INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY

By Laura Bellamy

 

 

 

J M Straczinski, Babylonian Productions ™ and Warner Productions ™ own the rights to all of the characters and places contained in this story. But as I wrote this story, the copy writes on the dialogue and the actual storyline belong to me, but please feel free to copy and distribute it, if you want to. (As if I could stop you anyway!) This is the first thriller that I have written, and the second B 5 story, but I hope that you enjoy it! Any comments, advice or criticisms are more than welcome.

   I’d just like to say I big ‘Thank-you’ to Matt, who proofread, advised, and generally put up with me!

 

 

 

 

*****

December 26, 2259

   ‘Crystals for all occasions, birthstones and answers for all of your spiritual requirements. Can I interest you in a feng shui wind chime? Guaranteed to promote inner peace…’ the market-trader beamed at her and Delenn groaned, inwardly. She had been browsing around the stalls in the Zocalo and been drawn towards the brightly coloured display – it was selling impedimenta for various Earth religions and Delenn had been interested to note the similarities between some of the faiths and her own. She remembered Captain Sheridan telling her about something called Zen and had found a book on the subject, when the trader had decided to show her everything he had to sell. Everything. Delenn could feel the muscles in her face begin to hurt with the effort of keeping her enforced smile in place as she said, yet again, ‘Thank-you, no.’

   ‘How about some power stones?’

   ‘No,’ the bag containing her shopping was digging into her hand and she began to scan the crowds for a familiar face that would allow her to make her excuses to the trader, but there was no one. She began to curse her innate, Minbari politeness that would not allow her to simply walk away. The Zocalo itself was as busy as ever, despite the recent trouble with the Centauri ship that had been destroyed. There was an extra…something in the air due to the Human festival of Christmas and the gaily-coloured decorations were in every conceivable nook. Delenn shook her head as the trader hopefully waved a small bag of stones at her and then carried on scanning the crowds. She felt a wave of relief as she recognized a figure standing on one of the walkways, and her heart seemed to give an extra little jump when she realised who it was. John Sheridan.

   Delenn was about to remove herself from her determined interlocutor, but then she noticed that Sheridan was involved in an animated discussion with someone. A very attractive, blonde, someone. He was dressed in casual clothes – he must have taken some time off – and seemed oblivious to everything that was going on around him. Delenn strained her eyes to catch every movement that passed between them. They were smiling at each other and now…a group of people suddenly blocked her view and she performed frantic shuffle to see past them, without attracting anyone’s attention. Sheridan had placed his hands on the woman’s arms and they were leaning towards each other. Delenn felt a sharp stab of…what? ‘This is ridiculous,’ she told herself, furiously, ‘just look at how you are behaving. Where is your dignity? If Captain Sheridan is involved with that woman, it is no concern of yours. Why should you be jealous?’ Jealous? Delenn didn’t dare begin to analyse her feelings at that moment but she knew that at that moment she would give almost anything to see ‘attractive blonde’ vanish and herself step into Sheridan’s arms. The trader suddenly lurched into her line of vision and thrust a book at her.

   ‘Tantric Sex?’ he asked.

   ‘NO!’ she yelped. This last offering bound itself to her previous train of thought and Delenn felt the blood rush to her face. Throwing politeness to the wind she strode away, trying to compose herself. She needed to go to her own quarters, think about the last ten minutes and meditate. But she was walking straight towards Sheridan and his companion and she didn’t feel in a fit state to encounter them. Just as she was about to turn around, they chose that moment to move and John looked straight at her. Immediately he smiled – that smile that seemed to radiate good humour into the whole room – and called out to her. She took a deep breath and, with her very best satai expression, said, ‘Good-day, Captain Sheridan.’

   He was rather taken aback by Delenn’s cold, formal, tone. He had heard it before, but usually in council meetings when she was expressing disapproval of the actions of certain councillors. But she had never used it with him before, and her face was set in a rigidly impassive expression. His first thought was that something had happened to upset her and immediately felt concerned. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind and concentrated on the introduction he was about to make. He was glad to have found her in the informal surroundings of the Zocalo, it just made it that bit easier. He suddenly felt rather nervous.

   ‘Err, how are you?’ he asked. ‘Damn, that sounded really stupid,’ he thought to himself.

   ‘Oh, I’m very well. Thank-you. How are you?’ ‘Too formal!’ she told herself, ‘he’s starting to look worried’ she managed to smile. While this was going on, Sheridan’s blonde companion was watching both of them. She had arrived on Babylon 5 unannounced earlier that day as a surprise for her brother. It was a flying visit between Christmas and New Year and John had taken time off his shift to be with her. He had brought her to the market and the most interesting thing she had seen so far was the woman standing in front of her at the moment. Elizabeth Sheridan recognized the Minbari ambassador from the ISN broadcast, and also from John’s description of her and she looked in fascination at this unique, hybrid woman; and tried to keep her scientific interest in check. Delenn, she noted immediately, was very beautiful and the glowing silks of her robes enhanced the porcelain quality of her skin – and she kept darting cold looks at Elizabeth. John was standing over both of them and was saying in a surprisingly serious tone, ‘There is someone I’d like you to meet. Liz, this is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari Federation. Delenn, this is my sister, Elizabeth.’ Elizabeth noticed the almost imperceptible, split second a combination of surprise and relief that swept over Delenn’s face at these words and then how all of her previous, icy, formality melted in a warm smile.

   ‘I am honoured to meet you,’ she bowed gracefully.

   ‘And I you,’ she answered. The change in the Ambassador’s demeanour aroused her curiosity, as did the expression on her brother’s face as he gazed with obvious admiration at the petite figure and experienced a flash of understanding. ‘I wasn’t able to meet you the last time I visited, earlier this year.’

   ‘Ah, yes. I was somewhat…indisposed at that time. I hope that you are enjoying your stay…’

   Sheridan looked on in delight as the two women exchanged small talk and Delenn recommending various stalls to Liz for gifts for her children, Liz asking her what she thought of the Christmas festival and the attendant decorations.

   ‘We were just going to get some lunch, why don’t you join us?’ he asked, now that Delenn’s initial coolness had vanished he was having visions of a blossoming friendship between Delenn and his sister that he wanted, for some inexplicable reason, to promote.

   ‘Thank-you, but I have a meeting in half an hour. Besides, I am sure that Ms Sheridan,’ she smiled at Elizabeth, ‘would prefer to have you to herself.’

   ‘Please, call me Liz. And I don’t mind sharing him, perhaps we could meet for coffee later on?’

   Delenn looked delighted with the invitation and accepted eagerly – Elizabeth noting the warm looks that passed between John and the Ambassador. Finally, Delenn bowed to them both and began to sweep away down one of the halls

   ‘Don’t let John catch you under the mistletoe!’ Liz called after her.

   Delenn turned back; she looked puzzled, but smiled and said, ‘I’ll keep that in mind!’

   Sheridan turned back to his sister and encountered her mocking expression.

   ‘What?’ he asked.

   ‘Never mind ‘what?’, you what! She is very nice.’

   ‘She is!’ Sheridan agreed enthusiastically. ‘You liked her?’ ‘Why the hell am I asking that?’ he wondered.

   ‘Yes, but I’d like to get to know her better. I remember the ISN item…it didn’t really seem to do her much justice. I felt sorry for her.’

   ‘They were hard on her, but I don’t think that Delenn wants or needs anyone’s pity,’ he laughed slightly, ‘she just started reading ‘Eye on Minbar’ instead! And I hope you realise that she is now going to go around the whole station asking what mistletoe is, and why I might pose some kind of a threat to her in its vicinity?’ Liz tried not to laugh at his horrified expression.

   ‘John, even from a five second meeting I got the impression that Ambassador Delenn has a sense of humour – please don’t tell me that you have lost yours!’ She strode into the middle of the Zocalo, her brother grumbling along behind her.

   -----

   Commander Susan Ivanova made her way from the docking bay back towards C-n’-C, surveying her small kingdom as she went. Well, not exactly her kingdom; after all, the Captain was the big big boss – but she was quite happy to the next one down. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of red silk and paused to greet Ambassador Delenn, who returned her salutation with her customary grace. Then…

   ‘Susan, may I ask you a question?’

   Susan felt her innards contract; she began to make a list of the possibly embarrassing topics that Delenn could be about to quiz her on. They had covered reproduction, men, pre-menstrual cramps, men (of various races), mood-swings that had apparently never occurred before and the finer points of hair-care – what was left? Ivanova had long had the sneaking suspicion that Garibaldi was running a book on What Delenn Would Want to Know Next, but as yet could not prove anything. She looked at Delenn’s grave face and braced herself.

   ‘Of course, what can I help you with?’

   ‘I was wondering about the significance of mistletoe.’ Ivanova began to relax – it sounded like a fairly innocuous request. ‘Someone warned me about being ‘caught under it’?’

   ‘Ah, well it’s a human ritual. At Christmas people put up bunches of mistletoe…’ she noticed Delenn’s uncomprehending expression and felt that a little more descriptive detail was necessary. ‘That’s the plant with white berries, people hang it from the ceiling.’ A look of recognition – now they were getting somewhere. ‘Well, the idea is that if somebody finds you standing under the mistletoe, you have to kiss each other.’

   ‘And this is undesirable?’

   ‘That depends on who finds you. Personally I think that someone invented it as a form of highly embarrassing torture,’ she grimaced as she remembered an encounter with a very red-faced David Corwin a few days previously.

   ‘So you have to kiss a person with whom you are not intimate?’ Delenn asked.

   ‘Here we go. I knew it was too simple to last,’ Ivanova thought, but said, ‘It isn’t real kissing, like you’d kiss a lover, it’s just…well…a friendly little peck!’

   Delenn digested this new information and began to wonder what it would feel like to be kissed by Sheridan. She had often seen humans engaged in this activity but had never experienced it herself. In her minds eye she imagined his arms holding her; his clean spicy scent around her and then…she dragged herself back to reality. Feeling slightly flustered she thanked Ivanova and left. Susan Ivanova couldn’t help but wonder where Delenn had received her ‘warning’ and against whom…but from the dreamy expression on the Ambassador’s face she was willing to bet that she could name one person who Delenn would be only too happy to be caught by.

   -----

   Michael Garibaldi was going through the station security reports when Zack Allen entered. He noticed at once the worried expression on his superior’s face.

   ‘Any problems, Chief?’ he asked, trying to sound casual. Garibaldi looked up at him.

   ‘Yeah, another female lurker’s been found with her throat cut in Downbelow.’ He passed the file to Zack.

   ‘Nasty. That makes it, what, 3 now? You think it’s all the same guy?’

   Garibaldi nodded and raked his eye over the monitors. This was the last thing they needed right now – the tensions on the station were running high. The number of fights that had to be broken up between the Narn and Centauri was becoming ludicrous, the Captain was having a running battle with Londo Mollari at every council meeting, the Shadow threat was hanging over all of them and was now about to explode in a very public way and the most of the staff were still mourning the loss of Warren Keffer. The only point of unity was the recent rescuing of Captain Sheridan by an…angel? This last event had resulted in Sheridan being treated with an awed respect by most of the station residents and – the thing that made Garibaldi laugh the most – becoming one of the main tourist attractions. Every visitor to the station had him down as a photo-op, and he was in danger of being swamped each time he passed through a docking bay. But over the last 2 months, three human lurkers – all female – had been systematically tortured and murdered in a particularly brutal way. He looked at the photos of the latest victim; the face was so bruised and bloated it was barely recognizable as human, deep purple contusions around the wrists and upper arms spoke of long hours in tight manacles, the tip of each finger cut off – the whole body broken and twisted. Garibaldi felt sick, as he looked it – sick and enraged.

   ‘Does the Captain know about this yet?’ Zack asked him. Garibaldi shook his head, frowning thoughtfully.

   ‘I didn’t want to worry him, but now we’ll need a station-wide alert, so I’ll have to. He already has enough on his plate…’ the words died in his throat. Ever since Zack Allen had joined the Night Watch, Garibaldi hadn’t felt able to trust his officer; he would dearly loved to have told Zack all about it, everything he knew about the Shadows. But while he still had that armband on, Garibaldi couldn’t take that risk. Zack had his eyes fixed, expectantly, on his superior’s face – but no more information was forthcoming and Zack was aware of a slight feeling of disappointment. He had fears and concerns of his own, but Garibaldi didn’t seem to have much time for him these days.

   ‘Well, anything I can do to help Chief. You know that,’ he said, awkwardly.

   ‘Sure, Zack. Thanks.’

   -----

   ‘…So we sealed the trade negotiations by having Garibaldi teach the Pak’ma’ra Ambassador how to ride a motorcycle in the middle of the Zen Garden!’ Sheridan finished his story amidst much laughter.

   ‘I remember when Lennier was helping Mr Garibaldi build it,’ added Delenn, ‘I think that it became something of a passion with him as he has been collecting information about those machines ever since!’

   Sheridan laughed heartily at the thought of Delenn’s inscrutable aide as a Minbari Hell’s Angel. Delenn had joined him and his sister at a café overlooking the gardens and the three of them had spent a happy afternoon deep in conversation. Elizabeth rejoiced to see her brother looking so happy and whatever reservations she may have felt due to Delenn’s Minbari heritage she was willing to put on hold in the face of the warmth of Delenn’s personality. Now, she leaned forward and asked something that had been burning in her mind all day.

   ‘I’ve heard everyone talking – ever since I arrived – that you were nearly killed recently,’ she looked at Sheridan accusingly, ‘but that you were rescued by a being of light. An angel?’ She turned to Delenn. ‘Typically, my brother neglected to mention any of this to me!’

   Sheridan – feeling very uncomfortable – was about to answer, when Delenn began a reply.

   ‘It is quite true. A Centauri assassin made an attempt – he left a bomb in the transport carriage and John jumped out of it before it exploded. We saw him falling, but there was not anything that we were able to do to help him. Then…’ her eyes acquired a mystical light, ‘we all saw it, a being of light – more beautiful than anything I have ever seen. But each according to their own faith. None of us can say what it was or where it came from,’ Sheridan was impressed – once again – by Delenn’s ability to tell the truth and conceal it at the same time. ‘We have all been blessed and privileged to witness it. Not to mention relieved – none of us appreciated the idea of seeing you come to such a dramatic end.’

   ‘Except for Londo,’ he said, cheerfully. Delenn’s Religious Caste authority had had the desired affect and Elizabeth was too awed to enquire further. ‘Though, it was quite a flight.’ He looked up to where the construction teams were repairing the bomb damage miles above their heads and remembered the incredible sensation of falling through the air. Like flying. His eyes were suddenly alight with enthusiasm. ‘You know, with the right back-up equipment – and provided I didn’t land in the wrong bit of the station – that would be really great …we could actually build a launching platform up there next to the rails…’

   ‘John!’

   ‘Don’t you dare!’

   He looked in surprise at the horrified expressions on the women’s faces.

   ‘My God, does EarthGov know what kind of idiot is commanding this station?’

   ‘John, you do not have the right to put your life at such risk over a…a…silly game!’ Delenn’s green eyes flashed ominously.

   ‘It would be perfectly safe!’ he objected. ‘Typical. Why do women always have to gang up together?’ he thought.

   ‘John, please, you are the only brother I have. And Delenn’s right – you cannot take a risk like that. Promise me you won’t do it.’

   ‘I cannot imagine that Ivanova or Mr Garibaldi would allow it either,’ Delenn looked at him threateningly.

   ‘It’s not for them to allow anything,’ he muttered, but felt that he was fighting a losing battle. Delenn’s eyes now expressed entreaty while Liz just looked miserable.

   ‘Ok, I promise. Happy now?’ He gave final glance up at the rails and sighed.

   -----

   December 27

   

   Susan Ivanova felt a wave of nausea as she looked at the pictures of the victims; around the table, her colleagues looked equally grim. For the past hour they had been pouring over all the horrific details until they all felt as if the room was filling with the cloying stench of blood and death. Finally, Stephen Franklin broke the silence

   ‘From the forensic examination I am 99% certain that it is the same person – but I can’t get a DNA sample to cross-match. Whoever it is knows exactly what they were doing and how to avoid leaving any signs on the body to give a clue to their identity.’

   ‘We’re putting out extra patrols throughout the station but especially in Downbelow,’ said Garibaldi, ‘everybody leaving the station is being double-checked. It’ll cause delays in departures, but…’

   ‘They’ll just have to put up with it,’ finished Sheridan. He stood up and began to pace the room. ‘I know that a lot of people don’t care what happens to Lurkers, but I do. And I don’t like that idea of them being victimised more than they are already.’

   ‘I’ve been pulling in every informer I have, but no one knows anything. Believe me, if they had known they would have told me by the time I’d finished with them,’ no-one asked what methods Garibaldi had employed when dealing with his informers and at the moment, no-one cared.

   ‘Should we tell the Ambassadors so that they can warn their people?’ asked Ivanova. Sheridan considered this carefully.

   ‘I don’t want to create a station wide panic, So far the victims have only been Human and they have been people that no-one is going to miss. Of course, that could change and if it does I don’t want us to be accused of withholding information,’ he paused briefly before giving his final decision. ‘We tell the Ambassadors, but emphasize that this is on a need-to-know basis and they should not start inflaming their people.’ Everyone agreed to the wisdom of this.

   ‘What about this big New Year bash, I don’t think that it is such a good idea under the circumstances.’

   ‘Mr Garibaldi, while I am aware that you have an in built mistrust of large groups of people congregating together to enjoy themselves, I think that cancelling New Year may be going a little too far.’

   Franklin and Ivanova tried to suppress smiles while Garibaldi returned Sheridan’s amused stare.

   ‘Hey, Captain, I enjoy a party as much as the next man – or alien – but it does make them a lot harder to control.’

   ‘Everyone will be in the gardens, as long as we have security checks on all of the entrances and extra patrols in Downbelow, we should be ok. Shouldn’t we?’ Ivanova looked around the table. Sheridan nodded his assent; Garibaldi sighed and leaned back in his chair.

   ‘Fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.’

   ‘And on that optimistic note, we are adjourned,’ said Sheridan, gathering up his flimsies.

   ‘What are you doing now, spending more time with your sister?’ asked Ivanova.

   ‘No, Commander, I am going to Downbelow.’

   ‘WHAT?’ the exclamation came from Garibaldi and Ivanova simultaneously.

   ‘Wow, in stereo,’ said Sheridan. Franklin muttered something about having work to do and left hurriedly. ‘I don’t want people in Downbelow thinking that they are less important than the rest of us – if they see that we are all on their side, we might be able to get more information out of them,’ he gave his officers the kind of look that meant that nothing short of being put into stasis would stop him from carrying out his decision.

   ‘Ok, but I’m going to arrange a security detail to escort you and we’ll map out a rout for you.’

   ‘That defeats the object, Mr Garibaldi. But I agree to security personnel,’ he said, waving aside the objections, ‘which means that you – and only you – get to come with me,’ he gave Garibaldi one of his most charming smiles and the matter was closed.

   -----

   Everyone’s attention was focused on the two men making their way through the crowded corridors. Some covered over their wares; others assumed airs of innocence and tried to avoid the probing stare of the security chief. Others were delighted and tried to attract the attention of the Captain, who was busy chatting with traders and sampling the proffered foodstuffs. His cheerful, friendly manner concealed the fact that his eyes observed as much as Garibaldi’s. But one thing that neither man realised was that they were being shadowed – had been ever since they entered Downbelow. The watcher moved with a stealth that was like clouds silently enveloping the stars – every gesture was made with fluid control and it was only when he moved that anyone would have realised that he was there at all. He was not particularly interested in Garibaldi; he was always in Downbelow. But the Captain…yes, he was interested in the Captain. To see him here in his official capacity was far more rare. The Military Governor. And he was playing the part with consummate skill, charming the suspicious, surly denizens of this place with his show of concern.

   ‘Different today, Captain,’ he whispered, ‘very official. Not like yesterday in the Zocalo, with your pretty friend and that thing the Minbari have as their ambassador. What do you want here?’ he paused, as if Sheridan were responding to this barely audible question. ‘Aaaah! You want me. You want to pit yourself against me. That is good…that is very good indeed. I would enjoy that.’ He laughed to himself. ‘But it should be more interesting, this must be a proper game. So we should have the appropriate stakes,’ again he paused, and then nodded slowly. ‘I agree; I have been in the shadows for too long. I will put my anonymity against what of yours? What will you be prepared to give, Captain Sheridan?’ he drew the name out in a long, sibilant hiss. Whatever answer he heard in this one-man dialogue appeared to satisfy him, for he smiled in contentment.

   ‘I accept, Captain. I accept.’

   -----

   ‘That is how the situation stands at the moment. I am aware that the increased security may cause some delays, but we are working to keep those to a minimum. There should not be any danger to your people, and I hope that we can work together to keep everyone as calm and as safe as possible,’ Sheridan scanned the faces of the councillors, trying to appraise their reactions. There was a low hum in the room as they turned to each other, eagerly discussing the news. Glancing down, he saw Delenn’s thoughtful, slightly worried expression; but she said nothing. Londo was the first to voice an opinion out loud.

   ‘If you want my advice, Captain Sheridan, you should look to the Narns for this killer. That kind of barbarism is exactly the kind of thing that you would expect from them.’

   ‘I am going to pretend that I didn’t hear that, Ambassador Mollari,’ replied Sheridan, coldly. ‘Does he really believe all of that rubbish he spews out?’ asked a voice in his brain, ‘Or does he just feel obliged to say it at every available opportunity?’

   ‘Forgive me, Captain. I had forgotten how fond you are of them – that you would sacrifice all others to defend them,’ Londo was using his most reasonable tone of voice, which only made Sheridan angrier. With a huge effort at self-control, he managed to keep the tremor out of his voice.

   ‘At the moment, we have no idea who is responsible for this but we will find them. Whoever they are,’ he added meaningfully, looking over at Londo. ‘But we need to stand united for everyone’s sake.’

   ‘I agree with Captain Sheridan,’ Delenn spoke for the first time, ‘this is not the time for personal grievances.’

   ‘Of course you agree with the Captain, Delenn. You always do,’ Londo’s smile had an edge of malice and Sheridan was aware of Delenn’s body stiffening. She turned to Londo and said, coolly, ‘At least I do not suffer from the handicap of not being able to look at a situation objectively.’

   ‘I think that we should leave it there. Thank-you all for coming,’ Sheridan intervened before the meeting descended into a slanging match

   Still smiling to himself, Londo left with the rest of the council. Sheridan drew a deep breath and leaned back in his chair.

   ‘What the hell is his problem? Does anything from outside his own world ever penetrate his head?’

   ‘Maybe that hair forms a defensive barrier,’ offered Ivanova.

   ‘When I first came to Babylon 5, I considered Londo a friend,’ said Delenn. Her voice held a trace of sadness, ‘yet now I feel as though I do not know him at all. Sometimes I wonder if he is not trying to convince himself to believe in what he is saying.’

   ‘Well, I for one am glad that I don’t have to live inside his mind. I don’t think it would be very pretty.’

   ‘I believe Mr Garibaldi feels some sympathy for him,’ Delenn remarked.

   ‘Oh yes, one darkened mind in tune with another.’

   ‘Commander…’ said Sheridan, threateningly. ‘20 credits says you wouldn’t say that to his face!’

   Ivanova laughed.

   ‘No bet!’ she stood up, ‘I better head back to C-n’-C. Ambassador, she nodded to Delenn. Sheridan stood up and began his pacing up and down the room. Delenn sat and watched him, waiting for him to speak.

   ‘You know, I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of person does things like this. How can you derive pleasure out of making someone else suffer? I’ve never been able to understand it.’

   ‘I think if you were able to understand it, Captain, there would be something wrong with you. It would mean that you were more like them. I do not understand it either. I remember the emptiness in the eyes of Sebastian,’ she shuddered slightly – their ordeal at the hands of the Vorlon inquisitor was only a few weeks behind them, ‘I would not like to understand it.’

   ‘I was thinking about that, too,’ said Sheridan. He came back around the table and sat down next to her. ‘In 400 years, nothing changes. We can build great space stations, but we can’t cure the sickness in people’s minds.’

   ‘But as long as we realise that it is a sickness, we will continue to fight it. Perhaps, one day, we will be able to change it.’

   They looked at each other for a long time, and Sheridan had that feeling of calm that he always had when he spoke to Delenn. Maybe it was because she seemed so calm, so strong herself; that it brought out the same qualities in him. Delenn wondered how it was that she always felt so certain that she was saying the right thing when she was with Sheridan: it was as if some part of him reached out and touched just the right part of her mind; found in her what he needed. Feeling comforted, they rose from the council table. At that moment, Franklin’s voice sounded over Sheridan’s link.

   ‘Sheridan, go!’

   ‘Captain, I’ve just had a young woman brought into Med Lab. Looks like she was attacked; but she’s alive.’

   -----

   ‘Where did they find her?’ asked Sheridan as he came through the doors.

   ‘Near Downbelow,’ answered Garibaldi. ‘But it looks like she was on her way to Blue Sector when she collapsed.’

   ‘Blue Sector? Why would she go there?’ Sheridan frowned – Lurkers rarely ventured out of Downbelow and they never went near the diplomatic quarter. Just then Stephen Franklin entered.

   ‘How is she?’ Sheridan asked.

   ‘She’s asleep right now. Slight concussion and a bad gash on one shoulder; looks like it was a knife attack. I sedated her, but she should be awake quite soon.’

   ‘Can you get any forensic info off her?’ asked Garibaldi.

   ‘There was some skin under her fingernails, but it may have been contaminated by the blood and dirt. She must have come quite some way from where she was attacked,’ he looked back towards the exam room. ‘She was really lucky, John.’

   ‘I know. Can we see her?’

   Franklin motioned the two men into the room. Sheridan went over and looked into the woman’s face. She was young; long black hair was spread over the pillow, emphasizing the unnatural pallor of her skin. Garibaldi was going through her clothes, carefully.

   ‘She was carrying ID,’ he said, ‘her name’s…’

   ‘Yuki,’ said Sheridan, softly. ‘Yuki Ogawa.’

   ‘You know her?’ Garibaldi stared at him in disbelief.

   ‘I’ve met her. She’s a Ranger, Michael.’

   Garibaldi let out a soft whistle.

   ‘So that’s why she got away. Man, oh man,’ he looked at her.

   ‘She must have been looking for Delenn. You better go find her – we need her here. Now.’

   -----

   The young woman was propped up on a number of pillows and she looked at the faces of her new companions with as much curiosity as they looked at her. Franklin had only allowed this interview after extracting firm promises from Sheridan and Garibaldi that they would treat her with care – and also out of his own desire to find out as much as possible about her attacker. Despite his protests, Franklin had been forced to wait outside; Sheridan wasn’t ready for knowledge of the Rangers become more widespread yet. Inside the small room Garibaldi, Sheridan and Delenn hovered over the young woman.

   ‘Take your time, and just tell us what happened,’ Sheridan said, kindly.

   ‘I was just passing through Babylon 5,’ she said. She sounded almost apologetic. ‘I like to go to Downbelow, it’s interesting there and you can pick up a lot of information.’

   ‘But you were not there to collect information?’ Delenn’s green eyes scanned the girl’s face.

   ‘No. I was off my guard…and after all my training, I can’t believe I was so stupid,’ she moved to sit up and immediately fell back, letting out a cry of pain.

   ‘You’re not the first person to be attacked by this guy. But you are the first person to escape, so you have no reason to be angry with yourself.’

   Delenn nodded in agreement and Yuki looked between her and Sheridan, gratefully.

   ‘I had a drink at one of the bars, and then I had a look around in the bazaar. He must have been watching me, following me all along, because as soon as I turned into a side corridor he was on me,’ she paused, replaying the events in her head. ‘There wasn’t anyone else there – I didn’t even hear him coming. Someone grabbed my arm, pinned it up behind my back and held a knife to my throat. Then…’ she stopped again. ‘I’m sorry, it’s a bit hazy. He let go of my arm and I think he took something out of his pocket, I tried to get out of the arm lock across my neck, but he was really strong. I reached behind me and scratched his face. That’s when I realised that he was Minbari.’

   They all started. Out of all the races on board, the Minbari were the last that any of them would have suspected.

   ‘How can you be sure?’

   Again, Yuki looked between Sheridan and Delenn.

   ‘I felt his head bone. Luckily, I had my denn’bok with me and I was able to activate it. I don’t think that he was expecting it and he let go of me, but not before getting me in the shoulder. Then he came at me again, he had a kind of syringe in one hand he slammed my head against the floor and I think he nicked me with the syringe. I…he…I couldn’t use one arm, but I managed to fight him off with the denn’bok. I think I broke a few of his ribs and he finally ran off. I could only think that I had to get to Ambassador Delenn, or Captain Sheridan. But I didn’t know where to find you, Sir,’ she said to Sheridan, ‘so I started to go to the Ambassadorial quarters. But I couldn’t make it – I was just too weak.’ She closed her eyes and seemed to sink further into the pillows. Franklin, who had been watching impatiently from the window came in and moved towards her, scanning her. She opened her eyes.

   ‘Was that all right?’

   ‘That was fine,’ Sheridan answered.

   ‘I just want to ask two things,’ Garibaldi leaned a little closer. ‘Did he say anything to you during this? Anything at all?’

   She frowned, trying to remember.

   ‘I can’t…yes, he did…he said “You are coming with me, you will do very well, he will like you”.’

   ‘Ok, would you be able to describe him? Recognize him again?’

   ‘I don’t know, I didn’t really see him properly. It was dark down there and I was so dazed…’

   There was nothing more to say. Delenn placed her hand on Yuki’s forehead, saying something in her own language that caused the girl to smile. They left Franklin to look after his patient and made their way to Sheridan’s office in silence. Ivanova was already waiting for them and Sheridan quickly told her the result of their interview with Yuki Ogawa, careful to avoid any mention of the Rangers.

   ‘I just can’t see the Minbari being responsible for this,” she said, ‘wouldn’t it be dishonourable, or something? I mean, if the Minbari were going to attack humans, wouldn’t a whole clan be involved?’ she turned to Delenn, slightly embarrassed ‘No offence.’

   ‘None taken,’ she replied, ‘but you are correct, Commander. This would be dishonourable to my people. I do not understand it.’

   ‘He will like you,’ said Garibaldi; he was staring at an indefinable point about 6 inches to the left of Sheridan.

   ‘What?’

   ‘What he said to her, “he will like you” – I think he was trying to grab her for someone else.’

   ‘How could anyone be prepared to kidnap a woman so that someone else can mutilate her?’ Ivanova shuddered.

   ‘But it happens,’ said Sheridan, ‘someone must have quite a hold over him. But I don’t think that the actual perpetrator is Minbari.’

   ‘Why not? Who else would a Minbari take that kind of risk for if not one of his own?’

   ‘I don’t know why, Mr Garibaldi, but this kind of crime just seems too…human. The only motive I can think of is fear – fear of whoever is actually doing this. Delenn, would you know if there are any Minbari living in Downbelow and who they are?’

   ‘I have seen the occasional Minbari Lurker,’ offered Garibaldi, helpfully, before Delenn was able to answer.

   ‘There are not many. I have met some of them, but they do not wish for my help; usually they have ostracized themselves from their families. They tend to be those who were prisoners during the war and have been unable to re-integrate themselves back into our society.’

   ‘If we can find him then we’ve got a better chance of finding the killer. In the meantime, the security details are under your control, Mr Garibaldi.’ The meeting broke up, but Ivanova found herself to be the only one leaving, as both Delenn and Garibaldi apparently needed to speak to the Captain.

   ‘I will contact all of the Rangers who are here at the moment,’ Delenn told them, ‘they will be able to find any Minbari who are living in Downbelow. They will help in any way that they can.’

   ‘I’m gonna see if I can get a description from Ms Ogawa. I have every faith in the Rangers,’ Garibaldi turned to Delenn, ‘but I would feel happier if we had as much information on our side as possible.’

   ‘Fine.’ Sheridan addressed them both. ‘But I want to be kept informed of any and all developments.’

   Bleakness hung in the air like a miasma long after everyone had left the office. Sheridan stood, hands behind his back, gazing out into the stars. Delenn’s words about the nature of the universe and its inhabitants came back to him: “We are all star stuff”. At that moment, he wished that the inhabitants of Babylon 5 bore more resemblance to the majestic, tranquil view outside the station. His link sounded. He heaved a great sigh, suddenly feeling unutterably weary.

   ‘Sheridan. Go.’

   -----

   Elizabeth pressed the chime again and waited. Finally, she heard a peremptory voice telling her to enter. A look of puzzlement crossed Sheridan’s face as he looked as his sister.

   ‘We’re going out for dinner, remember?’ Until that moment, Sheridan had forgotten that she was even on the station; let alone that he was taking her out that night.

   ‘I’m sorry Liz, if you just give me ten minutes I’ll be right with you. Sit down, have a drink…’ he vanished into the bedroom.

   The Fresh Air restaurant was full and lively. Despite this atmosphere, Elizabeth felt that her brother was in low spirits. She watched him while they waited for their starters; he was playing with his glass in a distracted manner and he seemed tired.

   ‘John, what is wrong? You look like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.’ He looked at her and then smiled apologetically.

   ‘I’m sorry, I’m not very good company tonight. We’re having some trouble on the station…’

   ‘And it’s bad?’

   ‘As bad as anything you could imagine. We have a serial killer on our hands in Downbelow. Go anywhere on the station, Liz, but promise me you won’t go there,’ he looked at her earnestly. Elizabeth’s eyes widened in horror – she felt relief that this was the sort of thing that she never had to deal with; but at the same time wished that her brother didn’t have to either. Over the past few years they had not seen as much of each other as she would have liked, and the prolonged separation made the indefinable change that had come over John more obvious to her. She couldn’t say what it was that was different – basically, he was the same as he ever was – but she had the feeling that he had been exposed to both horror and joy in ways that she could not begin to imagine. She also felt that he was carrying some terrible secret and braced herself for the delicate business of making him open up to her.

   ‘John, will you…’ their waiter took the opportunity of displaying the talent for spectacularly bad-timing that people in his profession had honed to fine art. After repeated assurances that they did not need anything else and they were finally left in peace, Elizabeth started again.

   ‘John, I know you well enough to be able to tell when you have a real problem. Will you tell me what it is?’ For a moment, his brain reeled as he saw flashes of all the things that were wrong at the moment. ‘Well, Liz, I’m running supplies to Narn and smuggling Narns back out again, against the orders of our government; I can just about stop the Centauri from blowing up all of the Narn ships here; EarthGov is involved in black projects and President Clarke may have had something to do with Santiago’s death. Oh, and the whole galaxy is under threat from a psychotic race called the Shadows.’ For a moment he longed to tell her all of it, but it was impossible.

   ‘I can’t tell you about it, Liz. Just don’t ask me. I’m sorry,’ he squeezed her hand.

   ‘I understand. I won’t press you on it, lets just enjoy dinner,’ she had hardly finished the sentence when his link sounded.

   ‘Captain,” Garibaldi’s voice was urgent, “I’m in Grey 11. There’s been a development; you better come down.’

   ‘I’m on my way. Liz…’

   ‘It’s ok, I’ll finish dinner and see you later,’ his rapid exit from the restaurant created a caused a sensation amongst the other diners, and Elizabeth found herself the focus of many curious stares.

   -----

   The pale, grim faces of the security officers told Sheridan that whatever had happened was even worse than the possibilities he had imagined. Garibaldi guided him into a small chamber that seemed to consist entirely of steam, dripping water and machinery – there were dark puddles on the floor and a misshapen something suspended from the ceiling. Even with the lights set up by the forensic teams, it was still gloomy and it took Sheridan a few moments before he could make out what it was he was looking at.

   ‘I don’t think that you’ll be ready for this, I wasn’t,’ Garibaldi’s words had filled him with a sense of foreboding and now that he understood what had engendered them; he felt like his brain had frozen with horror. The dark puddles were blood that had dripped from the something suspended by its ankles from the ceiling.

   ‘He was Minbari,’ said Garibaldi. It was necessary information – the entire head was so battered, so mutilated that you could not have said what species it had been. The head bone had been hacked off and, as a result, most of the skull at the back of the head had been smashed and gouged out. What remained was a mixture of thick, dark blood, interspersed with flashes of scarlet; and splinters of bone coated in a grey, gelatinous membrane, beneath which the glistening, pink brain looked painfully delicate. The hands were tied behind the back and there were livid bruises around the wrists where the rope had bitten into the flesh. But the worst of it was the face. A rag had been stuffed into the mouth to muffle the screams and the eyes were still wide open. Even though lifeless, they still retained the final echo of appalling physical agony. The smell of death was palpable and Sheridan felt himself gagging. He drew in deep, shuddering breaths and tried to conquer the desire to run. Garibaldi looked at him sympathetically, his own face still looked drawn and unnaturally grey.

   ‘How…who found him?’

   ‘Maintenance guy. The doc had to give him a sedative, which is hardly surprising. I feel a little hysterical myself,’ Sheridan turned and walked out – even the hot, stifling air in the corridor tasted sweet after that chamber of horrors.

   ‘Looks like a punishment for letting Ms Ogawa get away. I’ve seen some sadistic people in my time – Hell, some of them were my teachers, but this…’ Zack Allen came up to them; he addressed them without meeting their eyes, as though it was the only way he had to stop himself from breaking down. ‘We’ve found this on the body, Chief. Captain,’ he pressed something into Garibaldi’s hand and turned away.

   ‘It’s the ID. And a note addressed to you.’ Sheridan frowned and took the paper, read it and then passed it back.

   ‘ “It’s your move, Captain, make it a good one.” Great. You’ve got a psychopath as a fan. This just gets better and better,’ he caught Sheridan’s grim expression and decided to side step the issue. ‘I’ll make a copy of the ID for Delenn, she’ll be able to find out more about that poor sonofabitch than we ever could.’

   ‘We have to find him, Michael. I don’t care how many extra patrols you need, draft in the pilots if you have to. He’s somewhere on this station, and he can’t hide forever. I’m not gonna play his games.’

   They left Grey 11 as the forensic team removed the body to Med Lab; Franklin would perform a post mortem in the next few hours. In the meantime, Sheridan made his way to Blue Sector with Garibaldi’s information. He hesitated outside of the door for a few moments before pressing the chime. Lennier’s bland tone answered him and then let him in. Delenn’s quarters were dimly lit, her crystals gently glowing in the half-light. She emerged from an adjoining room in a flurry of blue silk and an anxious expression.

   ‘I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, Delenn, but I needed to let you what had happened. We found the Minbari who attacked Yuki. He was murdered.’ Lennier started slightly – a rare loss of self-possession – but Delenn merely sighed, looked away and then met Sheridan’s eyes again.

   ‘Is there something that you need me to do?’

   ‘Yes, we found his ID,’ he handed her the data crystal, ‘Mr Garibaldi thinks that you may be able to found out exactly who he is. Anything that might help us understand how he got involved in all of this – and who killed him.’

   ‘I understand. We will notify the family, they might be able to help us.’

   ‘I will undertake to gather the information, Delenn, if I may,’

   ‘Thank-you, Lennier. You had better begin immediately,’ Lennier bowed to them both, then hurried away.

   ‘You look tired, you should try to get some sleep,’ Sheridan shook his head.

   ‘I can’t. The post-mortem will be in a few hours and I want to be there.’

   ‘So soon?’ she looked surprised.

   ‘Franklin wants to do it as soon as possible, to get us an early lead. If that he can.’

   ‘I should be there…’

   ‘No, absolutely not!’ he ignored her objections and carried on talking, ‘what happened to that guy was not pretty, Delenn. It isn’t something for you to see…or Lennier. Neither of you are going anywhere near Med Lab while the P.M is going on!’ Something in his face made her shiver inwardly.

   ‘I see. I will follow your request,’ she said, gently. He dropped onto the sofa and glared at a crystal structure on the table. Delenn observed him in silence for a few moments, and then seated herself next to him.

   ‘What else is wrong, John?’

   ‘A note was found with the body, addressed to me. Our killer seems to have decided that he and I are playing a high stakes game, only no one told me about it first. I hate people who prey on the weak; people who play these sick games and then expect everyone else to play along with them; I hate secrets and scurrying around in dark places and I hate being made to feel so Goddamn useless!’ he took a deep breathe and some of the tension seemed to leave him. Delenn gazed into the middle distance, as though she were trying to remember something. Her rooms held a slight fragrance of something indefinable, but that always reminded Sheridan of grassy cliffs overlooking the sea. The low light was concentrated where they were sitting, like a small island of peace. Into this dim, scented, stillness, Delenn finally spoke.

   ‘The kind of strength that is built on the weakness and suffering of others cannot last – at some point it can only be destroyed. But the strength that built on what is strong, on what is right, that is strength that stands alone. It will always endure and in the end it will overcome everything that challenges it. His strength is built on weakness – yours is not,’ she rested her hand lightly on his. After a moment he curled his fingers around hers and gently squeezed her hand.

   ‘Don’t let Lennier spend too long on his search,’ he said, with a ghost of a smile playing on his lips. As he looked at Delenn, he remembered seeing her in Downbelow – a hooded cloak that had hidden her head bone so that you could not have told that she was Minbari at all…He dismissed as ridiculous any fears for her safety. She would not go into Downbelow under the circumstances, and the ever-faithful Lennier was always watching over her. Not to mention any number of Rangers who were on board at any given time.

   ‘Would you like some tea?’ she asked.

   ‘Err, I don’t suppose that you have any leftover flarn?’

   -----

   The post-mortem did not brought to light any fresh information beyond more grisly details about the means of death. Namely, that the victim had still been alive when his head bone had been hewn away; the shock had triggered cardiac arrest. Gashes and bruising all over the body spoke of a vicious beating administered even before the final, fatal attack. But the body of the victim kept the identity of the killer secret, as he had done in life. It was the early hours of the morning before any of the command staff finally reached their quarters, only a few hours before they would begin another shift. Ivanova slept badly, her fevered dreams were filled with images of blood and death. She had an oppressive sense of foreboding and kept checking her comm. screen, just in case she had missed a message. Garibaldi stared at the ceiling, his mind occupied in inventing highly satisfactory methods of punishment for psychopaths of all creeds and species (he pondered how much fun you could have with a Centauri rapist and a mini-guillotine). Franklin stayed in Med Lab, pouring over the PM report; leading his staff to speculate yet again as to how he managed with so little sleep. Sheridan dozed intermittently, but felt reasonably calm and refreshed in the morning. He cast a sympathetic eye over Susan as they stood in the canteen, the circles under her eyes evident despite her perfect hair and make-up.

   ‘Bad night?’ he asked, as they managed to seat themselves at a relatively quiet table. She nodded, prodding the pile of reconstituted egg on her plate with a fork.

   ‘It’s crazy. We’re heading straight into a war which is, quite frankly, worse than having a serial killer on the loose; but I am more worried about this than about anything else.’

   ‘I have a theory about that,’ Sheridan leant forward. ‘When do you never?’ was the thought that flashed through Ivanova’s mind. ‘As you say, we are about to get into a war with an enemy that we can’t even define. It’s more than the human brain handle. I’m not trying to detract from the horror of what has happened here, but it is something tangible, something on a relatively small scale that we have a chance of beating. We displace our worries about the ‘big’ thing onto the smaller thing.’

   Ivanova thought this over for a few moments. ‘Y’know, that homespun psychology almost makes sense!’

   Sheridan grinned at her. ‘I like the “almost”!’

   ‘How’s your sister, by the way? You must have missed seeing her last night…’ she paused as her Captain dropped his fork and buried his face in his hands.

   ‘Oh God, I forgot. She comes all this way to see me…’ he checked the time. ‘ It’s too early for her to be up. I’ll swing by her quarters before I hit C-n’-C.’

   ‘Such a waste,’ Ivanova said, airily, ‘if my family came to visit me – not that I have family to come, of course…’

   ‘Ivanova…’ he growled, threateningly. It was a compatible breakfast, and by the end they both felt ready to deal with whatever the day had to throw at them. Sheridan fell his spirits deflate somewhat when he saw the small mountain of paperwork that had appeared on his desk overnight. He had rifled through some of the sheets. Requisitions, authorisations…he picked up a data crystal, which didn’t seem to belong to any of the official business that was currently occupying his desk, but which might just afford a few more moments of freedom from the tedium entailed by actually running a space station. The message that the crystal contained was short. Before the BabCom logo had reappeared on the screen, he was out of the door. On his way through the myriad corridors and lifts he paged the security team, but he still arrived ahead of them outside of her quarters. There was no answer. He initiated a security override and entered. A few moments later, Garibaldi and his team arrived to find Sheridan standing in the middle of the otherwise empty rooms.

   ‘It looks like he’s made his next move, Michael. He’s got Elizabeth.’

   -----

   The usual, staggeringly efficient communications that are always in evidence in these situations were soon working admirably on Babylon 5. Within an hour, the whole of the station was talking about Elizabeth Sheridan’s disappearance. Londo Mollari was barely able to conceal his irritation when Vir Cotto entered his quarters at an unreasonably earlier hour; and with a face paler and a manner even more nervous than usual.

   ‘What is it now, Vir?’ he asked.

   ‘You know how you were telling me that at the last Council meeting the Captain told you about the human women who had been…killed…in Downbelow?’ There was an expectant pause. Londo sighed and finally said ‘Yes, Vir. I remember. Though by the time you reach the end of your story, I might have lost my memory entirely due to extreme old age.’ Vir ignored the last comment and resumed his narrative.

   ‘Well, I was talking to Feba Narsili in the Zocalo, and he’s friends with one the station security officers…’ Londo poured himself another drink, working out the odds of when Vir might finish. ‘…He kidnapped the Captain’s sister!’

   ‘What did you say, Vir?’ Londo was suddenly interested. Vir looked hurt.

   ‘Londo, you never listen to anything I say. I don’t know why I bother talking to you.’

   ‘Yes, yes, yes; all right Vir, I’m sorry. It’s very early in the morning. But tell me again – about Captain Sheridan’s sister.’

   ‘She has gone missing and what Feba told me from his friend in Security is that they think that she was kidnapped by the person responsible for killing all those poor women. But, of course, most people on the station don’t know about that part. They’re still trying to keep that quiet.’ Londo looked thoughtful, a deep frown of concentration slowly appearing on his face.

   ‘I wonder…’ he said softly.

   ‘Are you all right Londo?’ Vir watched him in concern.

   ‘Yes, Vir. Of course. Leave me now, I have to think something over.’

   -----

   ‘We’ve questioned the staff at the restaurant and as many people who were dining there last night as we could find, but all we know is that she left alone and so far no-one remembers where she may have gone after that. We do know that she didn’t make it back to her quarters.’

   ‘So in other words we don’t actually know anything helpful’ Ivanova stated, flatly. Garibaldi looked uncomfortable.

   ‘We’re still investigating. Someone must have seen something, it’s only a matter of time.’

   ‘It may be time that we don’t have, Mr Garibaldi,’ Sheridan’s voice was quiet. Outwardly he was perfectly calm, his face rigidly impassive. But there was gleam, deep in his eyes that threatened an explosion at any moment.

   ‘Can you get anything from the data crystal?’

   Garibaldi weighed up the situation; on the one hand, this was a very personal crisis and John was his friend so he didn’t want to say anything that would increase his distress. On the other, Sheridan was his superior; he was a highly trained, efficient military officer, who would not appreciate having his intelligence insulted by being treated with kid gloves. He decided that the best policy would be tell the absolute truth, good or bad.

   ‘As you all know, the message on the crystal was audio only. Wherever it was recorded there is practically no background noise, so we can’t pinpoint what area he might be operating from. However, we’re running the voiceprint through the computer to see if we can find a match. That is about the best lead that we have so far. I just want to say that I believe that as long as our Mr X thinks that he has the upper hand, he has no reason to hurt Elizabeth. He’s having too much fun playing with you.’

   ‘I agree,’ said Franklin, ‘he’s coming out into the open now, but I think that will give us the advantage – these guys are never as smart as they like to think they are.’ Sheridan nodded slightly. After the initial shock, he had appeared quite content to allow Garibaldi to continue his investigation unhindered and had arrived on the command deck to conduct business as usual. Ivanova had watched him closely, hoping that he would at least talk to her about it, but he seemed determined to keep his emotions to himself. At this point, a message came over his link.

   ‘Captain, Ambassador Delenn wishes to speak with you and the rest of the Command staff. She says that she has some information for you.’

   ‘Send her straight in.’ A few minutes later Delenn entered, closely followed by Lennier. Her eyes immediately sought Sheridan and the expression of anxiety on her face deepened. The others quickly made room for them and Delenn began to explain as soon as she sat down.

   ‘We have been able to find out a great deal about the Minbari who was killed, both from his family and also from military records. I think that some of it may be of help.’ She motioned to Lennier to continue the story.

   

   

   

   It was the December of 2247. Jerhann of the Serai Clan was Warrior Caste and serving on board one of the smaller Minbari fighters; he was, by human reckoning, 17 years of age. The pride of his parents, a glittering future in front of him…his ship was attacked and captured by a small group of soldiers and he became a prisoner of war. For a time they had been held on the small, inhospitable planet of Vostra 5; and it was here that the human soldiers had ‘experimented’ with their prisoners; seeing how much pain they could take, how much torture before they finally died. The bodies of the Minbari were turned into a funeral pyre – whether they were dead or still barely alive. Out of this pile of slowly burning flesh, Jerhann was pulled by one of his captors and for the rest of the war he was a slave on board the human ship, named the Galatea. After the surrender, he returned to Minbar where his family attempted to integrate him back into society, despite the dishonour of having been a prisoner of war without – it would appear – attempting to escape. For a time he remained at home, immersing himself in studying humans, their culture, their history, and their behaviour. All that he spoke of was the man who pulled him from the fire – he gave him no name but referred to him as ‘The Master’. Every few weeks he would go missing for a couple of days and then return, his robes stained with the blood of wild animals. This continues for a year, the absences becoming more frequent and more prolonged, until he doesn’t return at all. A search proves fruitless – his clan disowns him, his family mourns him and nothing more is heard of him. Until now.

   

   

   

   ‘We believe that he may have gone in search of the man he called ‘The Master’, and that this man is the same person whom you seek.’

   ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ Sheridan said, to no one in particular. He noticed Delenn and Lennier’s puzzled expressions. ‘It’s a pattern of behaviour that was recognized on Earth in the 20th Century after a hostage situation in Stockholm. The hostages bond with their captors, they become emotionally and psychologically dependent on one another.’

   ‘Sometimes that bond isn’t broken, even after release,’ Franklin continued. ‘In extreme cases, the victim seeks out the captor afterwards – they’re unable to carry on with their lives without them.’

   ‘You could almost feel sorry for the guy,’ said Ivanova.

   ‘Is this information of any help to you?’ Delenn looked at them hopefully. Garibaldi nodded.

   ‘A lot. We can access the war records and find out the names of all people serving on board the Galatea at that time. With a bit of luck, we might even be able to match the voiceprint with one of them.’ For the first time in days, they felt as though they finally had something concrete to go on.

   ‘How long will that take?’ Sheridan asked.

   ‘A couple of hours, now that we know exactly what it is we’re looking for,’ he looked over at Delenn and Lennier, who exchanged relieved looks. He stood up, ‘If you excuse me, I think I’ll go and get that started right now.’

   ‘Well, I think that is as far as we can go at the moment. I have the re-cycling figures to check,’ Sheridan turned to Delenn and her aide. ‘Thanks for all your help.’ Then he was gone.

   ‘Do you think one of us should…’ began Ivanova, but Franklin cut her off.

   ‘I think that we should leave him alone for a while, let him stop being ‘The Captain’ for a few hours.’

   ‘It is interesting,’ said Lennier as he and Delenn walked back towards her office, ‘until I read about

   Jerhann, I had never heard anything about this type of behaviour. But it seems to be such a frequent occurrence with the humans that they actually have a name for it. I wonder how much is written on the subject; Captain Sheridan and Doctor Franklin seemed to know a lot about it…’

   ‘Lennier!’ Delenn searched for what to say. ‘I don’t think that now is the appropriate time.’ She started to walk more quickly; for all that she relied greatly on Lennier, and was very fond of him, sometimes his dispassionate responses unsettled her. It wasn’t, she was quite sure, that he disliked humans – he seemed to like the Babylon 5 crew well enough – but he definitely lacked the affection for them that she felt. Franklin passed them, and then stopped for a brief chat. For a few awful moments, Delenn feared that Lennier would take the opportunity to question the Doctor about this newly found interest; but, mercifully, he said nothing about it. Delenn was almost relieved to see Franklin go, and so taking temptation with him. On his return to Med Lab, Stephen Franklin found Yuki Ogawa undergoing her final examination before being discharged.

   ‘I’m being thrown out now!’ she exclaimed cheerfully when she saw him. He couldn’t help but smile.

   ‘You sound very happy about that.’

   ‘I am, I hate being cooped up. Even worse, being cooped up and being prodded all time. Plus, it really is too noisy in here to meditate properly.’ He laughed.

   ‘Anything else bothering you? It’s ok,’ he took the scanner from the medic, ‘I’ll finish off here. Where are you going to once you get out of here?’

   ‘I’m staying on Bab 5 for a while, so Ambassador Delenn has arranged a place for me. It is such a privilege to meet her; she is just so amazing. I felt like such an idiot after the attack, but she was very supportive, and Captain Sheridan too.’

   ‘I was surprised that Ambassador Delenn was so involved with you from the beginning, but you seem to know quite a lot about the Minbari.’

   There was a second’s hesitation before she replied, smoothly: ‘I’ve been interested in Minbari culture for years, I wanted to know more about it. I made some enquiries and they allowed me to go and study with them; I got a doctorate in psychology back on Earth and so…we kinda swap ideas on the sentient psyche. In a way I feel more Minbari than Human now, which is why I wanted to see Ambassador Delenn when I woke up in here – after the attack.’

   She paused for a moment, her keen eyes picking up every nuance of Franklin’s expression. ‘Did they find the guy who did it?’

   ‘Yes. He was killed last night…by whoever it was he was working for.’

   ‘I see.’ There was silence for a few moments. Then she asked, ‘Could security still need my help with the investigation?’

   ‘Yes…but you shouldn’t get involved,’ he added hastily when instinct told him the reason for her question. She tossed her head back, proudly. ‘I may have been injured, but I’m still a fighter, a survivor. And I’m involved already; it would be dishonourable for me to turn my back now.’

   ‘You almost sound like Delenn,’ he said. She smiled, pleased with the thought.

   ‘Well, that’s you finished. Just take it easy for a couple of days. If you experience any dizziness or nausea, come back here.’ She nodded and jumped off the exam table, then looked directly into his eyes. ‘Just one more thing, how about a drink sometime?’ Franklin looked at her in surprise. ‘Doctors aren’t supposed to go out with their patients,’ he fiddled with some nearby instruments.

   ‘Well, once I’m discharged, technically I won’t be your patient anymore. Will I?’

   ‘You still have to have your stitches taken out.’

   ‘Someone else could do that,’ she said, firmly. ‘And how about this, we go out and I’ll let you pay. That way, your not going out with me, I’m going out with you!’ She had tantalisingly dark, almond shaped eyes; her long, glossy black hair fell about her shoulders.

   ‘Is that the kind of logic the Minbari teach you?’ he asked.

   ‘They teach us that each and every situation in life has two perspectives and that we should weigh each one before coming to a decision,’ she replied, gravely.

   ‘Well, taking into account both sides of the argument…’ he looked into her eyes again, and smiled.

   

   

   

   ‘Captain Sheridan, might I have a word with you please.’

   Sheridan eyed his visitor suspiciously, but maintained a diplomatic façade. ‘Of course. What can I do for you, Londo?’ ‘As soon as he mentions Narns I am going to test exactly how aerodynamic that hair-do is by dropping him off the highest rail platform in the station,’ he thought to himself.

   ‘I understand that your sister has gone missing, you are searching for whoever has taken her.’

   ‘Yes,’ Sheridan watched him carefully, trying to judge where this was leading. Londo returned his gaze. He remembered their head-to-head battles in the council chamber, and that Sheridan was responsible for the destruction of a Centauri ship. It would have been easy to torture him over this, make demands in exchange for information. But it was not that simple. Despite their differences and arguments, he had a certain, grudging respect for Sheridan. If things had been different, they might even have been great allies. The haunted look in the depths of Sheridan’s eyes at this moment would have stirred pity in anyone, and Londo was not quite the ruthless monster that his reputation now suggested.

   ‘I am a people watcher, Captain. I sit in the bars on the Zocalo, I have a few drinks and I watch the people around me. That is what I was doing last night…and that is how I saw your sister passing by in the company of a man I have never seen before.’

   Sheridan felt a little stunned that help should be coming from the most unlikely person on the station – and totally unsolicited help at that.

   ‘Would…would you be able to describe him?’ he asked. Londo smiled graciously.

   ‘Naturally. I have his face most clearly in my mind.’

   ‘Well, if I call Mr Garibaldi now…’

   ‘I am at your disposal, Captain.’ Once again, Sheridan scrutinized his companion’s face. The question that he wanted to ask most of all was ‘Why?’ Londo wondered what answer he could give. Because you will be present at my death; because, somehow, our lives are bound together and for some reason I think that I might need you to be on my side. The moment passed, but before Sheridan pressed his link he held Londo’s eye for a second longer.

   ‘Londo…thank-you.’

   

   

   

   Garibaldi was leaning back in his chair, his feet resting on the desk, when Ivanova entered.

   ‘This is the bit about the job I really love,’ he commented sardonically, ‘the hanging around waiting for information to come through.’

   ‘You could always just delegate it to someone else,’ she replied.

   ‘Yeah, but then I would have to be more creative in finding things to complain about. And creative was never my strong point.’

   ‘Do you think that we can get an ID off Londo’s description?’

   ‘It was pretty detailed; when Londo says that he has someone’s face in his mind, he isn’t kidding. And we seem to have killed two birds with one stone.’ Ivanova raised an enquiring eyebrow; Garibaldi swung his feet off the desk and bent forward in a conspiratorial manner.

   ‘Not only do we have a detailed description of the perp, but the Captain is in so much shock about getting help from Londo that it has temporarily distracted him from being in shock over his sister.’ Ivanova laughed slightly.

   ‘Who knows why Londo does half the things that he does,’ she said, ‘most of the time I feel like strangling him and then…he turns up trumps.’ The smile died on her lips abruptly. ‘Has John talked to you, I mean really talked?’ Garibaldi sighed and then stood up.

   ‘No. Y’know, when he was doing his ‘Most Deranged Man in the Galaxy’ bit over that Morden guy, it worried me. It pissed me off. Admittedly I understood, but it still pissed me off. Right now, I’m even more worried. I wish he would blow up. But if this is the new, improved John Sheridan then I guess we’ll just have to get used to it. Talk about being careful what you wish for…’ he saw Ivanova’s anxious expression and softened his jocular tone. ‘Ok, I ‘m glad for both our sakes that he isn’t tearing the station apart; it wouldn’t help him. But in this last year John has become one of my best friends and I wish that he would open up some about this.’

   ‘Me too,’ she replied softly. They sat in silence for some moments.

   ‘I’ve been trawling through the archives to while away the hours. I found that a number of similar murders have occurred all over the Galaxy, but no-one ever even got close to finding who did it. I also found out that our Minbari friend, Jerhann, had travelled to those self-same places at approximately the same time as the killings on quite a few occasions. It looks like they had quite a busy time over the years; five or six women at a time and then it would all go quiet – sometimes for a year at a time. Then it would start again.’

   ‘Sounds like we’ve come the closest so far,’ Ivanova said.

   ‘We’re not just gonna come close,’ he replied, ‘we’re gonna get him. Especially if I’ve got anything to do with it!’ As if in response to this challenge, one of the screens sprang into life. Garibaldi flung himself at it, read the first few lines of information and then slammed his hand down on the desk. He turned triumphantly to Ivanova.

   ‘We have a positive ID! We have the name of the sonofabitch!’

   

   

   

   Sheridan was staring out of the window, his hands clasped tightly behind his back when Garibaldi was finally ordered into his office, after what had felt like an eternity of waiting outside. He looked very strained, Garibaldi noted, as though he had just been through some kind of hell.

   ‘Are you ok?’ he asked, fully aware of the banality of the question – but at least he would get the right answer.

   ‘I’ve just been speaking to my brother-in-law…I had to tell him what happened. That is one conversation I could really have done without.’

   ‘You don’t get on?’ Garibaldi suggested, tentatively.

   ‘Oh, it isn’t that…exactly. He’s a good guy, but he’s just…I can’t seem to…. No, we don’t get on. He has a tendency to disappear up his own ass sometimes. I mean, Liz is in danger of her life and he just questions me like some goddamn lawyer. What does he think we’re doing out here? Sitting around waiting for Liz to be chopped up like…’ he stopped, ran his hands through his hair and, letting out a long breath, sat down. ‘What did you want to tell me?’

   ‘That information we’ve been waiting on came through, we can finally put a name to the face: Kyle Hendrickson. He served in Earthforce during the war and his ship was, you guessed it, the Galatea. As far as we can make out, he was pretty much a loner except for a small group of like-minded weirdoes on the same ship.’

   ‘Why the hell weren’t they had up on war crimes in the first place?’ Sheridan demanded.

   ‘I think that comes under the heading ‘The Least Glorious Moments in Earthforce History’. Those members of the crew in charge of the Minbari prisoners underwent disciplinary hearings for use of ‘Excessive Force in the line of Duty’ or some crap like that. Anyway, the Minbari never kicked up much fuss about war atrocities to begin with; you’d have to ask Delenn about that one. So, back to the story. Hendrickson leaves Earthforce about 18 months after the end of the war, and that is where it all gets even hazier. He was a drifter, picking up odd jobs all over the galaxy. Then he disappears from view altogether; now there’s no record of him coming on board Babylon 5, but when I ran his picture through our computer it came up with a Jack Whitechapel.’

   ‘Jack the Ripper,’ said Sheridan, with a look of distaste. ‘I can’t say that I like this guy’s sense of humour much.’

   ‘I’ve passed on the information to all security personnel and also to Delenn’s Rangers – we might as well make the most of them while their here. We’re stepping up security, no-one will sneeze on board that we won’t know about…’

   Sheridan had stood up and was slowly pacing the floor, ‘I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Obviously. This guy…Hendrickson, he’s sitting back waiting to see what we’ll do next, he’s enjoying the fact that pretty much the whole crew is concentrating on him. He wants to know what our next move will be…so what if we don’t make one?’

   ‘Ok, now you’ve lost me,’ Garibaldi looked apprehensive. He had a feeling that he would not like what ever he was going to hear next. Especially as Sheridan had that look in his eye – the one that always meant that he had some brilliant idea that he would not be diverted from.

   ‘We stop looking. We pull off all security. In other words, we do absolutely nothing.’

   ‘Have you gone OUT OF YOUR MIND?’ Garibaldi leapt up, ‘how are we supposed to find him if we don’t go after him?’

   ‘Just hear me out. You know how big this place is and you know, better than I do, how long it takes to find someone who doesn’t want to be found. Now we can try to corner him, but at the moment we don’t even know where we’re looking and even if we did manage it, it might just panic him into killing Elizabeth and making a run for it. He wants our attention and if we don’t give it to him, then he’ll come looking for us and while Liz is his bargaining chip, he won’t want to give her up until he has what he wants.’

   ‘I thought you didn’t want to play any games here.’

   ‘I don’t…but I have to get Liz back and I’ll do what ever it takes.’

   Garibaldi looked at him searchingly before asking: ‘Your not just asking me to stand down security so you can go after him on your own? Because if you are…’ Sheridan interrupted hastily.

   ‘It’s not like that at all; I learnt my lesson last time, believe me. I want your help, Michael. I need it desperately, but I think that if we concentrate our energies closer to home and wait for him to contact us…I really don’t think that he’ll be expecting that. It might just throw him off guard, and then…’

   Garibaldi sighed, ‘Ok, we’ll do this your way. But can we have the Rangers keeping a discreet eye out? They’re a lot more unobtrusive than security…’ Sheridan suddenly felt like a benevolent uncle being begged for a gift by a small boy.

   ‘Yes, you can have your Rangers, Mr Garibaldi.’

   ‘Your too kind. Y’know, I fully expect that by tomorrow morning the hair that I have left will have turned snow white!’ He left Sheridan’s office and stomped down the corridors. He felt deeply uneasy about giving the order, and part of him wondered if he shouldn’t assemble a very discreet security detail. But if they were going to do this at all, then they should do it properly. He took a deep breathe before entering the monitor room.

   ‘Ok Zack, stand down the security patrols; everyone is back on regular duties.’

   Zack stared at him in disbelief, ‘Chief, are you sure about this? I mean…all the patrols?’

   ‘Those are the Captain’s orders, we want everything back to normal within two hours,’ he started to go.

   ‘Where are you off too?’ Zack didn’t quite take to the idea of removing all the patrols, and if this turned out to be a miscommunication and something happened, he would be the one to take the fall.

   ‘I have to see a lady,’ Garibaldi replied, mysteriously.

   ‘Anyone I know?’

   ‘Yes, but it is definitely not what you think!’

   With as little warning as there had been when they arrived, the security teams that had been patrolling Downbelow suddenly left, causing the myriad citizens of that area to heave a collective sigh of relief. The extra checks imposed on all outgoing ships were lifted, and the beady-eyed officers watching over the Zocalo returned to their regular duties. The speculation about what had caused these stringent measures in the first place was replaced by speculation over why they had been removed. From his regular position at the bar in the Zocalo, Londo Mollari watched and wondered about the reasoning behind this dangerous gamble. But he had done his part and it was now none of his concern, but he still raised his glass and silently wished Sheridan good luck. Sheridan himself was still in his office, trying to find a report on waste reclamation incredibly interesting. He looked up at the sound of a light tap. Delenn was silhouetted in the doorway, the light from the corridor just picking out the tip of her crest.

   ‘Would you rather…’ she left the rest of her question unspoken, her body already turning away.

   ‘No, not at all!’ he jumped up and ushered her in, ‘Come in. Please, sit down,’ she sat on one of the sofas and he placed himself opposite her.

   ‘Mr Garibaldi told me of your idea. I noticed that the security teams are now…conspicuous by their absence. That is the correct phrase?’ Sheridan couldn’t help but smile; he wondered yet again where she picked up some of her expressions.

   ‘Yes, that’s right. What do you think about it?’ he asked, more than a little anxious.

   ‘It is an interesting approach. But I think that you are correct in thinking that it will disturb him. It may cause him to make a mistake that we could use to our advantage.’

   ‘That’s exactly what I thought. I just hope it works; I hate gambling with Liz’s life like this, but I don’t know what else to do. I know Garibaldi would find him, sooner or later…but I feel so responsible.’

   ‘But John, you couldn’t have guessed that something like this was going to happen. There was no reason to think that it might,’ she leaned forward, looking into his eyes earnestly.

   ‘I spoke to her husband earlier. It’s something that was in the back of my mind these last few days and it’s only now that…’

   ‘That what?’ she prompted him after a while.

   ‘Why was Liz here?’

   ‘She came to visit you.’

    ‘The day after Christmas? I mean, it’s still quite a big deal for Humans,’ he explained, ‘it’s a family time, you try to stay together.’

   ‘Well, you are Elizabeth’s family,’ replied Delenn, reasonably.

   ‘She’s got young kids. I just can’t see Liz leaving home, at this time, to come all this way to see me. Not unless there was something wrong. And I was so busy worrying about what I was involved with here, that I never even thought to ask.’

   Delenn considered this for a moment. ‘Did she seem upset when she arrived?’

   ‘No. But then again, I saw so little of her that I wouldn’t have noticed. Hell, I forgot she was even here half the time.’ He stopped for a moment; when he spoke again his voice was softer. ‘Once, when we were kids, we were on holiday – I don’t remember where exactly, but there was this big barn. We used to go there to play. One day, I climbed up to the highest beam; it ran all the length of the ceiling, and I jumped off. I landed in the straw beneath and, being a kid, immediately got up and did it again. Liz wanted to have a go, but I wouldn’t let her,’ he looked rueful, ‘probably because I didn’t want my little sister doing all the stuff that I could. Anyway, I got bored and wanted to go, but Liz didn’t. Instead of making her come with me, or staying with her to make sure she was ok, I left her in there. I wasn’t that far away when I heard this horrible cry. She’d jumped off that damn beam and hurt herself. She broke her arm, and it wouldn’t have happened if I’d been there for her. That day I made a promise to myself that I would take care of her; protect her. That she wouldn’t get hurt as long as I was with her. I should have looked after her while she was here, and I didn’t. I left her alone because I was too busy thinking about myself – what kind of brother, what kind of person does that make me?’

   ‘The same kind as the rest of us, an imperfect one,’ she replied, a little indistinctly. Delenn had felt a suspicious tightness in her throat while he had been talking, and it made it difficult to speak. ‘John, you didn’t abandon her because you didn’t want to be with her; you didn’t leave her for selfish reasons. You had to go because you were called and because you were working to protect everyone,’ a sudden inspiration struck her and she warmed to her theme. ‘You wanted justice for the victims, and to prevent anyone else – any other woman on the station – from becoming a victim, and at the time that included your sister. Whether you realise it or not, you were still trying to protect her. Maybe you were a little distracted, but none of us can see clearly all of the time. We are not deities.’

   They looked at each other for a long time. At last, Sheridan leaned across and took one of her hands in both of his.

   ‘I always seem to be burdening you with my problems, and you always seem to have the right thing to say. You must get tired of it.’

   A gentle smile spread across her features, ‘On Minbar, it is considered a privilege that another will speak to you of that which troubles their soul. You do not burden me; you honour me.’

   ‘I think I’m the one that’s honoured,’ he replied softly.

   The minutes passed as they sat, often in compatible silence – a forerunner of the many vigils they would keep together through the years.

   ‘You should get some sleep,’ Delenn had suddenly noticed how tired he looked.

   ‘I suppose so,’ he stood up reluctantly, ‘I’ll stay here a little while longer – finish off.’

   Her first instinct was to stay, but a secondary voice checked the words that rose to her lips. ‘It would be inconsiderate to force your company where it is not needed or wanted. He may welcome your going, so that he may rest.’

   ‘I…I will see you tomorrow,’ she said.

   ‘Yes,’ he didn’t want to let her go, but at once he reproached himself for his selfishness. ‘You have no right to ask her; you’ve taken up enough of her time and she’s been through too much this year as it is. Delenn must be exhausted – just because you can’t sleep doesn’t mean everyone else has to stay awake.’

   They stood awkwardly, until Delenn finally turned to go.

   ‘Delenn!’ he couldn’t stop himself.

   ‘Yes?’ she swung around, eagerly.

   He racked his brain, trying to think of some reason to justify calling her back.

   ‘I just wanted to say…thank-you. For everything.’

   ‘There is no need. I was glad to help,’ she paused. ‘Goodnight.’

   It was almost 2 in the morning, and despite feeling calmer after speaking with Delenn, Sheridan knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He returned to his quarters and, after collecting the items he wanted, made his way to the sports area and spent the rest of the night smashing the baseballs into submission.

   

   

   

   December 29

   

   It was one of those rare, quiet, days that the Command Staff would normally have welcomed as a respite from the continual crises and minor disasters that assailed them. But instead of being able to relax, the sudden calm only made them feel even tenser. Sheridan knew that, from somewhere on the station, Hendrickson was watching everything that was going on. And soon he must realise that the security teams were no longer looking for him. Only the Rangers remained in Downbelow, and no one even realised that they were watching everything that happened. Yuki Ogawa had begged Delenn to allow her to join them, despite the fact that her arm was still in a sling; and it was only by declaring it a matter of honour and part of her Mora’dum that she was finally given permission. Garibaldi set himself the task of keeping an eye on Sheridan – or rather, not so much Sheridan, more anyone who tried to approach him. But they had got through the whole day without a sign of any contact.

   ‘I hope the tension’s getting to him as much as it is to me,’ Garibaldi remarked.

   ‘Me too,’ Sheridan replied, ‘in the light of day my brilliant idea doesn’t seem quite so brilliant.’

   ‘You really are confused! You have noticed that we don’t really get the light of day up here?’

   ‘Garibaldi…’

   ‘Y’know how I’ve been lulling myself to sleep lately?’

   ‘I can’t begin to imagine,’ Sheridan smiled to himself. ‘I can’t believe that I’m having this conversation with someone who has a poster of Daffy Duck over his bed.’

   ‘I imagine all the punishments you could dole out to all the pervs and sickos if you were given a free hand. You should give it a go, it’s a terrific de-stresser.’

   ‘Don’t think that I haven’t already,’ Sheridan replied; there was a dangerous gleam in his eye. ‘Wanna hear my plan for Hendrickson? You get him all nicely tucked up in a space suit, then you take him outside and tie each limb to a Starfury. Then, ever so slowly, the Furies begin to pull away – each one in a different direction until, eventually, he’s ripped apart. Then feed what’s left through a mincer.’

   Garibaldi whistled. ‘Man, that is nasty. I like it!’

   They were in the Zocalo – Garibaldi became momentarily distracted by a new range of ready-made pasta sauces that were on sale.

   ‘Now this stuff, this you want to avoid,’ he told Sheridan. ‘You want to take fresh tomatoes and garlic…’

   Sheridan listened, unable to bring himself to say that on the nights he bothered to cook for himself, opening a jar was as about as far as he was prepared to go. It was while something complicated with cream cheese was being described, that a young assistant from one of the stalls came up to them.

   ‘Captain? Some guy asked me to give this to you.’ He handed Sheridan a data crystal.

   ‘Where is he? Which way did he go?’ Garibaldi barked the questions.

   ‘I dunno, just some guy. Anyway, it was a while back…’ the Security Chief had grabbed him by the collar.

   ‘How long ago was this?’

   ‘Ab…about twenty minutes…I was busy, ok!’ he looked terrified.

   ‘Twenty-minutes? What the hell…’ Sheridan pulled Garibaldi off the kid.

   ‘Michael, he can’t help us, just let him go,’ he had a firm hold on his arm, until Garibaldi finally pushed the unfortunate trader away with a look of disgust. Sheridan was already calling Ivanova over his link and arranging a meeting in his office. That was the first important development of the day – the second was taking place in Med Lab.

   A sea of reports, data crystals and flickering screens surrounded Franklin; he was oblivious to everything else that was going on around him. Even when Yuki entered, it was some minutes before he realised that she was standing close behind him.

   ‘Hi, how are you?’ he took her hand, ‘I’m sorry that I disappeared this morning, but…’

   ‘Stephen, it’s ok, I know how important your work is. Or did you think that I had come here to beat you up for abandoning me the morning after?’ she sat next to him. ‘Anyway, I had stuff to do myself.’

   ‘For Delenn?’ he had the feeling that Yuki’s involvement with the Minbari was not exactly as she had described it, but there was something about her that made him careful not to question her too closely.

   ‘More or less,’ she answered, there was a hint of challenge in the depths of her dark eyes. ‘I always forget how much paperwork is involved when you practise medicine; even in psychiatry it’s the same. Even so, I’d expected to find you sticking a tube down someone’s throat or something.’

   ‘That’s only on the fun days,’ he stretched his back, he head been staring at the reports for so long that he was getting a crick in his neck.

   ‘Why don’t you take a break? You look like you need a little doctoring yourself, and I’m a willing volunteer,’ she leaned towards him and kissed him, very softly, on the lips. He put his hand at the back of her neck and deepened the kiss, slowly drawing her into his arms. They only pulled apart when a young medic deposited a report on Franklin’s desk, and then hurried away with eyes averted.

   ‘I would love nothing more than to take you out, but I have to do this,’ he looked at the mounds of information.

   ‘What is it you’re working on?’

   ‘Results from the forensic tests from the last body we found, they came through earlier and I’ve been cross matching them.’

   ‘You’ve found something?’

   ‘I think so. Now, there’s nothing on any of the bodies that can link us to our man – forensically, that is…’

   ‘This is Hendrickson?’ she interrupted. Franklin looked at Yuki with sudden suspicion.

   ‘How do you know that?’

   ‘I told you; I’ve been doing something for Ambassador Delenn. She told me all about it…Stephen, will you please stop looking at me like that? Do you think you can’t trust me?’ it was another challenge, and again Franklin felt that the best course would be not to pry.

   ‘There were traces of very fine metallic dust on the body – and the metal it’s from is lead,’ he looked at her triumphantly.

   ‘Lead? I wouldn’t have thought that there would be a lot of lead on a station like this.’

   ‘There isn’t, in fact it’s only in one place on the entire station. And it wasn’t where Jerhann was found either. Before he was killed, he was badly beaten and it’s in those wounds that we found the traces. I’ve been checking and re-checking with the pathology boys and found out that one of the other victims had the same traces, but he didn’t think that it was of enough significance to put in the final report…I don’t know what the hell we pay these guys for, but anyway…’

   ‘So you mean you know where he is?’ she looked at him excitedly.

   ‘Now that I’ve made sure of the facts, yes I do.’ He had barely stopped speaking when Sheridan’s voice came over the link.

   ‘Stephen? I need you in my office. Now.’

   Yuki raised an eyebrow, ‘I think that this is where everything starts to get interesting.’

   ‘I have to go. Will I see you later?’

   ‘If there’s time. You better go.’

   Franklin gathered his reports and they walked through the main doors; they were going in separate directions and as he looked at Yuki, Stephen felt a sudden wave of anxiety. She was involved in this in ways that he couldn’t begin to understand, and he feared that she might get hurt – or worse. As they stood for a moment, he reached out and ran his hand down her good arm, until he had her hand in his.

   ‘Promise me one thing, that you’ll be careful. Don’t do anything stupid.’

   ‘I can’t afford to do stupid things,’ she replied – for the first time since he had known her, Yuki looked deadly serious. They embraced, then she watched him walk away. There was nothing more to keep her in the respectable part of the station, so she went back to Downbelow. No one paid any attention to the slim, darkly clad figure making its way through the crowds – so they certainly didn’t notice when it vanished altogether. Yuki had ducked down a narrow side corridor and quickly scaled a service ladder, until she was on a small, hidden platform that afforded a view over the black-market stalls. She sat down next to the grim faced Minbari who was already keeping watch.

   ‘I thought that you were receiving medical treatment,’ he said after 10 minutes had passed.

   ‘Unfortunately not,’ she replied, with a fleeting smile. She did not look at her companion; her eyes were still scanning the crowds.

   ‘Delenn does not wish you to over exert yourself,’ was his next remark, some minutes later.

   ‘I think that this may all be over soon, they know where he is.’

   Silence.

   ‘Then another gleam of light will be reclaimed from the darkness,’ this cryptic statement was, eventually, delivered in a meaningful tone.

   Yuki sighed. ‘That’s what I love about you, Khati – your rapid verbal responses.’

   Ivanova and Franklin met outside Sheridan’s office a few minutes after they had been called.

   ‘Do you know what this is about,’ she asked, anxiously.

   ‘Haven’t the faintest idea, I’ve been in Med Lab all day.’

   ‘I hope it’s good news,’ she said as they entered. Susan had been worrying all day, and she wasn’t sure if she could bear to see John endure the pain of losing his sister. He was waiting for them with Garibaldi, and he was holding a data crystal in his hand.

   ‘I was given this in the Zocalo a few minutes ago; I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know what it contains. But with a bit of luck it might give us the break we’ve been looking for,’ he inserted the crystal into the comm. panel.

   For a few seconds there was nothing but static, and then a man’s face appeared on the screen. They had heard his voice before – on the first message that he had sent to Sheridan – and seen his picture from the old Earthforce records. But this was the first time that they seen their quarry as a living person. The voice was low, even rather pleasant; his appearance, unremarkable. He had mid-brown hair, closely cropped; pale skin with a small acne scar on one cheek – his face was thin and furrowed with lines around his mouth and brow. He looked, in fact, quite ordinary. Except for his eyes; they were very dark and had a strange intensity to them – something black and evil. And desperate.

   ‘Clever,’ he was saying, ‘very clever. I knew, you see, when you came into Downbelow that you wanted to be part of this, that you wanted the challenge…and so did I. I knew that you wouldn’t disappoint me there, and I was right…you know that, don’t you? I was right. But how are you going to get her back, Captain? If I just bring her to you, where is the fun in that? You can’t just take me on, make me change all the rules and then walk away before it’s all over…’ he spoke slowly, but there was a nervousness in his voice that belied his apparent control. There was a long pause, as though he were listening for an answer. Sheridan was clenching and unclenching his fists as he watched, his face set. On the screen, Hendrickson was nodding, ‘All right, I’ll show her to you, perhaps that will give you a little more incentive,’ he moved toward the camera and then disappeared, the picture wobbled violently and for a moment they had a view of dim recesses, a red light, and then Elizabeth Sheridan. She was up against a wall, her arms crossed behind her head and the chain that bound her wrists together ran across her neck. She was blindfolded

   ‘Oh my God!’ Ivanova exclaimed, her eyes wide with horror.

   ‘Send a message to your brother,’ his voice sounded more commanding now that he was no longer on screen. Elizabeth shifted slightly; when she spoke, her voice sounded hoarse and terrified.

   ‘Johnny? Help me, please help me…’ she had moved too much, and the chain tightened across her neck, choking her. She broke off in a fit of coughing that only increased her distress.

   ‘It isn’t too bad as long as she doesn’t talk,’ came the voice. The camera lurched again and Elizabeth was lost from sight. Then Hendrickson reappeared. ‘She’ll be all right,’ he said reassuringly, then came another of those disconcerting pauses. ‘Yes, you’re right. As she gets more tired, she won’t be able to keep her arms up, and so the chain will get tighter and she will eventually strangle herself. But that will be your fault because you stopped looking,’ his voice was shaking now, ‘she was your stake, and I accepted in good faith. If you walked away and left her it isn’t my fault, I am not responsible for what happens next.’ The message ended, and the sound of white noise filled the room until Sheridan retrieved the crystal.

   ‘What are we going to do?’ Ivanova looked desperate, ‘How do we find her?’

   ‘I know where they are,’ Franklin said. He had not raised his voice, but the effect of his words on them was electrifying. As one, Sheridan, Garibaldi and Ivanova rounded on him; their faces animated by the unexpected hope and their voices loudly demanding an explanation. With more self-assurance and more calmness than he actually felt, Franklin told them what he had discovered.

   Garibaldi groaned. ‘Of course: the reactor coil. Nobody ever goes down there unless there’s some work being done on it. And if you’re down there long enough you either get radiation sickness or lead poisoning; you’d have to be crazy…what an I talking about? He is crazy.’

   ‘Captain, now that we know where he is, we might be able to pin-point their exact location from the video…’ Ivanova looked thoughtful; Sheridan was already nodding agreement.

   ‘I think I know where you’re going with that, Commander. We need a detailed plan of the station, I’ll run that section of the tape again…’ he replaced the crystal and fast-forwarded through the footage, trying hard to ignore the fact that the torture victim was his sister. The four of them crowded around the screen; playing and re-playing the shaky, all too brief, shots of Elizabeth’s prison. There was much debate and discussion they formulated a plan – one that would provide the maximum result, with the minimum risk to Elizabeth. The minutes ticked by, more and more information was pulled up on the screens; intricate maps that traced the ventilation shafts that ran close to the reactor coil, plans of the chambers nearby and what they contained…hours had passed before they were satisfied. As the members of the Command Staff dispersed in order to carry out their various roles, Sheridan called Garibaldi back.

   ‘I think that we should call the Rangers out of Downbelow,’ he said.

   ‘Captain, if he shows his face tonight they can get him – that will be it, it’ll all be over.’

   ‘I know,’ Sheridan began his habitual pacing, ‘but somehow I don’t think that is going to happen. Just hear me out: I think that we have one of the best security teams in the Galaxy,’ Garibaldi allowed himself a look of smug pride, ‘but from what I’ve seen of the Rangers, they have an ability to move about, undetected, that is unbelievable. Now, I think that we should place some of them in the shafts that we won’t be using. They can infiltrate and let us know exactly how the land lies before we even get down there.’

   ‘Won’t that be a little risky – I mean, the Rangers are still an unknown factor for most people.’

   ‘It’s a risk we’ll have to take. Look,’ he sat on the desk and looked at his friend intently, ‘sooner or later everyone is going to know about the Rangers…and I have a feeling that it is going to be sooner. If Delenn is totally against the idea then we’ll re-think it; but we need every advantage we can get, Michael.’

   The crowds in Downbelow had thinned as the hour grew late: despite the perpetual night outside the station; life on the inside was still governed by the principles of day and night. From their elevated position, Yuki and Khati still surveyed the increasingly desolate scene.

   ‘It appears that you were correct,’ he said suddenly, ‘we have been recalled.’

   Yuki moved closer to him, trying to see what he had picked up. Finally, she noticed the innocuous figure seated at a table – his slight movements meant nothing to any passer-by who might have cared to look at him; but for the two Rangers, they were the signs that told them they were to assemble and await their briefing. As they stretched their cramped limbs, Yuki felt a huge wave of relief at the thought that this monster would soon be under heavy Station Security – and disappointment that her injuries would preclude her from any further involvement in what was to follow. They descended the ladder and made their way out of Downbelow.

   

   

   

   It was not easy to manoeuvre down the shafts – especially when you’re heavily armed and trying not to make any noise. Zack gritted his teeth and continued to crawl, commando-style, towards the end. He felt a bead of sweat roll slowly down one temple and then his cheek; it tickled, but he couldn’t stop to put down his gear, take off his helmet and wipe his face. One arm in front, dragging one side of his body along; then the next arm, the other side…on and on as he inched his way down the shaft. Zack tried to quell the rising feeling of insecurity – not insecurity about what he was about to do, but about how badly some parts of the Station had been put together. Flung together might be a more accurate description, as every time he went over a joint in the tunnel, he could feel it shift and separate. ‘Any minute now I’m gonna go crashing through this thing. Still, if I land on that bastard’s head it’ll be worth it.’ He was one of a small group of guards who had been picked for this assignment; some were with Garibaldi and the Captain, the rest were in the shafts, slowly closing in from all sides so that there could be no escape. The shaft was getting narrower and Zack was pressed so close to the bottom he could hardly move; he was so restricted that the only air he could get was through short, shallow breaths. Then, with a final effort, he reached his target – a junction where two shafts intersected. There was more room to move and a faint, cool, crosswind allowed him enough air to clear his head; he was aware that his pulse had quickened now that he had arrived and that his hair was damp with sweat. He was kneeling beside a large, rectangular, grille that gave access to the chamber beneath. From somewhere in the depths of his jacket he took out a tiny camera that was no bigger than a marble; for a few moments he fiddled with the remote control.

   ‘Are you getting the signal, Chief ?’ the whisper was barely audible.

   ‘Yeah, we can see you Zack,’ Garibaldi’s voice came through the headset in his helmet.

   ‘Ok…I’m activating the infra-red…’

   The camera rose into the air, shakily at first, then Zack sent it through the grille. The Chief wanted everyone to be able to see exactly what was down there and where it was before they went in – although he seemed to have a pretty good idea already. Zack couldn’t help but wonder where he got some of his information from. But right now he was concentrating on adjusting the contrast of the picture being beamed back to his monitor.

   In a small, cramped, utility room close by, Sheridan, Ivanova, Garibaldi and the rest of the security team watched the image that Zack was picking up. Franklin and his medical team were huddled together – the Captain was hoping for no casualties, but you never knew what could happen…and he wanted Liz safely in Stephen’s hands as soon as possible. The picture on the screen cleared as Zack made the adjustments. Elizabeth was still against the wall, but she looked more slumped; her arms were sagging and her head was right back. They couldn’t tell if she was still breathing. The Rangers had kept watch during the two, brief hours it had taken to assemble and brief the teams – they had sent word through Delenn to Garibaldi and Sheridan that she was still alive. As the camera scanned the chamber, they could see signs that someone else was living in there; but Hendrickson wasn’t there.

   ‘What do we do?’ Ivanova asked in a low voice, ‘go in and get her or wait for him to come back?’

   ‘I don’t want to leave Liz in there any longer than we have to; we have enough people to get her out and cover everyone’s back at the same time,’ Sheridan looked between them.

   ‘Agreed,’ said Garibaldi, ‘I think that we should be able to get one guy. I’ve got Emerson and de Vigny covering exit 1, and Mangwane and Forrester on exit 2. We’ll know when he’s coming and those are the only 2 ways in or out.’

   Sheridan looked back at the monitor, now that they were actually here he felt much calmer and in control than he had ever since Liz had disappeared. He looked back at his colleagues.

   ‘Lets go.’

   The team moved out silently; with every step they expected the alert to go up and to find themselves face to face with the enemy. They passed through the dark doorway; Garibaldi posted two extra security men in the shadowy recesses just inside each door. Sheridan and Franklin were already approaching the slumped figure.

   ‘Liz, it’s John. You’re gonna be ok,’ he spoke in a low, reassuring, voice before he even reached her, he didn’t want to frighten her anymore than she had been already. At his words she had moved and uttered a low, rasping breath as she attempted to reply.

   ‘Don’t try to talk,’ he was holding her up, taking the pressure off her neck and arms, ‘Dr Franklin’s with me – we’re getting you out of here.’

   Franklin untied the blindfold, her eyes were puffy and bloodshot and she was having difficulty focusing on their faces. After an eternity in pain and fear and darkness, the sudden rescue seemed more than she could bear.

   ‘Can we get someone over here to cut these chains,’ Franklin raised his voice as much as he dared. Elizabeth felt her head swimming – she was aware of John’s voice urging her not to move; and of heat near her face as the locks on her manacles were broken with a fine laser. For a moment the tension around her throat increased, there was a loud roar in her ears and the pressure behind her eyes was unendurable – then it was all over. As the lock gave way, Franklin wrenched the chain from her neck and Elizabeth collapsed into her brother’s arms, gasping the air. The Medics manoeuvred her onto a stretcher while Franklin began monitoring her pulse, giving her oxygen and fluids. Garibaldi’s link made the faintest of sounds and he listened to the message.

   ‘Captain, there’s someone coming,’

   ‘Which side?’

   ‘Number 2.’

   ‘Ok,’ he turned to Franklin, ‘get Liz out the way we came in. Go!’ The medical team moved at an incredible speed, even with their patient – Sheridan and the rest flattened themselves against the walls. For a few moments all they could hear was the low hum of the station’s industrial units. Then, a figure was silhouetted against the dim light of the doorway; it entered the chamber and before it had time to notice that Elizabeth had gone, Garibaldi yelled

   ‘NOW!’

   When Sheridan thought back over what happened, this part always seemed to go in slow motion. For a split second, Hendrickson stared at them wildly; then he raised an arm, screamed some kind of blood-curse at them and threw something to the floor. The air was filled with a thick, acrid smoke that chocked and blinded them – and everything went back to normal speed. Hendrickson tried to leave through the exit, but the rest of the security team had come crashing through the grilles, driving him back inside. Zack launched himself at Hendrickson and with the force of the drop, knocked him to the ground. But in a sudden adrenaline high, he fought Zack off. Six men grabbed him at once, but they couldn’t subdue him. Still overcoming the effects of the smoke, Sheridan could hear the frenzied shouts as Hendrickson’s attempts to escape grew more intense: there was the dull thud of flesh pounding flesh and a horrible, cracking sound as someone’s arm was broken. He recovered in time to see Hendrickson wrench himself away, and disappear down a tunnel concealed behind a metal panel.

   ‘Where the hell did that come from,’ he yelled at Garibaldi as they both tore after him.

   ‘I should’ve known better than to trust the official plans of this tin bucket,’ he yelled back, ‘they’ve always been total…shit!’

   With the sound of their own footsteps echoing down the tunnel, they couldn’t hear that their quarry had stopped. They were greeted by another cloud of smoke, Garibaldi getting the worst of it straight in the face. But Sheridan, a little behind him, took a deep breath and ploughed through. He slammed against another sheet of metal that gave way under the weight, almost flattening a young Minbari who was on the other side.

   ‘Which way?’ he gasped at her. She stared at him, wide-eyed, and then pointed down the corridor. He sprinted off, his eyes still streaming, finally catching up with Hendrickson on a tight corner. Sheridan grabbed hold of him, spun him around and experienced a wave of satisfaction as he punched him, hard, on the jaw. Hendrickson sprawled against the opposite wall but then charged at Sheridan, knocking his feet from under him…but was sent flying again as he was kicked in the stomach. Sheridan jumped to his feet, ready for another assault – he caught a flash of metal and only just managed to deflect the attack. He heard the fabric of his uniform rip, but he was already so enraged that he didn’t feel the knife penetrate his skin – a final blow winded him just long enough for Hendrickson to start running again, but Sheridan was after him. Around another corner…Sheridan saw him disappear through a crack in a door that was slowly closing, and a Waste Disposal Officer standing with a dazed, horrified expression on her face. The red light came on, the siren sounded and Sheridan heard the rush of air from the other side of the door that told him that the air lock had been opened and its contents jettisoned. Garibaldi arrived, breathing heavily, followed by Ivanova.

   ‘Where is he?’

   ‘Out there,’ Sheridan replied, calmly.

   They walked over to the window and looked out at the slowly revolving, gruesome, figure.

   ‘Should we get some one to bring him back in?’ asked Garibaldi after a minute.

   ‘There’s no rush,’ he replied.

   The woman was kneeling on the floor, her head in her hands, moaning ‘Oh my God’ over and over. Ivanova knelt next to her.

   ‘Hey, don’t worry about it – not your fault. In fact, that was a very good day’s work!’

   

   

   

   Elizabeth woke and for a moment wondered about the pain in her throat and arms – then memory exploded in her head and she sat up. John was sitting in a chair next to the bed and took hold of one of her hands – she relaxed and smiled, shakily.

   ‘How are you feeling?’ he asked, softly.

   ‘I’m ok, just still dazed. Every time I wake up I don’t know where I am,’ she coughed. Her brother held a glass of water to her lips and she drank gratefully. ‘Are you all right?’ she asked, noticing that he was holding one arm a little awkwardly.

   ‘Yeah, of course. It’s just a superficial wound.’ He smiled reassuringly, but Liz’s eyes had filled with tears.

   ‘Oh God…John, I’m…I’m so sorry…’ she began to sob and Sheridan held her.

   ‘Liz, I’m the one who’s sorry, I should never have left you alone…it’s all my fault…’ but she shook her head vehemently.

   ‘No it isn’t, you told me to be careful and I wasn’t. A total stranger comes up to me and…’ Sheridan waited until her sobs had stopped, then he arranged the pillows behind her head and sat down again.

   ‘After I left the restaurant, when you’d been called away, I went to the Zocalo. I was there for about an hour and then this guy came up to me,’ she stopped and took a deep breath, trying to control the panic that she still felt. ‘He said that you had sent him to find me, and that I was to go with him, so I did. We got into one of the lifts and the next thing I know he’s grabbed hold of me and stuck a syringe into my arm. After that I couldn’t do anything. I could just about walk – I wasn’t unconscious but I could hardly move, I couldn’t think straight – not even to call out. He walked me through…I dunno, somewhere where there weren’t many people. Then he dragged me through all these tunnels until we got to…to…’

   ‘Where we found you,’ Sheridan said softly. She nodded.

   ‘He had me tied up and blindfolded a lot of the time – he only put those chains on at the end, when he was recording that message. He…he told me what he’d done. To all those women and the Minbari he had working for him…he was so proud of it. And he talked about you; about how I was your stake in the game he was playing with you. That’s how he talked about it all…a game.’

   ‘I know,’ Sheridan tried to keep only the look of concern on his face. He didn’t want her to know, to even guess…they had found a cache of videos in the chamber. Videos of his victims, of their deaths – and watching them had made Sheridan feel that getting spaced was too good for that…how did you describe something like Hendrickson? He focused his attention on his sister.

   ‘Stephen, Dr Franklin, says you’ll be ok. You just need to rest.’

   ‘I want to go home, John. I have to talk to James, we…’ she stopped.

   ‘I spoke to him earlier,’ his voice was gentle, ‘I know you had a row.’

   Liz sighed, she closed her eyes for a moment. ‘It was stupid – I don’t even remember what it was about now. But I stormed off and as soon as I left I regretted it; but the closer I got to Babylon 5, the more I wanted to see you.’

   ‘James wants to come here to take you home, he’s calling me back later – we can link the call up in here so you can talk to him.’

   ‘He doesn’t have to do that – I feel much better and I want to go back tomorrow…’

   John interrupted her. ‘You’re staying here until your better. For once I agree with James, we’ll sort it out when he gets here…’

   ‘No! John, I’m not a child and I won’t be forced to stay in here!’

   Sheridan sighed, exasperated, but pleased. ‘You really are feeling better, showing the true Sheridan stubbornness.’

   She smiled back at him, but then tears welled up again as the realisation that she was truly safe finally sank in and the tension on her nerves relaxed. Sheridan pulled her into his arms and rested her head on his shoulder.

   

   

   

   December 31

   

   There was the usual bustle around the docking bays, queues of people arriving and leaving, couples locked in passionate embraces before saying good-bye. Liz had had her own way and, with Franklins tentative blessing on the state of her health, was waiting for her transport back home. She had shared a long vid-call with her husband the evening before and, 24 hours later, was sitting in the departure lounge next to Sheridan.

   ‘What are you looking for?’ he asked, as she craned her neck, trying to see over the crowds.

   ‘I asked…oh, there she is!’ Liz stood up and waved. Sheridan also stood and was faintly surprised to see Delenn walking across the lounge. She smiled brightly as she reached them.

   ‘Delenn was looking after me in Med Lab today,’ Liz explained, ‘but then she didn’t come back and I didn’t think that I would get to say good-bye, so I sent a message to her just before.’

   ‘I am sorry that I did not come to see you earlier; I had not wished to impose while you are saying good-bye, but I was looking for something and it took me longer than I had expected.’ She looked a little embarrassed, and then gave Elizabeth a large, soft package. Liz opened one side and then gasped as she saw a flash of richly coloured silk.

   ‘They are, traditionally, Minbari robes of Welcome – but they are also a sign of friendship.’

   ‘Oh, Delenn! They are beautiful…’ she suddenly flung an arm around Delenn’s neck and kissed her on both cheeks. ‘Thank-you!’

   Delenn looked flustered, but pleased and, placing one hand on her own heart and the other over Elizabeth’s, she bowed to her.

   ‘The 19:47 shuttle to Proxima 3 is now ready for boarding. Will all passengers please proceed to Gate 5.’ The soft, feminine voice came over the speaker. Delenn took a few steps and turned away in order to give Sheridan and his sister a little privacy in their last few moments together.

   ‘You take care, ok?’ she said.

   ‘Only if you do!’ he replied. ‘Liz…there are some things that I can’t tell you, but no matter what happens, I won’t forget what the important things are. I will look out for you.’

   ‘I know.’ They hugged once more and then she passed through the gate. Sheridan walked back to Delenn who was waiting for him.

   ‘We can still make the New Year’s Party’ he said, ‘they’ll only have just got started.’

   Delenn looked thoughtful. ‘I have never been to one of those celebrations before…what are they like?’

   ‘Err, well they can get a bit rowdy,’ Sheridan wondered if Delenn would appreciate ‘rowdy’, but she did seem able to handle just about anything, ‘but good fun. I haven’t been to one here before, either. It could be a first time for both of us.’

   ‘Well, in that case, I can hardly refuse!’

   

   

   

   The gardens on Babylon 5 looked especially beautiful that night: strings of fairy lights were wound around the trees, illuminating the scene; ivy and roses had been twined around the doorways and the music from the live band mingled in the air with the sound of voices and laughter. Sheridan was glad to see so many people enjoying themselves, and now that the tension of the last few days had lifted he was in just the mood to join them. As he had been getting ready, ISN had shown the footage – yet again – of the Shadow vessel against the red and black haze of hyperspace. But that was another worry for another day. ‘I’ll worry about it next year,’ he had thought, smiling to himself. Now, he was waiting just outside the doorway for Delenn – but he was facing the wrong way and didn’t realise that she was there until he heard her voice behind him. Sheridan would have sworn that his heart stopped beating for a few seconds as he looked at her – she was wearing her figure-hugging, black silk evening dress and her hair was pinned up. She looked, somehow, even more stunning and seductive than she had the last time she had worn it.

   ‘Is this suitable for the occasion?’ she asked, there was a hint of a very mischievous smile on her lips.

   ‘It’s…’ he searched for a word that would do justice to her, ‘wonderful!’

   Delenn felt a thrill of pleasure; while she had been dressing she had tried to ignore the voice that was telling her that the only reason she had put it on was to get just that reaction from him…he offered her his arm and they entered the gardens together. There was a huge crowd in there and it looked as though most of the station had decided to join in, so that trying to navigate the way to a table became a feat of skill and ingenuity. Sheridan had spotted Garibaldi and Ivanova waving frantically at him and he was trying to steer Delenn towards them safely when he was accosted by a loud and all too hearty voice.

   ‘Ahh, Captain!…Delenn! A wonderful party, it almost reminds me of a Centauri celebration,’ Londo was in very high spirits. ‘When you entered I said to myself “Who is that woman on the Captain’s arm? I have never seen her before.” But of course I should have realised; who could have as much beauty as our own Ambassador Delenn. And I’m not just saying that because I have been drinking,’ he added as if he could read the unspoken thoughts that they were both having. Then he became more serious and took hold of Sheridan’s arm. ‘I have heard that the…unpleasant situation has been resolved. Your sister has returned home?’

   ‘Yes that’s right. I should thank-you again, Londo, for your help.’

   Londo waved a hand ‘It was nothing Captain, I am just pleased that it is over.’ He turned to Delenn. ‘Now, Delenn, we have not been friends these last few months as we used to be. It pains me…but some things cannot be explained,’ he raised a finger to his lips as if to show that he had a secret to keep. ‘But now we must lay aside our differences; and then you must dance with me. Yes?’

   Delenn laughed. ‘Yes, if you wish!’

   ‘But not now – not to this…this…racket!’ he glared at the large group of Earthforce staff who were happily doing the Hokey-Cokey. ‘You see,’ he said to Delenn, ‘you see! It makes no sense whatsoever! I will come back later.’ He bowed and aimed for the nearest drinks tray. Sheridan and Delenn exchanged looks that only made suppressing laughter even more difficult.

   ‘How long do you think it’ll take them to get it together?’ Ivanova asked thoughtfully as she watched the pair standing in deep conversation.

   ‘Who…what…huh?’ Garibaldi looked around vaguely. Ivanova pointed with her fork.

   ‘The Captain? And Delenn? Really…?’ he looked at them critically and then thoughtfully. ‘They do look good together…she’s gorgeous, isn’t she?’

   ‘Oh well done Garibaldi, have you only just noticed that?’ Ivanova rolled her eyes – Garibaldi might be a great Security Chief, but he could be incredibly dense sometimes.

   ‘No, obviously I noticed it’s just that I never thought of her as being…I mean I wouldn’t…’

   ‘Michael, you’re digging a hole; come back out!’ they all laughed at Franklin’s comment – he was sitting next to Yuki who was looking lovely in red velvet despite her surgical dressings. Sheridan and Delenn finally made it to the table.

   ‘Whew, that is quite a crush!’ he said as they sat down. ‘What are you lot up to?’

   ‘Getting Russian drunk,’ Ivanova proudly revealed a small, low table next to them that was crammed with bottles. ‘Vodka, champagne, vodka…all the ingredients for a perfect New Year’s Eve!’

   ‘I see now why Londo was reminded of Centauri parties!’ Delenn confided to Sheridan.

   They were a happy group all through the pro-longed, buffet, supper and were now sitting, lazily, watching the couples on the dance-floor.

   ‘Can I just ask one thing?’ Sheridan looked over at Franklin and Yuki who were dreamily revolving in each other’s arms. ‘I thought that doctors and patients weren’t supposed to…’

   ‘It depends on how you look at it. Apparently,’ Garibaldi explained.

   ‘That was my reaction, too!’ Ivanova pointed in Sheridan’s general direction. ‘Blank incop…incom…didn’t get it.’

   ‘Stephen.’

   ‘Mmmm?’

   ‘I will be leaving soon. You know that, don’t you?’

   ‘Don’t think about it now,’ he replied a little indistinctly as he nibbled her ear, ‘just enjoy yourself.’

   She sighed with pleasure and pressed herself even closer to him.

   ‘Doctor, I have a problem. My pulse keeps racing, I can’t breathe properly and I get hot all over…what do you recommend?’

   He pulled away from her and assumed an expression of mock gravity, ‘I would suggest a thorough medical examination. Immediately!’ Her soft laughter was lost as they melted into a passionate kiss.

   ‘What is that?’ Garibaldi looked puzzled as he listened to the tune the band had just struck up.

   ‘It is a popular Centauri song, Mr Garibaldi,’ Londo appeared out of no-where, ‘much better for dancing to!’ He bowed to Delenn and offered her his hand. ‘If now is convenient, Ambassador.’ It was odd, Ivanova thought, to see Londo and Delenn dancing together; but Londo was laughing heartily and even Delenn looked as though she was having a good time. Everyone else was having fun too.

   ‘Am I really seeing a Gaim dancing with a Pak’ma’ra?’ she asked suddenly and looked at her champagne glass suspiciously. Sheridan and Garibaldi scanned the crowd and then looked back at her.

   ‘Commander, I am very sorry to tell you this,’ Sheridan began, looking at her pityingly, ‘but it is my duty as your superior officer…’

   ‘Are you sure this is wise, Captain,’ Garibaldi was concerned, ‘I mean, we are in public…’

   ‘Mr Garibaldi, Commander Ivanova is a highly trained Earthforce Officer – she can handle anything. Now, Susan, I have to tell you…you have had, as we all have, the grave misfortune of seeing a Gaim dancing with a Pak’ma’ra…!’

   ‘Very funny,’ she muttered pouring herself another glass while Garibaldi snorted with laughter.

   On the other side of the garden, Vir was happily bobbing up and down in time to the music. He had managed to get quite a lot of dances with some very beautiful Centauri women, but felt in need of a break. Then he froze on the spot – from the other side of the door that led into the hothouses he had heard a series of thuds and a woman’s voice groaning. He had just made up his mind to burst in and rescue the unfortunate woman when he heard the same voice…

   ‘Oh God…yes…oh YES!’

   There were more thuds and a great deal of rustling and the groans increased in frequency and volume.

   ‘That’s it…THAT’S IT!…OH…OH…YESSS!’

   There was silence for a moment - then a masculine laugh, and a familiar voice said, ‘Hang on, I haven’t finished my examination yet!’

   Vir fled and deposited himself at the bar. Londo joined him, having finished his third dance with Delenn and feeling in need of refreshment.

   ‘Vir, this is a party…what is wrong?’ the Ambassador shook his head at Vir’s dazed expression.

   ‘It’s just that, well…Humans only have…one’ he gestured discreetly to his nether regions, ‘but they certainly seem to get good results with it!’ he glanced back at the doorway in admiration.

   Delenn sank gratefully into her seat.

   ‘We were starting to think you weren’t coming back to us,’ Garibaldi grinned at her.

   ‘Ambassador Mollari is even more tiring to dance with,’ she replied, smiling, ‘than he is to talk to!’

   At that moment a young officer from engineering approached their table; he looked extremely nervous as he stammered out greetings to Sheridan, Delenn and Garibaldi before turning to Ivanova. A few tables away Sheridan saw a group of young men who were all craning their necks to watch and nudging each other at the same time. He returned his attention to the poor sap who had evidently drawn the short straw…

   ‘Commander,’ he had now turned a delicate shade of puce, ‘err, would you do me the…honour…of dancing with me?’

   The entire table held it’s breath. Ivanova fixed the young man with a cold eye.

   ‘Go away.’

   ‘Sir, yessir!’ he yelped before running back to his table.

   ‘Susan,’ Sheridan chided her, ‘this is a party. You’re supposed to dance.’

   ‘I haven’t seen you up there yet!’ she replied. Sheridan stood up, bowed to them all, and dropped to one knee in front of her.

   ‘Commander Ivanova…’

   ‘Oh, come on then!’ she grabbed hold of his hand and dragged him onto the floor. Garibaldi poured out another glass of the strictly non-alcoholic drink that they had been consuming for himself and Delenn.

   ‘I’m sure that the Captain has already thanked you,’ he said to her, ‘but I just wanted to say “Thank-you” myself…for all your help these last few days.’

   ‘You are very kind, but I didn’t do anything. And it was Stephen who provided the really important information.’

   Garibaldi shrugged, ‘Maybe, but…well, I’m just glad that you’re on our side.’ He clinked his glass to hers and they lapsed back into silence.

   ‘Mr Garibaldi,’ she had a slight frown, ‘what are they doing?’ He looked at Sheridan and Ivanova who were dancing with incredible enthusiasm.

   ‘They’re Jitterbugging – mad, totally mad!’

   The music ended amid much applause and Ivanova and Sheridan bounced back to their companions.

   ‘Come on Michael, haul the old carcass out of the chair!’ she held out her hand.

   ‘Oh no, Ivanova wait a moment, I really don’t dance!’

   ‘Station Edict number 458 sub-section D,’ Sheridan said. ‘At New Year’s Parties the Security Chief must dance with the Station Commander. Off you go!’

   ‘You know that I can take this out on you in other ways,’ Garibaldi muttered to Sheridan as he stood up. But his ordeal did not last for long for they had barely started dancing before the countdown began.

   ’10…9…8…’

   The dancing stopped and all those who had been sitting now stood up.

   ‘5…4…3…’

   Everyone had joined in the counting.

   ‘2…1!’

   There was an explosion of noise as everyone started cheering; in the same second the lights went out and the indoor fireworks were set off. Before the final sparks had died away, huge spotlights picked out a tiny, illuminated figure high above their heads. A hush descended over the crowd as they realised that it was someone falling from the rails…then, as the figure grew nearer it unfurled a huge banner and a few seconds they all read the legend ‘Happy New Year, Babylon 5!’ A fresh wave of cheering broke out, even louder than the first. Delenn turned to Sheridan who was still staring upward, avoiding her eye.

   ‘John,’ she said, ‘you promised…’

   ‘Ah!’ he turned to face her, ‘I promised that I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t say anything about spoiling anyone else's fun!’

   Delenn tried to look severe, but in the end she laughed and looked up at the rails. ‘It does look like fun,’ she said.

   ‘Delenn, now that we have a few minutes to ourselves, I wanted…well I…’ he picked up a rectangular package that had been next to his plate all evening; his smile was shy, uncertain.

   ‘I wanted you to have this, it isn’t much – I just thought that you might like it.’

   ‘Oh!’ she looked a little distressed, ‘but I don’t have anything for you.’

   ‘That’s not the point!’ he said quickly, ‘It’s just…I wanted you to have it,’ he repeated. She opened the wrapper and found a large, leather-bound book.

   ‘The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare,’ she read the title out loud.

   ‘You said, once, that you wanted to know what it is to be Human; Shakespeare was the greatest playwright we ever had. A lot of people believe that every aspect of the Human Condition can be found in Shakespeare.’

   He watched as she rifled through the soft, creamy pages covered in fine text – then she found the inscription on the front page.

   

    To Delenn,

    With much gratitude and admiration,

    John Sheridan

    New Year, 2259

   

   ‘Happy New Year,’ he said softly as he looked into her eyes.

   ‘Happy New Year, John.’

   Very slowly he leant forward; Delenn felt her pulse quicken as she caught his scent, as she felt his breath so softly on her skin. His lips brushed her cheek so gently, yet she felt as though she had been branded, so great was the heat that flooded through her. Her skin tasted sweet – as he drew closer he became even more aware of the gleam of her skin where her dress revealed her bosom. Aware of how it was rising and falling now that he was so close to her. Her jade-green eyes were sparkling as she replaced the book on the table; he took her hand and then put his other arm around her waist, drawing her to him. She rested her hand on his shoulder and they joined the rest of the couples in the shared privacy of the dance floor.



 

*****

 

 

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