Disclaimer: All characters owned by JMS, and a bunch of networks.
Spoilers: For all five seasons, obviously. I also use background material
from the Psi Corps trilogy, by J. Gregory Keyes, but you don't have to have
read the novels to understand what's going on (I hope).
Author's note: This one has a bit of a convoluted history. Andraste wrote a
Farscape "Seven Virtues" story about Scorpius. Hobsonphile then declared
one should be written about Bester. Which proved irresistable to me. So,
here they are, the seven contrary virtues, designed as counterpoints to the
seven deadly sins.
Thanks to: Andraste and Hobsonphile, for inspiration; Kathy, for beta-
"Come with me, Al," Carolyn said, and he nearly laughed, not just because
it was so unthinkable but because he realized only now how his life had
come full circle. He had just spent hours trying to persuade her, again, to
join the Corps. Their time together was drawing to a close, at least for
now; he couldn't stay at the re-education camp much longer before serious
questions were asked, and his position within the Corps was still far from
She stopped talking and 'cast a picture at him, with ever bolder colours.
They would be together, as they both wanted; they would have more than a
headstart before anyone took up the chase precisely because the idea was so
impossible. Alfred Bester, one of the most feared Psi Cops in the Corps,
going rogue? Inconceivable. For a long time everyone would assume he was on
some kind of undercover mission, trying to smoke out the underground. And
later they would still have an excellent shot at freedom; he knew all the
tricks, after all, all the mistakes to avoid.
Carolyn built up the Corps in her mind, saw it as walls within walls within
walls, closing in on him, built with bricks he had contributed himself,
becoming his tomb. Then she made the walls fall away and showed him
infinite space. Freedom. A thousand worlds to explore. No more loathing on
sight in the mind of everyone he met. And the steady, engulfing warmth of
her love, this strange gift which had come so late and unexpectedly into
He wanted the vision she gave him, he realized, and this shocked him more
than anything else. And this despite knowing how wrong her biased view of
the Corps was. But the prospect she drew slipped into his mind like an
enticing, dazzling spell, grew and became water to quell a thirst he
wouldn't admit existed. He felt her growing confidence that she reached
him, her utter trust in him, and it made what came next nearly unbearable.
It wasn't a choice, not really. Not if denial was the only way to keep true
to what was more important than anything an individual could ever offer.
"I can't," he said.
Learning to live without the use of your left hand was a trial, but in the
state he was in, also a distraction. If he had been born crippled, it would
have been easier. Nonetheless, he was determined to master this as he had
done all his challenges. He could not allow it to matter too much, or think
about what had caused it.
Natasha Alexander, the head of Department Sigma on Mars, had a knack of
visiting him just when Al was practicing getting dressed, eating or
handling a PPG only with his right hand.
"They still can't find a physical reason for your disability," she said,
"It doesn't matter," he returned, and went on practising, not out of
disrespect for Ms Alexander, but they had been through this before, and he
was determined to show her that he was going on with his life, moving
forward, as a good Psi Cop should. "I'll cope."
There was still the fear she would order a scan. He had an exemplary
record, but Al knew very well that any Psi Cop who managed to track down
the legendary rogue Stephen Walters and emerged with partial amnesia and a
mysterious disability should be scanned. The only reason why Alexander was
hesitating was probably some sense of pity and tact.
If she did scan him, or ordered someone else to do it, she would be
disgusted and horrified instead. Just as Al himself was. He had learned to
regard blips as errant family members; his mentor back at the academy had
told him to love them, and for the most part, Al did. But not Stephen
Walters. What Walters had done had been cruel beyond what he had ever
thought blips to be capable of. Filling his mind with wrong memories,
making Al believe, not truly believe, of course, but dream for a moment
that they were true. The worst kind of lies, those with the confusing,
seductive taste of possibility.
Of course his biological parents weren't who Walters had claimed they were.
Of course his real name wasn't Stephen Dexter, and of course he wasn't the
son of the two most famous terrorists who had ever tried to destroy the
Corps. The Corps was mother, the Corps was father.
If the price for banishing those lies from his mind was never using his
left hand again, then so be it.
Unwaveringly, Al continued his practice.
Once, Byron, in the flush of youth and eagerness to please, had asked him:
"The waiting is the hardest, isn't it, sir?"
Bester had smiled and said nothing. Byron would find out otherwise in time.
In truth, there were occasions when Bester treasured the waiting, the
anticipation, the infinitely patient moving of pawns over the final result.
The Edgars affair, however, wasn't one of those. When Bester heard rumours
about an industrial magnate financing research about telepaths, someone
with ties to the government, it had taken all the discipline of a lifetime
not to scan every possible candidate at once. The Corps was mother and
father, but the Corps was divided in itself; Clark couldn't have presented
telepaths to the Shadows for their use and abuse otherwise. Just as there
were rogues who did not understand yet they were family, there were those
who had forgotten, who had sold themselves to Clark. In time, he would deal
with both. But to perform too many illegal scans on Clark's wealthy buddies
meant risking exposure to any tame telepath they might employ. He would
have to use other means.
Garibaldi was a stroke of luck and ideally suited for Bester's purpose, but
oh, it was hard not to push, and got more difficult with each report, as it
became increasingly obvious Bester's worst fears could very well become
true. If he played this wrong, if he blew Garibaldi's cover, every single
telepath alive now or in the future might pay the price. Sometimes, he even
envied Garibaldi, confused and lost in his own mind as the mundane had to
be by now. At least Garibaldi did not know what he was waiting for.
Cadre Prime had a lot of traditions, which laters, telepaths whose gifts
did not become active or recognized for what they were from birth, could
not share. Laters joined the Corps at various points in their lives; most
at puberty, which was a common time for their gifts to manifest; some, who
lived on colonies or in remote areas or somehow were not tested in time,
joined as adults or not at all, going insane or going rogue instead, or
choosing the sleepers. Bester sometimes thought those three options were
really synonymous. Being Cadre Prime, telepathic from birth, he found
laters often a puzzle. Talking to them, touching their minds, sometimes
reminded him of talking with people who speak the same language, but with
another accent and rhythm.
Lyta Alexander, though, was no later. She was Cadre Prime, as she had told
him proudly the first time they met, years before life would bring them
both to Babylon 5. In fact, not only was she Cadre Prime, she came from one
of the old families, a sixth-generation telepath, tracing her ancestry back
all the way to Desa Alexander, who had been instrumental in forming the
Corps. All of which meant that Lyta was familiar with certain traditions,
and what they implied.
Being usually ahead in experience and discipline, members of Cadre Prime
were supposed to look out for the other telepaths while they were all
children and teenagers. For laters in particular, who were not yet used to
the cadre structure, and clung to individual possessions. Giving them
presents, property one left behind as one grew older, or sharing exercises
with them, was an unspoken demand on Cadre Prime, to ease their way into
the Corps and show them that they were all family now. Depending on the
age, it could be a toy, a book, or some gloves. No matter; it was the
symbol which counted.
Growing up with this tradition, Bester had never kept much in the way of
personal possessions. But he did have certain items he treasured. The
oldest among these was a worn copper MetaPol badge, given to him by his
mentor, Sandoval Bey. To his knowledge, there was nobody still alive who
remembered Bey, and in any case, one badge looked much like another.
Except, perhaps, to another P12 who knew what to look for. Lyta wasn't P12;
she had started out as a P5 and what she had become, nobody could tell yet.
But she might sense the psychic imprint anyway, of Bey killing himself, of
Bester keeping the badge through all these years as a not always succesful
reminder that any attachment other than to the Corps in general was bound
to cause pain and loss.
Even if Lyta did not sense this, the implication of the parcel Bester had
left at her - rather cramped and Spartan - quarters would be clear to her.
She had erred, for a while; she had rejected the Corps and tried to carve a
life for herself among the mundanes. Living by their rules, looking for
their approval. Inevitably, they had let her down. Bester did not feel
gleeful about this, even though Lyta had given him few reasons to like her.
He knew what it was to be rejected. But it was an important lesson for Lyta
to learn, a phase she had to go through, so she could emerge stronger.
There was strength in Lyta, no doubt about it; already she had changed from
the naïve young woman who had worked with him to bring down a serial killer
specializing in telepaths.
Back then, she had been horrified by the punishment he had chosen for the
murderer, and he had told her she would understand, sooner or later. "The
truth won't set you free," he had said. "It will circumscribe you. It will
make you understand what has to be done, and that what has to be done isn't
She partly understood now; his arrangements which forced her to accept his
offer, to rejoin the family she should never have left, were so she could
build on this understanding and finish the next step. And as they both,
some decades apart, had been taught as children, he was doing what a Cadre
Prime should; welcoming another telepath with gifts and guidance into the
It wasn't easy to give up the badge, not easy at all. Once, he had thought
to give it to one of his protegés, just as Sandoval Bey had given it to
him, and hoped this would make the loss less painful. Byron perhaps, or
Kelsey. But none of his protegés had ever had the potential he saw in Lyta,
who had for so long insisted on being his adversary. She would understand,
in time she would become the protector of the only family which counted,
the protector he had tried to be all his life.
Giving her this gift was appropriate.
When he sent Laurel away, untouched, slightly disappointed but with her
hero worship intact, he suddenly realized how long it had been, and the
loneliness was worse than ever. Not that he had genuinely been tempted;
eager young interns, with their minds leaking all over the place, weren't
exactly to his taste. But Carolyn had reawakened the hunger, the need to be
touched and held and to meld in another being which Al had believed to have
vanished long ago. And now Carolyn was imprisoned in her frozen sleep, and
though he refused to give up hope, the realist he mostly was told him she
would be forever out of reach.
It was possible to have sex without love, of course. He had not been in
love with Alisha during the brief period their marriage had truly been a
marriage, but he had liked her then, and believed himself content for a
while. And yet between Alisha and Carolyn there had been nobody, just as
there had been nobody between Elizabeth Montoya, whom he had loved when
they were both too young to know what love really was, and Alisha.
Sometimes Al suspected something in him was missing, some component which
enabled everyone else to have their casual affairs and want nothing more
than that. Then again, it was probably better this way. Being in love was
not a desirable state, and it gave him an Achilles heel he could ill
afford, yet had to cope with; being in lust would just be self-indulgence.
Still, he found that ever since Carolyn, he sought trivial physical contact
with people which he could easily have avoided. With people he didn't even
like to boot. That slap from Commander Ivanova, for example; he had goaded
her into it, and it had been less about provoking her rage than it had been
about feeling the sensation of her bare hand on his face. Nobody who wasn't
a telepath and hadn't grown up in the Corps could understand what it meant,
how intimate a gesture it was, the ungloved hand of a woman on your skin.
It left him excited and humiliated at the same time. Breadcrumbs for a man
who had not realized he was starving, Al supposed, and felt his dislike for
the entire command crew of Babylon 5 grow just that bit more. Well,
Ivanova, who thankfully had never understood his motivation anyway, was
gone from the station now, and in any case this bit of weakness was surely
better than giving in to children like Laurel who thought that was a way to
show appreciation for a mentor.
It didn't bear thinking about that the other person whom he had touched
recently had been Byron.
As a teenager, he had run away to Paris, not to get away from the Corps, of
course, but to catch a dangerous rogue all by himself. It had nearly cost
him his life and he had paid for it by spending many days playing "statue"
on the parade ground of Teeptown, for other students to laugh at. Children
gawked at him, smeared peanut butter in his face, 'cast taunting mantras,
and he could do nothing in return. At the time, Al Bester had believed
nothing could be worse.
Something of that youthful shame came back when Bester found himself
spending unwanted time in Babylon 5's medlab. He barely kept from asking
whether they couldn't give him his usual quarters in the brig; that kind of
confinement, he had never minded at all. In fact, it had been amusing to
play along with Sheridan's and Garibaldi's self-important need to put him
in his supposed place. Mundanes had such fragile egos; they needed these
kind of alpha-dog games.
But to be confined here, where he had seen Carolyn spend her last desperate
moments of self-awareness, mutilating herself and screaming for help in his
mind, help he had promised but had been unable to give, would have been
horrible in any case. Add to this the fact that Franklin kept on radiating
the patronizing wish to help at him, and Bester longed for some familiar
hostility from security guards. And then there were the other patients,
staring at him. He was without his uniform, and while he could have easily
mindwiped the lot of them, he felt strangely gagged and stripped by being
one of them, seeing Franklin treating him no different from the others. In
a way, it was like being the statue again.
Giving Garibaldi back his mind was no last-minute decision. Bester had
wondered for quite a while whether killing him would be the best solution
for everyone concerned, including Garibaldi. Another obvious option was
keeping him under control; after all, Garibaldi's skills as an investigator
weren't destroyed in any way by the commands and priorities Bester had
implanted in his mind. Even after Edgars had stopped being a danger,
Garibaldi might still be extremely useful. Having a mundane agent of
Garibaldi's calibre at his personal disposal could be a great advantage in
the days to come.
And yet. Of course it had been done under compulsion, but Garibaldi had
performed a great service not just to Bester but to all telepaths, which
deserved some kind of reward. Besides, Bester had always scorned the
platitude of death being a mercy. If you took a life, you took a life, and
to cushion it in some neat phrase was to betray yourself.
No, life, no matter how hard and unlikely, was the option Bester would want
for himself, even in circumstances as dire as they were for Garibaldi.
Suicide is a frame of mind, Sandoval Bey's voice whispered in him, a
deluded, contemptible state. If Garibaldi should choose that state of mind,
it would be his own affair, but he should have the choice.
Carefully, bit by bit, leaving only the insurance guarding his own life
which common sense dictated, Bester withdrew from Michael Garibaldi.