A Babylon 5 story
by Rachel Smith Cobleigh
Story by Rachel Smith Cobleigh and Joshua Sanofsky
Sean Bouvier looked up from his late dinner when the com beeped. Sighing, he swallowed the last bit and wiped his mouth. "Go ahead," he said, and the comscreen blinked on.
"Miss Sheridan! It's been a few years, hasn't it?" He smiled politely. "To what do I owe this honor?"
"You may dispense with that. I need a favor."
Sean sat back, waved his chopsticks in the air. "Really." He grinned and licked a bit of food from the end of one of the sticks. "Do tell."
The chopstick flew out of his fingers and landed in the middle of the take-out carton. Sean paled. He looked back up at the comscreen, but the red-haired witch wasn't looking at him. She was reading over something below the screen.
He took in a shaky breath, and put the other chopstick down on the table. So, she was calling in her favor, after four years. He had figured, by this point, that she had forgotten about the whole incident. He had almost forgotten about the whole incident, until now.
"Here it is."
He jumped, looked back up. "W-what is?"
The computer console next to the screen beeped, receiving a transmission. The specifications for a one-man Ranger fighter appeared on the screen for several seconds, then blinked off.
"My ship. I need clearance off of Minbar, within the hour."
"I can't just do tha—" the chopstick trembled in the box, knocked the carton over. Chokla lo mein spilled onto the tabletop. Sean swallowed, put his hands up, his eyes still fixed on the chopstick. "Okay...within the hour."
"My pleasure," he said tightly. She nodded, and the screen went back to standby. He let out a long breath, leaned back, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. After four years, and she had to call at a time like this. He wondered why she was in such a hurry, why she couldn't just ask her President-daddy to clear her passage. She was still as proud and high-handed as she had been back then. He wasn't genuinely frightened by many people, but her, she sent shivers up his spine. So, he owed her his life. That didn't mean he had to like it.
Groaning, he pushed himself out of his chair, leaving the overturned take-out carton lying on the table, and went over to get the specifications from the console. How lucky for her, to have saved the life of one of the highest-ranking Ranger air comptrollers. How unlucky for him, to have been caught in the middle of a prosperous deal, gone sour, and to be left owing her a favor. Now, here he was, sitting alone in his high-view apartment, late after work, eating cold take-out and helping some royally prissy teenager run away from home.
He keyed in his password and entered her flight data into the computer logs for the night. The officers on duty wouldn't notice the extra small fighter on the schedule. Smiling to himself, he tapped in the final commands and closed the connection. He turned back to finish his dinner, looked at the noodles spilled on the tabletop, and shivered. Yes, the farther away she was, the better.
Kaylenn settled into the small cabin space of the Ranger one-man fighter, a mid-range combination of Minbari, Vorlon, and Human technology. The life-support systems could handle a single passenger for about a month, in deep space, if needed. It was more a survey ship than a fighter, but it had four small pulse turrets mounted on each of the wingtips, which, technically, qualified it for a fighter class. It had been part of a larger fleet on one of the Anla'Shok scout ships that had been attacked two weeks earlier by raiders. The carrier's fighter bays had been damaged, and the parts replaced. This little ship was one of the last leftover pieces that had been refitted recently. Erik said she could take it for a spin, if she liked. It wasn't back on active duty, yet—he had just finished tightening up a few bolts.
She had already sent a message to the captain of the Narn cargo ship, with a down payment, and a place and time for their rendezvous. His freighter was the closest transport to Vorlon space for another month, and even then, at the dropoff point, it would take her three weeks in hyperspace to reach the homeworld. What would happen at that point, she did not know. It just seemed like the best place to go, right now.
She strapped in, keyed up the systems for takeoff. She maneuvered around the various piles of scrap metal and dissected ships, and hoped that Bouvier had gone through with his word and entered her in the flight records. She would find out soon enough.
She lifted off of the ground, ran a quick check to make sure the systems were working correctly. She smiled, imagining Erik's face when he realized that the little spin was going to take her a bit farther than he expected. The ship rose higher, moving slowly to keep the shock waves from the lifts to a minimum.
Almost...there. She was three klicks up, high enough to engage the engines. The burners ignited, she could see their pale blue flame shining behind her, in the closing darkness. She increased the propulsion, the ship coughed for half a second, then cleared, and shot forward, out into the eternal black nighttime of space. There were no voices demanding that she identify herself, no patrol ships chasing her down.
She held her breath for another minute, then let it out in a long sigh and sank back against the cushioned seat. She made a note to thank him when she returned...if she returned. She pushed that thought away and checked the systems again.
One last thing to do before she opened a jump point. She established a connection to a satellite, routed it through the main computer system for the Alliance Institute of Medicine, and keyed in a password for the personal computer in Franklin's apartments on the Institute's compound. He'd given her the password before he had taken a trip to Earth a few months before. Now, she used it for the first time, to download most of his personal log records. She had questions, and those files might have some answers. The ship's system kept the connection until all the information was in memory, several minutes later, then beeped.
"Fine," she said, took a deep breath, and opened a jump point. The swirling yellow waves spun closer around the ship, drawing it into their grasp. It stretched her to infinity and back, and then shrunk to a single point and disappeared, leaving the stars winking quietly in the darkness over Minbar. Below, her parents slept peacefully.
The Narn freighter, the Chon-kar, came out of the jump gates over Sigma 957 and drew up towards Kaylenn's small fighter. She pulled the cowl of her brown Ranger robes over her head, covering her bonecrest, and flicked the switch to open a com channel.
"Connection established," intoned the computer. She turned towards the screen.
"Greetings, Captain Ta'kon."
"Greetings," the old Narn responded, in thickly-accented English. "You are Kaylenn of Mir?"
"I am," she said, and smiled to reassure him. "Is everything in order?"
"Yes, we have cleared an area for your ship in the cargo bay, and there are sleeping quarters ready for you. Payment is due in full upon arrival."
"Of course. Is that all?"
"Yes. We will open the bay and my second will instruct your approach."
Ta'kon grunted and the screen winked off. Another, younger voice came over the system.
"You will please fly under this ship and turn off your forward engines."
Kaylenn complied, angling her way under the belly of the ship until she was directly underneath the cargo bay doors, which were slowly sliding open. She cut the engines and did as the voice painstakingly instructed, until the fighter was resting on the deck and the afterburners were beginning to cool off. She gathered up a bedroll and her toiletries bag, and opened the canopy. Two Narn stood below her on the deck. Swinging her pack and bedroll over her shoulders, she climbed over the cockpit and dropped lightly to the floor, her cowl falling back.
The two Narn looked surprised, and backed a step away.
"Mistress Sheridan!" The shorter one said, eyes wide.
Cursed appearance. She smiled. "Yes."
"We are honored!" The tall one made a sort of bow. The short one continued to stare at her head. Biting her tongue, she nodded politely to them and then cleared her throat.
"I need to speak with Captain Ta'kon, to give him the remainder of my payment. Would you please show me to the bridge?"
"Of course, of course, Mistress Sheridan," the tall one said, smiling back. "I am P'Kra, and this is Bra'kon. The Captain sent us to escort you to your sleeping bed, first. Please come this way."
"I have seen you in vids!" Bra'kon said excitedly. P'Kra growled down at him, and he quickly subsided. He seemed to be barely more than a young adult. Kaylenn noted the name and wondered what relation he was, if any, to the Captain. She'd find out, after a couple of weeks living with them all.
"I have tried not to appear in any of them recently, but I am flattered that you remember," she answered, readjusting her pack on her shoulder and looking away. P'Kra caught the signal and steered Bra'kon towards the doors at the far end of the bay. She followed, pulling the cowl back over her head. There was no point in advertising her appearance to anyone else. Bra'kon would likely blurt it out soon enough, anyway. She sighed, and followed them into the lift. It would be a long four weeks.
It was an uneventful four weeks, in any case. The Chon-kar was a freighter, after all, and not one fitted with particularly powerful engines. The only crew on board were the four needed to run the navigation and ship's maintenance, in addition to Captain Ta'kon, and his nephew, Bra'kon. There had been a moment of surprise—and anger, on Ta'kon's part—when they realized who she was, but she had quietly paid her fare, promised to stay out from underfoot, and taken her things to the small cabin she shared with Ke'ran, the only female Narn on board.
She quickly set up a schedule, rising early to meditate, then exercising in the ship's small gym room. She divided her time in the afternoons between studying the information she had downloaded from Stellarcom on the Vorlon homeworld—which, even this many years after it had been located, was still, in large part, a mystery—and watching Franklin's logs. They didn't yield any further information on Lorien, Kosh, or her abilities, as she had wished, but they told a story that she had never before seen with such personal effect.
Of course, every history lit had vids and a retelling of the Shadow War, the subsequent Babylon 5 - Earth War, the Centauri - I.S.A. War, the Telepath War, and the handful of smaller conflicts from more recent years, but they were cold texts, citing dates and statistics and strategies. They detailed social pressures on a dozen different worlds that were a factor in the tensions at the dawn of the Alliance, economic and technological benefits that each race received upon joining, all of the science included. The story of the people, though, only few could tell, and Franklin was one of the few. She watched his logs, in part for the story that they told, and in part for the small wish that she might find some scrap of hope in the past.
"What business do you have going to the homeworld of the Vorlons?" Ke'ran asked, from the bunk beneath Kaylenn in the small cabin. Kaylenn lay, looking up at the ceiling, a mere half-meter above her. This room had obviously not been designed for a bunk-bed setup. She reached up and ran her fingertips along the smooth plasteel surface. Sighing, she dropped her hand back down to rest on her stomach. Ke'ran was a little older than she, and this was one of her first voyages into space. She had completed her training as a ship's navigator, and had been hired on by Captain Ta'kon only a few months earlier. She treated Kaylenn with disdain and thinly-veiled annoyance. They almost never spoke, except before falling off to sleep. After two weeks, the inevitable question had finally been asked.
"What makes you think it is your business?"
"No offense intended, I was only curious," Ke'ran snapped.
"As is the rest of the crew."
"You cannot blame them; no one ever goes there. It is an unusual request for us to perform," Ke'ran replied, a defensive note in her voice. "Captain Ta'kon is especially concerned that some harm would befall you, and he would be called to blame."
"Once you have dropped me off, he is not responsible. He knows that."
"He is person of great honor, Miss Sheridan."
Kaylenn sighed. She had long since stopped asking them to call her by her name. They insisted on the more formal family title, and now Ke'ran used it as an accusing reminder of the reason they were worried for her safety. If anything happened to her, they would be held responsible. That was the way of things. She closed her eyes. She should not have put them in this position.
"So, I ask you—if I may—what your business is. For a scouting mission, would not your father send someone..." Ke'ran trailed off, searching for the most tactful way to speak her mind, "...someone less...visible? And why could you not fly a ship that would get you there in less than a week? Surely there are better ships than the small one you are using." She was pressing in, hunting, and Kaylenn knew it.
"My father does not know I am out here," Kaylenn said quietly, answering the bait.
"I knew it," Ke'ran growled. "Deserting your family because you are unhappy is dishonorable." Her voice took on a prodding tone. "Is it another sorry story of being a poor little rich girl? The First Family is so perfect on the outside, but in truth—"
"Ke'ran," Kaylenn cut her off, pushing a flare of anger down. "I am of age. I have not deserted my family. I have left with his blessing. In fact, I am searching for a cure for him" She stopped. It was a private matter that was not to be discussed outside the family. She cursed herself for making such a slip. Ke'ran was silent for a long moment, and when she spoke again, her voice was quieter.
"Ke'ran, if there is any question that you ever have of my parents, or my family," she paused, rolled on to her stomach, and looked over the edge of the mattress, down at Ke'ran. "I will tell you, with the utmost honesty and truthfulness, that they are good people. They make mistakes like us, only their mistakes are more visible. They carry so much weight on their shoulders, but still they stand, despite everything. I have only the greatest respect and honor for them both, and I do not take it lightly when someone speaks otherwise of them."
Something in Kaylenn's eyes made Ke'ran feel a moment of fear, and she swallowed. "My apologies."
"Is that why you are so angry with me? Because you believe that I am a 'spoiled little rich girl'?" Kaylenn pressed on, raising her eyebrows.
Ke'ran looked straight at her, defiant. "I was born into a family living in the dirt on Tekara Prime; one of sixteen. It's a barren wasteland of mining companies. You breath in toxic dust and die young. Everything that I have now was earned and scraped for. When I finally won scholarship to an off-world university, I went with nothing more than the clothes I was wearing that day. I watched everyone else complain while they had all they needed, and yet I just bit my tongue and kept scraping for a little more." She looked away. "You have everything...and I resented that when I first saw you come on board. It was my cabin that you were to share, not anyone else's. You had the money to buy passage. I will only make enough on this job to live until the next one, no more. The rest of my family is either dead or still living in poverty. You have everything you could ever want. You are different in your appearance—people notice you. I am just another Narn, no one looks twice at me. So yes, that is why." Ke'ran's eyes were burning.
Kaylenn rolled back over and looked up at the ceiling again. She paused before answering.
"I am going to the Vorlon homeworld in the hope that I will find answers."
"Answers," Ke'ran echoed, disdainfully. "How noble."
"It is not. Just simple desperation."
"What are you desperate for? What do you need that you don't already have?"
"One close to me is dying, Ke'ran," she replied, softly. "He will be gone in little more than a month."
"And why do you think that his cure is there?" Ke'ran asked, somewhat subdued.
"Because I believe that the...disease...in some part, originated there."
"In your small ship, from the point that we are to let you off, it will take you yet another month to get there. How can you hope to find a cure with no time left?"
"You see the desperation, now."
Ke'ran did not speak again, and Kaylenn did not sleep.
Four hours later, she gave up trying, and went down to her ship in the bay. She loaded in another of the personal log files and settled in to watch.
"Everything's a mess right now," Franklin said, shaking his head. "After President Santiago's death last week, Garibaldi in critical condition here in the MedLab, and now Sinclair transferred back to EarthDome." He got up, and the vid cam followed his movements. "And on top of that—" he put his hands on his hips, "—Ambassador Delenn is in some sort of cocoon—don't ask me what's going with that—Lennier told me to be prepared to help, but what does he think I'm supposed to be able to do if he doesn't let me in to examine it? All my requests for information from Minbar have been shunted around through various dignitaries, and I get the distinct impression they're avoiding me. I read all I could on Minbari biology, and there isn't any mention anywhere of them using cocoons at any stage in their development!" His voice had been rising, arms making frustrated gestures in the air. He seemed to notice them, and pushed them into the pockets of his pants. He laughed, a strained, disbelieving sort of sound, then sobered.
"The station personnel is in upheaval, what with the death of Santiago, and Sinclair's recall orders. Garibaldi took such a hit, his body under so much stress—he wasn't sleeping well before, I could tell, and now..." He trailed off, looked away. "I don't know. I've tried all I know to stabilize him, propped him with as many regen packs as I can, but his spinal cord was fused in two places. We can repair the damage, but I don't know how well he'll do. All I can do is wait and hope, and that's fragging frustrating!" He was pacing now, back and forth, in a tight little circle. After a moment, he stopped, remembering something.
"Oh, Ivanova told me this morning—Earth Central is sending in a new C.O., Captain John Sheridan. They have high hopes that he'll be their new golden boy, I think. Sinclair bucked them, and they didn't like that. It'll be interesting to see what Sheridan does." He crossed his arms, gave another short, disbelieving laugh. "After this many years, and we end up serving together again. Hero of the Earth-Minbari War, good P.R. back home." He frowned, looked up at the screen. "I wonder...I know that the Minbari leaned hard to get Sinclair stationed here—still don't know why—and that they call Sheridan 'Starkiller'. I somehow don't think they'll be pleased to find him running this place, now." He comlink beeped.
"Sir, there's a Pak'Ma'Ra convulsing in MedLab 3, and we can't get in close enough to sedate it." Dr. Hobbs' voice came over the tiny speaker.
"I'll be there. Franklin out."
He looked up at screen. "Stop record."
It winked off.
Kaylenn turned off the vid recorder and pushed herself out of the seat, feeling tired and worn. As the ship slowly crawled closer to the Vorlon homeworld, she had been feeling a tiny, but unmistakable... something. It wasn't enough to quantify, to even express in words, but it was there, and she knew that it was growing in scope. She sighed, climbed down from the fighter's cockpit, and walked across the cargo bay, to the lift.
She had finished the highlights of Franklin's first year on the Babylon 5 station—the end of it's second year of operation. It was the story of the past from an intimate point of view that so few had—that so few had survived to tell.
Gathering her robe around her shoulders more tightly, she tried to push away the pinprick that tugged at the farthest corner of her mind. It was not just a feeling of urgency, though that was part of it, but it was something else, added to it. Something that she needed to be concerned with, but that she had no power over. It was all so frustrating. Ke'ran had been almost right: it would take another three weeks to reach the Vorlon homeworld, and if the precise timetable that her father was on was correct, she would have less than week before all hope was gone.
She swallowed back the lump that had risen in her throat, and stepped into the lift.
Franklin leaned back from the screen and sat with his arms resting on his knees, excited, but tired. "Ambassador Delenn has been gracious and patient with all of my poking and prodding—she's amazing. It took me almost two weeks to finish recalibrating the instruments to her half-Minbari, half-Human biology. Incredible. At first, I didn't know what to make of her...change. Now, well, now I'm just in awe of that machine. I tried looking it over—with her and Lennier watching my every move—but I can't make head or tail of it." He gave a short laugh. "All it looked like to me was a pile of crystal triangles and some alien power cells. They could have been pulling my leg, for all I know, and could've been hiding the actual machine somewhere else. Minbar's still not giving me any information, any statements, any comments on her recent change. They're 'politely declining to discuss the situation with me at this time, and any questions should be taken up with the Ambassador, thank you.'" He finished the last comment in an irritated voice, and sat back, frustrated. After a moment, he raised his eyebrows and continued.
"Otherwise, things have slowed back down again. Garibaldi's been up for three days now, kicking, plotting, driving my med techs crazy. He's recovering quickly," he said, with a crooked, relieved smile. "Ivanova is still looking a little tense, but she's visibly more relaxed since Sheridan came on board. He's a little different than what I expected—he seemed harder, sharper, the last time I saw him. I guess a few years being a captain, enjoying some perks, maybe he softened up some; ten years, no threat of war. He's on top of things around here, anyway. Ivanova served under him at the transfer point off Io a few years back, so at least there's no conflicts between them, and the station's running relatively smoothly. Earth Central has relaxed their...watchfulness...a bit, also." He yawned. "Well, next shift's in four hours. I'd better crash while I can. Stop record."
"Long day," Franklin said, rubbing his eyes. He looked up at the screen and yawned. "Just another...long...day. Sheridan managed to get himself abducted by aliens—heh, ironic, considering we're living on a space station populated with a couple hundred thousand of them. These ones were the Striebs, or something; I don't remember what Garibaldi called them when he towed Sheridan in. The Captain had three holes in his forehead, multiple abrasions, and two broken ribs—and a Narn bodyguard, just for good measure—but he's alive." He shook his head, massaged the bridge of his nose. "Ahhh, I'm so tired. It seems, every week, there's some new crisis, big or small. Ivanova told me that Delenn was asking her about what sounds like the onset of her menstrual period." His fingers tapped the arm of the couch. "I'll have to check in on her to make sure that everything has been going okay. It's got to be a shock to her; Minbari females don't experience anything similar. I don't know to what extent, exactly, she's been changed. She's such a strange combination of both biologies, now, that almost anything is possible, given time. Ahhh. I'll do my best. Hmm." His hand tapped one last time. "Good night."
"How do you wash your...har?" Ke'ran seemed unsure of the last word.
"Hair," Kaylenn corrected, half-smiling. She had just come out of the tiny sonics unit in the side of the washroom, and Ke'ran was sitting on the bedroom floor, looking up at her in puzzlement. A Narn was gesturing wildly on the vid screen, waving a pike or some other sort of prehistoric weapon.
"Ha-ayr," Ke'ran repeated.
"What are you watching?"
Ke'ran smiled. "It is a classic—Chon-kar B'Nyt—'Blood-oath of B'Nyt', I think you would call it. B'Nyt was one of our greatest heros, many hundred years ago. He died to save the honor of his clan, and formed the Ka'arii; he led them against the Darkness."
"I think I've read about him, in the history lits."
"So, how do you do it?"
Kaylenn laughed, and pulled a tunic over her head, reached up to slide the wide neck around her bonecrest. "Well, I can't, not here, anyway. That's what I miss from not being on a Whitestar: running water. Sonics just don't quite...clean...hair, and this phosphate- conditioner gel makes my scalp itch in hard-to-reach places. Gaah." She made a face and reached up her fingers to scratch under the edge of the crest. "You have no idea how lucky you are not to have to deal with hair."
"Yours is very beautiful."
"Thanks," she said, tugging on a pair of pants.
"But, in those hard-to-reach places, how do you wash them?"
Kaylenn smiled. "It looks harder than it is. Here, look." She walked over to Ke'ran, and bent down, tilted her head for the other to see the edge of her crest. "It's actually porous, in a way. There are many small channels in the bone where it contacts my skull." She pushed her hair aside for Ke'ran to see, then reached up and pulled a section of it up, through the bone wall, sliding it up easily. Ke'ran raised her brows, and she reached up to touch the bone.
"You can not see that from a distance."
"The channels are small, but there are many of them. I usually just turn my head upside-down, separate the hair above the crest—pull it up—from the hair underneath, then wash both sections. Then, dry it—" She turned her head back up, and slid the strand back into the channels under it, smoothed the section left above. "—and slide it back down. The worst part is when someone catches you with half the hair still hanging out above the crest." She tucked the gel tube back into the toiletries bag and left it in the washroom, then came out, leaned in the doorway for a moment. "David calls me a jellyfish when he sees me like that. He doesn't have anything to worry about—he keeps it pretty short. My father," she said softly, looking away. "He calls it a crown..."
"A princess, then," Ke'ran said dryly, looking up at her.
Kaylenn shook her head and pushed herself away from the doorway, went across the room to fold her clothing. "To him, only. It's just the way I was born—" She took in deep breath, her hands stilled on the half-folded cloth. Along with a few other traits. Two crumpled bodies, two different places, flashed through her mind. She shut her eyes and swallowed back the sudden wave of self-revulsion and fear. She reached out with a mental hand to steady herself...and found herself reaching out farther and farther...
They are coming.
Sucking in a sudden breath, she pulled back and opened her eyes. She frowned, staring at the blank wall before her. Who?
"Are you all right, Miss Sheridan?" Ke'ran had half-started to rise, and Kaylenn turned to look at her, nodded.
"Fine." She swallowed, then pushed the growing feeling back away and returned to folding her shirt. "I'm fine."
"Well, that was strange," Franklin said, sitting down in front of the console. "I heard a Vorlon ship had arrived, but I didn't know what business they had. Sheridan and Delenn just walked in half an hour ago, looking ragged, but otherwise pretty much unharmed." He titled his head, raised an eyebrow. "Pretty much. They were close-mouthed about it, but I got the impression that they'd just been through some ordeal with that Vorlon—" he frowned. "Perhaps not a Vorlon, but someone or something it brought to this station." He paused for a second. "Mm, Delenn had burn marks on both her wrists; they were especially strange—only first-degree burns, though they looked worse. She would only say that they were caused by Vorlon technology. I gave her some salve to apply, and instructions on how to use it. She was somewhat dehydrated, also, and exhausted. She's strong, though; two days rest and she'll be fine." He tapped his fingers idly on the edge of the console.
"Sheridan is going to have some bruising—also extremely strange," Franklin frowned. "It-it's like," he paused, searching. "Like someone hit him a few times, on both sides, with a heavy... blanket...or something. Or a blanket of force." He shook his head. "Primarily upper torso and face. Hm. It's going to be a little uncomfortable sleeping for the next few days." He looked up. "I wish I knew what happened. Garibaldi's more than a little upset right now, and he's got his men scouring the place for someone named 'Sebastian', who's somehow responsible for their...state. Vorlon courier? I don't know."
He thought of something, and his mood changed slightly. A half-smile almost made its way across his face. "Sheridan and Delenn...an interesting combination. I overheard Myers talking about their dinner in Fresh Aire a few weeks ago, and just dismissed the gossip as an ambassadorial meeting. Now, I'm not so sure. Myers said she looking stunning, and that the entire restaurant was shocked into silence, including our good captain, who very quickly became protective when someone got too curious." Franklin smiled, now. "It's just a nice change of pace, in the middle of all the rest of this insanity." He sighed. "The Narn-Centauri conflict is heating up. There have been several outbreaks of violence in the past two days. Garibaldi is up to his ears, tense, snapping at everyone. Something's going to break, and soon."
"The flow seems to have paused for a few minutes," Franklin said. "The Centauri destroyed the Narn homeworld only hours ago, using mass drivers. The flood of Narn refugees is overrunning this station, we can't handle much more, but they just keep coming. There are a half-dozen Narn ships outside, now, waiting for care for their wounded. Sheridan's issued a statement that Babylon 5 will help the Narn with any food supplies or medical attention that they need. Garibaldi has his men all over the station right now, struggling to keep the riots to a minimum. We already have a group of Centauri in Medlab 3, beaten within an inch of their lives." Franklin shook his head. "We need to get assistance from Earth, supplies, anything, but they're dragging their feet on getting involved. Sheridan's forced them into a tight position with his statement, and I have been unable to get much in the way of cooperation out of them. We're running dangerously low, we need more!"
"Twenty-five more coming in to Medlab 2, sir!" Security came over the speaker.
"Copy that, we don't have any more room over here," Franklin said. "People are out in the hallways!"
"They're coming in Doc, make room," Garibaldi growled.
"Right," Franklin said sarcastically. "Put them in the bay in Isolab, then."
"It's all we've got," Franklin snapped. "Franklin out." He turned to the screen. "Stop record."
"We will be arriving at the closest point in our route in a few days, Miss Sheridan. Will that be all?" P'Kra said, on the viewscreen.
"Yes; thank you, P'Kra."
"You are welcome, Miss Sheridan. We will let you know two hours in advance of arrival, so that you can prep your ship."
The screen winked off, and Kaylenn turned away with a sigh. She was tense, impatient. She just needed to work out some knots. Picking up a towel, she left the small cabin and made her way across the ship, along the familiar daily route, down to their small gym. She left the towel on a rack near the door and sat down on a piece of equipment. She noted the setting; the Narn used them, and were annoyed when personal settings were changed. She would reset it when she finished.
As she pushed the weights up, working her arms, running through the routine, she let her mind drift. Three of them were playing some sort of card game on the bridge; Captain Ta'kon was reading the news broadcasted by the Narn homeworld. Through the hyperspace relays, it took some two hours to receive the entire day's transmission, so when the Captain read, no one disturbed him. Bra'kon was off, fine-tuning a mechanism in the rear of the cargo hold. Ke'ran was running routine checks on the nav system.
Outside, there was nothing; no whispers, no words, just the silent swirling of hyperspace. Kaylenn did not reach out any farther, she held some dread of contacting whoever, or whatever, was out there right now. Completely alien, yet somehow familiar. It was coming closer, perhaps already here. She sighed; she had already passed stir-crazy, boredom, and the sickening feeling of wasting time. After three and a half weeks on this ship, all she could do was wait. If she stopped thinking, the crumpled bodies would appear, lying in the darkness, and then she would kick and fight them back, go find a vid in Franklin's logs to watch, or download every reference to the Vorlon homeworld from StellarCom and study it for a while. Images of her mother, alone and crying, came, and Kaylenn would swallow them hard away and push more stubbornly against the gym bars.
Sometimes, in his logs, Franklin included pieces of secure cam footage, ISN broadcasts, recordings from things he was studying in Medlab. He didn't do it often; after all, personal logs were used primarily to record issues that the command staff didn't put in official reports. However, he occasionally took the time to include things that might be useful in the future. They were always intriguing, telling a story or relaying some information that otherwise would have been lost completely to memory. As she watched them, seeing events that shaped the universe she lived in right now, she realized that entire races existed right now, because of her parents. The history lits downplayed their roles; no two people could ever have influenced so much—but it was true. They had stood on the bridge between life and death and had made the decision.
A decision that came back to haunt them even now.
Franklin sat in his quarters, jacket unbuttoned. He was tired, but there was a light in his eyes. "Sheridan declared independence today. Earth will retaliate, and quickly. Delenn is on Minbar, we still haven't been able to get word to her in the capital city. Their entire world is split in a civil war between the warrior and religious castes. I'm preparing Medlab for the coming battle. We've got about a day before the fleet from Earth arrives. I pulled this broadcast off in Medlab, saved it. If we live through tomorrow, I'm going to want to have a record of this day." He leaned forward, pressed a button below the screen, and a station control screen appeared. The tiny white cursor selected "PLAY RECORDING", and another vid winked on. It was a recording of a gold-hazy hologram of her father, so young, his face set and his voice defiant.
"May I have your attention, please. In the last few hours, we have learned that warships are coming this way from Earth. Their orders are to seize command of Babylon 5, by force. As commanding officer and military governor of Babylon 5, I cannot allow this to happen. President Clark has violated the Earth Alliance Constitution. By dissolving the Senate, declaring martial law, and personally ordering the bombing of civilian targets on the Mars Colony, he is personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Following these attacks, Orion 7 and Proxima 3 have broken away from the Earth Alliance and declared independence. Babylon 5 now joins with them. As of this moment, Babylon 5 is seceding from the Earth Alliance. We will remain an independent state—until President Clark is removed from office. At the end of this current crisis, anyone who wishes to leave for Earth is free to do so. Meanwhile, for your own safety, I urge everyone to stay in your quarters until this is over. That is all."
The vid winked off, and Franklin appeared again.
"Only a few hours left," he said, and swallowed. "We fight."
Kaylenn pulled her sleeping bag off the top bunk and rolled it into a small bundle, fastened the ties. Leaving it on the floor, she went over to the three boxes stacked in the corner, and carried each of them over to bunk, heaved them back up there, where they had been when she arrived. Ke'ran had used the empty bunk to store her few things out of the way, and now the space was all hers again. Kaylenn wondered how lonely it was for her to spend months at a stretch in the dead of space, with no one else to really talk to. Ke'ran resisted the attention of the males on board, and kept almost entirely to herself. The late-night conversations between the two of them had grown from a strained politeness to an unexpectedly close friendship that made the long journey bearable. The journey was not over for either of them, just yet. Three weeks still remained for Kaylenn's fighter to reach the edge of Vorlon space, and the Chon-kar had another month to go before reaching it's Pak'Ma'Ra drop-off point. Another few lonely weeks for both of them.
Kaylenn bent down and picked up her bedroll. Taking it under one arm, she slung her pack over her other shoulder and turned back to look around the small room that she had lived in for the past month. There was just the tiny sonics washroom, a small vid screen with a limited selection on the far wall, Ke'ran's few things standing about the room. Kaylenn turned and walked away, following the familiar hallways, until she reached the hangar bay. They would arrive at her drop-off point in less than an hour; her ship was fueled, waiting to be warmed up and set for autopilot.
She climbed up the side, and made her way into the cabin space. She dropped the pack and bedroll off in the corner, and sat down behind the system controls. Activating the computer, she keyed in a quick systems check, then started the main engines. They warmed up slowly, over the next several minutes, and as the ship hummed to itself, she got up and retracted the ladder, closed the hatch, and secured her things in the tiny bunk room behind the cabin. The com beeped.
"Answer," she said, and the computer opened the connection.
"Miss Sheridan, nearing drop-off point, thirty standard minutes." P'Kra's deep voice came over the speakers.
"Acknowledged," she called back, checking one last time over the supplies in the food cabinet. "Systems check in progress."
"Please do not activate your main engines until you are at least half a klick from the Chon-kar. Docking thrusters only to maneuver out of our safety zone."
"I understand," she replied, rolling her eyes. They assumed that she was a novice pilot, and had taken extreme care in explaining everything about the drop-off procedure. She had not made any concerted effort to dissuade them-she preferred it that way. It let them feel certain that she had been properly guided, so that their ship was not in danger, and let them think that she was the young, naive rich girl that most people mistook her for. It was better to be underestimated.
"First officer out."
She went back into the cabin and watched the diagnostics read-out for a few seconds, then sat down and pulled up the next log from Franklin's files. There was really nothing else to do for the next while, except wait. She set the vid to play and sat back to watch. The ship hummed and the computer beeped its next system check completion.
She guided the ship down and out of the hangar bay, and carefully maneuvered away from the Chon-kar with the thrusters. The proximity display beeped, and she ignited the main engines. Pale blue fire glowed in the background of realspace.
"Captain Ta'kon, I would like to extend my thanks to you and your crew for your hospitality and graciousness. I have greatly enjoyed the time spent aboard your vessel, and I hope that our ways meet again."
"I, too, Miss Sheridan," Ta'kon replied, almost-but-not-quite smiling into the viewscreen. "I will convey your thanks to them. Please take the utmost care in the remainder of your journey."
"I will, and thank you for the extra provisions." Extremely useful, and generous of them, to give the extra rations and air tanks. No one was quite sure what the state of the atmosphere around the Vorlon homeworld was, so they insisted that she bring more of an air supply than the ship already had. She did not argue.
"Be careful, Miss Sheridan!" Ke'ran's voice came from the back corner of the bridge. Kaylenn smiled as the Narn moved into view. "We will meet again."
"We will," Kaylenn replied, inclining her head towards the screen in a minute bow. "Good-bye."
Ta'kon inclined his head, also, as did Ke'ran, and then the screen went blank. Kaylenn settled farther back into the seat and looked out into the black void. Tiny stars winked, spread out a million miles apart in the canopy. It was both beautifully rich and frighteningly barren. She took a deep breath, and set the engines to the maximum burn that could be maintained for three weeks. The proximity display showed the Chon-kar moving away again, leaving she and her ship alone in the night. A jump point opened half a klick away; she closed the distance quickly, and flew into the swirling red storms of hyperspace.
To avoid the insanity of living three weeks entirely cut off from any other form of intelligence, she would meditate and go into a kind of hibernation state for several hours at a time. She still needed to wake to eat and to remain clean, at intervals, but, hopefully, this would make the time waiting bearable. She reclined the seat, laid her arms crosswise on her chest, tilted her head back slightly, and closed her eyes.
She could sleep, but she couldn't keep the dreams away.
It was strange; they sat on the balcony, side by side, silent, staring out past her. What were they looking at? Something over her shoulder. They weren't afraid, so it couldn't be anything frightening. She swallowed and turned to look, herself, half-expecting some great black monster to rise up from under the edge of the balcony wall, but instead she began to see light.
It was a warm light, oranges and yellows and pale pastels. She had looked out this balcony countless times since her childhood—it was on the top floor of the mansion-like building that the family lived in. The grounds of the Interstellar Alliance headquarters were directly below, and the capital city of Tuzanor stretched out before her, going on, past the edge of the horizon. As she turned around, she saw the light coming up farther over the hills, and then the single sun of the Minbari homeworld rose over the points of the far crystal mountains. The lights reflected around and through the crystal, shooting rays between the waterfall and the spires of the Shao Temple, spreading across the landscape. She felt the warmth of the light, and it poured into her being, even as she knew she was not truly there. It warmed the bare skin on her arms, and something deep inside, something that felt cold and unturned was nudged, just a little, by the rays. She took in a deep breath, and turned back to look at her parents, making the movement in slow motion.
Her mother was leaning into her father's embrace, and her eyes were closed, soaking in the warmth of both the sun and his body. She looked at such peace that Kaylenn's heart ached, and she swallowed. Her father's eyes were not closed, however. He continued to stare through her, at the sunrise, far away. The smallest furrows stood in his brow, and he held his wife a little tighter. Her mother opened her eyes, and Kaylenn saw a whisper of silent pain pass through them.
Her mother slowly sat up straighter, her gaze following his, and they remained side by side for a long moment. Then, to Kaylenn's horror, her father began to fade. Not quickly, not obviously, but as she looked at him, he suddenly was dimmer, less defined around the edges. Still, her mother sat, straight, looking ahead. As she continued to watch in horror, unable to move, to make a sound, to reach out to them, he faded...farther and farther away...until she had silently screamed herself hoarse trying to call his name, and by then he was gone.
The light had gone, and her back was cold.
She flung her eyes open and sat up suddenly, a half-scream risen in her throat. Her hand clutched her chest, and a sheen of sweat covered her, making her tunic uncomfortably damp. Strands of hair clung to her neck. She looked out the main viewscreen, watching the reddened clouds inch slowly by, and finally took in a deep breath, let it out. Her throat was dry and her tongue was thick. Swallowing clumsily, she pushed away at her hair, kept taking in deep breaths. After a moment, she unbuckled the belt, slid forward out of the reclined seat, and stumbled back the few steps to the tiny washroom. It was becoming more and more difficult to remain in the hibernation-sleep. The repeating dreams, the fighting that seemed to have no effect on the monsters she fought, and left her exhausted when she woke up...and the sense, still growing more insistent, that an event was building up to happen.
As she pulled on a clean shirt, she walked to the console and checked the position. Two weeks left, if her calculations were correct. She went back and found a couple of dry ration bars and a bottle of water, brought them to the console. She set the seat back up, sat down, and took a drink. She couldn't sleep, the food tasted bland, and her scalp itched. She scratched it irritatedly. Might as well watch another vid. She typed in a command, peeled open a ration bar, and sat back to watch.
"Sheridan is dead. The Shadows stopped their attack." Franklin's eyes were unfocused on a spot far past the screen. "It's as if everyone is holding their breath."
Kaylenn wedged herself into the small space between the seat and the toilet area and pushed her toes under the edge of the control casing. Blowing out air through her lips, she began doing crunches, bringing her chest up, relaxing back, tightening up, relaxing back. The rhythm of the movement gave her something to concentrate on; working the knots out of her back, watching her knees come closer, then fall back again. She didn't keep track of how many that she did; when her stomach was tired, she turned on her side and worked her legs.
It felt good to be doing something, it didn't matter what. Anything but sleep. She was sick of sleeping—or rather, not sleeping. It was more than enough to put her in a sour mood, and what better way to keep it from taking over than to force her body through strenuous activity. She needed to do it, anyway; sleeping for so many days left her feeling like she wanted to attack something. It might as well be herself.
After she had worked up a decent sheen of sweat, considering the amount of space that she had to move in, she heaved herself off the floor and went looking for a packet of chla mix. She heated one in a bottle and went back to sit down, looked out the viewscreen. As she sipped the drink, she relaxed back, let her eyes close to slits.
Something swept by.
She threw herself forward and looked out the screen, startled.
"Computer, proximity report!"
"No vessel within range," it replied.
"No, of course not," she muttered. She played back the moment in her mind, looked out again. It was nothing, it had to be. Just a wisp of light, of mist. Perhaps a cloud of gas.
But she knew she wasn't alone.
She sighed, pushed the feeling away, and forced herself to take another sip. Paranoia would not help. An hour later, she resigned herself to the hibernation-sleep again.
She remembered Jason's wedding to Kit; their family had been invited by the Ranger, and her parents had gladly accepted. He had been a faithful and capable house guard for some twelve years, and her parents were honored to be asked to join the festivities. It was to be a traditional human ceremony, very serious, Kaylenn was told, and she was to be on her best behavior. Her mother prepared in a very solemn manner, draping Kaylenn with the white cloth headdress that was fitting for a formal ceremony of such importance, and then dressed in her own most honored robes, with their ceremonial wrapping.
David was taken care of by her father; he had told her mother that he would dress him appropriately, not to worry, and had taken off with him several hours earlier. Kaylenn had been asked to be the "flower girl"—an odd title given to a young girl who was to throw the petals of plants on the floor in front of the bride. They had gone through a quick dress rehearsal the night before, and Kaylenn was anxious about throwing the petals correctly. She wanted to make her parents proud in her important job. She was the one that got picked for it, and she did not want to mess up. Besides, if she did, David would make fun of her. This was important.
When David and her father came back, David was wearing a little black suit, like the kind that Baldi wore, when he came to see them. She wondered if little Mary was going to come. Probably not. All the better then, since she always pulled Kaylenn's red hair and screamed. Little kids were such a nuisance.
David looked unhappy, and tried to take off his coat, but her mother made him leave it on. Kaylenn stuck her tongue out at him, and smiled, knowing that she looked very pretty in her white dress. David pulled off her headdress, and Fier had to put it back on again. Her father came out of her parents' bedroom, dressed in his special Entil'Zha robes, and told David to sit down and leave your sister alone. David went and sat down at the table and was quiet. Kaylenn stood by the door and was quiet, too.
Her mother came out a few minutes later, in a warm coat, and helped Fier put coats on Kaylenn and David, and then they all went out to the trans, where Tannier and Jason's temporary replacement were waiting. It was so exciting! Everyone was dressed up, and looking forward to the ceremony. Her mother had assured her that it was a very serious occasion, but the sense that she got from her father was entirely different. He seemed to be serious on the outside, but there was something very funny underneath. She could not wait to see what he was going laugh about. She liked it when he laughed, because his eyes would crinkle up, and some great weight would fall off of him for a few seconds. She did not feel the pressure to try to carry it when he laughed. And he always took time to laugh when she did something funny.
When they arrived at the temple on the Ranger grounds outside of Tuzanor, there were white flowers draped around the doorway, and many men and women were outside, of several different races, all dressed in their most formal wear! Beautiful ladies, and tall, dashing men... there were a few other children, but none that she knew, so she stayed beside her mother as they walked inside. People waved and said how pretty she looked, and she stretched herself up taller, and smiled back at them.
Her mother turned down a hallway, and David and her father went in the other direction. They would be meeting them again in a few minutes, her mother said. They walked down the hallway, and went into a room, where there were so many ladies in beautiful dresses and fancy hair. Mara, and Shalier, and another human with dark hair, two Minbari Rangers in a long wrap similar to her mother's, standing behind—Kit!
Kit was so beautiful, and shining, and her white gown was so beautiful, and she was so tall, and Kaylenn wished that she could be that pretty when she grew up. Kit had short red hair, like Kaylenn's, though not as bright. She turned when she saw them come in, and bent down to say that she was honored that Kaylenn was to be her "flower girl." Kaylenn curtsied, like her mother had taught her to, and everyone laughed and said she was very cute. Then her mother said for her to do what Shalier told her, and that she would be out in the temple, watching for her, and then she left.
They all prepared, finished fixing their dresses, and someone gave Kaylenn a basket of little red flower petals. They were very soft. When she heard the wind pipes blowing in the big room, she proudly stepped out onto the cloth on the floor, the first one to walk out, and walked slowly, one step, step, another step, step, to the blowing of the pipes. Their beautiful, airy music filled the room, all over her head, and she walked forward, remembering—when David stuck his tongue out at her—to throw the flowers around her. She threw a bunch at him, and then primly set her head high and let the rest of the petals fall in small curves around her feet, as she walked toward to the far end of the aisle. It was a very beautiful ceremony, and very serious. Her mother must have been right.
But then the rest of the human tradition came, the parts that she had not read about in her Earth history lits, and with it came the first big party of her life.
Kaylenn's eyes flew open. She was in a dark place, no light, but there were stars winking overhead. Countless stars, tiny pinpricks in the blackness. They were many different, glowing colors.
Who is there? she asked.
Who is ever there?
She swallowed. The voice was everywhere. She turned around, looking. It felt both familiar and alien, all at once. Something inside of her hummed, warmth grew in her chest. She felt the vibrations and looked down. She was stunned to see a faint light on her chest, glowing. She reached up, pushed the collar of her shirt away, and touched the warmth.
Do not be afraid, child.
She looked up, and saw a pair of warm golden eyes in the midst of the wisp of light hovering before her. They blinked. She blinked back, still holding her chest.
Who are you? she asked, finding herself curiously unafraid.
Oh, one of many reasons Why you are here.
What do you want?
If she sensed it correctly, the wisp appeared to find her question humorous.
You never think of new questions to ask, do you?
She suddenly had a sense of something terribly ancient, and she frowned.
The golden eyes closed for a moment, then reopened. She stood, silent, looking at the cloud of light that seemed to be everywhere and nowhere together. After the space of several beats passed, she frowned.
Why are you here?
To keep a promise. As are you.
Yes. She looked down, her fingers pressed against the warm spot. She raised her eyes again, fixed them on the golden ones. Will he die?
The cloud turned away.
You are here.
The computer was chiming insistently, and she flung her eyes open, looked out at the canopy. A blue-green sphere was rising out of the darkness: the homeworld of the Vorlons. She sat up, switched the chime off, and sat, for a long while, just watching the planet turn. The mist in the atmosphere was thick, but she could make out the edges of continents. There appeared to be more green than blue on the surface. Minbar's scape was primarily water, and the crystal mountains that rose out of the sea were clear; there was very little green, in comparison to the blue, on the planet. The Vorlons' world, perhaps, was slightly closer to the scape of Earth, though even that planet had less green.
So, it was primarily thick vegetation, then. The atmosphere appeared to hold the majority of the planet's water, if the mist was indeed water. She had been unable to find any images of the planet; most of the knowledge was second- and third-hand, ancient manuscripts, hearsay. The Vorlons, themselves, were a mystery; it was theorized that they were primarily energy-based beings, perhaps the product of countless millennia of evolution. They had made some effort to leave their legacy as a mystery, also. For some reason that no one had yet discovered, all probes that had been dispatched to the planet disappeared within a certain distance from its projected location in space. If her ship's measurements were correct, she was well within that distance, and she was the first to be so since they had all "gone beyond the Rim" two decades earlier.
Something invisible had occurred while she spoke with him, that was the only explanation for how she had made it in so close. According to the readouts, she would be within measurable atmosphere in less than two hours. Taking a deep breath, she set the computer to scan for any sign of civilization, intelligence, even anything unusual on the surface. Closing in at this rate, the scan would take a few hours to complete. She tapped on the console, bit her bottom lip. After all this time, and it was finally within reach.
Thank you, she sent out, but she received no response. After a few minutes, she pulled up another of Franklin's logs.
"He's alive!" Franklin shook his head in disbelief, one hand on his hip. "I don't pretend to know how, or why. He's got...energies... in his bloodstream, all throughout his body, actually. They appear to be repairing the cells, it's amazing! I can't even begin to explain it; all I know is that they are. They're on a cycle, though. The computer detected a pattern; it's small, but it's there. I don't know what it means, yet. I hope I will find out, eventually."
"No you don't, Dr. Franklin," Kaylenn whispered.
There was one unusual landmark: a pyramid-like structure of stones, only about ninety meters high. It stood in the midst of the dense vegetation, unmarked and otherwise unimpressive. It appeared to just be a pile of uneven stones, heaped to a point. She had the sensors scans for any life signs around it, and there were many; creatures of countless different sizes and shapes moved about in the undergrowth, some which the computer could not identify, and some which it could-which was even more intriguing. There did not seem to be any life beyond that of a prehistoric clime, and there was no unusual concentration of life signs around the stones. It just appeared to be a heap of rocks in the midst of a jungle world that was devoid of any other sign of intelligence.
She brought the ship down through the atmosphere, slowly, in intervals, to minimize the effect on the weather conditions. The mist was extremely thick; it was primarily hydrogen and oxygen—water, but it also contained a high level of nitrates. The warmth of the suns glowed through the mist, creating stunningly vivid rainbows, swirling with the eddies and winds around the ship.
Life signs registered species native to dozens of other worlds; temshwee birds, like the ones that sang on the spires of Tuzanor, whistled their notes across the landscape, exaltations flew over the treetops, wheeling in unison. Great cats, like those of Brakir and Earth, prowled along, slept in the branches under the canopy of leaves. There were Gree, amphibious lizard-like creatures, common to Narn, and even creatures that appeared to be evolved Curloo, from Centauri Prime. There were billions of other species, alien in form and movement to the scanners, and Kaylenn cut the program short before it burned itself out trying to catalogue everything.
She searched for a place to land the ship, and even as small as it was, it was difficult; the vegetation was too thick. She finally retracted every part that could be retracted, and maneuvered entirely with the docking thrusters, keeping her acceleration to a minimum, until she had dropped under the canopy of leaves, and had found a thick growth of intertwined branches that the sensors estimated could hold the weight of the ship. She carefully set down, testing the branches, and then keyed in the power-down sequence.
The atmosphere was within safe levels for her to breathe, though it would feel thick and balmy in her lungs. She looked out the viewscreen at the untouched world, rich with life. Leaves hung down, their tips sweeping the viewscreen, pushed by lazy breezes. Some sort of creature with a prehensile tail crawled down the bark of one of the great trees that her ship rested on. After a while of looking out, she tapped in a few commands, shutting down most of the systems. The inside of the ship dimmed, and the light coming in through the viewscreen highlighted everything in yellow-green.
She pulled on the backpack, and gathered up a few basic survival items, her pike, her PPG, and several energy caps, and then slipped on a green poncho over everything. Her hair was in a tight braid, out of the way, and she tucked the tail under the green material and pulled the hood of her poncho over her head. After turning for one, last look around the cockpit, she set the engines to standby, and turned to the hatch. She took a deep breath, and unlocked and opened the door.
Warm, moist air flowed into the cool cockpit, and she let down the ladder, climbed out onto the massive branches beneath the ship. With a command from her remote controller, the ladder retracted, and the hatch swung slowly closed, and sealed. She tucked the controller into a pocket on the leg of her pants, zippered it securely, and straightened up to look around.
"What am I doing here?" she suddenly asked, of no one in particular. She was nearly a hundred meters up in the great tree, beginning to realize how ridiculous a task it was to find a cure for her father in such a wild, untamed place. Alone. She swallowed, pushed the thought away, and frowned obstinately.
"I'm here, there's no point to giving up, now," she growled at herself. She let her thoughts reach outward for a moment, testing her surroundings, looking for another sentience, but found nothing. There did not appear to be anything particularly big and hungry that had noticed her, yet. Keeping her senses aware, she fixed her sights on the network of branches, and began the long climb down to the floor of the forest.
She waded through the leaves for several hours, following the compass-heading towards the pile of stones. Various wildlife swung over her head, slithered across the ground, shuffled in the undergrowth, but nothing approached her. The winds whispered high up through the branches, but no breeze reached down to the forest floor; it was a thick and muggy air that she pushed through. The hood had long since fallen back; strands of wet hair clung to her neck, and her clothing was dampened completely through.
The alien environment was beautiful, too. The sounds of bird calls and clicks, the laughter of the primate-creatures; they surrounded her, and filled her ears. This place was so alive. Perhaps even artificially so...but then, how could she say that one form of life was more natural than another? Her water bottle was emptying quickly; she stopped for a moment to take a sip, and ran a sleeve across her forehead. She could see the highest stones through the vegetation, now. Not much farther to go.
When she finally made it out to the small clearing around the pyramid, the suns were low in the sky, and the light was fading. She estimated that they would be completely down in little more than an hour. She walked to the base of the stones and sat down on the lowest step with a great sigh. This was utterly ridiculous. Here she was, sitting on a pile of rocks on an abandoned planet, alone, half-way and then some across the galaxy from her family. Why couldn't she have been reasonable and waited out her father's death like any sane person would have? He would be gone in little more than two days, and she wouldn't be there to say good-bye. To hold her mother, to cry, to feel David's comfort and strength. To find peace with herself.
She kicked the stone with her heel and fought back tears. She was not going to cry out here on this stupid pile of rocks. She shoved herself up, tucked the water bottle back into its pouch on the backpack, and turned to look up at the pyramid. The suns had dropped behind the point of the formation. If she was going up to the top, she needed to start now. She pushed back her tears. The steps were high, jagged in some places, uneven, but she grabbed for handholds, and slowly made her way up to the summit.
It was unimpressive; just as jagged and uneven as the rest of the stones, as if clumsily cut from a larger rock and dropped on to the top of the pile. She walked over to the far edge and sat down, pushed the backpack off, and, aching, leaned back against it for a long while, to watch the two suns dip below the horizon. She could actually see them, now that she was high enough to look over the canopy of leaves. As the light faded, and the air grew cooler, she pulled her sleeves back down and sat, frowning. A faraway sun—or perhaps an unusually reflective moon—shone its dim light over the forest.
What did she hope to find, really? Why was she here? She could go dissecting plants; but she didn't know what to look for, and even if she did, the chances of finding it were basically nonexistent. This running was pointless; it had brought her to a dead end. She could not push that fact away, now. So, she pulled up her legs to her chest, wrapped her arms around them, buried her face in the space between her knees, and just cried. She cried until her chest felt hollow and her eyes were thick and puffy. She cried until she was too exhausted to cry anymore, and then she reached out again, out with her mind, searching for him, for anyone, to hear.
She jumped when she recognized a calm presence, coming closer. No, it wasn't! Half-stunned, she opened her eyes and looked down the side of the pyramid below her—yes, it was. Relief mixed with confusion mixed with a thousand questions flooded into her mind, and she asked.
What are you doing here?
Lyta Alexander looked up, smiled.
"Waiting for you," she answered, out loud. She continued to make her way up the stones.
Kaylenn sniffed and wiped her cheeks with her hands, dried them on her pants. Unexpected wasn't quite the right word for this occasion. Impossible seemed a better fit.
"Wa—" she stopped, sniffed, cleared her throat. "Waiting for me?" She echoed, not understanding. "Have you been waiting for me all of this time?"
Lyta climbed over another step, she was now only twenty feet away. She laughed, just a little. "Since I left off contact with everyone? No. G'Kar and I had...some unfinished business." She grunted, moved up another few feet. "I came here only six days ago."
"How—" Kaylenn straightened her legs, let them drop down again. "—did you know I was coming? I told no one." She wiped under her eyes, embarrassed.
"No need to be, Kaylenn. There's nothing to be ashamed of."
Lyta came up the last five feet and slowly, gingerly, settled herself down on the stone beside Kaylenn. Wisps of her whitened hair trailed back in the breeze. She sighed, grimaced. "It's the years." She paused, turned to look at Kaylenn. "I was asked to come; I think you know by whom."
Kaylenn turned to look at the forest canopy before them, swallowed.
"Yeah," she replied, her voice rough, throat thick. She looked at the sun-moon for while, took in a deep breath.
"Why are you here?" Lyta asked, quietly.
"Yes, but what did you hope to find here?"
"I don't know," Kaylenn said, frustrated. She clenched and unclenched her fist. "I don't...fragging...know. I just thought that I might find someone or something that would save him." She blew out a breath. "I didn't know where else to go, I didn't really think about it—I just ran."
"Away from him?"
"Which is it?"
"I left him and Mother behind, yes, but I wasn't—I'm not—running, specifically, from them."
"Then what are you running from?"
Kaylenn slapped the stone with her hand, shook her head. "Myself, Minbar, the universe, I don't know. It was insane, unrealistic, and stupid. I ignored myself for weeks, strained to fill my mind with things to keep it all away. I thought, just maybe, maybe, I could find Kosh, or Lorien, and ask them for help."
"Everyone dies, eventually, Kaylenn."
"I know. But why him, why now? He's losing almost half of his life!"
"He made that choice twenty years ago, Kaylenn, and no one can second-guess it now."
"I feel so helpless!"
"Is that what you're running from?"
"That, and the fact that a member of the Grey Council is dead because of me, and a human telepath" —a hot and angry thought caught her— "and now, indirectly, my own father!"
Lyta turned to Kaylenn, her eyes flashing.
"Don't you dare sink yourself into that trap, Kaylenn Mir Sheridan! You are not responsible for him, and you are not responsible for his death!"
A cool wave swept over her, and Kaylenn swallowed a lump, her temper more subdued. She turned her hot face away, frustrated and angry, chastised. "I'm sorry I said it. It-it just...slipped out." She was not going to pity herself. Lyta was right, and she knew it. Somehow, it was just easier to face her father's death if she forced herself to take the blame and lived with the guilt gnawing at her, inside-but it was a self-pitying lie, nothing more.
She sat up, wiped at a rebellious tear.
"Let him go, Kaylenn."
Kaylenn let out a long, shaky breath.
"Yes, you can."
"I don't want to."
"I know. But it must be done. He wants you to—you know that. He wants you to live, and grow, and bear his and Delenn's honor, like he knows you will. He wants you to live, because the reason that he did it was so that you could live—so we all could." Lyta paused, her voice softened. "You're something special, Kaylenn. Only the universe knows why, but you have abilities, knowledge, a spirit like no other that I've known. Your mother, Kosh, Lorien—your father gave you that. Don't waste it, child."
Kaylenn burst into tears again, half-angry at herself for being this emotional at all. She kept the curtain in place, though, not allowing her mind to slip out, to completely release her emotions. Lyta must have sensed some of her conflict, anyway, for she gathered Kaylenn in her arms and rocked her gently while she cried.
She had to let him go, to cherish the memories, but not live in them. Yes. But, oh, it ached so badly. His calming, steady presence would be gone.
After a few minutes, the tears flowed to a trickle, then stopped. Lyta pulled away and smiled at her. Kaylenn nodded, sniffed. Smiled, just a little, back. She sat up and looked down at the canopy of trees, practicality once again inserting itself into her mind, and she frowned. There would be time to mourn later.
"How did you get here?"
"The Byron; it's hidden."
"How did you hide it from the scans I did?"
Lyta smiled. "I have my ways, child. I have been roaming about this galaxy for a while longer than you."
"Where is it?"
"A short way from here. It is large enough for you to put your ship in the bay."
"Oh, good. It has a better jump engine, I hope."
"Yes; we'll be back on Minbar in five days...perhaps slightly longer."
"Oh." They wouldn't make it back in time; she'd known that. She had had a crazy, tiny hope, though.
Lyta nodded, then slowly stood up. "Come, we have an appointment to keep."
Kaylenn frowned, started pulling her backpack on. "We do? With whom?"
But Lyta was silent, and she simply started climbing back down the side of the pyramid.
There was a dark recess in the rocks; Kaylenn could not remember having seen it before, and the scanners certainly had not picked it up. Lyta, below her, disappeared into it, and Kaylenn jumped down from the base stones and landed only a few steps from the doorway. Some dim moonlight shone a few feet into the entrance, but she could see nothing in there past the edge of the shadows. She sensed something other than Lyta's presence, but it was both unknown and familiar all at once, and she frowned, confused. She paused before the doorway; no noise emerged from the opening, and a distinct sense of a precipice presented itself to her.
Come in, do not be afraid, the woman responded, off to the side of the doorway. Taking a deep breath, Kaylenn walked inside, waiting for her eyes and senses to adjust to the darkness. She turned to the right to find Lyta, but the woman shook her head and pointed past Kaylenn's shoulder. Kaylenn, turned, one hand involuntarily moving to her side, even as she knew any physical weapon would be useless. This presence was ancient, and he knew her. She straightened as she turned, lifting her chin in defiance. For some unidentifiable reason, she refused to hold the presence in awe, and she somehow knew that he approved of her attitude.
She turned, and recognized him, knowing immediately who he was through both sight and mind. She knew better than to ask how or why; he had always been there, she knew.
The small headpiece tilted forward in an almost deferential movement.
Child, he said, with a surprising degree of warmth. Come.
Kosh turned around, moved deeper into the shadows.
"What are you thinking?" Lyta sat back in the seat of the small cabin, the book laid open on her lap. Kaylenn looked away from the swirling red storms of hyperspace and turned to the older woman.
"Just remembering my parents. I feel like I've just been watching my memories of the past few years of their life like some sort of good-bye vid."
Lyta was silent, watching her.
"I never really knew them, not really. I mean, I know them as my parents—people who used to be so tall, and who kept getting shorter. My mother, always strong, beautiful, wise. My father, always the President, or the Anla'Shok Na, or the hero of another campaign against some last, gasping remnant of the Shadows, anyone threatening the Alliance. When Dr. Franklin went back to Earth Central again, a few weeks ago, he left me the key to his vid library, and I downloaded them all, watched many of them in the time it took me to get to the Vorlon homeworld. It never occurred to me—I never thought of my parents as young people who led exciting lives before I was born. I knew Dad, I knew he and Mother had done important things, that we were the First Family of the ISA, but I never took the time to wonder how we'd gotten there. Dr. Franklin, G'Kar, you—all part of something bigger than I've ever known.
"I've still only seen pieces, some of the official details. All of their lives, they've been important, busy people. There was always a great sense of duty, propriety, responsibility, business, high standards. Now..." she sighed, looked down at her hands, then back up. "I've only just touched Mother, on occasion, and felt a...a heaviness, creeping farther into her. Dad could always make her smile, he would pick her up, she'd look so content in his arms."
"He did it often?" Lyta was smiling, a faraway look in her eyes.
"I've only seen him do it twice—once when she was sick, he carried her from the living room to the bedroom, and once when she teased him in the kitchen. I can just remember the strongest, warmest blanket of contentment and peace that emanated from her, both times. That last time, not long ago, I was studying in my bedroom, with a growing headache, trying to stay awake and read the lit, when I suddenly knew that my mother was just...utterly content. I got up and went towards the kitchen, where I knew they were, and looked around the edge of the doorway. He was carrying her towards their bedroom, and she was smiling, kissing his neck. I knew I should have gone back to studying, but I watched them walk all the way, and then I went back, took my books, and went outside to study.
"I guess...what I'm trying to say is that they've had to endure so much hardship, duty, and pain, and it's a balance that they have experienced, in equal measure, love. I don't think I'll ever have the chance for that—that rare kind of bond. I know that I will miss Dad terribly, but Mother, I think, will never quite be the same again. He's leaving us, saying good-bye even now." She looked down at her hands, then back up at the forward viewscreen, and sighed. "It's not just that— feel like something is building, something that I can't... quite...identify. It's...related, but I'm not sure how."
"I know. The same sense has been building in me since you came."
Kaylenn was quiet, thinking of Kosh.
"Did you know he was going to be there?"
Lyta knew her thoughts, gave a soft laugh, and looked out the viewscreen. "He was always there."
"Hmm," Kaylenn nodded. They were both silent for a long moment.
"How close are we?"
They were heading towards Corianna 6, to take a ship home. Why they were bringing an abandoned ship in that system back to Minbar was not clear, but that was their destination, as they had been instructed. Kaylenn entertained the tiny hope that something aboard the ship would help her father, but she had not spoken of it to Lyta. She sighed, looked at the tiny display on the corner of her chrono.
Some of the younger couples had moved out onto the dance floor in the center of reception hall, and were starting to sway to the beat of the music. Sheridan looked up from his conversation with Drenann in surprise. This was no light and airy Minbari crystal pipe music—this was some pop human music with a pounding beat. It had been years since he had last heard any, and for some inexplicable reason, he grinned.
"John?" Drenann looked puzzled. "Was it something I said?"
"Oh—no," Sheridan said, turning to watch most of the human Rangers at the wedding, including Kit and Jason, pour on to the dance floor. Fancy dress set aside, they were going to dance. He grinned. "Excuse me."
"Of course," the elder Minbari said, turning back to those at his table. "What is that infernal noise?"
Sheridan made his way around to the edge of the crowd, to watch the bride and groom dance together. Both were in their late thirties, and watching them relaxed and moving together around the floor made him feel younger than his sixty years. And the beat was pretty good. Still, those Minbari present might not look well upon a man of his years and position to be dancing to such music. Ceremonial movements were one thing, but this was another entirely. Oh, he wished he could.
Delenn came out of the ladies' room across the hall and saw her husband's tall form moving slightly to the music. A smile made its way across her features, and she strode purposefully across the side of the room. She glanced around, and saw most of her people looking at each other in confusion. They had never been to a party like this before, and she only once—at the small reception to her own wedding, some ten years earlier. The style of the music still had not changed, and so, smiling, she made her way around to the side of dance floor, and the people parted to let her in. She was standing on the edge of the crowd watching the bride and groom dance when Kit caught her eye and winked.
Delenn raised her eyebrows, Kit nodded, and Delenn took a deep breath. She stepped to the edge of the dance floor and began to move gently, in time to the music, looking straight through the crowd to her husband, whose mouth had dropped slightly open. She smiled her best come-hither smile and held out one hand.
Sheridan noticed the couple beginning to move back, and wondered why, when he saw a dark head of hair with a distinctively curved bonecrest move out on to the floor. She looked up at him, through the people, and began swaying in a graceful movement, perfectly timed to the music, yet somehow apart from it. She smiled, so beautiful, and extended one small hand towards him. Well, if she wanted to, who was he to deny her? He grinned wickedly, watching her move, and the people on either side in front of him moved away to let him through.
When his hand touched hers, they cheered, and Delenn laughed. Dance, her eyes said. As you wish, he replied, and so they did.
First, just to entertain the curious Minbari who had joined the crowd, they steepled their hands in front of their chests and bowed, in the formal Minbari gesture of greeting. The crowd laughed.
She moved, and he moved with her. Ten years since the last time that they had done this together. She was so graceful, and her green dress was both modest and relaxed. They were breathless when the song ended, and he bent down, captured her mouth in a warm kiss. The crowd around them clapped, and she smiled, pulled away, and held him for a moment. Smiling, they walked off the floor, left the newlyweds to the fun, and made their way across the room, back to the table, laughing, and catching their breath.
Kaylenn and David pushed their way back out from crowd, and stood near the music speakers, watching their parents across the room.
"Did ya know they could dance?" he asked.
"No," Kaylenn said, thoughtfully. "I always thought they were too old."
"You want to dance?"
"With you? Yuck, you're my brother!"
"C'mon," David said, taking her hand. "Let's show them what we can do."
"'Kay," she replied, and smiled.
They danced for a song, then Jason asked to dance with her, and so David gave her to him. Then, her father came back, and bowed, and asked if he could be honored by a dance with her. He spun her around, and twirled her, and at the end, he lifted her feet off the floor, and she spread her arms and flew.
When the proximity alarm sounded for the Corianna beacon, both women were in the cabin, waiting for the jump from hyperspace. Kaylenn's stomach was a mass of knots, countless conflicting hopes and fears battling in her mind and body. The event was building to a climax, and she could feel enough energy around and through the ship to set the hairs on her arms on end. Lyta, also, was hovering over the controls, waiting for the moment that they dropped into realspace. Kaylenn forced herself to relax a breath that she had not even realized she was holding.
The yellow swirling point opened before them, and they shot out into the blackness of space. Kaylenn gasped when she recognized the Whitestar lying before them, several klicks away. Lyta put her hand on Kaylenn's arm, pointing out to the stars with a stunned gesture.
"Look!" She whispered.
Millions upon millions of tiny lights were coalescing in the infinite scene before them. Kaylenn felt a minute movement within herself, and was shocked to see a tiny bit of glowing energy stream out from her chest when she looked down at her tunic. It flowed out through the viewscreen in a wisp and was gone, almost before she had noticed its existence. She turned to Lyta, her mouth open.
Lyta smiled an tiny, mysterious smile and nodded her head back out to the viewscreen. Kaylenn looked out at the Whitestar, as they edged closer to the stilled ship. Her stomach dropped and her mind went cold with horror as she suddenly knew who was inside. The countless lights continued to draw closer to the command deck of the ship, and she stood up, throwing her hands out against the viewscreen.
"No..." she whispered, horrified and helpless and awed all at once.
Impossibly enough, all of the lights paused in space, hung for two heartbeats, and then plunged into the ship, drawn into one massive implosion of light inside the command deck. Space hung, she felt her heartbeat slow, the consistency of the air turned to molasses as she heard herself send out one, last, desperate mind-scream.
The light paused, and smiled down at her.
Good-bye, little one.
And then space went black and silent.
Delenn curled into a fetal position, her fingers clutching the pillow, and her heart cried out in searing loss. Tears streamed across her cheeks, and she sobbed, torn in half.
Kaylenn realized that a hand was on her forehead, and she opened her eyes.
"...fine," she said, through a dry throat. The hand lifted away.
She stubbornly pushed herself up from where she had fallen across the chair in an uncomfortable sprawl, and looked out through the viewscreen. Space was silent, normal, dark, and lonely. The empty Whitestar hung desolately in space, like a signpost that had lost its direction.
She reached out with her mind to see the ship, found it utterly empty. She felt the lines of moisture drying on her cheeks, and absently wiped a hand across them. There was nothing, nothing left. Even the computer system was on stand-by: Lyta had contacted the ship and received the inactive duty message, and it sat, blinking, on the vid screen. They were nearing the Whitestar, and they saw the darkness inside the command deck; it was, to all appearances, a dead ship. Kaylenn found the symbolism to be a dull ache in her chest.
"Even in death, they are linked," Lyta murmured.
Kaylenn frowned, drained and snappish. "I think that's reading into it a bit, much, don't you? It's just a ship." She was not in the mood for mystical and opaque statements. She wanted to know why and how and just because, but there would never be any answers, and the broken thread of her father's life that was left hanging in mystery angered her more than anything else. She was Anla'Shok, she was a medical student; she wanted to be able to explain, to catalogue, to fix an explanation to—
"Not the ship." Lyta's low voice broke into her thoughts.
"I was speaking of the station," she continued, almost inaudible. Her eyes were black and tears stood out glistening on her cheeks. Lids closed over the pure onyx eyes and more tears edged out. A wisp of whitened hair clung to the sweat on her forehead. Kaylenn realized that the woman was seeing something else, somewhere else.
"May I?" Kaylenn asked. Lyta nodded, slightly.
Kaylenn closed her own eyes and reached out to touch the older woman's mind with her own. The moment her translucent fingers met the swirling energy, she was suddenly thrown into another star system, one that was a quarter of the way across the galaxy. She immediately recognized the brownish-red planet and the tiny blue-and-gray space station that hung in the sky before it: Babylon 5. She watched as from a far distance, peering through the stars, looking past the inactive jump gate struts to the small cadre of interstellar ships that were flying in a procession away from the station. At a certain point, they stopped, each turning in succession, until their command decks all faced the old station. Kaylenn felt Lyta swallow a thick lump in her throat, and she wondered at the woman's attachment to the scene.
No one left unchanged, child.
Kaylenn continued to watch as the station's lights were extinguished, deck by deck, in a horrifyingly precipitous way, each deck moving one step closer to complete darkness. After the last light went out, there was a silence, Lyta held her breath, and Kaylenn found herself also watching, transfixed. She waited, and then, so very slowly, devastatingly, explosions began to rip through the massive seams of the old station, bucking metal and flame alike. Fires bloomed and disappeared, smoke and debris floated in the void of space.
And when it was over, Lyta closed her eyes, shutting the scene out.
"This day..." she said, her voice a whisper, "...is coming soon. The decommissioning is scheduled in two days."
Kaylenn blinked, cleared her mind. She look up at Lyta's words.
"How did you see it, if it has not yet happened?"
"How did we see this, child?" Lyta asked, making a small head movement towards the deathly-quiet ship outside of their viewscreen. "Who am I to ask?"
Kaylenn was silent, letting the question hang in the air. There was too much uncertainty in the universe, too many questions left hanging in the infinite expanse of space. It both frustrated and intrigued her. She reached up to push aside the dampened strand of hair from Lyta's pale forehead. Her fingers were trembling, and she did not try to still them. The woman looked up at her and smiled ever so slightly. Taking a deep breath, she raised her head and looked up at the form of the Whitestar as it floated past the viewscreen.
"Well then, let's finish what we were sent to do," she said quietly.
"Do you know how to fly a Whitestar?" Kaylenn asked, pulling her fingers away.
"Not really," Lyta answered. "Do you?"
"I'm familiar with some aspects of the control system."
"Is that a no?"
"It's a maybe."
"I see. Well, I'm sure that between the two of us, we can get it moving towards home."
"One way or another." Kaylenn raised one eyebrow.
"Right." Lyta gave a short laugh. "You get the bay doors open. I'll maneuver us into place."
Kaylenn closed her eyes, reached out mentally to the Whitestar's conduitry, and began searching for the bay control system.
When Delenn returned from the decommissioning ceremony with Susan Ivanova and Stephen Franklin, they found the Whitestar floating in orbit over the capital city of Minbar. Researchers scoured the Whitestar for months, but no sign was ever found of John J. Sheridan's remains. Rumors circulated; the Corianna 6 beacon had recorded unusual readings, and they were used to fabricate any number of ideas of what had happened.
Lyta left after giving her ships data crystal to Kaylenn, disappearing again, out into the untraceable blackness of space.
Kaylenn gave it to David. He watched it once, and gave it back to her. They held each other for a few minutes, cried quietly, and then he left, silent. She gave it to her mother, who held it so tightly at first that her knuckles whitened; then she put it away and talked softly to Kaylenn for a long while, about how she had saved John's life, and he, hers. She spoke, sometimes in whispers, sometimes with sad laughter, about him and about her memories, until she fell asleep, exhausted. Kaylenn went to her own room to mourn alone.
She rose early the next morning, as the first rays of light came into her bedroom. Remembering some part of a half-forgotten dream, she made her way down the hallway and out to the balcony, and stopped, seeing her mother sitting there, watching the sunrise. There was a sense of peace and contentment, as the warm light shone onto her face. She smiled and looked to her right, then back out to the sun.
Taking in a deep breath of the cool morning air, Kaylenn smiled, and stood there in silence as the dawn light warmed her. She smiled inwardly and watched as the sun rose higher. Perhaps if she turned, she would see him, too.
Copyright 1999 Rachel Smith Cobleigh
I welcome all feedback, including critique and suggestions for improvement, so feel free to tell me what you think, and thanks for reading!
Gratia to: the Lord, who gives and who takes away. I am always under His molding hands; to Josh Sanofsky, the one who continues to guide my writing with a trained and critical eye, and who never fails to make me laugh—thanks for just being you; to my own father, for his encouragement and devotion to the Lord. To you, Dad, for always challenging me. Thanks.
I do not own any Babylon 5 properties, nor do I make any money from the writing of this story.
Situation and characters are taken from the television program "Babylon 5" (1993 - 1998) and are the creations and property of J. Michael Straczynski, TNT, Warner Bros., and Babylonian Productions.
This story is released under the GPL/CC BY: verbatim copying and distribution of this entire work are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided attribution is preserved.