He did not know what to expect. Delenn, the only person to go through a similar experience, had not told him, and perhaps it was for the best. Sinclair held the triluminary in his hand, feeling it glow, and the lost memory, the sensation of being tortured came back to him. Every birth was painful; this one probably would be, too. His left hand touched his face. Human skin, human wrinkles, and the stubble of a man who had not had opportunity to shave in the last twenty four hours. The next time he would feel his face, it would be Minbari. It would not be his face anymore. It would be Valen's.
He was about to ask Zathras to step back so he could activate the triluminary when a shudder went through the station which had nothing to do with the fact Babylon 4 was moving through time by virtue of a technology Sinclair could not even begin to comprehend. They couldn't have arrived already, and yet this felt exactly as it had when Babylon 4 had completed its last journey, the one that had brought them to Sinclair's own past. Zathras looked confused, though with Zathras, the difference was hard to tell.
"Bad," he said. "Not meant. Bad. Wrong. Not the place. Not the time."
Sinclair put the triluminary down, then, after a second thought, hid it in his robe. He didn't want to think what it would mean if the Shadows had somehow managed to derail their journey, but there was no avoiding it; something had done so. Zahtras was the one who had experience with time technology, so his freedom of movement was essential if they were to continue, and they had to. If Babylon 4 did not arrive a thousand years in the past, then all would be lost, in past and present alike.
"Try to find out whatever is causing this, and repair it," Sinclair ordered. "If you see anyone else, do not try to confront them; I will."
Of course, it was possible that there was a Shadow agent on board. Just as Sinclair, Delenn and the others had managed to infiltrate Babylon 4, someone else could have hidden on the station, biding his or her time to strike. Now, when no one safe Zathras and Sinclair, who was probably counted on as being in his cocoon and immobile already, could stop them.
Zathras had said that they would be greeted by two Vorlons upon their arrival in the past, before the Minbari would show up. Despite his own quite mixed feelings about the Vorlons, Sinclair wished they would be here now. The pike of a Ranger he held in his hand while he started to leave the hanger bay where he had planned to transform had never felt so inadequate.
Really, Jeff? asked an inner voice which sounded suspiciously like the one of Father Gerald, one of his Jesuit teachers. You are not the slightest bit glad that this interruption gives you the chance to remain human a while longer?
No, Sinclair thought. I am the arrow who has left the bow. What is done is done. I have made my decision. I always have. I always will. There is no choice.
If you believe that, you haven't made your choice yet.
Determinedly, he pushed all inner voices aside and started to search.
A few hours later, Sinclair had found no sign of a saboteur. He had found out they had rematerialized in an era of space he was unfamiliar with, with no sign of either Minbari or Shadow vessels, let alone Vorlons. Zahtras hadn't stopped muttering but swore he'd find a way to contact the Great Machine so they could continue their journey, and was busy fiddling with linking his time stabilizer to communication devices ever since. Sinclair was about to ask for a way he could help when the alarms on the station went wild. They were in Ops, so he didn't need the scanners to tell him what his own eyes could see; a fleet of unknown ships materializing everywhere around him from hyperspace, without any signs of jumpgates at all. They weren't Vorlon, they weren't Shadow vessels, and they weren't White Stars, either; the only thing the station's computer could tell him through the alarms was that the lifeforms on those ships read as human.
Humans who evidently hadn't counted on encountering a space station, either. He saw some of the vessels assuming what distinctly looked like attack positions towards Babylon 4's direction. Sinclair considered activating the station's own defense grid and then didn't. The whole thing reminded him too much of the horrible misunderstanding that had started the Earth/Minbari war. Instead, he told Zahtras he needed communications for a while.
"Should not stop work. Must continue. But nobody listens to Zahtras," the Alien grumbled, and withdrew. Sinclair went on all known frequencies."Unknown fleet, this is…"
Ambassador Jeffrey Sinclair? Commander Sinclair? Valen?
"... space station Babylon 4. Identify yourself."
He waited. Then he heard crackling noises.
"This is the Colonial Fleet, Tom Zarek speaking," a male voice said. "Prepare to be boarded."
She hadn't known what to expect. Asking the fleet to go with her to Kobol had been a last, desperate gamble, and Laura Roslin, though she would never show it, was surprised that so many had listened and been willing to leave the safety of Galactica's protection behind. Roslin knew as well as anyone that if the Cylons awaited them at Kobol, what few weapons they had would not be enough to keep every ship with her from being reduced to dust, not without a Battlestar to help them. But they had to go to Kobol. If they did not go to Kobol and found the position of Earth, everything she had done so far would have been in vain.
She did not carry lists with her anymore, but she carried the names of the dead in her heart.
The Cylons being around had always been a possibility. Being alone, or just accompagnied by two or three ships had been a possibility. And of course, she never stopped expecting her temporary ally, Tom Zarek, to stab her in the back; she and Zarek never insulted each other's intelligence by underestimating the other. Almost the only thing Laura Roslin had not counted on was a simple miscalculation for the jump. She should have.
You should have, Laura. You are the one the Gods send visions, after all. Aren't you?
And now they were in an unknown region of space, around what looked like a space station of unknown design, which meant it had to be Cylon. Because the other possibility was that they had actually come near Earth and it was human, and humanity just wasn't that lucky.
"We can't allow them to realize we're nearly unarmed," Zarek said, and she agreed, listening in to the conversation without revealing her own presence. The voice on the other end sounded human, but then, it would. Roslin remembered the Cylon Leoben, stinking of utterly human sweat and blood, his human breath as he whispered his poison in her ear, and the expression in his eyes as she spaced him.
"…prepared to receive a delegation…" the male voice said, reasonableness itself.
When Zarek cut communications, Lee Adama said: "That station is armed. If they're Cylons, why haven't they fired yet?"
"Mind games?" Zarek suggested, sounding almost amused.
"I want to interrogate this one, if it is actually the only one on the station as it claims," Roslin said.
Zarek waited, one eyebrow lifted. Lee looked uneasy.
"I can deal with mind games," she said matter of factly. "In the meantime, I want everyone to recalculate the jump to Kobol. We still need to go there. If whoever is on that station has some useful information, all the better. If not, I don't want anyone else to waste their time."
"It could try to kill you," Lee pointed out. "Perhaps that's the whole point of this set up. Getting another assassin close enough to…"
His jaw clenched, and she knew he was thinking of his father and the Cylon who has masqueraded as Sharon Valerii, aka Boomer.
"I am already dying," she said gently. "It would be pointless to kill me." Her eyes met Zarek's over Lee's head. "Wouldn't it, Mr. Zarek?"
The corners of his mouth twitched. "Utterly," he said, and this time there was no doubt of his amusement.
Playing along for now would allow Zathras to continue his repairs and attempts to reconnect them to the Great Machine, provided he remained undiscovered, so Sinclair went with what was passed for a guard send for him, three men, one of whom was clearly military, whereas the others looked more like dock workers in their orange overalls. They looked around in undisguised amazement and confusion. One muttered "frakking toasters". Otherwise, there was not much in the way of communication. He was in the past, obviously, which severely limited what he could tell them anyway. How far into the past, though? Before humanity contacted the Centauri would be an obvious guess, except then they would not have jump technology sophisticated enough not to need jump gates. Or perhaps this weren't humans, but another humanoid race, one that had come and gone and been lost to time so he had never learned about them. It happened. Sinclair remembered how close humanity had come to getting wiped and shivered.
And now you want to become one of them. A Minbari. You will train and aid them and enable them to become the race which will kill most of your friends and much of the human species. Because of a prophecy, and a letter from the past. How do you know you're not simply insane, and still in the net? That would sound more plausible. Valen. A messiah. Do you really believe you are the closest thing the Minbari have to a god, Jeffrey Sinclair?
The shuttle which his guards used to transport him was cramped, but he couldn't avoid a wistful look at the controls. They were closer to a Starfury than anything he recalled from Minbar. Of course, he would never fly a Starfury again. They docked at what looked like a transport vessel. As soon as he left it, feeling the weapon one of the dock workers had pointing in his direction, he found himself confronting what looked like an exhausted, middle-aged woman whose bedraggled clothing would not have looked out of place in one of the poorer sections of Down Below.
Then he saw her eyes. They were utterly free of the defeated look the people in Down Below had. If anything, they resembled Delenn's.
"You know who I am?" she asked coolly.
"No," Sinclair said truthfully. "I don't know who any of you are. Though I take it you believe you know who I am."
"What you are," she corrected, evidently observing him for a reaction. He'd have understood the "what" if she had found him after his transformation and had not been familiar with non-human life, but as it was, her phrase was a mystery. Why didn't she assume they were of the same species?
"A human being," he said, courteously. "A citizen of Earth."
Though he was no longer sure whether this was true, and not just because of his destination. For all he knew, President Clark revoked his citizenship by now. At any rate, one of the men guarding him turned and punched him in the stomach.
"You're not human," he hissed. "You're one of those things which killed all my friends and –"
The woman raised her hand, and the man stopped.
"Earth?" she repeated. "Did you say Earth?"
"He's lying," the other guard said angrily. The military man said nothing.
"It is my home planet," Sinclair said. He didn't think she believed him, but she clearly regarded the name as significant.
"Really. And undoubtedly, you would give us the coordinates."
"They're not exactly the galaxy's best kept secret," Sinclair replied. "But I doubt we're using the same system of calculations. In any case, you still have me at a disadvantage. You are…?"
"Not playing games," she said. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't space you."
The exhaustion in her face notwithstanding, he saw nothing but resolution in her expression. She was the leader here, and she would give the order, about a complete stranger. Sinclair doubted there would be a second miracle for him, another triluminary glowing to convince people of an impossible truth.
No matter. There was a point at which you just had to believe or despair. He had despaired before; now, there was nothing but belief left.
"Because," he said, "you have not done so. All this has happened before, and all this will happen again. I have to live, because I have done so before, and I must continue to do so or I will not live again."
That phrase, for some reason, had an even stronger effect than the name "Earth". All three guards instinctively stepped back. The woman grew pale, and came closer.
"Who are you?" she asked harshly.
Now this was a question he had expected, and he had been prepared to use a fake identity to prevent any knowledge his own present was not supposed to have to be transmitted one way or the other. But for some reason, the lie would not come.
"The fulfilment of a prophecy," he answered truthfully. "Beyond that, I don't know anymore."
"But you still claim you don't know who I am?" she questioned, scepticism and something other mingling in her voice. He knew, then. It wasn't that difficult a guess to make.
"No," Sinclair replied, "but I think I know what you are."
The similarity to Delenn was in more than just the look of determination and leadership. He could see the burden of prophecy on her, and the firm belief that she was indeed chosen. The need to believe it, because the alternative was too dreadful to contemplate. He wondered whether she could see it in him as well.
"I'm sorry," he said, and only afterwards realized it was what Delenn had said to him as a goodbye.
"There is nothing to be sorry about," the woman said sharply, and Sinclair started to wonder whether there was something to the Minbari belief of soul sharing after all. He was, despite or because of his destiny, not sure about this; the triluminary reacting to himself had, after all, proved nothing because he was actually physically identical with Valen.
"Let me go," he said to her. "I shouldn't be here. It was an accident. I have to continue to the past to save…"
The Minbari. The Humans. The younger races.
"Madam President," the military man said, "he's lying. They all do."
"Tell me one thing," she said to Sinclair, her eyes fixed on him. "You claim to be the fulfilment of a prophecy. Did you ever consider the possibility that you are mistaken?"
If he was not Valen, if that letter some kind of ploy by the Vorlons or someone else, then he had left Michael and all of his life behind for nothing. He would not be able to make a difference in the past, and if he ever arrived there, he would live out his remaining existence among the ancestors of the same people who would at one point do their utmost to wipe out humanity altogether.
"Yes," Sinclair said softly. "Yes, I did."
Her right hand tugged a strand of her hair behind her ear. "And yet you are determined to continue?"
"Yes," Sinclair said. "Because if there is even the slightest chance that the prophecy is true, I have to."
Another man entered the hanger, about the same age as the woman, and clearly in some kind of leading position as well, for all three guards looked at him.
"Madam President," he said, and as opposed to the soldier earlier, there was a trace of irony in the way he used the title, "the recalculations for the next jump are complete. Did you make up your mind about our… prisoner?"
"Yes," she said abruptly, and signalled the guards. "Return him to his station."
"But…" the two in the red overalls protested, looking from her to the new arrival and back, and getting no further confirmation. One of them shoved his weapon into Sinclair's back again. "Go," he said.
Sinclair was tempted to stretch out his arm to greet the President as he had done Delenn, Minbari-style, palm opened, but instead, he found himself giving her a human nod.
They would follow her into fire and darkness as well, and she would not allow them to see her doubts.
But no one embracing a prophecy would ever be free of them, or should be.
"You didn't order your men to take anything from that station," Roslin said to Zarek once the raptor doors had closed, and he shook his head.
"No. If it's Cylon, anything will be a boobytrap of sorts. And what else can it be?"
She didn't say anything.
"They'll never know why you sent him back, you know."
"Your men, or the Cylons?" she asked, voice neutral.
"It was a wise decision," Zarek said, not replying to her question. "Basically, you refused to play the game. Kudos, Madam President."
"Yes, you would think that, wouldn't you?" Laura Roslin said, turned away, and left for what passed for her quarters these days to get ready for the journey to Kobol. She could feel death eating at her, the chamalla barely keeping it at bay. Kobol, she thought. Then death. She knew what to expect.
It has happened before, it will happen again. What choice did she have?
"The One!" Zathras exclaimed happily. "Zahtras has talked to Draal now. Draal has fixed things. Timezones overlapping. Very bad. Not now repaired. Those ships will jump, and energy will boost us back to our way. Don't thank Zahtras. Zahtras is used to be taken for granted, oh yes. Even when performing miracles."
"I know. Thank you."
Sinclair watched the ships leave through the observation windows at Ops. He wished he had asked the woman for her name, but then again, names were not that important. Not Sinclair or Valen, either. He knew what he was, after all, just as he had known what she was. Now, he knew.
When the triluminary started to weave its crystal spell, he finally knew what to expect as well.