships to defend our own space. He wants all our jump gates closely monitored, and the expulsion of all aliens in our territory. The Grey Council has voted in my absence to grant no aid to the Narns, either financial or asylum for refugees." ob
"And this has all been voted on?" ey
"I had hoped for the final decision to be delayed until I reported back, but I contacted the Council upon my arrival. An emissary has been sent from the Alliance demanding full access rights for Inquisitors and Dark Star patrols throughout our space. Takier took it to the rest of the Council, and they voted, almost unanimously, to refuse them. Takier plans to make it very clear that Alliance ships, military or merchant, pass through our territory without express permission at their peril. He has never liked the Alliance, and agreed to join only grudgingly." us
"Do you think the Federation will abandon the Alliance?" yo
Kats looked down, her fingertips pressed tightly together. "I would say it is almost a certainty. There has been a great deal of unrest ever since the Inquisitors pursued their search for Sinoval last year. This incident is just the impetus Takier needed." uw
"You will not be the last to leave. The Narns.... I do not know about the Narns. I have not been able to speak to any of them, but G'Kar is on his way here, and should arrive soon. I hope he will be able to talk.... some sense, or peace, or something, into them. But the Drazi, the Centauri.... The Drazi have already tried to leave us once. The knowledge they are not alone this time may give them a greater incentive. And the Centauri.... Ambassador Durano is a very clever man. He has been talking to a great many people. He can be a powerful ally, but his greatest loyalty is to his people. An admirable trait in an Ambassador, to be sure, but I am certain he is not happy with what has been done to his people...." il
"You have left someone out," Kats noted. lo
"Yes, I am afraid to talk about.... him. I had hoped he had gone forever, but the reports from Centauri Prime...." be
"I swore never to let him win. I swore that his black vision for this galaxy would never come to pass. He must be laughing at me." sy
"He would never do that, Delenn. He is.... a good man, at heart. I have not seen him in years, but he is a good man, and if there is war, there is no one I would rather have fighting for us. I just hope there will not be war." ou
"If there is, it will be men like him who start it." wi
"No," Kats said softly. "I wish that were true, but it is not. The truth is, people like you started this. People like you, and people like me. The Inquisitors, the Dark Star fleets, the witch hunts, what you did to the Drazi and the Centauri.... And people like me, for not standing up and saying 'this is wrong'. One of the Inquisitors tortured me for information about Sinoval, but when he left I did not come to you and protest about their very existence. I hid, too afraid of war and what it would bring. I should have spoken up long before." ll
"All we wanted was peace. I was.... afraid, just as you were. I thought that one or two tiny liberties removed wouldn't matter. But in the end we took away too much and what remained? Was there any other way? Was there anything we could have done differently?" ob
"Far too many things, but I do not know if any of them would have led to a different outcome." ey
"It is too late to know now." us
"No," Kats said firmly. "We are not at war yet, and it is not too late. We can speak of peace and we can work together. We can show the angry and the dispossessed that the Vorlons are to blame, and not the Alliance as a whole. We can punish the guilty, those who planned and enacted this, and we can hold the Alliance together." yo
"Do you truly believe that?" uw
"I would not be here if I did not." il
* * *
Susan Ivanova was angry and upset and a mass of conflicting emotions. Most of all, she wanted either a drink, or to hit someone. Possibly both. lo
The air was strange, thick and aromatic. It almost choked her, but from the way the Tuchanq moved and smiled it might have been the finest perfume. The ground was soft, almost muddy, but they bounded across it like children playing. be
And the Song seemed to echo from every rock, every building, every molecule of air. Wherever she turned, she could hear it, and it pulled at her. yu
Sinoval was out there somewhere, talking to nuViel Roon or the others, basking in their hero–worship. Susan had no doubt that any of them would have died if he asked them to. And they would. He was going to lead them to war and get every one of them massacred. sy
There was so much happiness everywhere. Her cynical soul hated the idea, but especially now. A world had died. Billions of people had been killed. An entire race had now lost their home. Was this any time for celebration? ou
But the Tuchanq probably still thought the Narns deserved it. They were probably celebrating the destruction of Narn as much as the restoration of their home. Whatever the Narns had done, they did not deserve that. And what of the innocent, what of the children and the unborn, and those now to be born homeless and rootless? Did they deserve this? wi
She was hungry and thirsty and tired of all the dark thoughts swirling around in her mind. Sinoval's song had been.... almost painful in its intensity and power. He had seemed completely unmoved by it, but it had touched her. It had made her want to cry, or cry out, or rejoice or fight or.... any one of a number of things. She had remembered giving her brother her earring, joking with Laurel, talking with David long into the night. She had remembered fear and pain and misery and the even greater pain of good times that would never return. ll
And Sinoval, of course, had felt nothing. He was an emotional rapist, no better and no worse. ob
And he was all the galaxy could muster? Shouldn't the saviour of the galaxy actually care about what he was saving? Shouldn't a hero at least have heroic intentions? Despite all she had tried to do, Sinoval was fighting the Vorlons because he wanted to. To him this had nothing to do with what was right or wrong. It was all just a game. He was just a boy playing with toy soldiers which just happened to walk and talk and breathe and live and dream. ey
Her walk brought her back to where she had started. Sinoval was standing in what was once again the town square, talking to nuViel Roon and the other leaders. us
".... will fight for you," nuViel Roon was saying. "Give the word and we will send every life we have to die for you." yo
"No," Sinoval said calmly. "That may be required of you, but not yet. Rebuild your world and your cities. Fight to defend yourselves, if any attack you, but do not go on the offensive. Not yet. Not until the time is right. I will call for you when I need you, and rest assured, I will never forget you. But for now, the greatest thing you can do is rebuild your world and your homes." uw
"We will never forget you, Saviour," one of the others said. "We will always serve you." il
Sickened, Susan wandered away. lo
Some time later, she did not know exactly how long, she found herself with him on the pinnacle, watching the planet of Tuchanq fade away, a live world once again, but so very briefly, soon to be consumed again by war. be
"So," she said. "When are you going to bring them into this?" There was a definite bitterness in her words. She wanted him to know just how disgusted she was with his games. yu
"Never," he replied, still looking at the planet. sy
"What? But you said...." ou
"I know what I said. I will not deny that I could use their fleet, insignificant though it is, but I will cope without them. They are not warriors, and this is not their war. To the giants who fill the skies the Tuchanq are no more than insects, beneath their attention. If I do not involve them, if they remain in their world and their system, the Vorlons will not notice them either. wi
"The Vorlons destroyed a world. I restored one. For everything they do, I must react to counter it. A time is coming when that will not be possible, and I will have to act against them directly. The Tuchanq would be crushed if I involved them in that. ll
"No, let them live. Let them enjoy their existence, in the knowledge that there is so much worse that could befall them. Let them worship me if they like. ob
"But I will not throw children into battle. They will wait forever for a call that will never come." ey
Susan looked at him, breathing out slowly. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself. us
"So," she said. "What now?" yo
"There are a few people I need to contact. I need to gather all my agents. The time for subtlety will soon be over. One of my.... friends in particular, I think you will like. uw
"But I can do that on the way. Events are rushing to a climax, threads converging at the centre of the galaxy. il
"We set course for Babylon Five." lo
* * *
It felt different this time. be
Usually, whenever Talia communed with the Apocalypse Box, there was an incredible rush of power. It was the feeling she imagined her ancestors must have had taking their first baby steps into space, sheer wonder of what lay beyond and utter pride in how far they had come. Whole new vistas lay stretched out before her through the Apocalypse Box, whole new realms of power. yu
This time it felt different. sy
It was cold, for one thing. An icy, chilling cold. Her body could not feel anything, but her soul felt as though she were walking in a graveyard through waist–deep mist. There was an uncanny sensation of death in the air. ou
Moving forward, she could see specks of light in the air, dancing and swirling. She recognised them as parts of the Vorlon network, just a few of the millions of trapped souls bound to it. With renewed confidence she continued forward. wi
The city appeared from nowhere in front of her. It was vast, the size of a planet, bigger. She could not even begin to comprehend the number of people who must have lived there. There were not enough zeroes to express the number. ll
Every house was a tomb. Every building a mausoleum. ob
The sky beat in slow, rhythmic cycles, brilliant bolts of crackling light flashing across the clouds. The faint specks of light from the network seemed so much fainter now. ey
You have walked too far, intoned a voice. Or rather, she supposed it was something speaking to her. If she believed in God, then He would have a voice like that. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. But no God could have created anything like this. She had a feeling that everything was alive, a travesty of life, twitching, shambling death given life. us
"Are you the spirit within the Box?" she asked. yo
We are more than you can comprehend. The vessel was one of many we seeded throughout your galaxy, adrift in the in–between, on lost, abandoned worlds among shrines to the dead.
A flicker of light appeared before her, and it took form. She had caught brief, agonising glimpses of the Vorlons during her passage through the network. They were beautiful and angelic, formed of light and wonder. She knew that was only an illusion, but it was a powerful image all the same. uw
This was no angel. Or rather, it was what an angel would become if it turned beauty to ugliness, love to hatred, life to death. Every extreme reversed. il
Some worshipped us, continued the voice. It has always been so. Your kind has always looked to the stars and to what lies beyond. When you find us, you always bend in worship. We are what lies beyond. We were the first in our dimension to grow to life. We were perfect, the blessed, and all that came after was but a shadow before us. We gained the secrets of eternity and we shared them with everything else in our existence. Races and worlds and stars all died before us.
Talia felt the cold wind batter at her, and it was all she could do to hear the meaning in the words. The voice was so overwhelming, so angry and harsh and yet so filled with.... love, love that was so strong it had become hatred. lo
We tried before to enter your existence, yours and all the others. Some admitted us, but the gateway was closed before we could fully emerge. Some of that race, who deemed themselves so strong and so knowledgeable, worshipped us as all do, and they remained in secret, in the shadows, preparing. And now they have bargained and sacrificed all that they have.
All we had to do was wait, and our patience is as eternal as death itself.
They have admitted us to this dimension, as you have. Your pitiful mortal existence can know nothing more sublime than death itself, and so we shall permit you to remain, to watch as we bless your race.
And all others.
None could stand against us in our dimension. Do you think you can stand against us when we come for you?
Talia threw her head back, shaking and screaming and trembling. The lights still blazed in the sky, but they seemed so faint. The network was there, but it seemed so weak. These things had infiltrated it, been allowed to enter it by the Vorlons. be
Al was there. yu
She stumbled backwards, staring up into the sky. sy
* * *
There was no one to help him now. He was alone. ou
If he had to concede it to himself (and if he could not trust himself, whom could he trust?) he would admit that he had always been alone. That was the burden of power and responsibility. You could not regard those who followed you as real people with real lives. That way lay madness. wi
Still, General John J. Sheridan had hoped there were a few he could trust, a few he could call friends. ll
A few he could love.... ob
"Do you not believe me?" asked Sebastian, in his perfectly enunciated voice. He seemed to dwell on very syllable, every letter even, making sure its presence was known and commented on before moving to the next. ey
"No," Sheridan whispered, broken. "I believe you. It all.... makes too much sense to be lies. My father always used to know when I was lying to him, and he said he could hear the ring of truth in anything I said. us
"What you've just told me.... it has the ring of truth to it." yo
"We are nothing but truth, General. If you want lies, turn to the other side. If you desire to know truth and enlightenment.... then we are here. We will always be here." uw
"Yes," he said, with more than just a hint of bitterness. "I know you will." il
"It is painful, I know," said Sebastian, without any sympathy at all. "But better for you to know now than to have it always be hidden." lo
"In any event, it was a pleasure, General. I can see you will need some time to think. There are many options before of you. You should consider them. I.... may be busy soon, but if I am available, feel free to come and visit me. Or there are always my associates. They will be happy to discuss any concerns you may have regarding these.... revelations. They will also be more than willing to answer any questions you may have." yu
Sheridan looked up as Sebastian started to walk away, the tip–tap of his cane on the floor rhythmic and precise. sy
"Why?" he asked. ou
Sebastian turned back. "I beg your pardon?" wi
"Why did you tell me this? Why now? Why me?" ll
"Three excellent questions." He regarded Sheridan levelly. "To the first, because you had a right to know, and because we hate lies, and because we have always regarded you as special. To the second, you have been.... changed recently. You have begun to question and doubt and seek answers in unfamiliar places. You would not have reacted this way before. You might not even have cared. But you have changed, and you have begun to question, and it was only fitting that you receive answers." ob
"Changed," he said, with a bitter laugh. "Oh, is that ever true." ey
"And as to the third," Sebastian continued as if he had never been interrupted. "You are special. You have a rare gift, General - to weld people to your side, to spread your dreams so that they become the dreams of others. You are a natural leader, and your position here is well–deserved. You have also seen much death and much loss, and you will not wish to see these things return to this galaxy. Yours can be a powerful voice for peace and unity. us
"You are special, General, and there are forces that will seek to take advantage of that for their own ends. We cannot permit that. We cannot permit others to control you by lies and by deceit and by shadows. We are the truth, as I trust we have now proven." yo
Sheridan looked down again, his head in his hands. uw
"If there is anything more I can do for you...." Sheridan did not reply. "Then I shall take my leave, and permit you to return to your thoughts. It has been a pleasure, General. Good day." il
He left. It took a long, long time before the echo of his cane stopped resounding in Sheridan's mind. lo
* * *
It seemed such a small room to hold so much. be
The Council Hall on Babylon 5 had always been big enough before. It was smaller than the Chambers they had used on Kazomi 7, but it had been more than adequate for their needs. Now it looked tiny. yu
Lethke zum Bartrado, diplomat and nobleman and Merchant–Lord, looked around at those he had gathered, and realised he was not just standing in a room with Ambassador Durano, but with the entire Centauri people. He was not talking merely with Ambassador G'Kael, but with every Narn man and woman alive. Little wonder the room looked small. sy
He had always known these implications, but over time the knowledge had been lost to him. His uncle had been a Merchant–Lord, an incredibly rich man, a wily and experienced trader with contacts on a score of worlds. Lethke had travelled with him as a child and as a young man, and he had dreamed of seeing more of these aliens, of understanding how they thought and why they acted, of knowing more than just how to take their money. ou
And so he had become a diplomat. The skills of language and perception his father had taught him served him well in both fields. wi
But over time, the meaning of what he was had escaped him. He had become just another servant of the Government, just another politician drawing a wage and holding down a job. ll
As he looked around at his companions, he realised again what he really was. ob
He was the voice of the Brakiri people, and he had been silent for too long. ey
Durano, the cold, icily–efficient Centauri statesman. Lethke had come to admire his competence and calm. He remembered the emotionless look on Durano's face as he signed the Kazomi Treaty joining the Alliance, as he reported the raids on Centauri worlds, as he announced the illness of Emperor Mollari II. us
G'Kael, pleasant, almost jovial. Lethke and he had dined together on a number of occasions, and spoken of their religious beliefs. G'Kael always seemed sincere and genuine and truly devout, dedicated to the cause of his people and his Government, a Government which no longer existed. yo
Taan Churok. He had been present at the birth of the Alliance, and for those early, difficult years he had been a rock of stability and certainty, always committed to the cause the Alliance stood for. He had fought beside his people during the Conflict, and had returned to the Alliance following the Drazi surrender. Lethke could not recall a single word he had spoken in Council since that day. uw
Kulomani. Loyal, driven, dedicated. It was no coincidence he had been chosen as Commander of Babylon 5, but Lethke did not know where Kulomani would align himself or where his decisions would lead him. il
No one else. Was this all there were? Lethke had wanted to call a private meeting before the Council meeting itself, a meeting of those he trusted. He wanted to test the water, to see where people would turn. lo
These were all the people he could trust. He felt almost sick. be
Delenn was too busy, and too synonymous with the Alliance. With G'Kar away, she led the Rangers. She had renounced her ties to her own people to concentrate on the Alliance. To Lethke, who would not have dreamed of taking the same step, it seemed an admirable act, but it compromised her. If she were here, Taan Churok would definitely not be, as well as maybe G'Kael and Kulomani. yu
The Minbari did not have an Ambassador, despite having been members of the Alliance for over a year and a half. Kulomani was aware that the Grey Council had sent a representative, but however many good words he heard of Satai Kats, he did not know her. sy
The humans were represented by General Sheridan, but his first duty would be to the Alliance and the Dark Star fleet. He had led the attack on Zhabar and other Drazi worlds during the Conflict, and Taan Churok would not be likely to forget it. ou
The Pak'ma'ra had recalled their Ambassador when news reached them of the attack on Narn. So had the Llort. wi
So few. ll
"I...." He coughed. "I thank you all for coming. I realise this is.... pre–empting the scheduled meeting, but I wanted to discuss a few matters privately first, to see what response we are going to make to the.... incident. We are all Ambassadors and diplomats, and our first loyalties must be to our own peoples. I would like us to present a united view to the Alliance, but most of all I would like us all to know where we stand." ob
Kulomani rose to his feet. "I am a soldier of the United Alliance," he said. "This is a meeting of Ambassadors." ey
"I requested your presence for a reason, Commander," Lethke said. "Your opinion is as important as anyone else's." us
Kulomani looked around the room, slowly and carefully. Lethke felt a chill as his compatriot stared at him. The soldier had the eyes of a diplomat. Finally, he sat down. yo
"If I may," Durano said, in his clipped, precise tones. He rose. "I received a communication from my Government moments before leaving to attend this meeting. We have only recently been able to send messages off–world. uw
"Emperor Mollari II has awoken from his coma, and looks set to make a full recovery from his illness. He has been thoroughly examined, and will begin to resume official duties within a few weeks. One of his first acts, he hopes, will be to visit Babylon Five to meet Ambassador G'Kael personally." Durano turned to the Narn. "Indeed, he has personally asked me to pass on his most sincere condolences to you and all your people." il
"Thank you," G'Kael replied, displaying no emotion at all. lo
"Is it wise for the Emperor to come here?" Lethke asked. be
"That, I believe, is what this meeting has been called to determine. Am I wrong?" yu
"Matter is simple," Taan Churok answered. "I will leave here now. All Drazi will leave. We return home, and we fight to get home back. You smart, you all fight too." sy
"You cannot do that," Lethke said calmly. ou
"We try." wi
"This cannot be resolved by war." ll
"War is all we have." Taan looked at G'Kael. "If you helped when we fought last time, perhaps you still have homeworld left. We fight and we lose. Maybe we lose this time, but we fight, and maybe others fight too." ob
"But surely a peaceful solution...." ey
"Alliance built for peace. Alliance built for good intentions. But things change. Alliance change. This not Alliance we helped create. You know this. Something wrong. Very wrong. We fight it." us
Lethke bowed his head. He had known, somehow, that it would come to this. Peace was still possible. He knew it. But he could not create peace alone. yo
"Is this a private party," said a solemn voice. "Or can anyone join in?" uw
Lethke looked up. G'Kar stood in the doorway. il
* * *
"It's beginning, isn't it?"
"It has already begun. We just have not noticed it yet."
"My mother was a telepath. She used to play music for me, sing for me, old Russian songs of lost love and old Gods and the old country. My mother's dead, my country is dead, the songs are dead. I try to remember them, but they all slip away. I try to remember the names of the Gods and they.... aren't there."
"We are the Gods now. Or we will be. You are a God now."
"Me? Hah. The God of what exactly? Cynicism, melancholy and bad jokes?"
"There are worse things to be a God of."
"And you? No, forget I asked."
"I feel no shame for what I am, and nor should I. If I am to be the God of War, worshipped and feared as such, then let me be the God of War. Then no one else has to be."
"You scare me."
"Good. I should."
"And are the Gods going to war?"
"The old Gods have been at war for a very long time. We are going to end it."
"But it isn't ending, is it? It's just beginning."
"Everything is a cycle. Sometimes, to end a thing, you have to begin it. To break the circle, you have to know where it starts."
"I don't get you."
"Sometimes neither do I."
"Have you contacted your friends?"
"Yes. They are prepared."
"Are you nervous?"
"No. I am oddly calm. Are you?"
"Perhaps you could be the God of Terror."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Like everything else, a little of both."
* * *
"There is danger. Remember." lo
Dexter reeled beneath the onslaught of sheer.... wrongness. The very air seemed thick and heavy and poisonous. Blood filled his mouth and his eyes and his senses. Blood filled his whole being. be
Talia was motionless. As he looked at her through a thin veil of crimson, Dexter thought she looked like a statue, a statue constructed of blood and pain. yu
The creature looming above her was simply looking around. It seemed to be receiving information from its senses, not the pitiful five or six that humans possessed, but hundreds of senses, every one created for a single purpose. sy
"There is danger," the Vindrizi hissed again. "Remember." ou
The words were thick and hollow and emotionless. Or perhaps that was just the way Dexter heard them. wi
He slumped forward, on his knees. This creature, this thing, this God, was so awesomely, unutterably alien. He had known Minbari, had fought against them for so long and even fallen in love with one. He had known Narns and Centauri and Brakiri. He had met a Pak'ma'ra and thought it was the most revolting thing he had ever seen. ll
But this was more alien than any of them. This was ancient and powerful and other. The very earth and air seemed to revolt beneath it and shy away from its touch. The ground beneath the Box was growing black and twisted, a foul smell rising from it. ob
A torrent of blood filled his mouth. ey
Dexter felt the creature look at him, look at him with those countless extra senses. He felt his memories being opened and violated - his mother's death, his first kiss, his first drink, cheating at cards, kissing Talia, killing Delenn. us
If he could put a human emotion to it, and he knew that even attempting such a thing was an absurdity, he would say that the creature was amused by the sheer insignificance of his existence. He was nothing, not even an insect. He had thought he was something more, something special.... yo
"There is danger. Remember." uw
When all he was was a drop of water screaming 'look at me' to the other drops of water. il
A single voice in a multitude of voices that together made up nothing more than an infinitesimal whisper in the universe. Everyone he had ever met, ever heard of, that had ever been alive. lo
They were all nothing. be
He sank further forward, smelling the foulness of his own blood hitting the ground. He felt as if his mouth were full of his own vomit, his nostrils filled with the scent of his own excrement. yu
"There is danger. Remember." sy
Head lolling on his shoulders, thick and heavy and empty, he looked up, his eyes bleeding simply from looking at the creature, at the monarch of this tiny and pathetic kingdom of ants. ou
"There is danger. Remember." wi
That was when Talia screamed, when a brilliant burst of light filled the room, and when his mind suddenly became a great deal clearer. ll
* * *
I was not there when G'Kar went to speak with the group Ambassador Lethke had gathered. Sometimes I wish I had been, but if I had gone, maybe I would never have left that room, and maybe these words would never have been written. My life is built on such flimsy and fragile choices and coincidences that sometimes I think I must have been blessed by some higher power, that my every breath is part of some grander scheme.
Then in my arrogance I stop, and realise that the same is true of every other living thing in existence.
It was not my choice not to go to that meeting. It was G'Kar's, and of course it was understandable. He was going to speak to some of the most powerful people in the Alliance, in the galaxy even. His words could affect the entire future of the Alliance. He had no wish for a child to accompany him.
But to that child, his decision seemed painful and treacherous. He had left me alone with a hard–faced, stern–looking woman called Na'Toth, who seemed too busy checking weapons and contacting ships outside the station to worry about me.
Tired and upset and a little angry, I waited in the corner of the room.
Everything I know about that meeting I heard later. I have heard some truly horrific rumours, some horrible reports.
I believe every one of them.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.
There was silence for a moment as G'Kar stood framed in the doorway. Lethke did not know what to say, and he imagined everyone else was in the same position. ob
G'Kar looked.... both weaker and stronger. He was frail and the hasty bandage across his eye did little to hide the damage that had clearly been done. The effects of his imprisonment showed on his body. ey
But there was also a sort of glow on him, and his bearing radiated a vigour that belied his fatigue. Here was a wounded man, almost broken, someone who has stared death in the face and emerged with a new purpose, moving in that one perfect moment between weakness and strength. us
It was G'Kael who spoke first. He moved forward and bowed his head. "Welcome back, Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar," he said softly. yo
If G'Kar hesitated, it was only for an instant. He bowed his head likewise and said, "It is good to be back, Ambassador." uw
He looked around the room and Lethke felt the power of that one–eyed gaze fall upon him. He felt so ashamed and weak. Surely he could have done a little more, done something, anything, to have averted or forewarned or eased what had happened. He closed his eyes, and the gaze of judgment faded, moving on. il
"May I sit?" G'Kar asked. lo
"Of course," Lethke replied. "You are most welcome here." be
"I do not think so," came the reply. G'Kar sat down awkwardly, wincing slightly. "Forgive me for remaining seated while I speak, but it is easier for me this way." yu
"Should you not be in the medical facility?" G'Kael asked. "Your wounds look...." sy
"My wounds are as nothing compared to those of our people, or of this Alliance," G'Kar replied sharply. G'Kael bowed his head, chastened. "I heard of this meeting from Na'Toth and came to express my view. Not that of the Narn people, or the Narn Government, or the Rangers, or the Alliance. ou
"I come here to express the opinion of G'Kar, a single man." wi
Lethke sat down himself, cursing his lack of courage and foresight. He should have seen something. ll
"I watched as this Alliance was born. It came about from mutual need, yes, from the ruins of Kazomi Seven and the image of a hundred planets ruined in the same way. The threat to us all was very real and very powerful and we knew if we did not unite against it we would all be consumed. ob
"Perhaps that was our mistake, leaving our birthplace. On Kazomi Seven we only had to walk outside or glance out of a window to see some legacy of what had happened there, of what our Alliance was formed to oppose. Here everything seems so far away, little more than a memory. How soon we all forget the real truth. ey
"Just as soon we will forget Narn. If some have their way, war will begin because of this, and the Narn homeworld will be forgotten. us
"The Alliance was built for peace. I believe in peace. I saw my world die, and I have spoken with those who have experienced the same thing. All are shocked and paralysed. All have different beliefs and opinions. Mine are shared by myself alone. Everyone disagrees with me, but I cannot help but continue to believe in the truth of my views. yo
"We brought this on ourselves. uw
"I do not speak of our Government. Whatever they did, they have paid for. I speak of our people. I speak of those of us who believed that we were superior and that no one else mattered, that we could interfere in the lives and homes of others at our pleasure, that they did not matter, that they could not fight back. We used this Alliance as a shield and as a sword, striking at our enemies in our ignorance and hiding behind it when they sought to strike back. il
"And now we have discovered that there are those more powerful than we are. We have learned this with great pain and great loss. It is a lesson we must not forget. None of us. lo
"We are all stronger together than we are apart. be
"Perhaps, if a better world can come of this for everyone, then those who died need not have died in vain. If we can all turn this loss to a greater good, as we did at Kazomi Seven, then we can create something greater than what was destroyed. yu
"I hope for that with all I have, and it is all that sustains me. sy
"But I doubt, truly, in my heart, that it will ever happen. ou
"What say all of you?" wi
There was a pause, in which Lethke hid his head in his hands. There were no words. There just were no words at all. ll
Taan Churok rose. "G'Kar," he said simply. "You wrong." ob
It was G'Kar who noticed the shadow first, and he turned to face the door. Lethke looked up a moment later. ey
The silhouette of the Vorlon was stark in the doorway, casting a black and terrible shadow into the room, touching each and every one of them. us
* * *
The scream filled Talia's mind, at the same moment as it echoed across the network. A million trapped minds and souls, some imprisoned for millennia, their bodies long rotted to dust and ash, screamed as well. yo
And they provided the help needed by their saviour. uw
A bright, terrible light filled Dexter's vision, rising from the shadow Talia cast before the box. The creature there, the Alien, the wrong, unnatural abomination, seemed to recoil from the shock. Something inside Dexter's mind reached out past the pain and the revulsion and joined with the rush of energy and consciousness. il
The box itself was surrounded by light. Dexter could not see it himself, but the others could. There were so many souls, beings composed entirely of light and power, battling against the Alien. lo
Talia felt something reaching across countless light years, from somewhere so far away she could barely imagine it, a gesture as gentle as a caress on the nape of her neck. be
"Al," she thought. She did not whisper, for she could not make any sound, and she did not cry, for her eyes could not shed tears. It took every effort she had to simply give birth to that thought, but she managed it. yu
"Al," she thought again. so
The necropolis was bathed in light, but she knew it was temporary, a tiny spark as of a match struck against midnight. It was a momentary blink to beings such as these. ry
The image before her knew that. ou
We have waited a thousand times your lifetime, the dark, hateful voice said to her. Do you think this gambit means anything to such as us? Your Gods are but insects compared to us. Your lords bow down before us. Your power is a shadow before our presence.
Talia could feel her eyes bleeding. "You haven't won yet." wi
We will. Even if we never truly cross the barrier to your existence. Even if you close this gate and all others, we will always triumph. All things end. Even planets, even stars, even universes die. At the end, there is nothing but death.
"You're right," she whispered. ll
If all ended in death, it didn't matter to them whether they won now or not. di
But it did matter to her. e
The light grew brighter, briefly, but then it began to die. This had been the work of a moment, nothing more, and it had not tapped into even a fraction of the power of the network. She could not do that and still live as anything mortal. youw
And all it had done was hold them back for a single second, for the blink of an eye. illo
She withdrew, and returned to a body racked with pain and blood. Her vision was red and misty, and the light here was almost blinding. beyu
But she managed to look up to see the creature return through the box. sory
And then it closed. ouwi
And remained closed. lldie
* * *
<You are all traitors.>
The words sang in their minds with the mournful dirge of hanged men at dusk, with the rattle of bones sleeping unquietly in their graves, with the horrifying finality of judgment and sentence.
Lethke tried to speak. So did G'Kael and Taan Churok.
The Vorlon heard none of them.
G'Kar said nothing. Not then.
* * *
There was light, and it filled his mind.
There was purity, and it illuminated his soul.
There was stillness, and it sounded in his ears.
There was justice, and it rang true to his immortal being.
While elsewhere the first deaths were beginning, their harbinger stood alone and silent, looking up across the depths of space with eyes that had seen things no human should ever see, holding his cane precisely with hands that had touched things no human should ever touch, with a mind that remembered doing things no human should ever do.
He was no longer human.
He was, as everyone else was now, a servant of a higher power.
It was beginning, but the one he waited for was not here yet. He would be here soon. He had been marked, tainted with the memory of his thoughts.
"Primarch Sinoval," Sebastian said softly and calmly, with just a hint of anticipation. "Do hurry. I am waiting for you."
* * *
As Delenn walked through the winding paths of the garden, she did not stop even once to look at the plants around her. She had to blink against the extreme brightness of the lights, and an uncomfortable itch was developing on the back of her neck.
A stone turned under her foot and she stumbled. Her knee gave way and she crashed to the ground. Reaching out instinctively to save herself, her hand caught a small bush and sharp thorns raked at her skin. She hit the ground with a jarring thud. For one painful, awkward, embarrassed moment she lay still, then she managed to haul herself back to her feet.
Normally she would have been very conscious of the loss of dignity, but there was no one around to notice. In fact she had seen hardly anyone during her walk. Fortunately there had been one hurrying Brakiri merchant who had remembered seeing John heading for the garden.
Wincing from the pain in her leg, she looked at her hand. There was a ragged tear in the skin and three perfect, pristine drops of blood decorated her palm. Angrily, she wiped them on the hem of her skirt and carried on her way, slower and more laboured than before.
She found John sitting on a bench in the centre of the maze that the garden had become. The plants cast faintly sinister shadows on the path in front of her and she had hesitated to step on them, but fortunately the clearing where John sat was open and bright.
She said his name, once, softly. He did not react, and she said it again, moving forward slowly. Again he did nothing, and so she spoke again, even louder.
He turned and looked at her. She took a step back, imagining for a second that she had travelled backwards in time during her hellish trek through the garden. He looked as he had looked when she first met him, wounded and battered by countless years of war, friendless and alone and trapped.
His eyes were hollow and black, haunted and tormented. There was a brief rush of air, and she was aware of flickering shadows behind and in front and all around her. She and John seemed to be the only creatures alive in a galaxy filled with ghosts.
"John," she said again. "John."
"Yes," he said, his voice flat. It was calm and emotionless and....
He sounded dead.
She shivered against another cruel gust.
"What is it?" she breathed. "John, I tried to look for you but no one knew.... Lethke has gathered the Ambassadors. There is to be a meeting of the Council soon. Kats has received word from the Grey Council. John.... I need to talk to you."
"I don't feel like talking." He lowered his head. It lolled, weightless and formless between his shoulders.
"John?" She stepped forward, slowly and gingerly. Her knee moaned in protest. She reached out to touch him, but he jerked back at the brush of her hand, as if she had burned him.
"I need to be alone," he breathed, without moving his head.
"I need you," she whispered. "John, it's all falling apart and I can't hold it together alone. We need you."
"I need to be alone," he said again.
"John?" She had been wrong earlier. He was not as he had been when she had first known him. He was darker, more hollow, more empty. She had only seen him like this once before, when he had shot and killed Anna. He had been drunk then, and delirious and grieving.
Now he was quiet, and sober, and dead.
"John," she said again. "What is it? What is wrong?" An urgency greater than any she had ever known gripped her, a sense of terror she had never felt before, never thought she could feel.
"You don't want to know," he whispered. "Delenn, leave me alone."
Breathing out harshly, she took another step back. She said his name again, almost like a prayer, and then she turned, eyes filled with sparkling tears as she tried to run, to flee from this singular clearing of light.
Her knee gave way and she went down again. This time she did not reach out to save herself and simply fell, her body shaking, her dress torn and ripped. Her hands dashed against hard rocks, and she felt the pain of her wounds re–opening. Struggling to her knees, hardly able to see, blinking away tears, she looked at her hands.
They were covered in blood.
Shaking, trembling, afraid of what was out there almost as much as what was in here, she tried to turn round. Raising her head and blinking through the light, she looked at him. "John," she said again.
He looked at her again, raising his head. Once it had been weightless, now it seemed so heavy that very motion was an act of herculean strength. His eyes were empty, almost colourless.
"You knew," he whispered.
"What? John, I don't...." The pain seemed almost too much to bear. It was absurd. She was only scratched. She had been tortured, seared by electricity. She had been beaten and corrupted by the alien–ness in her own body. She had fled from Shadows beneath Z'ha'dum with her lungs burning. She had even been killed.
But none of those things had ever hurt more than these few simple scratches and bruises.
"You knew. When you went to Z'ha'dum. You chose to go. You weren't captured or abducted. You chose to go. You were pregnant."
"John," she whispered, her heart lurching. An echo thudded in her ears.
"When you were there," he continued, his every word a flat, calm hammer beating at her, "you were given the chance to return to Kazomi Seven, or anywhere else. You could have left. You could have fled. You chose to remain. You were pregnant."
"John." She tried to form more words, but could not give them voice. They simply did not exist in her mind. The technomages had warned her that she would have to make a choice. Vejar had expressed concern about the wisdom of her answer. Lorien had told her that she faced a happy life in a galaxy with a terrible future or a sorrow–filled existence in the knowledge of a brighter world ahead. How else could she choose?
"You went into danger knowing what you were doing. You were willing to die. You were pregnant."
"John." She hardly heard herself that time. The echoes of the heartbeat were too loud, the rush of the wind too chill.
"You killed my son."
Some words, once said, can never be unsaid, never be forgotten, never be undone.
She shook. "John," she said again, although she was not sure to whom she was speaking. She did not know the man before her. The man she knew was dead and had been dead for a very long time.
She wished she had chosen differently. She wished she had turned down the Vorlons' bargain. She wished she had let him die there and then with the memory of his greatness and his love still alive. Anything rather than let him become this dead, hollow figure in front of her. The one who could not even give voice to his anger as he accused her of doing something so abominable she could not even comprehend it.
There were no words. There was nothing he could do or say that would heal the wound in her heart - or worsen it.
She was wrong.
He rose to his feet, ignoring her sobbing, her shaking, her wounds, her ragged dress and her bloody hands. He walked towards the fluttering, writhing shadows at the edge of the clearing. He stopped and turned back to look at her. She met his gaze, and through her tears and her shaking and the light and the shadows and the wind she saw one thing clearly.
There was nothing inside him.
"I was going to ask you to marry me."
Then he was gone, vanished from her sight, just another ghost returned to the world of the dead. She was alone, the last living being surrounded by the dead and their memories and their pain and their echoes.
And their hearts beating.
* * *
We granted you salvation from the Shadow. We granted you peace from the war. We granted you security beneath the shield of our light. We granted you an end to fear, an end to pain, an end to misery, an end to uncertainty.
We have protected you from evils in the galaxy that you cannot even imagine.
But most of all, we have protected you from yourselves.
We are your saviours and your salvation. We are your Gods, your angels, and your dreams made flesh.
You are weak and imperfect. We understand this. It is your curse, the curse of individuality, the curse of fear, the curse of hope. We understand this. We do not hate you. Not even those of you who defy us. We hate none of you.
You are weak, and imperfect. We are strong, and we are perfect.
All we wish to do is to help you.
* * *
* * *
The garden was dark now, and still. The ever–moving plants cast shadows across her face and her soul. She could see them taunting her, mocking her.
There were no words. In any language ever spoken or thought or imagined, there were no words to describe what she felt.
"You killed my son."
The air spoke those words back to her. They echoed around her, each time in a different tone of voice. Anger and hatred and joy and release and cackling humour and sheer revulsion. None was worse than the first time.
Flat, calm, dispassionate. Not a whisper, not a question, not an accusation. A simple, straightforward statement of fact.
"I was going to ask you to marry me."
Everything laughed at her, all the faces from her past and her present.
She was alone.
Alone with the thirteen words that had destroyed her. Killed her more simply and more swiftly than any weapon ever could.
* * *
* * *
<You are all traitors.>
The Vorlon's encounter suit was white, bone–white, a sickly, nauseous pallor. G'Kar looked at it and felt its shadow fall over him.
In that instant he was transported back an entire lifetime. He was a child staring up at the sky, watching as a fleet of Centauri warships passed overhead. Darkness swamped him, and he felt so very, very cold. He had never seen a live Centauri, not in the flesh, and he had imagined them as monsters, lurking hidden in the corners of rooms, or just on the edge of his vision.
That sight had changed his mind, and imprinted itself in his childish memory. The Centauri were powerful and massive and colossal. They moved in the heavens and they did not care about the insects who withered and died in their shadow.
That belief had changed as he fought the Centauri, came to understand them, and even befriended one. But that one, single impression, that had remained with him.
He felt it again now.
<There is a price for treason.>
Taan and Kulomani had reacted first of course, being trained warriors. Taan had reached for his PPG, Kulomani for his commlink. The Vorlon watched impassively as Taan fired the first bolt. The armour, that now seemed not so much the white of long–dead bones, but the brilliant, infinite, bottomless white of a new–born star, absorbed the impact with chilling ease.
<By your own actions are you condemned.>
The encounter suit began to open.
G'Kar did not bother to look round, in part because he knew he would not be able to tear himself away from that image, but also because there was nowhere to go. This room had only one exit, and the Vorlon was standing directly in it. Kulomani's commlink was not working, as G'Kar had suspected.
If he had thought he could say something, or do something, take any action, he would have done it, but he understood the futility of his position. This had to happen. By all rights he should be dead anyway.
His own words came back to haunt him.
We are all stronger together than we are apart.
Perhaps, if a better world can come of this for everyone, then those who died need not have died in vain. If we can all turn this loss to a greater good, as we did at Kazomi Seven, then we can create something greater than what was destroyed.
I hope for that with all I have, and it is all that sustains me.
But I doubt, truly, in my heart, that it will ever happen.
They were stronger together than they were apart, but that was still not enough.
Lethke moved forward, deliberately placing himself between the Vorlon and Taan Churok. The Drazi swore at him, but Lethke did not seem to notice. G'Kar doubted that his friend could hear anything, standing bathed in that light.
"Please," Lethke said. "Please...." The word was pitiful, a sob, an admission of utter powerlessness. Lethke, a diplomat, a nobleman, a Merchant–Prince of Brakir, was discovering what G'Kar had first learned that one day so many decades ago.
Just what it meant to be helpless.
"Let us try for peace," Lethke sobbed. "It's what I've always worked for...."
The Vorlon's terrible voice spoke, chill and final, although there was now not even the flashing of the eye stalk to give it some semblance of emotion.
<There is no mercy for traitors.>
The light filled the room, and Lethke's body was thrown backwards. G'Kar knew he was dead even before he left the floor. What struck the far wall was a charred, smoking corpse, a twitching heap of ash and blasted bones.
One of Lethke's dead eyes was looking directly at him, but G'Kar could not tell if it expressed pity or blame.
Kulomani reacted next, grabbing his PPG to join Taan. Both of them fired, neither afraid. Their blasts were merely absorbed by the flashing mass of light that the Vorlon had become. It was massive, truly huge, too big by far for the room. One tentacle struck a wall, which shattered with a crack and the smell of burning metal.
G'Kar shifted his gaze to G'Kael, who had also reacted quickly, dropping down under the table and rolling behind a makeshift barrier of chairs. He looked up at G'Kar and then at the hole in the wall. Above them lights danced and whirled as the Vorlon swam sinuously in the air.
G'Kar could see the muscles tense in G'Kael's body, and then, with careful timing, he sprang for the hole, scrabbling through it in one smooth motion schooled by years of careful preparation. G'Kar knew about life amongst the Kha'Ri, especially what it took to be their spymaster. G'Kael had always taken pains to be ready for just such a situation. He was as physically fit as it was possible to be.
A tentacle curled around his waist in mid–air and jerked him backwards. His head struck the ceiling with impossible speed and with the sick sound of bones crunching and veins exploding, his body dropped to the floor at G'Kar's feet, limp and all but decapitated.
Taan Churok had tried to run for the door as this was happening, continuing to fire as he ran. One part of the Vorlon's vast, serpentine bulk lowered itself on to him, and as it touched him bolts of lightning crackled through it, and through him. His PPG exploded, there was a burst of light and energy, and he fell to the floor, a blackened, smoking hole in his chest.
The table flew backwards into Kulomani, smashing him into the far wall. G'Kar heard the sound of fifty bones breaking in unison, and Kulomani slumped, his mouth filled with blood.
Durano remained, standing quietly a few paces back from where he had been sitting, his hands folded behind his back. With a complete absence of terror G'Kar did not know whether to admire or fear, he said calmly:
"May I remind you, sir, that I am a lawfully appointed Ambassador of my Government and am as such subject to all the rules regarding fair trial and due process."
The Vorlon's body continued to swirl and swim. The voice that came from it was almost screaming.
<Your laws are nothing. Our laws are all that matter.>
Two tentacles curled around Durano.
The Centauri blinked once, and then died.
G'Kar could feel the Vorlon looking at him.
<We have many laws, but the first is the simplest.>
One tentacle waved menacingly in front of his face. G'Kar could feel the heat of the energy radiating from it, the sparks of electricity shooting through the room.
<We are your Masters, and you shall have none other before us.
<You will obey us.>
* * *
* * *
That is the nature of power.... to wield it necessitates abominable actions. You cannot think of the one, or even of the few. You have to think of the many, and if that means sending good people to die, then so be it. If that means letting bad people live, then so be it.
I am a leader, and that means I do what must be done.
I can see you there. Babylon Five, shining beacon in space. The hopes and dreams of so many billions of people....
A dream built on futility, on weakness, on death.
A dream built of paper and glue and hope.
And I am the torch.
And these are the tools I am to use.
Marrain. A warrior who betrayed his lord and his love. A warrior who let his enemies live for his own revenge and killed his greatest friend. A man driven by madness and a lust for war.
Marrago. A leader who betrayed his people for the sake of his people. A patriot who sold his world into slavery with the best of intentions. A man driven by the need to die.
Moreil. A monster and a murderer who venerates me as the saviour of his Dark Masters. He will obey me without thought and he will send millions to their deaths in my name.
I do not think we are so different after all, Valen. I know your mistakes just as surely as I know mine, and like you, I am forced to walk a dark road for the good of the many.
But you had Derannimer.... Even she betrayed you in the end, although I doubt if you ever knew it. Or maybe you did.
She was your muse, your inspiration, your greatest fear.... and your successor.
Susan, you are going to kill me for this. If we all survive, then you are welcome to try.
I am a leader, yes, but I am a leader such as existed of old. As the Wind Swords knew in the days when they were mighty, as Emperor Shingen knew, a leader must be cold and merciless. He must be seen to be invincible, mighty and indomitable and unstoppable, leading from the front, fearless and immortal.
This is a war for the hearts and minds as well as for the bodies. Our enemies are strong and powerful, seeming to us like Gods. I must be shown to be their equal, even their better.
Sinoval spread his arms wide and looked down at Babylon 5 beneath him. Around him, tucked into a fold of hyperspace, his armies gathered. The call had gone out and they were assembling. Not everyone was here yet, and he could wait.
It would hardly be a war until the other army appeared, after all.
* * *
* * *
It was the smell and the taste, thick and heavy and musty and dusty and so very, very wrong. There was no other word to describe it. The thing he had seen, the thing he still saw rising from the open gateway of the Box, was wrong.
It did not belong here.
"There is danger," he moaned.
There was danger, a greater and more terrible shadow than he could have imagined. He had watched the Shadow ships soar over Proxima, he had stood on the bridge of an untested vessel to face down an invincible enemy, he had held a hot gun in his hands and contemplated the murder of a beautiful woman.
And he saw that thing rising from the Box, the monstrous birth of something evil, and utterly, terribly, inhuman.
"Remember," he whispered.
Voices came to him sometimes, real voices, not the fake ones he had heard from that other place. Voices he knew.
"He shouldn't be sleeping this long."
"He experienced something his mind wasn't fit to comprehend. You had help, not to mention years of training. All he had was some rudimentary empathy, which did him more harm than good."
"Tell me he will wake up."
"He will. There's a strong soul in this one. Most people would be irrevocably insane by now."
"You withstood it fine."
"I have.... certain gifts. The human mind isn't intended to remember hundreds of thousands of years worth of history. I was.... modified slightly."
He wanted to reach out, to find the owner of the female voice. He could see her sometimes, beyond the foulness and the fog and the mist. She seemed to shine, but however strong her light was, the darkness was stronger.
And the smell....
Always the smell.
"We are Death," he whispered to himself. "We are the Gods of All Creation. We were created first and all life that came after us was flawed and imperfect. Thus, all life that is not ours has to be destroyed."
The female voice sounded a little scared. "He's sounding like that.... thing."
The other voice sounded terrified. "Yes, he is."
He slipped back, the fog growing just too thick for him to cross.
"There is danger," he whispered. "Remember."
* * *
* * *
"Is it so wrong to believe.... to hope?"
Kats sat cross–legged on the floor, staring at the simple necklace she held in her hands. An unfinished, not particularly beautiful creation of a mediocre craftsman.
"Is it so wrong to want a better world? I know you, and I know people like Takier and Tirivail....
"I do not hate any of you. I have come to understand you, at least a little, but I wish there was another way."
She was cold. Everything around and outside her was cold. She was no psychic, no prophet, but anyone could sense that something was very wrong here. Since her meeting with Delenn she had tried to contact the Grey Council to try again to reason with them, only to learn that all external communications were shut down. She could not even contact her ship, and no shuttles were permitted to leave Babylon 5.
None of the Ambassadors she had tried to contact were in. Not one. G'Kar had arrived, but no one seemed to know where he was. Lethke, Durano, G'Kael and Taan Churok were all unavailable. Commander Kulomani was indisposed.
Even Delenn had disappeared.
The Security forces seemed much more prevalent outside. The merchants had closed their stalls. There were more Dark Stars than usual.
Kats was not afraid. She did not think she was capable of feeling fear any longer. She had an uncomfortable feeling of helplessness, but it would pass. She had faith.
"I will be with you soon," she whispered. "Just keep waiting for me.... just a little longer."
There was a ritual some of the warriors had used in the days before Valen. Every day they awoke they prepared to die, and so when they prayed to their ancestors at dawn, they promised to join them soon.
There was just one person waiting for Kats, but she knew he would wait as long as necessary.
She started, and looked around. The voice had been very faint. Nothing more than a whisper....
.... or an echo....
.... or a heartbeat.
A voice from so far away.
Stay safe. Hide and stay safe.... Can you hear me?
"There is nothing for me to fear," she said. "But thank you, beloved."
Kats.... No.... my.... lady....
The voice faded, the sound of her name dying away into oblivion.
She kissed the necklace, surprised to find her tears wet on her face. "Thank you, beloved," she said. "Just wait for me a little longer."
"Talking to yourself?" barked a sudden, angry voice.
"Just to the dead, Tirivail," Kats said, rising slowly, re–fastening the necklace around her neck. Her friend was arming herself, taking her denn'bok from the case where Kats had insisted she keep it. It was not a good time for those not in the Rangers or Security to be wandering around the station armed. "Did you find anything?"
"A great deal," came the reply. "Everyone you asked me to find seems to be at some private meeting. No one's seen Delenn in hours. The Starkiller neither."
"What is it?" There was an urgency in Tirivail's actions, anger in her voice. "Tirivail?"
"Nothing." The warrior extended the denn'bok, testing the balance, stretching her muscles.
Her friend turned to look at her, and Kats saw fury in her dark eyes.
"I heard that someone else is here. A human."
A cold chill settled on Kats' body.
"Tall, pale skin. Archaic clothing. A tall black hat."
"A staff," Kats whispered.
"Sebastian," she said again.
"The same. The head of the Vorlon Inquisition." Tirivail snapped the denn'bok closed and fixed it to her belt. "I am going to find him."
"Do not try to...."
"No!" Tirivail took a slow step back. Kats continued without a pause. "You are a warrior sworn in service to the Grey Council. I am Satai sworn and oath–bound. I have stood in the circle and the column. I have stood between the candle and the star.
"You owe me service and obeisance."
Tirivail's dark eyes flashed. "He loved you," she whispered. "That is why I serve you."
"Then that will have to be enough. Where is Sebastian? You will take me to him."
"You will take me to him. I am not afraid."
Tirivail moved angrily to the door, then looked back, waiting for Kats to follow.
"I am," she said harshly.
* * *
* * *
"I am not afraid," G'Kar said, with soft, despairing finality.
"I am not afraid to die. I have done many things of which I could feel ashamed, but I have always believed that my actions would lead to a better world. I have striven for so long for peace.
"I have served you as well as I was able. I will admit to having made mistakes. I am not perfect, and the more I learn, the more I realise just how truly imperfect I am, but I have tried.
"I have tried to build and to create and to make the world better.
"I formed the Rangers to fight the Shadow that G'Quan had prophesied would return. I led them, and I sent many of them to their deaths. I believed then that it was a just and righteous cause, and I still do.
"I let one of you inhabit me, and I do not regret that.
"I have seen so many things, some terrible and some wonderful. I have seen the wonder in a young child's eyes as she learns she is to live, and I have seen the terror in a man's eyes as he knows he is to die.
"I am old, and I am tired, and I am no traitor.
"Kill me if you wish."
The Vorlon remained there, drifting lazily and majestically in the air above him. The tip of the tentacle reached down to within a fraction of an inch of his good eye. Another slid around his back.
He heard its voice, the voice of the authority, of the magistrate, of the judgment, of the executioner.
<You have always served us well. You are no traitor.>
The light seemed to recede, rushing backwards into the encounter suit in one swift, smooth motion. The suit closed and the headpiece turned, the eye stalk glowing brightly.
<You have served us well,> it said again. <You may be permitted to live. Speak of what you have seen here. Speak of what happens to those who betray us.>
"I will," G'Kar said, hollowly. "Believe me in that. I will."
The Vorlon turned and left, leaving the smoking charnel house where five powerful and influential people had just discovered the true nature of power.
G'Kar waited until he could be sure the Vorlon was gone, and then he began to run.
* * *
* * *
The anger he felt was so great as to overwhelm all rational thought. He had passed beyond grief and loss and sorrow, and all General John Sheridan felt now was a fury that could destroy stars themselves.
He found David in his office, frantically trying to use the commpanel.
David looked up as he entered. "Where have you been?" he asked. "The internal sensors are going crazy. Someone's been throwing around colossal amounts of energy in Blue Sector. No one can find Kulomani, or G'Kar, or any of the Ambassadors. The jump gate is closed. Delenn's just vanished off...."
"Delenn doesn't matter," he said sharply, the tiniest manifestation of the rage within him.
"What? John, what...?" He watched as David's eyes narrowed, darkening. "Oh," he said simply. "I see. Was this all just a joke then? Did you come all that way and drag me back here just to go through all this again?"
"Everything's a joke. If you haven't worked that out yet, you should just get back to building mud huts on Minbar."
"God's sake.... look at the mess you've made. No, we've all made it, but I've had enough of it." David walked towards the door, brushing past him angrily, pushing him aside. At the door he turned back. "Everything's going to hell in a handbasket, as a former friend of mine would say. It's a pity he isn't here. At least he'd be trying to fix this."
General John J. Sheridan sat down at his desk, looking at the energy readouts. He recognised what David had not, that the sheer amount of energy could only have been generated by a Vorlon. Someone very stupid had annoyed one of them.
"To hell with all of you," he whispered.
Something was rubbing at the back of his skull, an itch he could not scratch. He had a name for that, though.
Somehow he was not surprised.
"You as well," he muttered. "Well, Sinoval, come on in and join the party, everyone else has."
He looked the commpanel and sent out a quick signal. This line he knew would be working. If everything else on the station collapsed, this would still be working.
"I know you're there," he said. "I think we need to talk."
--- We are always ready for you, --- came the Vorlon's voice.
"I'll be there in a minute. We should do this face to face, as it were. Oh, I suppose you know that Sinoval's on his way."
--- We were aware. We are prepared. This is our stronghold. We will not allow it to be breached by such as him. ---
"How soon we forget," he muttered. "Don't you lot always have a plan."
* * *
* * *
The jump gate was closed, barred and sealed against the travellers, the common wanderers, the pilgrims and the seekers. The station was protected, charmed and blessed by the Dark Stars and the Alliance vessels and the very presence of the Vorlons themselves.
But that was not always enough.
A jump point opened, and then another, and another. Ships emerged through them, ships crafted of living flesh, linked to the souls of their owners.
The Vorlon fleet was a beautiful thing, but it was the beauty of a star exploding in the night: wondrous from a distance, terrifying up close.
The voice that spoke was audible to every being on the station.
We are your masters.
We are your protectors.
This place is ours.
You will obey us.
* * *
* * *
Audible to every person except one....
* * *
* * *
What am I?
At that moment, Delenn felt an intense, powerful hatred. Of John, for abandoning her; of herself, for abandoning him; and most of all of Sinoval.
What am I?
He had always been so sure, so confident. She could have managed that, once. Before the weight of her mistakes, both real and imagined, had weighed down on her so heavily. He did not seem to care about the mistakes he made, simply forgetting them and carrying on his way.
What am I?
Not who. She had been asked that question once before, and had not answered it, not properly, not in any way that could be called an answer, because the point of the question was that there was no answer, none that could be expressed to another.
What am I?
But that was a question she could answer, if only by a list of what she was not.
I am not a mother.
Her son had died in her body, his fading heartbeat echoing in her ears.
I am not a wife.
The man she loved had left her, abandoning her to this place of dust and memory and haunting echoes.
I am not a warrior.
She hated to kill, to fight. She had seen too much of that.
I am not a leader.
She had tried, and failed, so many times. This world did not need her leadership. She had betrayed and doomed her people and now it seemed she had doomed the Alliance as well.
I am a healer.
She paused, and dared to raise her head. It seemed so heavy.
I am a healer.
Everything was wounded. Her people, the Alliance, the galaxy. Everywhere she looked, she saw symptoms of the sickness. All she had been able to do was wipe flecks of blood from the mouth of the galaxy.
I am a healer.
Breathing out harshly, Delenn slowly pulled herself to her feet. Her injured ankle throbbed at her, but she ignored it.
I am a healer.
"I am a healer," she said aloud, and the words seemed to invigorate her. The shadows trembled and fled before her newfound resolve.
"I am a healer," she said, more loudly.
The paths of the garden, that had seemed so dark and twisted, were now open and clear.
She set off, walking firmly, with no hint of any of the wounds that pained her.
* * *
* * *
He woke up, cold, and with no idea of where he was.
Or even who he was.
He lay there, staring up at the ceiling, trying to force his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He had a feeling that he had been staring at a deeper darkness, one that was far more than the simple absence of light.
A heart beating, that was it. The dying heartbeat in the sky.
It was black.
There is danger. Remember.
"Dexter Smith," he said, aloud. "My name is Dexter Smith."
He heard a movement by his side, and strained to look. His every muscle protested, but he managed it. There was a woman sitting on a chair, her long legs tucked up underneath her. She was waking from sleep.
He looked at her and looked again, not sure of what he was seeing. She was pretty, tall and slender, with shoulder–length blonde hair and delicate hands. And she was dying. He could see glimpses of a skeleton under the surface, the skin rotting and decaying, the smell of the grave rising from her.
He blinked and concentrated, trying to force himself to see what was really there. The images of death faded as he looked at her again, although the miasma was still apparent.
She stood up, unfolding carefully and delicately, a watchful eye on him. "Who am I?" she asked him, slowly and precisely.
He closed his eyes again and breathed out. There is danger. Remember. My name is Dexter Smith. I am a Senator of Proxima Three. I am a war hero. I am a poker player. I am a Taurus. I am....
"Talia," he said, with a slow sigh. "You're Talia, surname variable most of the time."
"First name, too," she breathed. He looked at her for a third time and noticed the gun in her hand. She placed it on the table beside her, then walked forward and knelt by the side of the bed, taking his hand in her own. There was a flicker of electricity at the contact, and he almost jumped back. Her skin was cold and clammy, beaded with the moisture of the grave.
"I'm glad you're back," she said. "I was worried."
"There is danger," he said. "Remember."
"Yes. That's what saved us. Vindrizi kept saying it, over and over again. It.... did something. You'll have to ask him what."
"Where am I?"
"A safe haven."
"Are you alive?"
She blinked, once. "Yes," she said, pressing her hand against the side of his face. "Don't I feel alive?"
She didn't. He shivered at the touch of her skin. He could feel the bones beneath, shifting and cracking, a thousand tiny weaknesses and flaws spreading by the minute.
"I don't know," he replied. "Am I alive?"
"Yes," she breathed. "You're alive, Dexter."
"Good." He paused, biting at his lower lip. "Good."
"We'll be leaving tomorrow, as soon as you're ready to move. The others wanted to leave long ago, and most of them did, but Vindrizi said you couldn't be moved. It might be dangerous. Even taking you away from.... the warehouse might have been too dangerous."
"He said you could do worse than die. We're leaving tomorrow, going somewhere safe."
"No such place." He looked at her and, concentrating, he could see the natural, ephemeral beauty of her face. "Where?"
"Vindrizi says there's someone who'll be able to help. I'm not sure how much of it you remember, but I'll fill you in on everything later. We're going to see Sinoval."
"Oh." He hesitated, and closed his eyes for the final time that night. He could see it again, rising from the Box.
"Good," he said finally.
* * *
* * *
Sebastian could hear her footsteps from the other side of the station, even the other side of the galaxy. He could close his eyes and feel the warmth of her breath and smell the scent of her fear. He had touched her once, studied her soul and her spirit, and once he had done that to someone, to anyone, he would forevermore feel them in the back of his mind, particularly when they thought of him. More than once he had dreamed their nightmares, smiling with self–satisfaction at the aftereffects of his work.
He was a man who took great pride in his job.
Still, he gave no indication that he knew of her approach, not until she was directly behind him. She had brought her companion, the one so filled with anger and hatred and barely–suppressed fear. The companion remained several feet behind, too afraid to step into the circumference of his shadow.
There had been no one to stop them, no guards. What would be the point? Nothing and no one could harm him, not while he was engaged in his holy work.
He waited for precisely two and a half seconds, to let that scent of anticipation rise from her, and then he spoke.
"A good day to you, Satai Kats," he said simply.
Another man might have expected an angry response, bitter sarcasm or the like. But not him, and not from her. He knew her. He knew her soul. She was afraid, but she had a particular kind of iron resolve. She would never mask her fear with anger, not like her companion.
Sebastian almost admired that.
"And to you, Mr. Sebastian," she replied, a cold formality in her voice.
"A marvellous view, is it not?" He gestured to the vista from the observatory. "It never ceases to remind me just how small and insignificant we are. We mortals, beneath the shadow of space, with the light from the stars so faint, so far away, and yet so beautiful. Very few are truly capable of staring into the infinite, even fewer from my home. We are a rare breed, those of us who can do that and remain unchanged."
"It is a truly an impressive sight," she acknowledged. "But tell me, to what precisely are you referring? Space, or the Vorlon fleet?"
Outside, surrounding the station, the Vorlon ships swam lazily, beautiful and terrible, with a constant air of menace. Sebastian knew she was trying to decide whether to think of them as birds or fish, flying or floating, and he scorned the triviality of her mind. She saw more than most, but she was still so.... small.
So filled with sin.
They had all been. So many of them, filled with sin and licentiousness and small dreams. They had to be purified, for the salvation of their immortal souls. He had opened them to the heavens and prayed to his Gods, prayed for the salvation of humanity. And as he had stared into the infinite in the body of the last whore, his Gods had come to him.
"Both, of course," he said simply. "It is a useful lesson to remember, for all of us. It matters not what we think we know, or what we imagine we can do. We can bestride space like a colossus, or split existence down to the smallest essence. We can walk among dead worlds and we can cross the stars.
"And yet, whatever we achieve, we are always less than we would wish."
"I seem to recall someone telling me of a race who believed the same thing."
"It is not uncommon."
"They realised they would always be less than their Gods, so they sought out their Gods and killed them, and thus they became more."
Sebastian smiled. He'd known that, of course. If she was testing him, she would have to do a great deal better than that. "That race of which you speak.... the Gods pursued them for their hubris and reduced their world to ashes and dust, as you did to my people's for their crime against you. As my people did to you in turn."
His smile grew broader - not wider, for his smile was never anything but a thin, razor line of faint colour against the pallor of his face - but longer. "Do not try to test me, Satai. Or should I call you 'my lady'?"
She twitched, once, involuntarily.
He reached forward and touched the necklace she wore. A sign of vanity. It did not matter how small or how personal, jewellery was a sign of vanity, and vanity was a sin and sins were to be punished. Her face was very close to his, and he was impressed to see fear openly expressed in her eyes. She did not try to hide it, did not try to lie, did not try to mask it with false bravado or anger.
"Have you found him yet?" she whispered.
"Your husband is long dead, Satai."
"You know of whom I am speaking."
"He will kill you."
Sebastian's free hand caressed the silver top of his cane. His one excess, a small one, and necessary. His cane was the instrument by which he brought justice and purification. It had to look impressive to instil fear into the hearts of the unvirtuous.
"Then, Satai, you will have to wait and see. It is said that the poor hunter chases his prey. The wise hunter waits where he knows his prey will arrive. I have spent almost two years gathering information, learning his weaknesses and his vulnerabilities. He will come here, he will walk up to me, and I shall destroy him."
"He's defeated better than you."
"There are none better than me. Primarch Sinoval is coming here. I can feel the ship of the dead growing closer all the time. We know what he intends, and we will destroy him. I told you that I know all his weaknesses, Satai. All of them. It is a commendably short list."
Power crackled through his staff, and through him.
And through her.
She cried out and slumped to the floor, shaking. He tapped his cane against the floor and a wave of energy shot through the room. It poured into Tirivail before she could even move, and slammed her into the wall. She fell to the floor, unconscious and still.
Kats was still conscious, but shaking. He gently tapped his cane against the floor again and she cried out again.
"It was very convenient of you to come and find me, but I would have sent for you in any event. It will be.... oddly fitting that I destroy him here, beneath the gaze of my lords."
Kats looked up at him, and the fear in her eyes was more pronounced now.
"Weakness such as yours always leads to downfall in the end.
"Watch shortly, and I shall demonstrate."
* * *
* * *
Here we are, all of us.
There could be a worse group from which to assemble an army, but few spring to mind.
The Brotherhood Without Banners, raiders and ravagers and monsters. They sought profit and war, mercenaries and soldiers in a galaxy which, briefly, seemed to need neither. They look to me for inspiration and purpose.
The Tak'cha, over–zealous, dangerously fanatic. They are butchers who will scour the galaxy in their holy war if left unchecked, and the only leader I have given them is a man who has already betrayed more lords than I care to count.
My Soul Hunters. Not warriors, but scholars and custodians. Once they went to war and filled the whole galaxy with blood, spreading terror where they walked. Not even death was a safe haven from us. Is that the fate to which I am dooming the galaxy?
All that keeps these people together is me.
They call me a monster, they call me a heretic, a blasphemer, an abomination.
They can call me whatever they like. I do not care. Their words cannot hurt me, their anger cannot harm me, their hatred is not a weapon I fear.
Am I not still their saviour?
They call me Accursed, and they are right, but not in the way they believe.
I think they will find that every curse has a way to undo it. Nothing is written in stone, and even if it were, stones can be shattered.
I know no fear.
I feel no pain.
And I have business with you, Sebastian.
I could have hoped for more of us, but I will use what we have.
Sinoval stepped to the very edge of the precipice, staring into space. He closed his eyes.
"Susan," he said.
"Yes," came her reply. She was not here, not on the precipice, but she was inside Cathedral, and thus as near as if she stood in his own shadow.
"We are ready. Wait to a count of five hundred, and take the fleet in.
"I have faith in you."
It was too late.
* * *
* * *
Looking back at my life, it seems that until this point it was merely long, quiet years of boredom followed by a few quick and terrifying weeks in which people seemed to want to kill me.
That is not quite right, of course. My childhood years were neither long, nor, truly, boring. I had friends. I had the usual childish activities and concerns. I had family. And those few terrifying weeks were not filled with people trying to kill me. I was incidental, little more than a bystander. Of all the great players on that stage, only G'Kar knew I even existed, and his thoughts were doubtless far from me. To the rest of them - General Sheridan, Primarch Sinoval, Delenn - I was just another in a series of numbers.
Some of these great people I would meet later. Some I would not, but that does not change my point at all. Every one of those numbers is a real person, with their own lives and their own dreams. Every sentient life destroyed is a dream never to be known again. Primarch Sinoval once said that the greatest leaders are those who can look at the numbers and see just numbers and not people, or so I was told.
I cannot do that, because I remember when I was just a number. Afraid, alone, missing my home and my family so very badly, encountering death for the first time.
It is a frightening thing, to be a number.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.
G'Kar ran as fast as he could from that dark and bloody charnel room, trying to force the sight of all those bodies out of his mind. He had things to do, and quickly. He could feel all his achievements and dreams running through his fingers like sand. He could see all those who had died in his quest watching him, disappointed in his failure.
There was no one out in the corridors of Babylon 5, only the security guards who stood back as he ran, looking as lost and confused as he was. There were no leaders here, and without them the station had become a drifting, rudderless thing, each person retreating into their own concerns.
Precisely as he was.
That was a frightening thought. Could something as large and noble as the Alliance really collapse from the loss of a mere handful of people? Could others really not think and act for themselves? What would happen when he and those like him died?
Had they really built utopia for a single generation?
He reached Na'Toth's office and stopped by the door, pressing the chime frantically. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he could smell again those charred bodies. He could see Narn erupting in flames, and the image merged into G'Kael's head caving in with the impact of the ceiling, then to Durano being torn apart.
The door opened, and Na'Toth admitted him. "Welcome, Ha'Cormar'ah," she said bitterly. He entered and the door closed.
The room seemed very dark, at least compared to the brightness of the corridors outside. He actually had to take a few moments to let his eyes adjust.
"I suppose that you have not heard the announcement," Na'Toth said calmly. "We are all to remain in our quarters. No ships are to enter or leave. The jump gate has been closed. The entire station, in fact the entire Alliance, is under martial law."
"The Vorlons?" he breathed.
"The Vorlons." She nodded. "Apparently there are spies of Sinoval's here, as well as numerous other traitors, and they are to be rooted out."
"Lies," he whispered, despairing. "All lies. We said things they did not like, we thought things they did not like, and...."
"That may well be true, but it is not all lies. Primarch Sinoval does have agents here."
G'Kar looked up. "You?"
That revelation hurt him more than he could have thought possible, more in some ways than the deaths he had just witnessed. He had trusted her.
Was there anyone who was not hiding something from him?
"How long?" he asked.
"Not long," she replied. "Less than a year. I was never.... satisfied with the Alliance, not really. Certainly not with the response to the Drazi's declaration of independence. My dislike reached certain ears and someone approached me."
"That's for me to know, Ha'Cormar'ah."
"What did you know?"
"If you mean about G'Kael, I did not know. If you mean certain problems with the homeworld, then yes, I did know. I knew we were supporting a group of raiders in an attack on Centauri space, but not that we had Shadow help."
"You could have...!" G'Kar paused. "No, there is no point in recriminations. I am as much to blame as anyone. Do you have a plan?"
"Indeed I do." She walked to the table and picked up a blaster and a long knife.
"You can't fight them all off on your own."
"I won't have to."
G'Kar's eyes widened.
"Yes, Ha'Cormar'ah, he is on his way here."
"You're going to turn this station into your battlefield. No, you can't do this!"
"Ha'Cormar'ah, I have the greatest of respect for everything you have achieved, but you were blind in more than one eye long before you went to Narn. Perhaps this could have been resolved peacefully, but not now. I have sent out a call to certain of our allies. Their ships will be here soon. If the Vorlons think they can take this place, they will have to fight for it."
"It will be a massacre!"
"I would rather die than live as a slave, Ha'Cormar'ah. I am sure you sympathise." She raised the knife, and G'Kar felt as though he had been transported back in time, and was watching the young and beautiful Da'Kal performing the same action.
He reeled backwards and slumped against the wall, staring at his hands. They seemed to be covered in blood. By G'Quan, was there no one he could trust, no one who would not betray him?
He glanced to one side. L'Neer was huddled in the corner of the room, rocking slowly back and forth. She looked up and met his eye, and he saw the sheer fear in hers.
He crawled over and put his arms around her. She sank into his embrace with a wail. G'Kar wished he could weep - for Lennier, for Lethke, for Da'Kal, for the Alliance, for all those who would die today. But he could not.
His one eye would not let him.
* * *
* * *
The air was thick and heavy, the red duller and darker, the voices....
and seductively soft and
They were there, near the edge, too near, tendrils lapping over on to the world of
They wrapped around him.
He'd known they were here. He'd been to
He'd seen the ruins of the
He knew they were nearby
Monsters worshipped by Gods.
You will obey us.
That was their cry, the cry of the Lords of Order
But even they obeyed someone else
The beings that waited beyond this universe, beyond the gates, beyond the
Worshipped by a few
The Lords of Order sought
but even they
Secret members who worshipped secret Gods
Bewitched by a war millennia old
the war that had destroyed
Sinoval could feel himself
leads from the
They were here
close to the edge.
He did not
But he knew what they were and he
For those who did know
These creatures were fear.
black hearts beating in the mausoleums of stars.
whispering to him
He was Primarch
He was Sinoval
He had the
He called out his
The door opened and
* * *
* * *
Sinoval the Accursed, Primarch Majestus et Conclavus, stumbled back to real space, reeling and nauseous. He fell to his knees, the welcome weight of Stormbringer at his side. Around him power crackled, burning and forceful and pounding.
He looked up, his head almost too heavy to lift.
"Primarch Sinoval, I presume?"
* * *
* * *
Susan ran as fast as she could, until she thought her lungs were going to burst into flames and her legs collapse into jelly. Never in her life had she moved with more urgency.
Each step leading to the precipice seemed steeper and higher than the last.
The Well had been angry, dark whispers resounding in her mind. It wasn't as if she wanted to hear that gibberish. Death, lots of warnings about death.
There is danger. Remember.
Of course there was danger. They were about to besiege a space station housing the most important people in the Alliance and guarded by a massive Vorlon fleet. Of course there was danger.
And where was Sinoval?
She thought she knew, but she prayed she was wrong.
There was a figure standing on the precipice, but it wasn't Sinoval.
Moreil turned sinuously to face her.
"The Chaos–Bringer is not here," he hissed, his ugly, rasping voice hitting her like fingernails on slate.
"No," she whispered, trying to get her breath back.
"He has gone ahead of us, to bring the war to the enemy."
"Yes," she breathed.
Yes, gone ahead to take on the Vorlons in single combat, presumably. God save her from all this death–or–glory rubbish.
"Then we must follow him, and spread the fire with our footsteps."
She looked at the alien, the Shadow–spawned alien, and she saw the fanatical zeal and passion in his twisted, wrong eyes. She knew why Sinoval had spared his life, and she knew he could be used, but she didn't like it, and she didn't like associating with him.
But as she raised her head and looked at the fleet arrayed in hyperspace around Cathedral, waiting for the order, and as she remembered her purpose, she made the decision that Sinoval had always known she would have to make.
Sinoval, if we both survive this, I'm going to....
She never completed that thought. Instead she looked at Moreil.
"Yes," she said.
* * *
* * *
No one troubled him.
No one stopped him.
No one interfered or even looked at him
Anyone who passed him by ducked to one side, pressing themselves tightly against the corridor rather than meet his gaze.
John Sheridan had acquired a reputation amongst the Minbari when he was younger. He was the Starkiller, and more than one Minbari child had woken from nightmare visions of his face in the dark. The John Sheridan who walked through the corridors of Babylon 5 was more terrible by far than all of those dream images put together.
He reached the door he wanted, a door that was unguarded, for who would want to break in here?
It opened at his touch, and closed behind him.
From here, he could see everything around him - the Vorlon ships massed and ready, the myriad jump points opening to admit the invading fleet. He should be there to defend his station from the invaders, but he was not needed.
<We have been waiting for you,> came the voice from the bone–white Vorlon.
He paused, and looked around at the beginning of the battle.
"I'm here now ," he said at last.
* * *
It is acceptable for you to hate us. It is even right that you do so.
You hate us because we are perfect, and that perfection merely reveals your own flaws. By hating us you see this, and you accept it.
Accepting your own weakness is merely the first step towards your apotheosis. You hate us, and hatred is merely a form of envy. You hate us because you wish to be us, and that hatred will be your first step along the path to becoming us.
To becoming perfect.
We have never wished you harm, never wished to hurt you, or destroy you. You are our children, and we are your parents. All parents want only the best for their children, to see them grow and learn and become strong.
But as children grow they must be forced to become other than that which they were. Children are selfish and self–centred and greedy. An adult must be different.
The very act of growth is one of change, becoming different from that which you were. So it is with the growth of your race. We shall change you, that you may grow and become something better.
And then you will never need to change again.
* * *
He liked to think he did not feel, this creature of Order, of cold and passionless regimen and duty. That was what he had been told before he was.... changed, that he would never feel again.
And certainly, that was mostly true. He had felt no fear since the day he had been reborn. He had felt no doubt. Uncertainty and grief were now just words to him, or tools with which to manipulate others.
But there were emotions there. He sometimes thought of these as wrong, but at other times he recognised them for what they were.
Pride: in himself for acknowledging his own strength and conviction.
Satisfaction: on witnessing the effect of his existence.
Joy: in the aftermath of a task well done.
Gratitude: to his Lords for enabling him to be their tool.
Hatred: for those who would seek to oppose his great and holy work.
He felt all five at once as he stared down at the prone figures of his opponents. Satai Kats, the liar, the whore, the conspirator. Tirivail, the traitress, and the traitor's daughter.
The arrogant, the Accursed, the one who could not see where his duty lay. Sebastian had seen many like him over his long years of service. Petty little men, who sought to raise their heads above the herd and cry out, a piglet bleating to its mother to show it more attention than the others, a cog in the machine that thought itself more than the machine.
Vanity and vainglory, that was all it was. Some people simply could not accept that they were a tiny part of a greater whole, and they sought to become the whole, or worse, to create an entirely new whole built around their own selfish concerns and desires.
Some of those had seen sense, had repented and recanted and returned to their positions chastened and chastised. The others had been removed, smoothly excised like the cancerous cells they were. There would be a brief and localised illness, but the whole would soon recover.
This Sinoval would be no different. He had power, yes, and, unusually, he had power both spiritual and temporal, and he wielded authority among too many. He was intelligent and quick, and possessed of devious cunning.
But he was playing games with those who had been masters of the game since time immemorial, and eventually he would lose. He was mortal after all, and mortality carried within it a flaw as basic as the need for breath or nourishment or love.
Some were flawed in many different ways, or by many different means, but all possessed at least one flaw. Some few - the blessed, or the fortunate, or the particularly virtuous - were permitted to transcend, and that flaw was removed. Some few were made perfect.
Sebastian had knelt, glorying in the holiness of the Lights Cardinal, and he had heard Their plans to render the entire galaxy perfect, as he had been rendered perfect, and he had wept with joy and exultation at such an existence.
But first, there was one matter to deal with. One little matter, and that was all he was. No matter how great or noble or heroic he thought himself, Sinoval was only a small concern in the grand scheme of things.
"Primarch Sinoval, I presume?" Sebastian said, standing over the body of his opponent.
* * *
you will obey us
* * *
Delenn did not like Babylon 5. It was not that she did not like the Alliance, or even most of the people involved in it; but she did not like the station itself. The first time she had set foot in it she had suddenly become very cold, a great fear assailing her as if from nowhere. The emotion had soon passed, and for a long time she had kept it to herself.
She had told G'Kar though, not long before he had left for Narn. He had looked surprised, and then confessed he had felt exactly the same way.
And, in common with G'Kar, she regretted the lack of a past here. Kazomi 7 reminded them all with every step what the Alliance was for. No one could look at these stones bathed in blood and not be chastened and touched. Kazomi 7 was built on the blood of the innocent and the memories of the survivors.
Babylon 5 was new, far away from Kazomi 7 - in a central position at the heart of numerous trade routes, but still far from the people the Alliance was meant to represent. Perhaps if it had existed sooner, if it had known battle and fear and death and glorious defiance as Kazomi 7 had done, then maybe it could have been the emotional centre it so desired to be.
If the station survived this onslaught, perhaps it might yet become that, and the Alliance might be strengthened by it, but Delenn doubted that very much.
The Alliance was dying, perhaps even dead. The thin, hairline cracks she had seen during the past few years had grown into mammoth fissures. Any attempt to heal them could be no more than plasters to a man missing all his limbs.
But she was a healer. She had discovered that for herself. She was a healer, and she would heal.
She would at least try.
Fortunately there were others who felt as she did. G'Kar, Lethke, Kats, David.... she tried to think of other names but faltered. Surely there were others, or had the entire Alliance become filled with warriors or cynics or opportunists? Had the good men and women become so filled with bitterness that they no longer saw even the possibility of victory without bloodshed?
She missed Lyta - but Lyta was gone, defected to join Sinoval, or so it was said. Delenn could not even find the mind of the woman who had been her closest friend.
She missed Londo, but he was close to death, burdened by his own problems and his own ill–health. She could have acted sooner to help him, to save him, but she had preferred the good of the whole Alliance over the good of one friend, or one friend's people. Just another paper–thin crack that had become a chasm.
She missed John, but he was dead, had in fact been dead for years. She should never have brought him back from the ruins of Epsilon 3. She should have left him there to live always in her memories rather than become the man who had broken her.
No, that wasn't fair, but she was hardly fit to think of him now.
She was not a wife, she was not a mother, she was not a leader.
She was a healer.
There were few, precious few who could help her, but the Alliance had been born from only a few, and perhaps it could be re–born. Lethke would have needed a great deal more stealth to have hidden his meeting from her eyes, although she had not discovered his plan until after she had returned from the garden, limping and hobbling.
These were good people, people who desired peace and tranquillity, and if they worked together....
The smell of the room hit her while she was still in the corridor. At first she hoped it was just an illusion, or a memory, but as she came closer she realised that it was real. She kept hoping, daring to believe it might be something else, right until the moment she reached the still–open door.
These were not bodies, at least not the ones she could see. They were lumps of flesh, ruptured and torn and mutilated. One piece of flesh bore a fragment of Durano's red coat. The blackened Drazi corpse could only be Taan Churok. She wept at the sight of Lethke's body.
Her heart almost stopped when she saw the all–but–headless body of a Narn, but as she looked at it closely, with the cold, dispassionate glance that can only arise from the purest fear, she saw that it was not G'Kar. The clothing and build were different, and this had to be G'Kael.
She could not see G'Kar at all, and there was only one Narn body. Perhaps he had never arrived. Perhaps he still lived. Perhaps....
"G'Kar," she whispered, holding on to that one thought. She did not know how these people had been killed, although she could suspect, but if G'Kar still lived, then maybe their lives' works would still endure.
"He.... lives," rasped a broken voice, and she turned. There was a movement behind a table which had clearly been hurled into the wall with tremendous force. It took Delenn a long moment to recognise the voice.
She moved forward cautiously, lifting the hem of her skirt and picking a slow trail across the mass of flesh. As she got close enough to look behind the table, she saw Kulomani, blood sprayed across his chest and still dripping from numerous wounds.
"At least.... I think so," he said, gasping for breath. Horrible sounds came from his chest, the grinding of countless broken bones, a grisly rasp against the faint drumbeat of his heart. "Heard voices.... from the.... other side of the.... world."
"What happened?" she asked, leaning over to touch him. He shook at the lightest caress on his chest.
"Vorlon," he said, his eyelids fluttering. "Treason.... it said." He sighed. "Can't.... feel my legs." He looked up at her, his eyes filled with sincerity and conviction. "Kill me."
"No," she said firmly, tracing the outline of the table. It was hard to tell where it ended and Kulomani began, but she managed it eventually. Both his legs were broken, probably completely shattered.
"No," she said again, biting her lip and trying to think of some way to move the table gently. Then she looked at the mangled ruin of his lower body, and reached out to touch his upper thigh. "Can you feel that?"
"Feel.... what? You.... have to...."
"No," she said again, her decision made. It might be that he would die anyway, but she would not let him die, and she would not kill him here. "We have seen too many die," she said angrily, her hands exploring the table for a hold. "This Alliance was built after far too many deaths, and it was built to celebrate life. We have all forgotten that, myself included, but it is time to remember. I will not let you die." She found a grip and dug her fingers in sharply.
"I am a healer, you see."
She forced the table up with all her strength. Kulomani let out a loud cry and his head flopped backwards, but she managed to get the table clear, pushing it away to one side.
His legs looked even more ruined from here, but as she looked closer she saw it might not be as bad as she had initially feared. The bones were smashed, but no limb was severed, and she knew Brakiri bones to be very supple. With time and rest they would probably knit. He might even walk again - or he might not.
"Commander Kulomani," she said, looking down at him. He did not reply, and she wondered if the blood loss or shock had finally killed him, but his eyelids fluttered. "Commander Kulomani."
"Empty," he whispered. "You.... are empty."
She took his hand and pulled him up so that he swayed against her, barely upright.
"I am filled with my purpose," she said firmly. "What else do I need?"
His head bobbed, and he seemed to be nodding. "What.... else.... indeed?"
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
She took a deep breath. She should be angry. No one could fault her for being angry. In fact, no one could fault her for being absolutely bloody furious. And she was.
But she was also ready. Unlike last time, she understood the need for this. Sinoval could not be everywhere, and his mystique drew on his personal power and force of will as much on legend. He had to be seen. Besides, he obviously had things to do which were more important than leading his bloody fleet.
She knew the objectives, and the reasoning behind it. Babylon 5 was the centre of the Alliance, an important symbol. It was also the current location of a lot of important people who would have to be rescued.
Susan had a very uncomfortable feeling she would have to destroy the station in order to save it.
She looked out at her fleet, trying to breathe slowly. Sinoval thought her capable of this. He must have done, or he would not have gone on ahead. He certainly wouldn't have jeopardised everything just for a single blaze–of–glory mission, would he?
She gritted her teeth, and began to speak.
"Is everyone ready?"
Her voice would go out across her fleet. All of them could hear her, and she could hear all of them.
"We are ready," replied the cold, dead, emotionless voice of Marrago, leader of the ragtag army formed from the remains of the Brotherhood Without Banners.
"To war we go, with no fear or doubt," said another. "May our ancestors watch over us." Susan had no doubt that Marrain and the Tak'cha were ready and fearless.
"Yes," came a simple reply, spoken no doubt through teeth as gritted as her own. Vizhak had watched his homeworld fall under the grip of the Vorlons, only barely managing to escape himself. He had been another of Sinoval's private projects, but he had worked to gather as many of his people as he could. Hungry and angry and filled with desire for revenge.
The Soul Hunters did not reply, but Susan could feel their acceptance vibrating through the Well. They would go through anything for their Primarch.
What a mess this was. In one way or another the three commanders of the fleet were all dead men, trapped and lost in grief. They were the renegades and the monsters and the bandits and the dispossessed.
They were an army of freaks.
Susan touched the pattern of scars on her face and felt the whisper of her mother's touch in the back of her mind.
She was a freak as well.
"You all know the plans," she said. "Hold the Vorlons back from the station, assemble a boarding party. If we can drive the whole fleet away, so much the better, but that's secondary. There's a list of people we have to get off the station before the really heavy fighting begins."
"And if a single one of you puts revenge above the overall plan, I'll personally skin him alive.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
Sinoval lifted his head and opened his eyes. Around him he could hear the screams, the waiting, anticipating
from elsewhere, from behind the barriers of hyperspace. The
the Vorlons had brought through.
The human was standing there, still, not breathing, a faint, satisfied smile on his face.
"You would be Sebastian," Sinoval whispered.
The journey through hyperspace had never felt like that before. The Aliens were nearer than he had suspected. He had seen their city in the dreamscape where Sheridan and he had been imprisoned, but that had not been entirely real, just the reflection of the night sky in a lake filled with the black blood of the dying.
The things that had reached out to him in hyperspace were real, terrifyingly real, and close to breaking through.
"I am. Inquisitor Sebastian of the Order of Seekers for Truth and Penitence, to allow myself my full title."
"Of course." Sinoval coughed, trying to remember how to breathe, trying to remember how to force his heart to keep beating. "Formality." He sat back on his heels. "Sinoval, once of the Wind Swords, Primarch Majestus et Conclavus, Lord of Cathedral."
"Formality indeed," Sebastian intoned. "It is always good to meet with politeness, with someone who recognises that manners are inherently necessary in a diplomatic meeting such as this. In the interests of formality, may I inform you that the Lights Cardinal of the Vorlon High Command have ordered you placed under arrest for various and sundry crimes against the natural order of the galaxy. You are to be transported to Their August Presence, alive if possible, but should you resist I am to take you to them dead. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly," he breathed. His breath was coming more strongly now, and his body was beginning to feel more normal. His muscles were tense, ready for the explosion of motion that would begin this. His fingers slowly curled around Stormbringer's hilt.
"Those who have aided or assisted you in your crimes are also to be placed under arrest," Sebastian added. "I have already begun this process."
He stepped to one side, a single tap of his cane on the floor punctuating the motion.
Kats was there, lying still and unconscious on the floor.
She was not dead. Even weakened and confused, Sinoval could see that, but she was hurt. The sight of her fragile, gentle beauty touched him in a way he could not have anticipated. It had been two years or more since he had last seen her, before Golgotha, before Sheridan, before the black heart of night beating in the necropolis crafted by dreams.
It had been easy to push her out of his mind, but now she was here before him, vulnerable and wounded, and he had not been expecting her.
The Well tried to cry out a warning to him, but the voice was distant and he did not react as quickly as he should have done. He tried to move forward, but Sebastian was ready for him. The cane swung in a smooth, graceful semi–circle and smashed into the side of his head. He fell, reeling, stunned by the electricity crackling from the length of the cane.
"I am authorised, and indeed requested," Sebastian said, "to use whatever force I deem necessary in the pursuit of my duty."
He struck Sinoval again.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
For Senator Dexter Smith, sleep was not something to be welcomed. Not now. It was not that he suffered from insomnia, in fact that would have been preferable. It was that when he slept he dreamed of the grave, of worms eating his flesh, of cold damp soil filling his mouth and his eyes, of skin cracking and rotting and becoming dust.
He had to will himself to wake, and then there was nothing to do but stare up at the ceiling, careful not to wake Talia. She was sleeping well, and he supposed he should envy her that, but he could not. He doubted he could envy anyone anything.
He could hardly bring himself to touch her. Her skin was cold and clammy, her hair smelled of mist in a graveyard, her heartbeat was the slow, dying thud of a drum whose drummer is losing strength.
Sometimes she felt warm, and at those times he let her stay with him and sleep beside him. They did nothing else. He could hardly bring himself to touch her, or anyone else. He could not bring himself to kiss her. It was only the gentle touch of her mind that made her presence bearable.
It was not that he had stopped feeling for her. He doubted he would ever do that, but he could see no point in anything. He could see only death in everything and everyone. Even in her.
Little things provoked strange memories within him. He thought about kissing her, and he remembered the first girl he had ever kissed, only now she was not full of life, with a shy glint in her eyes and shaking almost as hard as himself. Now she was a hollow skeleton, her lips blue with cold and skin that broke at his touch, revealing emptiness beneath.
Every other memory he had was the same. Everyone he remembered was dead, a skeleton, a revenant.
Was that what death was like, he wondered frequently, the slow and gradual corruption of all the good memories, until all that remained were the bad, and there was no reason to carry on?
Fortunately he had a reason. Those creatures, the things from elsewhere, had to be stopped. He had to stop them, because he had seen one, and without the training and discipline of the telepaths who had shared the experience, he had seen and experienced more. It had been driven back, back into the Apocalypse Box from which it had emerged, but it was still there, and he could feel it every time he looked at a living - or dying - being.
That was his goal, but there were things he had to do first.
"You're crazy," Talia said to him one day when he told her of his plan. They had spoken such words before, about one insane plan after another. The breaking into the hospital to rescue Delenn was yet another memory that had turned to ashes, for they had got there to find Delenn already dead and yet they had brought her out anyway, but this time the words were spoken without jest. No joking. No banter.
He supposed he was. No one could look upon that thing and remain sane. No one could look unprotected upon the infinity that was another universe and not see things differently.
He was a human being, and he was still alive. That was what he told himself when he doubted, as he did so very often.
"I have to do this," he had replied simply.
"At least take me with you."
"We should leave soon," said the Vindrizi. Dexter did not like to look at him. The body was human, but the force animating it was something entirely different. The human body was fallible and weak, and he could see the flaws running through it, tiny fault lines far beneath the surface. But that did not matter to the Vindrizi itself, a being with an existence of hundreds of millennia. It could wait and live on. It didn't matter to Dexter either. It didn't matter how long any lifespan was - all things died, and one day the Vindrizi would die too. And it would cease to exist with an even greater fear than that experienced by humans.
"I must do this," he had said again.
Neither of them understood. Or perhaps they had understood and he had not noticed. Regardless, he was convinced it was right that he do this. He was human, not a machine, not a walking corpse. He was human, and he would repay his debts.
That was why he found himself looking up at the impressively tall Edgars Building, home of Interplanetary Expeditions, looking at the cracks in the plexiglass and plasteel. That was why he found himself waiting outside the office of its secretive controller and conspirator, Mr. William Edgars.
He had wondered if an old man would be more obviously dying than the younger people he had seen. To his slight surprise, that was not the case. Everything was dying equally.
Death begins with life, after all.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
And so the ships came through, bringing war to the place built to symbolise peace.
The Drazi, a race punished and sanctioned and enslaved.
The Tak'cha, a race of exiles, without home, without understanding, without atonement.
The Brotherhood Without Banners, raiders and outlaws and murderers and monsters.
The Soul Hunters.
The Vorlons were waiting for them, of course.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
.... never need to change again.
The Vorlon's voice was seductive and soft, the voice of a kindly uncle comforting a young child who does not understand the way the world works. It was the voice of wisdom, of the understanding of a teacher or a friend.
General John Sheridan did not need a lesson in how the world worked. He was not a young child, and he did not need wisdom.
What he needed, what he understood he needed, beneath the raging anger and the howling emptiness, behind the legion of ghosts staring at him with blank, unforgiving eyes....
What he needed was answers.
<You know anger,> the Vorlon continued. <Anger can make you strong, for a time. You know grief. Grief can make you strong, for a time. You know pain. Pain can make you strong, for a time.
<Everything you give birth to is ephemeral. Everything you experience or create is fleeting. You are short–lived creatures, and thus you have short–lived concerns.
<Can you truly say that your grief and your anger and your pain benefit you? They are merely ephemeral, and when the fleeting strength they grant you passes, what remains?
<We are eternal, and we have become eternal by putting aside ephemeral things. We have ceased to look at the present, or the future, for we know they are one and the same. Thus we feel no fear, we feel no anger, we feel no grief, we feel no pain.
<We want you to understand these things.
<You are special. You are unique. We say these things to you, because we know that you will understand. You have been deceived by those you thought you loved, and that deceit has left behind anger and grief and pain.
<But had you never known love, then you would not be experiencing the things you experience now. You would be stronger, not just for now, but for eternity.
<You would have taken your first step towards becoming as we are.
<We offer you this as equals. We do not seek to rule you, or to dominate you. We do not desire slaves. All we desire is for you to be as we are.
<Eternal, and unchanging.
<What do you say, Shadowkiller?>
General John Sheridan looked up at the Vorlon, past the patterns swirling and writhing on its bone–white suit, past the fluttering of distant wings, into the pale glow of its eye stalk.
"What do I say?" he asked.
"Cut the crap."
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
He was heavy, heavier than any living being should ever be no matter how large or muscular, and Kulomani was neither. He was weighed down with the burden of having seen death.
Fortunately for him, Delenn possessed the strength of one who has also seen death and does not fear it. She could not carry him, but she could drag him. His left arm rested across her shoulders and his right arm pushed against the walls, providing just enough pressure to keep his battered legs sliding across the floor.
He had said very little since they had left the charnel room, although every step had torn new cries of pain from him. For her part Delenn was content with the absence of words. She did not want to speak. She wanted to think.
Every building is created one stone at a time, one brick on top of another. So had it been with the original Alliance, and so it would be with the new Alliance. Currently there were Delenn and Kulomani, but G'Kar had survived, so there would be a third. That would have to be a start.
The journey to G'Kar's quarters was long, but mostly uneventful. There was no one in the corridors. A few security guards had been posted at the transport tubes to enforce the curfew she had not ordered. They backed aside wordlessly at the look in her eyes.
She could hear irregular, echoing clangs - the sound of a battle outside, debris hitting the hull. She did not know who was fighting, and it did not matter. Her concern was here.
The door to the Narn Ambassador's quarters was locked, as she had expected. She pressed the chime, and was not terribly surprised to find that it didn't work. Finally she resorted to knocking.
There was no reply.
She knocked again.
Still no reply.
"Someone is there," she whispered to herself. She could hear movement. Narns were seldom stealthy, with a few notable and terrifying exceptions. "G'Kar!" The sound of movement grew louder, and there seemed to be a scuffle.
"In nominus Primus," rasped Kulomani, struggling to lift his head. "Es su dest." His head slumped again, as if the effort of those six words had exhausted him.
The door opened and Na'Toth stood framed in the entrance.
"In nominus Primus, es su dest," she repeated. Kulomani nodded weakly, and she stepped aside.
Delenn led him in, mentally translating the words. They made some sort of sense to her. In the name of.... something, so is.... what is come. The future. In the name of something, so is the future.
Several things happened at once. Na'Toth closed the door, she laid Kulomani down on a stone table, she saw G'Kar slumped against a wall, a cut on his face and a Narn girl clutching at his side, and she realised what the word meant.
"Primarch," she whispered. "Primarch!"
"No," Na'Toth said acidly. "Not me, but someone I work for." She looked at Kulomani. "Someone we work for."
G'Kar moved forward. "Kulomani! I thought you were dead, but.... Sinoval!" He looked at Na'Toth. "Both of you. He is the one who introduced you...." He paused, and looked up at Delenn. "This has been a very confusing day," he said finally, with an air of exhaustion.
Delenn smiled sadly and sweetly, and stepped forward, her arms open. G'Kar was strong and warm and she held him tightly.
Their embrace lasted for a few moments and then she pulled back, her smile fading. Gently she reached up and touched the long scar across his eye. "A most confusing day, indeed."
He nodded. "Kulomani, how is...."
"He will live," Na'Toth said, from where she was standing beside him. "Or he will die. Most of us do in the end, but I doubt he will die today."
"I thought you were dead," G'Kar said. "I would never have...."
"So did I, Ha'Cormar'ah," the Brakiri said.
"Any others? If you survived, then...." Delenn shook her head, and G'Kar bowed his. "Then what now?" he asked.
"We survive," Delenn said firmly. "And we rebuild. We have survived, and we still care about the ideals of the Alliance. We must salvage what and whom we can, and rebuild."
G'Kar looked terribly sad. "I do not think that will be possible."
"But the four of us...."
"Peace is a delusion," Na'Toth said. "You do not seek to negotiate with your enemies. You destroy them."
"Sinoval," she whispered, comprehension dawning. G'Kar had said as much, but she had hardly heard. Only now did the words and the meaning sink in. "Both of you."
"Both.... of us," Kulomani said.
"And others," Na'Toth added.
Delenn looked helplessly at G'Kar, then staggered back against the wall, sinking helplessly to the floor, clutching her knees tight against her body. She wanted to think of something to do, but she was suddenly so tired.
What had Kulomani said? She was empty.
That was not true. She had her purpose. All she lacked was the next step.
She was suddenly aware of a presence next to her. Looking up, she saw the little Narn girl. She had been aware that G'Kar had returned with a child, but she had not enquired further.
"Is something wrong?" the girl asked solicitously.
"Yes," she said. "A great many things. I am sorry, little one. I have not told you my name. I am Delenn."
"My name's L'Neer," said the child.
Delenn's resolve crumbled at the sound of the name. She looked up at G'Kar, who looked away rather than admit the truth she had now recognised.
Everywhere she looked, everyone she knew....
They were all dead.
She opened her arms and L'Neer came to her. She held the girl tight and wished she could cry, but, like G'Kar, she had no tears left.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
"Do I look like a tactician?"
Susan could see everything from the pinnacle. At times like this she could understand Sinoval's eternal sense of superiority. Standing here, seemingly on top of the world, she could see them all. The ships seemed so close she almost felt she could reach out and touch them.
No wonder Sinoval acted as if he were a God. Standing here, he practically was.
The battle was going better than she had cause to expect, but that was still not particularly good. The Vorlons were too many, and too powerful. Not to mention the defences of the station itself. The fleet was disorganised, fighting in small units rather than one cohesive whole.
Still, she had to admit that those small units were fighting well, especially the Drazi. They were completely heedless of any sort of tactics or fear and were impossibly relentless. She had seen at least two damaged Sunhawks deliberately throw themselves into a Vorlon ship.
The Tak'cha were swarming their enemy, using very impressive hit–and–run tactics. Guerrilla warfare, almost. Someone had been training them.
The Brotherhood were chaotic and random, but that very randomness allowed them some leeway. Marrago had identified key targets, and the Brotherhood were taking them out. Most of the defence grid had already been shut down.
And the Soul Hunters and Cathedral.... they were fighting as one unit, directed by one guiding mind.
Susan would be the first to admit she was no tactician, but when her army had two expert generals and the combined knowledge of millennia guiding it, she did not have to be.
But even she could see that they would be lost if things carried on like this. They had managed to force a small breach in the station and she hoped a boarding party had made it on board, but she could not be entirely sure.
She wished she could see inside.
And with that thought, she could. The station seemed to rush towards her, and she almost jumped out of the way for fear of a collision, but the walls passed around her and suddenly she was inside.
"Well, this is.... interesting," she breathed.
Navigating the scene was far from easy, but she managed to move herself around. There was a boarding party, led by.... surprise, surprise, Marrain himself. He and the Tak'cha were fighting a group of Security officers, and doing well.
Now where the hell were the people they had to get out? Susan ran through the list. Delenn, Sheridan, G'Kar, Kulomani, Na'Toth, David, and she really hoped he was all right. It was just like him to get caught in a mess like this.
Where were they?
All of a sudden she could feel Sheridan's presence. Casting around, she tracked him down.
There was a room filled with light. Sheridan was looking at a Vorlon clad in pasty bone–white armour, mottled and spotted. The Vorlon seemed to be looking directly at her, but it evidently did not notice her. It was speaking to Sheridan.
<What do you say, Shadowkiller?>
"What do I say? I say....
"Cut the crap."
Susan took in the scene, and paused.
Then she knew what she had to do, and shouted out one word as loudly as she could.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
I am a warrior. I am Minbari. I am of the Wind Swords.
We are cold, the cold of stone, the cold of winter. A hard people and a harsh land.
Sebastian struck him again, the power thundering through his body, pain crackling along his nerves.
We were feared because we knew no fear. We would use the bodies of our brothers as weapons if we had to, and know that they would use our bodies as weapons should we fall.
The stories he had told Susan, the stories of Marrain and the Wind Swords, surged within him. There were other stories as well, all living in one. Tales of Shingen, of Parlain.
They called our armies the coming of the cold, and they feared us, because we feared nothing.
Sebastian struck him again.
No loss, no grief, no sorrow, no pain could deflect us from our task.
The coming of the cold.
Sebastian brought his cane back for another blow.
I am Sinoval.
He pushed forward and caught the cane as it came forward. The sparkling blue lightning crackled along its length and burned into the skin of his palm. He could smell his flesh singe and burn, but he kept up the iron grip.
Sebastian displayed no emotion, assuming he ever did.
It was a pity, Sinoval thought. Sebastian would have made a fine Wind Sword.
Then he remembered Kats lying still, and that lent him new resolve. He fought back, hauling himself up, straining, his feet digging into the floor. Still grasping firmly to the glowing shaft of Sebastian's cane he let himself weaken just a little, just a small step back. Then, as Sebastian fell, he pushed harder, releasing the cane.
Sebastian crashed hard against the far wall, the impact obviously jarring him. Sinoval grabbed Stormbringer from where it had fallen. The hilt was cold against the charred flesh of his hands, but that did not trouble him.
He was the cold.
The coming of the cold.
Sebastian moved forward, more swiftly than Sinoval had anticipated. The human's face was expressionless, but his dark eyes revealed his anger.
"There is nothing," Sebastian said simply, "that can save either you or your fleet. You do understand that?"
"I do not fear," Sinoval rasped. "I am a warrior of the Wind Swords. Mine is the cold, the stone, the throne of rock studded with spikes as a reminder that the life of a warrior is pain. Mine is the huge hall of the chill air."
"Shirohida," Sebastian said, carefully. "A thousand years dead and gone, nothing but a burned–out wreck even before your world died."
"No," came the reply. "It lives.... here, within me."
"Interesting. So what are you then? Minbari, or Soul Hunter? Warleader, or Primarch?"
"I cannot be both?"
"For as a mortal man hath but one soul, so hath he but one purpose, and that purpose is to serve. And no man may serve more than one master. You are divided, and division is a flaw. I see we had little need to pursue you. Left to your own devices you would have collapsed in pieces. You are no conciliator, no unifier, no melder of broken peoples. You are trying to be too many things. Where is the real Sinoval?"
Sinoval did not reply. With each moment his breath grew easier, his muscles harder, his body stronger. With each moment the pain was less. Let him talk.
"Buried beneath so many words, like a cheap doll covered in countless layers of paint. One person saw the real Sinoval, did she not, and where is your precious Deeron now? She fled from your bed, and died at your hand. There is no one alive who knows you, who can see anything but illusion upon disguise. No one...."
Sebastian stopped, and a sly smile of triumph spread across his face.
"I do apologise," he said. "It appears I was mistaken."
Behind him Kats began to stir, then she rose to her feet.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
"Senator Smith, always a pleasure. I had almost thought you had gone into hibernation, hmm?"
That was a joke. He did not find it funny. Hibernation was a long sleep, and sleep was just a death from which you awoke. Or was it the other way around - that death was a sleep from which you never awoke?
"Mr. Edgars," he said. "Good morning."
The old man looked at him. The dying old man looked at him. Smith thought he had built up some resistance to this sort of thing by now, but he had not. The sight of the grinning skull beneath Edgars' permanently machiavellian expression unnerved him.
Edgars tapped the commpanel on his desk, deep in thought. "Miss Hampton," he said.
"I believe I have an appointment with Mr. Zento later this morning."
"Yes, sir. In two hours."
"Inform him that something has come up unexpectedly and I will be unavailable. In fact, I will be unavailable all day."
Edgars sat back, fingers steepled in front of his face, masking his expression. Smith liked that. Skeletal fingers were preferable by far to the sight of that grinning skull.
"You've changed," Edgars said. "I've seen that expression in people before, some young men, some very old. I was a little younger than you when I first saw it on myself in a mirror."
Smith said nothing, content to let him talk.
"You've seen something, or done, or felt, or experienced something. Whatever it is, it's completely changed your entire world–view, hasn't it? When we are young, we have such clear ideals, such a precise understanding of the world and our place in it, and then occasionally something happens to shatter all that. Where once there was certainty, now there is only doubt.
"I saw it in myself when I first spoke to a telepath. I had seen them before of course, and I had always known of their existence, but it was the first time I had spoken to one.... I could sense her superiority beneath the surface. Despite the uniform and the badge and the gloves, she still behaved as if she was better than us."
He sat forward.
"And do you know what? She was right. They are better than us. They have a power that I cannot comprehend. Oh, I can imagine it, but I can never know for certain. That revelation, that I was a second–class citizen because of something missing in my mind, in my DNA.... well, that changed me. I saw everything differently from that moment.
"You've seen something as well, haven't you? What is it? I assume that's what you came here to tell me?"
Smith nodded and walked forward, one hand still in the pocket of his trousers. He pulled the PPG out and laid it on the desk. Edgars leaned back again, looking up at him.
"I've seen Death," he said simply.
* * *
You will obey us
* * *
The whole thing took no more than a second:
Ah, child. You have called for me. How are things progressing?
Badly. You did know you were sending me to a death–or–glory bloodhound with delusions of Godhood, didn't you?
I knew he was flawed, yes. Were he perfect there would be little need of your intervention. How is his training progressing?
It's weird. Sometimes I think I've got somewhere, but then he goes and does something totally alien, or stupid, or incomprehensible, or all three, like now for instance. He's gone off alone and dumped all this on me.
Perhaps he sees you as his successor.
Once, I can accept. Last time, it wasn't really as if he had a choice - but he's the leader here, not me!
Ah, a battle. I see.
Anyway, I can moan about him later, if there is a later. You said I could call on you once, and you'd help me, right? Whatever it was.
I did, although my power to intervene is perhaps not as overwhelming as you may think.
Whatever. I don't know quite how this seeing thing works, but I can see John. He's talking with one of the Vorlons.
Yes, so he is.
I.... you can see it?
Through your eyes, yes.
Oh.... good. I want everyone to see it. Hear it, too. Everyone on the station, in the fleet, the lot.
That may risk revealing my involvement to the Vorlons.
Then risk it.
Do you believe this is so important?
I wouldn't ask if I didn't. What he's saying, it's something everyone has to hear. That's what you kept telling me, that this isn't just a war about armies or territory, it's about ideology and belief and philosophy and them trying to dictate what's best for all of us.
Well, I think John's about to tell them all that their ideology stinks, and it's something everyone should hear. There are too many people who think the Vorlons are a necessary evil, even after what they did to Narn. We can't afford to let any more planets be destroyed before people finally get up and do something. The more people who hear this conversation, the more people will act now. Do you get me?
You did promise. Any one thing, and you'd do it.
I did. Very well. It is perhaps a little too late for me to continue to hide, and time I should 'get up and do something'.
That's not what I meant.
No, it is. I will do as you ask.
The whole conversation took less than a second.
* * *
You will obey us!
* * *
His breath was as fire from his lungs, his eyes were as cold as the halls that had given him birth, his blade was as black as blood at midnight.
Any lesser man would have been intimidated, but Sebastian was not a lesser man. He was a man who had stared at infinity and survived with both purpose and sanity.
Kats looked at the tableau as she rose, coughing and shaking, and she could feel the power crackling in the air between them. Sebastian was talking, but the words hardly registered. Sinoval said nothing, or if he did speak, she could not hear the words.
And then Sebastian paused, and she had the impression that he was smiling.
"I do apologise," he said. "It appears I was mistaken."
He turned and looked at her. She saw in him then the eyes of a murderer, the eyes of a monster who knows too much and understands too little. She had faced madmen before, and she knew then that Sebastian was not mad.
He was coldly, chillingly sane, the kind of sanity that cannot tolerate any madness at all, no matter how insignificant.
"My lady," he said, and the words cut her to the quick. He was holding his cane in one hand, tapping the silver top in the palm of the other. "It is so nice of you to join us. We were having a spirited discussion. Perhaps you can help us. What, in your opinion, is Primarch Sinoval?"
She did not look at Sinoval, keeping her eyes fixed on Sebastian despite the gorge rising in her throat. Her hand clutched her necklace so tightly that it drew blood.
"What does that matter?" she asked.
"He seems to be under the delusion that he is a hero. What do you think of that?"
"I don't know."
"Really. How disappointing. I know that you do not know who you are, but I had hoped at least that you knew who he was."
"He's a good man," she said, breathing slowly. "He has done bad things, and he is capable of doing horrible things. To be honest, I am more scared of him sometimes than of anyone else I have ever known.
"But he is still a good man for all that. He has never intended to do wrong."
"How.... interesting," Sebastian said. "So very blind. Shall I tell you about good people with good intentions? Good people are weak, you blind woman. I believed once that I was doing good, and others called me a monster. I had good intentions, plans to erase debauchery and weakness and barbarism, and I was branded insane. Anyone can perpetrate acts of horror and barbarism and claim that they had 'good intentions'.
"As for him, his intentions are as irrelevant as yours. Deeds are what matter and what have his shown him to be?"
Kats smiled. "A good man. A strong man."
"Strong? On the contrary, he is flawed. Weak. Incomplete."
"Oh," she said, softly. "I don't know about that."
Sinoval darted forward, Stormbringer flashing. She had not seen the preparation, but she had heard his breathing, and she knew him. Sebastian took a step back and raised his cane to parry, but Kats had expected that.
Leaping forward, she grabbed the cane and struggled to wrench it away from him. The power surged at her, and burned her skin. She screamed and let go, but she had done enough.
Stormbringer smashed into the human's side. She heard Sebastian's ribs break and saw his face twitch, for just one second, in a grimace of pain.
Sinoval kept up the attack. Sebastian took slow, measured steps backwards, a defender's steps. Sinoval's attack was that of a warrior - aggressive, furious, strong.
But as Kats cradled her burning hands against her belly she saw that Sinoval was too wild, that he had lost the control he had always exemplified. Please, she thought. Stay calm. Don't let him provoke you.
Then she saw Sebastian parry Stormbringer and hold it with his cane. The black blade of the pike seemed to absorb the lightning and draw it into Sinoval. She watched as his grip weakened, then she scorned her own advice and lunged forward.
It hurt to move her hands, but she had lived with pain before, far greater pain than this. She clawed at Sebastian's face, raking at his eyes, throwing her body at him. He slipped and stumbled, and his cane almost dropped from his hand.
Her momentum forced him to the floor. She swayed, but managed to stay on her feet. She stumbled back as Sinoval readied his final blow, a sideways swing that would surely break Sebastian's neck.
With inches to spare, Sebastian brought up his cane. It was less a parry than an attack on the blade of Stormbringer itself. Kats saw the ball of lightning form an instant before the strike. She doubted if Sinoval did, but he could hardly have missed the sound that accompanied the impact.
It was an awful noise: the sound of metal breaking, and a soul with it. There was a flash of light, a blur of motion, and a short, sudden pain in her stomach.
As Sinoval staggered back, seemingly blinded, she saw that Stormbringer was shattered. The piece that Sinoval still held was no longer than his arm. Sebastian leapt up and thrust forward with his cane. Sinoval tried to parry, but Stormbringer was not long enough, and he was moving too slowly, as if he were swimming in air as thick as blood.
Kats coughed, and realised that she was coughing up blood. She looked down.
And saw Stormbringer's jagged shard embedded in her stomach.
But it hadn't hurt at all, she thought dumbly as she fell forward to her knees. She managed to raise her head and look up, only to see Sinoval reeling backwards and Sebastian aiming carefully–judged blows at him. She tried to say something, but all she could do was open her mouth and cough up more blood.
The last thing she saw before she fell to the floor was something she had never realised could happen:
Sinoval, Primarch Majestus et Conclavus, falling on the field of battle.
* * *
Or you will die.
* * *
<We offer you salvation.>
"No, you don't. You're offering us stagnation. You're offering us nothing, now and for eternity."
<You are flawed. We offer you perfection.>
"Maybe we don't want to be perfect. Have you ever thought of that? Maybe it's our flaws that make life interesting."
<We gave you life. Were it not for us you would be a broken shell, felled by your own sickness. We gave you....>
"You tried to control me, that's all you did! Don't you dare try this altruistic, we've–only–got–your–best–interests–at–heart spiel on me."
<We have only ever desired to protect you.>
"Maybe we don't need your protection."
<You spurn us. You spurn our gifts.>
"Well, that's a funny thing. One of your guys gave me a gift earlier. The gift of truth, I suppose it was. And it hurt. Oh God, it hurt."
"Shut up! Damn you, I've stood here and I've listened to your crap for all this time, now you can at least listen to me! Yes, the truth hurt, but I'm glad he told me, because after I stopped blaming the person I shouldn't have been blaming, I looked around.
"You sent her there to die, you self–righteous sons of bitches. You sent Delenn to Z'ha'dum to die, and you probably knew she was pregnant and you didn't care one little bit! There's your perfection for you, there's your caring and nurturing and altruism right there. When it comes down to it, you'll throw people away just because it's convenient."
<You are a leader. You know what it means to have to send people to their deaths.>
"Yes, damn it, I do, but I regretted it each and every time I did it, and I never, ever sent someone to die just because it was more convenient that way."
<You were to be our leader, our general.>
"And Heaven forbid I have anything distracting me from that, hey? Like, I don't know, a wife and kid? I'm so sick of you and all like you trying to control me. You tried to make me turn against Delenn by giving me your truth, and for a time I did, because I was so angry I couldn't think straight! Sinoval tried to make me turn against you by mind games and parlour tricks and philosophy and I wasn't sure what to say because I had no idea what I was meant to be doing.
"For a long time I had no idea what I was meant to be fighting for, but after listening to all that crap you've spewed out, I've made up my mind.
"I'll fight for my friends, if I have any friends left. I'll fight for Delenn, if she'll even have me back, which she has no reason to. I'll fight for those who need someone to lead them who isn't a zealot like you or Sinoval.
"And I'll fight against you because you're nothing but arrogant, stuck–up, holier–than–thou puppeteers who think you've got the right to do whatever you want!"
<We have offered you power. We have offered you perfection. You have turned us down. You are the discordant note in our song, the stone that turns beneath our feet, the shadow that mars our light.
<You say you will fight us. We say this:
<You will obey us.
<Or you will die.>
You will obey us!
"No," Sheridan replied calmly.
* * *
The Alliance had been tottering for some time before the battle at Babylon 5. Even if events had not been forced as they were, it is likely that the collapse would have happened eventually. Some authors have even maintained that the Alliance was flawed from the very beginning.
The history of the Alliance had been one long walk towards annihilation, with numerous flashpoints. The Drazi Conflict. The enslavement of the Centauri. The destruction of Narn. But the date commonly accepted as being the day the Alliance ceased to function was 20th November 2263. The day of the Battle of Babylon 5.
It was a battle fought on many fronts. Outside the station, the rag–tag fleet Primarch Sinoval had gathered fought the Vorlon forces. Inside, Marrain and the Tak'cha had managed to board the station on a 'rescue mission' that rapidly degenerated into slaughter. Sinoval faced his hunter, the Inquisitor Sebastian.
And most importantly, General Sheridan confronted the Vorlon responsible for it all. The Vorlon was only identifiable by its bone–white encounter suit, but given the Vorlons' habit of changing their encounter suits at their convenience, it is hard to be sure what part that particular creature played either before or after this event. Certainly the Vorlons liked to present themselves as a monolithic, singularly focussed group, many parts of one machine working in unison, but as even Primarch Sinoval was forced to concede, that was simply not true. It cannot be denied, however, that their reluctance to provide names makes tracking their movements difficult.
It is generally believed that the white Vorlon was one of the leaders of the High Command itself, a Light Cardinal. Whether it knew anything about the Aliens from Elsewhere, however, remains unclear.
But at that moment its attention was fixed entirely on General Sheridan, and it was that confrontation that turned the tide of the battle, even the war. It centred, as many turning points do, on an enemy making a mistake. It was a rare error for a Vorlon, but it proved telling.
MATEER, K. (2295) The Second Sign of the Apocalypse. Chapter 9 of The Rise
and Fall of the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the
Beginning of the Third, vol. 4, The Dreaming Years. Ed: S. Barringer,
G. Boshears, A. E. Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.
* * *
<We are your masters and your saviours. Ours is the will that binds and guides you. Without us you are nothing, scattered and torn and disparate. We have given you purpose and we have given you life.
<All we ask in turn is your obedience.
<Is that truly so much for you to pay?>
"What? Doing whatever you say? Frantically trying to tidy ourselves up, hoping we won't do anything that might upset you? Living without individuality or emotion? Without choice?
"Putting it bluntly, yes, it is too much to pay."
<You act out of anger, but anger is a servant that wishes to be master, as you are. We will remove anger from you, and you will no longer be a slave to it.>
"You don't get it, do you? You really don't. And you never will. I'm not saying we're perfect, any of us, but maybe we don't want to be."
<Why would you not seek perfection? Betterment has always been the greatest goal of every sentient race.>
"Maybe, but we'll better ourselves on our terms, not yours. You say you've only ever wanted what's in our best interests?"
<You know that to be true.>
"Then leave. Follow the Shadows and get out of our galaxy. Hell, they've left. You won. Congratulations. You don't need to stay any more."
<That is incorrect.>
"Really? Well, of course you'd say that. You simply can't admit that this whole thing wasn't about us at all. It was all about you beating them. You fought them for so long, and now you've won you're just sitting around wondering what to do with the rest of eternity. So, you figure, why not? Why not actually try and do something with us, just because you can.
"We're not your guinea pigs, and we're not miniature versions of you.
"At least the Shadows finally admitted it at the end. They accepted they weren't doing any good, weren't doing what they were supposed to do, and they left.
"I'm thinking they might have won after all. At least they admitted their mistake, which is more than you ever have."
There was a cold wind, a chill, icy blast through the room.
<You will be silent. We are not mistaken.
<You will obey us, or you will be punished. We do this not out of anger, or hatred, because these things do not affect us. We do this because it is for your own good. The cancer must be removed before the whole can heal, and then the whole will thank us.
<We wanted you to serve us, to be our general and our voice to the other races, but if you spurn us, if you reject us, then you are the thorn at our feet, the barrier in our path.
<And you will be removed.
<You will obey us, or you will die.
<Speak, and know your fate rests on your words.>
* * *
They had left eventually, all five of them. Delenn supported Kulomani as before. G'Kar carried L'Neer. Na'Toth walked ahead, alone.
The sound of fighting was very distant, far–removed from reality, but Delenn could feel it with senses more acute than the normal five. She could sense every life flickering and dying, and she wept for every one of them.
Is this the life you wanted, Sinoval? Are all these deaths your desire?
It would stop. It had to stop, and they were the ones who had to stop it.
She was not a warrior. She was a healer.
She repeated those words to herself as they walked, for each step of Kulomani's that dug into her shoulder, for each anguished breath he took, for each rasp of broken bone grating against broken bone.
She would heal him, and she would heal the Alliance.
No one challenged them. No one even saw them. When they finally arrived at Command and Control, the whole place was deserted.
"Behold chaos," Na'Toth said grimly. "They can cover the galaxy with their spies, but they can't stop their spies from fleeing or hiding."
"Actually, they can," G'Kar replied.
"Chaos creeps in everywhere, however much they try to fight it."
Delenn said nothing, but kept walking. The door slid open obediently, and she entered. There was no sign of activity. Through the observation window she could see the battle raging outside. Gently, she laid Kulomani down on a chair. He said nothing.
Picking up the hem of her skirt, careful of her injured ankle, Delenn ran to one of the control panels. She could stop this, order the Dark Stars to stop fighting, contact Sinoval. She looked at the panel and paused. She had studied the systems here. She knew them well.
And yet this.... this was completely alien to her. None of it made sense.
"None of it works," said a bitter voice from the far corner of the room. Delenn whirled. Sitting against the wall, elbows on his knees, looking tired and drained and haggard, was David Corwin.
Na'Toth moved forward instantly, knife in hand. "No!" Delenn called. "He's a friend."
"I know who he is," Na'Toth hissed. "But I cannot trust he is who my eyes say he is."
"I don't blame you," David said, rising. Delenn went to him, brushing past Na'Toth. She looked at David, and then stepped forward to hug him tightly. Her son had been named after him.
"Have you seen John?" he asked her. She stiffened, and pulled back.
"We must do this without him."
"He was.... strange. Like he was before. Distant, and angry and.... I don't know. He looked and acted more like his old self when I saw him on Minbar, but now...."
"We must do this without him," she said, more firmly.
"None of it works. Not a single thing. I've been trying to contact people, to call for help, anything, but none of it seems to work."
"There have been.... revisions to the operating system," Kulomani said. "In the interests.... of efficiency."
"The Vorlons have shut us out."
Kulomani's face twitched in a semblance of a smile. "You made me.... Commander.... of Babylon Five. I would.... have been a poor choice if I.... could be defeated by something so.... simple. Help me to my terminal."
He rose, swaying, holding tightly to the back of the chair. Delenn rushed to his side, but G'Kar was there first. Delenn watched as he made his way painfully to the Commander's terminal. He sat down awkwardly, and began.
It was then that they heard the voices.
* * *
Tirivail was dreaming.
She knew that, but she could not force herself awake. She was standing at the top of a giant mountain, looking down upon all the armies of the galaxy massed before her - awaiting her command, her leadership. The finest warriors ever assembled, and she would lead them. Her father was there, kneeling before her to accept her command.
This can be yours, said a voice at her side. She turned, and saw an ethereal being, a spirit crafted of light, attired for war. Lead them against our enemies, and all this can be yours.
"Who are you?" she asked.
The spirit became darker, lightning crackling from it. The sky turned black, the air cold.
Understanding is not required. Questions are not permitted. All that is required is order and obedience. You will obey us.
Tirivail looked down at the armies again. Her sister was there, and her father, and Sinoval, and even Kozorr. She breathed out slowly, although she knew that here she had no need to breathe at all.
"All I have ever known is order," she said calmly. "Obedience to those in command. Not to question, not to think, just to hear and to obey. I have always tried to serve to the best of my ability.
"But I was never good enough. Never. I am not worthy to lead armies, and that is not even what I want to do. You cannot give me what I want.
You will obey us or you will die.
She smiled. "I am a warrior. I am not afraid to die."
The lightning thundered from the sky and tore into the ground at her feet. The spirit of light faded and a voice came, as if from elsewhere.
"At least the Shadows finally admitted it at the end. They accepted they weren't doing any good, weren't doing what they were supposed to do, and they left."
"I'm thinking they might have won after all. At least they admitted their mistake, which is more than you ever have."
There were two voices, one nearby, one from a long way away. She could not tell which was which, but she knew someone was calling her by a name she did not know. One was speaking to her, the other was just speaking.
<You will be silent. We are not mistaken.>
A third voice, one as dark and chill as the mountain itself.
And then she awoke.
Memory returned in an instant. Kats, and the human Inquisitor, and the staff crackling with lightning, and the rush of force that had thrown her against the wall.
"My lady," said the voice. "You wake."
She did not know the voice any more than she knew the face. He was attired as a warrior, but in a strange, almost alien style. She blinked for a moment, and realised that it was warrior garb from a thousand years ago.
"No," he said. "Not Berevain. For a moment, I thought...." The man jumped to his feet in one lithe motion, and held out his hand to her. She backed off and rose unaided. "You are Tirivail," he said. "I remember you now."
<And you will be removed.>
She flinched from the anger of the voice in her mind. She looked at the warrior, but it was not he who had spoken. She doubted that any mortal being could speak with so much anger. "Who is that?" she asked him.
He looked puzzled for a moment, and then he nodded, understanding. "You can hear them too, of course. They are our ancestors, or our Gods. They are arguing in the heavens even as we wage war here."
"We have no Gods," she said bitterly. He smiled, but did not speak. "War? Kats!" She spun on her heel and ran towards the observatory. The force of the blow that had struck her had knocked her clean out of the room. Kats was there, with the Inquisitor.
She came skidding to a halt. A wall of blue force filled the doorway. Behind it she could see the silhouettes of figures moving, as if dancing, or fighting. As she reached forward the skin on her hand began to creep, and she pulled back sharply.
"A barrier," said the warrior.
"Kats is in there!"
"So is Sinoval. Whoever he fights cannot have long to endure. Your lady is safe."
"I swore to protect her! I promised his ghost I'd keep her safe!"
"She is safe, my lady Berevain. Now, we have a war to fight. Our enemies are everywhere. If we are to liberate the prisoners, we will need all the help we can get."
"We? Who is 'we'? And who are...?" One of the aliens came into view, dark blood staining his pike. She recognised a Tak'cha when she saw one, then memory returned and understanding dawned, and she realised to whom she was speaking.
"You are Marrain."
His eyes flashed. "Marrain the Betrayer, my lady."
She looked back at the wall of force, and then at Marrain. She nodded once, and then followed him away from the battle.
* * *
"Then I guess I'll die."
* * *
William Edgars had heard numerous theories about what happened when you died. There was of course the ubiquitous 'life flashing before your eyes', that single moment stretching out into years. But he had always favoured the idea of nothingness - no pain, no fear, nothing at all.
He was wrong, as he discovered.
"What do you mean?"
"I've seen Death."
"I assume that word merits the capital letter. I do not disbelieve you, Senator Smith. Tell me what you have come here to tell me."
"There was a box. It was called the Apocalypse Box. It was a.... gateway of some kind, into somewhere else. Something came through. Death.
"I've seen aliens. I've been in space. I've seen and done terrible things, but nothing like that. I never used to believe in a God or the Devil, but if a Devil exists, that's it. It looked at me, and I could feel it inside my mind, examining me as if I were an insect.
"I was wondering if you knew what that thing was."
"The Apocalypse Box?"
"That was the name I knew it by."
"Four years ago our agents were excavating ancient ruins on an abandoned planet. They found various religious objects. One of them, a Mr. Eilerson, managed to decipher the symbols as the work of a cult that worshipped death, recording that death had visited them in the form of a spirit.
"After a great deal of searching they located the temple of this cult, and they found an orb there, the size of a large man's head. They brought it to me personally. I could see dark clouds hovering within it, and I could feel something not quite reaching out to me, just beyond my comprehension. I gave the orb to a colleague of mine called Morden. I didn't want the thing anywhere near me."
"Seedlings, they said. Objects planted in our galaxy through which they could return."
"Tell me, Mr. Edgars. Do you think these things could happen and your lords not know about it?"
"Perhaps. If Sinoval were...."
"No. He has no part of this."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. They.... they are angered by the thought of his name."
"Then.... no, they will know."
"I see. Tell me, Mr. Edgars. Do you think these creatures can be defeated?"
"Nor do I. I can feel them. They touched me, and I doubt that I will ever recover. Whatever they may do to me, I am still a man, and a man pays his debts. You have been good to me, and you have helped me. I know you had your own reasons for doing that, but you helped me all the same. I am going away, but I wanted to repay my debt to you first."
"You do not want to be here when they come."
"I see. Thank you, Senator Smith. I will ensure you are not delayed on your way out.
"Miss Hampton. My guest will be leaving now. Ensure that he is not detained."
"Cancel the rest of my appointments for today."
"And.... may I take this opportunity to thank you for all you have done for me. I appreciate it, and I know I do not say this often enough."
"Sir? Is everything all right?"
"Yes. I am fine. I just need to.... think about something."
What really happens just before you die is that one single moment of your life is replayed before your eyes.
The woman was precisely one–and–a–half inches taller than him, and perhaps a year or two older. Not a great deal, but enough for a fourteen–year–old. She was wearing the uniform and the black gloves. She fiddled nervously with her badge, trying to make it sit exactly level.
"Do you think it looks all right?" she asked.
"It looks.... fine," he said, stuttering and hesitant.
She looked at him, and his throat went dry. He had known her when they were both children, but then one day she had suddenly gone away. He had learned later that she had been taken in by Psi Corps. He had written, and she had replied.
It was the first time he had seen her in five years, and she seemed to him to be the most beautiful woman in creation.
She came slowly towards him, and he tilted his head, his heart pounding so fast he thought it might burst out of his chest. Their lips touched, and he was surprised by how soft and warm they were. He was not aware of anything else at all, nothing could have distracted him from that moment.
Then he felt it.
The merest touch at the front of his mind, like a tiny breath of wind in his face. He pulled back sharply.
"What?" she asked.
And then it hit him. She was a telepath. Everything about her.... was special. She was different - and not just different. She was better. She was superior.
She had something he would never have. She was superior to him, and she knew it.
He just wished he could remember her name.
He just wished he had been able to apologise.
"Ah, well," he breathed, or perhaps he only thought the words.
The PPG fell from William Edgars' dead hand. His eyes were closed before it hit the floor.
* * *
We are your masters and your saviours.
The words hit them at the same time as they hit everyone else on the station, but for Sinoval and Sebastian they had a far deeper meaning. Sebastian stiffened the instant he heard them, snapping to attention with the instinct of centuries.
They were his masters, and his saviours. The words were simply accepted.
For Sinoval, lying stunned and near–comatose, the words came from a long way away, from far beyond the tidal wave of pain and shock that had swept over him. Stormbringer, his blade, the weapon into which he had poured his soul, was broken.
He had fallen on the field of battle. His weapon broken, his confidence shattered, blind and deaf and mute, he was unaware that Kats had fallen too. To him, the words that sounded in his mind were the confirmation of his defeat.
He was lost.
The words continued, Sebastian still standing stiff and to attention, Sinoval still dazed and paralysed, each man accepting them for what they were, the voice of the Vorlons triumphant and powerful.
And then came the human voice - an angry voice, furious, twisted by grief and rage. It sounded so very different from the calm precision of the Vorlon. It sounded irrational, discordant, off....
It sounded individual.
It sounded real.
It sounded free.
It sounded human.
Sebastian's face contorted into a mask of rage as he heard Sheridan shouting at his master and his saviour, daring to criticise the lord of Light, daring to oppose the reasoned logic, daring even to say that the vanquished Enemy had been triumphant....
.... had been wiser!
"What is this?" Sebastian asked. The voices continued, and he grew more and more enraged. "What is this?!"
Sinoval heard his words, but they were screamed from far away, no more real, or just as real as the others.
"This is your doing!" Sebastian roared. "This is your doing!"
Sinoval did not reply.
Nor did Kats, slumped against the wall, coughing blood and bad dreams while breathing though iron mesh.
* * *
All of them heard it. All of them saw it.
<You will obey us, or you will die!>
"Then I guess I'll die."
<You do not fear death?>
"I fear a lot of things. I'm afraid I'll never get to tell Delenn how sorry I am, or how angry I am. I'm afraid you'll carry on walking blind, destroying us all without realising it.
"And I'm afraid no one will actually learn any lessons from all this. That's the greatest weakness we 'ephemeral' beings have, you see. We don't learn from the past.
"But I'm not afraid of dying, and if the choice is death or kneeling before you and kissing your shiny encounter–suited boots, then I'd rather die."
The encounter suit opened, and the blazing light poured out.
The Vorlon spoke in a chill, precise, judicial tone.
* * *
They all saw it, and every one of them felt it.
Every single one of them died with him, for just a moment.
And then, as the pain receded, the anger began.
* * *
"Son of a bitch!" Susan roared. "You son of a bitch!"
The image stopped with that awful rush of pain through her body. The words faded, along with the powerful surge of emotion that had accompanied them. The anger remained of course. That was hers, not his.
"You worthless son of a bitch!"
That is the price of receiving what you asked for, spoke the eternally level voice of Lorien in her mind.
"They killed him! Just like that! Just because he wouldn't do what they said!"
Yes, they did. That, as was once said, is the problem with mortals. They tend to die.
"How can you be so bloody smug?"
Would anger help?
"Anger always helps."
You have not been close to him for many years. Both of you are very different people from when last you met. What was he to you that you grieve so?
"Listen. This isn't grief. This is anger."
I always believed the two to be one and the same.
"Not on your life. And it doesn't matter what I thought of him. God, I knew Anna. She was my friend, and she's dead as well. And he and I.... we once.... that's not the sort of thing you.... Dammit, I want to kill every last damned one of them!"
Yes, that is anger.
"Can't you help, or were you just going to stand there mouthing platitudes?"
I have done all I can, and I think you will find it was enough for now. As you will soon see. It was a pleasure to know you, Susan Ivanova. I go now with reason to feel proud. You have exceeded my highest expectations.
"What the...? Lorien, what...?"
Time returned, and with it a pause of a single second, and then the furious, shocked voice of the outmanoeuvred white Vorlon.
<You let them see!
<You let them all see!>
* * *
She did not cry.
She had thought she would cry. This was a moment she had thought about for many years.
This was war. It was a fact of war, a necessity of war, that people died.
He had been ill, some years ago. Terminally ill. She had been prepared for his death.
She could have cried then.
But not now.
As the Blessed Delenn of Mir watched General John Sheridan die, she found she could not cry at all.
She looked around at her companions, searching for their reactions. Na'Toth still stood guard at the door, weapon ready. Kulomani was continuing to work at his console. Perhaps neither of them had seen.
G'Kar's single eye was closed, and he was muttering a prayer in his own language. L'Neer clung tightly to him, and Delenn felt an intense pang of sympathy for the child. After all she had been through recently, this must all be so bewildering for her.
"It's a lie," hissed David's voice. She turned to look at him. Angry tears were pouring down his face. "It's a lie. It's all some trick...."
"A trick to demonstrate how lost they are?" Delenn asked coldly. "A trick to reveal to us their weaknesses, their foolish pride? No, this is no trick. It is real."
"I don't believe it."
"That is your prerogative. I know it is true. It has the feel of a real thing."
She stared at him, and she could see the betrayal in his eyes, the anger and the grief at the loss of a friend and a mentor. Why could she feel none of these things? Why could she feel....
"It is done," Kulomani said. He had continued working throughout the conversation, throughout the blaze of light and the burst of pain, and throughout the dull, dead silence that had followed. Perhaps he had not heard.
"It is done," he said again. "I heard, and I saw, but I had a task, and it is done." His words were stronger than she had expected, but perhaps the visions had given him strength.
"You can talk to everyone on the station, to the fleets, to anyone you wish," he said. Then he closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. The sounds coming from his chest were chilling, but Delenn said nothing. She walked slowly over to one of the terminals and activated the newly–freed commpanel.
What to say?
What to say?
There were no words....
* * *
It is done. We are defeated.
No, Cardinal. We have won. We have slain their hope. We have killed the one who defied us, as you have killed those who would conspire against us.
It is done. We are defeated. You will not dispute me again.
You have been a loyal servant, but loyalty is not a shield, and a hundred loyal acts do not outweigh one disloyal one. We are defeated.
You wish to speak.
He is fallen, Cardinal. My prey. He is fallen. I have him.
This was his doing. They all watched, and they all saw our weakness. Anger is a flaw. They all saw this, and that was at his bidding. We have acted in anger once already this day. We shall not do so again. When he is to be destroyed, it shall be an act of purity. You have become too bound up with this one, our servant.
Yes, Cardinal. It is true.
We have been defeated this day. Not by war, nor by arms, but by ourselves. This is not a war for their worlds or their lands or their ships. This is a war for their hearts.
What are your orders, Cardinal?
We have shown them our power. Now we shall show them our mercy. We are creating a sanctuary here, a place of perfection. We desire only those who wish to stay. Those who wish to go may leave. They shall depart unmolested, but they shall be forevermore denied our sanctuary. We saved them from the Darkness, and if they choose to turn their backs on us, then so be it. All who depart this day shall be denied paradise.
He will not stop, Cardinal. He will continue to oppose us.
And we will destroy him - but not from anger. We will remove him because that must be done, and we shall do it in the correct manner, at the correct time. Let him depart.
For all his power he is tied to his emotions, and that will destroy him. The female. Already she is dying. She was his reason for fighting, although he never knew it. Mortals understand so little of why they do what they do. He will lead them, and his flaws will become more apparent. He will destroy himself over time, as Chaos always does. You have served us well, in this as in all things. Do not let anger overwhelm you now.
You questioned our will, and for that you are to be punished.
Yes, Cardinal. I accept your decision.
He is to live. Leave him, now. Before he wakes.
Have no fear. Victory shall be ours, in time. He shall destroy himself.
* * *
Sebastian slowly and deliberately lowered his staff, taking two precise steps backwards. Sinoval still lay semi–conscious, twitching and shaking. It would be so easy. A single strike, and it would be done.
No. The thought disappeared as soon as it arose. His Masters had ordered otherwise. They had ordered him to leave, and so he would leave.
There would be another time. Sinoval would destroy himself.
It was.... irritating, but necessary.
Sebastian supposed he still had a long way to travel until he reached the perfection, physical, mental and spiritual, that he had been promised.
He glanced briefly at Kats, still holding the gaping wound in her stomach, blood seeping into her robe and onto the floor. Carefully, he stepped around it and walked on, not giving her a second glance.
* * *
This is to all those who can hear us.
We are your friends and your protectors. We are your saviours and your salvation. We want only the best for you.
We want you to see this for yourselves.
And so we say this. Those who desire to do so may leave this place. For one hour, we declare a cease–fire to enable this to happen. We will grieve for each and every one of you. Those who depart from this place shall be forever cast out of the light.
To those who choose to remain, we offer perfection, we offer our protection. We are not your enemies, and we never have been. We are your friends.
For those who have raised arms against us, it is not too late. Repent, come before us, and we may be merciful. Your actions will be considered and weighed and it may be that you may yet live. We never forget, but we can forgive.
Those who continue to oppose us, we shall destroy. There is no mercy for those who continue to battle against the Light. There shall be no forgiveness for those who ally with the Darkness, who bring Chaos, who bring war where we seek only peace.
You have one hour. Should this cease–fire be broken, we will respond in kind.
You can trust these words. We do not lie.
His death was regrettable, but necessary. You have seen our justice, and now you will see our mercy.
We love you all.
* * *
It hadn't even hurt.
It still didn't.
Kats knew there must be pain, but it seemed a far and distant thing. Everything seemed distant to her. She was.... not floating, but drifting - at peace, in perfect emptiness.
"Is this what it was like for you?" she whispered, looking around. "This sense of.... perfection?"
Then she heard her name being called, louder than seemed possible here. She recognised the voice, and hesitated, but then she smiled.
"Wait a little longer," she said. "Please, just a moment. There's one little thing I've got to do."
She blinked her eyes, and now there was pain, stabbing in her gut, filling her mouth, burning in her heart. She cried out involuntarily with the sudden rush of sensation.
"Kats!" he called again. She could see him, his face so near to hers. There was pain in his dark eyes, but more than that, there was something she had never thought to see there.
"I am...." She coughed violently, bloody spittle filling the air. "I am here," she said again.
"You're alive," he said. She felt his hands above her heart. "I can save you."
"No," she said.
"I can save you. I can save your soul, at least."
"No!" she said again, loudly. It sounded almost like a shout to her ears, the loudest sound she had ever heard. "We all die. Let me die."
He did not reply in words, but his eyes said everything.
"You have lived your entire life.... by your own rules. Please, respect mine now. Let me die."
He closed his eyes bitterly, and nodded.
"He's been waiting for me all this time.... We can't make him wait.... forever...."
"You don't have to die," he said, his voice filled with bitterness.
"Yes, I do. All mortals do. It is.... what makes us what we are."
His hand held hers now, strong but cold. As cold as death itself. She raised her head as much as she could, as much as the pain would let her, and gently touched his cold lips with her own bloodstained ones.
"Thank you," she breathed. "I.... always.... believed in you."
"My lady," he said simply. Bitter, ashen words.
Then she lowered her head, and the pain was gone.
"There," she said afterwards. "I'm sorry I kept you waiting, beloved. I am here now."
* * *
A great deal happened in that one hour. Once again my life became nothing but frantic rushing and running. I remember G'Kar talking to so many people, desperately urging them to accept something. Some did, and some did not. I did nothing, but remained close to him.
And so the hour passed, and with it the Alliance. The cracks had been obvious before this. Perhaps they had even been there from the start, but that hour was the signal of the end.
So many of them were gone. Either dead, like Lethke, Taan Churok and Sheridan, or in opposition to what the Alliance had become, like Na'Toth, Kulomani and Vizhak. I think that Delenn and G'Kar were the only ones who still held true to its ideals, and even they were distant and disaffected. G'Kar had seen his world and his friends die, and most of his dreams with them. He was a prophet then, but he had been a warrior in his youth and he knew that sometimes war was necessary. After the hour had passed he took me on board Cathedral, and made arrangements to see Sinoval.
Delenn.... I never knew her as well as I knew G'Kar, although I still cherish the memory of the times I spent with her. I have spoken to those who knew her in her younger days, and there was one thing that a blind, aged human told me.
Everyone who ever met her fell in love with her, at least a little.
But the Delenn of that hour had become too hard, too brittle. She no longer believed in peace, but she could not accept that Sinoval had been right in advocating war. She clung with grim determination to the belief that she was a healer, in spite of the realisation that there was nothing left for her to heal.
G'Kar was frantically busy during that hour. Delenn, on the other hand, was not. She did one thing, and one thing only.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.
* * *
"You will return him to me."
<We owe you nothing. All that is to be offered has already been offered.>
"I did not come here to be denied. You will return him to me."
<We owe you nothing. If you depart from this place then you are a traitor, and deserve nothing but our scorn.>
"I served you all my life. I gave you everything I had. I bathed in your light, and obeyed your every word. For you I went to Z'ha'dum and allowed myself and my child to die. For you I allowed the Alliance to remain as it was, without facing up to the problems.
"And you say you owe me nothing?
"I say you owe me everything. But simply return him to me, and I shall leave, and not fight you - for I am no warrior, and I am sick of you. Return him to me and let me disappear. Or I shall fight you with everything I have."
"Because I loved him once, so intensely and so passionately that I had no room in my heart for anything else, and whatever passed between us, that memory still exists. He was a good man, and if he had not been manipulated and controlled he could have been a great man.
"Because he means so much to me and to the people who have survived this, I will not let you throw his body into space and abandon it there."
<He is dust and ashes. He is flesh, and flesh decays. Take him, and do as you wish with him.
<You are damned, forever outcast from the light, forever denied our salvation.
<And our love.>
"I do not want your salvation.
"Or your love."
* * *
But she was not the only one to lose someone she loved. Only the most visible....
"I am a warrior. I am Minbari. I am of the Wind Swords.
"We are cold, the cold of stone, the cold of winter. A hard people and a harsh land.
"We were feared because we knew no fear. We would use the bodies of our brothers as weapons if we had to, and know that they would use our bodies as weapons should we fall.
"They called our armies the coming of the cold, and they feared us, because we feared nothing.
"No loss, no grief, no sorrow, no pain could deflect us from our task.
"The coming of the cold."
A long pause.
"I am Sinoval."
He was holding her cold hand in his. The bier on which he had placed her body was cold. Her body was cold.
"My lady," he whispered softly.
He slumped to the floor against the bier, still holding her hand. He pressed the cold hand to the side of his face.
"My lady," he said again. "My lady, my lady, my lady."
Could deflect them from their task.
* * *
"Is it done? Did you do it? Did you do what was so damned important that you'd risk delaying a little longer and almost getting us killed?"
"Was it worth it?"
"I don't know. No, I do. Yes, it was. It was worth it."
"Is there anything else we should stick around for? Anything else that's so important that I can't know about it?"
"No. I'm sorry. I should have told you."
"All right. So what was it?"
"I went to see Mr. Edgars."
"I convinced him to kill himself. It's amazing what you can do with the right choice of words."
"What? This.... Why? Do you have any idea what Security will be doing? They'll be out.... We'll never get off–planet."
"It was suicide. That's what they'll see, and if they see more, then.... fine."
"Oh, for the love of.... Why? Can you even tell me that?"
"He did me a good turn. Several."
"That's it? You know he never cared about you, or your cause."
"Any more than you do. No, that was unfair. I know he never cared, but I had to repay him anyway. I have to repay my debts. It proves I'm still a man."
"As opposed to a woodlouse?"
"As opposed to a corpse that just happens to be able to walk and talk."
"No, you don't."
"No, I don't. Come on, we'd better go."
"We should go."
* * *
Ah. There you are. I have been expecting you.
Disturbing words, Eldest. We.... do not understand.
No, you don't. That is the first piece of real wisdom I think I have ever heard from you.
You helped them against us. Why? All we have ever wanted is for them to be perfect. That was our purpose.
You still do not see. You are right. You do not understand. I doubt if you ever will.
You still defy us, Eldest.
I do what I must. If the Younger Races need help, then it is for us to provide that help. If it is necessary that we intervene directly, then so be it.
We do not see why you defy us, Eldest. We revere you. We venerate you. We worship you. Word of your betrayal will be received with great sorrow.
I would rather it was received with great thought.
Eldest, we will remember you always....
What do you mean?
When you are gone.
* * *
They waited, in their charnel worlds. Fire and fury had cleansed their universe once. The Lords of Death, they were called, for they worshipped Death with a fervour that eclipsed everything else.
Once they had glimpsed another universe, but the doors had closed before they had had a real chance to see it.
They were patient.
They had all of eternity to wait.
As the walls between them and their prey grew thin.