The Third Age of Mankind

"No way," Garibaldi said. "No way you're working for the Vorlons."

She had finally overdone it. He'd been willing to put up with a certain amount of obfuscation and lies if she delivered truths as well, but this particular lie was so unbelievably bad that he concluded she didn't know anything worth knowing at all. Thinking back, he realized she hadn't even known Morden's name before he, Garibaldi, had brought it up. Her presence at the bar had probably been just a stupid coincidence. He'd been played for a sucker by a scam artist.

"If you think the Vorlons have such high hiring standards, you're in for a big surprise, honey," she said. "Sooner or later. Though I really hope they won't send that prick Sebastian here. He still yells 'American whore' at me each time we meet. Trust me, Mr. Garibaldi, I'm not American."

"This stopped being cute an hour ago," Garibaldi said, feeling tired and vaguely disappointed, though he should have known better. After all, he'd pinged her as a fraud from the moment he met her. "Look, why don't you…"

"How old do you think I am?" she asked him.

"Sixty," he lied, in his rudest tone.

"You know how to flatter a girl," she said. "Look, infant, with the exception of the Vorlon Ambassador, I'm the oldest person currently on this station, and the oldest one you're ever likely to meet. Which you don't believe, of course, and that's why I'm telling you."

She put her left hand under his chin. Her fingers were unexpectedly strong, and not soft, as he had expected; he could feel the calluses of someone who had actually worked.

"Sometimes I do nice work," she whispered. "Child of Hera. I wonder whether you have Galen in your ancestry as well. Sometimes, they keep me frozen through centuries before they let me out again, so I really couldn't keep track."

He still thought she was scamming him. But he also remembered what had happened last year, when a woman claiming to have found the key to immortality had arrived at the station. And there was something that raised the hair at the back of his neck in the way her gaze explored his face right now, probably because there was nothing flirtatious in it anymore. "So if you and I went to Ambassador Kosh right now," he said slowly, "would he admit to knowing you?"

"Have you ever known a Vorlon to admit anything?" she returned. "He won't deny knowing me, either. He'll tell you something enigmatic and ultimately useless."

"Utterly unlike you, huh," Garibaldi said wryly.

"Ah, but you'll sleep better that way," Ellen replied, and let go of his chin. "If you want to tell yourself a bed time story, though, just imagine this: there is a war, a terrible war, and there is a woman who makes deals that keep catching up with her, sooner or later. Once it ended with her dying. Usually someone else does, though. Once it's her son, who kills himself in front of her, but she knows him, she knows he wouldn't do that if it meant permanent death, because that is what he is most afraid of. But there is technology around, active at that very moment, something where he could have stored the essence of his being, in the hope someone would retrieve it later. He gambled on the fact she would, that she'd figure it out and that even though he was her enemy, she wouldn't want him to die. Except that he threatened his father once too often in her presence. Still, he was her son, and he had always complained about the existence she had shaped for him. And that technology he had stored himself in was about to end up destroyed in the most final way possible. And the woman's two deals were about to catch up with her again."

A part of him still thought she was trying to pull a fast one. Another part wondered whether she was simply crazy. Yet every con had a reason, and he hadn't figured out yet what exactly she wanted from him; why she was going to the trouble of telling him all of this.

"So what did she do?" Garibaldi prompted.

"She kept that bit of technology which stored her son and didn't tell anyone about it," Ellen replied. "Made into an amulet and hung it around her neck for a while. But you see, she hadn't read the fine print of her second deal. She thought after she, her husband and the rest of her people had ended up on a new planet, it was over and done with. She'd live out the rest of her life there. The Vorlons had other ideas. They let everyone else settle down, but they took her and froze her and didn't revive her again until much, much later, when her husband and everyone she had ever known was dead. And then they expected her to continue to fulfil their bargain and do her work, every dozen generations or so."

If it was a fantasy, it wasn't a pretty one. In fact, it was damm close to Garibaldi's own personal nightmare scenario, except his involved surviving after getting everyone he cared about personally killed. He didn't want to dwell on it, so he asked: "What about that amulet with her son in it?"

"Oh, she still had that," Ellen said. "And she was pissed off at the Vorlons. Also, her son had always complained about whom she didn't let him be, you know? Plus he couldn't hurt her husband any longer. So all in all, she thought someone deserved each other. She waited, and when she finally met the people she had made her first deal with again, she handed over that amulet and told them they should download what was in that amulet into the most spectacular shape they had available. She thought it would be a spaceship so he'd finally shut up about limited perception, but no, we're talking man-shaped body again. In any case, the Vorlons didn't take too kindly to that type of dealing with the opposition, for some reason. So our heroine instead of going back to her cyrosleep started to go on the run, and wouldn't you know it, ended up on Babylon 5. In a bar. Where a nice lawman arrives just in time to stop a really awkward family reunion."

"So you're telling me Morden is your son. And also somehow able to download into storage devices. And that amulet around his neck is where he used to be in. While you've been playing Snowhite and the seven Vorlons, and get taken out of your glass coffin every once in a while. Look, I've seen things on this station that really defy belief, and I'm an open-minded kind of guy, but you do see why I have trouble believing a single word of this?"

Garibaldi had started out in a low, controlled voice, but by the time he had come to an end, he found himself nearly shouting.

"Told you you didn't want my answers," she said, and had the audacity to pout a little.

"Ellen," Garibaldi said tiredly, "why don't you just tell me what you really want, and we'll call it a night?"

"A foot massage would be nice," she said wistfully. "My feet have been killing me all day. Other than that, well, a star fury. And the exact coordinates of where Babylon 4 showed up last year."

"Babylon 4," Garibaldi repeated flatly.

"That's why I came here," she said. "Because I heard there is a part of this sector where you can travel through time."

Which meant she was able to hack into confidential reports. He and Jeff hadn't exactly made them public knowledge, though undoubtedly the brief reappearance of Babylon 4, which couldn't be hushed up, had caused all kind of rumours. He remembered the eerie flashes of visions, and the sense of someone walking over someone's grave, not necessarily his.

"If you're looking for a getaway," Garibaldi said slowly, "that's a bit radical. Even for a woman who claims to have scammed two mighty races."

Stealing a star fury was at last something tangible, which he could understand, though why she hadn't simply seduced one of the pilots like Warren Keefer to achieve her aim was beyond him.

"I don't want a getaway," Ellen explained patiently. "I want to go back."

"To…?"

"The past, Mr. Garibaldi. I want to go back to my husband. That's all I ever wanted."

The fact that she had never sounded more passionate or sincere the entire evening made Garibaldi automatically go on red alert, and he found his suspicion confirmed when she finally made her move and put her arms around his neck, pushing him down on the sofa.

"If you're trying to pull the old kiss-and-knock-out manoeuvre," he warned, "forget it. You're not getting out of this room without my authorisation code, sister. It's sealed."

She started nibbling at his ear and whispered: "I don't need to knock you out now, dear. I did that thirty five minutes ago."

Garibaldi, who was a dedicated fan of rich variety of classic cartoons, recognized the quote immediately, but it was too late. The drug she had liberally dosed her skin with, which had rubbed off on him every time she touched him, finally did its work.


***

He awoke to the incessant ringing of his Babcom. Given his past, Garibaldi had lived through worse headaches then the one whatever Ellen had used left him with, but he still cursed out loud when he saw that she had managed to crack his code and had written herself an authorisation to use a star fury, in his name. She must have managed to interface with the computer somehow. Which lend some credence to her outrageous story about downloads with its obvious implication that she and her "son" and "husband" were some kind of artificial life forms, except that he still didn't buy it. Garibaldi's left hand went through what remained of his hair and ended up on his earlobe, which felt like it was still tingling. No way that woman had been an android.

Logs showed the star fury she had used had departed the station already. He gave the order to get one ready that would allow him to pursue her, and was about to go to storage to get himself a space suit when his least favourite man in a suit showed up, evidently headed for customs and about to depart the station as well.

"Mr. Morden," Garibaldi said, trying to decide whether he really suspected what he thought he suspected.

"Mr. Garibaldi," Morden said. "Another time, perhaps? I'm afraid I'll have to cut this particular visit to your hospitable station short, but I'm sure to be back."

"Any reason in particular?" Garibaldi asked. Morden just smiled. Enigmatically. It looked really familiar right now.

"Why, I didn't think you'd miss me."

"Just out of curiosity, why did you get into that bar brawl a few hours ago?"

"A misunderstanding," Morden said. "A simple misunderstanding. One of that establishments more inebriated customers misunderstood my intentions towards his companion. What can I say, Mr. Garibaldi, we're both men. Such things happen."

"No kidding," Garibaldi replied, and had a word with customs, telling them to make sure to slow Morden down enough to make him miss whichever flight he had booked. Then he got into his star fury, and headed towards the coordinates where he and Jeff had found the ghost of Christmas Past.

He arrived just in time to see her disappear in the same type of bright flash he remembered. It left him feeling… frustrated, Garibaldi told himself, as any cop would when a thief had made a successful getaway. Those star furies were government property and expensive. Of course, the woman had been utterly crazy. There was no guarantee as to where she would end up, the future, the past, how far in either direction, if she survived that thing at all. How desperate did you have to be to run in order to take that kind of risk?

But she hadn't been afraid, that was the thing. He knew when criminals were afraid. He could smell it. Whatever else she was, she had not been afraid. Just determined. Yes, desperate, but not to run. Maybe at least one part of her story had been true; maybe she had been desperate not to go, but to arrive. To reach someone.

Enough is enough, Garibaldi told himself. Best head back to the station, report a stolen star fury to the Captain and hope Ivanova wouldn't ridicule him too much for letting a floozy pull a fast one on him. If he remained out here alone, he could get all kind of crazy ideas. Like how desperate you had to be to reach someone, and whether a star fury could make it all the way to Minbar. That the Vorlons really put people in storage and brought them to life every few centuries to do their bidding. Or that there were cyborgs walking among them.

"Nah," he said out loud. "No way."

She had been a really good con artist with much imagination and some messed up past. Trouble, but then he had known that from the beginning. All the same, he found himself wishing her luck, wherever she had ended up. She'd need it. And so would the next guy who crossed her path.