Disclaimer: Babylon 5 and all its parts and pieces belong to their respective owners, and not to me. And I swiped a Delenn quote down toward the end of the story - it's from Lines of Communication, written by JMS.
Author's Note: I've wanted to do a story about the Telepath War for a long time. Eventually (I hope) there will be a big story about the actual war; meanwhile, this is a one-shot set at the end. Set 2265ish - because I don't think actual dates of the war were ever given.
It was a beautiful day in Tuzanor. A crisp, cool dawn had given way to a mild summer morning, with vibrant blue skies and the promise of seasonal highs – somewhere around the equivalent of 18 degrees centigrade, which was about as warm as it got on Minbar, even in the summer, and that was fine by John Sheridan. He'd never cared much for the hot, humid Midwestern summers he'd grown up with and had been glad to escape them, first into space, and now to Minbar.
John's office window was open – he smiled at that as he entered, making a mental note to thank his aide later – and the mating song of the temshwee filtered in from the eaves of a nearby temple. It was an ordinary day.
Well, he reflected, it could have been. On a day like this, it wouldn't be unlike him to put aside his workload a bit – maybe cancel a midday meeting in favor of taking David and Delenn to the park for a picnic. Maybe he'd go home early, take David for a walk, and when the boy's little legs got tired, John would swing him up onto his own broad shoulders and carry him the rest of the way. Or maybe he and Delenn would take a quiet moment together after David was asleep, sitting out under the stars, making wishes, dreaming of the future and forgetting – or ignoring – for just a few hours who they were, what they did and how short that future was known to be.
But that was not how today would go. John knew it now as he sank down behind his desk and his eyes focused on a report, looking deceptively innocent, one neat little stack of white paper against a black blotter, waiting for him.
He ran his hand over the front page, eyes closed, one long exhale escaping him. He would trade a thousand gorgeous days – and damn near one year of his shortened lifespan – to not have to read this report.
When he opened his eyes again, he focused only on the heading: Final Analysis.
John shook his head and scoffed. It never ceased to amaze him how words could be used to make something seem impersonal when it was anything but. There was no mistaking this, even under such a clever guise of a title, and he wished whatever aide had prepared it had had the courtesy to call it what it was.
This was a body count.
Names of the known dead were listed first; names of the wounded would follow, and then names of the reported missing.
Also attached, though John had no desire to deal with them today, were financial reports – damage estimates. There is a cost to destruction, he reflected, in lives and in credits. And the treaty, or a draft of it, would be last. He'd need to meet with several heads of state on Earth before it could be ratified, but it was a start. He knew it was a start, because he'd written the most important parts himself.
John was familiar with all of this. He had been here before, after a war, presented with facts and figures and names and written terms of surrender. He'd been here before, sifting through the remains of a war, deciding what should – what could – be rebuilt, what would have to wait, and what was gone forever. But this time… this time was different.
It was different because he knew the moment he opened this report, many of those names would have faces. And not just 'I think I was maybe a year ahead of this guy at the Academy' faces, which had been hard enough following the Earth Civil War. These were 'I knew this person intimately' faces. These were 'I walked the same halls as this person for five years' faces.
John took a moment to center himself before answering his intercom. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Sir, but I've just received a call from ISN. They wonder if you have any comments on the Final Analysis." He let a lengthy pause slip by – so long that his secretary gently gave him a verbal prod. "Sir?"
"Not at this time," he responded at that, perhaps a bit too forcefully. "After the treaty has been ratified by the Earth Senate and the Alliance, I'm prepared to give a formal speech on the subject. Not before. You… can tell them that much." He softened his voice with this last bit.
"Thank you, Sir." The intercom blinked off. John closed his eyes again and pictured the faces of his friends and allies as if to mentally prepare himself, so that if he saw their names listed here, it would come as less of a shock.
It didn't work.
The known dead.
Lyta Alexander. Human. Rogue Telepath.
Lennier, of the Third Fane of Chudomo. Minbari. Ranger - Religious Caste.
Lieutenant Commander David Corwin. Human – Normal. Earthforce.
General Richard Franklin. Human – Normal. Earthforce.
General Robert Lefcourt. Human – Normal. Earthforce.
John paused. There were other names. There were many, many other names, but these were the ones that sprang off the page to meet him head-on. These were the ones that came with voices and faces and stories and memories. These were the ones that hurt. For each one he gave a moment of silence; for each one, he said a prayer to a God he wasn't sure he believed in.
Sergeant Zack Allan. Human - Normal. Stable condition.
G'Kar. Narn. Stable condition.
Tannier, of the House of Felann. Minbari. Ranger – Religious Caste. Grave condition.
Michael Garibaldi. Human – Normal. Fair condition.
Tessa Halloran – Human – Normal. Grave condition.
And again he paused, this time to shake his head. How was it that all of these people had been pulled from whatever they had been doing with their lives up until this point, in order to come and take a stand against a corrupt Earth government? And why had they agreed to do so willingly, not five years after they'd done it the first time? And how was it, why was it, that he was here – and not listed on any of these reports?
Why do I get to live?
There was one easy answer. Because, a soft, small voice in the back of his head whispered, you have already paid that price. You are already dead.
John pushed that voice away with an adamant shake of his head and turned back to the report. He trudged through the list of missing. Only one name mattered. Alfred Bester. Human – telepath. Psi Corps.
For a few seconds, John saw red. So many dead, so many more wounded or missing and just for now, he allowed all of that to rest on the shoulders of one man.
"How many of these people would still be alive if it weren't for you, Bester?" He inquired of his empty office as the rage boiled up inside him. "Damn you for forcing my hand—" He stopped. It didn't matter. Right? He could no more pin this on one man than he could pin the entire Centauri incident on Londo. Bester didn't pull all the strings. He'd been involved, but it takes more than one person to infiltrate a government. It takes more than one person to start an intra-species conflict.
He quickly flipped through the rest of the report – the financials, which he'd get to later. The treaty. He closed it and sighed – waved off his reading light – stood slowly and wandered to the window.
From his office, he could see easily into a wide pedestrian thoroughfare below. It was bustling now in midmorning, Minbari and the occasional Ranger or visitor of another race scurrying about, headed easily on foot to their destinations. The Minbari walk a lot, he reflected idly. Ground transports existed but were rarely relied upon for day-to-day commutes. As for John – he liked to walk, even liked to run, but was glad to have his family and his work enclosed within the same building. It made things easier.
Mentally, he added to that. It made things like this easier.
A shadow came over his face as he thought about what he would have to do now. The mess that remained was nearly as mind-boggling as the war itself. He would need to tell Delenn, and if he didn't make a point of it, she would know he was keeping something from her. Then she would go into mourning; she would fast; and he would need to tend to David, because she would be in no condition to do it. He was glad, he decided, that it was very likely David would not remember any of this. His world had hardly been disrupted. He remained happy, carefree… a sign that even in war, even after war, life goes on.
John couldn't wait to get home, to get the big bear hug around his knees that was David's customary greeting, but he couldn't leave now. He wandered back to his desk again, knowing he would be here for some time. He owed President Luchenko either an approval or revisions on the treaty by tomorrow morning, and it was unlikely he'd get any work done at home tonight.
His intercom buzzed again. "John?"
Delenn's voice was a welcome interruption, though he did not miss the sadness in it. "Yes?"
"I need you to come home."
Somewhere in a reasonable part of his brain, it dawned on him that as Ranger One she had received a much similar report this morning.
She had gotten a list of names.
She had grieved for them all, but she had focused on just one.
She would enter mourning right now, today, for just one.
He wanted to say he couldn't. He wanted to say it was impossible. He wanted to say, I can't bear to see you in so much pain. But then he realized – this was perhaps the best answer to his question. Why do I get to live? Because SHE has to live, and she needs me.
"I'm on my way."
John cut the connection and glanced at the analysis again. He did need to revise the treaty. He knew for a fact that in dismantling Psi Corps and creating the Psionic Monitoring Commission, there were one or two things he wanted to make more clear. This part would not be easy; it would take years for Earth to adjust.
"Destroying is easy," Delenn had said to him once. "Building a new life out of what's left of the old, that is what's hard." He could hear her voice in his head, clear as a bell, and allowed himself a small, sad smile at the truth in these words. Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to be with her, to have her remind him of the things they'd broken and rebuilt before. He wanted to join his wife in mourning; to get a big, life-affirming bear hug from a toddler about his knees; to hold both of them in his arms and remember why he was alive. He turned to leave his office, the analysis remaining on his desk for another day.
Some things were just more important.