Talia thanked the maintenance man and looked around her quarters; it seemed that nothing was out of place. He had tidied up after himself very nicely, but it felt, well, invaded, she supposed. Looking around, she picked up her glass vases in turn, putting them back into their places. She picked up a cushion from the bed and put it back on the sofa, as she glanced around at all the clutter she has accumulated since arriving on Babylon 5.
The door chimed and she turned towards it, surprised, as she wasn't expecting anyone. "Who is it?"
"Lyta - please I need to talk to you - you are the only person I can trust."
Talia immediately placed the voice, slightly surprised, but Susan had been asking about Lyta the night before, so she was close to her thoughts. However, she noticed that Lyta sounded different, paranoid or just scared, although with the Corps telling the two apart was nearly impossible, but at the end of her endurance anyway. "Enter." Talia turned towards the door and watched it open. Lyta stepped in quickly, moved out of sight from the corridor and waited for the door to close completely. Talia sat down on her sofa and waited for Lyta to sit or speak.
"Look, you’re probably scared, but I’m not with the Corps any more! And I know that you helped with the Underground railroad, so I hope you won’t turn me in – at least give me a chance to explain. They helped me escape from the Corps. I had to take the risk of coming to you - there is no one else that I could trust. There is a spy on Babylon 5 – probably among the command staff or someone close to them. I went to the Captain, but then I was attacked. Help me! I need to uncover the spy before they kill me."
Talia stared at her for a moment, trying to get her thoughts in order. She was scared by the fact that Lyta knew she was a rebel, but it wasn’t that surprising. However she realised that she was in danger; if Lyta could find out, how long could it be before the Corps knew!
"How do you know it is not me?" she asked, stalling for time, unable to believe that any of them could be a spy - it would seem completely unlike them, and surely she would have picked up on it if they were lying to her.
"There is a Psi Corps programme to create sleeper agents, who are only activated when the password is sent directly to their mind, but it would be too risky for it to be a telepath. Obviously it could be set off accidentally at any time. Apparently they lost several agents that way at the start of the program."
Lyta seemed to be calming down slightly, although still jittering about. "Don't ask me how I know – it would be too dangerous for you."
"So what do you need me to do?" Talia replied shakily.
"Talk to them for me and arrange a meeting - if they can be convinced, the captain didn’t seem to believe me. But don’t trust anyone - well, I think Captain Sheridan can be trusted, because I think the spy has been here longer than him."
"Okay. I’ll talk to him for you. Look, why don’t you stay here for now, and get some rest. You seem exhausted."
"Thank you." Lyta flopped down on the bed and closed her eyes. She hadn’t even removed her shoes.
Talia got up and retrieved a spare blanket from her wardrobe. She spread it across Lyta, and crossed to the kitchen. She started making tea, worrying. Her mind went back to the night before, thinking of when she had woken to find Susan gone; it seemed that in this case she knew the answer to Lyta's accusation. She closed her eyes and tried not to cry. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing Susan already, but couldn’t allow a spy to remain on Babylon 5 or to report back. Otherwise the Corps would find out about everything; she would be in so much trouble. She shivered at the thought of the way that she would be interrogated and taken to pieces by Psi Cops. Swallowing softly, she put the kettle down, knowing she must find Captain Sheridan at once.
On her way to his office she enountered Susan. Following their conversation, she felt even more certain that Susan was the agent. She continued up to C&C, trying to think of an innocuous reason to need to see the Captain in private. However, there was no need for it, as he was in his office alone.
"Captain Sheridan, I need to talk to you."
"Certainly, Ms Winters"
"I’ve spoken to Lyta." Talia hesitated, realising she hadn't though out how to say what needed to be said.
"Oh yes, I suppose she would go to you for help. What does she think she needs?"
"All of the command staff somewhere at one time, if you are going to agreed to the scans, and soon as she feels that she is in danger."
"Well, she was attacked last night, so that is only reasonable. Do you have a way to contact her?"
"Tell her to be here in an hour."
Talia noticed how unhappy he seemed about it, but his words seemed to confirm that Lyta was right about him not being the spy. She wondered if she should tell him about her suspicions of Ivanova, but she would be exposing their relationship and neither of them had felt ready for that; and it would cause more problems for Susan, if she turned out to be innocent.
"Thank you." She left quickly and returned to her quarters to warn Lyta. She realised as she opened the door that if Sheridan was the spy she had just lead him to Lyta. However, no one seemed to be watching her as she glanced around. She entered and let the door close before crossing to the bed. Lyta was still asleep, Talia felt a moment of guilt before steeling herself to wake her.
"Lyta," Talia began. Lyta’s eyes snapped open and she sat up sharply. "There’s no danger," Talia said quickly, "but Captain Sheridan has agreed to you scanning people. You are to meet them in fifty minutes in his office."
Lyta nodded and ran her hands through her hair.
"You are welcome to use my shower, if you want," Talia took a breath, "and borrow clean clothes if you want."
Talia went to her wardrobe and selected clothes, trying not to show how hard it was for her. She picked out a skirt suit in blue that was slightly tight on her, as Lyta looked thinner than her – at that time. She passed that and underclothes to Lyta. Lyta got up and went into the bathroom.
While Talia was waiting she made tea and got out some fruit, in case Lyta was hungry. In a few minutes she emerged, looking cleaner and less like a fugitive, although Talia noticed that the clothes didn’t fit her well, but at least they were clean and fresh.
"Thank you again," Lyta said, "It is good to be clean and tidy, being on the run doesn’t give many opportunities for that and I remember that you don’t like sharing clothes, even when we were apprenticing together." Lyta smiled as she said it.
Talia nodded and offered her tea and fruit, Lyta accepted and ate quickly.
"Will you come with me? You can leave after we have scanned command staff, but if one if them is a spy, I would have thought that they already know enough to compromise you and I'd appreciate the company."
"Yes, as long as it doesn't take long; I have appointments that I must keep later today." Talia looked away, trying not to let on that she didn't want people to know that she was involved in any way.
"And you don’t want anyone else to know you are working with me, so that the Corps thinks you are still loyal. Look - you go ahead and I’ll follow you in a few minutes - then we won’t be seen together." Talia felt Lyta’s slight pain at the words, but knew that she was being sensible, "However, at least this way we can allies or friends again, even if only in secret for now. Have you considered what you are going to do? It won’t be safe for you to stay here - Psi Corps is sure to know that you have been here and they’ll be sending someone to bring you back."
"I’m going to try and get to the Vorlon Homeworld - don’t tell me, I know the problems, but I have to. I can’t explain."
Talia nodded, but wondered if Kosh has implanted a suggestion to this effect when Lyta has scanned him - it would certainly be convenient for the Vorlons to get rid of the only telepath to have scanned one of their own.
"I should get going. See you in a few minutes." Talia left quickly, trying to ensure that she hid that disturbing thought from Lyta.
Talia entered Captain Sheridan’s office. She glanced around and saw that Doctor Franklin, Michael Garibaldi, and Susan were already there with the Captain."Well, is Lyta coming?" Sheridan asked abruptly.
"Yes, she will be here soon, but we thought that I shouldn’t be seen with her, in case I can keep on seeming loyal to the Corps for now."
Sheridan nodded and turned back to fidgeting with something on his desk.
Lyta entered quickly. "Well, let’s do this," she said,
"Start with me," Sheridan said. "I can't ask anyone to do this if I won't."
Talia watched as Lyta sent the password and turned away shaking her head. "You’re clean."
Talia watched Susan staying away from the others, she could clearly sense her discomfort, although Susan was avoiding looking at her. Talia was vaguely aware of Lyta following up with scans on the Franklin and Garibaldi. Talia’s breath caught as Garibaldi reacted, his face contorting under the signal. She was so shocked, wondering what she should do as his hands covered his face. She remembered his flirting with her and wondered if had all been a ruse of some sort – a test of loyalty to Psi Corps. She felt cold through – she was doomed – she had fallen into the traps he had set.
"Boo! Got you!" He uncovered his face, back to normal.
Talia let out a breath, almost a sob, almost a laugh – she felt as if she was shaking from the tension. Lyta turned towards Susan, but Sheridan started to say something, but Talia spoke quickly,
"I’ll do it for you if you’d prefer, Susan."
She hoped that Susan would say yes, after all they had been close, but knew that if she was the spy she would say no, and she was afraid that her heart would break at that.
Susan hesitated, and Talia used that moment to get the password mentally from Lyta. After a long silence, or probably not that long, but it seemed to stretch out forever, Susan said, "Yes."
Talia could tell how much that word cost her, and so quickly sent the password, dreading the result, but nothing happened.
"She’s clean." Talia said, astonished that her voice sounded steady. "What now?"
Lyta turned to look at her, surprise showing on her face. Talia wondered whether Lyta had picked up her suspicions or whether she had her own reasons for suspecting Susan.
"Now we start on the other C&C personnel and those in Security." Captain Sheridan said.
"I should leave now," Talia said. "My usefulness to you relies on people not knowing that I'm betraying the Corps."
She turned towards the door, thinking quickly. She had realised something from sending the message into Susan’s mind: it had seemed too easy, as easy as sending to another telepath; she didn’t know what to say, but knew enough not to say anything in front of other people, especially Lyta, who she didn’t feel that she could trust at the moment.
Talia went about the day’s meetings with more than half her mind on the hunt for the spy, wishing that she could know what was going to, but knowing that she had to wait for news. Thankfully, it was all routine minor business and diplomatic meetings, nothing that required her full attention or very much in the way of her skills. Following the last meeting, she exchanged pleasantries with the business man who had hired her, then left to look for Susan, as subtly as she could.
She went round to the casino, knowing that Susan often went there after the end of her shift and she should have finished her shift about half an hour ago, however she was not there. Talia considered giving up, but the idea of waiting longer for news stretched her nerves dreadfully. She walked slowly and as casually as she could managed to Susan's quarters. Talia rang the bell on Susan’s door and waited. After a moment that seemed to stretch out interminably the door opened.
"Come in," Susan said, "I was just making tea. Would you like a cup?"
"Yes please." Talia sat down, relieved that she was at least partially welcome, but unsure whether it would last, and said, "Did they find a spy?"
"No. We’ve been through all of the C&C personnel, security and everyone with seniority in the other departments. Sheridan thinks it must have been Garibaldi’s second, you know - the one who shot him, just before-"
"Yes," Talia interrupted quickly, trying not to remember.
"If there was ever a spy at all," Talia opened her mouth to protest. "I’m not accusing Lyta of lying, but the Psi Corps could have leaked the information deliberately, to fool people into paranoia. Anyway, if there is a spy elsewhere, it would be no more than might be expected. We’ll just have to be careful who to trust and hope that luck follows. Also, at least this way Psi Corps won't know we're onto them."
"That's possible, but remember that the spy may not know they are a spy."
Susan handed over a cup of tea and sat down at the opposite end of the sofa. "Yes, but I’m more concerned about Nightwatch. You can see why? Didn’t you go to one of their meetings?"
"But I didn’t join. The fact that they were offering money for nothing seemed to imply that something nasty was to come."
"Yes, obviously they will expect something in the future, and the name has very bad connotations. I think I should check who has joined for now, and watch out as they will turn into overt spies as time goes on."
Talia didn’t ask about the connotations, but made a mental note to research it, as she was aware that there was so much that she didn’t know, being around Susan made her realise how naive she had been, and probably still was. Psi Corps seemed to try to hide so much from its members and mostly succeeded.
"Look, Susan. I didn’t mean to pry, but I noticed something when sending the message." Talia watched, feeling pain and sadness as Susan’s face closed, as she was speaking, "Look – I’m sorry. I promise I won’t tell anyone."
Susan nodded sharply.
"Please, this doesn’t have to ruin things between us. I was so scared that you were the spy – I don’t want to lose you. I promise not to try and persuade you of anything, or look into your mind." Talia realised that she was babbling and stopped herself from saying more, waiting for any reply, knowing that this wasn’t the time to try and tell Susan how wonderful it could be to share minds in a relationship.
After a few minutes during which Talia tried very hard not to speak, Susan said, "I guess I should trust you. After all if you noticed it from this, but not before, it really means you must not have peeked into my mind up to now."
"Of course, I haven’t."
"So we can continue as normal, but won’t the Psi Cops find out next time one of them is here?"
"Bester didn’t find out about what Ironheart did to me, or see through the illusion with the rogue telepaths. I seemed to be able to control how much and what he could see much more than before and he didn't seem to suspect anything."
"Impressive! I thought keeping a Psi Cop out was supposed to be impossible for a telepath."
"Not entirely, but impossible to do so without them realising. However, if they did a deep scan on me they would find it out, along with everything else." Talia paused.
"Well, in that case, I suppose the only option is to keep them from suspecting you, and for you to be ready to run, if needed. The Captain will help."
"Why would he?" Talia knew that getting other people involved would be a problem, after all why would they go out of their way for her and risk the wrath of the Psi Cops?
"I talked to him. There is something going on, and has been going on for a while, and we were thinking of bringing you in on it, but then you’d have enough information to bring all of us down."
Talia nodded, wondering what this was about – her mind jumped to Garibaldi’s discovery of the conspiracy against the President's life and the fact that nothing seemed to have been reported on ISN about it, she tried to think of the right words to say, but couldn't, but she said,
"Look, I trust you. If you are doing something illegal, I believe that you would only be doing it for a very good reason."
Susan nodded, seeming to understand what she was trying to say. "Do you remember General Hague’s visit?"
Talia shook her head, wondering who General Hague was.
"Okay, well, he visited a couple of months ago. He talked to the Captain and confirmed that there are others who have suspicions about the President's death. Sheridan told Mr Garibaldi, Dr Franklin and me; we’ve been looking for evidence. Given that Psi Corps endorsed Clark, we all expected that they might be involved, and therefore hesitated to bring you in, even after you had partially broken with them."
"You don’t need to justify it. I can see why you wouldn't. What changed your mind?"
"The fact that you didn't turn Lyta over to the Corps, as well as what you did to save Doctor Franklin from Bester. Anyway, welcome to the conspiracy! Having your help could be useful, although we’ll try not to ask you to do anything you’d be unhappy with."
"Thank you. I am prepared to break Psi Corps rules – just I’d rather not mostly, especially scan anyone unwilling, but we can discuss specific cases later. However, the more I break their rules the more likely they are to catch me."
"Well, at any point, you can always say no."
"Has Lyta gone now?"
"Yes. I don’t know where, but Sheridan is waiting a while before telling anyone she was here."
"I should tell Psi Corps that she was here – to keep them from suspecting me. I’ll say that I didn’t see her but heard rumors."
Talia felt warmed by the approval in Susan's voice.
"I’m concerned about her. She said that she was going to try to get to the Vorlon Homeworld, and you know what they are like. I was wondering if Kosh did something to her mind when she scanned him, like planting a command to make her go there so that they could kill or control her."
Susan grimaced. "Well, he could have. None of us know what the Vorlons are capable of. Did she say anything about what she saw in Kosh’s mind?"
"No. Do you remember last year, during all the Deathwalker stuff, Kosh had me mediating some very odd negotiations? Garibaldi and Sinclair said that I have been tricked. I don’t think the Vorlons like telepaths, or don’t trust us or something." Talia stopped
"Yes. I don’t know. I suppose it is one more thing to keep an eye on for now, especially as there seems to be something going on with them and the Minbari, but I’m trying to work out the details of that. I’ll tell you about it when I’ve found out more." Susan leaned forward and touched Talia’s arm gently. "Anyway, Garibaldi has convinced Sheridan that we need you on our side, so he will be approaching you official, but I wanted to tell you."
Talia sipped her tea and let the conversation slide, thankful that she hadn’t ruined or lost what she and Susan had.
That evening, after putting it off by catching up on all her report and forms for the Corps and tidying her quarters, Talia finally got up the nerve to comm Bester. She punched in the access code that he had given her on his last visit to Babylon 5 and waited. After a moment that seemed to last much longer, the screen showed that the call had been accepted and changed to show his face.
"Ms Winters – Talia, to what do I own this pleasure?" He said smiling at her, she was very glad that he was unable to scan her through the screen and tried not to shiver at his smile, although she suspected that as a Psi Cop he was used to that reaction.
"You asked for any news of rogue telepaths that I found out. I don't know if this is exactly the case here, but I though that you would like to know anyway." She paused, trying to stop herself getting more tangled up.
"Yes, what has happened?" He sounded unpleasantly eager.
"Lyta Alexander was here, and from what I heard it sounded like she is no longer with the Corps. Apparently she said that she is on the run and trying to expose the Corps as manipulating politicians and important people in Earthforce. I don't know many details as I didn't see her, but she apparently was talking to the Command Staff and telling them that the Corps is not to be trusted."
"Really! She escaped from the Corps. She had become mentally unstable after scanning that Vorlon, so she was being detained for her own good. Perhaps you can tell them that and they will disregard whatever she said."
"I will try, but I'm not sure that it will work. They are already nervous about telepaths, as you probably remember from your visits. I'll try, but I fear that they are more likely to remember lies that feed their paranoia than the simple truth." Talia took a breath, and hoped that she hadn't gone too far – she needed to keep Bester from suspecting that she was deceiving him.
"Just do your best. I know dealing with mundanes is hard. Try and convince them that the Corps means them no harm. Thank you. Please inform me if anything more occurs, I'd like to know about what is happening there – whatever you can find out without compromising you position. It won't be forgotten." He moved to close the link.
She waited until it was closed and then sank down onto her sofa, shaking with relief – it seemed that he had not suspected anything.
"I'd rather you did forgot," She said to thin air, "I'd sooner you forgot I existed at all!"
She wondered how long she could keep this up, how long her luck would last. She felt restless and so cut off, the Corps had been a family to her for as long as she could remember properly – she had vague memories of her birth family, but very little. She paused for a moment, wondering if she should go and look for Susan, but expected that she would be working.
After a moment, she thought of Alisa – they had exchanged several letters, as the Minbari hadn't wanted her to use the comm until her training was complete, but in her latest letter she had said that she was now allowed to. Talia looked at the time, but then called up a program to tell her what the time would now be in Tuzanor. It would be mid evening there. She thought that this might be a good time to try calling Alisa, but then she realised with a sick jolt that it wouldn't be secure – she had access to Psi Corp's encryption for the normal channels for her reporting, but she couldn't use that to talk to Alisa. Talia went tempted to comm anyway, but realised that Bester was probably keeping a track of all of her communications, and so she would just be putting herself, and Alisa, in more danger.
She thought about writing a letter – that was secure from Bester at least, given that she gave it directly to Delenn, or her aide, and they sent it on to Minbar in the diplomatic bag. However, Alisa had implied that she suspected the letters were being read somewhere in between them, and so it would just be changing one set of problems for another.
As he was going about his duties, Zack found his conversation with Garibaldi about the Nightwatch haunted his thoughts, but had no idea what he could do. He couldn't think of anyone to talk to – everyone who knew about Nightwatch was in it, or was much higher in rank than him. He wished there was someone he could ask about it.
As he was returning to report to Garibaldi after investigating another few incidents of theft in the Zocalo, he got into a turbolift and found Talia Winters there. He glanced at her and remembered seeing her at the first meeting about the Nightwatch, but not at any of the later meetings. He hesitated for a moment, then decided that he had to risk it.
"Ms Winters." Zack fidgeted as he spoke, worried that he was making a big mistake. "Look I wanted to ask you something. Please don’t be annoyed."
She turned to face him in the Turbolift. "Yes." She sounded cross, he thought about giving up.
"I saw you at the meeting given by Mr Macabee for the Nightwatch, but you didn’t join, and Garibaldi seems to think I am doing something wrong by joining." He paused to catch breath and to try and work out how to ask the question he was thinking of.
She smiled slightly at him, relaxing, he wondered what she had though he was going to say.
"Look, Mr Allen, it is up to you whether you stay in Nightwatch or not, but it is the kind of organisation that worries people. After all they are offering you benefits for nothing. Surely you can see that it won’t last? What will they ask for in return? By then it will be too late to get out safely, if it is not already."
The turbolift stopped and she nodded to him and got out. Zack looked after her, thinking about what she had said, and wondering if she was right, or if she was just being cynical. He shook his head slightly as the turbolift started up again and wished that her advice had been clearer.
Talia and Susan met, as had become their habit, for dinner in Susan's quarters. Talia had bought the food in the Zocalo on the way back from her last meeting of the day. She had set up the table before Susan arrived. Talia noticed that Susan seemed to be slightly amused, which was a good change, given how dire things had been recently with the Narn-Centauri War overshadowing everything.
"Is something going on?" Talia asked as the sat down at the table.
"Yes. Well, in a way, Garibaldi and Sheridan thinking that they are being very clever and sneaky – however, they are being far less subtle that they imagine."
"Oh, do tell." Talia smiled, amused by it; Susan seemed determined to know everything that was going on no matter how secret it was and it didn't surprise Talia that she had managed to find out the secrets that the others were hiding.
"There are people called Rangers coming here and passing through. They are based on Minbar, apparently answering to Commander, or I should say Ambassador, Sinclair. It seems that they are the Minbari equivalent of an intelligence service, but now include humans as well, acting toward the goals for whatever Delenn is planning. They have been coming through here for a while, trying to keep a low profile, but it seems that they are helping us get information about the Narn-Centauri War. Anyway, I'm not supposed to know anything is going on, but they mostly gathered here yesterday for Sheridan to meet them. I believe it was about thirty five of them, a mixture of humans and Minbari."
"Reporting to Sinclair? That surprises me! I received a letter from Alisa recently and she didn't mention anything about them although she apparently visited Sinclair. I had told her he had been reassigned to Minbari and she said she had met with him and that he seemed to be doing well, but nothing about him leading an intelligence service."
"Well, she might not know, or she might have been asked not to tell you, as is supposed to be a secret."
"I just worry that she might be thinking about getting involved if she knows. She is young enough to think it would be an adventure."
"She might, but remember she is a lot more grown up than you were at her age. She has been looking after herself. It is her choice if she wants to do something dangerous or adventurous. Besides, I'm sure that Sinclair would not let her go into danger unless she knew what she was getting into."
"I know, just I can't help worrying about her."
Susan nodded, "I understand, but you can't protect her from everything and she is probably as safe as she can be, if she want to be. I can't see her being put into danger unwilling by whoever Delenn has arranged to train her."
"True, they seem to be a very protected and protective people, the Minbari Religious Caste. It seems that they are protected from everything at home, although I must admit it makes their society even more incomprehensible as they are also the diplomats, although I've been hired by many of their traders who are Worker Caste. I wonder what Alisa really thinks of them – most of her letters sounded rather guarded. I wish I could comm her, but I realised that it isn't safe to."
"There are ways in which it could be made to be – let me arrange that for you," Susan said, smiling at her. "Is there any alien society that isn't secretive? But then again, we don't exactly invite them to see into all the depths of our society."
"I suppose not. I've been trying to find out more about Narn society (this reminded me for some reason) with their trying to recruit Alisa, and Lyta, from what the rest of you said, I wondered what was going on with Narn telepaths, because there is some tradition of them existing. Although now..."
"Found anything interesting?" Susan asked.
Talia noticed that she didn't seem to be very interested, as she got up and started tidying up the dishes.
"Not much yet – most of the information is in their various holy books that are never translated and written in impenetrable language. However, I am making some progress slowly." Talia reached for her cup and finished drinking her coffee.
Susan took the cup and washed it, before saying, "I should sleep. Who knows, I might actually get a full night's sleep for once." She came over and kissed Talia softly.
"I'll come to bed as well, if you want." Talia said with a smile.
The following afternoon, Talia had finished her meetings early, for a change, and returned to her quarters. She found a physical letter from Susan with detailed instructions for how to make a vitually undetectable comm – Susan noted that Garibaldi would be able to detect it, but that she had warned him not to and ensured that he was on duty from mid afternoon to mid-evening and that he would try to ensure that no one else might be trying to detect it. Talia made herself a cup of tea, then followed the instructions carefully and finally a connection was made.
Alisa was sitting in her room in the Ranger compound, or temple as it seemed to be, on Minbar. She had her handcomp in front of her, working to try and gain fluency of the second of the Minbari languages. She had already learnt Adronato since she had arrived over a year ago, but Sinclair was encouraging her to learn the Warrior Caste's language as well. She looked around her room, enjoying the privacy. During the start of her time here she had had to share, but since Ruth had finished her training a month ago and as there had been no new female human trainees, she had the room to herself for now. The light on the comm screen blinking, signifying an incoming call. She got up and looked at the information. It was coming from Babylon 5 and thus from either Susan or Talia, as they were the only people she had told the number to. She accepted the call and waiting to see who would appear on the screen.
"Talia." She said, smiling, as her image appeared.
"Hello Alisa. It is good to see that you are looking well."
Alisa wondered how to respond, as it didn't seem like she could say the same. "Hi Talia. How are you?"
Talia hesitated, and Alisa wondered why – what had been going on to make her look so haunted.
"Things have been hard here. I'm glad you chose to go there, rather than join the Corps." The last words came out in a rush.
"What happened?" Alisa knew she sounded surprised, but that was only to be expected last year Talia had been telling her how good the Corps was and how they would look after her, and now this!
"Various things. I ended up helping some of the unregistered telepaths, and renegades from the Corps, escape, and they told me about some of the things that the Corps had been up to. It makes me very glad that you are away from it all, and somewhere safe."
Alisa was shocked by the first part and let that show, hiding her reaction to the second part. It seemed that Talia would not be happy if she explained how she had acted, putting herself into a situation where she would be going into danger, instead of staying safely on Minbar, but as she should not tell Talia she said nothing about that.
"Are you sure that it is safe to be telling me this?"
"Susan says that she's set it up so that there shouldn't be any way for anyone to detect this transmission."
Alisa nodded and relaxed slightly, she trusted Susan's paranoia.
"Did the Corps punish you for it?"
"No, they haven't found out that I was involved. Somehow I managed to fool a Psi Cop. I don't really know how. Anyway, what's it like on Minbar?"
Alisa noticed that Talia quick change of the subject but let her, although she was curious very curious.
"Well, cold, serious and dull, really. Delenn arranged for me to stay in a small temple just outside Tuzanor to learn what she thinks I need to learn. It isn't a major centre of training, but they seem to think that it would be easier for me to be accepted where there are fewer people – something about how if they have to interact closely with me the unfamiliar becomes familiar."
Talia smiled at that. "That sounds like the Minbari. It seems that Delenn thinks that you are furthering her agenda by being there, as well as protecting you from the Corps. She seems to be focusing a lot on trying to make friends, or something, with Captain Sheridan. I've seen them together on several occasions that looked more social than official."
"She certainly seems to be trying to bring humans and Minbari closer together – although Sheridan seems to be an odd place to start from what I've heard other Minbari say about him. Anyway, the training mostly seems to focus on control through meditation. They seem to believe that meditation will solve most problems, but there are also teaching me how to scan people and sort for information, and interesting techniques on how to find the information I require from someone's mind without intruding on things that I don't need to see."
"I wonder if the techniques that they teach are the same as the ones Psi Corps uses. You should visit here sometime and we can compare them – perhaps we'll both learn more."
"Yes." Alisa said with a smile, the idea of visiting Babylon 5 was very nice. She looked forward to it, although she would have to finish her training first, but that shouldn't take much longer. "Apart from that, everything is rituals – there are so many rituals, and they insist that I must learn all of them, and every meal has its own ritual. Each lesson starts with one." She could hear her annoyance seeping through into her voice.
"It sounds rather dull, but presumable when you have finished your training you will be able to ignore that."
Alisa smiled, thinking of her actual training at that point, "True, although as long as I am living here I will probably have to follow some of the rituals. After all I wouldn't want to offend my hosts, as I am sure that it will only be due to continuing influences that I am allowed to remain here."
Talia nodded. "Are you making friends? Are you happy?"
"Yes, some. It is hard to make friends with Minbari, but I'm trying and it seems to be working." She didn't mention her human friends – after all it would be hard to explain to Talia where she had met them without telling her more than she was allowed to know. "I suppose I'm happy, a bit bored, but I have enough to eat and somewhere okay to live, so it is better than living in Downbelow."
"That's good. Remember your training won't last for ever and then you will be able to have more freedom."
Alisa nodded, think how shocked Talia would be when she found out what Alisa would be doing once her training was completed.
"I should go. I have work to do before the morning. It was good to talk to you."
"And to you. Please write to me more if you can – I like to know how you are getting on." Talia closed the connection.
Alisa sank down into her seat, smiling, amusing by the conversation and how easy it had been to hide things, although she wished she could tell Talia. Thinking about it she decided to talk to Sinclair soon to find out whether she could tell or whether she had to hide everything until her training was complete.
She thought back to how she had ended up in the Ranger training. It had started with the letters she had written to Talia from the temple. She turned to her drawer and got out the first one to re-read.
I am now on Minbar. Ambassador Delenn has arranged for me to stay at a small temple near Tuzanor, for my training. There are a few other telepaths here, apparently a lot of temples train them, but she thought it best that I stay away from most of them – they seem to welcome me here a little, more the longer I stay, I suppose. Anyway, I'm learning all the things you said that I should, but it is very dull here – ceremonies for everything, and all this talk of doing good, but it is a very nice place and I have plenty to eat and some new clothes. They say that I can have more when I have finished training. Anyway, they say I can't have access to their tech until I finish training as learning to use it will distract me from my studies. However, they say that I can write letters and these will be brought to you without them reading it.
She smiled at the words, remembering how miserable and suspicious she had felt. She had been certain that the letter was going to be read by at least her supervisor at the temple and probably by Ambassador Delenn as well, but that seemed to have not been the case. She remembered writing drafts telling Talia how unhappy she was and how working with Minbari was so off-putting as they were all so serious the whole time and looked down on her every mistake. She had burned the drafts that she had come up with before managing to write something that she was prepared to let them read, and then waiting for them to say anything about it, but it hadn't happened.
She pulled out the letter that she had got in reply, and skim read it, her eyes picking out the relevant sentances – it had taken a few weeks to get to her.
Thank you for you letter. I'm sorry to hear that you are bored at the temple – but you probably won't have to stay there much longer, if you are learning as quickly as you say.
Commander Sinclair has been transferred to Minbar, perhaps you could visit him and talk to him. He might be able to help you.
Alisa had been determined to act on the advice in the letter, but it had taken a while for it to be possible – partly because she wasn't prepared to just ask for permission. Looking back she wondered how she had survived and what the teachers must have thought of her, as she was hardly prepared to trust any of them with anything, even her questions. She thought back to the day when she had finally acted, and smiled at how unaware she had been of how much it would change her life.
Alisa had paused outside the crystal and stone building, looking at the waterfalls for a moment. She had arranged to come into the city to go shopping, as a cover for the visit to Sinclair. She had not wanted to tell her minders what she was doing, especially as they already were concerned about her being on her own in the city for a few hours. However after about three hours of advice on shops, behaviour, and warnings, they had reluctantly agreed to it. After living in Downbelow on Babylon 5 alone, she found all the care stifling.
She took a deep breath and entered the building. It had taken her a few moments to find his location in the directory and then to find the physical location corresponding to it. She had walked for the best part of an hour to get there. It was large, some kind of temple. She knew if she read the writing on the walls she would find out more, but it didn't seem worth the effort. She entered and bowed slightly to the young Minbari who walked towards her from an internal courtyard.
"I wish to speak with Commander Sinclair."
"I believe that Ambassador Sinclair is busy this afternoon. If you would leave your name and contact details, a meeting may be arranged for another time."
Alisa could read the implied message that this would only happen if she was deemed worthy of his time.
"I am only able to see him today, please ask him for me. Tell him that Alisa Beldon is here and would like to talk to him." She said, looking challengingly at him.
She knew what the Minbari religious caste were like, if she didn't insist he would assume that she was unimportant. Among Minbai for someone as unimportant as her to be rude and insist on a meeting was unthinkable, although the fact that he hesitated might suggest he knew more about humans – not surprising really.
She took the opportunity of his hesitation to walk past him into the garden and to sit down on one of the benches there, looking out over the flower beds, waiting for him to decide. She glanced back and saw him follow her, then go further into the complex. She got out her handcomp with the work that she had brought with her, after all she didn't know how long she would have to wait. She turned back to the verb tables. Her instructors were firm that she had to learn at least the three main Minbari languages fluently before they would consider her training complete.
She was not sure how much time had passed before she was disturbed. "Ms Beldon."
She looked up startled to see Sinclair standing there. She quickly put the grammar away and stood up. He gestured to her to sit down again and sat at the other end of the bench. "Ambassador Sinclair."
"How are you? Is this a social call or about your training?" He said smiling slightly at her. "I wondered if I would see you after I was transferred here."
"A bit of both. Talia said that you were here and suggested that I might visit you."
"How is she?"
"Well, as far as I can tell, she seems to be happy." Alisa thought of telling him about what she suspected about the relationship between Talia and Susan from Susan's letters, but wasn't sure if it was a good idea. "You haven't been in contact with anyone there?"
"Not really – it is complicated. Politics and so on. I didn't know that you had been in contact the anyone, although I would have thought that Susan and Talia would like to know what you were up to."
Alisa nodded. "Yes, I have had a few letters from each of them. I haven't been allowed to comm – apparently learning to use the Minbari version of the controls would distract me from my lessons."
He smiled at that. "So what do your teachers have to say about your coming here?"
"They don't know. I persuaded them to let me come into the city today to go shopping, then looked you up in one of the public directories and came here to talk to you. I know I shouldn't lie to them, but I don't think they would have let me come."
"That is likely. Although it depends on exactly how sympathetic they are to Ambassador Delenn's objectives and how much she has actually told them."
Alisa nodded, then plunged into what she had come to say, "I know I chose this, and I would still prefer to stay there than go to Psi Corps or the Narn, but it is so dull. I'm trying really hard to learn and behave, but nothing happens. I've learnt how to control my talent, but they say that I have to learn Minbari languages properly and Religious Caste ceremonies and culture before they will consider my training complete. Also, anything else that they think of – at the moment they are teaching me geometry and you can imagine how much fun that is in base eleven!"
He nodded sympathetically. "If you are to stay here, it is what you will need to fit in. They want you to become Minbari in every way you can."
"I know that. However, from what I saw on the War Cruiser on the way here, that isn't totally true – my teachers don't just want me to be Minbari but to be specifically Religious Caste. The Warrior Caste's way of life is different, but still part of Minbar, but from what I can understand the Religious Caste knows less about it than I do. I was wondering if there could be another choice for me. I know there are other choices for telepaths. On my way here, I was being supervised, or guarded, or something, by a telepath who is stationed on the Ingata. He was telling me a bit about what Warrior Caste telepaths do, especially with regards for foretelling the future and predicting short term events. I don't know whether I can do that, but I think I might be able to and it is apparently not something that the Religious Caste believe in or that they believe that I can do." She paused, to draw breath, and try to speak more objectively.
"What is it that you would like to do? I don't know whether it is possible, but if you tell me I will try and help you."
"Not to be treated like a child. I lived on my own in Downbelow, I know how to look after myself, I don't need someone checking everything I do and monitoring what I eat and so on." She stopped, knowing that keeping on complaining about too many specifics would make her seem less grown up to him.
"I see. But in the longer term?"
"Adventure, to travel. Yes, I'd like to be doing something useful, but the idea of spending all my life without leaving one small area and dealing with trivia doesn't appeal."
He looked at her while she was saying this, then seemed to be thinking deeply. She started to say more, but he held up his hand and so she remained silent. After a few moments he spoke, "Listen, perhaps there is a way. I will have to speak to your teachers first. I need to know for certain that your telepathic talents have been trained, at least far enough that you are in control, but I'll make my own conclusions from their reports. If that is the case, you might be able to stay here and train as a Ranger. Have you learnt anything about Rangers?"
"A little. They are some sort of special sect trained to fight in the war that some people think is coming, They renounce other ties to Caste and Clan. That's all I know."
"Well, it is a good start. They are training to be agents, intelligence finders, as well as fighters and more. Now that I am in charge humans have been allowed to join. The Minbari brought me here to lead them, although EarthGov doesn't know that. If you think you would like to join, I'll have one of them show you around and explain more about the training."
"Thank you. Yes." Alisa tried to speak calmly, but she felt her excitement leak into her voice.
He stood up and went to the door and spoke to someone outside, after a moment he returned. "Wait here for now. One of the trainees will be here soon to show you around. At this point they won't tell you everything, but it should be enough for you to make an informed decision."
She took out her handcomp and started reviewing the verbs as she waited, but was aware that it was only a few minutes.
A young women approached. She had dark hair cut into a bob around a face that Alisa thought looked like it would be cheerful most of the time, but now looked grim. Alisa wondered how she had ended up here. She looked older than Alisa, possibly in her mid twenties.
"Hello. You must be Alisa. I'm Ruth Hunterly. I've been sent to show you around. Are you coming to train here?"
"Hello. Possibly. Ambassador Sinclair is considering whether he will allow me to and wants me to know more before I make a final decision."
"I hope you will. I'm the only female human trainee here at the moment – I only started a week ago. Most of the trainees are Minbari and rather standoffish. Anyway, I'll show you around here – not that there is really a lot to see, well, unless you are fascinated by temples or architecture."
"Not really. Will you tell me about the actually training?"
"Well, I can only tell you what I know. You seem rather young for this. For most of us the training only lasts a few months, then danger and so on. Have you been given the speech about danger and walking into dangerous places, not seeking glory or danger, but not shying away from danger?"
"Not yet. Anyway, I know I'm only fifteen, but I'm used to looking after myself. My parents died and I was living on my own on Babylon 5, in a lurker area as I hadn't much money for food or lodgings."
"I'm sorry. No relatives to take care of you?"
"No, after my parents left Earth looking for work. My mother's family disowned her and my father didn't have any close relatives – the war."
Ruth nodded, grimacing lightly, "You'll probably do well here then. I certainly wouldn't have liked to do that at your age. But then I had a nice childhood" She paused for a moment and Alisa could feel her sadness, but before she could ask, Ruth went on, "Just now ready to be involved in this."
Alisa could tell there was a story there and she wondered if she could ask about it, but Ruth went on, "Anyway, come this way. I'll start by showing you the gym and so forth – obviously there is a big focus on physical fitness as well as fighting skills. Being able to run away when possible rather than fight is encouraged."
At the end of the tour, Alisa was brought to Ambassador Sinclair's office, he turned to look at her as she entered alone. Ruth waited outside for her. "So?"
"I want to stay." She said, as she sat down in front of his desk. "I understand a bit about what I will be doing and what I am signing up for."
"Very well. I have spoken to your teachers and they agree that you have learnt all that they can teach you about your psi skills, although they believe that you could do more with advanced training, which they can not provide. You could get that at a larger temple. However, there the teachers would be less inclined to overlook any actions that did not follow their cultural expectations. I will get them to send over your belongings."
"I'll get a schedule sorted out for you, but in the meanwhile, I've arranged for you to be tested to see what level you are at in the physical skills that are trained here, and to be issued with equipment and clothing."