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




Chapter 2


ARE you afraid of us?  There is nothing to fear.  What do we represent, after all, but stability?  Your greatest fear is of the unknown, and we will remove all that is unknown.  You will be granted what your kind, with your short-sighted eyes and your transitory lifespans, have always desired.
      Tomorrow will be as today.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I had heard of Babylon Five before I saw it for the first time, but my comprehension had been limited.  My parents had spoken of it darkly, as a place where people lived who claimed to rule us.  I tried to question them about it once, for I had thought we were ruled by the Kha'Ri, a Council of our greatest leaders and thinkers.
      My father then told me his version of the Alliance.  It was a council dominated by aliens.  He did not distinguish between different kinds.  They were aliens.  I had heard of some other races and I had even seen a Drazi on the streets.  And of course I knew of the Centauri, although I was not sure if they were real or not, since my mother used their name as a threat to persuade me to obey her.
      The first alien I had met and spoken to was Lennier, and he was different from what I had expected.  He was nice to me, and he apologised for almost running into me.  At the time, I thought that was the most exciting moment of my life.  Now that I have spoken with Emperors, Lords, Generals, the Well of Souls and of course the Prophet G'Kar himself, I still look back at that first meeting with a child's wide-eyed wonder.  Every journey must begin somewhere.
      But I digress.  I fear you will have to put up with a great deal of digression in my words, dear reader.  I am not sure if I am writing a holy book as G'Kar so often dreamed of doing, or simply the tale of a young Narn girl who, by chance or destiny, became something greater.
      Anyway, my father told me that the Alliance was a group of aliens who had got together and decided to rule us all.  Some of the Kha'Ri were cowards and traitors and were content to let them.  Others were heroes who tried to fight these aliens.  G'Kar, it seemed, was a good man, a holy man, who had been tricked by the aliens into helping them.  That was the only possible explanation my father could give for why G'Kar sought peace with the Centauri when we could have destroyed them.  These aliens lived at a place called Babylon Five, far, far away, and they had a mighty army they used to make sure everyone did as they said.
      I was not sure where this Babylon Five could be, but as my father had said it was far, far away, I believed it was on the other side of the G'Khorazar Mountains.  I gave these aliens appearances in my mind, appearances of horror and nightmare, monsters from legend.  Babylon Five itself I imagined as a tall dark castle, made of black stone, from which fire burned and soared, filling the sky with smoke.
      And then I saw it.
      The point of this story, dear reader, is to relate my wonder at that first sighting of Babylon Five.  As I said, I have seen so many wonders that they threaten to become commonplace.  I hope they never will, for then I will know that it is time to die.  But when I look back on that first visit to Babylon Five, in spite of all the horror that happened there, I remember the image of all those lights, shining so brightly in the night sky.  At first I was afraid we had come to the wrong place, for this was hardly the castle of horrors I had envisaged.
      This was instead a beacon of light and hope, truly a place of wonders....
      But as G'Kar taught me, evil can live in the most beautiful of environments.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

At home the atrocity had seemed so far away, as they always did.  Minbar was a world scarred by war and devastation, her people divided and fractured.  Kats remembered her first steps on the torn and brutalised world she had called home, and the memory had horrified her.  That was war and the price of war.  yo
      She remembered also what her race had done to another, and she remembered the vicious counterstrike that had poisoned her home.  She knew better than to seek retribution.  She knew that revenge was a path with no ending, just an eternal cycle.  uw
      Home was so far away, and the Grey Council was concerned with itself and their own people.  But Kats was here, on Babylon 5, and here the threat was close.  il
      Everyone moved quietly, faces downcast, scurrying about their business.  Tirivail, who normally had to match her long stride to Kats' more sedate steps, seemed to find it more of an ordeal than usual.  Her face was clouded by constant wariness, one hand always on the hilt of her weapon.  lo
      Tirivail remained outside for this meeting, of course.  It was a private affair, between allies and powers and.... friends.  be
      "It is good to see you again," Delenn said, gesturing to Kats to enter her office.  The room looked.... uncharacteristically untidy.  There were reports scattered everywhere, unfinished drinks and so on.  Kats sat by the door, away from the desk, and Delenn sat opposite her.  An expression of equality and friendship.  yu
      "It is good to be here," Kats replied.  "Although I wish it could have been under happier circumstances."  sy
      "So do I.  Is this meeting personal, or business-related?"  ou
      "A little of both.  I thought it appropriate to forewarn you of the Grey Council's proposals for this.... problem."  wi
      "I do not think I will like the sound of this."  ll
      "I do not blame you.  I do not.  Satai Takier proposes the complete closure of our borders and the recall of all Minbari ships to defend our own space.  He wants all our jump gates closely monitored, and the expulsion of all aliens in our territory.  The Grey Council has voted in my absence to grant no aid to the Narns, either financial or asylum for refugees."  ob
      "And this has all been voted on?"  ey
      "I had hoped for the final decision to be delayed until I reported back, but I contacted the Council upon my arrival.  An emissary has been sent from the Alliance demanding full access rights for Inquisitors and Dark Star patrols throughout our space.  Takier took it to the rest of the Council, and they voted, almost unanimously, to refuse them.  Takier plans to make it very clear that Alliance ships, military or merchant, pass through our territory without express permission at their peril.  He has never liked the Alliance, and agreed to join only grudgingly."  us
      "Do you think the Federation will abandon the Alliance?"  yo
      Kats looked down, her fingertips pressed tightly together.  "I would say it is almost a certainty.  There has been a great deal of unrest ever since the Inquisitors pursued their search for Sinoval last year.  This incident is just the impetus Takier needed."  uw
      "You will not be the last to leave.  The Narns....  I do not know about the Narns.  I have not been able to speak to any of them, but G'Kar is on his way here, and should arrive soon.  I hope he will be able to talk.... some sense, or peace, or something, into them.  But the Drazi, the Centauri....  The Drazi have already tried to leave us once.  The knowledge they are not alone this time may give them a greater incentive.  And the Centauri....  Ambassador Durano is a very clever man.  He has been talking to a great many people.  He can be a powerful ally, but his greatest loyalty is to his people.  An admirable trait in an Ambassador, to be sure, but I am certain he is not happy with what has been done to his people...."  il
      "You have left someone out," Kats noted.  lo
      "Yes, I am afraid to talk about.... him.  I had hoped he had gone forever, but the reports from Centauri Prime...."  be
      "Sinoval."  yu
      "I swore never to let him win.  I swore that his black vision for this galaxy would never come to pass.  He must be laughing at me."  sy
      "He would never do that, Delenn.  He is.... a good man, at heart.  I have not seen him in years, but he is a good man, and if there is war, there is no one I would rather have fighting for us.  I just hope there will not be war."  ou
      "If there is, it will be men like him who start it."  wi
      "No," Kats said softly.  "I wish that were true, but it is not.  The truth is, people like you started this.  People like you, and people like me.  The Inquisitors, the Dark Star fleets, the witch hunts, what you did to the Drazi and the Centauri....  And people like me, for not standing up and saying 'this is wrong'.  One of the Inquisitors tortured me for information about Sinoval, but when he left I did not come to you and protest about their very existence.  I hid, too afraid of war and what it would bring.  I should have spoken up long before."  ll
      "All we wanted was peace.  I was.... afraid, just as you were.  I thought that one or two tiny liberties removed wouldn't matter.  But in the end we took away too much and what remained?  Was there any other way?  Was there anything we could have done differently?"  ob
      "Far too many things, but I do not know if any of them would have led to a different outcome."  ey
      "It is too late to know now."  us
      "No," Kats said firmly.  "We are not at war yet, and it is not too late.  We can speak of peace and we can work together.  We can show the angry and the dispossessed that the Vorlons are to blame, and not the Alliance as a whole.  We can punish the guilty, those who planned and enacted this, and we can hold the Alliance together."  yo
      "Do you truly believe that?"  uw
      "I would not be here if I did not."  il

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Susan Ivanova was angry and upset and a mass of conflicting emotions.  Most of all, she wanted either a drink, or to hit someone.  Possibly both.  lo
      The air was strange, thick and aromatic.  It almost choked her, but from the way the Tuchanq moved and smiled it might have been the finest perfume.  The ground was soft, almost muddy, but they bounded across it like children playing.  be
      And the Song seemed to echo from every rock, every building, every molecule of air.  Wherever she turned, she could hear it, and it pulled at her.  yu
      Sinoval was out there somewhere, talking to nuViel Roon or the others, basking in their hero-worship.  Susan had no doubt that any of them would have died if he asked them to.  And they would.  He was going to lead them to war and get every one of them massacred.  sy
      There was so much happiness everywhere.  Her cynical soul hated the idea, but especially now.  A world had died.  Billions of people had been killed.  An entire race had now lost their home.  Was this any time for celebration?  ou
      But the Tuchanq probably still thought the Narns deserved it.  They were probably celebrating the destruction of Narn as much as the restoration of their home.  Whatever the Narns had done, they did not deserve that.  And what of the innocent, what of the children and the unborn, and those now to be born homeless and rootless?  Did they deserve this?  wi
      She was hungry and thirsty and tired of all the dark thoughts swirling around in her mind.  Sinoval's song had been.... almost painful in its intensity and power.  He had seemed completely unmoved by it, but it had touched her.  It had made her want to cry, or cry out, or rejoice or fight or.... any one of a number of things.  She had remembered giving her brother her earring, joking with Laurel, talking with David long into the night.  She had remembered fear and pain and misery and the even greater pain of good times that would never return.  ll
      And Sinoval, of course, had felt nothing.  He was an emotional rapist, no better and no worse.  ob
      And he was all the galaxy could muster?  Shouldn't the saviour of the galaxy actually care about what he was saving?  Shouldn't a hero at least have heroic intentions?  Despite all she had tried to do, Sinoval was fighting the Vorlons because he wanted to.  To him this had nothing to do with what was right or wrong.  It was all just a game.  He was just a boy playing with toy soldiers which just happened to walk and talk and breathe and live and dream.  ey
      Her walk brought her back to where she had started.  Sinoval was standing in what was once again the town square, talking to nuViel Roon and the other leaders.  us
      ".... will fight for you," nuViel Roon was saying.  "Give the word and we will send every life we have to die for you."  yo
      "No," Sinoval said calmly.  "That may be required of you, but not yet.  Rebuild your world and your cities.  Fight to defend yourselves, if any attack you, but do not go on the offensive.  Not yet.  Not until the time is right.  I will call for you when I need you, and rest assured, I will never forget you.  But for now, the greatest thing you can do is rebuild your world and your homes."  uw
      "We will never forget you, Saviour," one of the others said.  "We will always serve you."  il
      Sickened, Susan wandered away.  lo
      Some time later, she did not know exactly how long, she found herself with him on the pinnacle, watching the planet of Tuchanq fade away, a live world once again, but so very briefly, soon to be consumed again by war.  be
      "So," she said.  "When are you going to bring them into this?"  There was a definite bitterness in her words.  She wanted him to know just how disgusted she was with his games.  yu
      "Never," he replied, still looking at the planet.  sy
      "What?  But you said...."  ou
      "I know what I said.  I will not deny that I could use their fleet, insignificant though it is, but I will cope without them.  They are not warriors, and this is not their war.  To the giants who fill the skies the Tuchanq are no more than insects, beneath their attention.  If I do not involve them, if they remain in their world and their system, the Vorlons will not notice them either.  wi
      "The Vorlons destroyed a world.  I restored one.  For everything they do, I must react to counter it.  A time is coming when that will not be possible, and I will have to act against them directly.  The Tuchanq would be crushed if I involved them in that.  ll
      "No, let them live.  Let them enjoy their existence, in the knowledge that there is so much worse that could befall them.  Let them worship me if they like.  ob
      "But I will not throw children into battle.  They will wait forever for a call that will never come."  ey
      Susan looked at him, breathing out slowly.  She wrapped her arms tightly around herself.  us
      "So," she said.  "What now?"  yo
      "There are a few people I need to contact.  I need to gather all my agents.  The time for subtlety will soon be over.  One of my.... friends in particular, I think you will like.  uw
      "But I can do that on the way.  Events are rushing to a climax, threads converging at the centre of the galaxy.  il
      "We set course for Babylon Five."  lo

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It felt different this time.  be
      Usually, whenever Talia communed with the Apocalypse Box, there was an incredible rush of power.  It was the feeling she imagined her ancestors must have had taking their first baby steps into space, sheer wonder of what lay beyond and utter pride in how far they had come.  Whole new vistas lay stretched out before her through the Apocalypse Box, whole new realms of power.  yu
      This time it felt different.  sy
      It was cold, for one thing.  An icy, chilling cold.  Her body could not feel anything, but her soul felt as though she were walking in a graveyard through waist-deep mist.  There was an uncanny sensation of death in the air.  ou
      Moving forward, she could see specks of light in the air, dancing and swirling.  She recognised them as parts of the Vorlon network, just a few of the millions of trapped souls bound to it.  With renewed confidence she continued forward.  wi
      The city appeared from nowhere in front of her.  It was vast, the size of a planet, bigger.  She could not even begin to comprehend the number of people who must have lived there.  There were not enough zeroes to express the number.  ll
      Every house was a tomb.  Every building a mausoleum.  ob
      The sky beat in slow, rhythmic cycles, brilliant bolts of crackling light flashing across the clouds.  The faint specks of light from the network seemed so much fainter now.  ey
      You have walked too far, intoned a voice.  Or rather, she supposed it was something speaking to her.  If she believed in God, then He would have a voice like that.  It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.  But no God could have created anything like this. She had a feeling that everything was alive, a travesty of life, twitching, shambling death given life.  us
      "Are you the spirit within the Box?" she asked.  yo
      We are more than you can comprehend.  The vessel was one of many we seeded throughout your galaxy, adrift in the in-between, on lost, abandoned worlds among shrines to the dead.
      A flicker of light appeared before her, and it took form.  She had caught brief, agonising glimpses of the Vorlons during her passage through the network.  They were beautiful and angelic, formed of light and wonder.  She knew that was only an illusion, but it was a powerful image all the same.  uw
      This was no angel.  Or rather, it was what an angel would become if it turned beauty to ugliness, love to hatred, life to death.  Every extreme reversed.  il
      Some worshipped us, continued the voice.  It has always been so.  Your kind has always looked to the stars and to what lies beyond.  When you find us, you always bend in worship.  We are what lies beyond.  We were the first in our dimension to grow to life.  We were perfect, the blessed, and all that came after was but a shadow before us.  We gained the secrets of eternity and we shared them with everything else in our existence.  Races and worlds and stars all died before us.
      Talia felt the cold wind batter at her, and it was all she could do to hear the meaning in the words.  The voice was so overwhelming, so angry and harsh and yet so filled with.... love, love that was so strong it had become hatred.  lo
      We tried before to enter your existence, yours and all the others.  Some admitted us, but the gateway was closed before we could fully emerge.  Some of that race, who deemed themselves so strong and so knowledgeable, worshipped us as all do, and they remained in secret, in the shadows, preparing.  And now they have bargained and sacrificed all that they have.
      All we had to do was wait, and our patience is as eternal as death itself.
      They have admitted us to this dimension, as you have.  Your pitiful mortal existence can know nothing more sublime than death itself, and so we shall permit you to remain, to watch as we bless your race.
      And all others.
      None could stand against us in our dimension.  Do you think you can stand against us when we come for you?

      Talia threw her head back, shaking and screaming and trembling.  The lights still blazed in the sky, but they seemed so faint.  The network was there, but it seemed so weak.  These things had infiltrated it, been allowed to enter it by the Vorlons.  be
      Al was there.  yu
      She stumbled backwards, staring up into the sky.  sy
      "Help me!"

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There was no one to help him now.  He was alone.  ou
      If he had to concede it to himself (and if he could not trust himself, whom could he trust?) he would admit that he had always been alone.  That was the burden of power and responsibility.  You could not regard those who followed you as real people with real lives.  That way lay madness.  wi
      Still, General John J. Sheridan had hoped there were a few he could trust, a few he could call friends.  ll
      A few he could love....  ob
      "Do you not believe me?" asked Sebastian, in his perfectly enunciated voice.  He seemed to dwell on very syllable, every letter even, making sure its presence was known and commented on before moving to the next.  ey
      "No," Sheridan whispered, broken.  "I believe you.  It all.... makes too much sense to be lies.  My father always used to know when I was lying to him, and he said he could hear the ring of truth in anything I said.  us
      "What you've just told me.... it has the ring of truth to it."  yo
      "We are nothing but truth, General.  If you want lies, turn to the other side.  If you desire to know truth and enlightenment.... then we are here.  We will always be here."  uw
      "Yes," he said, with more than just a hint of bitterness.  "I know you will."  il
      "It is painful, I know," said Sebastian, without any sympathy at all.  "But better for you to know now than to have it always be hidden."  lo
      "Yes."  be
      "In any event, it was a pleasure, General.  I can see you will need some time to think.  There are many options before of you.  You should consider them.  I.... may be busy soon, but if I am available, feel free to come and visit me.  Or there are always my associates.  They will be happy to discuss any concerns you may have regarding these.... revelations.  They will also be more than willing to answer any questions you may have."  yu
      Sheridan looked up as Sebastian started to walk away, the tip-tap of his cane on the floor rhythmic and precise.  sy
      "Why?" he asked.  ou
      Sebastian turned back.  "I beg your pardon?"  wi
      "Why did you tell me this?  Why now?  Why me?"  ll
      "Three excellent questions."  He regarded Sheridan levelly.  "To the first, because you had a right to know, and because we hate lies, and because we have always regarded you as special.  To the second, you have been.... changed recently.  You have begun to question and doubt and seek answers in unfamiliar places.  You would not have reacted this way before.  You might not even have cared.  But you have changed, and you have begun to question, and it was only fitting that you receive answers."  ob
      "Changed," he said, with a bitter laugh.  "Oh, is that ever true."  ey
      "And as to the third," Sebastian continued as if he had never been interrupted.  "You are special.  You have a rare gift, General - to weld people to your side, to spread your dreams so that they become the dreams of others.  You are a natural leader, and your position here is well-deserved.  You have also seen much death and much loss, and you will not wish to see these things return to this galaxy.  Yours can be a powerful voice for peace and unity.  us
      "You are special, General, and there are forces that will seek to take advantage of that for their own ends.  We cannot permit that.  We cannot permit others to control you by lies and by deceit and by shadows.  We are the truth, as I trust we have now proven."  yo
      Sheridan looked down again, his head in his hands.  uw
      "If there is anything more I can do for you...."  Sheridan did not reply.  "Then I shall take my leave, and permit you to return to your thoughts.  It has been a pleasure, General.  Good day."  il
      He left.  It took a long, long time before the echo of his cane stopped resounding in Sheridan's mind.  lo

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It seemed such a small room to hold so much.  be
      The Council Hall on Babylon 5 had always been big enough before.  It was smaller than the Chambers they had used on Kazomi 7, but it had been more than adequate for their needs.  Now it looked tiny.  yu
      Lethke zum Bartrado, diplomat and nobleman and Merchant-Lord, looked around at those he had gathered, and realised he was not just standing in a room with Ambassador Durano, but with the entire Centauri people.  He was not talking merely with Ambassador G'Kael, but with every Narn man and woman alive.  Little wonder the room looked small.  sy
      He had always known these implications, but over time the knowledge had been lost to him.  His uncle had been a Merchant-Lord, an incredibly rich man, a wily and experienced trader with contacts on a score of worlds.  Lethke had travelled with him as a child and as a young man, and he had dreamed of seeing more of these aliens, of understanding how they thought and why they acted, of knowing more than just how to take their money.  ou
      And so he had become a diplomat.  The skills of language and perception his father had taught him served him well in both fields.  wi
      But over time, the meaning of what he was had escaped him.  He had become just another servant of the Government, just another politician drawing a wage and holding down a job.  ll
      As he looked around at his companions, he realised again what he really was.  ob
      He was the voice of the Brakiri people, and he had been silent for too long.  ey
      Durano, the cold, icily-efficient Centauri statesman.  Lethke had come to admire his competence and calm.  He remembered the emotionless look on Durano's face as he signed the Kazomi Treaty joining the Alliance, as he reported the raids on Centauri worlds, as he announced the illness of Emperor Mollari II.  us
      G'Kael, pleasant, almost jovial.  Lethke and he had dined together on a number of occasions, and spoken of their religious beliefs.  G'Kael always seemed sincere and genuine and truly devout, dedicated to the cause of his people and his Government, a Government which no longer existed.  yo
      Taan Churok.  He had been present at the birth of the Alliance, and for those early, difficult years he had been a rock of stability and certainty, always committed to the cause the Alliance stood for.  He had fought beside his people during the Conflict, and had returned to the Alliance following the Drazi surrender.  Lethke could not recall a single word he had spoken in Council since that day.  uw
      Kulomani.  Loyal, driven, dedicated.  It was no coincidence he had been chosen as Commander of Babylon 5, but Lethke did not know where Kulomani would align himself or where his decisions would lead him.  il
      No one else.  Was this all there were?  Lethke had wanted to call a private meeting before the Council meeting itself, a meeting of those he trusted.  He wanted to test the water, to see where people would turn.  lo
      These were all the people he could trust.  He felt almost sick.  be
      Delenn was too busy, and too synonymous with the Alliance.  With G'Kar away, she led the Rangers.  She had renounced her ties to her own people to concentrate on the Alliance.  To Lethke, who would not have dreamed of taking the same step, it seemed an admirable act, but it compromised her.  If she were here, Taan Churok would definitely not be, as well as maybe G'Kael and Kulomani.  yu
      The Minbari did not have an Ambassador, despite having been members of the Alliance for over a year and a half.  Kulomani was aware that the Grey Council had sent a representative, but however many good words he heard of Satai Kats, he did not know her.  sy
      The humans were represented by General Sheridan, but his first duty would be to the Alliance and the Dark Star fleet.  He had led the attack on Zhabar and other Drazi worlds during the Conflict, and Taan Churok would not be likely to forget it.  ou
      The Pak'ma'ra had recalled their Ambassador when news reached them of the attack on Narn.  So had the Llort.  wi
      So few.  ll
      "I...."  He coughed.  "I thank you all for coming.  I realise this is.... pre-empting the scheduled meeting, but I wanted to discuss a few matters privately first, to see what response we are going to make to the.... incident.  We are all Ambassadors and diplomats, and our first loyalties must be to our own peoples.  I would like us to present a united view to the Alliance, but most of all I would like us all to know where we stand."  ob
      Kulomani rose to his feet.  "I am a soldier of the United Alliance," he said.  "This is a meeting of Ambassadors."  ey
      "I requested your presence for a reason, Commander," Lethke said.  "Your opinion is as important as anyone else's."  us
      Kulomani looked around the room, slowly and carefully.  Lethke felt a chill as his compatriot stared at him.  The soldier had the eyes of a diplomat.  Finally, he sat down.  yo
      "If I may," Durano said, in his clipped, precise tones.  He rose.  "I received a communication from my Government moments before leaving to attend this meeting.  We have only recently been able to send messages off-world.  uw
      "Emperor Mollari II has awoken from his coma, and looks set to make a full recovery from his illness.  He has been thoroughly examined, and will begin to resume official duties within a few weeks.  One of his first acts, he hopes, will be to visit Babylon Five to meet Ambassador G'Kael personally."  Durano turned to the Narn.  "Indeed, he has personally asked me to pass on his most sincere condolences to you and all your people."  il
      "Thank you," G'Kael replied, displaying no emotion at all.  lo
      "Is it wise for the Emperor to come here?" Lethke asked.  be
      "That, I believe, is what this meeting has been called to determine.  Am I wrong?"  yu
      "Matter is simple," Taan Churok answered.  "I will leave here now.  All Drazi will leave.  We return home, and we fight to get home back.  You smart, you all fight too."  sy
      "You cannot do that," Lethke said calmly.  ou
      "We try."  wi
      "This cannot be resolved by war."  ll
      "War is all we have."  Taan looked at G'Kael.  "If you helped when we fought last time, perhaps you still have homeworld left.  We fight and we lose.  Maybe we lose this time, but we fight, and maybe others fight too."  ob
      "But surely a peaceful solution...."  ey
      "Alliance built for peace.  Alliance built for good intentions.  But things change.  Alliance change.  This not Alliance we helped create.  You know this.  Something wrong.  Very wrong.  We fight it."  us
      Lethke bowed his head.  He had known, somehow, that it would come to this.  Peace was still possible.  He knew it.  But he could not create peace alone.  yo
      "Is this a private party," said a solemn voice.  "Or can anyone join in?"  uw
      Lethke looked up.  G'Kar stood in the doorway.  il

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"It's beginning, isn't it?"
      "What?"
      "The storm."
      "It has already begun.  We just have not noticed it yet."
      "My mother was a telepath.  She used to play music for me, sing for me, old Russian songs of lost love and old Gods and the old country.  My mother's dead, my country is dead, the songs are dead.  I try to remember them, but they all slip away.  I try to remember the names of the Gods and they.... aren't there."
      "We are the Gods now.  Or we will be.  You are a God now."
      "Me?  Hah.  The God of what exactly?  Cynicism, melancholy and bad jokes?"
      "There are worse things to be a God of."
      "And you?  No, forget I asked."
      "I feel no shame for what I am, and nor should I.  If I am to be the God of War, worshipped and feared as such, then let me be the God of War.  Then no one else has to be."
      "You scare me."
      "Good.  I should."
      "And are the Gods going to war?"
      "The old Gods have been at war for a very long time.  We are going to end it."
      "But it isn't ending, is it?  It's just beginning."
      "Everything is a cycle.  Sometimes, to end a thing, you have to begin it.  To break the circle, you have to know where it starts."
      "I don't get you."
      "Sometimes neither do I."
      "Have you contacted your friends?"
      "Yes.  They are prepared."
      "Are you nervous?"
      "No.  I am oddly calm.  Are you?"
      "Terrified."
      "Perhaps you could be the God of Terror."
      "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
      "Like everything else, a little of both."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"There is danger.  Remember."  lo
      Dexter reeled beneath the onslaught of sheer.... wrongness.  The very air seemed thick and heavy and poisonous.  Blood filled his mouth and his eyes and his senses.  Blood filled his whole being.  be
      Talia was motionless.  As he looked at her through a thin veil of crimson, Dexter thought she looked like a statue, a statue constructed of blood and pain.  yu
      The creature looming above her was simply looking around.  It seemed to be receiving information from its senses, not the pitiful five or six that humans possessed, but hundreds of senses, every one created for a single purpose.  sy
      "There is danger," the Vindrizi hissed again.  "Remember."  ou
      The words were thick and hollow and emotionless.  Or perhaps that was just the way Dexter heard them.  wi
      He slumped forward, on his knees.  This creature, this thing, this God, was so awesomely, unutterably alien.  He had known Minbari, had fought against them for so long and even fallen in love with one.  He had known Narns and Centauri and Brakiri.  He had met a Pak'ma'ra and thought it was the most revolting thing he had ever seen.  ll
      But this was more alien than any of them.  This was ancient and powerful and other.  The very earth and air seemed to revolt beneath it and shy away from its touch.  The ground beneath the Box was growing black and twisted, a foul smell rising from it.  ob
      A torrent of blood filled his mouth.  ey
      Dexter felt the creature look at him, look at him with those countless extra senses.  He felt his memories being opened and violated - his mother's death, his first kiss, his first drink, cheating at cards, kissing Talia, killing Delenn.  us
      If he could put a human emotion to it, and he knew that even attempting such a thing was an absurdity, he would say that the creature was amused by the sheer insignificance of his existence.  He was nothing, not even an insect.  He had thought he was something more, something special....  yo
      "There is danger.  Remember."  uw
      When all he was was a drop of water screaming 'look at me' to the other drops of water.  il
      A single voice in a multitude of voices that together made up nothing more than an infinitesimal whisper in the universe.  Everyone he had ever met, ever heard of, that had ever been alive.  lo
      They were all nothing.  be
      He sank further forward, smelling the foulness of his own blood hitting the ground.  He felt as if his mouth were full of his own vomit, his nostrils filled with the scent of his own excrement.  yu
      "There is danger.  Remember."  sy
      Head lolling on his shoulders, thick and heavy and empty, he looked up, his eyes bleeding simply from looking at the creature, at the monarch of this tiny and pathetic kingdom of ants.  ou
      "There is danger.  Remember."  wi
      That was when Talia screamed, when a brilliant burst of light filled the room, and when his mind suddenly became a great deal clearer.  ll

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I was not there when G'Kar went to speak with the group Ambassador Lethke had gathered.  Sometimes I wish I had been, but if I had gone, maybe I would never have left that room, and maybe these words would never have been written.  My life is built on such flimsy and fragile choices and coincidences that sometimes I think I must have been blessed by some higher power, that my every breath is part of some grander scheme.
      Then in my arrogance I stop, and realise that the same is true of every other living thing in existence.
      It was not my choice not to go to that meeting.  It was G'Kar's, and of course it was understandable.  He was going to speak to some of the most powerful people in the Alliance, in the galaxy even.  His words could affect the entire future of the Alliance.  He had no wish for a child to accompany him.
      But to that child, his decision seemed painful and treacherous.  He had left me alone with a hard-faced, stern-looking woman called Na'Toth, who seemed too busy checking weapons and contacting ships outside the station to worry about me.
      Tired and upset and a little angry, I waited in the corner of the room.
      Everything I know about that meeting I heard later.  I have heard some truly horrific rumours, some horrible reports.
      I believe every one of them.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.


There was silence for a moment as G'Kar stood framed in the doorway.  Lethke did not know what to say, and he imagined everyone else was in the same position.  ob
      G'Kar looked.... both weaker and stronger.  He was frail and the hasty bandage across his eye did little to hide the damage that had clearly been done.  The effects of his imprisonment showed on his body.  ey
      But there was also a sort of glow on him, and his bearing radiated a vigour that belied his fatigue.  Here was a wounded man, almost broken, someone who has stared death in the face and emerged with a new purpose, moving in that one perfect moment between weakness and strength.  us
      It was G'Kael who spoke first.  He moved forward and bowed his head.  "Welcome back, Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar," he said softly.  yo
      If G'Kar hesitated, it was only for an instant.  He bowed his head likewise and said, "It is good to be back, Ambassador."  uw
      He looked around the room and Lethke felt the power of that one-eyed gaze fall upon him.  He felt so ashamed and weak.  Surely he could have done a little more, done something, anything, to have averted or forewarned or eased what had happened.  He closed his eyes, and the gaze of judgment faded, moving on.  il
      "May I sit?" G'Kar asked.  lo
      "Of course," Lethke replied.  "You are most welcome here."  be
      "I do not think so," came the reply.  G'Kar sat down awkwardly, wincing slightly.  "Forgive me for remaining seated while I speak, but it is easier for me this way."  yu
      "Should you not be in the medical facility?" G'Kael asked.  "Your wounds look...."  sy
      "My wounds are as nothing compared to those of our people, or of this Alliance," G'Kar replied sharply.  G'Kael bowed his head, chastened.  "I heard of this meeting from Na'Toth and came to express my view.  Not that of the Narn people, or the Narn Government, or the Rangers, or the Alliance.  ou
      "I come here to express the opinion of G'Kar, a single man."  wi
      Lethke sat down himself, cursing his lack of courage and foresight.  He should have seen something.  ll
      "I watched as this Alliance was born.  It came about from mutual need, yes, from the ruins of Kazomi Seven and the image of a hundred planets ruined in the same way.  The threat to us all was very real and very powerful and we knew if we did not unite against it we would all be consumed.  ob
      "Perhaps that was our mistake, leaving our birthplace.  On Kazomi Seven we only had to walk outside or glance out of a window to see some legacy of what had happened there, of what our Alliance was formed to oppose.  Here everything seems so far away, little more than a memory.  How soon we all forget the real truth.  ey
      "Just as soon we will forget Narn.  If some have their way, war will begin because of this, and the Narn homeworld will be forgotten.  us
      "The Alliance was built for peace.  I believe in peace.  I saw my world die, and I have spoken with those who have experienced the same thing.  All are shocked and paralysed.  All have different beliefs and opinions.  Mine are shared by myself alone.  Everyone disagrees with me, but I cannot help but continue to believe in the truth of my views.  yo
      "We brought this on ourselves.  uw
      "I do not speak of our Government.  Whatever they did, they have paid for.  I speak of our people.  I speak of those of us who believed that we were superior and that no one else mattered, that we could interfere in the lives and homes of others at our pleasure, that they did not matter, that they could not fight back.  We used this Alliance as a shield and as a sword, striking at our enemies in our ignorance and hiding behind it when they sought to strike back.  il
      "And now we have discovered that there are those more powerful than we are.  We have learned this with great pain and great loss.  It is a lesson we must not forget.  None of us.  lo
      "We are all stronger together than we are apart.  be
      "Perhaps, if a better world can come of this for everyone, then those who died need not have died in vain.  If we can all turn this loss to a greater good, as we did at Kazomi Seven, then we can create something greater than what was destroyed.  yu
      "I hope for that with all I have, and it is all that sustains me.  sy
      "But I doubt, truly, in my heart, that it will ever happen.  ou
      "What say all of you?"  wi
      There was a pause, in which Lethke hid his head in his hands.  There were no words.  There just were no words at all.  ll
      Taan Churok rose.  "G'Kar," he said simply.  "You wrong."  ob
      It was G'Kar who noticed the shadow first, and he turned to face the door.  Lethke looked up a moment later.  ey
      The silhouette of the Vorlon was stark in the doorway, casting a black and terrible shadow into the room, touching each and every one of them.  us

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Help me!
      The scream filled Talia's mind, at the same moment as it echoed across the network.  A million trapped minds and souls, some imprisoned for millennia, their bodies long rotted to dust and ash, screamed as well.  yo
      And they provided the help needed by their saviour.  uw
      A bright, terrible light filled Dexter's vision, rising from the shadow Talia cast before the box.  The creature there, the Alien, the wrong, unnatural abomination, seemed to recoil from the shock.  Something inside Dexter's mind reached out past the pain and the revulsion and joined with the rush of energy and consciousness.  il
      The box itself was surrounded by light.  Dexter could not see it himself, but the others could.  There were so many souls, beings composed entirely of light and power, battling against the Alien.  lo
      Talia felt something reaching across countless light years, from somewhere so far away she could barely imagine it, a gesture as gentle as a caress on the nape of her neck.  be
      "Al," she thought.  She did not whisper, for she could not make any sound, and she did not cry, for her eyes could not shed tears.  It took every effort she had to simply give birth to that thought, but she managed it.  yu
      "Al," she thought again.  so
      The necropolis was bathed in light, but she knew it was temporary, a tiny spark as of a match struck against midnight.  It was a momentary blink to beings such as these.  ry
      The image before her knew that.  ou
      We have waited a thousand times your lifetime, the dark, hateful voice said to her.  Do you think this gambit means anything to such as us?  Your Gods are but insects compared to us.  Your lords bow down before us.  Your power is a shadow before our presence.
      Talia could feel her eyes bleeding.  "You haven't won yet."  wi
      We will.  Even if we never truly cross the barrier to your existence.  Even if you close this gate and all others, we will always triumph.  All things end.  Even planets, even stars, even universes die.  At the end, there is nothing but death.

      "You're right," she whispered.  ll
      If all ended in death, it didn't matter to them whether they won now or not.  di
      But it did matter to her.  e
      The light grew brighter, briefly, but then it began to die.  This had been the work of a moment, nothing more, and it had not tapped into even a fraction of the power of the network.  She could not do that and still live as anything mortal.  youw
      And all it had done was hold them back for a single second, for the blink of an eye.  illo
      She withdrew, and returned to a body racked with pain and blood.  Her vision was red and misty, and the light here was almost blinding.  beyu
      But she managed to look up to see the creature return through the box.  sory
      And then it closed.  ouwi
      And remained closed.  lldie

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

<You are all traitors.>
      The words sang in their minds with the mournful dirge of hanged men at dusk, with the rattle of bones sleeping unquietly in their graves, with the horrifying finality of judgment and sentence.
      Lethke tried to speak.  So did G'Kael and Taan Churok.
      The Vorlon heard none of them.
      G'Kar said nothing.  Not then.
      youwillobeyusoryouwilldie

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There was light, and it filled his mind.
      There was purity, and it illuminated his soul.
      There was stillness, and it sounded in his ears.
      There was justice, and it rang true to his immortal being.
      While elsewhere the first deaths were beginning, their harbinger stood alone and silent, looking up across the depths of space with eyes that had seen things no human should ever see, holding his cane precisely with hands that had touched things no human should ever touch, with a mind that remembered doing things no human should ever do.
      He was no longer human.
      He was, as everyone else was now, a servant of a higher power.
      It was beginning, but the one he waited for was not here yet.  He would be here soon.  He had been marked, tainted with the memory of his thoughts.
      "Primarch Sinoval," Sebastian said softly and calmly, with just a hint of anticipation.  "Do hurry.  I am waiting for you."
      iwillobeyyou

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

As Delenn walked through the winding paths of the garden, she did not stop even once to look at the plants around her.  She had to blink against the extreme brightness of the lights, and an uncomfortable itch was developing on the back of her neck.
      A stone turned under her foot and she stumbled.  Her knee gave way and she crashed to the ground.  Reaching out instinctively to save herself, her hand caught a small bush and sharp thorns raked at her skin.  She hit the ground with a jarring thud.  For one painful, awkward, embarrassed moment she lay still, then she managed to haul herself back to her feet.
      Normally she would have been very conscious of the loss of dignity, but there was no one around to notice.  In fact she had seen hardly anyone during her walk.  Fortunately there had been one hurrying Brakiri merchant who had remembered seeing John heading for the garden.
      Wincing from the pain in her leg, she looked at her hand.  There was a ragged tear in the skin and three perfect, pristine drops of blood decorated her palm.  Angrily, she wiped them on the hem of her skirt and carried on her way, slower and more laboured than before.
      She found John sitting on a bench in the centre of the maze that the garden had become.  The plants cast faintly sinister shadows on the path in front of her and she had hesitated to step on them, but fortunately the clearing where John sat was open and bright.
      She said his name, once, softly.  He did not react, and she said it again, moving forward slowly.  Again he did nothing, and so she spoke again, even louder.
      He turned and looked at her.  She took a step back, imagining for a second that she had travelled backwards in time during her hellish trek through the garden.  He looked as he had looked when she first met him, wounded and battered by countless years of war, friendless and alone and trapped.
      His eyes were hollow and black, haunted and tormented.  There was a brief rush of air, and she was aware of flickering shadows behind and in front and all around her.  She and John seemed to be the only creatures alive in a galaxy filled with ghosts.
      "John," she said again.  "John."
      "Yes," he said, his voice flat.  It was calm and emotionless and....
      .... dead.
      He sounded dead.
      She shivered against another cruel gust.
      "What is it?" she breathed.  "John, I tried to look for you but no one knew....  Lethke has gathered the Ambassadors.  There is to be a meeting of the Council soon.  Kats has received word from the Grey Council.  John....  I need to talk to you."
      "I don't feel like talking."  He lowered his head.  It lolled, weightless and formless between his shoulders.
      "John?"  She stepped forward, slowly and gingerly.  Her knee moaned in protest.  She reached out to touch him, but he jerked back at the brush of her hand, as if she had burned him.
      "I need to be alone," he breathed, without moving his head.
      "I need you," she whispered.  "John, it's all falling apart and I can't hold it together alone.  We need you."
      "I need to be alone," he said again.
      "John?"  She had been wrong earlier.  He was not as he had been when she had first known him.  He was darker, more hollow, more empty.  She had only seen him like this once before, when he had shot and killed Anna.  He had been drunk then, and delirious and grieving.
      Now he was quiet, and sober, and dead.
      "John," she said again.  "What is it?  What is wrong?"  An urgency greater than any she had ever known gripped her, a sense of terror she had never felt before, never thought she could feel.
      "You don't want to know," he whispered.  "Delenn, leave me alone."
      Breathing out harshly, she took another step back.  She said his name again, almost like a prayer, and then she turned, eyes filled with sparkling tears as she tried to run, to flee from this singular clearing of light.
      Her knee gave way and she went down again.  This time she did not reach out to save herself and simply fell, her body shaking, her dress torn and ripped.  Her hands dashed against hard rocks, and she felt the pain of her wounds re-opening.  Struggling to her knees, hardly able to see, blinking away tears, she looked at her hands.
      They were covered in blood.
      Shaking, trembling, afraid of what was out there almost as much as what was in here, she tried to turn round.  Raising her head and blinking through the light, she looked at him.  "John," she said again.
      He looked at her again, raising his head.  Once it had been weightless, now it seemed so heavy that very motion was an act of herculean strength.  His eyes were empty, almost colourless.
      "You knew," he whispered.
      "What?  John, I don't...."  The pain seemed almost too much to bear.  It was absurd.  She was only scratched.  She had been tortured, seared by electricity.  She had been beaten and corrupted by the alien-ness in her own body.  She had fled from Shadows beneath Z'ha'dum with her lungs burning.  She had even been killed.
      But none of those things had ever hurt more than these few simple scratches and bruises.
      "You knew.  When you went to Z'ha'dum.  You chose to go.  You weren't captured or abducted.  You chose to go.  You were pregnant."
      "John," she whispered, her heart lurching.  An echo thudded in her ears.
      "When you were there," he continued, his every word a flat, calm hammer beating at her, "you were given the chance to return to Kazomi Seven, or anywhere else.  You could have left.  You could have fled.  You chose to remain.  You were pregnant."
      "John."  She tried to form more words, but could not give them voice.  They simply did not exist in her mind.  The technomages had warned her that she would have to make a choice.  Vejar had expressed concern about the wisdom of her answer.  Lorien had told her that she faced a happy life in a galaxy with a terrible future or a sorrow-filled existence in the knowledge of a brighter world ahead.  How else could she choose?
      "You went into danger knowing what you were doing.  You were willing to die.  You were pregnant."
      "John."  She hardly heard herself that time.  The echoes of the heartbeat were too loud, the rush of the wind too chill.
      "You killed my son."
      Some words, once said, can never be unsaid, never be forgotten, never be undone.
      She shook.  "John," she said again, although she was not sure to whom she was speaking.  She did not know the man before her.  The man she knew was dead and had been dead for a very long time.
      She wished she had chosen differently.  She wished she had turned down the Vorlons' bargain.  She wished she had let him die there and then with the memory of his greatness and his love still alive.  Anything rather than let him become this dead, hollow figure in front of her.  The one who could not even give voice to his anger as he accused her of doing something so abominable she could not even comprehend it.
      There were no words.  There was nothing he could do or say that would heal the wound in her heart - or worsen it.
      She was wrong.
      He rose to his feet, ignoring her sobbing, her shaking, her wounds, her ragged dress and her bloody hands.  He walked towards the fluttering, writhing shadows at the edge of the clearing.  He stopped and turned back to look at her.  She met his gaze, and through her tears and her shaking and the light and the shadows and the wind she saw one thing clearly.
      There was nothing inside him.
      "I was going to ask you to marry me."
      Then he was gone, vanished from her sight, just another ghost returned to the world of the dead.  She was alone, the last living being surrounded by the dead and their memories and their pain and their echoes.
      And their hearts beating.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

We granted you salvation from the Shadow.  We granted you peace from the war.  We granted you security beneath the shield of our light.  We granted you an end to fear, an end to pain, an end to misery, an end to uncertainty.
      We have protected you from evils in the galaxy that you cannot even imagine.
      But most of all, we have protected you from yourselves.



Into jump gate




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