Content Warning: [AC][AL]
Disclaimers: All B5 characters and settings belong to JMS and Warner Brothers and anybody else with legitimate legal claim. Don't want them, not claiming them, just borrowing them. Only one character's mine, but if the Great Maker needs her, or someone similar to her, she's his.
Spoiler warning: *Definitely* contains spoilers up to the current episodes of Season 5 (as much as I can actually use within the context of this story), as well as Book #9. *Could definitely* contain spoilers through the end of Season 5.
This is my first foray into the mystery genre, so please forgive any really glaring errors.
*Big* boxes of virtual Godivas to all who helped in the birth of this baby! You guys are the best!
Enough of my stalling. After some brief spoiler space for those who may not be up-to-date with the U.S.. . .
Dedicated to those of us who think there had to be a better way for Ivanova to realize it.
To whoever may end up reading this, I'm not normally a writer. Marcus is the creative one. I hope I've picked up a few things from listening to him tell the kids their bedtime stories. We'll see.
Delenn thought someone should put down the real story of what happened those two weeks in 2263, what the history books are calling the two weeks that shook the Rangers to their core. Since I was the person who saw the most of it, she thought it should be me. You see, I have what's called an eidetic memory. I don't normally forget things, even when I want to.
So I promised Delenn that I would try to tell the whole story, starting with why I left Babylon Five. I promised her that I wouldn't hold anything back.
I keep my promises.
It's Sophie's eighth birthday tomorrow. William will be four next month. They deserve to know more about their father than what's in those history books. We won't have him around much longer.
Susan Ivanova Cole
St. Petersburg, Russian Consortium
January 8, 2272
Prologue - December 27, 2261
I couldn't cry about it anymore. It wasn't that I didn't want to cry about it. I just didn't seem to have any more tears left.
What I did have were the memories, and they were smothering me. Every time I turned around I saw something that reminded me of the last two years, a time that I don't think I could have survived if I'd had to do it alone. I couldn't even get away from the memories when the only thing that stood between me and open space was a bubble of glass and steel.
One of the White Stars flew by. God, but it was a beautiful ship. Just beautiful enough to underestimate.
I suppose that had been President Clark's fatal flaw. Who would have thought a ship that looked that elegant could be so lethal? It was a good combination, I suppose. Good looking and deadly sure seemed to describe some of the most important things in my life.
My life. That's a good one. Was it really *mine* anymore?
I wrapped my arms around me and started to pace -- and think.
The only way to get away from the memories would be to leave the station, abandon the only place I've considered home since Momma died. I fought for this place, killed for it.
I was hardly stuck here. I finally had my promotion to captain, complete with my choice of ships. It was everything I thought I'd worked for. All I had to do was take it.
Why did the whole idea leave such a bad taste in my mouth?
Oh, I knew why. Every time I closed my eyes I could see his head on the pillow . . . hear the three words he used to tell me goodbye.
To be honest, I always had a good idea of how he felt. I've been able to pick up on strong emotions telepathically for as long as I can remember. Maybe I just got used to picking up on how he felt, hit a point where I was able to tune it out.
Or maybe I didn't want to accept that he could have waited his entire life for me.
I had spent so many nights trying to convince myself that Marcus was nothing more than a good friend to me. It was all lies. I've lost far too many good friends over the last few years. He was more than that, a lot more.
The scary thing was that I had let him in without even realizing it. I trusted him more than I had been willing to admit. Trust. He took the last ounce of it I had left in me and treated it like something sacred. I didn't know how to tell him how much that meant to me. I wish I had. Things might have turned out different.
Full metabolic shutdown.
Just like that, he was gone.
The curse of Susan Ivanova strikes again.
Maybe I should get a sign made, something to warn people not to fall in love with me, that it will kill them.
I would have loved to have been able to think of a reason *not* to accept the promotion, something that would make me stay. Maybe if Marcus had lived.
But he didn't.
I'm sure they'll understand.
February 14, 2263
In Norse mythology, a valkyrie was a woman who picked the warriors that were to be killed in battle and took them to Valhalla.
Could there have been a better name for my first command? Maybe I finally had struck that deal with karma.
Of course, a year ago I doubt I would have said that. Since then, the crew and I had managed to get through more near-mutinies and petty squabbles than I had thought possible. We were all finally working together like a well-oiled machine. It was all so hard to believe.
It was also a shame that it was all about to end.
"May I have your attention, please?" I asked.
They all looked up at me from their stations. My God, they were all so young. I had to give them one final speech, but I didn't have a clue what to say. I could feel their thoughts, their curiosity. Some of them were anxious to leave. What would John Sheridan have said to them? I couldn't think of a damned thing that sounded original, so I did the next best thing. I took a deep breath and improvised.
"I just wanted to say that in the year this ship has been operational, her crew has come further than she has. I know we had our . . . differences . . . at first, but your professionalism has allowed us to get past that and work together as a team. Any captain has to be able to trust their crew implicitly, and I firmly believe that the Valkyrie has one of the best crews in Earthforce. Any captain on any ship would be happy to have you on their crew.
"To those of you who have requested a transfer, the rest of us will be sorry to see you go. I think I speak for everyone when I wish you the best of luck. Navigation, what's our ETA at Io?"
"Another eighteen hours, Captain."
"Well, then. If they haven't already, everyone transferring off-ship is dismissed to begin packing. Everyone else, let's get back to work."
I walked over to the command chair, trying to figure out what I was going to do with the next eighteen hours. Since we were in hyperspace, the viewports weren't that much help. I could only stand watching red and black swirling around for so long. Without someone to talk to, it just got really boring really fast.
Since I'd taken command of the Valkyrie, we'd only taken three extended trips through hyperspace. Between mission briefings, plans and navigational maps, I'd had something to keep me occupied all three times. It had been too long since I'd had absolutely nothing to do.
I had an hour before my shift was over. Well, being the captain had its privileges, right? I got up and walked back toward the communications console, thanking as many deities as I could think of that Earthforce had finally figured out how to make the artificial gravity work. Getting around the Valkyrie's bridge in zero gravity would have been impossible.
"Mister O'Connell?" I asked.
O'Connell looked up at me, always eager to please. "Yes, Captain?"
"Hyperspace bores me to tears these days. I'll be in my office."
One nod told me that O'Connell understood, then he went right back to work. I couldn't resist a smile. There actually was a communications officer in Earthforce who was more diligent than Lieutenant Corwin. Who'd have thought?
When I finally got into my office, I let myself relax and took a long look around. It was a small office, but serviceable. I hadn't let myself unpack much at first, mainly because I didn't seriously think I'd have command after the shakedown cruise.
I hadn't been asked to transfer yet, and it didn't look like the orders were going to come anytime soon. So, if it was going to stay my office, then I was going to have to rearrange a few things.
The easiest place to start was the bookcase. Bookcase. An interesting word if you considered how rare real books actually were these days. I only had two. One had been a gift, the other an inheritance.
The plaque that marked my promotion to captain could go on the wall. I decided to put the vase that I'd bought ten years ago at the transfer point on Io in my quarters. What was the Earth-Minbari dictionary from Delenn doing in my office? I put that next to the vase.
I only had one small picture from John and Delenn's wedding. Leave it to my oldest friend to marry the most unique woman in the galaxy. That picture could stay right where it was. It never hurt to have a reminder around of how powerful my friends were just in case I got any unwelcome visitors, right?
That just left the volume of Shakespeare and the synthetic rose. What to do with those?
The computer didn't let me finish my thought. "Incoming transmission."
There were times when I missed Babcom. Not many, but there were times. "Receive transmission," I said.
"Transmission is on Interstellar Alliance Presidential Frequency. Please state security code."
"Security code, unicorn." Delenn's overly romantic sense of humor strikes again.
"Security code accepted."
The Alliance logo flashed on the screen, and then I saw a face I hadn't seen in over a year. One Doctor Stephen Franklin was smiling out at me from that screen. "Susan, how are you? How's the Valkyrie?"
"Stephen? What are you doing on a restricted channel? Wait a second, aren't you supposed to be on Earth?"
The smile left his face. "Delenn needed me here. Earthdome's agreed to let me work from Babylon Five for another year. They called it a special dispensation. And don't worry, it was John's idea to use this channel. Look, I know you're busy, so I'll try to keep this short. When are you due to arrive at Io?"
"How long after that can you get back here?"
"To Babylon Five?"
"Well, I've got to offload some crew members, which should take about a day or two. Taking on their replacements should take another couple of days. Counting average travel time, we could probably get there in a week, give or take a day. Why?"
Stephen didn't look happy. "It's not your ship that needs to be here, Susan. It's you."
"Me? What for?"
He looked at something offscreen. If I hadn't known better, I would have been convinced that he was gathering up the nerve to tell me something. Two people were arguing in the background. It sounded to me like John and Delenn.
"Look, Stephen, I don't have time for games. What's going on? Don't tell me you called on a restricted channel because those two are having a fight."
"No, they're not fighting. We're just trying to figure out how to tell you something."
I knew the look on Stephen's face. The last time I'd seen it was the night they'd told me Marcus was dead. I was getting a bad feeling about this whole conversation.
I began to wish that we were in the same room. At least then I wouldn't have had to worry about the song and dance routine. "You don't need to sugar coat it on my account, Stephen. You know that. Just spit it out."
"It's about Marcus," he said.
Now there was a name I hadn't actually *heard* for a while. "What about him?"
Stephen's face went blank, but I could see the guilt in his eyes. What did Stephen have to feel guilty about that involved Marcus? Why did I have the feeling that I really didn't want to know?
"Susan, I wish I could find an easier way to say this. He's alive."
It felt like a concussion bomb had hit me flat in the chest. My knees felt like rubber. I reached behind me until I found the corner of my desk, the closest place I could sit down. My heart was pounding away somewhere in my throat.
"He's alive?" I whispered.
"Stephen, you told me he was dead. That machine drained his life energy completely. You don't come back from that kind of dead."
"I know. I wish I could tell you what kept him alive, but I can't." He was trying to calm me down with his voice. "I just thought that after what happened you might want to hear that much from me."
The fact that I was furious with him was the only thing that kept me from breaking down. "No, what I *want* to hear from you is why you lied to me."
"Susan, by every medical account, he was dead. I honestly don't know what happened. I'm sorry I didn't let you know before this, really." He was trying to beg with someone offscreen, I could see it in his eyes.
"Allow me." Delenn ushered Stephen out of the picture. She was smiling from ear to ear. That smile extended all the way to her green eyes. "Captain, I understand that you are probably upset by this news."
"Upset isn't even near the word for it, Delenn."
Delenn smiled at me as if I were a child. "What good would be served by this anger? Would it not be wiser to give yourself over to your joy that he is alive?"
"How do you know I'm so happy he's alive?" I asked.
She gave me a glare. "Because I know you, old friend. I promise you that you will hear the whole story when you arrive. Is that acceptable?"
I pulled my eyes away from the monitor, looking instead at the synthetic rose that was somehow still in my hand. Marcus was alive. For a few seconds, my brain simply refused to process any more information than that. "What am I supposed to tell Earthdome?"
"John tells me that you have a considerable amount of leave coming to you, is that correct?"
I nodded. "It's not enough."
"Faith manages, Captain. We will see you in a few days."
No sooner had I set foot into the docking area than Stephen Franklin had me in a bear hug. He was his usual chipper self. No, he was actually *happier* than usual. The grin that broke through his face almost stretched from one ear to the other.
"Susan! Welcome home!"
"Where is everybody?" I asked. It bothered me a little that he was alone.
"Well, our favorite President wanted to throw his new fleet commander a private welcome home party." He gave me a mischievous smile. "When I left, Alina was trying to talk Lyta into letting her find a male stripper for the cake."
"Alina? I thought Captain Lochley's first name was Elizabeth?"
"It is." He snapped his fingers. "Oh, that's right. You haven't heard about Alina yet. Just to give you a heads up, Captain Lochley takes some getting used to. Most of us had no idea what to do with her when she got here. Alina, however . . . ."
There was a story there, I could hear it in his voice. Even through my defenses, I could pick up a glimpse of his thoughts. I'd warned Stephen before about keeping his strong emotions in check, that any telepath in the vicinity could use them to get into his mind, but I guess he didn't listen.
"Who is she, Stephen?"
He grabbed my elbow, trying to lead me down the hall. "She's Delenn's aide. She was only supposed to be Marcus's replacement, but when Lennier left she pulled double duty. Fun girl, once you get her to relax. Wonder if we can get her to sing?"
I stopped him. "I heard about what happened with Lennier, Stephen. How's Delenn taking it?"
"She's okay with it now, I think," he said, frighteningly serious. "When they caught him, though-"
"Any idea why he did it?"
"Same reason he joined the Rangers in the first place. Jealousy. After John and Delenn got married, he wasn't the same. He ran a couple of missions for Delenn when we were dealing with the Raiders, but he wouldn't stay on the station. Delenn tried to get us all to believe he'd joined the Rangers because of Marcus, but a lot of us knew better." He tried to lead me off in a different direction, one I knew went toward Medlab. "Come on. I'll take you to see Marcus."
I pulled my arm away. "No, Stephen. Not yet."
"You don't want to see him? I thought that was why you came back?"
"It is. I just -- has he asked about me?"
"Asked about you? Marcus?" He let out a long breath. "Delenn didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
He ran a hand over his short hair, shaking his head. "He's in a coma."
I couldn't believe it, but a part of me was actually relieved by the news. "Coma? How?"
"Come on. Delenn should tell you this one. It was her idea, anyway."
All of my friends had gathered in John Sheridan's quarters. John was the first to greet me when I arrived, complete with another bear hug. What were they trying to do, 'welcome' me all the way to a bed in Medlab?
"Good to have you back, Susan."
"It's good to be home, John. Thanks, I owe you one."
He gave me that ridiculous grin of his. "Hell, no. After everything you've done for me, I think I still owe you about ten."
"Welcome back, Captain." I turned and found Delenn standing beside me. I tried to give her a hug, but found a small obstacle. She appeared to be about seven or eight months pregnant.
"Tell you what, John. I'm willing to forget five of those favors if you never ask me to babysit."
I found Garibaldi hiding in a corner. He looked as if he wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else. He was actually afraid of me for some reason, I could feel it. Not that I hadn't given him enough reasons over the years, but I didn't remember a single threat that had been serious. I tried to sound as cheerful as I could when I walked over to him. "Garibaldi! How the hell have you been?"
He gave me his usual skeptical look. "Fine, Ivanova. You okay?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Last I heard, you wanted me dead."
I couldn't resist a laugh as the memory of that conversation came back. What do you know? Marcus *could* take orders. "Rule number one, Michael. Marcus has a tendency to stretch the truth." I reached out and put a hand on his arm, trying to make my voice as calm as possible. "I did, but then I talked to Lyta. She told me what she saw. I know about Bester."
It seemed to settle him down a little. "Thank God. The last thing I need is you holding a grudge."
Well, it was nice to know that my reputation was still intact.
Delenn seemed to materialize at my elbow, leading me toward a woman who looked eerily familiar. The facial features were different, of course, but she looked just like the reflection I saw in the mirror every morning. She had the same dark brown hair, pulled into the same ponytail. Hell, I thought my eyes looked haunted.
Delenn introduced her as Captain Elizabeth Lochley. I'd always thought of her as my replacement. Lochley held out her hand at the same time I did, and that only made the resemblance more spooky. They must have been having one hell of a time down in C&C. I briefly felt sorry for Corwin. Very briefly.
I shook Lochley's hand, putting on my most diplomatic smile. "Captain Lochley. From what I've seen, you're doing quite well with the station." Lochley gave me a short, but polite, nod. This woman was all-business if ever I'd seen it. "Thank you, Captain. Or would you prefer Fleet Commander?"
"I haven't thought about that, yet. Captain, I suppose."
Lochley nodded again. "Captain it is, then. On behalf of the Earth Alliance, welcome."
"Thank you," I said, looking for an escape route. I had to find a diplomatic way to hide the agonized expression that I knew was on my face. Dear God, did that woman ever relax?
I was actually grateful when the Babcom unit began to beep.
"What is it?" John groaned.
Corwin's face appeared on the screen. "Sorry, sir, but Mister Allan asked to be notified when their ship was to begin boarding."
Zack blushed. "Thanks, Lieutenant. We'll be right there."
"Of course, sir. Have a safe trip." In an instant, the screen went black.
Lyta sighed and hefted her bag onto her shoulder. "Sorry, everyone. By the time we get there, they'll be ready to leave. If we miss this one, it's a week before there's another transport back to Mars. You have no idea how annoying that woman will get if we're late."
"What woman?" I asked.
Lyta looked confused. "You know, she never has told me her name. We just call her Number One. She used to be the head of the Mars Resistance. Stephen, did she ever tell *you* her name?"
Stephen shook his head. He was lucky that he had such a dark complexion. I could feel the embarrassment rolling off of him. I'd have to badger him about it later.
Lyta gave me a quick hug, told everyone goodbye, and walked to the door.
"You *will* take care of my security team, right Michael?" Zack asked.
"Like they were my own," Michael said, sarcastic as always. "Still don't know why you're leaving me in charge instead of Morishi."
"Because I can. Good to have you back, Ivanova." Zack nodded at me, then followed Lyta out the door.
Call it intuition, but I'd always had a feeling about Zack and Lyta. Granted, what I felt from the few seconds I had been back told me a serious rift had come between them, but I could tell they would find a way around it. I couldn't resist asking anyone who would answer precisely what the trip was about.
"It's a special request," John said. "Since Byron's people split up, Lyta's become their de facto leader. She asked to go to Mars to get any information she could out of what's left of the Psi Corps base there. Zack's going along as bodyguard."
"What if she's scanned?" Lochley asked.
I laughed at that. "Lyta? Scanned? Captain, you obviously don't know Lyta as well as you think you do. She was Ambassador Kosh's . . . aide . . . before the Vorlons left. I'm willing to bet there isn't a Psi Cop alive that could actually scan Lyta Alexander."
Lochley's eyes were as wide as saucers. "You're kidding."
*No wonder we lost the civil war.*
I stopped dead in my tracks as Lochley's thoughts entered my mind. The idea that the person running Babylon Five was on Clark's side of the war turned my stomach. With all of the ships that had turned tail and joined our fleet, where the hell had Lochley been? Come to think of it, why had John hand-picked her to take over?
I immediately threw up more telepathic barriers, softening the voices that had been so loud in my mind. I'd had to do some serious mind games on the Valkyrie to keep from hearing every stray thought, but I had assumed that it had become an unconscious function.
Obviously here, around my friends, I had relaxed too much. This place was home, but even at home I was going to have to work hard to keep this a secret. John and Delenn knew what I had been, and I knew I would have to tell them about what I had become. God knew I needed help with training. Lyta's little trip to Mars would hopefully be just a minor delay.
"Hello. Has she arrived already?"
I nearly jumped out of my skin at the new voice. When had the door opened? The source of the voice was a small woman standing in the doorway wearing a Ranger uniform. Her hair was dark, almost black, and it was pulled back from her face in a short ponytail. She had friendly green eyes and features that were almost as delicate as Delenn's. Her accent reminded me of Marcus. She walked up to me and mimicked one of Lennier's bows. "On behalf of the Rangers, welcome back, Fleet Commander Ivanova."
I tried to return the bow, but couldn't quite pull it off. "Thank you, and Captain, please. You must be Alina."
Delenn chose that moment to speak up. "Yes. Captain, this is Alina Minette, my aide."
I took a deep breath, using every sense I had to get a feel for Alina. If Stephen was so interested in her, I guess I owed it to him. I felt an innate sense of goodness in her, the idea that she was just as much at home within the Rangers as Marcus had been. I lowered my telepathic barriers just enough to try to isolate her thoughts, but failed.
I couldn't hear her at all.
This threw me back a step. Putting the walls back up, I tried to hide how much the silence had affected me. "It's nice to meet you. Would you please excuse us? I need to talk with Delenn for a few minutes."
Alina bowed again and walked off.
"What is it, Susan?"
"Alone," I whispered.
"Certainly." Delenn turned toward the bedroom, her silk skirts rustling as she walked.
When the door was closed behind us, I took a second to try and calm my nerves before asking what happened.
Delenn smiled sadly. "With Marcus?"
"Have you spoken with Stephen?"
I nodded. "He said I should talk to you."
Delenn sat down gingerly, folding her hands over stomach. "Before I became involved, all I know is what he has told me. He said that after they had removed you both from the machine, there was barely anything left of Marcus. His body had ceased to function. Stephen declared his death and began the preparations for the funeral.
"You had gone before he was finished. When he was ready for the body, he discovered that the meager life energy that had been in Marcus's body had not dissipated. Marcus was still alive. Stephen did not want to let him go either, Susan, so he placed Marcus into a cryo unit and told *no one*. We had a funeral for a man who was not dead. Stephen said that his silence was to keep us from getting our hopes up."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Does he know if Marcus ever woke up?"
"I am told that he did not."
"So, let me get this straight. If Stephen didn't tell anyone about this, how did you find out?"
Delenn's lips thinned. "It was approximately one month ago. I had arrived early for an examination. I found Stephen in the cryo room, talking to one of the units."
"Yes. It was then that he told me what had happened."
Something told me I didn't want to ask my next question. "Okay, how did he get from the cryo chamber into a coma?"
This revelation put me back a step. "Lennier? What did he have to do with it?"
Delenn slowly shook her head. "His White Star was captured by an Earthforce ship approximately two months ago. It had been badly damaged in battle, and was hardly a match for the destroyer that found him."
"Yes, I remember hearing about that. The Hippolyta. Up until that point, I had a lot of respect for Captain Patrick."
"Your Captain Patrick was, as you say, overzealous in his treatment of Lennier. He saw Lennier as nothing more than a criminal who had tried to kill the President of the Interstellar Alliance and failed. Because of him, Lennier was prosecuted on Earth. Prosecuted, and convicted."
"Assassination attempts on heads of state come with the death penalty." All of a sudden I figured out what had happened. "And because he was prosecuted on Earth the surviving victim law extended to John, didn't it? John got to pick how Lennier died."
"In theory. I spoke with Lennier after the trial. I had just found out about Marcus. Lennier felt very strongly that if his life were going to be taken, it should be used to return Marcus to us. I convinced John to choose the healing machine, with the sole condition that the energy be used to bring Marcus back."
The poetic justice of it all almost brought a tear to my eye. "But, that's not supposed to work. Stephen said-"
"I know," Delenn said. "He told me the same thing when I suggested it. I begged him to try, told him that I had faith that it would work."
If Delenn said that she had faith in something working, it would work. This was pretty much an established fact among those few people she called friends. There were just a couple of things left for me to sort out.
"Do you plan on telling him whose life *he's* got?" I asked.
"No. Stephen and I discussed it, and we believe that Marcus would not take that news well."
"He couldn't take it any worse than I did."
She looked at me very seriously. "Yes, Susan. He could."
"Trust me, Susan. There was a reason for what Marcus did beyond his feelings for you. Even though he was not involved, I do not believe he would handle the death of another friend well. I cannot say any more than that."
"He's going to wonder what happened to Lennier."
She nodded. "I realize that. When he asks, I will find a way to explain it to him, but not a moment before."
The tone of her voice told me not to press the issue, so I asked my other question. "He's been in this coma for a month?"
"No, just under two weeks. We had Stephen contact you as soon as his condition had stabilized."
I couldn't help it. I started to pace. "Why didn't you tell me about the coma when you contacted me?"
"Because I felt that if you knew he was not awake, you would not come. We have no way to tell when he will wake up, Susan. It could be tomorrow, it could be months from now. After what he did, would you not want to be the first person he sees?"
There is one thing history will never remember about Delenn. There were times when she meddled a little too much in the affairs of other people. "Marriage has made you a hopeless romantic. Just don't get too proud of yourself. Telling me the whole story wouldn't have changed anything. I'd have come back just as fast."
She had a disgustingly self-satisfied smile on her face. "So you *do* want to be the first person he sees?"
That one question stopped my pacing. I actually thought about it for a couple of seconds, finding that the answer came sooner than I would have expected. "Yes . . . maybe. I at least want him to know that it worked."
"He knows. Of that I am certain."
"Faith." She gingerly pushed herself into a standing position, but not without my help. "Thank you, old friend. Now, I believe we should return to your party."
With that, she slipped through the bedroom door, taking any answers she might had given with her. I followed her out the door, back into a living room that was buzzing with conversation. Oh, but it was going to be a long night.
[End Part 1 of 6]
BABYLON 5 names, characters and all related indicia are the property of J. Michael Straczynski, TNT and Warner Brothers, a division of Time Warner Entertainment Company. All rights reserved.