"We walk in the dark places no others will enter.
We stand on the bridge, and no one may pass.
We live for the One, we die for the One"
-- The Oath of The Rangers
"Are you ready?" Delenn's quiet voice echoed from the long chamber behind her.
"I just need one more moment." Susan Ivanova turned, and watched, as Delenn graciously nodded and disappeared behind a tall, narrow door.
"So, Marcus, here I am," Susan addressed the cryogenically-preserved body of her former fellow-warrior, friend, and in the end, her savior. "My father used to say to me, he said, 'Susan, never nail the door shut. Only lock it, and keep the key close at hand. You never know when you may need it again'." She smiled sadly. "So here I am, walking back through that door and into the lives of the Rangers, only this time, I'm their leader. Go on, laugh." Her smile widened. "I can hear you now with that cocky British accent of yours. Bet you never thought you'd see this day, did you?"
Touching the cold, milky glass with her fingertips, she peered at the vague pinkness of his face. The barrier between them was too thick, but she was almost certain if she could see his features clearly, he would be smiling back at her. That is, if he wasn't frozen in shock at her newly-accepted commission as Entil'Zha -- Anla'Shok Na -- Ranger One.
"I always thought I was the one that should have died, Marcus, that the Universe needed you more. Maybe this is what your sacrifice was for. I've been alone for a long time. I felt -- dead inside, and Delenn has given me the chance at a fresh start in life. Maybe my last chance. And I think -- I think I'll always carry you in my heart, but I have to go now. I'll miss you, my friend, and I'd give anything to have you standing at my side. Maybe someday, before I die, they'll find a way to bring you back, but for now I have to let that go. I have a job to do. One that still matters, more than anything." She turned her back on the frozen chamber.
"Goodbye, Marcus." She walked away, never looking back.
As if sensing her readiness, Delenn reappeared, placing a hand on her shoulder as they walked toward the docking bay outside the Interstellar Alliance base. "As long as we remember them, those who have gone before us are never truly dead."
"Delenn, I'm Russian, not Minbari." Susan smiled to remove the sting from her words. "I learned a long time ago that when I'm out there, memories aren't my friends."
"Always the stoic." Delenn shook her head. "I have learned that sometimes, memories are the only friends I have." She glanced at Susan, who had a thoughtful expression on her face.
They reached the shuttle bay, where Susan's new personal craft, one of the new class of White Star cruisers, was waiting, having been prepped for her departure well before dawn. Susan stopped and turned, facing her old friend. "Back on the station, we never talked much, at least nothing much beyond duty and our mission."
"That is true." Delenn lifted a hand to shade her eyes from the glare of the Minbari sunlight pouring in from the large open bay doors. "But our hearts knew one another in friendship and sisterhood." She paused and ducked her head for a moment, the sun's rays reflecting off the protective bone that encased the back of her head. Looking up, her eyes shone brightly. "And John always -- always -- thought nothing but the highest thoughts of you, Susan. He once told me that he would never have made it through the wars without you. He missed you for a very long time after you left Babylon 5. So did I."
"I had to go." Susan looked down.
"I know. So much loss for one so young." Delenn held up a hand as Susan opened her mouth to protest. "By Minbari standards, you are still a babe in the cradle."
"And by Human ones I'm almost ready to be put out to pasture." Susan rolled her eyes.
"What does it mean, 'to be put out to pasture'?" Delenn tilted her head in question. "After twenty years of living with a Human, that is a new expression I have not heard before."
"Let's just say we Earthlings aren't as hearty as the Minbari." Susan smiled, her expression softening. "John loved you Delenn. Yours was the love story that --" she trailed off and cleared her throat as a lump suddenly rose up, threatening to choke her. "You gave us hope," Susan almost whispered.
"There is always hope." Delenn patted her shoulder. "Go, Susan Ivanova, daughter of Andrei and Sofie Ivanova, sister of the war hero Ganya Ivanova."
Susan gasped upon hearing her brother's name and reached up, touching the single diamond stud she still wore in her left ear lobe. Her brother had died with its twin in his right one. Someday they would finally fulfill the promise to rejoin the two pieces, but it would be another day, in another lifetime, and another realm. Her eyes watered, as Delenn continued, "In Valen's name."
"In Valen's name," Susan repeated, bowing her head and pressing her hands together at chest level.
Reaching her cruiser, Susan turned once more. "Guess I couldn't have picked a better time to take on this job, eh? No war. No Vorlons. No Shadows. Nothing but patrols and the occasional skirmish from non-aligned visitors to our galaxy."
"That is true," Delenn agreed with her. "But the Minbari learned the hard way -- never slow down. Never back off. Never downsize. The Shadows and the Vorlons have gone far, far away, but they are not dead. No, never dead. Always out there, somewhere. And just as they have before, they may rise up again one day."
A chill ran up Susan's spine and she shook her head to clear the sensation. "I hope not in my lifetime."
"That is the hope of all of us." Delenn handed her a rolled up piece of parchment. "Your first assignment will be a solo side trip, before you go to the Ranger Training Outpost on Mars. You will be using third space technology to jump multiple levels in hyperspace at once."
"Third space?" The chill returned. "But I thought we destroyed that technology."
"Not before we recorded every measurement, every calculation, and every photograph we could of it. No, we took it, and refined it. And where you are going you are going to need it, but it is not so difficult to use after all. Just another form of jump gate, only with greater capabilities. The document I gave you has all the information you will need when you reach your jump point. Do not open it until then. Your cruiser has already been programmed with the upgraded configurations. As John would say to me, 'I'll see you when you return'."
Delenn stood back, as Susan tucked the document into her jumpsuit and boarded the cruiser. "See you in six Earth months, Delenn." Susan saluted her, before the cockpit door lowered, sealing her in for her journey beyond the Minbari atmosphere.
With a soft whir, the cruiser engines fired, and the craft lifted, hovering several feet off the ground, before Susan turned it and headed out a large open door at one end of the bay, and up into the sky, above the clouds and out of sight. "Oh, my friend. In six months, I hope you come back a new person," Delenn whispered after her.
"It's always dark out here," Susan muttered. It had been a while since she had spent extended time in space. She'd been traveling for half a day at hyper speed, and that was necessary just to reach her jump point.
"Destination approaching," the cruiser's programmed voice announced.
"Computer, slow to normal speed. I said 'slowly'!" she added, as the craft shook her, before its movement smoothed out once more. Gradually, what had been millions of blurry white streaks morphed into millions of twinkling stars. She looked around in awe. No matter how many times she made return visits to deep space, she never outgrew the wonder of being out there, among the stars, floating among their vastness almost as if she were one of them. Being alone in the Universe was an added bonus. The silence was beautiful and she took a moment to savor it. "I guess it's time to get to work."
Grudgingly, she retrieved the document Delenn had given her. It read:
To the Entil'Zha. That would be you, Susan. Twenty years ago, the war between the Vorlons and the Shadows ended, and so ended our shame -- the use of telepaths as sacrificial lambs to guide our forces in the heat of battle. It is a necessary evil we shall forever be sorrowful for, a debt to those brave souls who sacrificed themselves for the greater good, which we can never repay.
But we are not the only ones who used the telepaths. Your destination is the small planet of Kanka Ri, an outpost once used by the Psi Corps to hide an experimental camp. Be warned, Susan, it once was, and may still be, a place of unspeakable horror, a place so foul and sinister that the Psi Corps felt the need to establish it in a place no one else could reach. They bought the plans for Vorlon third space technology on the Vorlon black market, and used it to jump to Kanka Ri. We know not what they traded to the Vorlons in return, but it must have been something of great value. Vorlons do not easily make deals. The Psi Corps spent nearly a decade transporting the most special of telepaths there, keeping them hidden away so they could experiment on them, enhance their mind-reading abilities and other odd gifts, or attempting to replicate their talents.
We only recently learned of its existence after the Psi Corps was abolished. It seems they abandoned Kanka Ri over ten years ago. In the heat of battle they were forced to destroy the third space jump gate to Kanka Ri. They did not bother to rescue their own people from there before they shut off the gateway. We have since erased the plans for the technology from all sources the Psi Corps ever had. We had to so it would never again be used as a pathway to torture and suffering. We do not know if anyone is left on the planet. Your job is simply to go there and get in close enough to check for signs of life. If there is and you are unable to accomplish a rescue mission on your own, you are to immediately return to present space, formulate a rescue plan, and take in a squadron of Rangers to help you.
We are only sending you, the One, first. You are the most capable one we have. You are also one of the few who know we have the third space technology. If it turns out we do not need to rescue anyone, we'd prefer to keep the technology a secret for as long as we can. If it falls into the wrong hands, as it did with the Psi Corps, it can be used for the wrong purposes with horrible results. We must see to it that it never happens again.
I leave you with an old Egyptian blessing that John used to quote: "May the gods stand between you and harm in all the dark places you must walk"
- Delenn Sheridan, President, Interstellar Alliance
"Psi Corps." Susan frowned, the term bitter on her lips. She hated the Psi Corps with a passion. Her mother had been a telepath and had refused to go into the Psi Corps, electing instead to take the drugs that suppressed her telepathic abilities. The drugs had not only suppressed her abilities, but depressed her emotionally. Susan had watched her, spiraling down day by day until one day she finally sent Susan to the neighbor's house and then committed suicide.
Susan herself had been a latent telepath, though only of a very rudimentary level. For a long time the only one who knew was her mother. Susan had just enough ability to keep other telepaths from scanning her and finding out she was one of them, but only in rare instances was she able to scan other people herself. Finally, one day she was forced to confide in John Sheridan, who had guarded her secret to his death.
And then there was Talia. Talia had known, though they had never spoken of it. 'Do you know what it's like when two telepaths make love?' The blonde telepath's playful question came back to haunt her. It was Talia's way of letting her know her secret was safe. Every bit as safe as she had felt in Talia's arms that first time, joined not only in body and soul, but in mind, each echoing the other's pleasure back and forth for hours, until they were both sated and spent. It was a bliss like no other.
The Psi Corps had taken Talia as well, not only her body, but her personality. Sleepers they called them -- telepaths that had been experimented on and had alternate personalities implanted. A password projected by another telepath had released the alternate personality in Talia, killing the sweet soul Susan had come to love. Why the alternate Talia had never outed her was a mystery to Susan. Perhaps when Talia's personality was destroyed, her memories of what Susan was had been destroyed as well, though the alternate had remembered enough to hurt her - cutting her to the bone, taunting her with a love that was no more.
She still dreamed of Talia. When Talia was first taken away, the dreams had been nightly. After a while, only a few times a week, and now -- now only rarely, in times when she felt most alone. She had cared for Marcus, but she had loved Talia.
Alfred Bester, Susan's Psi Cop menace, had taunted Susan as well, hinting at the horrors visited upon Talia once they got her back - tests and ultimately dissection. Susan shuddered. If it were up to her, she would've cut Bester's limbs off one by one and thrown them out the air lock, before tossing him out with them.
Susan didn't trust telepaths. Didn't like them. Didn't want to be a part of them. "So, here I am," she repeated her words to Marcus. "My first assignment as Ranger One is the potential rescue of a planet full of 'em." She shook her head. "Alright." She studied her instrument panel. "This one's for you, Talia."
Punching a few buttons, she waited, expecting some sort of jump gate to open. At first nothing happened. "Damn." She unrolled the parchment again. "Did I miss something? Delenn said this thing is programmed to create the gate. Where did I --?" At that moment, the cruiser lurched and Susan looked outside. The jump gates she was familiar with typically formed a good quarter kilometer from the ship, allowing ships to enter on a direct flight path. This gate was different. As she continued looking outside, she realized the gate was forming around the cruiser, swirling and turning slowly at first, then faster, until what appeared to be lightening bolts began to flash all around her.
"Whoaaaaaaa!!!!!" Her cruiser took off, shooting straight up in the air at a speed she'd never seen before, given the readings on her instrument panel. She was briefly glad she'd taken the medicine to neutralize the ultra G-force effects she was experiencing. In less than two minutes it was over and just as quickly as it had formed, the gate disappeared. Getting her bearings, she looked to the right and way off in the distance, she spotted the planet. Or it least it was supposed to be Kanka Ri, per her headings. With relief, she realized her cruiser had automatically cloaked itself upon entering the new space. No one could see her, no matter how close they got. "I love modern technology."
Grateful her brief time in third space was over, she set a course for the planet, watching her monitors for any signs of life. There were no other vessels anywhere on her radar screen, and she realized she had more questions than answers. Who had been left behind? Telepath slaves? Were some of their Psi Corps captors left as well? What resources did they have to keep them living for the past decade? It seemed plausible enough that the third space technology had not been left behind. Either that, or no spacecraft had been left in which to travel.
As she drew closer, the planet began to take on detail. It was a dark place that appeared to be covered in a dense atmosphere. She hit a few more buttons and discovered it was similar to the atmosphere of Earth, Minbar, and other known planets that were capable of sustaining life. That made sense. "Computer," scan the planet for any life forms."
"Life forms confirmed," the computer dutifully responded.
"What kind of life?"
"Human. Vegetable. Canine," the voice droned on.
"Okay. Computer, can you show me any life forms on screen?"
"Negative. Planetary atmosphere too dense."
"I hope the canine is just a dog."
Susan glanced at the computer. "That was a rhetorical question, but thanks."
"You are welcome."
She shook her head. "Computer, descend within visible range of planet's surface." She felt the subtle shift in the engines, and then the craft began to drop down rapidly at an angle. For a few long moments she was surrounded in thick, gray clouds and as she dropped lower, rain drops began to pelt the bubble-shaped window surrounding the cockpit. "Computer, analyze content of liquid."
"Two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen."
"Ah. Good. I didn't bring a hazmat suit and I'd hate to have my skin burned off by acid," she joked.
"Regulation hazmat suit is stowed in rear bulkhead," the computer informed her. "Approaching visible range."
The craft glided below the clouds and through the light misty rain, Susan could see a dark, mostly-barren mountain range. The planet was fairly small - small enough to circumnavigate by air in less than a day. She made a few adjustments and frowned, hearing a faint voice coming through the audio scanners. Tilting her head, she leaned closer to the speakers built into the instrument panel. "Computer, raise volume on audio scanner and enhance voice."
"Negative. Cannot comply."
"Why ever not?" Susan placed both hands on her hips, looking around the ship as if it were a rebellious child.
"Because the voice is inside you."
"What do you mean it's inside me? That's --" a wave of dizziness washed over her and she sat down quickly in the pilot's seat, gripping its arms tightly with clenched fists. She could hear it now, echoing in her brain. It was not so much an audible voice, but rather a sensation that someone was calling out to her for help. A vague vision flashed before her eyes of some type of compound, but it was blurry. Just as quickly as they had come, both the vision and the sensations faded, leaving her disoriented and exhausted.
"What the hell was that?" She wiped her hand across a sweaty forehead. Looking down, she watched as the ship's controls began moving of their own accord. "What the -?" She grabbed hold of the throttle but couldn't gain control. "Bloody hell!" Wrestling even harder, she braced her feet and pulled with both hands, to no avail.
The ship dipped low, skimming along a dry creek bed. Below her, Susan could see rocks, dark red sand, and what appeared to be thin patches of greenish-gray vegetation, possibly some type of clover. Making a sharp turn, the ship sped up and turned sideways, skimming between two high cliff walls with only a few feet to spare on either side. "Damn. I hope whoever's driving this thing knows what they're doing." She strapped herself into the pilot's seat. Before she had time to process what was happening, she flew away from the cliffs and out into open space, looking down on a valley.
"Well I'll be." The compound from her vision was spread out before her, this time in full, living color. Or what could barely pass as color. Gray, aging barracks and high barbed wire fences covered a good two acres. Off to one side she could see what appeared to be even, planted fields of some sort. Another creek cut through the center of the compound, this one flowing with water. "Well, that answers how they've lived," she muttered. "Whoever they are."
Another wave of dizziness made her head spin and she sat down again, closing her eyes. She was overcome by a sensation of warmth and comfort, almost as if a pair of arms had slipped around her, holding her in a loose, loving embrace. Her nostrils flared as the scent of perfume filled her lungs, triggering a memory long buried. "Oh, God. Talia?"
Opening her eyes, she realized she once again had control of the cruiser. Making a turn, she circled the compound but could see no one outside, not even the alleged dog. Her last pass around the far wall revealed a much larger gate than at the front, next to which was what appeared to be an old landing pad, cracked and in utter disrepair. With finesse she landed, avoiding several potholes half the size of her vessel.
The rain had stopped, though the clouds remained thick overhead. She cautiously exited the cruiser, setting her gun to stun and readying her Denn'Bok - the Minbari fighting pike. Holding it in her hand, she ran her thumb across its smooth surface. It had belonged to Marcus before he died. Delenn had given it to her when she left Babylon 5, telling her that she would always be a Ranger, and should learn to use the weapon. And so she had, until it became a part of her -- an extension of her own body in the heat of battle. Even after her promotion to General it had been her first weapon of choice in hand to hand combat.
Walking toward the gate, she stepped over rocks and maneuvered around larger boulders, occasionally jumping cracks in the planet's surface that were as wide as she was tall. Looking down, her stomach lurched. Some of the wider cracks were filled with debris, mingled with what appeared to be human skeletal remains. "Oh, Talia," she almost whimpered. "Is this where they took you before they killed you?" Had Talia's ghost touched her back inside the cruiser? It reminded her of the concentration camps her father had spoken of -- hideous places where her people -- the Jews -- had been tortured and killed during the Earth's ancient World War II.
Reaching the gate, she wandered along until she found what appeared to be an electronic key pad, the numbers long since worn away on its buttons. She gave one red button at the top an experimental push, and heard an alarm sound from somewhere inside the compound. Ducking down, she crawled along until she was hidden from view. "This is starting to give me the creeps," she muttered. No other sound reached her ears, save the lightest whisper of the wind, and the rustling of debris along the ground as it was blown about. "Okay, let's just do this the easy way." She crept back to the key pad and activating her pike, slammed it into the pad's center, breaking it in half. With a mighty kick, she shoved the gate open and stepped inside.
"Hello?" She kept her pike ready, her hand on her gun holster. "Anybody here?"
Picking her way through more rocks and debris, she reached the first building and peered through a broken window. It was dark inside, and what little light shone through the window revealed it to be empty. "Huh." She shook her head and kept walking, easing along the walls of the buildings and looking inside each window, finding more emptiness, and no signs of life.
Finally, a building at the end of the row held furniture and shelves of equipment. She found the door to be unlocked and opened it, raising her pike as she walked down a narrow hallway. To the right were small rooms, some with the doors missing, others with the doors intact, small wire-mesh covered windows embedded near the top. Inside some of the small rooms were cots and sinks, a few of the rooms reeking of filth and sewage. Susan wrinkled her nose in disgust and moved on.
To her left were walls that separated her from the large room she had seen from outside. At the far end of the hallway was a window, the sole source of the dim light that kept her from tripping over the warped and buckling floor of the building. Paint was peeling off the walls and overhead were light sockets, the bulbs long since broken or removed.
Finally, she reached a door to the left and opened it. To her surprise, she pressed a switch on the wall and a working solar light came to life overhead, revealing what appeared to be a laboratory. She walked along, her fingertips trailing across the smooth surface of high tables, her sight intent on cabinets and shelves on the far wall. Sensing something rough and raised on one table, she looked down and saw a large, dark brown patch of something dried up, staining the table's surface. Her hair stood on end. It was blood. "Dear God." She lifted her hand, but it was clean. Wiping it on her trousers anyway, she refrained from touching the tables again.
The shelves bore several pieces of electronic medical equipment -- monitors and other machines, and in the cabinets all sorts of instruments hung -- scalpels, stainless steel surgical saws, clamps, hooks, and other items she couldn't identify. She thought of her father's stories of a place called Auschwitz, and then she thought of Talia, and Bester's taunts that she had been studied and dismembered. Tears welled up and she could no longer see, stumbling against a table and leaning over it as her stomach threatened to rebel.
Hearing a stirring noise, she fumbled for her pike, which she'd rested on the table. "Who's there?" She held up the weapon and turned, hearing a shuffling noise outside in the hallway. "Show yourself. You don't want to meet me in the dark," she threatened. She wasn't sure what she meant. She was no more forceful in the dark than in the light, but perhaps the person outside would believe she was.
Another shuffle and then a vision appeared in the doorway, a bedraggled figure with familiar features. The hair was much longer than she remembered, the face now creased with a few wrinkles. Eyes that were once vibrant were lackluster. Susan kept trying to breathe, but the air would not reach her lungs. "Talia?"
Remembering the last time she'd seen Talia, she raised her pike to chest level. "I thought you were long dead."
"I -- was." Talia moved closer. "Is -- is it really you?" At arm's length she stopped, her eyes wary of the pike. Reaching out with one brave, but trembling hand, she dared touch Susan's face. "Susan?"
Talia's hazel eyes cleared, the bitter hatred Susan had last seen there gone. It was her Talia, her touch light against Susan's skin, her eyes so sad, her voice lost. "Oh, God." Susan dropped the pike and reached out, folding Talia into her arms as they both crumpled to the floor, rocking back and forth as the clung to each other. "Oh, God," she whispered, her tears now free-flowing. Holding Talia close, she could feel the emotions echoing back at her -- a heart broken to pieces, and a small flicker of hope that never died. There was no doubt now; whatever had happened before, Talia's real personality was back, living and breathing inside a body much thinner than Susan remembered.
Through her tears, she looked up, holding Talia's face in both hands. "I should've looked for you. I should've known." She smoothed back the blonde hair from Talia's face and caught several tears with her fingertips.
"You couldn't have." Talia soothed, her voice no longer shaking. "Your skills weren't strong enough." She swallowed hard. "But I never stopped feeling you." She placed one fist against her heart. "I knew you were still alive out there, somewhere. You have always been with me."
"But -- how?" Susan frowned, a sad smile playing at her lips. "They told me you were dead. They told me that they --" she trailed off, looking around the room.
"Let's go back to my quarters." Talia shivered. "I haven't been in this room in over ten years."
Their eyes met and then Susan looked down, her fists clutching at handfuls of Talia's clothing. "How did you survive?" she whispered.
"You." Talia placed an arm around her waist, helping her up and guiding her to the door. "Every time --" she looked around and another tremor worked its way through her body. "You were my hope."
They made their way out of the building and across the compound to some low buildings that resembled Earth's tenement housing. "There are only five of us left." Talia opened the door to one of the buildings. "Three adults and two children, all of us Human."
"Children?" Susan searched her eyes.
"Mine." Talia smiled. "Twins - two boys, born right after the Psi Corps abandoned us. They're ten years old now, most likely playing on the climbing wall we built inside one of the buildings for them, once we were free. There were nearly a hundred of us left behind, but most of us died off, one by one. The things they did --" She glanced at Susan. "Most were too weak, or too broken, by the time it was over. My boys -- their father is my old lover, Jason Ironheart."
"But Jason died." Susan frowned.
"In the Psi Corps, no telepath ever completely dies," Talia informed her. "They save our DNA. Tissue samples. Once they found out what Jason had given me, they impregnated me with frozen samples of his sperm. They wanted to create super telepaths. They never knew what they made, though. The Corps is mother, the Corps is father," she chanted bitterly. "And in the end, the Corps was the terminator."
"I'm so sorry." Susan touched her arm and drew her over to a couch against the wall. "Your boys -- are they?"
"Level 12 telepaths, nearly as we can tell. All the equipment for measuring has been destroyed, as well as the communications equipment. We managed to grow gardens. Herbs thrive here, and we had seeds for protein-rich beans. It's meager, but it keeps us alive. We've worked with some of the equipment here, and the solar panels -- many of those are still functioning. The water is pumped in from the mountains -- the Corps set that up while they were still here, and luckily it hasn't dried up. We don't have much left, other than the hope that someday, someone would find us. We -- determined we were in an unknown galaxy, but we always believed we'd be found."
"You're further than I've ever been," Susan informed her. "We have new technology. I won't bore you with the details. With only five of you, I can easily take all of you back with me. Oh." She looked around. "Is there a dog here?"
"Yes." Talia looked at her with questioning eyes. "How did you know that?"
"The computer on the ship told me there was a dog on the planet." Her eyes grew wide. "Hey! You took control of my ship, didn't you?"
"Sorry if I frightened you." Talia smiled. "I wanted to make sure you found us quickly. As for the dog, he was a puppy when we found him - a puppy of one of the guard dogs, left behind in the chaos when the Corps abandoned the planet. He's also ten years old now, but still gets around -- I think on Earth they called his breed a German Shepard. He's been a constant companion to my boys."
"Where are the other two adults?" Susan glanced out the window.
"A few blocks over." Talia gestured toward the still-open door. "They're both pretty old - all three of us saw your ship land. I told them I knew who it was and to go back to their house, that I'd come get them after I'd talked to you. I -- put them to sleep after I walked them back. I can do that now. Another gift from Jason. I didn't want them to worry and I needed some time with you. I had to make sure -- anyway, they'll wake up in an hour or so. They're old enough to be grandparents to the boys. Jason and John. I named them after their father and after Captain Sheridan." She smiled. "He was always kind to me. How is he?"
"He died a few weeks ago, actually," Susan informed her.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." Talia looked down, clasping her hands together in front of her. "He was a good man. What happened?"
"Long story, but he was married to Delenn and they were very happy. They had a son. In the end, we all got to see him one last time -- he called us to Minbar for a gathering when he knew his time was up."
"Minbar? Oh, of course. Delenn." Talia waved a hand around.
"Talia, how?" Susan scooted closer, taking her hands, brushing her thumbs across Talia's knuckles. "The last time I saw you, I was told your personality had been destroyed. You told me that, or whoever was inside you told me that. I don't understand."
"Kosh." Talia sat back, closing her eyes. "When the Psi Corps decided to set this place up, they got some kind of technology from the Vorlons."
"Third space," Susan supplied. "It's the new technology I mentioned -- a sort of uber jump gate. It's the only way to get here from our galaxy"
"Ah. That's why no one ever comes here." Talia sighed heavily. "I knew the Vorlons had given them something nearly priceless. You know that Vorlons use other sentient beings as hosts in which to travel -- that they give a part of themselves over to their carriers?" Susan nodded, and Talia continued, "before I was taken here, I was taken to a holding compound on a planet near Vorlon space. The Psi Corps wasn't just flying their 'freaks' there, they were also flying many low-level telepaths to the planet. They were kept in the same buildings with us, but their purposes were completely different. The Corps was giving them over to the Vorlons. Instead of having to give only a piece of themselves over, the Vorlons were able to inhabit the low-level telepaths completely - they became host vessels for Vorlons."
"So that was the price." Susan also sat back. "We were wondering what the Psi Corps paid them for the technology. So the Corps had no use for the low levels." Her voice was bitter. "So if they ever knew about me, I would have become a Vorlon? And how does Kosh come into play? Sheridan killed him. Or at least we thought he was killed -- gone beyond the veil, as it were."
"I'm glad they never found out about you." Talia touched her arm. "As for Kosh, when Sheridan destroyed the shell he inhabited, Kosh's spirit came here. He was transferred into another Telepath's body. And then he came to me. I knew who he was. I could sense his life force. What Jason gave me before he died -- I don't know what telepath level I am now, Susan. It's higher than a 12 -- off the charts, I believe. I can move things with my mind. I can feel you, from a million miles away -- what we shared -- it connects us forever."
"I felt you when I entered the planet's atmosphere." Susan's voice was full of wonder.
"And I felt you even before that." Talia finally closed the distance, snuggling against her with a sigh. "Kosh gave me back my personality, and told me I had to be strong and wait, that someday I'd be truly free. He told me he couldn't rescue me right then -- that they would only come after me again. He told me to never let on that he had given me back myself.
On the outside, I had to remain that bitter, ugly, hateful person they had planted inside me. On the inside, I had them constantly blocked. Because of Jason, I was able to feed them false information -- made them think they were finding things inside my head that in reality weren't really there. You remember that illusion I was able to create on Babylon 5? I can do that now without the help of other telepaths. I can compartmentalize my mind. I kept them guessing, kept them going -- made them see entire days that didn't actually occur. If they had ever decided they were done with me that would have been it. They would have killed me."
Susan thought of the bones she'd seen outside the compound, and pulled Talia even closer. "I always knew you were the brave one."
"So many years," Talia choked out. "Every day. The machines. And the tests. I had other children," she whispered. "I don't know what became of them. I never saw them again after they were born." She began to cry again.
"Shhhhhh." Susan wrapped both arms around her, rocking her. "I've got you, now. I'm going to take you home."
"I don't have a home." Talia whispered.
"I do." Susan tilted her chin up, brushing a finger across Talia's lips. "It's yours now. It's on Minbar -- my new home base. I just moved there and it's the most peaceful place -- I have a garden. And trees. Even a cat." She smiled. "Nothing like Babylon 5. Come back there with me, please? You and your boys. I'll be traveling a lot now with my new commission, but it's the place I'll always come back to. In my dreams, you're the place I always come back to. I see you there, sometimes, in my mind, when I sleep." She touched Talia's face. "I wonder now, if --"
"I did reach out to you," Talia supplied. "I'd play this game, late at night, when I was locked up in my cell. I'd reach out with my mind and find you. I didn't always know exactly where you were, but I'd find you, and try to touch you with my emotions."
"You succeeded." Susan smiled and leaned forward, searching her eyes. "You did." Their lips met. It was slow and sweet, a gentle exploration of two souls, separated for far too long, a joining of two minds that needed no words to speak. Susan finally pulled away, pecking Talia on the forehead. "I can't lose you again."
"You won't." Talia drew her close once more, hugging her tightly, feeling the current of emotion passing between them. "The boys are coming home. I can feel them. I'd like you to meet them."
At that moment, two tow-headed boys entered the house and stopped, studying her. They were on the thin side, but their cheeks glowed with health, their eyes dancing with innocence. They had escaped the horror their mother had endured. Susan could feel them scanning her, and she allowed it, smiling back at them. Her eyes grew wide, as she suddenly realized she was scanning back, a silent greeting of welcome touching her mind in return. Slowly, Jason moved toward her, and quietly gave her a hug. "Mama always said you'd come for us." He pulled away. "I thought maybe you were like Santa Clause, but you're not. You're real." He smiled, and John joined him.
"I scanned them," Susan looked at Talia in wonder. "Not just surface stuff. I've never -- only with my mother, and with you."
"They're part of me," Talia reminded her. "And I'm a part of you. You can sense them because you can sense me. What we shared back on Babylon 5 -- it bound us together forever, Susan. When telepaths are intimate, they can sense each other forever after. I don't know if you realize it, but some of those nights, I didn't reach out to you, you reached out to me."
"I thought those were only dreams." Susan searched her face. "Oofff." A large German Shepard came bounding into the room, cutting off her thoughts and catching her off guard, planting two paws against her chest and pinning her to the sofa.
Talia laughed. "Susan, meet Garibaldi."
"Garibaldi?" Susan laughed right along with her. Talia had had a love/hate relationship with Babylon 5's Chief of Security, Michael Garibaldi. It was fitting retribution that she had named her dog after him. "You know, he's married now and has a daughter? Lives on Earth like nothing ever happened."
"Figures." Talia reached over and pushed Garibaldi away. "Boys, go get Helen and Sam. Tell them I'm going to make dinner and they need to come meet Susan."
Susan watched them reluctantly leave. Looking over at Talia, she smiled. "They're very handsome."
Talia ducked her head graciously at the compliment. "I've tried. It's been strange and will be even stranger for them once we leave here. They've never had other children to play with, and it's been just the five of us for almost six years now. They barely remember the others."
"You've done well." Susan patted her on the arm. "Can I help with dinner?"
"Sure." Talia stood and held out a hand, hauling Susan to her feet.
Susan helped clear the dinner dishes from the table, and then re-entered the living room. Helen and Sam stood near the doorway with Jason and John beside them. "Susan, dinner was delightful." Helen held out a hand and Susan took it, holding it between her own two hands.
"It was." And it had been. Both in their 70's the older couple had married shortly before the Psi Corps forced them to go to Kanka Ri. Wanting to experiment on the connections between married telepaths, the Corps had subjected them to a barrage of experiments that were cruel on both the physical and the emotional level.
It was late. All three adults had been anxious for news of Earth and Mars, and they had lingered at the table long after the meal was finished, as Susan caught them up on the wars and the long enduring peace afterward. "I'm sorry for all you went through here." Susan squeezed Helen's hand.
"Our love kept us alive." Sam patted her shoulder. "Just like Talia's kept her going." He smiled at Susan.
"Well, get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow morning we're all going to Minbar, and from there I'll arrange a shuttle for the two of you to Mars." Susan's voice grew soft. "You never have to see this place again."
"Sam, we're going home." Helen's eyes shone with wonder, erasing years from her features.
"It will be good to see Mars again." Sam's own eyes grew misty. "There were days I feared I'd never see it again. Even if I only get a few more years there -- thank you, Susan. When I die, I'll die at home. Talia has always had faith we'd be found. I thank you for proving her right. Come on Jason, John, you're bunking with us tonight. We'll even splurge on the solar panels and watch some of those movies the Corps left behind."
"Alright!" John shouted. "See you in the morning, Mama." He danced over and pecked Talia on the cheek, with Jason following suit.
"Good evening young ladies." Sam winked at them. "I believe you two have some catching up to do." He ushered Helen and the boys out the door and closed it, leaving Talia and Susan alone.
"So." Talia looked down, giving the floor a little kick with her toe. "Here we are." She looked back up.
"I feel like a kid on my first date," Susan confessed. "Whoa." She felt it then, Talia's emotions, knocking at her own heart's door. It was warm, and just a little shy, but sweetly curious. "I see we're both on the same wavelength."
"Susan, I don't want you to have any more doubts about me." Talia stepped forward and the emotions grew stronger, more sure of themselves. "I know the way we parted last time -- I -- she -- hurt you deeply. But I never stopped loving you. The first thing I felt when Kosh restored me was that part of me that was you."
"No more doubts." Susan closed the distance, drawing Talia into her arms. They kissed, tentatively at first, and then with growing hunger, as they slowly undressed each other, eager fingers and lips exploring skin parched from lack of touch. It was like drowning and breathing fresh air, all at the same time. Susan wasn't sure which emotions were hers, and which were Talia's -- they all mixed together and centralized into one point, aching with love and desire. "Bed?" Susan pulled back, cradling Talia's face in both hands, stroking flushed cheeks with her fingertips.
"In there," Talia nodded toward a door on the other side of the room.
Susan smiled and silently took her hands, leading her to a place they'd been headed for for hours. Slowly, she lowered herself onto the bed, drawing Talia down with her and rolling her over, until Susan hovered over her, her fingers exploring every inch of skin, as Talia arched into her touch. "Still so soft," Susan murmured. Gently, she traced scars that hadn't been there the last time they came together, and she bent down, kissing each one in turn, her heart breaking and wishing that with each kiss, Talia's memories of what had been done to her would fade as well. "No one is ever going to hurt you again," she vowed.
Talia sighed, little sounds of pleasure escaping her lips. Susan's touch became more intimate, and Talia cried out, pulling her even closer, clutching at her, as she sought out Susan at the same time, trading touch for touch, kiss for kiss, as they both spiraled up into that place of bliss -- new and old -- memories shifting and swirling, making way for new sensations, as their hearts traded places, their bodies joining together as one as they both crashed over the edge.
As Talia floated back down from the heavens, she pulled Susan into her arms, holding her. "Oh, God. It's been so long."
Susan was shaking, and shaking became sobs, as she clung to Talia, her face buried into her shoulder. "I thought you were dead. It's like a dream." Slowly, the sobbing subsided to sniffles, as Susan continued to cling to her, trembling and rubbing Talia's belly, and placing little kisses on her shoulder and neck. I'm sorry," Susan apologized, only to feel Talia's arms tighten around her. "Here, you're the one who's suffered so much, and I go and break down like a baby."
"Shhhh." Talia stroked her back and kissed her head. "There is more than one kind of suffering. I saw it in your eyes and I've felt you for a long, time, you know. And I know you've been alone for a very long time. You're not alone." She rubbed noses with her. "Not anymore."
"No more goodbyes?" Susan peered at her hopefully.
"No more goodbyes." Talia gently kissed her and then laughed, as Susan returned the kiss, rekindling the flames.
"My father had an old saying," Susan kissed and licked her way across Talia's collarbone. " 'Susan,' he said to me, 'Make love until the sun shines'."
Talia laughed. "I think it's 'make hay while the sun shines'." She gasped. "Oh. That's nice."
Susan released her nipple and moved to the other one, pausing and blowing on it. "It wasn't hay. It was love. I'm sure of it. Russia is a cold country, and hay doesn't keep you warm at night." She closed the distance, smiling against Talia's skin as she felt Talia's body press against her. Slipping a knee between Talia's legs, she slid up, pressing back. Leaning down, she kissed Talia tenderly. "Ride with me until sunrise?"
"Oh, yes." Talia wrapped both arms around her, nibbling on Susan's earlobe. "And all the way back to Minbar."
"And all the way home?" Susan rocked against her.
"I am home." Talia pulled her in for another kiss. Sunrise could take its time.