Book: The Other Half of my Soul

Gareth D. Williams

The Other Half of my Soul

Part I: A Dark, Distorted Mirror

Chapter 1

“The Minbari cruiser’s closing, Captain.” The commander’s voice was tense. He looked up into the face of his captain, hoping to see the sort of miracle he had witnessed before. Instead, the captain’s eyes were blank and distant. Almost dead. “Captain?”

Captain John Sheridan suddenly came to life. “Lay out dispersion fire. Make them back off. A little.” They couldn’t target the Minbari ship directly of course, but there were other ways. There were always other ways.

“Yes, Sir.” The commander began manipulating the controls with easy skill. He had always been a talented gunner and, despite his youth, he was one of the most experienced artillerymen the EAS Babylon had. After the captain, of course.

The dispersion fire had only limited effectiveness of course. Not being able to target the Minbari made their task that much more difficult, but none of them was willing to give up simply because their enemy was better equipped, better armed and in better condition than they were. As the captain had put it, ‘They fall down too. It just hurts them more.’

“Any sign we’ve hit them yet, David?” Sheridan asked. He was in his chair. He hardly ever left it these days.

“Not quite,” the commander replied. “They’re still messing with our sensors too much for us to tell. Lieutenant?”

“They are slowing down, and their weapons seem no more effective than ours are.”

“Well I’ll be…” muttered Sheridan. “Maybe that countering system the Narns sold us does actually work after all. How are the jump engines looking, Stephen?”

“Another ten minutes or so.”

“Damn! Fine. Keep laying out that dispersion fire, David.” Sometimes the commander had a great deal of trouble reading Captain Sheridan, but now was not one of those times. The captain seemed to live for combat, only becoming truly alive in battle. The commander had heard that the Minbari still called Sheridan ‘Starkiller’, after the Black Star victory. That had been a memorable occasion.

“Captain!” spoke up the lieutenant. “We’re losing hull integrity on aft decks. Down almost thirty per cent. The Minbari cruiser has taken damage at last. Forward thrusters, I think.”

Captain Sheridan nodded. “Good. Order all Starfuries to open fire on Minbari forward thrusters. Make the damage as large as they can, but get out of there after a minute. David, prepare that fusion bomb.”

He looked so competent and collected, the commander thought. Always ready for everything. No panic. No fear. The commander supposed he understood. The captain had lost too much in this war to have any fears for his life.

“Starfuries pulling back,” the lieutenant snapped. “The cruiser’s powering up her forward batteries!”

“Launch fusion bomb and initiate evasive manoeuvres. Get that bomb out there!”

There was a moment, the commander knew, in the heat of every battle, when time seemed to slow down, when the threat of impending death or the promise of renewed life stretched out over what was little more than a few seconds. How long for the cruiser to fire its forward batteries? How long for the fusion bomb to reach the target at last made visible by damage?

“Bomb launched, Captain,” said the lieutenant. He knew about the long second as well. The commander clenched his hand into a fist. This was a very long second.

Then the floor seemed to shake and shudder beneath his feet. At first the commander thought the Minbari ship had managed to fire, but then the long second passed and he realised that the bomb had worked.

“So,” he whispered under his breath. “Maybe Narn technology does work after all.” He looked around. There was no joy in their victory. This time they had won, yes, but what was one victory when set beside the mass of defeat? They had all lost so much in this war. Far too much.

“Get those Starfuries back in stat!” barked the captain. “Are our jump engines back on line? Good. Open a jump point as soon as the ’Furies are back in. The nearest safe haven we can dock is Vega Seven, so set a course for there and get whatever Mechbots we’ve got working to repair that damage.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“So much for this year being better than the last one,” Sheridan said angrily.

“We’re still alive, aren’t we?”

“If you can call this alive. And it’s only mid-January. I have a feeling about this year, Mr. Corwin. I think twenty-two fifty-eight is going to be the year when everything changes. Status, Lieutenant Franklin?”

“All ’Furies aboard, Captain.”

“Good.” Captain ‘Starkiller’ Sheridan nodded to himself. This had been a very long war. Ten years too long. “Good.”

* * * * * * *

“The other half of our soul,” the Minbari woman muttered to herself. “The other half of our soul.” She sat back and sighed softly. She had been here for how long now? A few days, and the prophecies of Valen made as little sense as they had when she had begun. Less sense than usual in fact. But she knew why she was down here on Minbar, reading prophecies until she was likely to go blind. This was preferable to being with the Grey Council.

“You need rest,” said a stern and commanding voice. She looked up and smiled wanly. Draal had always had that effect on her. Her father’s best friend, the only part of him she still had left. “You have been here too long, Delenn.”

“When I was a child, you berated me for not studying long enough,” she replied, her eyes sparkling.

“That was then, and the great prerogative of age is the ability to change one’s mind at will. Then, you were always daydreaming, staring out of that window like a statue cast in crystal. And now you are always studying. The prophecies have been with us for a thousand years, Delenn. You cannot solve them all overnight.”

“I can try, and fourteen cycles is hardly overnight, old friend.”

“I thought you might have learned by now.” He sat down beside her and began brushing his fingers through the small beard he had taken to wearing. A strange habit, almost Centauri in fashion. “You cannot solve the universe all by yourself, Delenn. Neroon tried to teach you that, remember?”

She started and rose suddenly. “Neroon is no longer here, Draal. He made his own choice.”

“As did you, but the fact that your choices were in agreement does not make them right.”

Draal was infuriating when he was like this, but Delenn knew that her decision had been the right one. Neroon had his own path to tread, and she had hers. Wherever Neroon was now, she hoped he was well. “Perhaps you are right,” she said. “Perhaps I do need rest.” She slowly slid her hand over her heart and bowed her head. A ritual gesture, but one which contained so many layers of ceremony and anger and loss that it was almost painful for her to make.

She knew that Draal was watching her as she left the library, but she was not troubled by it. It was almost… comforting. At times he did remind her of her father.

The sight of the sun of Minbar reflecting off the crystalline rocks never failed to take her breath away, and it did so now. But while the rocks stunned her with their beauty, they brought little comfort. She saw a white-robed acolyte standing not far away, and sighed.

“It appears the call of duty reaches you,” Draal said, emerging from the library to stand beside her. “Remember the third principle of sentient life, Delenn.”

“I know,” she replied, smiling softly. “The ability to sacrifice oneself for a friend, a loved one, or a cause.”

“And little sacrifices mean just as much as the big ones.”

“I know. I know.”

Ashan, the acolyte, walked forward, keeping his head bowed as was traditional when approaching a member of the Grey Council. “Satai Delenn, the Grey Council requests your presence.”

“More discussion about the Rangers, I suppose.”

“Branmer was a great man,” Draal said softly. He and Branmer had been friends.

“There have been many great figures in our history,” Delenn replied. “And all are dead.”

“Death claims us all sooner or later.”

“In far too many cases, it is the sooner.” Delenn looked down at Ashan. “We cannot keep the Council waiting. I will take the Zhalen up to the Council chambers. Thank you, Ashan.”

Delenn cast one last look over the glittering expanse of crystal colour and smiled sadly. Everything was changing, and not for the better. She suddenly shivered, and wrapped her robe more tightly around her as she walked to her ship.

* * * * * * *

“I am very grateful for your kind assistance, Administrator Na’Far,” Sheridan was saying. “With your help, repairs should only take twenty-four hours or so, and then we will be gone.”

“You are always welcome here, Captain Sheridan,” the Narn said, speaking slowly and precisely. Na’Far might have lacked the ruthless ambition to rise far in the Kha’Ri, but he at least had the keen mind and attention to detail that made him an excellent choice to run a colony, even one as small and generally unimportant as this. “We all owe you a great debt. I was at Gorash Fifteen when you helped us in our battle against the Centauri.”

“Yes, I know.” The Narns, eh? Great allies when it came to politeness and fawning, but ask for any ships or mines or high velocity fusion bombs, and it was all ‘not politically advantageous’ or ‘large sums of money needed to meet overheads’. They hadn’t been speaking about large sums of money or political advantages when he’d led the Babylon into the battle of Gorash 15, or to carry supplies to Frallus 12, or to launch that last, desperate attack against the Centauri at Sector 37.

Oh, stop moaning, Sheridan thought to himself. They have been useful allies after a fashion. At least they give us sanctuary from the Minbari and even sell us the odd fusion bomb or small cruiser every now and then. Better than no allies at all, I suppose.

“Thank you again for your assistance, Administrator. My Government greatly appreciates everything you’re doing for us.”

“It is a small matter, Captain Sheridan. Would you care to bring a few members of your command crew down to the surface for a little rest? I would very much like to meet you in person.”

“Why yes, thank you, Administrator. I would be honoured. I will see you in one standard hour, then.”

“Until then, Captain.”

The Narn’s face blinked from the viewscreen and Sheridan sat back, sighing softly. There was something about the Narns he just plain didn’t like. It wasn’t anything he could put his finger on, but it always annoyed him, having to go grovelling to them for help. Perhaps that was it. He shouldn’t have to go grovelling to Narns for help. He shouldn’t have to go to a human colony and ask permission to set out orbit there. Dammit, he shouldn’t have to go to a human colony where the humans were ruled by Narns, worked for Narns and were taxed by Narns.

On the other hand, if the Narns hadn’t made such a swift move on Vega 7 and other colonies after the Battle of the Line, the Minbari might have turned their attentions there, and turned that planet into a desolate rock, just as they had Earth.

Captain Sheridan hadn’t been to Earth in over fourteen years, and now he would never return. The Minbari had stripped away the atmosphere, boiled the seas and oceans and destroyed every living thing on the planet. People like Corwin and Anna and General Hague had told him often enough that he couldn’t have got there early enough to do any good, but he should have been there, if only to die with his planet.

And now what was he? A rebel leader, a hero, a demon, a mass murderer, the Starkiller, husband, father, or simply a man who didn’t know when to stop fighting a war he couldn’t win?

“Commander Corwin, I’ll be going down to the planet for a personal meeting with Administrator Na’Far. Would you like to come as well?”

“I’ll be busy here, Captain, I’m afraid,” Corwin replied with false sincerity. Corwin liked Narns even less than Sheridan did.

“Very well. Lieutenant Franklin, contact Lieutenants Keffer and Connally. The four of us can fly down to the surface and socialise with a Narn or three.”

“Yes, Captain.” Franklin did not look happy, but then no one did these days.

Administrator Na’Far. A Narn ruling a colony of humans. Sheridan was not looking forward to this.

* * * * * * *

“Blasted reptile vermin! Oughta chuck ’em all back into space, if you ask me!”

“Marcus. You’re drunk.”

“Certainly hope so, or all that fine… whatever it was… will’ve gone to waste.”

Joseph Cole looked fondly at his wife Katherine, who smiled back and shrugged. Her shrug said it all. He’s your brother. Ergo, your problem.

“Only one step above the Minbari, I think. Oh, the Centauri too. Those ridiculous hairstyles of theirs. Wonder if they realise how stupid they look.” Joseph rose to his feet and moved towards his younger brother, who was gesticulating wildly. “Drazi, too! You’d have thought someone could teach them to put a proper sentence together. It’s not that hard. No, Joe, lemme ’lone.”

“Marcus, if you keep insulting aliens like you’ve been doing, you’ll get into a fight.”

“Fine, take ’em all on.” Fortunately for Marcus, the bar contained only humans at the moment. The Narns tended to stick to their own places and there were precious few other non-humans around. Vega 7 wasn’t exactly a thriving hub of activity at the best of times.

Katherine sighed softly. “And again.”

“He’s just drunk, that’s all. He doesn’t mean it.”

“He’s always drunk, Joe. He works on the mines all day and drinks all night. He’s going to kill himself one day. If a Narn doesn’t do it for him first.”

“I know, I know, but… it’s understandable really. Things haven’t been easy here under the Narns. Not since the War.”

“I know things haven’t been very nice here, but you can’t let Marcus just throw his life away. I care about him too, you know.”

Joseph turned back to his brother, who was trying to rearrange his hair into a Centauri crest. “Come on, Marcus. Let’s go home.”

“Home? Ain’t got no home. Minbaris destroyed it. Destroyed it all.”

Joseph sighed again. This was going to be a long night.

* * * * * * *

“You seem a little… on edge, Captain Sheridan?” Na’Far politely offered Sheridan a drink, which he equally politely refused. He’d tasted Narn drinks before. Connally hadn’t, and took it. A quick swallow later and she was clearly regretting it.

“Just a little… added tension from the fight, that’s all. I always feel like this after a mission.”

“I see. And what news of the Minbari? If that is not secret of course?”

“Same as usual, really. Just… well, holding their own.”

“I have some experience with the Minbari, you know. I was told that they always acted as one. When the war began fourteen of your years ago, they all went mad together. Perhaps they have all woken up together?”

“A little late for that, isn’t it?”

“What is the human saying? Better late than never?”

“I’ve never put much stock in sayings myself.”

“How are things with your Government, Administrator?” Franklin asked. He had travelled quite a way before the war, hitchhiking on starships of all things. He was one of the few people aboard the Babylon who’d ever met a Minbari face to face with both walking away alive. Franklin had been training to be a doctor until the death of his father a few years back. That had spurred him to seek out a position aboard the Babylon. He had enough medical knowledge to be an effective doctor, but he claimed to prefer this. Sheridan had known General Franklin quite well. ‘Old Firestorm’ had had a good death. Better than many others.

Franklin was the only one remotely at ease in this room, spartan and dark as were all Narn accommodations. A rack of candles rested on a stone table, an ancient book caught in their flickering glow. Keffer was hanging around the back of the room, plainly wishing he were somewhere else. Connally was still recovering from whatever it was Na’Far had given her, and Sheridan… he just wanted to be away from here.

“Oh, the same as usual, Lieutenant,” Na’Far replied. “Or so I am led to believe. I am a little far out from the political hub here, you know.”

“Yes, but still, your help has been very valuable to us, Administrator,” Sheridan said. Was that a flash of something in the Narn’s blood-red eyes? Something mysterious?

“It is freely given, Captain. In memory of Gorash Fifteen. How long will your repairs take?”

“About twenty-four hours or so.”

“Ah.” The Narn suddenly looked down. “I am sorry for this, Captain. The order came directly from the Kha’Ri themselves. I disagreed, but I cannot ignore it.”

Every instinct in Sheridan’s body was warning him about something, and then he caught it. Not a smell, not a sound or a sight, but a feeling. A feeling that had never been wrong before. Minbari!

Instantly, he grabbed his PPG and spun round so that his back was to the wall. It was too late. The door of Na’Far’s room burst open and six Minbari poured in, big ones, wearing black and carrying those pikes of theirs. Warrior caste. Sheridan fired instantly, catching the first one square in the chest. The Minbari fell, but the others were fast, so damned fast.

Keffer was nearest to them. He made a brief movement of surprise, but was helpless as a pike smashed across his face, sending him tumbling back against the wall, still and unmoving. Poor Warren. He only ever seemed alive in his beloved Starfury. Sheridan fired again, but this time he inflicted only a flesh wound.

Franklin had tried to draw his own PPG, but his instincts were still those of a doctor, not a warrior, and he was felled with simple blows to the leg and side. Connally had managed to get her weapon out, and she had downed one Minbari.

The ship! The ship comes first! Sheridan activated his link as quickly as he could. “Sheridan to Corwin! Get out of here! Repeat! Get the hell out of here! Corwin, you…” A pike struck his arm, knocking him off balance and causing him to fumble his PPG. He tried lunging forward with a punch, but it barely connected.

Damn Minbari! They were too fast, and too good.

A pike crashed against his skull, and consciousness faded.

* * * * * * *

Elsewhere, out on the Rim, a dead world swarmed with life once more. From a world called only Z’ha’dum, a shuttle rose up and flew into space.

Chapter 2

General William Hague looked out from his office window over the grey slag heaps and dusty skies of Proxima 3, and sighed softly. What sort of place was this for a human to live? Where were the grass, the trees, the soft whistling of birdsong in the morning? Proxima 3 was a wasteland, a strategically valuable and important wasteland to be sure, but a wasteland all the same.

It was also the new home of the human race.

Ever since the Minbari had conquered and then proceeded to destroy Earth, humanity had been forced to flee, anywhere and everywhere. Most of their colonies had already fallen – Orion crushed, Mars torn apart, the Vega system under threat and only saved by letting the Narns take control. Proxima 3 was the last bastion of human strength, the site of the last, best hope for victory over the Minbari. A dry, desolate, foul world.

And who was that last, best hope for victory? Not General Hague himself, certainly not President Marie Crane or Vice President Morgan Clark. No, the last, best hope of the human race was a man who was dead in every way that counted except for the physical. Captain John J. Sheridan. The Starkiller.

And that last, best hope was over thirty hours overdue from a routine scouting mission to Sector 14. He and his Babylon were effectively all that was left of the once mighty Earthforce. If he was lost anywhere, then so was Earthforce, some ten years after Earth itself was lost.

General Hague had not been present at Earth during the last ditch defence that was the Battle of the Line. He had been vainly trying to defend the Orion colonies, only for the Minbari to tear through their defences as if they did not even exist. If Sheridan had not come to the rescue shortly before launching his almost apocalyptic assault on the Minbari fleet in what became known as the Battle of Mars, Hague would have died at Orion.

His communit buzzed and he moved back to the desk. About time, John, he thought. I’m too old for you to give me shocks like this. But the face that appeared in the communit was not Sheridan, but his second, Commander David Corwin.

“What is it?” Hague asked. “Report, Mr. Corwin.”

“Our initial scouting of Sector Fourteen showed that the area was empty, sir. No sign of any Centauri encroachment. But we did run into a Minbari cruiser, probably also on patrol. We destroyed it in a firefight, but the Babylon was seriously damaged. Communications were down and jump engines dangerously unstable. The captain ordered us to put into Vega Seven for repairs. He went down to the surface to meet with Administrator Na’Far, and did not return. I received a message ordering me to take the Babylon away from Vega Seven, and only just in time. There was a Minbari cruiser hidden just behind Vega Seven’s moon. Captain Sheridan and Lieutenants Franklin, Keffer and Connally are unaccounted for. They may be dead, or captured. Fortunately we have managed to complete most of our repairs, with communications systems only recently back on line. I am requesting permission to return to Vega Seven and find the captain, sir, and to launch a rescue attempt if necessary.”

General Hague sat back and rubbed at his eyes. “Permission denied, Commander.”

“But, sir…”

“I said permission denied. The Babylon is too valuable to risk. If Vega Seven has been compromised, all we can do is notify the Narn Government and abandon the area. As for Captain Sheridan… if he is alive, then I am sure he will be able to evade or escape capture and make his way here. He is very resourceful, as you well know. And if he is dead, then I cannot and will not let you risk our only surviving heavy cruiser on a suicide run. We all need the Babylon too much, Commander.”

“General, please!”

“That is an order, Commander! You are to return to Proxima Three immediately for a full debriefing. Is that understood?”

“Yes, General.”

“Good. Hague out.” The viewscreen went blank and Hague buried his head in his hands in despair. What to do when even the last, best hope was gone? First, have a drink, and second, try to find something to tell Sheridan’s wife.

Corwin also sat back from his viewscreen on the bridge of the Babylon. “Like hell!” he spat. “Lieutenant, set course for Vega Seven. We’re going to get the captain back if we have to tear every Minbari in existence apart.”

* * * * * * *

“I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star. We are Grey. We stand between the darkness and the light. I come to take the place that has been prepared for me.” Delenn drew back the hood of her rough grey robe and stepped into the column of light, completing the circle of the Nine.

“It is good to have you back with us, Delenn,” said Satai Lennann to her right. “You seem to be away from us every chance you can get. I hope it is not our company?”

“No,” she said, smiling softly in reply. “I study the prophecies, Lennann. It is hard and tiring work.”

“I am sure it is,” barked a harsh voice from across the circle. “But we have a commitment to the nine, and to the covenant we formed with Valen. Do not forget that, Delenn. Your first duty is always to the Council, not to your personal quest. We are nine here after all, not eight.”

“I do not forget that, Sinoval,” she replied as the warrior pulled back his own hood. “I merely seek to serve in any way I can.”

“But which do you serve most, Delenn? The Council, or your own interests?”

“Sinoval!” barked Hedronn. “That is enough! Never has a Satai cast aspersions on the actions of another. We must simply trust that Delenn is serving Valen, as are we all. And now we must turn to the matters we were discussing.”

“For too long have the Rangers been leaderless and without order. Branmer’s death means that there is no Entil’zha to stand against the Enemy that is coming. We must choose one, and swiftly, for without an Entil’zha, there can be no Rangers. If we are unable to choose an Entil’zha, then how may we choose a leader once the cycle of mourning for Dukhat is over?”

“Has anyone been able to find Branmer’s choice of replacement?” Lennann asked. “This… Alyt Neroon?”

“Neroon has made his own decision,” Delenn spoke out, hoping that none of the others could hear the pain in her voice. “He has felt a calling elsewhere. It would not be right of us to question that.”

“Neroon has run away,” Sinoval snorted contemptuously. “Hiding from the war we must fight. It is a great loss. He served Branmer well in the war against both the Earthers and the Enemy, but if he will not serve, then another must.”

“But who?” asked Lennann. “None of the others has the desire, or the training or the talent to lead.”

“The Rangers are warriors,” Sinoval pointed out. “As is only fitting, since who else must fight the war against the Enemy? And who better to lead them than a warrior? I led the Wind Swords well in the war against the Earthers, did I not? Many within my own clan serve as Rangers, do they not? I speak for the warrior caste here, do I not? Satai, I offer myself for the position of Ranger One.”

“This is impossible, Sinoval, as you well know,” Hedronn said. “Your duties as Satai, your duties to the Nine, deny you the time to be Entil’zha also.”

“Delenn finds the time to study the prophecies, and that does not detract from her duties as Satai. Or perhaps it does, in which case she should be dismissed from this assembly.”

“Sinoval! I have warned you before. No aspersions are to be cast upon a member of this Council. Delenn has served us well these last sixteen cycles, and she was the chosen of Dukhat. You have been here far less time than she, and should display the proper respect.”

Hedronn looked at Sinoval angrily, worker and warrior locking gazes across the hall of the council. Delenn looked from one to the other with increasing despair. Sinoval’s ambitions were well known, but a feud between worker caste and warrior caste could tear apart not only the Council but all of Minbar. That one as filled with pride and arrogance as Sinoval should rise so far was a black thing for all Minbari, but Delenn would not let one warrior destroy the Council, not when the argument was fought over her.

“Hedronn! Sinoval! This Council is not a place for arguing and shouting,” she said. “We all serve as best and in what ways we can. If Sinoval believes he can serve best by leading the Rangers, then so be it.”

“You would support me?” Sinoval said, suspicion flaring in his dark eyes.

“No. I support the Rangers, I support the fulfilment of the task that is ahead, and I support the actions we must take to fulfill that task. If you are the best person to lead the Rangers, as you claim, then you should have the position of Ranger One. If you are not, then we must trust that you will acknowledge this, and pass the position on to one better qualified. Without trust in one another, then the Council will surely fall, and Minbar cannot be far behind.”

“The voice of reason as ever,” whispered Lennann, and she smiled at his encouragement.

Sinoval suddenly turned as a young acolyte stepped forward to speak with him. His column of light faded and Delenn was left to stare at the blackness in its place. She did not think she liked this new development. When the light came back on, she knew from the expression of triumph on Sinoval’s face that she would not.

“Fellow Satai,” he said. “I have great news. The human Starkiller Sheridan has been captured by warriors from the Wind Swords clan. He is being brought here in chains, to face our judgment for his crimes.”

Delenn started. Starkiller? She knew of Sheridan, all Minbari did, not only for the Dralaphi, but also for his direct attack upon the very heart of Minbar – the Grey Council itself. Mere weeks following the fall of Earth, as the great Minbari fleet had turned its attention to the other human colony on Mars, Sheridan had launched a foolish assault on this very ship, killing two Satai and allowing many refugees to flee the planet. And therefore, Sheridan had set in motion events to allow Sinoval and Lennann to come to power.

As Delenn looked at Sinoval, she doubted that the warrior intended to thank Sheridan for giving him this position. Oh no, not at all.

* * * * * * *

As night fell over the mining colony of Vega 7, the people therein slept. Marcus Cole, miner, slept the sleep of the drunk, and the angry. His brother Joseph and his wife Katherine slept a frustrated, distant sleep. Administrator Na’Far slept the guilt-ridden sleep of one ashamed. In chains and in cells, Lieutenants Franklin and Connally did not sleep, while Lieutenant Keffer moaned with the pain of his injuries.

Above the colony world, minor and insignificant, there loomed something ancient and dark, issuing a scream that tore open the sky. Any early warning systems were destroyed. It was alone in the night.

Except for something beneath the surface of Vega 7, something recently awakened by mining operations, something else ancient and dark, buried there for a millennium.

It began to stir.

* * * * * * *

“My name is John J. Sheridan. Rank: Captain, Earthforce. My serial number…”

Delenn looked at the human in the centre of the circle with curious eyes. To think that this was the legendary Starkiller. Just a man. Bloodied, marked but unbowed. Standing tall and triumphant, even in his chains. No, this was not just a man. He was the Starkiller, and looking at him, Delenn realised that he probably could kill stars.

“We know who you are, Earther,” Sinoval spat, in Sheridan’s native language. Sheridan turned to face him, and Delenn caught just one glimpse of the sheer hatred burning in his human eyes. It mirrored that in Sinoval’s own.

One warrior to another… Is this what Neroon meant when he spoke of the urge to fight and struggle? To reach for the very stars? Of hatred and fire and respect and honour burning in one heart?

“That is all I am authorised to tell you,” Sheridan replied, saying the words obviously by rote. “I demand to know what has happened to my crew members.”

“They were irrelevant, Starkiller. Merely lackeys. They will be killed and their remains disposed of.”

“You bastard!” Sheridan shouted. “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! I’ll crush the life from your worthless throat with my own two hands!”

Sinoval chuckled. “I do not think so, Starkiller, and if we are talking of reparations, remember who struck first in this war. Who fired the first shot? Whose blood is on whose hands? There is enough blood on yours to stain an entire generation.”

One warrior to another. They may not be of the same blood, but they are of the same heart. Delenn started. One warrior to another. The same heart. The same soul? The other half of our souls?

Valen, no!

“What is it, Delenn?” Lennann asked, obviously noting her distress.

“My apologies, Lennann. I was merely… distracted. There was such hatred in his voice.” He was looking directly at her now, but she stood firm before the steely hate in his eyes. “Such hatred.”

“He is a primitive barbarian,” Sinoval said. “His language is proof enough of that. I was not aware you spoke it, Delenn.”

“I have learned bits and pieces,” she said hesitantly. Valen’s name, what if what I suspect is true? It is too… too obscene to consider. “I hope that he will be held until we can decide his fate.”

“What is there to decide? He is the Starkiller! The blood of many is on his hands, including two who once stood here. Simply execute him and have done with it.”

“That would be premature,” Delenn said. “He may have information that would be of use to us. We must discover what he knows.” And I must test what I suspect. Valen help me be wrong.

“I agree with Delenn,” Hedronn said. “If, as you keep requesting, Sinoval, we do attack the rest of the Earther civilisation, we will need his knowledge.”

“Very well,” Sinoval acknowledged. “I do not want a mongrel human kept in this place, though. This ship is for us alone. Hold him on the surface.”

“That would be… wise,” Delenn agreed. She looked at Sheridan as he was led out by two acolytes. He flashed her a stare and she met it firmly. His hatred was almost tangible. Valen’s name, how could anyone hate so much?

And then a memory, Dukhat lying in her arms, the humans who had done this still nearby. A question posed to her. A question… and an answer. ‘Kill them! Kill them all!’

“And now,” Hedronn was saying. “The position of Entil’zha…”

* * * * * * *

My name is John J. Sheridan. Rank: Captain, Earthforce. My serial number… Yeah, keep saying that, Johnny. Maybe it’ll let you keep your sanity until they decide to kill you.

His first memory after being knocked senseless on Vega 7 was of waking in a small room. Everything smelled Minbari, an infuriating scent, like clove oil and steel. He did not know how long he had been there, but he remembered being taken before the circle of the Nine – the fabled Grey Council, no less – and then from there to here, a cold, dark, small cell somewhere on the surface. He had tried pacing up and down – three paces long, two wide – but when that did little to relieve his boredom, he tried visualising Anna – not as she was now, but as she had been when they had first met, introduced by his sister Elizabeth. When that did not kill the time, he turned to his daughter, also called Elizabeth, and the last time he had seen her, buried under a ton of falling rock as the Minbari bombed Orion 7. He hadn’t even been able to find her body.

Not just his daughter died that day. His wife had as well, at least inside, erecting a wall around everything that she was and ever would be, only breaking through the wall by drink. He supposed that he had died that day as well, and his wall was similar to hers, but his was only ever broken by battle. The last charge at Sector 14 against the Centauri. The suicide run on the Grey Council ship over Mars. The liberation of General Hague from Orion.

In his heart, Captain John J. Sheridan was dead, but then so was humanity, so it made little difference.

He started at the sound of the door opening. There was a brief flash of light as someone stepped inside, and then darkness again. Darkness and a smell. Orange blossom. It was impossible, but it was orange blossom, just like in his father’s garden when he was a child.

And then there was light, and the thirty-year-old memory faded. A Minbari was in front of him. He had seen her arguing in the Hall.

“Greetings,” she said softly, in English. “I am called…”

“Satai Delenn,” he finished for her, studying her closely. She looked almost… frail, but a fire burned in her eyes, just beneath the surface. She seemed to be studying him. “I heard your name spoken in Council. You’re the one who wanted me sent here.”

“You speak our language?” She did not sound surprised.

“You aren’t the only one to have picked up bits and pieces of someone else’s language. What is to stop me from tearing you apart here and now?”

“You could try, but you would fail.”

“You can only kill me once. What have I got to lose?”

She inclined her head slowly. “Surely you have something to live for?”

“Yes. I do. The hope that I can kill a few more of you monsters before I die!”

She seemed surprised. “Such hatred,” she whispered in her native tongue, and then something about Valen. “How can you live with such hatred?”

“Simple enough when it’s all you’ve had for ten years. You took my life, my home, parents, sister, daughter… you took everything away from me until hatred is all I have left.”

“And all you deserve?”

“Perhaps, but I don’t care any more.”

“Then I have a question. Why have you not attacked me? I am Satai. I am the embodiment of everything you hate. Why have you not tried to kill me?”

“Because you’d be expecting that, and I didn’t become the Starkiller by doing what people expect of me.”

“You seem almost proud of that title.”

“Earned in battle, granted me by my enemies. Damn straight I am.”

“I am equally as proud of my title. Satai. Perhaps you understand, Captain?”

“Whatever. I take it you’re here to question me?”

“No. I simply wanted to talk.”

“And you expect me to believe that?”

“No,” she said softly. She then doused her light and left, leaving Sheridan to stare after her, only the lingering trace of orange blossom to mark her presence.

“Interesting, wasn’t she?” said another voice. A female voice. Speaking English.

“Who? Where are you?”

“Right here, Captain. Oh, a little light, perhaps?” A brief and dull light illuminated the face of a woman in the corner of the cell. “I entered when she did, and hid here. She didn’t see me. You don’t have to worry about that.”

“I didn’t see you either. What are you doing here, and how did you get in? Minbar isn’t exactly full of humans.”

“I have a few… friends, here and there. Don’t worry, Captain, I just came in to see you. To… talk. After we’re done, we’ll both leave together.”

“Oh, just like that? Walk out the door?”


“Just my luck. Stuck in a Minbari cell with either a madwoman or a hallucination.”

“Hardly mad, Captain, and very real. By the way, my name is Susan Ivanova, and I have one question to ask you. A simple enough question, really.

“Captain, what do you want?”

Chapter 3

Captain John J. Sheridan must have died and gone to Hell. Maybe that Minbari pike had done more than merely knock him unconscious for a few hours. Maybe it had caved his skull in and his body was now lying in some unmarked hole on Vega 7, unadorned and unremembered, while his soul was in whatever particular level of Hades the Devil reserved for people like him. For people with more blood on their hands than could be found on entire planets.

List of charges: The destruction of the Black Star. Guilty as charged, and damn proud of it. A foolish attack on the Grey Council and the death of two of its members. As stated. Countless Minbari and Centauri over the course of a fourteen-year war. No defence. His daughter, left alone for a matter of minutes, but just long enough for a Minbari bomb to blow her apart. Negligence? Guilty. Of allowing his wife to become a drunken, sodden shadow of her former self? Guilty. Of giving hope where there could be none to people fighting an unwinnable war? Guilty.

A long enough list of charges, and surely enough to guarantee his eternal damnation. John Sheridan had never been an especially religious man, but he believed in Hell. He had seen it when he had returned to the ruins of his homeworld. If that had been Hell, then maybe so was this.

“What do you want?”

John Sheridan looked at Susan Ivanova and finally decided to reply. If this was an illusion of Minbari trickery, he could pretend to succumb to it in order to trick them. And if this was some Hell-sent denizen about to torture him, then he would accept his fate. He had never fled from anything in his life, and he was not about to start now.

The trouble was, having decided to answer the question, he didn’t know what answer to give. “What do you mean?” he said at last. “It’s a pretty stupid question, don’t you think? Coming in a place like this.”

“Do you know anywhere better to ask?” she replied, smiling. “Perhaps we should go to Las Vegas and I can ask you there.”

“There is no Las Vegas any more.”

“I know. It’s a pity really. I’d have liked to have seen it. Just once.”

“You haven’t missed much, believe me.”

“If you say so. Well, Captain. What do you want?”

“Why are you asking me that?”

“It’s important. Very important. What do you want?”

Sheridan laughed. This was absurd. “I want to be out of this cell. How’s that for a start?”

“That’s all you want? I can’t believe your ambitions are so limited, Captain.”

“They aren’t. I’m just… not sure how to answer the question.”

“Just do your best.”

He laughed again. If this woman was a demon, she was certainly an entertaining one. “I want to return to the Babylon. I want to return to my crew. I want to be a million miles away from this world, and from that high and mighty, perfect Grey Council. I want each and every Minbari wiped from the face of the planet. I want them to suffer as we have suffered. And I want the Narns to experience something from our point of view as well. After all I’ve done for them, they betrayed me. So let them suffer, let their planet be bombed from space and their people enslaved. And the Centauri too, while we’re at it. They stood back and watched as we fought and died, so let them suffer. I want Earth back, whole again. I want my wife to be the woman she was when I married her, not the… the shadow she is today. I want my daughter back in my arms again. And… and I want a large vanilla ice cream, with a flake and wafer. Does that answer your question?”

Ivanova laughed. Quite an attractive laugh, really. “I’m not sure what I can do about your daughter, or the ice cream, but I’ll see what I can do about the others.”

Sheridan couldn’t help himself. He was laughing too. “Just like that? You are an illusion.”

“Could an illusion do this?” Ivanova stepped up to the door and pushed gently. It slid open. Sheridan blinked as light suddenly filled his cell, and then he stared up at Ivanova. She extended her arm. “Shall we go then? Or were you planning on staying here?”

* * * * * * *

Delenn knew that it was Draal behind her before he began to speak. Over the years she had come to recognise the sound of his footsteps. It was a comforting sound. It reminded her of her father.

“You are working again. I suppose I should not be surprised, Delenn. After all, you never listened to me when you were a child, so why should you start now, hmm?”

She turned, and smiled. “I must have been a terrible burden to you, old friend. To be saddled with so disobedient a child.”

“A burden? No. A challenge, certainly. I never met anyone with such a desire for knowledge as you, for all that it frequently led you into… strange directions.” He paused and looked at her in the studied, deep way he often used. “What is it, Delenn? Something is troubling you.”

She knew better than to lie to her old teacher, her father’s best friend. “I… I think I have uncovered something, old friend. Something that shakes me to my very core. I hope… I pray that I am wrong, but I doubt that I am.”

“This something, would it involve the human Sheridan? Oh, don’t look so surprised, Delenn. There are still some on the Grey Council who listen to a doddering old man and feed him crumbs of information from time to time. Just enough to keep his mind working. The Starkiller is being held in this very building, Delenn, and I find you here, still studying and working when you do not have to. What is it about this human?”

“He is… I do not know how to describe it, old friend. There is such hatred in his eyes, such… capability for destruction. It is both terrifying and… strangely reassuring. I cannot explain it, Draal, only say how I feel. I think I have known him for a very long time. Perhaps he is the One the prophecies speak of, the One who is destined to lead us against the Enemy that is returning.”

“Or perhaps he is simply a mass murderer. I would have thought that one such as him would be a better candidate to serve the Enemy rather than lead against them.”

“That is what I must know. Where will he side? Is he the One spoken of? There is great… possibility within him and it must be turned to our side. If he can serve our cause, then he will be a valuable ally.” She made to say more, but hesitated. She knew Draal suspected her of holding something back, but not even he could suspect this. That she thought Starkiller Sheridan, a man hated and feared throughout the Minbari Federation, housed a Minbari soul.

“Persuading him to ally with us will be difficult, Delenn, if not impossible.”

“But I must try. It may be that we have our new Entil’zha locked in a cell in this very building.”

Draal’s eyes turned hard. “I did not hear that, Delenn. It is one thing to speak of Sheridan as a potential ally. For better or for worse, the man is a force in this galaxy. But as Entil’zha? A human, even this one, to lead the Rangers? No, Delenn, that is beyond stupidity and into blasphemy.”

“I am sorry, old friend. I think… my mind runs away with me. But would Sinoval be a better choice? For unless there is an alternative, it will be Sinoval who is our new Entil’zha. I saw Sinoval and Sheridan in the Hall of the Council today. It was as though they were two sides of the same mirror. I fear that Sinoval’s ambitions are running away with him.”

“But you cannot stop him when you are down here, Delenn. You are the chosen of Dukhat, never forget that. You must be the voice of reason in the Council, opposing Sinoval. You cannot be that if you hide down here all the time.”

“Oh, but I can, Draal. I can.” She paused and looked up at the man who had shaped her life for so long. Then she rose to her feet and made the ritual gesture of departure. He repeated it and watched as she left, never suspecting that beneath her robes she bore a Triluminary.

With which to test Sheridan’s soul.

* * * * * * *

“The transmissions indicate that Captain Sheridan was taken to Minbar, Commander,” the lieutenant said. David Corwin listened and nodded, but said nothing.

Minbar. If the Resistance Government on Proxima 3 knew what he was doing he would be spaced so fast he would think he’d been born in a vacuum, but this had to be done. Captain Sheridan had saved his life more times than he could count, and now that Sheridan was in danger, Corwin had to go to the rescue.

“Any word on the others?”

“The message we intercepted just said the captain, Sir, but I presume…”

“Never presume anything,” Corwin snapped. “Very well, if we’re going to assault the Minbari homeworld, now is as good a time as ever, I suppose. Set course for…”

“Wait, Commander. We’re picking up a coded message. It’s Earthforce, sir.”

“If it’s the Resistance Government then…”

“No, sir. It’s… an old code, sir, three or four years old. But it seems to be coming from Minbar.”

“How could the Minbari know four-year-old… The captain! Put it on!”

Corwin swivelled in the chair – the captain’s chair – and turned to the reception screen. It was fuzzy and blank, but the message that came through was clear.

Captain Sheridan will be fine. I can get him off Minbar, but we’ll need transportation when that happens. Care to give us a lift, David? Wait at these co-ordinates.

“It’s a trap, sir. Got to be.”

“No,” Corwin breathed. “Oh no, it isn’t.” He’d recognised the voice, and he was mouthing a silent prayer of thanks. “Set course for the relayed co-ordinates. I think we’re going to get the captain back.”

* * * * * * *

Sheridan was lost in this labyrinth of Minbari corridors, but Ivanova seemed to know where they were going. Didn’t these damned Minbari know how to build a corridor in a straight line? He was also feeling more than a little uncomfortable, and a little more alive. Here he was, on the homeworld of his sworn enemy, with no weapons and his spaceship several systems away, and his only ally a mysterious woman who seemed more than half insane.

It was exhilarating.

“You do know where we’re going, don’t you?” he asked Ivanova. He hated trusting others with matters like this.

“You’re too tense. Where’s your sense of fun? Of adventure?”

“You aren’t trying to cheer me up, are you? I hate being cheered up.”

“Fine, then we’re all going to die lingering, horrible deaths. Especially if the Minbari catch us. Feeling better now?”

“Not really.”

“Good. My brother always said I was too pessimistic.” They came to a divergence of corridors and Ivanova looked down both of them. “It’s this way,” she said, indicating one of the routes. “I think.”

“Which way did you come in?”

“That’s… ah, sort of hard of explain.”

The two of them had taken four steps in the direction Ivanova had indicated when a door opened in front of them and a Minbari stepped out. And not just any Minbari.

Satai Delenn.

* * * * * * *

For a brief moment Delenn was stunned. It was the Starkiller. Somehow he had escaped. She barely noticed the human woman beside him, focussing instead on Sheridan, forced to step back from the blazing fury in his eyes.

And then the human woman said something, and Delenn turned to her.

Time seemed to slow, a moment Commander Corwin called the long second. The human woman was no longer just a human, but a blackening silhouette, a darkness so absolute that it penetrated to her very soul, waking a hatred even more powerful than Sheridan’s, because it was hidden beneath a calm surface.

Delenn’s thought was as terrible as the one she had reached concerning Sheridan’s soul. The Enemy is awake, and it has come here.

And then she surrendered herself to the instincts of battle, rigorously forged in her by her father, by Durhan, by Neroon. It did not matter who the woman was, or why she was interested in Sheridan. It only mattered that she served the Enemy – the Enemy that Delenn had dedicated her life to fighting.

She struck forward, lashing out with her fist and catching the human woman off guard, knocking her backwards. The woman stumbled, but then Sheridan moved forward. He seemed to hesitate before hitting her, a brief moment that allowed Delenn to duck his punch and strike out at his belly. He too stumbled, and she gained enough time to unfold her fighting pike, a weapon centuries old, given to her in love by Neroon. It was a deadly weapon in the hands of a master, and while Delenn was no Durhan, she had been trained well enough.

Backing up against the wall, she gripped the staff tightly in both hands. She did not know human physiology as well as she might have done, but she knew enough to incapacitate these two. Then the Council would have to be warned. Not just that Sheridan had escaped, but that the Enemy was here.

There was a sudden noise, a buzzing and crackling. Delenn started and turned. There was a shimmering directly in front of her eyes, a shimmering in the shape of a giant, misshapen crab. Reason left her and she lunged forward with her staff, lashing out vainly at the beast before her, a beast from each and every one of her worst nightmares.

It moved with a speed that seemed impossible. One swift motion and she fell, in agony, very much aware that the warm dampness in her belly was her own blood.

* * * * * * *

“What the hell was that?” Sheridan asked as he stared at the fallen Delenn. “Do you mind telling me?”

“A friend, Captain. You’ll find we have them everywhere. Come on. She might have raised an alarm or something.”

Ivanova bent down and picked up the strange weapon Delenn had been using. “A quick blow to the neck and she’ll be out of your misery, Captain.”

Orange blossom. “No, we’ll take her with us.”

“And you said I was crazy?”

“Look, the Minbari won’t threaten us if we’ve got one of the Grey Council with us. Think what a hostage she’d make, not to mention what she knows. Now come on, you said you knew a way out of this place.”

Ivanova shrugged and compressed the pike. “Always wanted one of these. Asked my father for one for Christmas one year. It’s this way.”

As Sheridan bent down to pick up Delenn, he noticed a small triangular object that had fallen from her robes. Without thinking, he stuffed it into a pocket. He was surprised by how light the Minbari was, and by the fact that the scent of orange blossom was now replaced by the smell of blood and death. Had he been less preoccupied, he might also have noticed the same buzzing and crackling noise that had so affected Satai Delenn.

* * * * * * *

“Captain! Good to see you again. I thought… that is… Good to have you back, sir.”

“Good to be back, David.” Sheridan stepped off the shuttle into the small docking bay aboard the Babylon. “We have a guest in need of urgent medical assistance. If you can get Dr. Kyle to have a look at her, stat.”

“I’m here, Captain,” the elderly doctor said, brushing past Sheridan to enter the shuttle. Ivanova was staying very quiet. The doctor came out. “But Captain, she’s a…”

“A Minbari, I know. To be more precise, she’s Satai Delenn of the Grey Council.” Corwin whistled softly. “She may just be our means of ending this whole thing, and even if she isn’t, can you think of a better hostage?”

“Trust you to come out smelling of roses, sir.”

“Smelling of orange blossom, more like.”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“Nothing. How is she, Doctor?” Delenn’s wound had seemed quite serious at first, but Sheridan had seen the incredible Minbari constitution first-hand. She had remained half-conscious all the time he had been carrying her from the complex to the shuttle, and in the shuttle from the planet to the Babylon she had drifted in and out of consciousness. They had encountered no resistance during their escape, something which worried him quite a bit.

“She’ll recover. It looks worse than it is.”

Sheridan nodded. “Good. I want her alive. She has a hell of a lot of questions to answer.”

“She’s not the only one,” Corwin muttered. “Captain, what exactly happened on Vega Seven? And how did you get out of there so easily? I mean, I don’t want to be disrespectful or anything, but you don’t just leave the Minbari homeworld like it was a corner shop.”

“That’s funny. I was wondering the same thing myself.” Sheridan glanced at Ivanova, who stepped out from behind him.

“I told you. We have friends everywhere, Captain.”

But Sheridan did not hear Ivanova’s response. He only heard Corwin’s reaction. “Susan!”

“You two know each other?” To Sheridan’s surprise, Ivanova sidled up to Corwin and, staring at his still-dumbfounded face, gave him a long and very passionate kiss. “You two do know each other.”

“We used to,” Corwin replied. “I thought you were dead. I mean, I’d hoped from the voice, but then I thought it couldn’t be you. You were dead.”

“I was. I got better.”

Corwin was still staring at her, but then he shook his head and blinked. “I’m sorry, Captain. I was… distracted.”

“I can see that. What word on Lieutenants Keffer, Franklin and Connally?”

“None, sir. I thought they were with you.”

“I don’t know where they are, but I know a Narn who does. Na’Far set me up, and I want to find out why. He mentioned something about the Kha’Ri. If the Narns have started working with the Minbari, then we’re all in trouble. Set course for Vega Seven.” He looked at Ivanova. “Mysteries can wait until later.”

* * * * * * *

Satai Sinoval, Shai Alyt of the holy jihad, Warleader of the Wind Swords clan, member of the Grey Council and soon to be Entil’zha, entered his personal quarters and looked sharply at the person already there.

“The Starkiller has escaped,” he snapped. “He walked out from this very building where you assured me he would be safe. He simply walked out and no one thought to try to stop him. It was as if my guards had been… ordered not to interfere, not even to notice he was there. But that could only have happened if I had ordered it, and I definitely did not do so.”

“I took a few… liberties, Sinoval. Apologies if I caused offence.”

“I suppose you had a good reason.”

“Just call it cashing in one of the many favours you owe me. Actually, I have it on very good authority that Sheridan was seen by someone. A certain… friend of yours. I doubt it is common knowledge yet, but I don’t think Satai Delenn will be bothering you in Council much any more.”

“You’re certain of this? Sheridan killed her?”

“Killed or captured. It really doesn’t matter. If you’re smart, you can blame his escape on her. I knew you’d like it. So tell me, is your gain worth his disappearance?”

“I will not rest until Sheridan and all with him are dead. Blood calls out for blood! For the Dralaphi, for the Emphili and the Dogato, for…”

“Yes, yes. I know. You’ll have your chance with him sooner or later. Be patient, as I have. Besides, now you’ll be able to take the war to the Earthers with little interference from Delenn. I’d like to be there when you do it, of course. Personally, I owe the Earthers too much to stand by while you wipe them out with all those lovely weapons I provided you with. Well, what do you say to that, Entil’zha? Or should that be, Holy One?”

“I say that you have more than earned your sobriquet this day.”

As she smiled, Sinoval thought that Warmaster Jha’dur, last of the Dilgar, had indeed more than earned the name that had caused her to be hated and reviled throughout the galaxy.


Chapter 4

“Fellow Satai.” Sinoval bowed his head slowly, wanting to pull down his hood, to hide his face from the empty circle of light which stood across the chamber from him. For so long he had desired this, but now that it was here, that his greatest opponent in the Grey Council was gone, he felt strangely… ashamed.

“Satai Delenn is lost to us.”

“What do you mean, lost?” barked Satai Lennann. Religious caste, and just as new to the Council as Sinoval himself. But Lennann had no clan leadership, no warship of loyal warriors, no great record in the jihad against the Earthers, nothing to support him. He was simply a simpering nonentity fawning after Delenn. “What’s happened to her?”

“The Starkiller has escaped. He had… assistance from somewhere. During his… escape, he encountered Satai Delenn and took her with him. As a hostage, I presume. I shudder to imagine that she went with him willingly.”

“What are you saying?” shouted Lennann. “Are you accusing…?”

“I am accusing no one and I am saying nothing,” Sinoval replied through gritted teeth. He hated doing this, hated casting doubt – however indirect – upon a fellow member of this Council, but it had to be done. Sheridan had had help in his escape, but that help had not come from Delenn. And yet if Delenn were not blamed, then investigation might alight upon Sinoval himself, and upon the creature he protected.

Still, as he looked at Lennann, he felt a surge of anger. Delenn was at least worthy of respect. Lennann was not. Did Delenn really have no better supporters than this? Sheridan’s attack upon this very ship shortly after the destruction of Earth had killed two of her greatest supporters, but was Lennann really the only one to speak up for her?

No, he was not. “She will have to be found and rescued,” Hedronn said, as brusque and to the point as ever. Sinoval admired the man. “She is one of the Nine. She will be found.”

“Sheridan has left the planet. Our sensor probes detected a human shuttle leaving the atmosphere. For some reason, they did not alert us to this fact until many hours later. He has undoubtedly met up with his ship.”

“Then… they are lost to us?” breathed Lennann, his voice filled with an anguish Sinoval himself shared. To have Sheridan – the Starkiller – in his grasp… only to lose him again. And to have one of the Nine fall before him. Sinoval did not like Delenn, but she was of the Nine, as was he.

And all of this thanks to the machinations of a creature he should have killed the moment he laid eyes on her. Instead he had become intrigued, and listened and learned…

And fallen. Not for nothing did they call her Deathwalker.

“No,” Sinoval said. Blood calls out for blood. The blood of those slain on the Dralaphi, on the Emphili, the blood of two Satai, even the blood of Delenn. It all called out for blood – Sheridan’s blood. “Sheridan is an Earther and Earthers are a predictable people. He will return to the site of his earlier capture, to find his missing crewmen, and to discover why he was betrayed there. He will be returning to Vega Seven.”

“Then I doubt he will return from there,” Hedronn said, and Sinoval started. He had not expected such a reaction from the staid, determined worker. “Vega Seven is touched by a force far greater than our own. Our probes have detected something… moving there. Something ancient and dark. Something that seeks to fly again.”

Sinoval’s face went white.

* * * * * * *

“How is she?” Sheridan asked Dr. Kyle. A simple enough question, really, innocuous and casual, the sort of thing he might use when asking about the health of a friend, or a relative, his wife Anna, or even… perhaps… in a past year, his daughter Elizabeth.

Except that this was not Anna, and Elizabeth was two years dead. Nor was this a relative, and definitely not a friend.

Satai Delenn’s breathing was harsh and ragged, but the movements of her chest seemed to be returning to a steady rhythm. He still did not know what had brought the Minbari down. He had caught only the faintest glimpse of movement and a soft scream. Ivanova had tried to pass it off, but he knew better.

“She’s fine. Minbari have a remarkable constitution. She will be on her feet in a few hours, I suppose. A stomach wound is painful, but if caught early enough, it can be fixed.”

“Good, she has one hell of a lot of questions to answer.” And she isn’t the only one. “Keep me informed.”

Sheridan left the small Medlab facilities aboard the Babylon in a conflict of emotions. What was going on? He could have attacked Delenn, maybe killed her, so why hadn’t he? He’d told her it was because he didn’t like doing the expected, but was that the whole truth? Why did she smell so tantalisingly of orange blossom, and who was the woman who’d rescued him?

Start at the end and work your way backwards. Not exactly Sherlock Holmes, but at least he had a place to start.

He found Commander David Corwin precisely where he’d expected to find him, in his ready room, just off the bridge, poring over star maps and technical data.

“What news on repairs?” Sheridan asked. “Did you get them all done before…?”

“Mostly, sir. Hull integrity is back up to over eighty per cent. Communications, navigation and rotation are all back on line, as are our jump engines, although they’re still a bit unstable. They’ll need a thorough overhaul when we get into Proxima. We can’t repair the hull around the observation dome, and external cameras, aft batteries and Starfury drop port C are all still inoperable, sir.”

“Not good, but it could be worse.”

“Um, sir… it probably is. General Hague told me in no uncertain terms to… um… leave you and the others behind, sir.”

“So you said, screw him.”

“Basically, yes.”

“That was an incredibly stupid and irresponsible thing to do, Mr. Corwin. However, I can’t thank you enough. Just don’t do it again.”

Corwin smiled. “No, sir.”

Not for the first time, Sheridan was struck by how young his commander and executive officer was. Too young to fight back on Earth, he’d been one of hundreds of thousands of refugees who’d escaped from the Battle of Mars just after the Line, where Sheridan had launched his berserk attack on the Grey Council. The difference was that none of the other refugees had made their way up to the bridge and taken over the helm when the lieutenant manning it had been killed. Sheridan had appointed Corwin second lieutenant on the spot, and ever since Corwin had risen almost as fast as Sheridan himself. One of many attached to his coat tails. One of many who would probably die a lonely, pointless death on an alien world.

“I do have another question, David. A more… personal one. How do you know Miss Ivanova?”

“Susan? She was in Earthforce, sir. She joined back on Earth and was away on a training run at Ganymede when the Minbari took Earth. Somehow she made her way to Proxima Three and managed to get attached to General Franklin’s personal staff. I met her there when the Babylon was being refitted and redesigned a few years ago. The Resistance Government insisted I be posted somewhere they could keep an eye on me. I don’t think they trusted me then, and they certainly won’t after this.”

“I’ll deal with that.”

“Thank you, sir. Anyway, I met Susan and… well… things got… um…”

“I’m a married man, David. I understand.”

“Thank you, sir.” Corwin was blushing. “Then I was posted back here, and Susan was sent out on secret missions for General Hague. They called it the Babylon Project – after this ship. I don’t know what she was doing exactly, but we kept in touch and met up whenever we could, but… well… she was on some sort of secret mission out on the Rim. We heard a report that her shuttle had crashed and that everyone on board had died. I was… quite… upset about it, sir.”

“Yes, I remember. God, why didn’t I see anything back then? Why did I never notice her… or you?”

“I think we were all a little mad back then, sir. Madness takes a while to heal.”

“Sometimes it never heals, Mr. Corwin.” Sheridan rose and left the room. He was tired and he still had more questions than answers. He wanted some sleep before he arrived at Vega 7. Sleep and some answers. And his daughter…

It wasn’t his daughter waiting for him when he opened the door. “How? How did you get in here?”

Susan smiled. “Just a knack.” She was lying on his bed. Absolutely naked. “Are you coming in or not?” Sheridan could only stand in his doorway and stare, Anna almost superimposing herself on the sight before him. He caught the faintest hint of orange blossom.

He closed his eyes, and silently wept.

Then he took a step forward and the door closed behind him.

* * * * * * *

“Come on, Warren, hang in there.”

“Hurts… Doc…”

“Damn! I wish I… I wish I could remember what to do. I only stopped being a doctor a few years ago. Warren!”

“How much can we do for him, Stephen? You can see that wound.”

“I won’t let him die, Neeoma.”

“You might have to.”

“Any word from the Babylon yet?”


“Come on, Warren. Don’t you die on me. Don’t you dare!”

* * * * * * *

“Who are you?”

Susan smiled. “That’s a very philosophical question. Since when did you become a Vorlon?”

Sheridan was pacing slowly up and down his room while Susan was lying casually on the bed, smiling, looking more at home here than he did. And why not? He was hardly ever here. When he was on the Babylon, he was always either on the bridge, or in the ready room, or flying a Starfury. Susan looked so at home in his bed. That’s Anna’s place. She belongs there.

“You know what I mean. Why? I mean… I don’t understand any of this.”

“You didn’t need to understand anything half an hour ago.”

“I do now.”

“Ah. You’ve been talking to David, I gather. A nice boy, and what we had together was fun, but that’s all it was – fun. I always knew he’d go far. A commander, eh? Well, well, well. Still… I’m changed now. I’ve been different ever since I arrived on Z’ha’dum.”

“Z’ha’dum? The base of operations of your… friends. What are they? Aliens? Humans? I saw a bit of what hit Delenn, and that was nothing I’d ever seen before.”

“They’re aliens. And I wouldn’t advise trying to pronounce their name, unless you can speak Welsh of course. It’s ten thousand letters long.” She paused, and drew in a deep breath. “I’m not sure how to explain this to you. They’re old, very old, and they’re powerful, but… all they want to do is live in peace. The planet my shuttle crashed on to – Z’ha’dum – it’s their homeworld, and a very holy place for them. They worship something there – I don’t know what.

“Anyway, my friends… they have a long-standing grudge with the Minbari. All my friends want to do is live in peace, but the Minbari won’t let them. I don’t know why, but I guess the Vorlons have something to do with it. A thousand years ago, my friends tried to return to Z’ha’dum after having been driven away. The Minbari objected, and went so far as to attack Z’ha’dum, with the help of the Vorlons and a few other long-dead races. My friends were forced to flee, but they left a few behind, hidden from the Minbari. I sort of… attracted their attention when I crashed on their heads. They’re very friendly actually. Or, well, they were once I’d explained the situation. They want to return to Z’ha’dum and live there, but there’s the Minbari and the Vorlons to consider. So, they’re offering help to us because they know what we’re going through. They don’t want to have to destroy the Minbari, but they’ll do it because all they want to do is live alone, in peace, on their world. Is that so much to ask?”

“The Minbari are one thing,” Sheridan said. “What about the Vorlons? If your… friends get involved, then we might get the Vorlons annoyed with us. I do not want that to happen. It would make the Line look like a church social.”

“Exactly. Which is why my friends can’t lend their support openly. They’re having to move slowly, but they’ll do what they can to help.”

“Thank you.”

“I thought you’d be pleased. These are the first decent allies we’ve had since this whole thing started. So what if they can’t come out in the open? They’re willing to help us, Captain. Maybe even help us get revenge. We can’t get Earth back, and you can’t get your daughter back, but we can still make those monsters that did it to us pay!”

Something suddenly clicked in Sheridan’s mind and he turned to Ivanova. “What did you want? If they asked you the same question that you asked me, then what did you want?”

Ivanova smiled.

His link beeped. Cursing silently, he went to his desk and picked it up. “Yes?”

“We’ve reached Vega Seven, sir. We’re out of hyperspace. The jump engines are down, though, I’m afraid. Again. Our repairs weren’t complete, and it’ll take a while to get them back on line again, so we can get to Proxima. But ah… that isn’t the worst of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’ve scanned the planet, sir. Out of a total population of over four hundred thousand Narns and humans, we have a grand total of five life-signs.”


“I think you’ll find it’s more than four and less then six,” Ivanova interjected, and then shrugged when Sheridan glared at her.

“I’ll be up on the bridge in a minute, David. Sheridan out.” He turned to Susan. “Five. Out of the whole planet. What happened to them all?” He was beginning to dress hurriedly when his link beeped again. It was Dr. Kyle.

“Captain, someone’s just tried to kill your Minbari guest.”

* * * * * * *

“It was Maya Hernandez,” Dr. Kyle said. “She was trying to corrupt the blood we were giving her with Metazine. It’s a painkiller and soporific for humans, but it can be deadly to Minbari, especially in large doses.”

“Mind telling me why you never mentioned this little biological weakness before, Doctor?”

Kyle shot Sheridan an angry look. “I heal, Captain. I do not kill. Besides, Metazine is only effective in the bloodstream. Not a very useful weapon really.”

“Aw hell. I know, I know. I’m sorry, Doctor. Things have been a little… weird lately. Where is Dr. Hernandez now?”

“No idea. She fled as soon as I caught her.”

“Any idea why she did it?”

“Her husband and son died on Earth. Maybe she’s just seen too much of this war.”

“We all have.” Sheridan turned to Corwin. “Have her found and locked up.”

“Yes, sir.” Corwin had looked uncomfortable ever since he had linked his message to Sheridan. “Will you want this done before or after I come back from the planet?”

“You won’t be going to the planet, Mr. Corwin. I’ll need you to run things here. I’ll be going.”

“Captain! Have you forgotten what happened the last time you went down there?”

“No, and I’m not likely to. Trust me, Mr. Corwin.”

“But you can’t go alone.”

“I don’t think five life-signs are going to be much of a threat. Besides, I won’t be going alone. She’s coming with me.” He pointed to Delenn, sitting impassively on a chair at the end of her bed. Her hands were manacled together, but her face was expressionless and calm. “I’m not letting her out of my sight. She has too much information to let her die, and no, Mr. Corwin, she is not going to run off anywhere. I’ll take a full Security team down to the planet with me if you insist, but that will be all. Good day, Mr. Corwin. You,” he looked at Delenn. “Come with me.”

Silently, her face as calm as ever, she rose and followed him, looking as tranquil in her dignity as she did proud in her chains.

* * * * * * *

Minbari… damned Minbari… destroyed Earth… finished Earth… ruined it… killed everyone…


Katherine, come on Katherine! Wake up, Katherine… You can’t die on me. Joseph’s dead. You can’t die too. Please, Katherine.


Minbari… Katherine… Joseph dead… Earth dead… Earth gone… Everyone gone… but me… I’m here… I’m always here… Katherine… I… I love you, Katherine… I love you, Katherine… you can’t die…

Everyone around him was dead, and so was the man called Marcus Cole. But his death was not the death of flesh, but the death of spirit, the death of futile dreams and ambitions and hopes.

For Marcus Cole, something new and terrible was being born.

* * * * * * *

“What do you think happened here?” Delenn remained silent, staring straight ahead. Sheridan looked at her calm demeanour and wished he possessed the same. He could not look at the burnt buildings, the rubble, the devastation, the nightmare that had once been Vega 7, and maintain anything other than a slow, simmering anger. So like Earth. This was so like Earth.

Landing the shuttle had been difficult, with so little flat space. But land it they had, and now they were walking through rubble and devastation, stepping over crushed and burned bodies, heading for the SOS signal Corwin had identified. Vega 7 was rubble, and Sheridan could not help but wonder if this had happened in spite of his actions, or because of them.

There was a sound to his left and he spun, holding his PPG ready. One of the security guards had done the same. Sheridan gestured for him to lower his weapon and he moved forward, the other slowly following him. This place had once been a home. One body lay half-buried under what had been a wall. Sheridan could see dried blood everywhere. There was another body not far away, a woman, her skull crushed. And kneeling over her, whispering something over and over again, was a man, tears of pain and agony running down his cheeks into his short black beard. He looked up, and for a brief instant Sheridan saw himself reflected in those eyes. Himself as he had been.

“My name’s John Sheridan,” he said, slowly lowering his PPG. One out of five.

“The Starkiller,” the man whispered. “She’s dead. They’re all dead.”

“Who was it? What happened here?”

“Minbari. Must have been. Didn’t see them, but who else could it have been? Minbari… Minbari… I’m Marcus… Marcus Cole.”

“Do you have anywhere we can take you to? Family, perhaps, on another world?”

“All dead. All gone except me.” He had a slightly strange accent, and Sheridan realised it was English. He hadn’t heard an English accent in years. “Everyone’s gone except me. And you. Help me, Starkiller. Help me to kill them all.”

Hatred. Such a cycle. It never ended, did it? Sheridan had said similar words after the death of his daughter. Could anyone ever find the courage to break free of the old ways, the old cycles, the old vendettas? Could Sheridan himself? Perhaps he didn’t want to.

“I’ll do what I can,” he said simply. “You’ll be welcome aboard the Babylon, Mr. Cole.”

“Thank you.”

“We can… arrange to have these bodies buried, if you’d like.”

“Leave them. Just shells. Nothing more. Can I help you at all?”

“Do you know the way to the main bureaucratic centre here? I need to know if anyone survived there.”

“Yes, it’s this way. Follow me.” Sheridan marvelled at Marcus’ stilted, precise delivery. Such control should be impossible after such loss, and sooner or later the grief must burst free again. Sheridan half expected it to happen when he saw Delenn, but he simply ignored her.

Marcus led them through rubble-strewn streets and over battered bodies. He must have known some of the dead, but he said nothing. It was as though the destruction of his home planet had destroyed his spirit as well. Sheridan looked at Delenn, but she was also silent. Had the Minbari done this? Could they have done this? This was just like Earth. So like Earth.

And there they were. Franklin and Connally, working over two slumped forms. One was Narn, the other…

“Oh my God,” Sheridan breathed. “How is he, Stephen?”

“Not good.” Sheridan made a gesture, and the doctor Kyle had insisted he bring rushed forward. He and Franklin began working over Keffer’s body. He was moaning, but softly this time. And then Sheridan saw the Narn. It was Na’Far.

“He hasn’t been saying much,” Connally said. “He’s dying as well. Whatever you want him to tell you, you’d better ask him now, Captain.”

Sheridan cast one last look at his crewman and scrambled towards the Narn who had betrayed him. His legs were crushed, and his face was burned and blistered. There was such loss and grief in his blood-red eyes. “G’Quan forgive me,” he whispered in a Narn dialect Sheridan understood. “G’Quan… protect me.”

“What happened here? Who did this?”

“The enemy… ancient and dark… The enemy… ah, G’Quan forgive me… should have listened… should have listened… Listen to… Minbari… they… know…” The words trailed off, and Sheridan looked up. He hadn’t heard the last two words, but what he had heard was enough.

“Damn!” he heard Franklin swear. Sheridan didn’t need to be told. Keffer was dead.

“We… were being kept underground,” Connally was saying. “I don’t know how we survived. But… Warren… he was slower than we were… that blow earlier hit him pretty hard. He couldn’t move fast enough, and when the wall came down…”

Sheridan turned away, still and quiet. Everything else seemed irrelevant. He heard Marcus say something to Connally and Connally reply. Franklin and the doctor were talking softly, but the only words which reached his ears were from Delenn.

“Valen guard your souls.”

Sheridan spun to face her. Without thinking, without anger or hatred, with just a cold, solid finality, he struck her in the face. Her hands restrained, she fell backwards on to the rubble. Sheridan had drawn his PPG, again without thinking, and he was pointing it at her. There was a buzz as it charged. It was the long second again, an eternity of time where all that mattered was the look in her eyes. Like a startled child who has lost her innocence.

Disgusted, although whether with himself or with her he did not know, Sheridan replaced his PPG. “Death’s too easy for you,” he spat. “Come on. Bring Warren’s body back to the shuttle. He deserves a decent send-off at least.”

And they left Vega 7 behind them, a dead world filled with only the dead and the memories of the living.

* * * * * * *

Dr. Hernandez was running scared. She’d failed. Dr. Kyle had spotted her, and now they were looking for her. Security. Why? Didn’t they understand? The Minbari bitch shouldn’t be allowed to live. She should have been left to rot, just like everyone on Earth, just like Maya’s husband, just like her son.

But Dr. Hernandez had a friend, a friend who’d explained everything, who’d talked it over with her, who’d made her understand, who’d told her what she’d needed to do.

“Are you there?” Maya panted. This was where she’d been told she would be safe. This was where her friend had said she would meet her. Everything would be all right now. “Are you here?”

“I’m here,” said a soft voice.

“I… I got caught. Security’s looking for me. But why? She deserves to die, right? You told me that. She deserves to die. Why are they hunting me because I did what I had to?”

“You failed. I need that Minbari bitch dead. She knows who I am, what I am. You failed, and you’ll draw attention to me. I can’t allow that.”

“You… you’re scaring me.”

“Good.” A soft motion, a dull thud, and Dr. Maya Hernandez was dead before she’d had a chance to understand what was happening to her. Susan Ivanova compressed her Minbari fighting pike and stepped out of the shadows. So… one attempt had failed. It wasn’t the end of the world. She had time.

Time enough to see that Minbari whore dead.

* * * * * * *

“From the stars we came, and to the stars we shall return. From now until the end of time.”

Sheridan finished the ritual eulogy and stared at the blank viewscreen, blank because the external cameras weren’t working. They should have been in the Observation Dome, but it was still damaged. This was unfair. Keffer deserved a better send-off than this. Not even any time to give him a Starfury escort. This was not fair.

He looked away from the blank screen to the others on the bridge. Franklin was quiet, bitter anger in his eyes. Sometimes the man still thought like a doctor. Corwin looked uncomfortable. Connally was not around, probably drinking a toast to Keffer’s memory. And Delenn… were those genuine tears in her eyes, or simply a result of the bruise he had given her?

“How long until jump engines are back on line, Mr. Corwin?”

“A good half hour or so, I’m afraid. They’re shot to hell.”

Sheridan nodded soberly and then Delenn spoke up. “Captain, please, you must listen to me. My people would never do something like this. It was another race, an older race. Your companion is a part of them. They are evil, dark and terrible. We call them…”

“Shut up! I don’t care what you call them, but Susan’s told me all about them. I know about your little vendetta. I don’t know why it started, and I don’t care. All I know is that for the first time in fourteen years, we aren’t alone any longer.”

“Captain, please, listen to me!”

“Do I have to gag you? You’re here because I want to keep you where I can see you, because I need you alive, but when the day comes when that doesn’t apply, I’ll volunteer to be the one who presses the button that sends you out into space.”

“I will face death, but not before I have spoken…”

Sheridan drew his PPG and pointed it directly at her. She met his eyes with cold indifference, but there was a dark pleading at their centre. He regretted his words the instant they left his mouth, but it would do no good now. “How you face death doesn’t concern me. Now shut up or I will have you gagged.”

“Captain!” Franklin spoke up suddenly. “Two jump points opening right on top of us!”

“Aw, hell! Minbari. Begin evasive manoeuvres, David. Launch Starfuries and get those jump engines back on line ASAP. How could they find us here? We’re behind a moon for God’s sake.”

“No idea, Captain,” Corwin said. “They’re hailing us.”

Sheridan gritted his teeth and looked at Delenn. She was staring at the floor. “On screen. Maybe we can talk our way out of this one.”

A Minbari face appeared on the viewscreen. She did not bother with introductions. “You have Satai Delenn. You will turn her over to us and surrender yourselves immediately.”

“Do the words ’not a hope in hell’ ring a bell? We’ve got the upper hand here. You can’t fire on us and risk killing your precious Satai Delenn, can you?” The viewscreen went blank. “Can they?”

“They are warrior caste, Captain,” Delenn said suddenly. “My death, especially where you could be blamed for it, would suit them only too well.”

“Politics. Great! David?”

“I’m doing what I can, sir. I… wait… another jump point opening.”

Sheridan leapt to his feet. “There must be something we can do.”

“I… oh my God,” Franklin whispered. “Both Minbari ships have been destroyed. I… there’s something out there, but… I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“That’s impossible. Nothing’s that strong or that fast. Try to hail them.”

“Trying, sir. Trying and failing. They’ve gone.”

“Nothing’s that fast. They’d need to give their jump engines a chance to cool down a little first. Who the hell were they? Did the external cameras pick up anything?”

“Negative, sir,” David replied. “They’re all still off-line, and we didn’t have time to launch any Starfuries. Whatever that thing was, nobody saw it.”

Sheridan sat back down. “What could it have been?”

“One of my friends, Captain.” It was Susan, walking casually on to the bridge and smiling. “Our friends, I should say. I thought we might be in a little danger here, so I asked them to come in and help us out.”

That was one of our friends? Two Minbari cruisers in ten seconds?”

“If need be. They’re on our side now, Captain. They can’t help often, but when they can, they will.”

Sheridan looked around at his bridge crew, seeing the awe on their faces. Awe and something he’d doubted he would ever see again.


“It looks as if things are finally going our way. After fourteen years, things are finally going our way!” He let out a laugh, and then the whole bridge was laughing and smiling and cheering. One grain of hope in a decade of despair.

The whole bridge… except one.

“Well, Satai Delenn,” he said smugly. “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? What do you think about that?”

She looked at him, her face very pale. There was fear in her eyes. “I think that we are all doomed, Captain.” She lowered her head.

“Valen help us, I think that we are all doomed.”

Part II: Heeding the Warning

Chapter 1

It was the dawn of the third age of Mankind, a dawn it appeared we would not survive to see. For ten years we had been an outcast race, our homeworld destroyed, our people scattered. For ten years, our only hope was one ship, and one man, our only hope was no hope at all, for we were weak, and the Minbari were strong.

And then came an elder race, powerful beyond our wildest dreams. At no cost they offered us their help, but we did not understand that the greatest cost is the one that seems the smallest, that the most open ally has the biggest secrets to hide.

And when the fate of humanity is in the balance, who can be sure who is friend, and who is enemy? Our greatest hope may become our greatest sorrow, and our greatest enemy, our greatest friend.

Commander David Corwin, personal diaries.

* * * * * * *

“G’Quan wrote that there is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.”

The Narn preacher looked around at his congregation, and felt a brief surge of gratitude that so many would come so far simply to hear him speak, to listen to his words. Here, he could make a difference. Here, he could begin the first step on the long road to the salvation of his people.

“For too long we have been obsessed by death. Obsessed until death has been all we can see, and death has been all we deserve. Our grief and loss drag behind us, like chains of our own making. The Centauri kept us in chains of iron, but we keep ourselves in chains of hatred. Until we can break those chains, break the cycle of hatred and anger and grief, we will remain obsessed by death, and death will be all we deserve, and death will be all we will achieve. It will not be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. But we must always hope for the moment, the one shining, singular, sacred moment of revelation that shows us the future for our people.

“The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain. G’Quan bless us.”

The Narn raised his head and stared into the night sky above his homeworld. The sky full of stars never ceased to remind him of his purpose, and his true significance. Once he had roamed these stars, but now he was here, returned to the familiar soil of his homeworld. The Centauri might have left it in ruins, but Narn held a soul that could never be lost, not so long as one of its children believed.

After the service, the Narn had to greet a few of those who had made the long journey to hear him. Many wept, and asked him to bless them. He had declined, saying that they must bless themselves. He had shared words of comfort and words of sorrow and words that would forever change their lives. At first few had come here, drawn more by his reputation and his history than by his words or his wisdom, but now more came, and each one spread news of his teachings and still more arrived. He had enemies, he knew, but political enmities mattered nothing in the face of the onslaught that was coming, and the salvation that would forestall it.

Finally, with the dark night sky overhead, the Narn returned to his quarters. They were simple and unfurnished. Only a cot, a stone table, a rack of candles and a copy of the Book of G’Quan, given to him by his grandfather, who had died never having seen freedom for Narn.

And there were two people.

“A stirring speech, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar,” said the first. Another Narn. His companion stood silent, head bowed.

G’Kar nodded in welcome and began to light the candles, feeling the light from each one suffusing his soul. As he passed the Book of G’Quan he touched it reverently. Only when all the candles were lit did he turn to his two companions, and his greatest friends.

“It is good to see you again, Ta’Lon. The galaxy is becoming far too dangerous these days. What news do you bring?”

“Not good, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar.” G’Kar sighed softly at the title. Holy One. He had told Ta’Lon not to use it, but the man was determined in his vision. “Sheridan the Starkiller was betrayed on Vega Seven and captured by members of the Wind Swords clan of the Minbari. He was taken to Minbar in chains.”

“Great G’Quan!” G’Kar breathed. “Betrayed? By Na’Far?”

“Yes,” Ta’Lon replied. “By Administrator Na’Far. But somehow, Sheridan escaped from Minbar. Our agents have not been able to find out how, except that it was remarkably easy for him to do so. One of the Grey Council – Satai Delenn – disappeared at the same time. The reports from our agents on Minbar seem divided. Some say Sheridan captured her, others that she helped him flee and went with him. None seem certain, although what is certain is that the Grey Council is now more warrior-biassed than ever. Without Satai Delenn’s opposition, Satai Sinoval, head of the Wind Swords clan, will almost certainly be named Ranger One, and maybe even Holy One once the period of mourning for Dukhat ends.”

“I have heard of this Sinoval. I do not like what I have heard.”

“Sinoval is an ambitious man,” said the third person, breaking his silence. “I have known him well. He genuinely believes he is the person to lead in the fight against the Enemy, and he may be, for all we know. He is skilled, intelligent and well–liked, but he is also vain, arrogant and determined. He will be opposed to what we have built here, of that you may be sure. He may demand that we swear loyalty to him.”

“And will you do that?” G’Kar asked.

“I have sworn myself to your side, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar,” Ta’Lon said simply. “To you and to your dream.”

“I also.”

“I thank you for your loyalty, and I pray that I am worthy of it. Is there anything else?”

“Yes, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar. Sheridan made to return to Vega Seven, undoubtedly to discover why he was betrayed there. What he found… we are not sure. No word has come from our agents there, and no one has been able to reach Vega Seven by communications in over four days. The last message we received said simply, ‘It is awakening.’ The entire colony was destroyed, as were two Minbari warships above the planet.”


“No,” said the third. “Sheridan is a skilled warrior, but not that skilled. The Enemy has returned to Vega Seven and regained the vessel they hid there centuries ago.”

“So, they are moving faster than we had thought, and they must be confident indeed, to risk an attack like this.”

“Little confidence, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar. There is no proof it was them. The Kha’Ri believe it was the Centauri. The Earthers believe it was the Minbari. The Minbari believe it was Sheridan. The Centauri… do not care.”

“But they are coming, faster and stronger than ever before. G’Quan aid us. And these developments regarding Sheridan… I do not like them. Sheridan is becoming more and more of a force in this galaxy, whether for good or ill I do not know.”

“Would you like us to contact him, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar?” Ta’Lon said. “Perhaps bring him here?”

“Not yet. We know too little about him, apart from his skill. No, if he wishes to come here, then so be it, but we cannot risk alerting him to what we are building if his sympathies lie with the Enemy. I think our greatest concern is with his betrayal. I knew Na’Far, and he would not do something like this, not without orders. This came from the Kha’Ri, I would stake my eye on it. Find out who, and why. Was this simply money, or something deeper? G’Quan bless you both.”

“G’Quan bless you, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar.”

“Walk with Valen,” said the third, removing the hood of his black, warrior caste robe. The sight of a Minbari on Narn was rare, but this was a rare Minbari. “The Rangers on Minbar were meant to be our greatest line of defence against the Enemy, and under Branmer they were, but Branmer is gone, and the Rangers are gone with him. The Rangers we have created here must not fail. Valen walk with you, G’Kar, and Valeria’s blessings fall on you.”

“And with you, Neroon.”

The two of them went, leaving G’Kar alone. No, not alone. He was never alone. He had his book, and his dreams, and the souls of a billion Narns to guide him.

And he had something else.

“Are you there?” he asked softly. The Vorlon moved forward, coming into view. As G’Kar raised his eyes, the Vorlon’s encounter suit opened. G’Kar smiled softly. “G’Lan,” he breathed.

* * * * * * *

“Who are you?”

“I am Delenn.”

“Of the Grey Council?”


“Which clan?”


General Hague sat watching the interrogation silently, resting against the wall opposite their Minbari prisoner. He had never ceased to be amazed by Sheridan’s luck, never since the defence of Orion 7 where Sheridan had rescued him and others in the Resistance Government, but this… this surprised even him. Perhaps Sheridan had at last delivered the means for humanity to leave this barren rock at Proxima 3 and take back their rightful place in the galaxy. Perhaps this frail Minbari woman with the eyes of fire could spell the way to humanity’s restoration.

And they would have Sheridan to thank for it.


And then there was Sheridan’s other guest, and the promise of allies. Hague was still unsure about that, but he was in a definite minority there.

He shifted his attention back to the interrogation. Delenn was staring directly into the eyes of her questioner – a Security official named Welles. Hague was surprised that Welles had not averted his gaze by now. The fire in Delenn’s eyes would have caused anyone to back away, but Welles met it equally. There was something strange in the way that Delenn reacted to Welles. Almost as if he reminded her of someone.

“Name the other members of the Grey Council.”


“Name the other members of the Grey Council. I believe there are nine of you in total?”

“We are Nine, formed by Valen a thousand years ago, to bring peace and order to Minbar. We stand between the candle and the star, between the darkness and the light.”

“Very pretty,” Welles intoned. “But you didn’t answer my question. Name the other members of the Council. Eight names. Surely that is a simple enough thing?”


“That’s enough,” Hague said. “She’s stubborn.”

“She’ll break. Trust me.” Hague knew that Delenn spoke English, and so he and Welles had shifted to another Earth language – German – in an attempt to confuse her. Hague spoke passable German and Welles… he did everything perfectly. “All we need is time, and a little persuasion.”

Hague flicked a glance at Delenn, as immobile as a statue. A statue with eyes that burned. There was a bruise underneath her left eye. “No torture. We can’t risk killing her. There is another way.”


He nodded. “You don’t like her?”

“I don’t trust her. There is a difference. I don’t trust any of them. While Psi Corps was still around, at least they were controlled. Now they’re all free agents.”

“None of us is free. Not while the Minbari live.”

The door opened and Hague turned. In walked three people. One was a security guard who admitted the other two, and then stepped back outside. One was Sheridan, the man the Minbari called Starkiller, greatest hero of this generation. And the third…

“Lyta Alexander, telepath rating P five,” Welles said formally. “Welcome.”

She looked at Delenn, and Hague nodded. Welles grudgingly gave up his seat and Lyta took it. “Give me a moment to prepare myself.”

Hague nodded again and turned to Sheridan. The Starkiller was staring at Delenn with a fire in his eyes that matched even hers. “Good to see you, Captain,” Hague said, in English. “Have you been checked out by our doctors?”

“I was examined by Dr. Kyle aboard the Babylon. I’m fine, General. How is the interrogation going?”

“Slowly. Minbari are stubborn at the best of times. Miss Alexander should hopefully be able to pry something out.”

“We’ll see.” Sheridan fell silent and turned to Delenn. Hague could feel something emanating from Sheridan, something that hadn’t been there before, or not in such quantities. Hatred. Directed at Hague himself? He had ordered Corwin not to attempt to rescue Sheridan from Minbar. The Babylon was the last heavy class warship the Resistance Government had to call upon, and it could not be risked on a suicide mission, but still… did Sheridan blame him for giving that order? Did Sheridan hate him for it?

“What am I looking for?” Lyta asked. She had removed her black gloves and was staring at Delenn, an expression of polite interest on her face. For Lyta Alexander, this was a job just like any other. She felt no hatred, no concern, no pain. Simply… a desire to serve, ingrained in her by Psi Corps while it still existed, before the Minbari had destroyed it as they had destroyed everything else.

“Anything connected to the Grey Council,” Hague said. “Nothing specific. We just want a place to start. She has a great deal of information we need, and in time, we’ll get it all.” A slight break in Delenn’s icy composure? If so, it was almost unnoticeable. “Begin whenever you are ready.”

Lyta drew in a slow breath and closed her eyes. Reaching out, she laid one hand on Delenn’s forehead, an action the Minbari did not seem to notice. Her eyes were closed now as well. Lyta’s breathing remained slow and steady.

“She’s resisting,” Lyta said. “She has a lot of… strength. Minbari often do.”

“Keep trying,” Hague said softly.

He could not resist turning his gaze from that still tableau to look at Sheridan. The Starkiller was simply watching, as immobile as marble.

“I’m getting something,” Lyta whispered. “Nine columns of light.”

“That’s them,” Sheridan said. “I was held before the Grey Council.”

“They are arguing. There is… a triangle. She is… thinking about 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!” The last word came out like a wail and Lyta’s head snapped back. She snatched her hand from Delenn’s forehead as if burned, and looked at it in horror.

“What did you find?” Hague asked.

“I’m not sure. It was too… unclear. There’s some kind of power struggle going on amongst the Grey Council. She represents one faction, and they’re arguing over something called the Rangers. She’s afraid that her opponent will become their leader now.”

“Who are these Rangers?” Hague asked. “I’ve never heard of them.”

“Some kind of élite army,” Sheridan replied. “Part warrior, part priest, part secret agent.”

“Being formed against us?”

“Possibly,” Sheridan replied. He seemed distracted.

“Mind telling me why I wasn’t informed about these Rangers?” Sheridan simply looked at him, and Hague turned away. “Anything else, Lyta?”

“I don’t know. Pieces. I’ll have to think about this, and I will need to rest before I can do it again.”

“That’s all right. We have time. Mr. Welles, the prisoner is all yours.”

Lyta rose from her seat and picked up her black gloves. Putting them on slowly, she followed Hague as he left the room. Acting on some impulse, Hague turned again to look at Sheridan. He was still staring at Delenn. And she had turned to look up at him. There was… pleading in her eyes. For a moment, he looked as though he was about to do something, but then he turned and walked away.

“Now,” Hague heard Welles say. “Tell me about the other members of the Grey Council.”

There was a man waiting outside the room, a tall man with long hair and a short black beard. “Your guards wouldn’t let me in,” he said in a English accent. “I swore I’d never let you out of my sight, Captain. How can I fulfill that vow if you won’t let me near you?”

“I’m sorry, Marcus,” Sheridan said. “I just… needed to be alone, that’s all.” Hague looked at the man – Marcus? – and noticed a flinty gaze staring at Sheridan, but something behind the gaze, like a wild animal waiting to be released.

The four of them walked slowly through the corridors of the Government building to Hague’s personal office. As they entered, Hague looked sharply at Marcus. Hague had never seen the man before and Sheridan was notoriously evasive in his reports, but Sheridan obviously trusted him, and getting rid of him would be difficult. Hague flicked a gaze at Lyta. She could be trusted, and keeping secrets from a telepath was never advisable. It was time to bring up a subject that Hague personally disliked.

“So, Captain. What do you think about our new allies?”

“Susan’s alien friends? I don’t know. We need allies though, and these are powerful. Very powerful.”

“Perhaps. What about Susan herself? Do you trust her?”

“Trust? Yes, I suppose so. She helped me escape from Minbar, and Commander Corwin knows and trusts her. I thought you knew her?”

“I did. She was assigned to General Franklin’s personal staff a few years ago. She was a part of the Babylon Two mission – explorations out on the Rim, that sort of thing. She disappeared there. We thought she was dead.”

“Obviously she isn’t. General, all the details you need should be in my report.”

“Yes. I read it. It was very… inventive. If you don’t mind me saying, you seem strangely… reticent about this, Captain.”

“I don’t know. It’s just…” Sheridan paused, and closed his eyes slowly. “It’s just nothing. You know me, General. I’m always paranoid.”

“Yes, Captain. I know you. So what plans have you got now?”

“I’d like to take the Babylon to the Narn homeworld. If that meets with the Resistance Government’s approval, of course?”

Sarcasm. Such a wonderful thing. As if Sheridan would stay here if Hague didn’t give permission. “You know I can’t let you risk your ship to fulfill a personal vendetta against the Narns, Captain.”

“I wasn’t planning on doing so. The Kha’Ri have to be told about the Vega Seven incident by someone who was there. Me… and Marcus. If they believe the colony was attacked by the Minbari, they may come around to giving us some proper help at last.”

“And if you should happen to find out who gave the orders to have you captured, then that would be a fortunate coincidence? Very well, Captain, I realise there’s little I can do to stop you, but please don’t antagonise the Kha’Ri. We are only here on their sufferance, after all.”

“I won’t.”

“Good, then when will you depart?”

“As soon as repairs on the Babylon are complete. A few days, I guess. I’d like to take Miss Ivanova with me.”

“Really? She’s in meetings with the Resistance Government for the next few days, arranging matters of treaties and agreements between us and her friends.”

“She asked to come along.”

“Oh? Well, I’m sure I’ll be able to arrange it, Captain. Good. You might like to check in with Anna while you’re here.” A flash of anguish in Sheridan’s expression and Hague nearly smiled. The Starkiller was not as invulnerable as people might think. Everyone had their Achilles heel. “She’s been asking about you a lot.”

“I’ll… get around to it. Good day, General.”


As Sheridan and Marcus left his office, Hague saw Lyta come up beside him. She still looked a little haggard, but there was a new curiosity in her step. “General, do you know who that man with Captain Sheridan was?”

“No more than you. His name’s Marcus and he was a survivor from the Vega Seven massacre. Why?”

“Oh, nothing.” She smiled, slyly and secretly. “Nothing at all.”

* * * * * * *

“Doesn’t want to see me. Doesn’t even want to know I’m here.”

“He just died. Right from under me.”

“Doesn’t even know I’m here.”

“The life just went out of him. Just like that.”

“We were together for years. She gave me a kiss when she came back.”

“A friend, he was, another friend I couldn’t save.”

“A proper kiss. She used to say she loved me. What’s changed?”

“I saw God reflected in his eyes. He looked so scared.”

“She won’t speak to me, won’t come anywhere near me. I mean, we’ve been busy, but surely she could find some time?”

“I saw God…”

Commander David Corwin and Lieutenant Stephen Franklin looked up at each other. Slowly and solemnly they drained their drinks, and then ordered another each.

* * * * * * *

Time to get this over with, Sheridan thought as he entered the rooms in the barracks that had been officially designated as being his. He could have claimed much larger ones, of course. After all, he was humanity’s greatest captain. And the only heavy class captain. Larger quarters were unnecessary, however, especially when he spent so little time there.

One of the reasons why was already inside.

“Hello, Anna,” he said, his voice carefully guarded.

“Oh look,” she whispered, turning to greet him. “It’s John Sheridan. The Starkiller. Well, hello, Johnny. Better late than never. Two days and you finally decide to come and see your wife.”

“Anna, you’re drunk.”

“Of course I’m drunk! I’m always drunk, aren’t I? Nothing else to do, not like you. Not like the Starkiller. Always so perfect.”

Sheridan sat down on the edge of the bed and looked up at her. Her lovely red hair was a mess, her eyes were tired and she smelled of cheap Narn liquor and sweat. He turned his gaze away, not wanting to look at her like that any longer. “How have you been?”

“Same as ever,” she replied. “You know me. I never change, do I?”

But she had changed. Ever since Elizabeth. He had turned hard and cold, alive only in battle. She had turned to the bottle. Who was to say that his way was any better than hers?

“No,” he whispered, agreeing with her. “Things never change.”

“Glad to hear it.” She sat down next to him. “How long are you here for?”

“A few days only.”

“Oh, I see. Off again. Can’t stand to be by your lousy drunken disgrace of a wife, is that it? Well, fine! Go away! You were a lousy husband and a lousy father. If you’d been better, maybe Liz would still be here. Still be here…”

He spun around and lifted his fist without even realising what he was doing. Then something caught him. The faint smell of orange blossom. In her more lucid moments Anna sprinkled it around the room, possibly to get rid of the smell of the liquor, but maybe because it reminded them both of his father’s garden, and happier times. It also reminded him of Delenn, who gave off that same sweet scent.

He realised what he was doing and lowered his fist. She had not even noticed, but he had. He had never once hit Anna. Never even thought about it. He rose and stormed out of the room, disgusted with himself, and silently thanking Delenn’s spirit for bringing him to his senses. When he realised what he was doing, he cursed her instead.

Anna lay there still, half asleep, half conscious, a fragment of her mind remembering what she had been and hating herself for becoming this… creature, but she no longer had the willpower to resist. She could no longer imagine anything else.

But someone else could. The door opened and she stirred. “John?” But it wasn’t John. It was a woman. An attractive, brown-haired woman.

“Hello,” the visitor said. “You must be Anna. I’m Susan. Susan Ivanova.”

“That supposed to mean something to me?”

“Perhaps. May I sit down?” Anna nodded and Susan sat down next to her. “John’s told me a lot about you.”

“Bet he has.”

“He still loves you, you know. He just can’t accept it like this, but don’t worry. He will.”

“Hates me.”

“No… well… maybe. It’s the Minbari, you see. It’s all their fault. They turned him into this, turned you into this. It’s all their fault, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Minbari… killed Lizzy. My daughter.”

“Kill them all and everything will be fine. There’s one here, you know. A Minbari. A powerful one. She even led them during the war.”


“If she were to die, I’m sure everything would be fine again. She’s being kept in a cell not far from here. In the cell block of the Government building. If she died, I’m sure everything would be fine between you and John.”


“Yes.” Susan smiled, and Anna couldn’t help smiling in turn. “Her name’s Delenn.”

Chapter 2

The grey-clad Security man known only as Mr. Welles waited patiently in the corridor. Welles was always patient, and thorough, two of the reasons why he had come so far, why he had survived the horror that had engulfed Earth, why he was so valuable to the Resistance Government here on Proxima 3, and why he had been given the task of breaking this particular prisoner.

General Hague had warned him that this would not be easy. The prisoner was… stubborn, to say the least, possessed of an astonishing core of inner strength and an almost tangible willpower and force of personality. The fire and knowledge in her eyes frightened even him. From the first moment he had seen her, Welles had leapt at the chance for this interrogation. He had nearly fallen to his knees and thanked the God he had stopped believing in. Here, at last was his chance to serve his people.

General Hague had warned him that this would not be easy, but even so, Welles was surprised by his lack of success. For over six days the questioning had continued. The prisoner had been denied food, water and sleep. On three separate occasions Lyta Alexander had entered the her, only to emerge with vague images, unclear thoughts and a fatigue that lasted for days.

Mr. Welles could wait. Mr. Welles was patient. But Mr. Welles was also practical, and he knew when to hurry an interrogation along – when to wait, and when to push, when to sit in silence, and when to speak.

The two men he had been waiting for were coming into view, and he took time to study them. Boggs was a former Gropo, insignificant and unimportant, one of millions, at least until he had become trapped behind enemy lines during the assault on Io. He had survived on an occupied moon for months, with little food or water, but he had endured and been rescued, with a long scar, a knowledge of the Minbari language and physiology, and a deep-rooted hatred. Cutter was another story entirely. Born to rich military parents, the old man’s connections had swung him into Earthforce and up the ranks. Those connections had ended with Earth, but Cutter still tried to maintain his claimed superiority. Of average competence and dubious political leanings, he was not especially valuable, but he had two redeeming characteristics: he obeyed orders and he trusted Welles. Both were security guards under Welles’ direct supervision and he now needed their help.

“You wanted to see us, Chief?” Boggs said.

“How much do you know about the prisoner I’m questioning?” Welles asked.

“Everything we need to know,” Cutter replied. “There was a near-riot a few days ago. People wanted to drag her out under the Dome and stone her to death, of all things. We sorted the matter out.”

“Really? I hadn’t heard about that,” Welles said, annoyed with himself for becoming too engrossed in this case. “Does everyone know she’s here?”

“Pretty much, yes,” Cutter said. “It leaked somehow.”

“Really? Oh, well. Our prisoner is proving remarkably unco-operative. If force of will could be bottled, she’d have enough to open a plant. Not even telepathic scans are having much effect, which is where you come in. I want you to hurt her. Nothing permanent, nothing serious and nothing where it will show. Just enough to throw off her equilibrium. With any luck, hunger, thirst and loss of sleep will do the rest.” Welles looked at them slowly. “Gentlemen, can you control yourselves? I can’t let you kill her. She has far too much information that we need. If you don’t think you can control yourselves, just let me know, and I’ll get someone else to do it. I won’t think any the less of you if you can’t do this. I don’t think I could control myself either.”

“She’s a Minbari,” Boggs said slowly. “We owe her all the hurt in the bloody galaxy.”

“I know,” Welles replied. “I know.”

“But you’re the Chief,” Boggs finished. “You say nothing permanent or serious, then fine. Nothing permanent or serious.”

“Good, thank you. She’s in there.” Welles banged on the door and the security guard who had been keeping an eye on the prisoner opened it. Welles, Boggs and Cutter stepped in. Satai Delenn of the Grey Council looked up.

“I have been expecting you,” she said softly.

* * * * * * *

Sheridan cursed every last Narn to the fires of purgatory for what seemed the hundredth time since he had arrived on this desolate rock they called their homeworld. And then he looked out of the window and repented his silent curse. The Narns had also known what it was like to lose everything they held dear. For over a hundred years the Centauri had dominated their people, and now each and every Narn was consumed with a fury for revenge, for retribution and for blood that not even a recent five-year war could diminish. How different were they from Sheridan himself?

Fine, so he understood them, but did they have to be so bloody slow about everything? He had been waiting here for three days since his arrival on the Narn homeworld, to report personally on the destruction of the Vega 7 colony to the Kha’Ri – and not at all to find out which one of those reptilian bastards had sold him out to the Minbari. Oh no, not at all.

For three days they had been debating and arguing about his report. What was there to argue about? Vega 7 was neither important nor valuable, but it still housed a lot of humans and Narns. And then the Minbari had swept in, and massacred everyone there. Marcus Cole was the only surviving inhabitant, and Sheridan hoped his evidence would convince the Kha’Ri. Assuming either of them ever got to see them.

His link bleeped and he activated it sullenly. “Yes?”

“Captain?” It was Corwin. “Daily report for you, sir.”

Sheridan groaned softly, then hoped Corwin hadn’t picked up the noise. Was it that time of day already? Was he going to be stuck here forever? “Proceed, Mr. Cor…” His communications console suddenly bleeped, and he turned to it. “Excuse me, David. On.”

The face of a Narn appeared on the screen. It was Councillor Na’Toth. “Captain, the Kha’Ri will see you now, in their personal hall.”

“About bloody time,” he muttered under his breath. “Will you want to see Marcus as well?”

“Who? Oh yes, the… witness you mentioned in your report. That will not be necessary, Captain. Please be prompt. We are very busy, after all.” The viewscreen went blank again.

“I’ll bet you are,” Sheridan said. He touched his link again. “Sorry, David. The Kha’Ri have finally woken up and they want to see me. The report will have to wait, I’m afraid.” He switched off his link without giving David a chance to reply, and opened the door. The sooner he could see the Kha’Ri, the sooner he would be off this barren rock.

Unsurprisingly, Marcus was there waiting for him. Sheridan glared at him. “I thought we agreed you weren’t going to do that.” Sheridan didn’t need a bodyguard, least of all one with the sort of death wish Marcus seemed to possess, and the man was annoying the hell out of him.

“You agreed, Captain. Please respect my wishes on this.” Sheridan did, but they were no less annoying for all that. Had Marcus been alone, he would probably have muttered something about respect and then let Marcus accompany him, but Marcus was not alone.

“Have the Kha’Ri decided to see you at last then, John?”

Susan Ivanova was one of the most confusing people Sheridan had ever met. She was breathtakingly – almost heartstoppingly – beautiful, and she was possessed of a deep, wry sense of humour. She reminded him – personality-wise – of Anna before they had been married. But instead of taking away his tensions simply with her presence, as Anna had done, Susan added to them. There was nothing he could put his finger on, but he did not like to be around her. Maybe it was the power of her unnamed ’friends’ who could blow away two Minbari cruisers in ten seconds, or maybe it was the fact that she reminded him so much of Anna as she had been, which reminded him only too well of what Anna was now, or maybe it was the fact that she kept coming to his bed at night, and he lacked the willpower to resist her.

Or maybe it was all of the above.

Sheridan had insisted she come along, and she had not seemed to mind. He did not like to be around her, but he didn’t trust her, and he wanted her to be where he could see her. He had hoped she would stay on the Babylon, where David could watch her, but… she was here instead.

“About time too. They want to see me alone, but I suppose the two of you can come along.”

Marcus merely nodded, but Susan batted her eyelashes and put on an infuriating display of childish ingenuousness. “Why thank you, Captain. I’m so glad.”

Sheridan was not a happy man, and he doubted that this meeting with the Kha’Ri would make him any happier.

* * * * * * *

“Well, Satai Delenn,” said Mr. Welles as he sat down and sipped his cup of artificial coffee. It was dreadful stuff, but old habits died hard. “And how do you feel now?”

“You do not care how I feel,” she replied, spitting fury with every syllable. “You only care about the knowledge I have that you want. You are concerned with nothing more than acquiring that.”

“True,” he conceded, looking at her. Boggs and Cutter had done their work well. The only visible sign of injury on her was a fading bruise on her cheek that had been there for over a week. She was sitting in the same posture she had adopted for the last six days. Only the hint of a sob in her breath, or the slight twitch of her left arm, attested to Boggs and Cutter’s work. Hopefully it would be enough to break her. If not, he could always call them back. “But look at it this way, Satai Delenn. At least I want you alive.”

“You use my title in mockery,” she replied, “not understanding its significance. I would rather you did not. Its meaning is sullied in a mouth like yours.”

So there it was. The anger that had been brimming beneath the surface for six days was now out in force. Welles removed his PPG from his holster and placed the weapon on the table in front of him. Just in case. Looking at her eyes, he understood how dangerous this woman was. “So then, Satai Delenn, explain to me its significance. Tell me about the Grey Council, about Valen and the Nine, about the darkness and the light. I will be a most attentive listener.”

“I pity you,” she replied. Another person might have laughed, but Welles did not. He merely raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to continue. She did so. “Amongst Minbari, one individual leads, but we move together. When our leader was killed by your people, we went mad together, and we stayed mad for a very long time. We are only now beginning to wake up… together. But you… you are alone. All of your people are alone, with no one to wake you from your madness.”

“Madness? Really? Oh, well let me see if I understand this, Satai Delenn. You went mad because of the death of one man – your leader. His name was…?”

Softly: “Dukhat.”

“Ah, thank you. Dukhat, yes. You went mad from one death, one loss, and under that madness you destroyed seven colonies, two moons, most of our fleet, twenty thousand ships at the Battle of the Line, most of our leaders, most of our population in fact… and our homeworld. So tell me, Satai Delenn, if you went mad from just one death, why can we not go mad from all those deaths, from all those losses? You may pretend otherwise, but you are no better than us, are you?”

A silent stare was his only reply, but a stare with a hint of sadness. Ah, a beginning. “In fact, you destroyed more than just our homeworld. You destroyed our dreams with it. Do you have any… oh, how should I put it? Any point of focus? Something for your whole people to believe in – to worship, if you will? Anything at all?”

Equally softly: “Valen, and the Nine, and the purpose ahead.”

The purpose? He chalked a mental note to remember that one. “Well, we had a point of focus too. A centre for all our hopes and dreams as a people. It was called Earth. Here, look at this.” He pointed out the badge on his uniform. She looked at it, but said nothing. “Earthforce, you see. As in – Earth. When I first put on this uniform, I felt ten feet tall, as though I could take on anything the universe could throw at me. I had a calling, you see, and that calling was to serve Earth – the planet, the people, the ideals that gave it form. You took all of that away from me. From me, and from countless others. I have endured. I still have a purpose here. A small one, I grant you, but a purpose still. I still desire to serve, to do all I can. But others… others do not. They have fallen, grieving for their losses. Suicide. Dust or Storm, or alcohol. Sad, pitiful figures, without purpose, without calling, without a reason for living.”

Was that a burgeoning tear in her eye? A hint of remorse? “Now, I am a rational man, Satai Delenn, or I would like to think that I am. You see, I am aware that there are Nine in the Grey Council and that you doubtless do not speak for all Nine. You may not even have been in the Council during the war. I am aware that Captain Sheridan killed a few of your number during his attack above Mars just after the fall of Earth. You may be a replacement for one killed then. Or you may have spoken out against the war, voted against it, called for an end for all of it. The destruction of my dreams… of our dreams, may have been done at another’s instigation, not yours. 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.

“Mere words cannot express what I would like to do to you in return for all those lost lives, for all those severed dreams, for all those broken spirits. I would rip out your eyes, crush your bones, rip that crest from your head and smash it into powder, tear out your organs, rip you to shreds. The people elsewhere on this colony desire something similar. They would have you stoned to death, or crucified, or beheaded, or burned at the stake, as if you were a witch or something. I want all those things as well, Satai Delenn, but I know that I cannot have them. I know that you are needed alive, for the knowledge that you have, knowledge which may well serve to undo all the wrongs committed against my people. There are very, very few of us with the conviction to think that way. I do not blame the others. They have every reason to want you dead, but I… I want you alive. That makes me, Satai Delenn, the only friend you have on this planet.”

She was crying now, softly and silently, but she was crying all the same. Welles smiled. “Now, tell me the names of the other members of the Grey Council.”

Quietly, so quietly that he could barely hear it: “Sinoval.”




“Wind Swords.”

“Ah, that sounds interesting. We will return to him later. Another?”



* * * * * * *

“We are sorry, Captain Sheridan,” the Narn was saying, “but we can find no evidence to support your theory that the Minbari were behind the attack on Vega Seven. This was definitely a Centauri attack, designed to push us into conflict against another enemy. They are duplicitous.”

“Centauri? Councillor Kha’Mak, the Centauri wouldn’t go within ten light years of Vega Seven. This was Minbari.”

“I am afraid that seems unlikely, Captain. The Centauri have been rebuilding their fleets since we defeated them so completely two years ago. We have been expecting something like this for a long time.”

Defeated them so completely? Sheridan nearly gave an audible groan. The Narn / Centauri War had been a stand-off, bloody and devastating, but a stand-off all the same. Neither side had been happy with the result – which was not so much a cease-fire as a mutual cessation of hostilities while they sorted their armies out for another go. Had it not been for Sheridan’s personal involvement on the side of the Narns, things might have been even worse.

“I have a witness who says that the Minbari were responsible.”

“We have read your report, Captain,” said a testy old Councillor named Du’Rog. “The human you mention is a habitual drunkard who was arrested several times for drunken offences in the past year. We checked with the records sent to us periodically by Administrator Na’Far. There is little evidence to support your theory. It is merely your desire to embroil us in your war with the Minbari.”

His desire to embroil them in a war? Sheridan had little doubt that the instant the Narn and Centauri met in combat again, he would be sent a message begging for the Babylon.

“And there are some of us, Du’Rog,” spoke up a Councillor whom Sheridan did not recognise, “who are little better than habitual drunkards ourselves. We both know full well that the Centauri are not capable of a strike like this, and nor are the Minbari. This was the Ancient Enemy at work, and you are all too blinded to admit it.”

“H’Klo!” snapped Na’Toth angrily. “We have no time for your petty scaremongering.” She turned to Sheridan. “We are sorry, Captain, but we cannot interfere in this matter.”

But Sheridan barely heard her. H’Klo’s words had awakened something within him. An ancient enemy? Na’Far had whispered the same thing as he died, and Lyta had pulled the same thing from Delenn’s mind. Delenn had tried to warn him about something on Vega 7. An ancient enemy? “Who is this Ancient Enemy?” he asked softly, trying to make the question appear casual.

“Myths and legends,” Na’Toth replied scornfully. “Nothing more. I am sorry, Captain, but we can do nothing more for you.” Sheridan looked up at her. She was lying. He knew that for a fact, but people had been lying to him for years. The truth would come out, because sooner or later, it always did.

“I thank you for your time,” he said, in as neutral a tone as he could manage. “Circles, Councillors.” He pressed his fists against his chest in the Narn salute, and stalked from the chamber. Inside his mind, things were ticking away. Secrets never stayed secret long, and Na’Toth was certainly keeping a few of her own. Had she been the one to order his betrayal? Was she even in collusion with this Ancient Enemy? A sudden thought struck him. Were Susan’s friends this ’Ancient Enemy’? They were old, powerful, and made him uncomfortable, and the Minbari certainly knew about them.

Susan and Marcus were waiting for him outside the chamber. “How did it go, John?” Susan asked.

“Typically Narn behaviour,” he snapped in reply. “Come on. I intend to enjoy myself on this waste hole before we leave.” The truth had a way of getting out, and Sheridan resolved to keep a very close eye on Ivanova. Sooner or later, the truth always got out.

* * * * * * *

Na’Toth went directly to the communications screen in her chambers. Austere and simple as they were, it was the one thing which stood out. It took her a few moments to patch the signal through, moments in which she tapped her fingers against her side angrily. Na’Toth had never been patient. When the viewscreen activated and the face of Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar appeared, she nearly knelt. It was an absurd reaction. Na’Toth had never knelt before anything – Narn, prophet or deity – in her life, but when in the presence, even remote, of Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar, it was an almost impossible urge to resist. He projected an aura of such… greatness and power, that it was almost overwhelming. She had heard that G’Quan had been the same.

“Yes, Na’Toth,” he said. “What news?”

She immediately regained her senses. This had to be done quickly. “Captain Sheridan has recently left the Hall of the Kha’Ri. Unsatisfied. They refused to believe that the Minbari were behind the destruction of Vega Seven.”

“As indeed they were not.”

“Exactly. The Kha’Ri, on the other hand, blame the Centauri, except for H’Klo. He mentioned the Enemy to Sheridan. The Earther seemed… intrigued, to say the least.”

“H’Klo,” G’Kar sighed. “When will he ever learn? He is fixated on the past. He sees the Enemy purely as a means to gain glory for himself. No, he is another matter. Will Sheridan pose a problem to us?”

“I do not know. He has a reputation for skill at solving mysteries and uncovering secrets. It may be difficult to keep this from him, and it will cause problems if he investigates too far.”

“I know. Very well, Na’Toth. Are Neroon and Ta’Lon still in G’Khamazad?”


“Arrange to meet with Sheridan. Have Neroon and Ta’Lon present, but hidden. They will know if he is touched by the Shadow or not. It may be that his thread will come to ours, after all. He may be a valuable ally.”

“Or a dangerous enemy?”

“If that is the case, he will be dealt with. Have Neroon and Ta’Lon told you about the… other matter?”

“The one who ordered Sheridan’s betrayal on Vega Seven? They believe they have uncovered leads, but surely I could have done that…”

“Your place on the Kha’Ri is too important, Na’Toth, and too visible. If your loyalties were uncovered, the results would be… unpleasant, to say the least. I still have many enemies on the Kha’Ri. Neroon and Ta’Lon are my best agents, and they will uncover what needs to be found. We all have our place, Na’Toth. The universe puts us in places where we may do the most good. You are necessary to me where you are. G’Quan bless you, Na’Toth.”

“And you.” The viewscreen went blank and Na’Toth stepped backwards. A meeting with Sheridan? What would the Kha’Ri make of that if they learned about it? There were so many games and innuendoes among the Kha’Ri that it might cause suspicion, or it might be seen as just another step in the power games, and deflect attention from her true intentions. At least there were no listening devices in her rooms. She checked three times a day, and all her communications were double coded.

But maybe another check would be useful. Just to be sure.

* * * * * * *

“I’ll admit I was surprised when you requested this meeting, Councillor,” Sheridan said, looking around him with polite interest. Not that there was a great deal to look at. Na’Toth’s quarters were the most spartan he had ever seen. Then he looked at the Councillor of the Third Circle herself. She certainly seemed interested in him. He wondered if this was more than a professional meeting. He had heard that Narns and humans could be sexually compatible. He almost chuckled as he considered the thought.

“Oh?” she said. “I simply want to… hear again your reasoning for the attack on Vega Seven. Unlike my colleagues in the Kha’Ri, I am not short-sighted.”

Beside Sheridan, Marcus was also looking around the room. Marcus had not been invited to the meeting, but he had come anyway, and Na’Toth had not seemed to object. Susan had returned to her quarters, feigning fatigue, an excuse Sheridan did not entirely believe.

“Everything you need to know was in my report, Councillor.”

“Except for one small detail. What were three of your men doing on the colony when you and your ship were so far away? Do you commonly allow your men shore leave on planets such as Vega Seven?”

Sheridan raised an eyebrow slowly. Nonchalantly, he slid his hand down to his belt – and his PPG. He had deliberately left details of Na’Far’s actions out of his report, hoping that someone would notice it, and be panicked into making a move. It seemed that someone had.

“They were being held prisoner there, Councillor,” he said, noticing that Marcus had similarly tensed himself. Here would be a chance to test the man’s worth as a guard. Did Na’Toth have guards of her own nearby? If so, how many? Were other members of the Kha’Ri in on this, or just her alone? “We were… betrayed by Administrator Na’Far.”

“Oh? That seems unlike him. He was always very loyal.”

“Loyal? Yes, I suppose he was. And so if any orders… say from a member of the Kha’Ri, came for him to betray me to the Minbari, he would act upon them, wouldn’t you say?”

“I suppose he would.” She was acting very cool. She must have an ace hidden somewhere. Where was it possible to hide anything in this room? There was only one door, over which Marcus was surreptitiously positioning himself. There were no closets or cupboards of any kind. It was plain, almost too plain for a member of the Kha’Ri… There. A tiny crack in the wall, almost unnoticeable. A secret door.

Na’Toth clearly noticed the direction of his eyes. She made ready to act, but Sheridan darted forward, knocking her off balance. She fell, and he pinned his PPG to her head. “Come out or she dies,” he barked. “Did you really think I’d fall for the same trap twice?”

Na’Toth barked out something in a Narn dialect Sheridan did not recognise, and the door opened. Two people stepped out. One was a Narn, whose simple browns and greys made him appear less than he was, but whose bearing marked him out as a warrior. The second… was a Minbari, and dressed as one, prideful in his warrior black, carrying a metal staff just like the one Susan had taken from Delenn.

Marcus cried out something Sheridan did not hear, and darted forward. The Minbari turned to meet his onslaught, and with a swift blur of motion, Marcus was lying face down on the floor. He tried to rise, but the Narn placed a booted foot on the small of his back. Sheridan looked down at the two of them.

“Move and she dies,” he muttered, but then all he felt was the breath rushing from his body as a great force thudded into his stomach. Staggering backwards, Na’Toth pulled herself free of his grasp and watched as he fell. She recovered his PPG and held it distastefully.

“For a great captain, you are not very smart,” she said.

“No,” whispered the Minbari. “He is merely not a diplomat, that is all. He is a warrior. I see it in his eyes.”

“Stuff your talk of warrior spirit and honour,” Sheridan spat. “It was you, then,” he said to Na’Toth. “You sent Na’Far the order to betray me.”

“No, actually,” she replied. “It was not me, but I do know who it was. I have a question to ask you, whenever you start breathing again.” He glared at her and she shrugged. “You recognised what H’Klo said in Council today. Where did you hear of the Ancient Enemy before?”

“Na’Far… he whispered it as…” Sheridan breathed in hard. “As he died. And Delenn.” The Minbari showed no overt reaction, but something subtle changed in his posture. “She… I don’t know. She said it too.”

Na’Toth looked at the Narn and the Minbari. The Narn hesitated. The Minbari was silent.

“It was black,” came a soft, harsh voice. Marcus’. “So black that my eyes sort of slid off it. A cross between a spider and my worst nightmare. As it awoke, I heard it screaming in my mind.” Na’Toth made a gesture, and the Narn took his foot away from Marcus’ back. “I saw it. I saw it rising from the ground. Oh God, I thought I’d forgotten it.”

“What?” whispered Sheridan. “What was it?”

“The Ancient Enemy,” Na’Toth replied. “Vega Seven was not destroyed by the Minbari, Captain, nor by the Centauri, nor by any other race with which you are familiar. It was destroyed by a race timeless and ancient, dark and terrible. They are rising again. Vega Seven was proof of that. One of their ships was hidden there, and they returned to collect it. We are the last bastion of hope, the last line drawn against the return of that enemy. They are gathering power once again on their homeworld of Z’ha’dum, drawing their ships back to them. We have to stand ready for when they come, and so must you.”

Z’ha’dum? He had heard that name before. Susan had mentioned it… Susan had… “I don’t… believe… you,” he muttered. “Don’t…” A booted foot crashed into his skull and he lost consciousness.

Na’Toth looked at her two companions. “Get him out of here. Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar will have to see him.”

“What about his ship?” asked Neroon. “They may wonder where he is.”

“Then let them wonder. I will arrange a cover. If they get too suspicious, it may be easier to just have it shot down.”

“And this one?” Ta’Lon said, indicating the equally unconscious Marcus.

“Take him with you. He has seen the enemy also, and may prove a better choice to serve alongside us than Sheridan.”

“And what about his companion? The woman?”

“I will explain Sheridan’s disappearance to her also. If need be, she will disappear as well. I have contacts within the Thenta Ma’Kur.”

“And what if Sheridan does not return from Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar’s shrine in the G’Khorazhar Mountains?”

“Then we shall deal with that when it happens. G’Quan walk with you both, and with G’Kar.”

* * * * * * *

Seated in her quarters, Susan Ivanova smiled. After all Na’Toth’s undoubted checks for listening devices, she had missed the smallest one of all, placed inside Sheridan himself by means of Susan’s kisses. It was powerful, and even partially alive, just the smallest example of her friends’ technology.

“You heard?” she said. Despite appearances to the contrary, she was not alone. She was never alone. “Good. The G’Khorazhar Mountains are just to the west of here, or so I believe. It should be easy enough to locate this shrine of G’Kar’s. We can simply follow the signal from Sheridan’s transmitter.”

“Yes, I think so too. A Warrior would be best. Can you get one here in time? Ah, good. I don’t think even G’Kar can deal with a Warrior. At least not without his two trusted servants. The Warrior can follow us as we follow Sheridan, and when we get close enough, it should be easy to sniff out G’Kar.”

“Sheridan? Leave him to me. He knows a little, that’s all. Certainly not enough to pose a real threat. I can make him believe that Na’Toth was the one who arranged to have him betrayed on Vega Seven, and that G’Kar was working with the Minbari. Sheridan knows a little about the Rangers already, and he knows that you and the Minbari are old enemies. It might be a stretch, but I can keep him from poking too far. All he needs to know is that you are enemies to the Minbari and are willing to help him against them. With G’Kar dead, that should be easy enough, and you will be rid of an irritating problem.”

“Delenn? Don’t worry. I’ve made arrangements to take care of that problem.

“Trust me.”

Chapter 3

Minister Londo Mollari was not having a good day. His beloved wife Number One – Timov – was in an especially foul mood and trying her best to irritate everyone within several miles of her. Endeavouring to escape her caustic jibes and well-thrown jars, Londo had inadvertently stumbled across beloved wife Number Two – Daggair – who was clearly plotting something. He could practically see the little wheels turning in her head. Unable to cope with her obviously false smiles that still managed to hide whatever it was she was trying to hide, he had tried again to escape. He had heard that Daggair had been in meetings with that triple-damned harpy Lady Elrisia, and he shuddered to think what that was about. Great Maker, women shouldn’t get themselves involved in politics. It never did anyone any good. And beloved wife Number Three – Mariel – was in her bedchamber, thinking, which was always a cause for concern. Women weren’t put in this universe to think.

On top of that, First Minister Urza Jaddo was enclosed in private meetings with the Emperor – may the Great Maker enable everyone to remember his name. Turhan had been a great man, but his son was such a nonentity that few people even noticed him. Marrit was not actually that bad as Emperor, but when the best word you could give to the supreme ruler of the entire Centauri Republic was ‘competent’, then you were in trouble. Everyone remembered the great rulers, and everyone remembered the insane rulers, but no one ever cared about the competent ones.

Of course, with both the Prime Minister and the Emperor unavailable all day, Minister Mollari had become the subject for every groveller, parasite and hanger-on anywhere in the whole city, and that was quite a few people. After promising to speak to the Emperor on matters ranging from the taxes and import duties on spoo, to dissolving an unarranged marriage, to the Narn raiders attacking Centauri frontier worlds, to trying to force the Drazi traders who visited Centauri prime to speak in proper sentences for a change, Londo was quite ready to kill someone. Probably himself.

The day was nearly over, and his mood was growing worse. Bad as all these parasites were, they were infinitely preferable to his wives – one of whom he would have to return to that night. With a choice of getting brained by Timov, bathed by Daggair or burned by Mariel, suicide sounded a much more pleasurable option. After a while, he might even come to like it.

And then came one last visitor. He knew this one, although not in quite the same way as he knew the others. This was serious, and this was trouble.

“Mr. Cotto, is it not?” he said. “Yes, I remember you. So tell me, why did your lord and master send you all the way here from Minbar? Not just to swap the usual barrage of threats and insults, I believe?”

Vir was looking around slowly. This was a private audience chamber, and as such, empty except for the two guards standing looking bored by the door. “Uh–hum,” Vir said, making slight, almost imperceptible gestures with his fingers.

Londo noticed them and almost groaned aloud. And he had thought the day couldn’t possibly get any worse. “Get out of here!” he told the guards. “Go on! I am quite sure I can defend myself against any attacks. I was not called Paso Leati for nothing, you know. Besides, can you see this as an assassin? Pah!”

The guards looked at each other and shrugged. Then they left. Londo looked down at Vir, who still seemed preoccupied. “This room is not… um… bugged, is it? Or anything?”

“Of course not! This is an audience chamber. The only people who would bug a room like this would be the sort of people who would want to use it themselves. Besides, we check, in between each meeting. I take it that Lord Refa does not in fact know that you are here?”

“Not as such. Well, he knows I’m here of course, but not that I’m… well… here. Here as in speaking to you, of course, as opposed to here as in on Centauri Prime. If you get me.”

“I don’t,” Londo snapped. “Please get to the point. I have had a long and tiring day. What news from our dear conspirator and spider G’Kar?”

“The… um…” Vir was still looking around nervously. “You have heard of the attack on the human and Narn colony at Vega Seven?”

“Ah yes. There were quite a few members of the Centarum quite aggrieved that we did not do that ourselves. The Kha’Ri will of course not believe that we were not responsible?”

“I’m afraid not. It was the… ah… Enemy that G’Kar has been speaking about. The Minbari suspect this, but they are still a little disorganised following Branmer’s death. They haven’t got their own Rangers sorted out yet, leaving us to… ah… keep the torch burning so to speak. The Grey Council doesn’t even know about G’Kar’s little network of agents. At least, I don’t think so.”

“Vir! Of course they don’t. If they did, then so would Lord Refa, and if he knew that I was giving highly confidential Centarum information to a Narn of all people to help fight an Enemy I am not even sure I believe in, then I would be very nastily dead.”

“Ah, yes. Regarding Lord Refa. There may be some… unpleasantness on that account. As I’m sure you know, the Grey Council has been itching for another strike at the humans for quite some time now. Only political in-fighting has prevented them from doing this. The predominant religious caste Satai named Delenn has gone missing – either abducted or defected with Captain Sheridan. That gives the warrior caste dominance in the Grey Council, and likely over the Rangers, and… probably an invasion of Narn space to get at the humans.”

“Oh, Great Maker! Not another war! I am still recovering from the last one.”

“Exactly, and the… um… Kha’Ri are not going to sit idly by while the Minbari invade their space, and the Minbari would sort of… um… like our help. I was sent to discuss matters with the Emperor and the First Minister.”

“Why did Refa not come himself? No, don’t answer that. He knows that if he sets foot on Centauri Prime, he would have a life expectancy measured in minutes.”

“That would be a trifle optimistic for him, I think.”

“So, what does G’Kar want me to do about this?”

“First Minister Jaddo is not with us, I believe?”

“He rarely is. That was a joke, Vir.” Vir obediently laughed. “No, to the best of my knowledge you and I are the only Centauri in G’Kar’s little game.”

“Well, G’Kar would like you to convince the Emperor and First Minister Jaddo to ah… resist Minbari demands to go to war with the Narn. We cannot risk destabilising the whole area if the Enemy chooses to attack. There is little we can do about the Grey Council, and certainly not the humans, but if we refuse to lend our support to the Minbari, then they might reconsider.”

“Or they might attack us instead. Vir, my relationship with Lord Refa is not good, as everyone except my beloved wife Timov is aware. Not to mention that the greatest problem is that harpy Refa married! Lady Elrisia is winding her claws into our little Emperor.”


“Vir, trust me! I will do what I can. Ah madness, why did I ever get involved with this?”

“Because you saw the big black ship just the same as G’Kar did, and he saved your life from it and…”

“Vir! It was a rhetorical question. Very well, get out of here. I will do what I can, and no more.”

“Yes, Minister.”

“Ah, Vir, wait a moment. What about this Sheridan? Is he likely to pose a problem to us at all?”

“Ah no. I think G’Kar has that matter covered.”

* * * * * * *

Like Minister Londo Mollari, Captain John Sheridan was not having a good day. Unlike Minister Mollari, he only had one wife to worry about, not three, and Anna – thank God – was not here, probably drunk in some dive on Proxima 3. He was not in the garish elegance of the Centauri Royal Court, but in the barren wilderness of the G’Khorazhar Mountains. He was not armed, and while the Narn called Ta’Lon had not specifically called him a prisoner, Sheridan was aware that any attempt to go anywhere else – say back to G’Khamazad to gut that lying bitch Na’Toth – would lead to severe pain.

Sheridan was not planning to escape, however. That would be what they expected him to do, and he hadn’t earned the title of Starkiller by doing what people expected of him. Besides, he had to admit that he was intrigued. Intrigued enough to try to restrain himself from slaughtering that Minbari warrior where he stood. He owed the Minbari too much pain to let this pass, but let it pass he did.

After being beaten senseless in Councillor Na’Toth’s chambers, he had awoken in a small shuttle heading away from the city of G’Khamazad. Neroon, Ta’Lon and Marcus were the only other beings in the shuttle, and none of them was particularly talkative. Only Ta’Lon had spoken to him all day, when they had landed at a small military base at the foot of the G’Khorazhar Mountains.

“Councillor Na’Toth knows who ordered your betrayal,” he had said. “Come with us and see Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar and listen to what he says. Maybe then Councillor Na’Toth will tell you.”

And so he was doing just that, although more from a desire to see G’Kar than anything else. There were precious few people whose deeds were so great that their very names resounded throughout the galaxy.

Sheridan himself was one; Satai Delenn of the Grey Council; Satai Sinoval, also of the Grey Council and Warleader of the Wind Swords clan; Warmaster Jha’dur of the Dilgar, called Deathwalker, missing, presumed dead; General Richard ‘Firestorm’ Franklin, dead these past few years; and G’Kar, greatest Narn hero in their war with the Centauri, general and leader beyond peer, who had mysteriously resigned from the Kha’Ri as the war neared its bloody stalemate, and who had not been seen since. Despite fighting in that same war – on the side of the Narns – Sheridan had not met G’Kar, although he would very much have liked to.

As he finally reached the top of the pass that led down into the small valley, he realised he might never get the chance.

Narn bodies were scattered all around him, torn, dismembered and ravaged, destroyed by… something that could not be human, or Narn, or Minbari.

Ta’Lon said something in Narn to Neroon, who nodded.

Sheridan spoke Narn, and he silently agreed with Ta’Lon. This was definitely not good.

* * * * * * *

Welles felt a faint surge of satisfaction as he looked at his prisoner. She was ill, ragged and torn, the fire that had raged so brilliantly in her eyes reduced to a mere ember. Seven days of interrogation, starvation and telepathic scans had managed to do this. She was the toughest, the most stubborn target he had ever been given, but he was winning at last, and in doing so he was helping the human race. The same race she had nearly destroyed.

He looked down at the notes before him. All other eight members of the Grey Council. Sinoval, Hedronn, Lennann – names, castes, details. Who would be a threat, who would not, who was likely to rise to power, who was likely to lead in a war against humanity. All detailed reports. A start, certainly. There were other matters to consider, troop deployments, numbers, army organisation, details about their technology, but these could wait. He had learned that the Grey Council had been violently in disagreement over the leadership of a secret army – the Rangers. What had Sheridan called them? ’Part warrior, part priest, part secret agent.’ Their leadership was in doubt, and it would take a while for them to sort matters out. Hopefully long enough for him to uncover everything he – and humanity – needed.

There was a polite knock at the door, and it opened, without Welles saying anything. In stepped an attractive red-haired woman, wearing black gloves and a badge that spoke more of tradition and ritual than any real significance. Any meaning in Psi Corps had ended with Earth.

“Good morning, Miss Alexander,” he said. “You are well, I trust?”

“Very well, thank you,” she said, taking the seat Welles vacated and offered to her. The prisoner looked at her with eyes of pity… and despair.

“Her shields should be considerably weaker this time. You may get quite a bit more information out of her,” Welles was saying. “Don’t worry about making sense of it – that’s my job. Just get out as much as you can.”

“Of course.” Lyta Alexander removed her gloves and took – gently and without force – the hands of Satai Delenn. Welles watched as Lyta closed her eyes slowly, in concentration, and Delenn closed hers in despair.

“She’s thinking about someone. A Minbari. One of these Rangers. He saved her life once and she… she had feelings for him. It’s funny, but you remind her of him. His name… his name was Neroon. He left her, or she left him, or something. A bit of both, I think. They don’t seem to regard relationships in the same way that we do.”

Welles nodded, his flawless memory recording everything that Lyta said. He noticed the slumped anguish in Delenn’s bearing.

“I can see the nine columns of light again,” Lyta whispered. “The Grey Council, but… it’s a little different. It’s the war, I think. Whoa! There’s some kind of tactical display, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I can… see it all around them. They’re watching a battle. There’re Starfuries everywhere. I… I think it might be the Line, but I’m not sure. There don’t seem to be any heavy ships at all.

“I… Oh no… it’s Earth. They’re destroying Earth. They’re watching it die. Oh God, no! Everyone’s dying… everyone’s dying… I… I can’t watch.”

“Please,” Welles said. “Keep trying.”

“There’s… Oh my God… There’s a Vorlon. She’s seen one – a Vorlon! What they really look like. It’s… oh… it’s so beautiful… and so bright and so… oh!”

“A Vorlon? What are they doing there?”

“A… it’s a bargain of some kind. The Vorlons know about the Rangers… even help them a little. Not much, but a little. They… they wanted something in return. A man… a human… a name… Valen. And… oh… it’s so beautiful. Kosh… that’s its name. Kosh. The Vorlon’s called Kosh. He… that’s impossible. I’m not alone here. Kosh… Kosh knows I’m here. But how? How? Oh… so… beautiful!”

Lyta’s head snapped back and her eyes opened. They were rolled back into her head. She swayed and fell from her chair. Welles rushed forward to catch her. She was still, and for a moment he was afraid that whatever she had seen had killed her. She moved, however, and managed to haul herself back into the chair.

“That was… that was… incredible,” Lyta whispered. “The Vorlon… it was so… so…”

“You saw the Battle of the Line?” he asked. Lyta nodded. “She was there? She was definitely there?”

“Yes. She was guiding things. Not quite a leader, but something similar.”

“Right. Thank you, Miss Alexander. You can try to work out exactly what it was you saw, and then deliver a full report to me whenever you’re ready. Mr. Cutter, please escort Miss Alexander back to her quarters.” Cutter nodded, and there was a gleam in his eye that said he wouldn’t mind escorting Miss Alexander into her quarters as well.

Welles sat back in his chair and looked at Delenn. He yawned and stretched. He hadn’t slept for over a day. Delenn hadn’t slept for very much longer.

“Sleep deprivation,” he said. “It’s one of our oldest interrogation devices. You become… disorientated, disturbed, possibly even hallucinate. Of course, it’s difficult to guarantee that you never fall asleep, so that chair you are sitting in is especially treated. With a flick of this button,” – he made an exaggerated motion of flicking a switch next to him on the wall – “we start a programme of random electric shocks through that chair. None large enough to be fatal, or even much more than an irritant.” Delenn started and gasped. “They come at random intervals, between one and five minutes in length. They will of course, prevent you from sleeping, or concentrating long enough to meditate properly. Unfortunately, I am afraid that I need to sleep, and so I will have to go and rest. Mr. Boggs? I trust you. Keep her safe, and keep her in that chair. Don’t hurt her unless it is absolutely necessary, and call me if there is a problem.”

Security Officer Boggs nodded.

Welles rose from his seat and made his way to the door. As he reached it, Delenn spoke. “The word you tried to avoid saying… was… torture,” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse.

“Were this your capital, and I in your place, would I be any better off than you?” he asked coldly. She nodded her head, and then cried out as another shock hit her.

“Think of it this way, Satai Delenn. If you do not sleep, then you cannot dream. I wish that were true of me. A pleasant rest, Satai Delenn. Mr. Boggs.”

And then he was gone. Delenn looked up at her sole guardian and almost wept at his quiet impassivity. She remembered how he had hurt her, beating and kicking her. He had enjoyed it, but he had not done so for that alone. He had done so for the good of his people. He only wanted to serve his people and his home.

Valen’s Name, she thought. What have we created? What have I done?

* * * * * * *

Ta’Lon knelt beside the body and looked at it slowly, studying the horrific damage. Rising, he looked around at the others, scattered and ravaged. He was silent. Standing beside him, Neroon was whispering something about Valen. Marcus was hunched over, retching loudly. And Sheridan… he was simply standing, dumbfounded. It reminded him of Vega 7, but not even the deaths there had touched him like these. These bodies had been torn apart, literally ripped almost limb from limb. Sheridan had little fondness for Narns, but nobody deserved this, not even Minbari.

“What could have done this?” Marcus asked. He looked pale.

“You should know,” replied Neroon. He had extended his fighting pike – similar to the one Susan had taken from Delenn. “You’ve seen them before.”

“The black ship? The ship that screamed?”

“More or less.” Ta’Lon was still looking around warily. “This was one of their servants. A Warrior, I think.”

Without saying anything further, he and Neroon began walking quickly towards the small compound that nestled at the head of the valley, looking like a cross between a temple and a castle. Sheridan knew this was where G’Kar lived, and ran his collection of agents.

Was this the work of Susan’s friends? Of humanity’s last hope? Why would they…? No, this was an internal matter, them against G’Kar. They wouldn’t turn against humanity. What reason would they have to do that?

Still, Susan had said that her friends were moving slowly, anxious not to turn attention to themselves. Was G’Kar really so much of a threat that they would risk alerting to others to their presence like this?

Sheridan took out his PPG and began running to catch up with Neroon and Ta’Lon. Marcus was beside him, his expression of disgust and terror replaced with a cold anger. Perhaps Neroon and Ta’Lon were right, and Marcus had seen these creatures before, at Vega 7.

Too many questions, and not enough answers. There were never enough answers.

* * * * * * *

Commander David Corwin was irritated. He did not like Narns, he did not like their homeworld and he did not like hanging around on the Babylon. He had been doing far too much of that recently, just hanging around while the Captain was off somewhere.

This was worse than usual, however. The Captain had not been heard from in over a day. He hadn’t responded when Corwin had tried to make his daily report. Councillor Na’Toth had simply said that Sheridan had left G’Khamazad on an intelligence mission, and that he would return in a few days. Corwin wasn’t sure if he trusted her, but he was wise enough not to say that to her face, even over a commscreen. He was keeping a close eye out for any sign of Minbari cruisers, but the only traffic had been usual Narn stuff. He had also sent small teams down to the planet to try to investigate. He’d heard back from none of them yet.

“Commander!” spoke up Lieutenant Franklin. “There’s a private message for you. It’s from Miss Ivanova.”

“Susan!” She hadn’t been heard of since yesterday either. If Corwin ran to the ready room a little faster than was safe or appropriate for one of his rank, no one commented on it. What had been between him and Susan was over, right? It had ended when she died.

He slid into his seat in the ready room and activated the viewscreen. Susan’s face stared out at him. He resisted an urge simply to gaze into her beauty and focussed on what he had to say. This was important. It concerned the Captain.

“What’s been happening?” he asked. “Councillor Na’Toth said…”

“Whatever Councillor Na’Toth said, it was probably a lie,” Susan interjected. “I don’t know what happened, but she set John up. He’s no longer in G’Khamazad, I’m certain of it, but I know he’s alive.”

“You know? How?”

“I…” She looked pained. “I can’t go into it. I just know. I’ll try to track him down. I don’t think there are any Minbari involved this time. It’s probably something political with the Kha’Ri. Maybe they aren’t willing to shelter us any more. Don’t worry, David, I’ll do what I can. Please don’t come down. You’re safe up there. You won’t be safe down here.”

“Susan! I… Be careful.”

She smiled. “Thank you. You too. I’ll keep in contact as often as I can. Out.”

Susan switched off her commscreen and looked around her in anger and sorrow. Beside her, a shadow moved.

* * * * * * *

G’Kar knew that he was dying, that the Enemy had come for him at last. He could have asked questions, about how they had found him, about how they knew about him, about why he was still alive, but questions were pointless at the moment. What mattered was survival, not just his own, but the survival of all he had built.

He fingered his wound gently and gingerly. He seemed to be getting older. A small injury like this had never hurt him back when he was fighting the Centauri. Or had it? Was a war of attrition like that preferable to a silent, secret war like this?

“G’Quan guide me,” he whispered, as he ducked into the shadows of his spartan room. The Book of G’Quan lay on the table across the room. He looked at it longingly and began to whisper the words found within.

“There is a greater darkness than the one we fight…” He had wounded the beast, he knew that. That was why he was still alive. He had dropped the knife somewhere, during his flight. The beast, it could be anywhere. He had recognised it from its brief moment of visibility as one of the servants of the Enemy, spoken of by G’Quan.

There was a sound outside the door, and he looked around desperately for any sign of a weapon. His rooms were almost bare. Where was his ally? The Vorlon was around somewhere, but never when needed. Surely G’Lan had sensed the arrival of his old enemy? Unless he could not interfere. Yes, maybe that was it. Maybe this was a test for G’Kar, a trial to see whether he was worthy to face the Enemy.

There was a shimmering as the beast came through the walls, and he rolled aside, wincing at the pain from his wound. He could dimly make out the outline of the Shadow Warrior. It had no long-range weapons, that was something to be thankful for, at least. G’Kar had hope. He always had hope.

Grasping for the candles, he pulled one down. It was still lit. A poor weapon, but all he had. Thrusting forward with it, he forced the beast back. It issued a hideous roar. He looked up at its abominable form and whispered a silent prayer to G’Quan.

It didn’t work. The candle broke and fell, the little light it gave failing. G’Kar tried to halt his lunge forward, but it was too late. The beast caught him and ripped into his side. An anguished cry of pain was torn from his lips as he was thrown backwards, his back smashing against the stone table. Collapsed on the floor, he looked up.

There was the sound of PPG fire, and a cry in the name of Valen, and of G’Quan. G’Kar smiled. His prayer had been answered after all.

* * * * * * *

Satai Delenn was lost in days past, remembering the war, remembering her cry. ‘Kill them! Kill them all!’ Remembering the light in Neroon’s eyes die as he left her side. Remembering the wisdom in Draal’s speech. Remembering…

She gasped as another shock hit her. Looking up, she saw Boggs, standing there silently. He was enjoying her pain, but he did not show it. Delenn grasped the edge of the table and tried to suck in air. Her breathing was harsh and ragged.

She slipped back into the past.

“I have seen things,” Neroon had said. “I nearly died there. I was alone and afraid, and thinking of you. Thinking of the third night of sleep watching, thinking of…”

Another shock, but too soon surely? Could she keep track of time? Could she even remember time any longer? Did it matter?

“G’Kar spoke to me. He said things. It made sense. He knows about the Enemy, Delenn. He knows, and he is making preparations. I always thought that we were the only ones who could fight the war that is coming. I was wrong. G’Kar is building his own army, his own agents and spies. His own Rangers even. Most are Narns, but there are a few others – Drazi mainly, but even an Earther or two, and a few Centauri.

“Delenn, how can everything I believed in be so wrong? He knows, he understands. His writings, the Book of G’Quan… they have known for a millennium. I always thought that we alone were fit to lead the war. I was wrong.

“Delenn, I will join him. My life was saved by one of his agents and I must repay the debt. His words have touched me, and I feel a calling to his side, to serve him. It is a calling, Delenn. I have spoken to Branmer, and he understands. Please, Delenn, tell me that you do.”

“I…” She had been unsure of what to say, what to do. “My place is here.”

“I know,” had come his whispered reply. “I know.”

Another gasp. She was so tired, so very tired. She could not find the peace for meditation. All she wanted to do was sleep. What had Welles said? ’At least you will be spared dreams.’ He had been wrong. So very wrong.

It had been a bargain, a simple bargain. One human life. What did that one life matter? Why that one? It had not been important, the Vorlon had said. It had not mattered. She had needed to be sure before she went to the Grey Council. She had needed to be sure, and so the Vorlon had shown himself to her. Her doubts had receded, but now they returned.

One human life against so many. How much blood? How many dead? Why did the Vorlons want that life?

The other half of our soul. Sheridan and Sinoval… so very alike. Welles… how much he looked like Neroon – his voice, his face, his bearing. Sheridan and Sinoval, like a mirror. A dark, distorted mirror. The other half of our soul… humans? No, that was impossible. A blasphemy.

But she had been about to test it. She had taken a Triluminary, only now that was lost too. So much lost, and nothing more lost than she herself. How many dead? How many lost? How many?

The other half of my soul. Neroon? Was he the other half of my soul? Who? Why did she not understand? Who? What? Too many questions and not even she had the answers.

Valen help me. Valen… I will not allow harm to come to my little ones, not here in my great house… Valen’s Name… the other half of my soul… Sheridan and Sinoval… not here in my great house… the other half of my soul… Minbari not born of Minbari… the other half of my soul… here in my great house… my soul… not born of Minbari… my great house…

As another shock tore through Delenn’s body, her mind reached a realisation that both terrified and disgusted her. She knew. Oh, Valen, she knew, at last.

A Minbari not born of Minbari… In my great house… the other half of my soul.

Valen was human!

* * * * * * *

Sheridan had never seen a beast like that before, huge and dark and only faintly visible. He remembered something else, something equally dark and almost invisible, that had struck down Delenn. It had been a different shape – less humanoid – but it had been similar. All too similar.

The thought faded and he saw only battle. His initial PPG blasts had little effect on the creature, but they were serving to distract it from the Narn who lay, bleeding, on the floor. G’Kar? Almost certainly. The beast turned to face Sheridan, and he caught a sudden, frantic glimpse of his own mortality. It was a terrifying moment, but one he had known countless times before in battle.

The beast lunged forward, and he fired. Again the blasts had no effect, and his legs coiled, ready to propel him out of the way. He had not guessed how fast the thing would be. It smashed into his side and knocked him back. He stumbled, and the PPG fell from his grasp. Abandoning the weapon for the moment, he rolled away and staggered to his feet.

The beast was ignoring him. His back and side were unguarded. It could have torn him apart, but it didn’t. It lunged at Neroon and Ta’Lon, neither of whom had long-range weaponry. Neroon lashed out with that metal pike of his, and Sheridan heard an audible crack as it hit the creature. For a moment it seemed fazed, and Ta’Lon leapt in, striking with his sword, thrusting it into what would be its chest.

Casually disdaining the wound, the beast clawed out at Ta’Lon, lifting him effortlessly into the air and hurling him back. The Narn struck the far wall, and tried to stagger to his feet. Neroon hit out again with his pike, but the blow had little effect.

Sheridan blinked, and his warrior instincts returned. Looking around frantically, he saw his PPG and scooped it up. Turning to face the beast, he unleashed a barrage of shots at desperately close range. There was a sound that might have been a cry of pain, and the beast turned.

Neroon used this opportunity to lash out, striking the beast with his pike, again and again. Sheridan dived under flailing – well, he assumed they were arms – and staggered to his feet behind Neroon, luring the beast into a position where Neroon would be able to strike its chest.

PPG blasts, thrusts, lunges and blows. The beast was falling back. Neroon was following up, but compared to the beast he might have been made out of wood.

There was a blur of motion, and Neroon fell. It looked as though he was bleeding. Sheridan was fumbling with the energy cap of his PPG, and he looked up as the beast towered over Neroon. Acting on pure instinct, never caring that this was a Minbari, he dropped his PPG and scooped up Neroon’s pike. Looking up at the beast, which still seemed vaguely reluctant to attack him, he thrust out with the pike.

The beast roared and tumbled backwards. Sheridan looked at the pike in mute horror, and found it stained with what he could only suppose was blood. He looked down and saw the beast, for one, hideous moment, in full visibility.

He was nearly sick.

Others had different concerns. Ta’Lon pulled himself up from the floor, wincing at every movement. The force of the impact had undoubtedly shattered bones, but he seemed to pay them no attention.

“Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar!” he cried out, and half-ran, half-staggered forward. Neroon was also rising and looking to G’Kar. As did Sheridan.

The fallen Narn was not moving, not even breathing.

* * * * * * *

“You don’t know it failed. G’Kar might be dead. He might never recover. Sheridan? Yes, I know… look… he’s a warrior. He’s trained to fight, so of course he’d fight the Warrior. No… no… he can still be a valuable ally to us. He is still a valuable ally. It’s just curiosity, that’s all. He wants to know who betrayed him on Vega Seven.

“I’ll see to G’Kar, if he’s still alive, and I’ll arrange matters with Sheridan. Trust me? No, you mustn’t act personally. There’s a Vorlon around, remember. Yes, I know! Don’t worry. Everything’s under control.”

Susan Ivanova looked down at the mass of bodies that decorated the pass leading to the temple of G’Kar, where perhaps its sovereign prince lived, and perhaps he didn’t.

The Shadows had come to Narn.

Chapter 4

Lyta Alexander was trying to sleep, but her dreams were disturbed. That in itself was not a rarity. There were very few people on Proxima 3 who did not suffer nightmares about the fate of Earth. Lyta had thought she was over them, but they returned with disturbing irregularity. But these dreams were different. They were not about the fall of Earth, and they had been happening every night since she had first scanned Satai Delenn.

I will not allow harm to come to my little ones, the voice had said. She didn’t know who it was, or what was happening, but that voice kept resounding over and over in her mind.

’I will not allow harm to come to my little ones.’ But there was harm coming to her. Harm, and terror, and despair.

And pain.

There was a woman in front of her. Lyta recognised her vaguely as Lieutenant Ivanova. They had met occasionally during the time Ivanova had been stationed with General Franklin. Lyta had always tried to stay away from her, however. There was something in Ivanova’s bearing, something in her eyes, thoughts that needed no scan to detect.

Lieutenant Ivanova hated her, hated her with a passion and a fury that were almost tangible. Lyta had been puzzled, but had chosen to ignore it. Rational thoughts and reasons had ended with Earth. The human race was a very irrational species now.

Lyta was seeing Ivanova again in her dreams, but this time it was different. The hatred was there as well, but this time there was something else – a mocking, sure certainty. Ivanova was shimmering into a black silhouette. There was a crackling noise, and Lyta turned. There was a flash of motion and a stab of agony.

She screamed and woke up, her body slick with sweat. She was panting harshly, drawing in great gasps of air, almost too terrified to breathe. What was that thing?

And then some vague hint of rationality returned. Those were Satai Delenn’s memories – they had to be. She had heard that Ivanova had been involved in Satai Delenn’s capture. But what was that thing with her? Lyta had heard rumours about new allies of the Resistance Government. Were their new allies those… things?

She swallowed harshly. She was not alone in her room. “Lights,” she whispered, too quietly for the computer to detect. “Lights,” she repeated more loudly. The room was bathed in light.

And before her was a Vorlon.

She had never seen a Vorlon before the memory in Satai Delenn’s mind, but she knew what it was. The Vorlon before her was huge, clad in a dark green-and-brown encounter suit. Its head moved slowly. It was studying her.

“Who are you?” she asked hesitantly.

Who are you? it said in response.

“What do you want?” she breathed.

Its eye blazed with light. Never ask that question! A searing pain tore into her skull and she screamed, clutching her head and falling to the floor.

“What do you want with me?” she repeated. “What… do…?”

To watch, and to observe.

“I don’t understand. Why me?”

Your thoughts are the song. Your questions are the music.

“I still don’t understand.”


“Will I ever understand?”

Perhaps. If you can find the meaning.

“What meaning?” Silence. “Why have you chosen me?”

Your heart contains the symphony. Your spirit contains the destiny. The avalanche is beginning. The darkness is coming. You must be the light.

“I… don’t…” Lyta screamed again, her head thrown back. By the time the Security officials arrived, drawn by the sound of her screams, she was unconscious on the floor.

* * * * * * *

G’Kar had been many things in his life. Slave, resistance fighter, hero, war leader, general, tactician, exile, preacher, prophet. Of all the things he was going to become, he had never planned on making corpse one of them.

Not that he had any say in the matter, of course, but fortunately others did.

Sheridan was pacing up and down, trying to work off the anger and depression he always felt after a fight. He was only really alive in combat. Afterwards he realised this, and hated himself for it. He couldn’t do anything about it of course, but he saw the sick joke, and hated the joke for existing and himself for knowing it was there.

“Is it customary for your people to walk like that?” said a rough voice. He ignored Neroon. The alternative would have to be a fight which would end – Sheridan was a realist after all – with him being seriously beaten.

Neroon was sitting quietly on a rock, leaning on his elongated fighting pike. He had been slightly wounded in the battle against the… thing which had attacked G’Kar. He paid his wounds no attention however. Typical Minbari. Always so bloody arrogant.

“Did you know I killed over fifty thousand of your people during the war?” Neroon said in what Sheridan supposed to be a conversational tone. “I was at the battle you call the Line. I led a part of it there. I was attached to the personal staff of Shai Alyt Branmer, greatest of our generals.”

“Well, by my reckoning,” Sheridan said, “I must have killed a similar number of your people. How many would have been on the Black Star? And then there were those ships over Mars… oh yes, two members of your Grey Council, don’t forget them.”

“I take no pride in my actions, Captain. No pride at all.”

“Well, I do. Because any victory, no matter how small, at least gave my people some hope. I hear there was partying in the streets when I destroyed the Black Star. Why? All I did was lure your flagship into a trap. Nothing flashy, nothing special. But it proved we could win. It gave my people hope, and for that I’m damn proud.”

“I see. You realise of course that there is no hope for your people. When our fleets descend upon your new home – and believe me, they will – then you will be slaughtered, down to the last man, woman and child.”

“And I suppose you’ll be there. Right at the forefront of everything, just like last time.”

“No, actually, I will not. I will take no pleasure in it, and no pride, for the destruction of your people will mean that we have lost. The death of your people will mean that we have been damned. We will be a dead people as well, we will just take longer to die.”

“Yeah well. I wouldn’t count us out just yet. We aren’t entirely alone, you know.”

“The Narns? What good would they be? No, Captain, we are all alone, always. All alone in the night.”

“Whatever. Shouldn’t you be looking after G’Kar or something?”

“Ta’Lon is doing that.”

“If he is, he’s got a bloody funny way of doing it. I saw him limping off in that direction.”

“For the moment, G’Kar is alive. Whether he dies sometime today is at the bidding of other powers than mine.”

Sheridan looked at Neroon closely. Then he gave a soft chuckle and resumed his pacing. “You find something funny?” the Minbari remarked.

“You. What the hell is a Minbari warrior doing out in a Narn wilderness surrounded by Narns? If you were as important as you say, you could be leading your armies by now. Hell, you could even be on the Grey Council.”

“Perhaps. There would certainly be a place for me if Sinoval ever rises to the position he desires. And certainly, were I still on Minbar, I might even be Entil’zha by now. Branmer had named me his heir, after all.”

“So, then? Why are you here?”

“Why are you here?”

“Well, if you remember, you, Ta’Lon, and that lying bitch Na’Toth beat the living daylights out of me and dragged me all the way up here. Or did you think I was here for my health?”

“You are, and if you do not recognise that, then it is your problem. But you answered the wrong question, Captain. Why are you here, now, in this place, in this time, in that uniform?”

“I…” Sheridan hesitated. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“The universe puts us in places where we may do the most good. G’Kar told me that, echoing Minbari beliefs as he did so. I am here because I believe it is the right place for me to be. I can do more good here than I could on Minbar. Ta’Lon also feels he can do more here than as a bodyguard or a servant in G’Khamazad. We are in the places where we can do the most good. Are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then you are not. I suggest you find your right place, Captain, and do so swiftly. Battle lines are being drawn. Oh, not between human and Minbari, or against Narn and Centauri, but between Light and Darkness. There can be no middle road.”

“And you’re on the side of Light, I suppose?”

“I would like to think so.”

“So then,” Sheridan said, half jokingly, “where am I? The Darkness, I suppose? Your enemy?”

“You have a foot in two worlds, Captain. You are split down the middle, evenly. You will have to decide where your loyalties lie.”

“The same place they always have. With my people.”

“But who represents your people? Who among your people has the right to tell you what to do, where to stand, what to say? If your people are split, then where do you stand? To the Darkness, or the Light, or off to the side, feigning an impossible neutrality? You may soon have to make a choice, Captain, and if you are not ready for it, that choice will destroy you.”

“What do you know about choices?”

Neroon seemed to smile. “Let me tell you a story, Captain. It begins many thousands of years ago…”

* * * * * * *

The Minbari woman who, a million years ago, had been Satai Delenn of the Grey Council, blinked and tried to swallow. Her throat was dry and sore. She had lost track of time in this cell, but she knew she had not slept or eaten since she had been brought here. She was afraid, and alone, and doubted her purpose. She even doubted her own identity, and were it not for Mr. Welles’ often sarcastic use of her name, she would doubt that as well.

“So, Satai Delenn, did you have a pleasant rest?” Welles sat down and casually flicked the switch that ended the electric shocks designed to stop her sleeping. He rested his elbows on the table and joined his fingers into a steeple, looking at her over the top of it.

“Today, I need to talk to you about the organisation of your army. I understand that…”

“I will tell you nothing more,” she spat. Welles raised an eyebrow, in a gesture that she knew to mean sardonic surprise, even amusement. “You will have to take it from me by force.”

“I see. And what has brought on this sudden gesture of defiance, hmm? To what do I owe this pleasure of your renewed resistance?”

What could she tell him? That she had realised that Valen was human? Could she tell him that? Or would the simple uttering of that belief to any other sentient being just result in the final confirmation of her insanity? Or of her damnation? Of the end of her great destiny and holy cause?

She had always known that if she died, another would stand up in her place. But who was that other to be? Sinoval? He was touched by the Darkness in a way that he could not see or understand, but the taint was there all the same. Lennann? He lacked the courage, and the belief in himself. Hedronn? He lacked the belief that he mattered. Branmer? He was dead. Draal? He doubted his ability. Neroon? He was… gone.

There was no one to replace her, and with her loss the Grey Council would fall as the Rangers had fallen, and the only hope for Light would be a Narn.

“I could simply force the information from you, of course. Incidentally, I understand that Miss Alexander is not well at the moment. Some sort of seizure last night, apparently. She is recovering in Medlab, but it will be a few more days before she can return here. No doubt that fills you with joy?”

“How can the pain of another living being fill anyone with joy?”

“I don’t know. You tell me. Did you feel joy at the conquest of Earth? Did you feel joy at the near-annihilation of a species? Did you?”


“Oh, Satai Delenn. Lie to me all you like, but do not lie to yourself. You did, didn’t you? But it was all right. You were mad at the time. Insane. You are therefore excused your actions, aren’t you? They can be justified, explained away as no more than a fluke of circumstance.

“Explain that away to the relatives of all who died there! How can you? How can you look at all those widows and orphans and childless parents and lie to them?”

“I cannot,” she whispered.

“How can you tell them that you felt no joy in the actions you took?”

“I cannot.”

“Then how can you say that to yourself?”

“I… cannot.”

“There, you see. One more question. How can you live with yourself with all that blood on your hands?”

“I… can… No. I have to continue. You do not understand. You cannot understand. I was wrong, yes. We were wrong. We were ruled by anger and hatred and fear, and we lashed out at those we felt were to blame. We felt you were to blame and so we lashed out, without reason, without sense or logic.

“And now you are what we created from that madness. You are alone, Mr. Welles, just as we were. You are alone with your fear and your anger and your hatred. I have nothing to say to the widows and the orphans and the childless parents, but this alone.

“Do not follow our path! We were wrong. If you follow in our footsteps… if you make a pact with Darkness to satisfy your own need for revenge, then you will be just as bad as we were, and your mistakes will be just as severe as ours.”

“This… Darkness? Who is to say that it is not our Light? Our hope for the future. And who is to say, Satai Delenn, that we are fighting your people out of a desire for revenge? We are simply obeying the greatest desire of any sentient being – the urge to survive! Your people will destroy us. Oh, maybe you don’t want to, but those you left behind will. We will take whatever steps we deem necessary to save our people! What gives you the right to deny us that one, simple thing – to survive?”

“And how many must die for you to survive?”

“As many as it takes.”

“You are a child, Mr. Welles. A frightened child lashing out at those you see as being responsible for your fear.”

“At those who are responsible for our fear. And that is you, Satai Delenn. Never forget that. Never ever forget those you killed, and never let their screams dull in your ears, for they will never dull in mine.”

“I will never forget that, Mr. Welles, but I will know how to use the memory of the fallen to create a better future.”

Welles gave a harsh laugh. “Look around you, Satai Delenn. This, this is your future. This one room. That single chair. Miss Alexander. And me. That is all your future consists of. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

* * * * * * *

“There are beings in this universe billions of years older than either of our races. Once, long ago, they walked among the stars like giants, vast and timeless. They taught the younger races, explored beyond the Rim, created great empires. But to all things, there is an end. Slowly, over a million years, the First Ones went away. Some passed beyond the stars never to return. Some simply disappeared.

“Not all the First Ones have gone away. A few remained, hidden or asleep, waiting for the day when the Shadows come again. The oldest of the ancients are the Shadows. We have no other name for them. We need no other name for them.

“A thousand years ago, the Shadows were defeated, driven from their homeworld of Z’ha’dum, out on the Rim, by a coalition of races. It was the last time the First Ones walked openly among us. Awaiting the fulfilment of prophecy, we have been preparing ourselves for the day when the Shadows returned to Z’ha’dum.

“We first discovered evidence that the Shadows were returning shortly after the attack on your homeworld. We uncovered a vessel of the Enemy’s buried deep under the soil of your red planet. It sent out a beacon to Z’ha’dum, and we destroyed it.

“There was another Shadow vessel in your solar system, hidden in a moon of your largest planet. That one also awoke, and the Shadows sent a ship to retrieve it. We were waiting, and we were defeated. Four of our greatest ships were destroyed, with contemptuous ease. We knew that the Great War spoken of by Valen was coming, and we knew that we had to be ready.

“And so we began to prepare. The Rangers, last formed a thousand years ago, were reformed, consisting of Minbari from all three castes, but predominantly the warriors. To lead them, we chose Branmer, greatest of our Warleaders, but he was greatest of all in that he was a Warleader with no love of war. He was admired and respected and led the Rangers well. As his aide, I was always at his side. I was a Ranger. I went out on missions, evaluating the power of the Shadows, gathering knowledge, creating alliances.

“Four cycles ago, I was on a mission to one of the Markab worlds. The Markab also knew about the Shadows, and they were dying of a mysterious plague. I had been sent to recover certain artifacts, which might prove to be beneficial against the Shadows. Others were there, too. Agents of the Enemy. One was a human woman, fair of face. There is an old saying among my people. ’Evil sometimes wears a pleasant face.’

“She knew what I wanted, and she wanted the same. We fought and I killed her, but there was something which resided inside her. The same beast we defeated today. It attacked me, and nearly killed me. I was left to die, wounded and alone, on an alien world.

“But I did not die. I was saved by Ta’Lon. He too was in pursuit of these artifacts, and he knew about the Rangers. He bandaged my wounds and healed me, and when I asked him why, he said it was because we fight the same war.

“And then he told me. We were not the only ones who knew of the Shadows. Another did. G’Kar. He was gathering his own forces, in secret, paving the way. Ta’Lon brought me here, to see G’Kar, and I experienced a revelation. I had been wrong. In my arrogance, I had been very wrong. We were not the right ones to lead in the war. Already the Rangers were falling apart. Branmer was ill, and I knew I could not lead. That would leave one such as Sinoval, or Kalain, and the Rangers would become a political tool, and not an Army of Light.

“And I returned to Minbar. I spoke with Branmer and he told me that I must follow my heart. And then I spoke with Delenn, and we parted, and I came here, and I have served G’Kar and his dream ever since, because it is right. I have sacrificed my love, my rank, and my title, but I know that this is right.”

Neroon finished his story and looked at Sheridan, who simply stared back. Delenn? He had known Delenn? And all this about the Darkness and the Shadows. That was who Susan’s friends were. Of course, she had told him much of this, but how much was true, and how much simply lies? Why would G’Kar fight the Shadows? Why?

“I’m not sure whether to believe you,” Sheridan replied.

“Then by all means, do not. Believe G’Kar. When he recovers, he will want to talk to you.”

“He’s dying. Can’t you see that? Who can help him, out here?”

“He can.” Neroon pointed and Sheridan turned. He started, and simply stared.

He’d never seen a Vorlon before.

* * * * * * *

There will be a price to pay, the Vorlon said as it stood over G’Kar’s body. He is dying. He will be dead. There will be a price.

“It will be paid,” Neroon assured it.

Yes, it said.

Sheridan was not quite sure what happened next. The Vorlon’s encounter suit began to open, and there was a blinding light. He staggered back, covering his eyes, and when he opened them again G’Kar was standing – unsteadily, true, but he was standing – and the Vorlon’s encounter suit was closed.

“Thank you, my friend,” G’Kar whispered.

The Vorlon made a gesture that might have been a nod, and turned. It hesitated when it saw him, and seemed to study him. Then it looked away.

“What… what did you see?” Sheridan asked. “What do they look like?”

But before he could get an answer, the Vorlon turned to him again. Learn, it said.

A force threw him against the far wall. The Vorlon’s eye socket blazed brilliantly and he felt the surroundings fade around him.

It was a dead world, barren and wasted.


“That’s… that’s the homeworld of the Shadows. But that’s where… There’s her ship. That’s it, isn’t it?”


“What’s… what’s happening? Oh my God. She’s waking them up, isn’t she? She’s waking them…”

The image faded and Sheridan fell, slumping to the floor. “Why did you show me that?” he asked. There was no reply.

“He knows,” spoke up G’Kar suddenly. “The Vorlons know everything there is to know about everything. Welcome, Captain. This meeting has been long in coming.”

Sheridan looked at G’Kar. The Narn was hobbling, limping and holding his side tenderly, but he could easily see the force of personality within him. The same force of personality that had bound people like Ta’Lon and Neroon and Na’Toth to his side.

Suddenly, the Vorlon moved again. “They are here,” it said.

Sheridan felt a familiar play around the corner of his mind. There was a sudden pain and he collapsed. He knew the Vorlon was responsible, and he looked up at it.

“Leave… me… alone!” he cried.

They are here, was its only reply. You must be ready.

“Who are…?” And then he saw her. Entering the room was none other than Ivanova.

“John, are you all right?” she asked, holding a PPG before her. A strange expression of disgust spread over her face when she saw the Vorlon. “What have they been doing to you?”

“Nothing, I…”

Go, the Vorlon said, speaking to Susan. He is not for you. Go! Now!

She opened fire. The PPG blasts were no more than ant-stings to a Vorlon, and it simply concentrated on her. “Come on, John!” she cried. “We can’t stay here all day.”

“But…” he whispered, and then another burst of agony tore through the forefront of his brain.

“Go limp, Captain,” said a familiar voice. It was Marcus. “I’ll get you out of here.”

“Captain,” said G’Kar. “Heed the warning, Captain. Listen to… what…”

Sheridan had not heard him. Limp in Marcus’ arms, he was carried away. Neroon and Ta’Lon made to move after them, but G’Kar raised his hand.

Let them go, said the Vorlon. He has a destiny. He will learn it. In time.

“And what do we do now, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar?” asked Ta’Lon.

“This place is lost to us,” he said. “But we will rebuild. Remember our purpose.”

Remember, said the Vorlon in agreement. Remember, and learn.

* * * * * * *

It had been an uneventful return from the G’Khorazhar Mountains for Sheridan, Marcus and Ivanova. They had made their way to a shuttle Susan claimed to have been given by Commander Corwin. It was a short journey by shuttle to the Babylon.

Corwin had not been idle during all this. He had sent agents out into G’Khamazad, and tried to follow what was happening. The major news at the moment was the mysterious death of Councillor Du’Rog. The evidence of the black flower left in his quarters indicated that the death was a political assassination – organised by the Narn guild of assassins, the Thenta Ma’Kur. Who might have paid them was another matter. The affair of the large recent payment to his accounts from agents who could be traced back all the way to the Grey Council, and to Satai Sinoval’s office, and Warmaster Jha’dur of the Dilgar, was not made public. Councillor Na’Toth had managed to clean up her investigation into Sheridan’s betrayal on Vega 7 with no mess. She believed it was merely financial in substance, and reported to that effect to G’Kar. Any involvement by the Enemy was not recognised.

Sheridan spent much of the return journey from Narn thinking, trying to make sense of the visions he had been shown, and of the story Neroon had told him. Upon his return, he briefed the Resistance Government on the official purpose for his visit to Narn.

The Kha’Ri had refused to believe that the Minbari were responsible for the assault on Vega 7, and they would lend no official assistance in a strike against the Minbari. Sheridan’s private suspicions as to the fate of Vega 7 remained just that – private. Later, in secret, a more detailed and very selective version of Sheridan’s experiences on Narn was relayed to General Hague by Susan Ivanova. He was left to wonder if the Kha’Ri would be effective allies any more.

There was one other result of Sheridan’s journey to Narn. A few days after his return, he sought out Satai Delenn in her interrogation room. Mr. Welles was not present – Sheridan having waited until that would be the case – and he found Satai Delenn alone with only a security guard and her own nightmares for company.

“Mr. Boggs?” Sheridan said.

“Yes, Captain.”

“Take a walk.”

“Yes, Captain.” Boggs did not like him, Sheridan knew that, but he did not care. He did not expect to be liked.

Delenn raised her head, and he was shocked by just how ill she looked. There was enormous fatigue in her eyes, and despair in her posture. She gasped and spasmed, and he knew what was causing her pain.

He switched off the electric shock device and turned to her.

“How long have you been here?” he asked. “Since I brought you here?” She nodded. “Oh my God, what have they been doing to you?”

“Questions,” she replied. “Scans. More questions.”

Sheridan studied her closely. “How long has it been since you last had something to eat?”

“Minbari can fast for periods of up to twelve days with no ill effects,” she got out. “We do so in times of grief or loss.”

“How long has it been since you last had something to eat?” he repeated.

“Aboard your ship,” she whispered. “Before I arrived here.”

“Eighteen days,” he spat, horrified with himself. He activated his link. “This is Captain Sheridan to Quartermaster Chase.”

“Chase here,” the quartermaster replied. His voice was quiet as ever. Did the man never speak up?

“Bring one full ration pack to cell… oh, what cell is this? Cell nineteen.”

“But Captain, that’s…”

“Just do it.”

“Yes, Captain.”

The ration pack was soon brought, and Sheridan presented it to Delenn. “It’s supposed to contain all the necessary nutrients for humans for several days,” he said. “I’m not sure what it will do for a Minbari… and it tastes horrible by the way…”

“I am sure it will be fine,” she replied. “Thank you, Captain. But… why?”

“I don’t know,” he replied.

“Yes, you do.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “I do.”

And he had watched her eat and drink, and afterwards she had rested her head on her arms and slept, and he had watched her.

And no harm came to her, not here in his great house.

And no dreams came to her either.

* * * * * * *

G’Kar’s preparations to leave his shrine were long. There was much to be done – checking in with his agents, receiving reports, the long, slow process of healing.

Because of all this, he was still there several months later, watched by the Vorlon and by Neroon and Ta’Lon, his trusted guardians.

And yet his trusted guardians did not stop a mysterious alien visiting him late one night.

“Come,” the alien said. “You G’Kar, yes. You must come, yes. Must come.”

“Who are you?” G’Kar asked.

“No no no, never ask that question, never never ask that question. But, I is being called Zathras, and I is being very honoured to be meeting with you, yes.”

“What do you want?”

“No no no, never be asking that question either.”

“Of course not.” G’Kar was surfacing to some degree of wakefulness now. “Well, what can I do for you?”

“You must come with Zathras, yes. Varn send us all to look, yes. Varn tell Zathras to find G’Kar. Zathras look, Zathras travel, and now Zathras is finding G’Kar. Yes. Zathras did well, yes, and now G’Kar must come with Zathras, yes. Is being very important.”

“Go with you? Where?”

“The Great Machine, of course. Yes yes. The Great Machine.”

Part III: Warrior Souls

“Who are you?”

“I am Delenn.”

“That’s not what I asked. Who are you?”

“That is the only answer I can give you. I was a Satai of the Grey Council. I was a member of the clan of Mir, of the religious caste. I was many things. Now, I am just Delenn.”

Captain John J. Sheridan looked directly at her and bowed his head, thumping the table angrily. Nothing made sense to him any more. It hadn’t since his return from the Narn homeworld. He had… seen things there which had forced him to re-evaluate so much of his life. He had learned about the Enemy, about a network of agents being set up to combat this mysterious Enemy, led by a man he had every reason to respect and trust. And he had learned that he might be directly responsible for bringing this Enemy into an alliance with what remained of the human race. Everything John Sheridan held dear was collapsing around him, and this woman was at the centre.

A Minbari. A Satai no less. She had been part of the destruction of his home planet. She had watched while he had been brought, chained and bloodied, before the Grey Council. She had fallen during his escape, and had been brought here, to Proxima 3. Sheridan had known what would be done to her. She was the first source of accurate, reliable information about the Minbari that the Resistance Government had had since the war began fourteen years ago. Humanity would do anything to gain that information.

But still… Sheridan had been shocked by the sight of her upon his return. Moaning, delirious, starving, weakened… He had performed a single act of mercy – food, drink and sleep. And why? What was she to him? An enemy? A monster? A woman all alone in the night?

“Who are you?” he whispered, speaking not to her, but to himself. A question to which he did not know the answer.

“Captain,” she said cautiously, and he looked up. “You are not alone in your pain. No one ever is.”

“You are.”

She paused. “No. I have my memories, and my purpose. I have my meditations. I am not alone.”

Sheridan begged to differ. The only one of her kind in a world where she had no friends at all. He had even heard that there had been riots while he was gone, as people struggled to have her brought forward for execution. Her only home now was a grey room, with walls, two chairs and a table. Her only company, the harshly ironic, coldly brutal Mr. Welles, able to tear her apart mentally and emotionally without laying a finger on her; or the silent guards who simply stared with eyes of hatred; or Sheridan himself…

“On Narn I met someone called Neroon,” he said. “He… seemed to know you.”

“Neroon,” she said his name softly, as if he had always been foremost in her mind, but she had never been able to admit it until now. “I miss him, but… he has his path and I have mine. Who would have thought mine would lead me here?”

“Not him, certainly. Did you have many… friends on Minbar?”

“A few. Many were lost. The war. The Enemy. Branmer’s was a sad death.”

“Ah yes. I’ve heard of him. He led in the Line, didn’t he?”

“And the Rangers after that. He was a great man.”

“I… I was just wondering… did you have any family at all? A brother or a sister?”

“No,” she said softly. “My mother entered the Daughters of Valeria just after I was born, and I have seen her only a few times since. My father… he went to the sea many years ago. I miss him. He was a good man, wise and gentle. I have… cousins, but no close family left. Except for Draal.”

Sheridan wasn’t catching some of what she had said. The Daughters of Valeria? Some sort of religious order? Went to the sea? “Draal?” he said softly. It was not a name he recognised.

“My father’s greatest friend. He was my teacher when I was a child, and my conscience as an adult. He… was an old and dear friend.”


“He is still alive… I hope. But… I am lost to him now. I am lost to everyone.” She looked up and met his gaze. Sheridan was aware of how he must look. He hadn’t shaved in days, and fatigue and bitterness never seemed to leave his eyes. Anna had complained about his appearance often enough. “And you, Captain? Do you have any family here?”

Coming from anyone else, Sheridan would have lashed out after a question like that, but not here. He had hit Delenn once and had felt sick afterwards. “My parents and sister died on Earth,” he said, trying to keep all emotion and tone from his voice. He saw Delenn’s eyes widen and she breathed in sharply, a soft gasp of contrition. “My daughter died a few years ago. My wife is still here but… she’s not the same woman I married.”

“I… I am sorry, Captain. I… Oh, Valen…” She looked as though she were about to cry. He met her gaze for a moment and he saw, reflected in her eyes, the light of a dying Earth, and a dying dream with it. “He was right,” she breathed. “Mr. Welles was right. I… I have destroyed so much. So much gone never to be reclaimed. So much gone forever. Valen forgive me.”

Sheridan listened silently to her litany, and then, without wholly realising what he was doing, he knelt down beside her chair and touched her hand, covering it with his own.

The room was silent, save for the rhythmic thud of her heartbeat and the quiet, peaceful motions of their breathing, which seemed in tune with each other.

* * * * * * *

Lyta Alexander was a woman with a mission, and that mission was to track down the man who was always hanging around with Captain Sheridan. Marcus, she understood his name to be. She had run into him a number of times since his return to Proxima 3 with Captain Sheridan, and he had tried to avoid her, on one occasion actively running away. Lyta had been on Proxima 3 long enough to realise that Captain Sheridan never liked hanging around on planet when he could possibly avoid it, and it was a fair bet that he would be off again soon. That would mean Marcus would be going off with him, and she had to get hold of him first.

That was however, easier said than done. Points to bear in mind:

1. Sheridan was on the planet, not aboard the Babylon.

2. Marcus was as close to Sheridan as his shadow, so it made sense that Marcus would be on the planet as well.

3. Find Sheridan, and therefore, find Marcus.

Unfortunately Sheridan was a master at not being found. It was one of the reasons why he was still alive. Lyta had precious few hours left before her next attempt at scanning the mind of that Minbari for Mr. Welles, and she wanted to make sure she found Marcus before that.

(And every moment she spent looking for – and thinking about – Marcus was a moment she did not spend remembering her dreams.)

Easier said than done. General Hague had no idea where he was, and Sheridan was definitely not meeting with the Resistance Government, who were batting heads with each other all afternoon. Sheridan was also not with his wife, who had probably passed out in some bar somewhere.

There was only one place left to check, and she had made sure to leave it until last. Delenn’s cell was not exactly the most pleasant place on the planet, and there was a possibility that Welles would be there. Lyta did not like Welles, not at all. She didn’t like having to invade Delenn’s mind, and she definitely didn’t like having Welles watch her while she was doing it.

Welles… it was as if he were a simple automaton. Whatever humanity was inside of him had been destroyed with Earth. She had tried a casual scan of him once, just out of curiosity, and she had been repelled by the cold, precise purpose of the man. To him, everything was a set of problems to be solved, and steps to be taken in the reclamation of humanity’s legacy. There was no humanity in him.

Still, despite the risk of running into Welles, she decided that she had to check the area out. Marcus might well be worth the risk.

The security guard on duty at the entrance to the prison block looked up sharply. Lyta recognised him. A cool, precise, dedicated man named Morishi. He at least had some sort of soul to him, even if that soul was blackened to extreme violence whenever anybody mentioned Minbari.

“Miss Alexander,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you for another three hours.”

“I was looking for someone,” she said breezily. “Tell me, is Captain Sheridan in here?”

“You know I’m not allowed to give out information like that, Miss Alexander.”

“Of course,” she said smiling. She sat up on his desk and crossed her legs, still smiling as she stared at him. Why couldn’t it have been Cutter? He would have been so busy staring at her legs – or maybe her chest – that he wouldn’t have noticed any attempt to scan his mind. Morishi was too professional by far. Still, Lyta was very good at what she did. “Mr. Welles then? I have something I should just talk over with him.”

“Mr. Welles is resting,” Morishi said, not taking his eyes away from hers. Never loosing her smile, she slowly took off one black glove and touched his cheek. “You… should… come… back… at… fifteen… Yes, of course, Miss Alexander. Just go straight in.”

Lyta jumped down from the desk and breezed straight past him, replacing her glove as she did so. Morishi would get into trouble for that when Welles came back, but that could be dealt with later. She had at least discovered that Sheridan was in Delenn’s cell, and therefore Marcus would be with him.

She made her way along the tortuous corridors swiftly, smiling and nodding at the various guards as she did so. Cutter was one of them, and to him she did not smile. She had no need of telepathy to pick up what he was thinking.

The nearer she got to Delenn’s cell, the slower her walk became. She could practically sense the fear and the hatred that came from inside the room, ingrained in there over long weeks of questions and pain. She had been inside Delenn’s mind a total of six times now, and she did not like the experience. She had no reason to love the Minbari, but she felt the fear and grief and anguish in Delenn’s mind, and it unnerved her.

(Besides, there was something else there, something that knew Lyta was there too.)

But not all the fear and the grief and the anguish came from Delenn. Rounding the corner, she ran almost smack into Marcus. He had clearly been pacing up and down, and she could sense the concern in his mind. He stepped back from her and nodded his head in what she supposed was an apology. He then stepped aside. She looked at him and smiled. She’d spent a long time perfecting that smile.

“Satai Delenn is in her normal room,” Marcus said. “Captain Sheridan is with her.”

“I didn’t come here for Satai Delenn, or for Captain Sheridan.”


“I came here for you. How would you like dinner tonight? I’m not much of a cook, but I’m sure I could manage something.”

He simply stared. “Miss Alexander…”

“That makes me feel like a schoolteacher. My name is Lyta, and you are Marcus.”

“You hardly know me.”

“Then dinner will be a good chance to get to know you. My quarters at… say… eight o’clock tonight.”

“I don’t know where your quarters are.”

She smiled again, and touched his forehead lightly. “Now you do.” She was very unprepared for his reaction. He lunged forward and threw her against the wall, pressing her against it tightly.

“Never do that to me again!” he snapped. “Never!”

She looked up into his eyes and her smile faded. A subtle telepathic sting and he recoiled, rubbing at his forehead. It was a momentary burst of pain, and nothing more. “And never do that to me again,” she said. “Unless I ask you to.”

He looked at her, and there was pain and confusion and querying in his eyes. “Why?” he whispered.

“Why what?”

“Why would you ask me to dinner?”

She smiled again. “You’ll find out when you get there.”

“Eight o’clock,” he whispered and she nodded. “I’ll be there. And… thank you.”

She looked at him and caught again the sheer pain that lay behind his eyes. He was almost screaming there. Behind the façade, behind the bodyguard or the warrior, there was an existence simply of pain. Slowly, gently, she reached out to him. He made no gesture, no sound, but instead, seemed to welcome her touch, both physical and mental. She slowly removed her glove and touched his cheek…

“Ah, Miss Alexander. It is good to see you here early. Your commitment is welcome.” Lyta jumped back as if hit by PPG fire. Starting, she turned around to see Welles standing there. He was simply looking at her, his arms crossed, his expression… patient. “I had not expected you for another three hours, and I would be most interested to learn how you got past Mr. Morishi. But never mind, it is good that you are showing such enthusiasm. Follow me.”

He swept past her and she looked up at Marcus. Slowly, she replaced her glove, never losing his gaze. The pain and confusion were still there. He looked away sharply. “I’ll be there,” he said again.

Lyta’s smile as she followed Welles into Delenn’s cell was a very different smile from her usual one. This time there was genuine happiness in it.

* * * * * * *

“We cannot ignore the possibility, William,” barked President Crane. “The danger is very real, believe me.”

“But Madame President,” General Hague replied, knowing that he was doomed even as he began the sentence, “the Narns have proved trustworthy allies in the past. To abandon them now…”

“Trustworthy, he says!” scoffed Vice President Clark. “They lend us no military assistance, in spite of our aid to them in the war with the Centauri. They sell us weapons at vastly extortionate prices, and only when it suits them to do so. They rule over our people on our colonies, and tax them almost to death. And then they expect our automatic aid whenever they get into a skirmish with the Centauri, or the Tuchanq or the T’llin. If that is your idea of a trustworthy ally, General Hague, I would hate to see your idea of an enemy.”

“The enemy is the Minbari, as you well know, Vice President, and given a choice between the Minbari or the Narns, I would take the Narns. If it weren’t for their intervention, the odds are we wouldn’t even be here.”

“That’s as it may be, William,” Crane replied, “but the Centauri may well prove to be better allies. They ask little, and they promise a great deal.”

“Madame President, the Centauri cannot defeat the Narns. That is a fact, and take it as read. Neither can the Narns defeat the Centauri, and we, as things stand, would be lucky to defeat a planet full of teddy bears! If we lend our negligible military strength to the Centauri, then they would not give us our colonies back, because they would be in no position to do so. What would happen is that the Narns would very likely sell us all out to the Minbari, and then Proxima Three would go the same way as Earth.”

“But the Narns have asked for our military aid in their next war with the Centauri,” Clark said. “Given that the next war is likely to happen either this year or the next, we will either have to give it, or ally ourselves with the Centauri and that…”

“Either way, Vice President,” Hague interjected, “the point is moot if the Minbari blow us all apart first. You have all read the reports Mr. Welles has made from his interrogation of our Minbari captive. The reason they have held back from any decisive attack thus far is because of the power struggle going on in their Grey Council. Given that one half of that power struggle is now lying in our prison, it’s likely that this… Sinoval… will take over the Grey Council, and lead the war straight here.”

“The problem, if I may be so bold as to say so,” brought up General Takashima, General Franklin’s former head of staff, who had been raised to the Resistance Government following Franklin’s death, “is with neither the Minbari, nor the Narns, but with our military. As you all know, our military strength consists almost entirely of Captain Sheridan and his Babylon. We have neither the resources nor the money to build new heavy class warships, and the Narns won’t sell us anything of that size. We can barely manage to replace Sheridan’s Starfury losses. And Sheridan… has a mind of his own. There is little point in us debating and arguing if the effective head of our army decides just to ignore whatever we tell him, as he has done on numerous occasions.”

“Exactly,” Hague said, glaring at Takashima, and no less at Clark. It was well known that Takashima was in Clark’s pocket. “I think that is where our allies might come in. You have all read Lieutenant Ivanova’s report, I trust. She has offered us the complete and unconditional assistance of this mysterious race of aliens. All they want, apparently, is to live in peace, and if that means wiping out the Minbari, then so be it. She wants an answer, and I have to give it to her. I am sure I do not have to remind you of the sheer power of these aliens?”

“No,” Crane said. “You do not. It is their sheer power that worries me. We know nothing about this race. We have seen no Ambassador or envoy, just this Lieutenant Ivanova. She offers us the help of this race none of us has seen in order to help annihilate the Minbari. If they are that powerful, then why haven’t they done so themselves? And I am not the only one to be doubtful of these aliens. Captain Sheridan has formally noted his… suspicions…”

“You’re being a fool, Marie,” snapped Clark. “And Captain Sheridan is simply afraid that he will not be indispensable any longer. They offer us the greatest hope we can get for the end of this war. We don’t have to trust them. We just have to ally ourselves with them.”

“I agree,” said Takashima.

Crane looked around at the others, who either bowed their heads or spoke up in agreement. She knew a losing cause when she saw one. “Fine. Tell Lieutenant Ivanova that we accept her offer of an alliance, but she must remain on Proxima Three, and she must be answerable to this assembly for the actions of her allies. You will be responsible for this, William. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly, Madame President.”

* * * * * * *

Sheridan had watched Welles’ brutal interrogation of Delenn with silent, staring eyes. He had watched as Welles had dragged each piece of information, kicking and screaming from her. He had never struck her, never touched her, never even caused her physical harm, but he had managed to tear down everything she was, and everything she believed in with merely a few well chosen words. He had spoken about Earth, about severed dreams, and lost souls and broken spirits. He had spoken of countless deaths, he had spoken of the heart of the human race – the planet Earth – and of how it was gone forever.

And then he had fallen silent, and left Delenn to her guilt. And then he had asked her questions: troop movements, army organisation, supply lines, technology. Each piece of information she gave was verified by Miss Alexander, who repeatedly violated Delenn’s mind.

The whole thing lasted several hours, during which time Welles uncovered information that would have taken months of scouting operations and hundreds of lives. Sheridan recognised the equation, but he still felt disgusted by what he had witnessed. Welles had seemed oblivious to the stare Sheridan was boring into the back of his head. It was easier for Sheridan than looking at Delenn.

When it was over, Welles had yawned, and risen to his feet. He flicked a switch, at which motion Delenn had started, and then he left, saluting Sheridan as he did so. Sheridan simply stared at him, and then at Lyta. She looked haggard and weary, and her walk as she left was slow and hesitant.

Sheridan looked at Welles’ chair, and then sat down on the table. He flicked back the switch that Welles had activated. He knew what it did. It gave short, irritating electrical shocks through Delenn’s chair at various intervals. A means to prevent her sleeping. Sleep deprivation was the oldest form of human torture.

“Why did you do that?” Delenn asked.

“I don’t like torture,” was his sharp reply. “I don’t… I didn’t like what I just saw.”

“Fortunes of war,” she rasped. “Would Sinoval or Kalain have treated you any better? Probably not.”

“But I’m not them. At least, I hope I’m not.”

“You will get into trouble,” she said. “They must know you had food brought to me.”

“I don’t care. What can they do to me? I’m their only hope and they know it.” She smiled slightly. “What?” he laughed. “What?”

“You remind me of Neroon sometimes. He does too, but he merely looks and sounds like Neroon. You act like him.”

“Really?” Sheridan tried to digest that piece of information. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“A good thing. Definitely a good thing.”

“Oh, thank you.” He paused again and looked at her. Sometimes he nearly managed to forget what she was, and what she had done. Nearly. “There’s… there’s something I need to ask you. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but I just… have a feeling that I’ve known you before. I don’t know how to put it into words. When I look at you, I… don’t see a Minbari… I see you. If that makes any sense.”

She smiled again. “We believe that souls travel together over many lifetimes, reliving the good relationships, and putting right the wrong ones.”

“What? You think this crazy feeling is because our souls have some kind of… cosmic sewing circle going?”

“I do not recognise the term, but it is possible.” She suddenly looked up, at the guard who stood silently at the door. Sheridan caught her expression, and gave the guard a sharp gesture. He looked unhappy, but left. “Captain, I feel… that… ah, there is something I should tell you… something that they have not been able to take from me. We… ah, this is difficult. We believe that the souls of each generation are reborn in the next, that when one of us dies, his or her soul is placed in someone who comes afterwards. Do you have any such beliefs, Captain?”

“I… once… I suppose. I stopped believing in anything when I saw Earth for the last time.” His words were not meant to wound, but they still did so. She bowed her head, and it took a few moments before she was able to speak again.

“But for the past thousand years, each generation has seemed… less that its predecessors. There are fewer of us being born, and those who are do not seem up to those who came before. Almost as if their souls were disappearing. And… our great religious leader Valen left certain prophecies for the future, prophecies about an Ancient Enemy returning, about fire and darkness and about the need to unite with the other half of our soul, or we would be destroyed. I could never work out what he meant by that, but when I saw you and Sinoval confronting each other, I think I did.

“These words are near to blasphemy, Captain, but I cannot ignore them any longer. I… I think our souls have been going to you.”

“What? That’s… that’s absurd. Isn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I… I would have thought so, but… there is something else. When I was a child, I saw a vision of Valen. I was separated from my parents, and lost and hiding in an abandoned temple. I saw a vision of Valen there, who said that he would not allow harm to come to me. Our prophecies always wrote of Valen as being Minbari not born of Minbari. While I was questioned not long ago, I experienced another vision. I think Valen was human.”

Sheridan opened his mouth, but couldn’t find anything to say. This all sounded so absurd. Finally, he spoke up. “We’ve only had space travel on any scale for a hundred years or so. From what I’ve heard, Valen’s a lot further back than that.” She nodded. “How can that be possible?”

“I do not know, but it is all I can think of. I… was on my way to test out this theory when I came across you and… the other.”

“Test it?” His eyes narrowed. “How?”

“There is… an artifact, called the Triluminary. There are three, in fact. I borrowed one. They can be used as a telepathic scan, or to… study a soul. I was going to study your soul, Captain, and discover if what I believed was true.”

“A Triluminary? You mean one of these?” Sheridan fished in his pocket and pulled out a triangular object, made of a metal he couldn’t identify. She nodded, her mouth open in surprise. “I took it from you then. You honestly think that I have a Minbari soul.”

“I do not know. I… I am scared, Captain. If that is true, then the war with the Enemy is coming, sooner than any of us can guess. I am afraid of what will happen if I am not there to lead against them.”

“Ah. So that’s it. I suppose you’d just like me to let you out of here, would you? Send you back to Minbar? Even let go of our new allies?”

“Captain, please! You must have had… doubts… about them?”

He paused, and then nodded slowly. “Yes, but for the moment, I don’t care. I honestly think that you believe what you’re saying, but you don’t have any power over the Minbari at the moment. Sooner or later your people will be coming for us, and we will have to be ready. If that entails making a Faustian bargain, then so be it. There will be plenty of time to worry about our new friends when we are safe.”

“Then it will be too late.”

“It’s never too late.” He pocketed the Triluminary and stepped back. “I have to go and check on my ship. We’re heading out on border patrol in a few days, and I have to make sure everything is all right.”

“I… Yes… I understand. Thank you, Captain.”

He said nothing as he left.

* * * * * * *

Lyta looked at her carefully arranged table and nodded silently. Perfect! She was wearing her favourite green and brown dress. The meal was cooked and ready – although the food was considerably lacking given the poor plantations and hydroponics here – but it would be edible. Besides, it was the company that would make the evening bearable. Assuming the company ever arrived.

At twenty five minutes past eight – or 2025, she supposed she should call it – he did. He stepped inside slowly, as if he were entering a room full of Minbari rather than the home of one – very beautiful, she thought in her completely unbiassed opinion – woman. He looked around slowly and gave her a bottle. She read the label and smiled.

“Orange juice. Thank you.”

“There, um, aren’t many places I could find something to drink. And I had to wait until Captain Sheridan returned to the Babylon before I could start looking.”

“It’s wonderful. It’s practically impossible to find real fruit juice out here.”

“It isn’t… exactly…”

“You were thinking of not coming, weren’t you?”

“Are you scanning me?”

“No,” she lied. “Just observation. I’m not that imposing, am I?”

“No… it’s just… why did you ask me here? You hardly know me.”

“You intrigue me, and I’m not easily intrigued. I’m… interested in you.” He looked as though he were about to bolt any second. “Come on, sit down. The meal will be getting cold. And I have a fairly nice bottle of Centauri brandy. Much nicer than the Narn stuff.”

“I… don’t… drink alcohol,” he said carefully. She looked at him and silently cursed herself. She could sense it, hovering just below the surface, the rushing red rage, fired by alcohol and fuelled by hatred. He was… had been an alcoholic.

“That’s fine,” she said. “We’ll try your orange juice.”

He had eaten silently throughout the meal, ignoring her attempts at conversation, or giving quick, monosyllabic answers. She had avoided questioning him about his family – she could sense the loss in his mind – but she knew about the Vega 7 massacre. At least, she knew what had been reported. She also knew that what had been reported was – to put it bluntly – either a deliberate lie, or a serious error with regard to the truth.

She did take the opportunity to make a number of quick, casual scans. He didn’t seem to notice, and she had taken care not to be detected. He was angry. Brimming just away from view was an intense, surging anger, directed at the world, at the Minbari, at… something she didn’t recognise and didn’t want to, but most of all at himself. Anger and hatred and terror and grief, all wrapped up into one bundle. Lyta was more than intrigued. She was fascinated.

“Do you really hate the Minbari so much?” she asked.

Marcus started as if electrocuted. He looked at her, seemingly unsure of what to say. She cocked her head slightly, and put on the softest, friendliest smile she could manage.

“They took away everything I was born with,” he whispered. “They took away my heritage, my dreams, my reasons for living, the only two people I’ve ever cared about. Yes, I hate them. Don’t you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. What happened… happened. Did I lose friends on Earth? Yes. Family? Yes. But… hatred won’t bring them back. Killing the Minbari won’t bring them back. Psi Corps was destroyed with Earth, and it had been my reason for living. The Corps is mother, the Corps is father. I was raised by the Corps and clothed by the Corps, and now it’s gone. But… just because the Corps doesn’t exist any more, it doesn’t mean I have to stop being what they made me. I serve the Resistance Government because it gives me a purpose, and a reason for living. All you need to do is find your reason for living.”

“I have one,” he rasped.

“No, I’m sorry Marcus, but I don’t think you ever did. You’re with Captain Sheridan because you hope to find somewhere to die.” She smiled, sad and bittersweet this time. “You need a reason for coming back.” Slowly, she reached out across the table and touched his cheek with her gloved fingers. “And I… I think I need something too. I need to help people. I can help you.”

“Did you read those things in my mind?”

“No,” she lied again. “I’m simply… I’ve got used to observing people over the years. It makes what I do easier. I could enter your mind if you like. I could help you, but only if you want me to.”

“No one can help me. No one at all. Not even you.”

“What about Captain Sheridan? Ah, I thought that would get a reaction. He’s as bad as you are, Marcus. Worse, if anything. Stay away from him. Sooner or later, he’s going to launch a suicide mission he won’t be coming back from, and I don’t want you to fail to come back as well.”

“Why? Just because you’re… intrigued by me.”

“Your death would be a waste. I think you’ve still got a great deal to offer life.”

“The only thing I have to offer anyone is my death. Don’t take that away from me.”

“I have to, Marcus. I… I can feel that you’ve never had many friends, have you? Few people who cared. Always the loner?” He nodded and looked away. “I’m willing to listen, and to talk, and to be here. If you want me to.”

“Why do you care about me? I can’t believe you’d offer so much…”

“Maybe it’s because I’m lonely too. Because I’ve lived so many lives that belong to other people that I don’t know where my own begins. Or maybe it’s simply that my reason for living isn’t enough.”

Marcus rose to his feet. “I don’t think you’d like what you’d find in my mind. Thank you for the meal, but I have to go.” He moved towards the door.

“Marcus!” He turned. “Any time you need my help, just come and ask. I’ll be here.” He was about to speak, but then his head dropped and he left. Lyta stared at the door as it closed, and shook her head wearily. “Good thing I enjoy a challenge, isn’t it?”

* * * * * * *

Days passed, days that for Delenn were marked by agony and shame, by questions and answers, by interrogation and humiliation. She had lost track of time, but Sheridan had not come to visit her again. She assumed that he had gone on his patrol mission, leaving her alone to Mr. Welles and Miss Alexander.

She had wept, she had cried out, she had sworn in the name of Valen, and prayed for help, but none had come. She had tried meditation, she had tried resistance, she had tried thinking of Neroon, or Draal, or her father, or Dukhat, but none of them brought her comfort. She had tried thinking of Sheridan, and that brought her only pain.

The door opened and she looked up, expecting to see the telepath. Welles was questioning her about the Rangers, when he was interrupted. It was Captain Sheridan.

“Ah, Captain. Come to watch again?” It was impossible for Delenn to identify the emotion in Welles’ voice. It was likely there was none.

“Not exactly. I’m leaving for border patrol in a few hours, and I’m taking her with me.” Welles raised an eyebrow. “This is not open for debate.”

“There is still a great deal of information to be gained from her.”

“I don’t care. From now on, you will only question her while I am present. She will be kept under full Security watch aboard the Babylon. Her presence here is causing too many distractions.”

“I see. On whose authority are you doing this?”

“My own, which is all the authority I need.”

“I see. And do you feel this is a… suitable use of your authority?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, then, Captain. She’s all yours. I just hope that you are not mistaken in your beliefs. She is still valuable to us.”

“More valuable to me.” Delenn looked up and met his gaze for the first time since he had entered. He smiled, and moved to her side, extending his hand. She took it, and rose. Under Welles’ slow, cynical eye, she moved from the chair, half limping, half carried, resting on Sheridan’s strength.

As the door to the room closed behind her, and she stepped into the corridor, Delenn had never felt so free.

She smiled.

Part IV: To Hear the Machine

Chapter 1

It was a time that would later be called the dawn of the third age of mankind; a time when it seemed unlikely that mankind would even survive this age. Their homeworld was destroyed, their people decimated and scattered, existing by the most fragile of handholds and through the strength of one ship and the courage of one man. The ship was the Babylon, and the man was Captain John Sheridan.

But these were dark days for all, not just humanity. The Minbari’s quest to complete what they had begun over fourteen years before was turning them away from their ancient prophecies and customs, and on to a headlong rush into the abyss. My own people were so consumed with war and hatred that they did not see what could be found directly at their feet, and the Centauri… well, they never change.

But it was humanity which was falling the fastest and the farthest. Born out of a combination of terror and hatred, they had made an alliance with a Darkness rising, not knowing and not caring what they would have to pay.

But, as my uncle once told me, there is always hope. The denial of hope is the denial of life, and the loss of hope is the loss of a reason to live.

But then, as another wise man once said, a man without hope is a man without fear.

The personal diary of Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar, leader of the Narn Rangers.

* * * * * * *

He would never be able to explain the sensations he gained from his contact with the Great Machine. Words could not put it across; it could not be described in terms of sight or sound or taste or colour. It simply was. It was as though he were a part of the universe, very aware of his own, minute importance to the greater scheme of things, yet instead of being in despair at his own insignificance, he was elated at the grandeur of which he was a very small part.

Yet now that elation was despair, for Varn was dying, and if he died, then the Machine died with him, the planet died with him, his people, their legacy and everything that they were died with him.

There must be hope for the future, and there could be no hope for the future without memory of the past. The Machine would provide both. If one survived to occupy it.

Varn had seen the stars, he had scanned throughout the galaxy, seen the beings that walked through the sands at Sigma 957, seen the ancient force returning to power at Z’ha’dum, seen the Vorlons readying themselves, seen the Minbari and the humans, and the Narns and the Centauri, all fighting their own little wars, but preludes to the Great War. A Darkness was coming. Varn had never claimed to be a champion of Light, but the one who came after him would have to be.

But Varn was dying, and he could not reach out far enough or long enough to touch those he needed, and so he had sent out his servants, the custodians of the Machine. He had sent out ten, but only two still lived, and only those two had reached those they were sent for. One was returning now, but the other… the other had made a detour. Varn did not understand. Zathras had known the importance of his mission. G’Kar had been made to understand and had agreed to come, so why had they altered their path?

And why were they heading for a world that had welcomed the Darkness into its own heart?

* * * * * * *

Captain John Sheridan was trying very hard not to run into anybody. Hiding was a skill he had taken great care to learn – in a galaxy where every Minbari in existence wanted him dead, it was a useful survival trait – but he had managed to use it when necessary in his own corridors of power. The Main Dome of Proxima 3, a place that was – in theory – his home. In practice, his home was the EAS Babylon, last heavy class warship to survive the war with the Minbari, and last, best hope for humanity. The Babylon seemed almost a part of him by now, after he had commanded it for over fourteen years, since the beginning of the war, and he was used to its little quirks and idiosyncrasies. Oh, all his crew had to do to find him was send a message to his link, but that wasn’t the point. He could hide if he wanted to. Here… here was a very different matter. He was not in charge here. Here, on Proxima 3, he was answerable to the Resistance Government, and here he couldn’t hide from them, although he tried as often as he could.

It wasn’t just the Resistance Government he was hiding from, however. He was also hiding from his wife Anna. If he was lucky, she was simply very drunk by now, and willing to insult him and everything he held dear, including their dead daughter, Elizabeth. If he was unlucky, she was sober and quiet and loving and nearly the woman he had married. Those brief periods of normality hurt worse than any barbed remark or drunken argument, because they were reminders of times he could never have back.

He was also hiding from Marcus. The man had sworn himself as his personal bodyguard. Everyone else around Sheridan seemed to take this as fact and gave Marcus the same accord they gave all the other members of his command staff. It was annoying and downright infuriating sometimes, but Marcus at least meant well. Sheridan understood that Marcus was, at the moment, being cornered by Miss Alexander in yet another stage of her relentless pursuit of him. He silently wished her every luck, and acknowledged that she would need it. He had seen corpses less stiff than Marcus.

He was also hiding from Susan, a meeting he definitely did not want. Ever since his return from the Narn homeworld a few months ago, he had been experiencing grave doubts about Susan’s mysterious friends, accepted by the Resistance Government as allies against the Minbari. Delenn had been trying to warn him about them ever since he had captured her from the Minbari homeworld. Well, fair enough. Ivanova had said that the Minbari and the… others – he would have to find a decent name for them soon – were ancient enemies, and it did make sense that the Minbari wouldn’t want what was left of the Earth Alliance having any allies at all.

But then he had met G’Kar. Greatest hero of the Narn / Centauri War that had ended in bloody stalemate a few years ago. G’Kar had disappeared from view immediately after the war. Sheridan had met him as a preacher, ostensibly preaching a creed of his religion to fellow Narns while secretly running an underground network of agents whose purpose seemed to be preparing for the return of Susan’s friends. G’Kar’s words – and something else, the vision he could barely remember except in his dreams – had reached something within Sheridan, something he wasn’t sure still existed.

And someone else had managed to touch him as well. Satai Delenn, brought here in chains forged by Sheridan himself, questioned and tortured, mentally and physically, she had coaxed from him the first act of kindness he had ever displayed to a Minbari. Food, drink and sleep. He had listened to her, spoken to her, and eventually had her removed from her cell and given a secure room aboard the Babylon. He had caught seven kinds of hell from the Resistance Government for that, but they all knew that there was nothing they could do to him. He was Captain John Sheridan after all, greatest hope of the human race. What could they do to him – demotion? Court-martial? No, he was safe enough. From the Resistance Government as well, although if what Satai Delenn and G’Kar were saying was true, then no one would be safe soon.

So, and this was the sixty-four thousand dollar question: why wasn’t he broaching these concerns to the Resistance Government themselves instead of keeping them quiet? Answer: they wouldn’t listen to him, and he wasn’t even sure if he should. He had seen the work of Ivanova’s friends at first hand. Two Minbari cruisers destroyed in a matter of seconds. Power like that was worthy of respect, and for the moment at least, they were the allies of humanity. If they could be kept that way, all well and good. If not… then he would be ready for them.

He’d have to be.

Thinking all this over had taken time and effort, and so he was taking care to hide. Delenn was on board the Babylon, Marcus was being hunted down by Miss Alexander, the Resistance Government was meeting with Susan over matters of deployments, treaties and so on, Anna was anywhere but not here, and Commander Corwin – his XO – was holding Starfury exercises with Lieutenants Franklin and Connally.

All was quiet, but he knew that things would not stay that way. He was hiding, waiting and preparing himself for the inevitable explosion.

Sure enough, his link activated. It was Corwin. David knew – as did everyone on the Babylon – that when Sheridan went to ground, nothing bar the sudden arrival of twenty Minbari cruisers should disturb him.

This wasn’t the arrival of twenty Minbari cruisers. This was worse.

* * * * * * *

“I must say,” Sheridan was saying, “I’m surprised you didn’t give us any notification you were coming. Security here is as tight as ever. If I’d known in advance…”

“That would not be possible,” his guest said. “There are certain… individuals here who would not be receptive to my presence. We hitched a lift aboard a cargo ship whose captain is a part of my network. He asked no questions, and I sent a message to Commander Corwin, arranging for us to be brought on board.”

Sheridan sat back and looked at his guest. G’Kar had apparently recovered from the injuries that had so nearly killed him a few months back. He was moving like a perfectly fit man, but there was something in his eyes. A steely determination that had always been there, and a quiet terror that had not.

“Who is us?” he asked. “You didn’t bring Neroon here?” He still found it hard to accept that one of G’Kar’s most trusted agents was a Minbari.

“Oh no, that would… not be wise. He and Ta’Lon are still working on the rebuilding of our fortifications in the G’Khorazhar Mountains. I have brought along a most… interesting companion.”

“Oh,” said a voice Sheridan had never heard before. “Is being very honoured to meet you, yes. Very honoured.” And then a strange clicking noise. “A great destiny lies before you, yes. Click, click A great destiny indeed.”

Sheridan looked at his second, who had brought a mysterious hairy humanoid into the ready room aboard the Babylon. Corwin shrugged, “Don’t ask,” he said. “If he’s here, at least we know where he is.”

Sheridan turned to the newcomer. “And you are?”

“I is being called Zathras, oh yes, and I is being come with Holy One G’Kar here to be meeting you, Captain Sheridan. You must come with us, oh yes. Click, click

“I…” Sheridan looked at G’Kar, who gave the Narn equivalent of a shrug.

“I do not know much either, Captain, I am afraid. He came to me during my recovery, and spoke of a place where I was urgently needed. He did not say where, or why, but he knows about the Great War that is coming and he knows about the Enemy, and he knows about you. He would not tell me why or how he knows these things, and I did not ask.”

“Well, I will. Look… Zathras? I can’t just drop everything and leave here on your say-so. I’ll have to justify something like this to the Resistance Government, and they might be interested to know where I’m going.”

“Oh no no no no. Must not tell them, no. Click They is being corrupted by Darkness, yes. Click Very bad, very sad, very bad.”

Sheridan placed his hand on his forehead. “I’m not following this, G’Kar. You actually trust him?”


“Mind telling me why?”

“Your destiny lies with us,” Zathras said. “Many lives, yes. You must see, you must learn, must understand. You have a destiny, a great destiny. More than leader, more than Starkiller, more than messiah. Yes yes, must come, to understand.”

“What destiny?”

“Ah no, Zathras is being very sorry, but Zathras not being allowed to tell you that. Varn give Zathras list of things not to say, and that was… ah, no, Zathras not being allowed to say what Zathras not being allowed to say. You not trick Zathras. Zathras knows what not to say, and Zathras is not being saying it. You must come. That is all.”

“Come where? Or aren’t you allowed to tell me that either?”

“Oh no, Zathras being allowed to tell you that. You must come home – see Varn. Yes, Varn wants to see you. Well no, Varn not want to see you, but Varn need to see you. Varn not understand, Varn not know. Varn is being old, and dying. Very sad.”

“I suppose there’s no point asking you who this Varn is?” Zathras shook his head. “Or where your home is?”

“Oo. Please be waiting a minute. Zathras be thinking. Yes, Zathras is being permitted to being telling you that. Zathras tell you where home is.”

“Just as well,” Corwin muttered. “Or how would we get there?”

“Home is… known to you as third planet of Epsilon Eridani. Yes, that be home. Called… Euphrates. Yes. Zathras call it home, but you call it Euphrates. Zathras think home is better name, but what does Zathras know?”

Sheridan and Corwin shared a glance. “I see. G’Kar, can we have a word alone for a minute here, please?” G’Kar nodded, and Corwin led Zathras away, a looked of pained exasperation on his face. When they were gone, Sheridan turned to G’Kar.

“What the hell kind of story is that? Epsilon Eridani Three is deserted, and I know that for a fact. I did a survey of that whole area three years ago, looking for potential sites of the Babylon Project – mission four. We scanned the whole area, and there was nothing even faintly unusual. What are you trying to pull on us here?”

“Scans can be obstructed, Captain. You must trust me on this matter.”

“Aw hell! Look, I need to think about this for a while. I’ve still got no idea what I’m doing here, and I think the Resistance Government is going to want me to run a mission out on the Rim for a while. I’ll need to get back to you on this.”

“Of course, Captain, but do not take too long. The road is running away from us faster all the time. Unless we choose our own path on the road, we will be forced where it takes us, which is seldom where we would like to go.” He pulled something from his pocket. It was a data crystal. “I would appreciate it if you would give this to Delenn. It is a message recorded for her by Neroon. You may watch it first yourself to ensure it contains nothing dangerous to you. Neroon accepted that that might be a possibility.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Sheridan said softly. Suddenly, his link bleeped.

“There’s a Gold Channel message coming from President Crane, sir,” Corwin said.

“I’ll take it in here,” Sheridan replied. “I don’t think it would be a good idea for her to know you’re here, G’Kar. How many people know so far?”

“Just yourself, Commander Corwin and a few security guards. Commander Corwin assured me that they could be trusted.”

“Good. David will show you somewhere to rest tonight while I think this whole thing over. You never know, the Resistance Government may just want me to fall on my sword or something.”

“Of course, Captain. G’Quan be with you.” G’Kar thumped his fists on his chest and bowed his head as he left the room.

Sighing softly, Sheridan turned to the commscreen and activated it. He clasped his hands behind his back and tried to present the image of a dignified, stern Captain. Appearances counted for a lot with the Resistance Government.

President Crane’s face appeared on the commscreen. “Captain Sheridan, we wish to see you before us immediately. Do not tarry.” And then the screen went blank.

Sheridan groaned. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.

* * * * * * *

“I hope this reaches you, Delenn. G’Kar has said that he will do all he can to ensure that it does. He is a good man, a very good man. Better than Sinoval, perhaps better than Branmer. I told you before that I felt my destiny lay with G’Kar. Now I am certain of it.

“I cannot tell you what I have been doing, or where I am. This message may be intercepted. I… simply wanted to give you some sort of comfort, Delenn. If there were any way I could help you, I swear before Valen, I would. Sheridan will try to help you, I think. He is an honourable man, and can be trusted.

“I wish that there were something I could say to you, Delenn… anything that would make this easier. I would only remind you of the Shryne. I do not need to tell you to be strong, but I hope you can be at peace. I am.

“Valen walk with you, Delenn, and know that you are always in my thoughts. Always, and forever.”

The message ended, and Delenn stared at the silent viewscreen. There was a faint, tragic smile on her face.

* * * * * * *

“The planet’s name is Euphrates,” General Hague was saying. “The third planet of the Epsilon Eridani system. I believe you’ve been there before.”

Sheridan looked at Hague, managing to keep his expression carefully neutral. Hague was standing in front of the half circular table where sat the Resistance Government. Sheridan could practically feel the dark eyes of Vice President Clark boring into him, but he ignored them. Clark had been the biggest proponent of having Sheridan punished over his actions concerning Delenn, but he had been voted down. Sheridan was indispensable, and everyone knew it.

“Yes, General,” Sheridan replied. “I performed a scouting mission there while searching for sites for the Babylon Four mission. It was uninhabitable, deserted and worthless in itself, but it was found to be a suitable site for the…”

“We all know that, Captain,” spoke up Vice President Clark. “It appears that your scouting mission was a little lacking.”

“Vice President?” Sheridan was a master at the neutral tone when he wanted to be.

“Our probes have been picking up unusual seismic activity from the planet,” Hague said. “One of them was destroyed by some kind of long range weaponry. Very powerful weaponry. The planet Euphrates is not as worthless as it may have seemed.”

“You’ve hypothesised all this from one destroyed probe?”

“We’ve had a little… extra information on that score.”

“The planet is known to my friends,” spoke up a female voice. Sheridan kept his expression perfectly level, but he turned to see a woman step out from behind the table. “There was once a powerful, technologically advanced race living there. My friends came across some exiles from that race and they told us everything we needed to know.” Susan Ivanova smiled and Sheridan dug his fingernails deeper into his palms, keeping his hands behind his back.

“It appears that your scouting mission was sloppy, Captain,” said Clark. “I wonder where else you have been negligent.”

“With respect, Vice President,” Sheridan said coolly. “I had to perform complete scouting reports on four star systems in the space of three weeks at a time when the Babylon was poorly manned, poorly equipped and in poor condition.”

“We are at war, in case you hadn’t noticed. We have neither the resources nor the time to give you everything you ask for. You will simply have to make do with what you have, but we still expect nothing but the best from you. If you can’t give us that, then maybe we should appoint someone who can.”

“Morgan, please,” whispered President Crane wearily.

“Actually, the Captain is not to blame,” Ivanova said. “Almost certainly amongst the technology on that planet are sophisticated cloaking devices. If it weren’t for my friends’ prior knowledge, then I doubt anyone could find it.”

“Your instructions, Captain,” Hague said, “are to go to this planet, and make a full survey of the resources available to us. You are to lay claim to that planet in the name of the Earth Alliance and begin the construction of bases and encampments for scientists and tacticians to evaluate the technical resources there. If anyone… anyone at all – friend or foe – tries to stop us laying claim to those resources, then you are to destroy them. You are not to flee under any circumstances. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly, General. Will Miss Ivanova be accompanying us?”

“No,” Susan said. “I’m sure you can handle this one on your own. If you do need any more firepower however, I’m sure I could dispatch a few of my friends to go along with you.”

Sheridan nearly winced. He remembered what Susan’s friends had done to those two Minbari cruisers at Vega 7. “That will not be necessary. I’m sure they’ll be needed here in case the Minbari attack.”

“That need not concern you, Captain,” said President Crane. “The information we gained from the prisoner you brought – gained by Mr. Welles and verified telepathically by Miss Alexander – indicates that the Minbari will not attack until the power struggle within their Grey Council is resolved. They cannot choose a new leader until the period of mourning for their old one is over, and that will not happen for several months. You need not worry about the Minbari.”

“Yes, Madam President.” Sheridan made a formal bow and salute and stalked from the chamber. Only when he was outside did he realise that he had dug his fingernails so tightly into his palms that he had drawn blood.

* * * * * * *

“It could be a coincidence,” Corwin said. He looked at Sheridan’s furious expression. “All right, so maybe it’s not a coincidence.”

“She had to know. Somehow, Susan knew about this.” Sheridan was sitting casually in his small ready room off the bridge of the Babylon, lounging back in his chair and resting his feet up on the control panel. It was hardly the proper posture, but he didn’t care. “How could she have known?” He looked sharply at his second. “Have you had any contact with Miss Ivanova lately?”

“No. I don’t know what it is. It’s like she’s been avoiding me.”

“I did a little digging into her personnel file. It was exemplary. First class. That’s why she was entrusted with such a secretive and high class mission but… I don’t know what it is. There’s something… oh, I wish I could put my finger on it. I’m sorry to bother you with this, David, but have you noticed anything unusual… anything at all?”

“Aside from the fact that she’s been ignoring me completely for over two months?”

Sheridan groaned. “Aw hell. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“No, sir. I have noticed something. She’s changed. She’s very different from the woman she was. It’s… almost like I’ve lost her again.”

Sheridan silently cursed himself. Why did he never notice these things? “I’m sorry, David. I shouldn’t have…”

“No, sir. We all have a duty to humanity, and to the Resistance Government. That takes precedence over private concerns.”

“Not always. How long until we get to Euphrates?”

“Three and a half hours or so.”

“Long enough. You – go and have a talk with G’Kar. Tell him how you feel. Believe it or not, he’s damned good at this sort of thing. That’s an order, Mr. Corwin. I know it won’t be easy, but at least talk to him. He has a rare gift, and we should at least get some use from it, don’t you think? Call it part payment for ferrying him out here. Mr. Corwin… that is an order.”

“Yes, sir.” Corwin did not move. “Sir? Who are you going to talk to?”

“I… don’t know.” Then he smiled softly. “Yes, I do.”

* * * * * * *

“Ah, Captain.” Delenn smiled softly. “It is… good to see you. My thanks for bringing Neroon’s message to me.”

“It was… my pleasure,” he said, looking at her carefully. She was seated on her small cot, hands folded demurely in her lap, seemingly at peace with the world and everything in it. Sheridan knew better. He’d read some of the transcripts from her interrogation by Mr. Welles, and he knew that Delenn was definitely not at peace, with anything. Beneath the demure exterior lurked a soul at conflict with itself, perhaps even more than Sheridan’s was.

Was that the reason he had come here? When all was said and done she was still a Minbari, and not just any Minbari, but a Satai. Welles had not uncovered the precise rôle she had played in the war, but Sheridan did know that she had been a powerful and respected member of the Grey Council. She had represented one side of a dangerous power struggle in the Council. How much blood was on her hands? How much of a part had she played in the instigation of war against his people? How much pain and loss did he owe to her?

And why had he come here seeking peace?

“Was I interrupting anything?” he said slowly, hesitantly.

“No,” she replied. “I was just… meditating. It has become harder for me of late.”

“You miss your friends? Your home?”

“I would be lying if I said that I did not, but no… it is more than that. I long ago accepted that I would go where I must, and I would go into darkness as easily as light.”

Sheridan shook his head. “I don’t think I caught any of that.”

“I am sorry. Our ways must seem… strange to you. I have little right to cling to them, I suppose. I am not on Minbar any longer. I am alone here, and fully aware of how I am regarded by those around me.”

“Nothing will happen to you,” he said. “Everyone on this ship knows that you are not to be harmed. They won’t disobey my orders. I promise you that.”

“I am not afraid, Captain. This body is but a shell. There are few people who can touch me in any way as to hurt me.”

“But Welles did.” Delenn looked away slowly. “Welles managed it. I’ve read the transcripts of your questioning. I saw what you looked like when I got back. Look at me, Delenn!” She turned and met his eyes. “Everything he said to you was true, wasn’t it? Everything he got from you was true.”

Softly: “Yes. It was. The blood of billions is on my hands, and I can find no reason to justify it to myself. The war was not fought for a good cause, for duty, or honour, or light. It was fought for anger and pride and selfishness. It has taken me a long time to realise this, Captain. Far too long.”

“And so why am I continuing this war then?” he asked. “More pride, more selfishness, more anger? Well, tell me, Satai Delenn! Tell me!” He was shouting now, and she was visibly quailing from his verbal onslaught.

“No,” she whispered. “You are continuing the war because you do not know how to stop it.”

He stepped backwards slowly, a numbed feeling spreading through him. She was right, and he was right. Each of them was right about the other. That was precisely why their words hurt so much.

“And do you?” he whispered.

“No. I am afraid that I do not.”

Sheridan fished something out of his pocket and held it before her. It was the small metal triangle that he had taken from Delenn during her capture. She had called it a Triluminary, and had intended to use it to scan his soul. The Resistance Government did not know about it, and he was not sure why he had kept it.

Yes he did. It was important to her, and she was the closest thing he could find to a true kindred spirit in this whole damn life.

She met his eyes, her expression a mix of many things – fear, hope, despair. Slowly, he put the Triluminary away again.

“We should be at Euphrates soon,” he said. “I’ll have to return to the bridge.”

“Of course,” she whispered. “Thank you for coming, Captain.”

“It… was… a pleasure. My pleasure.” He looked at her and then left. He had to talk to G’Kar, and try and get some more answers from Zathras and try and find out what he could expect to find there.

He had expected that he would not be alone, but he had not expected what would be waiting there for him.

Someone else knew about the Great Machine.

Chapter 2

Alyt Kalain was, first and foremost, a warrior, and proud to be so. He still remembered the first day he had set foot upon the Trigati, the ship that was to become his home. It had been a moment of pride, and power and duty. He had knelt before the ship’s commander – Sinoval – and had sworn his loyalty. That had been over twenty-five cycles ago, and during that time Kalain had risen far. He now captained the Trigati, and had done so ever since Sinoval was raised to the Grey Council. Kalain had been a part of the climax of the jihad against the Earthers. With Sinoval watching, he had torn the heart from the Earth Alliance, enacting fitting justice for the murder of Dukhat.

His victory had been hollow, however. The memory of his glory over Earth had been forever tarnished by the memory of his shame over Mars. Kalain and the Trigati had been leading the attack on the Earther colony there, cleaning up after the destruction of Earth, when, tearing through the heavens like a demon creature from legend, there came a ship he would later know to be the Babylon, captained by John Sheridan.

The Babylon, acting on pure fury and little else, had torn apart the Minbari defences, and borne down upon the ship containing the Grey Council itself. Kalain had tried to respond, but his warrior nerve had left him at the sight of that ship, and he had panicked. Sinoval was before the Grey Council themselves, and the Trigati had been leaderless, standing by paralysed as Sheridan tore out the heart of the Grey Council. Two dead – one warrior, one religious – three more badly wounded and still sorely ill, mere shadows of their former selves. Sheridan had escaped, whatever fury had driven him giving way to the practicalities of common sense, and Kalain had been left to deal with his guilt.

He had tried to atone. In fact, he had tried suicide in penance, but Sinoval had found him, and stopped him. There were new days coming, Sinoval had said. He had been elevated to Satai in place of the dead warrior, and he would need a loyal cadre of followers. A new dawn was beginning, and the war must be the catalyst that swept away the old, and brought the Minbari back to their rightful place in the galaxy. Kalain had listened, and wept, and begged for forgiveness. Sinoval could not grant forgiveness, and he had told Kalain why:

I cannot forgive you, Alyt Kalain. Only the dead can do that. But you can forgive yourself. Let your deeds after this moment be enough to expiate your failure. Perform your penance for the sake of our people.

And Kalain had agreed. The Trigati, badly damaged during the war, had been rebuilt and strengthened, and made the new flagship for a new Minbari fleet. Kalain was proud once more, but this time for his people and not for himself. The Trigati was needed to replace the Dralaphi and to fight in the greatest war of all. Not against the Earthers, but against the Shadows.

Kalain had been told the full truth by Sinoval, one of a handful who knew. A ship belonging to the Ancient Enemy had been uncovered below the surface of Mars during the assault on that planet. It had tried to rise, and been destroyed. A second had been found on a moon belonging to the largest planet of their solar system. This one, the Enemy had returned for. There had been a bloody and devastating battle fought over Ganymede, a battle that had left four Minbari cruisers destroyed and hundreds dead. The Shadows were returning, and the Rangers were formed to meet them. The Rangers would need a flagship, and that flagship would be the Trigati.

Kalain knew Branmer – the former Ranger One – well. In fact, he had served Branmer during the war. Branmer had been a great man, but he had been too soft. He had not been strong enough to fight this war the way it should have been fought, and now he was dead, and there was no one to lead. Alyt Neroon, Branmer’s aide, was gone. Kalain was not a Ranger, and had no wish to lead them. That place belonged to Sinoval, as it now did.

Sinoval, now Entil’zha, had come to Kalain a few days before. He had spoken again of his dreams, and of his ambitions and of the part that Kalain would play in them. He had brought someone else along with him – an old, feeble man named Draal – a man who had taught all three religious members of the Grey Council. Draal had gone to Satai Lennann and had asked for his help on a matter of some importance. A mission to a desolate planet, to take two people – Draal and one other – and to leave them there. Those were the official details, but in private, Sinoval had mentioned something else. The planet was more than it seemed. There was power there, a power that could not be simply abandoned to an old man and a mysterious alien.

The planet the humans called Euphrates now had to belong to the Minbari.

And now that he was here, Kalain could only find one problem. Emerging from the skies again, a dark fury in its motion, a terrible beauty in its flight, was the EAS Babylon.

Aboard which would be Captain John Sheridan.

The Starkiller.

* * * * * * *

“It’s a Minbari cruiser all right, Captain,” Lieutenant Franklin said. “A big one.”

Sheridan groaned softly and looked down at G’Kar and Zathras. The Narn was standing patient and still next to Sheridan’s chair. Zathras was running about, examining things, and generally getting in everyone’s way.

“Have they seen us yet?” Sheridan asked.

“Almost certainly.”

“Fine. Power up forward batteries, and activate red alert. Launch Starfury squadrons Alpha and Delta and ready a fusion bomb.” Sheridan drew in a deep breath and sat back. The fury of battle was starting to rise in him now. He welcomed it gladly. There were few constants in his life, but battle was one of them. It was the one thing he did well, and the one thing he could do that mattered to anyone.

“Captain,” said G’Kar. “We do not need to fight here.”

“With all respect, G’Kar, they’re Minbari, and they’re doubtless after the same thing that we are. We don’t have time to debate the issue.”

“You have one of their Satai imprisoned on this very ship. Surely they will not open fire and risk killing her.”

“They did last time.”

“It cannot hurt to make them aware of this.”

Sheridan looked at G’Kar, saw the wisdom in his eyes. “And what do you know about this?” he asked Zathras.

“Varn send out many of us. He not being sure of right one to replace him. He intend in gathering all viable choices at Great Machine, let Great Machine choose. Click, click One does not choose the Machine, no no no. The Machine chooses you. Click

“And one of those other choices is a Minbari? Not a hope. I was told to take custody of that planet, and I’m going to…” Sheridan paused and looked and G’Kar. The Narn made a motion that was probably a shrug.

“Captain?” asked Commander Corwin.

“Aw hell. Launch the Starfury squadrons, and keep the forward batteries powered up. Broadcast a message in Interlac telling them we have Satai Delenn on board, and get her up here to the bridge. If they so much as blink in our direction, blast them.”

“Yes, sir,” Franklin said. “And for dessert, strawberry ice cream.”

“Vanilla, Lieutenant Franklin. I hate strawberries.” Sheridan looked at G’Kar. “Now what?”


Sheridan looked where G’Kar was pointing. His eyes widened.

“Good God.”

* * * * * * *

“I am telling you, Alyt Kalain, we will not attack that ship!”

Kalain regarded Draal sharply. His patience for the old man was limited in the extreme. This was a mission carried out for Sinoval, not for Draal and that absurd little alien. “I am Captain here,” he replied harshly. “And my orders will be obeyed.”

His words were stern, but they could not disguise the fear that he felt. This was Sheridan, the Starkiller. Kalain had followed Sheridan’s progress ever since the incident over Mars, picking at his shame irrationally. The involvement in the Narn / Centauri War. The destruction of the Emphili and the Dogato. His capture on Vega 7 and his escape from Minbar itself, with Satai Delenn.

Kalain was both exhilarated and terrified. This was his chance for redemption, for atonement for his cowardice over Mars. But this could lead to further shame and defeat. He dared not risk further shame. Sheridan had to be destroyed now.

“You heard their message,” Draal snapped. “They have Delenn with them. You will not jeopardise her life for your own revenge.”

“They were lying.”

“You know they were not.”

“Then if Delenn is with them, she is there willingly, and is therefore a traitor and not worthy of our concern.”

“Mathras!” Draal cried. “Can you do something here?”

“Mathras not, no, but Mathras know one who can, yes.”

“Shut your yapping gok up!”

“Gok? Mathras not is gok. Mathras not even know what gok is. Mathras… Ah. See. Mathras told you, but you not listen to Mathras. No one ever listen to Mathras. Not even Zathras listen to Mathras.”

“What does he…? Valen’s Name!”

Before him, shimmering slightly, was a vision of an alien Kalain had never seen before. Superficially, he resembled a Markab, but there was an age and wisdom in his eyes that could not have belonged to any member of that dead race.

“Greetings, visitors,” said the image. “I am Varn, custodian of the Great Machine. There will be no violence above this planet. You were all brought here for a purpose, and that purpose is to decide who will replace me in the heart of this Machine. Zathras and Mathras, my friends, you have done well. Bring your choices to the surface, and the Captains of these vessels. It will be for them to understand and spread word of what will happen here. Do not worry about the atmosphere. I have rendered it quite breathable by your species.

“And to be clear: any hostile action made by either side will be met by the destruction of that ship. There will be no violence here. Neither I nor the Machine will permit it.”

The image faded, and Kalain shot a sharp glance at Draal and Mathras. “Told you, Mathras did. Yes yes. Told you, but you not listen. No one ever listen to Mathras. Very sad life, yes, but meaningful too. Yes yes. Mathras not complain. Mathras have purpose.”

“I told you, Draal,” Kalain said. “Shut him up. Well, you heard that… thing. We have to go to the surface.”

And the Starkiller will be there as well.

* * * * * * *

“I may not go back,” Sheridan breathed as he looked around. “This is… this is… Hah. I think I’ll have to invent a word to describe it.” A flippant remark, but true. There were no words to describe what he saw around him. To think that an alien race could have built this and kept it hidden, disguised from intruders, and lived their lives here, so far underground… the whole thing was breathtaking.

“Is Great Machine,” said Zathras. “Is very great, no?”

“It certainly is that,” Sheridan breathed. He looked at his other companion, but G’Kar was whispering quietly to himself. Sheridan recognised a fragment of the Narn dialect, and he knew a prayer when he heard one.

And then his link activated, and the illusion was broken. “Everything’s quiet up here, Captain,” came Corwin’s voice. “The Minbari don’t seem to be making any hostile moves. We did see a shuttle go down a few minutes ago, however.”

Always a serpent in paradise. “Thank you, Mr. Corwin. Let me know if they show any sign of aggression. And… keep Satai Delenn safe. Sheridan out.”

“There will be no fighting above here, no no,” Zathras said. “Is being against Varn’s wishes. Fighting be not good. The art of fighting is knowing when to fight, and who not to fight… Ah, no no no, please be forgiving Zathras. What Zathras meant to say, is, the art of fighting is knowing who to when and fight to fight… Ah no. This is not good. Who to fight and when to fight who not. Ah, no. Click, click You have very strange language. Zathras not think he like this language. Is not making sense.”

“Well done,” Sheridan congratulated him. “It took the rest of us several hundred years to figure that one out.”

“Welcome, my friends,” said an old voice. Sheridan rounded a corner, Zathras scampering about at his heels, and came to an abrupt halt. Zathras crashed into the back of his legs.

“You is not wanting to be doing that. You should at least have given Zathras some warning, but no. Ignore Zathras. Zathras not important. No, Zathras does not mind.”

“But you are important,” said the voice. It was the same voice that had greeted him aboard the bridge of the Babylon. “We are all important, Zathras, each in our own way. And greetings to you too, Captain Sheridan, and to you, Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar.” The Narn pressed his fists against his chest in salute. Sheridan simply stared.

The alien did not look like anything special. He partially resembled a Markab, but he was shorter, and his facial structure was slightly different. His voice also seemed quieter and less assured than it had. Physically Varn was not very impressive, but then nothing would look impressive when compared to the mass of machinery and lights and colours that surrounded him. The whole sight was awesome, rising impossibly high into the rock all around them. Varn seemed as much a part of the machinery as were the wires and cables that joined him to it.

Varn – or rather, the image of Varn, who was standing several steps out from what was presumably his body – turned and gave a brief nod of his head. Sheridan turned also.

There were three new guests. One of them looked exactly like Zathras. The other two… were Minbari.

Always a serpent in paradise.

* * * * * * *

“But Lieutenant Ivanova, surely you can see our position here!” President Marie Crane of the Resistance Government was tired and hungry, and she very much wanted to rest. She did not want to be fighting against half of her own government and the woman standing before her.

“We need confirmation of your friends’ good faith. We will need to establish treaties, codes of conduct, exact details of what we expect from each other as allies. Trading agreements, even. Perhaps even an ambassador. We are taking everything that we have been told so far simply on your word.”

“And the reports made by Captain Sheridan,” Ivanova said quickly.

“Yes, well, young lady,” spoke up Vice President Clark. “Captain Sheridan has a… reputation for being somewhat economical with the truth in his reports.”

“To be blunt,” snapped General Takashima. “He often downright lies to us, and that’s when he can be bothered to say anything at all.”

“Really?” Ivanova said. “I thought he was… better regarded than that.”

“Oh, we have the utmost respect for his talents,” Clark said obsequiously. There were still a few members of the Resistance Government who respected Sheridan and trusted him to use his abilities and resources to the best needs of humanity. But only a few. “He is a soldier, however, not a diplomat or an intelligence agent. He is merely… being forced by circumstance to enact rôles which are unfamiliar to him.”

“Aren’t we all?” replied Ivanova. Clark spluttered and looked at Crane, who was trying very hard to stifle a smile. In these times, you took your pleasures where you could find them, and seeing Clark humiliated was pleasure enough for the moment. “And with regards to the other matters, I am afraid that my friends cannot send an ambassador. The atmosphere here would be poisonous to them, and they are very reluctant to leave their homeworld. It is a very holy place for them.”

“Can you at least put us in contact with them?” Crane asked. “Some form of… long distance communication or something?”

“Their technology doesn’t work that way. They prefer sort of… telepathy, I’d imagine. A link with an agent who can leave Z’ha’dum. Like me. Anything you need to know can be relayed to them directly through me.”

“Telepathy,” Clark said. “Perhaps we should ask Miss Alexander to take a look at you. Maybe she can uncover something helpful about this link. I understand Miss Alexander has been quite free lately, since our Minbari guest just walked away…”

“No!” Ivanova cried out suddenly. “No telepaths! Not near me!” Crane looked at her, surprised by the vehemence of her reaction. “They would… damage the link. It is a sensitive affair. Anything you need to know can be relayed to me, as I have said.”

“I do have one question,” said Takashima. “What are we going to call these allies of yours? They do have a name, I trust?”

“Yes,” Ivanova said slowly. “But it’s ten thousand letters long.”

“Ouch,” said Clark.

“Exactly. I can speak Russian, and even I can’t pronounce it. If you want to call them something… I understand the Minbari name for them would roughly translate as… Shadows.”

“Shadows?” Crane said softly. An ominous name, which may have been the point. The connection between the Minbari and these Shadows certainly seemed to be an appropriate reason for them allying themselves with the Resistance Government. “Shadows,” she repeated. The name chilled her, and she was certain she caught a gleam in Ivanova’s eye every time she said the word.

“I like it,” Clark announced. “So what do these Shadows of yours look like?”

“Fairly ordinary,” Ivanova said. “Fairly… ordinary.”

* * * * * * *

“There is a war coming,” Varn said. “A dark and terrible war which will tear the heavens and rip worlds asunder. Billions will die and whole empires fall, but there is hope for peace, great hope. There must always be hope. All of you gathered here,” he said, indicating G’Kar, Sheridan, Draal and Kalain, “know, in parts great or small, of this war.

“Some of you,” he said, looking at G’Kar, “believe you are ready for what is to come. Others,” indicating Kalain, “doubt your own worth, and are afraid of where you will stand at the end. Another,” indicating Draal, “refuses to admit his place and would be surprised to learn that he has any place at all, while you,” indicating Sheridan, “refuse to believe with your head what your heart is telling you, and will not accept with your heart what your head screams out.

“No matter the cost, the war must be fought, and it must be won, or every free-thinking race in the galaxy will fall to tyranny and despair. There must always be hope, and justice, and light. This Machine will be a part of that hope, and will bring some of that justice, and will shine part of that light.

“I have been here for over five hundred years, and now I am dying. During my time, I have gathered knowledge, travelled to far and distant worlds and seen things both terrible and majestic. All these memories, and all those thoughts, are stored within the heart of the Great Machine, and it is for the Great Machine itself to know who will inherit them.”

Kalain was only half interested in Varn, and only slightly more interested in the sights around him. His attention was focussed on the Starkiller. Kalain was surprised. He had not expected Sheridan to be so… fragile-looking. Kalain estimated that a single blow with his pike would be enough to rip the human apart. Surely this could not be the creature responsible for the Dralaphi, for the attack over Mars, for bringing terror to Kalain, Alyt of the Wind Swords himself?

And yet… there was something in his bearing… Sheridan was not the Starkiller here. Here he was just a man, a warrior divested of his armour and his robes and his blade. He might as well have been naked. His ship was what made him the Starkiller; it was as much a part of him as his arms and legs and clothing.

And then the impact of Varn’s words struck him, and he stepped forward. “You say this place is to be used as a fortress of light? Then who better to take it than the ones who will be leading the Army of Light against the Darkness? The Rangers did so a thousand years ago and they will do so now. Satai Sinoval, my leader, has been appointed Entil’zha, walking in the footsteps of Valen, and it will be in his name that I claim this place.”

“No,” Varn rasped. “You cannot claim the planet… the planet… claims… you…”

But his words were not heard, except perhaps by G’Kar and Draal, who alone understood them. Kalain’s gaze was focussed on Sheridan, and on the future, and on the glory he would receive when he returned to Sinoval with news of this place… glory enough to remove his shame.

And Sheridan… he too was not listening to Varn. “Like hell you will!” he snapped. “We laid claim to this planet while on a scouting mission two years ago.”

“Oh? And what were you scouting for exactly?”

“None of your business!”

G’Kar reached out for Sheridan, but then lowered his arm. Kalain looked at the Narn and snorted. This one fashioned himself as a warrior, but he was merely a talker. Narns had no stomach for doing what needed to be done. Only the Minbari did, only the warriors did, only Sinoval did. Draal made to perform a similar action, but Kalain brushed him aside. The fire of revenge was burning within him now.

Varn’s image was shaking, coughing and spluttering. “Too long,” he whispered. “Too… much… Help me.”

Zathras had abandoned the confrontation growing in the middle of the chamber – unheeded by everyone except Mathras, who went with him – and was rushing around the socket where Varn’s body rested. As he worked, the image faded and vanished, and Varn’s body, previously motionless, began to move. The old alien was dying.

Kalain felt the whole ground lurch beneath him. “A trick!” he spat. “You, Starkiller, are without honour!” Here at last, was his chance for redemption. Great would be the cheers when he returned to the Trigati, holding Sheridan in chains, and then returned him before the Grey Council. He would earn his redemption, and his forgiveness, both in Sinoval’s eyes and his own. And after that… there was a position on the Grey Council vacant. So what if Delenn’s replacement should be from the religious caste? They had dominated the Council for too long. Satai Kalain. It had a nice sound to it.

Sheridan was also moving. Towards the dying alien. G’Kar was beside him, but neither was moving very fast. The whole planet was shaking.

“Kalain,” barked out a voice from his communications device. It was Alyt Deeron, his aide and second. “The Earthers fired at us, a missile of some kind.”

“Crush them!” he ordered in reply. “Destroy them all!” Yes, Satai Kalain. Or perhaps Shai Alyt Kalain. Yes, that way he could lead, still have respect and yet be able to lead in battle. The Earthers would be crushed soon, and he would lead against them, all shame gone, all penance performed, all absolution granted.

“No!” Zathras was crying out. “No, this not good. Varn is being dying. With Varn dying, the planet is dying too. The Machine needs a heart, or the Machine dies, and then the planet dies, and then we die. All defence systems are activating. Automatic defences are activating. Humans not attack. It accident! Accident!”

Zathras knew almost as much about the Great Machine as Varn did. He also knew that the Earth / Minbari War had begun over just such an accident, and now it seemed as though a second accident would plunge the war into a new stage.

“No,” Varn whispered. “Not fight… not…”

Kalain didn’t hear him, either him or Zathras. Shai Alyt Kalain. Yes, in all respects his vision of the future would be correct.

All aspects save one. Sheridan would be presented to the Grey Council not as prisoner, but as corpse.

Chapter 3

If Commander David Corwin had been given a pay rise for every time he had been in danger of losing his life, he would now have enough money to buy his own moon and get away from this whole damned war to somewhere safe. On the other hand, so would just about everyone else in what was left of Earthforce. He hadn’t joined Earthforce back in the days when there was still an Earth to give it meaning, but he had seen the signs. Greatest adventure of them all, they said. If only they’d known.

To put his life in some sort of context, staring down at a Minbari cruiser directly in front of him, above an apparently deserted planet that was in fact far from deserted, which the Captain had gone down to, along with the greatest Narn hero currently alive and a mysterious alien who babbled a lot about destiny and the Great Machine, with a Minbari Satai – with whom the Captain had apparently become friendly, in spite of the fact that she was a Satai who had been involved in leading the war against Earth, and therefore deserved nothing less than a lingering and unnecessarily painful death – on board, and on the bridge, nothing less… was all in a day’s work.

Which day’s work didn’t seem relevant.

The strategy for fighting the Minbari had been outlined in detail by the Captain over a period of time. It had been thought that destroying a Minbari cruiser was impossible. They were faster than Earth ships, stronger than Earth ships and had some kind of stealth system that made it impossible to lock on to them.

And then, there had been the Black Star.

The Minbari flagship, no less, and the Captain had destroyed it. Corwin hadn’t been on board the Babylon at the time, but he did remember the celebrations after news of it reached Earth. So what if the Captain had had to use mines and a faked distress signal? It had worked. The Minbari could be beaten. It had given them all hope.

Hope that was sadly misplaced. Not even the Captain could do much against the searing Minbari onslaught that had descended upon Earth and proceeded to destroy the entire planet. Hardly anyone survived. And then the Minbari had turned to Mars, and the Captain had arrived, raining fire and fury and causing even the Minbari to back off long enough for people to escape. One of those people was David Corwin, and destiny had intervened.

And now, David Corwin was second in command and executive officer on board the Babylon, and staring down Minbari cruisers was a routine affair, even if he never did entirely lose the feelings of terror and anger he always felt when staring at the beings who had destroyed his home and his family. Vengeance never died, and, as far as David Corwin was concerned, it was a dish definitely best served hot.

Except that now he had a Minbari on this very bridge.

Corwin had never been sure of what to make of Satai Delenn. He hadn’t had very many dealings with her, and he wanted it kept that way. He had heard snippets from her interrogation by Security Officer Welles, and he knew that she had played a large part in the beginning of the war. On the other hand, the Captain seemed to trust her – he’d even ended her interrogation and given her quarters on the ship, something which had earned him a very large shouting at by the Resistance Government. Corwin wasn’t sure why the Captain would choose to do that for a Minbari, but the Captain was the captain after all, and he must have had his reasons. So, he abided her presence, but he did not have to like it.

“It was the Trigati,” Satai Delenn was saying. “You have to let me talk to them.”

Corwin wasn’t listening. He knew the procedure for combatting Minbari vessels almost by heart. You couldn’t lock on to them with missile fire, so you had to use dispersion fire techniques, and hope to find the right frequency and direction. You also send out the Starfuries, both to engage the Minbari flyers, and to continue attacking the big cruiser with more dispersion fire. When you did enough damage to get a heat lock on the ship, you pulled back the Starfuries as a screen, and released the heat sensitive fusion bomb – sold at exorbitant prices by the Narns – and let it make its way to the Minbari. Sometimes it didn’t work, but often enough it did, especially with the Captain’s luck and skill guiding it.

Corwin was not the Captain, and he had neither the Captain’s luck nor his skill, but he did have persistence. The Captain was on that planet below, and he had orders from the Resistance Government to claim it. Corwin would rather space himself than be the cause of the Captain’s failure.

Assuming he had a choice, of course.

* * * * * * *

Captain Sheridan meanwhile was having problems of his own…

The ground was shaking beneath his feet. He wasn’t sure of the specifics, but both Zathras and his almost identical companion had stated that as Varn died, the Machine died with him. It needed a controller to keep the Machine and the planet – if there was a difference between the two – in a stable condition. With Varn’s obvious ill health, the planet was in anything but stable condition and the Machine was automatically reacting to anything it perceived as a threat.

Such as the two ships currently in orbit. Sheridan had heard a Minbari message to the effect that a missile had been fired at their ship. They assumed it was from the Babylon, whereas it was really from the Machine. The Minbari either didn’t know this, or didn’t care. Under other circumstances he might have been able to intervene, but he currently had his hands full.

The Minbari captain lunged at him with the pike, swinging it at his head. He managed to duck and leap backwards, having to avoid both the pike and the falling rocks and shaking ground.

Sheridan had fought hand to hand against Minbari a number of times. The last such occasion had left him with a massive headache and a one-way journey to Minbar in chains. He’d learned a bit since that occasion.

Rule 1. Minbari were faster than he was, much faster. They were also stronger, and could wield those bloody heavy pikes like they were made out of air. Stay out the way where possible.

Rule 2. If you could blast them from a distance, do so. It wasn’t fair, but nothing about this war was fair.

He was doing his hardest to obey Rule 1, and trying to follow Rule 2, but he spent so much time trying to regain his balance that he had little time to draw and aim his PPG, and he knew he would only have one chance to use it.

“G’Kar!” he cried out. “Give me a hand here, for God’s sake!”

He wasn’t certain if the Narn heard him or not. If G’Kar did hear, he made no sign, and left Sheridan to the fight alone.

* * * * * * *

Lyta Alexander had not slept well in months. Of course, a full, dreamless night’s sleep was the prerogative of someone who hadn’t lost everything they’d ever had with Earth, but this was different. These weren’t nightmares about Earth burning, or people dying, or the Minbari. These were… these were strange dreams. Very strange dreams.

It was just a voice. A singing symphony that was many voices rolled into one. A voice that asked just one question over and over again.

Who are you?

It sang in her dreams, it sounded in her thoughts. Sometimes she heard it when she was awake, or working. She had had to work less with commercial Narn traders because she kept hearing the voice whenever she scanned anyone’s mind. There had been little official work to keep her busy ever since Captain Sheridan had taken away Satai Delenn – and Lyta was glad. Scanning Delenn had been the most brutal and traumatic experience she had ever suffered.

All of this left her alone, alone with the voice that sang and asked a question she couldn’t answer. And it was when she was alone that she heard it louder.

Was that why she had taken to pursuing Marcus? She wasn’t sure if he was interested in her the way she was interested in him. (God, those eyes! They thought to bring her comfort in her dream.) But she chased him anyway, because she couldn’t bear to be alone. She pressed herself to him, moving their relationship at a pace she knew he wasn’t comfortable with, but that she continued anyway. When he was here, she spent every moment she could with him, hoping to drown out the voice with his nearness. She knew that he had duties as Captain Sheridan’s bodyguard, but she needed to be with him anyway.

When he was not here, she drank, hoping to push herself so far that she did not hear the voice. Narn liquor was probably the easiest thing to find on Proxima. There were many who sought to lose themselves and their memories in drink. Lyta had few friends to be concerned about her, but Marcus didn’t like her drinking. He had drunk himself once, and he was clearly afraid of her becoming what he had been. She was afraid too, but she never drank around him. It hurt him, and besides, his presence was enough to drown out the voice.

But now Marcus was gone, left Proxima with Captain Sheridan on some mission a few days ago. He was in danger now. She could feel it. She didn’t know exactly what, but she could feel his danger. She had been inside his mind so often – usually without his knowledge or permission – that her thoughts had become aligned to his. She could feel his heart beating faster, and thoughts of terror rising. She wanted to be with him… she wanted…

But not where Sheridan was. She had scanned him once, out of curiosity, and she had been terrified by the sheer anger within him. Sheridan was, inside, already dead. His body just hadn’t noticed yet. She was afraid that Sheridan’s death wish would lead him into a situation from which he would not return, and that Marcus would go, willingly, with him.

Who are you?

I don’t know! she screamed in reply. Leave me alone! Who are you? What do you want?

Pain again. She should have remembered. Never ask that question. Never.

I’m sorry, she breathed. I’m sorry… I don’t understand.

Understanding is a three edged sword. Wake!


They are here. Wake!

Screaming, she came awake, although that gave her no succour from the voice. She could feel something, something outside, not far away. It was moving and watching her. Her heart began to beat faster. She heard a buzzing, crackling sound.

The owner of the voice in her mind was angry.

Lyta felt her mouth open, but the words that came forth were not from her voice. Go! They are not for you! Leave this place! No!

The crackling faded and she slumped back on the bed, too tired, too exhausted, too afraid even to think. Her whole body was covered with sweat, and every muscle ached.

Lyta Alexander got no more sleep that night, but that did not mean she did not dream.

* * * * * * *


Marcus Cole spoke her name slowly, reverently. He didn’t understand why. Lyta was back on Proxima, surely. She was safe. She couldn’t be in a Starfury staring at a huge Minbari cruiser.

“Are you all right, Marcus?” came a voice over the comm system. It was Lieutenant Neeoma Connally, leader of Starfury Squadron Alpha. “Never been in battle before, eh?”

“Er… no. Not like this.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. That ship’s a lot bigger than we are. Easier to hit, you see.”

“What about their flyers? There’s more of them.”

“Exactly, makes them easier to hit too.”

“Somewhat optimistic, aren’t you? Just like… Katherine.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Nothing. Not important.”

Marcus was supposed to be Captain Sheridan’s bodyguard. He should be where the Captain was. He was not a Starfury pilot. But no, the Captain had gone down to the planet without him, and now Marcus was flying a Starfury he had only had thirty or so hours practice in, up against the pride of the Minbari fleet.

Katherine would have told him he was being too pessimistic, but Katherine was gone, had died in the inferno that had engulfed Vega 7. She was dead, and he had never told her how much he cared. How could he? She had been his brother’s wife. And his brother was dead too.

And now Marcus was staring at the beings he held responsible. In the pit of his mind, he knew that it wasn’t the Minbari who had destroyed the Vega 7 colony. He remembered the black ship rising from beneath the ground, and he remembered the other ship that had come to collect it. But those ships weren’t here, and the Minbari were.

“Fire at will,” came Neeoma’s voice again. “Oh, and stay alive, won’t you?”

It was advice Marcus intended to take, but he doubted anyone would care if he didn’t.

* * * * * * *

G’Kar raised his head and met the eyes of the Minbari who knelt opposite him over Varn’s dying body. The Minbari – Draal – met his eyes and nodded slowly. Whichever one the Machine deemed fit would inherit it. There was no room for matters of race here. Narn. Minbari. Warrior. Teacher. None of it mattered.

The Machine was all.

“The… Machine… will tell you everything… you need,” Varn rasped. “Much of it… instinctive… but it will take… time… to learn. You must be… strong… be… ready… be… ah.”

“Hurry!” Zathras said. “Machine is failing and Varn is dying. Yes, not good.”

“No no,” said Mathras. “Varn is dying and Machine is failing. You always get wrong. One of you must replace Varn, yes. Stabilise the Machine, and…”

There was a PPG blast and Mathras started. He raised his head, and G’Kar knew he could see Sheridan and Kalain still fighting.

“No no!” Mathras was saying. “Must not fight! Not here! Not now! This not place for fightings, no!”

“Not work,” Zathras replied. “Many years of hate not washed out by your words. Enter the Machine, stabilise the planet, and then stop them fighting.”

G’Kar looked at Draal. The old Minbari understood. He felt a calling towards the Machine. He felt in his heart that he was right. G’Kar nodded and then bowed his head. Draal rose to his feet, and staggered forward. His movements were slow, and the ground was shaking more and more all the time. Zathras headed off after Draal, pointing out bits of the Machine to him, while G’Kar and Mathras remained beside the dying Varn.

G’Kar held no regrets. This was to be a fortress of light. There were few enough places like that. Besides, he was needed back in G’Khorazhar, with his agents, his Rangers. The Enemy had to be fought.

He looked up at Draal settled next to the socket which had held Varn. At Zathras’ directions, Draal was about to step into the Machine…

There was a noise and a light and a motion all in one as a PPG blast hit Draal squarely in his back. The Minbari slumped forward. Zathras tried to catch him, but G’Kar could see that it was pointless. Draal was either dead, or dying.

The whole planet shook, as if mourning one who would have been its custodian.

* * * * * * *

It had taken Susan Ivanova three corridors and two rests before she stopped shaking. She knew that her fear was pointless, and she knew that she had a task to perform, but she could only remember the voice that had spoken to her, a voice that knew exactly what she was, and who she represented. Even her allies seemed affected by that voice, leaving her alone for the first time in years, and leaving her afraid.

Why was she even here? Her mission tonight didn’t even involve Lyta. Was this some perverse self-punishment, or a chance for her to overcome her greatest fear?

If it was, it didn’t work. She was even more afraid now than she had been before.

“Yes, I know,” she whispered. “I know.” Her allies were speaking to her. They were angry. She had jeopardised their secret. There was an enemy here.

“I’ll deal with her,” she said. “Please. Trust me.”

And now back to the true purpose of the night. Ivanova knew where she had to go, and her little detour to watch Miss Alexander had not cost her much time. Her allies had been very generous with their cloaking technology, and so none of the security guards had seen her as she had crept past them. As far as anyone was concerned, she was asleep in her room.

Vice President Morgan Clark certainly thought so. He was very surprised when she woke him.

“Lights,” he muttered. She shed her cloaking equipment and stood there at the edge of his bed watching as the fog of sleep was replaced by growing comprehension in his eyes. He was alone. His wife had been killed on Mars, and he had not remarried.

“Young lady, what are you doing here?” he asked. “I’m…”

Young lady? She wasn’t sure whether to feel flattered or patronised.

“You’re very valuable to my friends, Vice President,” she said. “You’re ambitious and you’re immoral. We like qualities like that. You can go far, and you will. With our help.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“What do you want, Vice President? What do you want?”

“What do you mean? How did you get past the guards?”

“That’s my concern. Well? Oh, there’s no need to answer. I know what you want. You want power. You want humanity back to its rightful place. You want to be the architect of humanity’s restoration. We admire desires like that. You can be a great help to us, Vice President, and as a reward, I’m going to let you see my friends.”

She could see his eyes widen as the two Shadows by her side came into view. He was gasping, unable to find anything to say…

“And we have a little gift for you.” Susan opened her hands.

The Keeper’s eye opened.

* * * * * * *

Sheridan wasn’t sure what had happened. He had managed to draw his weapon at last, and had been accurate enough to keep Kalain at a distance. The ground was unstable, and he hadn’t yet hit his opponent.

Then the ground had shaken again, and Kalain was the one who had fallen off balance this time. Sheridan had steadied himself, and aimed…

…and the ground shook. He had fallen to the side as he fired. His shot had missed Kalain easily, and torn into Draal.

Kalain had noticed this and simply looked at Draal for a minute. Sheridan was too stunned to fire.

And then Kalain turned his attention back to Sheridan.

He charged.

* * * * * * *

Marcus had ceased thinking by this stage. His sole concern was the ship that loomed up before him, huge and beautiful and deadly all at the same time. His sole concern was avoiding its fire, and hitting it, no matter how weakly. At least he could do something.

But no. He couldn’t even do that.

“Marcus! Look out!” screamed Neeoma’s voice.

He started, and a Minbari flyer fell directly into his view. It fired, and tore into his engines. He started and tried to respond, but all his shots were inaccurate, or weak, or ineffectual.

“Eject!” Neeoma cried. “Marcus, eject!”

Back on Proxima 3, Lyta Alexander screamed his name.

* * * * * * *

G’Kar looked at Draal’s body, and then at Varn. “Go…” the dying alien whispered. “Go…”

“You heard,” said Mathras. “Go to Machine. Take Machine. Is yours now. Yours! Go!”

G’Kar understood. Then this was to be his destiny. He rose, and ran towards the Heart of the Machine. The whole planet was unstable. It needed a guardian. It needed him.

Zathras showed him how to fix himself into the heart. G’Kar whispered a prayer to G’Quan as he did so…

And the Machine welcomed him.

* * * * * * *

The first Sheridan knew of it was when the planet stopped shaking. The second was when he was thrown to the ground by a force he didn’t see. His PPG was wrenched from him. He groaned as he hit the ground, and he looked up. Kalain was similarly felled, his own weapon far away. And then Sheridan turned to the Heart of the Machine.

“There will be no fighting here,” G’Kar said. “I have stopped you, and I have stopped your ships. This place is to be a sanctuary from the Darkness that is coming. There is to be no violence here. This is a place of Light.

“Each of you has the potential to be a soldier of Light. When you realise this, return here, and swear yourselves to the Army of Light. For now, go, and do not return until you are ready.”

Sheridan and Kalain were about to protest, when G’Kar cut them off. “Go! Or I will destroy your ships, and you.”

Kalain looked at Sheridan. “I will see you dead, Starkiller.”

“Tell Sinoval I’m waiting for another meeting. Make an appointment with him, won’t you?”

Kalain snarled and left, retrieving his weapon as he did so.

Sheridan picked up his own PPG, but instead of making his way back to the shuttle, he went to Draal’s body, and closed the Minbari’s eyes slowly.

“Minbari do not do that to their dead,” G’Kar said.

“I know, but Kalain seemed to have forgotten him.”

“He will be cremated here. He was nearly a part of this Machine, after all. His own people seem to have forsaken him, but we will not.”

“I’m… sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“Then tell that to Delenn. She knew him, and she loved him. Tell her you are sorry. Not me.”

Sheridan looked at G’Kar and then bowed his head. He left, returning to his shuttle. He missed seeing G’Kar look around in awe and terror. “Blessed G’Quan,” he breathed. “Have I done the right thing?”

“Of course,” replied Zathras. “Of course. We will teach you how to use the Machine, and you will use it. A fortress of light. All alone in the night, but at least there is one hope now.”

“I suppose so. I will have to contact Neroon and Ta’Lon. Our previous fortress was destroyed. We have a new one now.”

“Good good. Yes, very good. Sometimes, things do work out right.”

“Not for all of us.”

Zathras shared G’Kar’s gaze at Draal. “No. No, not for all, but sometimes, for some, things go right. What more is there?”

G’Kar suddenly started. He didn’t know quite what, but he knew that something was wrong. But…

“Don’t worry,” Zathras said. “Not for us to interfere. Is destiny, yes. We were not involved then, we cannot be involved now.”

“But…” G’Kar suddenly realised. “I did this. The Machine did. Or… I will do this?”

Zathras smiled.

* * * * * * *

Sheridan returned to the Babylon, and listened as Corwin listed the four dead in the battle, and the damage to the hull and other systems. The Great Machine had launched a number of missiles to keep the two ships from destroying each other, and one of those missiles had done some damage to the jump engines.

Once more the Babylon had survived, but there was always a cost. Marcus had been quite badly hurt when his Starfury had been destroyed, but he had been recovered and taken to Medlab. Dr. Kyle said he only needed rest.

Sheridan hardly noticed any of this. He simply asked Satai Delenn to meet him on the observation deck. He looked at the planet sadly, and watched as the Trigati left. Another enemy made, another death at his hands, four more of his crew gone.

He hadn’t completed his mission either. Euphrates did not belong to the Earth Alliance. It had been taken by a Narn to use in fighting an Enemy who was in all likelihood the very same ally who was bringing hope to the Earth Alliance.

Sheridan would catch more trouble from the Resistance Government for this, but he didn’t care. Them he could deal with. He didn’t think he could cope with telling Delenn how he had killed her friend.

But he had learned how to do what was difficult, and when she arrived, two security guards flanking her, he looked at her, and slowly, methodically, relayed the details of Draal’s death.

She bowed her head, and was unable to speak for a while, and when she did, she said, “I knew. Somehow I knew it when he died. He was all that remained of my father.”

“I… aw hell. I’m sorry. It was… an accident.”

“I do not blame you, Captain. Nor do I blame Kalain, nor G’Kar. It simply was, but that does not make it easier to bear. I… I will see him again when my soul is reborn, or when I pass beyond the veil, but for now… it seems that everyone I have ever loved is lost to me. My father, Dukhat, Neroon, Mayan, and now Draal. I am alone.”

Sheridan could not find anything to say. He simply turned and looked out at the planet below. It seemed so peaceful now, so tranquil. An unlikely place for a new fortress of Light.

“He is down there?” she said. He nodded. “And he died trying to serve?” Another nod. “He would have sacrificed himself for others?” Nod. “Then he would have died happy. I am pleased for him.”

Sheridan looked at her, and met her eyes. She met his in turn, and there was silence, as the two spoke without words.

And then Fate intervened. The whole ship lurched. Sheridan fell back against the wall, while Delenn steadied herself against the plastic. Sheridan activated his link.

“Corwin, what the hell’s happening? Are we under attack?”

“No, sir. Tachyon emissions. They’ve gone up through the roof. God knows what… my God!”

“Corwin, what?” And then Sheridan saw it too. Appearing from nowhere in front of him, directly in his view. And he recognised it.

And he wasn’t the only one. “Blessed Valen!” Delenn breathed.

“That’s impossible!”

She turned to him. “You recognise it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s Babylon Four.”

Part V: The Shadow of her Past, the Illusion of his Future

Chapter 1

It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, as we would later call it. At the time it seemed unlikely that mankind would ever finish this age, but we had hope, and we had heroes, and one of those heroes was Captain John Sheridan, and some of that hope came from a race called the Shadows…

Commander David Corwin, personal diaries, dated December 2260.

* * * * * * *

The Shadows were coming.

He listened as they died, and as they killed. His friends were dying in his name, were fighting a last stand so that he could complete his destiny. He wanted to be there with them, this one last time, but he knew that they were dying for his sake. He could not render their sacrifice worthless.

Are you ready? said the voice in his mind.

He didn’t know what to say, but the voice knew. Good. You are the closed circle returning to the beginning. I cannot be with you then.

He gasped as he felt its pain. It was light and beauty and agony all in one. The Vorlon was going to die, and both of them knew it. The sacrifice would be made willingly. Could he do any less?

“Are you ready?” said the voice from the commscreen. “Are you…?”

“I… think so,” he said hesitantly. “I… thank you. For everything.”

“It was no more than my duty, and no less than my pleasure. Be well, and walk with… Oh. Of course.”

He chuckled. “It is all right. For you, it will always be all right.”

“Remember me?” More of a question than a request. He smiled, sweetly and sadly. As if there were any other answer.

“Always,” he whispered, and touched the image on the commscreen gently. It faded and he straightened. It was time now. After so long, he at last knew his destiny. He was the arrow that springs from the bow. No doubts, no fears. Just certainty.

“Are you ready?” said the voice by his side.

“Yes,” he said simply.

“Good, good. Yes, is being very good to being ready. Now is right time to being ready, yes. Zathras is being ready for long time, yes. Zathras has grown tired of waiting sometimes, but Zathras is used to it. Zathras is patient. And now you are ready, yes. Good.”

“What about the Enemy?”

Click, click Is being not good. Enemy is being very strong. May get on board before we leave. That is being very not good, but have idea, yes. We get help. That is idea. We get help.”

“Help? From where?” He was told, and then he smiled. “Ah, of course.”

And the man who had been called Jeffrey Sinclair, and the alien called Zathras, entered the place called Babylon 4 – named in memory and honour – and they passed into history and legend.

But there were some for whom history and legend were present and fact. Two such were watching legend combine with reality, one with an almost beautiful awe, and the other with a pragmatic sense of the possible.

Who is to say which one was right in their reaction?

* * * * * * *

“Blessed Valen!” she gasped.

“That’s impossible!” he cried.

“You recognise it?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he breathed. “That’s Babylon Four.”

“What… is Babylon Four?”

Captain John Sheridan turned to Satai Delenn, and tried to frame an answer. Mere moments before, they had been standing on the observation deck, talking quietly about life and death and everything in between, and simply staring at the stars. And now he was staring at a piece of his past – and his future.

Before he could answer, his link sounded. It was Corwin. “Captain, tachyon emissions are stabilising, but they aren’t our only problem. You’d better get up here fast, and bring our guest with you. This is Grade A weird.”

* * * * * * *

“It is Babylon Four, then?”

“Definitely,” Corwin replied. “It matches the plans almost exactly, the location’s dead on, and it’s, well… identical to all the plans and specs I ever saw about it. That’s Babylon Four, no doubt about it.”

Sheridan groaned and sat down heavily, burying his head in his hands. “Why can’t I ever have a normal day, like normal people?”

“You’d be bored stiff, sir. And you know it.”

“I wouldn’t mind a bit of boredom once in a while.”

“Both of you recognise that?” asked Satai Delenn. Corwin shot her an awkward glance. He was barely comfortable with the idea of a Minbari being on board the ship, least of all her. The Captain seemed to trust her, and therefore he could cope with it, but he always made sure she was closely watched at all times, and her room was guarded. All in the interests of security, he kept telling himself. Whatever the Captain might say, Delenn was still a Minbari, and Corwin had a long memory. Although not even the worst amnesiac in the galaxy could ever forget what the Minbari had done to humanity.

Corwin had not been on Earth when the Minbari had destroyed it. No one who had was still alive, but he had been on Mars, and he had seen the Minbari fleets filling the skies. And he had seen the Babylon, tearing through those self-same skies, which were full of stars, and each star was one ray of hope in three years of despair.

Very few people aboard the Babylon knew of each other’s pasts. Some, like the Captain, had been in Earthforce before and during the war. Some, like Lieutenants Franklin and Connally had had other plans and dreams – he to be a doctor, she to be the hope of the downtrodden worker – torn from them. Some, like Corwin, had no past, or none that they would admit to, and none that mattered any more. The past was dead, and there was only the future.

But still, he had a long memory, and even having Satai Delenn on this ship grated at him. Having her in the Captain’s ready room seemed almost sacrilegious. But if the Captain wanted her here…

“Yes,” Corwin said. “And so do you.” He caught the flicker in her eyes as he said that, and he knew his guess had proved accurate. Quite a few aboard the Babylon knew of the Babylon 4 mission – they had been so instrumental in its planning that the station had been named after the ship itself, but how Satai Delenn could know about this would be fascinating to hear. Especially in light of the… ah, unusual circumstances here.

“It’s called Babylon Four,” Sheridan said, raising his head. “It was the fourth in a series of secret missions and agendas called the Babylon Project – named after this ship, of course.

“Babylon Four was to be a secret base. Proxima Three was just a little too open. We wanted somewhere quieter and out of the way, somewhere for the Resistance Government to hide, somewhere a little more easily defended than Proxima Three. A space station, packed to the core with the best weaponry systems we could muster. A place of defence, and later, offence. Plans were drawn up, we did extensive scouting missions to find a suitable place, and we found here. Above a deserted planet. Perfect.”

Corwin could see Delenn alternating her gaze between him and the Captain. He met her eyes with a steely determination and he was quite surprised to see sadness in hers when she recognised this.

“But?” she said.

“But it was never damn well built!”

Corwin could see her staring at Sheridan, perhaps surprised by the bitterness in his voice, and why not? Although he doubted the wisdom of telling all this to a Minbari Satai, he decided to continue.

“We were all ready to go when we lost Orion Four and Seven and most of the Belt Alliance. Over half our financial and mineral resources gone in a matter of weeks.”

He could see the emotion in the Captain’s eyes. Sheridan had lost more at Orion than just some money or minerals. He had lost his daughter – buried beneath a collapsed building. With Elizabeth, he had also lost his wife. While Anna was still alive in a physical sense, emotionally, she was quite dead.

“All our remaining resources had to go on feeding the refugees we managed to get away from Orion,” Corwin continued, never taking his eyes off Delenn. “It wasn’t enough. Twenty thousand starved that year.”

“But we can’t dwell on the past now, Mr. Corwin,” the Captain suddenly spoke up. “Any word on anyone on the station?”

“Just this.” Corwin went over to a control panel and activated the communications system.

– eridan and Zha’valen Delenn to come over and meet with us. They must come alone. We repeat. We would like Captain Sheridan and Zha’valen Delenn to come over and meet with us. They must come alone. We repeat –

“Just that. Over and over again. It’s got all the right Earthforce identification codes, but I would be interested to know how they knew the two of you would be here.”

“Mr. Corwin. A space station that hasn’t been built appears from over above a planet that’s supposed to be deserted but contains awesomely powerful technological resources, and you’re worried about how they knew I’d be here? The codes are genuine?”

“One hundred percent. What do you think? Some kind of Black Ops mission? A secret project? Some sort of cloaking device, perhaps?”

“Secret enough for me not to know about it?”

“Point, but it’s a fair bet that someone knows something about it.” Corwin looked at Delenn. “Don’t you?”

“I… yes,” she breathed, looking directly at the Captain. “We must go, Captain. It is very important that we do so.”

“It could be a trap,” Corwin said flatly. “I’d advise taking a Security team along.”

“It said we should go alone, Mr. Corwin.”

“What was that title the message gave you?” Corwin asked Delenn. “Zha’valen? Some kind of Minbari rank?”

“It… it is nothing. I possess no such title. Please, Captain, we must go. I cannot tell you why, but we must.”

Corwin caught the Captain’s gaze. She was lying – at least partially – and all three of them knew it. There was an old saying humans had picked up from the Centauri.

’Minbari never tell anyone the whole truth.’

“She’s right, David. Whatever this is, I have to know. Launch two Starfury squadrons and keep them on constant flyby. We’ll take a shuttle over. At the first sign of trouble, blast that thing, and don’t worry about me.”

“Captain, I…” Corwin flicked another glance at Delenn. “I don’t trust her. I think you should take a Security team along. I can contact Mr. Allan, we can…”

“It said to go alone, David.”

Corwin sighed. “Fine, fine, but… be careful, sir.”

The Captain seemed to consider this advice for a moment and then he chuckled. “That’d be far too easy, Mr. Corwin. Far too easy.”

* * * * * * *

She’d made it aboard after all. She and her allies could have easily wiped out their opponents, but that wouldn’t have brought them victory if they hadn’t stopped this station. Dying was just what her opponents wanted.

Dying in their holy cause. How noble of them!

No, death was preferable to the pain of living, but she knew enough to be aware of her responsibility – to the ones who had saved her, and to the one who had loved her.

A few of her opponents had survived and managed to escape. A few more had been captured. The others had been killed. She wondered if they had died happy, suspecting their deaths were buying them victory.

They had been wrong. There was no victory for the Army of Light today, and there would not even be the memory of one. They would have had no victories for the past thousand years.

For she would stop them.

Susan Ivanova and her Shadow companions were hitching a lift aboard Babylon 4 to the past. All they had to do was kill the man called Jeffrey Sinclair.

And then the war would be over a thousand years before it had ever begun.

* * * * * * *


“I am sorry?” Delenn looked at Sheridan carefully. He more than any other human she found difficult to understand, although she had admittedly had little contact with other humans to use as reference.

Welles was the result of the worst of the war: a man with great gifts who had become so hard and cold that he could only use those gifts to give pain in the name of duty and anguish in the name of service.

Miss Alexander seemed almost subdued, living her life by rote because she lacked the will to do anything else.

Commander Corwin and the security guards she had met – including the two who had beaten her – were either suspicious of her or plain hated her, still fighting a war in which she was the enemy, not knowing or not caring just who they were selling themselves to in the name of victory.

And Captain Sheridan? He combined all these traits and many more. He possessed great gifts, and used them to kill. She knew the rage he could manifest, having seen it at horrifying first hand, but she also remembered the act of mercy he had shown her – the only mercy she had ever been shown by a human being. She had even let him watch her as she slept, reminded almost absurdly of both her father, and of the ancient ritual of sleep watching between two who were intended. It felt both absurd and strangely right to her. She wondered how it had felt to him. She was nowhere near an answer, but she suspected that neither was he.

He had so much power, so much potential, but where would it fall? He was walking a thin line between Light and Darkness. One simple push could send him either way. She knew that it was her destiny to bring him to the correct path.

“So,” he said. “What do you know about Babylon Four and what did that title mean? I know you didn’t want to talk about it in front of Corwin, but you are going to have to tell me.”

She breathed in sharply. What to tell him? Could she even accept this herself, and if she could not, then how could he? Could she even expect him to believe her?

“I have… told you before about the Ancient Enemy that we believe is arising,” she said hesitantly. Babylon 4 was looming up in front of their shuttle. She looked up at it, and then down again. Sheridan didn’t reply, and so she continued.

“There was a Great War against the Enemy a thousand years ago. I do… not know how much you have been told about it by your… friend?”

“A little,” he replied tersely. “Not nearly enough, but a little.”

“Ah.” She continued. “We fought in that war, alongside the Vorlons and a few other races. We drove the Enemy from their homeworld of Z’ha’dum and thought we had defeated them. There are a few records remaining of that war. Some of them show this very station, Captain. It was used as a base of operations during the final days of that war… one thousand years ago.”

She had expected disbelief, denial, even anger. She received only a terse grunt. She looked at him, but he was still focussed on the controls.

“You believe me?” she asked.

“Satai, after today, I don’t think anything could surprise me.”

“I… suppose not.”

“Now what about that title? Sah-vahlan?”

“Zha’valen,” she said, correcting his pronunciation. “It means… it means…” She sucked in another deep breath of air. “It means outcast. It means that I am… that I am ’a shadow to Valen’.”

“Not a title you have now?”

“I… do not think so, unless it has been given me in my absence.”

“I see. Well, what’s one more mystery. Hopefully when we find the person who sent that message, we’ll clear this up. And there’s the docking bays. Looks like they made a few modifications to the plans after all. Either that, or my memory’s getting faulty.”

Delenn was silent as Sheridan surrendered the shuttle’s controls to the station’s docking systems – with considerable reluctance, she noticed – and she instead looked up at the station as it swallowed the shuttle.

There was something she had not said. The pieces were starting to fall together in her mind. The space station that had saved her people had been designed and – presumably – built by humans. So what did that make the one who had given it to her people? Did that prove her suspicions?

And how could she expect Sheridan to trust her when she did not trust him?

“Captain,” she said softly. “There is something else I have not told you.” He looked at her. “This station was given to my people and those who were allied to us to fight the Enemy. The one who gave it to us was called Valen.”

“Are you expecting to find Valen here on Babylon Four?”

“I… hope to find… someone.”

“You mean a human. Well, so do I. I’ll think about what you’ve told me, Satai Delenn. If we do find this Valen then… we’ll see.”

She smiled slightly. She had tried to tell him of her beliefs about human and Minbari souls once before. He had either not believed or not cared to listen. Perhaps he was beginning to listen, and beginning to believe.

As they left their docked shuttle, she felt the first surge of hope she had felt since her capture four months ago.

* * * * * * *

“Should we tell the Captain, sir?”

Corwin shot a glance at Security Officer Zack Allan – Chief of Security aboard the Babylon – and then back at the other figure.

“We can’t,” he replied. “Communications are impossible through that tachyon field. I don’t know what they’re doing to it, but it’s getting less and less stable all the time.”

“Any chance you can get that Narn on the planet to give us a hand, do you think, sir?”

Corwin started. G’Kar – greatest hero of the Narn / Centauri War – had taken custody of Epsilon 3 only a few hours ago, and the massive technological resources with it. Captain Sheridan had given him a run down of most of what had happened, but he hadn’t known who else knew.

“How did you know about that?” he asked.

“Are you kidding, sir? We all saw him just appear in front of us and give his spiel. Weird, it was.”

“Yeah, what isn’t these days?” Great, Corwin thought. The Captain’s going to have enough trouble justifying his failure to the Resistance Government without having to tell the truth about it.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he began, when Zack interrupted him.

“It’s moving!”

The figure before them was indeed moving, and Corwin joined Zack in drawing his PPG. The figure before them was humanoid, but that was all he could tell immediately. It had been found floating in space just off the station by a mechbot. A quick scan had confirmed that the figure was alive – presumably kept so by its blue space suit – but Zack had suggested caution, and Corwin had agreed. There was no reason to assume it was hostile, but then there was no reason to assume it wasn’t either.

“Who are you?” he asked. It made no reply. “Do you understand me?”

The figure staggered forward, making for Corwin who, out of a feeling he couldn’t quite identify, lowered his weapon.

Then the figure saw Zack, and lunged towards him. It seemed to reach out – in anger, or in friendship? – and there was a burst of what Corwin could only call lightning and Zack was thrown backwards.

The figure turned to Corwin…

…and vanished.

* * * * * * *

“Do you, John Sheridan, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife…?”

Sheridan blinked. This was impossible. He looked up and met Anna’s eyes. There was laughter in them, a joyful, happy laughter he had not seen in her since Elizabeth had died.

“I do,” he whispered. “I do,” he repeated, louder.

Anna had insisted on a traditional wedding, in spite of the lack of appropriate venues. The chapel on the Babylon had seemed the best bet, and Reverend Dexter had been dragged up from Proxima 3 to officiate. Anna had insisted on everything being as traditional as she could make it. Her father had died on Earth, so Dr. Chang gave her away. Sheridan had always planned on asking Jack Maynard to be his best man, but he had not survived the brief counterattack over Mars, and so General Hague was performing the honours. There was no expensive ring, and very few guests, but it was the happiest day of both their lives. Even amidst all this death, some love could prevail.

“I do,” Anna said. She was smiling. There had been no white dress either. The best they could manage was a light blue. The way their lives had gone since then, funereal black would probably have been more appropriate. Sheridan, still in a daze, looked around at the crowd. Half of them were dead now.

“Pay attention,” Anna hissed. That brought a giggle of laughter from everyone and he found himself blushing.

“You may now kiss the bride,” Reverend Dexter said.

He was still trying to focus his attention when she threw her arms around his neck and treated him to the longest, happiest, most perfect kiss he had ever had in his life.

He remembered that day as if it had been yesterday. It had, in fact, been nine years ago, just after the Resistance Government had been established on Proxima 3. Anna had survived the war, but so many others hadn’t, including the one who had introduced the two of them in the first place – John’s sister Elizabeth. Her matchmaking had been the subject of a long-running joke between the three of them. Sheridan had offered to tithe their first-born daughter to Elizabeth in payment. He had had to settle for naming her after his sister instead.

He blinked, and his eyes opened. He reeled, and almost fell against Satai Delenn. She caught him and helped him rest against the wall.

“What happened?” she asked.

“I… I don’t know. I was reliving my wedding. It’s like I was there, but it was nine years ago. I don’t understand.”

“It’s been happening to all of us,” said a new voice. Sheridan started and looked up. “Flashes, forwards or back.” The voice was coming from a Minbari, but one who… who seemed more than just a little human. He looked again, closer this time. The figure was definitely Minbari, but there was something in his gait, in his stance, that marked him out as human.

“Greetings, both of you. I welcome you to this place.” Sheridan heard Delenn give a soft gasp. “I am called Valen.”

He shifted his gaze elsewhere, and he did find something familiar.

“Zathras! But… what are you doing here? You stayed on the planet with G’Kar!”

“Ah, no, Captain. Zathras is being very sorry, but Zathras last seen you many years ago, yes. Time has passed, yes. Much time. In your years…”

“Zathras!” snapped Valen.

“Ah yes, Zathras know, Zathras not supposed to talk about time. Zathras not supposed to talk about anything. Zathras supposed to shut up. Zathras is being shutting up. There. Zathras is shut up.”

“I thank you both for coming,” Valen repeated. “We need your help, but first you have to understand. You have to…”

Sheridan blinked.

“Anna! No!”

“John, what are you doing?” He was holding a PPG, as was she. There was a light in her eyes once again, but he didn’t remember this. When had this happened?

“Anna, what’s happening?”

What had Valen said? Flashes – forwards or back?

His arm jerked upwards, and he fired. He could see the light die in her eyes as her body was thrown backwards and by the time she hit the floor he knew she was quite dead. Behind him, somebody moved and was about to speak.

He blinked again, and staggered forward. There was no sign of either Valen or Delenn. He felt so weak… so helpless.

“Anna. Oh, God help me, Anna!”

He hadn’t realised he had spoken aloud, until he heard footsteps and rested himself back against the wall, to look at the person who was before him.

“Oh poor Johnny,” said a mocking voice. “Your Minbari whore’s finally abandoned you, has she?”

“Susan,” he breathed.

And behind her, the very shadows moved.

* * * * * * *

“We cannot just leave him,” Delenn was saying. They were running from the attack. She had no idea how it had happened. Valen had welcomed them, and she had been on the verge of kneeling to him, when Sheridan had staggered, and there had been the sound of PPG fire, and the chattering of Shadows. Valen had grabbed her hand, and they were fleeing.

“They won’t kill him,” he said. “It’s me they want – me and you. You have to understand, Delenn. There’s a lot I have to show you, and not much time. You told me about this, and now I have to do what you said I did. I have to…”

Delenn blinked.

It was cold, that was her first sensation. So very cold. She wrapped her black robe tighter around herself, and stared at the small object in front of her. It was a block of grey stone, partially embedded in the ground at her feet. There were letters inscribed on it.

She knelt down and touched it gently, reading what it said. The words were written twice, in English and Adronato, but the meaning was the same.




Chapter 2

It was cold.

Delenn wrapped her black robe even tighter around herself. This seemed impossible. She had been on the space station – the one Captain Sheridan had called Babylon 4, the one that was destined to be used in the last Great War against the Shadows, the one that had been given to the then Army of Light by Valen himself, the one that contained Valen himself, who had once been human – when she suddenly found herself here.

She looked at the piece of stone before her again and read the simple words inscribed on it in both English and Adronato.




Slowly she raised her head and looked around. This whole place seemed so familiar, but she could not quite place it. She saw a dull sky, a barren horizon, the hint of mountains not far away… and a city. Or at least what had once been a city.

Her eyes widened. “No,” she breathed. This was impossible. She knew that city. It was Yedor, capital city of the Minbari Federation. Her home. It was… reduced to rubble, flattened and wrecked and torn. This… this wasteland was Minbar, but that was impossible. Minbar was never like this, never so cold.

She pulled the robe even tighter and stumbled away from the grave. She recognised this spot now. Her father had brought her here as a child. They would eat here and look into the lake just over the ridge, the lake that caught the lights and colours of the crystalline deposits and shone beautifully. The lake that…

…was dull and dirty and clogged with dust and mud. She staggered towards the spot where it lapped against the shore and knelt down, scooping up a part of the water in her hands. It was dirty and grey. It did not shine any more. Nothing did. And then she caught a hint of her reflection. It was muddy and unclear, but it was her reflection, except that it was not her reflection. “Valen’s Name,” she breathed, understanding at last.

She blinked, and she was back on Babylon 4, in the company of the man in whose name she had sworn. She was resting against the wall of a corridor, and he was beside her.

“It was bad, wasn’t it?” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone down for that long.”

She raised her hands to her forehead and felt carefully around the edges of her bone crest. She was normal. “Was… was that an image of what will happen, or of what might happen?”

“We don’t know,” he replied. “We’ve all had images of the past, images that were surprisingly accurate. Of the future… none of us can be certain.”

“I saw… I saw…”

“Don’t tell me, Delenn. I must not know. It is not for me to know.”

You know my name,“ she suddenly breathed in wonder. ”You… know my name.“

“Of course,” he replied smiling. “And you know mine. Or you will. We brought this station from your future, to take it a thousand years into the past. I wrote myself a letter then, telling myself of what will happen. I wrote you a letter as well, although I don’t know whether you ever received it. I came here for your help, Delenn – yours and Sheridan’s. Now I think I may have come here to help you. Do you know what you have to do?”

“Yes,” she breathed. “Yes. I saw it… but… will my actions bring about what I have seen?”

“I don’t know, Delenn. As I told you once, my place lies with the future no longer, but with the past. That is, of course, if we ever make it there.”

“What has happened?”

“We were ready to launch this station when the Enemy attacked. It was a hard battle, but we managed to get away. I… don’t know what happened to my friends who were defending us. Some of the Enemy made it aboard and have been trying to kill me. If they do, then the past will be doomed and so will all of us. I came here hoping to gain your help, but the Enemy have proven to be too strong for us.”

“Then it was you who sent the message?”

He blinked. “What message? No, we were unable to get into the main control centre.”

“We received a message asking for myself and Captain Sheridan to come over here, and to come alone. It must have been a trap… They have him!”

“Delenn, Sheridan is a… clever man. I am sure he…”

“No. I know it. They have him. The Enemy has him!”

* * * * * * *

“Susan…” Sheridan rasped. He could feel his ribs grating at his lungs. His strenuous fight with Kalain had tired him and now all of this, a stray PPG blast, his two visions of Anna – one of marrying her, the other of killing her – he was feeling sick and disorientated and tired.

And he was staring at a woman he knew well, or thought he did, but Susan Ivanova had never looked like this.

Her right eye was simply a mass of scar tissue, scratched and torn, an old wound by the look of it. There were deep scars riven down the right side of her face, tearing her mouth and twisting it into a permanent sneer. Her hair was cut very short and there were patches on her skull where it was not growing at all.

“Susan… what happened to you?”

She seemed surprised. “You don’t… of course you don’t. What year is this?”

What year? Sheridan blinked and tried to rise to his feet. He failed and fell back. Susan merely watched him, the sole emotion on her face one of curiosity. Year? What year was it?

“Fifty-eight,” he rasped. “Twenty-two fifty-eight.”

“Of course,” she breathed. “The Epsilon Three mission. I don’t remember hearing about this, but it looks like your mastery with the vague reports came to the fore again… That means… that means we didn’t win, but…” There was a buzzing noise that grated into Sheridan’s ears and he threw up his hands to cover them.

“No!” Susan snapped. “We will win. It’ll be simple enough. We’ll use him as bait. All we have to do is kill one man, and then it’ll all be over, before it ever began. I know what I’m doing, trust me.”

Was she talking to him or to someone else? He tried to listen, but he couldn’t quite hear what she was saying. This didn’t make sense. None of this made sense.


His head slumped and he fell into unconsciousness.

* * * * * * *

“Any news on the others?” Sinclair asked. He was resting against the wall. His new biology was still causing him problems. He hadn’t been a Minbari long enough to adapt properly. Well, he hadn’t been a Minbari physically long enough. Spiritually, he’d always been Minbari.

“No, no,” Zathras replied. “No word. Could be alive, could be dead, could be worse. The Enemy is here.”

“I wish… I wish…”

“If wishes were fishes, there would be no room in the sea for water,” Zathras said, and smiled. “That human saying. Zathras learn that saying. Is good saying. There no water on Zathras’ home, though. No fishes either, but is still good saying.”

“We have to help Sheridan.”

“No,” Delenn whispered, and Sinclair looked at her. It was… surprising to see her again, after so long. She had not changed yet, and he had not known her as a full Minbari, but she had been one of his closest allies and deepest friends. He hoped she had survived the attack on Epsilon 3. “It is a trap,” she said slowly. “They want to kill you, Holy One. We cannot let that happen.”

Despite himself, Sinclair chuckled. “Holy One? You’ve never stood on formality with me before, Delenn. My name is Jeffrey. I’d appreciate it if you could use it.”

“Jeffrey?” She seemed to find the name difficult, but then she nodded. “Very well… Jeffrey, but it is still a trap.”

“I know,” he said softly. “I know, but as a very wise and beautiful woman once told me, I have a destiny, and I know that my destiny will not allow me to die here.” He grinned. “Besides, I have a little… help.”

And she understood. “Kosh,” she whispered. “His name is Kosh.”

* * * * * * *

“Destiny. The Minbari talk about it all the time. Destiny and purpose. So what was my destiny then? I could have stood where you stand now. I could have helped build this place, helped run it. I could have worn your uniform, stood in your place, and for what? So that I could die here, like you. So that they could come for me like they did for my mother and my father.

“The Psi Corps and the Minbari. Each as bad as the other. The one took my mother, the other my father and brother. My mother was the only person who ever loved me for who I was. Do you know what that was like? My father never cared! My brother… They took her away from me!

“And now this. Look at me, John. You don’t find me beautiful now, do you? You did once, I remember. But not any more, no not any more. You did this to me. It may not have been your hand that did it, but it was your finger on the trigger and your hand on the dagger.

“Why couldn’t you have answered differently? If only… if only you’d said something different. Why couldn’t you have wanted money or power like normal people. Then you’d have been worthless to us, and we’d have left you alone, and you’d have died in that prison. But no, you had to answer, didn’t you? All that revenge, and all that anger and hatred comes out, and you damned us all.

“It was just an accident for me, you see. I crashed on their planet. It was an accident and when they asked me what I wanted, I wasn’t thinking. I was hurt, and they promised to help me, and I listened and I answered. But you… they call you a nexus. Everything turns around you, and you led us to this. Do you think I wanted this? Do you? No. What we’ve become, and what you’ve done… you led us to it all.

“But it won’t matter, John. You see, this can all be over. They’ll come for you. I know they will… because you’re important. You’re also easy for me to track. I implanted a tracking system inside your body… oh, a long time ago now. And it still works. Say what you like about my… friends… at least they know how to build things that work.

“And they’ll come for you. They’ll have to, and we’ll kill him. We’ll kill Valen and we’ll change history, and we’ll win. No Minbari, no Battle of the Line. None of it will ever have happened. We’ll be free to build our own destiny again, right from scratch, and this time… this time it’ll all be better.

“And I’ll be free.”

Sheridan raised his eyes dully. He’d had another two flashes, one of the time when Elizabeth had been born and the other of when she had died. He was tired and hurt and grieving, and barely listening. He looked up.

“You can’t see it now,” Susan said. “But that doesn’t matter. They trust me now, even when they aren’t around. I have a Keeper, you see.

“We all have our Keepers.”

* * * * * * *

Commander David Corwin was pacing up and down the docking bays. He was the only person here now. The security guards had been sent back to their respective places and the medical staff were treating Mr. Allan. Any complications or messages from the Captain, and Lieutenant Franklin would link him from the bridge.

He doubted there would be any messages from the Captain though. The tachyon emissions that were surrounding Babylon 4 made any form of communication impossible, although the first message had got through easily enough…

Corwin was not paranoid. Paranoid people only think everyone is out to get them. Corwin knew people were out to get him. Well, he knew people were out to get the Captain, and that more or less amounted to the same thing.

His link activated. It was Dr. Kyle. “Mr. Allan is doing fine now, Commander. He’s asking to return to the docking bay.”

“Not necessary, thank you, Doctor. The fewer people here the better.”

“Commander, I think this is an unwise action and a risk to your health.” Corwin could practically see the stern, disapproving anger in Kyle’s face. He was, after all, old enough to be Corwin’s father by quite a way.

“Doctor, trust me, I…” He started. “It’s coming back.”

“Commander, this…”

“I know what I’m doing, Doctor. Corwin out.” He deactivated the link and faced the blue space-suited figure who appeared out of nowhere in front of him.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” he said. “I thought it was before, but now… it is you.”

The figure moved forward, but stumbled and fell, almost in slow motion. He rushed to its side, but then hesitated, remembering what had happened to Mr. Allan.

“You need my help.”

The figure nodded.

“So then, what can I do for you?” The figure slowly removed its helmet and looked at Corwin. Then it told him.

* * * * * * *

“I know,” whispered Susan Ivanova to her eternal guardians. “There’s a Vorlon. It’s coming here.”

A Vorlon…? Sheridan tried to rise, but he didn’t seem to have the energy. A Vorlon. He’d met a Vorlon before. On Narn. With G’Kar. It had shown him… something. It had whispered something to him. Its name. It had shown him… shown him… what?

He couldn’t remember.

“Wake up, John,” Susan said, not coldly, but without a great deal of warmth either. “Your Minbari whore’s coming for you, and him as well. He’s coming too.”

“Who… who are you talking about?” he muttered. He tried to rise again, and managed to hook his arm over a handrail and haul himself up. Susan merely watched. She didn’t do anything to help him. She simply watched.

“I don’t suppose she told you, did she? No, truthfulness and honesty are not particularly big Minbari virtues, whatever they like to tell anyone. Minbari do not lie, they say. Maybe not, but they never tell anyone the whole truth, either.

“What do you know about Valen?”

Sheridan blinked, trying to clear the fog in his mind. He did know that name. Delenn… Delenn had told him… he’d heard the name.

“Minbari… not born of Minbari,” he muttered.

“So, maybe she does tell you something after all? Pillow talk perhaps. Yes, Valen was Minbari not born of Minbari. He was human in fact, a human from this time who used some machine to change himself into a Minbari, and took this station backwards in time to the last war against my people, where he led the Vorlons and the Minbari and all the other perfect little races to victory.

“And imagine our surprise when we discovered all of this. Imagine our surprise when we realised that all we had to do was kill one man and we’d win the war then. The Minbari would be finished, and… think about it, John. If we kill Valen now, then the Minbari will be destroyed.

“A thousand years ago! No Minbari, no Battle of the Line, no destruction of Earth. None of this will have happened. You’ll still have your Anna, I’ll still have my mother. Everything can be so much better.

“But no. Don’t bother answering. I know you. You’re worse now than you will be in the future. I know you won’t help me. At least, not willingly.

“They’re coming for you. Your little Minbari whore and the one who betrayed us all, the entire human race, by becoming one of them. They’re going to come for you, and we’re going to kill them.”

“Delenn…” Sheridan rasped. “No…” He stumbled forward and blinked…

He was above Mars now, aboard the Babylon. He knew he was. He could practically sense the Minbari all around him. He wasn’t thinking. He’d retreated into the dark heart of his mind where the warrior in him lived. He existed only to kill, but his crew didn’t mind. They felt the same.

He could feel the Minbari flagship before him. There was something… different about this one, something special. He bore the ship down on it. He knew he was covered. Captain Maynard – good old Jack – would be providing cover in his Millennium, and Commander Pierce in the Hyperion was on Sheridan’s flank as well. None of them had been able to make it for the Line, and now it was too late.

And then, all of a sudden, he could see the Minbari, a council of nine. They were arguing, each standing in a column of light. One of them turned to face him and put up her hands.

“John, no!” Delenn cried.

But it didn’t matter, because he fired anyway.

He blinked, and he could feel Susan nearby. But she didn’t seem to notice him. She didn’t need to.

Valen was here.

* * * * * * *

Delenn looked on in horror as the Enemy appeared around her. She had lost count of how many there were. They were dark and tall and terrifying, but she was not afraid.

I will not allow harm to come to my little ones, not here in my great house.

She was with Valen now, and walking in his light. The title she had been given, presumably by the agents of the Enemy who controlled this station, still rankled at her.

Zha’valen. One who is a shadow to Valen. An outcast from the Light.

“Come out, Susan!” Valen called. Delenn saw the circled ranks of the Enemy part and a woman stepped forward. She recognised Susan Ivanova, or at least, the woman who had once been Susan Ivanova. She had… changed.

And beside her, stumbling and hesitant, his eyes staring and wide, was Captain Sheridan. She gave him a push, and he fell. Delenn could only look at him and wonder.

What he had seen. What he had been told. What he had done. She had seen what could only be a vision of the future. Had he?

Ivanova and Valen stared at each other for a long time. Delenn read… anticipation and anger in Ivanova’s eyes, and only despair and grief in Valen’s.

“I am sorry,” he said.

“I’m not. Kill them.”

The Shadows began to move, but then they stopped. Their buzzing communication hurt Delenn’s ears, but she saw that it was hurting Captain Sheridan even more.

From the darkness, there came a Vorlon.

Delenn recognised him. It was Kosh. He had come to her shortly after the Battle of the Line, and spoken about one human life, and of how that one life would change the future of her people. She had been doubtful, but then his suit had opened, and she had seen him, and seen Valen in him – not Valen as he was now, but Valen as she had seen him in her vision as a child, half a lifetime ago.

I will not allow harm to come to my little ones, not here in my great house.

And so she had done as Kosh asked, and she had saved that one human life, a soldier who had been drifting in space, disorientated and shaken, near to death. She had arranged for him to be recovered and given to the Vorlons. Neroon and Draal had been suspicious, but they had said nothing, out of respect and love for her.

And Kosh had given her a gift in return. A piece of himself. That piece had shown her wonders and visions and reminded her of her purpose. It had given her courage throughout her captivity and her interrogation. Until it had been taken from her.

She knew where Kosh was now.

They were all looking at Kosh now, even Ivanova. Her mouth was half open, as if in wonder, although her scarring made it look like a sneer.

Kosh turned to look directly at Delenn. He said one word.


And his encounter suit opened, and there was a slow, creeping light.

Delenn blinked.


I will not allow harm to come to my little ones, not here in my great house.

Captain Sheridan’s anger as he struck her, his mercy as he freed her.

A centre for all our hopes and dreams as a people.

More valuable to me.

…souls travel together over many lifetimes, reliving the good relationships and correcting the bad ones.

Zha’valen – a shadow on Valen.

My name is John J. Sheridan. Rank: Captain, Earthforce.

I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star.

Minbari not born of Minbari.

Neroon. Sheridan. Draal. Dukhat. Neroon. Sinoval. Sheridan. Lennann. Ashan. Welles. Dukhat. Miss Alexander. Sheridan. Neroon. Her father. Her mother. Welles. Sinoval.

Face after face, name after name, voice after voice. They all sounded in her mind, before her eyes, in her memories. Her past, her present, her future.




Minbar in ruins. Dukhat dying in her arms. Neroon saying goodbye. Captain Sheridan hitting her. Captain Sheridan watching her sleep.

Kosh entering her mind. Kosh’s true form.


The light faded, and Delenn realised she was lying on the floor, shaking. Standing up, she saw Kosh’s encounter suit not far away. It was still standing, but as she watched, it sank down and collapsed.

Kosh was gone.

(And elsewhere, light years away, Lyta Alexander woke from her sleep screaming, with no knowledge of why.)

The Enemy was gone as well, save for Ivanova.

She was still on her feet, where everyone else had fallen. Captain Sheridan was hardly breathing, and even Valen was still. Delenn saw her run forward, extending a Minbari fighting pike. Her Minbari fighting pike. The one that Ivanova had taken from her as she lay unconscious and bleeding in the corridors of her own home.

The one that Neroon had given her, the one that Durhan had given him. One of Durhan’s fabled nine blades.

Durhan would never have imagined it would be wielded by a Shadow agent, least of all against Valen himself.

Delenn reacted, remembering Neroon’s attempts to teach her combat, remembering her father’s training, and Durhan’s advice. She had no weapon, but she had her faith, and her memories, and her conviction, restored at last after a long period of doubt.

She caught Ivanova in the belly with her elbow, and the Shadow agent stumbled. A punch upwards to the arm loosened her grip on the weapon, and a blow to the shoulder knocked the pike from her hands completely.

Delenn could see the pain in her opponent’s eyes. Kosh’s sacrifice had done something to her, affected her somehow. Susan Ivanova had been changed, drastically and completely. For better or for worse, Delenn could not tell.

Slowly, she picked up the pike and she held it before her. It felt… wrong. It was not hers any longer. Ivanova had been wielding it in battle for… how long? Years, probably. How many had she killed with this self-same weapon, the one given to Delenn in a gesture of love?

She compressed the weapon and stepped back. Ivanova fell, tears raining from her one, good eye.

Valen was awake now, but Delenn could feel the station shaking around her. She looked up, and around, half afraid of another vision. There was none, but she did feel Valen take her arm.

“You have to go,” he said. “The time field is destabilising. You have to get out before you get caught here. Remember this, Delenn, and have faith.”

“Always,” she said. Captain Sheridan was rising, but unsteadily. He was shaking and palsied. She ran to his side and helped support him. With a last look back at Valen, she left the station.

And she left with it a piece of her future, and a piece of her past, secure in the knowledge of her present.

* * * * * * *

“How do you feel?” she asked him softly.

Sheridan groaned. “Ill. Sick. Tired. Apart from that, I’m fine.”

She smiled.

Delenn had managed to use her limited knowledge of shuttles to get away from the station and towards the Babylon. The ship’s central computer did the rest of the work of the docking. Commander Corwin had been suspicious when she had pulled Captain Sheridan from the shuttle, but he had asked no questions, and she had given him no answers. Largely because she did not know what answers to give.

Commander Corwin had even let her stay in Medlab while Dr. Kyle treated Captain Sheridan. His wounds had not been extensive. Largely bruising and exhaustion. He had slept and she had watched him, wondering if he would appreciate the symbolism of the gesture.

Wondering if she appreciated it herself. He had watched her sleep on at least one occasion, and that was a departure from the traditional ritual. But then this was far from traditional.

Behind her, Babylon 4 disappeared, and completed its journey to the past. She silently wished Valen well, and thought about her future. The images she had seen, both of Minbar, and of herself.

And when Captain Sheridan awoke, she had gone to his side. They were not being watched. Commander Corwin had ordered it. He had clearly seen something as well. Perhaps the unstable effects of the time field had extended even here?

“What happened…?” Sheridan began. “Was it… real or not? I… saw things.”

“I did as well,” she assured him. “I can only suppose that what happened is what has always happened. Valen took the station a thousand years into the past, where he fought the Enemy, formed the Grey Council and brought hope to Minbar.”

“And the visions?”

“I… do not know,” she said carefully. He was clearly uncomfortable with whatever he had seen, and so was she. For the time being, they would leave the matter. Perhaps later…

And then she presented him with the pike she had taken from Ivanova, the pike that Ivanova had taken from her. “I would like you to have this,” she said. She saw that he recognised it. “It does not feel… right to me any more, and you now have as many enemies, and as dangerous enemies, as do I. I feel you will need it.”

“I don’t know how to use it,” he said.

“Then I will teach you. But you must be careful. There are now two copies of that pike in this timeline. That one, and the one that was taken from me before, the one that has not yet been brought back to this time. Some of the warrior caste believe that a weapon has the power of its bearer. That weapon has two bearers now.”

“I see. I… think I’ve got something for you as well. The doctors put it in that drawer there.” Delenn opened the drawer he indicated and pulled out a small metal triangle.

She held the Triluminary slowly and smiled. “Thank you,” she said.

“Well, are you going to test my soul with it, then?”

“There is no need. I have seen your soul, and mine.”

“The… things on that station. They were the Enemy, weren’t they? The Shadows?”

“Yes, they were.”

“They aren’t really trying to help us, are they?”

“I doubt it.”

“I won’t do anything to hurt my people, you realise that.”


“And I won’t fight them. Just yet. But… I might have to, in the future. Please, tell me about them…”

“There is something else I must tell you about first,” she whispered, remembering the sight of her own reflection in the muddied waters of Minbar.

And she told him of prophecy, and of Valen and of the chrysalis.

And he listened.

* * * * * * *

“I wish he could just tell me what this is about,” Corwin moaned to himself, not caring that the only person around to hear him was Marcus, and he was saying nothing. Corwin’s complaints were not genuine either. The Captain was the captain after all, and he didn’t have to explain anything.

Although he would quite like to know why the Captain was out of Medlab when Dr. Kyle had insisted on another full day’s rest. They weren’t even back at Proxima yet.

The door to the ready room opened, and the Captain walked in. Satai Delenn was with him, and Corwin managed to avoid twisting his face into a gesture of disapproval. What business was it of his what the Captain did?

“Thank you for coming here, both of you,” the Captain said. “I trust the two of you more than anyone else on this ship. You, David, because… well… you’ve fought alongside me for so long. I’ve never had any reason to doubt you, and I’m sure I never will. And you, Marcus, because you’ve seen some of the same things I have.

“What we’re going to tell you will have to remain secret for the time being. We may add others to this little conspiracy at a later date, but for now, only the four of us need know.

“We’re going to tell you exactly what we saw on Babylon Four, and exactly what it was doing there, and where it was going, but first, a little background detail. Delenn?”

Satai Delenn shifted in her seat slightly and placed her hands on the table.

“There are beings in the universe billions of years older than either of our races,” she began. “Vast and timeless, they walked among the stars like giants. The oldest of these were called the Shadows.

“We have no other name for them…”

Part VI: The Bester of Both Worlds

Darkness. It comes in many forms. There is the simple absence of light. There is the darkness of dreams and nightmares. There is what Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar – still buried in the heart of his Great Machine – would call the darkness we fight. But greater by far, as Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar would also say, is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way.

One such soul was walking through the corridors of power in the Main Dome at Proxima 3, last bastion of the human race. Said soul was the last, best hope of the human race, although precious few knew the nature of that last, best hope.

One who did was walking beside her. Marcus Cole, both bodyguard and spy. He had been given the task of keeping an eye on her by Captain John Sheridan, who had his own doubts about humanity’s new allies, doubts that had been realised several months ago in a confusing and terrifying encounter aboard the lost, never built, space station Babylon 4. After that meeting, Sheridan had called a council of his most trusted friends and allies – Marcus himself; Commander David Corwin, Sheridan’s second; and Sheridan’s prisoner Satai Delenn. And he had spoken of Shadows.

Marcus knew about Shadows. He had seen them rising from the ground as they destroyed the only home he had ever known. He had learned about Shadows from Narn Councillor Na’Toth and Narn prophet G’Kar, who were slowly building an army against the Shadows’ return.

Oh yes, Marcus knew about Shadows, and he knew his purpose in opposing them. To follow, to watch, to observe, and nothing more.

For the moment at least.

He wasn’t sure what she thought about this. She barely spoke to him, barely even acknowledged his presence, save for a quiet, half-mocking smile whenever he was around. At least in public. In private…

He fingered his PPG nervously. As a weapon it seemed strangely unnatural to him, as if he should be carrying something else. She didn’t notice his unease. She never did.

“Lieutenant Ivanova,” said the Security official at the entrance to the Resistance Government’s quarters. She was always called lieutenant – the rank she had held before her trip to the dead world called Z’ha’dum. Although she was technically still a member of Earthforce, the title felt wrong to Marcus. He wondered how long it would be before another title stood there instead.

That of Ambassador.

Ambassador of Shadows.

How could such a beautiful woman be touched by such evil? he thought. Was it simply bad luck? What could – and would – she have done as a servant of Light instead?

“And Mr. Cole.” Complete contempt in three words. Marcus knew that the guard didn’t like him, but that didn’t matter. He was here on Captain Sheridan’s direct authority and Captain Sheridan had a great deal of authority with the Resistance Government.

They had tried to protest, had said that Lieutenant Ivanova already had more than adequate security provisions. Sheridan had countered by saying that Marcus would also serve as diplomatic staff. The Resistance Government had said that Marcus had no background in such an area. Sheridan had responded by forging documents proving that Marcus had worked on the staff of Administrator Na’Far on Vega 7, rather than being merely a miner.

Ivanova had observed this whole debate quietly and without fuss.

“Go on in. They’ve been expecting you.”

Actually only a few members of the Resistance Government were there. President Crane was absent – presumably still unwell. She had fallen mysteriously and conveniently ill a few months ago and had not yet recovered. In her seat was Vice President Clark, a man Sheridan did not trust one inch. Clark had been acting differently in recent months. More… energetic than usual. General Takashima was her usual quietly observant and professionally refined self. General Hague meanwhile was looking even more tired and stressed than usual.

“Thank you for coming, Miss Ivanova,” Clark said. Susan smiled almost imperceptibly as he did so. “We will be having a guest who has been most anxious to meet you. He will be arriving in a few hours and he has requested a private meeting.”

“Oh? Just how private?” she said smiling, and Clark chuckled. “So, who is this guest?”

“His name is Bester,” said Takashima slowly. “He used to be a Psi Cop.” Marcus saw all of the blood drain from Susan’s face. Takashima did not notice, or if she did, she made no reaction. “Have you heard of him?”

“No,” Susan breathed. “No. Who is he?”

“A high-ranking Psi Cop,” Hague said dully. “Very powerful, too. Like the rest of us, he escaped the attack on Mars, thanks of course to Captain Sheridan’s intervention. He set up his own colony somewhere. We don’t know where. Some secret Psi Corps base or something. Psi Corps doesn’t exist any more, of course, but he acts as if it does. The Minbari seem to leave him alone for some reason. Perhaps he made a deal with them.” The bitterness in his voice was almost tangible.

“But he has done us a favour or two,” Takashima said quickly. “He arranged for food shipments to tide us over the worse of the famines a few years ago, and he has provided us with the occasional useful piece of information about Minbari activities. We owe him several favours.”

“He’s heard about recent events here,” Hague said. “And he’s interested. He’s requested a meeting to talk about your friends. He’s also interested in Satai Delenn, but as Captain Sheridan won’t be returning from Ragesh Three for another eight hours or so, we thought Mr. Bester could meet with you first…”

“No!” Susan cried. “No telepaths! They would… damage the link between myself and my friends. I cannot meet him, I am afraid.”

“He will not attempt to scan or read you…” Hague began, but Clark interrupted him.

“If that is the case, then Mr. Bester will have to be disappointed. We apologise for your inconvenience, Miss Ivanova.”

“Perhaps he could meet the… head of your diplomatic staff, then,” Hague said, indicating Marcus, who did his best not to look startled.

“That would not be possible either,” Susan replied quickly. “Telepathic activity may damage the link between him and my friends as well.”

Marcus nodded, knowing there was no such link. He was paying the matter little attention however, having noticed something else which he felt more important. He had seen something surprising in her eyes at the suggestion that she might have to meet this Bester.


* * * * * * *

“When will they learn? For God’s sake, we’re not their errand boys. I wonder if G’Kar knows anything about this. He probably does, although I wish I knew what he was doing inside that damned Machine.”

Captain Sheridan, greatest human war hero, a captain with an outstanding record, the Starkiller, et cetera et cetera, turned about sharply and caught his foot on the leg of the couch. He stumbled forward and was rewarded with a soft chuckle for his acrobatics.

“I am sorry,” said Delenn, but she was still smiling. Slowly, she lowered another piece on to the structure she was building. She took a step backwards and regarded it, nodding slowly.

“How is it going?”

“Well… I think.”

“You still don’t know what this is going to do to you, do you, Delenn? Dammit, I wish you’d reconsider.”

“I cannot, she replied. ”This was mentioned in our prophecies. I saw my change in a vision I experienced on Babylon Four. It will bring my people and yours closer together. I must do this.“

“I don’t place any trust in prophecies or visions.” She looked at him and saw the pain in his eyes. He had seen something in the future on Babylon 4. Although she did not know the specifics, she could see how it troubled him. She walked slowly around the table to his side and placed one hand on his arm. She met his eyes, and then smiled, not voicing her own concerns.

If the one part of her vision was true – her change – then would the rest of it also be true? She had seen Minbar in ruins and herself standing over his grave. Would that come to pass in spite of her change – or because of it?

“For another thing,” he said. “You don’t know what that machine will do to you. It might even kill you. And… our races can never be brought together. None of us here trusts Minbari. Nor do I – except for you, of course – and we both know what will happen when Sinoval is made leader.”

“The machine was given to me by Valen himself,” she said. “I trust in his wisdom. But Sinoval… it will be soon now. Our mourning is almost over. What will emerge from it will be dark and terrible, far worse than anything we have seen so far.”

“I don’t think it can get much worse, and we’ll hardly be unprepared this time. Could the… Shadows defeat your people?”

“Perhaps… probably. It depends on so many things… and on this. That is why I must divert the course of the Council. If I complete the prophecy, I may be able to wrench control of the council from Sinoval, show them what Valen showed me, and alert them to who the true enemy is.”

“But it’s too far for us. We won’t stop until you’re all dead, and now we’ve got the potential to do that. And I’m the one who gave it to them.”

Delenn saw the guilt in his eyes, and it mirrored almost exactly the guilt in her own. Yes, he might have been the door to the alliance between the Shadows and the humans, but she had been the one who had made that door possible in the first place.

“Tell me of your recent mission,” she said. “I hear so little down here.”

He smiled, recognising a deliberate change in subject when he heard one. Then his smile evaporated as he remembered what she was asking about.

“Ragesh Three was an agricultural colony, for God’s sake. Completely useless. The Narns took it from the Centauri in the last war, but never did anything with it. The Centauri attacked anyway. The Kha’Ri responded of course, and they wanted me along as back up. There wasn’t much of a firefight and the Centauri pulled out as soon as things got tense, but it’s got the Kha’Ri really rattled. Na’Toth’s speaking out against war, and so is anyone else in G’Kar’s little conspiracy, but they’re very quiet voices indeed. I’ll give it a few months tops, and then… poof! Another war on our hands.”

“So much death,” she whispered softly. “Always so much death.”

His link activated. It was Corwin. “We’re about an hour out of Proxima now, Captain.”

“Good,” Sheridan replied. “Anything else?”

“Yeah. There’s a message from the Resistance Government. You’re not going to like this, Captain.”

* * * * * * *

Lyta Alexander walked through the corridors of power as if she’d been born to them. She paid no attention to those she passed, and why should she? She was a telepath – one of the élite, gifted few who would change the world. That was what Psi Corps had told her.

She hadn’t been able to change the world, though. The Minbari had got there first.

Psi Corps, with all its rules, rankings and regulations, did not exist any more. The Minbari had taken that from her as well. But to some, Psi Corps would never die. One such was on Proxima 3 now, and he would want to see her. He was currently meeting with Vice President Clark, General Takashima, General Hague and Mr. Welles, but he would want to see her soon.

She had someone else to see first.

She waited outside the door, hoping that he was here. The two of them hadn’t spent much time together recently. He hadn’t said much by way of explanation, but she knew he was up to something and it involved that woman.

Lieutenant – or perhaps that should be Ambassador – Ivanova stood at the door as it opened. Lyta saw her eyes widen with fear and hatred. Then she stepped back.

“Marcus, honey,” she said sweetly. “It’s for you.”

Marcus came to the door and brushed past Ivanova, who smiled sweetly at him. The smile twitched as she looked at Lyta, and then she disappeared back inside.

Lyta was about to speak when she realised she needed more than words. Throwing her arms around his neck, she kissed him. It was not their first kiss, but his reaction was one of surprise and stillness, and a slow, halting response. Then she hugged him and felt his arms around her.

“I’ve missed you,” she said.

“I’ve… missed you too.”

Slowly and casually, she slipped into his mind. Familiar territory for her now. He didn’t seem to know when she did this, but it always made her feel comfortable.

“What’s happening?” she asked. “This is Captain Sheridan’s idea, isn’t it?” He didn’t need to answer. “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Be careful, Marcus. She’s dangerous. I don’t know what, but…” (The other voice in her mind, the one who spoke to her as she slept, was screaming at her now.) “Just be careful.”

“I… will,” he said slowly. His mind was calm, outwardly at least, although he was hiding something. That was rare, for him to try to hide things from her.

Her link activated. “Miss Alexander, the Resistance Government would like to see you as soon as possible.”

She sighed. “I… have… to…”

“I know.”

She kissed him again and left. He watched her go, noting the way she kept adjusting her skirt or her gloves or the Psi Corps badge she still wore.

(And he remembered the way Susan touched him, kissed him, slid herself next to him…)

* * * * * * *

Susan was alone at last. No, not alone – she was never alone – but Marcus was not with her. She could feel her friends’ anger. Why did she let him stay? She guessed that Sheridan was experiencing some reservations about her and her friends. That Minbari witch was poisoning him, and it was at her bidding that he’d sent Marcus here to spy on him.

So why hadn’t she got rid of him? An ’accident’ or a Keeper. They might be noticed, but so what? Sheridan was already under the thumb of that Minbari whore, and Clark already had a Keeper. Who else here possessed enough power to worry about?

So why hadn’t she?

She knew the answer. It was the look in his eyes the first time she’d tried to seduce him. Such terror. He’d backed away, mumbling excuses, afraid even to look at her.

The second attempt had also failed, but the third… that had succeeded. He had been a virgin, and afterwards he had cried. So sweet, so naïve, so innocent…

So why had it affected her so badly? Was his innocence a reminder of her own before Psi Corps had taken her mother?

And Psi Corps. That was another problem, a more terrifying one. She could feel the twinges in Lyta’s psi-power, and this… Bester was far stronger than she’d thought possible. She could feel him now, his mind… like a cloud that shadowed everything else around it.

“Telepaths to the left of me, telepaths to the right,” she whispered. “You promised I’d be safe. You… promised.”

And then she felt another brief twinge of psi-power and her eyes widened.

“She has a Vorlon inside her.”

The Shadows knew this too. And they were angry.

* * * * * * *

Mr. Welles was a quiet man, and unflappable, skills which had served him well in the past. He had a knack for blending in so that he was seldom noticed, unless he chose to be. And he had a photographic memory, all talents that he knew well how to use.

His official title was Chief Warrant Officer and Head of Security. His unofficial title was Spymaster General. He listened, he watched, he observed and he remembered.

His last important task had been the interrogation of Satai Delenn. He had been doing well, until Captain Sheridan had taken her away. Welles had tried to object, but he didn’t mind really. He was patient.

To all things, there is a time.

At present, he was watching Clark bandy words with Bester. He didn’t like telepaths – their abilities made a mockery of his work – but he had learned to use them. He had been studying Bester for over an hour and his mind had tallied a great deal of information.

Short, but acts as though he were taller. Acts as though his height doesn’t bother him, but it still rankles. Psi Cop or not, he’s still human, with all a human’s weaknesses.

Doesn’t use his left hand. An affectation or a disability? Connected to his height, perhaps? Birth deformity? Check details, may have other infirmities. Possible weapons.

Still wears Psi Cop uniform. Why? Psi Corps destroyed with Earth. Gloves serve practical purpose. Badge and uniform do not. Engender fear, perhaps? A constant reminder of what he is? What he can do? Reminder to whom? Himself – or others?

And on and on. Voice, stance, actions, words. Welles recorded it all, for later use. But he was growing increasingly distracted.

Clark was acting differently, and had been doing so for a while. It was nothing solid that Welles could identify, but it was there, and it was unknown, and it was irritating him that he couldn’t spot the source.

The door opened and a security guard ushered someone in. Welles noted the guard. It was Boggs. A good man. Efficient. Dedicated. Did what needed to be done.

He turned his attention to the newcomer. Lyta Alexander. Telepath. Sixth generation. P5. Height. Weight. Age. A number of reprimands for inappropriate use of psi-powers. Had formed liaison with Sheridan’s bodyguard, who was now serving as Lieutenant Ivanova’s aide. Had helped in his interrogation of Satai Delenn.

“Ah, Miss Alexander,” Bester said. “A pleasure as always. You’ve been keeping well, I trust.”

“Yes, thank you,” she replied. Too quick. Too nervous. Has something to hide from her superior. What? Liaison with Cole? Usage of psi-powers? Something else?

Her Psi Corps badge is crooked. A sign, perhaps, of slipping allegiances.

“We will have to talk later in private,” Bester said. Then he turned to Welles himself. “Many thanks for the transcripts of your interrogation of Satai Delenn. I was wondering however, why they stopped so abruptly.”

Surprise question. Out of the blue? Trying to find something? “Captain Sheridan felt that Satai Delenn would be better off kept aboard the Babylon, for security reasons.”

“What about the ships we asked for?” Hague said, and Welles looked at him. No subtlety. No guile. An honest man among politicians. An honest man whose honesty is destroying him. He’s not sure about our new allies. He’s the only one in this room who’s faced down Minbari in battle. He knows what they can do.

“I’m afraid our own defences are looking quite rocky at present, General, but I will see what I can arrange.” An admission of weakness? No, a lie. For what purpose? What does he know about our new allies?

“About Captain Sheridan?”

“He has returned,” Clark said. “But he said that it will take him a while to handle the aftermath of his mission. Bureaucratic details and so forth. Owing to security reasons, he feels it would be unwise to bring Satai Delenn down here. Would the Babylon be suitable for you to meet her?”

“Oh yes. Perfect.”

“Well then, Captain Sheridan said that 1500 hours would be a fine time for him…”

“Over two hours. Perfect. It will give Miss Alexander and myself time to discuss things. Thank you, all. It has been a pleasure.”

Welles watched Bester and Alexander leave, and he felt eyes on him. Looking up, he saw Takashima watching him. She had said very little during the meeting, evidently preferring to watch.

Just as Welles had.

He had a feeling that she was a more powerful protagonist than Clark, Hague or Bester.

She was dangerous.

* * * * * * *

Sheridan had not been sure what to expect in Bester. He had never met the Psi Cop before – although he had had dealings with a few of Bester’s aides – but he had heard a great deal about Alfred Bester. Psi Cop. Diplomat. Leader.

He hadn’t been expecting the short man with a useless hand who shot glances everywhere. But then one look in Bester’s eyes and at the telepath’s quietly mocking grin proved that Bester himself was exactly what he had been expecting.

He wondered what Bester had been expecting. The Psi Cop gave no sign of whether he had been expecting anything at all.

“It’s good to meet you at last, Mr. Bester,” he said. He’d held meetings with various dignitaries – usually Narns or from the League – before, but this one put a sour taste in his mouth.

“Likewise, Captain Sheridan.” Bester did not extend a hand. “This is an impressive ship. Destroyer class, isn’t it?”

“She… used to be. She’s had so many modifications and alterations done to her over the years that she’s now in a class of her own. We prefer to think of her as a Babylon-class ship.”

“Ah, yes. The ancient tower of Babel, which ascended into the heavens as all of mankind worked together to one singular purpose. A fine ideal, don’t you think? Do you know much about ancient history, Captain Sheridan?”

“I’m more familiar with the twentieth century.”

“Ah, it is a fascinating subject, although I have always preferred Greek history myself. We managed to rescue two damaged destroyer ships from the end of the war. We repaired them and renamed them. The Ozymandias and the Parmenion.”

Sheridan turned and stared. “You have two destroyers?”

“To all things a time, Captain Sheridan. This is a fascinating ship. I would quite like a tour.”

He refrained from gnashing his teeth. “Of course. I also understand you wish to question Satai Delenn.”

“I would. Miss Alexander is a gifted telepath, but she may have missed something in her scans. I miss nothing, Captain Sheridan.”

“Of course. If you would care to come to my office first, so that we can sort out a few details.”

Sheridan was tense as he led Bester up to the ready room. Bester was a P12, the best and the strongest. Corwin had wanted to be here for this, but he had refused. Delenn had said that this was not necessary, but he knew it was.

This was too important for anyone, even Bester, to ruin, but if what he was planning went wrong… He was surprised that Bester didn’t have guards, or any form of escort. Apparently he had flown here alone in one of his Psi Corps Black Omega Starfuries.

But then why would Bester need guards, when he possessed one of the most powerful minds in existence? The Minbari hadn’t touched his power at all. Perhaps he’d made a deal with them.

They reached Sheridan’s office and stepped inside. No one else was there.

“So, Captain, what are these little details…?”

Bester stiffened, and there was a cause. Sheridan had drawn his PPG and placed it at the base of the Psi Cop’s skull.

“I’m waiting for an explanation, Captain.”

“You Psi Cops always think you own everything. Maybe you aren’t getting an explanation. Maybe I’ll just blow your head off right here.”

“Oh? And what would murder do to your career?”

“They can’t do anything to me. They need me too much, and I’ll say that you attacked me. Or did you think that they actually trusted you?”

“I’ve never needed to be trusted, Captain, but I see your point. What if they don’t believe you?”

“They will.” Because I’ll have witnesses. David will back me up even though I told him to stay out of this. He’ll involve himself.

“Well then, Captain. It seems your… persuasiveness has won me over. I’ll be leaving then, shall I? With my head, if you wouldn’t mind. I’m very attached to it, you see. We’re inseparable, in fact.”

Sheridan stepped backwards, one step. “We’ll have to put off some time for appearance’s sake, but you can spend it here. The only part of my ship you’ll be going anywhere near is from here to the docking bays, and the only person you’ll be seeing is me.”

“I was not aware of any insanity in your record, Captain.”

“I’m not insane,” he replied. “I don’t like you and I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t trust myself either, Captain. At least that puts me in the majority. So, this is a fascinating office, at least.”

“Shut up.”

Sheridan activated his link. “Mr. Corwin. Mr. Bester and I will be attending to matters in my office. Please ensure we are not disturbed.”

“Yes, sir,” came Corwin’s voice over the link. All scripted of course. Sheridan hoped those tricks Delenn had shown him were working, but what did it matter if they didn’t? She would be safe, and he was still indispensable.

He had a feeling it was going to be a long few hours.

* * * * * * *

“It worked then?”

“It worked,” Sheridan confirmed. “Although I’ll be damned if I know how. Those mind clearing tricks you taught me must have worked.”

Delenn frowned. “If he is as powerful as you say…” She placed another part on to the machine. “I would be careful, John. I think you have made an enemy today.”

“So what’s one more? He’s gone now anyway, and I know he didn’t give the Resistance Government a briefing on what just happened. I… I just can’t help feeling he had something deeper in mind. Well, whatever he wanted, he either got it or he didn’t, and either way it can’t be helped. And he’ll either tell the Resistance Government or he won’t. Either way, they won’t be able to do anything.

“How is that thing coming along?”

“Soon,” she said. She looked up and met his eyes. He saw her concern.


* * * * * * *

A few hours out of Proxima 3, heading for the Proxima system jump gate, at a point where he was sure his transmissions wouldn’t be intercepted, Bester sent a coded signal. A few minutes later, a familiar voice appeared over the comm channel.

“Hey, boss. How’d it go?”

“Mr. Garibaldi? I was expecting Ben Zayn.”

“He’s off somewhere. Trouble with the Streibs. You know how it is, boss. So, how’d it go?”

“Fine. I got what I came for.”

“Captain John Sheridan?”

“Yes. A complete and detailed scan, and all without his knowledge. At least I think so. He’d formed some unusual blocks, but I got past them eventually. It just took a little time.”


“And, Mr. Garibaldi, our information was correct. One hundred percent so.”

“Nothing’s one hundred percent anything, boss.”

“Always the sceptic, eh, Mr. Garibaldi. Some days I’m very glad I’m not in your wife’s place.”

“I’m very glad you’re not in my wife’s place too.”

Bester chuckled. “How is she anyway?”

“The same. Throwing up every morning and hating every minute of it.”

“Remember, you promised to name the child after me if he’s a boy.”

“Alfred Garibaldi? What kind of a name is that? Alfredo, perhaps.”

“We shall see, Mr. Garibaldi. We shall see.”

“What about the Minbari? Satai Delenn?”

“No. I didn’t get close enough to her, but that doesn’t matter. She was only an added bonus anyway. Ah, here’s the jump gate. I will be back in about twelve hours.”

“I’ll see you then, boss. C and C out.”

Bester closed his eyes. Everything was going as it should. His information had been correct after all. There had been some disagreement as to whether it should be trusted, but now everything was going fine and could continue.

He smiled.

Part VII: Transformations

Chapter 1

And so, it begins.

Kosh Naranek, personal observation.

* * * * * * *

Hail, Holy One. Hail, Sinoval. Hail, Holy One.

Sinoval. Satai of the Grey Council. Entil’zha of the Rangers. Warleader of the Wind Swords clan. Shai Alyt of the jihad against the Earthers. A long list of titles. More than enough for most people. Branmer himself had borne only two of the four Sinoval currently held. Many lived and served their whole lives without gaining even a fraction of the power or respect Sinoval wielded, and they were happy with their status.

Sinoval was not.

He dreamed.

He dreamed of walking in the footsteps of Valen, and Varmain, and Durhan, and Branmer. He dreamed of reaching out his hand and touching the stars. He dreamed of leading his people to the gates of Z’ha’dum and tearing them down. He dreamed of bringing light to the darkness.

He dreamed, and now his dream was near to reality. There was only one obstacle, the same obstacle that had impeded him countless times before.

Her name was Delenn.

The period of mourning for Dukhat’s death was over, and the Grey Council was set on choosing his successor. For over ten cycles, since even before Dukhat’s death, it had seemed set that Delenn would stand where Dukhat had stood. She had been his chosen at a time when Sinoval had not even stood amongst the Nine.

But things had changed. Delenn had been gone almost a whole cycle, vanished when Starkiller Sheridan had made his escape. Whether she had been captured or had gone willingly was not known. Although Sinoval found it hard to believe she had gone with the Starkiller of her own will, it suited him to remind others of that possibility. Some were even starting to believe what he did not. These false beliefs were growing in strength ever since the encounter almost half a cycle ago, at the planet called Epsilon 3, where the Trigati had clashed with Sheridan’s ship, the Babylon. The second in command of the Trigati, Alyt Deeron, had reported receiving word from the Babylon that Delenn was aboard, even receiving communications from Delenn to back away and leave the planet. Sinoval had publicly denied all knowledge of this, but privately suspicions were starting to grow, especially when the ease of Starkiller’s escape was brought up. Sinoval knew the truth, of course, or at least as much of the truth as he could. He hated such rumours, but he let them run. It suited his greater purpose.

Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved. An old Minbari saying, one that he had heard in his first foray into the Dreaming, as he was initiated into the Grey Council. He repeated it silently to himself, changing it slightly.

Delenn must be sacrificed if the Minbari are to be saved.

Only a few weeks ago a warrior, Kalain, had been appointed as temporary replacement for Delenn, the full nine being needed to vote on a leader. This had been a hard-fought victory on Sinoval’s part, but well won. And now he was mere inches from his greatest triumph.

So near and yet so far.

The Grey Council wanted proof, one way or the other. Lennann and Rathenn had been screaming for action ever since Delenn had disappeared, but other, wiser heads were able to talk them down about the danger and the risk involved to rescue one who was surely either dead or a traitress. And besides, without Delenn, her sycophant followers were of no importance. Hedronn had spoken up at last, however, and he had the weight of the worker caste behind him.

“We need proof, Sinoval,” he had said. “Delenn was the chosen of Dukhat, and we must respect Dukhat’s wishes. A rescue attempt may have been inadvisable before, but we know your wishes and your actions should you be voted to lead us. If Delenn is alive, and a prisoner, then we cannot let you jeopardise her life in an attack, and we cannot elect you to fill the place that should be hers. Get us proof, Sinoval, and we shall see.”

“Then you shall have proof,” Sinoval replied.

“You wish to see me, Satai,” said a voice from behind him. A Centauri voice.

“Yes, Ambassador. Thank you for coming.”

Ambassador Refa. A Centauri given the freedom of Minbar. It grated on Sinoval, not because he was Centauri, but because he was a Centauri exile. His plottings on Centauri Prime had led to a power struggle that he had lost, with the result that he had ended up here. Whatever he might say, his position was regarded as a joke by those back on Centauri Prime.

That was what grated on Sinoval, that the Centauri saw Minbar as a place to send their unwanted rubbish.

But then, even rubbish has a purpose.

“What is the current news on the treaty negotiations between the Centarum and the Earther Resistance Government?” he asked.

“Satai, I have no knowledge of any such…”

“Do not lie to me, Ambassador. It demeans my position and it demeans the Council I represent, and that demeans my people. We both have sources on Centauri Prime, and we both know that the overtures of peace made to the Earthers came from your old enemy – a Minister Londo Mollari. Unfortunately I have been distracted lately, and I am not up to date. I am sure that you are, however. So, what news?”

Sinoval could practically feel the anger in Refa’s eyes. Any mention of Mollari tended to do that to him. “The Resistance Government is still considering the matter. At least, that is what they are telling the Centarum. I believe they are debating whether my people or the Narns would make better allies.”

“I see. Then would this not be the perfect opportunity for a Centauri noble and diplomat to visit the Earthers?”

“I have enough supporters in the Centarum to arrange such an act,” Refa said slowly, thoughts running around in his head. “And even to ensure that my… appointment here is not brought up. But why, Satai?”

“Satai Delenn of the religious caste disappeared almost a cycle ago. We know that the Earthers are involved. I… we would like confirmation on whether she is alive or dead, and if she is alive, then in what state. A prisoner, or a welcome guest.”

“I had not heard this,” said Refa, but he caught the unmentioned meaning behind the sentence.

“Undue curiosity is frowned on in our people. We are told what we need to know and nothing more. And, Ambassador, you will not find me ungrateful.” The words ’when I am leader’ did not need to be said. Both knew the score.

“It is always a pleasure to serve, Satai. I will get your information.” Refa bowed and left.

Sinoval returned to his dream, but it was a dream tainted by the corruption he was having to endure. Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved, but where would the some become too many? Would it end at Delenn, or the rest of the Grey Council? It had already cost him his honour, as he recalled with a foul taste why he had arisen so far, and, he suspected, the true reason Sheridan had escaped and Delenn had vanished.

Not for nothing was she called Deathwalker.

* * * * * * *

‘And we will reunite with the other half of our soul in a war against the common Enemy…’

So ran the prophecies as set down by Valen a thousand years before. Since then many had studied them, working over countless generations in search of understanding. Delenn had been one of the many, and she had at last found meaning.

She gently laid the last piece on to the machine. All that was needed now was the Triluminary itself.

“Are you sure about this?”

She looked at the speaker. Captain John Sheridan, the Starkiller, greatest enemy of her people. She saw in him an honesty, a nobility and a tenderness buried beneath fourteen years of war and countless deaths. Maybe her actions would be the catalyst that brought the real John Sheridan to the fore once again.

“Yes,” she said simply.

“You won’t be well received,” he warned.

“I am under no illusions as to how your people will view me,” she said firmly. “But my people… once I show them the true meaning of Valen’s words… once I explain to them that I saw Valen on Babylon Four, then they will listen, and they will understand, and I will be able to pull them back from the brink, and set them in the right direction once more.”

“If you’re sure…”

She looked at him again. “You sound… doubtful, John.”

“I am. Blood calls out for blood. You can’t end this, Delenn. I don’t think anyone can. I remember meeting Sinoval in your hall.”

“Like a mirror,” she whispered, remembering the confrontation in the Hall of the Grey Council. Sheridan and Sinoval had seemed almost mirror reflections of each other.

“Sinoval is just one man,” she said.

“That’s all it takes.”

His link beeped. It was Officer Allan, who was in charge of guarding Delenn’s quarters-cum-cell. “Captain, Miss Alexander is here, and she wants to see you.”

“Tell her Marcus is on Proxima. He doesn’t work for me any more.” A deception, but a necessary one. Susan Ivanova was the link between the Resistance Government and the Shadows. She had to be kept under close observation.

“She says she knows that. She wants to see you, sir, and the prisoner.”

Sheridan wasn’t sure of what to make of Lyta Alexander. One of the few telepaths living on Proxima, she was a legacy of the destroyed Psi Corps. She sometimes wore their badge and their uniform, but she also broke their rules, having received a number of cautions for inappropriate use of her telepathic powers. She had also played a part in Delenn’s interrogation. Sheridan had seen the results of that interrogation, and he was inclined to refuse Lyta entry on that alone, but he found himself looking up at Delenn, who nodded once.

“All right, send her in, but just for a little while.”

The door opened, and Lyta entered. She breezed past Sheridan, ignoring him completely and she stopped next to Delenn’s machine. Looking up, she said one word:


Sheridan looked up sharply. Ever since the incident with Bester a few months ago, Delenn had been teaching Minbari meditation techniques to him, Corwin and Marcus – those primarily involved in their little conspiracy against humanity’s new allies. The techniques were supposed to prevent telepathic scans. They’d seemed to work on Bester. They should work on Lyta.

“I didn’t scan you,” Lyta said, evidently noticing his reaction. “The Vorlon told me.” Sheridan saw Delenn start. “His name is Kosh.”

“He was… once… a part of me,” Delenn whispered.

“And now he’s a part of me, God knows why. He wanted to see you, and to give you a message. ’And so, it begins.’ That’s it. Does that mean anything to you?”

“It might.”

“Good. And… I wanted to give you a message. I’m sorry. For what I did to you.”

A soft, genuine: “Thank you.”

Lyta smiled, and then turned to leave. As she reached the door, she stopped, and said, “Captain, I don’t know what game you’re playing with Marcus, and I know that I can’t stop you, but if he gets hurt because of you, I’ll never forgive you. Never.”

And she left.

Sheridan looked at Delenn. “What can I tell her?” he said. “I don’t know what danger Marcus might be in, but we need his information.”

“More than we need his life?”

“Perhaps. I wish I could give a definite answer, but life’s never that easy.”

“No, I suppose it is not.” She slowly drew out the Triluminary.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.” She placed the Triluminary on to the machine.

“I will be here,” he said. “Count on that.”

She smiled. “Thank you.”

* * * * * * *

A Centauri on Minbar was a rare sight. A Centauri at a recital of Minbari keela poetry was a rarer sight still.

Vir Cotto was a very rare Centauri.

Officially Ambassador Refa’s aide, head of diplomatic staff and general dogsbody, Vir should have been preparing a number of things for their imminent trip to Proxima 3. Unofficially – and very secretly – a member of a secret conspiracy that included Refa’s favourite enemy, Londo Mollari, he had a few more important matters to attend to first.

The poem ended and there was considerable praise from the listeners. Vir had at first been mystified by keela – Centauri poetry tended to be shorter, simpler and far bawdier – but he had come to appreciate and even enjoy it.

He sipped his drink and watched as the poet quietly spoke with the audience. The drink was non-alcoholic of course, but he wasn’t entirely sure what it was made of. Refa didn’t mind the lack of alcohol on Minbar – he only drank brivare on state occasions – and Vir wasn’t bothered about alcohol at all, but other Centauri found the concept terrifying.

Finally, the poet bowed and left. Vir knew he had been noticed and that the poet would meet him at their usual rendezvous, but first he had to kill some time to avoid causing suspicion. He made polite conversation with a Minbari worker and then left, making for a quiet alley where no one would disturb them. Minbari tended to respect one another’s privacy, but even so…

“Have you had any news from G’Kar recently?” Vir asked. The absence of news from the leader of their network was troubling him.

“Alyt Neroon arranged for a message to reach me a few months ago. Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar is still fortifying his position on Epsilon Three. He is gathering ships to his side. Alyt Neroon was going on to the League of Non-Aligned Worlds to gain some aid there. Apparently Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar feels that a number of conflicts will soon erupt.”

“He’s not wrong. The Grey Council is about to appoint a new leader. Ambassador Refa and I are leaving for Proxima Three tomorrow. The ambassador didn’t give any details, but I’d bet the timing isn’t coincidental.”

“That would not seem likely.”

“No. When will you be starting your tour of Centauri Prime?”

“I leave Minbar tomorrow, the same as you.”

“Good. If you can hand this over to Minister Mollari.” Vir handed his companion a data crystal. “Normally I give them to him myself, but in light of recent… events, I think he ought to have this information as soon as possible.”

“I will ensure that he gets it. Will you be meeting Captain Sheridan while on Proxima Three?”

“I hope so. We really need him on our side, the way things are going.”

“I… suppose that is so. Alyt Neroon also arranged for me to receive a private message for Captain Sheridan and Satai Delenn.” Vir took the data crystal and buried it in the pockets of his jacket. “I will be at Centauri Prime for a period of two months. We will meet when I return. Walk with Valen.”

“You too, I guess.” Vir left the alley and scuttled away. The data crystal felt very heavy in his jacket. Very heavy indeed.

* * * * * * *

For Susan Ivanova, some private time was becoming very hard to find these days. Ever since Captain Sheridan and that Minbari witch of his had dispatched Marcus to keep an eye on her – all in the name of security, of course – she had rarely been able to find the time to continue with her jobs. Not that it mattered much, as things were progressing fairly nicely now with minimal involvement on her part, and it wasn’t as if Marcus was all that difficult to be with.

No, he was too much pleasure to be with, and that was why she had to get away from him sometimes. Schemes to accomplish that were varied and this one was nothing more subtle than drugging his drink. Water, for God’s sake. Who around anywhere just drank water? She wouldn’t have much time, but it might be enough, and she had already wasted most of it just looking at him as he slept.

He was an innocent, a rarity to her. Psi Corps had taken her childish innocence when they had taken her mother, and her father had taken his love. But Marcus, he had seen his family killed, colony destroyed, everything he had wiped out, and he was still an innocent. He had cried the first time she had managed to seduce him, and his tears had startled her to an extent she had found impossible to believe.

She had to remind herself of why she was doing this. She had to keep reminding herself about the Minbari, about the Vorlons, about Psi Corps. She had to keep repeating over and over again the phrase ’some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved’. She had to keep reminding herself of why she was here, instead of curled up in bed with Marcus.

If she didn’t remind herself, her two Shadow companions would be happy to remind her. They were not happy. She didn’t know how much they knew about lust, or sex, or love, but she knew they were concerned about him. They wanted her either to kill him or put a Keeper on him, and she had to keep fighting them, reminding them that such an act would draw more suspicion on her.

But was she reminding them – or herself?

She reached the door she was after and rang the bell. She knew that the person she was waiting for was in, and she knew that the other person who lived here was not.

The door opened and a red-haired, pale-looking woman stood in the doorway. “Susan, she muttered. Susan. I’m sorry, I look…”

“No problem, Anna.” Anna Sheridan stepped back and ushered Susan – and her invisible companions – in. Susan looked around the room slowly. It was a mess, the smell of cheap Narn liquor mingling with dying orange blossom. Clothes were scattered everywhere, the bed was rumpled and the place clearly hadn’t been tidied in months.

Then she looked at Anna. Her pretty features were masked by fatigue and loss. Her shoulder-length red hair was mussed and sticking out – she’d obviously been sleeping on it. She stank of Narn liquor and sweat and the large T-shirt – the only item of clothing she was wearing – was filthy.

“A rough night, huh?” Susan said.

Anna nodded. “Several rough nights. I ran out of booze about three o’clock this morning.”

“John… hasn’t been around?” Susan knew full well he hadn’t. He was up on his spaceship with his Minbari whore. Looking at the state of the woman whom she was beginning to realise was her friend, she hated Delenn even more for denying Anna the chance of happiness.

Anna shook her head, and then winced, burying her head in her hands. “I haven’t seen him in months,” she whispered. “I don’t even know if he’s here or not.”

“He is. The Babylon’s in orbit here. The Resistance Government thinks the Minbari will attack soon, and they want the Babylon on full combat readiness.”

“Let them come,” Anna muttered. “They’ve taken my best friend, my daughter and my husband, and if they want my life, then they’re welcome to it.”

“That isn’t the way to talk,” Susan said, and surprised herself by realising that she meant it. “My friends will be here when the Minbari are, and we’ll hold them back, I promise. As for John, well… I don’t know what’s happening to him. I haven’t seen him in a while either, but I’ve heard that he’s still with Delenn.”

“Her again!” Anna snapped. “What does he see in her? She’s a Minbari, for God’s sake! She killed our daughter! It’s… it’s sick. It’s all so sick, and pointless and… oh, God! I wish Lizzy was still here.”

Susan slowly reached out and drew Anna close, hugging her. She could hear her companions hissing at her angrily, but she ignored them. This was serving their purpose, and if she could make Anna happy, then so be it.

“I think you should talk to him,” she said. “Let him know just how you feel. Maybe… I don’t know. Maybe there is something you can do.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

“Oh, God, I’m a mess.” Anna almost chuckled. “Look at me. Look at this place.”

“I’ll…” Susan thought of Marcus, still asleep. “I’ll help you clean up – both you and here. And then, you can go up to the Babylon, and talk with John.”

“Thank you. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”

Susan heard the hiss of her companions and she suddenly, for one brief and irrational moment, hated herself for what she was doing. But only for a moment.

* * * * * * *

Out of the nine on the Grey Council, there were some, like Sinoval, who spoke often and loudly. There were some, like Hedronn, who spoke seldom, but whose words carried great power. There were some, like Delenn, who did not need to speak often for their power to be noted. And there were some, like Rathenn, whose words were seldom offered and less heeded.

That did not mean his opinions were any less strong than those of, say, Sinoval. It merely meant he had to find another outlet for them. Usually it was Delenn, who listened and understood, but Delenn was not here. She had been forsaken, and forgotten and lied about. Rathenn knew that the thought of her going willingly with the Starkiller was absurd – no, worse than absurd, sacrilegious. And now Sinoval was taking the place that should have been hers, that should still be hers.

It took a great deal to make a Minbari angry, but once a Minbari was angry, their wrath was a thing to be feared, as the Earthers had discovered. Rathenn needed an outlet for his anger, and so he listened to keela. Remembrance of the past and thoughts for the future. The poet was skilled, and gifted, but his words were not assuaging Rathenn’s anger at all. Finally, he raised his hand and the poet stopped, and bowed.

“Do you know Satai Delenn?” he asked.

“I know… of her,” the poet replied, looking down. It was not seemly for anyone to look directly at a Satai of the Grey Council.

Rathenn looked at the poet. News of Delenn’s disappearance was not common knowledge, and for him to reveal that secret would get him into trouble, but still, a poet may hear the words of a Satai, as the saying went.

But no, this was not right. The poet’s head was still bowed. “Warriors and their pride,” Rathenn whispered. “They will destroy this Council. Sinoval will destroy this Council. And we, the Third Fane of Chudomo, we will stand idle as he does so. And why? Because we have no other choice. Remember the Grey Council, Shaal Lennier. Remember us in your poetry, because soon there will be no one else who will.

“When will you be leaving for the Centauri?”

“Tomorrow morning, Satai.”

“I can only help but wonder if the Centauri will appreciate your poems, Shaal. I doubt it somehow, but if anyone could, then I am sure you will make them. Shaal Mayan must be proud of you.”

“Yes, Satai. She is.”

“Good, and so she should be. Go, Shaal Lennier, and walk with Valen.”

“Thank you, Satai.” Lennier bowed again and left. Rathenn was alone at last, staring into the shadows all around him and feeling his own anger simmering in his breast.

Warriors! The Council had been in the hands of the religious caste since long before Dukhat, since the days of Liraval herself.

And in Delenn’s memory, Rathenn swore that it would be again.

* * * * * * *

Anna Sheridan was not exactly an unfamiliar face to many aboard the Babylon – some of whom had been present when she married the Captain shortly after the settlement at Proxima 3 – but she hadn’t been seen on the ship in over a year, and as far as Commander Corwin knew, the Captain hadn’t seen her for six months or so.

So when he received a message saying that Anna was in the docking bay wanting to speak to her husband and incidentally very interested in why security seemed much tighter than usual, he was initially fairly surprised.

“She’s not… drunk, is she, Mr. Allan?” Corwin said hesitantly. For all that the Captain tried to pretend it wasn’t important, Anna’s drinking was not exactly the best kept secret on Proxima.

“No, sir,” Zack replied. “Least, it doesn’t look like it.”

“I’m on my way down.”

As he made his way from the bridge to the docking bays, Corwin mentally rehearsed just what he was going to tell her.

Sorry, Mrs. Sheridan, but your husband is watching over our Minbari prisoner who’s currently in some sort of cocoon in fulfilment of ancient prophecy. And incidentally the reason security’s so tight is because we don’t want anyone to find this out, and we definitely don’t want Susan wandering around the ship until we work out what to do with her. Well, they don’t, and I’m not sure what I want regarding Susan any more.

There. That’ll go down just fine.

He was still saying that to himself as he entered the docking bays and found Anna waiting there, obviously impatient. His eyes widened slightly as he saw her. Her hair was newly washed and trimmed and done in a slightly different style. She was wearing loose-fitting light blue trousers and top, and jewellery as well. Corwin made a habit of noting as much about people as he could, and he spotted a wedding ring gleaming on Anna’s finger. She hadn’t been wearing her wedding ring in years.

“I’d like to see my husband, if that’s okay,” she said harshly. “Assuming he isn’t too busy, of course.”

“Ah, well…” Corwin began. What had the Captain said? Alert me if it’s an emergency only. He hadn’t been sure what the definition of an emergency was, but he knew from experience that while the sudden arrival of twenty Minbari cruisers would count, anything less probably wouldn’t.

“He’s busy at the moment, I’m afraid. If you have a message I could leave…”

“I could do that over the comm channels,” she said. “I want to talk to him.”

“I’m very sorry,” Corwin said. “I will let him know you came as soon as I can, but I am afraid we are very busy here…” Very busy was not the word. He had been performing so many drills, inspections and checks that he felt he was in danger of joining the walking brain-dead.

“Actually, Commander,” Zack suddenly said, “I was wondering about that. Miss Alexander was muttering to herself as she came back from seeing him a few hours ago. She kept saying the word ’chrysalis’. Does that mean anything to you?”

“No, Sergeant, I’m afraid it doesn’t,” Corwin snapped.

“Miss Alexander? Oh right, so it’s all right for him to see other women, just not me. Oh no, I’m just his wife, that’s all! And what does ’chrysalis’ mean?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Zack said conversationally. “They don’t tell me nothing. Some Minbari thing, I guess.”

“That will be all, Sergeant!” Corwin snapped. “I am very sorry, Mrs. Sheridan, but the Captain is busy. I will be sure to let him know you came.”

“Busy?” Anna said slowly. “Busy, yes I’m sure he is, what with other women and Minbari! Don’t bother, Commander!” She turned and stormed away. Corwin glared at Zack.

“Hey, I didn’t know it was such a big secret,” Zack said. “I’m sorry.”

“I’d have thought you’d know better than to go blabbing about secret business to all and sundry, Sergeant.”

“Aw hell, you’re right. Look, I’m sorry, Commander. I just ain’t had much sleep recently, you know what I mean. It’s all this added security and drills and inspections and stuff. I’m just… a bit dead on my feet, you know.

Corwin sighed and breathed out slowly. “I understand. Look, how long are you on duty for?”

“Another four hours or so.”

“Head down to the surface when you finish. Take a break, and relax a bit. We’ve all been under a lot of stress lately and I can see how it might get a bit much for some of us. Just, Mr. Allan, don’t do anything that stupid again.”

“You’re right, sir, I’m sorry.”

“I doubt it’s made much difference. Things between the Captain and his wife weren’t that great anyway, and I’ll be damned if the word chrysalis means anything to her. Hell, I’m involved in this, and I don’t know what the damn word means.”

“Yes, sir. And again, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. No harm done, I suppose.”

“No, sir.”

* * * * * * *

“It is time we faced facts,” Vice President Clark was saying. “We are all living on borrowed time. The date Mr. Welles obtained from our Minbari prisoner passed almost two months ago. Even taking into account the time needed for the Grey Council to thrash out their power struggle, they must have chosen a leader by now, or be in the process of doing so, and that means the Minbari ships could be here any day now.”

“We all know this, Morgan,” muttered President Crane wearily. Her health was not good, and she had come to this meeting purely because of the importance of the subject matter. Over four hours of debate had done nothing for her strength and she looked on the verge of collapse.

“We all know this, and we have been making preparations. Lieutenant Ivanova assures us that her friends are monitoring the situation and they will be here. Our early warning probes have picked up nothing yet. We will be ready for them, Morgan…”

“But,” General Takashima spoke up. “Our time is still limited. We have still not given a solid answer to the Centarum about their overtures of peace. The Centauri could be valuable allies. With the arrival of Lord Refa in a few days, it is important that we take this chance. Surely the Minbari will hesitate if we have the Centauri on our side as well.”

“I doubt they will,” Clark said. “But it would still be important to have the Centauri as allies. Of what use have the Narns been so far? Less than nothing. So if the Centauri want to offer their help against the Minbari, then we would be fools not to take it.”

“I am still doubtful about this Lord Refa,” Crane whispered. “I have never heard his name before. Why are the Centauri not sending Minister Mollari or one of his aides? He was the one after all who first proposed the treaty.”

“Minister Mollari is bound to be a busy man,” Clark replied. “Lord Refa is a prominent Centauri noble, and the diplomatic pouch did bear the seal of the Centauri Emperor himself. And any doubts you will be able to put to him directly.

“I feel however that there is a greater problem at hand. A potential security risk. When Satai Delenn was first brought here, I advocated keeping her alive. As a prisoner and as a potential hostage she could be a valuable asset, and indeed, Mr. Welles obtained a great deal of information from her. Of late however, she has spent all her time aboard the Babylon. According to Captain Sheridan’s reports on the Epsilon Three fiasco, her presence there was not sufficient to prevent a Minbari ship firing upon the Babylon, and therefore her value as a hostage is somewhat doubtful. Captain Sheridan has also repeatedly denied Mr. Welles or anyone else the chance to continue questioning her.

“Whether she holds some… unhealthy influence upon Captain Sheridan or not is not my place to say. I believe however that her presence here has ceased to be an asset and has become a potential danger. The sooner we are rid of her the better.

“And of course, a public execution would serve as a powerful morale boost for the public, would it not?”

Chapter 2

If Captain John Sheridan had been told a year ago of where he would be today, he would have laughed, and refused to believe. Then, he had been a loyal defender of humanity, last hope against the Minbari, fearless captain of the EAS Babylon. Everything had seemed so simple. Of course, his daughter Elizabeth was dead, and his wife Anna was drinking herself into a stupor most nights, but he at least knew who he was and why he was doing what he was doing.

But then he’d set in at Vega 7 for repairs to the Babylon, he’d been betrayed by Administrator Na’Far and captured by Minbari, he’d been met in a Minbari cell by Susan Ivanova, he’d escaped from Minbar, capturing Satai Delenn in the process, and everything had fallen completely apart.

Everything from his mission to Narn, to his freeing of Satai Delenn from Mr. Welles’ interrogation, to the whole Epsilon 3 / G’Kar scenario and the very strange Babylon 4 encounter afterwards… everything seemed strangely unreal to him. As if this were all a dream. He would wake up and find he was back on Earth – just him and Anna and Elizabeth, and they’d be in his father’s garden with the smell of orange blossom all around them, and they’d be having the life they should have had, the life they would have had if the Minbari had stopped before they came to Earth.

But then he woke up, and he realised that Elizabeth was still dead, Anna was still a stranger to him, Earth was gone and all his family and memories with it, and he was here, on board the Babylon, looking at a giant cocoon.

Delenn had called it a chrysalis, of course, but that made him none the wiser. He found himself absurdly thinking of her emerging as a butterfly, with wings and everything. He wasn’t really certain what she was going to emerge as, save that she was hoping it would bring their two races closer together. That was a fool’s dream as far as he was concerned, but she believed, and the fiery belief in her eyes almost made him believe as well.


Sheridan did not believe in prophecy, or in destiny, or in happy endings. When he thought about peace between human and Minbari, all he could see was the Black Star, or the Minbari fleets massing over Mars, or Satai Sinoval in the Hall of the Grey Council, and he knew that this would only end in blood. Perhaps when Minbar had gone the same way as Earth, maybe then things would be at peace, but he doubted it.

So why was he here, watching a cocoon that contained the woman who had led the war against his people? Why was he lighting candles set in positions he did not understand? Why was he here when he should be running his ship? Why was he following the words of a prophecy he did not believe in?

Why? Because he believed in her. He had been privileged in his life to know certain people around whom everything turned, people who could command respect and authority with their mere presence. He supposed that he himself was one of those people, although he certainly did not feel like one. He remembered General Richard ‘Firestorm’ Franklin, with such force of presence and an almost tangible aura. He remembered his first CO – Captain Jack Maynard – with his almost inexhaustible fount of knowledge and sayings and stories. He remembered his father, a diplomat of many years, whose softly spoken voice had addressed emperors, leaders and prophets, and he remembered his mother, whose firmly spoken words had maintained order over two very mischievous children.

All of them were now dead, but Delenn wasn’t. She was no military leader, and he did not suppose she was a diplomat. From what he understood of the Minbari caste structure, he knew her to be a priestess. Yet she held the same sense of presence that had characterised all the great military leaders and diplomats he had ever known. And she had more. She believed. She really, honestly believed in the rightness and the justice of her cause.

Sheridan believed in nothing these days, and so he latched on to her belief like a drowning man gasping for air. And so he waited for her. He suspected that beneath the air of certainty there was a tinge of doubt. Delenn had not been sure of what this would do to her, for all that she acted as if she was. And so, as part payment for all the words of comfort she had given him, he was waiting for her.

She had said it would take several days, perhaps even a fortnight. She had been in there for five days so far. He had barely eaten or drunk, but he had gone days without food or water in the past, and hunger had ceased to bother him. Her movements from within the chrysalis had stopped three days ago, and he could not see her through its thin strands any longer.

He was waiting. Commander Corwin understood even less about this than Sheridan did, but he respected his CO, and had ensured that nothing reached him, not even the news of Anna’s attempted visit – an event which, if Sheridan had known about it, might have prevented all the tragedy that later came. But at the time he was isolated and still, and strangely at peace.

It wasn’t to last. Nothing ever did. He understood this, but even so, he was still a little irritated when his link activated and Corwin’s voice came through it.

“I’m really sorry about this, sir,” he said, “but there’s a Gold Channel transmission from Vice President Clark, sir. I’ve tried telling him you’re indisposed, but he wants to talk with you immediately. He says it’s urgent.”

“I understand. Thank you, David. I’ll take the message in my office.” He looked at the chrysalis again. He had promised Delenn he would be here for her, but he wouldn’t be gone long. Even if he had to go down to the planet, he would only be a few hours. He’d be back in plenty of time.

“I won’t be long,” he told the chrysalis. “I’m sorry. I won’t be long.”

Sheridan left the room and locked the door with his own personal access code. He turned to the two security guards on duty. “No one but Commander Corwin is to go into this room until I get back. If anyone tries, lock them in the brig.”

Of necessity Delenn’s quarters, which were supposed to be her cell – despite the fairly comfortable furnishings – were far from the actual bridge and his office at the front of the ship, and so it was a long walk. If he walked a little slower than usual, then that was definitely unintentional. He didn’t like Clark, but that was no reason to irritate him, right? At least, that was what he told himself.

When he reached his office, he stood before the communications panel and activated the Gold Channel message. Clark’s face appeared on the screen. He did not look happy.

“You took your time, Captain Sheridan,” he snapped.

“I’m sorry, Vice President,” he said. “I’ve been busy with inspections and so forth. We want to make sure the ship is ready for when the Minbari come.”

“Our early warning probes have picked up no sign of Minbari activity yet. We have at least twelve hours of opportunity.”

“Believe me, Vice President, that’s not nearly long enough.”

“We’ll see, and I’m sure the Babylon can run without you for a few hours. We have a Centauri diplomat here to discuss a possible mutual defence alliance, and he would very much like to see you…”

“Vice President, I am very busy here. I am sure he will get by without seeing me…”

“He insists that is not possible, Captain, and I would remind you that you serve the wishes of this Government. If we can complete this treaty with the Centauri then we may not even have to fight the Minbari at all.”

“Vice President, I’ve fought both the Minbari and the Centauri, and I’m telling you, a Minbari fleet could go through anything the Centauri send to help us like a hot knife through butter. And if they don’t, then the Narns will likely sell us all out to the Minbari and scrap your early warning probes, as well as all the other equipment they sold us.”

“We shall see, Captain. The fact of the matter is, your presence is requested on Proxima as soon as possible, and you will have to be here.”

Sheridan swore silently. “I will be there, Vice President.” The signal ended, and he stepped backwards, sitting on his desk, thinking. A Centauri, here? In what was technically Narn space, with Narns in and out of Proxima all the time – well, more out than in at the moment. But why would a Centauri come this far into a war zone? The Minbari could arrive at any moment – he didn’t exactly trust any early warning probes – so why would a Centauri noble risk being caught in the crossfire, let alone risk being beaten to death by a Narn?

Questions. Always too many questions, and never enough answers.

He swore again, and made preparations for Delenn while he was on Proxima. He wouldn’t be gone long anyway. A few hours at best. Yes, that would be all.

* * * * * * *

Secret meetings and clandestine plots were practically compulsory behaviour among the nobility on Centauri Prime these days. Emperor Marrit was well-meaning, competent, polite and sincere, a combination that meant it would probably have been easier if he had just painted a large target on his forehead and walked in front of a firing squad.

There were many who said that Marrit was not half the man his father had been, and those complaints were true, but the point was that Turhan had been a great leader for the early part of his reign. He had pulled the Centauri out from the whole Narn nightmare with less loss of face, chaos and loss of life than many would have thought possible, and his dealings with other governments, especially the rising power of the Earth Alliance, had brought the Centauri new hope for a reconstruction and a possible renaissance of power.

But Turhan, like so many great leaders, had lived too long. He had grown old and frail and his court had slipped away from him. The Centauri’s most powerful allies – the Earth Alliance – had been ripped apart and reduced to less than a fragment. When the Centauri had been unable to assist that fragment, they had turned to the Narns for help, help which had been given gladly, if not freely.

And then came the war with the Narns, and the Centauri’s renaissance had started, much to the surprise of everyone in the galaxy, not least the Narns, who found out that their mighty war machine was not as mighty as they thought.

Turhan had died during the war and his son had succeeded to the throne, but as a figurehead and nothing more. With all attention focussed on the war, a small coalition of nobles had been able to rise to power and guide the Centauri back to greatness. Through skilled use of diplomacy, military tactics and the same strategies of attrition that the Narn had employed against them, Londo Mollari, Urza Jaddo and Antono Refa had managed to guide the Centauri through the war. Yes, it had ended in bloody stalemate, but at least the Centauri were still free, and rebuilding.

And then the hammers had started to fall. Londo Mollari had seen something at the end of the war that he would not talk about to anyone. He had been sent out on a diplomatic mission to the Drazi that was attacked by Narns, and he disappeared for over a week. Upon his return he was distracted and vague, and suffered from increasing nightmares. Urza Jaddo had become focussed on the Emperor, and on finding a way to end the war and improve matters at home. And Antono Refa… he had become lost in the dreams of power, guided no doubt by his fair lady wife, Elrisia. Urza and Refa soon found themselves at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and the whole of the Centarum came close to open war. Forced, somewhat against his will, to choose sides, Londo had allied with his old friend Urza, but he was clearly not happy about it. Refa had too many allies for him to be got rid of permanently, however, and so he was dispatched to Minbar, out of the way. Urza became the Emperor’s First Minister, and Londo… was left to complete his own agenda.

But somewhere between Refa’s banishment and the present, events had slipped from the control of the Three Who Rule – Marrit, Urza and Londo. Marrit, still unmarried, was finding himself drawn increasingly under the influence of Lady Elrisia, who was enmeshed in some sort of deal with Londo’s wives Mariel and Daggair. Several powerful nobles had died mysteriously of natural causes. Marrit was growing more and more divorced from reality and a number of Turhan’s nephews and cousins were emerging from the woodwork and taking stronger rôles in Centauri power politics.

And then there were the Narns. The recent attack on the Narn-won colony at Ragesh 3 had sparked the whole business with them up again. No one seemed to have ordered this attack, and no one seemed to mind that the Centauri had been beaten away. That did not matter, and if the Narns did attack then, well… the Centauri had beaten them before… the Centauri would beat them again.

And while Centauri Prime was set to burst into flames, Emperor Marrit sat alone, captivated by the noble lady Elrisia, Urza Jaddo was preoccupied with personal matters, and Londo Mollari… had affairs of his own to deal with…

Londo hated poetry. He hated Minbari. He really hated Minbari poetry. The only reason he was sitting through a recital of Minbari keela poetry was for the simple reason that it was the one place where none of his wives would be found. (Timov had no patience for this sort of thing, Mariel was too busy scheming and not even Daggair could find anything nice to say about the stuff.) Oh yes, Londo was here for another reason as well. The poet.

He’d never met Shaal Lennier before, but the personal, coded message he’d received the day before alerted him to the fact that coming here would be a good idea. There will be nine shadows over Lis House tomorrow. Londo hated codes, and he thought he’d given up this tedious plotting business years ago, but the word ‘shadow’ meant that he could not. This was important. This was connected to G’Kar.

Many times when performing duties for G’Kar, Londo wondered why he was doing this. If he were caught, then he would be in very big trouble. Political scheming was one thing – betraying highly confidential secrets and altering official government policy on the say-so of a Narn would lead to nothing less than his immediate and very painful execution.

But whenever he asked himself why, he remembered the big ship, the one that screamed in his mind, the one that had nearly killed him, the one that he dreamed about every night of his life, flying over Centauri Prime. And he remembered G’Kar, the Narn who had saved him, the Narn who had attacked his ship in the first place. The two had been trapped alone on a barren world, both their ships destroyed. At first G’Kar had been spitting words of hatred, and Londo had been afraid, remembering the vision of his death and recognising G’Kar from it. But then they had seen the ship, and G’Kar had sworn in the name of G’Quan. He had sat down, and he had spoken to Londo, he had spoken of an Ancient Enemy and a dead world called Z’ha’dum, he had spoken of the Book of G’Quan and of a darkness sweeping over the land. Londo had, more out of fear than interest, listened to G’Kar and he had slowly understood, caught up in the Narn’s fear and determination. The two had parted as each was rescued by his own people, but as the war ended, Londo began tracking the Narn’s movements, more out of interest than revenge. And when a Minbari had come to his quarters in the middle of the night and spoken about G’Kar and asked for a favour, Londo had listened, and agreed.

Now he was a part of G’Kar’s little conspiracy. Londo was not sure that he believed in the Ancient Enemy or in Narn prophecy, but he remembered that ship, and his dreams, and his death vision. Perhaps he could prevent that death vision – of him and G’Kar strangling each other on the steps of the Imperial Throne – by working with G’Kar. Perhaps, but he didn’t know.

And so he was waiting here, listening to poetry he could barely stand, drinking lukewarm brivare and looking at the poet’s small brooch, fashioned in the shape of a circle of light, with a black sword in the centre. Londo wore a similar design – a clasp at the neck of his jacket. Thus did the followers of G’Kar know each other.

The poem finished, for which Londo was eternally grateful, and several Centauri went up to congratulate Shaal Lennier. Minbari things were becoming fashionable in the Imperial Court these days – Minbari fashions, Minbari customs and especially Minbari poetry. Londo overheard several Centauri ladies propose assignations to the poet which would make anyone else blush profusely and back away. The poet merely smiled and nodded.

Afterwards, Londo made a personal request for Shaal Lennier to entertain him and his wives in private. Lennier had considered the matter and agreed, out of a desire for politeness and improving relations, of course. Londo felt a brief surge of glee at forcing Timov, Mariel and Daggair to sit through some of this appalling rubbish. Besides, it would at least set their minds working as to what he was up to, and they were bound to look in the wrong direction. And so, Shaal Lennier had accepted a journey to Minister Londo Mollari’s personal palace for a private audience.

No sooner were they in Londo’s personal transport – designed for status, show, soundproofing and not at all for little things like comfort or speed – than Londo spoke up.

“Well, then? What news from G’Kar?”

“None recently, I am afraid,” Lennier replied, after a slow and steady look around. “I do have news from Ambassador Refa, however, or more correctly news from his aide.”

“Mr. Cotto, yes. I have had some dealings with him.”

“Ambassador Refa is apparently going on a mission to the humans’ power centre at Proxima Three. A mission of… diplomacy… to discuss the human / Centauri alliance.”

“What?!” Londo bellowed. He then stopped and looked around. Of course, there were no windows, and the transport was completely soundproof. Not even the driver could hear them, but still… when he continued, he kept his voice down. “That was my treaty. I arranged everything at G’Kar’s behest. And now you are telling me that that… that… imbecile is on a diplomatic mission. How… no, do not tell me. Lord Jarno. He would arrange everything for his good and dear friend, Refa – to whom he owes a substantial fortune in gambling debts. And Lord Jarno’s beloved wife – I thank the Great Maker that it was Lord Jarno who married her and not me – is a close friend of our dear Lady Elrisia – the only lady on the planet who is even worse – and who has her claws wrapped around our little Emperor. Yes, I see where this has gone. Thank you for this information. Things are slipping away from me too fast here. I think a word with my good friend Urza might be in order. Is that all you have to tell me, or should I just hack my head off now?”

“No, there is more, but…” Lennier seemed distracted. “Is that smell common to this mode of transport?”

“What smell? I smell nothing unusual.”

“It is a gas,” he said. “In the paromide range, I believe. I can only just smell it.”

Londo’s eyes widened. “What? Paromide garadine. Oh, Great Maker.” He banged on the commpanel. “Driver, stop now!” There was no reply. “Driver! Oh, Great Maker, why hast thou abandoned me?”

“It is poisonous?”

“Very.” Londo began battering at the doors but they refused to open. “Fortunately I provided an escape route,” he muttered. Fumbling beneath his chair with his left hand, his right arm covering his mouth and nose, he pulled a lever and the top of the transport opened. Scrambling up on to the chair, he hauled his way up. The transport was not going very fast, but it was still fast enough to provide some serious injuries if he jumped off.

Lennier also scrambled out from the top of the transport. “We can escape from here?”

“Oh well,” Londo muttered. “I wasn’t using all my limbs anyway.”

He jumped off and closed his eyes. The impact with the ground, when it came, was less jarring than he had been expecting, but his leg twisted badly as he landed, and he was reduced to leaning against the side of a tree. Whose idea was it to build his palace so far out in the country? Oh yes, his. Lennier landed fine, without any discomfort at all.

Londo muttered something under his breath about Minbari as he watched the transport fade away into the night. That transport had cost him a fortune, and he doubted he’d see it again.

“The driver has been suborned, it seems.”

“Something like that. Paromide garadine gas. Odourless, tasteless and a slow acting poison. And very expensive, too. I sense the hand of my dear Lady Elrisia in all this. I think that word with Urza had better come soon. The sooner the better. This has gone far enough, I think.”

“I’m inclined to agree.”

“Ah!” Londo swore. “I will have to call Timov for transportation to my house. Bah! She will love this.”

“Your wife?”

“One of them. Take my advice, and never get married. No good will ever come of it, you’ll see. Bah! Why did I ever get involved in this whole thing? I should have become an insurance salesman.”

“I am sorry? What is… insurance?”

“Never mind. You really do not want to know. Really, you do not.”

* * * * * * *

Susan Ivanova had always found the fine art of diplomacy an annoying irritation at best, but she had learned to live with it, diplomacy having become a vital part of her new life. She found she infinitely preferred working behind the scenes to out in the open however, which was why she was not present at Lord Refa’s little meeting with Captain Sheridan and the Resistance Government, and why she was instead making for the quarters of an old friend.

Marcus was with her, as always. It was possible to get around his almost constant surveillance of her, but she had been doing that a lot lately and he was growing suspicious. Besides, when he wasn’t watching her, she couldn’t be watching him either.

But when she received a linked message she realised that she would have to act sooner than she had anticipated. Marcus was more than just charming company at the moment, he was turning into a real threat. She had things to do, and he was standing in her way. She hadn’t planned on doing this for a while yet, but she’d learned to seize an opportunity when she was given it.

For the best part of a year that Minbari whore had been standing in her way. It wasn’t enough that she’d destroyed Susan’s planet, killed her brother and her father, and all her hopes for the future. No, it was because of her that Susan was forced into going against Captain Sheridan. She liked Sheridan, she admired him. In a very strange way he reminded her of her father. And she had grown to like Sheridan’s wife, Anna. She’d first made contact with Anna as part of a short-term scheme for Anna to kill Delenn and be rid of an obstacle with no blood on her own hands, but in the process of doing so, she had come to like her, and to share in her hopes and dreams. She hoped that Sheridan would come to his senses one day and get back with Anna. She pondered the possibility and had actually managed to entwine that hope into her plans.

And then there was Marcus. She had seen him around before, always following Captain Sheridan, but then the good captain had assigned him permanently to her side. Ostensibly Marcus was her diplomatic aide and bodyguard. In reality, he was a spy, but given that she knew this – a handy, almost invisible tracking and listening device she’d implanted inside Sheridan ensured she knew almost everything that was going on, or at least she had until it had stopped working a few months ago – he only discovered what she was too lazy to prevent him discovering.

But he was still an irritant, so why hadn’t she got rid of him? She was surprised by the depth of her feelings for him. Her first efforts at seduction had been little more than attempts to get him on her side. She had not expected to find such innocence, however, and she had certainly not expected to find such emotion in him. He… intrigued her, but he also reminded her a little of the way her brother Ganya had been before Psi Corps took their mother.

The Shadows didn’t like this, of course. They were all for killing him, but she had resisted, and as everything was going along the lines of their plan, then what did it matter?

And now she’d been given a window of opportunity. Not a very large one, and there were a few things she had to do first, but… if she timed this right, she could kill Delenn, make certain that any sympathy Delenn might hold amongst the people on board the Babylon was destroyed for good, and try and get Anna and John back together.

A simple enough trick, but first she had to get rid of Marcus.

“I thought you were going to see a friend,” he said, evidently noticing their detour. “This is the way to the Detention Centre.”

“I am,” she said. “I just need to talk to someone there first. Mr. Welles has been talking about added security for me, or something, and he wanted me to go and discuss the matter with him. It won’t take long.”

“And the message you got over the link?” The one she’d made damned sure he hadn’t heard, despite his efforts to do so.

“That was from Mr. Welles, letting me know where I could find him.”

“Ah.” He didn’t believe her, but she didn’t mind. Oh Marcus, you’ll understand in time. It’s all her fault. That Minbari…

Morishi was on the desk as he usually was and he let her past without questioning. Susan Ivanova was one of the few people with free run of the entire Main Dome. It was wonderful what a Vice President with a Keeper would do.

Susan absently reached out and took Marcus’ hand in hers. He started, but did not move his hand away. She smiled. She wondered if Captain Sheridan suspected she would have this result. Well, to be sure, there wasn’t really anyone else Sheridan could send here. David? He was still too tongue-tied around her to do anything. Everyone on board the Babylon was too noticeably connected with Sheridan, and everyone knew it. No, Marcus was the ideal choice, but still… sometimes she wished her transmitter inside Sheridan was still working. He must have discovered it somehow, and had it removed, and he wasn’t letting her get close enough to plant another one. Oh well, such is life.

They reached the end of a corridor, where the security guard called Boggs was waiting. Susan smiled slightly. Evidently the source of her information had been taking steps to make this easier. She’d have to remember to thank him.

“So where is Mr. Welles, then?” Marcus asked.

“Right in there,” Susan said as Boggs opened the door. Marcus came to a halt, obviously suspecting something. Susan’s smile grew wider.

Boggs lunged forward and elbowed Marcus in the face. The spy tumbled, and Susan released his hand just as soon as she’d pulled his link from it. Marcus staggered back and raised an arm to block Boggs’ next attack. Marcus then lashed out two punches in quick succession, and the security guard had to fall back. Susan sighed melodramatically and waited for Marcus to step off balance. She then reached out and pushed him through the open door. He fell inside the cell and she pulled the door shut quickly.

Boggs was rising slowly, fingering his bloodied nose gingerly. “I told you to be careful,” Susan said. “Well, I would have told you to be careful.”

“Whatever,” Boggs muttered. “Just give me a few moments with him and I’ll…”

“You’ll do nothing. If he gets even slightly scratched, I’ll have you reduced to waste disposal. Just keep him in there out of the way until I do what I’ve got to do. If he’s been hurt at all when I get back, you will be so dead you shouldn’t even have been born. Understand?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Good. Thank you.” Susan turned and left, her two Shadow companions by her side. They hadn’t shown themselves in the fight – they hadn’t needed to – but if it had been necessary, they would have done.

It is good to have friends, she thought, even if only for a little while.

And one of her friends needed her now.

Anna Sheridan looked ill. Not quite as bad as she had been before, but she still looked bad. Susan needed only one look at her friend to know that Anna hadn’t been sleeping much recently, and that she’d probably been drinking instead.

Anna had made a trip up to the Babylon to see John a few days ago, but he’d been busy, apparently. Not too busy to be spending time with his favourite Minbari, however, but Anna had provided an inadvertent clue as to why this was the case. The word, ‘chrysalis’.

From her counterpart among the Minbari, Susan had learned all about the prophecies of Valen and she knew the significance of the word. Her mind had immediately started working, and she’d at last found a means to get rid of Delenn. All she needed was to get John out of the way, and now he was here on the planet, on a diplomatic mission with a Centauri noble, who was in fact, as Susan had been so handily informed, the ambassador to Minbar.

There were a number of things she could do with that information, but for the moment, she was quite happy to proceed with her original plan. Phase 1 was complete – getting rid of Marcus so that she could work in peace. Now it was time for Phase 2 – keeping Sheridan from getting involved.

“Um, hi,” Anna had said sheepishly as Susan arrived. She still looked a mess, although her quarters – hers and John’s quarters – were slightly neater than they had been the last time. The permanent aroma of Narn liquor had been replaced by the scent of orange blossom – a smell that Susan gathered had special significance for John and Anna.

“I’ve been… trying to keep the place tidy,” Anna muttered. “I don’t have much to do these days. I’ve been looking back and wondering where all the time went, and then I realised it all went down the bottom of a bottle. I…”

“Anna, I’ve got some news for you. John’s here, on the surface. He’s in some sort of diplomatic meeting at the moment, but he won’t be in there long.”

Anna looked up, and there was a brief ray of hope in her eyes. “You think… he’d see me?”

“I don’t know, but it can’t hurt to try.”

“I don’t… no. He didn’t come to try and find me after I went to see him before. He’s probably too busy to see me.”

“Anna! Look, you have to talk to him. The Minbari will be here soon, and you may not get another chance. I know what it’s like to lose someone when you had words you should have said to them. Don’t let that happen.”

“You think so?”

“Yes. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel. It won’t be easy, I know, but you have to try.”

“I… you’re right. There’s nothing more that can happen to me that’s worse than what’s happened these last few years.” Anna met Susan’s eyes. “I still love him, Susan. I always did.”

Susan hugged her friend closely. “I know, and he does too. Just tell him.”

“Where is he?”

“The Conference Hall.”

Anna pulled back and smiled. “Thank you, Susan. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”

Susan only smiled in reply, but her mind thought of the Shadows lurking beside her, and she felt a sudden stab of grief and shame. A betrayal of the one true friend she had made here.

But she knew that she would do it again if she had to. Some things were more important than friendship.

* * * * * * *

Sheridan hated diplomats, by and large. He hated passing meaningless pleasantries with people he’d never seen before, who were only interested in his reputation. His father had been a prominent diplomat and he had grown up hearing all about the fine art of diplomacy, about travelling to strange places and taking part in unusual customs. He’d been fascinated, then, and had said, with all the conviction and determination that eight-year-old boys have, that he would become a diplomat when he grew up.

But that was then, before the Minbari, before the Starkiller. He’d been present at any number of diplomatic meetings since the Battle of the Line, largely so that the Resistance Government could show him off to the visiting dignitaries. He felt half like an embarrassed child showing off his skills with a piano or his artwork to his parents’ friends, and half like an open threat. We’ve got the Starkiller on our side.

There were only so many times you could talk about the destruction of the Black Star – an act more noted for its playing on Minbari overconfidence rather than its tactical skill or innovation – or about the Battle of Mars, which had been fought on pure fury, and which he still remembered with shame. After a while, he’d grown tired of the whole affair, of being trotted out whenever the Resistance Government was trying to impress a new trade delegation or to win an alliance. He knew that they wouldn’t get any such alliance. The Starkiller might be strong, but the Minbari were stronger.

Still, this Lord Refa had intrigued him. He had had some contact with Centauri nobles, certainly enough to know that the archetypal Centauri noble – power-crazed, machiavellian, decadent and permanently scheming – was, like most archetypes, based on the truth. Refa’s carefully chosen words and barbed comments confirmed that he was after something, but it seemed to be more than just mere political power. He was after something specific from Proxima, and something even more specific from Sheridan, and Sheridan couldn’t be exactly sure what.

Oh, he had his suspicions. Lord Refa had never once mentioned Satai Delenn – about whom the Resistance Government would certainly have told him – which implied that she was connected in some way to his scheme. Unless of course Refa had anticipated this reaction from him and was really after something else he had been talking about in order to…

Sheridan just gave up. Thinking like a Centauri made his head ache.

Of equal if not more interest was Refa’s companion, Vir. Outwardly bumbling and apologetic, he was quiet just long enough to listen to everything that Refa was saying. Sheridan also recognised the small circle-of-light sleeve clasp Vir was wearing. He’d seen Ta’Lon and Neroon wearing similar devices. Now it was true that Minbari fashions were becoming popular among the Centauri recently, but it was also true that G’Kar had sources and allies everywhere – including amongst the Centauri. Vir had evidently noticed Sheridan’s gaze and had made somewhat stilted conversation implying something along the lines of ’we have to talk later’.

But later was later, and for now, all he wanted to do was get back to his ship and to keeping an eye on Delenn’s cocoon – sorry, chrysalis. She should have several more days yet, but he didn’t want to take any risks.

Fate was standing in his way.

As he saw Anna waiting outside the Conference Hall, he hesitated, and silently groaned. The last thing he wanted was another round of drunken insults from her. Acting almost on instinct he backed away, because it was too painful to be with her, as a living reminder of everything he’d once had and lost.

But this time was different. He could see the focussed clarity in her eyes. He could not smell any alcohol. He could even see the hint of sadness in her expression. Caught, almost captivated, he slowed down and wandered to her side.

“Anna,” he said. “You’re um… looking well?” He was half afraid that this was all some kind of illusion that would abandon him soon, or some trick. But no… she wasn’t drunk. His senses were telling him that this was the woman he had fallen in love with and married. This was no simulacrum, hologram or doppelgänger. This was her.

This was the real Anna, the one who had been buried for so long beneath alcohol and fear and regret and grief.

“Thank you,” she muttered. And she was looking well. She must have made a special effort to look nice, something she hadn’t done in years, and had done rarely even before Elizabeth’s death, knowing that her mere presence was enough to make him smile. Knowing that because he insisted on telling her.

“Um… is something wrong?” he asked. They hadn’t spoken properly in months. Their last conversation that hadn’t either started out as or ended up as an argument had been on the morning of Elizabeth’s memorial service.

“No…” She smiled ruefully. “Yes. There is. It’s us. It’s me… it’s… it’s the world. Can we… talk? Just for a while.”

He blinked slowly. “I… I’m a little…” What could he tell her? And for that matter why should he? Delenn had days yet before she was due to emerge from the chrysalis, David was more than capable of running the ship for a few more hours, and they’d have twelve hours notice in case the Minbari arrived. Despite what he had told Clark, that was enough time for the Babylon and her crew. It would have to be.

He activated his link through to the Babylon. “David, it’s me. I’m going to be here a little longer than I expected. Only link me if its a real emergency, and if you could check in on our guest every now and then.”

“No problem,” came the slightly puzzled voice through the link. John looked up at his wife – his wife – and smiled, slowly and sadly.

“I’d love to,” he said. Remembering an old, old joke, he smiled again. “I could cook us something.”

Anna gave a soft chuckle. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” She hesitated. “Besides, doesn’t your cooking contravene several defence laws here?”

He gave a bark of laughter.

“But they seem to cope with your snoring,” she added. “And if that doesn’t breach defence regulations, then I don’t know what will.”

“I do not snore.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No I don’t.”

Anna smiled, and John found himself smiling too. She extended her arm and he took it, slowly, unable to believe that this was real, that the woman he’d been in love with for so long had finally returned, and only too willing to hope that the man she’d been in love with was returning as well.

The Minbari would be coming soon, Delenn would be emerging from her cocoon in a few days, the Resistance Government had made a deal with the devil, and Lord Refa was sneaking around pursuing some unknown agenda.

But none of that mattered. For the first time in years, Captain John J. Sheridan, Starkiller, was in the company of the one person he loved with all his heart, body and soul, and for the first time in years, Captain John J. Sheridan, Starkiller, dared to hope that he might be happy at last.

Even if only for a little while.

* * * * * * *

For Susan, the rest had been laughably easy. Shuttles were travelling to and from the Babylon all the time, carrying replacements for weapons components, technical engineers, people going on and coming off leave, seeing the last glimpse of a home they might never see again…

All she had to do was hop aboard one such shuttle and hide. Arriving on the Babylon, she’d been met by the one who’d been expecting her, the one whose handy information on Sheridan’s whereabouts had made this possible. He had provided her with a completely clear path to the relevant room.

And with her always, there were the Shadows.

Then there were the two guards outside the door. One of them seemed to recognise her and was clearly unsure as to what to do with her. On the one hand, she was a respected and powerful ally of the Resistance Government, and they had given her the run of Proxima. On the other hand, their orders were that no one but the Captain and Commander Corwin were to enter the cell, and that meant no one.

Susan soon solved his dilemma. She killed him.

She’d been secretly practising with the Minbari pike she’d taken from Delenn all those months ago, and she’d managed to master the art of extending it and striking in one movement. The first guard was dead with his chest crushed before he even knew what was happening.

The second guard had started, almost unable to believe it, but she had reacted quickly. Not as quickly as a Shadow, who shimmered into view behind her and literally disembowelled her with one swipe of its foreleg.

Two deaths would not go unnoticed, but it was not as if Susan was planning on taking the blame for them, not when there was a so much more convenient scapegoat to hand.

The door was of course locked and security coded. Fortunately, her informant had provided her with the codes. The door opened and Susan and the two Shadows stepped inside. The first thing she saw, bathed in candlelight in an otherwise dark room, was the chrysalis itself.

It was fixed to the far wall of the room, and came up to the middle of her chest in height. She thought she could dimly pick out a humanoid form within it. Her other senses could definitely pick out a form within it.

Her first thought upon seeing it was, how beautiful.

But then she remembered that Minbari ships could be considered beautiful, Vorlons could be considered beautiful, while her friends, the saviours of humanity, they were feared and reviled.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

She walked up to the chrysalis and held out her pike, still stained with the blood of the guard she had killed. Drawing it back, she swung out with it. A part of the chrysalis tore away. She struck again, and again, and…

…and a humanoid figure fell free. Susan looked at Delenn, who was stretched out naked on the floor. Whatever the chrysalis had been doing to her, it had not finished, and she was a curious amalgamation of human and Minbari. She was breathing hard, sucking in great gasps of air. Susan guessed that she had been conscious throughout the whole ordeal.

“Lights,” she said, and the room was bathed in light. Delenn started, still emitting small, piteous moans, trying to hide her eyes.

But then the Shadows hissed and buzzed, sending their anger to their representative.

“Welcome back to the world, Satai Delenn,” Susan said slowly. Delenn knew her. Delenn recognised her. “Out of the darkness…

“And into the light.”

Chapter 3

The chains we wear are of our own making.

Marcus was not sure who’d said that first of all. It had a very Dickensian feel to it. As he paced up and down the small room that had been made his impromptu cell, he had a vision of himself being loaded down with chains, just like a ghostly Marley, come back to warn Scrooge about his selfish ways.

If only Marcus had had a Marley, he might not have ended up here. He was not wearing any physical chains, but he had enough spiritual ones to load down an entire army. And most of them were of his own making.

Hatred of his brother Joseph, who had always been everything that Marcus wasn’t. Hatred of Joseph’s wife Katherine, the first and greatest love of Marcus’ life. Hatred of himself for never telling Katherine how he felt. Hatred of himself for surviving the attack that left them both dead. Hatred of the drink which had nearly destroyed him, and hatred of himself for letting it do so. Hatred of the Shadows for attacking his colony. Hatred of the Narns for not stopping them. Hatred of the Minbari for causing his home to be run by Narns in the first place.

Hatred of Captain Sheridan, who had saved him. Hatred of Satai Delenn, who hadn’t. Hatred of Councillor Na’Toth and Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar, who knew about the Shadows and did nothing, and hatred of them both for telling him about the Shadows and making him a part of their game.

Hatred of Lyta, for daring to care for him. Hatred of himself for letting himself care for her. Hatred of Susan, who had changed the situation so that she was the hunter and he was the hunted. Hatred of himself for letting her do so. Hatred of Captain Sheridan, who had sent him here. Hatred of himself for failing Captain Sheridan’s trust in him.

So much hatred, each object another chain weighing him down. Each chain causing his greater hatred of himself.

Marcus did not know what Susan had planned that would necessitate locking him up in here. He certainly knew enough to be sure that he wasn’t the primary focus of her plans. He was just in the way.

Fortunately he had not been unprepared for this eventuality. Susan had ripped the link from his hand before throwing him in here, but he had another, hidden in the folds of his jacket. He had drawn it out and tried to contact Captain Sheridan, but there had been no reply – no indication that the message had even reached him at all. He wondered if Sheridan had been the focus of Susan’s plans. A similar attempt to contact Commander Corwin had failed. In fact, he could not reach anyone on the Babylon. There were a few possible explanations – the link was broken, there was no way to send linked messages from this room, communications on the Babylon were down… or everybody on board the Babylon was dead.

None of them was exactly a pleasant option. He was not sure if he could contact anyone on the surface of Proxima, but then there was only one person on the surface that he trusted and to her… to her he dared not speak, out of shame, and out of hatred.

Lyta Alexander was just one more link in his heavy chains of hatred, and he was mortally afraid of ever letting her find this out, knowing that if he did so he would expose his true self to her, and that she would turn from him, and he would lose the greatest – and only – light of his life.

And so he waited. Marcus hated waiting, but more than anything else, he hated himself for being in the this situation in the first place.

One more link on a very big chain.

* * * * * * *

“Welcome to the world, Satai Delenn. Out of the darkness and into the light.”

Susan could feel Delenn’s eyes on her – the eyes that could blaze with an intensity and a fury as passionate and as hot as the stars. Instead, all she saw now were the empty, haunted eyes of a child.

She had no knowledge of what the chrysalis had been doing to Delenn – a complete genetic alteration, or simply an outward transformation? Would it have changed her to a full human, a half-human, or something else? And what had been the result of Susan shattering the chrysalis sooner than it would naturally have opened?

She did not know, but then she did not care either. All she had to do was kill Delenn and her problems would be over. Sheridan would have no focus for his quest against the Shadows, and with the happiness of a renewed relationship with Anna he would have no need to continue. But as she raised her pike – the very one that Delenn had once wielded – she seemed to hesitate.

Delenn was lying out on the floor, completely naked, obviously racked by pain, as helpless as a child, and with a look in her eyes that said that, mentally, she might be nothing else.

Susan looked at her with a slow eye. Delenn’s bone crest was still there, only a little smaller than before, but it was cracked down the middle, where there was a growth of hair, long and black. Her ears were still in the normal Minbari place – a little lower than human ears – but the bone crest above them was higher. Her head and body were slimmer, and more human-looking, but her eyes… her eyes were those of a child.

And then Delenn blinked slowly, and she whispered one word, half as though it were a link to her past, and half as though it was a toy she had just found.


The Shadows behind Susan had evidently decided that if their emissary would not act, then they would. They scuttled forward, approaching Delenn. Susan took a step back, and was content to watch.

Had Delenn felt like this as her fleets destroyed Earth? Had she been content simply to watch, as a child was killed by adults who knew best?

Delenn saw the things advancing on her, and her eyes widened in a gesture of childish curiosity, but then… a legacy of something left in her mind woke up, and started.

She rolled away from the Shadows, back towards the broken husk of the chrysalis. She reached out and rested on it for support. Its touch seemed to revitalise her, although only a little.

Susan started and slumped, silently screaming as a burst of pain tore into her skull. “Oh no,” she whispered. “Oh no, not again. Not… again.”

She recognised a telepath’s presence when she felt one.

And so, it appeared, did Delenn. She raised her head slowly, curiously, hesitantly, out of hope – or pain?

“We don’t have… time…” Susan rasped, holding both hands against her skull. “Kill her… now.”

The Shadows were only too happy to comply.

* * * * * * *

It had been three words which had alerted Lyta Alexander to the danger. Three words spoken – although she hadn’t known so then – at the time when Susan Ivanova had taken the shuttle up to the Babylon. Three words spoken by the voice in her mind that was called Kosh.

She needs you.

Lyta needed no clarification as to who the ‘she’ was. For months now she had been feeling a connection to Satai Delenn – ever since she had first mind-scanned her. Something profound had passed between the two of them – two somethings in fact. The first was a sense of understanding and connection. The second was Kosh.

Lyta had been sensing a general fear of doom all day. She had not seen Marcus in five days, although her thoughts had rarely been away from him. She had dreamed dark dreams of Proxima being engulfed by a black cloud, and of Susan Ivanova standing watching as it happened. She had been irritated and afraid and cranky all day.

And now this.

Immediately, she had tried to link someone on board the Babylon – she had recoiled slightly at the thought of contacting Captain Sheridan, and so had tried Commander Corwin. He had listened politely, but had replied that Delenn was being guarded by two of the Babylon’s best Security personnel with orders to let absolutely no one in until the Captain returned. It wasn’t that he didn’t take her seriously, just that he was very busy. Where Captain Sheridan was, she had no idea, and she didn’t exactly care.

That left Chief Security Officer Allan, who had also listened politely and had told her he would look into the matter.

That should have satisfied her. The Babylon was, after all, their domain, not hers. She had only even been there once before, after all. But still… Kosh’s presence was still lingering at the forefront of her mind, and so she made for the shuttle bays.

As it had been for Susan, getting a shuttle up to the Babylon was simple. Lyta’s rank might not have been as high as Susan’s, but she was able to feign a request from Commander Corwin to arrive at the spaceship. She had been met by Mr. Allan at the docking bays. He had tried to tell her that everything was fine, and that he had checked out the area, and that no one had gone in or out of the room in a while.

She might have believed him, but then Kosh’s voice screamed at her.


Theoretically it was possible for a telepath literally to change someone’s mind. Lyta had seen this done on a few occasions – during her internship with the Psi Cops. Altering a person’s opinions, beliefs and even memories was a favourite trick of the Psi Cops, but it had never been something she had dared to do for herself. She had made small attempts in this field, but only rarely and usually to get something she wanted – such as past the security guards to go and see Marcus – but she knew this was important, and, acting on fear and concern, she had changed Zack’s mind.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “I’d be happy to.”

And he had taken her towards Delenn’s quarters. Lyta should not have been able to do this – Zack’s normal psyche should have returned after a few minutes at most – but he had kept up with her, as her heart beat faster and faster with each moment. She could feel Delenn’s fear, but there was something else in Delenn’s mind. She was not exactly sure what was happening to Delenn, but she could feel her pain.

Her first sight upon arriving at Delenn’s quarters was the two dead guards outside the door. Both were covered in blood – one had had his chest smashed open, and the other had been ripped apart. Zack had merely stared, but Lyta had started, losing her telepathic control over him. She didn’t care. She saw the blood, and she saw the bodies and she could see the taint of Shadows.

She darted into the room, and saw the whole grim tableau in one scene. Delenn cowering, Susan standing, and… two creatures from her worst nightmare. Susan started and staggered back, panic verging on terror in her expression. The… things (the things that were causing Kosh’s voice to scream in her mind) also turned and backed away. Delenn looked up slowly.

Susan sprang forward with her pike, lunging at Lyta, who ducked out of the way. Lyta, acting on instinct – or perhaps the Vorlon was doing all the acting for her – lashed out with a burst of telepathic pain. Susan screamed, far greater and far louder than would have been expected from such a short burst, and staggered out of the way, pushing past Lyta and scrambling from the room. Lyta looked round for the two creatures, but they had just vanished, as if they had never been. Reaching out tentatively with her mind, she recoiled as she felt the touch of something so… ancient and alien and awesomely powerful that she felt sick and weak and she had to fall to her knees.

The feeling passed, and she crawled forward to Delenn, who was still lying on the floor, cowering. She tried to turn Delenn’s head, and was met by the full force of her brilliant green eyes.

Eyes which seemed dulled and empty.

“Who… are you?” Delenn whispered. “Who… am… I?”

Lyta said nothing, unable to think of anything to say. She cradled Delenn’s head in her lap and called for Zack. The Security Chief hobbled into the room, looking pale-faced and queasy.

“What…?” he tried to say. “What?”

“Find her,” Lyta snapped, giving orders as naturally as if she’d been born to it. “Don’t let her get away.”

Zack snapped, almost unconsciously, to attention. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Er… should I call for Dr. Kyle as well?”

A doctor? Lyta looked at Delenn. Yes, of course she would need a doctor. “Yes, and you’d better get Commander Corwin or… Captain Sheridan down here as well.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said a voice she recognised. Looking up, she saw Corwin enter, flanked by two security guards. “They were told to report in every half an hour. When they didn’t, I came to investigate. What happened here?”

“She’s dying,” Lyta snapped. “Get a doctor.”

Corwin looked at her and then down at Delenn. He activated his link. “Dr. Kyle, get a med-team to room ninety-nine, block beta, level thirty-five, ASAP. Mr. Allan, I believe you have some work to do.”

Zack snapped to attention again. “Yes, sir.” He glanced at Lyta and left, taking the other two security guards with him.

“Do you want to tell me what happened here?” Corwin asked Lyta. “Or should I just piece everything together myself?”

She looked up. “I… I don’t know exactly what happened.”

“It appears your suspicions were right. Tell me, what exactly made you suspicious?”

“A… feeling. It’s hard to explain. I just knew.”

“Trust me to expect simple answers from a telepath,” he muttered. “What about… her?” He looked at Delenn, and his eyes widened. Lyta discreetly moved to the bed – slanted as per Minbari style – and grabbed a blanket – as per human style – which she draped over Delenn. Delenn stirred a little, but still said nothing. “God’s name, what happened to her?”

“I don’t… I can’t explain it, because I don’t really know myself.”

“Funny. That’s usually my job. I don’t suppose your feelings tell you where the Captain is?”

“No, and I don’t particularly care.”

“Well, I do. I haven’t seen him since yesterday. I don’t like this. I really do not like this.”

* * * * * * *

The Captain was currently sleeping. A quiet, peaceful, dreamless sleep for the first time in years.

No staying up late drinking ersatz coffee staring into the darkness around him. No reliving the sight of Earth as he had last seen it. No endless nightmares about the Minbari coming for him and him being unable to stop them. No billions of voices screaming his name.

Nothing but the quiet, peaceful dreamless sleep of those who have finally found happiness.

Anna looked at the sleeping form of her husband and smiled slowly. She reached down to touch his hair. He muttered something in his sleep and rolled over. She rose from the bed and looked at him, still smiling.

She had been watching him for several hours now. She hadn’t been able to sleep very well – years of drinking herself into a stupor every night had made it difficult for her to sleep without drinking and she was determined not to go back to that. Sometimes she found herself yearning for another drink, but now she didn’t need one.

For over two years – since their daughter Elizabeth had been killed in the Minbari attack on Orion 7 – Anna and John Sheridan had both been living in a twilight, shadow world. She had crawled into a bottle, and he had crawled on to the bridge of the Babylon. Neither had left their chosen refuge in all that time, certainly not mentally, even on the rare occasions they had done so physically.

And last night, they had finally come together again.

Anna had been watching her husband sleep for some time. She had done this sometimes during their marriage when she couldn’t sleep. They were frequently apart, but they always made up for it when they were together. She had always seen John’s constant anger and worry and fears fade as he slept. When he did sleep, he was the same fresh-faced, enthusiastic man he had been when Liz had introduced the two of them over ten years ago.

She remembered all the times in his father’s garden, when they had sat and looked around and just… been together. The smell of orange blossom had been so beautiful then. She had taken to sprinkling it around this room – partly to hide the smell of her Narn liquor, but also in memory of that time. One of her greatest sorrows was that she would never be able to take Elizabeth to that garden. Both Elizabeth and the garden were gone now. Gone forever, except in memories… and dreams.

Anna looked at John’s link, lying on the side where he had placed it. All too often they had been interrupted by business before, but they would not be now.

She had deactivated it as he slept.

Whatever turmoils gripped the outside world would not touch their brief moment of happiness. For now at least, John and Anna Sheridan were together again, and that was what mattered.

The outside world would just have to get by without them both for a while.

* * * * * * *

“This had better be important,” Lord Refa was muttering to himself as he waited in the Conference Hall. The other members of the Resistance Government – except President Crane, who was still ill – were gathered there. Refa looked around at his companions in this unexpected late night soirée.

Vice President Clark was bleary-eyed, and looked as though he had just got out of bed. He yawned frequently and blinked a lot. He was also talking to anyone who would listen, which was no one.

General Takashima was engaging Clark’s interest a little with an occasional remark. The two seemed to be discussing Lieutenant – or perhaps Ambassador – Ivanova, about whom Refa had heard a lot, but whom he had not yet met. She sounded interesting, and he wondered just how much Sinoval would want whatever information he picked up about her. Their conversation was quiet however, and he could not hear much, and so he switched his attentions elsewhere.

Mr. Welles did not look tired. He did not look, in fact, as if he had ever been asleep. He was watching, interested and perhaps even intrigued. Refa recognised the type of man he was from a number of his contemporaries, who all possessed the same outward calm and silence. Others underestimated such people. Refa did not. Welles would need watching.

General Hague was, however, easy to dismiss. He looked haunted, his face gaunt. He clearly had not been asleep either, but unlike Mr. Welles, his fatigue showed clearly. Hague was on the verge of falling, and whether he fell to his death or started flying was of no concern to Refa.

Being rousted out of bed at this hour of the night was, however. Refa had been on this wasteland for five days now, and he had picked up the barest word about Satai Delenn – the real reason he was here. Sinoval and the rest of the Grey Council wanted confirmation of her status here. Such information could be doctored fairly easily for Sinoval’s – and Refa’s own – benefit, but first of all he needed information to doctor, and all he had found so far was that there was a Minbari aboard Captain Sheridan’s ship – the Babylon. That was not nearly enough.

And to top it all off, Vir had gone missing. Confounded moron! He was never around when he was needed. When Refa returned in glory to Centauri Prime and sat upon the Imperial Throne he would have much better servants than Vir Cotto – and that was a fact.

The door to the hall opened and he looked up as a human woman entered. She was dishevelled and limping slightly, but he could easily see the power and authority in her bearing. He supposed she would be considered quite beautiful, but his unfortunate experience with his own wife – who had many unpleasant characteristics, but her looks were not one of them – had biassed him against beautiful women. They couldn’t be trusted. That applied to ugly women as well, for that matter.

“Ambassador Ivanova,” said Clark. “What has happened? It was you who asked us all to gather here?”

“Yes, Vice President,” she panted. “I’m sorry if this inconvenienced anyone, but this is important.” She paused, breathing in harshly. “Satai Delenn has… she has…” She was still breathing deeply, but she now had Refa’s full attention. Satai Delenn? He caught more than one glance in his direction and he knew this was information the others did not want him to have.

“She’s… I don’t know how to say it. Here. I took these pictures. Maybe these will prove it.” She laid a small object down on the table and activated it. Refa recognised a primitive form of recording and playing holographic equipment. An essential part, of course, of any politician’s arsenal.

Even he started at the image that appeared before them. Two humans lying dead. There was blood everywhere. Neither killing looked particularly clean. Refa, a master in the art of political assassination, was surprised at the unsubtlety of these deaths. Unless, perhaps, that was the point.

“Satai Delenn did this,” Ivanova said. “These were the people who had to guard her.”

“Where is Delenn now?” Clark asked.

“And how did you get hold of this?” Takashima added.

“I assume that Delenn is on board the Babylon. I don’t think she did this to escape.”

“Then why?” asked Clark.

“For this.” Ivanova fiddled with the device again and changed the image. It was of a woman who appeared to be half Minbari and half human. Refa was fascinated. He didn’t think the mix was possible, but then he realised something else.

What would Sinoval say about this?

“She took their DNA,” Ivanova said. “She’s been trying to turn herself into a human. Why, I don’t know, but I think it’s been harder than she thought. She killed the two guards, took their DNA and managed to adapt it to her own, or something.”

“If Minbari could turn themselves into humans,” Hague said. “think of what they could do. Do they have this level of technology?” He was appalled, and more than a little terrified.

“Obviously they do,” Clark said. “And she is still on the Babylon?”

“I think so.”

“May I ask how you uncovered this?” Welles said, speaking up suddenly.

“I… went up to the Babylon to consult on a few matters with Captain Sheridan,” she said. “He was not on the bridge, and so I thought he might be with Satai Delenn. He has been spending a lot of time with her recently. I went to her cell and found what I have just shown you.”

“And did you find Captain Sheridan?”


“What about Commander Corwin?”

“Him neither.”

“This raises some very disturbing questions,” Clark muttered. “How much do Captain Sheridan and his second know about this, and where are they? Mr. Welles, bring them both here so that we can discuss this with them. And send some men up to the Babylon. Liaise with their Head of Security and find out as much as you can about this. A breach of security of this magnitude at such a critical time is very bad. If this were due to simple incompetence it would be bad enough. I dare not contemplate the other possible reason. Are you clear on this, Welles?”

“Absolutely, Vice President.”

“Sir?” spoke up Takashima. “Shall we tell the President?”

“That will not be necessary, General. She is too ill to be bothered with matters such as this.”

Refa looked at those gathered around him. He supposed it must be Lieutenant Ivanova who had sent him the message asking him to attend this meeting, but why? As he looked at her, she noticed his gaze and looked back. He smiled slightly.

There was no doubt about it. She was good. Very good. Not as good as a Centauri, but then she was only human, after all.

* * * * * * *

“So, doctor, what can you tell me?”

Dr. Kyle looked back at the slumbering form on the bed in Medlab. “I don’t know what I can tell you, Commander,” he said slowly. “Her DNA is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. A mixture of human and Minbari. It isn’t co-existing very well.”

“She wasn’t finished,” Lyta whispered from her place at Delenn’s side.

“What?” Corwin asked. “What do you know about it?”

“I don’t know. I just keep picking up stray thoughts from her. The word chrysalis, and a sense of… incompletion. Whatever she was doing, she wasn’t finished doing it.”

“Yes, what did you get from that piece of the… chrysalis thing we brought you?”

“Nothing, I am afraid, Commander.”


“It disintegrated before I had a chance to study it. It just melted away.”

“Oh great! Why did I get up this morning? For that matter why didn’t I become a dustman like my mother wanted?”

“Commander,” Kyle said, and Corwin fell silent. There was something about Dr. Kyle that made him resemble a primary school teacher. Corwin felt the urge to mutter ’Sorry, sir,’ and do a hundred lines. “Back to Delenn, I can offer no explanation as to what is happening to her. Her DNA seems stable at the moment, but her body chemistry is still very out of synch. She could collapse into a coma, or respiratory failure, or heart failure at any moment.”

“Oh, wonderful. And her… mental state?”

“A child,” Kyle said. “At the moment, anyway. She’s said nothing since she was brought here. Her brain readings are… well, strange, to say the least. I don’t know if this is permanent, temporary, natural or what. She defies analysis, Commander.”

“Can you scan her?” Corwin asked Lyta. “Try and find out… something.”

“No,” she said. “Scanning without permission is against the law.”

“That’s never stopped you before.” Lyta had several cautions for inappropriate use of her telepathic powers. “We have to know what happened to her.”

“Chrysalis. That’s all I can tell you. I won’t scan her, Commander, and you can’t make me.”

Corwin rubbed at his eyes. He was tired, he was stressed and he wasn’t cut out to be running a starship. Where the hell was Captain Sheridan?

His link beeped. “Corwin here. Is that you, Captain?”

“’Fraid not, sir,” said Zack. “There’s still no sign of him. There is another matter, though.”

“You’ve found Susan?”

“Not that either. Mr. Welles is here with a group of his own Security people, sir. The Resistance Government has heard about what happened. They want to take Satai Delenn into custody on the planet and they want you and the Captain to meet them to discuss the, ah, situation.”

Corwin closed his eyes. And he’d thought things couldn’t get worse.

* * * * * * *

Ironically, Londo’s thoughts were on Refa as he was waiting for the Emperor – may the Great Maker enable us all to actually remember his name – to rise and deign to meet him.

The assassination attempt of the night before had been greeted with another this morning – poisoned brivare. Fortunately Londo had spent considerable time memorising the taste and smell of every type of popular poison used amongst the Centauri, and he had faintly recognised the tang of lemons. Having the drink tested confirmed that it had been poisoned. Now he was definitely not happy. A second assassination attempt in two days was one thing, but having to tip out a whole vat of warm, steaming, fine brivare really annoyed him. Someone was going to pay for this.

And Londo wasn’t the only one, either. His fine network of overpaid and underworked sources had reported that Lady Drusella had eaten some very bad marnago the night before and had been afflicted with a terminal stomach ache. Since her husband had died during the War, her daughter Lyndisty now inherited the vast family fortune, at least until someone found her a husband. (Londo silently wished any husband of hers good fortune. He had known fish less wet than she was.)

This whole affair was getting serious. Centauri Prime was returning to the old ways, and this was not good. With the Narns biting at Centauri heels, and G’Kar’s Ancient Enemy growing stronger all the time – not to mention the humans and the Minbari shortly to be ripping each other apart – Centauri Prime had to be stable and orderly, and that meant having a stable and orderly ruler. Londo had tried contacting Urza, but he was on a state mission to Gorash 7 – they still called him ‘The Hero of Gorash’ and he knew how to use that hero worship. So, it was a matter to bring to the attention of the Emperor himself.

Unfortunately, it was not the Emperor who greeted him.

“Why, dear Londo,” said the voice, and he grit his teeth very firmly together. “It is so good to see you again. I was just talking with Daggair the other day, and we were complaining that we see so little of you these days.”

“My Lady Elrisia,” he said, smiling. “A pleasure, as always,” he lied.

“I hear there was an attempt on your life last night. I am so glad it failed.”

“A seasonal occurrence, my lady. I am… always alert to these things. After all, no one has killed me yet.”

“But they only have to be lucky once, Londo. You have to be lucky all the time.”

Londo looked at his companion and silently thanked all the Gods in the Centauri pantheon that he had not been the one to marry her. Lady Elrisia was beautiful, unscrupulous, intelligent, ambitious and devious. Most Centauri ladies possessed at least two of those characteristics. The more dangerous ones possessed three or four. Lady Elrisia had all five. She was almost as bad as – if not worse than – her husband, the absent and mercifully forgotten Lord Refa.

“I… came here to meet the Emperor. I thought that with First Minister Jaddo away…”

“The Emperor is sleeping now. He is… quite tired.”

“I see. You will tell him I was here.”

“Of course. He appreciates your concern for his health, dear Londo. He told me so last night.”

“I am gratified that his Majesty thinks so highly of me.”

“You may go, Londo.”

“My lady.”

“Oh, there is one thing. I understand that there was a Minbari poet with you last night. He is well, I trust.”

“Very well, my lady. Shaal Lennier is currently enjoying my hospitality.”

“I would be most interested in hearing his work. Could you possibly arrange a private meeting at all?”

“I shall… broach the subject with him, my lady. Good day.”

“Good day, Londo. It was a pleasure as always. We should meet more often.”

Londo waited until he was outside the palace before he started swearing. This was not good. This was definitely not good. Nothing these days ever did seem to be good. Time for a meeting with Mr. Lennier, it seemed. Perhaps G’Kar might have some handy advice in store.

* * * * * * *


“You heard me, Commander Corwin. The Resistance Government wishes to see you, Captain Sheridan and your prisoner. And they wish to do so now.”

“And if the Minbari happen to turn up while we’re… seeing the Resistance Government, Mr. Welles? Or aren’t they worried about the Minbari?”

“I am only relaying their instructions, Commander Corwin. I understand that Mr. Allan is investigating this incident up here?”

“Yes, and he is doing so well enough for me. We do not need…”

“What you need is irrelevant. I and my men will meet with Mr. Allan to co-ordinate this matter.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Commander Corwin. The actions of the senior staff on this ship have been, at best, incompetent, and at worst, treasonous. And not just in this incident, but for some time.”

“We run this ship as we see best…”

“Then you may explain that to the Resistance Government. I am sure that if what you say is the case, then you will have nothing to worry about, Commander.”

“And who do you expect to run the ship while I’m on the planet?”

“The people here are capable of running the ship for a few hours.”


“Those are the direct instructions of the Resistance Government, Commander. You, Captain Sheridan and the Minbari are to attend the Resistance Government at once.”

“Delenn can hardly move. Her health is…”

“Irrelevant. You will do as you have been ordered by your direct superiors in the chain of command. Is that clear, Commander?”

“Perfectly clear.”

“Good. There was no need for all that hostility then, was there? I do have one question, though. Where is Captain Sheridan?”

* * * * * * *

Captain Sheridan was waking slowly. He stirred, and opened his eyes gradually. For a brief moment, he was surprised. This was definitely not his room on the Babylon. These were his quarters in the Main Dome. Well, he supposed they were Anna’s quarters. She lived here. He could not recall spending more than fifteen minutes at a time here before.

Anna was sitting beside him on the bed. She was smiling. “Good morning,” she said.

“Anna,” he mumbled, surprised. She was… she looked beautiful. She looked happy. “Anna…”

“If you said any other name, I’d be very angry,” she said, her eyes dancing. “I love you, John.”

The fog of sleep left him, and he remembered last night. She had come to him after his meeting with the Resistance Government and Lord Refa. She had… been like the Anna she had always been before. She had cooked him something – it wasn’t much, food on Proxima never was, but his cooking could make anything taste awful – and they had talked for a long time, about the past, about their future, about Elizabeth. Sheridan had not felt guilty about doing so. His link was on and if there were an emergency David could call him. He had been astounded throughout the meal, as if this were all a dream. He had resigned himself years ago to the fact that he and Anna could never be as they had been. The war, Elizabeth’s death, the destruction of Earth… it had all just become too much for them. John had watched Anna sinking deeper and deeper into her own private world and had been unable – or unwilling – to prevent her, knowing that he was doing precisely the same thing. He never stopped loving her, but he had stopped believing that they could be happy again.

Last night had surprised him. For a few hours at least, he had actually been happy. Both of them had.

“I love you,” he whispered, and he watched her smile, the smile lighting up her face. She looked so beautiful.

And then he blinked. “What time is it?”

“O-six hundred or so,” she said. “You always did get up early.”

“But… oh my God, the ship, De…” He nearly said Delenn’s name, but then he stopped himself. So much had changed in one day, but he did not want to jeopardise it. He looked around for his link and saw it lying by his side.

“John, they can get by without you for one night.”

“But the Minbari, the…” chrysalis. “Anything could have happened.” He picked the link up, and saw to his horror that it had been deactivated. He looked at Anna.

“I just wanted us to be alone,” she whispered. “I… I didn’t want to lose you again.” Her smile was gone, and his heart went out to her. He clambered across the bed and held her tightly. She rested her head on his shoulder. He felt her hair brush his cheek. He loved her. He always had.

Slowly, he re-activated his link, and patched a message through to Corwin. “Anything to report, David?” he asked.

“Captain, where the hell have you been?” A belated, “Sir.”

“In bed,” Sheridan replied slowly, and Anna chuckled. “I’m sorry. Things are okay up there, aren’t they? Nothing… unusual?”

“The only usual thing that’s happened up here is that everything’s fallen apart. The Resistance Government wants to see us both. This is serious. They want to see Satai Delenn as well.”

“Delenn? But…” She’s still in the chrysalis, isn’t she? She wasn’t meant to come out this early. I told her I’d be there for her. I promised her I’d be there for her.

“Oh my God, David. What’s happened?”

“Oh boy. Look, Captain, the Resistance Government wants to see all three of us sharp-ish. They’ll explain everything. You really won’t like this.”

“I… all right. I’ll be at the Conference Hall. Sheridan out.”

Sheridan pulled back to look at Anna. “I heard,” she sighed. “There’s always something, isn’t there?”

“Aw, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s your duty… I’ll have to find something to do now, I suppose. Just… make sure you come back to me, John. We’ve spent too long apart.”

“Always.” He kissed her, and held her tightly, as if he were afraid he would lose her if he ever let her go. He remembered his vision from aboard Babylon 4. Much of what happened there was still a blur to him, but that vision he would never forget. The sight of Anna’s body slumping and falling as he shot her.

It would never happen, he told himself. Never.

But he had always suspected it might. Now, he knew for certain that it never would.

“I love you,” he said, pulling back.

“I love you, too,” she replied. “Just come back to me… Oh, and make sure you get dressed first. It might help.”

He smiled.

* * * * * * *

“Well, Commander,” Clark said. “Can you explain this?”

“I would appreciate it, Vice President, if you would tell me what I am accused of before you ask me to plead guilty.”

Corwin stared at the four people looking at him, and he tried to avoid swallowing hard. Beside him was Delenn. She was standing as straight as he was, but she had not answered any of the questions put to her, and her very presence, with her tinges of human appearance, was enough to damn her, Corwin and the Captain.

“Dammit, man!” Hague exploded. “Two of your security guards are dead, and you bring that… that freak here! How can you live with yourself? Why did you go through with this? You must have known something! How could you have let her do this?”

“Satai Delenn’s change has nothing to do with the deaths of the two Security officers,” Corwin said firmly. “I have reason to believe that they were killed by…” He did swallow, unable to even speak her name without feeling as though his heart were about to burst. “By Lieutenant Ivanova.”

“What?” snapped Clark. “Young man, this…”

“This is absurd!” snapped Hague.

“Excuse me, Commander,” said Takashima. “Are you telling me that Ambassador Ivanova killed two security guards aboard the Babylon?”

“Yes, General.” As much as it hurt to say it, Susan wasn’t the same woman as the one he had known – the one he had fallen in love with.

“And do you have a motive for her to do this or are you making this up as you go along?”

“Miss Alexander and I saw her attempting to kill Satai Delenn. The security guards were under orders to let no one but myself and Captain Sheridan past. She must have killed them so that she could get to Satai Delenn.”

“Then I just have one more question, Commander. What has happened to Satai Delenn?”

“She has… changed, General.”

“We can see that,” snapped Clark. “Are you telling us you knew this was happening?”

Deep breath. “Yes, Vice President.”

“Then why did you permit her to do such a thing? And how did she do it for that matter?”

“It was a piece of Minbari technology. I do not know the specifics. I believe the transformation was broken off early – probably by… Ambassador Ivanova. As to why… apparently the Minbari have some form of prophecy which seems to state this transformation would take place. She believes she may serve as a means of ending this war.”

“Then why does she not tell us this herself?”

“The… premature ending of the transformation has affected her in a way we have not been able to determine just yet. Her mental abilities may have been damaged.”

“Did you know anything about her change at all, Commander?”

“A little, sir.”

“Then why did you permit her to make this change without asking for our permission, and without knowing the full outcome?”

“With respect, sir,” spoke up Takashima. Corwin turned to face her. He did not like her expression. “You are being too hard on him. Commander Corwin is, after all, the second in command of the Babylon. Perhaps the one to blame is the one who is in command of the Babylon.”

“Ah, yes. And what part does Captain Sheridan play in all this, hmm?”

As if on cue, the door opened and Captain Sheridan walked in, accompanied by Mr. Welles. The Captain did not look even remotely happy. Mr. Welles did not either, but then he never did.

“What has been happening?” Sheridan asked. “I… Delenn!”

She turned to face him, and Corwin caught a glimpse of his expression as he saw her. Shock, wonderment, terror, concern… all at once. He stepped forward slowly towards her. She turned her head slightly.

“John,” she whispered. “John.” She stepped forward and fell into his arms. He held her tightly, while looking at both Corwin and Clark. His face was… stunned.

“What has happened?” he asked.

“We will deal with you later, Captain,” Clark said. “What news, Mr. Welles?”

“The one security guard was killed by a single blow to the chest. It broke a number of ribs and crushed his heart. The second guard was disembowelled. The two weapons involved are very different. My guess is the killings weren’t committed by the same person.”

“Hmm.” Clark seemed to ponder this for a moment. “Anything else?”

“A strange machine of a type we have not yet been able to identify. It does not seem to be a weapon, but I cannot tell its exact use either. It does look Minbari in origin.”

“Could she have used that to kill the guards?”

“It is possible, Vice President.”

“Keep your men on the matter, Mr. Welles. Well, Captain, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“What exactly am I being accused of, sir?”

“Incompetence and negligence at least, Captain. Treason at most. Did you know of Satai Delenn’s change?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Did you authorise her… change?”

“Yes I did.”


“She believed it could end this war. Prevent an attack here.”

“The Minbari are more than welcome to attack here, Captain Sheridan. With our new allies, we will destroy them utterly. I have every confidence in them. You, on the other hand… for well over a year, you have been insubordinate, reckless and dismissive of orders. You failed to secure the technological deposits at Epsilon Three for us. You prevented Mr. Welles from completing his interrogation of Satai Delenn. You have frequently put personal motivations above the good of humanity.

“Now, whether you are a traitor or merely misguided remains to be seen, but for the moment, I think it would be safer for you to be relieved of command. Yes, Captain Sheridan, you are hereby stripped of your command pending allegations of treason. You will be incarcerated here until such time as these allegations may be confirmed or denied.”

Corwin could see Sheridan straightening, almost unconsciously. Delenn was still next to him, but the expression on his face was carefully neutral.

“I think General Takashima will be the best person to command the Babylon in your absence. Do you have anything to say before you are taken to a cell?”

“Just this,” he said slowly. “I fight the Minbari not because I hate them, but to defend humanity. I wear this uniform because I believe in what it stands for. I serve humanity because I feel it is the right place for me to be.

“I am afraid that we have become the very thing we set out to fight. The Minbari acted out of madness and grief, the same reasons we are acting now. Unless this war is stopped, then we will become them. And then, Vice President, we will be truly beyond hope.”

“We shall see, Mr. Sheridan. We shall see. Mr. Welles. Leave the investigation on the Babylon to the Head of Security there. Your immediate task is to interrogate Satai Delenn. Find out as much as you can from her. Use Miss Alexander’s talents, and every resource at your disposal. Do to Satai Delenn whatever you have to do to gain the information we need. Former Captain Sheridan and former Commander Corwin are to be incarcerated until you can verify from Satai Delenn the influence they played in this affair. Leave no stone unturned, Mr. Welles.”

“I never do,” he said icily.

“So this is what is happening here,” spoke up a sardonic voice. Lord Refa. He had clearly been hiding in the shadows, listening and learning. “Perhaps an alliance with your people is a misguided effort after all.”

“That is still hasty, Lord Refa,” Clark said quickly. “You must not let this… unfortunate incident… colour your view of our people.”

“We shall see,” he said. “We shall see.”

“Mr. Welles, take the three of them away.”

Corwin met Clark’s gaze firmly and then turned, walking solemnly from the room. He caught Sheridan’s gaze as he gently released Delenn and the two officers shared a meaning more important than any words could convey.

Humanity had just been damned.

Chapter 4

I will not allow harm to come to my little ones, not here in my great house.

More valuable to me.

Welcome to the world, Satai Delenn. Out of the Darkness and into the Light.

Thoughts, memories, feelings, words… all just words, locked in the back of her mind, trapped there, perhaps forever.

She had emerged from the chrysalis too early. Her transformation had not been complete. The effect it had had on her was… as yet unknown. Physically, she was a strange mix of human and Minbari. Genetically, she was unstable. Mentally, she was… trapped.

Satai Delenn had said few words since she had been torn prematurely from her chrysalis. There were no hints even that the woman she had been existed any more. The only description Dr. Kyle aboard the Babylon had been able to put to her was, ‘a child’.

Mr. Welles knew little about Valen, less about prophecy, and next to nothing about the Enemy, the Great War and Delenn’s place in it. None of that mattered to him. All that did matter to him was serving humanity to the best of his not inconsiderable ability. He was an idealist and a pragmatist, a dreamer and a maker, a warmonger and a pacifist. Mr. Welles was a study in contradictions, almost as much as the woman before him, an irony that he did not suspect or even care about.

His duty was to serve humanity, and nothing else mattered.

Recent events were threatening to run away from all of them. Two security guards brutally murdered aboard the Babylon; Captain Sheridan and his XO, Commander Corwin, suspended on charges of negligence and possible treason; Satai Delenn mysteriously transformed; both Captain Sheridan and Lieutenant Ivanova throwing around accusations; and the Minbari fleet could be here at any time.

The only currency Welles recognised was information, but where it came to Satai Delenn, the bank was definitely closed.

The door opened and Cutter showed in Miss Lyta Alexander, licensed telepath P5. Welles noted Cutter’s obvious ogling of Miss Alexander and even more obvious interest in Satai Delenn, but he let it pass. Cutter was a good man, dedicated and loyal. Welles knew no one with not one vice.

“Miss Alexander, thank you for coming. You are familiar with recent events, I trust.”

“Yes,” she said, and of course Welles knew it. She had in fact been on board the Babylon at the time of Satai Delenn’s mysterious change and the two murders, all for no adequately explained reason.

“Of course you are. It is my task to find the gold of truth in the river of lies, Miss Alexander. Satai Delenn is being unco-operative, although whether from perversity or mental weakness, I cannot say. That is where you come in. You have scanned her before on a number of occasions. I would like you to do so now.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Another person might have erupted into violence, but Welles merely raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”

“I am entitled to refuse without giving a reason. I am not Earthforce personnel and you have no authority over me.”

“Actually, under the terms of the Wartime Emergencies Act of twenty-two forty-seven, any ranking member of Earthforce or associated organisations has the right to demand any service from any member of the public as long as he or she believes it is in the best interests of Earth and humanity. That Act has never been repealed, Miss Alexander.”

“I will not do this.”

“You never had any problems before.” Welles flicked a glance at Satai Delenn. She was responding to Miss Alexander’s presence. She was looking up at the telepath, her mouth half open and her eyes fixed, as though she recognised her but did not know from where.

“This would be wrong. I cannot do it.” Welles knew a great many things, but the fact that Miss Alexander had a Vorlon inside her mind – gained from Satai Delenn during a telepathic scan – and the fact that Miss Alexander and Satai Delenn had a unique telepathic and mental connection, were not among them. He could read people very skilfully, however, and spotting the look in both their expressions would have been possible for someone far worse at the task than he.

“I…” Miss Alexander whispered. There was silent pleading in Delenn’s eyes. “I’ll do it.”

Again, Mr. Welles did not know that she had been guided to this change by the advice of the Vorlon within her, but he did know that more than just his urgings had been responsible for it. He stood, and offered his companion his seat. She took it cautiously, and looked across the table at Delenn. Slowly, Miss Alexander removed her gloves and took Delenn’s hands.

“Chrysalis,” Miss Alexander said slowly. “The chrysalis was a means of rebirth. A means of ending this war. She was to be a living connection between our peoples, but… something went wrong.”

“Did she kill those guards?” Welles asked.

“No. No, she didn’t. She was inside the chrysalis when they died.”

“Then who did kill them?”

“Lieutenant Ivanova.”

“Is that what you read from her, or simply your opinion?”


“I want the facts, Miss Alexander, not opinions.”

“Yes… I…” Miss Alexander blinked and threw her head back, almost in spasm. Her hands slipped from Delenn’s and she sat back.

“What else did you find out?”

“I’m… not sure. She entered the chrysalis in order to change. It was part of a prophecy of her people. She hoped to show the results of this prophecy to their leaders and convince them to end this war. But… something went wrong. She emerged from the chrysalis too early.”

Welles absorbed this information completely, not missing a word. Such was his gift. “Why? An accident?”

“No. Force. Lieutenant Ivanova broke her free. I… don’t know what effect the premature emergence has had on her, but this wasn’t the intended result. Lieutenant Ivanova was going to kill her.”

“And that is why Lieutenant Ivanova killed those two guards? To get to Satai Delenn?”

“Yes, although Ivanova probably intended to blame their deaths on Delenn as well. To set up these exact circumstances if she failed.”

Welles’ mind was processing all this information, evaluating theories, linking events together, piecing the puzzle. The whole thing sounded preposterous, but it had the faintest ring of truth. He elected to continue with the questioning. If this was an elaborate lie, then sooner or later the facts would betray it. If this was, against all odds, the truth…

“Why would Lieutenant Ivanova try to kill Satai Delenn?” he asked. “This all seems a little elaborate for simple revenge, especially when Lieutenant Ivanova knew that Delenn was slated for execution very soon.”

“This is more than just revenge. Lieutenant Ivanova’s friends, these… Shadows we were told about…” Was he mistaken, or did he see Miss Alexander shiver slightly as she mentioned the name of humanity’s allies? “They and the Minbari have fought before. A thousand years ago.”

Welles knew this. Lieutenant – or perhaps Ambassador – Ivanova had told the Resistance Government as much. He had been thoroughly briefed by General Hague on humanity’s new allies.

“I think Lieutenant Ivanova was afraid that Delenn might… influence some of us…”

Welles raised a hand. “Let me continue. Perhaps the Shadows have a vendetta with the Minbari. As we are the Minbari’s only even half powerful enemies at the moment, they could wish to ally with us out of mutual protection, but if they are as powerful as we have been led to believe, then why should they need our protection? Sympathy for one who has suffered as they have? Perhaps, but there must be more than that.

“Perhaps they are following their own agenda, one that has nothing to do with the Minbari, and everything to do with us. The exact circumstances of how Lieutenant Ivanova met up with Captain Sheridan have never been revealed. Perhaps they are trying to alter our philosophies, perhaps to bring us over – willingly – to their way of thinking, to their side. Perhaps the Minbari know of this… perhaps Satai Delenn knows about this, and Lieutenant Ivanova is concerned that some… such as Captain Sheridan… may come to doubt her allies. Perhaps she wants to kill Satai Delenn before this happens, and do so in such a way as to completely ruin any of her credibility.

“Your argument has merit, Miss Alexander. Perhaps too much merit. It is often tempting to look for ten different answers when the simplest will often do.

“I will have to check with my men on the Babylon. Maybe they have found something. You meanwhile, are to remain in your quarters. I may need you again.”

“Wait… Mr. Welles! I have a question. Do you know where Marcus Cole is?”

“Your paramour?” Welles enjoyed seeing Miss Alexander blush. Sometimes it was good reminding others just how much power over them he had. “I do not, no. I did not see him with Lieutenant Ivanova during her meeting with the Resistance Government earlier. Perhaps she knows where he is. Or perhaps Captain Sheridan does. Either way, your personal matters will have to wait. Good day, Miss Alexander.”

As Welles filed out, followed by Miss Alexander, his mind already awash with thoughts of plotting and counter-plotting, he handed the cell – and its occupant – over to the security guard on duty.

It was Cutter. He stepped inside, and closed the door after him. Welles was distracted, so much so that he missed Cutter’s knowing leer at this magnificent opportunity fate had handed him.

Satai Delenn’s eyes were so innocent as she looked at him. Sometimes the world is generous indeed.

* * * * * * *

“So, you are awake then?” Lord Refa’s voice was filled with the sarcastic venom that was typical of the Centauri nobility these days. “And where have you been, pray? Somewhere important no doubt? Important enough to miss an important meeting?”

Vir began to stammer out a reply, desperately trying to think of something that would explain his disappearance. He certainly couldn’t tell Lord Refa the truth – that he had been trying to contact Captain Sheridan and warn him about Refa’s private agenda here.

Fortunately Vir knew his Ambassador very well. After a few moments of “I, well… I sort of went to the… you know, well not as such, but… kind of… you know what I mean, and, um…” Refa shut him off.

“Vir! It was a rhetorical question. I sometimes think you were sent here to try me.” Vir mumbled agreement, not mentioning the real reason he was here – which was of course to spy on Refa and, indirectly, the Grey Council, all for, of all people, a Narn.

“Anyway,” Refa continued. “We have more serious issues to concern ourselves with. You are familiar with recent events, I trust. No, of course you are not,” Refa continued, not giving Vir a chance to reply. “Well, it appears that Captain Sheridan and his second have been arrested on some charges of… well, treason at the moment. I’m not quite sure of the details, but then I doubt that anyone else is either. No, but more important, I have our proof.”

“About Satai Delenn?”

“No, Vir! About a Jovian treeworm. Satai Delenn is the reason we are here, after all.”

Vir looked around nervously. He could feel Refa’s scornful gaze upon him. Of course this room would not be bugged or anything. Refa had spent several hours after his arrival checking the whole area, and if anyone was a master at recognising listening and recording devices it was Refa, probably because he used them so often himself.

“She is… dead?”

“Better. She is… well, see for yourself.” Vir looked closely as Refa pulled a small item from his pocket. A classic Centauri recording device. Small enough to be hidden easily, and powerful enough to make instant holographic recordings of pretty much anything the user wanted.

Refa activated it, and Vir stared at the image before him.

He had never seen Satai Delenn before, but even if he had, he would never have recognised her from the image he was seeing. A woman who looked like a strange combination of Minbari and human was standing close beside a human who was definitely Captain Sheridan. Vir had never seen him before either, but the legendary Starkiller was hard to mistake for anyone else. They were holding each other gently, not as lovers, and not even quite as friends, but as… more than allies.

“It is perfect for Sinoval’s needs,” Refa was enthusing. “We have evidence that Satai Delenn is alive, and it implies that she is here willingly, that she has even become partially human, and that she is involved with Captain Sheridan. Even Lord Jarno could use information like this to his advantage. I dread to think what someone like Sinoval will do with it.”

“But… what you said… it’s not true, is it?”

“Vir! Since when was the truth involved in politics? We know that Satai Delenn is here as a prisoner, yes, and the Grey Council doubtless suspects it, but the fact is that the evidence we have here suggests – no, proves – otherwise. Sinoval’s ascension to Holy One is practically guaranteed, and he will remember the one who helped put him there. I doubt I will be exiled out on Minbar for much longer, and who knows? I may even be Emperor in a few years. Stranger things have happened, Vir.”

Vir was suddenly very glad that it was Lord Refa here, rather than Sinoval himself. Refa needed to explain things, he needed to prove to somebody just how intelligent and devious he was, he needed to gloat over his brilliance, even if only in private. Someone like Sinoval would have said nothing, and taken his own course. Refa could not do that.

Vir was glad. It meant he now had time and knowledge to act on this.

Maybe he could save the day after all.

* * * * * * *

Captain Sheridan looked up as the door to his cell opened. There were, after all, only so many ways somebody could pace up and down a cell until he got bored. His link had been taken, and Corwin was in a different cell, so he was completely isolated.

He had been here for what seemed like at least an hour now. An hour with no word. No word from David. No word from Delenn. No word from Anna. No idea of what Ivanova was doing with this time.

He still did not know exactly what had happened. Delenn had emerged from her chrysalis, but days earlier than she should have done. He remembered the way she had looked at him, and the way she had pressed herself against him. He wasn’t sure what intention she had had in mind for her emergence from the chrysalis, but he was fairly sure this was not it.

Ivanova was involved in this. David had said so, and he trusted his second much more than he trusted Ivanova. He had been silently cursing himself for being away from the Babylon on this night, but then a terrible thought struck him.

Was all this just a coincidence? Anna, choosing now of all times in the past two years to attempt a reconciliation, at the same time that Ivanova turned a cold war very hot with the murder of two of his guards and the attempted murder of Delenn.

He remembered his vision on board Babylon 4. His arm jerking upwards, his PPG firing, and Anna slumping and falling back. He seemed to remember Anna attacking him, although his vision had been so unclear. Had Anna become a Shadow agent? Had this whole affair been part of Ivanova’s plotting? Had Ivanova made a mockery of his marriage and his happiness the same way she had made a mockery of his hopes?

Questions and no answers. At least, no answers that he wanted to believe.

General Hague entered. Sheridan faced him, standing precisely to attention. The general walked around him slowly, while Sheridan kept his eyes directed firmly forward. The general looked tired, however. Sheridan doubted he had been sleeping well. Few people seemed to these days.

“Well, Captain?” Hague asked.

“General?” Sheridan kept his tone neutral. He knew he had little to explain or to apologise for, whatever was happening to him.

“Don’t put on that tone with me! I want to know just what you think you’ve been doing up there! Just because you’ve spent so long living above us, that does not mean you aren’t answerable to us! What has been going on, Captain?”

Sheridan swallowed. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

“I have done nothing to explain away, General. Everything that I have done has been for the good of humanity.”

“That’s exactly what Ambassador Ivanova has said.”

“She’s lying, sir.” Ambassador? He didn’t like the sound of that.

“She isn’t the one with a… a freak on her spaceship. A freak in the presence of two dead bodies. What happened?”

“Satai Delenn entered the chrysalis with my express approval and consent, sir. I believed it represented the best future for our people. I also believe that Lieutenant Ivanova – ” he was damned if he was going to call her Ambassador “ – killed my guards in an attempt to kill Delenn.”

“Why did you not explain this… chrysalis transformation to the Resistance Government? Why did you not seek our approval and consent?”

“Freely, sir?” Hague nodded angrily. “I believe that Lieutenant Ivanova has suborned certain members on the Government, sir. I believe that she intends to use the Resistance Government and all of humanity to fulfill her own aims and those of her allies. Delenn is more aware of these Shadows than I am, and she believes that her transformation would counter any influence the Shadows might have, and that she may be able to sway members of the Grey Council to end this war and to abort any attack here, sir.”

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight, Captain. You have taken a maximum security prisoner from our Detention Centre and up to your ship. You have denied us access to question her. You have opposed humanity’s legitimate and recognised allies. You have given a prisoner a chance to undergo a transformation, the results of which you did not fully know at the time, all on her say-so.

“Why in hell’s name do you believe a single word that Minbari bitch tells you? You more than anyone else should know how much they can be trusted, and that is not at all. After what they did to Earth, to Mars, at the Line, at Orion… to your daughter! No, Captain, all your information on this comes from the word of one Minbari. I am hesitant to mention the word treason, Captain, but I cannot believe that you fell for her charms. You have always been too smart for that. What was it, Captain? What did she offer you?”

“General, I resent that accusation. Everything that I have done…”

“Has been on the word of one Minbari! Or is there more? Can any others confirm your story? Name them, and I shall seek them out. Is there anyone who will back you up?”

Sheridan remained silent. There was G’Kar, of course, but mentioning his name would risk exposing his entire operation, and the Great Machine. He did not entirely agree with G’Kar, but he would not betray the Narn. Besides, that would only call his own involvement into question. His report on the Epsilon 3 incident had been a masterpiece of misinformation and obfuscation. Revealing the full truth now would only harm him further.

“I see,” Hague snapped. “At the moment, Mr. Welles is doing everything he can to break apart that Minbari bitch and get out anything he can. When he’s finished, or when time runs out for us all, she’ll be executed. Publicly, in as messy and unpleasant a fashion as can be found. If it weren’t for oxygen problems, she’d probably be burned at the stake. And after that, if there’s anything left of us after the Minbari have come, then you will be court-martialled and executed as a traitor to your race.

“I’m sorry to see it come to this, Captain, but you’ve left us no choice.”

“Ivanova’s left you no choice,” Sheridan responded. “Don’t listen to her, General. She’s lying. She’s been lying about everything, right from the beginning.”

“I’m not listening to this. I’ll be going, Captain, but try and think about this. What is Anna going to say when she discovers the truth?”

The General left, and Sheridan stared at the door. What was Anna going to say when she discovered the truth? What was he going to say when he discovered the truth about her?

Had she betrayed him? He didn’t like to ask that question, because he didn’t like the only answer he could find.

* * * * * * *

Mr. Welles had taken time to think, constantly running Miss Alexander’s suggestions and accusations over and over in his mind. The more he thought about them, the more sense they made. He had been experiencing suspicions for some time about humanity’s new allies, but he had put them down to his permanent sense of paranoia, and resolved merely to keep an eye on Miss Ivanova and learn as much about her as he could. Once he had learned about the Babylon 2 mission from General Hague and from General Franklin’s records, he had put his suspicions aside. Miss Ivanova’s story checked out, and he felt – along with everyone else – some sense of euphoria at the thought that humanity was no longer alone.

This recent incident had caused all his old suspicions to rise up again.

Miss Alexander had gone, pleading fatigue. He had been suspicious, but he wanted to put some of these ideas to Satai Delenn herself. If she and Miss Alexander were lying, then he would soon find out.

The first sign that something was wrong was when he arrived at her cell. There was no guard outside. There had always been someone on duty, either inside or outside. Usually there were both. He hesitated and drew his PPG slowly. He opened the door.

The sight of blood had never shocked him before – no one who had lived through the attack on Mars could ever be squeamish again – but what he saw on arrival shocked even him.

Cutter was laid out on the floor. Welles was unable to detect a cause of death from simple viewing, although it seemed likely that he had been strangled. There were deep scratches down his face, and his uniform was dishevelled.

Looking up, he saw Satai Delenn sitting calmly in her seat. She had evidently not tried to escape – she couldn’t have opened the door anyway. There were scratches and marks on her face, and her clothes – a makeshift medical gown – had been torn. Her eyes were red, and as she looked at him he could see that the child-like innocence that had marked them was gone.

“You,” he whispered, lost for words for the first time in his life. “You… did this?”

“He tried to hurt me,” she said. Had he been feeling normal, Welles would have identified every nuance and sign in her tone of voice, to see whether she was the child she had been before, or the dignified priestess he had known earlier. But he was not feeling normal, and he did not care.

“He tried to hurt me.”

Welles had known about Cutter’s somewhat… undiscriminating sexual preferences, but he still trusted the man. Cutter had always done his job well, had always served Earth and humanity, had always been loyal and dutiful.

And here he was, one more victim of the Minbari.

“One more,” he whispered. “One more.” Never taking his eyes off Delenn, he bent down and closed Cutter’s eyes. There were deep nail marks across one of them.

“How many more, then?” he said, speaking as much to himself as to the woman before him. “Just how many more?! In God’s name, where will you stop?”

He had not realised he was still holding his PPG until he was pointing it at her, both hands trembling, the merest fraction of a second from shooting her down in cold blood, from killing her the way she had killed Cutter, and everyone on Earth, and all the dreams of humanity.

She looked at him, and this time there was innocence in her eyes, not the innocence of a child, but the innocence of one who was gone beyond dreams, but still dares to believe, the innocence of one who hopes for the future, the innocence of one who has dared to wonder, and has not experienced disappointment.

The innocence of one who is facing death in the knowledge that her life had meaning.

The innocence of one who knows that another will pick up where she has left off.

Welles looked into her eyes and saw none of this. For the first time in his life, his chosen skills had abandoned him. He was effectively blind.

* * * * * * *

At first Refa thought it was Vir who had come into his quarters. He had been dozing, trying to regain some of the sleep he’d been unable to get last night. He stirred at the sound of a door opening – one of the reasons he was still alive was that he was a light sleeper – but he doubted he had anything to worry about here.

He was wrong, as he discovered when he felt the cold touch of metal at his throat.

“It’s a Minbari fighting pike, Ambassador,” said a female voice. “One twitch and it can crush your throat.”

“I fear you have me mistaken for someone else,” Refa said calmly. “I am no Ambassador, merely a humble diplomat.”

“You’re taking this very calmly, Ambassador.”

“My lady, I have survived more assassination attempts than you have men. The difference is, I can tell mine apart in the dark.” A deliberate insult. It would either make her angry – and sloppy – or it would rile her into a debate, prolonging this so that he could gain an advantage. At least, that was how it usually worked.

It didn’t. She only laughed. “The figure isn’t that high, Ambassador. What say we cut to the point?”

“I am, as you humans say, all ears.”

“Your name is Antono Refa, head of your house. After a little… power struggle in recent years, you were banished to a derogatory post of little importance on Minbar, where you were seen as little more than a joke. You are here at the behest – probably, anyway – of Satai Sinoval of the Grey Council. If I leave anything out, you’ll be sure to tell me.”

Refa was pondering the staple response in such a situation – outright denial – but he sensed that was not going to work. This lady was too well informed. He wondered if it was time to play a trump card.

“You are very well informed, Ambassador Ivanova,” he said. “I wonder then, why you have not shared this information with your Government.”

“That’s Ivanova,” she said, correcting his pronunciation. “And who’s to say I haven’t? Who’s to say this isn’t with their permission? This is a warning, Lord Refa. Tell the Grey Council whatever you like, but if their fleets come here, then they’re all dead. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly, my lady.” Refa was slightly disappointed. This was nothing more than a straightforward threat-cum-blackmail, then.

“Good.” She lifted the weight from his neck, and vanished. He waited a few moments before rising and activating the lights. He then leapt from the bed and looked around. She was definitely gone, and Vir was nowhere in sight. He doubted she’d have killed him – not that he would have minded if she had, but if she had killed Vir, then she would have had to have killed him as well.

Fortunately, he had another – what had been Londo’s phrase? – another trump card to play? Typical Londo. All he ever did was play cards and drink and eye up women. He had never had any ambition.

Refa then looked at his trump card. His recording device, deliberately left on, would have picked up every bit of their conversation. It could work in any degree of lighting and it recorded sound as easily as images. It had cost him a fortune, but it had been worth every ducat.

He wondered idly where Vir was, as he activated the device and played back the image.

He swore. “Great Maker!”

* * * * * * *

Lyta Alexander was worried. Very worried. About Marcus.

She hadn’t seen him in days. Mr. Welles didn’t know where he was – and it was Welles’ job to know everything about everything – and Ivanova had been appearing in public without him. She was afraid for him.

She had never been able to rationalise her feelings towards Marcus. She was hesitant to mention the L word – she had always resigned herself to the fact that love would never play a factor in her life. After all, Psi Corps would arrange her marriage based on genetic conformity. Emotional attachments did not come into it.

When Psi Corps was effectively ended with Earth, she felt oddly free. She wasn’t bound by their rules, their codes of conduct any more. She had tried to turn her power – which she had always seen as a curse – into a blessing. She had tried to live life. Except for her involvement with Bester, she was now as free as she had ever been…

It had taken her a long time to realise that even freedom must have restrictions. She had lost more than one lover because of her incautious use of her powers and her new, fresher approach to life. She doubted that she had ever felt strong feelings for anyone before.

And now there was Marcus. It wasn’t just physical attraction – although there was certainly that – and she wasn’t sure it was true love. The trouble was she didn’t know what it was, except that she wanted it to continue.

She knew that Marcus was wrapped into something serious, something that had Captain Sheridan’s mark all over it. He wouldn’t talk about it, and someone had been teaching him to shield his thoughts, so she couldn’t find the information herself, at least not without hurting him. She wished he would stay away from Sheridan. Lyta did not know the Captain very well, but she did know he was the sort of person who would send a man to his death if it suited his purposes. Oh, he could reason it, and explain it and maybe even justify it, but the dead would stay dead, and no amount of justifications could bring them back.

She would not let that happen to Marcus. Not if she could do anything at all about it.

There was a knocking on the door. She started and rose from her bed. Knocking? As if the person didn’t know how to use the bell properly. “Open,” she said slowly.

In walked a Centauri. He was looking around nervously. Lyta tried a quick scan – reading aliens had always been something she had been good at – but all she picked up was a haze of concern and panic. He had learned techniques to block casual scans as well. Was no one fighting fair any more?

“Can I help you?” she asked politely.

“Um, well, I think. It’s more that you can help other people, you see, but, well, we think we can trust you… and I’ve had some, um, information about you and…”

Lyta blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“I really shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t have the… authority, you see. But I can’t get in touch with the others, and if I don’t act fast, there’s going to be, well… whoo… trouble, to say the least.”

“You aren’t making any sense.”

“No, I suppose I’m not. That’s the kind of life I’m having at the moment. My name’s Vir. Vir Cotto. I’m… a sort of diplomatic attaché, but I’m also something else… I… oh, I really shouldn’t be doing this, but he thinks we can trust you. He thinks you can help us. We… talked before I left to come here and well, I didn’t listen. I never listen to much really, but he mentioned your name and…”

“Who?” she asked. She didn’t know any Centauri.

“Ah, that’s going to have to remain a… ah, secret for the moment. I really can’t… tell you that, but there is… something else. I’d better begin at the beginning, so to speak. That would make some sort of sense.”

“I hope something does.” She tried a second, deeper scan, but all she picked up was the image that he was telling the truth in whatever it was he was trying to say.

“Um, please stop doing that. I’ve had some… bad experiences… with telepaths, you see. They don’t have many scruples… at least not Centauri ones. I’m not saying you don’t have any scruples or anything, but well…” Lyta withdrew. “Thank you. Now…

“There are, well… beings in the universe billions of years older than… ooh, anything. Well not anything, but… they’re pretty old. Very old. Now the oldest of these are called the Shadows…

“And well, basically, they aren’t very nice…”

* * * * * * *

Subsequent events on Proxima 3 that day are very much open to interpretation. Some things are known. It is known that Anna Sheridan – concerned about the whereabouts of her husband – sought out her friend, Susan Ivanova, to discover if there was any truth in what she’d heard of recent events. Susan Ivanova, however, was nowhere in sight, and Anna went so far as to visit the Babylon to try and find her or John.

Lyta Alexander, licensed telepath, meanwhile spent the afternoon listening to millions of years of history conveyed slowly, haltingly and repetitively by Vir Cotto, diplomatic attaché.

Captain Sheridan, Commander Corwin, Marcus Cole and Satai Delenn all remained in prison. Mr. Welles was reporting to the Resistance Government the details he had found concerning the two murders aboard the Babylon. He kept his suspicions to himself, as well as how near he had come to murdering Satai Delenn.

The Babylon was nearly deserted now. Mr. Welles had pulled his Security officers away, having discovered everything he felt he could, and feeling the need to interrogate most of its senior staff. If anyone recognised the lunacy of rendering Proxima 3’s flagship – and only surviving capital ship – leaderless, no one said so.

Ambassador Refa spent the day making transmissions to Centauri Prime, various Centauri colonies and Minbar. When he heard one particularly pleasing piece of information from Gorash 7, he broke out into laughter.

Susan Ivanova’s whereabouts were unknown.

By mid afternoon, everything came to a head. It began, as so many things did, with Satai Delenn.

* * * * * * *

Dealing with the security guards was simple this time. Lyta simply changed their minds. Literally. She no longer felt guilty about doing so, especially in this case. She had no evidence that Marcus was involved in this, and she was not sure that she believed any of Vir’s story, but she did know that Delenn was involved. Drawn by her strange link to Satai Delenn, she felt she had to help, especially when so much that was mystery had been cleared up – albeit very long-windedly – by Vir.

Vir was not with her. He was taking care of other situations, but although she doubted he would have been that much of an asset, it still grated that she was doing this alone. She trusted Vir – but only because her frequent scans had proved that he was telling the truth about the Shadows and about a Circle of Light being formed against them.

There were no guards outside Satai Delenn’s cell, and no guards inside it either. Fortunately Lyta had obtained the security code by mind-scanning Welles earlier – just in case, and very gingerly. His was the sort of mind she did not want to stay in one minute longer than necessary. She had not, however, been in Welles’ presence since she scanned Delenn this morning, or she might have seen a side to him that she didn’t know existed.

She opened the door to the cell, stepped inside and came to a halt. Feelings… of death, of lust, of pain hit her, all the force and strength of a brick wall. She recoiled and stumbled back against the wall. She rubbed at her eyes and blotted out tears, and then she saw Delenn’s face looking at her.

“What happened?” she whispered. She could still see the blood on the floor. “What…?”

“He tried to hurt me,” Delenn said softly. “He… Who am I?”

Lyta started. “You are… you are my friend. You are Delenn.”

“Delenn?” She said the name slowly and hesitantly, as if she had never heard it before. “I… don’t…”

Welcome to the world, Satai Delenn. Out of the Darkness and into the Light.

Lyta stumbled again, and nearly fell. Those words… it was as if they had been shouted into her ear. She looked at Delenn, and saw that she was in pain too. She knelt down beside Delenn’s chair and took her hand. She knew that they didn’t have long, but she had to do this.

“I’m going to help,” she whispered.

Lyta didn’t know exactly what she was doing. All she knew was that Kosh was giving her instructions. Unfortunately, Vorlon instructions were not exactly comprehensible. She had never tried this before, but somehow, something had passed between them when she had first scanned Delenn, so why couldn’t something pass the other way?

“I hope this works,” she said to herself. She closed her eyes and reached out into Delenn’s mind. If they were caught doing this… but no, she could probably justify it. They hadn’t done anything irreversible yet.

And then, she was willingly… lost.

I will not allow harm to come to my little ones, not here in my great house.

More valuable to me.

The third principle of sentient life… the ability to sacrifice everything you are and everything you have for another, an ideal, a dream, a loved one…

I must follow the calling of my heart, Delenn. Forgive me.

Isil’zha veni. In Valen’s name.

Thoughts, feelings, memories, voices, names, places, friends, loves lost, loves found, dreams forged, dreams broken, screams, cries, laughter, love, hatred, fear, life, death, destruction, chaos, order, good, evil, shadows… always shadows…

Lyta could not scream. She could barely breathe as she and Delenn became connected on a level that she would never have thought possible. They were privy to each other’s thoughts and feelings, they could put names to people only seen in the other’s memories.

It was the most beautiful experience she had ever had.

She started, and her hand slipped from Delenn’s. She fell backwards and collapsed on the floor, too exhausted even to breathe.

“How?” she asked the voice in her mind. “How did you know this would happen? Why did you do it?”

Connection, it said in reply. Together. Purpose. You will discover. When the time is right.

Lyta slowly scrambled to her feet and, leaning on the table, she looked at Delenn. “Are… you…?”

“I think so,” Delenn whispered. Her eyes were no longer those of a child, but she was… unsettled. Lyta could read it in her. “I feel… strange.”

“I’m not surprised,” Lyta replied. “If what I picked up from that… connection… was any guide, then you’ve just gone through several years of puberty in a few days. I’d feel strange, too. Are you… you?”

“And who am I to make me me? I… have my memories, and my… thoughts are my own, but apart from that… I do not know. This was early. Far too early. I should not even be alive.”

“Yeah well, if word of this gets out none of us will be. You’ll need to get off Proxima, and fast.”

“Captain Sheridan!” Delenn started, as though she had only just remembered. “We must help him… and Commander Corwin. We will need them.”

“Are you crazy? The instant we leave this cell we’re all on borrowed time. Getting you out is going to be hard enough, never mind…”

“Never mind what, exactly?” Lyta spun around, a cold terror gripping her heart. She hoped that she was wrong. She prayed that she was wrong, but she knew she wasn’t.

Standing there in the doorway was Mr. Welles.

“I suppose you can explain why you are here?” he said calmly. “And how you got here?”

Lyta paused as she tried to evaluate an answer. There was something… different about Welles. His icy demeanour was gone, and his stare… he was renowned for having the most focussed, uncomfortable stare that anyone could wish to look at. But it was not focussed on her. He was staring at Delenn. And his gaze was one of fury.

“I’m waiting,” he said slowly.

Lyta could feel his mind now, like soft clay running through her fingers. She could feel him near to breaking point. There was a hot flame burning through all his control, all his precious reserve was close to cracking. Grief and anger and long-restrained hatred were all burning within him.

And with grief and anger and hatred, there was inevitably pain.

She had never been able to master this trick before, but it had worked against Ivanova earlier, and she found herself thinking it would work now. She reached out, feeling the Vorlon guide her, and she touched Welles’ mind.


He gave a strangled cry and fell forward, knocking the table aside. His body spasmed on the floor. Lyta slowly helped Delenn to her feet, pulling her away from the convulsing man. Slowly, always looking at Welles, she opened the door.

“I think I remember how to do this,” she muttered.

“Do what?” Delenn asked.

“Change the access code. You need it to get in or out. I am now so dead here, I might as well start digging a grave for myself. The more time we have before they come looking for us, the better.”

“Thank you, Lyta,” Delenn said simply. “You have risked a great deal for me.”

“I think I was risking it as much for myself as well,” Lyta said slowly. “I don’t know why, but… I don’t know why.”

Delenn smiled. “I thank you anyway.”

“Do you still want to find Captain Sheridan?”

“I need to find him.”

“There’s an old saying,” said a familiar voice at the other end of the corridor. “Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it.”

Lyta saw Delenn smile, a warm, happy smile. She certainly did not begrudge her friend happiness but she could not share it, certainly not at the sight of Captain Sheridan, Commander Corwin and Susan Ivanova all together.

* * * * * * *

Londo Mollari was drunk. In fact, he was very drunk. He was also bad-tempered drunk. Normally he tended to become convivial, happy, cheery and very bad at gambling when he’d had too much to drink – which he hadn’t, at least not recently. But this was a special occasion.

After all, it wasn’t every day that you received reports of the death of your best friend.

He’d received the message earlier, and had proceeded to get incredibly drunk. He supposed he should notify G’Kar, or at least whichever of his agents happened to be nearest – Shaal Lennier, he supposed – but he simply didn’t feel like it. What he felt like, at the moment, was breaking a lot of glasses – check, breaking a lot of items of furniture – check, and then breaking several necks – no check.

It was an accident, they’d said. Of course it was. Yes, that was right. Major Centauri warships went around having ’accidents’ all the time. And the fact that First Minister Urza Jaddo happened to be on board when this ’accident’ occurred was also accidental, right?

Londo was alone. Timov had fled, not used to her husband having a worse temper than she did. Daggair was off at one of her interminable parties, spending more of his money than he could afford. And Mariel, she was… anywhere, but not here. He didn’t care.

He raised a glass of brivare. “Here’s to you, Scatura,” he said. “Here’s to you, Urza.”

* * * * * * *

Lyta had seen a number of strange and unpleasant sights in her lifetime. The last year had seen a drastic increase in their number and frequency. But she doubted she would ever forget the sight of Susan Ivanova removing her head to reveal Vir Cotto with a Changeling Net.

Refraining from asking the obvious questions – like where he got it, and how he got it smuggled into Proxima – she concentrated instead on Captain Sheridan. He was holding Delenn tenderly. He was not smiling, but the frequent expression of anger on his face was gone. He looked strangely… peaceful. She contemplated a quick scan, but decided against it. Sheridan had always been hard to read, and she did not want to make her actions obvious.

Delenn was smiling. She looked happier than Lyta had ever seen her. It was surprising how much her new human-like features improved when she smiled.

“I’ve, ah, arranged a shuttle to take you up to your spaceship,” Vir was explaining. “This… little device was very handy, and there are a few… friends of friends here, if you know what I mean. You should get there uninterrupted, but you had best leave as soon as possible.”

“And I suppose your… friend… with the Machine has some ideas about what we should do after that?” Sheridan said. “We’ll have effectively exiled ourselves, and taken away Proxima’s only heavy class ship.”

“Hopefully our… friend with the Machine… will offer sanctuary. If you’re ready to take it, Captain. And we both know that there are more powerful defenders here than the Babylon.”

“I won’t be going with you,” Lyta said.

Delenn looked up. “Why not?” she asked.

Because I don’t like Captain Sheridan. Because I think all this is crazy. Because I wish I couldn’t believe any of this. Because I’m afraid of what the voice in my head in telling me.

“Because I have to find Marcus,” she said.

“He’s likely dead by now,” Sheridan replied. “I asked him to watch over Susan for us.”

“I have to find him,” Lyta said firmly. “Goodbye, Delenn.”

Delenn smiled. “Goodbye, Lyta.”

Lyta noticed Sheridan’s embrace tighten softly at Delenn’s smile. She noticed a great many things about Captain Sheridan, things she wished she hadn’t.

“If you need help finding Marcus, track down Zack Allan,” Commander Corwin said. “I think he’s still on the surface here, and he’ll be able to help you.”

“I will,” she said slowly. And she meant it too.

“Walk with Valen,” she whispered, and then paused, surprised. She hardly knew who Valen was.

“And you, my friend,” Delenn said. “And you.”

* * * * * * *

The Babylon felt very… empty. With most of its crew recalled to Proxima for questioning, and with all Mr. Welles’ security patrols also recalled, there was only a skeleton crew running the ship. That suited Sheridan well enough. It made it easier for him to regain control. As he sat in his chair on the bridge and began taking the ship away from Proxima, he turned to Corwin.

“What are we doing here, David? We’re abandoning our people. We’re betraying them all.”

“It’s Vice President Clark and the others who have done that, sir,” Corwin said slowly, after a moment’s thought. “They betrayed humanity. I think we’re the only ones who haven’t.”

Sheridan thought about this for a moment, and then nodded. “Take us away.”

Lieutenant Franklin was one of the few members of the bridge crew who was still aboard. He looked a little bewildered by the whole affair, but, like Commander Corwin, he trusted his captain.

“We’re leaving Proxima now, sir,” he said. “Jump point formed. We’re in hyperspace.”

“Do you think they’ll send anything out after us?” Corwin asked.

“What have they got to send? They won’t risk a light cruiser or a medium sized warship against the Babylon.”

“And what about one of these Shadow ships? The things that cut through two Minbari cruisers in a matter of seconds?”

“Then… we will deal with that as it happens, David.”

“You cannot,” said a voice. It was Delenn. “None of us can stand up to the Shadows, not yet. But by working together, perhaps we can. I do not know what this… G’Kar has done in preparation for the Shadows, but I do know that by working together, we have a far better chance than we do alone.”

“I only hope you’re right…” Sheridan blinked suddenly and looked around. Something about this felt… familiar. He turned and saw the door to the bridge opening. He started and rose from his chair. No! This was impossible. Anna was on Proxima 3. She had to be.

But she was here. “John!” she said. “What’s been happening?”

Sheridan drew his PPG and pointed it, across the length of the bridge, at her.

“John? What…?” Then she saw Delenn. “I see. What they were saying was true, then. I didn’t want to believe them, but… they were right. You did betray us all, John.”

“You betrayed me, Anna. Why? I wondered why at the time. It was Susan, wasn’t it? I should have realised. What did she tell you? What did she offer you?”

“John, you aren’t making any sense. But… I suppose that’s not surprising. I never thought. I just… never thought.”

John glanced at Delenn, glanced away just long enough for Anna to draw her own PPG. He pointed his weapon back at her, silently cursing himself. He was the one who’d insisted she carry a weapon, never imagining she’d point it at him.

“This is a mistake,” Delenn whispered. “This is a misunderstanding. John, please, listen!”

But he wasn’t listening. Anna was. “Why are you doing this?” she pleaded. “Why? Doesn’t… doesn’t Elizabeth’s death mean anything to you? That… that freak killed her. She killed Elizabeth, and your parents, and mine. She took everything from both of us. And now she’s taken you as well. John, please!”

“What did Susan tell you? What did she…? Anna, no!”

Anna turned to point her PPG at Delenn. John’s arm jerked upwards…

Corwin would never forget the expression on his Captain’s face as he fired. Despair. The ultimate, most tragic, most heart-wrenching despair he could ever imagine. But it did no good. Once the weapon was fired, it could never be taken back.

Anna slumped and fell, her own weapon falling from her lifeless fingers. Sheridan just stood there, staring for a moment, then he dropped his own weapon.

“Anna,” he whispered. Slowly, he walked across the bridge to her side and knelt down beside her. Corwin knew that she was dead. It was inconceivable that she could be otherwise, but still… he could hope that she was alive. Not for her sake, but for her husband’s.

Sheridan, on the other hand, seemed to know. As if he had been expecting this all along, but had never adjusted himself to its inevitability. He simply knelt beside her, touching her hair, whispering her name, over and over again.

Corwin’s attention was so taken up by Sheridan that he didn’t notice Delenn move. If he had, he might have stopped her, but he did not, and the first Sheridan knew of it was when she gently touched his shoulder, standing by his side.

He spun around, lashing out. He pulled his punch at the last minute, but it was still enough to floor her. She fell sprawling, and Corwin caught the look in her eyes as she fell.

Terror and tragedy.

“Get her out of here!” Sheridan snapped to anyone who was listening. “Throw her in the brig! Throw her out of an airlock! Just get her out of my sight!”

Delenn tried to rise, but he moved forward, fire and death blazing in his expression. Corwin ran forward, again for his sake, not for hers, and helped Delenn to her feet. She was leaning on him heavily, although probably more from shock than from pain. Corwin shared a long, sympathetic, empathetic look with his captain and led Delenn from the bridge, and down to the brig.

As a result, he missed what happened next.

“Captain,” breathed Lieutenant Franklin. “This… this is…”

“What?” Sheridan asked dully.

“Come and see.”

Sheridan made his way down to Franklin’s console, moving slowly, not caring, not thinking. He looked at the readouts.

His eyes widened. He had never seen a Shadow ship before, but he knew that that was what he was looking at.

Ivanova had sent the Shadows after them, after all.

* * * * * * *

It had taken Lyta several minutes to regain her breath after leaving Sheridan, Corwin, Vir and Delenn outside the Detention Centre. Vir had put his Changeling Net back on again, and was planning on guiding the others to the shuttle he had arranged. She was still a trifle unclear about his motives, but her thoughts were far too enmired to worry about them for the moment.

The first thing she did was return to her room and collapse on the bed, drawing in great, gasping breaths. She knew that she had to find Marcus. That was her main concern here. For the first time since leaving the cell, the thought of what she had done to Mr. Welles nagged at her. What if she had killed him? What would he do when he got out?

None of that mattered. She had to find Marcus, and Corwin had told her how to do it.

Once she had recovered her breath, she left her room and headed in search of this Zack Allan. Tracking him down was not difficult – a whole ship-full of Security personnel tended to make an impact, and all it took was a few questions. She did not even have to use her powers to gain the information she needed, although she was nervous the whole time, wondering if each person she talked to knew about what she had done.

Was this how normals felt in the presence of telepaths? This whole, enveloping terror, always afraid of what they had done that they might be called to account for?

When she found Zack, she mentioned Sheridan’s name, and he became attentive. He listened to what she had to say – which took a while, as her breathing was still laboured, and she was still afraid. Kosh’s voice was trying to tell her something, but she hardly heard it.

And after she had finished, Zack had left to do a bit of checking. A few minutes later, he returned.

“Found him,” he said. “He was slightly injured in a brief scuffle last night. Medlab are looking after him.”

Lyta started, knowing that for a lie. She could feel Marcus when he was in pain. Zack was lying. She rose to her feet, but then the door to his room opened again.

In stepped Vice President Clark and Mr. Welles.

“Mr. Allan here tells us you have an interesting story to tell, Miss Alexander,” Clark said. “I would very much like to hear it.”

* * * * * * *

“Is it taking any sort of hostile action?” Sheridan asked.

“I don’t… think so. I don’t know what it’s doing.”

“Hah! Join the club, Lieutenant. Where’s the nearest safe place we can get out of hyperspace?”

“I can get us out in Sector Thirty-seven in a few minutes.”

“Do it.”

Franklin was marvelling at the change in Sheridan. Mere moments after seeing his wife die and being nearly ready to attack Delenn, he had become calm, collected and poised. He only seemed to become alive in battle, these days.

If he spared a lingering look at the body of his wife, Franklin chose not to comment on it.

Franklin suddenly looked up. His readings were… no, this was impossible. “Captain, it’s… gone…”


“It just veered away. Like it was scared of… We’ve got an incoming transmission.”

Sheridan sat bolt upright. “The sort of ship that can tear apart two Minbari cruisers in a matter of minutes isn’t going to be afraid of us. Put the message on, but audio only.”

Sheridan turned to the communications panel by the side of his chair. He heard a stern, firm voice come over the channels.

“You would be Captain Sheridan?”

“Yes. And you are?”

“Colonel Ari Ben Zayn, formerly of Earthforce Special Intelligence. With me is my associate, Mr. Harriman Gray. We have a… mutual acquaintance, Captain. He asked me to come and find you.”

Sheridan knew the name. Ben Zayn was a decorated soldier, renowned in many battles and wars. He was said to be a talented, ambitious and very dangerous man. He was also supposed to be dead.

“And who is this… mutual acquaintance?”

“Later, Captain. When the time is right. We offer you a place of sanctuary. In return for certain… services, Captain.”

“What kind of services?”

“When the time is right, Captain. When the time is right. Well, do you accept?”

Sheridan looked around at the nearly empty bridge. His gaze caught on Anna’s body. He swallowed harshly. “I will not raise a hand against my people,” he said.

“We won’t ask you to.”

“Fine. Then I accept.”

* * * * * * *

Vir had been back on Minbar for three days now. His last day on Proxima had been tense. Miss Alexander had gone missing shortly after their last meeting, and she knew enough to have him arrested and executed. She also knew enough to tear apart the Circle of Light if such information ever slipped out. Vir had trusted her then, and he still did, but there were… ways of gathering information. He hoped she had escaped the planet, but his hopes were thin.

Still, Captain Sheridan had escaped. That was something to be thankful for. Vir had sent a message to G’Kar detailing everything that had happened on Proxima immediately upon his return to Minbar. Events there were taking a turn for the worse.

And events on Minbar were becoming worse still. Refa had not noticed any sign of Vir’s preoccupation, which was in itself a bad sign. He was pleased about something, very pleased. Vir knew the real reason for their mission here, and he knew that if Refa was pleased, then it could not be good news.

And it wasn’t. Refa received news of Captain Sheridan’s escape a few hours after the fact. He had feigned outrage at Proxima’s ‘inefficient security’ and ‘treasonous operatives’. He had managed to tear down completely the accord that Londo had been trying to build between Centauri Prime and Proxima 3. Even if the Resistance Government received word of Refa’s true allegiances, the climate of mistrust and suspicion would take too long to allay.

The Grey Council was apparently still deliberating Refa’s information, but Vir knew it would not be long now. Delenn had been completely discredited by the image of her and Sheridan Refa had provided to Sinoval. There was now only one choice for the position of Holy One.

Vir had come out to meet with Lennier, hoping that his companion had some better news. He hadn’t. Solemnly, the two swapped tales of what had happened. Vir revealed events on Proxima 3, while Lennier told of the heightening tension among the noble Houses of Centauri Prime – culminating in the death of First Minister Urza Jaddo in an apparently unrelated ’accident’.

But there was one more piece of bad news to come for Vir. After meeting with Lennier, he returned to the diplomatic quarters he shared with Refa. The ambassador was in a very good mood. Vir asked what had happened.

“Ah, you have not heard? There was another minor skirmish between some of our ships and a Narn cruiser at Ragesh 3. The colony there has fallen to those it once belonged to – us. The Kha’Ri has responded with more threats against our colonies elsewhere, and the Centarum has, finally, taken decisive action.

“We are at war, Vir. And this time, the Narns will not get off so easily.”

* * * * * * *

Sinoval looked out across the circle at the eight people who surrounded them. They had been debating for days, ever since Refa had presented his evidence to him. Hedronn had finally come around, accepting the information for what it was – genuine. Only Lennann and Rathenn still spoke out. As of course they would, but they were fighting a losing cause. Sinoval knew it, Hedronn knew it, and they knew it.

Refa had done exceptionally well. Not just with the image of what Delenn had become – the sight of her with Starkiller – but the other image as well. The sight of a human woman with a Shadow beside her. Sinoval had long suspected humanity of being in league with the Enemy. Refa had provided this proof, and, indirectly, the knowledge that Delenn was with the Enemy as well.

“Am I to believe that you doubt your own eyes?” he asked, confronting the two opposite him. “You have seen what we all have. That is Delenn. Do you deny that?”

“No,” Rathenn said, “but…”

“And that is Starkiller Sheridan. We have all seen him. We all know what he looks like. Or do you deny that as well?”

“No,” said Lennann.

“Then how can you stand there and dare to defend her? You have asked for evidence about Delenn, my fellow Satai. You have wondered whether she may still be alive, and is being held against her will. You have asked for proof and I have given you that proof. Now, now do you believe me?”

The words felt like ashes in his mouth, but he didn’t care. Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved. Delenn would have to fall so that he could save the rest of their people.

“Humanity is in league with the Enemy. That we have seen as well. Therefore, Delenn is in league with the Enemy.”

“We do not know that…” Lennann began.

“What other explanation is there? We have stood here and debated for too long. We waited until the mourning for Dukhat was over. We waited to build the Rangers. We waited for proof about Delenn. The longer we wait, the easier we will fall. We must act now – together – or not at all! Shall we stand by as the Enemy advances? We formed the Rangers nearly eight cycles ago to oppose the Enemy that we all knew was coming. Now that Enemy is here, and we must be ready for it.

“We cannot afford the luxury of conflict. Delenn has betrayed us. I hold that she be named Zha’valen.”

There were no mutters of protest, not even from Rathenn and Lennann, although their looks would have killed Sinoval if they could. “She has betrayed us all, and all of Minbar as well, to the Enemy. I hold that she be named Zha’valen,” he repeated.

Zha’valen. A shadow upon Valen. Outcast from Minbari society. No Minbari could speak to her, speak her name, or even look at her. He did not want to do this, but if the only way he could guide the Minbari to their prophesied destiny was to sacrifice Delenn then so be it, and he would never look back.

“Zha’valen,” said Kalain, now formally Satai. “Zha’valen,” said another warrior. “Zha’valen,” rasped Hedronn, his voice marked with bitter, angry disappointment. “Zha’valen.” “Zha’valen.” The word ran around the circle until only Rathenn and Lennann had not spoken. The two priests looked at each other, and finally, Rathenn said:


Lennann repeated the word, his voice even angrier than Hedronn’s.

“And now, my Satai, is there any more doubt left as to the position of Holy One?”

It began with Kalain, and with the other warriors, and it spread. Lennann and Rathenn did not speak, but they did not matter. Six of the Nine were with Sinoval, and that was enough. At last, he had achieved the beginnings of his dream, but the words were not spoken in dream this time, but in reality.

“Hail Sinoval! Hail Holy One!”

Part VIII: The Other Half of my Soul

Chapter 1

Holy One.

Holy One. It sounded fitting to him. Sinoval of the Wind Swords clan had always known that he would be destined for great things and now he had achieved the greatness he had always believed would be his.

Warleader and Shai Alyt of the Wind Swords clan during the holy jihad against the Earthers. Satai of the Grey Council following the death of Shakiri in Sheridan Starkiller’s attack over Mars. Entil’zha of the Rangers following the disappearance of Satai Delenn. And now Holy One.

Sometimes the price he had paid to get this power grated at him. Satai Delenn in particular. Although Sinoval had often opposed her during Council, he had always admired and respected her. He did not envy her her fate.

What he believed in private about her fate and what he said in public were two very different things. In public it suited him to maintain the common story that Delenn was a traitor to her people – that she had gone with the Starkiller willingly, and even that she conspired with him and the Enemy that had returned. In private, he believed none of this, but there was an old Minbari saying that applied in circumstances like this.

‘Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved.’

To save Minbar, Sinoval had sacrificed Delenn.

He stood alone in the Hall of the Grey Council, staring at the empty columns of light all around him. His fellow Satai had gone to spread the word of his ascension and to complete the preparations for his final attack. The last bastion of Earther power and the secret base of the Enemy – Proxima 3 – would fall.

He shifted the image around him to that of the Minbari fleet that was rising. Capital ships, flyers, and the new breed of ships, built with Vorlon technology. They were called the White Stars by the majority of those who flew in them. It was supposed to be reminiscent of the Dralaphi – the Black Star. Sinoval thought it a bad omen, but he had to admit that the ships were impressive. For their size, they were more powerful, faster and better equipped than any other ship around. The Rangers, newly reformed under his leadership, would pilot them against the Enemy.

We are ready, he thought. Let the Enemy and the Earthers and the Starkiller come. We are ready for them. In Valen’s Name, I will be ready.

First, however, there was one problem, one old debt to be repaid. Sinoval killed the image around him and walked out of the Hall. It was tradition that the Holy One always stayed within the Hall of the Council. Like many other traditions, it was one that he intended to break.

She was waiting for him, as he knew she would be. Jha’dur – Warmaster of the Dilgar, the being called Deathwalker.

He remembered the day she had come to his clan. The clan leaders had taken her aside for private consultations, and they had announced that she would stay with the clan, and that this would be kept secret. As the clan leaders had died – to age, to grief, to Starkiller – Sinoval inherited the secret, and her knowledge. He was now the only one to know of her presence here.

She was a weight around his neck, perpetually dragging him down. Now that he had his destiny, it would soon be time to get rid of her.

“So,” she said. “Congratulations, Holy One. I always knew you would go far, Sinoval.”

“By Valen’s will and by my strength, yes,” he said.

“And a little help,” she reminded. “Don’t forget who took Satai Delenn out of the picture for you.”

“I have not,” he said. “And that is why I am here. I tolerated your presence before, Jha’dur. You were valuable to me, and I thought… foolishly… that you would help me take us back to our rightful place in the galaxy.

“I was wrong. You are evil, Jha’dur, as evil a thing as ever drew breath. The weapons you supplied us with are terrible artefacts of mass destruction. The price you took from us was sapping our souls, a little bit at a time. It is over, Jha’dur.

“You will leave Minbar today. You will take your… instruments of terror and all trace that you were ever here, and you will go. And you will never return. Isil’zha veni. In Valen’s Name, I promise you that you will not be harmed if you do so, but stay here after today, and you will be killed.

“Do you understand me?”

“Perfectly,” she said.

“Do not think of revenge, Jha’dur. I am Holy One now, leader of the entire Minbari Federation. I am beyond anything that you can do to me. Be satisfied that you are keeping your life.”

“Behold the gratitude of princes,” she spat. “I will be gone, Sinoval. Do not worry about that.”

“That is all I ask,” he said, as he left.

Sinoval, Holy One, was now with no burdens, no ties, nothing to stop him completing his destiny.

And his destiny would be reached in fire over the skies of Proxima 3.

* * * * * * *

Commander David Corwin possessed many worthwhile skills, all of which rendered him inestimably valuable to Captain Sheridan. The skill which was probably the most valuable was the ability to survive and to adapt. He adapted to the destruction of Earth and to the loss of his family on Mars. He adapted to life on the Babylon – very quickly, even taking over the position of helm when the person manning it was killed.

He had adapted to constant, and largely futile warfare. He had adapted to the loss of the woman he loved when Susan Ivanova had gone missing on the Babylon 2 mission, and he had adapted when the woman he loved returned… changed, not wanting to know him. He adapted when he learned that Susan was part of an ancient evil and he had even adapted when fighting that evil compelled him to abandon his own people.

Where nothing he had ever known remained constant, David Corwin had learned to adapt in order to survive, but even he had to admit that this was unusual.

It had only been a few days ago that he and Captain Sheridan had been arrested by the Resistance Government, ostensibly on charges of either negligence or treason, which one depending on whom you talked to. Corwin still found it hard to believe that Susan had been behind those charges, or at least guilty of the murders and the attempted murder that had caused them to come about. With help from a very unlikely source, Corwin and Sheridan had escaped Proxima 3 on board the Babylon, only to be pursued by a vessel which in all probability belonged to the Shadows – humanity’s newest allies and the Minbari’s oldest enemies. The Shadow ship had mysteriously fled when confronted by another Earthforce heavy destroyer class ship – of which there weren’t supposed to be any – and the Babylon had been led here. Wherever here was. Colonel – or perhaps Captain – Ben Zayn, of the Ozymandias, had arranged for the Babylon to come here without actually saying where ’here’ was.

And it wasn’t as if Corwin could ask Captain Sheridan for help. A few days before, the Captain had shot and killed his wife Anna, and he was now in seclusion. Corwin supposed the Captain was getting very very drunk, but as long as he knew for certain that Sheridan hadn’t killed himself, then he simply hoped that he would work his way through this soon.

Crisis left little time for grief.

So, with Captain Sheridan hiding away from the world, half of the Babylon’s crew left behind on Proxima – including Security Chief Zack Allan – and Satai Delenn locked up in the Babylon’s brig on Sheridan’s orders, it was Corwin who was left with the task of handling the Babylon’s integration into this new society they found themselves among.

It was a moon, hidden somewhere. The moon had been hollowed out and a massive city had been built there. Corwin had some inkling of who had been behind their rescue – Captain Ben Zayn had been accompanied by a P10 level telepath, and they didn’t just grow on trees. This was Psi Corps, and if this was Psi Corps, then that meant Alfred Bester.

Bester had visited Proxima 3 a few months ago, for the purpose of finding out about humanity’s allies and mind-scanning Satai Delenn. Corwin had been peripherally involved in a plan to stop this. Captain Sheridan had not provided details, but evidently it had worked. Corwin wondered if Bester was the type to hold a grudge. Judging by their rescue it didn’t seem like it, although there were still far too many questions to be answered.

How had Bester known where they would be?

Why had the Shadow ship veered away?

What did Bester want with them?

Where the hell were they?

The fourth question at least could be answered by Michael Garibaldi, Bester’s Liaison and Strategics Officer, or something. He clearly wasn’t a telepath – no gloves and no Psi Corps badge – and he seemed friendly enough, but there was a select list of people Corwin trusted, and that list consisted of Captain Sheridan and no one else.

“So where exactly are we?” he had asked as soon as Mr. Garibaldi had begun a brief tour of the place.

“A secret Psi Corps base not far from Narn space,” came the reply. “The Boss did a deal with some of the Narns. You knows that the Narns don’t have telepaths? Well, at a healthy price, the Boss arranges for them to get some telepaths’ DNA, and so we get to stay here. We get food shipped in, even a few ships. The Narns want telepaths pretty badly, you see. I don’t think any of their experiments are working yet, but, well…”

“Doesn’t that sound sort of… unethical to you?”

“It’s what we have to do to survive. And hey, the Narns are better than the Minbari. Besides, I’m not a telepath, and I doubt any of the Narns will be wanting my DNA, so it doesn’t bother me.”

Corwin had absorbed this information and mentally shrugged. Assuming it was done with the consent of the telepaths in question, then surely it was fine. Besides, what was the price of survival?

“I don’t suppose the Boss told you how he knew where we were?” Corwin asked.

“I can’t tell you that. I’m not authorised for that sort of information, you see. The Boss trusts me to run this place, and the best way to run this place is to make sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to know, and that they all know they’re supposed to know it, and that they don’t know what they’re not supposed to know. So, if I’m not supposed to know something, I make sure I don’t know it. Does that make sense?”

“Ah, yes…” Corwin said, thinking it over for a while. “Sort of. So, what am I supposed to know?”

“I don’t know.”

Corwin blinked, and Garibaldi laughed. It was an infectious laugh, and Corwin found himself joining in. He still didn’t trust this Michael Garibaldi, but he couldn’t help but like him.

“Seriously,” Garibaldi said. “The Boss will want a meeting with you and the Cap later on, and he’ll tell you what it is he wants you to know.”

“And what he wants us to do?”

“Sure. This is a dangerous galaxy out there. He didn’t save you just for the fun of it. He obviously thinks you’re going to be an asset. Or he wants revenge or something. He doesn’t give me all the details, and I don’t ask.” There was a pause, and Corwin looked around. They had ended up in Garibaldi’s office. The office was clearly meant to be functional and efficient, but was in fact a mess. There were papers and flimsies scattered everywhere, some of them obviously star maps of some kind. There were a number of similar charts on the wall, most of which were crooked. Computer screens also shone out at him in every direction. Corwin also saw a picture on Garibaldi’s desk. It had clearly been given pride of place and was of a pretty, dark-haired woman.

“Kinda old-fashioned, I know,” he said, noticing Corwin’s interest in the picture. “It’s my wife, Lianna. She’s seven months pregnant at the moment.”

“Oh,” Corwin said. “Congratulations. Is it your first child?” Polite small talk, but Corwin was genuinely interested. It looked as though he would end up doing a lot of work with Mr. Garibaldi, and it would be beneficial to get to know the man.

“Yeah. I mean, we haven’t been married very long – just two years. We thought, do we really want to bring up a child into a world like this? But, well… we all need something to hope for, something to fight for, I suppose. You married?”

“Me? No.”

“But there is someone special?”

“There… was. She… died.” Not a lie. In a very real sense, the Susan Ivanova he had known was dead.

“Ah, yes. We’ve all lost a lot in this war. The Boss thinks we can make a difference, maybe even end everything, but… I dunno. Life kicks you in the teeth so often, you begin to wonder whether it’s ever worth getting up again, and then you find a reason and everything makes some sort of sense. All the pain, and the dying and the loss. It all works out in the end.”

“You think so?” Corwin asked, remembering the Captain repeating Anna’s name over and over again as he knelt beside her body, remembering his own grief when Susan was gone, remembering… “Yeah,” he said. “I suppose so.”

“So, what’s he like to work with? Captain Sheridan? The Starkiller?”

“He’s… I don’t know how to describe it. He believes we can make a difference. Well, he used to… I don’t know any more.”

Garibaldi shrugged. “We can make a difference. That’s why we’re here.”

“So why are we here? No one does things without a reason. What’s Bester’s?”

“Well, I guess you’ll have to ask him, won’t you? He’ll want to see you and Captain Sheridan later on. If you have a look around the place, and report back to Captain Sheridan, then come and find me whenever you’re ready.”

Garibaldi rose from his seat and offered his hand to Corwin. Corwin looked at Garibaldi for a moment, and then back at the picture of his wife. Slowly, he extended his hand to Garibaldi’s.

The first link had been forged.

* * * * * * *

Politicking was second nature to most Centauri. The nobles played games of power and influence and authority, gambling with lives and fortunes. Many of them, blinkered to everything but their own petty – and not so petty – interests, thought that they were the ones who had invented the Great Game, as some Centauri called it. To them it was all a game, albeit one with high stakes.

They were of course wrong. Nothing where lives hung in the balance could ever be called a game, at least not accurately. They were also not the ones to invent such a game. Billions of years ago a game had begun which was still going on, both players by now tired and far removed from the game’s original aim, but continuing anyway, as if by rote, each one responding automatically to the other’s moves. The Centauri were but pawns in this game, batted from side to side, and at this stage, largely ignored. There were more important and valuable pieces to be manoeuvred.

But even the pawns could make a difference, especially when they became queens. The Centauri would not remain pawns for long. Maybe their current war with the Narns would enable them to rise up and make a difference.

Or maybe it wouldn’t. Nothing is certain.

But while the Centauri nobility played a game of power within the circle of the Greater Game of power, there was a smaller game being played by the Centauri lesser classes. Ignored, scorned, and occasionally sacrificed, they could on occasion make a difference.

As one was now.

Timov, daughter of Alghul, first – and most scathing – wife of Minister Londo Mollari, sat back in her chair, digesting the information she had just received.

“I see,” she said primly. “Thank you. You have been most helpful.”

Her informant muttered something in reply and the comm link went down. Timov stared at it for a moment and sighed. None of this suited her. Politics belonged to Mariel and Daggair – the one using seduction, the other money. Timov really had no patience for this sort of thing.

But still, Centauri Prime was on the verge of exploding into chaos at any time, and she had to admit that her husband – drunken, overambitious and low-minded idiot that he was – represented some form of order. Timov liked order. It made sense, and it let her get on with her favourite pursuit, namely making her husband’s life hell.

It had begun when Timov had grown suspicious of her two companions to Londo’s matrimonial hand. Daggair was spending a lot of time lately with Lady Elrisia. Now, if Londo had been paying more attention to what his wives were doing and less attention to drinking, gambling and utterly awful Minbari poetry, he might have been a little annoyed at his wife spending such time with the only wife of his old enemy, Lord – sorry, she corrected herself – Ambassador Refa. But no, Londo noticed nothing. Presumably he was only too glad that Daggair was nowhere in sight – and who could blame him, Timov thought – but that was no excuse. Mariel, meanwhile, was always up to something, and so Timov had begun to track their movements.

She had very few contacts, but they were all valuable because none of them was nobility. Nobles, in their infinite wisdom, neglected the lower classes to such an extent that they could discover almost anything they wanted, and get away with it.

The latest report had come from a little thing named Adira, a maid in Elrisia’s household. Timov had taken enough time by now to digest it, and there was nothing else to do but tell Londo.

Timov really hated politicking. It was all such a waste of energy.

She found her husband in his study, as usual. Surprisingly he was not drunk – at least, he didn’t look drunk. He was working on various papers, and muttering angrily under his breath. Timov slowly crept up behind him, making as little movement as she could. Londo really should learn to watch his ba…

Londo spun around, holding a marrago sword. He stopped himself in time, but it was still held closely at her throat. She looked at him carefully.

“You can put that away, Londo,” she said, manufacturing a tone of weariness, but secretly enjoying this. Annoying Londo was so much more fun than politics.

“Bah! Timov, never do that again,” he spat.

“Getting a little paranoid, are we? A little… nervous?”

“No. Why should I be?”

Timov thought about bringing up the matter a few weeks ago of the poisoned gas in his carriage, but she decided against it. That was not something she was supposed to know.

“Oh, no reason. A real assassin would have struck from a distance, though, Londo. That… paperknife of yours would have been little defence.”

“It is a marrago, wielded by one of the Cora Predo – the Proud Knives. It was given to me by my good friend – my good, dead friend, Urza Jaddo – when he became First Minister, Timov. Treat it with respect, the same respect you consistently fail to display to me.”

Timov sighed. It was a large knife, that was all. Why did men set such store by lumps of metal? All that talk about honour and duty and duelling societies… all foolishness.

“Did you come by for a reason, Timov? Or were you just planning on annoying me again?”

“Well actually I did have some information that Emperor Marrit is going to announce his engagement to Lady Elrisia within a few days, but if you’d prefer that I kept it to myself… Why, Londo – are you all right? You look quite… upset.”

“Upset!” he roared. “What is that idiot up to now?”

“He is the Emperor you know. He deserves some respect, at least.”

“Then what is His Idiotic Majesty up to now?! He cannot marry her. She is already married, for one thing.”

“The Emperor can dissolve a marriage at any time, Londo. You should know that. You’ve threatened me with it often enough.”

“It’s insane, is what it is.”

“The Emperor is always right, Londo. Is that not so?”

“That… is our tradition, yes. Ah, Great Maker! What have I done to deserve this?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Timov replied. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to call a doctor…?”

“Quite sure, Timov. Now go away and leave me to contemplate this… insanity.”

“Of course, Londo dear. It would be my pleasure.” Timov glided towards the door, slyly watching as Londo rose from his seat and made an immediate beeline for the drinks cabinet. Picking out a bottle of brivare, he poured himself a glass.

“Oh, by the way, Londo,” Timov said. “I also received a message from the Royal Court. They would have told you, but I knew you were far too busy. Lady Morella will be coming here tomorrow. She wishes an audience with you. Londo? Are you sure you’re all right?”

Londo dropped his drink.

* * * * * * *

Almost as long as he could remember, Boggs had wanted to serve Earth. It was the one thing he had to believe in. He certainly couldn’t believe in his mother – an enigma from birth. Not even a name to remember her by. Not that he ever wanted to. He couldn’t believe in his father, either. A failure, never achieving the dreams he wanted, and wallowing in his own self-pity for not trying. Boggs had lived a quiet childhood and, as soon as he was old enough, he joined Earthforce.

He had joined as a Gropo – a Marine, a Ground Pounder. He had obeyed their rules, followed their advice, made all the right choices. He had something to believe in. He believed in Earth. He believed he was doing the right thing. He believed he could make a difference.

And then had come the Minbari.

He had fought them in a number of engagements in the early stages of the war, but none was very serious. Mostly it was a space war, with little ground combat. And mostly, Earth was getting its butt kicked, and hard.

He had been stationed on Io when Earth had been destroyed. He couldn’t leave, as all available ships were being thrown up in a ring around Earth, and so he was left kicking his heels around the spaceport while every living thing on Earth was torn from existence.

He had similarly missed the Battle of Mars. Humanity’s first colony had also been destroyed, but the Minbari had taken some damage, thanks mainly to the heroic – some said suicidal – actions of Captain John Sheridan. Boggs had idolised Sheridan. He was a hero. He fought and killed for Earth. He gave hope to humanity.

Not enough hope, as it turned out.

Io had fallen in a matter of hours, but the colony and spaceport had not been destroyed, but occupied. Why, he didn’t know. Who could fathom the Minbari out? He certainly didn’t know about the discovery of a Shadow vessel under the ground of Mars, or about a similar discovery on Ganymede, and he wouldn’t have cared if he had.

He had fought a holding action in the occupied colony for months, giving ground where he had to, holding it where he could. There were a few of them, all the others Gropos like him. They had all died, only Boggs had managed to escape.

He had made his way, in pain, in grief and in anger, to Orion, and from there to Proxima 3. His knowledge of the Minbari made him valuable to the Resistance Government, but his experiences on Io had made it impossible for him to fight again. He remembered their black robes, and their long metal sticks and their contemptuous, superior gazes… He remembered them all when he woke screaming in the middle of the night.

No, Boggs couldn’t fight again, but there were other jobs, things he could do. None of them felt right. None of them was as important to him as being a Gropo, but at least in the Security Forces he could do something. Mr. Welles seemed to trust him, occasionally giving him important tasks.

One such important task had been the breaking of Satai Delenn. Her resistance to Welles’ questioning and Miss Alexander’s telepathic scans had been too strong, and so Welles had wanted her… hurt a little. Not much, and certainly not fatally, but a little.

He had enjoyed that, but he was always careful not to take it too far. Cutter had done little, and said little, but Boggs remembered every punch and every kick and every voice in his mind that screamed at him to kill her.

And then Satai Delenn had escaped, mysteriously changed – twisted into some perverse semblance of humanity. And even worse… Captain Sheridan had helped her. Boggs had felt his dreams turn to ashes. No one was perfect. Not even a hero like Sheridan. Underneath, everyone was scum.

He had a task to do now. It wasn’t important, and it wasn’t especially enjoyable. Cutter would have enjoyed this. Cutter would really have enjoyed this.

But Cutter was dead, and so Boggs was doing this for him.

He raised his fist and drove it hard into the woman’s stomach. She gasped and fell back against the wall. She was bruised and marked and scratched, and she lay there huddled, trying not to cry, trying simply to breathe.

Sheridan had betrayed him and countless more like him. Sheridan was not here, but Lyta Alexander was. In a similar way, Lyta Alexander had betrayed him as well.

She had been given sleeper drugs to restrain her telepathic powers. It surprised him. He had always seen telepaths in a strange light – half freaks of nature, half mystical gods. It was strange. All it took was a simple injection and they were just normal people. Just scum like everyone else.

She tried to rise, but he kicked her feet out from under her. She fell hard.

“Where…?” she breathed. “Where’s… Marcus?”

Boggs knew about Marcus Cole. Another traitor. Just another traitor on top of so many others, selling out humanity.

“I’ll tell you this,” he rasped. “He’s probably wishing he was where you are right now, that he is.”

Lyta’s eyes widened. He was lying – he did not know where Marcus was – but without her powers, she could not sense much. Just a normal person. Without her power, she was just a normal person.

His next kick broke two ribs.

* * * * * * *

Marcus bowed his head. “Where is she?” he asked again. “Where is she?!”

Susan Ivanova, Shadow agent, Ambassador, humanity’s last, best hope, and Marcus’ captor, simply smiled.

And kissed him again.

* * * * * * *

Corwin walked back to the docking bays of the Babylon in a pensive mood. Very pensive.

After his meeting with Garibaldi, he had wandered around the complex for a while. He had found himself surprised by the number of people there. Most were human, but many were Narns. Since somewhere like this could not remain secret for long with regular visitors coming in and out, they had to live here, which meant they worked for Bester. Scientists, perhaps, working to create Narn telepaths?

He had been hoping for a meeting with Captain Ben Zayn, but he learned from Garibaldi that Ben Zayn and Harriman Gray had gone out on the Ozymandias. Garibaldi would not say why, and he had decided not to ask why a valuable P10 telepath was being sent out on a heavy destroyer class cruiser.

And then he had been linked by Garibaldi. Bester wanted to see him and the Captain in three hours. He had cursed silently and then said they would be there. He just wished he could have more time to talk to the Captain. He hadn’t seen him in almost a day, but he doubted Sheridan would be in any mood for company. When the euphoria of battle ended, he was usually withdrawn and sullen. Combine that with the fact that he had recently killed his wife, and the Captain would not be in the mood for conversation.

Anna had been given a simple funeral. Sheridan hadn’t attended, and hadn’t even mentioned her to Corwin, save for a curt, “Do what you think is best,” when Corwin had brought up the subject.

Lieutenant Stephen Franklin was waiting for him in the docking bays, as he had requested. He greeted the lieutenant with a nod, and then went straight to business. “Did you see him?”

“I tried, sir.”


“He asked who I was, and when I told him he said nothing.”

“He is still in his room, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

Corwin had anticipated this happening. He wasn’t sure if the Captain was drunk or not – after seeing Anna’s alcoholism first hand for so long, he would have thought the Captain would have stayed away from drink, but this was hardly an everyday occasion.

“Commander, I’d like a word with you… in private, if possible.”

Corwin looked around at the largely empty docking bays. The only person in sight was Neeoma Connally, the Starfury pilot who had been docking her ’Fury after a routine patrol when Sheridan and Corwin had taken the Babylon away from Proxima.

“This looks pretty private to me,” he said, walking hurriedly to the exit of the docking bays. “What is it?”

“A few of the people came up to me. They want to know what’s going on.”

Corwin came to a halt, and turned. “Go on,” he said carefully.

“We’ve abandoned Proxima, none of us knows why, or what’s been happening. We hear you and the Captain are up for treason, and then there’s… well…”

Corwin knew what he was getting at. “Go on,” he said darkly.

“There’s her… Why is she still with us? This is about her, isn’t it? She’s one of them, Commander, one of the enemy.”

Corwin raised an eyebrow. This was strange talk coming from someone who had trained as a doctor, someone who had, technically, committed treason by refusing to turn over his medical notes on Minbari biology. But then the Minbari had killed his father, and things changed. War changed many things.

“We’ve all left behind our friends, and what family we have on Proxima, sir. We’ve left them defenceless there. We can’t do that, whatever’s going on between you, the Captain and the Resistance Government.”

“Proxima is hardly alone,” Corwin reminded Franklin. Indeed not. They had the Shadows, didn’t they? They had the… things that had corrupted the Resistance Government.

“It doesn’t feel right, sir. We can’t talk to the Captain about it, so I’m asking you. Please. Talk to the Captain. You can work this out with the Resistance Government, but we can’t abandon Proxima like this. We’ll all be outlaws now unless we go back.”

“I see, lieutenant. Since when did it become your place to say what the Captain should or should not do? Since when did you become an expert on what the Resistance Government will or will not do? And if I could talk to the Captain, then do you think I would have asked you to try and do so? I don’t know much more than you do, but I trust the Captain, and you should

* * * * * * *

Delenn hovered outside Captain Sheridan’s door, hesitating to enter. She remembered the rage in his eyes the last time they had been together. She remembered his angry words.

‘Throw her in the brig! Throw her out of an airlock! Just get her out of my sight!’

She paused, and winced at a sharp pain in her head. She had been experiencing such twinges ever since her premature exit from the chrysalis, but they were getting worse.

She saw Corwin move forward slightly, but then she raised a hand, and he stopped. He had come to her, he had trusted her, Captain Sheridan needed her.

In times of great grief, Minbari often fasted for weeks at a time. Their bodies could handle such starvation. Human bodies could not. But there was another, greater problem, a cancer of the soul. She had to excise it, or it would consume and destroy him.

She nodded briefly. Corwin placed his card in the door and activated the override code. The door opened.

Delenn breathed in harshly and stepped inside.

The door closed after her.

She had been in John’s quarters aboard the Babylon a few times before, although they had never looked so small. Or so dark. Sheridan was sitting on his bed, staring at a glass that was resting on his bedside table. The glass was half full of a dark brown drink. She recognised the smell of alcohol.

“I knew you would come,” he said suddenly. His voice was not angry, or bitter, or hollow, but… resigned. He looked haunted, as if he were reliving that moment over and over again.

“I know the way David thinks, you see. I can’t stay in here forever, and I certainly can’t come out by myself. He can’t talk to me. He can’t shout at me, and swear at me and tell me all the things I need to be told to shake myself out of this. Why? Because I’m the Captain. I outrank him, I’m his superior officer, his… he’s been with me for over ten years, ever since the Battle of Mars. Normal Earthforce promotions and transfers pretty much stopped with the fall of Earth, you see.

“No, David couldn’t come himself, and nor could anyone else. Except for you.

“So, go on. Tell me what you came to say. Try and convince me that it wasn’t my fault. Try and convince me it was an accident. Try and convince me whatever you like.”

Delenn swallowed slowly. Her head was aching again. She slowly knelt down opposite him, but not too far away. She stared at his face. Her vision swam for a moment, but she blinked, and it righted itself.

She absurdly wished she was wearing something else. Her only clothing was the torn medical gown she had been given after emerging from the chrysalis. It did not feel right to her, to wear so little.

“I cannot do that,” she whispered. “Only you can.”

“Of course, that’s right. I’m the one who got myself into this mess. I’m the one who has to get myself out of it. Well, what if I don’t want to? What if I’m just tired of always being the hero, always being the Captain? What if…? Aw hell, what’s the point? What would you know?”

“I learned… the hard way, that power brings with it responsibility. I was given power and I misused it when I began the war with your people. I wish I could take back what I said, and what I did, but I cannot, and so I work towards the future.

“You have a similar responsibility, Jo… Captain.” Calling him by name did not feel right any more. “You cannot abandon them.”

“And what about my responsibility to Anna? I abandoned that easily enough. To love, cherish and honour… for better or worse, for richer or poorer… I abandoned all of them easily enough. What does a little more matter?”

“And you were wrong with Anna, weren’t you?”

“Don’t speak her name again,” he whispered. He had not shouted, not yelled, not even moved, but those five words chilled her to the very bone.

“You…” She hesitated. “You were wrong, though. If we do not learn from our mistakes, then surely we will make them again. Captain, please… your crew needs you… Commander Corwin needs you…”

“You’re a bad liar, Delenn. Only one person has ever needed me, and she’s long dead. My daughter. Elizabeth. The only item of beauty I ever created in my whole life, and she’s gone.”

“Why all this self-pity? You have a destiny, and you have friends. You have… a purpose, a reason for living… If you do not see that, it is because you have taught yourself not to believe it.” Delenn paused, and then smiled slowly.

“Who else could my people call Starkiller?”

Sheridan said nothing. He did not move. He simply stared at his drink.

“Cap… John.” Delenn slowly rose and moved forward. “Your crew needs you. They are afraid, they are disorientated, they are lost. Commander Corwin needs you. I need you.”

He looked up. “You?”

“Yes. I… I have followed prophecy all my life, and it has led me here, to you. I told you once that we believe that groups of souls travel together, reliving the good relationships, and correcting the bad ones. We are linked, John. We are all a part of this universe.”

“How do your people cope with grief?” he said. He didn’t seem to have heard what she had told him, but she knew he had. “How would you cope in a situation like this?”

She knelt down beside him. “We fast, we pray, we meditate, we remember. Often for a period of many weeks. Sometimes, we go insane, as we did when this war began. When I lost Neroon, I immersed myself in the study of prophecy. When I lost Draal, I spent days in meditation, remembering everything about him that I loved. There are no rules to grief, John.”

“I can’t pray, because I don’t have anyone to pray to. I can’t remember, because that would mean simply reliving every mistake I made. I can’t go insane. I did that when Elizabeth died, and when Earth fell. There’s no good down that road.

“And there’s one path left.”

“It may not be the right road.”

“I’ve made plenty of wrong decisions in my life, Delenn. What’s one more?” Hesitantly, slowly, he reached out, and he touched her cheek. She took his hand and looked into his eyes. They were… scarred, by grief, by loss, by anger, by shame… but by determination as well.

The Starkiller was never far from the surface.

She kissed his hand slowly, unsure of what she was feeling. Her body felt so… strange recently, but surely there could be nothing wrong with this happiness? She moved closer to his bed.

He smiled sadly, and rose to his feet. He helped her up, and if she swayed and lost her balance for a moment, and he had to catch her, he made no sign. He helped her balance and then let go of her hand.

“Is David outside?” he asked.

She nodded, unable to speak.

“I suppose he has something important to tell me. I think it’s time to find out what just what we’re doing here, and just what Mr. Bester wants with us.”

Delenn started, recognising the name. Bester had come to Proxima a few months ago, intending to scan her. She had been preparing for her chrysalis at the time, and could not let anyone discover her intentions. And so she had taught Sheridan a number of Minbari meditation techniques which blocked light telepathic scans, enabling him to threaten Bester into leaving her alone. As a short-term measure, it had worked, but she had not envisaged being at Bester’s mercy again, and certainly not in this condition.

“John,” she said softly. “Be careful.”

“I don’t trust Bester one inch, Delenn, but you’ve told me of the responsibilities I have. I know what I’m doing.”

She smiled, and started to reach out to him again. She hesitated, and then stopped. As she had expected, Corwin was waiting outside the door. He gave her a cautious smile, and then nodded at the Captain. Delenn followed John from the room, hoping neither of her companions would notice her discomfort. Her head was aching and all her muscles seemed sore.

Her discomfort increased when Commander Corwin revealed he had been linked a message saying that Bester wanted to see her as well

* * * * * * *

“She is the other half of my soul. Tell her… no, she already knows. If there is any justice, Ta’Lon, then I will meet her again, in a place where no shadows fall.”

Narns did not cry. No one who had survived the Centauri occupation could ever cry again, and Ta’Lon had ceased to show any semblance of grief after his mother had starved to death. He remembered the Centauri, but he could not hate them. He had a greater purpose in mind.

Proxima 3 was still on a war alert. The Minbari could attack at any moment, and their early warning systems gave the humans a bare twelve hours notice. Ta’Lon would have a little more of a warning than that, but G’Kar’s agents on Minbar had reported that he had a few days at most, perhaps a week.

It would of course take him several days to get to Proxima 3. This would be close. Assuming he could escape the Shadow agents there, he would have to leave the place before the Minbari arrived. They would not discriminate, and the fact that he fought the same Enemy that they did would not matter to them.

Nor would the fact that he was bringing the last words of a Minbari warrior to his beloved.

Ta’Lon had heard nothing from G’Kar since before he and Neroon had gone out towards the Rim. He had also heard little from G’Kar’s agent on Proxima in a few days, but that was not surprising. With the whole planet on a war footing, no outside transmissions could be made. Ta’Lon could also not make any communications to G’Kar’s agents elsewhere, as his ship had been damaged in the Shadow attack a few days ago.

Ta’Lon was isolated and alone, but he had a purpose. Somewhere on Proxima was held Satai Delenn, and he had to rescue her before her people arrived.

He had sworn that to Neroon, before the Minbari had died…

* * * * * * *

“We have him here, Excellency.”

Londo looked at the guard escorting him into the cells of the palace, and wondered whose side he was on. He had bribed the guard enough, but still, was someone else paying him more? Londo’s funds were not bottomless.

He had received the message this morning, as he was preparing for Lady Morella’s arrival. The message had been from one of his sources in the Royal Court. It was short and to the point.

‘Lady Morella has been murdered. A prisoner is being held.’

Londo did not know Emperor Turhan’s third widow very well, but he did know that she was a prophetess, a very well-kept secret among the Royal Court. She had been in seclusion since Turhan’s death during the previous war with the Narn, emerging only very rarely. The fact that she wanted to see him had come as a great surprise.

The thought had occurred to him that the whole meeting was a joke arranged by Timov to annoy him, but he had checked with Lady Morella’s valet, and learned that Timov had been telling the truth. The reason why Lady Morella wanted to see him and not been revealed, and now it probably never would be.

The Royal Court, in its traditional manner, was keeping Morella’s death a secret for the moment, but as Londo was acting First Minister in the wake of Urza’s assassination – sorry, accident – he could hardly be kept in the dark about this, especially when he stormed into the Court and demanded to know what was happening. Emperor Marrit and that quadruple-damned Lady Elrisia had tried to play down the affair, but Londo had put on his best loyalty persona and had uncovered the truth.

Lady Morella had been murdered in her bed last night, quite unpleasantly. There had been a lot of blood, and quite some mess. Apparently the serving maid who found the body had fainted with shock, and then conveniently killed herself from grief.

A human had been discovered sneaking around the palace shortly after the discovery and had promptly been arrested and detained. Londo had thought it preferable he meet this human before an accident or suicide befell him also. Murder investigations were always so much simpler when all the suspects were still alive and able to answer questions. It did help quite a bit.

As he walked towards the dungeons, he pondered a few things. Morella had been a seeress, and by all rumour a powerful one. All Centauri had some degree of prophetic ability – notably the ability to see their own deaths. Londo still remembered the vision of his death, being strangled by G’Kar on the steps of the Imperial Throne. Had Morella experienced a similar vision? And if she had, surely she must have made preparations, perhaps left a message?

Or perhaps not. She was a seeress after all, and they tended to be confusing, oracular and ambiguous to a fault. If she had left a message it would probably be something along the lines of ‘the rose blooms best at night’, or similar gibberish. She might as well have been a Vorlon.

He reached the cell which held the human prisoner, and stopped. The guard opened the door, and Londo handed him a purse of ducats. The guard nodded and stepped aside, as Londo entered the cell.

The human did not look in particularly fine form. He had been beaten quite a bit – resisting arrest, as the popular excuse went – and there was fatigue in his bearing. Nevertheless, he stood up as Londo entered.

“Ah,” he said. “You must be Minister Mollari. A pleasure to meet you.”

“And who are you then?” Londo asked.

“Funny. That’s just what I was going to ask you, Minister.”

Londo paused. Perhaps the guards had beaten him a little too badly. He didn’t sound very mentally stable. A pity. These humans could be so fragile at times.

“Oh no,” the prisoner said. “I’m quite sane, believe me.”

“Sane enough to murder a noble lady. Now if it had been Elrisia, that might be understandable, but Lady Morella…”

“I didn’t do it.”

“No, I suppose you were wandering around the Royal Palace for the good of your health, yes? Taking in the water and the sights.”

“Actually I’m here on business. I’m a… trader of sorts.”

“Are you? And what might your name be, Mr. Trader?”

He smiled. “Morden.”

Chapter 2

Alfred Bester subscribed to a great many sayings. He believed in ancient wisdom, and the classic methods of doing things. Efficiency, clear thinking, forward planning and extensive preparations were never old fashioned.

The first rule he held dear was the simplest of all: ‘Know Thine Enemy’.

No one could ever accuse Bester of having small dreams. He wanted everything. Cursed from birth with a useless hand, cursed in adolescence by his lack of height, cursed with an ability that no one understood and everyone feared, Bester had had only his ambition to maintain him. His ambition and his superiority.

Others looked down on telepaths, scorned them, hated them, pushed them aside into a big, black box called Psi Corps and left them to rot there. Bester was not the first to realise the truth about telepaths, but he was one of the first to take advantage of another old saying:

‘One man’s curse is another man’s blessing.’

Telepathy was a gift, not a curse. It was a valuable resource, to be harvested and cropped and protected. Telepaths were the strong, the gifted, the blessed, the inheritors of the future. And he would be their harvester.

Bester’s own powers of telepathy had been strong, very strong. Rated at P12, he was quickly inducted into the Psi Cops, the best of the best. He soon grasped at the power – both personal and political – such a position gave him. So what if he was still not free, and so what if he had to marry whoever the Corps told him to, and follow the Corps’ rules? He was patient. He could wait.

And with the Corps gone, he was now the sole inheritor of all their knowledge and power, all of it invested here, in the place simply called Sanctuary.

He alone knew the secrets that were supposed to have died with the Corps. He knew of the Lazarus Project, and the Control Programme. He knew the secrets of Bureau 13, and the Star Chamber, and Interplanetary Expeditions.

There was yet another saying: ‘Knowledge is Power’.

Bester was not much of a military man. He preferred to operate behind the scenes and let other people’s hands get dirty. Events would force him to change that stance soon enough, but he would be ready when they did. Meanwhile, he was content to sit back, and wait and learn, and amass knowledge. Although military matters were not his forte, he had read the words of Sun Tzu, acknowledged greatest strategist of all time. There was one very valid piece of advice in those words.

‘He who knows neither his enemy nor himself will not win in a hundred battles. He who knows himself but not his enemy will only win fifty of those battles. He who knows both his enemy and himself will not lose in a hundred battles.’

Bester intended never to lose even once, but he also knew that sometimes a loss was merely victory in other clothes.

He looked up, feeling the emotions of the four people outside his door, and he smiled. Most telepaths needed line of sight to make a scan, and so did he, but he could still pick up the background hum of stray thoughts even through a door, or a wall.

There was Michael Garibaldi, as loyal and as fearless as ever. Bester wondered how his wife Lianna was doing. There should only be a few months of her pregnancy left by now.

There was Commander David Corwin, loyal and… Bester sighed. That was annoying. He was practising those strange techniques to block telepathic scans. They seemed Minbari in nature, and that was not very surprising, really. Another telepath might be confused, but to Bester it was as effective as a paper wall would be against a battering ram. Still, it was annoying.

Then there was Satai Delenn. Her own mental walls were much weaker, which was surprising. He could sense a residual undercurrent of pain. Yes, he’d been expecting that. The sooner he had details of the exact nature of her change, the better.

And then there was Captain John Sheridan, the Starkiller.

“Door,” he said, and it opened. Garibaldi was the first in, of course, but behind him was…

“Captain Sheridan,” Bester said. “It is good to see you again. I’ve been… looking forward to another meeting for quite some time now.”

* * * * * * *

“Where… is… she?”

Susan Ivanova sighed, and sat back. Marcus had grown very repetitive lately. It was annoying.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you it wasn’t polite to talk about another woman when you’re with someone?”

He was angry, but he couldn’t do anything about it. Oh, he could have attacked her, but that wouldn’t have done either of them any good. It wouldn’t have got him any nearer to finding his beloved telepath, and she would have hated to have damaged him at all.

Besides, he wouldn’t attack her. He couldn’t bring himself to hurt a woman. In some ways Marcus was like a knight of old – pure, noble, kind, virtuous…

Susan poured herself a drink of some revolting Narn liquor and drained it in one. She knew better than to offer Marcus any. She could tell from the look in his eyes of the way he had come to depend on alcohol. It had taken a great deal to shake him free.

Susan hated Narn drinks, but they were the only things around and she needed something. She’d never told this to anyone before. She’d tried to avoid admitting it to herself, but she had to try… Marcus represented everything she’d ever let herself hope for, and she wasn’t going to lose him to Psi Corps the way she had everything else.

“Did you ever see many telepaths on your home colony?” she asked. “Any Psi Corps representatives? Anything like that?”

“Where is Lyta? Where is Captain Sheridan? Where…?”

“Marcus. Trust me. Please? I’ll tell you everything you need to know, but first just… please listen to me.” This was going to get harder and harder. She swallowed harshly and turned away, anything rather than look at him while she was saying this. She didn’t want him to see her this scared.

The Shadows were not happy at her wasting time like this. She had had quite an argument convincing them of the point of this. It could be possible to bring him over to their side voluntarily. Without having to use a Keeper, without mind control, or being placed in a ship. And if they could manage this with him, then surely they could manage it with anyone.

They didn’t quite believe her, and they certainly knew about her ulterior motives, but they didn’t seem to mind. She wondered what they thought about, what they would die for, if they even knew the meaning of the word love. She wondered what they wanted.


“I… yes. A few commercial telepaths, that’s all. We had a Psi Cop visit once, when I was little. We never paid them much attention. Why?”

“We had the Psi Corps everywhere. I was born in the Russian consortium, out in the country a bit, but not exactly the wilderness. We saw telepaths wandering through from time to time. Business deals, that sort of thing.”

She closed her eyes tightly, welcoming the darkness she saw.

“My mother was a telepath. Potentially, she was of average strength, I suppose, but she was never trained. She couldn’t do much. She wasn’t a threat to anyone. The only person she could ever read was me. I suppose she could read my father and my brother Ganya as well, but it was mostly just me.

“Psi Corps came for her one day, on her thirty-fifth birthday. She didn’t have much choice. Go to prison, join the Corps or take certain drugs. She had a young family. She didn’t want to leave us, so she took the drugs, and they killed her. One bit at a time. Eventually she killed herself, but that wasn’t when she died. She’d been dead for a long time before then, dead where it counted.

“She told me something, just before she died. Three words. Tell no one. And I haven’t. I’ve kept this a secret for so long, always moving around, hiding, changing schools. Always new faces, new surroundings, a new name. That’s why I don’t have an accent, in case you were wondering. I never spent enough time in one place to develop one.

“My father knew what I was, but he didn’t seem to believe it. He certainly never mentioned it, and he died a little, after Mama died. He never had much love for me, and he had even less afterwards. He died on Earth. Ganya… I don’t think he knew, although if he had, he wouldn’t have said anything. He died a few months before the Line.

“No one human knows this, Marcus. No one. But I have to tell you, because… because you have to see what I am, what I want…

“I’m a telepath. Not very powerful, and I’ve never been trained. The only person I could ever touch was my mother, but that’s enough for Psi Corps. That’s why I always moved, in case Psi Corps caught up with me. They’d catch me, and they’d do to me what they did to my mother.

“Psi Corps was pretty much destroyed with Earth, but there’s still a few of them left. You remember Bester, don’t you? He’s still around, and of course there’s your Lyta. There’s enough of them to pose a threat, and if anyone had ever found out what I was, then they’d have taken me. They’d have had to. Lyta is one of the only telepaths of any power here. The Resistance Government is always looking for more resources, more weapons, more anything of value. More telepaths.

“They’d have given me to what was left of the Corps, and there’d be nothing I could do about it.

“Until I met the Shadows. They asked me what I wanted, the same question I asked Captain Sheridan. My answer… I wanted to be safe. I wanted to be able to stop running. I didn’t want to be afraid any more!

“And now I’m not. I’m not afraid, or ashamed, of what I am. The Shadows… never mind what anyone’s told you, they aren’t our enemies. What have they done for you to oppose them so much? All they want to do is help us. They want us to take back our place in the galaxy. All of us, the whole human race has been living in fear for fifteen years! Thanks to the Shadows, we don’t have to be afraid any more.

“They want to help us, Marcus, and everything I’ve done since I came here, has been to help humanity. You… the Shadows didn’t understand you. They’d have killed you, but I couldn’t let that happen.

“Marcus, I can help you. All you have to do is believe me. I don’t want to hurt you.

“Marcus, what do you want?”

She could see the lights gleaming in his eyes. She could feel the memories burning in the back of his mind. She could practically… touch him.

No! She drew back, terrified. She’d only ever been able to touch her mother. The Shadows had tried to augment her powers, but they’d only succeeded peripherally. She still couldn’t do much. Her children might be more powerful, but for the moment, no.

But, she had found herself able to reach out and touch Marcus’ mind. But she had pulled back. To invade his thoughts without his permission… that would be a violation, that would be as terrible as anything Psi Corps had done to her.

“Why did they destroy my home?” Marcus asked. “If all they want to do is help, then why did they kill everyone I ever cared for?” She could feel his bitterness, his anger. It had been festering within him for almost a year now.

Damn you, John! she thought. Why did you have to make him part of your little war?

“That was… an accident. The Shadows seeded one of their ships there a long time ago, before it was ever colonised. They didn’t… mean to kill anyone, but they had to retrieve their ship. They’re… sorry.”

“An accident?” he said hollowly. “Just… an accident. Delenn said that the war began because of an accident. Does that excuse what the Minbari have done?”

“No, but… we’re trying to help, Marcus. My friends… they helped me, and they can help you. All you have to do is let them. Please! You don’t have to fight them. What do you want, Marcus? Just tell me and you can have it.”

“I want to know where Lyta is.”

Susan started, as if she had been struck. She almost fell, but she managed to catch herself in time. She could only stare at him, wondering what might have been if only things had been different.

Psi Corps had taken everything from her. Had they taken this as well?

Her link activated, and she raised it slowly, still looking at Marcus.

“Yes?” she said.

“Ambassador Ivanova.” It was General Hague. “I would like to see you as soon as possible. We’re picking up some disturbing reports about Minbari activity.”

“I… yes. I’ll be there now.” She turned off her link and looked at Marcus.

“Please. Think about what I said.” She went to the door. “And don’t do anything stupid. The Shadows here have eyes.”

She left.

* * * * * * *

“So then, Mr. Morden, is there any chance you can explain just what you are doing here?”

Londo studied the human before him carefully. Morden – if that was his real name – looked… normal. A little too normal. Londo’s experience with humans had not been extensive, but he had spent some time in the last year sparring with the Resistance Government at Proxima 3 – setting up a peace accord that his dear friend Lord Refa had just blown completely out of the sky – and he had learned to read the species. Their politics were not as subtle or as sophisticated as the Centauri’s, but they still posed their own problems to one unaware of human customs.

Morden was simply dressed, all in black. His clothes were torn – the guard had mentioned something about his being roughed up a little – and he was marked with bruises and scratches. There was fatigue in his bearing, but he bore his injuries as if they were irrelevant. Just a minor annoyance.

“I… had a meeting,” he said, smiling slightly. It was a very personal smile, one that indicated that whatever he was smiling about had nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else.

“With whom exactly?”

“Oh, no one special. You know how it is, Minister.”

“Mr. Morden, what I do know is that you are in very serious trouble. You have been accused of murdering a lady of this court – our Emperor’s mother, no less. If you cannot be considerably more straightforward with me than you are now, I fear your remaining life will be uncomfortable, unpleasant and short.”

“Did you happen to hear of any evidence against me?”

Londo was tired. He had been tired for the best part of three or four years, ever since he had met G’Kar and been inducted into the little conspiracy the Narn was forming. It had been on G’Kar’s advice that he had directed foreign policy and the attempted peace accord with the humans. He had helped G’Kar and jeopardised his future and his career in doing so. He was also embroiled in a power struggle that looked set to explode into civil war at any moment. He was married to three of the most… annoying ladies millennia of Centauri breeding had managed to produce. And on top of that, he had been called for a meeting with Lady Morella, Emperor Turhan’s third wife, and prophetess, only to find that she had been murdered.

He was not having a good life.

“Mr. Morden! You are accused of murdering a Centauri lady, a prominent member of the Royal Court. You are an alien here. Evidence has got nothing to do with it.”

“I didn’t do it.”

“And I am sure that will make a lot of difference to your corpse, Mr. Morden. Maybe you are guilty, and maybe you are not, but the point is that I cannot find out which one is true unless you deign to provide me with some answers. Why are you on Centauri Prime?”

“I’m a trader. I had some archaeological goods to sell.”

“And where did you sell them?”

“Oh. Here and there.”

“Mr. Morden! Do you comprehend the severity of your situation here?”

“My apologies, Minister.” Morden smiled again and bowed mockingly. “It won’t happen again. To answer your question, I sold a number of ancient Centauri artefacts to a Lady Drusella, and a handful more at a select auction.”

“Lady Drusella?” Londo knew of her. She was married to Lord Marrago, a high ranking military governor during the war with the Narn. He had ruled several colonies taken in the early stages of the last war. He had a daughter, did he not? Ah, what was her name? A pretty little thing, vacant and mindless? Read too much poetry?

“Bah!” he snapped. It had escaped him. He must be getting old. He was losing his memory. Lord Marrago had never shown much of an inclination for power games on Centauri Prime. He was always far more content ruling his captured colonies. Lady Drusella was not particularly important, either, but an appearance of unimportance was the perfect disguise… Had she arranged Lady Morella’s murder?

Or was Londo just becoming very paranoid?

“And where exactly did you uncover these artefacts? I doubt they came from Proxima Three.” The humans’ last colony was quite a way from Centauri space.

“No, actually. I’ve been… out of circulation there for a while. I’ve been doing some exploration out on the Rim.”

“Oh? Did you discover anything interesting? Apart from these artefacts?”

He hesitated, as if evaluating an answer. Then he smiled. “Yes.”

Londo groaned. “And why were you here in the Royal Palace last night?”

Why was he bothering? Why couldn’t he be in bed right now? Or better yet, in a gambling hall, with a pretty lady in one arm, and a pair of charmed dice in the other?

Why? Because he had fought hard for the good of his people, because he believed in the good old days of Centauri power, and he believed that they could come about again. Because he believed that his people deserved better, and more. Because he believed, full stop.

And because he was not going to let anyone return the Centauri to what they had been before the war – decadent, pitied, insular, shallow and pathetic. Neither Narn, nor human, nor Centauri, nor Minbari, nor Vorlon. No one.

“I had a meeting. With Lady Morella. She was… interested in the artefacts I was selling and she wanted to arrange for first refusal when I returned.”

“That is a lie, Mr. Morden. That last part certainly.”

“Ah,” he said. “Yes, you’re right.” He paused, and Londo could feel the human’s eyes concentrating on him. “Were you making a point?”

“Double bah! This is pathetic. I do not care whether you are guilty or innocent, Mr. Morden. I do not care if you are executed and your head stuck on a pike. I only care that, if you are innocent, the real murderer remains at large, and threatens what I have built here. That I will not let happen, Mr. Morden. I will give you a while to… consider your situation here. I will return later. For your sake, be a little more co-operative than you are at present.”

Londo banged on the door, and stormed away. He was developing a headache, uncomfortably like a hangover, except without all the fun that would precede it. He was tired, he was irritable and he wanted a drink.

He did not want a run-in with that multi-damned harridan Lady Elrisia and that drooling imbecile Cartagia. But still, what he wanted rarely mattered in the great scheme of things.

And Morden, what did he want? Perhaps if anyone had been able to listen in to him in his cell, they would have uncovered something interesting…

“So, now that I’m in this mess, did you have any plans for getting me out of it? Oh, thank you very much, but it’s easy enough for you to say that. I’m quite attached to my head, you know. I like it on my neck, and not on a Centauri pike.

“Ah. Yes. I hadn’t thought of that. You might just have a point.”

But as no one was listening, the one-sided conversation went unheeded. A pity, really.

* * * * * * *

“My commiserations on your recent loss, Captain. I know what it is like to lose someone you love. You have my sincere sympathy.”

Sheridan looked at Bester, narrowing his eyes. He couldn’t tell if the Psi Cop was being serious or not. Either way, he wondered how Bester had heard about Anna’s death – or were Delenn’s telepathic safeguards not working?

“No,” Bester provided. “They are not, but do not worry. They weren’t last time either. Against another telepath, perhaps… but not me.” Sheridan started, and shot a glare at Garibaldi, who shrugged.

“There, Captain, now that both our secrets are laid bare, perhaps we can talk business. Oh, one more truth first of all. My visit to Proxima Three was not all I might have made it out to be. I had been hearing a great deal about humanity’s new allies, and I was… intrigued. I had also been hearing a great deal about you. My main intention in visiting Proxima was to scan you, and ascertain if what I had heard was correct.”

Sheridan didn’t like being made a fool of. “Who did you hear these things from?”

Bester smiled. “Please, Captain, allow me some little secrets. I have no wish to jeopardise certain… individuals who are better off remaining nameless at the moment.”

“Then you were not interested in me,” Delenn said. Sheridan could see Bester’s careful gaze on her. He wondered if he was scanning her.

“Oh yes, but as an… interesting aside, that is all. The fact that I could not get close enough to scan you was an… annoyance, but that is all. Sooner or later, everything comes to me.”

“‘All things come to him who waits’,” Sheridan quoted.

“Exactly, Captain Sheridan. You are exactly correct. I had also better point out that I feel no animosity towards you for your… treatment of me. I admire someone who feels such loyalty towards his companions. It bodes well for your future.

“And now to the conditions under which you are here, Captain. You will work for me. I have one very capable and adept captain in Ben Zayn, but a gift such as yours cannot be wasted. There will be certain… activities which will need to be carried out… from time to time, and if Ben Zayn is not available, or if I feel you are better suited to them, then I will ask you to perform them for me.

“In exchange I will give you and whichever members of your crew you feel most capable a place here in Sanctuary. I will protect you from the considerable ire of the Resistance Government at Proxima Three, and I will give you a chance better to serve humanity.

“We both know that those in power in Proxima are drifting away from the lofty ideals of the Earth Alliance, Captain. The urge to survive is all well and good, but there are always limits, and some in Proxima have crossed over those limits by quite a way. Perhaps we here can help humanity return to the ideals of the Earth Alliance, and perhaps not, but we can at least try.”

“There are innocents at Proxima,” Sheridan said coolly. “People who haven’t been touched by… people who still believe in the ideals. You can’t abandon them.”

“I have no intention of abandoning anyone, Captain. The Babylon will be returned to Proxima, with a few members of my staff to pilot it. As a last line of defence it is not up to much, but it is better than nothing. We have a much better ship in store for you, Captain. She is called the Parmenion. She is newer, faster and stronger than anything else we have at the moment. Captain Ben Zayn was offered first choice, but he is somewhat attached to his Ozymandias, and so we will give the Parmenion to you and Commander Corwin. Mr. Garibaldi will be able to escort you to the ship and put you in contact with its current third in command, Major Krantz.”

“And what about Delenn?” Sheridan asked. He could feel her looking at him, and he gently reached out his hand, brushing his fingers against her palm. She gripped his hand tightly.

“She is a valuable resource, Captain, but I have no intention of treating her as badly as did the Resistance Government. She may stay with you on the Parmenion if she wishes, or she may stay here. If I can assemble some kind of communication with the Minbari, then she may be able to function as Ambassador.

“I would however request that my Chief Medical Officer has a look at her, so that we can determine the effects of the change.”

“Dr. Kyle on the Babylon has already done that.”

“And he is free to share his findings with our Dr. Hobbs. Satai Delenn, I hope you will consent to this?”

And what if she doesn’t? Sheridan thought blackly, but there was no need for him to worry.

“I will be… happy to help in any way I can,” she said. She gripped his hand tighter.

“Good. Very well, Captain, Commander. That will be all. Oh, except for one thing. I gather you had a reputation on Proxima as something of a… what is the phrase…? ’loose cannon’. I accept that you are very skilled in strategy and leadership, Captain, and I will give you the freedom to obey my orders in whatever way you see fit, but let me make this very clear.

“You will follow my instructions, Captain. You will not deviate from them, you will not abandon them. The future of the whole galaxy may rest on the events of the next few years, and I will not allow anyone to threaten that future. Any transgressions, and I assure you you will regret them. Never forget who I am or what I can do.

“Good day, Captain. Commander. Satai.”

* * * * * * *

Mr. Welles had known Lyta Alexander for several years now. He had found her to be a valuable asset, if a little irresponsible in the use of her powers at times. He knew her to be competent, professional and adept in the use of her abilities.

Bruised, scarred, battered and scared were new descriptions, although he couldn’t say she hadn’t deserved it. Boggs had been a little extreme, but the man had just lost one of his best friends, so a little licence was in order. Besides, as far as Welles was concerned, she had done nothing to cause sympathy.

“I am very disappointed,” he said, as he sat down. She looked at him. One of her eyes was puffy and bloodshot. “Very disappointed. Just one question. Why?”

She swallowed and winced. “Where… is… Marcus?”

“The sleepers should be at full effect by now,” Welles said idly. “I’m not a telepath myself, but I have studied the use and results of these drugs. A telepath’s abilities are integral to his or her existence. They make you special, make you different, make you important. Take these gifts away, and you’re just like everyone else. The psychological damage must be quite severe. Like an artist who loses the use of her hands, or a musician who becomes deaf, or a soldier who becomes crippled. It takes away not just what you do, but who you are, what makes you unique and special.

“You have a rare gift, Miss Alexander. One in every ten thousand people is a telepath, is it not? Take away those whose abilities are almost useless, and you are in a very select group of people. And yet you misuse your talents. First for your own personal pleasure, as if the minds of others are your own private playground, and now, you use your power to betray your people.

“At least you have not tried to deny it. Mr. Allan has provided us with all the details. He has also been a source of knowledge about what happened on board the Babylon. He is holding some things back of course. People always do. But what he has told us so far is true. I hear so many lies that I recognise the truth when I hear it.

“And so, Miss Alexander, I have just one question. I know what you have done. I know how you have done it. I think I know why, but I just want to hear it from your lips.


“Where… is… Marcus?”

Welles steepled his fingers together and looked at her over the top of them. She did look a pitiful figure, and he would rather not have been here at all. No, he was certain that the true knowledge he sought could be found within the mind of the very Marcus Miss Alexander was asking about, but he was… off limits. Someone else had an interest in him, and so Welles was here.

Perhaps Boggs had been too hard, after all. Welles would liked to have supervised the affair, but he had been afraid. When he had discovered Cutter’s body he had lost control. He had come within an inch of killing Delenn. He had learned something very unpleasant about himself then, and he was afraid of losing control again.

There were always other ways to deal with problems than simple violence.

“I studied as a psychologist once, you know,” he said conversationally. “I learned what makes people tick. Their past, their present, their childhood, their wishes, dreams, aspirations. Then came the war however, and I felt another calling. I have certain unique abilities, every bit as unique and precious as yours, and I have put them to use serving my people.

“I think I know why you helped her escape. I think it is because you have no identity of your own. I may have been reckless in allowing you to form such a bond with Satai Delenn during my interrogation of her. You latched on to whatever connection you formed with her. You… welcomed it, you even came to need it.

“I can understand the allure. Exotic, strange, alien, fascinating, beautiful… yes, some regard the Minbari as beautiful. But as I told you, I am a psychologist. I dig beneath the surface, and what I have seen beneath the surface of the Minbari is a race filled with pride and arrogance and delusions of their own superiority. Yes, they are powerful, but they have no idea of what to do with that power. They waste it, they abuse it… they are content to wait, passing away their days convinced in their own power, and if anyone dares challenge them – like us – then they respond with bloody, terrible force.

“That is the race you idolise, Miss Alexander! And that is the race you have helped! Never forget what they did to Earth! And don’t try and tell me that you have not lost someone you loved to them, because that would be a lie, and we both know it.

“You are of no value here. The only thing that makes you special is your gifts, and those you have misused.

“But perhaps, there is a use for you. The people, the ones you doubtless never see with your gloves and your badge and your insignia and your pride… the people are angry and scared and worried. They want a scapegoat, an offering if you will. Something to appease the gods before the Minbari arrive.

“Satai Delenn was to be that offering, but she is gone, and so there will have to be a replacement. The Resistance Government will offer you.

“We will not meet again, Miss Alexander. Rest well, and have pleasant dreams.”

Welles rose to his feet and headed for the door. He had nearly lost control for a moment, but he had managed to rein himself in. He was breathing rapidly now, anxious to be out of here. He needed to rest, needed to think, needed to control himself.

“I… I…” Miss Alexander was trying to speak. Welles turned, and listened. “I… was right… I know… I was… right.”

“Then you know nothing at all. Good day, Miss Alexander.”

Welles left, and closed the door.

* * * * * * *

“Ah, Lady Elrisia. A pleasure as always.” Londo inclined his head in a gesture of greeting – several inches short of what would be considered polite. Lady Elrisia might have a great deal of power – she was the caretaker of the entirety of Lord Refa’s estates in his, hopefully very long, absence – but that did not mean Londo had to respect her.

In a society where marriage for love was considered radical, dangerous and foolish, few marriages ended up happily, unless the participants were lucky. Londo had been anything but. Timov loathed him, Daggair was only using him for her social climbing and Mariel… the less said about her the better. He was however lucky in one respect. It had been Refa, not he, who had married the fair Lady Elrisia.

Physically, she was very beautiful, he had to admit. Even if it was the sort of beauty that came from jars and took several hours in the morning to arrange. And Elrisia was very shrewd, very intelligent and very ambitious. Good qualities in a man, very very bad qualities in a woman, especially one whose only real purpose was to continue the noble line, and look pretty, or upon occasion join two Houses. Intelligence did not enter into it.

Elrisia had satisfied the succession side of things – she and Refa had a son, who was currently parading around in the military, hoping to impress the Narns with his dress sense, no doubt. Elrisia had provided an impressive alliance between two Houses, so that part was done. And she had attended plenty of affairs and parties looking pretty. That should be enough for any woman, but noooo. She had to want more.

“Minister Mollari,” she said. “We were not expecting you in the Royal Court this morning. What brings you this far from your estates?”

“A… little business is all. Nothing important.”

“Is it connected to Lady Morella’s murder? A horrible business that. I hear the murderer is in custody?”

“A… suspect is in custody, Lady. His guilt has not yet been determined.”

“Oh really? Well, we have ways of determining guilt, don’t we, my dear?” She smiled at her companion.

Londo had met Cartagia a few times. Nephew of the late Emperor Turhan, Cartagia was peripherally connected to the royal line, and therefore bore watching. He was not an impressive addition to it, it had to be said. Londo half wondered whether he was still drooling – a habit from his childhood.

“Absolutely,” Cartagia said. “We can rustle up a few of the palace torturers… sorry… pain technicians. Pain technicians? I mean what sort of a stupid name is that? Really! You wouldn’t have thought the name would matter, would you, but nooooo, they’re all organised, and insist they’re called pain technicians. I don’t know. Anyway, we can soon sort this out.”

“Torture would be… ill–advised at present, lord.”

“Are you denying me my fun, Mollari? That’s not very pleasant of you, is it?”

“Shut up, dear,” Elrisia said calmly. Londo had never seen a member of Centauri royalty sulk before. It was quite an entertaining experience.

“My congratulations on your recent engagement,” Londo said. “Where is our Emperor anyway?”

“Resting. He had quite an… energetic night. He will be up in time for his audience with the Centarum. There is the matter of choosing a replacement for poor Urza, for one thing.”

“Yes,” Londo said, trying not to grit his teeth together. ’Poor Urza’ had been a friend. A good friend, and if his death had been an accident, then Londo was a Jovian treeworm.

“The Emperor and I have felt that you are overburdened in your current duties, Londo,” Elrisia said. “You have performed such sterling work that it didn’t seem right burdening you with more responsibilities when you should be resting. You are not as young as you once were.”

“My… duties to my people keep me young, my lady. Who… who will you recommend to the Centarum?”

“Oh, Lord Jarno has done wonderful work lately. He deserves some recognition, don’t you think?”

“Of course, my lady. You are quite right.” Lord Jarno? The man was an idiot! Londo remembered a speech he had given to the Centarum once. Afterwards, everyone had unanimously voted that he be sterilised in the best interests of the species. Of course, he was married to Lady Jarno, which amounted to the same thing really.

Lord Jarno was also known to gamble a little. No, he was known to gamble a lot. So did Londo, of course, but at least he knew when to quit. Lord Jarno didn’t, and as a result owed quite a sum to, of all people, Lord Refa. Under Centauri law, Refa – or the holder of his estates, Lady Elrisia – would be perfectly entitled to seize Jarno’s holdings as part payment of the debt. That would make him easily malleable, no?

“A fine choice,” Londo agreed. He had his own suspicions about recent ’accidental’ deaths on Centauri Prime, and his own suspicions about who was behind them. He was also far too old to be dodging assassination attempts all the time.

“We’re very glad you approve, Londo. I am sorry, but I think it is time I went and woke the Emperor up. Good day, Londo.”

“My lady. Prince Cartagia.” They departed, and Londo was left to mutter angrily to himself. Women in politics! Bah! Next thing she would want to be Emperor!

He badly needed a rest. And a drink. And a game of cards. And…

* * * * * * *

Traffic in to Proxima 3 was very rare these days. The whole colony was under tight control. With the arrival of the Minbari anticipated at any moment, few wanted to go there anyway. Especially not the Narns.

The Kha’Ri had officially refused any help to Proxima – ostensibly for reasons to do with their current, and rather uneventful, war with the Centauri. In fact, the Kha’Ri recognised a losing cause when they saw one, and were more than capable of thinking up ways to destroy their own ships without throwing them in front of a very angry Minbari armada. And for those members of the Kha’Ri – such as Councillor Na’Toth – who were aware of certain… deeper matters at work, helping a colony they might well end up having to fight at a future date did not make a great deal of sense. Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar’s opinions on the matter were not recorded, but Ta’Lon knew that G’Kar would help if he could.

Who he would help was anyone’s guess.

Ta’Lon would doubtless find it difficult to get into Proxima 3, especially as, if his estimates and information were correct, he would be arriving only a few hours before the Minbari. While the Resistance Government might be quite happy at the arrival of another ship, Ta’Lon would have little time to do what he needed to do.

He had been out of contact with most of G’Kar’s agents for some time. Epsilon 3 had been silent, the Centauri aide with access to the Grey Council provided what little he could, and the agents among the Non-Aligned Worlds knew little of importance outside their own little areas.

As such Ta’Lon knew nothing about recent events on Proxima. He did not know about Satai Delenn’s transformation and escape. He did not know of Captain Sheridan’s defection. He did not know just how deeply the Resistance Government had given itself over to the Darkness.

What he did know was that he had a duty to his friend, to pass on one last message to his beloved. Neroon had met a warrior’s end, a fitting death, and so Ta’Lon was left with his legacy.

And so he came to Proxima… a world of darkness and deep night.

* * * * * * *

Corwin was impressed by the Parmenion. As he and the Captain were shown around by Major Krantz, he took special notice of the ship’s unique features.

It was a heavy class destroyer ship, a similar type to the Babylon. The Babylon, however, had undergone so many upgrades, conversions and last minute botch-job repairs over the years that it was, quite literally, in a class of its own. The Parmenion was newer, cleaner, fitter and far readier.

“The crew have been trained and drilled extensively,” Krantz was saying. “They’re looking forward to meeting you. They’re the best Mr. Bester can find. Some of them are… soldiers of fortune of a sort…”

“You mean mercenaries,” Corwin provided darkly.

“They fight for us. They fight for Mr. Bester. What does it matter how much they’re being paid? Most of the crew is human, but there are a few aliens – Narns mainly. Some secret elements in the Narn military have been working quite closely with Mr. Bester. Some of the Kha’Ri are quite interested in his work here in Sanctuary and have been funding our activities.”

“How come Proxima’s never heard about any of this?” Corwin asked.

“They have. A little, anyway. Mr. Bester has lent them support from time to time. They just don’t know the specifics, that’s all. We’ll operate more in the open when the right time comes. A few members of the Non-Aligned Worlds know about us. We’ve been having a few skirmishes lately with a race called the Streibs. Not very nice people at all.

“You’ll have a chance to meet the bridge crew soon enough, but there’s someone special you ought to meet first.”

Krantz stopped at a door, and activated the bell. A few moments later it opened, and a very young woman stepped out. Corwin blinked and then looked at her. She was wearing typical Psi Corps clothing – dark and utilitarian, with black gloves and the Psi Corps insignia. She couldn’t have been much more than sixteen.

“Alisa Beldon,” she said, introducing herself. “Telepath rating P eight. So far. Primary telepath aboard the Parmenion.”

Corwin shook her hand and introduced himself. The Captain did likewise.

“I’m glad to have met you, Captain Sheridan,” she said. “I remember hearing the news about the Black Star. I was only seven at the time, but I remember the partying and…”

“You’re making me feel old,” Sheridan grumbled. Corwin couldn’t help but smile. He’d been fifteen during the Black Star victory.

“Will you be at the bridge later?” the Captain asked. “I have a speech I’d like to give.”

“Of course, Captain.” She smiled again, and bowed, both at the Captain and Corwin. Corwin caught a hint of a dazzling smile, and then the door closed and he looked back at Major Krantz.

“What’s a telepath doing on a ship like this?”

“All of the ships here at Sanctuary have at least one telepath on board. You never know where they might come in useful.”

“I wouldn’t have thought Bester would place his telepaths in danger like that. And isn’t she a little young for a P eight?”

“There were certain… experiments carried out on a lot of early adolescents. It heightened and accelerated their abilities. Telepaths are a valuable resource after all, and the art of leadership is appropriate use of your resources. Wouldn’t you say, Captain?”

“Hmmm? Oh yes. Quite right.”

“Sir?” Corwin asked. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. Just… going over my good luck speech.”

“Your what?”

“My good luck speech. It’s a… personal tradition. I give a good luck speech within twenty-four hours of taking on a new command. With everything that’s been happening lately I think I deserve the luxury of at least one old habit.”

“I never heard about a good luck speech.”

“Well, I’ve been on the Babylon for so long that I’ve never needed to do one. I just… I don’t know. I just need some sort of link to the past.”

“Oh. Well. I’m looking forward to hearing it.”

“I wouldn’t look so smug, Commander,” Krantz said. “The crew will probably want a few words from you as well.”

“Me? But that’s… that’s… I’m no orator. I just… ah…”

“Don’t worry, David,” the Captain chuckled. “It’s not as hard as it looks. Assuming I get this bit. Damn! I’ve got out of practice in giving it.”

“Don’t worry, sir,” Krantz said. “You’ve got at least an hour or two to remember.”

* * * * * * *

If anyone had walked into the Royal Court at that moment, they would doubtless have been outraged to see Lady Elrisia reclining on the Imperial Throne itself. The Throne was for the Emperor only. Oh, sometimes his First Minister sat there while receiving audience when the Emperor was away, or busy, but still… there were matters of protocol to consider. None of Emperor Turhan’s wives had ever so much as contemplated sitting on the Imperial Throne. (Well except for his first wife in that unfortunate incident with the Drazi Ambassador and the ’live’ banquet – apparently caused by the overuse of the colour purple in the decorations.)

Lady Elrisia clearly had no such compunctions. As far as she was concerned, she could sit wherever she liked. The future Empress could do whatever she liked.

Officially speaking, there was no title of Empress. The Emperor’s wives were always called by the simple title of Lady – albeit with more respect than was given to a noble’s wife. Elrisia was planning on changing that. She was planning on changing a lot of things.

“Did you hear the way he spoke to me? It was an outrage, I am telling you! An outrage. I have a mind to have him flogged!”

“Cartagia dear. Shut up.” Elrisia was getting very tired of his infantile prattlings. If it weren’t for the fact that Marrit was even more tedious and boring, she would probably be with him. She was, after all, going to be his future wife, and Empress.

Empress Elrisia. She liked the sound of it.

But as always, there was a problem. Said problem being Londo Mollari.

He was an anachronism. An ‘old guard’. You only had to look at his hair and hear his accent to understand that. He still believed in the ‘good old days’ of Centauri power. The good old days were gone. Elrisia planned on creating the good new days.

And if it weren’t for people like Londo and her dear husband always standing in the way, she’d have a far far easier time of it.

And she had been trying. A number of assassination attempts had had to be aborted, but she had been certain her gas booby trap in his carriage a few weeks ago would work. It had certainly cost her enough. But no, Londo had escaped that one as well.

“How does he do it?” she asked herself. “He must have all the Gods in the pantheon on his side. How can anyone who gambles so badly be so lucky?”

“Everyone’s luck runs out sooner or later,” Cartagia said.

Elrisia thought about this, and smiled. “Do you know, that’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said all day. Congratulations.”

Suddenly, her personal communicator activated. A fascinating little device, used by Ministers and high ranking military officers to keep in touch. She had managed to appropriate one for her own use. She listened to the message, and then smiled widely.

“How prophetic of you, Cartagia,” she said. “It appears that Minister Mollari has just met with an… unfortunate accident. His personal carriage – a replacement for the last one, I suppose – exploded on his way back to his estates. A problem with the engine, I suppose. The manufacturers really should get these things looked at better, don’t you think?”

Cartagia smiled. He actually looked halfway intelligent when he did.

* * * * * * *

“When I was twenty-one, I went on a journey to Tibet to see the new Dalai Lama. It made sense at the time. A lot of things do when you’re twenty-one. We had a simple meal… I forget what it was. And afterwards, he looked at me and he said:

“‘Do you understand?’

“And I said, ‘No.’ He simply smiled and said, ‘Good. You will be even wiser when you know what it is that you do not understand.’

“The Dalai Lama may be gone. Tibet, the Himalayas, Earth… they may all be gone, but they live on in our minds and hearts and souls, and in our memories. Someone… very dear to me once told me something. ‘Love holds no borders.’ If love does hold no borders, then neither should memories, neither should hopes or dreams or aspirations. We have all lost a great deal, and we have all suffered.

“It is likely that we will suffer more and lose more. It is likely that we may not return one day. It is likely that our enemies are stronger than we are.

“I don’t really know any of you, and none of you knows me, but this I can promise you. I have spent the whole of my life serving Earth. Just because Earth is gone, that does not mean that we have to stop believing in what it meant for us as a people. Earth survives in each and every one of us, and I will serve Earth – and of all you – in the same way I always have.

“I can make no guarantee that I will be able to keep you alive, and anyone who says they can is lying. This galaxy doesn’t allow for guarantees. I can promise you, however, that I will do all that is in my power in the name of Earth, and of humanity.

“It was an early Earth president who said… who said… damn! What did he say?”

Sheridan floundered, and was greeted with chuckles of laughter from the bridge. “All right,” he said, holding up his hands. “So I’ve forgotten what he said. It just goes to show how much I will be relying on all of you, and how much we will all be relying on each other. Myself and Commander Corwin are new to this ship and to you, but we are ready and willing to do our best by you, by Earth and by humanity.”

Sheridan finished and was met with enthusiastic, if reserved applause. He looked around at the bridge and smiled, one of the first, warmest smiles Corwin had seen on him in a long while. Corwin smiled too.

“I wouldn’t be too happy,” the Captain whispered to him. “It’s your turn now.”

* * * * * * *

Sinoval was in the strange mood that always gripped him in the buildup to a major campaign. Impatient, energetic and excited. Almost like a child on his way to temple for the first time. He was aware that he was now spiritual, political and emotional centre of the Minbari people and that such emotions were… unbecoming to one of his rank, and so he spent much of his time in the Hall of the Council, staring at the sight of the fleet he was gathering all around him.

The fleet numbered in the hundreds. Capital ships, the new White Star class ships, flyers… There were some who spoke out – in places where they didn’t think he could hear them, of course – against committing such a fleet to this battle. After all, there were only humans to deal with. What defences did Proxima 3 have? One heavy class starship, a number of medium and smaller class ships, and possibly a few Narn allies. Oh, yes. And the Starkiller.

But there were a few people on Minbar who knew the truth. Sinoval, the Grey Council, Ambassador Refa and his aide, and a handful of Sinoval’s most trusted Rangers.

Proxima 3 had a handful more defences than just that. They had the Enemy as well.

Ambassador Refa had provided evidence that the humans had made a deal with the Enemy. The exact details of this deal were unknown, but that did not matter. For the past eight cycles, ever since the sight of that first Shadow ship under the sands of the red planet, the Grey Council had known that this day would come. The enemy was returning, and the Great War spoken of by Valen was about to start.

The Minbari were ready. Whereas they might have fallen into apathy and endless waiting for signs that never came, Sinoval had brought them around. Action would be taken. The warrior caste would lead the Great War, the Holy War, as was right, and Sinoval… he would be at their forefront. His name would sound out with the greatest Minbari of history. He would stand alongside Valen, and Varmain, and Dukhat in history…

Sinoval slowly left the Hall of the Council. He no longer even noticed the breach of tradition, and cared not at all.

He found the person he was looking for in a private meeting with Kalain, the warrior raised to Satai after Delenn’s disappearance and disgrace. Kalain greeted him with a bow, as did his companion.

“Shai Alyt Tryfan,” Sinoval said.

“Holy One. This is an honour…”

Kalain bowed again, and then left. He knew that two of the oldest of friends would want to be alone.

Tryfan hesitated for a moment, but then Sinoval made the gesture of affection and greeting, an extension of the arm, a bowing of the head. Tryfan smiled and responded.

“Everything is ready, Tryfan?” Sinoval asked. “No, what am I saying? Of course it is.”

“My ship is in perfect order, Holy One. We are more than ready.”

“What is your opinion of these new White Stars? There has been little time for testing.”

“They are fine ships, Holy One. Fast, and yet powerful. With just three of these, I could cleave a path through the Earthers’ last base.”

“But it will not just be the Earthers we must deal with, old friend.”

Tryfan bowed his head. “No.”

Sinoval regarded his old friend. Tryfan had been one of the greatest warriors of his generation. As a young, promising warrior, he had served on the Trigati when Sinoval had captained it during the assault on Earth. He had seen the warrior’s conviction and dedication and had recommended his name to Branmer when the Rangers were formed. Tryfan had joined, and had soon advanced to the heights of the Rangers. Durhan had trained him well, but had made a disturbing recommendation. Tryfan’s skills with pike and sword were exemplary, but he was touched by a pride and a darkness that ran deep to his core. Sinoval had seen this as well, but still believed that Tryfan’s darkness could be excised. Durhan’s words had effectively removed Tryfan from the running when it came to choosing a replacement for Branmer as Entil’zha – the position now held by Sinoval himself. Sinoval had never ceased to believe in his friend, though, and had named Tryfan Shai Alyt, giving him a unit of White Stars to command.

“Which ship is yours?” Sinoval asked.

White Star Nine. The Valen.”

“Nine? A good omen.”

“Perhaps. Will you be with us, Holy One?”

“Of course, Tryfan. I have always led from the front.”

“Forgive me, but… is that wise? You cannot risk jeopardising yourself. We cannot lose you as we did Dukhat.”

“I have no intention of being lost, Tryfan. Valen’s hand is upon me. I have nothing to fear.

“None of us has anything to fear.”

Chapter 3

For a thousand years it had been a dead world, watched by cautious, waiting eyes, remembered by those with long memories, anticipating the time spoken of when the inhabitants of the dead world would rise again.

That time, as spoken of by Valen in his prophecies, had come. Z’ha’dum was teeming with life once more. Huge ships, as black as night, flew through the galaxy once more. Minions stalked the corridors of power. Forces moved… gathering strength. Agents on countless different sides readied themselves for the first encounter of this new Great War, a war which promised to be every bit as terrible and costly as the previous one.

And where was the Valen this time? Where were the First Ones who left their footprints in the sand? Where were the likes of Varmain and Kin Stolving and A’Iago Mar-Khan?

Upon whose back now rested the destiny of the entire galaxy? The Vorlons were insular, always looking inward. The Minbari and the humans were at war, the humans corrupted by the Darkness, as were the Minbari, although they did not know it. The Narns and the Centauri were at war. The Non-Aligned Worlds were fragmented and solitary.

There were a few shining beacons of light. Epsilon 3 was one such, but could any light hope to withstand the Darkness that had arrived at last?

The first test, the first encounter, would be held at a place called Proxima 3. A place where the forces of human, Minbari, Narn, Centauri, Shadow and Vorlon would crash together.

A Line in the sand.

For a people who had already seen their entire hopes, dreams and home planet torn from them, a Line would be drawn here. Humanity had nowhere else to flee to, nowhere else to go, nothing else to believe in.

A Line had been drawn at Proxima, a Line that would shortly be decorated with blood…

And fire…

And darkness…

General Hague took a deep breath, and moved a silent prayer to the God he no longer believed in. He sat back on his chair, knowing that he should inform the Resistance Government of the information he had just received. Knowing that he should, but unable actually to do it. He couldn’t. He just…

How could he tell them that what they had all been fearing for the last eleven years had just happened?

The Minbari were on their way to Proxima.

They had been expecting this for a while. No, fearing was the right word. In fact, the Minbari were quite a bit overdue. Based on the evidence gained from Satai Delenn, the period of mourning for their dead leader should have ended months ago. They should have elected a new leader months ago. That leader should have been Sinoval, a warrior of the Wind Swords clan. Without Delenn to oppose him, it seemed inevitable.

But the time had passed and the Minbari had not come. Like everyone else on Proxima, General Hague had allowed himself to hope. Maybe Delenn had been wrong. Maybe they had elected another priest, or a worker, someone with no desire to wage war. Maybe the universe had blinked. Maybe God had changed his mind. Maybe humanity had been given another chance. With each day that passed, humanity allowed itself to think it was safe.

Humanity was wrong.

The early warning probes had detected the coming of a Minbari fleet. A big Minbari fleet, far bigger than the Resistance Government’s own worst fears. They would draw a Line here, try to defend it, but the Line had failed at Earth. Why should it hold here?

Hague had not been at the First Line, but he had heard reports from the few who had been and had survived. A wall of paper would have stood about as equal a chance.

And now where were they? Sheridan was gone. The Starkiller was gone. A traitor by all accounts. Hague had never liked him, but he had at least respected the man. How could he betray his people like this?

Oh – the Babylon had been returned, with no explanations from those who brought it back. No clues as to where Sheridan was now. Hague had given command of it to General Takashima, who was doing her best to prepare it for the Minbari’s arrival. By all rights, Hague should have taken it himself, but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t…

The Minbari are coming. The Minbari are coming. The Minbari are coming.

He just could not rid himself of those four words. They kept running around inside his mind.

The Minbari are coming.

He still had not told Vice Pre… President Clark. He still had not told General Takashima. He had not told Mr. Welles. He had only so much as hinted to one person, and she was, hopefully, on her way now.

The door opened, and in she walked.

Ambassador Susan Ivanova. Emissary of the mysterious race called the Shadows who promised assistance to humanity against the Minbari. Except that there was neither sight nor sound nor trace of them. And now the Minbari were coming, and humanity needed them. Humanity needed anything.

The Minbari are coming. The Minbari are coming.

“General. How are you?” She flashed a smile and sat down opposite him. “Well, I trust?”

“I… yes. Fine. I…” Hague stopped and swallowed hard. The Minbari are coming. “The Minbari are coming!” He hadn’t realised he’d spoken that last thought aloud until he heard Ivanova’s reply.

“Finally got things moving, did they? Well, they certainly took their time.”

Hague closed his eyes and tried to breathe. He felt as though he were suffocating. This was absurd! He was a soldier, a trained soldier. He’d fought the Dilgar, he’d taken part in the siege of New Jerusalem, he’d fought with General Franklin on the Janos 7 campaign. He was no stranger to death, but this…

The Minbari are coming.

“Will…” He choked and paused. “Will your allies be here?”

She smiled. “Of course, General. I promised you they would be. They’ll be here.”

Hague nodded and swallowed again. His throat felt very dry. He poured himself a glass of whisky and drank it in one gulp. He’d always kept a bottle of Scotch whisky in his quarters aboard his ship. Afterwards he had brought the bottle here, saving it for a special occasion. Dying seemed special enough.

Ivanova rose and bowed a trifle mockingly. She went towards the door, and as she reached it, she suddenly stopped and turned, smiling.

“There will be a price of course.”

* * * * * * *

The Minbari are coming!

* * * * * * *

Elsewhere, others were preparing. Others knew. They had sources, they had agents, they had ears and eyes and minds.

In a place called Sanctuary, a place few had ever heard of, and fewer could find, a man called Bester was having a conversation.

“We knew this was going to happen sooner or later,” he said. “The question is are we ready to take part, or do we just… let events take their course?”

“We cannot stay hidden forever. Did you make the necessary preparations?”

“Oh yes.” Bester smiled, a little smugly. “A few people in the right places. It’s all ready. If we are.”

“Do you think we are?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never met these… allies of humanity, but their ambassador on Proxima was certainly keen enough to avoid me. That could mean something. It could mean we’re right.”

“Perhaps. What about Captain Sheridan?”

“What about him?”

“What does he know?”

“What you’ve told him, what he’s managed to piece together. I certainly haven’t told him anything. He’s an intelligent man, and a dangerous one. I think he’s taking to the Parmenion quite well.”

“And Satai Delenn? What about her?”

“Now that… is a fascinating subject. I’ve had her checked over by my doctors here. She is… a mix, a foot in each world, so to speak. Unfortunately, she is also genetically very unstable. She wasn’t willing to talk about her change, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope for a long life. Unless she can somehow complete what was interrupted… That’s your area, I believe.”

“I’ll find out what I can, but we don’t have time. The Minbari will be at Proxima in twelve hours. How long would it take the Parmenion and the Ozymandias to get there?”

“Eight hours or so. Perhaps. They’re quite a bit faster than my Black Omega Starfuries. I take it this means we are going to get involved?”

“I doubt we could keep Captain Sheridan out of it. And Satai Delenn may be our one chance of ending this without bloodshed.”

“If you think so. You certainly know the Minbari better than I do. So, do you want to tell Sheridan the truth? Or shall I?”

“No. He must make his own choice. For too long he has been misguided, directionless, uncertain. He has set aside his past, but now he must decide his future. He must decide where he will stand on his own.”

“And if he chooses wrongly?”

“Then we will remove him. I do not like to do this either, but there is a saying I learned recently. ‘Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved.’”

“‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’,” Bester countered. “‘Practicalities are more important than principles.’ You had better watch yourself. You’re starting to think just like me.”

“What was it you once told me? ‘Desperate times breed desperate people.’”

Bester smiled. “Absolutely correct.”

* * * * * * *

Hague reeled. A price? She had never mentioned a price before. What… price?

The Minbari are coming.

* * * * * * *

Timov hated intrigue. She despised politics. She loathed social climbing. And she found assassinations very impolite and annoying. All she wanted was a quiet life, where she could live in peace, bullying the servants and making her husband’s life hell. Was that so much to ask for?

Evidently, it was. Ever since she had realised that in order to keep up with Mariel and Daggair she would actually have to involve herself in whatever game they were playing, she had not had a moment’s peace. If it wasn’t one thing it was another, and most of the problems seemed centred around Lady Elrisia, of whom Londo spoke frequently and derisorily.

“There, there, Londo,” she had said, patting his forehead in a way that she knew was bound to drive him insane. “Everything will be all right soon, just you wait and see.”

“Where is Drigo?” Londo had spat. “I am not staying here one moment longer!”

“Oh, you should not exert yourself, Londo my love. Drigo will be back before long, and he told me to keep you from getting too stressed. If you’d prefer I could always ask Mariel or Daggair to come and keep an eye on you…”

“Timov! You are a witch! A harridan! A… a… Bah! We do not have the word to describe what you are.”

Timov smiled in memory of that conversation, but her smile faded as she thought of the circumstances behind it.

Another assassination attempt, one which had come very close to succeeding. Londo’s personal carriage had exploded on his journey from the capital to his estates. Fortunately Londo had sensed something strange and had managed to escape, but the explosion had resulted in him being quite badly burned. He had contacted his primary source of information – a weaselly, worthless sort of man named Drigo – who had managed to get him to a safe house to recuperate. Drigo was however also working for Timov, whom he called and alerted to the unfortunate events. Timov had made her way there quickly and had proceeded to annoy Londo almost to death while making discreet enquiries.

Saying that this was Elrisia’s work would be stating the obvious, but the fact that she was willing to go to such lengths indicated just how far her ambition had taken her. Timov had done some thinking about this, and she had devised a plan, which she had broached to a less than receptive Londo.

“What?” he had said. “Pretend to be dead! Never!”

“It will, I admit, cause a few problems. Namely your having to muster a little bit more energy to be truly accepted in the rôle.”

“Such subterfuge is beneath my dignity!”

“Londo! Shut up and think for a moment. Sooner or later one of these attempts is going to succeed. Someone wants you dead very badly. I can sympathise with them, of course, but I think it would be better if you stopped presenting yourself as such an open target to them.”

“Be careful, Timov,” he had warned. “I might start to think you care.”

“Don’t overestimate yourself, Londo. All I’m saying is that if you went out of the picture for a while, then the people who have been behind all this may make a mistake or two, and you will still be alive to capitalise on it.”

Londo had sat back, thinking. Timov groaned melodramatically. Londo seemed to be thinking far too much these days.

“I could head out to one of our outer colonies. Gorash, perhaps. Or maybe Frallus Twelve. Elrisia has fewer supporters there, and then there is…” He suddenly stopped and looked at Timov. “Something very strange is going on, Timov. You have had a good idea. Is there something in the water?”

“Somebody in this house has to think intelligently for a while, Londo. It might as well be me.”

“How will I be able to get off Centauri Prime?”

“I am sure Drigo will be able to attend to that, won’t you, Drigo?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Drigo had said. He certainly knew where his loyalties lay.

“Good. There you see, Londo. Problem solved.”

“If only.”

And the problem was pretty much solved. Londo had needed a few more days rest, and Timov had to spend some time back at the estates so as not to cause suspicion and to put on a false display of mourning. Mariel and Daggair put on false displays of mourning as well, but theirs would have been false in any event. There was quite a bit of mourning and ceremony in the city, and considerable regret that Londo’s body could not be found.

Timov took quite a bit of pleasure in relating to Londo the exact details of his funeral, something he later said no one should ever have to hear.

There was however, one other bit of news that she brought him that he was equally unhappy to hear.

“What do you mean he is gone?”

“I mean gone. As in – vanished, or not there any more. Are you sure that explosion did not damage your hearing, Londo?”

“It is a secure cell at the bottom of the Royal Palace! How can anyone just vanish from there?”

“Never having been there, I wouldn’t know, Londo. He is gone, however, and nobody knows how. Lady Elrisia was quite… vexed.”

Timov didn’t know why Londo was so interested in the whereabouts of this strange Mr. Morden, and she doubted that he did. Mysteries were very commonplace these days, but that did not make them any easier to deal with.

And then he was gone. A private shuttle to the city and a secretive boarding on to the Valerius, whose captain owed Londo a number of favours. The Valerius was heading out to the war zone, and he hoped to be dropped off at an insignificant place called Epsilon 3. Timov pretended not to know anything about a Great Machine or a Narn inhabiting it, and so she feigned ignorance.

She did remember their final parting however. An awkward silence, an almost tender exchange of barbs and a never actually spoken thank you. It had been quite emotional.

Timov shrugged and shook herself out of her reverie. In a minute she might actually start thinking she loved her husband. Hah!

* * * * * * *


* * * * * * *

Ta’Lon had never been to Proxima 3 before, despite his extensive travels in G’Kar’s service. G’Kar had uncovered the Shadow influence on the planet and he had decided not to interfere there for fear of revealing his existence to the Enemy. G’Kar still kept an eye on Captain Sheridan through his Great Machine, but all his agents had been ordered to stay away from Proxima.

Until now.

Ta’Lon had received a recent message from the Centauri aide who was close to the Grey Council. The Minbari had finally launched their offensive. Ta’Lon had arrived at Proxima only twelve hours or so before the Minbari would arrive.

Getting in was not all that difficult. He did after all have experience as a fighter pilot during the last Narn / Centauri War, and he had fake documents from Councillor Na’Toth which gave him the official approval of the Kha’Ri to do whatever he wanted. If they were ever investigated, Na’Toth could always claim they were forgeries.

Under pretence of getting his ship repaired, Ta’Lon managed to make it down to the surface. He had arranged a quick meeting with General Takashima, who was supposed to be organising the defence line. She quickly authorised his presence, grateful for even one more ship that could help defend Proxima.

Ta’Lon’s real reason for coming to the planet had little to do with defence. It had to do with a last promise to a friend.

Delenn was not on Proxima, as he had been told by Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar, but there were two others who needed his help. Lyta Alexander and Marcus Cole. Lyta Alexander was a telepath, and as such a valuable ally to have. Marcus Cole had been monitoring the Shadow activity here, and would have important information.

Ta’Lon had come to Proxima to find Satai Delenn, only to discover that she was no longer there. That did not invalidate his mission. Ta’Lon lived to serve, and so, in G’Kar’s name, he would serve.

Or die.

* * * * * * *

John Sheridan was many things, a leader, a commander, an orator. He was first and foremost a warrior, however. Delenn had known many warriors in her life, and she had seen many different sides to them.

There was her father, who had fought a war against succumbing to grief and loss after the departure of her mother. There were Draal and Dukhat, who fought wars to keep the Minbari together, to keep the castes focussed. There was Neroon, who fought a war against the Darkness in the name of her love. There was Sinoval, who fought for pride and honour and duty.

Delenn would never forget the first time she had seen Sheridan. It had been in the Hall of the Grey Council, when he had been brought forward, bloodied, battered and chained. From the first image, he had dominated her vision. She saw his pride, his strength, his power, and she saw him confronting Sinoval, burning with a rage that could have torn the ship apart.

Two sides to the same coin, as the human saying went. A mirror image in the water, as did the Minbari’s. Two halves of the same soul.

Delenn had seen Sinoval at war. She had seen him launch the final attack on Earth, brimming with a thirst for vengeance that had almost matched her own. She had seen Sheridan at war, confronting what should never have to be met. She remembered the sight of the Babylon’s near apocalyptic attack over Mars.

Sheridan and Sinoval. Two sides of the same coin.

And then what about her and Sheridan? Delenn had studied the prophecies of Valen in detail, reading them over and over again, but never had they come into such clarity as they had when she had first seen Sheridan. Everything had made sense then. At first she had denied it to herself, thinking that her answers were impossible, even blasphemous.

Then she had been captured by him, brought to Proxima, questioned… It had been an ordeal simply to keep her sanity, to keep the dreadful actuality of what she had done from exploding in her face.

And then he had saved her. A simple act of mercy – food, water and rest – was followed by her freedom. She had been given a chance to think, to understand, to suppose. She found she could talk to him about her theories and he would listen. She wasn’t sure he believed her, but he would at least listen.

And then she had met Valen. So many questions answered, but so many new questions arising. She had seen the future – or what might become the future. She had seen herself standing over Sheridan’s grave on a devastated Minbar, and she had sworn never to let that happen. Her change had been part of an effort to prevent that future from happening.

And then had come her chrysalis, and her almost fatal premature emergence from it. She remembered little of the immediate few days after the chrysalis had been broken, but she had an image of a part of herself being held prisoner within her own mind, of being hemmed in by steel bars while Shadows crept up on her. She had been freed at last, but now she was just as worried as before. She had her place in destiny marked out – the prophecies said so – but it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Surely it wasn’t?

She winced as another sharp burst of pain tore up to her eyes from the back of her skull. They were getting more frequent now.

“Delenn?” Sheridan asked. He knelt down beside her. “Are you…?”

All right? She didn’t know. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. She had expected some pain, some… difficulty in her transition, but not this.

But how could she tell him of her pains, when he had so many of his own? She doubted she would ever forget the image of his face after Anna had died. The sight of all innocence and hope fading. She doubted they would ever regain their earlier air of… familiarity. The two of them had grown close – as close as any human and Minbari could get. Now… he still came to talk, he still listened, but there were more uncomfortable gaps in their conversations, as they both wondered what to say that could possibly forestall further pain.

“I am fine,” she whispered. She was not fine. She remembered what Dr. Hobbs and Dr. Kyle had told her.

“I don’t pretend to know anything about the technology that caused this change,” Dr. Hobbs had begun. She was a warm, friendly woman who had actually talked to Delenn. Delenn was still nervous around most humans, and the sight of someone who did not look upon her as a Minbari murderer had given her a brief ray of happiness.

“All I can say is what I’ve discovered, and I’m afraid it is not good.

“Your biology is… very unstable. You’ve said that the process was not complete and that would concur with my data. Your vital systems are very unstable, and heart problems in particular seem likely, as well as more… minor complaints like severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, possibly even loss of memory.”

“I have… been suffering from all of those,” she admitted.

“I guessed as much, and I’m afraid things are only going to get worse. I can prescribe some medicines to treat some of the symptoms, but I’m going to have to be very careful to make sure that whatever I give you won’t cause problems for either part of your shared biology. I also won’t be able to do anything to get at the root of the problem, unless you have some of the technology that caused this, so I can have a look at it…”

“It was confiscated by Mr. Welles,” Delenn replied. “It is on Proxima Three at the moment.”

“Then I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do. My best guess if that you only have a few months before one of your major systems fails completely, and I won’t be able to do much to help.”

“A few months will be all I need. Thank you, Doctor.”

Delenn had tried to hide how scared she was by this, but she was failing, both in hiding it from herself and in hiding it from John. He had not mentioned anything about it to her, however. At least not yet.

“How… much longer until we arrive there?” Delenn asked, trying not to notice how near John was to her. She could look directly into his eyes and notice every item of loss and pain and suffering there… and how much of all that suffering was down to her?

“A few hours, not much more,” he replied. “I… I…” He fell back, sitting on the back of his heels. “I wish I knew what Bester was up to.”

“You do not trust him?”

“I don’t trust anyone, Delenn. No one at all.” Not even me, she thought sadly. And why should he? What have I ever done to make him trust me?

“What did he tell you? What were your… orders?”

“That’s the funniest part of all…”

* * * *

Bester had not looked happy when Sheridan had gone to see him, as requested. He had smiled however as Sheridan walked in. Sheridan had seen Captain Ben Zayn walk out, and had received a grim, steady expression of patience in return for his careful greeting.

“Ah, Captain Sheridan.” He did not like the sight of Bester smiling. It reminded him of a shark’s smile – that what Bester found happy was not something anyone else would find something to smile about. “How are you taking to the Parmenion?”

“Very well,” Sheridan replied. “It’s a… good ship with a very capable crew.”

“Good. I am glad. It is a pity that you will not have more time to adapt. Captain, the Minbari have launched an offensive on Proxima Three.”

Sheridan breathed out harshly. Well, he knew it was bound to happen eventually. And it wasn’t as if it could have hit him as much of a surprise, but still…

“Will we be taking action?” he asked cautiously. He still wasn’t sure exactly where Bester’s loyalties lay in the conflict. He wouldn’t be surprised if he simply sat the matter out and moved in to pick up the pieces.

“Of course, Captain. This is too important for us to not be involved. I have already given Captain Ben Zayn his orders. He will be taking the Ozymandias to Proxima Three itself. I want you to go to Proxima Seven. That is doubtless where the Minbari will emerge from hyperspace, giving them plenty of time to evaluate the area before striking out for the colony itself.”

Bester paused, and Sheridan looked at him. “And then?”

“I am sorry, Captain?”

“What are my instructions regarding the Minbari? If I’m stuck out in Proxima Seven against an entire Minbari fleet then not even I can do much…”

“Who said anything about fighting the Minbari? Your mission is to… be there.”


“You are an intelligent man, Captain. At least I always took you to be one. I am sure your… instincts will guide you in the right direction. You have your instructions, Captain.”

* * * * * * *

“It didn’t make any sense. It still doesn’t. One minute he was giving me strict instructions to follow his orders, the next he’s telling me to do what I think best. I sometimes wonder if he knows what he’s doing.”

“And what will you be doing?” she asked softly. Delenn hated herself for questioning him like this, but she had to do it. “If the Enemy are waiting there for my people, then who will you fight?”

“I… don’t know. I won’t hurt my people, Delenn. I won’t do that! But… would I hurt them more by letting them be? Letting them… keep walking into the Darkness?”

Delenn reached out and touched his arm gently. “You will make the right decision.” But her thoughts were on something else. On the Council of Nine… on the covenant with Valen, on the prophecies…

If she could convince them of the truth of the prophecies then this could be ended without bloodshed. If she could make the Grey Council see what Valen had meant… who Valen was… then there might be hope. The Grey Council would be there. Sinoval would not pass up this opportunity to lead. He always prided himself on leading from the front. Like a true warrior.

She could see John’s eyes staring directly into her own – like a pathway into the heart of his soul. The other half of my soul, she realised.

He looked away sharply, possibly having realised the same thing. “I’ve… put all the guards on security patrol along the inside of the outer hull. The Minbari might try to board us. Just because they haven’t before, it doesn’t mean Sinoval won’t start. Or maybe the people from Proxima might try, I don’t know. I won’t be able to spare anyone to guard you. You can go up to the bridge, if you like, but…”

“No,” she said softly, smiling sadly. “I do not… think I could bear that.”

“I understand,” he said. “Please, take care. I wouldn’t…”

She smiled again. “Trust me.” She bit back the anger of betrayal welling up from deep within her. What was the human saying? Minbari never tell anyone the whole truth? “How… competent are these Narns?”

They’re very good. Their leader – Ko’Dath – assures me that they’re good at what they do.“ Sheridan smiled. ”The humans call them the Narn bat squad.“

Delenn smiled too. “Be careful,” she whispered.

“You too.”

The Parmenion came closer and closer to Proxima and the Second Line.

* * * * * * *

“What… price?” Hague asked. “You never…”

“Sorry?” Ivanova said. “I can’t quite hear you.”

“What price?! You never said…”

“Didn’t I? Sorry. Must have slipped my mind. You know how memories are. Tricky things at best.”

Hague slumped back in his chair. He didn’t… he couldn’t… the Minbari are coming. “What… what is the price?”

“Just a little thing. More of a… middle man’s commission sort of thing. It’s not very much really.”

“What price?!” He leapt to his feet, scattering readouts and documents everywhere. “This isn’t a game! They’re… they’re coming, and if your friends don’t help then we’re ALL GOING TO DIE! WHAT PRICE?!”

“Lyta Alexander. What are you doing with her at the moment?”

He blinked. “Miss Alexander? What does she…?” He gasped and closed his eyes hard. The whisky was disagreeing with him, and why shouldn’t it? He hadn’t eaten anything in days. “She’s being held in the Detention Block. Mr. Welles will have the details… Why are you interested in her?”

“She’s the price. I want her.”

“What? I… I don’t…” The Minbari are coming.

“What would you do with her? As punishment for what she did?”

He couldn’t think. This was so… unreal. The Minbari were coming, and in just over twelve hours, this, none of this would survive. He didn’t… he couldn’t…

“Treason still carries the death penalty,” he muttered, largely to himself. “She’d be given a trial and if she was found guilty, she’d be executed. Some of the… some of the others… they were debating what… to do… with… her. Why do you care, for God’s sake?”

“That’s my business. I want her. I want to kill her. No trial. No fair hearing. I want to kill her myself.”

He didn’t believe he was hearing this. He couldn’t believe he was hearing this, and yet… the Minbari are coming. THE MINBARI ARE COMING, FOR GOD’S SAKE!

But still he was hesitating. This was wrong. She deserved a fair trial at least, but it was more than that. William Hague had always held such a high image of himself. He wore the uniform of the Earth Alliance proudly, without regret or fear or shame, because he knew he was worthy of it. He’d fallen a long way since he’d first put on the uniform, but this…

If he agreed to this, he would be damned, finally, irrevocably damned.

And yet what was one life – two lives even – compared with all of humanity? Lyta Alexander would die anyway if the Minbari did to Proxima 3 what they had done to Earth. Did one life really matter so much?

Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.

But this… this was wrong. This was immoral. This was illegal. This was…

Ivanova shrugged and went to the door. It opened…

“Wait!” he cried. “Yes! Yes, you can do whatever you like, just make sure they’ll be here.”

Ivanova smiled. “Thank you, General. I always knew you’d see sense.”

“I told you. I don’t know which cell she’s in, but you can ask Mr. Welles. I’ll… let… him know of my decision. I… I…”

“Don’t worry, General. Sooner or later everyone falls to the bottom. You’ll have plenty of company.”

Ivanova smiled and left.

* * * * * * *

There had not been much time for the testing of the new White Star class ships, but even so Tryfan felt comfortable in one. Their speed and power surprised him, especially in relation to their size, but he had little idea of how much damage they could take, or of how effective they would be in full combat. The Vorlon technology they had incorporated seemed to be invincible, and perhaps it would be. It was certainly one of the few occasions on which the Vorlons had actually helped their erstwhile allies since the discovery of the Shadow vessel under the sands of Mars.

He would have liked a little longer to test them, but Sinoval had said that was impossible. The Enemy was at Proxima. The Starkiller was at Proxima. The Earthers were at Proxima.

Their destinies lay at Proxima.

Tryfan had not played a great part in the last war. He had served most of the time as aide to Shakiri, the great warrior who had died in flames in Sheridan’s onslaught over Mars. Tryfan had served a similar rôle to that which his friend Neroon had played serving Branmer, but whereas Neroon and Branmer had risen to high positions within the Rangers – until Branmer’s death and Neroon’s mysterious disappearance – Tryfan had languished in the Rangers for many years, unnoticed and unremarked.

Until Sinoval had risen to power. Sinoval had known Tryfan well and had trusted him with a position of authority – Shai Alyt, and Captain of a White Star fleet, taking the place vacated by Kalain with his recent ascension to Satai.

He would not betray the trust Sinoval had placed in him. At Proxima, he would repay the trust with deeds performed a thousandfold.

Slowly, Tryfan’s White Star Nine – named the Valen – leading the way, the great Minbari fleet emerged from hyperspace into the skies of Proxima.

The Second Line had been drawn, and the Minbari were there.

As were the Shadows…

Chapter 4

“And we must reunite with the other half of our soul in a war against the Enemy which is to come… Together we will walk into fire and darkness and bring the light…”

So ran the prophecies of Valen, immortalised over a thousand years ago, at the end of the last Great War. To the Minbari, who did not believe in gods, Valen was the closest thing to a God they had.

“Minbari not born of Minbari, he came from nowhere during the dying days of the last Great War, he defeated the Shadows, formed the Grey Council, wrote the prophecies…”

And the prophecies he had written were coming true, but in a way he could surely never have expected. Only Delenn, who had studied his words in such detail that she knew every line and marking, only she knew the true, bitter irony of what was happening.

The two halves of the soul were coming together, and they were walking into fire and darkness, but they were coming together in war, and they were bringing the fire and darkness with them.

Over ten years after the Battle of the Line and the subsequent destruction of Earth, Minbari and human were meeting in battle once again, with the Ancient Enemy involved, aiding the humans, who had sold everything they were just to stay alive. The humans could, perhaps, be forgiven for being so easily corrupted by the Shadows. Their question – ‘What do you want?’ – was easily answered when all you wanted was safety and peace, and not to have to look up into the skies every night, dreading the arrival of an alien armada.

But the Minbari, what excuse did they have? None, save the accidental death of one man. None, save the pride and arrogance of their leader, Sinoval. None, save the determination to crush a people who had already lost everything they had ever had.

There would only be one victor at the Battle of the Second Line, and that would be the Shadows.

But… there was always hope…

Delenn was a Satai of the Grey Council, the chosen of Dukhat. Had it not been for the twist of fate that had thrown her into Sheridan’s path as he escaped his confinement on Minbar it would be she who now stood in the Hall of the Grey Council. For all that she had been gone for almost an entire cycle, she still had respect and power and the ears of the Grey Council. If they would listen to her, then this tragedy might be averted, as she had failed to avert a greater tragedy at Earth.

She had changed during her captivity among the humans – both physically and spiritually. Her chrysalis transformation might have been interrupted, and its results might be close to killing her, but she was still proof of what Valen had said – humans and Minbari were of the same soul. If she could show this to the Grey Council, then the tragedy might be averted.

She did not want to betray John. She sensed a destiny for the two of them – a feeling she had never known before, not even with Neroon. He was on the bridge of this new ship – the Parmenion – trying to hold back a Minbari onslaught and a Shadow involvement from destroying his own people. He was here as the tool of a Psi Cop who was playing his own game with billions of lives at stake.

Only minutes ago, John had told her that he did not trust anyone. How could he? He had been betrayed by the Government he had served for so long. He was forced to obey the orders of someone whose orders made no sense. He had been forced to kill his own wife, who had – possibly – been involved in his betrayal.

John had lied, but whether he knew he had lied or not, Delenn was not sure. He trusted her, even if he could not admit it, not even to himself. But he did trust her, and she was about to forsake that trust.

He had left her with access to the communications systems. They had been deactivated, but reactivating them was simple enough. Neroon and Draal had taught her many things, including communications. Human technology was, compared to the Minbari’s, primitive. She had reactivated them easily, and it would be simple to send out a message that the bridge would not intercept.

She took a deep breath, and winced at the pain in her chest. Breathing was becoming harder for her, and walking was difficult. Her whole body ached.

Her spirit ached too.

“Forgive me, John,” she whispered, knowing that he had no reason to do so. What had she done except betray him time and again?

But what were two lives compared with all the millions who would die if this did not end here and now?

She activated her message.

“This is Satai Delenn of the family of Mir, of the Grey Council. I am being held prisoner on this ship – the Parmenion. The Starkiller is captaining it. I must see the Grey Council now. Do you understand? I must see the Grey Council now.”

There. She stepped back. Some of the ships would free her from here, and she would be taken before the Grey Council. Then, she would be able to convince them of what she knew.

This would have to end.

“Forgive me, John,” she whispered.

“Forgive me.”

* * * * * * *

And Londo had thought being gassed, bombed, threatened and mystified was bad…

It seemed that ever since he had got involved in G’Kar’s conspiracy, people had been trying to kill him, gas him, blow him up, stab him, or shoot large holes in any spaceship he happened to be travelling in.

Fair enough, he admitted, most of the gassings, shootings, and attempted blowings up were the result of perfectly natural Centauri politics – promotion in the Royal Court largely tending in the direction of dead men’s purple boots, with very few questions asked about the nature of their emptying – and had nothing whatsoever to do with G’Kar. But then again, if it wasn’t for that blasted Narn and his blasted Ancient Enemy, then Londo would never have involved himself in politics in the first place, and he would spend his days quite happily living a pious and religious life. (Insofar as Centauri religion tended towards the drinking, eating, gambling, womanising and being very sick school of religion – probably on the theory that if you were going to be a deeply spiritual person, you might as well enjoy it.)

Ah, who am I kidding? Londo thought. I would have done this anyway.

But then, blaming G’Kar was much more fun than blaming himself.

After he had left Centauri Prime – supposedly dead – he had been helped aboard the warship Valerius, captained by his nephew Carn. Londo was not particularly happy at his nephew having chosen a life in the military, but he had been able to use his influence to get Carn posted to a ceremonial, showy type of ship, and therefore one not very likely to see much action.

Unfortunately, they’d neglected to inform the Narns of this.

Technically the Narns and the Centauri were at war. Well, technically and actually, but Londo had still found it irritating to be attacked by a Narn warship so far from the war zone. He had been on his way to Frallus 12, to rendezvous with a number of his sources and agents there, when they’d run into a Narn cruiser.

This is so absurd! he thought. I wonder if that Captain has any idea of who I am. If G’Kar knew about this, he would… If G’Kar knew about this… if G’Kar…

All right, so maybe G’Kar was a little hard to reach these days. His chief lackey in the Kha’Ri wasn’t.

He had managed to bully his way to a communications centre and had patched a very hurried message through to the Narn homeworld, using a special frequency and code G’Kar had made available to all in his little Circle of Light. His hopes for a reply had been slim, but he had definitely not been expecting the Narn captain himself to appear on the screen.

“Minister Mollari,” had said the Captain. “I am Warleader Na’Kal, of the J’Tok. It has come to my attention that we walk in similar circles.”

That was news to Londo. Did G’Kar have agents everywhere? “I suppose that we do,” he said carefully. “In gesture of our… similarities, how would you feel about stopping your attack?”

“Already done. I am loyal to G’Kar, and my crew are loyal to me. We have received word that the Enemy is active at last, and are engaging the Minbari in battle over Proxima. G’Kar has ordered us to try and assist the Minbari. He asks that you do the same.”

“Oh, great!” Londo muttered. His warrior days were long gone – had gone at Frallus 12, in fact, but still… A chance to rekindle old glories? Perhaps even a chance to put him back in his rightful position in the Royal Court? “I will see what I can do.”

“Do you have telepaths aboard?”

“I believe there may be one or two. Do you?”

“Yes, although he is not very strong.”

“Well, then. It looks as though G’Kar has done the impossible, and we’ll actually be fighting together, no?”

“Some things are more important than revenge, Minister. You have the co-ordinates for Proxima, I trust?”

“Of course.”

“Then I will see you there.” Na’Kal suddenly paused. “Are you a gambling man, Minister?”

Londo contemplated lying, but knew that would be pointless. “Yes.”

“Then what would you gamble that we destroy more of their ships than you do?”

Londo smiled. A Narn with something intelligent to say. That was rare. A Narn with a sense of humour…

That was far rarer.

* * * * * * *

Marcus was… just waiting, trying to look at anything other than the woman before him. She was waiting as well. Waiting for what, he didn’t know. She’d returned from her meeting with General Hague in a dark mood. She’d paced up and down angrily, drunk a little more of that Narn liquor, and simply waited, arguing with herself, although she said nothing. Marcus was no stranger to self-conflict, and he recognised the signs in her. He wasn’t sure what she was debating, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. All he wanted to know was where Lyta was.

Marcus Cole had done many things in his life that he was ashamed of. His drunken submission after Earth had fallen and his home colony – Vega 7 – had been taken over by the Narns. His survival when almost everyone else had been killed. His insistence on serving as Sheridan’s bodyguard – just a means to escape his own problems. The way he had betrayed Lyta – and Sheridan – by succumbing to Ivanova’s advances.

Of nothing he had done was he more ashamed than this. He had been entrusted with a task – an important task – and he had failed. Ivanova had tricked him so easily, she had locked him up and been free to go about her own business. Marcus wasn’t sure exactly what she had done, but he could see the distance in her eyes when she returned, and he knew that it was something dreadful.

He still didn’t know what had happened to Captain Sheridan, or Satai Delenn, or Commander Corwin… or Lyta. He had been here for almost two weeks. Ivanova had been in and out during that time, but he knew he could not escape when she was gone. He just beat at the walls and screamed out for Lyta, but there was nothing. Nothing and no one. And when she was here…

Ivanova suddenly raised her head and looked up. “And so it begins,” she whispered. She took a deep breath and activated her link. Marcus did not hear her message, but he did pick up the name ’Welles’.

And then Ivanova had sat back, still looking at the ceiling. “It’s beginning,” she told him. “The Minbari are here, and my friends are here to fight them. We’ll win, of course. They can’t hold us off. We’re too strong.” Ivanova laughed, but it sounded false. “We’ll win, and after this, we’ll take the war to them for a change.

“We’re aren’t going to have to be afraid any more, Marcus. And neither are you.”

He was about to ask what she meant, when the door opened. In walked a security guard – it was Boggs – and he was dragging someone…

“Lyta!” Marcus exclaimed. He leapt up and moved forward, but, moving with a speed he found surprising, Ivanova extended her Minbari pike and formed a barrier with it. Boggs bowed to Ivanova and left.

Marcus looked down at the woman he had grown to care for. Lyta had done most of the chasing in their relationship, and he had been overcautious, certainly, but it was only recently that he was beginning to realise how much she meant to him.

She was bruised and battered. Her clothing was partially torn, and her face was covered with bruises and scratches. Her breathing was harsh and ragged, and her right eye was badly swollen. The left looked vague and unfocussed.

“Look at her,” Ivanova was saying. “The uniform, the gloves, the badge… all designed to make her stand out, to make her different, to make her special. But without her powers, she’s not special at all. She’s just like each of us, except that she isn’t, because she doesn’t have anything else. No family, no lover, no… no reason to get up in the morning.

“Psi Corps won’t let any of their members have those things. They won’t let their members be happy. They won’t let any telepath be happy, because it reminds them of everything they’ve taken away from themselves.”

Marcus was still looking at Lyta. She had raised her head to look at him. Her expression shot to his very heart.

“How you feel now,” Ivanova said to Lyta. “That’s how my mother felt every day of her life since they found her. That’s… that’s how I’d feel if you found me. I’ve been afraid of you… of this badge, since I was a child.” She bent down over Lyta, relaxing her hold on the pike across Marcus’ chest. He tried to step forward, but she pushed him back. She roughly pulled the badge from Lyta’s dress and held it up.

“But it’s just a bit of plastic. I’ve been afraid of this… afraid of you all this time for nothing. This is just plastic, and you… you’re just as weak as the rest of us, without your powers, without what makes you special.

“I needn’t have been afraid, and now I’m not.

“Look at her, Marcus. She’s been lying to you all along. She’s been using her power on you all along. She’s been raping you every time you’re together and it’s all the worse because you never knew about it, and she keeps on pretending that she loves you.

“Psi Corps doesn’t know the meaning of the word love, Marcus. She’s just using you. Using you to try and gain a part of her life that she can never have.”

Marcus started as something shimmered beside him. He turned, and gasped…

(A black scream in his mind the earth broke as it rose it screamed in his mind it was big and black and came from Hell it screamed in his mind screamed in his mind…)

Marcus knew he was looking at a Shadow. Two Shadows. He stumbled and staggered backwards. He fell.

“She can’t love you, Marcus,” Ivanova said. “Only I can.”

She gripped her pike tighter and looked down at Lyta. Lyta was trying to say something, but she couldn’t get the words out.

Marcus tried to move forward, but the Shadow was there, blocking his way.

Ivanova raised her pike…

* * * * * * *

“Shai Alyt, we’re intercepting a message.” Tryfan looked across at the Ranger who had said this. The very title of Shai Alyt addressed to him gave him a moment’s pride and exultation, but he soon focussed his attention back to the matter at hand. Holy One Sinoval and Satai Kalain had entrusted him with this position. He would not prove them wrong.

“It’s from… it’s from her. Zha’valen.”

Tryfan started. Delenn, formerly of the family of Mir, formerly of the Grey Council, formerly chosen of Dukhat, formerly a Minbari. Now, she was Zha’valen, traitress to her race and her people, and willing agent of the Enemy. The Grey Council had pronounced her Zha’valen – literally, a Shadow on Valen – a few weeks before. Now, no Minbari could speak to her, look at her, or even speak her name. She was outcast.

By the laws of his people, Tryfan should ignore the message, deny it as he should deny her very existence, but… this was war, and practicalities were more important than principles. If this was genuine…

But even Tryfan could only go so far.

“Send the message to the Grey Council, to Satai Kalain if you can. Let them decide what to do about it.”

“Should we not listen to it first? It might be important, Shai Alyt.”

“She is Zha’valen,” Tryfan countered. “Her words are as dust, her heart is as stone. Nothing she says matters to us.” Ritualistic words that could not fail to hide Tryfan’s deep anger and disappointment. He had known Delenn – known her well. To see her as traitress and outcast… it hurt.

But duty came first. Duty and honour.

Tryfan was unsure of whether it was instinct or pure luck that caused him to look up at that moment, but he did look up, and he was the first to see, on the display before him, the sight of the big, black ships shimmering into existence. He breathed in harshly (hearing the screams in his mind) and whispered a silent prayer to Valen to guide him.

The Shadows were here.

* * * * * * *

General Laurel Takashima was certainly no stranger to battle. No one promoted in Earthforce in the aftermath of the fall of Earth could be. She had seen Minbari ships flying through the heavens above Mars, and she had seen Captain Sheridan’s bloody charge into their armada on this very ship. Takashima did not like Captain Sheridan, but she had to acknowledge his skill. The Babylon was his ship, not hers.

And then there was the crew…

Most of the Babylon’s crew had been off-ship – either being questioned by Welles and his security guards or just being out of the way – when Sheridan had defected. A handful of the crew had gone with him, and stayed with him. Another handful had come back, along with a few of Mr. Bester’s people.

Bester had, unsurprisingly, provided no explanation for what had happened to the Babylon, or what had happened to Captain Sheridan. The newly promoted President Clark had muttered darkly about a few things, but had then let the matter lie. General Hague was becoming seriously unstuck. Mr. Welles was, of course, interested, but then he always was. Takashima…

This felt uncomfortable, and it was more than just the concern about facing the Minbari again. The Babylon was the mainstay of Proxima’s defence force – with or without Captain Sheridan – and it had to be there when the Minbari arrived, but…

Why did she feel that something strange was going on? There had been that unusual meeting earlier on, with one of the new bridge crew. One of Bester’s people, she supposed, but… why did she look oddly familiar?

Takashima had stopped and looked at the woman. She was blonde, pretty, very elegant-looking. Takashima had never seen her before, but… “And you are?” she had asked.

“Lieutenant Stoner,” had come the reply. “Second grade lieutenant.”

Takashima had blinked. She had never heard of this Lieutenant Stoner. In theory a quick look at the records should enable her to verify Stoner’s ID, but the Minbari were coming, and there wasn’t time, and… and… and she didn’t want to.

The instruments were picking up two other heavy class Earthforce destroyers nearby, but Takashima was not surprised, almost as if she’d been… expecting them.

The message came through. The image on the commscreen was of a harsh, severe-looking military man with a scar.

“Colonel Ari Ben Zayn, Captain of the Ozymandias,” the man said. “A pleasure to meet you, General.” He didn’t sound as if he meant it.

“Likewise, Colonel.” Takashima had met him before, once, when she was still a cadet and he was the hero of New Jerusalem. He was supposed to be dead. Another of Bester’s little surprises.

“They’re here. Ben Zayn out.” The image faded and Takashima heard the voice of Lieutenant Franklin, one of the old bridge crew. She didn’t need to hear his exact words. She knew.

The Minbari were here.

* * * * * * *

“Uncle Londo, what exactly have you got us into?”

A difficult question to answer, Londo thought. Stopping an attack by a Narn warship was one thing, but getting involved in a pitched battle, that was quite another.

Minbari on one side, humans and Shadows on the other, and the J’Tok and the Valerius in the middle, trying to drive back the Shadows and avoid getting shot by the humans or the Minbari.

It was at times like this that Londo wished he’d gone into farming instead.

Land, animals, crops, there. No big black insect-type ships, no insane wagers with Narns, no… no adventure, no glory, no respect, no chance to help his people.

“A wager, Carn,” Londo replied. “One of the greatest wagers of all.”

“Uncle Londo, you haven’t been drinking, have you?”

“Why, Carn! I am shocked by your attitude! Of course I have! But that is not the point. You won’t let some Narn claim superiority over us just because he did better in this battle than we did, will you? We are Centauri, Carn! We can best any Narn or human any day!”

“Of course we can!”

“Good, then you know what to do?”

“Yes, use our telepaths to jam their ships and then… well, hit them.”

“Good, Carn. Good. You are learning. Now, you are the military man, so you do what you think best. If you want me, then I will be hiding under the bed in my quarters. Good luck.”

For the first time in the history of their races, Narn and Centauri were fighting together, against a common enemy. It was a pity that the humans and the Minbari had not learned a similar lesson.

* * * * * * *

The battle over Proxima – the Second Line as it would later be called – was a mass of action, shifting, swirling, changing, with little rhyme, reason or strategy. To the pitifully small human defenders, it was simply a matter of holding the Line and protecting Proxima at any cost. To the Minbari, it was facing down the Enemy, crushing an opponent who should have stayed crushed after the last time, it was making a stand for Light against the Darkness.

To the J’Tok, it was service to a respected and an admired leader, and a matter of Narnish pride. To Captain Carn Mollari, it was the wishes of his – slightly crazy – uncle, but also a matter of Centauri pride. Later, both captains would get into trouble for this from their governments, but that was if they survived. And if they did, then they would have formed a crucial bond together.

To Captain Ben Zayn and Mr. Harriman Gray, it was about following orders, about taking a path and not deviating, about fighting and continuing and not surrendering. To Laurel Takashima, it was what should be a simple task – holding the Line – turning into a mass of voices screaming at her, amongst crew who had their own agendas and another set of thoughts originating in her mind.

To Shai Alyt Tryfan, it was a chance for glory, and to justify the faith others had placed in him. To Satai Kalain, it was a military action, something that had to be done. To Holy One Sinoval, it was the continuation of his destiny, a chance to achieve the future he knew belonged to him and his people. To the Satai Hedronn, Lennann and Rathenn, it was a day when the Minbari became not butchers, but doctors, cutting the evil away from the galaxy.

To Ambassador Susan Ivanova, it was the end to fear. To Warmaster Jha’dur, Deathwalker, it was the beginning of her monument to her people.

To General Hague, it was the day that self-esteem and self-respect died. To President Clark, it was a glorious day. To Mr. Welles it was a time when all his calculations and theories would be borne out and proved or disproved once and for all. To Bester, it was a time for testing and forging. To G’Kar, it was the beginning of the strike back. To Marcus, it was a time for choice. To Lyta, a time of sorrow. To Ta’Lon, a day when he wished he could get there on time.

To Delenn, Zha’valen, it was a forlorn hope for peace. To Starfury pilot Neeoma Connally, it was a nightmare she would not wake up from. To Captain Sheridan and Commander Corwin it was…

* * * * * * *

To Captain Sheridan and Commander Corwin it was a time for choices.

Sheridan had faced down Minbari fleets before. Standing at his side, so had Corwin. Neither was afraid. Sheridan was filled with the supreme confidence he always felt in battle. It was a chance to forget everything else, to forget Bester and Anna and Clark and Delenn and focus on the one thing that made him special. Corwin was less confident, but just as focussed.

Sheridan’s normal strategy in a situation like this would be to mine the entrance to the system, fight a slow holding action and pull the Minbari ships into the mines. It had worked with the Black Star, and it compensated for their inability to target the Minbari ships. There were just two problems, however…

One was that he had arrived here at about the same time as the Minbari fleet, meaning that the area had not been mined. Whatever the Resistance Government’s reasons for not doing this, it meant that Sheridan had to act quickly, throwing his Starfury squadrons forward as a sacrificial screen, allowing him enough time to back off slowly and begin laying the minefields, hoping that enough of his Starfuries would get back in time before the mines became active.

The second problem was more serious. The Shadows.

He had nearly completed the first layer of his minefield, fighting a slow holding and repelling action against the Minbari as he did so, when the first Shadow ship blazed by over the Parmenion. He felt a high pitched agonising scream burn into his mind and he stumbled for a moment. Glancing over at the viewscreen, he was astonished by what he saw. He had never seen a Shadow vessel before, but he knew that the large, black, almost living, spider-like thing could only be a Shadow ship.

The others on the bridge had been affected as well. Corwin was wincing, and the rest of the bridge crew were shaking their heads or holding their hands over their ears.

All except one.

Alisa Beldon did not belong on the bridge. In fact, Sheridan did not really understand why Bester had placed a telepath on the ship at all.

He was about to find out.

Alisa was concentrating. Her eyes were closed and her hands clenched into fists. Blood was dripping from one palm. Sheridan looked at the tactical display in front of him. The… the thing… the Shadow ship… it wasn’t moving. It seemed… paralysed.

He looked up at Corwin. His second had clearly noticed the same thing.

“I think we’ve been set up,” Corwin said.

“Me too. Remind me to kill Bester when we get back.”

‘Do what you think is best,’ Bester had said. Sheridan had assumed he had meant with regard to the Minbari. Bester hadn’t. The pieces were finally clicking together. Bester had sent his ships here to fight the Shadows. Telepaths provided some sort of weapon against them. Bester had been forcing him into making this decision.

He remembered Delenn’s earnest words about the Great War and the Ancient Enemy. He wasn’t sure he’d believed her before, not even after the Babylon 4 incident. Now, he did.

He whispered his wife’s name softly. Anna’s death had been caused by these people, whether directly or indirectly it did not matter. They had corrupted the Resistance Government, killed his wife, caused him to become an exile and traitor.

He looked at Corwin, who shrugged.

“Left broadsides, multiple strikes against that thing,” he ordered.

“Tear it apart.”

The bridge crew smiled, as if they’d been expecting nothing else.

In the words of a great leader of millennia before:

Alea jacta est.

The die is cast.

* * * * * * *

There is a darkness here, thought Ta’Lon. A grave and terrible darkness.

He could feel it, in the air, in the ground, in the people he met and saw. They had given themselves over to the Enemy willingly, either not knowing or not caring about the consequences. They had done so out of fear, it was true, but they had still surrendered to the Darkness.

Alarms had been given, warning the people to enter shelters – shelters that would do no good if the Minbari did to Proxima what they had done to Earth. The people had largely ignored them. Instead they were waiting beneath the Main Dome, staring up into the skies and dreading the arrival of the blinding light that would herald the end of their existence.

Ta’Lon was alone here, but he had his mission. To find Marcus Cole. To find Lyta Alexander. To free them from the Darkness that ruled this place.

Security guards were no more disciplined than were the common people. Many were standing outside panicking. Many had abandoned their posts, perhaps seeking a last moment with lovers or children or friends, perhaps seeking to avoid the knowledge of their coming death in a fog of drink, perhaps doing many things…

Entering the main government complex of the Main Dome was easy. G’Kar had, a long time ago, obtained plans of most of the major cities and complexes of most of the major power bases in the galaxy. Always in case of emergencies…

The first place Ta’Lon tried was the Detention Block. There was a guard on duty there, one in whom Ta’Lon recognised a calm professionalism driven to near despair. He had refused Ta’Lon entry, had stuck to his determination as if it were the last breath of air in his body.

And so Ta’Lon had tried elsewhere. Fortune was on his side.

The human was pacing up and down the corridors, despair and tragedy in his eyes. He looked haunted. He looked anguished. He looked… he looked lost.

Ta’Lon had false papers authorising him as a Narn security advisor. The security guard at the Detention Block had insisted on having them verified and Ta’Lon had not had the time for that. The papers had managed to get him in this far.

The human was talking to himself, speaking the same four words over and over again.

“The Minbari are coming. The Minbari are coming. The Minbari are coming.”

The human stopped when he saw Ta’Lon. The Narn saw a general’s insignia on his uniform. “You…?” the general whispered. “I remember you. It was… it was…”

And Ta’Lon remembered him now, although he was astonished to recognise this haunted figure as the calm, confident General Hague he had known in the last war with the Centauri. The humans had assisted in the war – well, Sheridan had, which amounted to the same thing – and General Hague had come to the city of G’Khamazad for meetings with the Kha’Ri. Ta’Lon had been in the Narn military then, and he had been responsible for the escort that brought General Hague in.

Of course, that was before G’Kar. That was before Neroon. That was a million years ago.

“General Hague,” Ta’Lon said slowly.

“You’re dead,” Hague said. “You’re… dead. I’m certain you were dead. We’re all… dead. All dead… The Minbari are coming.”

“Do you know where Marcus Cole and Lyta Alexander are?” Ta’Lon asked. He was not expecting rationality, but maybe, maybe there was hope… The Darkness had not claimed him just yet, but madness had instead.

“No!” he cried out. “No! I… Oh God, what have I become? Plenty of company at the bottom… she said. At the… bottom…” Hague blinked. “Room six, ground floor, Grey area. Go. Save them! Please… the price… some prices are too great.”

Ta’Lon nodded and silently thanked Hague. He made to go, and then he patted the general nervously on the arm. Hague was lost. The best he could hope for was to die without realising what had happened to his people.

Ta’Lon had made it to the right area, when he came to an abrupt halt. Standing at the entrance to the hall was a human, flanked by two security guards.

“Even in the midst of anarchy, there must be some order,” the leader said. “Even in chaos, there is purpose. May I know yours, please?”

* * * * * * *

The White Stars moved forward, over and under Sheridan’s hastily constructed minefield. They could see their enemies. The human ships they had come to destroy, and the Shadows defending them. A long way further towards the centre of the system, near Proxima 3 itself, there was a frantic battle between a Narn ship, a Centauri ship, two human ships and the Shadows, but that was there. Here, out on the edge of the Proxima system, it was Minbari versus Shadows, as it had been before, with no Vorlons, no First Ones, no Valen to aid them. On the other hand, they did have the Starkiller.

The first Shadow ships, screaming and black and dark against the night, came into view of the first White Stars. The White Stars were faster than the greater Minbari ships, and had entered the breach first.

They were not faster than the Shadows.

One Shadow ship was struck by the focussed bursts from two White Stars at once. The Minbari had clashed with their Ancient Enemy before this battle, in small skirmishes. The one at Mars had been destroyed, so had the ships at Ganymede. But never in this number, never on this scale.

Another Shadow soared above the White Stars and tore them apart with its energy burst. The wounded ship fell back and two more rose forward. More White Stars came, and combined their forces. One Shadow ship screamed as its outer spines were burned away. Minbari on both ships felt the scream. Shortly after their own screams were added to it as the Shadows struck back.

The Shadows pressed forward, pushing the White Stars back. One tried a counterattack, rushing forward, and briefly drove the Shadow back.

But there were too many Shadows… far too many…

* * * * * * *

Sinoval stood in the centre of the Hall of the Grey Council, the One amongst the Nine. He was watching the battle taking place with calm, patient eyes.

Unlike many in the Council, Sinoval was a consummate strategist, a planner and a tactician. He could read the ebb and flow of the battle effortlessly. He could evaluate weak spots and vulnerabilities, strengths and fortified positions.

At the moment the battle was too early to be accurately read. There were more Shadows than he had been expecting, but the Minbari fleet still outnumbered them. The presence of three Earthforce heavy destroyers – one the Babylon he remembered so well from the attack on Mars – had surprised him, but what surprised him more was that two of them were focussing on the Shadows just as much as on the Minbari. He had not been expecting that turn of events, but he put it down to deep-rooted terror, as the humans finally witnessed just what they had allied themselves to. The presence of a Narn warship and a Centauri cruiser had surprised him as well – more so as they were fighting back to back, working against the Enemy.

There were games within games taking place, and he did not like the thought that others were manipulating events.

“Holy One!” It was Kalain. Sinoval turned to face him, irked that his contemplation of the battle had been interrupted. “We have received a message. It is from… it is from her. Zha’valen.”

He could see the shock on the faces of Rathenn and Lennann, the two members of the religious caste still on the Grey Council. The two of them had objected the most strongly when Delenn had been named Zha’valen – outcast. Sinoval himself had not believed the story he had put out – that Delenn had gone with Starkiller willingly, had helped him escape from Minbar, and was working with the Enemy of her own will. It had, however, suited him to pretend that he did. With Delenn gone, his was the only voice the Grey Council could hear.

And yet…

He listened as the acolyte who had brought Kalain the message replayed it. Afterwards, for a moment, there was silence. He could tell what each member of the Council was thinking. His own thoughts could be summed up in one word.


Sheridan had escaped from Minbar, had killed two members of this assembly and crippled – physically and emotionally – three more. He was responsible for countless Minbari deaths. He had dared to face down Sinoval in this very Hall. The fact that Sheridan was also – indirectly – responsible for Sinoval holding the position he did today was not lost on the Holy One. On the contrary, that counted as one more weight against him.

“Bring them to me,” Sinoval snapped. “The Starkiller and De… and the Zha’valen. Bring them before me in chains and let them face my judgement.” This war would end here, in the skies of Proxima, but it could not end until Sheridan was dead, and Del… and the Zha’valen was punished for her treason.

Sinoval understood that humans had a saying. Great empires are always built on blood.

He would build a Minbari empire on the blood of two people.

* * * * * * *

Captain Ben Zayn could practically feel the evil directed towards him, the focussed evil of millennia. He welcomed it. He was a soldier, a warrior. He had fought on countless battlefields and survived them all. He would survive this one.

Beside him, Gray’s head snapped backwards with the force of the telepathic encounter. Ben Zayn took advantage, driving forward with both broadsides and the fore firing team. He had fought the Shadows before as well. No enemy was invincible.

He wasn’t surprised to learn that the Babylon was fighting alongside him. He knew most, if not all, of Bester’s little secrets. He was surprised at the arrival of a Narn and a Centauri ship, fighting together of all things.

Ben Zayn felt the rush of battle, felt at once the furious passion of the warrior and the calm serenity of one who has accepted his inevitable death.

For the duration of this battle he knew that he was immortal.

* * * * * * *

“Minbari coming forward!”

Sheridan swore.

His Starfury screen had been cut down to almost nothing, but it had bought enough time to lay his mine screen, allowing him to concentrate on the Shadows, the enemy he was still slightly surprised to be fighting. The Minbari had finally managed to breach his minefield. He wasn’t surprised – it was inevitable – but he did wonder how much it had cost them to do it.

“Forward interceptors and mass dispersion fire!” he ordered, glancing at Corwin, who was observing the tactical displays and plotting strategies. For the moment, the Shadows were concentrating on the Minbari. Sheridan knew enough to leave two enemies to fight each other, but he doubted he’d be ignored for long.

He also shot a glance at Alisa Beldon. She was leaning heavily against a display, breathing hard. Her aid had helped him take down two of the big Shadow ships and a handful of the smaller ones, but it had taken a lot out of her. She was exhausted. She looked up and smiled wearily.

Damn you, Bester! Sheridan thought. Why did you have to involve children in this?

The ship rocked beneath the barrage of Minbari fire. The interceptors were overheating.

“A boarding pod!” Corwin said. “But that’s…”

Sheridan shared his incredulity. The Minbari didn’t board ships. It wasn’t their way. They must want something here really badly to try and…

His eyes widened. “Delenn! David, can we shoot it down?”

“Nope. It’s too small for our dispersion fire and it’s got that stealth stuff so we can’t target it.”

“Ah hell! Get the… the Narn bat squad patrolling the area where they’re likely to arrive. Patch a message through to…” He thought of Delenn. “No. I’ll go and warn her. Mr. Corwin, you have the bridge. I won’t be long.” Corwin watched as Sheridan ran from the bridge. He was more than a little surprised. Just how closely did the Captain feel for Delenn to do this?

He looked up at the Minbari fleet and swallowed. He was no Starkiller, but he’d studied the great man long enough.

He knew what to do.

* * * * * * *

Delenn straightened, hearing the warning alarm. She closed her eyes and thought of John. She wondered if he would hate her for this, but she knew that if he did, then she would accept it. There was no other option. She could feel her people dying. The Shadows were too strong, and the Minbari were too weak. Driven by pride and arrogance they had destroyed themselves just as surely as they were being destroyed by the Shadows.

She opened the door and left her room. Her people would come for her. They would take her before the Grey Council, and she would end this.

She stumbled as the ship rocked, but then she could hear the sound of fighting. Hitching her dress up slightly, she ran forward. She had to end this.

Rounding a corner, she entered one of the shuttle docking bays, to find it engulfed by Narns and Minbari, fighting, with gun and sword and pike. She heard the ringing of pike meeting katok, she heard the cries of the dying and the gasps of the wounded.

She closed her eyes and mouthed a silent prayer for forgiveness.

She had to find the leader of the Minbari. It was likely she would recognise him or her. The leader would certainly spot her. Slowly, she began working her way around the wall of the docking bay, avoiding the Narns, hoping she would pass unnoticed.

A Narn was dying at her feet, blood pouring from a neck wound. He reached out pleadingly to her, but she silently stepped aside, inwardly weeping.

She had not seen his desperate, pain-maddened thrashings, and stumbled over his arm, tumbling to the ground. She tried to crawl forward, but he had a grip on her ankle, his last wish not to die alone.

Above her were a Narn and a Minbari, sword and pike flashing, fighting with their ancient weapons of pride. They came close to her, and the Minbari fell. Delenn tried to crawl out of the way, but he fell across her back. She felt a blinding pain and a moment of blackness.

When she came to, the fight was almost over. The Narns were pulling back, but had fortified the main corridor out of the docking bay. The Minbari were slowly moving forward. Delenn gasped, closing her eyes against the pain as she crawled out from under the body which lay on top of her. Slowly she turned, and gently closed his eyes.


Oh, no.

She could see John rushing forward, PPG fire picking off the Minbari who were moving towards her. The Narns, inspired by his example, had begun a counter-charge. The Minbari rushed forward, driven by fury and by pride.

The whole ship shuddered again, and Delenn fell forward. John caught her quickly and held her tight. Oh, John, no. I didn’t… I never meant…

He suddenly let go and spun around, firing instinctively. The Minbari warrior fell, two shots striking her chest and head at point-blank range. Sheridan was not happy with something, however. He backed up against the wall and began fumbling with his weapon. The energy cap was exhausted.

Blood. So much blood. So much death. All her fault. Too much death…

“Forgive me, John,” she muttered. She did not have a weapon, but she did not need one. Neroon and Draal had trained her in hand-to-hand combat well enough. She struck out at John’s belly. His instincts warned him about the blow, but too late to block it. He stumbled, and she hit his neck. He fell, poleaxed. Delenn noticed something at his belt. It was her pike, the one Susan Ivanova had taken from her on Minbar, the one she had taken back from the future Susan Ivanova aboard Babylon 4, the one she had given to John in trust after they left Babylon 4.

The trust she had just betrayed.

She took the weapon from his belt, and saw a warrior standing above her. The warrior said just one word.


“He is to be left here,” Delenn said. “Do you hear me? He is to be left here. I am Satai Delenn of the Grey Council, and I demand to be taken before the Council. This must end. Please, listen. This must end.”

Again the warrior said just one word.


* * * * * * *

Susan looked down at the defeated eyes of Lyta Alexander. The telepath had already accepted her death. Susan could see it. She was broken. She was finished.

Susan raised the pike. No more need to be afraid. No more waking in the middle of the night. No more hiding.

She looked at Marcus. He looked sick, desperate to do something, but unable to. The two Shadows formed a wall between him and Susan. She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile…

Her head seemed to explode. She did not know if she actually screamed or if it was just in her mind, but she could feel the fear and the pain and the anguish all over again. It was a violation, an intimate sundering of a place she had only ever let her mother enter.

She screamed again, this time audibly. Lyta. But how…? The sleepers… Welles had assured her that… that… the Vorlon. The Vorlon!

She felt the pike drop from her nerveless fingers. She kept screaming, over and over again. She fell to her knees, screaming until the scream was the only thing in her existence.

She could feel the Shadows backing away. They were no more immune to telepathically induced pain than was she. Less so, if anything.

The pain ended – or she thought it did. Her scream certainly didn’t. She felt… numb, lifeless, unable to move or breathe or speak or do anything except scream…

And scream…

* * * * * * *

Nowhere is the Darkness greater than in the fortress of Light…

Deathwalker waited alone in the quarters she had prepared for this eventuality. She could feel the Shadows moving outside this ship. They would win. Of course they would.

She understood the Shadows. She was not their servant, but their ally. If they had been active thirty or forty years ago, her people might still be alive, might still be masters of the galaxy.

The Dilgar were dead, and would never rise again, but they would be remembered… She would build their monument, and how ironic it would be that the very race that had destroyed hers would create that monument on the ruins of the very race that had sheltered her.

Not for nothing was she called Deathwalker. She had made preparations… Her monument of blood was only just beginning.

* * * * * * *

Lyta crawled out from behind Susan. The Shadow agent had slumped down almost on top of her. She was still screaming.

Lyta was not sure exactly what she had done. She remembered the beating, she remembered the questions and Welles’ harshly ironic and scathing verbal assault on her. She remembered the sleepers. She remembered reaching out to touch Marcus’ mind and not being able to. She remembered a threat…

And she remembered one word. A word spoken in her mind by a voice she still did not understand.


And she had lashed out. Subconsciously, not understanding what or why or how, she lashed out with her powers, creating agony with a thought.

All she could see was Marcus. When he held her, for a moment she could forget where she was. For a moment she could take pleasure in the warmth of his presence.

But just for a moment…

The Shadows were moving. She saw them a mere instant before Marcus did, and she pushed him aside. She could hear the voice speaking to her, slowly and cautiously, directing her. She closed her eyes and reached deep inside, working past the sleepers, working past the pain and the numbness and the fear…

She lashed out again. The Shadows stopped and faltered. One of them bowed down, lowering its… she thought it was its head. The other one hesitated, as if recognising the taint of its ancient enemy within her.

Marcus acted. Scooping up Ivanova’s discarded pike, he struck at the nearest creature. He was not skilled with such a weapon, but that hardly mattered. Wielding it almost like a baseball bat, he gripped its end in both hands and swung it…

The first Shadow crumpled, its forelegs twitching. Marcus bashed its neck, once, twice, three times… It stopped twitching.


Lyta lost concentration for a moment, and the second Shadow rushed forward. It raised its foreleg and tore across Marcus’ chest. He fell back, and she struck out mentally again. The Shadow seemed unaffected. It certainly continued its charge over the fallen Marcus.

Acting on instinct with a weapon he had never before used, Marcus pushed up one end of the pike. The Shadow ran on to it with a sickening crunch and fell back. Marcus staggered to his feet and swung out with the pike as he had last time…

Lyta did not need telepathy to register the feelings of nausea and tiredness within him. She felt them as well, but she didn’t care. He dropped the weapon and winced at the pain of his injuries. She rushed forward and embraced him tightly, not caring about their pain, just caring that they were together.

She kissed him, for the first time without touching his mind with hers. It felt… better this time. Not as invasive. Ivanova had called her a mental rapist, and that felt true. Lyta had never felt more ashamed of the abuses to which she had put her powers.

She did not sense Ivanova’s attack. She had not even noticed that Ivanova had stopped screaming. Marcus had.

He threw Lyta aside and moved forward to confront Susan. She had picked up the pike, stained with blood and ichor and chitin. There was a madness in her eyes, a look of intense grief and anguish and a blood-rimmed, raging red fury…

She had already started her strike when Marcus pushed Lyta out of the way. It had been aimed at Lyta, but she seemed helpless to redirect it, and Marcus seemed just as helpless to stop it.

Ivanova wielded the weapon consummately. She had held it for nearly a year after all. It was almost a part of her.

Lyta later supposed that she had tried to pull the blow back at the last minute, as if she realised who she was attacking, but too late.

At the time Lyta could not notice this. She only saw the pike tear into Marcus’ chest, ripping apart the skin, crushing bone and muscle as it did so.

His heart broke.

Chapter 5

It was an old story, a very old story, one he had listened to as a child. Listened to, and remembered and dreamed about.

The gallant knight, the fair maiden, the foul monsters, the wicked enchantress. A noble quest, infiltrating the fortress of evil, vanquishing the monsters and winning the hand of the fair lady.

Real life doesn’t always end like that.

Marcus Cole had read epic fantasy as a child, read and memorised, but most of all, he had read the Arthurian legends, he had read about Camelot, the Grail Quest, the Battle of Camlann… He had read of King Arthur and his fair Guinevere, of Lancelot the Brave, Galahad the Pure, Gawain and the Green Knight, Perceval Knight of the Grail, mysterious and wise Merlin, Gareth Knight of the Kitchen, the sorceress Morgana… Marcus Cole had dreamed about knights, about the Round Table, he had dreamed of becoming a knight, of living his life to a code, a purpose, a duty to something greater than he was.

He never found it.

Oh, he found a place, of sorts, but only after his home colony had been destroyed, only after his brother had been killed, only after he had lost everything.

Marcus Cole knew about the Shadows, he knew about what they could do, perhaps more than anyone else, for he alone of the people on Proxima – up until the fateful Battle of the Second Line – had seen them rising in their full, black, terrible fury. He still saw them in his dreams. He still heard their screams.

No one else understood. No one could. Captain Sheridan only saw them as an enemy to be fought, as did Commander Corwin. To Satai Delenn they were prophecy and destiny and fate. Not even Lyta understood properly, although she must have seen them in his mind as she touched him there.

No, one other person understood. Susan Ivanova. Ambassador of the Shadows. Marcus Cole had been set to watch her, to observe and record and report. She had known about his intentions of course, and the two had indulged in a battle of wits for months. And then something unexpected happened.

She understood him, better than anyone else. She also knew the sheer loss, the pain of losing everything, the pain of trying to rediscover dreams when the world has stolen them from you. She knew the need for companionship, for understanding, for peace…

In many ways, she was his kindred spirit, far more than Lyta could ever be, but Susan had given herself to the Shadows. Whether from force or from weakness or because she genuinely believed, she had given herself to the Darkness, and that was something Marcus Cole would never do, not even at the end.

It was the end.

In the skies above them, Minbari were fighting and dying. Drawn to Proxima 3 half out of necessity, half out of blood thirst, they had come, and the Shadows had been waiting for them. The Minbari were falling. Sheridan was there, as was an unlikely assortment of allies, brought together by the one other person who understood the Shadows as Marcus did, a person whom Marcus had met only very briefly, a meeting which could never forge the links they should have shared.

On the ground of Proxima 3 an equally deadly battle was taking place.

The gallant knight had rescued the fair maiden, but there was one small, tiny deviation from the classic.

The gallant knight was dead.

His blood slowly pooled on the floor…

* * * * * * *

In Valen’s Name…

The Minbari cruiser – it was the Varmain – turned about, directing all of its forward batteries at the huge, black form hovering above it. The Shadow ship seemed paralysed, unable to move as the focussed force of the cruiser’s weapons tore into it. It was struggling, writhing against hidden and unseen chains.

The chains snapped.

The Varmain tried to keep up its burst, but the Shadow vessel managed to pull away. It was clearly badly damaged. Sensing blood, the Varmain pushed forward.

Two more Shadow ships fell into its path, and their weapons tore the cruiser apart…

“In Valen’s Name…” breathed Hedronn, and Lennann and Rathenn. Sinoval even thought he had heard Kalain utter the name of their messiah.

He could not blame them. The Grey Council had always known that the day would come, as spoken in prophecies, when the Minbari went to war with the Ancient Enemy once again. They had always known, and they had tried to prepare, but nothing could prepare any of them for this… this carnage.

Except for Sinoval. He had seen this day in his dreams ever since he had been a child, and first brought to temple. He had seen this day, and many others, and he knew his destiny had been set.

“We are destroying some of them,” spoke up Satai Matokh. Another warrior, but one far more moderate in scope than Sinoval himself. Far weaker, as well. He had been wounded in Sheridan’s attack over Mars. He had never been quite the same since.

It was true. Sinoval had seen several of the Shadow ships paralysed, pinned in place by an unknown force, enabling the cruisers and the White Stars to tear them apart, but it took long, focussed bursts to do so. The Minbari didn’t have the time, and the Shadows were too fast.

“Not enough,” replied Hedronn. “We are losing. I think our path is set.”

Sinoval ignored him. Hedronn was old, and set in his ways, and a worker. What did he know? Sinoval was analysing the battle. Victory was still possible. Somehow, the Shadows were being attacked by other ships, including a Narn heavy cruiser, a Centauri warship and three human destroyers – the very people the Shadows were meant to be allied with. Sinoval did not like mysteries, but he had to admit that these five ships were holding back the Enemy.

Victory was always possible while there was breath to be drawn.

“Listen to him, Sinoval,” spoke a new voice, one absent from the Council for almost a whole cycle. One absent, and newly returned, with little change for its absence.

The two white-robed acolytes who had ushered Delenn into the Hall bowed and left, leaving her alone in the centre of the circle. Sinoval could see the other Satai looking at her, some with caution, some with disgust, and why should they not? Delenn’s appearance would disgust anybody.

Sinoval ignored her as well. His eyes were on the heavens, revealed in the images all around him.

“Sinoval! Listen to us, in Valen’s Name!”

Delenn had been captured recently, taken from the Earther destroyer on which she had been held – whether as prisoner or guest was up for interpretation. The Minbari boarding crew had ultimately been driven off, but not without two very useful trophies. Delenn was the first. The other…

…was John Sheridan. Starkiller.

He could wait. He was even now rotting in his cell, and there would be no miracle escape this time. Yes, Sinoval thought, he could wait, but Delenn… Let the Council see. Let the Council see what she had become.

He saw another White Star ship destroyed. He mouthed a prayer to Valen in memory of the crew.


He finally turned to look at the one who had until so recently been a member of this assemblage. Then had come the Starkiller. Sinoval did not believe that she had aided his escape. Sinoval did not believe that she had willingly betrayed her people to the Enemy. Sinoval did not believe that she was acting out of anything other than what she felt was best for Minbar.

Sinoval did believe that politics left no room for the truth, and that some had to be sacrificed if all were to be saved.

He said just one word to her. One, simple word. “Zha’valen.”

He could hear the gasp of shock and pain that came from her as he said that word. He would have heard it were he standing in the middle of an asteroid storm. He would never forget that sound.

One word. ‘Zha’valen.’

Outcast. A Shadow upon Valen. No Minbari could look at her, speak to her, even speak her name. It was as if she had never been born, had never existed, and that what stood before them was a mere shadow.

“Zha’valen.” That was Kalain. The word came more strongly from his mouth than it had from Sinoval’s. Kalain believed the stories of Delenn’s treachery. He believed because Sinoval had told him that they were true. Kalain had taken her place on the Council.

“Zha’valen.” That was Hedronn. Sinoval was not sure if Hedronn believed or not, but the exact details did not matter. Delenn’s very appearance – wearing that sickening half human face – that was enough to damn her in Hedronn’s eyes.

The word spread. “Zha’valen.” Even Rathenn and Lennann said it, although the latter had to look down as he did so.

Sinoval raised his head and looked directly into her eyes. He could see the light dying in them. He was not supposed to look at her, but he was Holy One, and he would break enough traditions sooner or later.

“Zha’valen,” he pronounced.

“No!” she cried, a word that was more scream than normal utterance. “No! Listen to me! Valen was a human! They are our kin out there. They are the other half of our soul. They…”

The acolytes returned at his gesture, and roughly led her away. Sinoval heard a noise that sounded very much like a sob.

Delenn now knew what had happened to her, as did the Council. The Nine were more Sinoval’s than ever now.

The Battle was not.

Sinoval was a warrior, and a leader. He had fought many foes, many times, and he had never been afraid. Not for himself. But for those he led… He remembered the name of every person who had died during his leadership. It was hard to remember, but it would be harder still to forget.

The battle was lost. He could see it. There could still be victory, but it would not be gained here. His mouth tasted of ashes.

He walked forward to the centre of the circle and raised his arms out wide. He closed his eyes.

“Pull back!” came the order. “This place is lost to us. Pull back!”

He could not bring himself to say, ‘Retreat’.

Kalain and Matokh began delivering precise instructions to the leaders of the fleet, detailing who would pull back, and who would hold. Sinoval could not bear to listen.

Victory was still possible. It was always possible while there was breath. But never had it seemed further away

* * * * * * *

Her breath was coming harder and harder. She was leaning on the side of the instrument panel. Her legs were sagging, her head drooped.

“Shadow vessel destroyed, sir,” said Major Krantz. Corwin did not shift his gaze from Alisa. “For the moment, things are clear here.”

“Good,” Corwin said. “Try and contact as many of our surviving Starfuries as you can. Reel them in to form a small screen around us. How are the hull repairs coming?”

“Temporary sealant over the damaged sector in place. Level nine is still entirely closed off however.”

Corwin nodded and then rushed forward. Alisa’s legs gave way completely and he arrived just in time to catch her. Slowly, he lowered her to the ground. Her eyes were closed, her breathing shallow. She looked as if she’d just run from Earth to Mars.

“Sir, about Captain Sheridan…”

Corwin looked up. “We can barely save ourselves, Major Krantz. If we can, then we will get the Captain back, but the last thing he would want us to do would be to risk this ship and its crew in a foolish rescue attempt.”

She was so young, he thought. What was Bester doing, drafting people this young into his war? Corwin had been older than this when he first stepped on to the Babylon, and he had still been considered largely a child.

What was Bester up to?

The Battle of the Second Line was a battle where nothing seemed to make sense. It had started out so simple. There’s the Minbari. There’s Proxima 3. Stop the one getting to the other. And then had come the Shadows, and Bester with his hidden agendas and his telepaths everywhere. And then had come the Minbari boarding party which had come in and left with both Satai Delenn and Captain Sheridan. And then Corwin had been in charge…

“What about the time when you disobeyed the orders of the Resistance Government in a foolish attempt to strike into Minbari space and rescue Captain Sheridan?” Krantz persisted.

Damn! Corwin thought. How did he find out about that?

The two people in this whole battle who actually seemed to know just what their commanding officer – Alfred Bester, Esq. – was up to – Captain Ari Ben Zayn and his constant companion Mr. Harriman Gray (P10) – were out of radio contact. Now that might be due to normal background radiation interference or whatever. But it could be that they’d come too close to one Shadow too many.

And that would leave a lot of unanswered questions.

“Have you got through to the Ozymandias yet?” he asked.

“No, sir,” said one of the technicians. Ah, what was his name? Guerra? Something like that. “Not a sound.”

“What about the Babylon?”

Now that was strange, if anything about this whole battle could not be considered strange. The Babylon had been Captain Sheridan’s ship. After his… somewhat forced defection from Proxima, Bester had returned it to the Resistance Government. The next time he saw it, Corwin had been expecting to be staring down its forward cannons. After all, the Resistance Government did consider him and the Captain to be Minbari-loving traitors.

And here they were, the Babylon actually fighting against the Shadows, who were supposed to be allies of the Resistance Government.

Corwin had long ago given up any hopes of understanding the universe. He’d be happy just understanding his own corner of it.

Alisa’s eyes fluttered and she looked up. “Commander,” she muttered. Her voice was that of a ninety-year-old, not the enthusiastic young woman he and the Captain had met earlier. “Com…”

“They’ve gone for the moment,” he said. “Rest.”

She tried to nod, but clearly didn’t have the energy even for that.

“Commander!” spoke up Guerra – if that was indeed his name. “The Minbari seem to be pulling back.”

“Think they’re retreating?”

“It’s possible.”

Corwin tapped his forefinger against his jaw slowly. Were the Minbari any match for the Shadows? Were they actually retreating?

Or was this all a ruse?

“Follow up on the Minbari,” he said. “But keep our distance, and if any of those bloody big Shadow ships show up, leg it quick.”

“I… can…” Alisa whispered.

“No,” Corwin snapped. “You can’t.”

He looked up.

And out there… somewhere… was the Captain. Corwin wondered if he’d managed to escape yet. It was only a matter of time…

* * * * * * *

His cell was dark, but then he had been expecting that. Captain Sheridan had been walking in darkness for years.

Where had it all begun? When had his first footstep on to the path of darkness been made? In his cell with Ivanova? On the bridge of the Babylon where he had shot and killed his wife? At his furious, maddened assault on the Minbari over Mars?

Or had this all been preordained? Had he been destined to walk in darkness from the moment of his birth?

Sheridan didn’t believe in Fate, but that did not mean that Fate did not believe in him.

Delenn. Everything came back to Delenn. What was it about her? She was Minbari, a Satai, orchestrator of the war against his people. How many would have been saved if she had said just a few words differently? How many deaths could be placed at her door?

And yet… and yet… he felt… comfortable with her. She had once told him that their souls were joined together, perennially continuing relationships from the past. He wasn’t sure if he believed that, either, but he sensed a comfort and an ease around Delenn that he never felt around anyone else, not even Corwin. Not even Anna.

Sometimes he even managed to forget that she was Minbari.

And now this. One part of his mind – the part that had launched the assault over Mars – was fuming with anger and betrayal. She had betrayed him. It was because of her that he was here. He had trusted her, helped her, risked his career, his life, all for her, and she had betrayed him. That part of his mind was brimming with anger. That was the part of his mind that had burned its way to the front during the Battle of Mars. Military tactics, strategies, supply lines, allies… all the things he had been taught, all the details that had served him well in the past… they had all gone straight out of the window, and he had become, for that battle, a machine. A pure machine who existed only to kill.

But there were other parts of his mind. One of them remembered the look of betrayal and lost innocence in her eyes when he had hit her on Vega 7. It remembered the way she had come to help him on Babylon 4. It remembered the image of her, battered, bruised, nearly broken, on his return to Proxima after his trip to the Narn homeworld. It remembered her speech about sharing souls.

The door opened and there she was, as if drawn by his thoughts. She stood there for a moment, illuminated in the doorway, and then she stepped inside. Sheridan caught an image of two figures at the door, and then they faded and everything was dark again.

“Delenn?” he said cautiously. She did not reply in words, but he could hear the sound of her breathing, and the light whispers of noise made by her movements. It was her.

“Delenn.” Firmer this time. Why was she not saying anything? Was she too ashamed by what she had done? Had she come here just to gloat?

“John,” she whispered. “John… I’m…”

He could feel her next to him, hesitating to touch him. He could hear her breath, coming harsh and ragged. Almost as if she were weeping.


The parts of his mind warred with themselves, and then one retreated. He reached out and held her. She dropped her head on his shoulder and began to cry. John did not think he had ever seen her cry before. She had been close on a number of occasions, and he had heard that she had broken down during Mr. Welles’ brutal interrogation of her, but he had not truly believed it until now.

Her sobs were those of someone who has just lost everything she has ever had.

John was content to hold her. Accusations of treachery and moments of rage would have to wait.

He had time. Time enough to hold her now.

* * * * * * *

There are some beings in the galaxy whose deeds are so renowned that their names are recognised almost everywhere, many with appellations marking the nature of those deeds. Captain Sheridan himself was one, marked with the name Starkiller. The Minbari were not the only ones to fear him. His involvement in the last Narn / Centauri War had made a substantial difference, and had been one of the major reasons why the arrogant Narns hadn’t fallen before the revitalised power of a Centauri renaissance. There were many in the League of Non-Aligned Worlds who knew full well Sheridan’s power and strength, and who also called him Starkiller.

There were others aside from Sheridan to gain that sort of renown. Sinoval’s name was fast becoming recognised, ever since his actions during the beginning of the Earth / Minbari War and his almost meteoric rise from Shai Alyt, to Satai, to Entil’zha and now to Holy One. G’Kar’s name was likewise famed. Greatest Narn hero of the Narn / Centauri War, turned prophet and greatest hope against the Darkness, his teachings had affected many of his people and were, slowly but surely, turning the Narns’ destiny around.

Then there was another, one who had earned her notoriety, not through deeds of courage or wisdom or skill, but through deeds of murder and of evil. Warmaster Jha’dur of the Dilgar, whose bloody swathe across the Non-Aligned Worlds had left billions dead, countless mutilated, wounded or dying, and her with the name Deathwalker. She was assumed to be dead, killed by the once powerful Earth Alliance when it had liberated the Non-Aligned Worlds, or killed when the Dilgar’s sun went supernova, or died of old age in some forgotten hideaway.

Assumptions are dangerous.

A long-ago deal with various elements within the Minbari Wind Swords clan had resulted in her being given sanctuary with them, in exchange for the results of her brilliance and research into biogenetics, weaponry and so forth. Some such weapons had been employed to terrifying effect in the early stages of the war against the Earthers.

But time passed, and many of those who made the deal with Deathwalker died, to war, to age, to Starkiller. All of those who knew about her died, while she lived on, perfecting her immortality serum, until it came that only one knew of her existence.

Sinoval had inherited her legacy when he had inherited the leadership of the Wind Swords clan after his predecessor had died on the Dralaphi. He had not been happy. He saw Deathwalker as a foul thing, a malignant blight in the very heart of Minbar, but he was trapped by his obligations, and he was forced to allow her to maintain her research, and commit her atrocities. He was never sure of the details, but he would not have been surprised to learn that she had been involved in the mysterious and sudden outbreak of the disease Drafa which had wiped out the Markab.

Sinoval had thought that he was rid of Deathwalker forever. After his assumption of the title of Holy One, when he finally had the power to resist her, he had cast her out from Minbar. His sense of obligation forbade him from killing her, much as he would have liked to, but he had been confident that his position kept him safe from her.

He had been wrong.

Deathwalker was still very much alive, and she had her allies, individuals who disagreed profoundly with what Sinoval was attempting to do with Minbar, individuals who were willing to damn themselves for the sake of power.

Deathwalker had been expecting this to happen for a long while, and she was not unprepared.

Far from it.

* * * * * * *

Lyta Alexander would never forget the sight of Marcus’ slumped body as long as she lived.

Neither would Susan Ivanova.

Both of their lives had become intrinsically aligned with that of the tall, dark-haired last survivor of his colony. Lyta as companion, friend, would-be lover. Susan as enemy, lover and ultimately, murderer.

Susan was still, staring down at the body on the floor at her feet. She had been affected somehow by the deaths of her Shadow guardians. She was motionless. Her hand opened and her steel pike – still stained with Marcus’ blood – dropped to the floor. It was as if she were paralysed.

Lyta was not.

Opening her mind, listening to the voice of the Vorlon inside her, the same voice that had given her the strength to override the sleepers and lash out mentally at Ivanova, Lyta did so again. She was not thinking. She was not caring. She was just doing.

Susan screamed as Lyta tore into her mind, shredding thoughts and memories and feeling, ripping apart everything that made Susan Ivanova what she was. After a while, Susan stopped screaming. Lyta didn’t stop her assault, until she realised that she was on her knees, the effort driving her almost to collapse. Ivanova had stopped screaming, she was simply staring up at the ceiling, shaking uncontrollably, uttering tiny whimpers.

Lyta drew in one deep, gasping breath, and crawled forward. She could smell Marcus’ blood, she could smell the ichor of the dead Shadows. She could smell death.

Perhaps he’s still alive, she dared herself to think, now that she had started to think again. Perhaps I can touch him… touch his mind one last time… Perhaps…

But no, there was no hope. Marcus was dead. His chest had been torn open and his heart and lungs reduced to pulp by the force of Ivanova’s blow. Lyta touched his forehead gently. His eyes were open. Even in death, they looked haunted and scarred. Not even at the end had he found the happiness he had so yearned for.

She gently closed his eyes, not wanting to look at them any longer. She said his name softly, and then again. She could not… it was… it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair! Why did he have to die? Why…?

The Vorlon didn’t scream a warning at her this time.

Ivanova grabbed Lyta’s leg and wrenched her backwards. Lyta fell back and rolled over, but Ivanova was on top of her, hands closed around her throat. “What… did you do… to… me?” Ivanova cried out. “What… did you…?”

Lyta couldn’t believe this. She had… she had destroyed Ivanova’s mind. She had to have! This was… this was impossible. What had the Shadows done to her so that she could survive that?

Or maybe she hadn’t totally survived. Lyta was staring directly up into Ivanova’s eyes, and she could see a raging fury there, a dark, intense, savage madness. Ivanova tightened her grip and Lyta gasped.

Help me! she cried out inside her mind. She was not strong enough to override the sleepers. Not without his help. Help me!

But her only help was one word. Wrong.

Ivanova picked Lyta up by her throat and then smashed her head against the floor. Lyta’s whole body shook. Help me!

Wrong. Pride. Anger. Abuse of your power. Wrong.

Help… me…

Lyta gasped again. This was impossible… Ivanova’s savagery… her sheer strength… What had the Shadows done to her?

Lyta’s head was thrust against the floor again. She felt a warmth running through her hair. She was bleeding.



* * * * * * *

Tryfan looked up and saw the wall of Darkness moving towards his White Star – the Valen. The rest of the Minbari fleet was pulling back, slowly giving ground to the Enemy. He had been expecting a difficult fight – unlike his fellow Minbari he underestimated no one – and things were in accord with his gloomiest predictions. The Enemy had taken some losses. The Minbari had just taken more.

The White Star had no flyers, but the capital ships did, and they were out there now, forming a screen between the fleet and the advancing Shadows. Tryfan could see them dying before his eyes.

“In Valen’s Name,” he whispered. He was tired of seeing his fellows fall and die. He was tired of seeing brave Minbari sacrifice themselves. He did not try to analyse Sinoval’s reasoning in ordering the gradual retreat, but he did know he had to do something.

Victory is never impossible.

At his order, the Valen soared forwards, into the heart of Darkness.

* * * * * * *

President Clark knew a great deal about darkness. He had seen it on Earth, before the war, he had seen it in the way he saw humanity’s future. A long time ago, when he was just a Senator, he had presented a speech before the Senate about his vision of humanity’s future. Ground up, enslaved, subjected before the will of alien masters, lost beneath a tide of aliens and nonhumans and foreign customs.

The War had proved him right, and its aftermath had also. Humanity was reduced to little better than slaves, meekly accepting a life of servitude on Narn-held worlds simply because it was preferable to being blasted into atoms by the Minbari.

For ten years he had been slowly rising in power, watching and listening to the completion of his terrible vision. It would not happen. Morgan Clark had dedicated his life to preventing it happening.

And the beginning was here. The Battle of the Second Line it was already being called. The day when humanity took back the galaxy.

He knew that this was for the best, for the good of humanity, for humanity’s future. (And if an alien voice spoke in his mind, then that did not matter. This was all for the good of humanity.)

“First reports are coming in, Mr. President,” said one of the technicians. Clark could not remember his name. He was sitting alone in the Resistance Government’s Hall. Clark did not like being alone. It meant the voice he heard was louder. Where were the others? Takashima was on board the Babylon, and Welles would doubtless be keeping Security in order in the Main Dome, in case alien saboteurs tried to land, but where the hell was Hague? He had been becoming seriously unstable lately. Clark might have to have him removed.

And where was Ivanova?

“Our probes indicate that the Minbari are beating a slow retreat, Mr. President. At least five of their larger ships and seven of their new medium class ships have been destroyed, as well as a substantial number of their flyers and shuttles. Our allies do seem to be taking some casualties, but they still easily outnumber the Minbari. There are also a number of anomalous ships which seem to be present…”

Clark started. What? “Describe these ships,” he ordered.

“Two appear to be Earthforce heavy destroyers, Mr. President,” the aide began. “Anoth…”

“Alien trickery,” Clark snapped. “The Babylon is the only heavy destroyer remaining after the war. The Minbari must be employing tricks to confuse our allies. The other ships?”

“One Narn heavy cruiser and one Centauri warship…”

“The Narns? What are they…? Oh, I see. They’ve betrayed us as well. You can’t trust aliens. None of them. Or the Centauri. Oh well. Our allies will take them down soon enough. Is that it?”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“Good.” Clark smiled, but then his smile faded. “Do you know the whereabouts of Ambassador Ivanova?” He might have expected her to be here. She had spoken of some personal business, but still…

“No, Mr. President.”

“Find her.” Clark had tried contacting her quarters, only to receive no answer. “Ask her to come here.”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

The technician bowed and left, rather hurriedly. There had been suggestions for the Resistance Government and other important officials to be moved from the Main Dome to somewhere safer, but Clark had refused to be moved. He knew humanity’s allies would not fail them.

He knew because the Keeper told him so, every time he closed his eyes…

* * * * * * *

Pride. Anger. Abuse. Not ready. Perhaps I was wrong. Show me otherwise.

Lyta could not breathe. Her vision was swimming. All of it except for Ivanova’s eyes. These – dark and furious and brimming with madness – they were focussed directly on the back of her mind.

Help… me…

Lyta hands were reaching out, clawing desperately for something to hold, anything. Her fingers brushed against something cold and sticky.

They jerked back in revulsion when she realised what it was she had touched. Ivanova’s pike, still stained with Marcus’ blood.

Her head smashed against the floor one more time.

Lyta stretched out again, desperately, frantically. She touched the pike again and tried to pull it towards her. She could feel Marcus’ blood on it, his blood sticking to her hand, but she didn’t care.

She began to pull the pike back…

Ivanova’s grip on her throat loosened and Lyta was at last able to breathe, but only for a second. Ivanova grabbed her head and yanked it up, smashing it against the ground again. What little breath Lyta had fled from her body in one huge gasp as her whole body shook.

The pike rolled from her grasp.


* * * * * * *


John stiffened. Delenn clearly noticed his reaction and pulled back from him a little.

“Zha’valen,” she repeated. “A Shadow upon Valen. I am outcast now. I have no title, no position, not even a name. All I have is the word, ‘Zha’valen’.”

The word clicked in Sheridan’s mind. He had heard it before, and now he knew where. The person who had sent the mysterious message to the Babylon from the even more mysterious space station Babylon 4 had addressed Delenn as Zha’valen. It was on board that same space station that he had seen himself killing Anna – exactly as he had done.

“What…” He swallowed hard. His head was pounding. “What will happen now?”

“You, they will probably kill. Me… my punishment is done. I am not dead, but I might as well be. John… I am… I…”

All of Sheridan’s anger evaporated. The mistrust and the suspicion remained, but the anger did not – could not. Never had he felt more linked to her than at that moment.

“We will see,” he said. Now that he was no longer angry with her, his mind began to plot possibilities for escape. The first obligation of any prisoner was to escape. “We will see.”

Sinoval – he was the weak link. He was proud and arrogant, and probably remembered his last meeting with Sheridan. He might want to come to gloat, possibly leaving a weakness. Delenn might still have allies among the Grey Council – Sheridan had seen first-hand how divided they had been the last time. He had little reason to believe that that had changed. And then there were Corwin and Bester. Perhaps they might be able to help…

“I am sorry, John,” Delenn whispered. “I have gotten you killed. I have betrayed you, and… and…”

“I’m not dead yet,” he reminded her gently. “And there’ll be plenty of time to talk about betrayal afterwards.” He looked around slowly. Everything was in darkness. He had managed to pace out the dimensions of the cell, and his fumbled explorations had revealed nothing else of value, not even a cot. Delenn was the only other thing in the cell.

The darkness did not seem all that oppressive to him. Sheridan had been walking in darkness for nearly all of his life, and he had been in worse situations than this before. He was confident that this was not over.

He had to instill Delenn with that same confidence. She had just lost everything she had ever believed in, and as one who had experienced the same thing, he wanted to try and help her out of it.

He sat down in the corner of the cell and gently pulled Delenn down to him. She was not speaking, but her breathing was loud and harsh. She sounded almost asthmatic. She rested in his arms naturally, leaning against him as if it felt like the simplest thing in the world to her.

“Tell me something,” he said.

“What?” she said softly. “John… I…”

“Tell me something. About yourself, about your childhood, about anything. Just tell me something.”


“All right then. I’ll start. There was a crewman on the Babylon a few years ago, and he had this pet cat. Now it was against all regulations, but he managed to keep it hidden from most of us, and everyone who knew was just as soft about cats as he was, but one day General Franklin came on board to do a surprise inspection and…”

John carried on with the old story, the only other sound in the room that of Delenn’s breathing. He wondered if she could guess that the story of Crewman Johnson and his cat was nothing more than an Earthforce myth, repeated every year to new recruits and told and retold repeatedly over drinks in Earthforce bars across Earth space. He had actually heard Corwin telling the story to Alisa Beldon on board the Parmenion a few days ago. She had listened, enraptured, while the other crew members listened and snickered behind open hands. Afterwards she had laughed, and then recognised that Corwin was making it all up. Damn telepaths – they spoiled all the fun.

“So after we cleaned up the damage, I said, ’You bring that cat near me again, and I’ll have you both up on charges.’” Sheridan began to chuckle, remembering the first time he had heard the story, over fifteen years ago.

Delenn was laughing as well, although her laughter was interrupted by frequent bouts of wheezing. “A cat?” she said. “I do not think I have ever seen a cat. We have some animals on Minbar, though, which seem similar. We call them goks.”


“Yes.” He was certain she was smiling. He could practically see her face lighten as she did so. “I think they are an effort made by the universe to ensure we never take ourselves too seriously.”

“You might be right,” he agreed. “Well, it’s your turn.”

“My turn?”

“Yes. I told a story, so now you have to.”

“I… oh. I do not know anything like that…”

“It doesn’t matter. Anything. Your childhood, your family, your friends. Anything.”

“I… oh… very well, then. When I was a child, my father was often away, and I was taught by Draal. One day he was teaching me about the history of Varmain, one of our greatest warrior diplomats. I didn’t care for history then, and to avoid listening to him, I was…”

Sheridan listened and laughed, and then he told another story – the one about the time he and Captain Maynard had taken shore leave and met this dancer – and then she told another story, and on and on.

And for a brief while at least, there was a light in the darkness. It wasn’t to last. It never did, but for a while at least, there was the sound of laughter.

“So how did you find the statue again?” she asked. “Or did you leave it there?”

“Oh no,” he said. “But first I had to track down the Drazi Ambassador. This was however, in the midst of their ceremonial battle for leadership, where they all divide up into greens and purples and…”

The door opened, and a Minbari figure stood framed in it. They both rose, holding on to each other. “Delenn?” asked a voice.

“Lennann!” she replied. “But…?”

“There is no time for words, Delenn. Hurry. There are some of us who did not believe Sinoval’s accusations against you. I have gathered them together, and they will listen to what you have to say. But we must hurry, or Sinoval will find out what I am doing.”

“John must come too,” she insisted.

“We cannot do that, Delenn. Hurry, please!”

“Not without him.”

“Go on, Delenn,” Sheridan insisted. “I’ll be fine. Trust me.”

“John, I…”

He touched her face gently, almost unsure of what he was doing. “Go,” he said. Then he looked up at the silhouette in the doorway. “If she is hurt because of this, then so will you be. I promise.”

“There is no need to threaten me, Starkiller,” Lennann snapped back. “Delenn…”

“I am coming. I… John…”

“Just go,” he told her. “I can look after myself.”

She touched him gently and then left. Sheridan looked at the now closed door for a moment, and then he sat down again. It was strange how the cell seemed to smell so much of her now that she was gone.

And his mind was awash with plans for escape, and of stories of cats and goks, and visits to temple…

* * * * * * *

Ta’Lon had never been to Proxima 3 before, and so he had never met Mr. Welles, the man whose official designation was Head of Security and whose unofficial designation was Spymaster General. Upon his arrival here a few hours before he had arranged matters with a General Hague, who had looked very distracted, and hadn’t bothered checking his fake ID – provided by G’Kar.

Welles was considerably more efficient. After verifying the ID with the central computer at the Main Dome, he turned to his security guards. “Go on,” he ordered. “He’s fine.”

The guards – led by a big man with a deep scar running down one eye – left. After they were gone, Welles turned to Ta’Lon.

“So,” he said. “Tell me about Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar.”

* * * * * * *

Minbari… so proud… so noble… so perfect…

Minbari could project that image of perfection as much as they liked, and some might even believe them, but to Jha’dur, Minbari were no better than her own people. They still had their petty angers, their petty rivalries, their politicking.

Look at this one. A member of the Grey Council, devoted to Delenn, inheritor of a proud heritage. And he was content to abandon it all just for the sake of political power. No, not even that. A return to order, to a balance that could never hold…

The Minbari were falling. They were a dying race.

“He is in the cell, then?” Jha’dur asked.

Rathenn nodded. “Delenn was placed there as well. Sinoval ordered it.”

“What?” That did not make sense. Why put two of your enemies in the same place when there was no need to? It gave them a chance to plot an escape, it gave each access to information from the other. It… it was stupid. “Why?”

“Sinoval clearly believes in some form of redemption, perhaps?” Rathenn suggested. “It does not matter. Delenn is gone now. Satai Lennann has assembled a small group of people who will listen to her claims. Sheridan is alone in his cell, and the guards have been taken care of. I have ordered them away.”

“Good,” Jha’dur said. “Very good. Sinoval is blind, Rathenn, but you… you see clearly.”

“I have no feelings towards the Starkiller either way, and Delenn has clearly fallen. Whether what Sinoval claims is true or not is irrelevant. She will never regain her power. Perhaps this way, the religious caste can regain power from the warriors before they destroy us.”

“Perhaps,” Jha’dur said, smiling.

“Regardless… I have done as you asked. The Starkiller is yours, although what you want with him, I do not care to know. You are now in my debt, and I will demand repayment.”

“Of course,” Jha’dur replied. “And I will pay you back.”

“Yes,” he said. “You will.” He rose. “Sinoval has sent the Council to their respective meditations. Foolishness, if you ask me. He is… unstable, but still… Lennann expects me to be with him, and so I must go. Remember what I have done for you.”

“Oh, I will.” He turned to leave, and Jha’dur acted. Lunging forward with a speed that not even a Minbari could match she slid a thin needle from the fingers of her glove, and drove it into Rathenn’s neck. He stiffened and slumped, gasping as he looked at her, unable to breathe, unable to talk, or to move.

Jha’dur had been left alone for so much of her time amongst the Minbari. Time aplenty to develop several interesting strains of poison. This one, that could kill a Minbari with a mere drop. Others – a paralysing agent, a poison comprised of pure alcohol, a plague that would be 100% terminal, modelled after that delightful Markab disease Drafa. Jha’dur was more than prepared for any eventuality.

And, sooner or later, she would be able to use them all.

“I am repaying your kindness, Satai Rathenn,” she said. “You will die here, rather than later. A quicker death than your companions.”

She left before the life fled from his eyes. She had bigger concerns now.

Jha’dur did not consider herself a Shadow agent. She did not work for them as did the humans, or some Centauri, or the Drakh, or others… She worked with the Shadows. An equal partnership. She agreed with their plans for humanity. She agreed very much.

And now for Sheridan, with whom everything had begun

* * * * * * *

Londo had managed to surface into sobriety just long enough to hear Carn’s report.

“The enemy ships seem to have abandoned this area. They are heading further towards the heart of the system. We are alone for the moment.”

He swallowed. He really shouldn’t have had so much brivare. Had Frallus 12 really been that long ago? “What is the condition of the telepath?” Somehow, using means that Londo didn’t even want to think about, G’Kar had discovered that telepaths could deter and even stop the Shadow ships. As a result he had had telepaths installed on each of the ships whose captains were loyal to him. On a Centauri ship, it made little difference, as telepaths were routinely kept near by by the Captains anyway. One never knew when an overheard thought might prove handy.

“Weak, but still alive. He’s resting at the moment.”

“We do not want him burning out on us.” Good telepaths were always very hard to replace.

“No, Uncle Londo. I had worked that out. You’re so patronising when you’re drunk, did you know that?”

“Bah! And what would you know about being drunk? I was drowning myself in brivare before you were even born!”

“My father said that you used to pass out after a few sniffs of the brivare. You didn’t even have to drink any, he said.”

“The next time I see your father, remind me to have him lynched, Carn. What word from our Narn friends?”

“Na’Kal’s telepaths are pretty much out of things. Narn telepaths are much more… unstable than ours. They’ve been operating on blind faith for quite some time.”

That was another thing G’Kar had been doing. Somehow – the Great Maker alone knew the exact details – G’Kar had found a way to create Narn telepaths. Weak and unstable, true, but telepaths were telepaths. Now if only any of them survived long enough to have children it might have been worthwhile…

“Well, Uncle? What’s the plan?”

“Plan? Why am I the one who has to come up with a plan? You’re the Captain!”

“Yes, but you are the one who got me and my ship into this mess in the first place.”

“Carn, may I remind you that I am your uncle and… as… such… worthy… of… all right, what is it?”

Carn’s face had grown white. “There are two of the enemy ships. Coming directly for us.”

* * * * * * *

Ta’Lon started. He would have to learn not to underestimate humans again. He should have learned that lesson with Sheridan. Humans possessed a subtlety and a way of thinking that were totally unknown to Narns – whose politics tended to consist of the Thenta Ma’Kur and a lot of lying.

Some humans were nearly as bad as the Centauri.

“I do not know him,” Ta’Lon said. “I know of him, certainly…”

“Don’t lie to me,” Welles snapped angrily. “I’m not an idiot. I know about a new force being formed, and I have heard G’Kar’s name far too often to believe that he is anything but the leader of this force. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Mr. Bester were involved as well. Now, as of yet, I haven’t shared this information with the Resistance Government. Let us say I have a few… doubts about President Clark’s motives. To say nothing about Ambassador Ivanova. Now, can you give me a reason why I shouldn’t tell the President?”

“Ah,” Ta’Lon said. “How did you know of my involvement?” Ta’Lon had never been much of a politician.

“Your papers were authorised by someone whom my agents in the Narn court have been investigating. And after that, of course, I guessed, and struck lucky. Well, what can you tell me?”

Ta’Lon blinked. He could try to kill Mr. Welles, but he doubted that would be a good idea. “You are correct. Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar has formed a small network of agents, designed to maintain order in the galaxy. He believes that this constant warfare will weaken us all, to no good purpose.”

“I see. Really? A humanitarian, then? Or should it be Narn-itarian? And what were you doing here?”

“Two of his agents are here. I was sent in to free them, and to watch the events of the battle.”

“Oh? When you next see Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar, tell him that he now owes me a favour, and unless he wants me to reveal everything I’ve found, he’d better pay up. Do you know where to find Miss Alexander and Mr. Cole?”

“I… do.”

“Then go and do so. And… there is a message for Miss Alexander as well. If she ever comes back here, I will personally have her executed. Understood?”


“Glad to hear it. Your G’Kar isn’t the only one worried about these Shadows, you know. Good day.”

Ta’Lon watched as he left. Welles was nothing if not dangerous. Ta’Lon wondered what G’Kar would say to this. But any problem with Welles would have to wait. Ta’Lon had a mission to perform for G’Kar, and then a second mission to perform for Neroon…

The first would be far less painful than the second…

* * * * * * *

Sinoval stood alone in his personal chambers, watching the ebb and flow of the battle from there. The fleet was pulling back slowly, but he had not as yet ordered a full retreat into hyperspace. This would be largely ineffectual against the Shadows and he had not yet raised the courage to give such an order. He knew he would have to, but to stand in front of the Grey Council and order his ships to retreat – to make all these deaths mean nothing – he was not yet ready.

He sighed and bowed his head, turning to leave.

Jha’dur was fast, yes, but Sinoval had been a warrior all his life. He was faster.

He spun around and extended his pike, kept always at his belt. One of Durhan’s fabled nine weapons, it possessed one of the proudest histories of any weapon, almost as great as that borne by Valen himself.

Jha’dur fell on to his block and stumbled backwards. She scrambled to her feet.

“How stupid did you take me for?” Sinoval spat. “You were trained well, yes, by Shakiri and Matokh and even Durhan, but none of them, not even Durhan, was ever my equal.”

Jha’dur extended her own pike, the one Shakiri had given her when the Wind Swords had given her secrets to the Star Riders. It was a fine weapon, and thoroughly wasted in the hands of such a creature. Of course, it had been wasted in the hands of Shakiri as well.

Jha’dur sprang forward, but Sinoval blocked and parried her strikes. She was quite skilled, but he was better. He sent her falling backwards again.

“What a pitiful thing you are,” he spat. “A foul, malignant creature. Almost a tumour. Your race is gone, Jha’dur. Your time in this galaxy is at an end. I would have been content to let you live, but now… now you will die, and for what? Well, Jha’dur? For what?”

She smiled, and lunged forward again. Sinoval parried her whirlwind of blows and waited for the one chink in her defences. Finding it, he lashed out at her arm and knocked the pike from her grip. It fell, and then he kicked her, sending her falling backwards, prone at his feet.

Sinoval placed the end of the pike at her throat and knelt down over her. “Was it worth it? All those dreams of immortality – only to end here?”

She smiled.

It was just a small prick, hardly noticeable, except for her smile.

Sinoval felt his limbs grow leaden. He fell back, tumbling to the ground. His pike fell, none of his muscles strong enough to let him hold it. His head struck the floor and jarred. He could not move, not even a little.

“Yes, Sinoval,” she said, rising to her feet and retrieving her weapon. “It was. You’ve just been touched by one of my very special concoctions. A paralysing agent. Not fatal, unlike the one I used on poor Rathenn. This one will only keep you here for a while, out of the way and quiet while I proceed to destroy everything you hold dear.”

Sinoval found he could still talk, but only with great effort. “You… are… cursed!”

She made a gesture of surprise. “My commendations on your strength, Sinoval. I would bet your Grey Council isn’t as strong. Don’t worry. I’ve something entirely different in mind for them.”


“The humans,” she replied. “This is all for their benefit. I’m sure you remember Sheridan’s capture last year? All that effort I went to arranging it. You always thought I was up to something. Well, I was. I was setting him up with the Enemy who is even now tearing your fleet apart. I was setting up all of humanity.

“They destroyed my people. And why? Not for territory or money or power, but because we were evil. They could never act like we did. We appalled their sense of morality… Guess what, Sinoval? They will become us. With the Shadows at their side, humanity will spread chaos and death across the galaxy, bringing death on a scale that we could scarcely even hope for. And they will begin with you.”

“Wrong,” Sinoval said, twitching his lips in a parody of a smile. “Some… humans… have… honour. You… won’t win…”

“Yes. Some humans do have honour. Not unlike Sheridan, I suppose? Even after all the blandishments of the Shadows, he still wouldn’t join them. I’m prepared for that as well.

“What afflicted you is just a mild poison. A paralysing agent, that’s all. I have far deadlier devices in my arsenal. There’s one I have in mind. It’s very slow-acting. A variable incubation period – no more than two or three years. After which it turns terminal in less than a week. There’s only one cure, and the Shadows have it. I’ll infect all those humans who are too noble, too pure, too enlightened to join my crusade willingly, and I’ll give them the choice. Voluntary slavery to the Shadows – knowing full well what they’ve done. Or death.”

“They’d… rather… die.”

“Oh, Sinoval. Do grow up. Death and I are old friends. They don’t call me Deathwalker for nothing. I’ve spent all my life avoiding her, and so does everyone else. Every day every living being fights to stay alive, whatever the cost, whatever the shame, whatever it takes… It’s the strongest urge of every living being – the urge to survive. They’ll accept the cure, no matter the cost. And so will Sheridan. He will be the first.”

“What? When… will you…?”

“When will I start? Sinoval, I told you to grow up. Do you really think I’d tell you all this if I hadn’t started already?

“I infected Sheridan over an hour ago.”

Chapter 6

In Valen’s Name…

In Valen’s Name, what have I done?

Alone in his quarters, paralysed, trapped with his thoughts and his memories and his anger, Sinoval of the Wind Swords clan, Shai Alyt of the holy jihad, Satai of the Grey Council, Entil’zha, Holy One, waited.

Deathwalker they called her, out in the Non-Aligned Worlds where her name was still feared and hated and remembered. Warmaster Jha’dur of the Dilgar. Deathwalker. For decades she had been gone, vanished, believed dead. Sinoval had known otherwise. He, and his predecessors in the Wind Swords clan had sheltered her, given her free rein to perform her sickening experiments and research, benefiting from her insane genius. And now Sinoval and all of Minbar would fall prey to that very same genius.

Outside this room and this spaceship, Minbari were fighting against the Ancient Enemy spoken of in Valen’s prophecies. Fighting and dying. Sinoval had decided to order a retreat. The Enemy was too strong for them. But he had been deceived by the enemy within his very stronghold.

Deathwalker had spoken of her monument, of her legacy. Humanity would spread terror and death across the galaxy and become the very embodiment of the race they had destroyed. What a fitting irony. The first stage of this would be the destruction of the Minbari, the same race who had become like the Dilgar in nearly destroying humanity.

And Sinoval had enabled it all to happen.

His mind was burning with a revelation so intense that it left no room for sanity, no place for calm or reserve. No emotion could ever convey the feelings burning within his mind.

In Valen’s Name…

You told me! he cried out inside his mind. You told me I had a destiny! You came to me in a vision and said that I would unite all of Minbar behind me, take my people to their fullest destiny! Was this the destiny you spoke of? To destroy them? Is this to be our fate?

He cast his mind back many years, to the first time he had stepped within the Dreaming. He had been at Varmain’s side. The legendary warrior-diplomat was dying and she wished one last confirmation that what she had done had been right. He had been a hesitant child then, anxious and concerned, afraid to look up at one so touched by Valen.

“I cannot have a guide who will not look up,” Varmain had told him, in that gently forceful tone of hers, the voice that had humbled ambassadors, prophets and emperors. “You will be forever bumping into things.”

And he had looked up, and what had he seen? An old woman, who limped and hobbled, whose eyes were dimmed and whose movements were slow. Once warriors and prophets and rulers had trembled at the sound of her footsteps. Now she was simply old and frail, and needed his help to walk.

That had been an important realisation. Everyone, no matter how great, fell in time. No one could be victorious forever. He had later learned a saying from the decadent Centauri. ‘Let no man be called happy or great until he be dead.’ It had fit Varmain perfectly.

They had entered the Dreaming and Varmain had sat down, ushering him to sit beside her. She had talked slowly of her past and of her great deeds, all immortalised in legend. They had relived her childhood and her love through the images of the Dreaming. At one point she had stopped breathing and Sinoval turned to her. Her eyes opened and she smiled.

“So much,” she had said. “Valen has blessed me indeed.”

And then she died.

He had not been sure of how to react. Should he leave, call out to the people who waited in the Whisper Gallery, wait for them to come to him?

And then he saw Valen. Who else could it be – a glowing figure who looked at him, wreathed all in light, reaching out an arm. “Minbar’s destiny lies in your hands, Sinoval of the Wind Swords clan,” he said. “You will reunite Minbar, lead my people to their destiny. Through you, will the Minbari rule the galaxy.”

He had passed out then, and when he had awoken, days later, he remembered the vision, and Valen’s words, convinced of the rightness of his destiny. He had thrown himself into his work, training alongside Durhan, then still in the prime of life, working hard to rise in the ranks of his clan. When the war came he was an Alyt. By its end he was Shai Alyt, one of Branmer’s most trusted advisors. After that, he had risen and risen. Made Satai after Sheridan’s assault on the Grey Council over Mars, he soon became the dominant warrior caste voice after Shakat resigned, never having recovered from his injuries sustained in the attack over Mars. Then, with Deathwalker’s help, his power grew. People loyal to him, such as Tryfan and Kalain, gained power in the great fleet being massed against the Enemy, and in the Rangers. After Branmer’s death and Neroon’s disappearance, Sinoval was the obvious choice to become the next Entil’zha. All it took was Delenn’s disappearance. After that, the title of Holy One was easy. Sinoval now walked where no one save Valen had in a thousand years.

And all it had cost him was his soul.

Deathwalker had damned him, and doomed Minbar.

No. He had damned himself, and doomed Minbar himself.

In Valen’s Name! Was this the destiny I was promised? Is this it?

No, said a voice.

Sinoval looked around, as much as Deathwalker’s poison would let him. There was no one in sight.

“Who?” he asked. It took impossible effort even to speak.

You have a destiny. But your pride has subverted you from it. Learn from this. Your destiny is not yet confirmed.

“Valen,” he whispered. “Forgive… me… Valen. I…”

You must forgive yourself. Learn of your destiny, Sinoval of the Wind Swords. You must learn.

His body was suddenly bathed in light. He closed his eyes tightly and screamed as pain tore through him. His arms jerked outwards, so that they were thrust out. Hidden nails of light pinned his hands and feet to the ground.

“Valen…” he cried. “Valen!”

The light faded and he opened his eyes. He could feel himself again. Slowly, hesitantly, he staggered to his feet, almost falling as he did so. “Valen, are you…?” There was no one.

“Isil’zha veni,” he whispered.

Deathwalker. He had to save his people. He had to stop Deathwalker. He had to order the retreat, before his people were destroyed. He had to…

Suddenly, Sinoval stopped. He still had his pike – one of Durhan’s nine blades – but that did not seem enough. He went to the small table, one of the few items of furniture in the room, and picked a small item up from it. It was a weapon, a human weapon. He had taken it from Sheridan over a year ago, the last time the human had been held prisoner on Minbar. He thought he knew how to use it.

He picked it up and stuffed it into a pocket in his robe.

“I will not fail you, Valen,” he whispered.

“Isil’zha veni.”

In Valen’s Name…

* * * * * * *

Warleader Na’Kal of the J’Tok looked up at the two ships soaring slowly towards him and the Centauri warship, and closed his eyes. He was not a particularly pious man – his mother had been a haphazard follower of G’Lan, his father had died before Na’Kal had emerged from his mother’s pouch. He did however believe in G’Kar, not as a prophet, or as a holy figure, but as a man, as one man with a vision. He did not necessarily believe in that vision, but he knew the chaos his home planet was in. He knew, like G’Kar, that the Narns were a dying people unless action could be taken. Their current war with the Centauri proved that. Na’Kal had fought in the previous war, and he knew just how closely the Narns had come to being annihilated and occupied again. But no, no one else believed that. And now they were making the same mistakes they had always made.

There was something G’Kar had said during his last speech before the Kha’Ri, something he had later repeated in private to Na’Kal. ’Freedom brings responsibility, which is why so many fear it.’

For those raised during the occupation, such as G’Kar and Na’Kal, freedom had come at a very high cost. For those who were younger, freedom was all they had ever known.

The Narns were a dying race, and they would stay that way unless G’Kar did something about it. No one else could.

But perhaps Na’Kal could make a difference.

“Captain Mollari,” he said over the commlink. “How is your telepath?”

“Only barely conscious,” came the reply. “Certainly not able to hold them off. What about yours?”

“One dead, one near to burn-out.” Narn telepaths had been created recently in a private deal between G’Kar and a human telepath. As of yet they were unstable and low-powered.

“Well,” Carn Mollari said. “How many of their ships have you taken out? Just for the bet?”

Na’Kal smiled. “Two of their big ships. Five of the smaller ones. You?”

Carn made a gesture of surprise. “The same. Uncle Londo will be disappointed. If we can’t best a Narn, who can we beat?”

“It is not over yet. Remember to toast our memory when you celebrate.”

“What? Na’Kal, don’t…”

Na’Kal deactivated the commlink. He looked up at the ships approaching him. Huge, black, vast against the night of space. Ancient, timeless, powerful. The symbol of past legends, past nightmares, past fears…

Na’Kal closed his eyes and ordered a full forward charge, activating a full-focussed, forward blast as he did so. The J’Tok could not maintain such firepower or such speed long, but it would not need to.

The first Shadow ship’s energy blast tore into the front of the J’Tok, destroying everything and everyone on the bridge in a blinding flash of light, but that did not matter.

The J’Tok smashed into the vessel, and exploded. The Shadow ship emitted a scream that tore through the minds of everyone on board the Valerius, as it died.

Na’Kal had won his bet after all.

* * * * * * *

“Valen said that we would reunite with the other half of our soul in a war against the common enemy. We all know who the Enemy is, and they have returned. As for the other half of our soul…”

Delenn drew a deep breath and hoped that her wince at the pain in her chest was not noticeable. She could see that many of those looking at her were doing so with hatred and suspicion. She was Zha’valen – outcast. By all rights they should not even be listening to her.

“The other half of our soul are the humans. They share our souls. They have Minbari souls. Minbari and humans are closely linked. My very presence here proves it. I am now partially human. I made this change to become a bridge between our peoples, a focus point to unite us against the Enemy.

“We have lost our way. We have all abandoned our covenant with Valen! This war… it is wrong. We are destroying our own souls, and we are forsaking Valen’s memory and wishes. If we have abandoned him, if we have abandoned everything that makes us who we are, then what do we have left?”

There was a moment’s silence. Delenn could see the bitter, angry gazes focussed on her. Beside her Lennann shuffled his feet nervously. She knew that this was dangerous. By Minbari law no one should speak to her, or even look at her. But she had to try. She had to make then listen. She had to make them understand.

“You tell us, Delenn,” said a voice she knew and recognised. Callenn, head of her clan. He had always been so convinced of Minbari purity. She remembered his reaction when Dukhat had been killed – a fury that rivalled that of any warrior.

“You tell us what our future holds. Looking like you – becoming like you. Letting the humans kill us all as they killed Dukhat, and Shakiri, letting them cripple us as they crippled Shakat and Branmer. I would have thought that you more than anyone would not be advocating this course. Remember that it was you whose casting vote began this war.”

Delenn remembered. How could she ever forget?

“I remember,” she said softly. “And I freely admit it as a mistake. I was wrong! We were wrong! How far must we go before we admit our mistake? How many must we kill before we realise we are fighting the wrong enemy? In how much blood must we all wade before we realise this is wrong?”

“You have been among humans too long, Delenn,” Callenn noted. “You have even begun to speak like them.”

“The humans have their own perspective on things. Who is to say that theirs is any less accurate than our own?”

“Certainly not a traitor. The Grey Council has named you Zha’valen, Delenn. The Grey Council calls you traitor, anathema. The Grey Council says that you helped Sheridan Starkiller escape from his imprisonment before. The Grey Council says that you work with the Enemy, of your own will. Now perhaps the Grey Council is wrong, but your very appearance before us, looking like that, speaking those words… that confirms that it is you who has lost your way, Delenn. It is you who has abandoned our covenant with Valen. It is you who has betrayed us all.

“I do not hate you, Delenn. You have been corrupted by humans, by the Starkiller. I simply pity you. You have lost your way. And so, in memory of what you once were, I do not wish to punish you any more than has already been done.

“In sorrow, and memory, Delenn.”

Callenn inclined his head gently, not making the full Minbari gesture of departure, and then he left. Slowly, the others began to file out after him. “No!” Delenn cried. “You must listen! Please, you must listen to me!”

But they did not listen, and they did not care. Only one other person stopped to look at her before leaving. Delenn recognised him. It was Ashan, a member of the Third Fane of Chudomo, and an acolyte in service to the Grey Council.

He said one word. “Zha’valen.”

And then he left.

Lennann touched Delenn’s shoulder gently. “I am sorry, Delenn,” he said. “We tried.”

“But we did not try hard enough,” she said, her eyes blazing. “We will try harder.”

“Delenn, if your own clan will not listen to you, then who…?”

“The Grey Council. They will listen, if I have to make them listen. This is wrong, Lennann! This is wrong and I must show them that it is so. I was the chosen of Dukhat, and I held him when he died. His spirit is in my eyes. If he could see what his people have become, then he would curse us from where he now rests with Valen! I must fulfill his last legacy, Lennann.

“The Grey Council will listen to me. There is no other alternative.”

* * * * * * *

David Corwin had seen many things in his life thus far. He had seen life, he had seen death. He had seen the terrifying sight of Minbari cruisers bearing down upon the Babylon. He had seen the joy in Susan’s eyes reflected in his own. He had seen the death in her eyes when she had betrayed them all. He had seen Delenn’s first, faltering steps as partially human. He had seen the Captain’s eyes in the second when he had killed his wife.

David Corwin had seen many things, but nothing had affected him as badly as the sight of Alisa Beldon dying on the bridge of the Parmenion, shaking, trembling, whimpering, exhausted by her ordeals.

Corwin was not a telepath, and he had always looked upon the trait with mixed feelings when he imagined what it would be like. The wonder of touching someone’s mind compared to the terror of the utterly alien. Alisa had been experiencing the latter for hours now, jamming and delaying the vast Shadow vessels, making contact with something so utterly, terrifyingly alien that it nearly paralysed him.

The battle had not gone entirely as planned – the Captain’s capture for one thing – but at least they were still alive, and it looked as if Proxima 3 had been saved. From the Minbari at least. Whether it could be saved from the Shadows was another matter.

Alisa’s eyes fluttered and Corwin knelt down beside her. Medical staff had been called, but he knew that it was futile. She was dying. She had drained herself. All for him and the Captain. She was dying because she trusted him to do the right thing with her life.

Damn you, Bester! he thought. Damn you for making me do this! And damn the Captain for leaving and making me the one who had to be here. Damn all of them!

“Did I… do… well?” she asked. He nodded, and closed his eyes, unable to think of anything to say.

One of the techs looked up. “Another Shadow vessel closing, sir.”

“Bring us around,” Corwin ordered. He rose, but he was still looking at Alisa. She tried to stagger to her feet as well. “Stay and rest,” he ordered.

“Sorry, sir,” she whispered, looking up at the viewscreen and the approaching ship. “I… can’t… do… that…”

He saw the ship hesitate. She wasn’t strong enough to paralyse it completely, but it was delayed.

“Hit it!” he shouted. “Break that bloody thing apart!”

Broadsides, forward cannon, all poured at the ship. It shook slightly as more and more energy rained on it. Before his eyes, it withered and died.

It wasn’t the only one. As he turned, Alisa collapsed again. This time she would not get up. He knew it. He went to her side, and waited patiently as her last breaths faded. He did not have to wait long.

Gently, he closed her eyes and looked back up at the viewscreen. Now he understood what he had never understood before. The Captain’s attack on the Minbari over Mars. Theoretically his attack should never have had the effect that it did. But he had torn apart a Minbari fleet and crippled the Grey Council. How? Pure anger. He had been working on a fury so intense, so strong, that it had been almost tangible.

Corwin felt that strong now. He felt that anger. He felt that fury.

Every instinct was telling him to pull back, to reorganise the ship, to draw in the Starfuries. It was the logical response, but he didn’t care about logic now.

“Take us forward!” he ordered. “Into the fire.”

* * * * * * *

Captain Sheridan was also dwelling on life and death. When he was alone and in a seemingly difficult situation, he tended to fall into morbidity. While Delenn had been here his mind had been racing with ploys for escape, or a means to cheer her up. The two had ended up swapping stories with each other. He wasn’t sure, but he did think that some of her stories put paid to the old idea that Minbari did not lie.

But now he was alone, surrounded by darkness. His plans for escape were still germinating, but for the moment had not reached fruition. His thoughts had moved back to that peculiar incident not long ago.

The door had opened, and Sheridan had half started forward, expecting to see Delenn there. Instead it had been a figure he had not recognised. The figure stepped forward and the door closed.

Anticipating an attack, he had tried to prepare himself, but there had been a sudden and almost impossibly fast thrust to his abdomen and he had fallen. There had been a light pin prick and a feeling of numbness in his neck and then he had blacked out. That was it. No words, no gloating, no… nothing.

Perhaps it had been some sort of drug. Regardless, he was not worrying about it now. If he ever got out of this, then he would have to get it checked out by the doctors on Sanctuary. If he didn’t, then it didn’t matter, did it?

He started. The door was opening again. For a small cell, this place was certainly busy. He waited for someone to enter, but no one did. “You may come out, Captain,” said a voice. The owner of the voice was speaking System English, but with a heavy Minbari accent. Sheridan slowly stepped forward and left the cell.

The transition from the dark cell to the lit corridor had been a little difficult and he was forced to blink rapidly to order his vision. He kept himself close to the doorway in case this was a trick of some kind.

It was not.

The Minbari was wearing a white robe and he bowed slightly when he looked at Sheridan. “You are free, Captain,” the Minbari said. “Holy One Sinoval has ordered me to free you. If you will follow me, then I will escort you to a shuttle from where you may go back to your ship.”

“What? Why would Sinoval do that?”

“The Holy One does not share his reasonings with me.”

“Where is Delenn?”

The acolyte winced a little. “Where the Zha’valen is, is not my concern, Captain. You are. If you will…”

“I’m not leaving without Delenn.”

The acolyte made a gesture that in a human would be taken as a sigh. “Holy One Sinoval did say that you might take this attitude. I was expecting her to be here, but as she is not, I do not know where she is. I may, however, know one who does. If you will care to follow me.”

“If this is some trap…”

“Are all humans so paranoid? Surely if this were a trap, I could have left you in there. Oh, Holy One Sinoval told me to give this to you as well.”

The acolyte handed over a small cylinder of metal. Sheridan recognised the pike Delenn had given him – the one she had taken from the future Susan aboard Babylon 4, the one that Susan had originally taken from Delenn during her capture on Minbar. Time paradoxes made his head hurt.

Yes, this was definitely that pike. He extended it. The old bloodstains there were in exactly the same position he remembered. Evidently Susan had not cleaned it between whenever they were caused and the time Delenn had taken the weapon back.

“This is a bit dangerous, isn’t it?” Sheridan said. “What if I attacked you with this now?”

“That would not be advisable. Now. If you would follow me. We will see if we can find the Zha’valen.”

* * * * * * *

Choking I’m choking pain can’t think can’t think Marcus choking I’m choking pain Marcus Marcus… help me choking Marcus help me help me help me

Lyta Alexander was hovering on the thin border between consciousness and unconsciousness and the equally thin border between sanity and madness. All she could see was the dark core of pain burning in the eyes of Susan Ivanova as she tried to choke her life from her.

Again she tried to reach her telepathic powers and again she failed. The sleepers she had been given were too strong. The Vorlon who had helped her override their control before was gone now. Either gone or not willing to help her. There was no weapon near enough, Ivanova’s Minbari fighting pike – the very one which had killed Marcus – having rolled out of her grip.

She was alone, more so than she had ever been before.


Her body shook as she tried desperately to draw in some breath. A last, frantic urge to survive, to endure this brutal, pain-maddened assault. She had no time to think, no energy to rationalise. She could only see the woman who had killed the one she loved and who was now trying to kill her.

She clawed out with her fingers, desperately trying to reach the pike, hoping beyond hope that it was still within reach.

It wasn’t.

Choking I’m choking Marcus help me Marcus you can’t be dead Marcus help me

Lyta closed her eyes, willing at last to surrender. She would not be alone when she died. At least, she hoped she wouldn’t be. She hoped that she would meet up with Marcus again. She hoped that…

Her fingers touched the pike’s cold surface and she instinctively wrapped them around it. For a moment she thought she was hallucinating, but then she felt it stick to her skin, the tackiness of Marcus’ freshly spilled blood.

Acting almost on instinct, she extended the weapon. She had never wielded one before. She had never even seen one before, but that hardly mattered. There were many subtle fighting styles and techniques involved with the fighting pike, some of which took decades to master. Not even the legendary Durhan had learned them all.

Lyta didn’t care. She wasn’t planning on fighting anyone with it.

She manoeuvred the pike around and brought it up into Ivanova’s side. The Shadow agent started and loosened her grip on Lyta’s neck, allowing the telepath to breathe at last. Gasping, almost gagging for breath, Lyta brought the pike up again. The blow was harder this time and Ivanova fell back. She too seemed breathless and in agony.

Lyta pulled herself up to a kneeling position and looked at Ivanova, breathing harshly, but her eyes still as dark. Slowly, almost without realising what she was doing, holding the pike in two hands, she swung it in a deadly arc.

There was a slow, damp crunch as the weapon struck the side of Ivanova’s head. The Shadow agent slumped to the ground, her body engulfed by spasms and twitches. Low moans and gasps came from her mouth.

Lyta dropped the weapon and slumped to the ground herself. It took her every effort to remain conscious and to simply breathe. Her side ached, the bruises from her beating by Security Officer Boggs seemed more sore and painful than before. Her head pounded, both from Ivanova’s attack and from her ordeal in breaking past the sleepers. She was certain that she was partially concussed. Her vision was swimming.

After a while she was dimly aware of gentle hands shaking her. Marcus! was her first thought, but then she relived his death, remembering it in agonisingly slow motion. Then she thought about the security guards, and she was gripped by sheer panic. But then… but then…

Her eyes opened almost dreamily and she found herself staring at the concerned face of a Narn. His red eyes seemed to peer into her very soul. Gently, he helped her up to a sitting position. She rested against him for a moment, allowing herself the hopeless illusion that he was Marcus, come back to life to be with her. Then reality intruded, as it always did.

“Miss Alexander, my name is Ta’Lon,” the Narn said. “I have been sent here to help you and Marcus Cole…”

“He’s dead,” she whispered. “He’s… dead.”

“I know. I am sorry I arrived too late. We… we have to go. I have a shuttle that can take us away from here. Sooner or later people will discover what you have done here, and then you will be in trouble.”

“Why… why come and help me?”

“The one I work for believes you may be a great assistance to him. He has been told about your… silent companion.”

He meant the Vorlon. She knew he meant the Vorlon. “I don’t care,” she whispered. “He couldn’t…” Kosh couldn’t save Marcus and he wouldn’t help her. She hoped to never hear his voice again. “I…”

“Can you walk? I can carry you, but…”

“No. I can walk. I just want to…”

Lyta staggered to her feet and moved forward, haltingly and unsteadily, towards Marcus. She knelt down beside him. He was dead and his face was marked by the same grief and anger and confusion that had marked his whole life. Not even in death had he found peace.

“You left me alone,” she said, almost accusingly. “You… left… me… alone… Oh, Marcus!” She began to cry, slow, halting tears. She simply leaned over his body, crying. She couldn’t think of anything else to say, she couldn’t think of all the things she should have told him, all the things they should have done…

It didn’t make sense, but then life didn’t. All she knew was that she was alone again.

“I’m ready,” she said, as she hobbled away from Marcus, throwing the bloodied pike aside. She never wanted to look at it again. She shot at glance at Ivanova. Impossibly, the Shadow agent was still alive, but much of her face was caved in, covered with blood. Her eyes were rolled up into her skull and she was whimpering softly, trembling and shaking. Lyta walked away. She didn’t… she couldn’t… she just wanted to be away from here.

Ta’Lon did not need to carry her. She could carry herself. She always had before and she would have to again.

Outside the door they both ran into General Hague.

* * * * * * *

For a thousand years the Grey Council had been the leaders of Minbar, the nine greatest of the Minbari, who led with wisdom and courage and grace. Formed by Valen at the end of the last Great War, the gathering of nine had ended centuries of bloody civil warring on Minbar. From then on, no Minbari would ever kill another. All of Minbar trusted and followed their nine leaders who inherited the legacy of Valen.

So when did the Nine fall? The death of Dukhat? The bloody, genocidal war against the humans? The ascension of one as proud and as arrogant as Sinoval to Holy One? The moment when Delenn – perhaps their last hope – was declared Zha’valen? Or had the Council always been corrupted by darkness and that darkness had simply never been evident before?

Regardless of where it began, it ended at the Battle of the Second Line.

It is easy to speak of if only… If only Delenn had gone straight to the Hall of the Council and not wasted time talking with her clan… if only Sinoval had killed Deathwalker instead of exiling her… if only Sheridan had escaped the trap on Vega 7… if only wise Hedronn had spoken up against Sinoval’s ambition… if only Sinoval had had Sheridan freed a few moments earlier… if only Dukhat had reacted quicker… if only Delenn’s casting vote had been different…

Dwelling on the past is largely futile, for it cannot be changed, but still, that does not stop anyone trying…

When Delenn and Lennann arrived at the Hall of the Council it was to find the columns of light dead. They slowed and hesitated. There had been no acolytes on duty outside the Hall – an unprecedented event. Even when the Council was absent, the acolytes were always there. And the Council should not be absent. Yes, Sinoval had sent them away to meditate, but they had been recalled. This was wrong. This was very, very…

Delenn stumbled in the darkness and had to sway to regain her balance. Her equilibrium was not ideal at the best of times since her change, but this was no accident. She had tripped over something.

“Lights,” she called out. The nine columns of light appeared and Delenn saw what she had tripped over.

“In Valen’s Name,” Lennann rasped. Delenn was silent. She could not think of any words to say to greet the sight of Satai Dulann’s body. Her throat had been crushed. Not far from Satai Dulann was Satai Matokh, a warrior… and another behind him, and another…

Four of the Nine lay in the circle, their bodies twisted and broken. Almost half of the Grey Council killed. In the centre of the circle was another, but he was not dead…

Hedronn was kneeling, rasping angry prayers to Valen, prayers that went unheeded. Beside him was the staff of the Grey Council, the one Sinoval carried in his position as Holy One, the one he allowed Hedronn to carry in his absence. The staff was covered in blood.

“Hedronn,” Delenn whispered, horrified. She had know him for many cycles. She had trusted in his wisdom and his clarity of thought. He had been stubborn, yes, but always wise. To see… this…

“Hedronn.” He heard her and turned, and Delenn started. In his eyes… madness… a pure, intense, psychopathic madness. He scooped up the staff and charged forward, holding it over his head, issuing a roar of anger and hatred that Delenn would not have thought possible.

Delenn remained transfixed and would doubtless have been killed had not Lennann acted, pulling her out of the way. Hedronn’s charge continued and he stumbled over Dulann’s body, crashing to the floor. He was weeping, harsh, angry, tragic tears.

“Valen… forgive me… Valen… forgive…”

“Alcohol,” said a quietly observant, half mocking voice. “Alcohol. Such a wonderful substance. Humans turn to it for comfort and as a rite of passage. Narns pride themselves on their alcoholic drinks, making them with a precision and love that not even decades of occupation could erase. The Centauri drink it almost as much as they breathe their air. The Minbari alone in the entire galaxy react to alcohol in this way. Homicidal paranoia. Murderous anger. It is refreshing to know that deep down, you are no better than the humans. Worse even.”

“Who?” Lennann asked. “You… you did this. You…”

The figure stepped forward and bowed deeply. “Warmaster Jha’dur of the Dilgar. Some call me Deathwalker.”

“Why?” Lennann asked. “Why have you…?”

“The name. They call me Deathwalker. Besides, I am merely fulfilling the prophecies. Valen said that the Council would be broken, did he not? And lo, it is broken. Four dead… sorry, five, if you include poor, dear Rathenn. Hedronn will doubtless kill himself when the alcohol I gave him wears off and he realises just what he has done. Sinoval… can wait, and Kalain will probably be more useful to me alive. Especially when word reaches him that the Grey Council was killed by a worker.”

“Minbari do not kill Minbari,” Lennann whispered, horrified.

“That is the saying, is it not? Unfortunately it appears that someone let a certain Centauri Ambassador know of events here, and word of this will reach Minbar soon. There is no Valen to help save you this time.”

Lennann let out a long, wordless scream and charged forward. Deathwalker smiled, and drew her fighting pike. Sinoval was better at the pike than Deathwalker was, but Sinoval was better than everyone. Lennann had no weapon. He did not stand a chance.

His body slumped to the floor, sightless eyes staring up into the light.

Delenn backed away slowly and paused beside Matokh’s body. He would have a pike. He always carried his weapon, despite rulings to the contrary. Sure enough, it was hidden under his robes.

Delenn had been trained well with the pike. Draal had been known to wield it from time to time, but it was Neroon, the only Minbari alive who could pose a match to Sinoval, who had taught her the art of wielding such a weapon. He had even given her his weapon, which had been given to him by Durhan – one of the fabled nine blades. That weapon was lost now. Sinoval probably had it. It was tainted anyway, having been wielded in murder by Susan Ivanova. Matokh’s might serve to avenge him.

Deathwalker smiled.

If only…

* * * * * * *

General William Hague had also had a high image of himself. A lofty, noble image. He served Earth and humanity. He had risen high. His record was impressive. His actions were noble.

He was never certain of where it began. Jealousy of Captain Sheridan, for doing what he could not? Perhaps. Hatred of the Minbari for destroying Earth, for killing his wife and family? Almost certainly. Fear of what the Minbari would do when they came to Proxima 3? Yes. God, yes.

He tried rationalising it to himself. What Ivanova had said had been correct. Lyta Alexander would die anyway without Shadow assistance. She would probably be executed for treason even if the Minbari didn’t destroy Proxima. What harm was there in letting Ivanova take her? What harm?

Hague could justify it to himself as many times as he liked, but the fact remained that he knew in his heart that what he had done was wrong. Very, very wrong. He had betrayed everything he stood for, everything he set himself up to be. He had come here, down to Ivanova’s quarters, not to stop what was happening, but simply to be here. Simply to… to what? Perform penance? To listen as Ivanova killed Lyta?

Instead he was staring at the one he had sent to her death. Slowly, he bowed his head, unable to think. He could see Lyta staring at him. She was still alive, then. Maybe… maybe what he had done hadn’t mattered then. Maybe…

“Where… where is Ambassador… Ivanova?” he asked, slowly.

“Inside,” Lyta replied. She was bruised, and limping, but she was still alive. That was good. That was… good.

“Go!” Hague snapped. “I… Go… Leave here. We’re damned. We’re all damned.”

He brushed past them and entered Ivanova’s quarters. He had a feeling that they would be leaving. He hoped… he just hoped that… that they would be… safe. That… they would…

He looked around slowly. Ivanova was curled up into a foetal position, whimpering and crying out and covered with blood. A man’s body lay just opposite her. It was Marcus Cole, Sheridan’s – and later Ivanova’s – bodyguard. And elsewhere there were… two… things…

Hague dropped to his knees. He wanted to cry, but there was no room for tears, no place for remorse, no time for anguish. There was only one thing to do. Only one thing he could do.

He took out his PPG and placed it inside his mouth.

What was one more body in the foundations of Golgotha?

* * * * * * *

And elsewhere there was death too. Death stalked the corridors of the Grey Council’s ship. Of the fabled Grey Council, only two lived. Each knew a little piece of what had happened. Sinoval knew of what Deathwalker was planning to do, but not how she was planning to do it. And Kalain had seen the results of what she had done, but not who had done it.

He had seen Hedronn, lying alone in the darkness, surrounded by bodies. He could see his people outside, dying at the hands of the enemy, needing an order to retreat that would never come. He could see the Grey Council reduced to nothing, and his sole thought was one word.


Kalain had seen the Starkiller’s furious assault over Mars and he had been afraid. His fear had let two members of the Grey Council die before the guns and bombs of the Babylon. He had seen the Starkiller on Epsilon 3, where they had fought hand to hand. Kalain had nearly won – would have won if it had not been for the interference of that damned Narn. He had learned the truth about Sheridan Starkiller – that he was just a man. A man who bled and hurt and died. Kalain’s anger turned inwards, focussed on himself rather than the Starkiller. He made a silent promise to Sinoval, to Valen and to himself that he would kill the Starkiller.

But now he was too late. The Grey Council was broken and only one man could be responsible. The Starkiller. In his haste, in his anger, Kalain had missed every clue, and Deathwalker had let him, not knowing that if he succeeded, then her plans would be under threat as well. But she let him be. Anger was always a useful servant.

And, lo and behold, the Starkiller was not in his cell. Neither was the Zha’valen whore who had let him escape last time. Kalain forgot everything else that he was and became a simple force of nature, a being who existed only to kill the Starkiller.

And, soon enough, he did.

Sheridan was with an acolyte – another traitor to Minbar. Yet another traitor. Did no one believe in Valen, in the Nine, in the One any more?

Kalain killed the acolyte first. A blow to the base of the spine and then a killing strike to the neck.

Sheridan staggered back, obviously trying to flee. He reached instinctively for his dishonourable human weapon, which was of course not there.

Another weapon was. He extended the pike and Kalain’s eyes widened. He recognised the markings. One of Durhan’s nine. An Earther… the Starkiller wielded one of Durhan’s nine blades! Sacrilege left no word for it.

Kalain gave a roar of anger and pain and grief and charged forward… There could be no mercy, and no Narns this time.

* * * * * * *

“Report?” Corwin ordered. He was discovering a hard lesson. Even the greatest of furies only lasts so long.

“Hull integrity just over thirty percent. Jump engines down. Left broadsides exhausted. Right broadsides not far off. Forward and aft batteries off line.”

“Any word from Ben Zayn, from the Narn ship, from Proxima, from anyone?”

“Negative, sir.”

Corwin sat back. “Well, I don’t suppose anyone gets to live forever, do you?”

“I wouldn’t mind giving it a try,” muttered the lieutenant.

Corwin couldn’t help but look at Alisa. The medical staff were too busy to remove her body, and so he left it where it was. Death was no respecter of dignity. “We all would,” he said softly.

“Hold on,” barked the lieutenant. “There’s a jump gate opening. A lot of jump gates opening.”

Corwin leapt to his feet. “More Minbari?” Even they were preferable to those Shadows.

“No. They’re… Oh, my God.”

“On screen.”

Corwin looked at the sight before him. “What do those ships look like to you, lieutenant?”

“I’m not sure, sir, but if I had to… I’d say they were Vorlon ships.”

“I’d say you were right.”

Chapter 7

Captain John Sheridan knew all about hatred. He had been immersed too deeply in that particular emotion for his own comfort. He remembered the pure hatred he felt after his return, all too late, to Earth after the Minbari were finished. He remembered transferring that hatred to rage as he attacked the Minbari over Mars. He remembered the hatred he felt after his daughter Elizabeth – one of the most shining elements in his life – had been killed during the bombing of Orion. He remembered transferring that hatred to grief and anger, both so profound that he shut out his wife and left her to collapse into her own private abyss.

Captain John Sheridan had lived with hatred for so long. Recognising the hatred in the eyes of Satai Kalain was not difficult.

Sheridan and Kalain had met before, on the dying world of Epsilon 3. They had fought and eventually been pulled apart by the Narn prophet and visionary G’Kar, who had taken control of the ancient mysteries that lay within the planet. G’Kar was not here now, and Sheridan did not have his PPG, just a Minbari fighting pike. A weapon he had little idea how to use.

Sheridan understood little about Minbari culture and myths and the name Durhan was largely unfamiliar to him. He only knew that the weapon had once belonged to Satai Delenn, who had been given it in love by the warrior Neroon. It had been taken from Delenn by the Shadow agent Susan Ivanova who had wielded it for countless years until two different time streams had crossed on board the space station Babylon 4. Delenn had taken it back and given it to Sheridan, exactly as she had been given it by Neroon.

Kalain did understand Minbari culture and myths, and he recognised a blade like that when he saw one. Fabled across the whole of the Minbari Federation, Durhan’s last great work before embarking on his solitary mission to the sea of stars, the nine blades had been given to those he deemed most suitable. Sinoval, current Holy One, had received one, as had the great Shai Alyt Branmer and his aide – and Durhan’s pupil – Neroon. Some had been lost since Durhan had made them, but enough remained of his legacy.

It said a lot that such a weapon was wielded by a human, one who had done more to threaten the Minbari race than any other, one to whom the Minbari gave the name Starkiller.

Kalain struck forward, aiming fast blows at Sheridan’s midriff and legs. Sheridan parried them awkwardly and stepped back. He still did not know exactly what he was doing, but how much could there be to it, he thought. Long heavy object. Your opponent. Hit the one with the other. There. Sounded simple enough.

Except that your opponent tended to try and stop you hitting him with the long, heavy object. After that it was a bit of a mystery. Hopefully, he would get another go.

Kalain rushed in for another attack. Sheridan managed to parry the first few blows and step out of the reach of the others. He even managed to attempt a vague and weak counterattack, easily parried by Kalain.

Pike crashed against pike, Kalain not letting up, driven by his hatred and his fury and his shame. Once before, over Mars, he had cowered before the Starkiller’s approach, and the Grey Council, whom he had been set to guard, had paid the price. He would not let himself be so dishonoured again, even if he had to commit a greater dishonour to do so.

Pike against pike. Charge against careful retreat. Blood against blood.

Blood calls out for blood.

For the Dralaphi, for Shakiri and Shakat and Nur. For the Emphili and the Dogato. For Draal and for all of those who had fallen beneath Sheridan’s hand…

Blood calls out for blood. Kalain’s called out for Sheridan’s.

Valen had prophesied that the Minbari would unite with the other half of their soul in a war against the common enemy. No one could have suspected that the other half of their soul would be the humans who were even now locked in combat with the Minbari, or that the two were uniting in blood, destroying each other in hatred and death.

Kalain did not care. Neither did Sheridan.

Neither cared about anything except for victory… and death.

* * * * * * *

There was death aplenty in the ship of the Grey Council at the Battle of the Second Line. The Grey Council, which had stood for a millennium as keeper of Valen’s prophecies, wisdom and legacy… the Grey Council was dead. Six of the Nine lay dead. Rathenn and Lennann of the religious caste killed by the being known as Deathwalker. Four others slain by one of their own – Hedronn of the workers – driven insane by alcohol given to him by Deathwalker. Hedronn himself was hovering between sanity and madness, unable to comprehend what he had done, unable to understand the enormity of what he had been driven to. Their leader, Sinoval, was missing, and Kalain was in battle with the Starkiller.

The Hall of the Grey Council was now occupied only by the dead, and by two who should be dead. There was Warmaster Jha’dur of the Dilgar, Deathwalker, who lived only by virtue of her immortality serum, her life bought by the deaths of countless others. And there was Delenn, formerly of the Grey Council, now named Zha’valen by that very Council. Considered dead to her people, none of whom could speak to her, speak her name, look at her…

Minbar had fallen, its leaders dead, its fleet destroyed, its confidence broken. Outside, the Minbari fleet and the Rangers were fighting and dying, not having been given the order to retreat because there was none to give that order. Under Deathwalker’s influence, the fleet would be destroyed. Delenn could not give that order.

The two were fighting then, not for any concrete benefit, but because they had stepped too far for them not to fight. Delenn was maddened by the death all around her, gripped by a terrible, terrible sadness, maddened by the changes in her body that she neither comprehended nor recognised. She was acting from pure willpower, pure determination not to let the deaths of Lennann and Rathenn and all the Council go unnoted and unremarked.

Jha’dur… she was fighting because it was all she knew. From birth she had been taught that the Dilgar were the superior people. Blessed with greater intelligence, greater strength, greater genius than all the other races, it was only natural to exploit them, to use them for the good of her people. Last of her race, Jha’dur was determined not to let them go unnoticed and unremembered. Humanity would be her monument to the Dilgar. She had set them on the right path and the countless deaths of Minbari here at the Second Line, they would be the foundation that would take humanity to depths of terror and death that not even the Dilgar had reached.

Jha’dur and Delenn were nowhere near as unevenly matched as Sheridan and Kalain. Both had been trained well. Delenn by her love Neroon, Jha’dur by the greatest warriors in the Wind Swords clan. Both knew how to wield the weapon, but Jha’dur revelled in death. She was fit and competent and unafraid. Delenn was still a stranger in her own body, uncertain and hesitant. She had just seen friends die at the hand of one of their own number.

Delenn stumbled over Matokh’s body and it took her a moment to right herself. While she did, Deathwalker simply waited and smiled.

“Why do you do this?” Jha’dur asked. “Why fight? What are you fighting for? Your people are doomed, dying… your precious Grey Council broken. You are outcast, Zha’valen… You have nothing to fight for.”

“I do,” she replied slowly. “I do.” Her breathing was harsh. Her ribs hurt and her muscles ached, and the pain behind her eyes was almost blinding.

“What? Tell me.”

“I fight… because it is right… because… we must never yield, never give in to the Darkness. When we meekly accept our fall, that is when we are truly lost. There must always be hope. Without it we are nothing.”

“I once heard something. An old saying. ’A man without hope is a man without fear.’ You cling to your little hopes, aspirations and dreams. They will never come to pass. You will die here, alone, forgotten and unremembered. No one will care. No one will…”

Jha’dur suddenly started and looked up. “What?” She looked around her, a look of… almost terror on her face. “No,” she breathed. “Display!” Around them the whole display of the battle appeared. Delenn could only assume that Deathwalker had arranged to have it turned off while she killed the Grey Council. She had gone to great effort to blame the worker caste for the tragedy. That could not be achieved if anyone else knew the truth. Delenn did not matter. She would never be believed…

Delenn also looked around. The great Minbari fleet now seemed such a small thing, hemmed in and surrounded by advancing Shadow ships. She could see a human ship – the Babylon – attacking the enemy, but even with their help, the Minbari seemed threatened, outnumbered… lost…

Except that they were not alone any longer.

All around them jump gates were opening and out were pouring huge mottled ships, green and red and golden. The Shadows were hesitating, doubtful about this new enemy. Delenn smiled.

“Vorlons!” Jha’dur spat. “This isn’t right! This isn’t by the rules! This…”

“They have come to help us,” Delenn said. “We are not as alone as you might think.”

“And what do you know? You’re just a little puppet for them. You had one once, didn’t you? Inside your head. It told you all the right things, set you on this path…” Jha’dur shook her head. “You know nothing. You really know nothing at all. I almost pity you.”

“You are afraid,” Delenn pointed out. “You have seen that your time is over. We are not as doomed as you say. There is always hope.”

“You’re deluded! A dreamer, playing with lives as if they’re your own private little toys. You have no idea of what you do.”

“And you do?”

“I know life and I know death…”

“And how to twist the one to the other? You know how to destroy happiness and bring chaos. I pity you. You are insane and you are alone, and what you have done today proves it.”

“You pity me?” Jha’dur’s smile widened. “You? You are just a puppet. You don’t even understand the game. You don’t even care. You will continue to serve them blindly until they decide to have you killed. What is your saying, the one you prate out so nobly whenever you have to get your hands stained with blood?

“’Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved.’ You were sacrificed. How does that make you feel? When you are the victim?”

“I will gladly give my life for the good of my people.”

“Of course you would. And why? Because you want the fame, the glory, the honour of being the noble hero! A martyr! A messiah, even!” Jha’dur darted forward and lashed out at Delenn, who parried her blows awkwardly, stepping back slowly, always watching her feet. “What glory is there now? What fame? You are Zha’valen – outcast. This is your great sacrifice.”

“This is wrong.”

“So you say.” Jha’dur delivered a lightning-fast blow to Delenn’s head. Although Delenn managed to parry it, the force jarred her whole body. She swayed back.

“Who are you to say what is right and what is wrong?” Jha’dur spat. “The strong live, the weak die. What more is there to life?”

“Then your people must have been weak,” Delenn noted. “Since they are all dead. Or maybe… you are wrong.”

Jha’dur delivered a noise which was almost a snarl. She lunged forward. Pike clashed against pike…

Blood calls out for blood…

* * * * * * *

Sheridan parried a blow aimed at his head as Delenn deflected a strike from her body. Sheridan took a step forward and forced Kalain to backtrack just as Delenn caught Jha’dur off balance and punished her with a blow to the leg.

Kalain spun on one foot and thrust his pike at Sheridan’s neck. The Starkiller dodged and came close, inside Kalain’s reach. Sheridan broke his pike up to strike Kalain’s chest. The Minbari ducked back, half stumbling, half falling, and he brought his own pike back, holding it against Sheridan’s, their bodies and minds pressing hard against each other’s.

Delenn, her mind lost in training with Neroon, struck forward, knocking Jha’dur back. The Dilgar broke her pike up and struck Delenn across the head. Ears ringing and eyes streaming, Delenn lashed out. She heard the sound of her pike striking Jha’dur’s and the Dilgar’s brief cry of pain.

Sheridan and Kalain pressed hard against each other, locked in a corps-à-corps. Kalain was stronger, and fuelled by his angry madness. Sheridan was fuelled by something altogether different. He brought his knee up hard into Kalain’s stomach. And again. And again. The Minbari jerked and fell. A well-timed kick knocked the pike from his hand, and in a moment, Sheridan was kneeling over him, a pike held at his throat.

Delenn had regained the momentum. Her eyes were still bleary, but she found she could sense where Jha’dur was better than she had before. She remembered her last lesson with Neroon, when he had blindfolded her and told her to fight with her feelings. She had done so, and lost, but only barely. A blow struck Jha’dur’s side, a second merely pushed her back. It was the third that knocked her to the ground. Her pike fell from her grip.

“Well?” Kalain said, spitting venom from every syllable. “Kill me. Unarmed and alone. That is the human way, is it not?”

“Kill me,” Jha’dur said. “I can see that you want to. I can see it burning at the back of your mind. After what I’ve done today… I don’t deserve to live, do I? So… kill me!”

Sheridan hesitated, staring deep into Kalain’s maddened eyes. Hatred… it always ran so deep. Sheridan’s own hatred had killed his wife. Would giving in to it here gain him any better result in the future?

Delenn hesitated, looking at the being before her. What she said was true. Jha’dur did deserve death, and yet she could not grant it. Delenn had never taken a life with her own hands before, and she could not do it now.

“You are a coward, Starkiller! Your victory was dishonourable… all your victories have been dishonourable. But what more could I expect from a human?”

“You are weak, Zha’valen. Like all of your people. Weak and petty and foolish. And dying. You are all doomed now. And whether I live or die… whether you live or die… none of it will matter.”

“No,” Sheridan said softly. “No. I won’t kill you. It may be the human way, but it isn’t my way. Not any more. Where is Delenn?”

“No,” Delenn said softly. “No. I will not kill you. You deserve death, yes, but you must be made to atone for what you have done… as I have.”

“I do not believe you, Starkiller, and I do not know that name.”

“I do not think you can kill me, Zha’valen. Prove me wrong.”

Sheridan grabbed the collar of Kalain’s robe and picked him up. “You will take me to Delenn! You will take me to the Grey Council! This has gone too far, and I swear by God, it will stop! Do you hear me? This will stop!”

Kalain blinked and spat back, “It has gone too far to stop, Starkiller. Far too far.”

“We’ll see,” he replied. “Now, take me to Delenn, or to the Grey Council. Now!”

Delenn gripped her pike tighter. Jha’dur was right. Delenn could not kill her. But, another could…

Deathwalker tried to rise, still smiling. She was still smiling when a burst of energy tore into her back and threw her forward, leaving her slumped over the bodies of those she had killed. Sinoval stepped into view, holding a human weapon. He looked at Delenn and met her gaze, and then he looked around at the bodies.

“Valen’s Name,” he whispered. “What… have I…?”

“You should not have killed her,” Delenn said softly.

“And what do you know? If I had killed her earlier, this… this would never have happened.” Sinoval raised his eyes and looked around at the display surrounding them. He could see the pitiful remains of the Minbari fleet, the Enemy that had destroyed them, and the Vorlons who had come to their rescue.

“Retreat!” Sinoval ordered. “All Minbari ships, retreat! White Star ships nine, fifteen and twenty-seven form a screen. All other ships, retreat! In Valen’s Name, retreat!”

But it was far too little, far too late.

* * * * * * *

Tryfan closed his eyes and whispered a silent prayer to Valen. In the last few hours, he had witnessed the mightiest Minbari fleet ever assembled cut to ruins by the force of the encroaching Shadow vessels. At last the order to retreat had been given, but it would not be enough. Help had come in the form of the Vorlons, but it would take them time to get to the front of the line. Tryfan had to buy his people that time.

Behind him, the Minbari ships were vanishing into hyperspace. What was left of the Minbari fleet was departing. All they needed was a few minutes longer to get away. Then the Vorlons would be here and the Shadows would flee – unwilling to face their ancient foes just yet.

Tryfan would buy his people that time.

The White Star Nine – named the Valen – flew forward, directly into the heart of the Shadow forces. Raining fire upon the Enemy, Tryfan of the Star Riders clan brought the Valen and his crew to their destiny.

The ship was shot down eventually, but not before Tryfan had done enough. His last sight was of the Vorlons coming into view and the Shadows leaving. His last thought was that he had bought his people enough time after all.

* * * * * * *

And thus the Battle of the Second Line ended… the Shadows, having done what they came for, fled before the arrival of the Vorlon armada. What compelled the Vorlons to meet their enemies like this, no one was quite sure, but it had been enough to save the remnants of the Minbari fleet.

The Vorlons left a few moments after the Shadows did. They said nothing, gave no reason, left no footprints.

Sinoval, Holy One of the Minbari, stood alone in the Hall of the Grey Council. Delenn and the Starkiller were gone, having taken a flyer back to their ship. Sinoval had barely noticed their presence. Kalain had arrived with Starkiller, but then he left, horrified at the dead mounted around him.

Sinoval was alone, as he always would be, surrounded only by the dead and the memories of the living.

He closed his eyes.

* * * * * * *

Ex-Minister Londo Mollari considered himself lucky to be alive. If it hadn’t been for Na’Kal’s sacrifice and the arrival of the Vorlons, he might not be. As it was, he made his way to the bridge of the Valerius, where his nephew Carn was in command.

“Uncle Londo,” Carn said. “You are well?”

“Hungover,” Londo complained. “But I have been coping with that for years. Put me through to Captain Ben Zayn.” Carn obliged and Ben Zayn’s harsh, scarred face appeared on the viewscreen.

“Minister Mollari. Come with us to Sanctuary. I’ll transmit the relevant co-ordinates. Well done.”

The conversation, such as it was, ended there.

“Well, short and to the point,” Londo noted.

“Uncle, would you mind telling me why we are doing this?”

“I told you, Carn. A bet!”

“No, uncle. Really why.”

Londo bowed his head. “To win back our people. We are a dying people, Carn, consumed by our own petty interests. If we are to save the Centauri, then we must work with G’Kar and his associates. We must risk our lives… or give our lives, as Na’Kal did… for the sake of the Centauri.”

Carn looked at him for a moment, pensive. “Do you really believe that, uncle?”

“Of course not!” Londo joked.

Carn smiled. “Well, Sanctuary is as good a place as any, I suppose. Wherever it is.”

* * * * * * *

Sheridan and Delenn walked on to the Parmenion arm in arm. It seemed as if they had never been apart since their reunion in the Hall of the Grey Council. Sheridan had been startled by the number of bodies in the Hall, but he had focussed his gaze on the two living people there – Delenn and Sinoval. The Holy One could not meet his gaze, but Delenn could not lose it. Not a word spoken, the two had left, returning to the Parmenion, leaving Sinoval alone to the death he had lived with all his life.

“Captain!” Corwin said as the two of them arrived. “I… it’s good to see you, sir. Just in time too. Ko’Dath was on the verge of killing half her squad as punishment for letting the two of you get captured.”

Delenn shot Sheridan a nervous gaze, which he reciprocated. “Well, we’d… better not let that happen, I suppose. I trust you’ve been taking good care of my ship, Commander.”

“Of course! It’s still in fine order. Well… almost.”

“Have you heard from Ben Zayn?”

“Yes. He’s on his way back to Sanctuary. The Minbari got away, the Shadows are gone, and we thought it was a good idea to follow suit before the Resistance Government starts wondering just who we are and what we’re doing.”

Sheridan nodded. “That might be wise. What about the Babylon?”

“Staying here.”

“What? Clark’s bound to find out they were fighting against the Shadows and when he does…”

“I said the same, but Ben Zayn said something like it wasn’t my concern and who am I to question Bester’s decisions and so on. I don’t know why and I’m not up to arguing with Bester. I do not like Psi Cops.”

“They’re not meant to be liked,” Sheridan muttered. “But yes, I definitely want a word with Mr. Bester when we get back.”

“I wonder if I did something dreadful as a child,” Corwin muttered. “My mother warned me never to get involved with telepaths. Oh… speaking of telepaths, we’ve got someone in Medlab you’ll want to visit. Lyta Alexander.”

“What’s she doing here? I thought she was on Proxima trying to find Mar…” Sheridan paled. “Is Marcus here too?”

Corwin solemnly and sadly shook his head. “There’s a Narn here as well… Ta’Lon. He has something he says he has to tell you, Satai.”

“Satai no longer,” Delenn said softly, still looking at Sheridan. “I am Zha’valen now. Outcast.”

Corwin looked at Sheridan and met his gaze. He noticed Sheridan hold Delenn just a little bit tighter, and he wondered what had happened to the two of them on that Minbari ship…

* * * * * * *

The battle’s over, but I feel like it’s still going on. And it is. The Minbari are practically broken now. It’ll take them a long time to recover from this, and the Resistance Government won’t give them a long time. I predict a few months at most before we start taking the war to them… with the Shadows to help. I don’t know… I’m not sure I believe what Delenn’s been telling us, but then I really don’t like where humanity is going.

I hear there are celebrations down on Proxima at the moment. Under different circumstances, I might be down there celebrating as well, but I can’t… All I can think is how much this cost us. Alisa… what it’s done to the Captain… and then there’s Marcus, of course. It’s funny… I don’t like telepaths, never have, and I barely said three words to Miss Alexander before this started, but it’s her I feel most sorry for.

I can’t help but have the feeling that she’s been affected by this more than anyone else…

Commander David Corwin, personal diaries, March 1st, 2259.

* * * * * * *

“Lyta Alexander,” she rasped. “Telepath rating P five, complete with Vorlon accessories, reporting for duty… Captain.”

She was resting back on one of the beds in the small Medlab facility on the Parmenion. Sheridan was surprised at the amount of bruising that covered her, particularly her neck. Her eyes almost seemed… unfocussed… almost vacant.

“You’ll have to excuse her,” said the doctor on duty. “We’ve given her a few drugs to relieve her pain. They make her a little light-headed. She’s been through a lot. Broken ribs, near strangulation, head trauma, concussion… and I don’t know what she did with her telepathic powers but her brain readings are like nothing I’ve seen before. I’ll have to get a better reading when we get back to Sanctuary.”

“Marcus?” Sheridan asked. He had a feeling he knew the answer.

“Dead,” Lyta whispered. “He’s… he’s…”

“I’m sorry, Captain,” the doctor said. “You’ll have to come back later. She needs to rest.”

Sheridan nodded slowly and left. As he left he thought he heard a musical voice in his mind.

It begins.

* * * * * * *

Speaking of telepaths, there’s Bester as well. Now him, I really don’t trust. He and Ben Zayn set us up, and the thing is… I still don’t know what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Most people are content to have one private agenda. He has a lot more than one…

I’m not sure about the people he’s got working for him either. I mean, I like Michael Garibaldi… he seems like a good person. I wish I knew why he’s working for Bester. As for Ben Zayn… now there’s a face I’d quite happily never see again. I don’t know. Whenever I see him I just think of the Captain… and how he might turn out like that. Not a pleasant thought…

Although if the Captain wants to work out a little personal anger on Bester, who am I to argue with a superior officer?

Commander’s personal diaries (continued).

* * * * * * *

“What the hell game are you playing?”

“Captain Sheridan,” Bester said, walking around his desk slowly. “I really think you’re…”

“Just answer the question. You’ve known about the Shadows all along, haven’t you? This… all of this… it’s all to use against them, isn’t it?”

“Who else can fight them, Captain? Oh, the Minbari have their Rangers, but they haven’t been organised for a long time, and after the battle, they won’t be again. No, someone has to hold the line, so to speak.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me the truth? Why send me into the middle of a war zone with no idea of who I was meant to be fighting?”

“You had to choose your own path, Captain. I cannot hold your hand all the way. We needed to be sure that your loyalties were in the right place. I must admit I was wrong about you. That does not happen very often, Captain. Enjoy it while you can.”

“We? Oh, of course. Who else can order Narns around? Who else has Centauri… Narns… everyone working for him?”

“Well done, Captain.” Sheridan stared angrily at the corner of the room where G’Kar appeared. He inclined his head and walked forward, through Bester’s table.

“So, you’re working for G’Kar?”

“With G’Kar,” Bester corrected him. “I don’t work for anybody.”

Sheridan shot G’Kar a look. “And you trust him?”

“Bester has been most useful to me, Captain. It was through him that I gained the telepathic DNA I needed to begin creating Narn telepaths again. It was through him that I gained a second base of operations for my Circle of Light. Here and Epsilon Three. He has been a great help.”

“Yes, and he’ll want to be paid back as well.”

“Worry about that later,” Bester said smugly. “To all things there is a time, Captain Sheridan. You’ve done well. We’ve proved that we can defeat the Shadows. The Minbari will no longer pose a threat to humanity, not with their fleet destroyed and the Grey Council dead. Give us enough time and we can win this.”

“Since when were you a tactician?” Sheridan spat. “You’re going to regret allying yourself with him, G’Kar. Believe me, you will.” He stalked towards the door and then turned. “And next time, come out and tell me what needs doing. I’m not a child, so don’t treat me like one.” He left.

Bester looked at the holographic image of G’Kar. “Better the devil you know?” he asked.

G’Kar shrugged.

* * * * * * *

And I suppose I’ll have to get to her eventually. Delenn. Sometimes I think this is all her fault. Before she got here, things were… well, not normal… but certainly not this bad. I don’t know. I’m probably just blaming her for nothing, but I still don’t like her, and I definitely don’t trust her. I’ve seen the way she looks at the Captain, and the way he looks at her. I could just be jumping at shadows here… and God knows, the Captain still hasn’t got over Anna yet, but… what if she is using him?

Susan would laugh and say I’m being paranoid. Well, the old Susan would. It’s funny, but I never was paranoid when she was around. I always felt safe then. Times change, all right.

I don’t know… maybe I am being too hard on Delenn. She did come back after all, although if what she said is true, then it was probably because she didn’t have any choice. Besides, judging from her expression today, she got some bad news earlier. Some very bad news…

Commander’s personal diaries (continued).

* * * * * * *

“We were on a mission to a Drazi colony at Zagros Seven. G’Kar has a small base there, using it to funnel information from the Non-Aligned Worlds to here, and to Epsilon Three. Somehow, Shadow agents had infiltrated the base, and the Shadows launched a full scale attack.

“Neroon… insisted on helping the people escape. We were almost ready to leave, when we discovered one life-form left inside the complex. Neroon told me to get those we had helped so far away from the colony. I had just broken orbit when the Shadow craft arrived. The entire complex was destroyed. Completely. Not even ashes left. I… I never saw his body, but he must have died. No one could have survived that.

“I… He knew that this might happen someday, and he asked me that if he ever did die, I would tell you certain things. I know that Ha’Cormar’ah G’Kar gave you a message from him last year and… he said so many things. All Neroon wished you to know was that he loved you. That you were the other – and better – half of his soul. He was a good friend, and his death was… as you would say… an honourable one. He will be missed.

“I am sorry, Satai Delenn.”

Ta’Lon rose and pressed his fists against his chest. He could not look at Delenn’s tear-stained face as he left.

* * * * * * *

Delenn, I don’t know about… but the one person who’s surprised me more than any other is Minister Mollari. Now very little can surprise me about this any more, but a Centauri here! Working alongside Narns! It’s a wonder they haven’t come to blows yet. I haven’t seen much of Londo, but I have met his nephew Carn. An intriguing person, if a little bewildered. From what I gather he joined the military back when it was still ceremonial, and didn’t actually involve fighting anyone. Well, if he wasn’t surprised by having to fight the Narns, I’ll bet he was by the Shadows. They’d frighten anyone.

As for Londo himself. Well, according to Carn, Londo is a very spiritual and religious person. This might have worried me, until I remembered what the Centauri religion consisted of.

I think he’ll be fine…

Commander’s personal diaries (continued).

* * * * * * *

Londo was drunk, and not just slightly drunk. He was bitter, angry and depressed drunk. He was also drunk on Narn liquor – which he loathed – the Valerius having run out of brivare! (And Sanctuary didn’t actually have any civilised drinks.) On the other hand, Londo knew that he would have to do some major thinking sooner or later, and it would be better to get all this tedious drinking, passing out and throwing up stuff out of the way first. Although not necessarily in that order.

G’Kar may have just lost his chief agent on Centauri Prime, but he had others. Londo had just received one very disturbing piece of news from G’Kar, via Vir Cotto. Ambassador Refa had left Minbar and was returning to Centauri Prime. It appeared that Emperor Marrit had rescinded the various secret and hush–hush charges against Refa, dealing with minor matters such as treason, murder and having ambition that extended beyond his patriotism. Londo couldn’t imagine Lady Elrisia having anything to with that. She hated her husband. It must have been Marrit’s own idea. Who knew he actually had a brain, even if it did tend to work in the wrong direction?

Unfortunately it was the last thing Marrit ever did. It appeared the jhala he had drunk before going to bed a few nights ago had done horrible things to his stomach. A tragedy, of course, and the Royal Court was in deep and very insincere mourning. Lady Elrisia was reportedly quite furious, especially as the next heir to the throne – albeit through a circuitous family tree – was none other than Cartagia, who was also acquiring delusions of independence. And with her husband returning… things were not going well for her.

There was someone at the door. Londo roused a little from his stupor. Surely he would not have to start thinking just yet! “Open!” he barked. “I am afraid I am a little…” He stopped.

“Hello, Minister. A pleasure to see you again.”

“Mr. Morden.” Londo started sobering up very quickly. “How did you get here?”

“I have… friends in some very high places.”

“Does Mr. Bester know that you are here?”

“No. I thought it best to avoid drawing any undue attention to myself.”

“And what do you want with me?”

“That’s a very dangerous question to ask, Minister, and an even more dangerous one to answer, but to try… I’m here to help you, Minister.

“I just want to help…”

* * * * * * *

I still haven’t quite come to terms with what we’ve done here. The Captain and I have been defending Proxima 3 for so long that I still can’t accept the fact that we’ll be working against them. I know that the Shadows are evil, and I know that President Clark has become corrupt, and the whole Resistance Government with him, but… there are a lot of innocent people there.

I think, between them, Clark and Susan are going to turn humanity into something I don’t want to be a part of any longer. I just wish it didn’t have to work out this way.

Commander’s personal diaries (continued).

* * * * * * *

“She’s alive, and should recover,” the doctor said. “Her injuries are not fatal, although they will keep her incapacitated for a long time and there may be some mental damage that we can’t cure. She’ll need to be on life support for a while, but I expect we’ll be able to take her off it in a week or so.”

President Morgan Clark looked at the slumbering body in the adjacent room. Susan Ivanova was alive. She had done a wonderful thing, freeing humanity from the shadow under which they had lived for so long. Across Proxima 3, there were celebrations and partying.

Clark’s mind was already at work on plans for the future. His Keeper was content to let him make them. A little time to rest and recover, maybe start cannibalising some of the destroyed Minbari ships. They might be able to find out some details about Minbari technology. After that… it would be time to take the war to the enemy.

But there were a few problems closer to home to deal with first.

“General Hague is dead, but then his performance of his duties had been slipping over recent months, anyway,” Mr. Welles had reported earlier. “I thought we could promote his aide, Major Ryan, and shift any other duties among myself and General Takashima, but I have heard some reports about the Babylon’s actions during the battle…”

“I know,” Clark replied. Welles had known that Clark knew, which was why he had brought the matter up. “It was a simple misunderstanding, that is all.”

“A simple misunderstanding, Mr. President? I hardly think…”

“What you think does not matter, Mr. Welles. There will be no repercussions for General Takashima’s… lapse in judgement.”

“As you say, Mr. President.

“About Ambassador Ivanova…”

“She will be unable to perform her duties for several months at least. Her associates will be sending a replacement. The new Ambassador will be here in less than a week. We have nothing to worry about.”

Clark knew full well about Takashima’s actions during the battle. He also knew that she was not alone. Where had those two Earthforce ships come from? And what about the Narn and the Centauri ships? Takashima was a small piece of a much larger puzzle, and sooner or later, he would trace things back to their source.

For the moment, he was content to wait. He had time.

All the time in the galaxy.

* * * * * * *


“I am sorry, John. I just… I was just… I am sorry.”

“That’s all right.” Sheridan looked at her. It was strange how much she had become a part of his life recently. He wasn’t sure how much she had come to mean to him, but he did know that some of her actions had hurt him. Before he had been too immersed in the moment – the current actuality of the problem – to bother, but now… he was winding down. He was lapsing back into an almost catatonic depression. Now he had time to think… about Anna… about what he had done and seen… about what she had done.

He paused and looked at Delenn. There was a terrible sadness in her eyes. A dark and terrible sadness. “I’m sorry, Delenn.”

“What for?”

“I’m letting you go. You don’t have to stay here any more.” She looked at him. “I… what you did on the Parmenion. I understand it… I understand why… but… everyone I care about gets killed. Sooner or later, and most of the time it’s my fault. I’m… setting you free. You can go wherever you like… maybe even return home, if there’s a place for you there any more. I’ll mention this to G’Kar. I’m certain he has agents among the Minbari… maybe one of them can manage something. I… don’t…”

“John? Don’t. Please. Don’t.”

“I’m sorry, Delenn. I… I just…”

Slowly she rose to her feet and glided towards him, placing her hands on his chest. “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.”

“Delenn, I…” She was so close, so near to him now. He could feel her breath on his cheek, see into the beautiful green infinity of her eyes, see her pain and her loss. She was right. He was the only thing she had left. What was she to do when he left her too – to fire or darkness – as surely he must?

Slowly he inclined his head. She put her arms up around his neck. He had lost Anna because he hadn’t trusted her. She had lost Neroon because their destinies lay in different directions.

Slowly, hesitantly, their lips met…

Delenn suddenly shook and almost slid from his arms. He caught her as she fell. She was shaking, trembling, moaning softly.

He activated his link. “Sheridan to Medlab! Emergency! Get here now!”

He remembered the diagnosis after her transformation. She had left the chrysalis prematurely. Her human and Minbari DNA were not properly joined. Her body chemistry was too unstable. Sooner or later it would kill her. Sooner or later.

He held her hand. “Delenn! Delenn!”

She did not answer him…

* * * * * * *

“Look at me! Valen, look at me!”

There was no reply. The white mists of the Dreaming swirled all around Sinoval. This was the first time he had returned here since his vision of Valen.

“Look at me!”

The Whisper Gallery was silent. There was no guide, no protector. There was no one.


All of Minbar was in mourning. The Grey Council dead, only three remaining. Hedronn had gone, vanished completely. Sinoval supposed that he was dead, but that hardly mattered now. The Council had been broken, as Valen had prophesied long ago.

“Answer me!”

Some of the more extreme members of the warrior caste had taken it upon themselves to avenge the murder of their representatives on the Council. Warrior had slain worker. For the first time in a thousand years, Minbari were killing Minbari. Kalain had returned to his clan’s stronghold, gathering support for his faction. That damned Centauri Ambassador was gone, returned to his homeworld. Sinoval still owed him a favour, one he had no intention of repaying.

“Valen! Is this my destiny? Is this what I would do? Break us apart? Be the leader who leads us into the abyss? Answer me!


Sinoval’s rage knew no bounds, but all his rage, all his anger and all his words… they could not get him a reply.

The Dreaming remained silent.

He stormed from the room and paused outside it, looking around at the empty Whisper Gallery, and then at the pike he held – one of Durhan’s nine. Slowly he extended it, and then he hurled it contemptuously to the floor.

Sinoval walked on alone, into the darkness.

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