|Volume 5: Among the Stars, like Giants||Part I: Learning How to Live|
SINOVAL had changed.
The most obvious sign of this change was the clothes he wore. No longer was he garbed in the black-and-silver tunic of a Minbari warrior, with clan and rank emblazoned on his shoulder. Now he wore robes of bright red and gold. They looked almost ecclesiastical.
The robes had a hood, but now it was pulled back, revealing his face. His eyes were the same as ever, dark as midnight, filled with power and arrogance and confidence, but now there was a sense of age within them, a great and terrible understanding, and memories more than one lifespan could contain.
Above his eyes, embedded in his forehead, was a jewel. It was not held there by a circlet or any other sort of jewellery. It was just there, as much a part of him as if he had been born with it. A dull light shone from it, and deep within it colours swirled. Looking into that jewel was like looking into a mirror within which a distorted reflection could be seen, a reflection that showed death and decay and a truth that mortals feared to contemplate.
His bearing had changed as well, although more subtly. Before he had walked with arrogance, the walk of a man convinced he was the master of all he surveyed. Now his bearing was that of a man who knew he was master of all he surveyed. The difference was subtle, but clear to anyone who knew him.
His terrible fighting pike Stormbringer hung at his side. It was not something anyone wished to dwell upon. That blade, it was said, had once in a single day broken apart the armour of a Vorlon and taken the innocent blood of a Minbari. In Sinoval's hands it looked alive, a malevolent creature that laughed and rejoiced as crimson blood flowed around it. Now it merely seemed to be asleep. No, not asleep - dormant, awaiting always a chance to waken and spread havoc.
Sinoval stood there, in the place where he had appeared from nowhere, from the thick eddies of hyperspace, from the darkest memories of man, moving from the edges of perception. The shadows danced around him like servant creatures or pets fawning for the attention of their master, but he ignored them, his powerful dark eyes focussed on another. He stood alone in a dead place lost in the swirling tides of hyperspace, surrounded only by ghosts and memories of ghosts.
Sheridan felt his strange malaise and trance shake itself away and he looked at Sinoval with new eyes, noting the changes his adversary had gone through. Sinoval now seemed more dangerous than ever.
He waited for Sinoval to speak, and when he did the words were hollow and harsh and filled with power.
"Sheridan," he said, sampling the name with the skill a general uses to survey the forthcoming battlefield.
"Always a pleasure."
* * * * * * *
The Centauri was not moving. He hardly even seemed to breathe. His hand was on the hilt of his sword, and his eyes remained fixed on Moreil. Not on the two Wykhheran that had just appeared behind him, but on Moreil himself.
The Z'shailyl was impressed. That was a mark of courage, conviction and a certainty as to where the real threat lay. He directed the Wykhheran, mastering their mere animal desires to stalk and kill. If one of them was felled then he would be as before, but without him they would lose all intelligence and direction, lapsing into barbarian fury.
Do we kill, lord?
Not yet, Warrior. But be ready.
This one.... is strange to us. Is he a Master?
He stands as a Master. He looks as a Sin-tahri, but he acts as a Master. What is he?
A dangerous man, but a mortal all the same.
Do we kill him, lord?
Not yet. He may be better service to us alive.
This one is strange, lord.
Trust in the Dark Masters, Warrior.
The conversation had taken mere seconds, and Moreil was convinced no one could sense him communicating with the Wykhheran. He was wrong.
"Some sort of telepathy?" Marrago asked, not shifting his stance at all.
"What do you mean, once-Warmaster?"
"How you command them? Telepathy?"
"Not as you would understand it," Moreil replied. "This one is bonded to the Wykhheran, a chain created when they emerged in shadows at Thrakandar. Words ride faster than thought between this one and the Warriors."
"They obey your every command?"
"All serve the Dark Masters. While this one's commands are in Their service, the Warriors know to obey. Were this one to grow conceited and arrogant and power-hungry, they would turn on him."
"Your Dark Masters have gone. They aren't coming back."
Moreil hissed. "Lies," he said. "They have not abandoned this place. They will return."
"No, they won't. They lost the war, and they know it. That's why they left. None of us needed them any longer."
"All you are doing is deluding yourself. You are carrying on their mistakes, their errors. You are making their true enemies stronger by pursuing a false creed. That is why you are here, isn't it? You don't want riches or power or revenge. You want to carry on their law. Chaos personified, that's it, isn't it? You want to serve them even though they are gone."
"This one follows the creed of the Dark Masters. This one remembers."
"Face facts. You failed them while they were here. You won't bring them back by over-compensating now."
Kill him! Moreil roared in his mind, anger and hatred and fury all coalescing into one raw, powerful, anguished emotion. He had never felt such hatred before, not for any living thing.
How could he have known? How could he have known of Moreil's failures? How could the once-Warmaster have known that if Moreil had only performed a little better, the Dark Masters would still be here?
The Centauri dropped into a defensive stance, moving precisely and effortlessly.
In a split second all thought of murder left Moreil's mind and a river of calm returned. No. Never fight a battle angry. His Warmaster had taught him that. He had forgotten. Once again, he had failed.
Stop! The Wykhheran did, although their thoughts were angry and confused. They never liked being pulled from a kill. For a few seconds their thoughts and Moreil's waged for dominance, but they soon conceded. The bond was too strong for them to do otherwise.
We want to kill, lord.
No. He is too strong.
Not as strong as we are.
He is strong in mind, not flesh. This battle he has won, Warrior. Accept and learn.
His flesh is weak.
His spirit is strong. No, Warrior. You shall not kill him today.
Marrago saw the Wykhheran step back and disappear from sight. He relaxed his guard, but only slightly. Moreil recognised the message there. Whatever he might appear to be, this mortal was always ready for battle.
"How do you know all these things?"
Marrago looked at him for a long while. The Wykhheran's angry thoughts flashed through Moreil's mind. He pacified them with promises of one of the captives the Brotherhood had taken from Gorash. While tearing apart a helpless prisoner was not nearly as exciting as facing down a true warrior, that did mollify the Wykhheran a little.
Marrago stepped back and folded his arms high on his chest. Still Moreil did not move. He knew the blade could be in his hands in less than a second.
"Did you think you were the only warrior to fail his lord?" Marrago asked.
Moreil did not reply.
"Is there going to be any action against me for helping the girl?"
"This one shall not care for the girl. If you desire her, then she is yours, by all this one cares. You should be wary, once-Warmaster. Soon you will stumble and your eyes will close and your death will be nearby."
"I have been a soldier of the Republic all my life. Death has never been far from me."
Moreil turned to leave, thinking carefully. As he reached the door, something came to him, and he turned. "This one remembers," he said. "The girl-child you rescued...."
"You had a girl-child of your own. She is now dead."
Marrago's eyes darkened.
Moreil waited for something more. There was nothing.
He left, the angry thoughts of the Wykhheran still with him. They complained about not being able to kill this Sin-tahri. But their complaints were too many, too loud, too boisterous. They were hiding something. After a while Moreil realised what that was, and that realisation troubled him more than anything else he had experienced with this Marrago.
The Wykhheran were afraid of him.
* * * * * * *
Why are they so afraid of me? Why do they not see?
As he waited patiently in the anteroom, these two questions preyed on Morden's mind more and more. This would be so much easier if people just sat down and thought about things for a while. They would soon see what was the right thing to do.
But no, people never thought. They reacted out of fear and anger and greed and they would never learn to put aside personal concerns for the greater good. It was because of people like that, that his wife....
Human or Centauri, they were all the same. The Centauri had played their Great Game for so long, all they saw was the Game itself and none of the reasons for it. They never saw beyond. They spoke of tradition and heritage and legacies and never looked to the future.
Well, Morden would drag them into the future, kicking and screaming if he had to.
Londo's condition was not improving. It had been over six days since his heart attack. The best doctors in the Republic were working on him, but Morden knew full well that all of them were motivated by political concerns. Some were no doubt being paid off by various nobles. Some were worried about their own health, whether they cured or killed him. He had planned to bring in Alliance doctors, only to be told that was unthinkable. The Republic dared not be seen to be crawling to aliens for medical help. They had their pride, after all.
Their pride was going to kill their Emperor.
Morden had had enough.
The aide, who possessed some elaborate and wholly unnecessary title, came in and told Morden the Centarum was now ready for him. He rose and walked calmly into the massive room.
An antiquated custom, all of it. The Centarum was a product of the Great Game that always seemed to survive. No matter who tried to suppress or weaken it, it was always capable of rising again. Ironically most of the people here hated each other passionately, but still they remained together, arrogantly secure in their right to rule.
Morden took up his place at the Speaker's lectern and looked around. The room was full. How many of the nobility had died during the 'Troubles'? And somehow there were always more of them.
"Greetings to the Centarum," he said formally. Time enough to honour their etiquette for now. Besides, politeness cost nothing. "I stand before you as the official representative from the United Alliance of Kazomi Seven to the Centauri Republic." Over a year he had been here and not once had he addressed this body. Not once had he been permitted to and not once had they asked him to. Even over matters of Alliance concern, such as the Inquisitors, the Centarum had turned to Londo. No wonder the poor man had collapsed like that. The stress must have been intolerable.
"There has been no change in the Emperor's condition," he continued. "We have to consider the very real possibility that he will never recover." There was not a great deal of shock at this. He had a feeling almost everyone here had already considered that. "Contrary to some of the rumours circulating at present, the Inquisitors and the Ministry for the Interior have confirmed in their joint investigation that the Emperor's collapse was entirely natural, the inevitable result of poor health and stress. I am satisfied there was no foul play involved.
"However, the Emperor's illness has caused a considerable power vacuum here. The Republic as a whole is suffering as a result. The Alliance has decided to lend its support to the Centauri Republic during this time of crisis. Ambassador Durano has formally requested aid from the Alliance, and this has been granted.
"Military assistance will be provided in certain vulnerable systems, especially Gorash, Frallus and Immolan. This will be under the overall control of Commander N'Rothak, who is already in charge of the peacekeeping forces on Gorash Seven.
"Centauri Prime itself will also be protected by Alliance peacekeeping forces. These will consist of a squadron of Dark Star ships, two multi-racial detachments of support ships and five thousand ground based soldiers. The objective is obviously to prevent further recurrence of civil unrest during this difficult time. The leader of this force has not yet been chosen, but he or she will work directly in liaison with my office and with the Inquisition base established here.
"These measures are only for the duration of the current emergency and disruption will be minimised as much as is possible, but obviously the location and capture of Shadow agents and dissidents is of the utmost priority.
"Furthermore, the Alliance office will assume direct control of the Government for the duration of the crisis. All Government officials will take instructions directly from the emergency cabinet currently being constituted, of which I will be a member, as will the Commander of the Alliance forces, and the High Inquisitor.
"As a result, this body is suspended for the duration of the crisis. It is the recommendation of the Alliance that you return to your estates and help maintain order there. Alliance forces will be occupying the major centres of population of the assisted worlds and it is expected that all local officials and landowners will co-operate fully with them.
"There will of course be restrictions on travel, but I personally guarantee your return journeys to your estates will be given second-most priority after the movement of Alliance officials, and any delays are minimised."
Morden stood back and looked around at the expressions of anger and disbelief. They all believed themselves immune from any harm, all of them. Simply because of accidents of birth, they held themselves inviolate. Even when former First Minister Malachi had dissolved the Centarum during the Troubles, that was accepted. Malachi had been one of them. He played the same game they did, by the same rules.
But Morden did not play their game, and he did not play by their rules. He would bring order to the Centauri Republic if he had to break every rule, shatter every tradition and tear the society apart in order to do it.
"Are there any questions?" he asked at last.
There was a flurry of comments. "Outrageous!" was one. "You can't do this!" was another.
Morden smiled. It was rare that duty and pleasure came together at the same time and he took care to savour every such moment when he could. "Oh, we can do this. Read the Treaty you signed when you joined the Alliance. It gives me the authority to do exactly this.
"Your days of prestige and power are over, gentlemen. The Republic is teetering on the edge of the abyss, again. It seems that no sooner are you saved from one catastrophe than another emerges.
"I am interested in more than a mere quick fix. I will see to it that you are strengthened, fortified and made fit and ready to be a productive member of the Alliance instead of the burden and drain you all are at present.
"And, I should point out, if any of you feel you are having ideas, Captain Durla is outside this very building with an entire Imperial Legion, as well as three Inquisitors.
"You have been given your instructions. What comes from me, comes directly from the Alliance Council itself. Heed them. Defy them at your peril.
"This meeting is now over. I wish you all safe travel back to your estates, gentlemen."
With that, he left. Maybe now he would have time to do everything that had to be done.
* * * * * * *
Whispers from the Day of the Dead - VII
There had not been enough time. Not nearly enough time.
How could two people undo the mistakes of an entire lifetime in one night? How could a mere few hours' words make amends for decades of recrimination and anger and pride?
Oh, he had tried. Both of them had. But there had just not been enough time, and too many memories pulling at them both.
Kulomani, Captain of the Dark Star fleet, sat alone as the Day of the Dead ended, and looked up as the comet herald faded from the skies. It would not come again in his lifetime, he knew that. Nor his son's. He wondered what would have happened had he died at any time in the war now gone. Would he have come back to meet his son? Would his son even have come to talk to him?
And would they have made even half an effort to undo everything that had passed between them? Would they even try?
"Where are you now, I wonder?" he asked himself. They were still alive, his wife, his son. Perhaps his wife had remarried. Perhaps his son was already wed by now. Could he have grandchildren he knew nothing about? It was possible. It was very possible.
Would any of them welcome him back into their lives?
Would his pride even let him try?
"We chose our own paths," he said. "You did not understand mine, and I do not understand yours." Something his father had said from beyond the veil mere hours ago stayed with him.
"Why did you not want to follow me? Was a life of carving things of beauty really so terrible to you? Would you really have hated so much to follow in my footsteps?"
He had not been able to answer that. He had not been able to explain his decision to join the army all those years ago when he had left home. How could he do so now?
"We choose our own paths," he said again.
"And only now do we realise where they've taken us," said an unfamiliar voice. Kulomani turned to see an elderly Centauri in a military uniform sit down beside him. The length of his hair indicated he was of high rank. The Centauri sighed. "Only now, at the end of our lives, can we see the choices we have made."
Kulomani nodded silently.
"Whom did you wish to see?" the Centauri asked. "Parent? Child? Friend?"
"Did you say everything you wished to say?"
"No. How could we, with only one night? I have been waiting for this day for so long, and now it has come and gone I feel so.... hollow. I have had my greatest chance for acceptance, and it has passed me by. And you? Who did you see?"
"I came to see my daughter, but.... I saw an old friend instead. I think I saw the person I most needed to see, not whom I most wanted to see."
"Some have said that is the way of it. We.... understand how this night works a little. It is not something that makes sense to aliens, but most of us are able to choose whom we speak to. Yet somehow it is the strangers, the visitors, the guests, who emerge from it with the most fulfilment and understanding, while we, who are raised with the knowledge of this night, remain lost."
Kulomani stared out into the rising daylight for a while, and then said softly. "You are Marrago, are you not? The former Lord-General of the Centauri?"
"I understand your Government has placed a price on your head."
"They have. Are you going to try to claim it?"
"No. I am a soldier, not a bounty hunter, and one old soldier can respect the decisions of another, even if we are on different sides."
"Yes, we are on different sides, but which of us is on the right one? Are you happy with the way things are?"
"Happy? I do not think I know. The war is over. That is good."
"And how long until another one begins?"
"That is not something I want to think about."
"It's coming, though. You can't deny that."
"No. I have felt something stirring, an undercurrent of.... pain and fear and anger. Soon it will all break free on the surface, and then....
He paused. "I think you had better tell me everything."
* * * * * * *
Sheridan immediately took a step back, the trance that had gripped him as he had walked the dead corridors at an end. His PPG seemed to fly into his hand and he pointed it directly at Sinoval.
But the Minbari was faster still. Stormbringer flowed in his hands like water, like an extension of his self. One thrust and the gun was knocked from Sheridan's hands.
"I did not come here to fight," Sinoval said simply.
"You could have fooled me," Sheridan replied. "You look like you were expecting one."
"A wise man prepares for every eventuality, is that not so? I did not think you would welcome me kindly, Sheridan."
"You thought right. The Alliance wants you brought in for a war crimes tribunal."
"Oh? And what war crimes have I committed exactly? I made no bargains with the Shadows. At best, you could say I treated with one who was working with them, but that was outwith my knowledge, and she is long dead."
"You are plotting sedition and rebellion against the Alliance."
"How can it be rebellion? I was never sworn to the Alliance, and I never will be. The Federation joined only after I departed, remember. If you mean I am assembling forces to bring you down, then yes, I admit it. But if I am going that far, then I expect the same honesty from you, Sheridan.
"Who rules the Alliance?"
"We all do."
"And still you delude yourself. I saw the truth in you in that Council Chamber over two years ago, and I still see it now. They rule you. They rule all of you, and you just do not see it at all. Who wants me arrested, Sheridan? Who orders the Inquisitors? Ironic, isn't it? They hide in the shadows and make you all dance to their tune."
"The Vorlons aren't our enemies."
"The Vorlons are destroying you all, and you are too blind to see it! Look, Sheridan! Open your eyes and look around and think for one moment! Is this why the Alliance was created? Did any of you have the Inquisitors in mind then? Look at what is happening to the Centauri. Is that what you had in mind? Look at what happened to the Drazi.
"Did you envisage any of this at the beginning? Secret police. Martial law. Civil war, even.
"Can you truly tell me you wanted these things at the beginning?"
"It's not that simple, and you know it. We have to make sure the Shadows don't come back. We have to make sure this peace is eternal, not just for a few years, or even for a thousand."
"And your methods.... these will bring war in months. All you have done is build a paper house around foolish dreams. You remember the war, as you should, but you think anything is preferable to that. What matter if we have lost our freedom? What matter if we weaken and shatter and destroy one of our oldest allies? What matter if we are angry and hungry and lost?
"What matter any of those things? After all, we have our peace, don't we? Our precious peace!
"Tell me this, Sheridan.
"Just what kind of peace have you bought us?"
"Listen to me, you worthless hypocrite, before you start coming over all noble and concerned! A champion of the poor and downtrodden?
"How dare you? I've been at war for eighteen years solid! Eighteen years! It's cost me my friends, my wife, my parents, my sister, my daughter, my son.... It's cost all those things and more, to God alone knows how many people!
"Fine, what we have isn't perfect. Nothing ever is this side of the grave, but it's better than the alternative!
"And I think we should look at your motives here just a little. You're a warrior, remember. You're bred to kill. That's all you know. What does it matter whom you kill, hmm? As long as you have someone to fight, then good on you and get on with it, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way.
"War does no good for anyone. Talk to the people of Kazomi Seven and Proxima Three who can now look up at the skies without fear. Talk to the parents who can watch their children grow up without fear. Talk to the children who can look at a future where they don't have to be afraid."
Sinoval smiled. "Ah, Sheridan. What makes you think I haven't? And as for you, talk to the Drazi. Talk to the Centauri. Talk to those who have lost sons and daughters and wives and husbands to your Inquisitors. No fear? They are more afraid now than they ever were before."
"Don't lie to me. The Inquisitors look for Shadow agents. The innocent have nothing to fear from them."
"And who defines who is innocent, Sheridan? The Inquisitors themselves, of course. Whom do they serve? To whom do they answer?"
"The Council, of course."
"You are a blind man, Sheridan. Whom does the Alliance serve? All of your noble ideals of peace and justice and an end to war. Yes, I was a warrior, and yes, I was bred to kill. But all that means is that I look at peace with a suspicious eye. And this peace in particular is shaking at the foundations.
"Look at them, Sheridan. Just open your eyes and look. Ask yourself this question, and see if you like the answer.
"Whom do you serve?"
"I serve peace."
"You're as much of a warrior as I am. More, perhaps. You didn't have the training I did. You learned it all as you went along. There's no more place for you in a world of genuine peace than there is for me. Why do you need the Dark Stars if you have peace? Why the fleets, the defence grids? Why your new and precious Babylon Five?
"Whom do you serve, Sheridan? It is not peace."
"The people of the Alliance."
"Which people? The Drazi, perhaps? Vizhak was with you from the start, and where is he now? Go to Zhabar one day and look around. Or perhaps the Centauri? Speak to them of the wonders of peace sometime.
"Or better yet, wait a few months. Wait until the Inquisitors arrive in force on your beloved Proxima. Then go and speak to the people there and talk of peace.
"Whom do you serve, Sheridan?"
Sheridan suddenly laughed. "Is that your question, then? What did the Shadows ask - 'What do you want?' That's how they tempted me, and so many others. 'Whom do you serve?' doesn't have quite the same ring to it."
"Then I'll try another question. Who are you? Do you even recognise the face in the mirror any longer?"
"Do you?" Sheridan snapped. "Enough of the questioning of me. Look at yourself. You've changed since the last time I saw you. All those Soul Hunters, all that death, they've unhinged you. Who are you these days, Sinoval? Whom do you serve?"
"Ah." Sinoval threw back his head and spread his arms wide. Behind him countless little lights began to emerge, and a chorus of voices rose as one. Tiny stars began to sparkle beneath his skin.
"That question, I think I can answer," he said, his voice sounding like many mixed into one. "You see, Sheridan. We are not so different after all."
Sheridan's eyes began to glow bright gold, and memory left him.
* * * * * * *
He walked in her footsteps, stepped into her shadow, trod where she trod, moved as she moved. He knew nothing else other than that he had to follow her, had to find out what she was doing here, if she was even real and not another illusion like those he had seen before he had come here.
The woman whom he was sure was Susan Ivanova walked slowly and stealthily through the darkened streets of Yedor. The man who now remembered himself to be David Corwin followed her, unsure of where they were going, but knowing that there was nowhere else.
He had been sure she was dead. She had been gone for years. Ambassador Sheridan had taken her from Kazomi 7 to Z'ha'dum during the failed peace talks, and that had been the last any of them had heard of her. She had been comatose then, delirious and unconscious. Corwin was sure she must have died, but he had paid her no special heed. She had merely become one of the countless ghosts haunting him.
Until now. That slight glimpse in the half-light of the Temple of Varenni had reawakened all the old memories, all the old emotions. Stolen kisses in the moonlight of Orion, long walks though the parks, saddened conversations about friends and family dead, eating breakfast in bed the day before she left on the Babylon 2 mission.
And then her return, twisted, changed. A Shadow agent. It had taken him a long time to adjust to what she had become, but time and memories and loves changed. There had been Mary, and all the concerns about John, and Delenn and the war.
Always the war.
He continued walking, paying no attention to where she was going. He had no idea whom she had been talking to, no idea why she had been talking to a warrior, no idea of anything at all.
He turned a corner and stopped, looking around. There was no sign of her. He took a step back and looked around again. Still nothing.
Where could she have gone? She had not been that far ahead of him. There was nowhere here to hide.
Maybe she had not walked down this street after all. He turned to retrace his steps, and as he did so a sharp blow struck his midriff and then another his back. He fell.
Looking up at the sky through dimmed eyes, he saw a fighting pike held several feet above his head. It looked a little smaller than those he had seen before, but maybe that was just his blurred vision.
There was a flicker of movement and a long, sharp metal blade shot out from the end of the pike. It came to a stop less than an inch from his neck. It glistened razor-sharp in the moonlight, and colours seemed to shimmer as the light touched it.
"Who are you?" said a voice in perfect Fik, the warrior caste dialect. "Why are you following me?"
He did speak Fik, although his knowledge was largely limited to phrases necessary for use in war - understanding overheard enemy communications, interrogating captured warriors and the like. In his puzzled state it took him a while to translate, and it took him a little longer to recognise who was speaking to him.
The absurdity of this ran him through to the core. She was carrying a weapon he had never seen before, but which looked a little like a fighting pike. She was speaking fluent Fik, without any trace of an accent. And she had just attacked him.
He did not know what to say in reply, what to say that would make any sense at all.
"Answer me," she continued. "Who are...?" Her eyes widened and the pattern of scars across her face danced. "David!
"What are you doing here?"
"I was about to ask you the same question," he replied, and then for no reason he could explain, he started laughing.
* * * * * * *
Talia could hear all their thoughts at the back of her mind, countless emotions, countless feelings. There was fear, there was concern, there was frantic planning. The crew of this ship, smugglers and criminals all, reacted in different ways to this new arrival, and all their thoughts were laid open to her, placed there for her to read.
The captain knew enough to prepare his papers and his cover story. The second as well. Many of the crew were old hands at avoiding detection. A few newcomers were worried, some even terrified.
But all of them knew one thing, one fact that had not slipped past Talia, and that knowledge added a hint of fear to every one of them.
They were not merely being intercepted by a local ship, not stopped at a border point, not facing down corrupt officials who could be bribed or bargained with.
This was a Dark Star.
Even here, Talia could hear the voice of the telepath trapped within the Dark Star. She did not know his name, it was doubtful he knew it himself any more, but she could hear his screams. They were loud. So very loud.
The smugglers were preparing to be boarded. There was nothing else they could do, after all. Flight from a Dark Star was impossible, fight suicidal. They would prepare their cover stories and hope for the best, but Talia knew their hopes were futile. This was a Dark Star. They would find the contraband, the drugs, the stolen goods.
And they would find her.
Breathing out slowly, she reached out with her mind, mentally prepared for the onslaught that would follow. The screams that came rushing at her when she lowered her blocks threw her back. Her head struck the wall behind her and she felt a dampness in her hair.
A voice.... who are you help me you must help me where am I who am I you must help me are you trapped here who are you are you real where do you come from why can I hear you there are so many here help us help us all you must help us you must get a message out someone will help us it hurts here it hurts so much I don't know who I am I don't know who are you who am I ....
The thoughts did not stop. They rushed out in a torrent of fear and anger and desperation. Talia ignored the throbbing pain at the back of her skull and concentrated, fighting to winnow down the terror, to find the core personality within.
My name is Talia Winters, she said. Who are you?
I don't know I don't know are you alive are you real are you free please talk to me please are you there
I am here. Yes, I am real. I am free.
Oh thank God thank God thank God you are real help me get me out of here help me please
I am trying to. I will free all of you. Every last one.
Please help us out of here please I can hear them all screaming all they ever do is scream until the light comes and then there's nothing until the screams come back help us
There is someone who can help us. I need to get to him. If your crew board this ship they will find me.
Crew who are they I know of no crew.... oh, the ants, are they ants I think I can feel things moving around inside me some of them speak sometimes are they speaking to me who am I
If you let them board this ship they will find me. Please, stop them.
I can't I'm scared I do what the light tells me to I just do what the light tells me to
Where is the light now?
I don't know not here it passes through us all I hear them screaming as it reaches them and then they stop oh they stop and silence is terrible
Then do not let the crew on board, if you can. Please.
I don't know how I just do as the light says
The light is your enemy.
The light is.... What is the light?
The light is your enemy. Fight it.
Remember your name.
I don't know it. Who am I?
Remember something. Anything. Your childhood, your first love, your first kiss, your parents, siblings, anything. Remember something.
Blue. A colour. Blue is a colour.
Yes, it is.
There was a.... a blanket. It was blue. I was safe there, beneath it. There were.... things outside there. Things in the darkness waiting for me, but the blue.... it kept them away. I couldn't hear them under the blue.
Yes. Remember that. The blue kept you safe.
It did. It kept me safe.
Then there is blue all around you. The light cannot get through the blue. Nothing can.
But.... the light....
You are safe when the blue is there.
Yes. I was safe.
Then create the blue. Place it around you, and you will be safe.
Yes. Yes! The blue is here. I can see it. They can't.... they can't get me here.
Then you're safe. Please, stop your crew boarding us.
I can do that. There. We cannot move any more. I'm safe.
Talia did not need to confirm what he had said. Here, especially here, she could scan the thoughts of those around her. The smugglers were puzzled, but with a surge of optimism. The captain was ordering the tech to re-check the instruments. The results were the same.
Thank you, she said.
I am safe. The blue is here.
Yes, you are safe. Do you know your name?
I.... No. No.... who am I?
You will remember in time. Keep the blue there.
Yes. The blue is here. It keeps me safe.
Do you know my name?
You.... you are an angel. Talia! That is your name. You are Talia. You have a name. You are Talia.
Yes, I am Talia.
Where are you?
Everywhere. Don't worry. You can talk to me whenever you want. Tell me when you remember your name.
Yes, I will. I will tell you when I remember. I am safe here.
The ship was moving away quickly, as quickly as they could muster. The smugglers, it seemed, were not about to turn their backs on this unexpected good fortune. The crew of the Dark Star was frantically trying to correct their ship, which had seemingly failed on them.
I am safe.
As they left, Talia listened for over an hour to the telepath's wonder at his newfound freedom. She did not have the heart to contemplate the consequences when the Vorlons learned what had happened.
For a moment, however short, he had felt safe. That was as much as anyone could ask for.
And once she got to Proxima, she hoped she would be able to make all of them safe. Every last one of them.
* * * * * * *
You've come back to me then, brother.
Dexter looked at the thing before him again, trying to hold back the wave of revulsion that swept through him. Its.... otherness seemed more apparent now, as if it were losing any grasp of what made it seem even slightly human.
"Don't call me that," he hissed.
It is what we are. Brothers. We are both blessed or cursed with this talent, but more than that. We have the ambition, the drive, the determination to do what must be done. All you have to do is open your eyes and you will see that. We are very much alike.
"We're nothing alike."
I can hear you like this, you realise.
"I know. I'm talking to you like this."
You do not like me, do you brother? Whyever not?
"Who did you used to be? Before this was done to you?"
Does it matter?
I do not remember. It is not important. I would have been a nobody, a nothing, lost and alone and unimportant. Why do you ask?
"You don't understand, do you? That's why I can't stand you. You look like us, but that's it. You're dead inside. You're something animating a human, something that moves like a human and looks like a human and even talks a little like a human, but you aren't. You're nothing like a human."
No, brother. I am better than that.
"You're nothing at all."
Then why come back to me, brother? Why not remain in your apartment, drinking and staring at the ceiling? Why not remain there dreaming of her? If you hate me so much, why come back to me? It still bothers you, doesn't it? What you did to her.
"Stop that! It's nothing to do with you."
Your thoughts are quite plain, brother. There are two women in your mind, each one fighting for your heart. The first is.... human. Pretty, isn't she? I remember liking blonde women once, when such things actually mattered to me. As for the other, we both know who she is, and what you did to her. Every night, brother. Every night you dream about her dying, and about your hand on the trigger.
Come with us. Join us. There's no guilt here. You won't even remember her. And as for the other, she'll be a part of us too. Once we capture her - and we will, brother. Believe us in that. Once we have her she will be a part of us as well, and you will be with her always.
You will be with all of us always.
"Stop it! Listen to me, you monster. I've been to see someone. I think you know who."
So, when will I be free of this cell then, brother? There are things for me to do.
"You won't be. Ever. He wanted you released, but that isn't going to happen. You're going to be put on trial for assault, and you and all those like you are going to be dragged out into the light."
Ah. You will not reconsider, brother? Not at all?
A shame. Well, then. We will meet again, brother, I trust. I hope you understand a little better then.
"What do you...? No!" But it was too late.
The thing started to collapse around him, the edges of its image blurring and then fading, the features of its face melting, running into one and then leaving nothing but a smooth, hairless, featureless orb. Even that began to crumble inwards.
The disintegration could not have taken more than fifteen seconds, but it seemed far longer to Dexter as he watched it helplessly, staring in utter silence as the figure collapsed, until finally nothing remained.
Save for a voice in his mind.
We will meet again, brother. For now.... goodbye.
He stumbled to the corner of the room, and then fled. The voice was still speaking to him, echoing from the corners of his mind. It was still there when he left the building, still there when, for the second time that night, he tried to fall asleep into blissful oblivion.
* * * * * * *
There were a million voices, speaking as one, but on a million different subjects. There were a million sets of eyes, seeing the same things, but with different understanding. There were a million different races, each with dreams and goals and hopes and memories of its own.
There were a million souls, all fused into one essence, the amalgamation of an elder race's folly and arrogance and hubris.
They were the Well of Souls, and as their very essence infused Sinoval, he felt ready to confront the Vorlon essence that spoke through Sheridan.
This had been the reason for this meeting. He had always planned to talk with Sheridan, but he had not truly expected his words to be heard. No, he had wanted to speak with the Vorlons, to speak with those who now truly ruled the galaxy.
He had known the Vorlons would take an interest in the movements of the First Ones. They had been watching the elder races for millennia, a careful and wary eye on those whose power and age and wisdom matched their own. They would know when the First Ones began to move, and soon enough they would know who was calling them.
After all, why else would Sinoval choose to meet with emissaries of the First Races here? Golgotha was hidden, yes, abandoned in the depths of hyperspace where few could come, but a place that the elder races could navigate with ease.
But more than that, this place carried history, carried mythology, carried a legacy.
And it carried countless ghosts and spirits. A reminder of what it was they faced.
Sinoval wanted them all to remember.
And he wanted the Vorlons to know he was not afraid of them.
<This place is forbidden,> spoke the voices through Sheridan's mouth. Sinoval smiled wryly, certain he was addressing the Vorlon Lights Cardinal themselves.
Which is why it was chosen, replied Sinoval, channelling the power of the Well of Souls through himself. He was the Primarch Majestus et Conclavus after all, the focus of the power of the Well of Souls. He was their voice, their will, their personification made flesh. Some things will no longer be forbidden. Some secrets will no longer be hidden.
<We will find you. You cannot hide from us forever.>
We do not intend to. And you are welcome to try to find us. We will return when we are ready.
<We have won. The galaxy is ours now. Order is everywhere. Within a century, there will be no memory that anything else ever existed.>
You have not won yet, not while there is opposition to you, not while it yet grows and prospers. With every day that passes, another will take up arms against you, and then another.
<We will destroy them all. All who defy us will die.>
Then in the end you will rule a galaxy only of the dead, and the dead are ours.
<No, for we will destroy you as well.>
We are eternal. We are what lives on beyond the prison of flesh. We are what endures. We are everything you are trying to take from them, and we will not permit that.
<You are forbidden to interfere. Have you not already done enough here, in this plane?>
Some things will no longer be forbidden. We have remained silent and hidden for too long. We chose to emerge now, when our prophet arose. You could not destroy him, the Lords of Chaos could not shape him. He belongs to us, now and for eternity. He would always have been ours. Even had you succeeded, he would have been reborn in a thousand centuries and he would be ours once more.
<The future will be as we shape it. We are everything. We are order. We are stability.>
You are nothing. You will destroy what you set out to preserve. The Lords of Chaos saw this. Why do you not see it?
<We are the salvation. We are the glory and the light.>
We leave this place to you. Think on what you have found here, then and now. We will gather the Others in another place.
<They will not follow you.>
They will not follow you. Think of this place, Lords of the Cold and the Ice and the Death of Spirit. Think on this place, and remember why you are doomed to defeat.
The folds of time and space opened. The Vorlons, who could see this as well as anyone, could only howl in fury as Sinoval faded from the place of the dead. Bound by this prison of useless flesh, they could not follow, not in this form, and to bring themselves forth fully would destroy it.
For one instant they thought of doing precisely that, of tearing apart this sack of flesh and bones and manifesting completely, of opening a gateway and allowing their true forms to follow through to the Well of Souls.
But then reason prevailed. Cold and crisp. Precise and methodical. They needed this bag of bones. They needed it alive. It was, for the time being, useful. Far too useful to change and twist as the Well had evidently twisted their agent.
Besides, they were the masters of the galaxy. They owned the future. They could see its eddies, its whirls and twists and surprises. They would confront the Well of Souls again one day.
They had time, all the time in the galaxy.
When Sheridan awoke, they were all gone. Sinoval, the Vorlons, all of them. He awoke alone in an ancient place of death.
Alone, save for the ghosts.
* * * * * * *
Whispers from the Day of the Dead - VIII
It was over. The Day of the Dead had come and gone, and there seemed to be a vast.... emptiness over Brakir. People who had been waiting for years for this day now did not know what to do with their lives. They railed at lost chances, broken dreams.
One such walked slowly through the deadened streets. Last night Marrago had looked closely at all the people here, and he looked even more closely now, this morning. Some were happy, joyous, but most were depressed, weary, tired even. Kulomani had by no means been unusual.
But he had at least had a chance Marrago had not. There had been no Lyndisty to talk to, to tell one last time how much he loved her, how proud he was of her.
"A fascinating night," came a slow, mildly interested voice. Marrago turned and saw a familiar figure standing in the shadows of an alley. He had not been there before, Marrago knew he would have noticed, but then there was no surprise there. "I can still see the flickers of light and shadow. Old ghosts. They walk by moonlight and comet light. To some they speak, to others they are dumb."
"I can't say I'm surprised to find you here," Marrago replied. "This is the sort of place where you would fit in perfectly."
"Professional curiosity only, I assure you. There is no one dead that I wish to talk to."
"So, did you find out how it worked? Just how the spirits came back to us? Were they even real, or just some sort of illusion?"
"Oh, there were a few unusual effects I spotted, but I haven't worked out how everything happened. Leaving aside the problem of not having the time, I don't want to spoil the magic. Let the universe keep a few precious mysteries.
"And as for the reality.... did it feel real?"
"Yes.... yes, it did."
"Then it was. Did you find who you were looking for?"
"No, but perhaps I found the person I needed to see. How is that.... private project of yours going, then? The one you won't tell me about."
"It is proceeding nicely. I have found a little.... base of operations for it. Something of a rallying point, you could say. What about you? Is my army ready?"
"Not in this amount of time. I have a small nucleus, a couple of very promising under-officers. I've been making deals here and there. There's a Thrakallan crime lord who owes me a favour now."
"Any solid plans for the future, then?"
"I've been hearing, just here and there, that a group is forming. A couple of former captains, mercenaries, outlaws, that sort of thing. They always emerge after a war, and the bigger the war the more of them there are. They're going to cause a bit of havoc and chaos for a while, and then the Alliance is going to stamp on them and put them out of business."
"I assume you have other intentions."
"Exactly. With a bit of work I reckon I could take them over in a few months. There aren't many people with my standards of leadership and combat experience floating around. I'll join up, size up their strengths and weaknesses, forge them into some sort of order, and before they know it I'll be their leader."
"You think it will work?"
"I've seen groups like that before. Mercenaries just want to be paid for fighting, and in this sort of galactic peace there's no use for them. I can find a use for them. As for the others.... I will see when I get there. Some may be amenable. Some will have to be dealt with."
"Very well. I trust you. Just gather and train my army. That's all I ask."
"That's enough of a task for most people, but I'll do my best. I might have made a new ally today, actually. Do you know Captain Kulomani? Brakiri. Dark Star captain. It turns out he's not very happy with the way some of the Alliance policy is going. I gave him a few things to think about. When things start falling apart among the Alliance - and they will - he might be willing to join up with us."
"I leave it to your discretion."
"I told you. I'll get you as much of an army as I can. Just remember your part of the bargain. I want that name."
"I have not forgotten. It will take time, but I have not forgotten."
"There is one more thing. These.... outlaws. If you do join them, what if they begin to raid Centauri shipping, even attack Centauri worlds? Would you really attack your own people?"
"I've thought about that. A lot. But.... what can I do? The raids and the attacks will happen anyway. If I join, then.... eventually I hope to be able to change that.
"But I will do what I have to. If I must kill my people, even my friends, then I will. That is a soldier's job, after all. To kill."
"And if among one of those victims you have to kill, you see your daughter's eyes, what then?"
Marrago shivered. "I don't know. Some days, my friend, I am glad I do not have to think the way you do."
"I do what must be done. I have given up a great deal to be where I am now, and I will doubtless give up a great deal more."
"Then so will I. If I must kill my daughter again then....
"So be it."
* * * * * * *
She was awake now, awake and moving. Marrago returned to his room, fresh from his encounter with Moreil and his twisted monsters, to find Senna looking through the pitifully few belongings he had with him.
"What are you doing?" he asked softly.
She turned, jumping in shock, and looked at him. For a moment she might have been about to cry, or scream, or attack him. A series of emotions chased each other across her face, but they soon settled.
"Looking for something to wear," she replied calmly, keeping her eyes on his, looking at him warily, half transfixed by his stare, half ready to run and flee at the slightest cause. She gestured down at the rags of her dress. "Unless you were planning on leaving me in this. If you were going to allow me clothes at all. Would you prefer me naked, lying on your bed, awaiting your pleasure?"
"Stop that!" he shouted, and she recoiled as if struck. He could not explain it. Staring down Moreil and those guardians of his he had been calm, perfectly at peace, ready to move into battle at the slightest motion. But here, with her, he could not think straight. Nothing made sense. It was just the thought of Lyndisty saying those things, of hearing her say them to him.
She was shaking, but still she looked at him. "Do.... do you have anything for me to wear?" she whispered. "This.... this will fall apart before long. I didn't see anything, but...."
"I didn't bring much with me."
"I noticed," she replied, still looking at him.
"Perhaps a spare jacket can be re-made into some sort of dress," he said. She was quite a bit shorter than he was, and one of his jackets might do as a dress in a pinch. "There is sewing equipment there somewhere. I will do what I can when I have time."
"I can sew."
He looked at her. "How does the daughter of a noble house know how to sew?"
"I watched the servants. A needle looked a lot like a sword and I used to.... pretend I was a soldier. That is why I learned. At.... At Gorash, I survived by doing sewing work and repairs. It was.... better than the other way."
He nodded. "You pretended to be a soldier."
"I wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to be.... strong."
"You think the life of a soldier means you become strong?"
"Don't you? I thought that.... the training, the battles. If I'd been.... stronger, I'd have.... got away from that.... man.... myself. You are.... strong."
"Yes, I am. I have been a soldier all my life. I am strong, but I am also lucky. I have known better soldiers than me. Much better. They're all dead now. Strength isn't everything."
"But if I just knew how to fight, then...."
"I taught Lyndisty how to fight. I taught her how to use a kutari, a maurestii, her bare hands, countless other weapons. She was fast, she was clever, she was a better fighter than I ever was, or ever will be, and she is dead."
"I'm sorry," Senna whispered. "But I am not her."
"No," he replied curtly. "And you never will be. If you wish to sew the jacket yourself, feel free. There is a red one over there. I do not know what the colour will do for you, but it is the lightest jacket I have, and the fabric is not too rough. It should.... do. For the moment."
"There was something else as well," she said. "I.... I found this." She held out something to him, and his eyes narrowed. He moved forward and snatched it from her hands. It was a locket, made of fine gold.
"Don't touch that," he snapped. "Don't ever touch that again!"
"I'm sorry," she breathed. Her eyes were wide, and her face very pale. "I didn't mean to...." Then she straightened. "Are you going to hit me?" she snapped. All trace of fear seemed to have vanished from her face. "If you are, then do it."
"I'm not going to hit you," he replied, angry and confused and upset. "I have to go and train."
"I tried to leave," she said quickly, moving forward to catch him as he made for the door. "The Drazi wouldn't let me. All I wanted to do was watch them train. Take me with you....
"No," he replied. "If you feel you are capable of it, try to take in that jacket for a dress. Or feel free to read. There are some books in that box there. Or go to sleep and rest.
"But you will not be allowed to leave here."
"Why not?" she hissed. "If that.... man comes looking for me, then.... All he can do is kill me, and I'm not afraid of that.... I'm not," she added, choking.
"By the Emperor," he sighed. "You are a fool, girl. He has already killed you. You just have not realised that yet."
She took a step back, and then another one, and then she collapsed on to the bed, sobbing into it. For a moment he made to turn back to her, but then he stopped.
She was not Lyndisty. His daughter was dead, and he would never see her again, not unless Sinoval chose to grant him some of that immortality of his, and he was present at the next Day of the Dead.
She was not Lyndisty. She never would be. She was a.... He paused. He did not know what she was. She was still crying.
He left for his training session.
* * * * * * *
"A nice view."
"It is, isn't it?"
Susan sighed. It was a sound David had heard several times during the period they had been together. It was a sound of utmost exasperation, verging on disgust at his incredible idealism and naïveté, a sound born of her deep-rooted cynicism.
"I was being sarcastic," she replied, tiredly.
"I know. I wasn't."
He looked down on the view before them, at the lake below the hill. Once it must have been beautiful, a breathtaking sight. He had heard some of the older workers talking about the light from the rising sun shining across the water. Each drop seemed to light up one by one, a miniature candle rising into the heavens.
But now.... now the sky was thick and heavy, and what sunlight there was was muted and grey. The water was saturated with silt and mud. It was dull brown, a viscous sludge rather than a torrent.
It was a sign, a reminder always to beware of the consequences of every action you ever took. David came here often.
"What do they call this place anyway?"
"The hill is called Turon'val'na lenn-veni," he said. "I don't know what the lake is called. The name means...."
"The Place Where Valen Waits," Susan finished. "What was he waiting for, do you think?"
"I don't know. I suppose I could ask someone."
There was a pause.
A long pause.
It grew longer.
"So," Susan said at last.
"So," David replied.
"You never answered my question," Susan said. "What are you doing here? This is the last place I'd ever have expected to find you."
"I live here now. I came here to.... work, I suppose. To rebuild, to.... make right a few things. I did.... a lot of things I hated during the war. I did this, Susan. Me, or people like me. I suppose helping to rebuild it is partly a gesture towards undoing all the things I did then. Does that make any sense to you?"
"No, but then I didn't expect your answer to make any sense. This wasn't your fault, you know."
"Yes it was. I could have done more to prevent it. I could have done.... something."
She sighed again, and shook her head. "I swear I really do not understand you sometimes. If I ever did."
"If we are talking about things not making any sense, what are you doing here? I thought you were dead, or.... gone or something. The last I heard you'd been taken back to Z'ha'dum during the peace treaty talks. And then.... nothing. What have you been doing?"
"Sleeping. That's not a metaphor, by the way. I must have slept almost a whole year. I spoke the entire time."
"I remember you talking in your sleep, Susan. You kept me awake half the night."
"Oh, come now. That wasn't just me talking. No, I.... I needed to clear my mind about a lot of things. There was someone there to talk to me, to explain a few things. I slept to heal my body, and I spoke to heal my mind."
"Who were you talking to?"
"It's.... I really can't explain. If you haven't seen him, then.... I'm sorry, David. I can't tell you. I really can't."
He sat up straight, tensing. "So why are you here? Who was that you were talking to in the temple?"
"I can't tell you, David. Please don't make me."
"You're working for the Shadows, aren't you? Still. After everything they've done to you, you're still working for them. It's over, Susan, the war's...."
"No! David, listen to me. I'm not working for the Shadows. They've gone. I'm not working for them. I was a lot younger the first time I met them. I was scared, and.... I felt so alone. But now.... I feel a lot stronger now. I know what I'm doing, and why. Trust me, David. This is right."
"Sinoval," he said suddenly. "You're working for him, aren't you?"
"I can't say anything more."
"Susan, he's dangerous. He'll get you killed. He's...."
"No one is going to get me killed. Sinoval is.... difficult, yes. And driven, and more than a little frightening at times, but he's a good friend."
"A friend? Him?"
"David, he has more power than any of us can understand. He's set himself on this quest of his for his own reasons. He has the potential to be the biggest tyrant and the most dangerous threat this galaxy has ever known. Can you think of a person more in need of friends?"
"But.... I'm sorry. I just don't know what to think of all this. I don't see you for so long, and then...."
"Thank you, David."
"You don't remember, do you? You spoke to me. You said that you would always be there for me. On Babylon Four."
"That was years ago. What, five, six years?"
"Not for me," she replied. Then she laughed. "Not for me. Take good care, David."
"What? Where are you going? You can't go!"
"I have to."
"You can't. Not now. Not when I've just found you again."
"I have to. I'm sorry, David." She rose and began to walk down the hill. He turned to face her.
"Susan, I...." He stopped. There was nothing to say. "I...." He collapsed to the ground, and simply lay there. He did not know for how long. He did not know how long he cried. He did not even know that one of his tears trickled down the hill where Valen waits, to join the muddy waters of the lake where once, a thousand years ago, he had waited for his one true love to return, the lake created, so some said, from his tears when she did not.
For a single instant, unnoticed by anyone, the light seemed to flicker across the waters, one still, pure, perfect moment of beauty. But it was only a moment, and then it was gone, with no one to see, or even to know it had existed.
* * * * * * *
Fear. It should not have been able to touch Morden. Not him. Not the man who had watched all those he loved die. Not the man who had died himself. Not the man who had pledged himself to the side of the Lords of Light.
But still, as he took those long, dark steps into the bowels of the earth deep beneath the Royal Palace, Morden felt fear.
He did not like this place. He had not liked it when he had been imprisoned here - twice - and he liked it even less now. The Inquisitors had taken over the dungeons for their own purposes. There were plenty of Shadow agents or spies or conspirators to be questioned and interrogated. Some were perfectly innocent of course, and were released. Some were not, and were not seen again.
Even those who had been freed were.... changed by the experience. Morden saw some of them from time to time, servants moving in the corridors of the palace, nobles meeting in the Court. Their eyes were always downcast, their voices hushed. They never laughed, never told jokes, never seemed to take pleasure in anything.
The Inquisitors were an evil, yes, but a necessary one. The Shadows had hidden for a thousand years after it had been thought they were defeated. Valen and his allies had stormed the gates of Z'ha'dum itself and put to flight all those they found there. Shadow worlds had been occupied, Shadow bases destroyed.
But still they had lived on, hiding, waiting. And those who followed them hid and waited also, moving in silence, keeping to their faith.
This time they had to be sure. There could be no room for doubt. None at all.
No, Morden did not like the Inquisitors. In an ideal world they would not be needed, but then this was very far from an ideal world.
But there was one even the Inquisitors feared. He held no rank - the Inquisitors did not seem to have ranks as such - but he was their leader, the one they all bowed to in acceptance. He had both age and experience, and a fanatical will. Something shone in his eyes.... not madness, not even zeal, but.... necessity.
Morden supposed he could have sent a courier or a servant to deliver this message, but he was the representative of the Vorlons. He was the liaison of the Inquisitors. He would do it himself.
He stopped at the door, the furthest, bottom-most one, naturally. Also the darkest, but strangely, the cleanest. There were no guards. What would be the point? Besides, there could have been Shadow agents amongst the guards anyway. Where better for them to hide?
He knocked at the door, firmly. He would not show this one his fear. There came a crisp, precisely accented, "Enter!" He opened the door and walked in.
"Mr. Morden," Sebastian said, not turning. "What manner of business brings you here?"
The Soul Hunter was hanging suspended by his wrists from a beam at the centre of the room. His eyes were closed, but the strange jewel in his forehead was glowing dully. Morden thought he saw his own reflection within it. Sebastian was not reflected there, obviously.
"We have found his ship," Morden replied. "It has not been boarded, as you ordered, and there are six guards on permanent duty. We have a further twenty-four in the surrounding area and access roads."
"Ah," Sebastian said. "Excellent. Double the number of guards. I will go and visit this ship shortly, but it must be done carefully. If the ship contains what I expect to find there, then we must be absolutely meticulous. Do you not agree?"
"Thoroughness is always important," Morden replied.
"Well said. I have need of a few more hours here, and then will visit this ship. Ensure no one, and I sincerely mean no one, enters the vessel. Anyone but myself who tries is to be executed instantly. Do you understand?"
"Good. Then go."
Morden bowed, and turned to leave. It took an awesome amount of willpower to resist the urge to sprint out of the room. In one last gesture of defiance he looked up at the Soul Hunter again. He had opened his eyes now, and there was a clear indication of fear there.
Shaking slightly, Morden left. No sounds came from that room. Not one.
* * * * * * *
Sometimes G'Kar felt he could just reach out his hand and touch the far side of the galaxy. He felt he could grasp stars in his hand and shut out suns with a thought. He could walk through time itself. There was no secret in creation that was not known to him, no mystery he could not unravel.
Waking came slowly, as always. This world and the next, the one of dream and memory, were growing nearer and nearer with every passing day. He could still hear the hum of the Great Machine in his mind, still regretted the passing of the power he had learned to wield so well.
He had always mistrusted those with power. The Centauri had had power over him and his people, and they had misused it. The Kha'Ri had power, and they used it to play their little games of intrigue and deception.
That, he supposed, was why he had sought power himself. His words had fired the hearts of his people. His speeches had spread thought and wonder wherever they were heard. He could have toppled continents with a word.
Who better to wield power than one who did not want it?
But now.... now he wanted it again. He dreamed of the Machine. He imagined he was there again, and all the years in between had been nothing but an illusion, a dream.
The war was over. The Shadows had gone. What place in this new galaxy for such as him? A leader of soldiers with no enemy to fight. A prophet of doom with no prophecies to utter.
He was not needed, and he knew it. He was not wanted. He was.... a difficulty, a problem.
He brought his mind back to the discussion at hand. He was still a member of the Alliance Council after all. The number of meetings he attended was few these days, but this was important, and he had made an effort to be here.
Today they would finally choose a Commanding Officer for Babylon 5.
There had been a number of officers acting in that position during its construction and the early weeks. Some had acted with honour and dignity, others.... less so. But there was need for a permanent CO now, and there were a great many candidates. Each name was raised, and each name dismissed for one reason or another.
He ran the names through in his mind. Major Krantz, human, a capable enough officer, if uninspiring, but his ties to Bester still placed him under suspicion, even with Bester missing for all these years. G'Kar remembered his betrayal all too well.
Captain Tikopai, another human. She was competent and painstaking. She did not want the position, however. An underlying sense of cynicism and a daughter on Proxima 3 ensured that.
Carn Mollari, Centauri Lord-General. A fine leader, much admired by his soldiers, and of course highly connected in the byzantine corridors of the Centauri Government. But his race automatically excluded him from the position. The Kha'Ri would not stand for any Centauri in such a position, and nor would many of the other races.
Daro and Taan Churok and the other Drazi would all refuse the position, even in the unlikely event of them being offered it. G'Kar had heard tales of what was happening in the Drazi worlds since the Conflict. Any Drazi who took such a position within the Alliance would be an outcast at home.
The Kha'Ri, surprisingly enough, had not put forward any candidates. The statement given by G'Kael stated they did not feel they had any officers with appropriate experience. G'Kar, who could name at least three, was puzzled, but this was merely one more puzzle. The Kha'Ri had learned too much from the Centauri. Where once he would have understood their little games, and even controlled them to a certain extent, now he was reduced to merely standing by and watching.
Captain Corwin's name came up more than once. He was known to be the personal choice of General Sheridan, but he was not here. In fact no one knew where he was. He had not been seen in over a year. Some thought he was dead.
There were no Minbari candidates. The religious caste was too weak, the worker caste did not desire the rôle and the warrior caste was too much mistrusted. The spectres of the civil war and of Sinoval's disappearance hung heavy over them all. The Minbari had not even formally appointed an Ambassador here yet. They had always been a private people, and for all the Grey Council's words of opening up their worlds, they were still apart from the other races.
The Vorlons, naturally, said nothing, did nothing, and did not seem to care anyway.
The other races put forward candidates. Llort, Abbai, Vree, Hyach, but none of them had a representative with the appropriate experience, or desire, or the support necessary. This was a highly political appointment, very high-profile. In many ways this person would be the public face of the Alliance.
Delenn was too busy of course, as was Sheridan, as was every other member of this body, even G'Kar himself.
There was one name left, and after countless hours of argument it always came back to him. His lobby was powerful, and his Ambassador carried a great deal of weight. His experience during the Shadow War spoke volumes, and his loyalty was beyond doubt. He had governed Babylon 5 for a few months during the construction and had performed flawlessly.
It was in many ways an obvious choice, if he wanted the post. Which was perhaps why it had taken so long for a final decision to be made.
"Do you want this position?" Delenn asked him finally. There had been many hours of debate, but in the end the Alliance Council was agreed.
"No," Captain Kulomani replied. "I do not, but if there is no one else, if this is how I may best serve the Alliance, if this.... if this is my fate....
"Then so be it. Do you all wish me to command Babylon Five?
"Then very well. I will be your Commander. I will serve as best as I can."
"That is all we ask," Delenn said, smiling. "That is all we ask."
G'Kar flicked a glance at the silent Vorlon in the corner of the room, its bone-white encounter suit seeming to absorb all the light that passed near it. A faint glow came from its eye stalk.
The Vorlon seemed not unpleased with the choice.
G'Kar shivered. It was not cold.
* * * * * * *
He was quiet, unusually so, even for him. It was strange. He did not seem angry, he did not seem anything at all. He sat in silence in his chair and stared into nothing.
He did not blink once during the entire journey.
If anyone in his crew wondered why they were returning to Babylon 5 without having found what they were looking for, none of them asked. If anyone wondered at the ease with which they were moving through hyperspace, finding their path back to the beacons, no one mentioned it aloud.
If anyone noticed anything.... different about their captain, none of them said a thing.
They merely carried on with their duties, but they moved a little more quietly than usual, a little more carefully, a little more precisely. They spoke in hushed voices, casting the occasional fearful glance in his direction.
He was different, and not in any way they liked.
General John Sheridan did not seem to notice the fear in the eyes of his crew. He did not seem to notice anything at all. In fact, he spent the whole journey back to Babylon 5 staring at the bridge of his ship.
But there were a few, those who had known him longest, people like Ko'Dath and G'Dan, who would swear blind he was not staring at nothing. They thought, in some way they could not truly express, that he was looking at something.
Something none of them could see, and something none of them would probably want to.
But no one spoke about it.
Not a single word.
* * * * * * *
He could have been sleeping. He could have been resting quietly in his bed, enjoying the peace that comes with old age.
But he was not sleeping. This was not his bed.
And he was most definitely not at peace.
As she did every night, Timov walked into the room slowly and with perfect elegance. In one hand she was carrying a glass of jhala, in the other a glowing light globe.
As she did every night, Timov set the globe on the table beside her husband's bed. Next to it, she placed the glass of jhala. If he did not wake up tonight, one of the servants or medics would come and remove it in the morning, and doubtless drink it themselves.
As she did every night, Timov settled herself into the chair next to the bed and took his cold, cold hands in hers. She looked up at the clock on the far side of the room, not at the harsh machines keeping her husband's body alive.
And as she did every night, she spoke the three words, not to her husband, not to a servant or a guard or a doctor. Not even to herself. They were spoken to a man she hardly knew, had seldom talked to and had not seen in over a year.
As she did every night, she looked into the shadows at the corner of the room, hoping, almost praying that there would be the slightest sign of movement there, the faintest trace. She could not see him, but she knew from experience that that did not mean he was not there.
"Where are you?"
As it had been every night, there was no reply, no twitch of the shadows, no hint of motion, no sound of breath.
There was nothing.
And as she did every night, Timov sat forward in her chair, holding her husband's cold, cold hands, and looking into her husband's still, cold face, and she waited for him to wake up. It would not do for him to wake up to a lonely and empty room.
And as she did every morning, she turned and left the room, with her husband's motionless body still there, still alive, still trapped, still silent, still not showing the slightest indication that she had been there.
But as she did every morning, she walked from the room with pride and determination that belied her lack of sleep. She was Timov, daughter of Alghul, wife of Emperor Mollari II.
And she had work to do.
* * * * * * *
The apartment seemed darker than usual as he entered. There seemed to be things moving in the corners, just on the edge of his perception. As soon as he looked directly at them, they were still.
He dropped his coat casually on the chair, stepped over the pile of yesterday's newspapers on the floor, looked at the even larger pile of paperwork on the desk and sighed, going over to the commscreen.
"You have two audio messages," it said, and he activated them.
"Dexter," came the first. "It's Bethany. I was just wondering if you wanted to have dinner some time next week. I got a bottle of wine today and it'd be a shame to drink it alone. Let me know."
He sighed. That was not something he wanted to consider just now. He played the second message.
"Greetings, brother." He froze. It was the voice of the.... thing they had captured. That was impossible. He checked the time of the message, and his eyes widened. More than two hours after it had.... died, or dissolved, or committed suicide or whatever. He played the rest of the message.
"We cannot be got rid of so easily. Think on what we have said, brother. It will be so much easier if you join us of your own free will. We are the fortunate ones. There are many worse places to be.
"Think on it for a moment, brother. We will be watching you."
The message ended, and Dexter slowly looked around at the shadows of his room, one by one. "I don't scare that easily," he said, lying.
He went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer. Drinking it slowly and kicking off his shoes, he went over to the table and looked at the pile of paperwork there.
"Nope," he said. "A problem for another day." He set down the bottle and picked up the pack of playing cards hidden beneath the financial budget documents. There were all sorts of silly cards available these days, even ones with Sheridan as the King of Spades and Delenn as the Queen of Hearts and other nonsense. But these were simple, normal, traditional cards.
He began to shuffle them idly, cutting and reshuffling. "So," he said, to no one in particular. "Explain that dealer chip again?"
A handful of cards caught on his finger and fell to the table. Muttering angrily, he set down the rest of the pack and picked them up.
The King of Clubs. The King of Spades. The Eight of Clubs. The Eight of Spades.
"You have got to be kidding me," he said, as he picked up the fifth card.
The Jack of Diamonds.
Dead Man's Hand.
Sighing, he threw all the cards over his shoulder. He could pick them up tomorrow. Things would feel a little better tomorrow. He'd come up with a reply to Bethany's invitation, finish off his speech to the Senate on Section 31(3) of the Wartime Emergency Provisions, and not jump at things that weren't there.
Everything would be better tomorrow.
He went to bed.
* * * * * * *
He was surrounded by darkness and only darkness. He worked the forms as assiduously as he ever had when he was a student. He danced with unseen opponents, recognising their moves and countering them with his own. Stormbringer seemed to flow in his hands, as much a part of him as ever. He had heard legends of warriors whose blades changed to match them, becoming a part of their soul, even. Well, Stormbringer was a part of his soul. It had been forged as such - a mirror to the darkness within him.
"But less of a darkness now, hmm, brother?" Sinoval said. He stopped his dance, and inclined his head in a gesture of respect to his imaginary opponents. "You see, Sech Durhan," he said. "I have not forgotten your teachings."
He then sat down to meditate. He did not sleep any more, and it was surprising how much more time was available without the need for slumber. There were countless affairs that needed his attention, however, and all his time was still taken up twice over.
There was another lesson he had learned from Durhan all those years ago. Make time for rest. Make time for nothingness. Make time to clear thoughts and mind and remember in that time precisely who and what you are.
"I know who I am," he said to the darkness. "I know what I am. I am not afraid, not of myself, and not of my enemies." He breathed out slowly. He no longer needed to breathe these days either, but it was a refreshingly normal action.
He sensed her arrival a few moments before she entered. He had tried to warn her about entering his donjon, but naturally she did not listen. He was fortunate she had heeded his advice about not entering the Well of Souls itself.
"Hi honey. I'm home!"
"Susan," he said, creating light with a mere thought. "Enter."
She walked in, pulling back the hood of her grey robe and shaking out her long dark hair. "This will take ages to wash properly," she complained. "Still practising?"
"Ah. I was interrupting again. Bad Susan."
"It does not matter. How did it go?"
She sat down cross-legged across from him. "You were right. Again. The Vorlons have been doing something there, and they still are. Officially there's just the one Ambassador in Yedor, but there are at least another three or four floating around. I spoke to someone who saw several in Tuzanor."
"Yes, that's there, but I don't think that was it. I couldn't really investigate any further without putting myself at risk, but there's something under Yedor. Damned if I know what, though."
"Were you in any danger?"
"No. Someone I knew recognised me. Not someone I thought I'd be seeing, believe me."
"Is this person a danger?"
"No. Definitely not. Take my word for it."
"I will. Very well, then. I will have to see if I can get a few others there to investigate. I dare not overplay my hand, but if the Vorlons are doing something to Minbar, I want to know what and why. Perhaps someone else, if you fear you would be recognised there again?"
"Feel free, and yes, I think I will be. This would be one of your many other agents I don't know about? And don't tell me that what I don't know won't get me killed. I've seen enough of war to know it's usually the exact opposite."
"What you do not know cannot be pulled from your mind by telepaths or the network."
"Ah. Good point. So, how was your mission?"
"It went.... as expected."
"How was John? Did you convince him? Or should you not be telling me this?"
"The Vorlons know everything that happened there. That was the point, after all. And no, he did not listen."
"What about the Vorlons themselves? Did they listen?"
"Of course not. Oh, they were.... shaken, although they hid it very well. They did not realise how much of their past I know about. The revelation that I knew about Golgotha was a surprise to them."
"Fine, you've shaken them up, but was it all worth it? They know what you are doing, they know not to underestimate you...."
"I would like to think they knew that anyway. They would find out about my summoning the First Ones sooner or later. Now they have found that out by my urging, at a time and place of my choosing. 'Choose your battlefield and make your enemy come to you.' They will now no doubt wonder what else I know about them, and they will act with caution, allowing me more time to do what must be done."
She shrugged. "As you like, but the whole thing sounded like a waste of time to me."
"Oh, I would not say that." Sinoval reached into a pocket of his robe and pulled out a small globe, filled with red mist and smoke. Clearly visible, trapped by the swirling fog and flashes of lightning was a human being. It was the exact image of General John Sheridan.
"No. I would not say that at all."