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Confessions of a Biographer

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CONFESSIONS OF A BIOGRAPHER

By Luc Deradi

If there are worse fates for an historian than being challenged to write the official biography of Londo Mollari of the House Mollari, also known as Emperor Mollari II., I have no desire to find out about them.

Don't get me wrong. Originally, I felt deeply honoured to be given this assignment by his majesty, Cotto I. Not only had the late Emperor been a crucial figure in the beginning of the third age - some say indeed the most important one - but I had actually met him, once, as a boy, and the meeting had left a deep impression. My family lived in the Royal Palace at the time, which had to do with the fact my paternal grandmother had been a sister of Urza Jaddo, Londo Mollari's childhood friend. Usually, this did not mean we ever saw the Emperor, except on official occasions at a great distance, but once my sister and myself strayed into his private apartments while playing, and he talked to us. He told us a story which as it turned out was instrumental in my desire to become an historian. My sister had wished for a true story, whereas I, an adventurous boy bored with his lessons, wished for a tale of heroes and villains and, above all, excitement. The Emperor stunned me by vowing to give us both what we wanted, and then promptly fulfilled his pledge. Previously, I had not thought it possible that history could be exciting. Afterwards, I wanted to learn more.

(It was not until much later that I found out that to answer the question "What do you want?" could be fatal.)

Mollari II.'s successor, our present Emperor, Cotto I., originally enlisted my help for editing the late Londo Mollari's chronicles. As I proved to be adept at the task and grew ever more fascinated with the life of so controversial a man, I suggested that a biography, not just for our people but for the galaxy at large, which still tended to regard him as a fool at best and a bloodthirsty warmonger at worst, so that they might learn the truth. Emperor Cotto was delighted, and promised I would be able to quote from the chronicles; he also wrote letters of introduction to those contemporaries of Londo Mollari who were still alive. It could not have been a more promising beginning.

And then I suddenly discovered the horrible pitfall I had unknowingly been steering towards. No, it wasn't the story of how Londo Mollari made his alliance with the sinister Mr. Morden and his associates. Emperor Cotto had even urged me to be frank about this dark chapter in Mollari's life. "People won't be able to appreciate what Londo did to atone if they don't know what he had to come back from first," were Cotto's exact words. I was even given permission to shed light on the dubious death of Lord Refa, previously assumed to have died as a Narn double agent. Believe me, requesting details from the Emperor on that particular subject was not easy, as I knew from what Mollari himself had written in his chronicles that it had to be painful for Cotto. Yet even this was, as the human saying goes, a piece of delicious bakeware when compared to the real ordeal awaiting me.

It began when some unknown well-wisher, whom I now suspect to have been an enemy of my House bent on causing me trouble with the Emperor, sent me the most explosive material in existence when one is attempting to write a life of Londo Mollari: The Mariel Memoirs.

Perhaps I should explain, as some of my younger readers will not remember the scandal these once caused, especially given what happened later. The Lady Mariel had been the third wife of Londo Mollari, until he divorced her in 2260, Standard time. (Technically speaking, she had been the fourth, but Mollari's first marriage lasted only very briefly, and House Mollari had always attempted to get it wiped out of the official records. More in Chapter 11 of my biography.) Being used to the lifestyle available to the spouse of the Head of a noble House, and not willing to reduce her spending, she quickly started to accumulate debts. To pay these off, she decided to publish her memoirs in the first year of her former husband's reign.

Granted, at the time the Centauri Republic had other things to be worried about than what quickly became an intergalactic bestseller titled "Mollari and G'Kar: An Intimate View". At least you'd think so. My sources assure me, however, that Minister Durla nearly suffered a stroke when his spies procured a copy for him. Years later, when Durla had succeeded in persuading the Lady Mariel to marry him (or the other way around, as the case may be), he did everything he could to destroy every copy in existence, and had Mariel swear that she had not retained the original. Still, even Durla's reaction was mild compared with the fury shown by the Narn. That the Narn Regime would ban the book in its sphere of influence surprised no-one, including the (human) publishers, who thought that given the state of Narn finances at the time, they hadn't lost much of a market anyway. However, the number of G'Kar's disciples who tried to track down Mariel's ghostwriter, as well as her publisher, in order to fulfill a blood oath they had sworn once news about the content of the book got out, shocked them. The publishers had to hire so much security for each and every bookstore that they finally gave up and, considering it just wasn't worth it anymore, withdrew the book from publication.

I had known about the Mariel Memoirs, of course, but before receiving the copy from the anonymous sender, had never read them. After all, the brief period during which they had been in circulation preceded my birth by almost a decade. Certainly I had hoped that somewhere, a download or two would still be in existence, and when I saw what I had received, I felt more excitement than at any other point in my adult life.

I was, in short, a fool.

The first inkling I got of the danger I was now in came when my reading of the book brought me to the point where Mariel described her early marriage to Londo Mollari, who had become part of the Centauri Delegation on Earth shortly after their wedding. Until then, I had found it interesting and amusing to compare her descriptions with those her former husband had given of the same period in his chronicles. Mariel was not interested in human customs, or galactic events, but she could describe a reception she had appeared at in detail, and her take on Mollari himself, while catty, was entertaining. I had poured myself a glass of brivari in their honour and sat chuckling as I scrolled down the text as it appeared on my view screen, when Mariel started to introduce a new character to her tale: G'Kar, at that point already a member of the Khari and on Earth for some business concerning weapons. Yes, that G'Kar.

Oh dear, I thought, as vague memories of what people had found so scandalous about the Mariel Memoirs began to flood back. I could see their point at once; Mariel described in rich detail how G'Kar had flirted with her during a garden party, and how she, motivated by the incredible thrill of seducing a Narn, had reciprocated, which resulted in the two of them starting an affair right then and there.

I could imagine what Emperor Cotto's reaction would be if I included those passages in my biography. After all, his policy of rapprochement with the Narn was incredibly important to him, and if their sainted Prophet was accused, in a biography he had comissioned, no less, of having had an affair with a married Centauri woman... Well. In the interests of galactic peace as well as keeping my assignment, I decided not to quote the relevant passages and instead just to mention that Mariel had had affairs with Mollari's enemies. In this way, I would be factually correct and yet discreet.

The glow of satisfaction from having mastered a difficult dilemma faded as only two chapters later, chapters, I might add, that contained more about the sexual habits of Narn in general and G'Kar in particular than I ever wished to know. (I do, of course, respect the Narn and support our Emperor's policy completely. But really, why they have this obsession with candles and... never mind.) After some brief remarks about the members of the command crew of Babylon 5 she had been introduced to during her visit to the station shortly before the end of her marriage to Londo Mollari - John Sheridan gets described as having "good teeth, for a human", Michael Garibaldi as "somewhat feminine with his balding head", and so on - Mariel proceeded to narrate the end of her marriage.

Now, in Mollari's chronicles, he simply says that Emperor Turhan granted him the right to divorce two of his three wives, and that he chose to keep the Lady Timov for her eminent trustworthiness. He also makes some cryptic remarks about Mariel saying goodbye "in her unique way, through an artifact, no less", which I had previously assumed to refer to a mysterious assassination attempt that happened about the same time. Given the Lady Mariel's reputation, it would have been in character to make a last-ditch attempt to become a widow, instead of a divorcee.

However, her explanation as to why Mollari did not, as everyone expected him to, choose her as his remaining wife, was, to put it mildly, somewhat different. According to Mariel, she met an uncharacteristically subdued and depressed G'Kar, hoping to continue their affair. After a romp which seemed to cheer him up somewhat, he let it slip that if he were married to Londo Mollari, he would be concerned. The next passage was so stunning that I feel obliged to quote it verbatim.

***

"G'Kar, if you were married to Londo Mollari, we'd all be concerned," I said. Instead of protesting, he chuckled. That was when I realized the truth. G'Kar coming to Londo's Day of Ascension party. Londo calling him "my dear G'Kar". The sudden urge for divorce, so completely unexpected after a marriage that had been eminently satisfying to Londo, if not to me. In fact, all of Londo's rather pathetic attempts at affairs with women who were desperate enough to need his money - a slave girl, as I had been told, being only the most recent example - made sense now.

"G'Kar," I said, "is there something you wish to tell me?"

He pretended to be baffled.

"I know everything," I said. "But if you and Londo expect to use me as a cover for your affair, you are sadly mistaken. I, to use a human expression, am not a beard. In fact, I am no kind of facial hair at all. Let Timov have that sad privilege."

Hiding my hurt, I rushed out and informed Londo that I would leave the station at once. Daggair showed some pride and joined me as well. Only Timov was in a sorry enough state to remain Londo's wife to this very day."

***

You can imagine how I felt upon reading this. My first impulse was to dismiss it as slander, something Mariel had invented to cover her own embarrassment at being divorced.

However, as a conscientious historian, I could not just dismiss such a monumental charge without crosschecking. After all, if by a remote chance Mariel was not, in fact, lying, this would change my mental picture of Emperor Mollari II in a radical manner. That the relationship with G'Kar had been very important in his life, I had known before. But a hidden romance?

Now that I thought about it, there were some circumstances that pointed in this direction. After all, quite how the two had gone from mortal enemies to allies had never been satisfactorily explained by anyone. What if the infamous mind rape, which the Book of G'Kar described as an epiphany and Mollari's chronicles treated as a rather unpleasant event he didn't want to talk about much, had really been a lovers' quarrel? That time in the transport tube, quaintly referred to by the late Emperor as "G'Kar's attempt at ensuring our premature death to musical accompaniment" - a secret rendez-vous? What was the real reason for Lord Refa's sudden death on Narn? If he had by chance discovered what I was only beginning to suspect, he could have ruined Mollari for good.

I resolved to tell Cotto I. nothing about this latest turn of events until I could verify or dismiss Mariel's allegations by an independent source, and set out to question Mollari's surviving acquaintances, friends and enemies. Again, in some cases, as I already had conducted some interviews as part of my previous research.

Michael Garibaldi, the former security chief of Babylon 5 during the period Mollari had served as ambassador of our republic, arranged for us to meet in his villa on Mars. "So you've got some more questions about Londo, huh?" he began, after we had sat down in what was a very comfortable living room.

"Well," I replied cautiously, "I would like some more details about his relationship with G'Kar, and how it developed. Since you were friends with both of them, I was hoping you would shed more light on the matter."

He grinned.

"Frankly, in the early days, there were a lot of times when I would have loved to strangle them both. Always at each others' throats, those two."

"Really," I muttered, trying not to let my imagination go there.

"You wouldn't believe the tantrum G'Kar threw when Londo wouldn't give him some flowers!"

"He did?" I asked weakly.

"Of course, Jeff was always trying to calm things down between them, even after Londo told him about those dreams he was having about G'Kar..."

My stomach was doing strange things to me. The Narns would kill me. After Emperor Cotto was finished with banishing me and my family from Centauri Prime, of course.

"....and then I told Jeff: 'You know, the way these two behave you'd think they were married.' Hey, Mr. Deradi, are you alright? You look like hell."

Taking all the courage that I possessed, I took a deep breath and finally blurted out:

"Mr. Garibaldi, did you ever read the Mariel Memoirs?"

He looked nonplussed. I clarified: "Mollari and G'Kar: An Intimate View. The autobiography of the late Lady Mariel."

His frown vanished, and the grin was back.

"The tell-all by that dame Londo divorced, right? Nah. But I think I know the gist of it, what with all the stink the Narns made at the time. If you want to know whether the lady really had an affair with G'Kar, I'd say yes. That guy scored more than the rest of us put together before he got religion."

"And, err, her other allegation?"

He shrugged.

"Whatever she said about Londo's sex life is probably true as well. No offense, but I've tried my best not to find out where you people put all your tentacles."

"None taken," I said, and fainted.

***

It was probably Mr. Garibaldi's only partly mistaken impression of me as a sick man at death's door that secured me an audience with Delenn. The former First Lady of the Alliance, head of the Rangers and former ambassador to Babylon 5 has no fondness for historians, and had previously politely but firmly declined to be interviewed. However, the combined efforts of Emperor Cotto and Mr. Garibaldi managed to persuade her to change her mind. I brushed up my Minbari, a language Cotto I. had made mandatory for the education of a Centauri noble, and set out to visit her at her summer residence in Tuzanor.

After she had graciously returned my opening salutations, I first asked about Londo Mollari's final days, to which she had been a witness. We discovered that she must have last seen him only an hour or so after my sister and myself took our leave of him. Her report was both touching and insightful, and if only I had never received that anonymous data crystal containing the Mariel Memoirs, my visit on Minbar would have been a highlight of my life. The temptation not to ask about that last issue, after we had exhausted all the other topics, was incredibly strong. Yet I knew my duty as a historian. The truth had to prevail.

"Entil'zha," I finally said, addressing her by her old title, "what is your opinion on the nature of the relationship between Londo Mollari and G'Kar?"

She folded her hands, her fingers forming a perfect triangle.

"They had a destiny," she replied. Respectfully, I refrained from saying that that much was obvious. "Fate had bound them together," she continued. "We Minbari believe that we were meant to discover the other half of our souls. When I was young, I never expected to find it in an enemy, and yet that is what the universe decided, so that the wounds between our people were to be healed, and the darkness defeated. I have always believed that it was the same with Londo and G'Kar."

Great Maker, I thought. She had just compared her marriage to the late John Sheridan with what had existed between Mollari and G'Kar.

"You mean," I whispered, "they were... soulmates?"

Delenn smiled enigmatically. "It is as good a term as any for what they were."

***

When I returned to Centauri Prime, I put my affairs in order. Then I steeled myself for the final, inevitable step, and sought an audience with Cotto I.

"Luc!" he exclaimed, smiling when he saw me, and called his first wife, who had been my nurse for a while during my childhood. The Lady Senna unerringly saw at once what all the other people I had talked to had missed or had not mentioned out of politeness.

"You look terrible," she said "What's the matter with you?"

"The biography... might not turn out as you wish," I confessed. The Emperor at first was puzzled, then encouraging.

"Don't worry, my boy," he said. "We all have these times where we think the task ahead is too great. I've got the utmost confidence in you."

I felt lower than a worm.

"Certain... aspects of Emperor Mollari's life I have discovered... might cause problems upon publication," I said, speaking very low, and then, scorning the polite pretense, corrected myself: "Or rather, they will cause problems, this I know."

"But the galaxy already knows all about Londo's deal with the Shadows," Cotto returned, with a mixture of melancholy and pride. "What they don't know enough of yet is the price he paid for it. I told you, I wish you to be completely frank about both."

"He doesn't mean those," the Lady Senna said, sharp-eyed as ever. "Do you, Luc?"

"No. My discovery concerns his private life."

An incredible thing happened: The Emperor, ruler and restorer of the Centauri Republic, blushed.

"Oh," he said, raising his hands in an embarrassed gesture. "Well. I know how you feel. Londo always told me more than I really wanted to know about that. But that was Londo for you. Do you really think you need to go into details, though? Some of the ladies are still alive, after all."

"The Lady Mariel," I said, trying to find a way to lead in to my monumental discovery gently, "is not."

I had assumed this to be a tactful remark. Alas, such was not the case. No sooner had I mentioned the Lady Mariel than Cotto became deathly pale, and Senna put her arms around him in support.

"Mariel?" the Emperor whispered. "This is about... Mariel?"

At once, I realized my mistake. There had been nothing in Mariel's memoirs about Vir Cotto, but then they had been published in the first year of Londo Mollari's reign, and presumably written in the year before that, at a point when Cotto had still been Mollari's aide and as such not of interest to a woman with a penchant for powerful men. However, in my cursory research into Mariel's life after her divorce, which had been of less interest to me, I had noticed a gap of several years between her existence as a divorcee and her remarriage to Minister Durla. It wouldn't have been like her to deprive herself of male company, and her book, though a bestseller, had been suppressed, which meant she needed another source of income. During this era, Cotto's star would have been rapidly rising. Could it be that Mariel had attached herself to him for a while? Certainly the intimate way he pronounced her name did not sound as if he was referring to the former wife of his late mentor. Still, there was no way back now, so I plunged forward.

"I read her memoirs," I said.

The Emperor, strengthened by Senna's support, visibly pulled himself together.

"Mariel was a tragic figure," he said. "I will not have her name dragged through the mud."

Clearly, he himself had not read the memoirs in question.

"She wasn't that important to Londo's life anyway", he ended. "It should be enough to say that they were married, that it didn't go well, and that they got divorced."

"And the reason for the divorce was, in your opinion...?" I ventured.

"They didn't get along," he said firmly.

I decided to approach the issue from another angle, since clearly talking about Mariel with the Emperor would only make everything harder.

"It is rather odd," I said carefully, "that he got along better with his mortal enemy than with any of his wives."

The Emperor looked relieved. "Well, that's true. I remember that one time when they all visited on the station, and Londo had just had a row with Timov. When she left his quarters, he told me he might as well have married G'Kar."

That was it. My fate was sealed.

"Your majesty need say no more," I declared. "I know my duty."

And I did. It is to history, first and foremost, but my next duty is to Centauri Prime. After taking my leave of the Emperor, I locked myself in my study for the next months and finished my biography, now titled: Londo Mollari and G'Kar of Narn: The Men. The Mystery. In another era, I might have treasured the chance to defend my extraordinary discovery against the diatribes of fellow historians. In this, I know I will not get the chance, not if I do as duty commands.

After securing my book on a data file and transmitting it to my publishers on Centauri Prime as well as on Earth, I prepared myself by writing this explanation, which should suffice for posterity. Now, as I await the Emperor's command, my faithful dagger is at my side. As soon as he learns what I did, he will have no choice but to order me to commit suicide, which should satisfy the enraged Narn. I will, I hope, die in the manner worthy of a Centauri who was born into House Jaddo and adopted into House Mollari.

There is just one thing I would like to know before sacrificing myself for the sake of historical truth and galactic peace. Who, I wonder, kept that copy of the Mariel Memoirs and sent them to me?

But this, I fear, is a mystery another historian will have to investigate.