Disclaimer: John Sheridan and Babylon 5 are property of JMS/ Warner Brothers. There are direct quotes from the TNT movie In the Beginning and episodes In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum, War Without End Part 2 and Z'ha'dum – that means JMS wrote them, as he is the master. I invented Cantrall, so he belongs to me. And I did write this story, however much of a sadistic bitch that makes me, so it belongs to me as well.
Author's Note: Sound the warning alarms – this is DARK, folks. Probably the darkest thing I've ever written. I felt bad for Sheridan, sort of – but the evil plot bunnies demanded, so I wrote. Takes place between the end of Intersections in Real Time and Sheridan's rescue in Between the Darkness and the Light. We are not in a happy place. You've been warned.
In the Presence of My Enemies
Weary hazel eyes barely shone from under heavy eyelids. What color did appear was dull and resigned to the only observer, and their owner blinked with futile attempts to focus the blurry field of vision.
"I have to hand it to you, Captain Sheridan. You are without a doubt the strongest and most stubborn person I've ever interrogated. You should be proud. That's some pretty heavy company - reporters, generals, even a few of your alien allies. Sooner or later, they've all broken. Unfortunately, when it comes to you, we are running out of time."
John remained silent as he was pulled to his feet, dragged across the room and pushed into the familiarly uncomfortable chair. He didn't fight the restraints as he felt them fasten. Fighting would only exhaust what little energy he still had, and he needed that, he knew, to keep control of his mind. If his mind went, it was over.
Speaking, too, required energy, and so John simply sat, lifting his eyes slowly toward the well-dressed and distinguished man before him in the near-darkness of the cell. Stray thoughts flung this way and that like the arms of a monkey collecting bananas in a tree. What day is it? I bet he brushed his teeth this morning. Bastard. My left knee itches. Probably a healing sore. Probably better I can't break it open. I wonder if daylight would hurt my eyes. I miss Delenn.
The voice of the interrogator jerked him harshly back to reality. "So last night, we had a little meeting. A whole meeting just to talk about you. You know what they call you? The Problem Child." The interrogator gave one short huff of a laugh. He had been rifling through the silver briefcase laid open on the table between them, and now his hand fell on something small that caught the edge of what little light there was in the room. He held it up for the John to examine. "Do you know what this is, Captain?"
John squinted. His vision was still slightly blurry, but it looked like a little packet of something. Baking powder? What are you going to do, threaten to bake me the world's smallest cake? No, that's not it.
The interrogator seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. He didn't wait long for Sheridan to work it out. "This is Dust." The interrogator's face split with a tight-lipped smile as he watched recognition spark across the captain's features. "We had a meeting about you last night, you see, and we talked for quite a long time about what to do with you. We can't kill you. That won't help our cause at all. We can't have your mind wiped – though I must admit that one Mr. Bester fought quite adamantly for that option – because your people would figure it out in an instant, and it would be the same as killing you; you'd become a martyr. No, we need to break you, and we need to do it soon. But how? Beating it out of you clearly hasn't worked, and then we're back to – how much can you take before it kills you? And so drugs were presented as an option. Truth serums, psychotropics, sure. That's phase two. This… this is one last attempt to break you without that, one last attempt to bring you down honestly. I don't know if you've ever had your mind invaded by someone on Dust, but let me tell you what it's like." The interrogator leaned casually against the metal alloy table, looking deep into Sheridan's eyes. "Five years ago my daughter was walking the streets of New Vegas when she made the mistake of bumping into a man who was high on this crap. He never touched her, never laid a hand on her, but he might as well have, because that bastard raped her mind, invaded her most personal and private memories, stole the best of her life from her for five hours so that by the time we found her, she was nothing more than a shell of the person she used to be. The light has never returned to her eyes." He stopped talking and pinched the packet of Dust between his right thumb and forefinger, holding it less than an inch from Sheridan's face. "And now it's your turn."
Now fire boiled the captain's blood; now it blazed in his eyes as he stared at the torture before him and mentally prepared himself for what was ahead. So be it. "Think what you want," he spat with as much venom as his dry throat could manage. "There's nothing honest about this."
Raised eyebrows were the only reply he received, but it was enough. The interrogator moved away from Sheridan to push a button on the table. Moments later, the door opened and a young Minbari was shown in. He couldn't have been more than 20, Sheridan thought, but there was an evil in his eyes that said he was here to do the devil's work. The interrogator handed the new visitor his biological weapon. "Have fun," he said. "The red button will let us know you're finished."
The visitor said nothing, simply nodded, eyes locked on the captain in an unblinking stare until the door closed definitively behind the departing interrogator. "My name is Cantrall," he said, a distinct lack of emotion in his tone. "My parents died on board the Black Star." He clenched the packet of Dust in his fist. "Revenge is a funny thing, isn't it?" He scoffed at Sheridan's narrowed eyes. "So strong, so proud, not a shred of remorse or regret for what you did. That's why I was so willing to help them, you know. You're still the same man inside. No remorse then, and none now either. Pride. Presumption. Entitlement. Well." A smirk now, just a small one, and Cantrall came to touching distance but did not do so; he simply stood to his full height and stared down into Sheridan's eyes like a predator before it consumes its captured prey. "I'm here to fix that. Don't worry. It'll be fun." And in one swift move, the Minbari ingested the contents of the small packet he clutched and sighed like a child with his first bite of chocolate, closing his eyes to savor the taste and the feel. John couldn't help it – instinctively he struggled against his restraints, trying to move away, to prevent the inevitable. Cantrall shook his head, and there was that slimy smirk again. "Relax. I don't want your secrets; your war is of no concern to me. They'll take what they want when I'm finished. I'm just here for the fun."
Cantrall wandered away, walking slow circles in the cell. "Should I let you out of your chair?" He mused, and Sheridan couldn't stop the way his head jerked hopefully toward the source of those words. Now Cantrall laughed out loud. "Kidding! That wouldn't do anyone any good. You might do something barbaric, like hit me. You are Human, after all; it seems logical you'd get physical if you could. Maybe later, if you behave." Cantrall heaved a deep, contented sigh – one big breath in, one big breath out. "I can feel it starting to take effect." He extended a hand in front of him, waved it slightly. "Such pretty colors. Makes me all… warm and fuzzy on the inside. How does it make you feel, Captain Sheridan? Hmm?" Silence, but Cantrall wielded around fast enough to catch what he expected on Sheridan's face. "Terrified?" He proposed. "Can you feel me yet? I can feel you, just the beginnings, like a sliver that's barely punctured the skin. I know you're scared; don't try to deny it. I know because I can feel it." He walked closer now, stood over his prey again, and John clenched his fists and struggled. Cantrall laughed then, a deep, full laugh, and John thought in spite of everything that he knew he'd never heard a Minbari laugh like that before.
Cantrall wandered away again, leaned against the wall facing John, and after a moment and another big breath – in, out – he sank slowly down the wall, eyes closed, into a crouched position. That's when it started.
Sheridan wasn't prepared for the physical pain he felt when Cantrall slammed into his mind, and he couldn't stop himself from crying out. His palms faced upward and his fingers formed claw-like half-fists; if he could have clutched the sides of his head in agony, he would have. As this was not an option, he simply tensed and struggled helplessly as he felt his blood pressure rise and his pulse quicken, as he felt sweat pop on his brow for the hundredth time in how many days, as he felt Cantrall poke effortlessly at his deepest emotions and most intimate memories.
That laugh again, that deep, full laugh of a Minbari, but this time it didn't fill John's ears; it filled his mind. He knew where Cantrall was. He knew what he was seeing. "No," he pled, but it was useless, and he found himself whimpering as he unwillingly shared what no one else had any right to see.
"Oh John… Ooohh…"
She felt wonderful. John had been with a handful of women, enough for a comparison, and maybe it was that he was older and able to better appreciate it, and maybe it was that he hadn't been with anyone in a long, long time – not since his last time with Anna – but John was certain it was a crime for a woman's body to feel so good. "That's it, Delenn. Sing for me."
She threw her head back in pleasure and her moans filled his ears. He smiled. She hadn't seen anything yet. Yes, it had been awhile, but John's bag of bedroom tricks was just like riding a bicycle. He pulled one out now, lifting her legs to his shoulders and crouching on his knees so he could take her deeper, exposing her body to his hands and eyes. His left hand steadied her right leg, but his right hand came down to touch her womanhood, seeking out the place where he knew – even if she didn't know, and he wasn't sure she did, but he was willing to show her – she needed to be touched. He slid in and out with long, deep strokes as his expert fingers played, stoking the fire, pushing both of them closer and closer to the edge.
Laughter again, sinister, the worst kind of evil, filling the cell, filling John's mind. And then a moan, a deep, guttural male moan of pleasure that brought unbidden tears to John's eyes. "She was good, wasn't she?"
"And you, you big strong Human, you brought her all the pleasure she could ask for. You did everything she wanted. You even completed the Shan'Fal with her. Probably the one and only time you ever took orders from a Minbari." Now a short laugh, almost pitiful. "Sorry to say that after she finds out you shared the memory of your first time with me, she won't ever want to do it again. Pity, really. For you. Maybe I'll look her up, though."
Now anger again, surging through John's battered body and captive mind. "Don't you dare touch her!"
"Oh, but Captain Sheridan. I already have."
"Give them what they want, and I'll go away." A pause. "Probably." Cantrall paused again, as if waiting for a response. There wasn't a verbal one, only clenched eyes and strained muscles and an exceedingly exhausted captive. "Fine. Let's see what else I can dig up. I'm sure you've led a fascinating life."
The next memory startled John; he hadn't thought about it in years.
"I have a message. I said, I have a message! I know what's in Dukhat's sacred place! I know—I know what's in Dukhat's sa-" A sharp, painful slap across the face, but the young soldier knew this was his only hope of making it off this godforsaken ship alive. He repeated it, louder, amidst blows to his kidneys, hoping someone reasonable was listening – if any of the Minbari could be considered reasonable. "I know what's in Dukhat's- sacred- place!"
"Stop!" Oh, blessed Jesus. The struggling and the punching stopped. He looked up at the source of the voice, but its owner's face was obscured in grey. "What is in Dukhat's sacred place?"
"Itsil'zha." The word felt strange, alien on his tongue, but after rolling it around once, he repeated it again, louder, with more purpose. "Itsil'zha!"
"Let them go."
"I said let them go. There has been enough death today."
Anger now, venom in the voice from across the room, the laughter gone, buried deep under rage. "Unbelievable! We had you! We had you on the ship of the Grey Council itself, had you in the palm of our hand to do with as we pleased, and she let you go?" He stopped, seemingly realizing something, and then a slow, slimy smile crept back across his features again. "That was her, you know. Your Delenn."
"I know." John wasn't sure how much longer he could stay awake. He was fighting to stay conscious because the second he blacked out, he knew, his mind was open season for Cantrall. If he stayed awake, he could still fight back, try to push him out as quickly as possible.
"That's not all, though. That's not all she did, Captain. She freed you, yes, but do you know what else she did? This isn't in your memories, no, but it is in mine. She started the Earth-Minbari War."
"That's NOT true!"
"The Council was divided, four and four. Delenn had just taken the oath of office. As she stood over Dukhat's bloody body, she screamed it. She called you animals, you and your race. She said, 'Follow them back to their bases and kill them, all of them.' And because of her, because of her order, we nearly did." Cantrall studied Sheridan for a long moment. "She never told you that, did she? How long was it before she even told you she was Satai?" A low, humorless laugh. "Think about it, Captain. Think about it well. She's kept so many secrets from you."
"Is it her? Is it?"
"I know what's in Dukhat's sacred place!"
"If you go to Z'ha'dum, you will die."
"You are the One Who Will Be."
"NO!" It was a ferocious roar, like a lion's last gasp as he's taken down by a hyena, and as much as Sheridan could he surged forward against his restraints – one last futile attempt, and then the darkness took him, swallowing him into unconsciousness and laying his mind bare to its invader.
"How is he?"
Cantrall wiped the back of his hand over his brow as the last of the Dust tingled at his nerve endings. "Hit him with something once he's conscious to keep his reality distorted. The nightmares will keep him awake after that, and our little exchange of information should have created enough doubts about Delenn to have him talking in no time."
A nod. "Oh, and one more thing."
The Minbari looked up to respond, but the heat of a single PPG burst burned through his heart faster than he could get a word out, and he crumpled to the ground. Two security guards came forward as if they had been summoned; perhaps they had. "Bring me Ms. Wise and her bag of psychotropic goodies. And take care of this. Put him with the others." He motioned to the lifeless body at his feet. Each guard took one arm and together they dragged Cantrall down the anonymous gray hall deep beneath the surface of Mars, to bury his body in place where it would never be found.
With a satisfied nod, the tall, thin, unremarkable man stepped into the equally unremarkable cell and looked upon the failing body crumpled on the floor before him. "We had a meeting about you last night, too," he said quietly, kicking at a foot. It bobbed loosely. "Wakey wakey, Captain. Let's talk. I'll be very interested to hear what you have to say today."