Volume 5:  Among the Stars, like Giants Part V:  The Three-Edged Sword


The Three-Edged Sword



Chapter 1


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.
      Yes, Cardinal.
      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.
      Yes, Cardinal.
      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.
      Yes, Cardinal.
      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.
      Yes, Cardinal.
      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.
      Yes, Cardinal.
      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.
      Yes, Cardinal.
      We have faith in you, Sebastian.
      Yes, Cardinal.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

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
      eyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"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 rôle 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
      beyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

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
      ouwillobeyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

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
      s

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

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
      "No."  y
      "No."  o
      Babylon 5 grew nearer.  u
      willobeyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"I don't care what he says, I've never heard of them."  y
      "Dex, dear...."  o
      "What?"  u
      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
      "Tonight?"  y
      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
      "Later."  i
      llobeyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

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
      obeyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"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
      "Me?"  i
      "We were sent to find you.  Personally."  l
      "Me?"  l
      "You would be surprised where our eyes see and what our ears hear."  o
      "Me?"  b
      "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
      eyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

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
      "Sinoval."  u
      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
      beyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

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.
      Yes, Cardinal.
      And those who will not fear.... they shall be destroyed.
      Yes, Cardinal.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

youwillobeyus

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"'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'."



Into jump gate




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