Volume 5:  Among the Stars, like Giants Part VII:  .... Let No God Tear Asunder




Chapter 7


KILL them!  Kill them all!
      Words spoken in such anger and such hatred, so long ago, coming from a different person.  So much had happened since then, so much blood spilled and venom spewed.  So much guilt to bear.
      My name is John J. Sheridan.  Rank: Captain, Earthforce....
      He had looked so strange then, so alien.  Proud and determined, but hissing with rage as he rounded on Sinoval.  A barbarian from a barbaric people, a race of murderers.
      You bastard!  I swear to God you'll pay for their deaths, you soulless black-hearted bastard!  For everything you did to Earth, to my people, to my daughter!
      Delenn could not help but add a silent, anachronistic coda to that rant.
      To my son!
      You killed my son.

      Another hateful memory, but out of place.  Delenn closed her eyes, shivering in the quiet of space.
      It looks as if we aren't alone any more.  I don't know who these allies are, but at least they're willing to fight, which is more than the Narns will.  What do you think about that, eh, Satai Delenn?
      Another shudder racked her body.
      I think that we are all doomed, Captain.
      And doomed they were.  Doomed they had been.  So much suffering and loss until it had all become too much to bear and she had retreated into solitude, helping as much as she could, but really hiding.  She had thought she had concealed herself, but Sinoval had known all along.
      And he had dragged her back into this, of course.  This ludicrous, wrong, utterly, utterly wrong, delusion of his.  She had told him no, and she had bade him leave.
      But of course he had done what he wanted to anyway.  He always did.
      They are arguing.  There is.... a triangle.  She is.... thinking of it.  She's resisting.  Strongly.  I.... think.... Branmer dead.... Entil'zha.... the Rangers.  She.... oh my God.  Oh my God!  The Enemy!  They're coming!  Black and terrible and.... touched!
      Another artificial memory, rising to swamp her, to choke her with its emotional backlash.  Lyta.
      And of course:
      I am a rational and fair man, Satai Delenn, and I cannot punish one person for actions committed by another, but they are not here, and you are, Satai Delenn.
      Mr. Welles.  How long had he been dead now?  How long since she had even thought about him?
      They were massed behind her, the never-ending ranks of the dead.  It must be worse for Sinoval, she supposed.  He could see them all, talk to them, hear their angry cries and sobbing tales.  But then, she doubted that he cared.  He had never been blessed with a conscience.  He did whatever had to be done.  She wished she possessed that certainty.
      You are not alone in your pain.  No one ever is.
      Oh, how idealistic she had been then.  How hopeful!  Everyone was alone in their pain.  For all that she - and others - had tried to reach out to John, he had been alone in the end.  They had all been alone.

JOHN SHERIDAN

RESTING

IN A PLACE WHERE NO SHADOWS FALL

      But he was not resting any more, was he?  Sinoval had brought him back.  She could feel it.  She had felt the dreams, talked with Lyta that one last time, felt the rage and fury rising, felt the tingle in his fingers as he had moved them again.
      Dreams, or reality?  Just another portent of an unreachable, far-distant future that was never as she saw it, just like that time on Babylon 4, the first time, when things had seemed.... easier?
      Before the chrysalis, before her mutation, before her agonised forced return to this world.
      Welcome back to the world, Satai Delenn.  Out of the darkness....
      And into the light.

      Her thoughts were troubled, wrapped in pain and memories, as she journeyed towards Cathedral.  The black vessel seemed to be a metaphor for her dreams, drawing everything towards it, a vast, measureless sarcophagus filled only with the dead.
      And the faintest wisp that was the possibility of happiness.
      My place.... my rightful place is here.... with you.  I told you that we were old souls.... and I told you that we belong together.  I.... I have lost everything I ever thought I had, John.  I know how you feel.  I will not leave you.  Through fire and darkness, I will not leave you again.
      She felt like crying as her small ship docked and she disembarked, but she did not.  She would not cry again.  She had had enough of tears.  An ocean of them she must have shed in her life.  She would not add to it.
      She saw him from a long way off.  He was staring at her.  Sinoval was beside him, wrapped in the shadows of his long robe of black and silver.  He had taken to wearing dark colours again, then.  She noticed that absently, distantly, something to think about, anything but the fact that John was walking towards her and he was alive again.
      "Delenn," he said, with more certainty this time.  He stopped a few feet in front of her.
      "You cut your hair," he breathed incredulously.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Everything was quiet and still, the air heavy with the remembered cries of the dead and the dying.  Neither combatant was moving, both sprawled at the base of the throne, an old dream fulfilled.
      Sinoval was not there.  He was far away from Centauri Prime, weaving another thread in his byzantine plotting.  He nevertheless had some interesting theories about dreams.
      He called them lies.
      And he had another theory about prophecy.
      Nothing is written in stone, and even if it were, stones can be shattered.
      But then, the Centauri are a far more superstitious people.
      A figure ran into the throne room, panting, short of breath.  He had not run so far or so fast for years, but then he had never had such a fear driving him before.  The sight of the sky above him had filled him with terror, but that was not it.
      He was worried that someone else would get to his throne before he did.
      He laughed out loud when he reached the room and saw the Purple Throne empty.  He did not look too closely at the two bodies on the floor.  Instead he ran forward, skipping over them to stand on the step in front of the throne.
      He reached out and touched it.  It was exactly as he had dreamed, as he had always dreamed.
      He would be Emperor.  The dreams had told him so.  The prophecies had told him so.  There were no seeresses any longer, but that did not matter.  This, he simply knew.
      He would be Emperor.
      Giggling softly, he sat down on the Purple Throne.
      "I'm Emperor," he said, laughing.  "Emperor Vir Cotto.  It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
      He looked around at his empty throne room.
      "People of Centauri Prime," he said.  "Behold your Emperor!"
      He giggled again.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I don't want to talk about her.
      Sheridan looked at her as she emerged through the long, slow darkness.  She looked different, more as she had originally, so long ago.  She had cut her hair.
      She had cut her hair.
      He had always loved her hair.  It had framed her face, emphasised her beauty, contrasted with the compassion of her eyes....
      She had cut her hair.
      He did not want to speculate about why.  He had no idea what might have changed in the years he had been dead.  He had only the faintest memories of what had happened immediately before.  There had been angry words, very angry words.
      But these were just memories.  There was no emotional connection to them at all.  It was as if they had happened to someone else.
      I'm not even sure if I do love Delenn.  How can I love her, for God's sake?  But.... she's so alone.  I know that solitude.
      He turned to speak to Sinoval, but he was not there.  He had vanished as if he had never been.
      Just him and Delenn.  Just the two of them.
      Alone.
      Together.
      She looked up at him.  "It is you," she sighed.  "I.... I was not sure whether to believe it or not."
      "I'm not sure I believe it myself.  Sometimes this all just feels like a dream."
      She paused, thinking.  He looked at her.
      Valen walk with you, John.
      Yeah.  You.... you too.

      Suddenly, impulsively, she reached out and touched him.  Her hand was warm.  He could feel her blood flowing leisurely beneath her skin.  He imagined he could feel her heart beating.
      "Do I feel like a dream?" she whispered.
      "No," he replied.  "No.  Never."
      "Dreams have played a large part in both our lives, have they not?"
      "Yes.  Dreams.... and nightmares.  Delenn, how much time has passed?  Sinoval told me, but I didn't want to believe him.  You look.... different.  Not just the hair.  You look...."  She said nothing, and he bowed his head.  "Twelve years?"  She nodded.  "I've been dead for twelve years.  If he'd said a thousand or a million, it would just have been numbers, just a lot of zeros, but twelve.... that's.... that's almost worse.  I missed seeing you grow older.  I missed seeing myself grow older."
      "You look the same as you did before."
      "I know.  Sinoval....  I....  How could he?  Why did he?  Couldn't he let me be?"
      "He has a reason, I am sure.  People like him always have a reason."  There was a great bitterness in her tone.
      I don't know where my destiny is leading, and I don't know where I'm going, and I still miss Anna, and always will....  I do know, however.... that wherever my life is going, I want to spend it with you.
      "I don't want to be manipulated," he said forcefully.  "I had enough of that before.  I want to know what's happening.  I want to know why things are the way they are."
      "Yes," she said.  He looked into her eyes and saw again the brilliant, deep green, dimmed and aged by events he could only imagine, but still beautiful to him.  A single unshed tear filled her eye.
      He held out his hand to her, tentatively.  "I don't know this place," he said carefully.  "But I want to go for a walk.  Do you.... do you want to come with me?"
      The heart does not recognise boundaries on a map, or wars or political parties.  The heart does as the heart does!
      "John," she whispered.  "So much has happened.... so very much.  So much fire and madness and.... so many dead.
      "So much has changed."
      'Faith manages.'  I like that.
      "So much said that cannot be unsaid.  So much done that cannot be undone."
      I love you, Delenn.  There.  I love you with all my heart.
      "I am not the same as I was before.  I can never be that person again."
      I love you.
      He looked at her.  "Whoever you are," he whispered, his heart close to breaking, "I do not care."
      I love you.
      She did not take his hand, but she did step up beside him.  Silently, the two of them began their walk through the darkened corridors of Cathedral, now just a little bit lighter.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It was quiet here.  Outside it was loud.  Very loud.  The screams and the burning and the destruction could be heard from miles away.  But here, inside this holy place, shielded by the minds of the Faceless, that was all far away.
      L'Neer was calm now, her face a picture of meditative simplicity.  Timov envied her that.  She had tried to be calm.  She had tried to be calm all those years in that dark cell, but it had eluded her in the end.  It was easy to be certain at L'Neer's age.  Things tended to become.... less clear as one got older.
      Control yourself, woman! she snapped at herself.  She had too much to deal with to let herself get jealous of some Narn girl.  She found she was drumming her fingers against the wall and she stopped herself irritably.
      "You must have led a full life," L'Neer said suddenly.  Timov started.  The Narn had been silent for over an hour, locked in her meditative trance.  It had been easy to think of her as no more than a statue.
      "What do you mean?"
      "All the things you have experienced.  I envy you them, a little.  You have known times of peace, of great joy.  All my life there has been war."
      "Strictly speaking the Centauri Republic has been at war with your people for the past two hundred years.  Do you think I am that old, child?"  The bitter sarcasm was instinctive, and she regretted it as soon as it was said, but it was too late.
      "There have been times of peace.  We have not always been at war.  You must have been happy once.  When you were first married, for instance."
      Timov snorted.  She had been with Londo for five years before he had married Daggair.  Even in those first years there had been precious little love.  Londo had been ambitious then, idealistic and determined to change the Republic.  She had had to work to protect his reputation, help further his career, and of course to conceive his heirs.  Her failure to do the last had played a large part in his second marriage.  And his third.
      "There was.... little peace, then.  The Court was never a quiet place.  There was always much to do."
      "What was it like?  G'Kar has never spoken to me about his time in the Kha'Ri, except to say that we borrowed the concept from you."
      "It was.... difficult.  You never knew whom to trust, who might be your friend and who your enemy.  Everyone lied to weaken others and to advance themselves, and one had to lie in one's turn.  Even with one's husband there could be no true intimacy.  Londo did not marry me for love.  I have always known that.  It was an arranged marriage, a political affair.  My father was an influential lord and he saw potential in Londo."
      "But you do love your husband?"
      "I...."  She sighed softly.  "Yes, I do.  He is an infuriating man, irritating and cantankerous, and he has pursued a foolish dream all these years.  There were times when I wanted to shake some sense into him, to shout at him.  It is very hard to change people, child.  Very hard, and most of the time it is not worth it, but he kept believing he could and.... well....
      "It would be a lonely dream if he pursued it on his own, would it not?
      "I have heard about this passion of the young, the sort of love that consumes soul and reason.  I have seen the younger women of the Court mocking me for my elderly ways, my appearance - I was never beautiful, never - my 'frumpy' clothing.  I pitied those young girls.  They would be burned up and consumed by their passions and they would learn nothing.  The greatest love of all is the one that never needs to be spoken, or explained, or described, because everything is clear from a single gesture.
      "Londo knows how I feel.... even after everything that has happened.  And I know how he feels for me."  As she spoke, she realised she did know.  Londo did love her.  He simply always put the good of the Republic first, which was as it should be.  She would love him less if he turned from his duty to save her.
      She stopped, and realised what she was saying.  She had never spoken like this to anyone, never trusted anyone with such intimate thoughts.  To reveal too much of oneself was a weakness, and weakness was crippling in the Court.
      So why had she...?
      She looked at the silent Narn girl again, and realised L'Neer's true gift.  The girl had no guile, no deception to her at all, and she seemed instinctively to strip all guile from those around her.  Everything was open with her, no secrets at all.
      And then, as if to prove it, L'Neer began to speak.
      "I have never been in love," she said.  "And I doubt I ever will.  I have a duty to my people, as great as your duty to your people.  I have to explain so much to them.  I believe that people can change, if they are only treated well and with kindness.  If I did not believe that, I fear I would go mad, for my entire life would have been for nothing."
      For the first time in her life, Timov was speechless.  She was trying to think of something to say, when, mercifully, fate intervened.  The door to the temple opened and Durla walked in, a half-visible shadow dancing at his side.  The Faceless was visible to Timov for only an instant, and then it was gone again.
      "Most of the rioting has fizzled out, lady," Durla said.  "There is a clear path to the palace, more or less.  It is a little more circuitous than I would like, but it is there.  There are no guards on duty."
      "G'Kar?" L'Neer asked.
      "He was seen heading in that direction.  I commend the Faceless, lady.  They have a remarkable gift for obtaining information from even the most deranged mind.  I may well seek to retain some when this is done and I am Emperor."
      Timov's expression was unreadable, but Durla tried anyway.
      "Have no fear, lady.  We will reunite you with your husband, and I will personally see to it that the two of you enjoy a very long and comfortable retirement."
      "That is the hope," Timov replied.  "Well, then.  If there is a clear path, let us take it."  She turned to the brief motion in the shadows.  "Can you protect all three of us out there?"
      "Yes," hissed the alien voice.  "Two of us can, for a while.  Not indefinite, not beneath the breaking sky, not when the enemy emerges."
      "Emerges?" L'Neer whispered, horrified.
      "Madness and death brings the enemy.  The sky is breaking, tearing open, creating a path.  They will be called here, and they will rip apart the walls between worlds."
      Timov straightened herself up to her full height, still a lot shorter than everyone else in the room.  "Then," she said, "we shall see to it that that does not happen.  Lead on, Durla."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Sinoval had left the two of them to their reunion.  He had no doubt they had a great deal to catch up on.  If only he could allow them the time they needed.
      But that was always the way.  The greater needs of the galaxy far outweighed the needs of individuals.  Sinoval did not really care if Sheridan and Delenn fell madly in love again, or flew into a screaming rage.  He would prefer the former, of course.  It would make things much easier if they could work together, and a renewal of their love would give both of them something to fight for.  But these were practical concerns.
      From an emotional standpoint, he really did not care.  As long as they did not kill each other.  It had been hard enough bringing Sheridan back once.  He did not want to try it again.
      The corridors of Cathedral were always dark, filled with shadows and only the faintest light.  Soul Hunters could see in the dark without any problem, guided by senses other than mere sight.  Sinoval could do likewise.  However, this area of Cathedral seemed.... darker than usual.  A sense of foreboding hung in the air, even what some might call fear.
      Sinoval carried on walking.  He had not been here for several years.  He had been putting this off, but now there was no more time.  He had a great deal to do and now that Sheridan was returned to take on some of the burdens of responsibility of this war....
      He would fight his war.  Sinoval would fight his.
      He came to a door, vast and imposing.  A single gemstone glowed faintly in the centre of the stone portal.  Sinoval looked at it, a little concerned.  It was fainter than it had been, as if the light within it were dying.
      Of course, everything died, especially here.
      He waved his hand and spoke a single word in the language of the Soul Hunters.  The door disappeared and he stepped inside.
      The dimensions of the chamber were difficult to track.  Cathedral as a whole did not obey conventional laws of space, but this was worse.  There were far too many angles and walls and something always seemed to be moving in the corner of his eye.
      A soft, eerie, echoing moaning met his arrival, a sound like starving prisoners greeting their jailer on the morning of their execution.
      Gathered around him, secured and warded in this chamber, were the gateways to the universe of the Aliens.  There were many of them, possibly even a hundred.  Sinoval had gathered all he could and destroyed those he could not.  Proxima, Immolan, Kazomi 7, worlds without name or number.
      Long ago the Aliens had seeded this galaxy with doors into their dimension, waiting for their moment to return, to spread bloodshed and death, as they once had in their own universe.  It had taken twelve years to collect all those gateways.
      The room was cold, with a chill that even Sinoval could feel.  There was a rank smell in the air and a foul taste in his mouth.  He had not eaten anything in years, but he could taste this taint.  Dead, rotting flesh filling his senses, swamping him with the corruption of death.
      This was everything that was anathema to him and to Cathedral.  He stood for the glory after death, memories of good lives long lived.  He was the one who immortalised those whom others forgot.  He maintained shrines and memorials and places of wonder for the fallen.  Cathedral was a place of wonder.  Sebastian had destroyed some of those memories forever.
      These creatures would do the same.  They saw death not as what happened after life ended, but as the opposite of life.  They were not Chaos or Order.  They did not fight with the idealism of the Vorlons or the Shadows.  They desired nothing but death.  They worshipped it as the Soul Hunters once had.  They were immortal and powerful and terrible beyond reason.
      And he thought they were afraid.
      Forms - dark, twisted forms - thrashed beneath the surface of the gateways.  Shadows danced within the orbs.  Twisted reflections moved behind the mirrors.  Voices screamed through the portals and gemstones.
      These creatures were all that lived in an entire universe.  Not even Sinoval knew what lay beyond this galaxy.  These creatures had gone beyond the borders of their own galaxy, into every galaxy in their universe, and they had destroyed everything.
      The sheer scale of it boggled his mind.
      Sinoval had not been afraid for years, but as he contemplated what he was about to do, he felt a tiny twinge in his chest.  For a single instant his heart beat faster.
      But if he was afraid of them, they were also afraid of him.  For the power he wielded, for the knowledge he possessed, for the will he exhibited....
      They were afraid of him.
      "I know you can hear me," he whispered.  "Prepare yourselves.
      "I am coming for you."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It was his home.  As Jorah Marrago looked down on Centauri Prime beneath him, moments after their emergence from hyperspace, he realised with a pang of regret and sadness that he would never leave this world again.
      He had been exiled for fifteen years.  He had come close to returning twelve years or so earlier, just before Narn was destroyed, but that chance had been snatched away from him.  He had been denied his return then.  Not again, no more.
      Centauri Prime was his home and no one, neither man nor alien nor Emperor, would keep him from it.
      He was so distracted by the wave of nostalgia that it took him almost a minute to realise something was wrong.  That was a potentially fatal mistake, and one to which he would have reacted very angrily had it been made by anyone else.  Furious with himself, he resolved to concentrate on what was happening around him.
      Something was wrong.
      Where in the name of the Great Maker was everyone else?  His fleet was all here, having made the journey through hyperspace without much difficulty.  But where were the Vorlons?  Where were the Centauri defence ships?  Why was the defence grid not reacting?  He had been Lord-General of his people's space fleets for decades and been responsible for planetary defence.  Also, he had spent the last twelve years attacking, defending and holding Centauri worlds.  There was a pattern to their defence.  Always.
      And there was no sign of it here.  There was no sign of anything.
      It felt like a trap.  It looked like a trap, and yet....
      He couldn't understand it.
      "Nothing," came the report from his bridge.  "Not a single ship anywhere in orbit.  If they're cloaked in some way, they're using technology way beyond what we can track."
      And given that they had been aided by Sinoval and Cathedral in that respect, that meant technology beyond what the Vorlons currently had.
      Marrago ordered his fleet to adopt a standard defensive pattern while he pondered the situation.  He had always believed in caution, and regretted being rushed into this situation.  Was this part of the doom the Oracle had promised would fall over his world?
      There shall be fire, and bloodshed, and chaos, and the fulfilment of a dream's ending.  Your people have sinned, Lord-General.  You have consumed worlds for your vanity, enslaved peoples for your service, destroyed dreams for your own whims.  Now, your punishment for those deeds is complete.
      For good or for ill, it will end soon.  Your world will either die in fire, beneath the shadow of Death, or it shall rise from the ashes as a phoenix, to become something new and refreshed, the sins of the old world cast off and atoned-for.
      And that choice rests on you.

      He did not want to rush into anything, and everything about this felt wrong.  "Lord-General," came the report eventually.  "The planet.... there are.... strange atmospheric patterns.  Most of them seem to be centred over the capital, but they're expanding."
      Marrago closed his eyes, imagining storm and fire and madness.  "Send in a scout ship," he ordered.  "I want a close study of the capital."
      He waited as the order was carried out and then settled back to his brooding.  Damn that Oracle!  He had never wanted to know the future, never.  This whole expedition was not properly planned.  His fleet wasn't ready.  Nothing was right.  He had been rushed into this.
      "Lord-General!  Reply from the scout ship."
      Marrago looked up at the alarm in the officer's voice.  "Put it through to me," he said.
      He immediately wished he hadn't.  ".... madness," the captain of the scout ship was saying.  "Everywhere.  Fighting and looting.  Fires everywhere and...."  The signal crackled, and then a horrible, inhuman laughter cackled at him.
      "Death and death and death."
      There was the faintest trace of an echo to these words.  Marrago knew instantly it wasn't a problem with the signal.
      eath and eath and eath
      He ended the communication instantly.
      He was a practical man, not a mystic or a prophet.  He liked to fight enemies he understood, and he always tried to understand them.  Narns, Drazi, Minbari, humans, even the Shadows and the Vorlons, those he could understand.
      But these Aliens.... they were as their name described.  Alien.  Utterly, terrifyingly so.  He did not understand them, he could not know how they thought, he could not predict their actions.  By his reckoning they were insane, and he always hated fighting the insane.  By nature and definition they were unpredictable and incomprehensible.
      Still, he had a duty, and that was to his home.
      "Take us into the atmosphere, as low-level as we can get.  I want troops dropped into the capital at regular, hourly intervals.  We are to secure a beach-head and expand slowly.  We are to restore order and locate and destroy the source of that disruption."
      This was his home, the place where Lyndisty had died, and he would never leave it again.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Freedom, like love, is a strange thing.  You only notice it when it is in danger, or gone.
      This was real.  He was alive.  This was not just some sort of dream.
      John Sheridan was alive, walking beside her.  She could hear him breathing, feel the warmth he radiated.
      He was alive.
      I love you.
      I will always love you.

      And yet, the whole of Cathedral seemed like a dream.  It was a nebulous place, Sinoval had told her once, and she could well believe him.  There seemed to be no physical laws in the corridors where they walked.  The two of them passed through vast chambers that stretched up into infinity.  They passed through gardens and state rooms.
      And all the while, neither of them spoke.
      What right did she have to disturb him?  John had been dead for twelve years.  So much had happened since he had last breathed.  Did she have any right to burden him with the horrors that had been her life since then?  Could she tell him how she had felt when he died?  Could she tell him about her conversation with Sinoval?  About how she had wished he had died years before?
      We've given up the past, and that is one of the most valuable things we possess.
      He finally turned to look at her.  They had come to a garden; strange, alien plants all around them.  There was an odd peace in the air, but she had a feeling no one had been here for a very long time.
      "Tell me what's happened," he said simply.
      She paused, looking away.
      "Delenn.  I need to know what has happened.  Sinoval brought me back for a reason, and that reason must have something to do with what's gone on these past.... twelve years."
      "I am sure he will tell you himself in time."
      "Yes, he will.  But I won't trust what he says.  And I do trust you."
      Death is not the end.  Whatever happens, the circle goes on.  It continues into another life, another soul, but it does continue.
      She sat down on a stone bench.  It was cold, chilling her even through her gown.  She was used to the cold after all those years on that freezing rock, but this.... this was worse.
      He remained standing.  And she began to speak.
      She spoke of the Council of Sinoval, of the coalition he had put together, and of how she had refused any part of it.  She spoke of burying Sheridan outside Yedor, fulfilling to the letter her vision of all those years before, on Babylon 4.
      And she spoke of the war.  She filled in as many of the details of the fighting as she could, knowing that he would appreciate them.  She had experienced few of them personally, but she had treated those who had, and she had seen the images of death reflected in their eyes.
      She spoke of the death of worlds - not just Narn, which he remembered, but other worlds, like Kara.  Destroyed not from orbit, but from within, torn apart by madness and plague.  She spoke of the fate that had befallen the Vree, whose only crime was neutrality.  She spoke of G'Kar and Kulomani and Jorah Marrago.
      And she spoke of herself.  More than she had intended, she spoke of the crushing bitterness that had consumed her.  She spoke of the futility of her work, of her despair over the sheer number of the dead and the dying and the mad.  She spoke of her guilt over relinquishing this galaxy to those such as Sinoval, and her helplessness to do anything else.
      Yes.  Faith.... manages.
      She did not cry, however much she wanted to.  She was not capable of tears any longer.
      No, she did not cry, but when her tale was done, it seemed as if a terrible sadness had befallen them both.  He simply stood there, watching her.
      Then, after a long, long silence, he bowed his head.
      "I should have been there," he whispered.  "I should have been with you."
      He is not dead.  I can feel it.  I know.  He is not dead.
      She said nothing.  There was nothing to say.
      "I should have been there," he said again.
      It was just a dream.  Just.... a dream.
      "There was something else," he said.  "I can only just remember it.... it was before I....  Before I died.  We talked, didn't we?"
      Softly: "Yes."
      One night.  You promised us that much, remember?
      "We argued."
      Even more softly: "Yes."
      We will have one night together.
      "I.... I hurt you."
      She said nothing, but they both knew the answer.
      I'm ready.
      "Delenn."
      She did not look up.
      "Delenn."  More forcefully, this time.
      Still she looked down.
      "Delenn!"  He took her arms, not roughly, but with force.
      She looked up at him.  It was like looking at a ghost.
      "What did I say to you?"

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

She was there in front of him, wrapped in light and power, small wisps of radiance rising from her body like steam.  She had learned to do what he had not yet fully grasped.
      She could move between network and reality as one.
      He did not want to think about what it had cost her.  There was a terrible grief hidden behind those eyes of gold and silver.  It was something she could not tell him, something he did not think he could ever know.
      "Talia," he said, exploring her name softly.  It was growing more and more familiar.
      She nodded, and he remembered that this appearance was just a dream-image, something she had created around herself to move in the network.  Her true appearance was buried somewhere beneath....  He could remember the faintest of images.  Blonde hair, alabaster skin....
      A smile....
      "Did you do it?" she asked him.
      "Yes," he replied.  Conversation was becoming easier.  He could now keep his mind on what had been said, and what was being said.  He had had problems to start with.
      He knew it was the network that was sapping his memories.  It was not built for humans to inhabit, not as living, sentient, thinking creatures.  The network was for human slaves, trapped and helpless, mindless, screaming.
      Something had happened when he and those like him had broken free.  They were changing, becoming different....
      Evolving.
      Sometimes he longed to be free of the network, to return to the world of the flesh.  He could return to his body, reclaim it from the Vorlons, and then turn his back on everything else.
      Oh, to be flesh again!  To be able to breathe and eat and drink!  These were half-remembered concepts now, but they would return.  He could be with this woman, this Talia, and touch her hair with one shaking hand.
      But he had a duty to his people.  He knew that.  He had a duty, a sacred and holy duty that only he could perform.  He was their leader.
      Duty came before everything else.
      "And?" she said.
      He concentrated.  He had allowed his mind to drift.  What had they been speaking about?
      Oh, yes.
      "There is a way in.  The walls are weak, and most of the gateways are unguarded.  Stealth is not only possible, it is guaranteed."
      "There are so few guards in the network?"
      "The.... the...."  He struggled to find the word.  "The wrongness has infected a lot of the network.  Many of the corridors and passages are corrupted.  Navigating them will not be easy, but it can be done.  I believe they think the taint will keep out intruders, or maybe they do not think there can be any attack from the network.  They have always been arrogant."
      "Reminds me of someone I used to know."
      "What?"  The reference escaped him.
      "Nothing."
      "I used to know you, didn't I?  I may have asked this already...."
      "Yes, we knew each other."
      "And there was another....  A.... child...."
      "Not any more."
      He fell silent.  There were clues there.  All he had to do was piece them together.
      Maybe he would know better when it was done.
      "Is it ready?" she asked.
      "I am ready," he said.  "Fetch the others and.... is the time right?"
      "Soon.
      "Very soon."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"What was she like?"
      "Hmm?"
      Tirivail stretched out her long limbs as far as she could and looked at Marrain, sitting in the pilot's seat of their small flier.  Both commanded impressive forces - Marrain his army of Tak'cha and Minbari and Tirivail her Witch Hunters - but they were alone now.  Each, for their own reasons, had refused to commit their forces to Sinoval's army.  All they had brought to join him was themselves.
      Not that the two of them were an insubstantial force, by any standards.  And it was likely that at least some of their forces would join them for Sinoval's final battle anyway.  But this journey, from Minbar to Cathedral, the two of them would make alone.
      "Berevain."
      Marrain's face twitched involuntarily, a sure sign that she was treading close to his emotions.  Something had changed between them since they had killed Takier.  A wall that she had been largely responsible for building had - if not entirely collapsed - at least been weakened.
      She felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her body.  Scarred and burned though she was, she felt freer and stronger than ever.  Marrain had been right: her father had been a shadow cast over her whole life; and now he was gone.  She had finally proven herself worthy, not in his eyes perhaps, but in her own.  She had faced down a monster and shown no fear.
      But there were still things she and Marrain had to talk about.  A thousand years of history lay between them, and if they were ever to bridge that, there had to be understanding.  She had seen many sides to him recently: the charming, flirtatious, joking companion; the grim, determined warrior; the grief-stricken man out of time; the lord who had betrayed his master.
      Where was the truth behind the masks?  Who was the real man?
      And how better for her to find out?
      "Fire," he said softly.  "She was....  Fire."
      She waited for him to continue, uncomfortably reminded of the flames that had consumed her skin and body, moulding half her face into its present, hideous form.
      "I was Earth, they said, and I could see why.  I have always loved the mountains.  Stone and stability and strength.  There is great endurance there, great courage.
      "Derannimer.... ah.... the Gods rest her spirit.  She was Air.  Graceful and light and beautiful.  The touch of her hand was as soft as the breeze on my skin.  The merest whisper from her lips was a song on the wind."
      He paused, and Tirivail felt an irrational jealousy seize her.  Derannimer had been dead for a thousand years, and she had chosen another over Marrain anyway, but to hear him admit all that, to hear him speak as a poet rather than a man of the earth, it was....
      It was a part of who he was.
      "Parlonn...." he continued.  "They called him Fire, and I understood that, but if anything I always saw him as Water.  I think he did as well.  Calm when he wanted to be, fury when provoked.  Motion and power and great depths.  He was born in fire, and he died there, almost, but I think if we were given elemental symbols, then he would be Water and not Fire.
      "Berevain of course never knew the others.  She saw them only once each, but she lived within me always.  She was Fire.
      "It was raining when she died.  It used to rain at Shirohida a lot; strong, driving needles of ice and water that stabbed at the skin.  Shirohida was a hard land, to breed hard people, and we never sought peace.  Many's the time I kept watch on the stone battlements in the rain, hardly able to see beyond my own face.
      "It was raining, and the rain mixed with her blood.  It was dark and....
      "It was a dark night.  She had been with me only hours before she died.  We had made love, and afterwards she taunted me with my weakness.  She did not mean to.  There was little malice in her save for our enemies, but she made me think.  She confronted me with a lot of things I did not want to face.
      "I sent her away, and they took her."
      He paused again.
      "You blame yourself," Tirivail said, seeking some sort of understanding beneath his disjointed tale.  He danced from here to there, his story constantly changing, even his tone altering.  He shifted between personae as if each one were a mask to be put down and replaced.
      "No," he said firmly.  The Stone Warrior.  Cold and firm, as unfeeling as the mountain itself.  "'If only' is a game for fools.  Particularly for one with as many mistakes as I.  Two lifetimes I have had to err, and believe me, I have erred plenty, but Berevain's death was not my fault.
      "You asked me a question, and I am not sure I can answer.  I like to think I knew her better than anyone else, but I did not know everything.  I doubt if anyone could."
      "Then who are you?" she asked, softly.
      He did not answer.
      "I have seen different images of you, Marrain," she whispered, speaking his name so quietly she was not sure he had heard.  "You change between faces so easily, I do not know if there is a real man beneath it all."
      "Derannimer saw him," he said.  "The real man beneath the masks.  But I daresay I have added a mask or two since then.  As to who I am, can I not be them all?  I have known great love and great hatred, great peace and great rage.  I have known more than one true friend, and far more than one bitter enemy.
      "But as to who I am....
      "I am the man who loves you.  Does anything else matter?"
      She rested her head back against her seat, her eyes closed as if in meditation.  All her life she had never believed herself worthy.  Minor errors of judgment had become in her eyes crushing follies.  Mistakes had become catastrophes.  She had loathed herself and mistrusted anyone who sought to persuade her otherwise.  Even towards those who followed her, she maintained a cold reserve.
      With this man, she had felt the strength of his feelings.  She doubted there had been love at first.  Initially it was merely her connection with Berevain.  Then perhaps that had grown into regard and fondness.  Now, she had no doubt about his claim to love her.
      She had no doubt either that she loved him in return.  Their one, simple kiss on the Grey Council's ship had removed all doubts.
      But did she love herself enough to be able to return his love?  Would the shadows over her keep her from accepting his love forever?
      She reached out and took his hand in hers, gently, softly.  She squeezed it.
      "No," she whispered.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

From space, his world had seemed a beautiful thing - his home, the place he had been denied for so long.  Now, just above the capital, it was a burning wreck, a devastated and torn city, filled with the insane and the dead.
      They were whispering to him.  The voices.  He could hear them.  Soft, seductive, dream-like.  Voices.
      Ghosts, rather.
      But he was Jorah Marrago, and he was made of sterner stuff than that.
      He had planned this invasion in his head a million times over.  He had discussed it with his captains and his generals.  Marrain had provided advice.  So had Sinoval.  This was the big one, the grand finale of it all.
      After this, he could rest.
      He knew enough about war to know that no battle plan ever lasts beyond the first contact with the enemy.  Of course there would be complications.  Some things would not go as planned.  He had not had time to make accurate surveys.  He had not been able to scout out the area, to send in spies, to foment civil unrest.  All these problems would necessarily weaken his attack.
      But this was absurd.
      No battle plan survived contact with the enemy, but the enemy was not here.  They were nowhere to be seen.  Had the Vorlons really abandoned his world to the Aliens?  Had they really, finally, given up on Centauri Prime and the Centauri and sacrificed the planet?
      Father....
      He flinched and closed his eyes.  That was not fair!  That was not fair!  Lyndisty was dead.
      And yet her faint, plaintive cry echoed around his room.
      ather ther her er r
      He laughed suddenly, and the voice faded.  Fair?  What was he thinking of?  This was war.  Nothing was ever fair.  By the Great Maker, he was Centauri, and here he was bleating like some little child.  War was not fair, and it never would be.
      The laughter dispelled his black mood and he activated the comm systems, sending his voice to his fleet.
      "My people," he said.  "This is your Lord-General.  And this is your home.
      "We know adversity, we Centauri.  We know pain and suffering.  We know loss, and we know fear.
      "But more than any of these things, we know courage.  Twelve years we have been fighting for this moment, for our home.  Twelve years!  Think about that.  Think about all those moments when you looked at the stars and dreamed of home.
      "Well, here it is.  Our home.  I, for one, have been away for too long, and when this is done, I will never leave this world again.  None of us will ever have to leave home again.
      "Our enemy spreads chaos and anarchy and madness wherever they go.  But we are Centauri.  We are special.  I know each and every one of you, and I have faith in each and every one of you.  We are strong, we Centauri.  We will not let the whispers of others affect us.
      "Elsewhere, far out in space, others are fighting the same war.  They are fighting for their homes and their families.  Minbari, Narn, Brakiri, Drazi.... shall we let it be said that they were stronger and better than we are?
      "No!  For we are Centauri and this is our world and this is our war!
      "Be strong, be resolute, be determined, and know this.
      "I have fought beside many warriors in my life.  I have led countless armies and fleets into battle, and if I could choose whom to lead into this battle, I would choose no others but those who are with me now.  I am proud of you all.
      "Now, we fight!
      "For our home!"
      Words.  Words could inspire, or terrify.  The enemy sought to use words to spread fear.  All Marrago had to counter them were words of his own.
      They would have to be enough.
      The drop pods fell to the planet, carrying soldiers with them.  The invasion of Centauri Prime had begun.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Delete message.
      "I am not sure how much you remember," she began.  "I went to Z'ha'dum.  I went voluntarily.  It was part of a.... a bargain I made.  Before I went, we spent.... one night together.  Do you remember that?"  He could hear her whisper.  "Please remember.  Please remember that at least."  He had a feeling he was not supposed to hear that.
      He was not sure that he did remember it.  There was an image of Delenn standing in a doorway, wearing a dress of white and gold, but....  She touched him and kissed him and....
      "Yes," he said, tentatively.  "Yes, I remember that."
      She smiled, evidently relieved.
      They killed her!  They.... they killed her!  Damn them!  They killed her!
      "I was pregnant.  That one night.  I was pregnant.  I did not know when I left, but had I known....  I would not have changed my mind.  What I did had to be done.
      "My baby.... our baby.... died.  He was killed inside my body.  Had I not gone to Z'ha'dum, he would have lived.  We could have lived together, all three of us.
      "As a.... as a family."
      Don't you think if Delenn were still alive I'd do everything I could to try to help her?  Do you think I could bear the thought of her suffering like that?
      "Later.... much later.... you found out about that.  You blamed me.  You said that.... that I had killed your son."
      I don't want to.  God....  I know it wasn't her fault, but.... could she have done something?  Anything?  God....  I don't want to blame her.... but somewhere.... somewhere right at the back of my mind....
      I do.
      God help me.... what kind of person am I?

      "You also said that you were going to ask me to marry you."
      That's.... probably for the best.
      "And then you died.
      "Afterwards, Sinoval told me a little more.  He said that you had been under the influence of the Vorlons for a long time, but that he had removed their control over you.  The man I spoke to for the last time in that garden....
      "That was you.  No one else.  Nothing else.  No excuse.  Nothing.
      "Just you."
      She stopped.
      After all this time....  I can hardly believe it.
      "You asked to know," she said, to his silence.  "You deserved to know.  I.... did not want to lie, or hide anything."
      I think boredom is something I can get used to.  It'll be a change if nothing else.  But I don't think we can start planning a glorious retirement just yet.
      "I...."  He stopped.  "Whatever you told me, I didn't mean it...."
      "You did," she said, interrupting him.  She was not speaking forcefully, but there was still a great deal of power in her soft voice.  "You meant every word, and you were right.  I did kill our son.  It was a sacrifice I would have been willing to make, had I known.  Then, after what they did to me, I could not bear any more children.  You were right to be angry with me."
      No.  After all, we do have to rebuild everything that was destroyed.
      He simply stared at her, struck dumb, unable to find the words.
      And make it better this time.
      She rose, and began slowly to walk away from him, her long skirts swirling around her ankles in the way he remembered so very well.
      I'd like to spend that time with you.  I'd like to spend as much of my time as I can with you.
      "Delenn!" he called out.  She stopped, but did not turn.
      John.... nothing would make me happier.
      "Do you think I would have come back for anyone else?"
      She did turn then, and he saw unshed tears sparkling in her eyes.
      There was a slight smile on her face.
      And she took a step towards him.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Sinoval folded his arms casually and looked around.  His fleet was gathering slowly, assembling from the far corners of the galaxy.  It was time for the ending.  He had waited long enough.
      He did not sleep these days, and so he did not dream, but his waking was filled with visions which might have been dreams.  The black city with the black heart above it.  The planet transformed into a vast graveyard, a universe of the slain, a twisted reflection of Cathedral itself.
      And the Aliens, beings who worshipped death and brought only destruction where they walked.
      His whole life he had hated the Vorlons, loathed their manipulations and their cold, emotionless Order.  Now, as his life's work approached its climax, his concerns were focussed elsewhere.  The battle with the Vorlons would fall to others.  He had another battle to fight.
      It was ironic, almost bitterly so, but it was the way things were.
      Besides, he was almost looking forward to it.
      "You are ready?" he asked, speaking to no one in particular.
      We will be there, said the voice of one of the First Ones, in his mind.  They had appointed a liaison to speak with him.  Cathedral and the Well, and Sinoval himself, had never been popular with the rest of the First Ones.  To the younger races the First War was something far in the past, buried in race memories and irrational fears.  The First One races had lived through it, and many of their kin had been slain and resurrected unwillingly by the first Soul Hunters.
      Still, they understood.  The Vorlons had murdered Lorien, the Eldest, and that could never be forgiven.
      He turned away, seeing whatever he wanted to see.  Susan, resting, having returned from her dream-conference with her beloved.  He did not want to think about her, not now.  She had been by his side all these years - his conscience, his youth.  He had denied her too often, always doing what he had to do.
      Sheridan and Delenn....  He wanted to know how their reunion was progressing, but he could not interrupt.  That was a private thing, if anything could be said to be private in these latter days.
      A ship approaching.  A flyer.
      Ah.
      The faintest hint of a smile touched Sinoval's face, and he walked forward, stepping off the precipice and letting the folds and portals of Cathedral rise up around him.  He reappeared in one of the docking bays, materialising from the shadows just in time to see Marrain and Tirivail disembark.
      Neither seemed surprised to see him appear from nowhere.  Both of them were made of sterner stuff than that.
      "It is done?" he asked, dispensing with a greeting.
      Marrain smiled.  He seemed.... more content than Sinoval remembered.  There was a closeness between the two that had not been there before, and Tirivail walked more easily, as if she was now free from many old burdens.
      "Minbar is safe," Marrain said.  "As safe as anywhere, at least."
      "Something of a diversion for you," Sinoval noted.  They had gone to Minbar to reclaim Sheridan's body.  It had been intended to be a covert mission.  Fortunately Marrago had filled him in on everything that had occurred.
      "It was necessary," Marrain said.  "Did all go well here?"
      "Well?"  Sinoval thought about the devastation, the destruction of so much that was priceless and irreparable within the Well.  He thought about Sheridan, filled with darkness and self-doubt, and imagined the difficulty of his reunion with Delenn.
      "As well as can be expected," he said.  Everything was a tool to be used in this war, and if some tools should be broken in the fulfilment of their purpose, then.... so be it.
      "We're ready," Tirivail said.  "We'll fight beside you."
      "I never doubted it," Sinoval said.  The two of them were standing close together, almost touching, but not quite.  "We have some time," he said, picking up a rudimentary appreciation of the understanding that had formed between them.  "I would advise you to rest.  This may be the last chance you have."
      The two of them looked at each other briefly, and then nodded.
      Sinoval waited until they had gone, and then dared to smile.  Things were coming together.
      Then he thought about the enemy again, about that black heart moving slowly in the sky.
      "I am coming for you," he whispered.
      He fancied he imagined the black heart beating a little faster at that threat, but whether from fear or anticipation he could not say.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It was as if she were reliving a nightmare.  Timov had seen disasters like this before, far too many times for comfort.  How much more could her world take?  How much more fire and madness?  It was as if the Shadow Criers had returned.
      But of course they had not.  One look at the sky showed her the true cause of all this.  It chilled her, utterly.  She was a practical woman, and always had been.  The mystical and the spiritual had always unnerved her and she had tried to ignore them as much as possible.
      She could not ignore them now.
      Still, the small and motley group moved on as best as they could.  Durla forged ahead, although not too far.  The shadows that were the Faceless drifted around between them, never constant, always changing position.  They were always near enough to protect the rest from the psychic madness.  Timov liked them no more than L'Neer did.
      The Narn girl was beside her, silent as always, but a comfort for all that.
      Three times on their journey they were attacked.  The first time, the raving madman had looked at Timov and sanity had briefly returned to his eyes.  He was wearing the uniform of a palace guard.  She thought she recognised him.  He hesitated, but when he saw the flickering shadow move, he fled, screaming and raving.
      Had it been the sight of her that had temporarily restored his mind?  Or simply the mental blanking caused by the presence of the Faceless?  Timov liked to think the former, but she suspected the latter.
      On the other two occasions, there was no sanity for their attackers.  Durla killed some, while others simply fell, their bodies torn apart by a single blow, a chilling testimony to the skill of the Faceless.
      Finally the palace loomed before them.  It was not on fire.  In fact, it seemed to be deserted.  The great gates were wide open and unattended.  That felt more wrong than anything else.  The palace should never be empty.  It was the heart of the capital, which was the heart of Centauri Prime, which was the heart of the Republic.
      "Look!" L'Neer said.  "The sky!"
      Timov did not want to look up, but something in the young Narn's voice compelled her and she did, shielding her eyes.  There were lights there, moving quickly beneath the rumbling, crashing, purple-and-black clouds.  She could not see them clearly.
      "Your eyes are better than mine, dear," Timov said.  "What are they?"
      "Ships," she replied.  "I.... can't see what exactly.  Too small for Vorlons I think.  Maybe troop carriers."
      "They are ships," Durla confirmed.  "But I cannot see what they are either."
      "Help?" suggested L'Neer.  "Or maybe more invaders?"
      "It does not matter," Durla said.  "If they are invaders they will be driven off.  You have sworn to serve us, haven't you?"
      "We serve the one who sits on your throne," hissed the alien voice from the shadows.  "We and all our kind.  Give us a master and a home and we shall give your Emperor our loyalty."
      Durla smiled, a disarming expression that made him look far younger than he was.  Timov was uncomfortably reminded of how handsome he was.  "You see, lady," he said.  "We have nothing to fear.  I will look after Centauri Prime very well in your retirement."
      "Yes," Timov replied, keeping her tone neutral.  "I am sure you will.  But first, let us see to it that there remains a Centauri Prime to look after."
      They walked through the portal of the great gates, and slowly into the building itself.  No one was visible anywhere, no one.
      Then, just as she had outside, L'Neer suddenly looked up.  Her powers of perception seemed to put even the Faceless to shame, unless they too had noticed, and simply not reacted.
      "That way," she said, pointing directly towards the throne room.  "There's a noise coming from there.  It sounds like giggling."
      "Madness," Durla said.  "It's everywhere.  Come with me."
      They moved on, Timov pushing forward.  She wanted to get there first.  She had to know if Londo was still alive.  That outweighed everything else for her at that moment.  If he was dead, then....
      If he was dead....
      Then she would carry on as best as she could, but inside her world would die.
      She was the first to enter the throne room, and she stopped dead at the sight.
      The room had evidently been host to a fight.  The smell of drying blood hit her senses.  Two bodies lay sprawled before the throne, neither moving.  One was Londo, the other was a Narn - probably G'Kar, although she could not see his face.
      And sitting on the throne itself was a young-looking, slightly pudgy Centauri.  It took her a moment to recognise him.
      Vir Cotto.
      He giggled.
      "Welcome to my throne room," he said.  "Have you come to pay obeisance to your Emperor?"

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

It was a nightmare, and the more he looked at it, the more nightmarish it became.  It was no less horrible for being familiar.
      Marrago wanted to scream.  He wanted to shout out and rage in fury.
      "This is my home!  You are destroying it!
      "This is my home!"
      He did not.  He knew the value of calm.  His soldiers had to believe that he was on top of things.  They had to trust him.  Soldiers who did not believe that their commander was in control of the situation would not fight well.
      He had to remain calm.  Everything had to seem as if it were going exactly as planned.
      But his world was dying.
      He had brought his ship in as low as he dared, risking the atmospheric distortion.  It was like nothing he had ever seen.  He had waged war in some of the most unlikely places, and he had read reports of the engagements fought in hyperspace, but this....
      It was as if the sky were on fire, or the Gods themselves were hurling lightning at them.
      He paused, and almost laughed.  He had stood beside Gods.  This was a war against Gods.  He and those who fought beside him were men, mortals trying to claim their own place in the galaxy.  That was what this war was about.
      Some of the drop pods had been struck by the lightning and had vaporised instantly.  At least, he hoped it was instant.  It was easier to believe that the deaths of the occupants had been painless.  Most of the pods had landed.  His soldiers had been trained to resist psychic manipulation.  He had learned that lesson long ago, and Sinoval and his Soul Hunters had provided some of the necessary training.  Marrago's own charisma had done the rest.
      It should be enough.
      He prayed it would be enough.
      Some of the capital was secure now.  That was something.
      But up here....  Marrago did not need the reports to know that conditions were worsening.  What good would it do to take the capital if the sky tore itself and the world apart?
      Marrago breathed out slowly.  This was his home.  This was where Lyndisty had died.  He would not leave the planet again.
      "Lord-General," barked a voice.  "We're detecting something...."  There was a hesitation.  At first he thought the signal had been cut.  That was a problem, one they had worked around as much as they could.
      Then he realised it was just a hesitation.
      "Something's appearing.  I think.... it's a jump point opening.... between the clouds....
      "Something's coming through...."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"I think it's time we had some answers."
      Sinoval looked at the two people standing opposite him.  "Oh?" he said simply.
      Sheridan and Delenn were standing close to each other.  They were not touching, but they were very close.  They had reached some sort of understanding, then.  That was good.  Sinoval was glad.  Both of them would fight better if they thought they had something to fight for.
      "Yes," Sheridan continued.  He was the one talking.  Delenn had not said a word yet, merely fixing him with her deep green eyes.  Age and grief had chilled her slightly, at least to Sinoval's perception.  Her eyes were cold, emerald trapped beneath ice.
      He approved.
      "Why did you bring me back?  I don't think for a second you did it out of the goodness of your heart.  You had your reasons, and I think we're entitled to know what they are."
      "Is this how you react?  No gratitude, Sheridan?"
      "As I said, you didn't do this for free.  Why?"
      Sinoval smiled.  "Someone has to rule when this is done."
      Sheridan blinked.  "What?"
      "I am a leader of war, Sheridan.  I am a general, and a tactician.  I can inspire loyalty in those who serve me, but I cannot make people serve me.  I call out to their fears, to their lust for war.  It is far more inbuilt than you realise, you know.  The rush of danger, the anger, the aggression....
      "That is why the peace failed - because there are too many who desire war.  I speak for those people.  Most of them are now dead.
      "But there are others, people who want only peace and comfort.  The love, perhaps, of family, and friendship.  Pleasures both simple and complex.  The quest for money or power.  People who do not desire war.
      "And to them.... to them I am a monster.  I have become a monster out of necessity.  I have done what I must to fight this war and I regret none of it.  I have gathered armies and fleets and I have waged battle after battle.  I have fought in the light and I have fought in the shadows.  I say this without modesty or humility, but no one - no one - could have led this war better than I.
      "But I cannot lead the peace.  I cannot inspire people.  This war will end.  Soon.  The final battle is beginning.  If we lose, then there will be little to lead.  If we win.... then this new galaxy will need a leader."
      Sheridan looked incredulous.  "Me?"
      "Of course, you.  Who else?  You are a revelation, Sheridan.  Ask Delenn about the effect of your death.  For that matter, ask Delenn about the effect of hers.  Both of you have died once, and both of you touched what you left behind in.... fascinating ways.
      "You inspired so many by your death, Sheridan.  Now you can do the same by your life.  Both of you will have another chance to create peace, and this time.... maybe this time it will work."
      "What?  That's.... that's ludicrous.  I've been dead for twelve years!  What do I know about inspiring people any more?  What if.... what if I don't want to do this?"
      "Ah.  Do you know....  I genuinely did not believe you would say that."
      Sheridan sank back.  Instinctively, involuntarily, Delenn stretched out a hand to support him.
      "All right," he said, after a long pause.  "All right, damn you.  What's your plan?  What are we meant to be doing now?"
      "I have gathered all the forces I can.  A mighty army it is too.  I will lead them to war, to assault the greatest bastion of the Vorlons outside their own space.  I will need to clear the Vorlons away behind me, while I myself.... and a few others, enter the realm of the Aliens - Thirdspace, some call it.  There....
      "Ah, come now.  You cannot expect me to give away all my secrets.  I would like the two of you to remain behind, and take charge of the battle on this side.  Once Cathedral and I depart into the other realm, it should be more or less over.  If we succeed in destroying the Aliens, then the Vorlons should surrender.... particularly after another one of my little fuses is lit.
      "Once that is done.... if it is done.... then the two of you can do what you must.  You defeated the Shadows with words and ideas, not weapons.  I feel those will be your greatest tools again.  Leave the Aliens to me.  Permit me to fight my war, and yours will be all the easier."
      "So.... where is this battle of yours?  Where are you attacking?"
      Sinoval smiled.  "Where else?
      "Babylon Five, of course."



Into jump gate




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