TITLE: Brave Hearts and Bravari

AUTHOR: Mike Jaffa (aka MikeJoe)

SYNOPSIS: Harper stumbles into a very realistic VR program and makes a new friend

RATING: PG (I THINK)

DISCLAIMER: DROM is owned by Tribune. B5 is owned by Warner Bros.

GRIMJACK is owned by ... I don't know who. It was First Comics 10 years ago. I am making no money off this fic. If John Ostrander gets wind of it, I hope he likes it.

THIS IDEA popped into my head while I was on vacation somewhere. Another rescued fic.

/

/

"Rommie, have I told you lately how beautiful you are?" Harper said as (in his virtual form) he strolled down the glowing violet streets that represented the "mind" of the sentient starship *Andromeda Ascendant.*

Rommie's image blazed into life on the virtual horizon. "You may have mentioned it, Harper. Have I told you that flattery does not excuse bad behavior or slacking off?"

Harper clutched his chest in mock pain. "Oh! You wound me, Rommie. But no, I wasn't just waxing poetic or romantic (although I always wax that around you). You're not only beautiful in the beauty sense but in the functionality sense. Everything's looking perfect; you're running smoother than a Persied's - Oh, crap!"

Harper stopped in his tracks at the edge of an ally he'd never seen before. To say the sight filled him with dread would be an understatement; the last time he had seen something unexpected in Andromeda's mind, he'd ended up with a belly full of Magog larvae after being in the cross-hairs of a backup personality. Whatever was down there, he automatically wanted nothing to do with it, and to forget that he'd seen that passage.

On the other hand, to be thorough, he had to check it out.

"Uhh ... " he started.

A human-sized image of Andromeda appeared at his side. "You don't have to go down there if you don't want to."

Harper turned to her, surprised. Since when did she cut him slack? "Oh? What's down there?"

"Old classified data from before the Fall. Nothing relevant to our current situation."

"Oh, well ... " Harper hesitated. The fact that old data had caused trouble before was at once cause to avoid it and reason to check it out. "Maybe I should take a peek, just to be sure."

"No, Harper - "

"Rommie, it won't be a moment. I'll just *look.* Anything that looks like another version of you, I'll bring Dylan into the loop and we'll do the job right this time."

"I can't believe you admitted the last time was wr - Harper, wait - "

Harper had already started down the alley. It was barely wider than his body, and he had to squeeze through a couple of sharp ninety degree turns ...

Until he came to a dead end, with one file entry on the wall in front of him.

"What the ... " Harper said. "'Munden's bar'? This is a virtual reality simulation. Rommie? What's so 'classified' about this?"

"Munden's is a ... unique program," the ship's voice answered.

"Dangerous?"

"Can be."

"What does that mean?"

"'Can be.'"

"Cute."

"You asked."

Harper thought about it. A "classified" program named after a bar ... probably a strip club that Dylan had gone to, Harper supposed, and then he'd locked down the VR record. Harper grinned. So, Dylan was human, too. Harper had no objection to his captain having his fun ... once Harper, in his professional capacity as chief engineer, had verified it was "safe."

"Ok, Rom Doll - I'm going to run this program. To make sure everything is ok."

"You sure about that, Harper?"

'This must be good,' Harper thought, 'if Rommie doesn't want me to see it.'

"Sure I'm sure," he said.

He heard the ship sigh.

"Ok," she said. "As one of Earth's 'ancient masters' said, 'Remember, you asked for it.' Program running."

A room formed around Harper, and he wondered if Dylan's taste hadn't gone out the window. It was a bare concrete room, looked like a basement. There was a bar at one end, a dirty mirror behind it. The bartender was a 30-ish man with brown hair, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Harper's eyes found the entrance ... and the table in the corner near it. He could just see someone sitting there ... and that was enough to tell him he didn't want to mess with whomever that was. The odd little lizard sleeping on that table was just plain weird.

Then more figures formed around him, and Harper was lost. The humans were the easiest to make out, though many of them were wearing clothes or armor he'd never seen before. And the non-human aliens ... Harper had seen a good chunk of the known worlds since leaving Earth with Beka, and he had never seen anything like this.

Then a gun was thrust in his face by a man in ... it looked like a ceremonial uniform with a gold helmet. "Halt!" the man said.

"I-it's ok," Harper said. "I was just - "

"What is it?" growled a voice behind the armed man.

"Nothing, Majesty," the man said. "Just an intruder who was on his way - "

"Let me see him."

The man gruffly grabbed Harper by the shoulder and dragged him towards a table. There was one man sitting there. Harper hoped he was a man. He was dressed in a white coat and suit, that reminded Harper of something from the Earth's 18th or 19th centuries. His hair ... Harper hoped it was hair ... had receded from the near part of his forehead, and what was left stood up like a peacock's plumage, black and tinged with gray. But what drew Harper in were the eyes - though the man may have been only in his early fifties, the eyes seemed much older, carrying the weight of pain and death in them.

Harper's father had had those eyes.

"A human," the man growled ... even the growl carried some sadness. "You can speak, yes?"

"Uh ... yeah," Harper said.

"Then who are you, boy? What are you called?"

"I'm Seamus Harper, chief engineer of the ... a starship. People call me 'Harper.'"

"I am Emperor Londo the First of the Centauri Republic. People ... people have called me many things. But among friends, I am just 'Londo.' Are we friends, good Master Harper?"

"Yeah, sure," Harper said, sounding nervous. "Best budies."

Londo nodded to the guard; Harper felt his shoulder released.

"Then come and have a drink with me," Londo said. "My friend."

"Uh ... sure." Harper timidly took a seat at the table.

"Innkeeper!" Londo bellowed. "Innkeeper!"

The guy from behind the bar was quickly at Londo's table. "Yes, Lon - Majesty?"

"Another round of Bravari for me," Londo said, "and a cup for Master Harper here, too."

"Harper?" The bartender looked at Harper. "Ok. At least I won't have to face his captain." He headed back to the bar.

"He knows Dylan?" Harper said.

"The nature of this place, I would not be surprised," Londo said.

"I don't get it - " Harper broke off as a huge goblet of something that looked like red wine was thrust in front of him.

"Yes, the Bravari," Londo said, smiling. "Drink up, my friend, drink up!"

Harper had to lift his cup with both hands. Londo was already well into his when Harper took a sip. Whatever it was burned its way down, but it tasted good.

'Taste ... ' Harper thought - this program stimulated the sense of taste!? 'I can drink all I want and not get drunk!' Harper liked the program, and greedily drank down the Bravari.

"Ah, you like it," Londo said. "I have known few humans who can stomach the Bravari; I am honored to meet another one. More?"

"Yes!"

Harper had downed half of his second goblet when he remembered what they'd been talking about. "Sho - " Harper broke off. Slurred speech? This program was *good.* "SO, Lon-Doe, you were shaying - SAYING about what this place is?"

"Yes," Londo answered. "Well, we are in Munden's in the heart of - or at least a bad neighbrohood of - Cynosure. Does that name mean nothing to you?"

"Yesh. I mean no. It means ... "

"It's quite all right. Cynosure is the pan-dimensional city. Built at the precise point where all the universes, all the realities, meet. The laws of physics change from street to street. In some places, magic rules. In other, science has its way. In others, neither matters. But, I am told, swords work everywhere."

"Wow."

"Ah, but that is not where it stops. I said the *realities* meet, not just the universes. What is real in one reality is fiction in another and vise versa. But all are 'real' here, if that means anything. That is why you never heard of the Centauri, yes? We are not real where you come from, yes?"

Harper panicked. "No - I don't mean - "

"Mr. Harper. Please. I am not offended. That is the nature of this place. I am not part of your 'real world' anymore than you are part of mine, yes?"

Harper had no choice but to be honest. "Yes. In fact, all thish ... ALL THIS is a virtual reality program I'm running."

"My point exactly," Londo said. "There are many roads through the tangle of realities to this place; 'virtual reality' will do just as well as coming here by ship ..." Londo frowned. "But wait, you can not taste the Bravari, then?"

"No." Harper tapped his neck. "Data port. This is all being fed right to my brain."

"Indeed." Londo smiled. "Then it is ok, then."

"Right." Harper smiled too; he suddenly felt relaxed about the whole thing. He began to drink more Bravari ... then stopped. "Londo."

"Yes?"

"What you said just now ... Couldn't it be true that there are realities where *all this* is fiction - you, me, Cynosure, everything - and that all this is in a shtory someone's writing?"

"Yes."

"Then it could BRRHHHUUUUPPPPP - 'scue me - then it could be everything, my whole life, everything bad and crappy that's ever happened to me was laid down by some hack a bizillion universes away."

"Oh, very probably."

"DO you know what that means, Londo!?"

"Yes, Master Harper, I do."

"What?"

"You need more Bravari ... "

/

/

"Dylan?" Andromeda's main A. I. appeared on one of the command center's monitors, interrupting a discussion between Dylan, Beka, and Tyr.

"Yes?" Dylan answered.

"Can I have a word with you? It's a sensitive matter. Through your communications implant?"

Dylan shrugged. "Sure." He reached up and pressed his finger against his jaw. "Go." Over the next few seconds, Dylan's face fell. He sighed. "And the *bad* news is?" That got a bigger sigh and a head bow. "Fine, I'll be right there." He dropped his hand. "Beka, you have the con." He left the command center.

"What was that all about?" Beka demanded.

"Nothing important," Rommie said, and vanished from the screen.

"I hate when she says that. I hate not knowing what's going on. And what are you smiling about, Anasazi?"

"My dear Captain Valentine, you are beginning to develop a healthy case of paranoia."

/

/

A couple more belts of Bravari helped Harper forget the implications of mixed realities as he and Londo started trading war stories; the Centauri ruler's tales of a place called Babylon 5 got as many laughs from Harper as Harper's of the *Andromeda* got out of Londo.

"... and when thoshe two zhshombies were in position, I hit the activator and fried 'em!" Harper said as Londo laughed. "Instant necro burgers!"

"Y-y-ye-e-e-ssss," Londo said. "Well, they are already dead, it's ok to kill them again, yes?"

"Mythoguhts'zactly."

Londo's men jumped as scan lines blazed near the table, resolving into Dylan and Rommie.

"Ah, your friends," Londo said.

"Majesty," Dylan said deferentially. "I see you've met my engineer, Mr. Harper."

"Hey, we're best friends, Dylan!" Harper said.

"Well, this friend has a long day ahead of him," Rommie said gently.

"Wh - " Harper said.

"Of course," Londo said. "I should not keep him. But let us say goodbye."

"Of course," Dylan said. He bowed slightly; Londo caught the look on Harper's face as Dylan and Rommie turned away.

"Ahhhh ... " Londo said, grinning. "I see the way you look at her. She is special, yes?"

"Yeah."

Londo caught the tone of Harper's voice. "But she does not return your love. Still, it is better than a union - or three - where there is no love."

"I suppose," Harper said.

"But do not pity yourself," Londo said. "Pity all the women who come after her. She has set the standard, you see. And all of them must measure up to the one you loved first."

Harper grinned. "It gets better. Rommie'sh'a'starship."

"REALLY!?" Londo craned his neck to look at Rommie. "Ships in your world look like THAT?"

"Well, no she'sh ... she is the avatar of its artificial intelligence."

"Close enough."

Harper lurched out of his chair; he managed to stay on his feet as he turned -wobbled - back towards Londo. "Well, it'sh been shwell, Londo, old pall. Any words of wisdom before I go?"

"Wisdom ... you know, Master Harper, I am sometimes amazed that humans do not realize how wise they are. Have you heard the saying, 'be careful what you wish for - you may get it'?"

"Yeah."

"Never have I heard truer words spoken. Much that I wished for, I now have, yet it gives me no joy, only ... only a gilded cage. And that which I truly loved, I had never wished for. But I wished to keep it. And it was taken from me, suddenly, terribly. No, I am not wise. I am a fool." Another sad look crossed Londo's face; he wiped it away and smiled. "Well, Mr. Harper. Your friends are waiting, and I mustn't keep you ... "

/

/

Harper opened his eyes and reached for the jack in his neck - but his arm didn't want to reach it.

He was drunk.

"Wh - "

Rommie was at his side. "I'll get that." She pulled the lead out of his neck and grabbed one arm. Harper saw Dylan take off a VR headset and come over. They helped him off his stool and over to his bed.

"Wh - " Harper said. "How did I ... Did you guys pull a fast one?"

"I told you the program was dangerous," Rommie said.

"We'll explain it later," Dylan said. "You get some sleep. Captain's orders."

"That, I can do, Bosh." Harper flopped onto the bed. He was out cold in seconds.

/

/

Londo pulled his coat around him as he and his guards stepped onto the dark and rainy street. Not surprisingly, the Drahk was waiting for him.

"You had company?" it asked.

"What if I did?" Londo snapped, angry that he'd been watched. He would have to learn by whom. "You said I had this time to myself. You said nothing about who I could spend it with."

"Still, who were you talking with?"

"No one; just a boy who pines for a girl who does not love him as he would wish. If the likes of you stay away from him, he will have a better end than I."

THE END