Susan Ivanova had time for a scant three sips of her coffee before her link beeped for her attention. She gave her coffee mug a mournful glance. "Ivanova."
"Hey," Garibaldi said, "If you've got a minute, I have a... security issue that I need your advice on."
"I've got a whole treasure house of minutes, Garibaldi," Ivanova quipped.
"Well, bring some extras along for me, in that case."
"Ha," she replied. "I'm on my way. Ivanova out." She took another sip of coffee and then held the mug up for a close look. "You and I need to talk," she told it. "I feel like we never spend any time together anymore. What happened to the leisurely mornings, when it was just you and me, together... Oh, right – they never existed. I still feel like we can save this relationship, if we just try harder..."
A chirp from the back of her hand interrupted her. "Ivanova."
"Susan, quit making out with your coffee mug and get down here, would ya?"
"What are you talking about?" Ivanova exclaimed, hastily stuffing her feet into her shoes and snagging her jacket from the back of her chair. "I'm halfway to security already. Ivanova OUT."
One more swig of coffee, and she left the mug sitting on the table. "Knows me too well," she muttered on her way out the door. "Might have to kill him."
Naturally, Marcus met her in the hallway. He was back in to report to Sheridan and Delenn on something that she didn't know about yet because she hadn't had time to make it to a briefing in the last two days. He must have finished his report already. He leaned against the wall, all jaunty nonchalance in his Ranger's cape. He had a fresh bruise on his left cheek. She wondered how he'd acquired it, but she didn't ask.
"Why do you always seem to have plenty of time to lurk in the corridor outside my quarters?" Ivanova asked as Marcus fell into step beside her.
"Oh, you know," he replied, with a dramatic toss of his hair. "Life of leisure and all that. I'm thinking about acquiring a lute."
"For what?" Ivanova gave him the side-eye.
"Serenading, of course. It's what we men of leisure do."
"Ah, hell," Ivanova said.
"Indeed." Marcus grinned wolfishly. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"Security. Garibaldi has something he wants to... I don't know. Talk to me about? Show me? Something. It's always something."
"Mind if I tag along?"
"You don't have anything better to do?"
"Did I mention, I'm thinking of buying a lute?"
"Chief's in the interrogation room," Zach told them, waving his arm in the general direction.
"What's the problem?" she asked.
"One of the guys brought in a kid that got caught stealing this morning," Zach said. "We couldn't get her to talk to find out who she belongs to. Then the sister shows up..."
"This doesn't really sound like an operations issue," Ivanova said, drumming her fingers along the seam of her trousers.
"It wouldn't be, except that housing is part of operations, and... Just go on in, the Chief will catch you up."
In the interrogation room, Marcus and Ivanova found Garibaldi sitting across the plain table from a young woman – maybe fourteen or fifteen, Ivanova guessed – who held a smaller girl on her lap. The child might have been six or seven years old. The elder sister had long hair of a rusty brown color, a high forehead and thick eyebrows marked over large brown eyes. The younger girl had a head full of blond ringlets, bright blue eyes, and a rosebud mouth. Her face was worked into a scowl, and her arms were crossed. The older girl looked frustrated and worried.
All eyes turned to Ivanova as she closed the door behind her. Marcus hung back, leaning against the door frame.
Garibaldi stood up. "This is Commander Susan Ivanova," he said. "Susan, this young lady has requested quarters in brown sector, but her application was denied. Her little sister, there, got caught stealing from a food vendor in the Zocalo early this morning."
"OK," said Ivanova. "Did she return the food?"
"I ate the food," the smaller girl spoke up defiantly. "I can't give it back."
"I can pay for the food she took," the older girl said, shushing her sister. "I already told him." She pointed her chin at Garibaldi, keeping a firm hold on the younger girl.
"All right," Ivanova said. "What are your names?"
"I'm Cecilia," said the older girl. "This is Mali." Mali gave a fierce wiggle, and Cecilia let her down, where she leaned against her older sister's lap.
"And the problem is..."
"We need quarters."
Ivanova glanced at Garibaldi. "According to her ident card, she's fourteen. She isn't eligible to rent quarters, and she can't or won't tell us who her parents are, or where they are. Or what she's doing here on the station, or how she got here."
A knock on the door preceded Zach, as he stuck his head in. "Chief?"
"Yeah," Garibaldi said.
"We got three more."
"Three more what?"
Garibaldi and Ivanova exchanged looks and then both looked at Cecilia, whose brow was furrowed. She was anxiously watching the door. Garibaldi waved his hand at Zach, who nodded and motioned behind him. Another security officer ushered in three more children – a boy and girl of similar height, looking about eight or nine years old. The boy carried a toddler on his hip.
"I told you to stay put," Cecilia hissed at the older children.
"We waited and waited for you to come back, Sessi. Then Collin started crying," the boy explained. "We got run off 'cause he was making too much noise. And then the security guy got us and made us come here."
"These are your brothers and sisters?" Ivanova asked.
"A week," Cecilia said. "We just want a place to stay for a while, just until... Until we can... I'm sorry about Mali. She knows better, but the guy she stole from cheated us yesterday – he took our money and then gave us half the food we paid for."
"Oy vey," Ivanova said, dropping into the chair across from the girl as the other children arranged themselves around Cecilia. "So you didn't make a report about the merchant."
"Security would have just taken us all in and locked us up," Cecilia said. "I'm fourteen. Look." She made a desperate, frustrated gesture with her thin hands. "All I want is a room with a lock where we can bunk down for a little while. We don't have parents. I'm responsible for all of us."
"Cecilia, I'm going to do the best I can to help you, here. What happened to your parents?" Ivanova asked.
Cecilia clamped her lips together, and her eyes hardened.
"OK," said Ivanova, standing up. "I'm going to make a few calls and find you a place to stay, but you'll have to stay here in the meantime. Garibaldi will get you all some lunch."
"Right," Garibaldi said. He and Marcus followed Ivanova out into the corridor.
"There's a story there, that's for sure," Marcus said. "I can sense it. Have you run a check on her ident card yet?"
"Yeah, that's the weird part," Garibaldi said. "It came up blank, like someone erased all the information from the system except her name and ident number. The only stuff left is the stuff she would need to get by on, but no information on her parents or birthplace."
"Do you think they were stowaways on one of the transports?" Ivanova asked.
"Pretty tough to stay hidden with a baby like that."
"Let me have the ident card," Ivanova said. "I'm going to take it to Theo and his gang. Maybe they can tell us something."
"Here you go," Garibaldi said, handing the card over. Ivanova stuffed it into her pocket. "Let me know what you find out. I'll see that they're fed – and the oldest looks like she hasn't had a good night's sleep in a while. A holding cell's not that comfortable, but at least it's safe and the beds are real. I'll get them some extra pillows. Should I alert the captain?"
Ivanova thought about it for a second. "No, he's got a lot on his plate. Let's see if we can sort this out without involving him."
She and Marcus started walking down the corridor, but then Ivanova paused. "And Garibaldi?" He'd been heading toward his office but stopped and turned back to face her. "Don't try to torture them with those old twentieth century vids of yours."
"What? Kids these days need some culture," Garibaldi protested. "Those vids are classic!"
"If you want to give them culture, get them a Russian novel," Ivanova said over her shoulder, walking again.
"Oh, and that's not torture?" Marcus quipped.
"At least it won't give them expectations of a happy future filled with skipping, talking animals. They should be prepared for the inevitable disappointment of living."
"I think they've already got that covered."
"Yeah. Poor kids." Ivanova waved the back of her hand at Garibaldi.
She and Marcus walked in silence for a while. Then Marcus said, "You heard their voices."
"Yeah," Ivanova said. "Their accents. They sound like they grew up in the Russian Consortium. And not from one of the colonies, either."
"So they probably came from Earth. That's a long way to go alone."
"Yeah." Ivanova sighed. "You know, it's Christmas? I always forget. These kids should be opening presents and making snow angels or something."
"Aren't you Jewish?" Marcus asked.
"You think Jews don't know about Christmas?" Ivanova snorted. "I grew up in Russia. Christmas is huge there. I remember walking with my mother in town and watching the patterns the colored lights make on the snow." She paused. "I think, of all the things I miss the most about living on Earth when I was a kid..."
"What?" Marcus prompted.
Susan glanced at him. He watched her with an earnest expression that made something inside her shiver with an unqualifiable emotion. She told that something to take a hike to Siberia and freeze to death. Shrugging, she went on, "Snow. I miss the snow."
"Snow," Marcus repeated, like he couldn't believe it. "I hate the stuff. It's cold and wet and useless."
"Are you kidding? We build snow forts and had snowball fights, and there was this hill by my house that was perfect – and when I say perfect, I mean the perfect slope, the perfect height, the perfect landing – for sledding. My mother bought me this beautiful, handmade wooden sled and painted it for me – blue, with white lightning bolts and silver stars. Every time I went down the hill in that sled, I pretended I was flying."
"How long has it been?" Marcus asked.
"Since you've been sledding."
Susan couldn't help but let out a little sigh. "A long time, Marcus. A long time."
They walked the rest of the way without speaking.
"Hmm," Theo hummed, examining the raw data from the ident card. His fingers flickered over the keyboard, and the screen – the latest display tech, Ivanova noted – morphed itself into new data sets.
"Well?" Ivanova prompted, impatient.
"It takes skill to hack an ident file to the extent that this one has been hacked," Theo said.
"Can you... unhack it?" Ivanova asked.
"Oh, yes," Theo replied. "I'm just noting that this isn't the work of your everyday criminal."
"So the girl couldn't have done it herself."
"Well, I'm sure she could, if she had the proper training," Theo said. "However, this has all the marks of the work of, say, an Earthforce cyber-intelligence agent."
"What makes you think that?" Ivanova said.
Theo's fingers flickered over the keyboard, and the display formed the features of a man and woman in Earthforce intelligence uniforms.
"Who are they?" Marcus asked.
Theo turned his chair to face them. "Cecilia's surname and records had been altered right down to the intelligence database. Her surname was changed, as well. But whoever did this didn't have time to make her a new ident card – it was obviously a... "rush job". I pulled the old identity off the card and cross-referenced her real surname – Vesilov. This," he gestured to the two figures on the screen, "is Peter and Galina Vesilov. Both are Earthforce special intelligence division. They have five children: Cecilia, Yulia, Peter, Mali, and Dmitri."
"What happened to them?" Marcus and Susan asked simultaneously.
"Peter and Galina are on the "most wanted" list of dissidents maintained by President Clark's administration. They and their children disappeared shortly after martial law was declared on Earth. They held two of the highest security ratings possible in SID."
"So they altered their kids' idents and sent them... here?" Ivanova said.
"Babylon 5 is more and more frequently viewed as a gathering place for the resistance," Marcus said.
"Yes," Ivanova said. "So maybe... Theo, can you tell me the last known whereabouts of the Vesilovs? If they sent their kids ahead with the intent to follow, maybe we can find out when they might arrive here."
"Or if they're already here and haven't managed to find the kids," Marcus added.
"It will take some time," Theo said. "I will get some help and contact you as soon as I know anything."
"Can you have someone cross-referencing all new arrivals to the station based on what we know about the Vesilovs?" Ivanova asked. "Obviously, they'll be traveling under different names, but..."
"If you arrange access for me to station security logs, I will see that it is done," Theo said.
"I'll have Garibaldi contact you."
"Excellent," Theo said. "Now, what do you intend to do with the children in the meantime?"
"Um," Ivanova grimaced. "They're in a holding cell in security. With extra pillows. And food."
Theo gave her a measured look. "Send them to us. We have quarters to spare, and I believe we can manage some toys and games that the younger children, at least, will enjoy."
"Theo, you are a saint," Marcus said.
"Not for a long time yet, I hope," Theo replied with a wink.
"This is very generous of you," Ivanova said, running regs through her head and wondering how many they would be breaking, turning the kids over to Theo and his gang of monks. Who cares anyway, she thought.
"A spirit of generosity is easily cultivated," Theo said. Ivanova tilted her head at him. "It's no problem," he translated.
Out in the corridor, she said to Marcus, absently, "I guess now all we can do is wait."
"I'm not good at waiting," said Marcus.
"I know," she replied. She turned to look at him... she was going to suggest breakfast... but he was gone. "I hate it when he does that," she said to the empty corridor.
After breakfast, Ivanova decided that, given the new information on the Vesilovs, Captain Sheridan needed to be informed at this point. Especially as they might be showing up here on the station and might, in fact, have valuable information to share. If they and their kids weren't an elaborate trap, of course. Ivanova always left room for traps. Otherwise, they would spring on you with an evil "Ah ha ha!", telling you that you should have known better. Always consider the idea that nothing is as it seems and that anything can be a trap.
"Keep me updated," was all Sheridan had to say. He dismissed her with an approving look, though, so she guessed things were going as well as they could, considering the circumstances.
Several days passed, with no new information. The kids were settled in with the monks, many of whom had quite the knack for keeping the young ones entertained. Cecilia remained tense and wary, but grateful. Ivanova saw the dark circles disappear from under her eyes and hoped that meant the girl was finally getting a little bit of sleep.
Theo eventually forbade her asking for updates and told her sternly that he would call her the minute he had new information. Marcus had disappeared entirely. C&C noted that his ship had departed the same day they'd visited Theo together. Not good at waiting, indeed.
Susan simply went about her day-to-day routine, because if waiting had to be done, it was best to do it while keeping busy.
Susan dreamed of snow. She could hear the soft shh-shh of falling snow outside her bedroom window. It was early, very dark, and the house was quiet. She got up and dressed quickly, pulling on her warmest socks, gloves, earmuffs and a hat her mother had knitted for her. She wound a red wool scarf around her head and neck, and she carried her boots so that she could tiptoe noiselessly down the stairs into the kitchen.
In the lean-to just off the kitchen door, her sled waited for her. She thought the snow was still falling, but when she stepped outside, the night sky full of stars arched high overhead. She pulled the sled around the side of the house. Bright Venus hovered over the top of the hill – her hill. Susan ran for it, dragging her sled behind her.
As she reached the top of the hill, an Earthforce transport glided silently, high overhead, its lights flickering, as though it was winking at her. She grinned, then turned to look down the smooth slope of the hill. It was so perfect. She flung herself onto the sled, and the momentum carried her over the lip of the slope, and she was flying over the starlight-drenched snow.
At the bottom of the slope, she tumbled off the sled and was about to run up for another go, when she heard her mother calling her. "Suzotchka!" Sophie stood at the corner of the house, bundled in Andrei's overcoat, her feet stuffed in galoshes and a scarf over her head. She held up a little lantern, searching for her daughter but knowing very well where she had gone.
"Coming, Mama!" Susan yelled, dragging her sled behind her as she ran for the house, her feet light on the snow. Her mother's arms opened for her, and they went back to the kitchen together, which smelled of coffee and the wood stove and a hot breakfast.
Susan leaned the sled carefully against the wall of the lean-to. She would come out again, after breakfast, when the sun was up to make the snow sparkle.
As she stepped into the kitchen behind Sophie, she heard a little chirp, a sound that didn't fit with the cozy scene. Chirp, chirp. "You should get that," said Sophie, smiling.
Susan's eyes popped open, and she grabbed for her link, which skittered away from her reaching hand and dropped between the wall and the bedside table.
"Arrrurrrgh," Susan grumbled, rolling out of bed to dig the link out. "This is Ivanova," she said. "What time is it?"
"0300," said Marcus, his tone far too blithe and breezy for the hour. "Come to Theo's section. I've got something for you."
"What?" said Ivanova, a little cross as she fumbled for her pants. But Marcus had already closed the connection. Must be about the kids, she thought. I wonder where the hell he's been.
Garibaldi came around the corner of the Brown sector corridor at the same time she did. "Marcus call you, too?" he asked. She nodded. As they approached Theo's quarters, they saw Marcus coming from the opposite direction, walking fast enough that his Ranger's cloak billowed out behind him like a triumphant banner. Two people, a man and a woman followed him closely.
The door of one of the monastery rooms opened – the one where the kids were staying, Ivanova noted – and Cecilia and the kids piled out into the corridor, with Theo behind them. They all looked sleepy and rumpled. Then, Mali looked down the hall and spied Marcus striding toward them. She shrieked, and Susan jumped.
Mali hurled herself at the approaching figures. "MAMA! PAPA!" she screamed, and the woman leapt forward, pushing Marcus out of her way, and scooped the little girl up into her arms and hugged her tight. The distance between mother and father and children closed at light speed – a huge family pile in the middle of the corridor.
"Well, this is nice," said Garibaldi.
Susan met Marcus's gaze above the reunited Vesilovs, and they exchanged a smile. He had obviously gone to find them, wherever they were, and brought them here, and she would get the full story out of him soon enough.
As soon as they were able to untangle themselves from the kids, who clung closely about them, Ivanova turned Peter and Galina over to Garibaldi, who would debrief them and check for traps. But Ivanova hoped that this was all exactly as it seemed – a family separated by the dreary circumstances of the Clark administration, now reunited on Babylon 5. Galina had her arm around Cecilia, who was nearly as tall as her mother, and Mali, cradled on Galina's hip, was kissing her cheek. Peter was holding the baby, and the boy and girl sidled up next to him. Susan felt the prickle of tears behind her eyes and beat a hasty retreat, excusing herself by saying she had some sleep to catch up on.
She didn't have a chance to even change back into her pajamas before her door chimed again. "Yes?" she snapped, her voice rough. The door slid back to reveal Marcus, his stance slightly apologetic and wary. "What?"
"I know you want to get some rest before the real start of the day," he said. "But I wanted to... Would you accompany me to Cargo Bay 19?"
"Cargo Bay 19?" she repeated. "That's been out of service for months now."
"I know," he said and didn't seem inclined to offer any other explanation. She shrugged and followed him out the door.
They didn't talk on the way there. Susan was too sleepy and didn't want to risk getting emotional over families again. Not in front of Marcus. She wished she'd had time for a good, hard cry before he'd showed up at her door. He didn't seem to mind her not talking, though.
At the entrance to Cargo Bay 19, Marcus said, "Close your eyes."
"No," she replied, suspicious. He gave her a frustrated look. "OK, fine. Just... hurry up with whatever it is."
She closed her eyes and heard the door slide open, felt Marcus's hands on her shoulders gently propelling her forward. The bay was cold, icy cold, and she smelled... "Snow!" Her eyes popped open. There, piled right up against the wall and making a perfect slope down to the center of the bay was a hill of snow, glistening in the low lighting of the cargo bay. Susan stepped forward, and her boots crunched on the soft, white fluff. It was the perfect consistency for sledding. "Marcus, how did you...?"
"A brief stop off at Indigo – you know, that little icy moon in..."
"Yes, I know it," Ivanova said. "You brought all this snow back with you?"
"And this," said Marcus, and she looked, and he dragged a wooden sled away from where it had been leaning against the wall. "It's not painted or anything, but I thought it would do."
I will not cry, I will NOT cry, Susan scolded herself. She grinned at Marcus. "Let's see how well it works," she said. "The sled, AND the snow." He grinned back, and they trudged to the top of the snow hill, pulling the sled between them.