You know it'd save time if I just took it from your mind.
She didn't say that out loud, but it was on the tip of her tongue as she sat scrolling through the screens, Michael watching her every move like a hawk. Impatience was oozing from him, thick enough she could have lit it up like an oil spill with just the tiniest nudge of a thought. Could have, but wouldn't. Not unless he forced her to, and it didn't look like it would come to that. From her inspection of the accounts so far, Michael had been as good as his word. As tempted as she was to reach into his head and make sure, Lyta had no intention of acting on the impulse. This was Michael, and there were still some lines she wouldn't cross. No. The information he'd given her was going to have to do.
"So? Not bad, huh?" Michael said, peeling himself away from the wall. Tension made his voice sound brittle, and the bare metal box that served as their meeting place didn't exactly help with that. As Spartan as their surroundings were, Lyta had to admit she was impressed. At first glance it was nothing more than an abandoned control room, tucked away in a hangar on the outskirts of Syria Planum. But once you entered the codes and got into the database, the deception fell away. Every detail about the funds Michael had moved for her was right at her fingertips, hidden behind multiple layers of security. She could only guess at what other secrets were stored here.
"Not bad at all." Lyta took her eyes off the screen, swiveling her chair to face him. "This is a lot of money, Michael. You'll forgive me if I'm a little suspicious."
"What can I say? I'm a rich man." Michael gestured down at his slick, copper-black suit. "I've got more money than I can spend, which is why I go around wearing ridiculously expensive clothes and investing in lost causes as a hobby. I won't say your fight against the Corps is a lost cause, but… you gotta admit, Lyta, it's coming pretty damn close. If you're going to take down those bastards and use my resources to do it, I wanna make sure you at least have a fighting chance." A spasm of worry crossed his face. As badly as he was trying to keep it together, she could see he was struggling. "You know what they did to Talia. You know what Bester did to me. Believe me, I want to see them stopped as much as you do."
"I doubt that," Lyta said, "but I appreciate the sentiment." She took in his rigid posture, the arms held stiffly at his sides. She'd thought three years on Mars would have changed him, but he still acted the same as the last time they'd talked: like a loaded gun with the safety off. "Your family. They don't know you're here, do they?"
For a second, he had the decency to look flustered. Then his face hardened. "No. They don't. Lise knows you and I made a deal, that I'd settle the score with you in my own time. She doesn't know the ugly details, and she doesn't have to. This is between you, me and Bester."
"I see." Lyta stood, flicking away an unruly lock of hair. She'd have to trim it soon; at this point, practical by far outweighed pretty. "Well, you've certainly held up to your end of the bargain, so I'd say you've earned your payment." The eagerness flooding his face was difficult to watch, but Lyta forced herself to keep looking. She remembered saying goodbye to G'Kar, not even all that long ago. She knew she'd sounded just as eager then to take on the Corps; why was it so hard to see Michael acting the same? Her own anger had always felt natural. Michael's just seemed like… a waste. Was that how G'Kar had felt about her too?
"Hell, I'm ready if you are," Michael said. Some of the color had drained from his face, so at least he still had some self-preservation left. "How do we do this? Can you… do it now?"
She shrugged. "You mean, can I do it before you change your mind?"
"Oh, I'm not gonna change my mind. I've been waiting to kill Bester since the day I learned about that Asimov. You of all people understand that, right?"
She probably understood it a little too well, so she wouldn't make this harder than it already was. "We can do it now," she said simply. "Though you might want to sit down, because this won't be pleasant. And I'll need some extra insurance first. I don't want to find myself arrested before I've even left Mars, and all that would take is one call from you. I don't think you'd do that, but as a businessman I'm sure you understand the need for caution. Especially since we agreed I wouldn't read your mind."
Michael lowered himself onto the chair she'd just left, squinting up at her with renewed suspicion. "What kind of insurance?"
"You won't like it," she warned him. With Michael, bluntness was often the best strategy. "I'm going to need to plant a little safety switch. To make sure you won't betray me. Mention me in any way, and you'll just get… shall we say, switched off. Rendered unconscious for a couple of hours. I'll deactivate it once I'm safely off-world, and then I'll be out of your head for good. I've done this before, so distance won't a problem."
"Lyta, you can't be serious." Michael looked almost green. "You're going to remove this block only to plant another one? I know you're not Bester, but –"
"No," she cut him off. "I'm not. Think of it this way, Mr. Garibaldi. I could plant that switch without telling you. Instead I'm asking you if you find this acceptable, because I believe a person should be able to make their own choices." Something the Corps had stopped believing long ago. "I'm sorry, but I don't have an alternative. You can take this deal or leave it, it's up to you."
She refused to flinch from the look of betrayal in his eyes. Again, she was reminded of G'Kar, of his disappointment when she'd told him she'd continue to fight. Somehow he'd seen her choice as his personal failure. At least Michael's frustration was more straightforward… and if she was going to take on the role of the bad guy, she'd better get used to being treated as one.
"How do I know you'll deactivate it at all?" he said. "That you're not gonna keep holding this over me? You just told me I wouldn't even know the difference."
"Because I'm not like Bester," she said. "I'm fighting him. Or did you forget that I know what it's like, to have your mind tampered with and then be left to fend for yourself?" Sometimes she still dreamed about the Vorlon Homeworld, and those hours drifting in darkness with wires snaking across her skin. The worst thing was she'd been grateful for it. Convinced that she'd been chosen. Blessed. "The Vorlons might have turned me into a weapon, but I still have some principles left."
She knew it was over when Michael averted his head. "Fine. I guess I don't have much of a choice, do I? Not if I want to get my hands on Bester, so let's just do this."
Lyta took a breath, clearing her mind of distractions. This would be her first time matching her skills against a trained P12's. She'd have been more eager to do it if she hadn't known exactly what the consequences would be. Once she made it possible for Michael to go after Bester, there was no way he'd be able to resist. And there was every chance it would get him killed.
"You don't have to fight him, Michael," she said. "You have a family. A life. I don't. I'm fighting the Corps so that people like you won't have to."
The look he gave her said he wasn't buying a word of it. "Oh, no, you don't. Don't give me that crap, Lyta. You're fighting for yourself, because it's all you have; because you don't know how you could possibly stop. I've been an addict, so believe me, I know."
"You're still addicted," she shot back. "Not to alcohol. To the thrill of the chase. To revenge."
"Am I?" Michael said, his voice low, like a challenge. "Then I'd say that makes two of us."
Lyta stepped closer to the glass – a one-way mirror, really, so the occupant of the cell couldn't see she was there – and stared hard at the gaunt, robed figure on the bench. With his hood thrown back to reveal his face, there was no mistaking him for anyone else. He'd changed, though, and not for the better. The old look of wide-eyed innocence was gone, replaced by something raw and desperate. In all truth, he looked like hell. Which didn't make sense, because why send an unwell man on a mission? And why would Lennier, of all people,be looking for her unless he'd been sent by Sheridan and Delenn?
"How did they find him again?" Lyta asked the guard, a broad-shouldered woman she didn't think she'd seen before. She'd been hopping from one base of operations to another, never staying in one place long enough to settle in. This ship alone had a crew complement of four hundred. As fast as the Resistance was growing, it was impossible to remember every face.
"They caught him trying to sneak into Psi Corps headquarters on Mars," the guard said, joining Lyta at the glass. "Not even sneaking, really. He walked straight up to the nearest surveillance cam, introduced himself, and asked to see Lyta Alexander. Said he'd heard you were recruiting. They captured him, of course. He's lucky one of our moles could get him out after you confirmed you knew him."
"Lucky?" Lyta grimaced. "Maybe. Maybe not." That would depend on his story and whether or not she believed it. If he was a spy for the Alliance, no matter if they were working with the Corps or against it, she couldn't let him leave this place alive. Lennier had to know that. So did Delenn and Sheridan. So why would they send him anyway?
Only one way to find out. Lyta gave the guard a tight nod before keying in the code, then waited for the door to open. Lennier's head turned slowly as she stepped inside.
"Hello, Lennier. This is unexpected." She kept her tone conversational for now; time enough for unpleasantness if it came to that. "They said you've been looking for me. It took me some time to get here, so I hope you'll make this worth it. By telling me who sent you, for a start."
"No one sent me," Lennier said, looking surprised. The skin at his temples was brittle, crinkling around his eyes. "Except, perhaps… my conscience."
"Your conscience?" Lyta didn't even try not to sound skeptical. "Last time I checked, Sheridan and his precious Alliance were treating me like the one without a conscience. You might have come to the wrong place."
"Sheridan –" Lennier's face twisted into a grimace. "Sheridan doesn't know I'm here. Nor does anyone else. I am, as they say, a rogue element these days. Not unlike you, if my information is right."
Lyta took a step closer, intrigued. "I thought you were with the Rangers? They don't sound much like rogue elements to me."
"I am no longer part of the Anla'Shok." He flinched, hands clenching together in his lap. "I… failed them. The Anla'Shok, the Alliance, my people. I squandered my chance to fight for my life's great cause, so I am searching for another. You are fighting for your people's freedom. Perhaps in helping you secure it, I may undo some of the damage I did. Heal the part of my soul that was tarnished."
Lyta narrowed her eyes, torn between sympathy and distrust. She'd never known Lennier all that well, but he sounded sincere, and she didn't think he was capable of fabricating this. At least the old Lennier wouldn't have been. But then, life changed people. She only had to look at herself: the Lyta who used to be Kosh's aide would have been shocked at the thought of what she'd become.
"I'd like to believe you," she said. "But we're at war. You'll forgive me I won't take your word for it."
"I was not expecting you to." He shrugged, the gesture oddly out of place on him. "You can look into my mind. There is no way I could hide the truth from you, so please, let's get this over with."
Lyta didn't doubt that he was serious; this was Lennier they were talking about. And his offer suggested he was telling the truth, but she couldn't risk not calling his bluff. Turning to the one-way screen, she signaled the guard for some privacy. The last couple of times she'd done this, it hadn't exactly been on cooperative subjects. But Lennier was cooperating, so there was no need to rob him of his dignity. There were still a few differences between Bester's methods and hers.
"All right," she gave in. "But this won't be pleasant. It'll be easiest if you don't resist."
Lennier lowered his head in acknowledgment. Lyta steeled herself and dug in.
It took her less than a minute to find them: the memories that had started it all, locked away in a distant corner of his mind. She scanned them, warily at first, then with growing urgency.
"No one else knows you did this," she muttered. The image of Sheridan, trapped and wild-eyed and coughing, lingered between them when she pulled away. "Why come here and show it to me?"
"Penance," Lennier said, his shoulders hunched. "I promised Delenn I would earn her forgiveness, and until then I cannot return home. Nor can I go back to Babylon 5. I understand if you decide not to trust me; I could hardly blame you, given what I have done. But you are fighting for your people, and to honor the vision of one you loved. I believe yours is a cause I could live for."
"Die for, more likely." She hadn't meant that to sound so angry. But the thought that she, of all people, would be the one to take Lennier's confession was enough to make her hackles rise. She wasn't fit to face her own past, let alone someone else's. "I won't lie to you, Lennier. Even if I agree to let you join us, this won't be a mission of glory. The Corps has the public eating out of their hands; to them, we're the terrorists."
Lennier nodded. "My people, too, have fought a civil war. Most of my caste did not believe victory was possible, but Delenn…" His voice caught. "She changed the rules. Instead of allowing victory to hinge on military strength, she made it about honor and the willingness to sacrifice. As you are aware, she was successful."
"Yeah, well, it's not that simple for us. Byron did sacrifice himself, but it didn't win us any battles." Lyta winced at the bitterness in her own voice. She hardly ever talked about Byron, unless it was to fuel her anger. The Corps had killed him. That was all that mattered. The fervor with which he'd embraced death was something she tried not to think about… but looking at Lennier, it was impossible not to. "The last thing Byron told me was to walk away," she said. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done: to walk away and live. Do you want to live, Lennier? Or do you just need a good reason to die?"
Lennier looked shaken, but he recovered quickly. "Does it matter? I cannot accept death as the answer until I prove myself worthy again. That is all the reassurance I can give you. For Delenn's sake, most of all, I cannot turn back."
"Lennier, Delenn asked you to return." She wasn't even sure where that had come from. But how could he be so blind to the difference between them? Just because there was nothing left for her back home didn't mean it had to be that way for him. "The person you love is still alive, and she's willing to fix things. You still have a chance –"
"No. I don't." His face hardened. "You saw my mind, Lyta. You know what I want and why I want it, and that I will not betray you if you allow me to fight for your cause. Now tell me, please. Will you let me or not?"
She looked down at him, her resistance cracking. All those years of justifying herself to others, and all it took was one religious-caste Minbari betting his redemption on the justness of her cause for her to feel like a liar and a fraud. He made it sound so right, the way he said it. Her cause. The cause Lennier had come to die for. She felt like a criminal for letting him. But what right did she have to turn him down, even if she knew he had a death wish?
After all, she had one too.
Of all the reckless things she'd ever done, this one had to be the worst. Her trip into Vorlon space was a pretty good contender, just one up from bartering her body to Bester or promising her DNA to G'Kar. But none of those plans could hold a candle to this one: coming back to Babylon 5 at the height of the Telepath War, for no other reason than a hunch and a wild hope for closure.
In a way, it was a good test of her cover. The big strike against Psi Corps was only a few months away, and sneaking onto the station undetected meant she had a decent chance of doing the same on Earth or Mars. With her powers, it was child's play to keep from being recognized, and a fake identity would take care of the rest. At least that was the theory. But testing it wasn't why she was here.
No – tonight was the Brakiri Day of the Dead, and there was someone she needed to see.
For a long time she'd thought it was superstition. But then G'Kar had brought up the topic on their travels, claiming that the tales were true. Michael had confirmed it the last time they'd talked, telling her about his own encounter. That's when she'd decided. Chances were she'd be dead in a couple of months. She had one shot at doing this, one more chance to talk to the last person she'd loved, and she'd never forgive herself if she didn't at least try.
As she paced the floor of her tiny cabin, she tried not to think about the last few nights she spent here. Her cell had been half the size of this room – no comforts, no privacy, not even a spare set of clothes. This time at least she had all three, but the suitcase that held her belongings was still untouched. No point in letting herself get comfortable. She wasn't planning on sleeping anyway.
When she heard the sound, her first thought was that she wasn't prepared.
She'd expected to feel him before she saw him. If the dead could talk, they must also have thoughts to pick up on, and right now all she could pick up was static. But that was the strange thing: she was picking up static. She should have been able to read every mind on the station, but instead she was coming up dry.
"Byron?" she said. To her disgust, her voice quavered.
"No," someone answered, the word curling like smoke around her spine.
Lyta gasped and turned, almost stumbling. No. This couldn't –
"Yes," Kosh said.
"You're wearing the encounter suit," she blurted. She stared at him for several moments, wondering if what she was seeing was real. But she knew it was. It had to be. She'd been entirely prepared to reunite with a dead man; what made a dead Vorlon any less likely? "You weren't wearing it when you died, so why now?" She threw it at him like an accusation, not caring how hostile it made her sound. It still stung that it was Sheridan who'd gotten to carry Kosh the longest. And it wasn't even Kosh she'd come here to see.
"You were hoping for another," Kosh said. It didn't sound like a question. Which meant he was reading her surface thoughts, at least, even though she still couldn't read his.
"I lost someone," Lyta said dully. She lifted a hand to her mouth against a sudden need to swallow. "Someone I cared about, and who cared about me. He's been gone for some time, and I just… I wanted to make sure I remembered him right. I hadn't expected you instead."
"The sand does not choose where the ocean carries it," Kosh replied. His voice was deeper than she remembered. More fragile somehow.
"Are you talking about me now, or about yourself?"
"We are all sand." A long silence, filled only by the hum of the encounter suit. "Not all of us can reach the shore."
Lyta wasn't sure what did it; maybe the cold finality of that statement, as if it didn't matter who lived or died. But when she took a breath to answer, something inside her cracked. "You mean like Byron didn't reach the shore? Because his death is on your hands too. You created the telepaths to fight your war against the Shadows, made us trust you, then turned us into your tools. And then you all left." She came up for breath, appalled to find her hands were shaking.
Kosh's eyepiece narrowed, and for a moment she staggered under the weight of that look. "We… made you," Kosh said. "Many things made you." It came out ponderously, as if he was struggling to find the right words. "This other you speak of… he also made you, through life and in death. And you are making yourself. The labor is not finished yet."
"Labor? What labor? You think we can just shape ourselves into what we need to be? What you want us to be?" Lyta tried not to think about where her anger was coming from. She'd trusted Kosh. She'd… loved him, as much as she'd ever loved anyone. And he hadn't been like the other Vorlons. He'd given his life protecting the younger races. But that didn't change all the things he'd kept from her, or made the lies any less ugly. "You want to know why I loved Byron?" she said. "Because he believed I deserved more than I was given. Because he saw me, the real me. He was the only one who ever really tried to see me."
"We have seen you," Kosh said. It wasn't a retort, or an excuse. If anything, it sounded mournful. "We have always seen you."
" 'We' meaning you, or the other Vorlons?" Lyta snapped. "No, don't even answer that. You all saw the same: someone who served your purpose, someone you could keep close and trust. You never forced me, like the other Kosh did, but you kept things from me just the same. And you saw me as a weapon too, or at least the potential for one. Maybe you weren't the one who acted on that knowledge, but the rest of your people did. They didn't ask for my opinion. They never gave me the chance to say no." For a second she actually felt dizzy; Kosh's form seemed to be shimmering before her eyes. She squeezed them shut and tried to compose herself, but the feeling of disorientation stayed.
"You still have a choice," a voice said. A voice that wasn't Kosh's, but could only belong to one other person. A person who was dead too.
He still looked the same as the day she lost him: his mouth a thin, stubborn line, and eyes that saw right through her. There was that silly lock of hair that kept falling in front of his face, the silver pendant, the clothes and the stance that looked perfectly right…
But it wasn't Byron. Byron was dead, and he wasn’t coming back.
"Stop it," she said. "Just… stop. Do you think you'll convince me by pretending to be him?" Somehow her anger had dissipated, leaving icy calm instead. "You say I have a choice, but I don't. It's too late, Kosh. You turned me into a time bomb. And it's ticking." She realized she sounded only borderline sane, but she couldn't bring herself to care.
Byron – the illusion of Byron – didn't change, but he tilted his head in a way that reminded her more of Kosh than of him. "We made you into a blade," he said. "A blade can be used for harvesting as well as killing. You're not giving yourself enough credit, Lyta." His voice, too, was just like she remembered it.
This wasn't real. It was just Kosh getting into her head. At some level, she knew he wasn't trying to manipulate her. He was looking for a common frame of reference, one that wouldn't leave them bogged down in Vorlon metaphor. Maybe he even thought he was doing her a favor. Byron would have talked like this, would have told her to have faith in herself. How long had it been since anyone told her that?
"I can't." She shook her head. "I tried not to be a weapon, to keep my hands clean, and it wasn't enough. Fighting is the only way I can do what needs to be done." But hadn't Michael also said that about killing Bester, and Lennier about proving his worth to Delenn? She'd argued with both of them, tried to convince them to let it go, but they hadn't listened. Why would they, when she couldn't even convince herself? "I don't remember how to harvest," she said, her voice cracking. "All I remember is how to kill."
"I see," Kosh said. This time it was his voice, coming from Byron's throat. "Then perhaps… we can help you remember. If you wish."
"I don't know." Lyta shivered. Part of her wanted to accept, but the rest of her felt too numb to care. Byron would have wanted her to try. But it wasn't Byron leading the Resistance. It was her.
She reached out slowly, letting her hand hover inches from his chest. One thing she knew: she wouldn't ask him for help. She didn't think she could bear to, but maybe she could ask for something else.
"Let me see you again. Please." She wasn't talking about Byron. "Maybe I'll remember then."
"You have always seen me," Kosh said.
The whiteness was blinding, but she kept her eyes open, shuddering as light streamed between her fingers. She refused to blink, even when tears started to run down her face.
This was about the future. Now wasn't the time to look away.
Lyta dropped to the floor and shuddered, gritting her teeth to keep from crying out. Stray fire streaked across the conference hall, one of many they'd crossed on their way through the building; the walls and ceiling crackled with plasma bolts. All her instincts screamed at her to return fire, and on any other day those instincts would have been right. But not today. Today, she forced her finger away from the trigger and just lay there, hoping one of those stray bolts wouldn't hit her too.
If they killed her or knocked her out, it was over. Not just for her, for all of them. She was the one weakness in this plan, the linchpin on which it all turned. Part of her was still processing the irony: her own life meant nothing to her, but she had to live for the others to survive too. And even if she did, it would never save all of them.
It hadn't saved Lennier, who was sprawled beside her, a smoking black hole in the center of his chest. The other two members of her escort weren't moving either. There was no need to get closer to know they were gone; pointlessly, stupidly, hit by a random blast that could just as well have been aimed anywhere else. Which was the one piece of good news. It meant the enemy still hadn't spotted them.
She stayed down until the firing had stopped and the echo of footsteps had faded again. Then she got to her feet and looked down at Lennier. She wasn't even sure what she was hoping to see: that the death he'd been chasing would have given him peace? But there was no peace in his expression. Rage blurred her vision, but she fought it back. Focus. Focus. Reach down, pick up the mental threads that linked her with her people. Tighten the shield she'd put up around them, keeping them unseen and unsensed.
Shielding herself from the enemy was easy. Herself plus one other, five others, ten… still doable, with a bit of practice. Make that twenty or fifty and it started to get tricky. There was no way to keep track of so many at once, so she'd developed a self-sustaining routine, a mental barrier that could link and shield a group of people without her needing to track them all individually. It had taken her months to perfect the technique. The largest group she'd handled while training was eighty, and it was only the Vorlons' tampering that let her pull it off at all.
There were a hundred of them in the building now. More would have been better, except she didn't trust herself to handle it. Just shielding this group felt like a walking a tightrope. But it was the only way into the Corps' stronghold that didn't come down to suicide.
The goal was simple: one small group would hack into the database while the rest captured as many Psi Cops as they could, then moved them to a secure facility. They'd caught sixty-four so far and taken out twenty, with maybe twice that number still on the loose. And they'd lost twelve of their own – fifteen now, counting her escort. But they still didn't have Bester. They had to have Bester. Some monsters couldn't be killed unless you cut off the head.
Lyta sent out a mental call to the others, alerting them of the location of the group that had attacked. She couldn't risk going after them herself.
There was a long silence, long enough that she started to wonder what was wrong. Then the answer came: We have him! The thought carried both triumph and shock. We got Bester! But he set a self-destruct when we accessed the main databank. We got maybe 20 percent of what's there. Five minutes until the whole building blows. Pause. Lyta, come in. Do we evacuate?
Lyta sagged, relief overriding everything else. They had him. Along with at least part of the data they needed; with some luck, it would hold enough dirty secrets to make their case against the Corps.
Pull back, she sent. Secure the prisoners, head for the rendezvous. Don't wait for me. Just get everybody out. Five minutes, they'd told her. She set her wrist device to count down from four, then grabbed her PPG and started running. It wasn't that far to the side exit. Just don't let the shield slip, and they might make it after all.
It hit her when she turned the last corner. No one else was there; the guards had either left or been captured, and her own people would be heading for the main gate. The silence was almost eerie, and she slowed when the doors came into view.
In all those months of preparations, she'd never let herself look past this point. In a practical sense, yes: move the prisoners somewhere secure, comb through the Corps files for material, call in a neutral party to negotiate. But for herself? Building a life from the ashes? With the mission accomplished, what other life was there?
She could end it here. It would be easy. All she had to do was stay inside, keep the shield up until the building blew. The Resistance would be better off without her. She was a weapon, after all. They'd needed her to win this battle, but she wouldn't be doing them a favor by staying. Better if they could start with a clean slate.
Lyta glanced at her alarm. A little over three minutes. She set her jaw and turned her back on the exit.
She took one step. Then two. Four more, and she was ready to round the corner. Which was when she heard the hiss of the door.
"Hey!" There was a shout, followed by running footsteps. Then again, "Hey! Where do you think you're going!?"
In retrospect, she shouldn't have been surprised.
"Go away, Michael!" she called without looking. "This building'll blow in less than three minutes. Tell the others I didn't make it. I'm staying."
"Like hell you are." A hand grabbed her arm and dragged her around. "I asked your people where you were. They pointed me here, said you'd ordered them to leave. Looks like I was right to get suspicious." Michael's face twisted into a grimace. "Dammit, Lyta. Was this your plan all along? Walk in, and never walk out again? That wasn't the deal when I promised to help you."
"You're helping my people." Lyta wrenched out of his grip. "The deal was never that I had to live. I'm a criminal under every law there is. As long as I'm alive, they'll find ways to exploit that, make my people pay for what I did. It's time for the Resistance to come out of the shadows. Better if they wash their hands of me."
Michael's eyes smoldered. "Fine. Fair enough. Your call." He backed off, holding up his hands. For a second Lyta thought he was going to leave, but at the last moment he turned back. "Then I guess you should know… I intend to kill Bester. I don't trust Corps justice. I want him dead."
Lyta stared. "Michael, no. We captured him, there's no need –"
He cut her off. "I'm not finished yet. I said I want to kill Bester, but I was considering not to. Defeat will be a worse fate for that bastard than death, so if he gets convicted I might just spare him. But you're the only one I trust to make that happen. If you're gone…" He shrugged. "I'd better just pull the trigger on him myself."
"This is blackmail." Lyta balled her hands into fists. Who did he even think he was? He knew she didn't want him to become a killer, but for him to march in here and use that as leverage… Did he really think she'd fall for that?
"Oh, no, it isn't." He shook his head. "Want me to tell you why? I know the reason you don't want me to kill Bester. You want to believe I'm better than that. And maybe I am, but that goes for you too. You say the Resistance would be better off without you, but that's what everyone says when they want to bail out. You want to give in and stop fighting, same way that I want to give in and put a bullet into Bester's head, whether it gets me killed or not. Sometimes I even convince myself I'd be doing Lise a favor. So I get it. I damn well get it. What I'm saying is: why can't we both be better than that?"
"Because…" Lyta shuddered. He was right, damn it, that was the question. The one she'd never dared to ask herself. Why was it so important to see others redeem themselves? Maybe because if they could, there was still hope for her too… and maybe Michael felt the same. But she couldn't be his anchor. Not now. "I'm tired, Michael. Everyone keeps saying I can stop being a weapon, but I can't. I don't know what else to be."
Michael's lips pressed together. "What if we gave you another identity? Made the authorities think you got killed in the blast?"
"You can do that? Help me disappear?" She'd never even considered that. But it might be an option… if not for her own sake, then to make sure Lennier and the others hadn't died for nothing. The Rebellion was all blips and orphans and outcasts. Who else but her was going to remember them?
If this hadn't been Michael, she'd still have refused point blank; the last thing she needed was charity. But she didn't think he was offering any. He wanted her to live for his sake too.
Michael glanced at his watch, his jaw spasming. When he looked up, his face was a mask. "Lyta, don't make the mistake of thinking I'm a good guy. I have a wife, a kid on the way, and no intention to die here, so you've got about fifteen seconds before I walk. But you know what? I think you are better than me. I know how hard it is to accept help, but yeah, I can give it to you – if you take it. But then you better start running."
Her alarm beeped. Thirty seconds. Still time to make it out alive.
Sharing dreams was a tricky business. It didn't take much in terms of skill, and most teeps ended up doing it by accident before they learned to control themselves. Entering someone's dream was child's play; the challenge started once you were inside. Dreams told you something about the dreamer, but interpreting the clues could be harder than it seemed. Even when the dreams were your own. It had been weeks since the assault on Psi Corps, but the memories still woke her at night; not of the explosion or the killings, but being linked to a hundred minds at once. She hadn't touched anyone's thoughts since going undercover. She'd never thought she'd miss it this much.
Tonight, though, the dream she was after wasn't hers. And she wouldn't be looking for clues, but trying to plant her own. It had been long enough since she'd touched this particular mind that she wasn't sure she could do it with half a galaxy between them… but she'd been putting it off, and it was time to try.
Making contact was almost too easy. She just visualized his face and the shape of his thoughts – the few times he'd let her read him had been enough to leave an imprint – and she was there, inside his head. The whole thing couldn't have taken more than seconds, as effortless as breathing out.
He was dreaming about Narn.
It was strange, how the mind would recognize a dreamscape even if the details weren't right. This wasn't the Narn of the news vids, dry and choking on dust. It was moist, verdant – a world that had never even existed in G'Kar's lifetime, but Lyta knew what it was anyway. She wondered if he'd gone back since they parted ways. From what Michael had told her, she didn't think he had.
It didn't take her long to find him. While they'd been traveling, he'd preferred to meditate in private, but the few times she'd walked in on him she'd found him looking just like this: eyes closed, sitting cross-legged on the ground. He wasn't really here, of course. It was just the imprint of his self, filtered through her own perception into an image that made sense. She could send her thoughts directly to him, but to a non-telepath that would feel invasive. Better to talk to face to face.
The good part – and the tricky one – was that she could take on any form she wanted. She kept forgetting she looked different now. It was Michael who'd suggested the surgery: a brand new face to go with her new name, making sure she wouldn't be recognized. Her picture had been all over the news for weeks. There'd been no other option, not unless she wanted to keep hiding for the rest of her life. But at least she could wear her old face here, the face G'Kar would remember.
Dimly, she was aware of her surroundings: the motel room Michael had moved her into, almost comforting in its blandness, and the sound of vehicles trickling in from outside. She focused on shutting out the distractions, sinking deeper into the dream. Becoming a part of it.
When she looked down, she saw her own feet splayed on the grass.
"Hello, G'Kar." She took a step forward. For a few seconds there was no reaction, and she wondered briefly if she was doing it wrong. Then his gaze jerked upwards.
"Lyta?" His voice was just like she remembered it. Which didn't mean much, because it wasn't really his voice, any more than this was really her face. It felt good to hear it anyway. G'Kar scrambled to get up, then seemed to catch himself and rocked back on his heels. "I'm dreaming, of course." He tilted his head. "This isn't Narn, and that isn't you… though I suppose I should be grateful for the dream. Most of my dreams which involve reunions with old friends aren't nearly this peaceful."
Lyta had to smile. Trust G'Kar to always question his perception, even when he was fast asleep. "Just because you're dreaming doesn't mean it's not real, G'Kar. Just this once, trust what your eyes are telling you. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, or a friend just a friend… if you want me to be."
He sat back slowly, palms settling on his knees. "But – you were dead. All the news stations confirmed it. You died in the strike on Psi Corps headquarters; you were still inside when the building blew."
"Was I?" She shrugged. "Maybe I died, then. At least the Lyta who was a Vorlon weapon did. But I'm no longer sure I'm her." It was impossible to parse G'Kar's expression. In an impulse, she lowered herself to a sitting position, hugging her legs against her chest. "I'm alive, G'Kar. I'm on Mars, in a motel room, communicating with you through a dream. The authorities think I'm dead and that suits me, so I intend for it to stay that way. But I wanted you to know I made it out of that building. The part of me worth saving, at least."
"Lyta…" From the way she said her name, there was no doubt that he believed her. He stared into nothing for a moment, then let out a shaky breath. "When I heard you were killed in an explosion at Psi Corps, I assumed it was one of your own making. When I heard it wasn't… I have never felt so relieved to be proven wrong."
"You weren't wrong," she said. "Not completely." Was that pride she'd heard in his voice? Best not analyze it too much. "When the Vorlons enhanced my abilities, they meant for me to become a weapon. I think… they built the impulse into me. I'm trying to fight it, but if I'd launched this strike two years ago, I know I wouldn't have left a Psi Cop alive. On the bad days, I still wish I hadn't. And I can't be sure I won't give in to that impulse again."
"So you took yourself out of the game," G'Kar said gravely. "I believe I understand."
"I thought you would." The circumstances might have been different, but G'Kar had made the same choice, after all. She used to think he'd taken the easy way out. That it was cowardice that made him leave Narn. She couldn't believe she'd once been that blind, or that bitter.
"You must be proud of your people," G'Kar said. "They started out on a path of destruction, and look at how far they've come. I've been following the reports of the negotiations. I heard the old Psi Corps is going to be disbanded, that new rules will be put in place. Rules that will award more freedom to telepaths. Revolution through democracy. If one day my own world embraces the concept, I hope I will be alive to see it."
"You deserve to be." Lyta traced a hand across the moss, which was springy to the touch. "You know – when you offered me a way off Babylon 5, I assumed it was for selfish reasons. I thought that made it worth less somehow. But I understand now why you wanted to save me; you were looking for a reason to live." She considered explaining about Lennier and Michael, but she didn't think she could manage yet. Maybe later, when the wounds were less fresh. "When you spend years of your life working towards a goal that seems unreachable, and then suddenly you reach it..."
"… moving past that point is terrifying." G'Kar nodded. "I know. And you're quite right. It's a common reflex to try to save another when one should really be working on saving oneself." He gave her a self-deprecating smile. "But I didn't save you, Lyta. It was presumptuous of me to even try. Your fate has always been in your own hands."
"Maybe. Maybe not. But I still wanted to thank you," she said, and started to get upright. There was a risk to sharing minds over this distance; the longer she held the connection, the harder it would be to pull back out. And there were other things she needed to do.
The last thing she saw before she severed the link was G'Kar pressing his fists against his chest. Then she was back in the motel room, blinking down at a paper-strewn desk.
The latest ISN telecast was looping on the vid link, which she'd left on with muted sound. She looked away when her own face flashed across it. "Lyta Alexander: terrorist or hero?" the caption said. Once, she'd aspired to become both; now she'd settle for not being branded as either.
In the end, everyone was just fighting to save themselves. If some of them managed to do some good in the process, that didn't make them heroes. But it made them human.
She hadn't felt human in a long time, but maybe she could learn again.