It's a bad idea, but Talia suggests it. Because it's Talia, Susan doesn't dismiss it immediately. She taps one finger against her desk, narrowing her eyes at the serene blonde before her. It is a very bad idea. In fact, it is a very bad idea that stands no chance of succeeding.
Of course, this means that the captain will love it. She bites the inside of her lip, chewing the soft flesh there as she considers it. A colony of telepaths hidden on Epsilon 3. Oh yes, John will absolutely love this.
"I know," says Talia."You were the one I was worried about." She sits back, lacing her fingers together in her lap. They're bare. A smile flirts about her lips. "I suspected you would be...difficult."
Beneath her desk, Susan crosses her legs and sits straighter. It's been months since Talia, like everyone else in the command staff, broke away from Earth, but Susan can't get used to the missing gloves. She isn't sure she wants to. Talia's smile widens. "That's not fair," says Susan. She concentrates on the block, grinning despite herself. "Flirting when I'm trying to tell you no."
Talia tucks her chin and gives Susan a look. "I'm not flirting," she says. "I'm making a point. There are telepaths streaming into Babylon 5, Susan. Telepaths in search of a home. We can't send them all to Minbar, they can't stay in DownBelow, and I will not allow them to be sent back to the Psi Corps." She frowns, her anger mounting. "You know what the Corps will do to them!"
"I know," Susan agrees. She does. 'Re-education', the camps, forced breeding, and worse for some. Much, much worse for some. She clenches a hand into a fist, nails digging into her palm with the sharp bite of pain. "I know."
She looks at Talia, so full of fire and outrage, and she smiles. She can't help herself.
"You're laughing," Talia says, brow furrowing in confusion.
"I'm just not used to this," says Susan. "It used to be me raging against the Corps. This change will take some getting used to." Still, she likes it.
Susan rises from behind her desk, walking around it to lean against it. She looks at Talia again, holding her gaze. There's no sharing of thoughts, or emotions, she keeps herself a neutral blank. The idea is tantalizing, but still tremendously risky. She folds her arms, pressing them against the uniform that's still new and strange. "A colony for human telepaths is a good idea, Talia, but Epsilon 3? You know what's down there."
"I do," says Talia. "I've discussed it with Draal. He's willing to set aside an area for us." Her face brightens with a smile. "Frankly, I think he's eager for the company. According to him, the alien attendants who care for the Machine are a little unusual."
It's an effort to hold back the snort. "That's an understatement," Susan says. "Of course Draal is up for it, but that doesn't change the fact it's a huge risk. If Bester follows you down there and stumbles across the Great Machine – "
"He won't," says Talia. She smiles, lifting her chin. "We've fooled Bester once. We can do it again."
Susan breathes in, then out, and thinks of her mother. She nods. "I'm still not sure I like it, but I'll back you with the captain."
Talia stands, cradling Susan's face in her hands. "Thank you," she says. Her kiss is soft and slow. Neither of them worries about interruption. It doesn't matter now if they're seen.
Susan pulls Talia closer, Talia fitting herself against Susan and since abandoning her Psi Corps uniform, Talia's taken to dressing herself in rich, lush fabrics. They slide easily beneath Susan's hands, warm to her touch. She thinks about pushing her hands beneath them, pulling Talia's clothing from her body and indulging.
Laughing into the kiss, Talia breaks it. "Later," she says, fingers brushing Susan's lips. "First, we speak to Captain Sheridan." With obvious reluctance, she disentangles herself and steps back.
"Why?" Susan says, her protest only half in jest.
"Looming humanitarian crisis?" Talia points out. "Not to mention the birth of the telepath nation."
Susan grins. "Delusions of grandeur?" Someone's campaigning for president. She leads the way out of her office, double-timing it. It's not fast enough.
Talia tugs her back for a quick, hard kiss. "I heard that."
"I know," says Susan with a grin. "You were supposed to."
"A colony of telepaths," says John. "On Epsilon 3?" He looks apprehensive, but Susan can see the interest in his gaze. She doesn't need telepathy to know what he's thinking. He's intrigued. Talia's proposal could very well be the solution they've been waiting for. The way around the telepath problem. Safe territory, protected, and alien soil on which the Corps has no jurisdiction. In theory. That's never bothered the Psi Corps before.
Though the weapons the Great Machine's hiding just might. The thought makes Susan grin.
"And you say Draal is fine with it?" he asks.
Talia nods. "He's looking forward to the company. The risk of discovery is minimal, Captain. With so many of us in one place, we can easily overpower the minds of any Psi Cops who get close enough."
John's smile is fierce. "I almost wish Bester would." He looks up at Susan. "You're awful quiet, Commander. Any opinion?"
"I suspect you already know my opinion, sir," she says. "I have my reservations, but I trust Talia. The fact is, sir, we have to do something. With Babylon 5 broken away from Earth, they're going to come here for help. Sending them back to Earth would be a crime." And a betrayal.
John looks at her, at them both, for a long moment. Finally, he raises his hands. "As far as I'm concerned, Draal has the final say. If he's all for it, then I won't interfere." He grins. "Not that I would. Good luck, Talia, and somebody get me a picture of Bester's face when he finds out about this."
"If we're very lucky, sir," says Susan, "he won't."
The silence of Susan's quarters had been her sanctuary. With Talia's influence, that's become an illusion. Lying with her, curled together in bed, Susan can just hear the faint babble of the minds of passers by. There are telepaths mixed into their midst, she can hear the faint echo of their thoughts.
"They already know," she says, surprised.
Talia smiles and stretches, draping an arm across Susan's body. "Of course they know," she says. "I told them. They need to get ready, we'll be leaving as soon as possible." She rests her head on her hand, looking down at Susan. "I'll miss this. I've gotten used to having you by my side every night."
"So will I," Susan says, already feeling the ache of Talia's absence. She reaches up, brushing Talia's hair from her face. "I'll just have to visit as much as I can. It's not far to travel." Just dangerous. Her grin is just a little reckless as she adds, "I'll just have to watch my back."
"Not alone," Talia promises, a fierce glint in her eye. "We'll protect you." She shifts closer, sliding a leg over Susan's. "In fact, once the colony is established, I think we'll propose a treaty of mutual protection. There's a lot we can do to help." Without the Psi Corps to hold them back. The thought is tantalizing and worrisome all in the same.
Susan nods. "We have to be careful right now. If the Psi Corps suspects anything, we're finished." She curls a hand around Talia's shoulder, stroking gently. "Don't be in a hurry to earn your keep."
Laughing, Talia leans down to kiss her. "I'm in no hurry. As Delenn would say, the universe will tend to itself and we'll find our place in it before long." The hand resting on Susan's chest begins a slow trip down her body. "Tonight, I plan to celebrate."
With a grin, Susan bites her lip and closes her eyes. "Now that's a plan I can get behind."
Susan's almost out of CinC when John catches her. His fingers hook the fabric of her sleeve and bring her to a stop. "Heading somewhere important, Commander?" he asks. His voice is light, tone conversational, but she can hear the question underpinning it all.
"Not really, Captain," she says, mindful of the listening ears of the crew. The secret of the telepath colony is still that; a secret. With the exception of Stephen, Michael, and Delenn; no one on the station knows. At least, no one else on the station acknowledges knowing. Susan isn't naive enough to believe they're keeping the secret that well. She is Russian, after all. "Just a shuttle run." She gestures back at her station. "Some unusual readings from Epsilon 3. I thought I'd take a shuttle down and check things out."
A shuttle that happened to have half a dozen new telepaths aboard.
"Sounds interesting," he says, following her out. "I'll walk you down to the bay." He waits until they're down the hall, the door closed behind them, before he leans in. "Another shipment? Where the hell are you getting them?"
Susan shrugs. "Some are rogues from Earth colonies, more are the telepaths in the underground, and some are Earth itself. Telepaths who were on the sleepers, families with newly-identified children, and some refugees from Psi Corps facilities."
She casts a glance down the hall, pushing her still-fledgling abilities to sense out any eavesdroppers. "Word's been spreading through the underground. Telepaths from here to Io know Babylon 5 is offering some kind of sanctuary."
John frowns. "That's disconcerting." They turn the corner, and he nods a greeting at a passing security officer. Staying quiet until they step into the transport tube, he's troubled. "Dammit, Susan, if we aren't careful, the Psi Corps is going to get wind of this. Hell, they already probably suspect something."
"They always suspect something, it's the Psi Corps," says Susan, shrugging. "Talia's been working with the colony. She's confident if the Corps does try something, they can collectively overpower them and I believe her." She looks at him. "So should you."
"Oh, I do," he says. "Ms. Winters is an extraordinary woman. If anyone can handle the Corps, I have to believe she could, but considering our current situation..." he shakes his head. "Tell me about the colony. I haven't been down there yet and I'm curious."
Susan smiles. "You wouldn't believe it. I barely do." She pictures the rooms, the tunnels with the hydroponic gardens, and the occasionally eerie silence of the colony's telepathic inhabitants. "We've started something here, John. Something important."
"God, I hope so," he says on a sigh. "Just once, I want to know we did something right. In the middle of this mess, I need to know there's something good coming out of it."
"It's strange," she says, amused by it all.
"What is?" he asks, frowning.
The tube stops, the door sliding open. "I've fallen into an alternate universe. It's a world where down is up and black is white." Stepping out, Susan looks at John with a grin. "And I'm the eternal optimist. It will be very messy, very dark, and probably nearly kill us all, but it will work."
He grins. "All right, Commander, what has you so convinced?"
"It's simple, sir." Susan smirks. "Telepaths are matrilineal leaning toward matriarchal."
The door slides shut on his grin.
The chamber serving as Talia's room is chilly, the makeshift door not quite keeping out the draft. Shivering, Susan presses closer to her beneath the covers. "How are the others settling in?"
Talia turns, rolling toward her. Her hair, longer now, falls into her face. She looks relaxed, but pleased. "It's been difficult, but they're managing." She rests a hand on Susan's hip, thumb stroking in a slow circle. "We've had to expand twice."
"I thought you might need to," Susan says. She nuzzles against Talia's neck, lips brushing the sweet-scented skin. "The number of people we've been sending down here – "
"Is more than we anticipated," Talia nods. She shifts her head, tilting it back to give Susan room. "We're making do."
"And there's been no sign the Corps knows what we're doing?" Susan asks. "No spies?"
"Nothing yet," Talia says. "Draal is constantly monitoring. No one has sent a signal. We're safe, for now." She lowers her head, grinning. "You can tell the Captain to rest easy." Curling her fingers around Susan's chin, she brings her close. "And so can you."
"No," Susan shakes her head. "Not yet." Rubbing her thumb along Talia's lower lip, she smiles. "Frankly, all this optimism is starting to scare me. Better to expect constant doom, there's far less disappointment involved."
"And only pleasant surprises," Talia says, as she rolls Susan onto her back. "I'm beginning to see the benefits of that philosophy."
"John was right," Susan says, curling her fingers into the blankets. The promise of the look in Talia's eyes igniting a slow burn in her belly. Knowing what's coming, she bites her lip.
Talia slides down her body, lips leaving kisses in her wake. She pauses at Susan's stomach, looking up. "About?"
Her smile fierce, Susan launches forward, pressing Talia into the bed. Her hair swings forward around them in a curtain, shielding their faces as she grins. "You're an extraordinary woman."
She hears the possessive note in her own words and grins, feeling the same echo from Talia. Lowering her head, she catches Talia's mouth with her own.