THE DOOR OUT OF DARKNESS

By Betsy Freeth

 

 

 

This is an alternate universe story that contains possible SPOILERS for Seasons 1 through 4, up to "Between the Darkness and the Light" and loosely follows the cannon story line. I have flagrantly used the B5 Universe as a backdrop for a character I have had in mind for some time. I am a medical professional, thus my interest in healers. The relationship of J&D has been a source of immense pleasure for me to read about and I wanted to see what would happen when I put my healer into their world, and under their "spell".

   I also took the liberty of playing with some B5 plot points that didn't quite satisfy me when I saw them on TV. Constructive comments are welcome. There is a light sexual encounter (nothing too graphic) in section 2 of Chapter 4, and the beginning of Chapter 5.

   This is my first attempt at fan fiction (so go easy!), although I am a regular reader, particularly of the J&D Archive. All of the writers here have my thanks for the inspiration you've given me.

   Standard disclaimers apply. The Babylon 5 Universe and its characters are the property of JMS, WB, and anyone else who has a legal right to them. The rest of the characters, places and objects in this story are my own.

   Warnings: Adult Content, Sexual Situations

 

 

 

 

*****

Chapter 1 (of 19)

    A tall, dark-cloaked figure stood before the warship's large viewscreen, staring intently at the roiling black and red "clouds" of hyperspace. After many moments of remaining almost still, the only movement the slow clenching and unclenching of slender, jeweled fingers, the figure gave in to impatience and turned to face the busy bridge crew.

   "Captain."

   "Yes, Lady?" the man in the command chair answered, turning to face her. She was young and fair to look at, he thought; the diamond that pierced center of her chin below her lower lip indicated her high family rank. The Captain questioned why a woman of her intelligence and standing was permitted to run around the galaxy like this when she should be married to some influential noble, and staying at home to raise children and run the family holdings. Tren'dar knew he would never understand why women did or did not do anything.

    "When do you expect us to reach our destination?" The tone of the lady's voice did little to hide her restlessness.

    A well-guarded smile played across the captain's lips; this was a very familiar question from the woman before him. His expression quickly turned serious once more, and he nodded to his second, who had left the console and stood waiting leave to answer.

    "My lady, our flight plan indicates that the ships will leave hyperspace in one standard hour, twenty-nine minutes". The final jump point will be reached in seventeen standard minutes; if all is safe, the final jump will take ten hours, fifty-two minutes." Captain Tren'dar's second appeared cool and efficient, but when he turned back to his console, his eyes clouded with fear.

    "My lord, an unknown vessel has been detected…distance approximately fify thousand standard klicks to starboard, on a roughly parallel course. It appears to be very large," he said, his hands moving quickly over the controls. "Reports are coming in from the other ships. Shall I scan for identification?"

   Captain Tren'dar was quiet for several seconds, his eyes closed. Without opening them again, he said, "Delay that scan…notify the others immediately to do the same, then stop all transmissions. Have you picked up any scans from the unknown ship?"

    "No, my lord, it does not seem to have noticed us yet. But if we continue on our present heading, we will surely attract its attention…"

    The woman had unconsciously moved toward the command chair. She was now close enough to see beads of sweat on the captain's upper lip, and to feel his mounting tension.

    "Slowly reduce our speed, Ne'dal. The rest of our force will follow. After we have dropped back far enough to be sure we are not detected, get us out of here quickly!"

    "What is that ship, Captain?" the woman asked. She was sure that Tren'dar knew somehow.

    The seconds ticked by, as he waited for the alarms to sound a warning that they had been discovered. Tren'dar knew with fatal certainty what that meant. He looked at the woman standing next to his chair and wondered again why one so young and inexperienced had been sent to oversee this mission. Knowing what they faced, he did not envy her the honor.

    "That ship," Tren'dar said, answering her question, "That ship is Death, my lady. It would be well, I think, if we were elsewhere."

    Her eyes widened, and she seemed about to speak, when Ne'dal interrupted. "The vessel did not change course and is now out of our sensor range, my lord."

    "There may be more of those ships in this area. Adjust our heading for the nearest jump gate. When we reach normal space, we will re-plot our course."

    The captain turned to the woman again, "You must leave the bridge now, my lady. Your safety is paramount."

    She hid her disappointment, and her anger at being dismissed from the action so easily. "You have been most patient," she said slowly. "I have intruded here too long." She inclined her head in respect. "I will take my leave and await our arrival elsewhere."

    Captain Tren'dar inclined his head in return, letting out a small sigh as she swept out of the room. Everything he knew told him that they all were about to step into the crucible of pain.

   ----------

   The Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah (Eh-low'ree-ah Deh'Nohs'Tah): Personal Journal Entry, the 21st day of Trandem, in the year 982 of the Return (Year 2261 Standard).

   // When we set out on this journey, the long jumps through hyperspace did not seem as difficult as they do now. Hours of study and preparation have taken their toll, and I find it difficult to keep my temper under control. Father always said it was my worst fault. This is not my first trip off-world, but this time it is no posting to a research dig. The shadow of war is everywhere; some sectors are unsafe for a force as small as ours. It would seem that even hyperspace now holds unimagined perils. We must make our way as we can; the journey seems unending! When I look out into the red/black that surrounds us, I think I can feel the terror of those unfortunates caught in the fire. In my ears I can hear the whisper of voices, some so alien and cold... All of this makes me afraid, and I must not be. The future of my people, the honor of my family, and possibly my brother's life, could well ride on the success of this mission. It is the first of its kind in well nigh a thousand years; it must not fail because of my weakness!

    How does one such as I get to this place? I am a healer, and a scholar, with little time for intrigue and the liaisons one must make for political gain. In the years since completing my training, I have been content to care for my patients and search the records of races long dead to find solutions to their troubles. No-that is not quite all of the truth. Unlike my colleagues, I have always yearned to be away, out among the stars. When I return home from a mission, the restlessness to be away again soon becomes consuming. There is so much out there to be known, so much to experience in reality! The others are content to spend long hours pouring over crystal after crystal of data , not noticing that the libraries have become their prisons. Our whole world is a kind of prison, one which we have made for ourselves. My brother, Ve'lar (Veh'lahr), and his friends would see that change. Their struggle has been excruciatingly slow.... until five standard days ago, when the universe issued its summons...

    "My lord, your pardon please, but there is a messenger at the door. He says he is sent by the High Council and would speak to you immediately." Ve'lar's aide, Gan'tal (Gahn'tahl), stood waiting for instructions, his eyes plainly showing his anxiety at such a visit.

    "Escort him to the garden, Gan'tal, and see to his comfort. I will be with him directly." Ve'lar turned back to face me, amusement playing around his dark eyes. "What do you think they want, Ve'lar? You know it is not wise to toy with the messenger; they will accuse you of disrespect and use it to further discredit you," I said.

    Velar looked long at me for several heartbeats, then turned to pick up his jacket from the chair. "Most likely, they wish to tell me they have found an excuse not to grant the treaty of trade with the Brakiri. Help me with this, will you?" I held up his shoulder length black hair, while he slipped his jacket over his shoulders. Taking a black ribbon from the table before us, I quickly bound the hair neatly at his neck. Turning him around, I finished buttoning the high collar at his throat.

    "If anyone can convince them that these centuries of pointless isolation should end, it is you, my brother," I said. He leaned down a little and kissed me on the cheek. "My most loyal supporter," he laughed, and turned to leave the room. "I always will be," I called after him.

    Darkness was falling, the evening breeze setting the wind chimes to music in the open windows, when I heard voices from the door. The book I was studying was quickly forgotten as I rushed into the hall. Ve'lar was speaking in a low voice to his aide as I approached. When he turned to me, the expression on his handsome face was sober, but his violet eyes were alight. I could feel his excitement.

    "What did they want with you, Ve'lar?"

    "An urgent message was received by the Council two days ago; their advisors only now became convinced of its authenticity. It has been given to me to deal with; as you will see it is an assignment of utmost importance. Come, I will replay it for you; there is no secret to be kept."

    Velar strode into my study and, taking a data crystal from his pocket, he placed it into the viewer on the desk. "Play message", he ordered. The screen came to life with the image of a beautiful woman, Minbari by the look of her, but the strangest Minbari I had ever seen. Her message still echoes in my mind:

    "It is my honor to address you, High Council of the planet, E'las (Ay'lahss). My name is Delenn, and currently I am Entil'Zha of the Rangers. Before you end this message, know that it is critical to your survival that you hear me out."

    "The contributions of the people of E'las to the Rangers in Valen's time are legendary. Even though centuries have passed, the courage of those you sent in the last war against the Shadows are still spoken of with respect. It is also well known to us what happened to your people after that war. The servants of the Shadows repaid you for your loyalty to Valen by hunting down and killing your kind wherever they could be found. No one can blame your ancestors for choosing survival. But now it is time for your isolation to end. The Shadows are on the move again; their object is to send the galaxy into chaos. The Vorlons, who oppose them, seek to use the younger races as pawns in the struggle. A league of sentient races has gathered here on Babylon 5, a space station built by the Humans, to make a stand against them. The Rangers have been fashioned, along with others, into an Army of Light and now take the front lines. The survival of every race in the galaxy is at stake, including your own. You cannot avoid what is coming. Help us. I know the risk we ask you to take is great. All who join this struggle are taking grave risk. Still, I ask for healers for the Rangers, ships and crews, whatever you can send. I await your answer, in Valen's name. But be swift. There is very little time left."

    Ve'lar stood, lost in thought, after the message ended. Finally, he said, "We will do as she asks, of course. Too long have we let others take the blows for us. Being a part of this will convince the others of our importance in the galaxy. It will change E'las forever."

    "Those on the Council who oppose change are using this to destroy you," I said, suddenly seeing clearly why this had been given to Ve'lar to undertake. "The people will cheer the rightness of it, at first. But when death visits them, the cheering will stop, and it will be you they see when they wish to blame. Wait for a better time, Ve'lar. This League she speaks of has no need of us; a handful of healers and a few ships will not decide this war."

    His dark violet eyes measured me for a moment, as if he were coming to a difficult decision. He turned to the open windows and stared out into the garden. Arlen, the smallest of our three moons, was beginning to rise, casting a faint light on the waters of the fountain. "The Varn have considered the question, perhaps before it was asked. It would seem that they are aware of much more than we suspect. They have given their approval and urge no delay." He turned away from the window and slowly came toward me. "We can spare only a few ships from planetary defense. Many of our best healers are currently off-world, but those we have will be sent to the Rangers on Minbar immediately." His determination was plain. He came close and gathered my hands in his. "You will go, with a small staff, to Babylon 5 to act as our ambassador there. If we are to serve in this struggle, we must have a voice in this League."

    My breath caught in my throat. "Why, my brother? Why me? There are others with more talent. I am just a scholar, not a diplomat. Look at me, not even a political marriage to my credit," I said, desperate to think of a reason for escape. My brother is the head of our family; one of the Eight Families that control the destiny of our world. If he were to command me, I would most certainly have to obey. The intensity of his emotion swept over me as he held my eyes. "You are best suited for this, El'. You have had the most contact with Humans, even if they are unaware of it. You are fluent in Galactic Standard and one of the best healers we have on planet." He sighed, "I would do this myself if it were possible for me to go off-world. But our enemies are hoping that I will do just that, leaving them to have their way while I am gone. You have had some training in dealing with other races, and you can be trusted. If our family lets this chance go, others will step into the void and end all chance that we will ever retake our place in the galaxy." I knew he could feel my anxiety, and my deep sense of inadequacy for this task . I did nothing to block the feelings. "I will not order you, El', but I must tell you that the Varn asked specifically for you to be put in charge of this," he added.

    I was stunned. There were many others, older and wiser-and why were the Varn showing such interest? My companion had been silent for many days as she was wont to do. My thoughts quickly turned within.

    **"Is this true?"** I demanded.

    Ale'a's (Ah-lay'ah) familiar voice answered calmly, **"Yes."**

    Things were being decided without my knowledge, testing my limited patience. Looking at Ve'lar and knowing I would give him my life if it were required, I answered, knotting my fingers painfully. "I will do as you ask, my brother, but not for the Varn, nor for our family. I will go because you have asked it." I swallowed hard, "When must I leave?"

    "Those bound for Minbar are at this moment preparing; they leave tonight. Ten warships are being readied; you will leave for Babylon 5 with them in twelve hours."

    "Will I be able to choose my own staff?"

    "Who do you want to accompany you?"

    My heart was racing. Taking a deep breath, I tried to quiet it before I spoke again. "My aide, Re'na (Ray'nah), can be trusted. She has more training than I do in the workings of diplomacy. I wish her presence if it is permitted." I spoke formally, trying to pull myself together. In spite of my fear, the chance to be 'out there' again was beginning to fill me with excitement.

    He nodded, "She has already been sent for, Elo'ria. Two others from my personal staff at Starforce will go with you for security. Ka'len and Miri'a are pledged to our family's service-and they know what they are doing."

    Turning to leave the room, I caught a glimpse of my brother, alone and besieged. The weight of responsibility for our family was a heavy burden he was forced to shoulder when he was very young. It had aged him. Silently, I cursed my father for leaving us. Turning back to Ve'lar, I approached him and knelt at his feet. "I beg your blessing, my lord," I said, in the ritual manner.

    Ve'lar leaned down and smiled, touching my face. "You should not blame him, El'. We each have our destiny and he had to follow his."

    Looking into his eyes, it was plain to me that he was at peace with what he had had to endure. But I was not. "If you are asking me to forgive him, Ve'lar, I cannot. Please do not ask it," I pleaded.

    Ve'lar's voice was soft, "I will not ask anything of you that you cannot give. But look within. You may find that you share our father's yearnings, and his strength, much more than you realize." He placed his left hand on my forehead and his right hand over my heart. "Go with the aid of the Source," he said gently, the warmth and tenderness of his feelings filling me.

    That was five standard days ago. As we approach Babylon 5, I can only wonder if my brother chose rightly. Am I truly suited to the destiny that lies in wait for us there? So much hangs in the balance.// END ENTRY

    **"You should sleep,"** the soft voice spoke to Elo'ria.

   **"You know I cannot,"** Elo'ria answered impatiently. ** "There is too much to prepare; even now, Re'na works to learn as much as she can about those we will meet. Can I do less?"**

    **"Be at peace, El'. The future will meet us soon enough. Rest; you will need all your strength when we arrive."**

    **"I will try,"** Elo'ria said, taking a small bottle of blue fluid from her healer's bag. She placed two drops in a cup and poured tea over them. After sipping the steaming brew for a few moments, her eyelids began to close, much needed sleep claiming her.

   

   Chapter 2

    "John?"

    When there was no answer, Delenn turned away from the mountain of reports in front of her and looked at her beloved, watching him sleep sitting up behind his desk. She got up, and moved toward him, the silk of her gown softly rustling in the silence. Her hand reached out gently, lightly touching the side of his face, caressing the lines around his eyes that crinkled when he smiled. He stirred.

    "Yes, ah...Where were we?"

    "Enough for now, John. You are exhausted. I don't think I have seen you sleep for more than these few moments since the Vorlons started their advance."

    But John Sheridan was already refocusing on the preparations they were making for a showdown with the Vorlons and the Shadows. "Have we heard anything from the White Star we sent to be intercepted by the Shadows?" The sadness in his voice was obvious.

    "Lieutenant Corwin has said that he will let us know as soon as they reach the target area." She paused, watching his face. "It was a hard thing for you to ask them for this sacrifice," she said, acknowledging his hurt.

    "Not any harder than it will be for them to die out there, alone and in the dark."

    "That is true, but their deaths stand to save billions of lives. A death with meaning; the Rangers believe there is no better way to pass beyond the veil."

    John Sheridan stood up, and took Delenn in his arms. He kissed the crown of her head. "I love you, Delenn," he whispered into her hair, his hand coming up behind her head to caress the downy softness of her bone crest.

    Delenn stood for a moment, feeling the safety and warmth of his presence around her. John had become her anchor, the other half of her soul. It still amazed her that this human man had captured her heart so completely. When she was with him, she felt that together they could do anything the universe demanded. After several moments like this, she glanced absently at the chronometer, sighed, then reluctantly disengaged.

    "I must go now, John. There is someone I must meet in Docking Bay 12. It is almost time for her arrival."

    John looked puzzled. "I thought everyone you expected to come from Minbar was already here."

    Delenn smiled, "You are correct; they are. A very special thing is happening, John. When I sent the message, I did not expect this response. But they are really coming. It is a good omen, if you believe in such things." She turned to leave.

    "Wait now, I still don't understand what's going on. Who's coming?"

    Delenn turned back to face him. "When Ivanova left with Marcus and Lorien to summon the First Ones, I sent a message to a people who once served Valen in the last war against the Shadows. They are called Lonorians; they travel with a companion race called the Varn. Their talents are many and can be of great use to the Rangers. They were such a threat to the Shadows in former times that they were hunted down and killed wherever the Shadows or their allies could find them. They retreated to their homeworld almost a thousand years ago and permit no visits from anyone. When they travel, they do so in secret, arriving on other worlds with their identities hidden. To us it is a sign of favor from the Universe that they have now chosen to end their long withdrawl."

    John looked concerned. "Are you sure you can trust them?" He already knew her answer.

    "Valen spoke of them in his writings. He trusted them implicitly. I will do the same," she said firmly.

   ----------

    Delenn arrived in Docking Bay 12, Lennier a comforting presence at her back, just as the passengers were disembarking. She had managed to get them some privacy, for the moment. With all the refugees coming from systems attacked by the Vorlons, the station was over- crowded and chaotic. Two customs officials were manning a makeshift checkpoint as the visitors came down the steps to deck level: two tall women in floor length dark blue dresses, their faces obscured by fine lace veils that covered their heads and shoulders. Immediately behind them followed a taller man, and a woman, each looking stiff and wary in military style uniforms. "Bodyguards," Lennier stated. Delenn nodded, holding back her approach until the visitors had cleared Customs. With the war, there could be no exceptions, even for these.

    The man in the uniform strode foward, silently presenting datacards to the officials. Moments passed uneasily as identification was authenticated. One of the officials spoke to the veiled women. Delenn heard little of what was said. There was a hesitation as the two women looked at each other. Then the shorter of the two grasped the edges of the taller woman's veil and lifted it up over her hair, then did the same with her own. It was obvious that the officials would not let them pass without seeing their faces. Delenn was momentarily struck by their beauty, particularly the taller one. Her hair was reddish auburn, gathered up on her head with finely jeweled pins, her skin pale and fragile looking, like fine porcelain. Her eyes were almond shaped and darkest purple; her ears were small and pointed at the tops. A small diamond-like stone sparkled in her chin under her lip. Her hands had six long, slender fingers, each finger encircled by a small jeweled ring. She looked to Delenn like a picture she had seen in one of the books from Earth that John kept in his quarters. As they finished, Delenn walked foward to greet them.

   "I am Delenn," she said, bowing formally. Turning to Lennier, she introduced him, "This is my aide, Lennier. Welcome to Babylon 5."

    Elo'ria bowed low in return. Re'na spoke, "Entil'Zha, may I present the Lady Elo'ria, of the family D'Nos'Tah".

    Further introductions were made quickly, Delenn saying that she would show them to quarters and apologizing for their smallness. Eloria barely listened; she was too busy trying to memorize the way as they traversed corridor after corridor. She found herself, utterly lost, being ushered into a tram car. The journey took them high over a shopping district, glittering with lights, and further on, over an immense hydroponic garden. Eloria was reminded of a story told on her world about an island in space. This was certainly one of those. Her fascination was such that she instinctively let her barriers down somewhat, to sample the "atmosphere" of this place. Instantly, she was "pushed" flat against the seat by the force of the fear and anxiety she felt all around her. She struggled for control, desperate that these Minbari not see any weakness from her.

    "Are you unwell?" Eloria heard the Minbari woman speak, as if from far away. Her mind swam with powerful emotions, crowding, sweeping over themselves: hatreds, longings, grief, and paramount among them-fear. She felt Ale'a's strong "hands" at her back, preventing her from falling into this sea of feeling. Summoning all of her discipline, she fought down waves of nausea, carefully building back her barriers, inch by inch. Her heart was pounding and her brow was covered with a sheen of sweat, as she found her voice. "A foolish lapse," she breathed, "It will not happen again. My thanks for your concern, Delenn of the Minbari." Elo'ria lowered her veil over her face, taking refuge from Delenn's gaze, and wondered desperately if coming here had been a terrible mistake.

    It seemed like only moments after they had entered their quarters that a security operative arrived, delivering a request for Elo'ria to present herself before the War Council. After changing their travel-worn clothes, she and her aide followed the guard as he led the way through the station. Miri'a, mindful of her responsibility to protect the two women, had objected to their going alone. Elo'ria overrode her protest; it was too late to worry about trusting these people now; they were on a station in space. If those they were to meet meant them harm, there was little any of them could do to prevent it.

    They were ushered to the balcony of a large room; it was obvious by the look of the broad viewscreens and schematic displays, that they were in a military nerve center. The officer motioned for them to descend the stairs, then withdrew to the door to stand guard there, Miri'a taking up a wary position beside him.

    "Allow me to introduce to you the Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, the E'lasian Ambassador I spoke to you about, and this is her aide, Re'na," Delenn addressed the meeting. Re'na, recalling the incident in customs, discretely removed their veils.

    A tall man with an open smile and easy manner stood and stretched out his hand to Elo'ria. Remembering that touching hands was very important to humans when meeting strangers, she tentatively extended her right hand in return. His grip was firm and warm, a surprising energy coming from his touch. "John Sheridan," he said, "captain of this station." Turning to the handsome, dark-skinned man standing next to him, he announced, "This is Doctor Stephen Franklin, director of our Medlab facilities."

    Stephen Franklin extended his hand as the captain had done. "A pleasure. I have heard that you are a healer," he said, while taking her hand.

    "You are correct, doctor; I do have some small skill." Elo'ria felt something familiar about him: was it the aloneness of one who is consumed with work?

   Her gaze shifted to the last person at the table. Doctor Franklin introduced him, "And this is Mister Michael Garibaldi, head of station Security." Mister Garibaldi regarded her with suspicion, not extending his hand as the others had done. She felt his mistrust.

    "Well, well," his sarcastic tone was plain, " another stranger come out of nowhere. 'Hey, heard you all were having a war and just couldn't stay away...'"

   She met his gaze, his blue eyes drawing curiously at her heart. Aware that she had been insulted, she replied, " Since we have not met before this moment, Mister Garibaldi, it would seem that you are every bit the stranger to me. And as for 'nowhere', this place does not even appear on our charts, and my people have been riding this sector of the galaxy since before your ancestors journeyed out of their caves."

    Delenn expertly intervened at this moment, taking Elo'ria's arm and guiding her to a chair close to her own.

    "There are others on the Council who are with the fleet, or dealing with grave crises on their homeworlds." Delenn paused, glancing at Captain Sheridan. "Soon we will leave as well," she said.

   "You have brought healers and ships to help us. Since they do not have knowledge of your capabilities, I have brought you here to tell the others what your people can contribute to this struggle." Delenn stopped speaking, and gazed at Elo'ria expectantly.

    Standing up and looking at those around her in turn, Elo'ria dispensed with further pleasantries and began, " My race, the Lonorians, have the talent to feel the emotions of others. Your people would call us empaths. Our companions, the Varn, are telepaths." Garibaldi rolled his eyes and shifted restlessly in his chair. Elo'ria ignored him and continued, "I have studied some information on human telepaths, and Minbari as well. I can tell you without hesitation that the Varn are many times more powerful. In the last war against the Shadows, each of my people was able to interfere with more than one Shadow ship, even while tightly engaged in battle. This talent saved many lives. We have brought ten warships, with our best crews. They are at your disposal. It is my advice that you share your plan of attack with the flagship captain; he will analyze it and determine where our ships can do the most good."

    John Sheridan nodded, "We will take your advice with our thanks, Ambassador." He regarded Elo'ria and Re'na carefully, as if he were looking for something. "If it wouldn't be improper to ask, where are the Varn? I know they travel with you...if there is anything special they need..." He was trying hard to find the right words, a soldier uncomfortable with the art of diplomacy. Elo'ria felt a stab of homesickness; this man reminded her of her brother. She looked uneasily at Delenn, then back to Sheridan, "They are with us now, captain," clearly unsure of why he was asking such a question.

    The captain looked perplexed, again saying, "Yes, I assumed that they were, but when will we meet them?"

    Ale'as amusement was a breeze through her mind, "She has not yet told them what we are."

    Elo'ria controlled her discomfort and answered, "Captain, you misunderstand. The Varn are with us, in this room. They are the 'dwellers within'."

    John Sheridan looked astonished, "I don't understand..."

    Stephen Franklin drew nearer and said thoughtfully, "John, I believe what she is trying to tell us is that the two races live in symbiosis. Am I right, Ambassador?" Elo'ria affirmed his guess. His face brightened with curiosity. "This is very exciting. I have heard of such beings, but have never actually seen any."

    The captain continued to look confused. "Just tell me what all this means, Stephen."

    "All right. What this means is that the Lonorians somehow shelter the Varn within their own bodies. Together, they become one being, while retaining the personalities of both."

    Garibaldi threw some papers down in open disgust. "Great", he said, "Parasites. Just what we needed."

    The voice that answered him was curiously different, higher in tone and almost musical. "You have your own 'parasites', as you put it, Michael Garibaldi. There are things within you that even now draw down your strength and separate you from your soul." Turning to the Captain, eyes now glowing with a golden light, the voice continued, "It is an honor to meet you, John Sheridan. The doctor is correct. Elo'ria and I are joined. Our peoples have evolved together for five hundred thousand of your years. United, we are more than each could be apart. One gives to the other what is needed to survive-hardly a parasitic relationship." She glanced icily at Garibaldi, who was barely containing his irritation.

    At this moment, a call came in from C. & C. "Captain," Lieutenant Corwin spoke urgently, "the White Star has reached the target area. It, and the survey ships, have come under fire."

    "Excuse us, Ambassador," Sheridan said, he and Delenn getting up in unison, distress on their faces. As they left, Elo'ria was suddenly aware of the intense love that passed between the two. She felt tears spring to her eyes; these two lovers were soon to leave the station, expecting to die together in a cataclysmic battle perhaps only hours away. An unanticipated longing struck at her heart. If she herself were to die at this moment, Ale'a would certainly follow her, but she would never have had the touch of a lover or the intimacy of the Bonding. Her work had always seemed more important...

    Doctor Franklin came near, his voice pulling her back to reality, "I'm curious, Ambassador. Meaning no disrespect, but why do the Rangers need your healers?"

    "As you know, the Rangers have their Minbari physicians. They are well able to treat injuries of the body. Our healers also attend to the body; our ability to "see within" is incredibly useful. But our best skill is in healing injuries to the mind. In such a war, the Rangers will go alone, into the dark places, on journeys no others will take. Our healers will be there when they return, to restore some of what they will assuredly sacrifice."

    Stephen Franklin nodded, looking thoughful for a moment, "If you agree, I want to talk to you about these things again, Ambassador. There are so many questions I want to ask you. Come to Medlab, when you get settled. I'll show you around personally."

    Elo'ria regarded him closely, attempting to measure his sincerity. His intense brown eyes looked back at her with open honesty. She inclined her head, "As you wish, doctor. I am at your service." She was aware of another stare, rude and unpleasant. Turning to Garibaldi, she returned his gaze straight on.

    "Is there a problem, Mister Garibaldi?"

    "Nope, everything's fine, just wonderful," he said as he gathered up his files and headed for the door. He looked at her again, "I'll be watching you, Ambassador. You're right up at the top of my list." He left.

    "Have I said something to offend him, doctor?"

    "Garibaldi is always suspicious of newcomers, even more so lately," Franklin's voice was concerned. "He's an okay guy, really. Give him a chance; he'll come around."

    Elo'ria nodded to Stephen, then left the room. As she and Re'na returned to their quarters, she was hardly reassured.

   ----------

    The Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah: Personal Journal Entry, the 26th day of Trandem, in the year 982 of the Return (2261 Standard).

    // It has been three standard days since the Captain and Delenn left to join the fleet of ships massed to oppose the Shadows and the Vorlons. Casualties have begun to return to Babylon 5 and they tell of a great conflict, with both enemies forced to listen to the rejection of the younger races. It is said that they withdrew, with a First One, to places beyond the Rim. A collective sigh of relief has been exhaled by the inhabitants of this place.

   Two of our warships were lost in the battle; the reports said that they fought bravely, holding off many enemy ships so that others in this cause could escape. The remainder of our ships are on their way home for repairs. For my part, I have spent many hours in Medlab, helping the staff who are strained to their limits by the numbers of wounded. They accept my assistance now, but my first hours there were almost disastrous...

    "Ambassador. You've come for that tour I promised you?" Stephen Franklin did not wait for my reply. "I'm really sorry, but, as you can see, this isn't a good time." Every square inch of the room we were standing in was occupied by bodies, some moaning in pain or confusion, others ominously quiet.

   "It looks like you could use some help, doctor. I am prepared to work," I said, pointing to the healer's robes I was wearing and the medical case I carried. "Just tell me where I should start..."

    Franklin looked unsure for a moment. "I don't think so, Ambassador. Things could get messy..."

    "It looks like things are already "messy", as you say. I can handle myself-if I get in the way, throw me out, but right now you have two extra hands willing to work."

    Franklin quickly decided. Directing me to a technician on the other side of the room, he said, "Help him triage these people. We have to separate the dying for whom help will be futile, from those who have a chance to live if helped quickly."

    I understood immediately, crossing the room and beginning the arduous task. Hours passed, barely noticed. The room never seemed to clear; as some were taken away for treatment, or the dead removed, others quickly took their places. The burns and trauma were more severe than anything I had ever seen before. I am in no way squeamish, but many times I found myself having to control my heaving stomach as I worked feverishly to control bleeding, close hideous wounds, and somehow put living beings back together again after they had been blown apart.

   After cleaning away the charred skin from a blaster burn and sending the patient on to surgery, I stood for a moment and surveyed the room. Exhaustion threatened to overwhelm me, and I fought it hard. Ale'a's voice came, ** "There is one more you must see, El'. He lies in a corner in the next room where he thinks to die without troubling anyone. You must not allow that; it is not his time."**

    Moving toward the image my companion held before my eyes, I found myself looking down upon a young human man, barely out of his teens. He was dressed in the vesture of the Rangers. His breathing was ragged; he flinched as I touched his burning skin. Opening his eyes, he looked suspiciously at me, withdrawing weakly from my touch.

    "You are very sick," I said. "Let me see to your injuries. I can help." Reaching out carefully, I laid my left hand on his forehead, the other hand over his hammering heart. The feelings I sent him were ones of safety and coolness. He relaxed a bit under my hand, speaking with difficulty.

    "There are no injuries here for you to tend, healer. I was not a fighter in the great battle." He closed his eyes. "My ship was on the way to the fight when we received a distress call from some Drazi. Seemed like they were marooned on a remote outpost." He took a deep breath and coughed hard, sweat beginning to run from his face. "When we reached them, we found a few traders. They were outmaneuvered by their own scheme to rob the outpost while everyone else was 'busy'. We took them aboard, not knowing we took aboard an infection as well. The crew with me are already dead; I wait to join them."

    The diagnosis on the datapad at his feet said Carillion fever; common enough among the Drazi-for them not much more than a human cold. It rarely crossed species, but if it was Carillion fever, the usual treatments should be working. The medicine in his intravenous bag was a standard antibiotic. The trend on his chart showed that it was not controlling the disease. If he continued in this way, he would die.

    "What is your name, Ranger?"

    "Tom," he murmured, "Tom McCabe."

    "Well now, Tom. My name is Elo'ria and my friend, Entil'Zha Delenn, would not forgive me if I did not try to prevent your going."

    His eyes widened at Delenn's name.

    "Lie still and let me look at you," I said, holding a scanner close to his body. The readings suggested Carillion fever, but some things did not quite match. Racking my brain for the answer that seemed just out of reach, I asked, "Tom, please if you can, open your mouth." Using a small lighted instrument, I gently pushed his tongue down. There, as I suspected, were dark blue patches, covering his palates. Carillion fever does not leave such a sign; but there is another disease that does. My people had documented its cross-infection to humanoid species decades ago: Rigian Toxemia- always fatal unless treated quickly.

    Getting up, I squeezed the Ranger's hand and promised to return. My search for Dr. Franklin or one of the other physicians was fruitless; they were in surgery. All the technicians were frightfully busy. Remembering my mentor's advice to 'know of my own knowledge', I returned to Tom, kneeling next to his cot.

    Easing an oxygen mask over his face, I told him, "You have a rare infection of the blood, but one that is treatable." He regarded me, questions in his eyes. "If you agree, I will give you the proper medicines. There will be pain; it cannot be helped, but I will stay with you and we will do this together. Do you trust me?"

    Weakly, he nodded his assent, his eyes never moving from my face. The remedy was relatively easy to compound from the elixirs I had brought with me. In moments, the bright yellow liquid was finding his vein. Knowing the searing pain that would soon grip his body, I withdrew a tamek leaf from my bag and eased it under his tongue. The herb would dull his suffering.

    Waiting is never easy. His hand never loosened its grip, even when the tamek sent him into unconsciousness. An hour passed; gradually his vital signs began to improve. Taking a cloth and some soothing herbs, I gently washed the sweat from his face and body, careful not to cause him pain. Another hour and the needs of my own body had become insistent; I could no longer ignore them. Being sure he was stable, and disengaging my hand again, I went to find water and a bit of food.

    Crossing the room on my return, I heard voices raised in heated argument.

    "What's this in his I.V. bag? It can't be what I ordered. Who's taking care of this patient?"

   "We got busy with another patient, doctor. This one was dying and we felt..."

    "Does he look like he's dying?" Stephen Franklin shouted. "I want this stuff analyzed, Mister Kramer. I want to know what's going on around here."

    I stepped forward, not wanting the staff to suffer any further reproach. Kneeling again at the side of his cot, I called softly, "Tom, how are you feeling?" His eyes were closed, his color ghostly pale. For a moment, I froze, thinking that my efforts had not been enough. A quick glance at the monitors reassured me of his improvement.

    Tom opened his eyes and smiled wanly, "Friend of Entil'Zha. It is easier to breathe, but the noise here has become painful."

    "I am sorry, Ranger. It will stop soon." I looked up into Doctor Franklin's stormy face and gathered my courage. "I am taking care of this patient, doctor. His fever was misdiagnosed, an understandable mistake. Because proper therapy was delayed, he was in danger of dying. The medicine I gave him has caused the improvement you see." I added pointedly, "All the shouting is causing him distress."

    "Continue the current therapy," Franklin tersely ordered the technician. "Analyze the medication and see if we can make a suitable analog." Turning back to me, his voice pointedly quiet, he said, "May I see you in my office, Ambassador?"

    Empathic talent was not necessary to guess that I had somehow earned Doctor Franklin's displeasure. He waited while I passed into the office, then ordered the door closed. Turning to me, he spoke in measured tones.

    "Before I say anything else, I want to thank you for your help today. The staff said you did a good job." He paused, picking his words. "Now, on the matter of that Ranger, I think you can understand why I'm upset."

    "No, I cannot," I answered tersely, "The young man is improving and will likely survive; two hours ago death was upon him. Why would that upset you?"

    "You treated a human patient with a drug unknown to us. You didn't ask anybody; you just went ahead and did it. How could you know that it was safe? You could have killed him! And is it your practice to leave patients alone after giving dangerous treatments?"

    "There was no such objection earlier today, when I treated non-humans," I answered heatedly, barely controlling my temper . "Does this mean that we 'aliens' should keep our remedies to ourselves and not contaminate Humans with them? And as for his being alone- when I found him, he was lying alone and about to die that way. I stayed with him until I was sure he was out of immediate danger." The exasperation that came from fatigue and hurt feelings had overcome my patience. Knowing that I had to leave before I said something unfortunate, I quickly departed, leaving Stephen Franklin to watch my retreat.

    Later that evening I returned to check on Tom. The Medlab was quiet for the moment, the lights turned low. The Ranger was sleeping; near-normal readings displayed on the monitors. I took a moment to study his youthful face. Curls of thick, brown hair fell across a strong, high forehead; dark eyebrows arched over the soft brown eyes I remembered. His face was round, his mouth firm, and the beginnings of a mustache darkened the space over full lips. Placing my hand lightly on his chest, I concentrated on sending him feelings of ease and comfort. His eyes opened, his hand coming up to grip my hand in his.

    "Tell Entil'Zha you have prevented my leaving. I am at her service, in Valen's name." He took a breath, "I owe you a debt. Thank you, healer." He drifted into sleep again.

    "I will tell her, Ranger," I whispered as I gently placed his hand back down on the bed. Turning to leave, I almost ran into Doctor Franklin, who was standing behind, watching.

    "I am sorry for intruding. It will not happen again." I set my sights on the door, intending to leave quickly.

    "Don't leave yet, Ambassador," he said. I braced myself for a decree forbidding me from coming there again. "I'm glad I found you here; I was about to call you on the com. What I wanted to say to you was...was that I'm sorry for being a jerk today. With all that's been going on around here, I guess I took some of it out on you. Not much of an excuse, but there it is. You really have done excellent work. If you can see your way clear after what happened today, it would be a great help to us if you would come and work with us again."

    I was prepared to counter with a piece of sarcasm, but it died in my throat. It was not difficult to feel his effort; this was a man who did not apologize often. So instead I found myself saying, "I also apologize, doctor. It is my nature to be impulsive; I should have cleared it with someone."

    "No, you did what was best for the patient." Franklin looked knowingly into my eyes, "It would seem that you have had some experience with Humans. I'm grateful that you discovered our mistake. Can we still be friends?" he smiled.

    "No, doctor." His face fell. "We can be friends only if you stop calling me 'ambassador'. My friends call me Elo'ria."

    He smiled again. "Elo'ria, my friends call me Stephen."

    That day seems like lifetimes ago, not three days. Already I feel that somehow I belong here, on this island in space. One war has ended, but the winds of conflict have not ceased blowing; of that I am sure. A transition is being made to another struggle. It is unclear from what quarter it will come, but all here know that it is only a matter of time.// END ENTRY

   

   Chapter 3

    The door chime sounded. The sleeper did not stir. Since the final battle of the Shadow war and the unrest that followed, the work of healing the wounds of those terrible conflicts had taken its toll in exhaustion. Weeks passed and the parade of those needing help seemed never to end: soldiers, telepaths, refugees, alien races of every description..

    The door chime sounded again, and then again, insisting on the sleeper's attention. She sat up in bed and looked wearily at the clock nearby. Still an hour before she had promised to return to Medlab. She sighed, leaving the bed and moving to the living room; there would be no more sleep now.

    "Come," she said wearily.

    The door opened, revealing the Minbari ambassador, her face looking tired and stressed.

    "I am sorry. I have disturbed you. I can return at a later time..."

    "No, do not go, Delenn. It is almost time for me to return to my duties in Medlab. Please, sit down, have some tea. You look tired" Elo'ria drew a satin robe around her shoulders and bound her waist-length hair with two finely enameled pins, then moved to the kitchen to heat the tea water. By now she could feel her friend's distress.

    Delenn sat down on the sofa, thinking that maybe this was a mistake. Elo'ria was her friend, but each had not known the other long and she did not want to burden their new-found friendship.

    "How may I serve you, Delenn?" Elo'ria placed the tea things on the table in front of them and began to pour the fragrant liquid into handleless cups. She waited expectantly, giving the other woman a chance to gather her thoughts.

    Delenn looked about the room. It was furnished simply with two long low couches, several exquisite chairs and two finely carved black tables, a low one in front of them, and a higher one on the opposite wall, crowded with bottles and jars of every description, containing, she knew, a priceless collection of medicines with which Elo'ria practiced her healer's art. She turned her eyes back to the E'lasian Ambassador, meeting her open gaze. In that moment, she knew why Valen had trusted these people so well. Controlling her anxiety, she spoke.

   "You have heard the stories of what happened to John when he went to Z'ha'dum?"

   "I have heard them." Elo'ria waited.

   "If what you have heard is that he died there and then somehow returned from death, it is the truth." Her voice bespoke deep sadness. "I was to blame for his going to that place."

   "How?"

   "It is enough that I bear the responsibility. My decisions led him to what he did. While he was at Z'ha'dum, he was given the choice all who went there were given: serve the Shadows or be killed. He died while destroying their principal city. A First One named Lorien was there when he fell." Tears had begun to fall from her eyes; Delenn attempted to wipe them away as she continued, "He restored to John a portion of his life. He has, at most, twenty years before death will claim him again."

    Elo'ria gently placed her hand over Delenn's. "What you have told me explains the trace of sadness that follows you."

    "I have tried to 'be okay' with this, as John is. But I find it impossible not to search for some way to restore to him the time he has lost." Delenn's voice had become quiet with anguish.

    "And what have you learned?"

    "Doctor Franklin has examined him; besides his amazement at the process of renewal that keeps John alive, he has no clue as to what to do. His medical records have been sent secretly to a trusted healer on Minbar; she, also, has never seen a case even remotely like his. You are the only other person who knows about this, and so it must remain."

    "You have my oath as a healer that I will not divulge what we say here. What is it that you wish me to do?"

    Delenn turned to look at Elo'ria, their eyes meeting. "You have heard that Minbar is in danger of full-scale civil war."

    Elo'ria nodded, aware of the other woman's pain. Delenn continued, "My presence is demanded; I must go to Minbar shortly to try to turn this horror around, before we foolishly destroy ourselves. I cannot know the outcome; whether or not I will survive, since there are many who wish my death." She stopped, taking a long breath "In Valen's writings he mentions that your people are keepers of knowledge, some from ancient peoples, much of it unknown to any race now living. It may be asking a great deal, but I wish for you to continue my search for a remedy for John's condition, even if I fail to survive what is coming."

    "Your information is correct, Delenn. Our people have always sought knowledge; you could say our world is one gigantic library. It may be that we can help." Elo'ria was already busy thinking, "It will not be easy, but there are those that can be trusted at the great library in Zeneb. It will take caution to contact them without arousing the curiosity of others. The search may be long and painstaking. We work unceasingly to catalog the ancient records, but many are still in manuscript, or exist as images within devices we barely know how to access."

    Delenn's face had brightened a bit. "Whatever you can do, my friend, it will be enough. In return, I will owe you a great debt of honor."

    "You owe me nothing, Delenn. It is a privilege to serve two such as you and John. Each of you has sacrificed much; it is time for the universe to give something back. I can make no promises, but if there is any knowledge to be found, I will find it..." But already Elo'ria was having doubts; even with the help of her teachers on E'las, how would she know where to start looking? And the time, twenty years, was woefully short for such a search.

    Delenn got up slowly, preparing to leave. "I have disturbed you long enough; as it is, you will be late for your time in Medlab."

    "That is a small thing, Delenn. But there is one question I must ask. Will John allow us-myself and my companion-to touch his mind and learn what happened to him on Z'ha'dum? This examination is critical to the search. It may give us the proper direction."

    Delenn looked anxious for a moment, then steeled her resolve. "He will agree, if I ask it."

    "I will be at your disposal, my friend."

    Delenn nodded, bowed in the Minbari fashion, then left. Elo'ria stood thinking for a long moment, then walked to the computer terminal and began to encode a message to E'las.

   ----------

    Two Standard Days Later: House of the High Council at Zeneb, capital city of E'las:

    A large polished door opened to a quiet hallway; voices raised in stormy exchange drifting outward before it closed behind, leaving the two men who had exited the room to continue their argument.

    "The Shadow War is over, Lord Ve'lar. Those we sent to aid this League of yours have distinguished themselves in every way. Your sister and her staff have done a brilliant job. Let us congratulate them now and bring them home. The First Ones are gone, and with them, their threat to us. There is little point in continuing this open contact with the other races."

    "You must understand, Lord Med'ron. There is a new wave sweeping the galaxy. Many have felt its power. It is sure to bring great change. E'las must be part of this, or we will be left behind-a backwater world that the other races will have nothing but pity for."

    "No, you must understand," Med'ron said, lowering his voice to a hiss as if afraid that someone would overhear. "The Shadows have their allies, as you well know. Even now, our informants tell us of their desire to find a world to replace the one they lost at Z'ha'dum. They also seek to repay those they blame for their fall. Having contact with this League has already attracted their attention. Two days ago we received a report that our archaeological site in the Beta Nine system was destroyed; all ten scientists killed and the attackers gone without a trace."

    Ve'lar had heard the reports and they distressed him, but he pressed, "There is no proof that it was Shadow allies. The attackers could have been raiders or tech runners. We cannot let this opportunity go. You know the prophecies; now is the time for their fulfillment."

    Med'ron studied Ve'lar for a moment, controlling his rage. The High Council was listening to this young upstart. He would see them all killed and their world destroyed on some childish dream of prophecy and glory. "We can let this go, Ve'lar, and we will. There are powerful factions that already oppose you. Our survival is too important; the knowledge we keep here too invaluable to leave it open to destruction. Your sister's friends on Babylon 5 cannot help your cause. The Minbari castes fight each other for power; the Earthers slide ever closer to civil war. Give it up, Ve'lar. Bring the mission home, for the good of our world."

    "For the good of our world, I cannot do as you wish, Med'ron. If it is contention you want, then I and my friends will fight you."

    Just then, a call from Lord Med'ron's communicator interrupted them. Stepping away, he answered in a low voice, then looked up again at Ve'lar. "Urgent business calls me away. This isn't finished, Ve'lar." He turned and rushed away, leaving a cold feeling in Ve'lar's gut.

   ----------

   Later, at Lord Med'ron D'Hal'Tah's estate, powerful ministers gathered.

    "Every other way has been examined and discarded, Lord Med'ron," one of the men was saying. "It has to be this; it is the only means to convince the Council that this alliance with the other races should be terminated."

    Another voice added, "When this is done, and the blame squarely put at the feet of the Humans, the people will be persuaded that the League cannot be trusted and they will withdraw their support for Lord Ve'lar's cause. The Council will have no choice..."

    "What motive could we say the Humans have for doing such a thing?" a third voice broke in.

    "Humans are naturally distrustful of telepaths; they persecute and control their own. It is also known to us that they regard our relationship with the Varn with revulsion. A high official on Babylon 5, the Security Chief, has been vocal about it, openly harrassing our people there."

    "Enough. Further debate is senseless. Extraordinary circumstances sometimes demand unpleasant action. When can this 'action' be taken?" Lord Med'ron said with distaste.

    "Our spies are on Babylon 5 at this moment. Already they watch the Ambassador's movements. As soon as you give the order, my lord, the plan can begin," the first man answered.

    "What about the Varn companions? Do they not object?"

    "Some believe as we do. For the others, we hold them to their vow, taken long ago, that they will never interfere in those things which are ours to do. And besides, such a conversation as this one, if it were repeated to the Council, could earn all of us death. The companions value their lives."

    Lord Med'ron looked around at the faces in the room, all waiting upon his order. "Get it done," he said brusquely.

    "The stroke will be swift, my lord, and it will seem to all that the Humans have delivered it. By the time you must face the High Council again, the Ambassador will be dead."

    Med'ron nodded to those assembled, dismissing them. After the room was empty, he crossed to a table, lifted a decanter of wine, and poured himself a large glass. Drinking it down all at once, he looked into the mirror, noticing that he looked old. Lord Med'ron continued to regard his reflection, wondering sadly if it were the reflection of a patriot, or the greatest traitor E'las would ever know.

   

   Chapter 4

    Delenn sat at her desk, the last of the petitions dealt with All of the arrangements for the continued operation of the Minbari Embassy on Babylon 5 were finished. She allowed herself to feel tired for just this moment; the universe had given her little chance to rest in the last few months. When they fought the Shadow War, it had seemed to her more than just a struggle for survival. The younger races would now take control of their destinies, making something shining and noble to last at least a thousand years. But instead, she thought sadly, the fires of smaller conflicts were being ignited all over this sector of the galaxy, catching even Minbar in the flames. It took all of their energy just to keep from being burned into chaos; the shining future seemed so very far away.

    "Delenn," Lennier's gentle voice broke through her thoughts. His movements, learned from growing up in Temple, were absolutely silent; with her mind so preoccupied, his presence caught her unawares.

    "Yes, Lennier?" she asked, turning toward the sound of his voice.

    "The cruiser will be arriving in ten hours. All is in readiness. Are there any other duties you wish me to perform?"

    Delenn smiled, "Thank you, Lennier. As always, you ease my way. I am grateful. No, there is nothing else. For the next few hours, I will be in the Captain's quarters and I wish to remain undisturbed."

    "As you wish, Delenn. I will meet you on board the shuttle." Lennier bowed, his hands forming the shape of a triangle between them. Delenn bowed in return. He silently left the room.

   ----------

    John Sheridan was intent upon the work before him: arranging flowers and candles around the room in the way he remembered they had been in Delenn's quarters on their night of Shan-fal. They had had stolen moments since then, making love each time with every ounce of passion in their beings. But this night was different; in a few hours Delenn would be leaving on a journey to Minbar that was sure to be perilous. These could be their last hours together for a very long time, maybe forever. Sheridan pushed that thought away. It would be all right and she would come back to him. She just had to; he was nothing without her quick intelligence, her strength, and above all, her love. He surveyed the room. Everything was going to be perfect for this night, right down to the satin sheets he had borrowed from Ivanova.

   ----------

    Delenn hurried down the corridors to John's quarters, fiercely controlling her fear of the journey ahead of her. Nothing was going to interfere to spoil their last hours together. She stood before his door, took a calming breath, keyed the password, and entered. Her eyes were greeted with the glow of dozens of candles, flickering softly. The delicate scent of roses filled the room, making it seem as if she had stepped into the most beautiful garden in the world. Looking for John, she stepped into his bedroom. The sound of water hitting the shower floor revealed his whereabouts. The bed was turned down, exposing dark blue satin sheets-she had seen some just like these in Invanova's quarters. She smiled to herself; John had gone to a great deal of trouble to make their time together wonderful. Not wishing to wait even a moment longer, she quickly undressed and stepped into the bath.

    Slowly opening the shower door so as not to startle him, she said, "John."

    He turned toward her voice, his eyes brightening with love and surprise. "Delenn."

    "I thought you might need someone to wash your back." Delenn's voice was low and sensual, her green eyes dancing.

    John laughed with delight. He reached out to her and pulled her under the water with him, his arms encircling her body, his mouth coming down on hers. She relished his lips and explored his mouth with her tongue; she could never seem to get enough of the taste of him. He broke the kiss, taking her face in his hands, kissing over her eyes, her cheeks, her neck under her jaw where her pulse quickened. He took two of his fingers and traced the rivulets of water that ran down between her breasts, lifting them to his lips and licking the moisture, watching her eyes turn dark with arousal. He leaned down and kissed her breasts, feeling them tighten under his lips, his tongue moving over each nipple, causing her moan as they firmed into dusky pink buds. When he came up to meet her eyes again, she reached back and hit the control for the water. They stood there for a short time, dripping water, their hearts pounding wildly, holding each other so closely that some of the water pooled between their bodies and could not reach the floor. John's thoughts turned reluctantly to her imminent departure and the danger she faced. It was all he could do not to panic, throw away restraint, and beg her not to go, not to put her precious life in danger, not to leave him, possibly to face a universe gone cold because she was no longer in it. As if she had heard his thoughts, a small shiver caught Delenn. John felt it and held her ever closer, sharing the warmth of his body, then reaching for a towel and covering her with it. The strength of his love easily overcame his fear; he would never place the burden on her of having to choose between her duty to her people and her love for him.

    "I love you, Delenn. God, you're beautiful," John said as he gently slid one arm under her knees and the other around her waist, lifting her off her feet to rest against his chest. Delenn twined her arms around his neck and kissed him slowly, savoring every sensation, taking his breath into her mouth. He carried her to his bed, the towel dropping away. He gently laid her down, holding her arms away from her body, so that he could see her beauty fully. John's heart contracted as he looked at her, her beauty so perfect, and he so deeply aware of the depth of her love and her trust in him. Letting her arms go, he reached out and tenderly pushed some of the wet hair away from her face. Delenn reached up and drew him down to lie beside her, burying her face in his neck. John lifted her face to his and kissed her deeply, holding the kiss as if trying to consume her. Delenn marveled at the utter safety she felt, surrounded as she was by John's tenderness. She broke the kiss finally and her lips began moving down his neck, then gently kissing and caressing the skin over his chest. Moving down over his abdomen, her hands touched him with gentle intimacy and explored every inch of the points of pleasure she had already discovered. "I love you, John, with all my heart. You are the other half of my soul," she whispered, her voice a sob of joy.

    Her touch aroused his fevered passion, his blood becoming liquid fire. . "You are my heart, my soul, Delenn. All that I am is yours," John said, his voice ragged.

    His touch was electric, her enjoyment almost excruciating, as she wrapped her body around his, her eyes never leaving his face. Delenn could feel the force of their intimacy in the center of her being. The pleasure was exquisite, carrying her away with its intensity. She gasped in surprise as she suddenly became aware that she was sharing John's emotions. His senses were white hot; his tension like a finely-coiled spring. She sensed his love and desire, like a drug that was setting every nerve in her body on fire. Delenn saw the realization in his eyes as he too felt this new level of connection between them. It was by far the most she had ever shared with another being; even with Dukhat she had never been this close. The sensation was singularly intoxicating and touched her deeply.

    Tears formed in her eyes, and fell onto John's chest. His fingers moved up to her face, touching the moisture on her cheek. "What's wrong, my heart? Have I done something to hurt you?" he asked.

    Delenn cupped his face in her hands and kissed him slowly, her mouth drinking in the tenderness of his lips. She broke the kiss, and looked into his passion-clouded eyes. "There is nothing wrong, John," she whispered. "Everything is very right. You feel it too."

    He nodded, amazed at what was happening between them. Gathering her body close, aware of the intense longing within both of them to be one, he kissed her slowly, with tender longing. With his hands and his mouth he worshiped her body, until each could wait no longer and together they tumbled over the edge…

   ----------

    Michael Garibaldi was taking the tram car from the docking bays, his new place of business since resigning his position as Security chief and going "free-lance". Stopping in Blue Sector, the tram door opened to admit several passengers. As he looked up from his newspaper impatiently, he saw a familiar figure: a tall woman, face veiled, her slender hands gripping a small case. Watching her sit down, he remembered his surveillance of her and her party after their arrival months ago. There was never anything even remotely suspicious about their movements, but he still believed they were trouble; telepaths were always trouble. Even so, this woman got to him; he just couldn't explain it. When she looked at him, something inside stirred. He would know if the feeling were coming from a scan. No, it wasn't that at all. There was something about her, as if he knew her somehow. Garibaldi shrugged at the feeling, got up, and moved to the seat next to the woman in question.

    "Hello, Ambassador. You look busy. Need any help?" He eyed her carefully, hypersensitive to any hint of a telepathic scan.

   "Mister Garibaldi," she acknowledged. "I appreciate your offer, but I think I can still handle a healer's case." Behind her veil, she regarded him warily. Elo'ria was aware of his resignation from Security, his words against Captain Sheridan, even his dealings with the less honest denizens of Babylon 5.

    "Look, Ambassador, I'm sorry if we've gotten off on the wrong foot. Just trying to help."

    Ale'a's musical voice sang in her mind, **"He is touched by the dark, El', and he is unaware. The influence of others is heavily upon him. It would seem they are not his well-wishers."**

    ** "Can he be helped?" ** Elo'ria did not know why she felt the need to do anything for this man. He had made her first weeks on the Station very unpleasant, harassing her staff with security checks, having her followed, questioning those who had contact with any of her party. But still, there was something about this man that drew her. The feeling was illogical, and puzzling.

    Ale'a's answer took a moment, **"The hurt he has suffered is not without remedy, but he will have to wish it before any healing can be done."**

    Elo'ria came back to herself, hearing Mister Garibaldi say, "Look, the business contact I have to meet isn't going to be available for another hour. I was planning on using the time to have breakfast in the Zocalo- at a place that has great tea. If you aren't going anywhere right away, maybe you'd join me?"

    Surprised at the change in his usual treatment of her, and curious as well, El'oria answered, "I was about to return to my quarters. The night was very long in Medlab and I am tired. Perhaps I would not be the best company."

    "A cup of tea will make you feel better. And I'll even escort you home. Now, how about it? Will you stay for a while?" He wasn't sure why he was going this far to spend time with a telepath- actually, when he thought about it, two telepaths. You could never really trust them, he was thinking, but somehow when he looked at her, it was easier to ignore his usual misgivings.

    Miri'a and Ka'len had warned Elo'ria that it was not safe to stay out unescorted. There was unrest at home and it made them uneasy. She had over-ruled them, as she often did, saying she would not be kept a prisoner. Now she was sure that if she did this they would be angry with her. Looking again at Garibaldi, she felt his sincerity, and that insistent tug at her heart. "For a short while, then. I do not wish to worry the others."

    "What's to worry about? You are with the man who knows every inch of this station, and just about everyone in it. You're safe with me." -----------

    A few shops down in the Zocalo from the cafe where Garibaldi and Elo'ria now sipped tea, a commodities importer looked mournfully at his accounts. He was drifting heavily into debt; the embargo President Clark had placed on Babylon 5 had hurt his business greatly. There had been talk, all unsubstantiated of course, that Commander Ivanova had cut a deal with pirates and tech runners to get supplies into the station. But he wasn't sure if he could depend on such an arrangement; fresh food, perfumes, designer clothing and other luxuries were considered unnecessary in times of unrest. Already, the authorities were pressing him for the rent payment on his shop; they would not wait much longer. He thought about what it would be like to wander Downbelow, homeless, without means, without hope. He shuddered.

    His mind turned to the stranger who had come two, or was it three?, days ago, showing him samples of exotic fruits, not from Earth, of course, but delicious and very pleasing to the eye. He had asked few questions, knowing instinctively that the answers would most likely not be forthcoming. The stranger had offered to make a supply available to him. The importer never dealt with the black market; it was risky and others he knew were lucky to have lived to regret it. So he told the stranger he would think about it. The man had smiled strangely at him as he left the shop, almost as if he knew that this moment would come.

   The merchant went to the com and tapped in the code the stranger had given him. The man's familiar face filled the screen, looking as if he had been expecting the call.

    "Well, I can see you have been thinking about my offer. Have you come to a decision?"

    "I'll handle your merchandise, but only until my debts are paid; then our relationship ends."

    "Of course, whatever you wish." The stranger took a breath, then continued, as if he had been trying to figure a solution to a problem, and had just found it. "There is something you can do for me now. At this moment, a very special couple is having breakfast at the Green Tree Cafe. The woman is very fond of a particular kind of fruit and is wealthy enough to afford it. Fortunately I have some just in; if you are quick, you can sell some to the cafe staff. Once you have established that you can obtain this and other delicacies, and seeing the profit that can be made, they will seek you out again, to our mutual gain."

   The importer agreed quickly, impatient to begin the process that would pay his debts. This smuggler made him uneasy; the end of this association could not come too quickly.

   

   Chapter 5

    Delenn awoke with a start. John was holding her close, his body wrapped around hers from behind, his arms warm as they encircled her body. His breathing was slow and regular, a soft snore escaping every few breaths. She smiled as she remembered how embarrassed he had been after their first dinner together in her quarters; how he had fallen asleep during the lengthy meditations required during a formal meal. He had tried to cover his lapse, but his snore had already given him away. How long ago that seemed! She had never suspected then how precious he would become to her.

    Lifting her head and looking at the clock, she saw that there was very little time left before she had to leave. Turning herself around to face him, Delenn softly kissed John's lips, then his eyes, smiling when he opened them and saw the desire in hers. His arms enfolded her in the safety of his love; as he held her against his body, she could feel the throb of his heart as it quickened its pace. Wordlessly, riveted by his heated response to her, she allowed him to carry her away to burn in the flame of the passion he had enkindled in her soul.

   ----------

    "So, ambassador, tell me why your people would send a healer to do a diplomat's job. You spend most of your time in Medlab. Most of the other ambassadors are busy plotting new conspiracies, arranging assassinations, or cutting deals with smugglers. You, on the other hand, are so very unoccupied, I can't help but wonder..."

    Elo'ria looked at Michael Garibaldi over the rim of her cup. She swallowed the aromatic, slightly sweet liquid, then put the cup down in the saucer. Mindful of Ale'a's caution that the dark had touched this man, she decided to answer with care.

    "My aide, Re'na, takes care of the business of our embassy, Mister Garibaldi. Beside being a student of the law on our world, she is also a gifted negotiator. I, on the other hand, have little training or interest in political matters. We have formed an arrangement in which we each get to do what we love while serving here."

    "Then why send you at all? Why not just her and the others?"

    "My brother was given the duty of answering Entil'Zha Delenn's call. If the ambassador he sent was not of the highest rank in our family, it would have been seen by the High Council as an insult. I love my brother, Mr. Garibaldi; there is little I would not do to spare him dishonor."

    Garibaldi watched this woman as she spoke, the brilliant purple of her eyes captivating him. He tried to shrug the feeling off; for all he knew, she was somehow creating this sensation in his mind since he couldn't begin to figure where it was coming from. It was as if his heart had a memory of her, although he was sure they had never met before the day he had first seen her in the War Room. He thought of his former lover, Lise; when it had finally been safe for her to come from Mars to Babylon 5, he'd found out that she was married yet again- and this time her new husband was William Edgars, Garibaldi's new employer. The pain he felt when he realized that loving Lise was never going to go anywhere was still fresh. Could that be why he was so inexplicably drawn to talk to this alien telepath? She was certainly beautiful, in an exotic way. But he had failed with beautiful women before, his thoughts returning to Lise, and then to Talia. Maybe it was time to give up.

    "Do you have a family, Mister Garibaldi?" Elo'ria's voice, soft and melodic, penetrated his thoughts. Despite her intentional barriers, she had sensed his feeling of loss.

    "No, ambassador, not anymore. My father raised me; I don't even remember my mother." Garibaldi smiled, remembering, "My dad was a soldier, and a good one. He taught me to stay with a fight and never give up, never back down, until the job gets done." He looked away an instant, then his eyes moved back to capture Elo'ria's again. "I guess I haven't always followed the lesson. Anyway, he's dead now."

    "You have no one else?" Elo'ria could not imagine being separated from family.

    "Yeah, well, there have been close friends. I guess they qualify as family. One was Frank Kemmer, a guy I used to fly with on Europa. He and his wife and daughter took me in when the rest of my life was turning to shit. Frank was killed in an accident arranged by some bad guys who wanted to get to me." Garibaldi pushed hard at the familiar feeling of guilt. "Now, Jeff Sinclair, he was my good friend who got me posted here to Babylon 5," he said, motioning toward the walls of the station expansively. "Well, he disappeared during the Shadow War. So you see, I don't have much luck with 'family'."

    Elo'ria felt a strange sadness. It must be terrible to be all alone in the world. "I have found that luck has little to do with it. It is the small sacrifices we make, the chances we take to reach out and share what we are...those things are what binds "family". Do you not have such a connection with others here?" she asked.

    Garibaldi sat back in his chair, watching the expression on his dining partner's face. It was hard for him to believe he was so easily confiding in this stranger. "I used to think the people here-Stephen, Ivanova, Sheridan-were close to being what I could call family, but I was wrong. They all have delusions of grandeur, especially Sheridan." His expression challenged her to contradict him. "They don't trust me anymore and I don't trust them either. That's why it's time for me to leave this crazy place. I don't want to be around when they get everyone around here killed."

    ----------

   John Sheridan walked his Delenn to the docking bay, carrying a small bag of her personal items, the last things she had had to gather for this journey. His feet felt heavy, reluctant to carry him to this parting. Stealing a glance at her, he couldn't help but admire her strength and courage. Those qualities had gotten her to this point, through all of the countless changes and crises of the last three years. Now he found himself praying that they would be enough to carry her through the difficulties ahead. Lennier would be with her, but to John that just wasn't good enough. He ought to be there at her side himself, he thought, knowing in the same instant that it was the one thing that was not possible.

    They reached the gangway to the Minbari shuttle. It would take Delenn to the cruiser waiting alongside the station to devour her and take her away. John handed her bag to the shuttle pilot, then turned and held her hands in his, bringing them up to his lips and kissing each palm in turn.

    Tears had begun to make Delenn's eyes burn. She tried to quickly blink them away so John would not see. It would hurt him to see her cry. She steadied her voice, willing it not to quaver.

    "John, please do something for me while I am gone." He looked at her, questions in his eyes.

    "Sure, anything you want." His trust in her was without reservation.

    "Go and see Elo'ria. Allow her to examine you. She is my friend and I trust her. Her people may have an answer to what happened to you on Z'ha'dum. It may be that we can have more time together."

    John saw the hope in her eyes. Despite his discomfort with any probe of his experience on Z'ha'dum, he couldn't deny her this. "Okay, if it will make you feel better while you are away, I'll do it."

   "Thank you, John. I will send a message when we reach Minbar, just as soon as it is safe to do so." Reaching out to touch his face, she tried in those seconds to memorize every feature, every line. "I love you, John. Be careful."

    John felt the sharp sting of their imminent separation grip his heart. Taking her in his arms, surrounding her with all his love and faith, he whispered, "I love you, Delenn. Be safe. Come back to me." His lips came down to touch hers gently, and then he was deepening the kiss, she returning it, each storing away the feel and taste of the other.

    Lennier approached, uncomfortable at having to interrupt, "Your pardon, Delenn, but the shuttle pilot says we must leave immediately to keep the scheduled rendezvous.".

    "Thank you, Lennier," Delenn said, still holding John, unwilling to let go.

    She and John regretfully parted, then she bowed formally before him. To her delight, he bowed in return. He forced a smile, all the while feeling as if a sword were being twisted in his gut. John watched while she got aboard, then he left for the command center. Time had suddenly slowed down; it would remain at a standstill until his Delenn returned.

   ---------

    'An easy deal', the importer thought to himself. He took out the credit chit and ran it through the scanner in his shop just to be sure he wasn't dreaming this up. Yep, the credits were there. He'd go and pay off the smuggler later; right now he had some figuring to do. Hadn't had a chance to taste the purple berries he'd sold to the cafe; but he had stayed long enough to hear the woman's pleasure when the waiter had shown her the fruit. The merchant hoped she enjoyed them enough for the steep price the man she was with had paid. He laughed to himself; this was going to be a lot easier than he'd thought.

   

   Chapter 6

   Starforce Headquarters, Zeneb: capital city of E'las.

    "An encoded message is coming in from one of our patrol ships in delta sector, my lord. The header says highest priority, for your eyes only."

    Lord Ve'lar D'Nos'Tah looked up from the reports he had been reading and frowned. Communications from planetary defense ships were not unusual; what was odd was the way this one was being sent. In all probability the signal was nothing serious; better to deal with it now and get it over.

    "Put it through, Gan'tal, then leave me."

    "Yes, my lord." The aide moved his fingers effortlessly over the console. "The main viewer is ready."

    "Thank you, my friend," Ve'lar said. Gan'tal left, closing the doors behind him.

    "Access incoming message," Ve'lar ordered.

    "Retinal image identification in progress...confirmed," the computer answered him.

    A familiar face peered out of the viewscreen, looking nervous and impatient.

    "Al'mar, old friend. It has been a long time. What is the trouble? Chasing raiders again?" Ve'lar's memory went back to times past, flying missions over Gaitan, the largest moon orbiting E'las. Al'mar had been his wingman. Each had saved the other's life many times over in a campaign they had flown against smugglers and raiders in that sector.

    "Ve'lar, it is good to see you again. I wish it were under better circumstances. I will get to the point quickly; the situation brooks no delay. One of our patrol ships in this sector intercepted a small unauthorized transport two hours ago. At first we thought little of it; only two people were aboard, a couple of minor officials from Zeneb on a cruise to Temur. But when we did some checking, it became apparent that they were not what they seemed. Using some creative interrogation," he paused, looking at Ve'lar, who quite vividly remembered just how 'creative' Al'mar could be, "we reached the truth quickly. Our prisoners are security operatives, working for as yet unknown ministers to the Council. They have confessed to knowledge of a plot to harm our ambassador on Babylon 5, and incite unrest here on E'las. They feared discovery so they were making a run for it." He paused, taking a long breath, "Ve'lar, we have independent confirmation of their identities; your sister is definitely in grave danger. Even now it may be too late. I am sorry..."

    Standing very still, Ve'lar slowly exhaled the breath that had caught in his throat. "My thanks, my friend. You and your squadron have done well. I will attend to this from here."

    "What do you wish me to do with the prisoners?"

    "Short of pushing them out of an airlock, nothing. Make sure they get back to their employers in Zeneb. Tell the prisoners to speak of this to no one; if I find that they do not obey, I will have them arrested and executed. Those behind this must not know we are on to them. The plotters must think their plan goes as they wish it. It will give us time to prevent any escape when we close our net around them," his voice was hard.

    "As you wish. Good luck, my friend." Al'mar's face disappeared.

    He shook his head in surprise and frustration; never did he think that his struggle with the isolationists would come down to violence. Ve'lar had always had faith in his people's ability to work things out. Now El'oria would pay a heavy price for his short-sightedness. The hurt he felt when he allowed himself to think that he might have sent her to her death was profound. She was more than his little sister; she was his friend, his confidant, his support through all the times when the weight of responsibility had threatened to crush him. Turning to the screen again, he commanded, "Get me a secure channel to Babylon 5, priority code alpha."

    "Confirming authorization, priority alpha. Twenty seconds to uplink..."

    The fear and anger finally overcame him and he struck the desk hard with his fist, feeling an odd pleasure in the numbing pain that traveled up his arm. The vibration caused several objects to shift and slide to the edge. He turned in time to watch a small glass starglobe, a gift from Elo'ria, fall to the floor and shatter into thousands of glittering pieces.

   ----------

    "You are much too kind, Mister Garibaldi. Would you like to try some? This fruit is rare, even on my world. Its taste is unlike any other. I had thought never to see it here!"

    "No thanks, ambassador. I try never to eat alien fruit before lunch." Garibaldi watched El'oria savor the purple berries, her enjoyment pleasing him despite the bruise to his credit account. No matter, he thought, this new job with Edgars was going to pay very well.

    El'oria smiled; despite herself, she was beginning to like Garibaldi. His sarcastic humor amused her; he made her few friends at home seem boring and staid. Holding a berry on her spoon and examining it closely, she said, "We call this "deez"; the berries come only once a growing season and thrive on only one world in a system neighboring ours. Even on E'las, they are rare and expensive. It is said that the juice of the berries heats the blood. So they are a much sought after gift for lovers before the Bonding." She blushed after the words were out; why was she saying such things to this man?

    "Do you have anyone at home? I mean, waiting for you?" Garibaldi asked.

    "No, my work has been my life; there is little time for anything else." She paused, putting the spoon down on the empty plate. "My people prize family above all. I am afraid that any such relationship would become a chain binding me to life on an estate, raising children, managing business, being ornamental at political functions." E'loria looked up at the expanse of green above them, thinking beyond that to the stars that shone just outside the walls of this 'island in space'. "No, this, and other places like it, is where my dream takes me, Mister Garibaldi. If that means I must remain alone, then it will be so."

    Thinking about his own restlessness and the sacrifices it had demanded, Garibaldi felt an instant sympathy for this woman who was obviously driven by her own longings. At this moment, he had no desire to be anywhere but right here, with this delicate creature who pulled at his feelings so strangely.

    "I don't think a beautiful woman like you needs to worry about being alone." As soon as he had said the words, he knew they sounded lame.

    "If that is a compliment, you have my thanks, and my gratitude for this time. Among my people, the gift of time is considered the most precious. It has been a pleasure."

    "Yeah, well, you're welcome. Excuse me while I go pay the check." Garibaldi got up.

    **You have been very silent, Al'. Is the company not to your liking?"**

    Ale'a's voice was a distant sigh, **My apologies... I prepare for what is coming..."**

    Elo'ria knew of her companion's discomfort when they had to attend meetings of the League members. The cacophony of their thoughts and feelings was barely tolerable. Such a meeting was scheduled for this afternoon.

    **I will have one of the others attend the meeting in our place if it will cause you distress."**

    **It is of no moment, El'. The meeting will take care of itself.**

    At that moment, Garibaldi came back to the table, looking harried. "I hadn't noticed the time. I really have to go- business that can't wait. Look, I'm sorry I can't keep my promise to escort you home. Give me a second and I'll call Zack in Security to send someone to take you."

    "That really is not necessary. I am grown up, after all, and the way is not far."

    "Sure, but I would feel better..."

    "Go to your appointment, Mister Garibaldi. I will be fine."

    "Call me Michael?"

    "All right. My thanks again, Michael." Elo'ria extended her hand in the human fashion. Garibaldi caught her fingers firmly. She felt something-a certain emptiness where living warmth should be-at his touch. It passed quickly and she withdrew her hand, pulling her feelings close. Then she inclined her head to him, turned, and started to make her way to the tram.

   ----------

    For Susan Ivanova, commanding as she did the day to day operations of Babylon 5, this was turning into one incredible day. First, the Minbari cruiser with its insufferable captain, then another dozen reports of attacks on League shipping with every alien ambassador lining up to scream at her for action, and now an emergency call from the E'lasian homeworld. The door to C & C opened, Captain Sheridan entering. Susan looked up quickly from her console.

    "Captain on deck!" She snapped to attention, the rest of the crew doing likewise.

    "As you were," Sheridan ordered. "Commander, your report in five minutes, please. I will be in my office."

    "Yes, sir. Would there be anything else?"

    "Yes, Commander," he said, a smile breaking his otherwise serious look, "Thanks for holding the place together."

    "You're welcome, Captain," she smiled back, pleased at the recognition.

    "...and we've sent some White Stars to escort the most critical transports- those with food, medical supplies or refugees. In the broadcast today, emphasis will again be placed on Earthforce complicity behind these attacks." Susan sat in front of the captain, giving her report.

    Sheridan nodded, almost absently. He could always trust Ivanova to have things under control.

    "John, Delenn arrived safely on the Minbari cruiser; they jumped thirty minutes ago."

    "Sorry, I guess my thoughts were far away for a minute. Thanks. Any more business?"

    "There is one more thing. Right before you came in, we received an emergency transmission from Ambassador D'Nos'Tah's homeworld. Her brother is chief of planetary security there. He was very concerned about the ambassador's safety; he's had reports that her life may be in danger. I called Zack right away; he said he would put some people on it."

    "What do you think about this, Susan? I haven't heard any reports that there was trouble on E'las. Do you know anything?" Sheridan looked uneasy; political battles were not his strong suit.

    "All I know, John, is that the ambassador and her party are pretty quiet. The Ambassador has mentioned that there is opposition in her government toward her mission here-sounded like some of her people would rather pull in the welcome mat to their world and turn off the lights. But she never mentioned threats."

    "An interesting way of putting it, Susan." John thought for a moment and then said, "This might be over-reacting, but I think I should go and check to see if everything is okay with the Ambassador. Besides, Delenn asked me to see her on another matter-those two have become fast friends-so I guess I can take care of two things at once."

    "Look, John, I know how busy you are; if you think a visit is necessary, I can do it." In the past, Sheridan would have given her this task in a heartbeat; but over the past months since he had come back from Z'ha'dum he had surprised her many times with how he now took on more diplomatic duties. Still, she wanted him to know she was available to take some of the burden.

    "No, I'll go... but thanks." His smile was grateful.

    John Sheridan reached the door of the E'lasian ambassador and hit the door chime. In a moment, Elo'ria's secretary- he believed her name was Re'na- was looking at him with surprised inquiry.

    "Captain Sheridan, this is certainly an honor." She bowed. "Please, come in."

    "I'm sorry to bother you, but something important has come up and I need to speak with Ambassador D'Nos'Tah."

    "Please, Captain, sit down." Re'na motioned toward a small couch, then sat down beside him. "I am afraid the ambassador is not here. She was summoned last evening to Medlab to help with some of the refugees. She has yet to return. Is there something I can do to help?"

    "We've received an urgent message from your homeworld. Elo'ria's life has been threatened; her brother wants us to secure her safety."

    The secretary's eyes went wide with anxiety, "Lord Ve'lar himself... Captain, this has to be a very serious matter. Elo'ria has been gone many hours; it is not unusual for her to be caught up in her work, but with this news, I would feel better if I knew she was safe."

    John nodded, then used his handset to call Franklin in Medlab.

    "Stephen, this is John. Listen, there has been some trouble on the E'lasian homeworld. I'd like to know if the ambassador is okay."

    "The last time I saw her she was-a little tired, maybe; we were very busy last night. But I thought she went home; haven't seen her around here in two or three hours."

    "Well, I'm in her quarters and she hasn't shown up here. Put me through to Zack, okay?"

    "Sure thing, John. Let me know if you need anything." Franklin switched the link to Security.

    "Zack, this is the Captain. That matter with Ambassador D'Nos'Tah has just gotten more urgent. We need to find her right away. Talk to Stephen about what he knows about her whereabouts."

    "Sure, captain, we'll get right on it. Any idea what the threat is?"

    "Not a clue, Zack. Just find her."

   

   Chapter 7

    Making her way through the Zocalo was becoming more difficult than Elo'ria had anticipated. Her feet were beginning to feel like lead and the presence of so many people was causing her to feel lightheaded. Regretting her insistence on going alone, Elo'ria headed for a nearby bench to sit down and catch her breath. The medical case was becoming very heavy; she sat it down on the floor and looked around. With relief she saw she had just a few more feet to go and she would be at the lift. She silently castigated herself for staying out so long; being awake for over a day with no rest was just too much. It had to be why she was suddenly so terribly tired. Her companion was quiet; thinking that Ale'a was as fatigued as she was, Elo'ria did not break the silence.

    After a few moments, she got up again, slung the medical bag over her shoulder and started again toward the lift. By the time she reached its door, the lightheadedness had turned into vertigo, her surroundings spinning mercilessly, nausea gripping her throat. Leaning up against the nearest wall, she tried to keep herself from falling. The lift door opened and several people exited, not giving Elo'ria a second glance. She staggered inside, her bag falling to the floor.

    "Level Three", she said haltingly.

    Just as the doors were about to close, another passenger entered. The doors slid shut and the lift began its ascent. Elo'ria stood in the corner, gripping the back rail, thinking desperately that there was something definitely more wrong than just fatigue. The ride seemed interminable; the doors opened finally and Elo'ria leaned down to pick up her bag. It was a mistake. The vertigo hit her again, and with it, a cold weakness that made her legs refuse to carry her anymore. She sank to her knees.

    "Are you all right?" A firm but gentle arm slid around her waist, holding her from hitting the floor. A man's face looked into hers; Elo'ria knew she should know this face, but all of her thoughts were melting away like snow before she could hold them.

    "Please, let me go. I am... quite all right,... just a bit tired. Need to get home..."

    "Ambassador, it's Tom McCabe-do you remember me?" Tom said as he supported her, helping her to walk to a bench in front of the tram tracks. His concern was evident; he could feel her body tremble, the coldness of her hands, and it scared him.

    Elo'ria recognized the ranger. "Tom, it is...good...to see you," she said, pausing frequently, her breath now short. "You...look...well."

    "Yes, thank you, but you definitely don't. You appear to be ill; at least let me escort you home." Even as he said it, Tom wondered if she didn't need a doctor right away. He sat down next to her, extending a hand as she fought to stay upright. Her skin felt damp and cold; her color had taken on a grayish cast.

    "You need help, Elo'ria. Let me call someone." Tom was sure now that her condition was deteriorating rapidly.

    "No.......I will.....be alright," Elo'ria's voice was barely audible. "I......cold." "......home..." She was shivering. Tom slid off the cloak he was wearing and placed it over her shoulders. He wished to hell he was carrying a communicator of some kind. It would not be wise to leave her here alone to find a com station. Fortunately, the tram was pulling into view.

    "Listen to me, Elo'ria. You need a doctor. Can you stand?" Tom put his strong arms around her waist and attempted to get her to stand and walk. When she could not, he picked her up, meaning to carry her to the transport. She collapsed against his shoulder; when he tried speaking to her again, she did not answer. Her body became limp and unmoving. Deeply alarmed, he called out to a couple of people exiting the tram car.

    "This woman is very sick; get some help...NOW!"

    A young man looked at him curiously, then his eyes widened and he took off at a run, bringing two security officials back with him after several interminable moments.

    "What's the problem?" the tall one asked Tom.

    "She's ill; she needs a doctor right away."

    The second security guard, a Narn woman, spoke into her handset, then turned back to help lay Elo'ria down on the bench. "This woman looks like she matches a description of a missing person," she said, keying information into a datapad.

    "This is Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, the E'lasian ambassador," Tom informed them.

    "Yeah, she's the one we're looking for," the tall guard answered.

    The medical people reached them, carrying a stretcher. They gently placed Elo'ria's now inert body on it. A nurse quickly scanned her vital signs.

    "She's barely breathing. Blood oxygen saturation is dangerously low. Blood pressure and heart rate are falling..." With that, the medics were all over her, putting in IV lines and piercing her throat with a needle-like device to help her breathe. Moments later they were rushing to Medlab.

    "Tell me, do you know what's wrong? How is she?" Tom asked anxiously, running to keep up with the stretcher as they loaded everyone into the tram. Elo'ria was the one person who had not given up on him when everyone else had. She never left his side in the hours when he struggled with death. He would not leave her either. Just then, Elo'ria's guard, Miri'a, appeared, breathless from running.

    "Where are you taking her? What has happened?" she demanded. She turned to Tom, recognizing the Ranger's garb. "We sensed something was wrong," she said, questions in her eyes.

    "She collapsed on her way here. By fortunate chance I was with her. I don't know what is wrong."

    Overhearing their conversation, one of the technicians told Tom, "Look for yourself. She's trying to die."

   ----------

   //Darkness surrounds me; it is heavy, admitting no light, suffocating me in its embrace. Terror grips my soul; where am I? What is happening to me?. I try to move, but my limbs are made of stone. Suddenly I realize that I cannot sense my companion's presence. I am alone...!//

   ----------

   "Ok, folks, what've we got?" Stephen Franklin walked quickly into Isolab One, picked up the technician's datapad and glanced at the still form being lifted onto the treatment bed. "Oh, God," he thought when he saw it was Elo'ria. A young ranger stood by, unmoving. Stephen remembered the face and did nothing to question his presence. Two women, aides to the Ambassador, watched anxiously.

    "Blood pressure is still too low; let's start pressors. Anybody know what happened here? Come on, people, let's get her stabilized!" Franklin looked with dismay at the failing numbers on the scans. "Get blood for every toxicology assay the lab people can think of, and total body scans. Look for anything unusual: microorganisms, parasites, chemicals, trauma. Her baseline scans are on record for comparison. This woman was healthy, as far as we know, three hours ago. Something had to have happened to her between then and now to cause this." It was going to be a godsend that she had consented some time ago to an assessment of her physiology. Knowing of her people's xenophobia, he hadn't been sure she would agree...

    "Of course, Stephen, whatever I can do to help your studies. We rely on your promise to keep the files secure." Elo'ria had keenly felt Franklin's love and respect for life in all its forms. Helping to add to his database was a way she could give something back to him for his trust in her.

    "If you'll come in here," he said, pointing to an empty exam room, "I promise I'll be quick and painless."

    She smiled, "Of course. Shall I disrobe?"

    "I'll get someone to help you. Be right back," he said, suddenly a bit self-conscious.

    Her body structures and physiology were surprisingly similar to that of humans, but there were some major differences as well. Her brain was awash in hormones and neurotransmitters he could not identify; her eyes could see into the ultraviolet spectrum-and then there was the symbiote, her Varn companion. Lying in her chest, below her heart and lungs, the symbiote was small, insect-like in appearance, fine tendrils reaching out from it's body to tap into Elo'ria's circulation and nervous system. Franklin was fascinated, wishing to ask a thousand questions, but having to choose in order to keep his promise of brevity.

    "How do your two peoples come together? Are you born already joined?"

    "Each of us is joined to a companion after coming of age. We can choose to refuse the Joining, but few do. As you will discover, we Lonorians are a fragile people. Our association with the Varn permits us to have an extended life-span, when we might otherwise succumb to the environment at an early age."

    "So you have seen your companion before you do this?"

    "Yes. Before the Joining, we spend three days in seclusion with the one we are chosen for. The time of disclosure is essential; without it, both risk madness or death."

    "What does 'it' look like?"

    "My companion's name is Ale'a; she is what we understand as female. If you wish to know her appearance, look at your scans."

    "I think you know that I mean-what did you see during those three days?" Franklin was pushing the bounds of courtesy by pressing, but the mind of the scientist had taken over.

    "If you wish to see her as she sees herself, as I see her when I look within, then you must allow her to touch your mind." Elo'ria could feel Ale'a's amused interest at such a prospect.

    "Okay," Stephen said uneasily. Instantly, he became aware of an intensely beautiful creature who regarded him with a searching smile. He knew that she would stand maybe only a foot high, made of what seemed to be gold and gossamer. Her "hair" fell to her tiny feet in white tendrils; her eyes dark green and penetrating. As Ale'a moved toward him, he saw them: wings, glittering and almost transparent. Stephen reached out gently to touch... She laughed, her voice sounding as if music were playing on a tiny harp. The vision dissolved.

    "Doctor Franklin, preliminary scans and blood analysis are complete," a voice pulled him back to the present. Will Kramer, the nurse in charge, paused a moment, surveying the results. "I think you should see this..."

   ----------

   //Light is breaking the darkness and I run toward it with all of my strength. After what seems like forever, I reach a place that is alien to me. Standing on the edge of a small cliff, I peer into the distance. The sky is dim and red; the wind is ceaseless, laden with huge amounts of dust. Even so, my breath comes easily now, though I know it should not in this thin, exceedingly cold air. I should be frozen, but somehow the cold does not penetrate. Looking down, I see a domed city below me, its lights glowing, covered transport tubes interconnecting the various parts like arteries in a body. A familiar presence comes to stand beside me; relief washes over me.

    "Ale'a!"

    I kneel in the dust before her; she looks into my eyes with a power and serenity I have never seen before.

    "Where are we, Al'? What is this place?" I try to subdue my fear. "Is this part of death?"

    Ale'a smiles at me with love, "Remember this place. In time, you will do important work here. It will influence the course of history."

    "When will this happen; how will I know what to do?"

    "Be at peace. When the time comes, you will know."

    "Will you be with me?" I ask, already afraid of the answer.

    "Your path is different from mine now, El'. Where I must go, you cannot follow."

    Stricken by the imminence of loss, aloneness stretching its cold hand to grip my heart, I cry out, "No! I cannot stay here; I do not even know where 'here' is! You must let me go with you! It is my right to follow you as we promised each other long ago!"

    Touching my forehead, she speaks firmly, "We will always be a part of each other, Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah. You must live to fulfill your destiny. I give you a gift to ease your pain. You and I will meet again, at the Source of All Things."

    A shaft of lightning power transfixes me and I scream into the fast coming darkness.//

   ----------

   This day had certainly taken turns he hadn't expected, Garibaldi thought, as he entered his quarters and flopped on the bed. The encounter with the ambassador-Elo'ria-had touched him more than he had realized; he couldn't seem to get her out of his head He stretched and closed his eyes; in another moment, he was dozing. Other familiar images, cold and terrible, formed around him. A grey cell, low ceiling, confining, filling him with rage-and the voice, cloying and never quiet, repeating questions over and over.

   "What do you remember.....?"

    "Nothing! I don't remember anything!"

    "You aren't being entirely truthful..."

    Anger and frustration made him lash out, smashing the walls of the cell with his bare hands, picking up a chair and shattering the lights...

    Garibaldi woke, breathing fast, hands clenched into fists, still tasting the anger. But the images quickly dissolved out of memory. He got up and walked to the bath, flipped on the shower, making it cold. Crossing his room again to pick up something clean to wear, he was stopped in mid-stride by an echo of pain that pierced his consciousness, making him stagger. It was over in seconds, but it left Garibaldi infuriated. He was sure it had been a telepathic scan; it had the feel of another person's thoughts. He knew of only one telepath he had had any contact with recently.

    "Damn!" he said to the empty room. 'I can't believe she would do that to me, but then again, she sure is friendly with the Captain and Delenn. Maybe they put her up to it-especially after the last time the Captain and I said anything to each other,' he thought. Switching off the shower and pulling his jacket back on, he left for Elo'ria's quarters. He was going to have a talk with the Ambassador before this went way too far.

    Garibaldi arrived at her quarters, ringing the door chime several times in a row in his agitation. The door opened; a uniformed E'lasian man asked his business.

    "Look, you know who I am; I need to speak to the ambassador right now. It's urgent."

    Ken'dal answered flatly, "The ambassador is not here, Mister Garibaldi. You would do well to leave her alone." He turned, ready to close the door and leave Garibaldi standing in the hall.

    "Wait...I know I haven't been the nicest person you've known around here, but that was part of my job-a job I don't have anymore. I just want to talk to her. I really can't stand people playing around in my head."

    Ken'dal looked at the man before him, feeling no deception in his words. "Your meaning is not clear. If it were, I might be able to help."

    Hesitating for a moment, Garibaldi said, "Look, it's just that sometimes when telepaths are 'broadcasting' I can hear them. It's disturbing. When we were together this morning, I think the ambassador got the idea that it's okay because I'm sure I felt something from her just a few minutes ago. It hurt. If Sheridan has gotten her to play his game..."

    Frowning now, Ken'dal realized that Garibaldi was the man Elo'ria had been seen with in the Zocalo. "That is impossible, Mister Garibaldi. The Lady Elo'ria is at this moment in Medlab. She lies near death."

    Without another word, Garibaldi took off at a run. Ken'dal let the door close, then turned to the com panel. As the Security Chief's face appeared on the monitor, he said, "Mister Allen, I think I may know who is responsible for what happened to Lady Elo'ria."

   

   Chapter 8

    The hour was very late; the start of a new day only a short time away. John Sheridan tossed restlessly in his bed, then finally gave up on sleep, pulled on a pair of shorts and made his way to the living area.

    "Lights, low," he said, his voice sounding worn. A quick check of the Babcom unit showed no new messages. His heart sank a little; it had been over twenty hours since Delennn had left. Still another day before she reached Minbar. It was the waiting for news that was so hard to take. Reports through the day had not been encouraging about the situation she was facing. The Warrior Caste, many of whom were Delenn's sworn enemies, were gaining ground in their bid for power. Delenn was strong, and shrewd in matters of politics, but even she could not stand against the warrior's combined strength if it came to a fight. Damn! He wished he knew more about what was going on! That was the way it was with everything lately. First Minbar, and now Clark-he was going to make a major move soon, but where? when? John's hand came up over his forehead and he pushed back his hair in frustration.

   Sadly, his mind turned to Delenn's friend, Elo'ria. If she were here, Delenn would most certainly want to keep close watch on her condition. Her people were incredibly helpful to the Rangers; if she were to die here, he could foresee her government withdrawing all assistance. From what Franklin had told him earlier this evening, the outlook was ominous...

    "Stephen," John said as he entered Medlab, catching sight of Doctor Franklin just leaving the Isolab. "I came as soon as I could. How is she?" Although he did not know her well, John had been impressed the few times he had met the E'lasian Ambassador- and then there was Delenn's affection for her. It was obvious to him that Elo'ria was someone special.

    "Her condition is very critical, John. At first we weren't even sure she would survive an hour, but we managed to get her stabilized enough to start looking for a cause. It took us a bit of work to find it; quite frankly, we wouldn't have if it hadn't been for the symbiote."

    "So what did you find?"

    "I was getting to that. When she came in we had no idea what was causing the total failure of all of her vital systems. We scanned and tested for anything unusual, and initially came up with nothing. According to our numbers, this should not have been happening to her. Then I remembered something I learned in my travels: sometimes the thing you are looking for is right there in front of you, but you can't see it because it blends in with everything you know to be true. So I had the computer run the data again, this time comparing Elo'ria's body with her companion's. That's when we saw it. Here, take a look."

    Franklin moved into his office and keyed a few commands ordering the computer to display Elo'ria's scans. John watched with interest as the image formed of her upper body, the symbiote plainly visible under her ribs. "As you can see, the color imaging shows that several substances appear in greater concentrations in the symbiote's body. From my conversations with the ambassador, I'd become aware that the Lonorians depend on the Varn to filter their blood and detoxify environmental pollutants. To find out if those substances we were seeing were natural to the symbiote, or filtered from Elo'ria's circulation, I injected her with tracers that would pick out what the symbiote's body recognized as "non-self".

    "Just make it simple, Stephen."

    "Ok. To put it simply, she was poisoned, and whoever did it knew what he or she was doing. We believe the agent is a relatively innocuous protein called cyclobetabinol. It was common as a food preservative for deep space voyages up until recent years, when it was banned from most Earth colonies and Babylon 5 because of the potential danger it posed to alien species. The symbiote has high concentrations of this protein in her tissues, as you can see," Stephen said as he pointed to the monitor. "The dark green color represents the cyclobetabinol. Ale'a is filtering Elo'ria's blood, attempting to remove the poison and detoxify it. But she can't, John. The protein is building up in her tissues with no way to get rid of it."

    "Ale'a?"

    "That's the symbiote's name. A truly beautiful creature." Franklin's voice was soft.

    "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were in love, Stephen."

    "It's possible that I am, in a way."

    "So what can you do for her? Will the ambassador survive?"

    "Right now, she's on full life support. I've tried some drugs to see if the poison can be neutralized, but the symbiote's biochemistry is complex, and nothing seems to be working. What I am trying to say is that it may not be possible to save Ale'a." Franklin looked down, his eyes sad and defeated.

    "What will happen if Ale'a dies?"

    "I have spoken to Re'na, the ambassador's secretary. She is also a distant cousin; it appears that everything on their world is based on family connections. She's told me that it is the E'lasian custom in this circumstance for the Lonorian to be allowed to die as well. Being that she is the closest family Elo'ria has on Babylon 5, she has asked that no attempt be made to alter that process."

    Sheridan heard the frustration behind Stephen's words. This kind of thing went against everything his friend stood for.

    "When will you know?"

    "I will keep attempting to reverse the poison. The next 12 hours will be crucial." Franklin paused, walked out to the window of the Isolab, and stood watching Elo'ria for a moment. She looked ghostly pale, the same color as the sheet that covered her; a forest of tubes and wires connected her body to IV's and life support equipment. He turned toward Sheridan.

    "John, you know me by now, and how it goes against my oath as a doctor to just let her die like that. I'll do everything I can to save her, and E'lasian customs be damned."

    "Look, Stephen, it may not come to that. Keep me informed, will you?" John put his hand on Franklin's shoulder, then left.

   ----------

    His handset sounded, breaking his reflection. "Yes? This is the captain."

    "John, this is Stephen. I have bad news." Franklin's voice was tired and stressed. "Elo'ria's companion has just died."

    John felt an unexpected wave of sadness. He thought of Delenn, so far away from him at this moment, surrounded by those who might wish her harm. Elo'ria had taken the same risk in coming to Babylon 5 and it had gotten her this. He knew that if Delenn were to come to any injury, he would want to be there to comfort her and see that she was safe. He shuddered involuntarily at the thought. Since he could not be there now for Delenn, he would be there for her friend.

    "Is there any way we can find out what the Ambassador would want us to do?"

    "She hasn't regained consciousness. If the symbiote's body is not removed from Elo'ria's very soon, she will certainly die as well. I don't want to let that happen, John."

    "I'll do what I can, Stephen. Sheridan, out."

    "Yes, captain?" Corwin sounded surprised; he hadn't expected to hear from Captain Sheridan at such an early hour.

    "Can you get me a secure channel through to Ambassador D'Nos'Tah's brother on E'las? And can you make it quick?"

    "Yes, sir. I will put it through to your quarters as soon as the connection is complete."

   ----------

    //I am alone in this place, lost between darkness and light. The air is heavy, pressing down so that I can barely breathe. Again I cannot move, nor can I see where I am. There are voices, but I cannot hear what they are saying. Then they disappear, leaving only silence. There is no feeling but my own terror. Will I be a captive here forever? Ale'a is gone; her presence withdrawn. What have either of us done to merit such a punishment?

   A voice penetrates the silence. The words are whispered, but the draw on my heart is familiar.

    "Ambassador?... Elo'ria? It's Michael. Look, I'm sorry; I didn't hear until a while ago that you were sick. They wouldn't let me see you before, but I'm here now."

    His touch is warm; I feel it as he brushes the hair from my face, then takes one of my hands. "I'm not sure what it is, but when I see you, something happens inside of me that hasn't happened in a very long time." Michael points to his head, " And I think I can hear you in here."

    He becomes awkward, a tear beginning to form in his eyes, "I care about what happens to you. Just don't die on me, okay?" He looks around warily. "I gotta go now before they catch me here."

    He puts my hand to his lips, then puts it down gently on the bed. I try to speak, but there is something in the way. Confusion grips my mind: is this man being truthful? Or is he a skillful liar, the empty place I had felt in him a hiding place for his plan to kill us? Fear makes me tremble; I try again to call out, to no avail. Mercifully, he leaves me. Again, I am alone...//

    ----------

   Tom McCabe turned the corner into Medlab, returning to Elo'ria's bedside to take up his vigil again. He would stay, protecting her, while her own staff dealt with finding out who had done this and why. Stopping at the door, he set his coffee down and watched silently while an intense, balding man spoke to the still form lying there. Tom felt cold; he had heard that Security was looking for someone in connection with Elo'ria's poisoning. Was this guy the one? Was he here now to make sure the job got finished? He stepped back, out of the doorway, spotting a technician.

    "Get Security down here stat," Tom said in hushed tones. "There is someone with the ambassador who shouldn't be there."

    The man was leaving, the look on his face distressed, as Tom turned back to the door.

    "Wait. Who are you? What do you want with the ambassador?" Tom said firmly, barring his way.

    "Name's Garibaldi, and I could ask the same of you. Now get out of my way, Ranger. You don't really want a fight."

    Tom's eyes widened at the name; this was the man Security was looking for. He stood his ground, stealing his hand toward the fighting pike at his belt. But Garibaldi was faster, his cop's reflexes taking over. In one swift movement, he turned and kicked backward, knocking the ranger off his feet.

    "I don't know why you're doing this, but I want you to know I meant no harm to the Ambassador. I'll just go now and we'll forget this..."

    "I don't think so, Garibaldi." Michael turned to see Zack Allen and two security guards walk up with P.P.G.'s trained on him. "You are under arrest for the attempted murder of the E'lasian Ambassador. We can do this by the book, Chief, or things can get ugly. It's up to you."

    Garibaldi stood still and let them search him, allowing them to remove the P.P.G. he kept in a holster under his jacket. There was no sense in trying to run; he hadn't done anything. Even if they wanted to nail him, as he had suspected for some time, he now had resources that could get him clear. Glancing through the glass at Elo'ria, he wondered sadly if he would ever see her again. One of the guards cuffed his wrists and led him away.

   ----------

   The Zocalo was quiet at the moment, but in an hour it would be crowded with shoppers and working people rushing to jobs in the shops. The jewelry dealer had come early to set up for the day. He was accustomed to being quite alone at this hour, so it surprised him to see a lone man, standing before a shop across the way, struggling with a passcard. Fingering a knife he kept hidden under the shelf, he looked harder- yes, now he was sure, recognizing the importer. He thought to shout a hello, but decided that would likely frighten the nervous shopkeeper. The jeweler went back to his work.

    In the importer's shop, the muffled sounds of frantic searching could be heard. Boxes and jars were swept aside, revealing a small safe, an electronic lock flashing in the dimness. A code series was entered, then repeated, the door of the safe finally opening with a click. The merchant swept the papers and credit chits into a satchel at his feet. At a small sound, he glanced around nervously, sweat beginning to bead on his brow. He turned back to his work, hurrying around the room, forcing other small objects into his bag. One of the things in his hand clattered to the floor. He did not look back to pick it up.

    "Planning a trip?" a voice broke the darkness. "Our partnership is just starting to get interesting. I'd hate to think you want to break our contract so soon."

    The importer looked around frantically, trying to find the owner of the familiar voice. The smuggler had found him before he could disappear into Downbelow, at least for a few hours until he could get passage on any ship leaving this place.

    "Something was wrong with the fruit you had me sell to the cafe. That woman might be dead right now. Security has been asking a lot of questions," the importer answered nervously.

    "So what have you told them?"

    The merchant could scarcely control his urge to run. "Just that I found them- a sample from one of my regular suppliers. But...I think they know its the black market, or wherever you got them. They'll be back with more questions, I'm sure of it. Look, if you can help me get away, you won't hear anything more from me. It's time I moved on anyway."

    "Yes, I think you're right. Time to move on," the voice said coldly.

    The importer turned at the sound of a footfall behind him. He had just enough time to see the dagger as it left the other man's hand. Grabbing at the hilt as the blade pierced the center of his chest, he fell backwards, into the shelves, his last breath a gasp.

    The stranger calmly walked over to the body, careful not to step in the widening pool of blood. He grabbed the small, thin dagger hilt, pulled it out and used the merchant's shirt to wipe the blood from the blade. Then he picked up the body under the arms and dragged it into the back of the shop. With luck, he thought, it would take several hours for someone to find this little mess. By then he would be invisible in Downbelow, waiting on a transport out of here. This job had gone like clockwork. The woman would surely die and his employer had paid him very well for his effort. He picked up the importer's satchel, throwing it into a trash bin as he left the shop. Smiling to himself, he immediately blended into the small crowd of early morning shoppers.

   ----------

    "Thanks, Corwin. Put it through." John Sheridan stood back from the view screen, pulling at the stiff collar of his dress uniform. He had noted that the E'lasians were a formal people; he wanted to get this right.

    "Captain Sheridan. It is an honor. Do you have news of my sister?" The man on the comm screen looked to be about thirty-five, with dark eyes and long black hair caught in a band at the back of his neck. He was around about six feet tall, dressed in a dark grey military uniform, his body solidly built and well-muscled. His face was strong, but worn at the edges by stress.

    "Lord Ve'lar. I'm sorry we have to meet under such circumstances. I wish my news could be better. Your sister remains in critical condition, and I have to inform you that her Varn companion has died. I am so very sorry. The Ambassador is an asset to all of us here, and a special friend of my fiance, Delenn."

    Ve'lar hung his head for a moment, the hurt for his sister overwhelming. Then he hardened his jaw and looked into the view screen again. "Have you found those who are responsible for this atrocity?"

    "One man, who we think was involved, is in custody. There may be others; we are still investigating."

    "Thank you, Captain. We are investigating at this end as well; it will not be long before we close our hands over those who would sanction such a despicable act."

    Clearly uncomfortable with where he knew the conversation had to go, John cleared his throat and plunged in. "Lord Ve'lar, my friend, Doctor Franklin, has known your sister since the day she came aboard. She has worked closely with him and his staff; her work has become vital to us all. He knows that it would be your custom to let Elo'ria and her companion die together, but he doesn't believe Elo'ria would want that. If she dies, those who wished to destroy her work here will have won. And they will have deprived many who need her of her ability to heal."

    "What is it that you wish, Captain?" Ve'lar sighed openly.

    "Let Doctor Franklin operate and remove the companion's body. He is the best we have on alien physiology. There is a good chance he can save her life."

    Silence took up the connection between the two men, as Ve'lar considered Sheridan's words. Finally, he reached a decision.

    "Captain, I cannot consent at this great distance. However, it is my wish that you stand in my place and make the decisions according to your own best judgment. I cannot be with her now; the situation here is unstable. Because of what you are, you have my trust. Will you do this?"

    John Sheridan never ceased to be amazed by the belief others now had in him. The image of Zathras saying, "You are the One Who Will Be.", and Justin saying, "You are what we call a nexus person..." flashed through his mind.

    "You do me a great honor, Lord Ve'lar. I also have a sister. If she were hurt, I would want someone who cared to be with her. Yes, I'll help in whatever way I can."

    Ve'lar let out the breath he had been holding. He was doing something here that was against all of his people's traditions. But, he thought to himself, if this were really to be a new day for E'las, he would have to match his words with actions.

    "You have my thanks, John Sheridan." He bowed to the screen. "I will await your word on my sister's fate." The screen went blank.

    "Stephen?" John said into his handset. "Elo'ria's brother has just asked me to act on his behalf. Whatever you need to do, do it."

    "Elo'ria's condition has become very unstable; we were about to take her to surgery."

    John knew very well that Stephen would not have waited for anyone's consent; he was just glad he could give authorization without risking an incident with the E'lasians. "What are her chances?"

    "It's anyone's guess. I've contacted some people on her homeworld; a healer named Cam'ar has sent us what information they have, but this kind of procedure is almost never done. The simulations we've run have been encouraging, but we won't know until we get in just what we're going to have to deal with."

    "Is there anyone with her?"

    "Her secretary is here, and a Ranger who refuses to leave."

    "Good, she's not alone. I'll be there as soon as I can. There's something I have to take care of first."

    "My staff will keep you posted. Franklin out."

   

   Chapter 9

   "Captain. Can I help you, sir?" A young officer got up from her console in the Security command center and came to attention.

   "At ease, please, Miss Santana," Sheridan said, impatient to get this business done. "I want to talk to Mister Garibaldi."

   "Yes, sir. Right this way, sir," Jennifer Santana said, pointing the way to one of the interrogation rooms.

   "No, that won't be necessary. I'll see him in his cell."

   "Yes, sir," she paused, thinking. "Never thought I'd see Mister Garibaldi locked up in here."

   "Neither did I, Jennifer, but people can change. Looks like this time for the worse."

   The officer keyed the lock and the cell door swung open. Garibaldi was sitting on the edge of the plain cot in the corner, reading a newspaper. He looked up, meeting Sheridan's eyes, then flung the paper to the chair.

   "Captain."

   "Mister Garibaldi."

    "I'll be just outside if you need anything, Captain," Santana said. Sheridan nodded, then turned back to Garibaldi.

    "Looks as though your business associates may have gotten you into more trouble than you can handle, Michael, but what I want to know is: why did you take a job like this? We know you smuggle for hire, and we know that some of your 'searching' for missing people is a cover for bounty hunting, but this ... this is a new low..."

    Garibaldi's eyes measured the Captain. Barely controlling his anger at this man who had set himself up to judge so easily, he said, "So, now are you using me as a scapegoat because you couldn't keep the Ambassador safe? Or is this how you pay me back for getting out of your crusade against Earth?"

    "You haven't answered my question," Sheridan said coolly. "Why did you do this? And who hired you?"

    Garibaldi sighed loudly in frustration. Sheridan, in his role as the new "messiah", had already passed his judgement. "John, you and I haven't always seen eye to eye, and I don't agree with how you're running things, but do you really believe I would do something like this? Like I've told everyone who'll listen, I never did anything to hurt her. I bought her breakfast; we ate and talked for a while. She went home; end of story. Why can't you accept that and go find the real bad guys?"

    "The people you associate with now are very capable of this-for money-or maybe because they hate telepaths. Maybe you were doing your 'friends' a favor."

    "Look, John, you know me. I might be a lot of things, but I couldn't do this, not to anyone, but especially not to her." Garibaldi's voice betrayed a stab of pain.

    "No, Michael, I don't know you; I don't know you at all anymore."

    With that, Sheridan turned and left the room, the cell door swinging closed with a thud. In the control center, Zack Allen was waiting to speak to him.

    "Captain, I'm glad you're here; I was going to call you."

    "What's up, Zack?"

    Allen looked uncomfortable. "A few minutes ago, we went back to the Zocalo to ask more questions. We tested samples of all the food that was served to the Ambassador and found high concentrations of the poison in some black market fruit the cafe got from a local dealer. When he sold them the fruit, the dealer made a big deal about the Ambassador liking them and would be willing to pay."

    "So, did you find this guy? What kind of information did you get from him?"

    "Well, Captain, that's the whole thing. It took us a while to search his shop and what we came up with was a body. Turns out the importer was murdered early this morning. Another dealer saw him alive just before six a.m., so that's how we're figuring it until we get the autopsy results. A safe in the shop was rifled; most everything taken. This looks like a robbery, but my gut says this guy was killed to keep him quiet."

   "So, what are we looking at now?"

    "Garibaldi was almost certainly in custody when the guy was murdered. His quarters came up clean for weapons, contraband, drugs- we went over the place with a fine-tooth comb. The business people he's been with lately are off the station, and have been for several days. His story checks out, Captain. We have no evidence to hold him."

    Sheridan was clearly frustrated. He wanted to believe Garibaldi, but the trust between them was shaky. "Okay, Zack, we have to let him go, but keep a close eye on his movements. If he really is telling the truth, the actual perpetrator may be getting away from the station. Check all outgoing transports. I want this person taken down!"

    "Already being done, Captain. We'll find him."

    ----------

    Doctor Stephen Franklin, Medical Log Entry, August 31, 2261:

    //Progress Note on Ambassador D'Nos'Tah: It's been six hours since the Ambassador left surgery: refer to my Operative Note. Her vital functions have stabilized in the last couple of hours, but it's been a difficult night. Part of that is due to the length of time she was on the operating table-almost seven hours. We hadn't anticipated how well the Lonorian and Varn physiology is adapted to the symbiotic relationship. The Varn companion secretes a protein coating over its entire body. This protein is specific to the Lonorian host and enables the companion to remain unrecognized by the Lonorian immune system. If the Varn dies, this protein is not renewed as it would normally be, and quickly dissolves, allowing the Lonorian's body to mount an attack on what it now recognizes as a foreign invader. As I have noted previously, this immune response caused swelling and hemorrhaging at sites in the Ambassador's heart and brain stem. This made removing the companion's connecting tendrils very difficult. The extent of the damage that may have occurred is, as yet, unknown. I have administered the drugs the healer, Cam'ar, recommended to counteract this process. Now we wait...// Supporting patient data accompanies this note; state request to view. END ENTRY

   ----------

    Mister Zack Allan, Security Report, September 1, 2261:

    //Case number 98526- Update: After a search of passenger manifests on all outgoing ships, a list was generated of possible suspects in this case. After eliminating all the usual drug dealers, gun runners, and thieves, we narrowed the field down to three people with Identicards that were, how can I say?--less than genuine. We picked up two of them; their descriptions matched those of a couple of creeps with bad gambling debts. Couldn't find any connection to Ambassador D'Nos'Tah. So we went after suspect number three; his description came up clean-too clean. There was nothing on this guy, nothing at all. It was like he'd just been born when he got to the Station two weeks ago. Then I did a lot more digging; turns out he's a shady character from the Proxima system; goes by various aliases. Hit the jackpot when we ran the name Blake Chandler: guy's a hired gun-does contract killings. He's cool, efficient, enjoys his work-a real psycho. Tried to pick him up just before he boarded a Drazi transport outta here. He resisted arrest; shots were fired. The subject managed to get away, most likely holed up in Downbelow. Still not sure who he was working for. A Centauri dagger was found in the effects he dropped in his escape; traces of human blood were found on the hilt. It's my opinion that this is the guy responsible in this case. Subject data file attached. Weapons analysis pending Usual informers contacted.// END ENTRY

   ----------

    Ambassador Delenn Mir, Personal Log Entry, Standard Date September 1, 2261:

    //John, I am recording this because communications have been interrupted again by the fighting that continues and grows worse every hour here on Minbar. Lennier will see that you get it when it is possible again to reach Babylon 5. (Delenn's face is sad, her eyes determined.)

    In a few moments, members of my clan will be here to accompany me to the Temple of Varenni. A meeting has been called and at this meeting, the Religious Caste will surrender to the Warrior Caste. This decision was taken to save our people from any more suffering and destruction. The Warriors started this conflict and it is now up to the Religious to end it. After that is done, it will be the verdict of the Starfire Wheel, the ancient way we observed before the coming of Valen, that will decide which caste will rule. Each warring caste will send a representative into the cleansing light beneath the Wheel. The one who is willing to endure the pain and death of that place will prove his caste's worthiness to hold power. All on Minbar will observe these events; there will be no more secrets. (Delenn takes a deep breath, then continues.)

   Before I go, John, I want you to know that I love you, with all my soul. If there were any other choice in this, I would make it and come back to you. There is no other place in the universe that I wish to be but at your side. But it seems the universe is demanding a sacrifice; if it is to be my life, to save my people, then I must give it. Know that as I step into the fire, your image will be before my eyes, my last thoughts will be of our time together. (Delenn reaches out to touch the screen, a tear slipping down her cheek). Good-bye, John. We will meet again, in the place where no shadows fall.// END ENTRY

    "No, Delenn, wait..." John Sheridan shouted to her retreating figure, as she rose from the desk and walked to the door. In the spacious hall outside, a group of white-robed Minbari surrounded her, escorting her to the Temple beyond. John struggled to catch up; every movement he made seemed to be too slow.

    "Delenn!", he called again, his voice echoing in the huge chamber they had entered. He wondered desperately why she did not hear. The place was dark, the only light coming from an aperture in the ceiling high above that was only slightly open. A small shaft of light shown down on a wide circle of stones. All around the circle, and in galleries above, hundreds of Minbari belonging to all three Castes stood watching in silence. John felt a wave of foreboding; he knew instinctively that they were waiting for something momentous to happen. He heard Delenn's voice, strong and sure, rise into the quiet. She was telling the assemblage of the Religious Caste's surrender, and then her challenge to the Warrior Caste to brave the Star Fire Wheel. She turned to Lennier and handed him a scroll, speaking briefly in low tones. Then she turned back and stepped confidently into the circle of stones, the light enveloping her. Delenn called to a warrior nearby, a leader by the look of him, inviting him to join her.

    As John watched this scene, trying to get past the press of Minbari all around him, he began to feel searing heat course through his body, the pain a white hot agony, taking his breath away. He looked again toward Delenn, suddenly sure that he was experiencing the pain she was feeling in that place. The intensity of her suffering increased every moment, as the opening in the ceiling widened, admitting more of the pitiless light. The warrior who had briefly stood with her left the circle, unable to withstand the pain, and unwilling to face the death that awaited.

    "Get her out of there, you fools!" John cried out hopelessly. He pushed desperately at the people standing on all sides, knocking some down in his struggle, but it was impossible to move much closer. Everyone was just standing there, watching her, unwilling to interfere. Delenn fell to the ground, no longer able to stand, the fiery light consuming her life as the Star Fire Wheel continued to open to its widest point. Lifting her head, her eyes found his face, a smile forming on her lips.

    In agony and despair, John screamed, "Delenn! NO-O-O-O-O.....

    Suddenly awake, his breath coming in gasps and the echo of his scream still sounding in his ears, John Sheridan sat up in his bed. His body was drenched with sweat, as if the heat he had felt in the dream had been real. He tried to make sense of the images he had seen. A message had come from Delenn just yesterday; it was brief and told only that she and Lennier were safe on Minbar. What did this dream mean? Did it portend some awful event, or was it just his imagination, filling in the gaps with fear? He lay for a long time, staring at the ceiling, trying to calm his thoughts. What he really wanted to do was jump into the fastest ship he could find and get Delenn off Minbar. He could still see her doubled over in pain; the surrounding Minbari unmoving, as if they wanted her to die there. Her smile of recognition when she looked at him still pierced his soul. He fought a wave of despair, trying to convince himself that it had to be just a bad dream, born of how intensely he missed her. Surrendering finally, he got up and began to dress. It was at that moment that his handset sounded.

    "This is the Captain. Go."

    "John, I think you'd better get up here stat. Clark's forces are attacking Proxima 3 and making for some of the other colony worlds as well." Ivanova's voice was angry and stressed. "He's hitting civilian targets; nothing's being spared."

    "On my way. Sheridan, out." John slid on his uniform jacket, buttoning it as he left his quarters. He prayed that Delenn was all right, then turned his thoughts fully to the crisis in front of him.

   

   Chapter 10

    Stephen Franklin watched Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah through the observation glass with concern. Two days after surgery, her physical condition had finally started to improve and she had come back to consciousness. Now four days had passed; by all the data, she should be regaining her strength and starting to function again. Instead, she remained weak, refusing to eat or speak to anyone. Even Re'na couldn't get through to her. 'Well,' Stephen thought, 'she's going to have to listen to someone and it might as well be me. I'm not going to let her commit suicide after all the effort we expended to make sure she had a chance to live.' He put down the reports he was working on and entered Elo'ria's room.

    "Good morning, El'," he said, looking at the untouched food lying on a tray next to the bed. "You really have to start eating something; your body needs nourishment to heal." Stephen stood watching her, noting her uncombed hair, the untouched gifts on the night stand, and the way her hands, usually so quick to give comfort, now lay uselessly at her side.

    Silence. Elo'ria stared at him for a moment, her eyes vacant, then turned so her back faced him. This was the same thing she did every time he'd tried to talk to her, but now he'd had enough.

    "You know something, Ambassador, you amaze me. Ale'a sacrificed everything to give you the chance to live. I don't think she would have done that if she didn't think your survival was important. So what are you doing with the gift she gave you? There are people here who need you. You lay there and wallow in self-pity. You try to drive away everyone who cares about you. What makes you so special that no one should get close?"

    Elo'ria turned on him then, the fire of rage finally lighting her eyes. "You know nothing about it, Stephen. How can you possibly understand what it is to lose someone like Ale'a? How can you say anything about her sacrifice? I felt it, here, inside my entire being, when she left me. Left me behind..."

    "You're angry with her, aren't you?" Stephen pressed, his instincts now sure. "By God, you are! I bet you're madder than hell that she left you here to suffer through all of this alone."

    Elo'ria felt her defenses crumbling in the face of Franklin's relentless insight. Yes, she was mad; furious that she had had to remain here, abandoned. Hot tears began to form in her eyes; she wiped at them angrily, hating their betrayal. The emptiness where Ale'a had been was an open wound, the pain of it sapping her strength.

    "Look, Elo'ria, you may not think so, but I can feel some of what you are going through. Last year I went through a pretty rough time. This place, this work, can be all-consuming, and I wanted to do it all. No one could do more work than me; I had to be in control of everything. But all of that had its price and I found myself addicted to stims. I thought I could handle it; take care of the problem myself, but it only got worse. Asking for help just wasn't in my vocabulary; people came to me for help, not the other way around. It took the persistence of a good friend for me to realize that I had a problem. It meant all the difference to know I wasn't alone." Stephen paused, watching Elo'ria's reaction.

    "But I am alone, Stephen. It is empty here," she said, as she held herself with both arms. "It hurts so much, I can hardly bear it."

    Franklin came close, putting his arms around her shoulders. Elo'ria collapsed against his chest, her tears uncontrolled now, her breaths coming in sobs. He wondered if he had done the right thing to force her to face her loss. "You aren't alone. The rest of us may not be 'dwellers within', but we care about you just the same. Let us help you, El'. We need you with us in the coming fight..."

    Elo'ria lifted her face and looked at him, questions in her eyes. "Why? What is happening?"

    Stephen smiled a little, glad to see some of her old self coming to the fore. "I'll tell you while you eat..."

   ----------

    The Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, Personal Journal Entry, the 29th Day of Bertrel in the Year 982 of the Return (2261 Standard):

    //It has been several hours since my return home from Medlab. Stephen finally gave in to my pleas to be released, but he made me swear I would rest. Tom McCabe was there to see me delivered to Re'na's ministrations, not trusting even Ken'dal to see that I arrived safely. The loyalty and kindness of this Ranger amazes me, although I feel he owes me no debt. It was difficult, but I was finally able to get my well-wishers to leave me in peace. They mean well, but my feelings are still raw and I find I cannot sustain conversation or the semblance of recovery for long. Re'na surely knows of my pretense, but she is kind enough to say nothing. She has left me some work to do; mostly personal petitions and matters that are non-essential. I know what she is trying to do and I am grateful, but it only makes me feel more useless. After falling asleep over a particularly long-winded document, I awoke to an incoming message from Ve'lar...

    (Ve'lar's face appears on the viewscreen, his face serious) "El', I am sorry that I have not been able to be with you. Even at this moment, there is fighting in the streets of Zeneb; our investigation to find those responsible for this outrage against you uncovered a web of deceit and sedition that reaches into all Eight Families. The assassin on Babylon 5 has been captured; the Council has demanded his extradition for trial. The plotters here have not surrendered easily; there are many dead, some in our own Family." (His eyes cloud with sadness). "In light of these events, the High Council has ordered me to tell you that you must return to E'las immediately. I have proposed an appropriate replacement for you and the Council has accepted; your cousin, Let'ar, is already on-route to Babylon 5. I am sorry, El'. I fought this with every bit of influence I could muster, but the Council was unmoved. My companion says that they are convinced that one who is unjoined cannot function in so critical a capacity. There is also concern that without the protection of a companion, you will succumb to your alien surroundings. All agree that you must come home where further study of your situation can be done. We impatiently await your arrival. Be well...."

   The prison my home represents now beckons; it is almost certain that once there, I will never be allowed to leave again. It is useless to oppose the decision; I should have known this was coming. Certainly the Council is right; how could I expect that one such as I- now damaged and incomplete-could be trusted with a mission of such critical importance? My regret is that I cannot help my friends on Babylon 5 as they enter the fire of another war; one that will tear them apart from their fellow beings. I pray they will forgive me.// END ENTRY

   ----------

    John Sheridan quickened his pace through the passageways; in three hours he would be boarding White Star One with Susan and Marcus, headed for Proxima 3, but first he had to fulfill a promise he made to Delenn.

    "Captain. You honor me, " Elo'ria said as she tried to get up from the couch on which she was reclining. She was sitting among piles of books and papers, empty tea cups on a low table nearby, the room smelling of candle wax and aromatic herbs. Her face had aged since he had first seen her months ago; her eyes, alive and intense, were now tinged with dark shadows.

    "Please, Ambassador, don't get up," John said, as Re'na showed him to a chair. "So, how are you feeling? Stephen says you've surprised even the healers on E'las with how well you have recovered. You've heard that we caught the one responsible?"

    "Yes, and you have my thanks for that-and for being a brother to me," she said, coming to the edge of the couch and carefully drawing a jeweled robe over her shoulders. "Ve'lar has captured those on my world who dealt with the assassin. They thought to halt my people's progress out of isolation. Instead, they have earned themselves exile to a world far from our own. It was deemed a fitting punishment for those who wished to destroy the gains we have made." Elo'ria searched John's face, seeing the honesty there, and something else... She let her barriers down, stretching out her feelings.

    "Have you heard from Delenn?"

    "Just a brief message to say that the Grey Council has been reformed," he said, his face betraying his unease. "It will take a while longer for simultaneous transmission to be restored on Minbar. It looks like she's okay now."

    "I am pleased to hear it; but I sense that you have had more contact with Delenn than that." Elo'ria was sure of this, John's memory of the encounter was on the surface of his mind. So that was the 'gift' Ale'a had bestowed at the moment of her transition, she thought. It would seem that she could now 'see' memories or thoughts that carried a high emotional charge. "You saw her on Minbar at the moment of great sacrifice. What you experienced was a true sending, John."

    "I don't understand. It was just a nightmare, right?" he said, surprised that Elo'ria would have any knowledge of his dream.

    "My people believe that before we are born, our souls, together with many others, live united with the Source. In order to enter this life, we must first become separate and alone. This causes such pain that the Source takes pity on us, allowing each soul to take a small part of another on the journey. If one is fortunate enough to find that other soul, there is recognition and completion. You and Delenn are two such souls. Your connection transcends time and place. In your dream, you saw truly."

    "It was terrible to see her in danger and be powerless to help." He was remembering her pain and his inability to do anything about it.

    "Search your memory, John. You will discover that your presence there came from her desire to have you close at so critical a moment. Without any doubt, she felt you there; you helped her more than you can imagine."

    "Thank you. What you say makes leaving without her now easier to deal with," he said, thinking of the journey into war that was in front of him. "Before she left, Delenn asked me to see you. She said that she believed your people could find a way to extend the time I have left. I promised her I would, so here I am, though I don't see how you will find out anything more than the doctors know," he said, clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of a mind scan.

    "Be at peace, John. My people did not need Vorlon tampering to develop our talents, and we have refined them over thousands of years. If you will permit it, I will touch the memories you have of your death on Z'ha'dum. It may be that I will see something that will give a clue to those who even now search the ancient records. There will be no pain; intrusion into your private thoughts is forbidden."

    Sheridan nodded, his eyes intent on Elo'ria as she crossed the room and picked up a small bottle from the desk. She let several drops of bright blue liquid fall into a cup, then poured water over them, and handed it to him. "This is 'zonen'; the drug will make it easier for you to lower your natural defense. It is safe," she added, seeing doubt in his eyes.

    He waited for several heartbeats, attempting to get his discomfort under control. If Delenn trusted this woman, he would as well. Steeling himself, he downed the liquid in one swallow. Instantly, he was aware of a warmth spreading through his veins, and an ease he had never felt before. "Lie down here, please," Elo'ria said, pointing to the couch. She drew a low chair next to his head. Catching his eyes and holding them, she said, "This examination requires physical contact. Permit me to touch you here, the focal point of the mind," her slender hand making contact with his forehead, "and here, the focal point of the soul," the other hand laid lightly over the center of his chest.

   Closing his eyes, John found himself in a strange place, alien but beautiful. It was night; the only light came from three moons overhead. A warm breeze stirred the plants around a crystal fountain, carrying with it the delicate perfume of hundreds of large, white, waxy flowers hanging from the surrounding trees. He could hear the tinkling sound of windchimes...

    "Moonflowers," Elo'ria's voice came out of the darkness. "They bloom but one night a year on my world, when all three moons-Gaitan, Drel, and Arlen-rise together. This place exists at my home; its image is my 'center' where I may always find myself again."

    "It's beautiful," John said, his thought forming the words.

    Stepping into a shaft of moonlight, she spoke again, "In the safety of this place, open your thoughts to the memory of your time on Z'ha'dum. I will see the memories through your eyes. No harm will come to you." Gathering her strength and holding his gaze, she continued, "I must have your trust to proceed."

    John came to stand near Elo'ria. The sights and sounds of those last moments on Z'ha'dum, with the Shadow Anna backing him to the edge, came flooding back

    The command reverberated in her head, "Jump! Now!". Elo'ria stood on a balcony, overlooking a huge city, its central core yawning beneath her. Knowing that the evil following her would swallow her soul if she did not obey the command, she took a deep breath and jumped. Feeling herself free-falling into space, down, down, she closed her eyes in terror. She waited to feel the dreaded impact of her body smashing to the ground, but it did not come. Words, images, feelings-all accelerated, drawing her into a whirlwind. The darkness, the strangeness and power of an alien underworld place, the silence, the search for answers, the voice of the First One questioning, teaching; the struggle with choices, John's image of Delenn held before his eyes. Elo'ria was spellbound by what she saw.

    Lying on the ground, the light of the torches on the walls quickly fading, she felt the life in her body begin to drain into the earth. Opening her eyes with one final effort, she saw Lorien-she knew Its name then-standing over her. His eyes met hers, a smile playing on his face. There was recognition in those eyes! He truly saw her there. Nodding as if to confirm her thought, he spoke, "Who are you?"

    Riveted by the power in the words and seeing herself clearly for the first time, she answered, "I am a Healer, a preserver of life, comforter to those who suffer. I am a voice for my people; I stand at the door out of darkness." Her voice echoed with a strength that surprised her.

    Lorien held her gaze and asked again, "What do you want?"

    Elo'ria gathered the words that rushed from some secret part of her being, "My wish is to serve those who carry Light into the dark places."

    Once more he spoke, his voice a commanding music, penetrating her soul, "Why are you here?"

    Her voice echoed in the dark cavern, with a confidence she was not sure she felt, "I seek answers to suffering. I come here because that is what is required."

    His smile broadened, his voice becoming gentle, "You have come far and risked much. Much more will be asked. The answer lies within...Look within." At that moment, he changed, his body transforming into light, the brightness so intense that she could no longer breathe...

    Elo'ria was back in her quarters, lying on the floor, with hardly the strength to move. She felt hands on her arms, gently helping her to sit. John Sheridan looked at her with concern. "Are you okay?" he said, plainly shaken.

    "I think so," she breathed. Re'na, who had been observing, rushed to the kitchen and retrieved a glass of water. She offered it to Elo'ria, who took several tentative sips.

    John was worried; she was very pale and she stared oddly, as if trying to look at something only she could see. "What is it? Can I get you anything?" he asked.

    "I had heard the legends about the First Ones and their power, but I never really believed it. To me they were just stories-until now. A being of pure energy, John. No body as we conceive it, no death as we know it. And vast knowledge...yet with all of that, It was a prisoner of Its own immortality, trapped in this existence, unable to make the transition into other realities that death offers. In the end, I believe you helped It to choose the path 'beyond the Rim'.

    "And my death?"

   "You were dead, at least dead the way we mortals understand it, but not dead as well. This thing is difficult to place words on. Your injuries were severing your connection with this reality, so It held you in 'the place between'."

    "Even now it is hard for me to understand what happened," John said, tasting the memory.

    "You were suspended in the space between thoughts, the time between one heartbeat and the next. In order for Lorien to restore you, you had to give up all control and trust completely. Within yourself, you had to find an anchor that would permit you to remain in this plane."

    "Delenn."

    "Yes."

    "But I thought he did something to heal me, at least for a time."

    "John, your love and your trust are what healed your hold on this life. Lorien supplied the energy. Because it came from his person and is not your own, it will fade with time and you will die."

    "I accepted that when all this happened, Elo'ria. But it is hard for Delenn. Will you tell her then that there's nothing to be done?" John's face reflected sadness; he hated to see Delenn's hopes dashed.

    "I have not finished my search for a remedy; knowing what happened to you gives me something to work with. Do not give up just yet." Already she was puzzling over what Lorien had said; she was empty 'within'; what was it that she must find there? She came back to herself, realizing that John was still speaking.

    "I'm not sure how long it will take us to liberate Proxima; if Clark doesn't step down, we will ride it all the way in to Mars and then to Earth itself. When Delenn and I return to the station..."

    "When you return, I will not be here. The High Council has ordered me home; my replacement will arrive in a few hours." Elo'ria could not keep the pain from her voice. "I am sorry that I will not be here to help all of you at this terrible time."

    "But why are they doing this? Don't they see how well you have served here? Sheridan barely controlled a flash of anger. "I will contact your government myself and ask for you to stay."

    "Do not trouble yourself, John. They will not listen. My people see me as less than whole, now that Ale'a is gone. They cannot make themselves trust what I have become." She caught his eyes, "I will meet you and Delenn again; I am sure of it."

    "I'm counting on it." John paused, trying to find the right words. He took her hands, "Take care of yourself, Ambassador. When all of this is over, I will try to get your government to see reason."

    She smiled, then bowed low. "Until we meet again, John Sheridan. Give Delenn my loving greeting when you see her. May the Source be with you both on your journey."

   ----------

    Garibaldi packed the last of his things, not much for all the time he'd spent on Babylon 5. Turning to survey his quarters one last time, he said, "Lights, off," then walked to the door. The summons from Edgars to come to Mars hadn't surprised him, but some part of him was just a little amazed by his own response. He really hated Mars, and he didn't like William Edgars much either. The man controlled vast wealth and was bound to be up to his eyeballs in politics. The only thing Garibaldi could agree with him on was his intense distrust of telepaths. Edgars wouldn't even tell him just exactly what job he would be doing. So why was he going? He shrugged at the thought, thinking that it was as good an excuse as any to get off the station; things were definitely going to hell and he didn't want to be around to see what he felt was certain destruction. The worst regret he had was that he had not been able to see her again since that day in Medlab, and now it was too late to say goodbye. 'That's okay,' he told himself, 'she probably still thinks I had something to do with what happened. It's better this way.'

   ----------

    Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah took a last look at the place she had called home for the last eight months. Ken'dal and Mari'a were to accompany her to the docking bay where an E'lasian Starforce ship waited; her luggage had already been loaded and now they stood in the corridor, waiting patiently. She blinked back tears; she was not going to make a scene! Re'na, who had been busy getting Le'tar settled, rushed through the far door, coming close to gently hug Elo'ria and press a small object into her hand.

    "It is a memory stone," Re'na smiled, "I have keyed it with images of this place; when you wish to see them, hold the stone and think of us." A tear fell onto their clasped hands. "I will miss you, El'. I have never spoken of it, but I am glad that you did not die with your companion. It is time that we change these things; it pleases me that you were first." Re'na stopped speaking a moment, trying not to let her voice quaver. "Be well and return to us soon."

   Elo'ria hugged Re'na again, then stood back, regarding her cousin with a little smile, "My thanks for this," she said, looking at the glowing stone, "and for all you have done here. You and Le'tar will do well. Be at peace."

    She nodded to her guardians, following them closely as they led the way through the corridors. It was pure irony that she was to accompany her own would-be assassin to E'las. Both of them would be put on trial when they arrived, she thought; both would have to plead for their lives. Sadly, her mind turned to the people of this place; she would sorely miss the friends she had made here. She wondered where he was; the one who pulled so at her feelings. She had not seen him since she was ill; she even questioned whether that brief encounter had been real. And now there was no time left...

   ----------

    The time for his flight was coming up soon; he'd come early to get through the Security checkpoints without waiting in a long line. Turning into the waiting area, his heart lurched as he saw her, as if his desire to see her one more time had made her appear. She was dressed in a blue full-skirted satin gown and veiled to her waist, the same way she'd been when he had first seen her months before. For a moment he considered passing by unnoticed; she was obviously going to a different gate, and he was sure her guards would not be pleased if he tried to speak to her. Garibaldi began to turn away when Elo'ria's eyes found him; even the veil could not hide the recognition there. He watched while she spoke quickly to the guards; they turned to look at him icily, then stood watching as she crossed the waiting area toward him.

    "Michael," she said, a smile breaking through the sadness on her face.

    "Ambassador," he said. "You look a whole lot better than the last time I saw you."

    "Ambassador no longer, Michael. I would like to think we are friends; please, call me Elo'ria."

    "Okay. Eloria," he said awkwardly. "I have a few minutes; can we talk?" he asked, reaching for her arm. Not hesitating, she nodded and allowed him to take her arm and lead her to a quiet corner of the waiting area where they sat down.

    Elo'ria looked at the travel bag he was carrying. "You are leaving?"

    "My employer wants me to relocate to Mars. But never mind that; where are you going? Why aren't you an Ambassador anymore?"

    "I have been ordered home by my government; it would seem they no longer have confidence in my abilities." She took the edges of her veil and drew it up over her face, letting it fall back over her rich auburn hair. Her vivid purple eyes held his. "I have missed our talks," she said softly.

    Garibaldi's hand reached out to cover hers. He instantly felt her sadness, and something else-a warm breath in his mind. He withdrew his hand quickly, barely containing his annoyance. "Please, don't scan me; I can't take you telepaths messing with my head."

    Pushing her hurt feeling at his rudeness out of the way, Elo'ria thought fast. She hadn't scanned him; that was a human technique, artless and ill-mannered. With a flash of insight, she knew. "I did not 'scan', as you put it. You must be a sensitive, Michael. You told me once you could hear me in here," she said, softly touching his forehead. "Assuming I am right, you cannot help but pick things up from telepaths around you, if they are powerful enough."

    " Great. You mean I'm like a radio receiver?" Garibaldi said, remembering the many times he had picked up 'broadcasts' from telepaths.

    "Yes, something like that. It troubles you, does it not? You must learn to build a barrier in your mind. It will help. I wish I could be the one to teach you." She looked down then, suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling she had for this man and unsure of what it meant. Elo'ria remembered the impression she had of the deep, loving connection between John and Delenn. She wondered if there would ever be such intimacy for her. If this was the soul that carried a piece of hers, then she was soon to lose him, the moment of parting excruciatingly close. It was a bitter taste of what John and Delenn knew well.

    Surprising himself, Michael tentatively reached out again and closed his hand over hers. He felt that warmth again, and it seemed very natural to trust it this time, though it was rare for him to trust anything. He lifted her chin and looked into eyes brimming with tears. Taking her fingers, he kissed all six in turn.

   "I don't know what it is, but when I'm with you, I feel that somehow I know you-I've always known you," he whispered. Feeling her hand tremble, he came closer, holding it against his chest. His face now inches away, his lips came down to lightly touch hers. The kiss was chaste and sweet; her lips were soft and tasted to him of spice.

    Elo'ria backed away and stood up, sure that Michael could hear the pounding of her heart. She felt that draw on her soul, more intense with his nearness, that both puzzled and entranced her. At his touch, she was aware again of that curious empty place within his mind; it was like looking at a house with one room closed and locked, no light from the window. She did not know what it meant, but it was definitely disturbing. Elo'ria felt a bitter sting as she saw Ken'dal approaching, indicating that they should go.

    "Michael, I must leave." Her heart ached as she said the words. "Promise me you will be careful. Not everyone is what they seem; you have friends who wish you ill."

    "Yeah, well, I've known that for a long time. Don't worry, I'll be careful."

    Elo'ria disengaged her hand reluctantly, feeling instant loss without his touch. "It is my hope that we will meet again..."

   "Yeah, me too," he said, at a loss for what else to say and sorry that he ever told Edgars he would come.

    She turned and began to walk away, then turned back again, sensing that he watched her leave. "If you need me, for anything, get a message to Re'na. She will know where to find me." Steeling herself, Elo'ria walked through the gate and into exile.

   

   Chapter 11

    Delenn stood on the bridge of her shuttle, impatient with even the few minutes it was taking to dock with the command White Star. She had been on her way to join this fleet of Earth ships massed to oppose President Clark when the urgent message had come in. It was still almost impossible to believe: John was now a captive of the Earth Alliance, betrayed on Mars as he tried to obtain his father's release from Clark's forces. If only she had been with him; maybe she could have done something to prevent his leaving. But no, she thought, even if she had wanted to, she could never have convinced John not to do the thing she herself had done unquestioningly just days before-go into harm's way to make a terrible wrong right again. Her mind racing, she thought again, 'Garibaldi! A traitor! It must be a mistake; it has to be.' He was John's friend, a comrade in the fight against the Shadows. She knew that he had been acting more irritable and paranoid than usual when last she saw him, but never did she suspect that he posed any threat to John.

    She felt a sharp stab of anxiety as she considered what information Susan had given her. Their intelligence reports were inadequate; it was not even known for sure whether John was still on Mars, or had been transported elsewhere, possibly to Earth itself. She was sure that Susan was right when she said that whoever was holding him was using this time to "break" his spirit, hoping to make him a propaganda tool. Delenn could only imagine what they were doing to her John at this moment. He was a stubborn man, and one who was intensely loyal to those under his command. She knew that he would endure torture and death rather than betray them or the cause they fought for. Susan had assured her that everything possible was being done to get him free, but that did nothing to lessen her fear.

   A loud thud and a brief intense vibration through the ship signaled that the shuttle had completed its docking maneuver with the White Star. Feeling a sensation of warmth in her hands, Delenn relaxed her tightly clenched fingers. Several drops of blood fell to stain her gown from the bruised skin of her palms where her nails had penetrated. She had scarcely felt the pain. Turning to the entry way, she saw a Human Ranger, waiting patiently for her attention.

    "Tom," she bowed, acknowledging his presence.

    "Entil'Zha. The Commander has asked that you meet her in her quarters. Please allow me to escort you." He could sense her distress and wished fervently that there was something he could do to relieve it.

    Ivanova's quarters were located as close to the command deck as was possible without actually taking up residence there. Tom pressed the door chime and a voice called, "Come!"

    Delenn turned to the Ranger and bowed again; he smiled his encouragement, then disappeared silently. Looking about the room, she allowed herself to smile a little; it was equipped with a typical Minbari bed, tilted up at a seventy-five degree angle. Perfect for healthful sleeping, but Delenn was quite sure that Susan did not appreciate that at all. From previous trips, she knew that Susan was willing to try any device to get the bed to stay flat; a behavior that seriously upset the Minbari crew. Seeing it in this position told her that it was likely that Susan was not sleeping well.

    "Delenn. It's good to see you again. How are things on Minbar?" Susan asked, crossing the room to come closer, her eyes tired, but her expression clearly pleased.

    "There is still much work to be done, but the unrest has calmed, and mercifully, the killing has stopped. With sacrifices from all concerned, it is my hope that the Grey Council will rule well and wisely."

    Susan nodded, then pointed to a couple of small chairs. "Please, sit down and I'll bring you up to date. Can I get you anything? I have a few bags of Minbari tea around here somewhere."

    "Do not trouble yourself, Susan. I really cannot relax until I know what is going on." Delenn knew from her time with Humans that Susan would not think her rude for wanting to come directly to the point of the visit.

    "Okay," Susan said, coming to sit facing Delenn. "Here is what we know: John is being held on Mars, certainly by Earthforce Intelligence, in the main prison facility. Psi Corps is not involved at present, but that could change at any moment. The prison he is being held in is all but impenetrable. Security has been stepped up all over the planet; the Resistance has gone to ground and it's very difficult to get much more information, but we're pretty sure John is still alive."

    A shadow of pain crossed Delenn's face. "He is alive, Susan. I would know if he were not." Her voice sounded very assured. Susan hoped she was right.

   "As we agreed, I sent Stephen and Lyta to Mars to see what can be done. We do know that they have landed safely, but not much more than that. They have to contact the Resistance and convince them that it's in their best interest to help us get John out. That won't be easy, and it could take time."

    Delenn knew that both of these friends were well suited for this assignment, but she could not help wishing she could take a Minbari Cruiser to Mars, blast their enemies into submission, and take John and his father away from that place. "How much time do we have?" she asked, dreading the answer.

    "Not long, I'm afraid. The situation on Mars is becoming more unstable each day; we may have no choice but to go in as soon as possible, guns blazing, to protect as many civilians as possible. Then there is the threat that at any moment they will decide to bring John to Earth; if they do that, he will be beyond our reach." Susan paused, her expression unflinching. "We'll get him, Delenn, if I have to go to Mars myself and take that prison apart brick by brick. And we'll see his father safe too."

    "And Garibaldi?" Delenn wondered why she cared what happened to him.

    "He's disappeared," Susan said, her voice getting an angry edge. "The Resistance is after him and they've said he'll be executed as soon as he is found. I will kill him myself if I ever see him again."

    "Then it is true; he did betray John." Delenn felt angry and sad.

    "Yes. And they're plastering that bastard's picture all over the I.S.N. reports. He's become a regular hero," Susan said bitterly.

    They sat in silence for a moment before Ivanova spoke again, "There's more, Delenn. We've had reports from some of the defectors that Earth Alliance has developed a fleet of warships using Shadow technology. We're still checking out the reports, but if it's true, we may be looking at an entirely different war-one that will have to be won, no matter what the cost. Anything belonging to the Shadows has to be destroyed!" There was a hardness and certainty in her words that made Delenn feel cold.

    Delenn could barely contain her own revulsion; such ruthlessness from the Humans, who would stoop to borrowing Shadow weaponry, filled her with fear and dismay. She stood up then, reaching out to touch Susan's hand in the Human fashion. Since her change, she found that she needed this contact with others. It reassured her when Susan did not withdraw from her touch. "My thanks, Susan, for doing everything you have done. I will return to White Star Eleven; it will be at your disposal."

    "I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything, I promise. He's tough, Delenn, a real survivor. Hell, he's the only one who's ever come back alive from Z'ha'dum. A few Earthforce creeps won't be able to compete with that." Susan sounded more confident that she felt.

    Delenn forced a smile, "I am sure you are right, Susan." She bowed and moved to the door.

    Tom had reappeared in the corridor. "How may I serve you, Entil'Zha?"

    "Please notify my shuttle pilot that I will be leaving shortly, then meet me on the command deck. Marcus will be there and I must speak with him; I wish to send a message to Babylon 5 and it should be done without delay."

   ----------

   The Varn Pre'dom, a citadel 300 miles south of Zeneb, on the planet E'las:

    "Time grows short." The soft, musical voice broke the silence. Dusk was falling; shadows were quickly moving up the rose colored brick of the walls. The evening breeze was rising; it wafted through the open doors, causing the silken hangings protecting the passageways to stir. The hot, dry desert air was already beginning to cool, bringing with it the smell of incense from the nearby Temple. Far away, the cries of approaching birds could be heard, headed for roosting places in the citadel towers.

   Three tiny, glowing figures moved into a small chamber which was simply furnished with an assortment of diminutive chairs and a long divan against one wall. Acknowledging the comment, one of the Varn, a female named Miri'el, sat down and replied telepathically, **"Yes, and there is yet much to do."** Her large green eyes turned to each of the two males that had accompanied her, awaiting their reaction.

    **"A summons has been issued; even now it is being presented to the High Council,"** the voice of De'rel echoed in their minds.

    **"Do you think that wise?"** Miri'el demanded. **"It may not be possible to answer the questions the Council will raise."**

    **"The proper forms must be observed, Miri'el. Change is coming hard for our Lonorian companions; this Joining must be done like any other to avoid mistrust and suspicion,"** De'rel replied.

    **"That is well, De'rel, but it may be that there will be no Joining. Since she has returned, Lady D'Nos'Tah has sequestered herself in her home, refusing all visitors, even the physicians who have been called to help. The others say that she mourns the loss of her companion, and added to that, the separation from her friends and the work she did on Babylon 5. After all is done, she may prove unsuitable."**

    The Varn who had not yet spoken, the one called Be'ron (Beh'rr-oh-n), said, **"The companion's sacrifice was deeply painful, but necessary; Ale'a understood this and accepted her destiny. Elo'ria suffers greatly from the loss but she is stronger than even she herself knows. She is suitable,"** he said firmly. **"When the question is asked, her honor alone will require her acquiescence."**

    **"You have forseen this, Be'ron?"**

    **"No. There was no need. I have watched her from the moment of her birth. It is my belief that the Source formed her for this pivotal time."**

    **"And The One?"**

    **"The Universe now hones him into an sword that will strike at the heart of fear and intolerance among the younger races. Soon, it will be our privilege to help him."**

    **"Let us prepare then,"** De'rel said, moving to the door. The others followed, the air shimmering with golden light as their solidity faded and they disappeared.

    ----------

   Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, Personal Journal Entry, the 8th day of Demet, in the Year 982 of the Return (2261 Standard).:

    //A ten-day has passed since my return home. My arrival was kept quiet; only a few family knew. Although the unrest has been quelled and those responsible have been arrested, Ve'lar thought it wise not to call attention to my situation. Lord Med'ron D'Hal'Tah, the power behind the Isolationists, was convicted of ordering my death. As was his right as head of one of the Eight Families, he refused exile off-world with the others. The assassin, Bruce Chandler, has been condemned for poisoning me, and for the murder of the shopkeeper. Both will be executed this afternoon. Along with Ve'lar, I must be present when the sentence is carried out; it is the custom that the accusers experience some of the suffering of the condemned. By this, the sweet taste is taken out of revenge, replaced instead with the necessary pain of justice.

    Contact with others is almost unbearable for me now; the healers have come every day, curious to see how I fare, but I have refused to receive them. As long as I must remain here, with no chance to resume my work again out among the stars, I will consider myself a prisoner, at best. Well-wishers, family, friends from the University; they try to be kind, but it is impossible not to see the discomfort in their eyes. By all our customs, I should be dead and these people should be coming to pay their respects to my body before it is shut up in our family tomb. This house is now my tomb, and these visitors are the unwitting guests at the ending of my former life. I miss Ale'a so much; the pain has faded very little. She would know what to do now. How can I go on alone? When I was still on Babylon 5, it almost seemed possible. There was a purpose to survival. Now I must wonder what is happening to the people I care about there, unable as I am to help them in the war they fight. News is scant. My heart many times turns to Michael; I fear for his safety. It does not take the far-sight to know that something terrible is following him.//END ENTRY

   ----------

    "You look beautiful," Ve'lar said, watching his sister as she approached the door, ready to accompany him to the Hall of Justice.

    Elo'ria nodded and forced a smile, lowering a sheer black veil over her face while stepping toward the air-car that was waiting outside. "Thank you, my lord," she said, keeping to the formal speech she had used ever since she returned.

    Ve'lar reached out and gently took her arm, turning her to face him. "Can we dispense with this game, El'? This is me, remember? Your attitude is beginning to hurt."

    "I am sorry, Ve'lar," she said, her feelings threatening to melt as she felt his distress. Forcing up a barrier, and biting back tears, she continued, "You have nothing to fear; I will be obedient to your commands. I will not shame our Family."

    "I should think you were coming of your own will," he said, feeling a flash of anger. "You have always been free to come and go as you wish. How could you think otherwise?" Ve'lar took her hands, immediately noting the cold sweat on the palms. "By the Source, you are frightened to death. Forgive me, dearest; I should have realized. Come, I will see you safely back to your rooms; when I return, we will talk."

    "No, Ve'lar," she said, gathering all of her fragile courage. "It is time I helped you with the burden you carry for our Family. As long as I must be a captive on our world, it is the least I can do to avoid being a burden."

    Ve'lar met her eyes, then smiled, "As you wish, El', but never are you a burden. I will be glad of your presence. However, there is more you must know."

    "What is it?" Eloria asked, a knot of fear returning.

    "The Varn have petitioned the Council for a Joining with our Family."

    "But who? All the children are too young," she said, puzzled by the news.

    "The Varn are looking to you, El'. They have summoned you to the Pre'dom. No Lonorian has set foot in that place in over eight centuries. I have agreed, with the provision that it will be your choice, and yours alone, as to whether or not this petition will be granted. The Council agreed, reluctantly I must tell you, since they see no reason why I should not compel you to any agreement that would benefit our Family. But I could never do that to you, El'. And besides, you have more experience now with negotiation. I trust your judgement completely."

    "Why is it that you are always coming up with these surprise trips for me, my brother? Really, I am not suffering from boredom, if that is what you think," she said, trying to make light, all the while questions rushing through her mind at breakneck speed. 'I have failed to protect one companion; why would they trust me with another? Why do the Varn pay me this attention? What is it that they want from me? Is this really the chance I have prayed for?'

    "How can I decline such a summons? Curiosity alone would haunt me ever after if I refuse. When am I to leave?" Elo'ria asked aloud, her feelings swinging wildly from fear to elation.

    "Tonight, a transport will arrive to take you. You must go alone, with only a few personal possessions; not even a servant is permitted to go with you." Ve'lar captured her gaze, his dark violet eyes searching hers. "Are you sure about this, El'?"

    "No, of course not, but what choice do I have? Unjoined, I am a prisoner, looked upon with pity, never really trusted. I must at least listen to the Varn petition," she said, trying not to show her anxiety.

    "Come, we must leave; it is not merciful to increase the prisoners' suffering by having them wait." Taking her hand, Ve'lar led Elo'ria to the car and it took off into the afternoon sun.

   

   Chapter 12

    John Sheridan awoke in darkness, the only light in the place where he lay a faint dimness coming from under a door or window on the far wall; he couldn't be sure. There was no bed; the floor was hard and cold. John pulled himself up to sit, wincing with every movement. He ached deeply all over from the beatings he'd endured and he was sure he had sustained a couple of broken ribs in the struggle before he was captured. Feeling along with his hands, his eyes straining to see, he inched his way until he found the rim of the hole in the floor-the only semblance of a toilet he'd discovered. He relieved himself while kneeling, then stood up painfully, fighting waves of dizziness, and moved to the opposite wall where the tiny amount of light shown. Putting his ear to the wall, John tried to hear sounds, voices, anything. Only silence. It was impossible to tell night from day, or for what length of time he'd been held here. Hell, he didn't even know where 'here' was: still on Mars, on board a ship, or taken to Earth? Totally frustrated, he opened his mouth to yell out his questions again, then thought the better of it. Crying out would only serve to attract the wrong kind of attention from those who controlled this place and that was something he desperately wanted to avoid.

    Weakness took control of his legs and John found himself sliding down the wall to sit heavily on the floor again. His clothes were sour with dried sweat; he licked the rusty taste of dried blood from his cracked lips. His training as a soldier told him the signs of dehydration and he had them all; the jailers kept him just on the edge of collapse, with an exquisite thirst that ensured that he would be unable to resist drinking the drugged liquids they gave him. The food was undoubtedly poisoned; after the sandwich the first interrogator had given him, he refused every bit of food he was offered. It didn't matter though; rubbing his bruised arms he thought of the I.V. needles that sent the cold fingers of poison into his brain. At least that's where he thought the hypnotic images were from. It was getting harder to separate reality from hallucinations; it all seemed to flow together into a vast swirling dream he was trying furiously to wake up from.

    John leaned his head back against the rough wall and closed his eyes. Reaching down into the soul of himself, he drew out the image of Delenn he kept there, shining and beautiful. As he watched, she became solid before him, her smile loving, her arms reaching out to hold him close. He thought he could actually feel the softness of her body and inhale her familiar scent...

    A flood of agony tore him into his body, held in the interrogation chair. His breath came in gasps, every nerve on fire. The punishment from the pain givers at his wrists and around his throat came unpredictably; at first to repay his silence, now at the caprice of his tormentors. He squinted his eyes against the interminable bright lights, the ever present drone of the inquisitor's questions like a hammer pounding in his skull. John didn't know how much longer he could last; it was getting harder to hold on to sanity. Or maybe he was insane already and all of this was just a horrible delusion. Feeling a familiar coldness begin to travel up his left arm, he waited in near panic for it to move into his chest and spread out through his body. The frigid fingers of the drug would find his brain, smashing relentlessly at his mind, dissolving reality and replacing it with waking dreams. John tried hard to fight it...

   ----------

    The Varn Pre'dom, a citadel 300 miles south of Zeneb, on the planet E'las:

    Elo'ria was ushered into a spacious chamber, tall floor to ceiling windows hung with silken curtains open to the cool air of early morning.

   "Wait here, my lady." The Vrii who had guided her turned to leave, its expression impassive. Elo'ria had heard of the strange race that served the Varn in this place, but not much was known about them. They were tall-over eight feet, she thought-and willowy, their very thin bodies and limbs making them look more like moving trees than the humanoid beings they were. The Vrii had large black eyes, no body hair at all, and bluish, almost transparent skin. They moved silently, seeming to glide over the floor tiles, so that Elo'ria wondered if their feet, if they even had such under their long robes, really touched the floor at all.

    "And for whom am I to wait?" she said, barely controlling her impatience. She had not seen any Varn since her arrival last night and she was beginning to think they were toying with her. The memory of the execution she witnessed the day before also weighed heavily on her mind. The terror of the human had been close to overwhelming; he had screamed and tried to run, dishonoring himself in his last moments. In stark contrast, the calm resignation of Lord Med'ron, hoping, she was sure, to be declared a martyr by his Party, had frightened her more. Med'ron's last words had been directed to her, a warning against trusting anyone too closely again. Death was almost instantaneous; a small injection into the neck with the juice of a toxic plant paralyzed all vital function in the brain. Elo'ria still had been compelled to turn away; even now, she felt a wave of nausea at the memories.

   "For me, I expect." The musical voice of the Varn startled Elo'ria, and she turned to see where it came from. A tiny, golden being watched her from the corner of the room. "Be at peace and be welcome. My name is Be'ron, my lady," he said, smiling warmly, "and I have waited a very long time for this moment. There is much to talk about and very little time." Coming close, he reached out to her gently. For a moment, fear gripped her and she stepped back.

    "What do you want of me, my lord? I do not understand what is happening. Please, if you wish to punish me for the loss of Ale'a," her throat threatened to close over the words, "then do it and be done. There is little left for me in this life anyway."

    The look on Lord Be'ron's face was kind, but grave. "Much has been asked of you, Elo'ria D'Nos' Tah, and you have yet much to give. You will come to know, and to understand, but it will take patience and trust. Can you do that much?"

    "I do not know, my lord," she said, self-doubt always her enemy. "I will try, but I am afraid." Her admission of fear came hard.

    Be'ron moved close to her again, his eyes catching hers and holding them. He reached out slowly and placed his hand on her forehead. Instantly, Elo'ria's awareness came alive, as if a wide door that had been shut for a lifetime was now suddenly opened, letting in all the light in the Universe.

   "Come. There are others we must speak with. Take my hand," Be'ron said, as he lead her away, into the light.

   ----------

    Rough hands pulled Michael Garibaldi to his feet and a shove at his back pushed him through the doorway of the dark room he'd been held in. He squinted into the bright light, looking around quickly to find himself in one of the endless tunnels that honeycombed the ground below the domed cities of Mars. It was impossible to tell where he was, but it wasn't hard to figure what these Resistance fighters were planning to do with him.

    Garibaldi had gone into hiding after his boss, Edgars, had been murdered, and that swine Bester had let him in on how his mind had been worked over. The Resistance was good, and Garibaldi's contacts on Mars were staying as far away from him as possible. It was only a matter of time before the Resistance caught up with him. When he was found, they had beaten him senseless; he didn't even remember getting to wherever it was they were now.

    "Hey, listen. If I can just talk to your boss...," Michael said, his mind racing to find a way to head off what was waiting at the end of this walk.

    "Oh, you'll have your chance, traitor. Now MOVE!" his guard hissed, pushing him foward with the butt of the plasma rifle he carried.

    It wasn't long before Garibaldi heard voices up ahead. Feeling a sudden wave of nausea as his head began to throb with pain, he stumbled. The guard kicked him hard, sending him crashing into the dirt floor. He was hauled upright again and forced on.

    The tunnel widened out into a large room, filled with crates and boxes. A blond woman with hard blue eyes watched coldly as he was brought forward. Michael knew from intelligence reports that this had to be Number One, the leader of the Mars Resistance. Stephen Franklin and Lyta Alexander were with her, their faces looking grim. Knowing instinctively that these were likely his last moments, he tried desperately to get a grip on his terror in order to find the words that would convince these people that Bester was responsible for what happened. Bester had manipulated and used him to sell out Sheridan; hell, he even seemed to enjoy it. But there was no proof, he thought frantically, nothing but his word, and he didn't have to guess at what that was worth right now. He remembered it all, everything, like a nightmare he could never wake up from. Michael had faced death many times before; now maybe it was time he paid up for all the stupid mistakes he'd made in his life-but not like this. It was horrifying to face execution as a traitor, to be shot down like an animal, without anyone to defend him. The image of Elo'ria came to his mind, her purple eyes looking into his, the warmth of her touch and her words of warning. What would she think of him now? He felt a bitter sting of regret, within a life full of regrets. He'd wished there had been more time to find out what was between them. Now, it was way too late...

    "Look, you have to listen to me," Garibaldi was saying, feeling the business end of a P.P.G. pressed to the side of his head. His blood had turned cold; his heart pounded violently. "It was Bester and the Psi Corps. He did something to my head. They used me to get to Sheridan..."

    Number One turned away. Franklin was beginning to say something, but she stopped him. "I don't have time for this," she said irritably, turning to the guard. "Kill him."

   ----------

   Lord Ve'lar's aide, Gan'tal, sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs and looking out the window at the gardens around the estate. The day had been long and difficult; since the plots of the isolationists had been uncovered, the political landscape was shifting, changing overnight. The D'Nos'Tah family had moved into the spotlight of power; it was his job to see that things went well for his long-time friend, Ve'lar, to whom his life's service was pledged.

    A signal sounded from the console behind Gan'tal. He moved slowly to touch the com panel, straightening his jacket and attempting to disguise his fatigue. "Yes?" he said.

    "An incoming message from Babylon 5," the computer droned.

    "Put it through," Gan'tal said, clearing his thoughts. The usual reports from the Ambassador had been received yesterday. What was this about?

    Re'na D'Nos'Tah's face appeared on the monitor. She looked nervous. "Greetings, Gan'tal. I am sorry to disturb you, but I must find the Lady Elo'ria. I have left several messages for her over the last day and she has not replied. Now I confess that I am worried about her, and rather anxious that she give me an answer; the message is from Entil'Zha Delenn and seems most urgent." Re'na stopped speaking for a moment, afraid she was talking too fast.

    "I am sorry, Re'na, but the Lady Elo'ria is not here."

    Re'na's face fell. "Then may I speak to Lord Ve'lar? I know he is very busy, but Elo'ria would never forgive me if I did not try to deliver this message in some other way."

    "What message?" Ve'lar's deep voice echoed from the hall. He entered the room, loosening the collar of his uniform jacket.

    Re'na looked relieved, then uncomfortable. "It is for the Lady Elo'ria, my lord. Since she is not available, I must ask you to receive it in her stead. It is a secure transmission," she finished, looking pointedly at Gan'tal.

    "It is all right, Re'na. Gan'tal has my full trust. Begin the transmission."

    "As you wish, my lord," she said, touching a data crystal in the panel before her.

    After the message finished, Ve'lar looked at Gan'tal gravely. "I must go to the Pre'dom, my friend."

    "No, Ve'lar, you can not. You have not been invited; you will only end up standing outside the locked gates. Ask your companion to give the message to the Varn; we know they can reach each other's consciousness over vast distances. They will surely see the urgency."

    "I am convinced that the Varn have their own agenda, of which we know little. It might be that this does not fit with their plans for my sister. Honor demands that I at least present the request myself, then she will have to choose." Ve'lar paused, closing his eyes for several moments.

    Gan'tal broke the silence, "I can see that arguing with you will serve little, my lord. I will get the flier ready; if you are going on this futile journey, I reserve the right to be there to watch your back."

    Ve'lar smiled wearily at his lieutenant. Gan'tal had become more like a brother to him, and an invaluable counselor. Ve'lar was grateful for his offer of company. "Meet me here in thirty minutes," he said. "My companion has agreed to announce our coming." Together they walked out into the fast growing darkness.

   ----------

   Hands gripped John's arms. Where were they taking him now? He tried weakly to resist, not able to separate real from dreams. A familiar face leaned over him; Stephen Franklin's intense brown eyes were full of concern. Hadn't he just been talking to Stephen? Where was this? Why couldn't he think? John looked at Stephen dully, trying futilely to focus his eyes.

    "John, take it easy. It's me, Stephen. We're going to get you out of here. Lyta, help me get his other arm. John, can you stand?"

    Sheridan tried to answer, but no sound came out of his mouth. Hands pulled him up to stand and the world began to tilt like a ship on the ocean. He wretched, but his stomach, empty for God knew how long, produced only a mouthful of bile. John spat it to the floor. He wiped this mouth with the back of his hand. "What are you doing?" he finally croaked.

    "We're getting you out of here, so just hang on and let us do the rescue stuff, okay?" Garibaldi's voice was edged with fear and pain. John looked into his face, sure for a minute that there was something important he had to say to this man, but the words fled into the garbled images whirling in his mind.

    Stephen watched anxiously as Sheridan managed to gain his balance, blankly following Michael and Lyta. They didn't have much time; at any moment those people in the control center would discover that they had no authorization to be here. He glanced at Garibaldi; it was a small miracle this man was even alive. If Lyta hadn't been present, scanning his mind to learn the truth and then showing the others, Michael would surely be dead. Insisting on helping to get John, Garibaldi had been stabbed by a guard in the tunnel getting here. Franklin hoped the sutures he'd placed would hold long enough for them to reach help.

    With dismay he turned his eyes back to Sheridan. Whatever the inquisitors had done to him had been devastating. With his doctor's sixth sense he knew that getting John out of the prison was only the beginning. John was confused, barely holding on to reality. It was going to take a whole lot of improvement to get him past the checkpoints and off Mars. Stephen shuddered at the thought of what would happen if they failed, then stepped up his pace as they hurried out of hell.

   

   Chapter 13

    Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, Personal Journal Entry, the 11th day of Demet, in the year 982 of the Return (2261 Standard):

    //The ritual bath is finished, and I now wear the sheer or'la of the Joining. Already, Gaitan, the largest moon, is high in the night sky. In a few hours, everything in my world will change. Although we are in the time of disclosure, Lord Be'ron has left me to prepare himself. He says he knows me well, and when our minds touch, I am sure he is speaking the truth. We have been together for long hours, being open with each other, and there is much I have learned. But still I feel as though there is a great deal more that he does not say, as if there are no words, and if there were, they would be too much for me to hear. Maybe if I record here what I do know, I will be better able to understand what is happening...//

    "You look troubled, Elo'ria," Be'ron said, gliding toward me on golden wings.

    "I am sorry, my lord. It's just that...well...you and I are...different." I paused, looking for some way to say this delicately. Be'ron regarded me, a smile playing at his face. "You, well...you are male and I am..."

    "Female. Yes, cha'na, I am aware of that," he said, using a term of endearment.

    "How can this be proper? Such a joining is...unnatural."

    His look was kind. "In ancient times, such a match was not unknown; those who would make the best companions were joined, regardless of sex. That is the way of it now, Elo'ria. You and I have been destined to be joined, because it is necessary at this time."

    "But what of Ale'a, my lord?" I said, feeling angry. "Was she expendable in this destiny of yours? Did you know and fail to warn her?"

    "Ale'a was aware of what was required of her. She accepted her destiny."

    "But I was not given a choice in the matter. Am I a pawn in some game the Varn play?" I asked bitterly.

    "No, never a pawn, and there is no game, unless you would call the progress of the galaxy a game. You are a very special person, Elo'ria. You stand to influence history-to make a difference, as the Humans say. If you truly wish to serve those who bring Light into the dark places, you will trust me."

    For a brief moment, I was shocked. How could Be'ron possibly know what I had told the First One when I touched John Sheridan's mind? At that instant, I knew for certain that the Varn were much more than we Lonorians ever guessed.

    "Tell me how you know so much about me," I said impetuously, almost certain that he would decline to answer. Instead, he smiled.

    "Sit down, please, cha'na, and I will explain what I can. From your birth, I have observed your progress. It was I who suggested my daughter, Ale'a, for your companion." Despite my surprise at this revelation, I felt the shadow of sadness in him. Be'ron continued, "As you well know, there are great changes sweeping this part of the galaxy. The First Ones have departed, leaving the rest of us behind to see to our own evolution. We who remain in this Citadel have accepted the pain of being unjoined so that we might study the stream of history and serve as guides to the best possible future."

    "You are a far-seer," I said, not hiding my amazement. "Stories from the remote past tell of such, but no Varn companion has ever been known to possess such power."

    "Thankfully, the ability is rare, and those who have it are forbidden from the Joining."

    "But why?" I blurted. "Such power, I would think, would be valuable beyond measure. And we Lonorians would never reject such a companion. Why do you forbid it?"

    "The future is forever in motion, Elo'ria. Nothing is ever sure until it happens and becomes the past. We change the future with even our most trivial actions, but the temptation is to try to live too closely by the glimpses we who hold this power can see. In the end, such a course leads to pain and loss. We love you Lonorians too much to allow that. So we who are here remain alone-until now."

    "What has changed?" I asked, almost afraid of the response. "If what you say is true, my joining with you will bring me pain, and sorrow to my people."

    "The Source has seen fit to answer our prayers, sending you, and others like you, for this juncture in history. You are the first, and your association with The One is crucial to the future. You will be able to handle what others of your kind can not."

    "Who is this person?" I asked.

    "You know him as John Sheridan. You have seen what he went through on Z'ha'dum, and how his life has been shortened by his sacrifice. We have examined the possible futures. Wherever we have looked, if he dies prematurely, as now seems his fate, the Alliance will not survive. There will be a thousand years of war and petty squabbling; millions upon millions will lose their lives too soon. Even E'las will not escape the chaos."

    "The libraries," I gasped, "they will be destroyed. All of the knowledge lost."

    "It is very likely," Be'ron nodded sadly.

    "I have not found the answer to extending his life, my lord, though I and my friends have searched; so far, we have made little progress," I said, getting to my feet and pacing about the room.

    "Only because you did not look in the right place. When the time comes, we will find what is necessary together." Be'ron spoke with certainty.

    I hesitated for several moments, weighing all he had told me. But there could be only one response. Coming close to meet his gaze, I said, "I will agree to your petition, Lord Be'ron, on one condition." I was being incredibly bold to make conditions. "You must swear that once you are my companion, should you die, you will allow me to go with you. I can not bear the thought of going through such a separation again. Even now, it is impossible to describe the pain of it."

    "You must know that you are asking to shorten your life; I have lived a long time and will not be able to give you the added years of life you could expect of another," he said.

    I felt a shadow of regret as I thought of all I had given up on my journey to the stars: romantic love, children and a home of my own. Gathering my resolve, I said, "My condition stands, my lord. I must be content with whatever time the Source has destined."

    "I agree to your condition, Elo'ria, but there is more," he said, his musical voice serious. "Long have we loved our association with your people, but soon it must end. We Varn can hold off our evolution no longer. In the next century, your people must prepare to be alone."

    Feeling a terrible sense of dread, I asked, "But how will we survive? We depend on our companions for protection. And how will we endure the loneliness?"

    Be'ron looked deeply into my eyes, his expression kind. "Your people are stronger than they realize. The knowledge you keep will serve you well and you will learn to protect yourselves. We have foreseen another way-this new association with the Humans. Many of you carry parts of each other's souls. It would seem the Source is pointing the way to escape loneliness."

    The memory of what I felt for Michael Garibaldi swept over me. "It may be that a part of my soul resides with a Human, my lord, but it is so difficult to know for sure," I said, speaking to him like I would to a father.

    Echoing Ale'a's admonition, he said, "When it is time, you will know."

    Dawn is almost here; the night hours have sped away as I recorded this. A Vrii servant has come to lead me to where Lord Be'ron waits. It is still impossible to understand all that is transpiring. Nothing will be the same when I return.//END ENTRY

   ----------

    "Delenn." Lennier approached as Delenn was finishing a conversation with a crew member on the bridge of White Star Nine. She turned, her face alight with a smile when she saw who waited.

    "Lennier," she said, bowing, her fingers forming a triangle between them. "You have news from Commander Ivanova?"

    "Nothing that is new, Delenn. We await word on the movement of the Earth Alliance fleet. But that is not why I must speak with you. A ranger posted on Mars has just delivered a message. I thought that I should be the one to inform you-Captain Sheridan has been liberated from the prison there."

    A wave of relief swept over Delenn, but when she looked closer, she found Lennier was still frowning. "You have my thanks for giving me this good news. When will they arrive here?"

    "They will not be coming, Delenn, at least not soon. Mars, as you know, is under martial law. Now that the Captain has escaped, the authorities are searching relentlessly for him and those who helped him. The usual ways on or off planet have been closed to all but the most necessary travel; every traveler is monitored closely. The Resistance is stretched to the limit; but fortunately they have been able to find them a safe place to hide, at least for the present." Lennier did not sound certain.

    "Is there not a way for us to get a White Star in close by and pick them up?" Delenn knew that the space around Mars was heavily patrolled, but a Whitestar, with its Vorlon technology, had the best chance of holding off detection, or outrunning a pursuit. She wondered why this had not been thought of already.

    "Our plan was to land a White Star in a remote area for just enough time to rendezvous with our people. With the heavy security, it is too dangerous. Another way must be found," Lennier answered.

    "You have my approval, Lennier, for whatever is necessary," Delenn said.

    "There is more, Delenn, and it is not good." Lennier tried to find the words that would cushion this latest blow for her. "While he was a prisoner, the Captain was not treated well. He is ill, and that is making it difficult for Doctor Franklin and Miss Alexander to get him out undetected."

    "How ill, Lennier? What is wrong? What does Stephen say?" Delenn's eyes filled with tears; knowing John was in pain tore deeply at her soul.

    Lennier studied his mentor a moment, weighing how much he should say, wanting to protect her from hurt. "He was tortured, Delenn, and quite possibly poisoned. His mind has been injured. Doctor Franklin is doing all he can with the resources he has, but it has not been enough. Possibly, given more time..."

    "There is no more time, Lennier. The war will come to Mars in only a few days. I must go there myself, immediately." The pain of being so far away from her John when he needed her so much was unbearable.

    "No, you must stay here. There, you are sure to be recognized, and that will only expose everyone to more danger. And Commander Ivanova needs you at her back when she makes her attack on the Earth Alliance fleet." Lennier's voice was unyielding.

    Delenn knew Lennier was right, and now her mind was racing to come up with some alternative. She could not leave John and the others on Mars for much longer. Thinking of her message to Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, she asked, "Have we received any reply from the E'lasian Ambassador on Babylon 5? It was for just such a possibility that I sent the urgent request for Elo'ria's help."

    "Apart from a confirmation that your message was delivered to her dwelling-place on E'las, I have heard nothing else. I am sorry, Delenn."

    "It has been three days. This is not like her; there must be something wrong." Delenn made a quick decision. "Lennier, is the Ranger, Tom McCabe, still assigned to this vessel?"

    "Yes, but we were about to send him on a scouting mission..."

    Delenn interrupted, "Have him report to me at once, please. There is another mission I wish him to perform. When you return, ask Marcus to come with you; we must find a way... "

   ----------

   The Varn Pre'dom, a citadel 300 miles south of Zeneb, on the planet E'las:

   Ve'lar moved swiftly through the seemingly endless halls, drawn by his feelings and the quiet direction of his companion, with Gan'tal ever present at his back. On their arrival, they had found the gates to the citadel open; they were being allowed to enter. They had seen Vrii attendants come and go, but none paid the two of them any attention.

    Ve'lar was impressed with the beauty and immense size of the place; a vast pile of rose colored stone, delicately carved, with tall spires pointing high into the sky. He wondered who had built it, since it was obviously ancient, and much too large to be of practical use to the Varn. Searching for someone to tell them where Elo'ria could be found, Ve'lar and Gan'tal went from one open doorway to the next, but now the place seemed deserted.

    ** "I grow tired. Tell me where she is; I will deliver the message and be away from here. I mean no disrespect," ** Ve'lar addressed his companion, Nib'bir.

    ** "Turn at the next corridor. Follow the path of your connection to your sister; if you drop your barriers, you will see it plainly." ** Nib'bir's lyrical voice echoed in Ve'lar's mind.

    Watching to make sure Gan'tal followed, Ve'lar turned into a wide corridor, its stone walls polished like huge mirrors. Taking a deep breath and centering his mind, he slowly dropped his mental protections. As he did so, a luminous white filament gradually materialized in front of them near the floor. In amazement, he followed it without hesitation. After several minutes walking, their footfalls echoing in the stillness, they heard voices, and saw a Vrii enter a room through exquisitely embroidered curtains. Pushing the curtains aside, Ve'lar came after. He felt Gan'tal close by, but now his attention was riveted by what he saw.

    Elo'ria was lying on a platform that was being levitated in the air high enough for the eight-foot tall Vrii to reach her. Floating in the air next to her were three Varn, their golden wings moving gracefully behind them. Ve'lar knew immediately that he was about to witness a Joining. Although he himself had experienced such, his memory was blunted by the herb used to control the pain. He had never been a witness to what he was seeing now. The occupants of the room did not respond to the men's intrusion, intent as they were on the procedings.

    One of the Varn, a male by his features, floated down slowly to stand next to Elo'ria on the platform. He bowed to her, then stood motionless. A Vrii attendant glided to Elo'ria's head, and silently unfastened the or'la she wore and removed it, leaving her naked. Ve'lar was amazed at how strikingly beautiful his sister was, her auburn hair unbound and cascading over the side of her resting place, her face radiant and without fear. She turned in his direction, and looked straight into his eyes, then turned back to look at her would-be companion. Her voice soft and steady, Elo'ria recited the ritual words.

    "I am Elo'ria of the Family D'Nos'Tah and I consent to this Joining. I am open to you, my companion. With my eyes, you will see. With my ears, you will hear. With my mouth, you will speak. With my body, I give you shelter. When you return to the Source, I will follow. We are one."

    The Varn replied, "I am Be'ron, son of Re'a and I, too, consent to this Joining. I am open to you, my companion. I give you my protection and the years of my life. With the knowledge I possess, you will see. With the power of my mind, you will hear. With the voice of wisdom, you will speak. When you return to the Source, I will follow. We are one." He nodded to one of the Vrii, who approached and offered Elo'ria a reddish liquid in a crystal cup. She put it to her lips, tasted it, then downed the remainder.

    A Vrii reached for a laser scalpel and focused its light on the small scar on the left side of Elo'ria's chest, just below the ribs. The incision was fast, a fireball of pain exploding from the wound that made her cry out. Ve'lar started to move toward her, but Gan'tal held him back. Be'ron came close to Elo'ria and reached out to touch the few drops of blood that had formed before the laser cauterized the wound edges. He put the blood to his lips. In a moment, his skin was beginning to change, covered with a thin layer of transparent membrane, his protection against Elo'ria's immune system. Then Be'ron nodded again to the Vrii who widened the incision, causing Elo'ria to gasp again. The small, insect-like body slid under her skin and was no longer visible.

    Everything stood motionless as the seconds ticked by, the only sound breaking the silence the steady beep of Elo'ria's heartbeat on the monitor the Vrii now watched. This was a critical time, when the Varn had to quickly interface with the Lonorian's circulation before the lack of oxygen was fatal.. Ve'lar scarcely dared to breathe. He listened with growing alarm as the sound faltered, then ceased.

   ----------

    "They're coming to move us again," Lyta said, her voice calm and sure. Her power to pick up stray thoughts was proving invaluable; already she had saved them from discovery more than once.

    "How long?" Stephen Franklin glanced at the sleeping form of John Sheridan in the semi-darkness. There was only a little light from a single lantern to illumine the basement of the building they were hiding in. The Resistance supplied them with food and a few bits of news, moving them from one refuge to another, sometimes within hours, to avoid detection.

    "Maybe five minutes. We'd better get ready," she said, crossing the room and starting to put some of their meager supplies into a backpack.

    The doctor moved quietly to a shadowed corner and touched Garibaldi's shoulder lightly. The sleeping man was instantly awake. "What's going on?" he asked, his breath catching involuntarily as he started to stand; the pain from the knife wound in his back had not diminished.

    "We're going to be moved again. Here, let me look at that," Stephen said, walking behind Garibaldi to look at the wound. There was fresh blood on his jacket. Looking closer, he could see a fine sheen of sweat on Garibaldi's face, and the flush of fever. "We have to get you some help, Michael," he said urgently. They had few medical supplies and much was already used. If he didn't get treatment soon, Franklin knew that infection could race like wildfire through Garibaldi's bloodstream, killing him.

    "It's okay, doc. Really. Let's just worry about the Captain." Garibaldi watched, dejected, as Lyta helped John to his feet. When he thought about what had been done to his friend, his soul cried out in fury and remorse. Bester had said that some of Garibaldi's own qualities had been "enhanced" to make him a better tool. That made some of this his fault, Michael accused himself; his flaws had made the betrayal easy. All that mattered now was getting John out of this; no weakness of his was going to betray his friend again.

    The door opened slowly; two Resistance fighers stood outlined in the dimness. They looked at each other, surprise on their faces, when they saw their "guests" standing ready to leave. "Let's go," a young woman with long dark hair said. "We have to get you out of here; it's no longer safe. Your commander is sending help. Can your friend there make it?" she asked, looking pointedly at Sheridan.

    Franklin regarded his captain with concern. Since his rescue from the prison, John had remained withdrawn, saying little and staring blankly, or sleeping for hours. He had eaten almost nothing; only taking sips of water when it was offered. Pale, exhausted, with several days growth of beard on his face, John looked terrible. Lyta had hesitated to touch John's mind; her training did not permit her to scan anyone without their permission. Stephen had finally convinced her that, as a doctor, he could ask her to at least do a surface scan in the best interests of his patient. What she found confirmed his fears. His captors had so hurt and manipulated him that John did not believe anything that was happening to him now was real. Lyta said that he clung to the image of Delenn in his mind. Stephen was sure that this was the way he'd survived in the prison and he feared that any attempt to interrupt this connection could result in John losing his hold on sanity.

    "We'll see to him. He'll be okay," Franklin said, without much confidence.

    "We'll take you as far as we can to the rendezvous point, then you're on your own," the dark-haired woman loudly whispered. Having said that, she and her male partner led the way into the darkness beyond the door. As he followed, steadying John as they moved, Stephen found himself fervently hoping that whoever was coming to help would get here soon. He didn't know how much longer they could hold on.

   

   Chapter 14

    Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, Personal Journal Entry, the 13th day of Demet in the year 982 of the Return (2261 Standard):

    //It has been nearly eighteen standard hours since our ship left E'las. When I heard Delenn's urgent request, there was no other choice but to leave as quickly as possible. The message took long to find me; I pray that I will not be too late.

    The vessel carrying us is amazing; the Rangers call it a White Star. It travels incredibly fast, and I have been told that it is heavily armed and highly maneuverable. Since coming aboard, I've had the strangest feeling, as if the ship is somehow alive. There was a time when I would have thought that such an idea was impossible, but that time seems very long ago. I have since come to believe that the universe is vast and anything is possible! I have taken with me the few possessions I had in the Pre'dom, along with healer's supplies, and an ancient box Be'ron directed me to retrieve from a secret place in the Varn citadel. My curiosity as to what the box holds has had to wait, but I have a strong feeling that whatever is in it is a key to something very important.

   Exhaustion has dogged my steps since our departure. It is customary to rest and heal after the Joining, but there was no time. My friends are in the 'dark places' and I must help them in whatever way I can. Be'ron has told me that the Joining was very difficult, though I have no memory of anything until I awakened from a dream and looked into my brother's eyes....

    "Elo'ria," Ve'lar whispered. His hands were clasping mine; his face stretched with concern.

    "You are here," I answered, not quite believing that he was truly present. "Why have you come? Have things in Zeneb worsened? Is our family all right?" I tried to rise, fearful of his reply. Ve'lar put his hand on my shoulder to prevent me.

    "Lie still, El'. The Vrii are coming to take you to your rooms. You have been through a lot. We will talk when you have rested." Ve'lar's voice was soothing, as it had been when we were children and he had come to my room to comfort me after a nightmare.

    Coming awake again in my bed in the suite I had occupied since coming to the citadel, I glanced around for any sign of Ve'lar or Gan'tal. Finding that I still wore no garments, I pulled a robe over my shoulders and stood up. A wave of dizziness overtook me and my heart thumped painfully several times while I steadied myself against a chair.

    ** "The adjustment is proceeding, cha'na, but there has been trouble. You must give yourself time to heal."** Be'ron's voice was soft in my mind, but I also sensed fatigue behind it.

    **"I must see my brother, my lord. He would not have come to this place unless there was something of vital importance he wishes to say to me."** Walking slowly, I entered the living area. Ve'lar sat at a small table, finishing a cup of tea. He got up immediately when he saw my approach, coming quickly to my side to put his arm around my waist for support. I shook it off. "Please, Ve'lar, I am fine, really."

    "It is good to see you awake again, El'. Come, sit down and eat something. It is surely a long time since you have eaten," Ve'lar said.

    "What day is it? How long have I slept?" I asked, taking a chair and letting Ve'lar pour some tea. The Vrii had left fruit and a loaf of bread that suddenly smelled wonderful. I took a piece of the bread, looking around the room while I ate. The light from the window was fading into twilight. At the moment it seemed we were alone.

    "It is the end of Lasim, the day of your Joining. You have been sleeping for six hours," Ve'lar answered, his look serious. "I must confess that you had me frightened to death for many moments there at the end. Are you feeling stronger?"

    At Ve'lar's question, my feelings turned inward to touch the wonder and peace I felt in my connection with Be'ron. It was unlike anything I had experienced before. As the seconds ticked by, I could sense his power, directed at restoring my strength. "I am well, Ve'lar," I said.

    At that moment, Gan'tal entered the room behind a Ranger whose face was very well known to me. They both looked like they had been part of a struggle. "My lord," he said, addressing Ve'lar, "I found this one sneaking around the corridors. He says he must speak to the Lady Elo'ria." Gan'tal did not conceal his distrust.

    I waited while Ve'lar spoke. "What is your purpose here, Ranger? Do you not know you trespass on forbidden ground?"

    Tom McCabe bowed to Ve'lar, his eyes darting over to look at me. "It is not my intent to violate this ancient place; the gates stood open when I approached, so it seemed I was invited in. My name is Tom and my purpose is to speak with the Lady Elo'ria."

    "It would seem that you have found her," Ve'lar said.

    Tom turned to me and caught my eyes. "I have been sent by Entil'Zha Delenn. She has urgent need of your help. Captain Sheridan has been captured by his enemies and tortured. He remains hidden on an Earth colony. His mind has been hurt and it is too dangerous to attempt to get him off planet." Tom looked back at my brother. "The situation gets more desperate by the hour. Entil'Zha is aware of the Lady's skill in healing such hurts. She asks that Lady Elo'ria go with me to Mars to aid the Captain's escape."

    I looked to Ve'lar in surprise. "You know of this, my brother?"

    "Yes. It is the reason why I have come here to speak with you." Looking at Tom, Ve'lar said, "It would seem that Entil'Zha grows impatient for an answer."

    "How much time has passed since the first summons?" I asked the men before me.

    "Two days," Ve'lar said gravely.

    "Then there must be no more delay," I said, "Give me a few moments to prepare and I will go with you, Tom."

    "You know this Ranger?" my brother asked, taking my arm and leading me aside. "Listen to me, El', you do not have to do this. There are others who can be sent. You have not recovered, and besides, this sounds dangerous. I have almost lost you twice; I fear again for your safety."

    Placing my hand on his chest and speaking softly, I answered, "Yes, Ve'lar, I know this Ranger. He saved my life once so I owe him a great debt. But even that aside, I must go and try to help these people. They are my friends and they fight on the side of the Light. Another could be sent, but I have touched John Sheridan's mind. The Humans have difficulty with such contact; it is in their nature to resist. If Sheridan is mind-hurt, the deep touch of a stranger's mind could do more damage. I have the best chance to do this healing." My words held more confidence than I felt, but I was sure there was no one else for this mission.

    "I can see that you are determined to go, El'," Ve'lar said, surrendering. "I have learned better than to oppose you when you set your mind to something." Turning back to Tom, he said, "Guard my sister, Ranger. Bring her back to me safely or I will follow you to the ends of the galaxy to be sure of your death." His voice was sad, but edged with steel.

    "You have my word, Lord Ve'lar. The Lady Elo'ria will come to no harm as long as I live," Tom affirmed.

    Looking out through the ship's observation window at the stars fills me with exhilaration. I had thought to be a prisoner on E'las forever; the taste of this reprieve is truly wonderful, no matter what the danger we will face in the coming hours. If I come through this alive, I swear I will never be a captive again.// END ENTRY

   ----------

    Feeling a touch on her shoulder, Elo'ria startled awake. "I am sorry to disturb you, but I thought you would want to get ready. We are close to Mars; the rendezvous with the ship that will take us there is close," Tom said softly. "Are you going to be okay?"

    "Yes. I must have fallen asleep while recording my journal. Give me a few minutes, please, and I will meet you on the command deck."

    From her briefing, she knew that landing on Mars was only the start of the gauntlet; getting past the security checkpoints without attracting attention was going to be the trick. Elo'ria changed quickly into garments the Ranger had given her, borrowed from a female crew member: a gray long-sleeved shirt that fit loosely over a pair of soft black pants. A pair of boots covered the fact that the pants were a fraction too short. She fixed her hair long to hide her pointed ears, then slipped on a pair of blue contact lenses to hide the purple color of her eyes. The six fingers of her hands she concealed with specially made gloves; her people had been moving through other worlds for centuries and had gotten quite good at disguise. It had been decided that she would pass for a botanist, fleeing the trouble in the Proxima system with a collection of herbs for the University on Mars. That would take care of explaining the healer's supplies she carried, at least if the guards at the checkpoints did not examine her things too closely. Elo'ria thanked the Source that her Galactic Standard was virtually without accent; she had worked long hours during her studies to make it so. This subterfuge would not be enough if the authorities were using D.N.A. scans; however, Be'ron had assured her that he could take care of such an eventuality.

    Turning to a drawer next to the bed, Elo'ria drew out the mysterious box. It was rather plain, about the size of her hand, engraved with a series of runes she could not read. As she stared at it, the box seemed to call to her, its 'voice' singing in her mind. An overwhelming urge came over Elo'ria to open the box, but she resisted. Be'ron had been emphatic that she must wait.

    **"You can feel its call, can you not, cha'na,"** Be'ron whispered. She nodded, totally enchanted. **"Open the box. It is time you see."**

    Slowly she lifted the lid, excited and afraid at the same time. Within the box, she found a large ring, obviously meant for a much larger hand. The ring was made of a golden metal, and in its prongs it held a rather ordinary looking reddish brown stone, polished and without flaws. Elo'ria picked it up carefully and examined it, curious as to why she felt so drawn to hold it. As she looked at it, the round surface of the stone began to change. Images began to appear, then melt away, playing over its surface in a hypnotic dance. Sounds, voices, the music of languages she could not understand; Elo'ria watched as light and color surged before her eyes.

    **"What is this thing, Be'ron?"** she asked, barely able to take her attention away from the stone.

    **"It is the lifestone: the coron'daj,; at least that is what my people call it. We cannot know what it calls itself. This one has been with the Varn for a thousand years. We do not know where it came from, but from what we can tell by studying the images, it is very ancient and might even be an artifact of the First Ones. The stone is a focus of power, of that we are sure. In times past it was used to repair the flow of time and destiny. It also has great powers of healing, when wielded by the right person."**

    **"What are the images? Who speaks? Where are the places I see reflected in the stone?"**

    **"My people believe that what you see and hear are traces of those who have touched the stone, or whose lives have been altered by its agency, but we can never be sure. The images are fleeting and incomplete. We have not discovered how to see all of what the stone has recorded. It is known that the lifestone seeks living beings, as if it can sense life,"** Be'ron answered.

    **"Is the stone itself alive?"** Elo'ria could feel a presence of a sort, apart from the fleeting images that played across the surface of the lifestone.

    **"The coron'daj has an awareness of living beings, and possibly of itself as well. My people have speculated that the lifestone belonged to one of the First Ones and was imbued with its consciousness in some way we have yet to understand."**

    **"Why have we never known about this thing of power, my lord? Why is it kept hidden? It could change the course of what will be; countless lives could be saved and misery averted. Destiny could be reshaped,"** Elo'ria said. The possibilities seemed endless.

    **"It is kept locked away because, as with everything of power, its use exacts a price. Those who would employ it must know that it draws some of its energy from the life-force of the wearer. Then there is a risk that the ripples it sets up in the balance of things will attract the attention of those who are better left asleep. Finally, there is always the likelihood of error, cha'na. Not many of us are gods. Because that is true, we can never be sure of the result of such manipulations."** Be'ron said with sadness.

    Elo'ria's memory was stirring; she knew now why the stone seemed so familiar. She had seen one like it, in John Sheridan's memory of the First One on Z'ha'dum. Lorien had worn such a stone, mounted in a gold headpiece, centered on his forehead. **"You mean for me to use the stone to heal John Sheridan, and not just from the hurt done to his mind. It is to give him more time to live his life,"** she said.

   **"Yes."**

    **"If what you have told me of the risks is true, then how can this be justified?"** Elo'ria demanded.

    **"John Sheridan is The One. He is a nexus that must turn all the rest to the next step in the evolution of the younger races. He must live to complete his destiny. The balance of things has been upset and must be put right again. You will be the means. Such an undertaking is a gamble, to be sure, but if we are successful, the result will be vastly worth the risk"**

    Elo'ria's head was beginning to ache as she tried to apprehend all the ramifications of the work before her, but it was impossible. Feeling the approach of someone, she quickly replaced the ring and closed the box, putting it in a hidden compartment in the healer's case she carried. Tom McCabe stood in the doorway, his face concerned. "You did not come and I got worried. Do you need help?" he asked.

    "No, Tom, I am just finishing. Please, lead the way," Elo'ria said, putting on a travel cloak and lifting the case to her shoulder.

    **"This Ranger hides it well, but I see that he is brave beyond his years,"** Be'ron sounded impressed. **"He is in love with you,"** he added.

    **"Is that why you think he is brave, my lord?"** she asked, feigning insult.

    Be'ron's amusement warmed her thoughts. **"All of us who are caught in your spell must be brave, my lady, for your heart will choose another, and we will truly be lost."**

    Elo'ria laughed lightly, then her eyes turned to the Ranger beside her. She had felt his affection for her, but had paid it little attention. Knowing that the time was not now, but that she would have to speak to him soon, she followed him to the command deck.

    Another ship filled the viewscreen. Destiny awaited...

   

   Chapter 15

    Delenn slept fitfully. And she dreamed. She was in a dark place, dusty and smelling of age and neglect. Delenn moved foward, feeling her way, toward a small glow; was it a candle? No, it did not flicker. It was a lantern then, and a small one, hardly enough to push the darkness back much. As she approached the light, she could see the outline of a human figure, lying on a makeshift pallet on the floor. She did not need more light to recognize the man before her. Crouching to her knees next to his face, she reached out to tenderly touch his cheek.

    "John," she whispered.

    His eyes opened slowly and he looked past her as if she were not there at all. Delenn touched him again and his gaze refocused. "Delenn," he breathed, looking into her face. "I thought I would never see you again...so many times I thought that. How did you get here?" John looked around warily, seeming to search for something threatening in the shadows. His face was bruised and haggard and there were dark shadows under his eyes. Sitting up and gripping her hands, he said, "This place is dangerous. Any minute they will be coming for me again. You have to get out of here." John's face was drawn with anxiety.

    Delenn suddenly knew that this had to be his hiding place on Mars. She did not know how this could be, but she thanked Valen, then spoke quickly, fearful that whatever was happening would end too soon. "John, beloved soul, listen carefully to me. You are not in the prison any longer. Stephen and Lyta got you out," she said, careful not to mention Garibaldi. "Please try to trust them; they are trying hard to get you back to me." Delenn put her arms around John and held him close, marveling at the how clearly she could feel his warmth.

    John Sheridan was sure; this had to be Delenn. He could feel her presence and he even smelled the scent of incense and pine that was distinctly hers. He wondered what she was talking about. How could Stephen and Lyta be here? John wondered again where 'here' was. If only Delenn could stay. Closing his eyes, he reveled in her nearness, this time so real. When he opened his eyes again, she was gone, and he groaned in frustration. It had to be another trick by his tormentors, he thought, as he looked around, alone once more in the dark...

    Coming awake, Delenn stared for a moment around her quarters on the White Star. She was sure she had been somewhere else just seconds ago. With a sinking heart, she remembered. For the Minbari, it was not unusual to hear of souls with a deep connection seeking each other out when the outer self relaxed during sleep. Delenn was sure that somehow her soul and John's had touched, and surer still that he was in grave danger. She got up and called Lennier.

    "Delenn. Is there something wrong?" Lennier asked. He always looked composed, even when roused from sleep.

    "Have you had any word from Ranger McCabe since his ship left E'las?"

    "Only that he and the Lady Elo'ria were approaching Mars. That was four hours ago. It is likely that they are on the planet surface by now."

    "Thank you, Lennier. Please let me know as soon as you hear anything," Delenn said, her voice tired and sad.

    "I will, Delenn, but it may be difficult for this ship to receive messages. As you know, we will jump out of this sector in a few hours to intercept the Earthforce fleet," Lennier advised, hating to see the hurt in her eyes. "Tom is a good Ranger, and the Lady Elo'ria knows what she is doing. If anyone can help, they can."

    "You are a good friend, Lennier," she said, smiling at his image on the com screen. Knowing that others depended on her for strength and guidance, she pulled her ragged feelings in tight. "I will dress and meet you on the command deck in one hour."

    "As you wish, Delenn," Lennier said, the transmission ending.

   ----------

    Stephen Franklin stood watch, peering intently into the semi-darkness. According to his chrono, he and the others had been in this place close to twenty hours. The Resistance fighters had directed them to stay here, then left. He did not think they would return. From what Garibaldi had told him about the underground tunnels, and seeing the shipping containers stacked all around, Stephen guessed they were in a little-used warehouse, and pretty far out, near some of the freight landing pads. From there it wasn't far to the high rocky ridges that surrounded the valley the city was built in. Beyond the ridges lay Martian desert, cold and forbidding. Stephen turned on the crate he was sitting and looked at his companions. Lyta sat silently on another box, her eyes closed, but he knew she was awake, watching his back. Sheridan sat against the far wall, sleeping, Stephen thought. It was hard to tell because John reacted so little to things around him. In the shadows, Michael Garibaldi slept uncomfortably sitting up, a plasma rifle propped over his knees. Stephen wondered for the hundredth time who was coming to meet them and when; the Resistance had been vague about the whole thing. He thought with dismay that they had maybe one more day of food and water with them. After that, he and Lyta would have to go back into the tunnels and see what they could steal...

    Just then, Stephen heard a small scrape in the dimness up ahead of where he sat. He instantly went on hyper-alert, his hand reaching down to finger the P.P.G. at his belt. In the hours since they'd been here, he and the others had heard similar noises, most likely rats or other vermin. But several hours ago they had also heard voices and footsteps far off, which thankfully disappeared before coming close to this room. In light of that, Stephen would take no chances. Without looking, he felt Lyta come up beside him. He did not speak to her but motioned her to stay where they were, while he circled off ahead to the right. Another sound reached him; a footfall perhaps?. It was nearer now. Stephen headed on, his P.P.G. drawn, moving silently among the crates and straining to see what was coming. As he passed a gap between containers, he saw the outline of a person; in the gloom he could tell nothing more. Getting hold of his fear, Stephen decided to come up behind this intruder and jump him; he could not in good conscience shoot first and ask questions later. What if it was a landing pad worker, or one of the Resistance people come to check on them? Instinctively he knew that it was unlikely on either count, but still he couldn't shoot someone in cold blood. Turning left into a gap, then left again to complete the circle, Stephen could vaguely see the figure ahead of him now. Calling on every ounce of his military training, he crept up behind and pushed hard, slamming the intruder into the floor.

    Putting his knee squarely in the middle of the person's back, Franklin held the gun threateningly to the back of the intruder's head and said, "Don't move-not even an inch." He felt along the intruder's body for a gun; he didn't find one, but did elicit a groan of pain. The voice was that of a woman. Standing up and hauling his captive to her feet, he demanded, "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

    At that instant, he felt something hard hit his back with lightening force. The blow knocked his breath out, and the pain drove him to his knees. Still holding his prisoner, he pulled her down with him.

    Lyta's voice rang in the stillness, "Stop!" Stephen followed her gaze as she advanced on his position, carrying a small lantern. In the light he could see the man who had struck him; he was young, with a familiar face, and expertly carried a Minbari fighting pike. A Ranger, no doubt. Turning to the woman whose arm he still gripped tightly, he saw recognition in her eyes.

    "Stephen?" Elo'ria said urgently. "Damn! Why did we not think of a password or something?" she asked, directing the question at the Ranger. "Well, never mind. Help me up, will you someone?"

    Franklin and Lyta helped Elo'ria to her feet amid strenuous apologies. She introduced them to Tom McCabe. Stephen immediately remembered the Ranger as the one who had guarded Elo'ria in Medlab, refusing to leave her while she recovered from being poisoned. After he satisfied himself that Elo'ria was not injured badly by his rough treatment, Stephen asked, "What are you doing here? How did you find us?"

    "Delenn sent us," Elo'ria said, trying to sound matter of fact, "We are here to rescue you."

    "Oh, really, and just how do you propose to do that?" a voice from behind them asked.

    Elo'ria turned, her heart contracting. She knew that voice. "Michael," she said in astonishment.

   ----------

   In the few seconds it took for Elo'ria to get over her surprise at seeing Garibaldi, her mind came up with a dozen questions. She thought his present employer was one of the most wealthy men in the Earth Alliance, and not without considerable power. So why was Michael hiding out with people who could only be termed fugitives-the same people he had been so eager to leave behind when he left Babylon 5? Coming back to herself, Elo'ria heard Tom say, "Please, there isn't much time and where we stand has little shelter if someone were to get curious about the noise. Take us to Captain Sheridan; when we can safely talk, I will tell you what I know of our plan."

   "Great," Garibaldi lowered his voice to a hiss. "It sounds like you don't really have this thing worked out yet."

   "Take it easy, Michael," Franklin urged. "We haven't heard yet what the Ranger has to say."

    "Come on, let's get out of here," Lyta said as she turned to go back to where they'd left Sheridan.

    As they walked, Elo'ria glanced several times in Garibaldi's direction. She could sense that he was deeply troubled, and something else-a difference she could not put a finger on. It would have to wait, whatever was going on. Right now, her highest priority was to get John Sheridan in good enough shape to pass through at least one security checkpoint.

    When the group reached the far end of the huge room they were in, Stephen Franklin led the newcomers through a maze of crates, stacked almost to the ceiling. Reaching the clearing where Sheridan lay, Elo'ria let out an involuntary gasp. She had been told of his capture and torture, but nothing that was said prepared her for this. Lying on a couple of crumpled blankets on the dirty floor, John was pale, his face drawn and unshaven, his clothes soiled. To Elo'ria this could hardly be the man she had known on Babylon 5. That John Sheridan had always been impeccable in his appearance, a worthy example for the people he led. As she approached him, his eyes opened and he looked at her vacantly. It seemed as if the man she remembered no longer dwelt in the body she saw before her. At this thought, all her fear and doubt came surging to the surface, filling Elo'ria with near panic. 'What am I doing here?' she thought. 'This task requires someone of much greater skill; nothing that I have ever done has prepared me for this.'

    **"In that you are wrong, cha'na,"** Be'ron whispered in her mind. **"All that you have been, and all that you are, has led you to this moment."**

   ----------

   Elo'ria heard Tom McCabe start to tell the others the plan they both had discussed on the journey. "A small freighter brought us, to a landing pad about two hours walk from where we stand now. The ship actually had cargo bound for Mars; Marcus Cole just persuaded the pilot to make a short detour to pick us up on the way. Ben Ortiz, that's the pilot's name, owed Marcus a rather large favor from his days managing the family mining business. This seemed like a good time to collect," Tom said, smiling as he thought of Marcus's gifts of persuasion. "Elo'ria and I used the cover of being academics fleeing the war in the remote Earth Alliance colonies. We're here on Mars to stay with friends while we try to keep ahead of the fighting. Our real plan is to get all of you ready for travel, get to the landing pad, pass a small security checkpoint, and fly out of here on the freighter."

    Mister Garibaldi interrupted, "Sounds great, but there are a few minor points that you seem to be missing, like how you're going to get the Captain through any kind of security check. First, his face is too well known, but even if the guards have been living in a cave these past two weeks and don't know his face, the fact that he can't or won't answer questions is a real problem maybe you folks haven't thought through."

    Elo'ria stepped foward, steeling her resolve so that no one would see her doubts. "That is why I am here," she said firmly, looking directly at Garibaldi, "I will do what I can to heal what has been done to John."

    Frustration in his voice, Garibaldi asked, "And how long will that take?" Indicating himself, Stephen and Lyta, he continued, "All of us have tried countless times to reach the Captain without much success, and we are his friends." Garibaldi's voice was filled with irony. He turned on Elo'ria then, saying, "You are a stranger, and not even human. Lyta here has said she doesn't dare probe John's mind too far. How can we trust that you even know what you're doing?"

    Badly stung by Garibaldi's words, Elo'ria recovered her composure long enough to say, "Since you have been doing so well thusfar," she paused, her gaze sweeping over their meager hiding place, "I am sure you will have no objection to letting us try something different. Although I am not human, Mister Garibaldi, I do believe I am less of a stranger than you seem to be at this moment." She barely concealed the hurt she felt. Why did she ever think that this man, who was so thoughtlessly cruel, could possess a part of her soul? It must have been the trauma of losing Ale'a, she thought sadly, but that part of her life was over, and now so was the fantasy of finding a love bond. "There is very little time to argue," Elo'ria said, turning to Tom and nodding.

    "As Elo'ria says, there is very little time. The war and all the security around here have made our freighter pilot very nervous. He wishes to leave as soon as possible. We have a little less than twenty-four hours to pull it together and meet his ship. Any longer, and Mister Ortiz will leave, with or without us."

    Looking at Elo'ria, Franklin said quickly, "Tell me your plan and how I can help."

    "I will need a bit of space that is clean and quiet. First I must examine John, to be sure nothing has changed from what you have told me as we walked. Then I must attempt to touch his mind, to see for myself the nature and extent of the hurt done. From there, well...from that point, I will consult with my companion as to the proper method of treatment," Elo'ria answered, pushing all personal thoughts aside to focus on the needs of her patient, and moving away from the others.

    "You have another companion?" Stephen asked as he followed her, clearly surprised.

    "Yes. His name is Be'ron; he is a great lord among the Varn. We were joined less than three days ago. I do not yet know the extent of his power, but he has anticipated the task I now face."

    His face concerned, Stephen Franklin reached out to touch Elo'ria's hand, "I have studied the data on your people that your friend, the healer Ca'mar, sent me when you were so ill. So even I know that you should be at rest after the Joining; there is a great deal of adjustment that both beings must accomplish. You should not be putting yourself in danger like this, El'."

    Remembering Garibaldi's words about the differences between them, and his doubts about her competence, she withdrew, not allowing Stephen to touch her. Elo'ria had worked with these humans for more than eight standard months on Babylon 5; she thought she had become at least a valued ally, if not a friend, in the process. She was sure now that she had been woefully naive.

    "I'm sorry about what was said back there," Stephen was saying, as if he knew her thoughts. "I've seen what you can do and you have my confidence, for what that's worth. Just say the word, and I'll help any way I can."

    Elo'ria regarded Franklin for a moment, seeing the honesty in his eyes. "Thank you," she said.

    They turned back to face the others, just as Michael was saying, "Even if we do pass the checkpoint, or more likely, have to shoot our way out, how will we get out of this sector? If we are found out and they send patrol ships after us, there's no way a freighter can outrun them."

    Tom spoke, his voice quiet and steady, "That's why a White Star is waiting close-by in hyperspace. It will jump in to pick us up on a pre-arranged signal. All we have to do is elude any pursuers long enough to get to the rendezvous point."

   ----------

    Elo'ria's physical examination of the Captain was swift, but careful. She was appalled by the cruel injuries she saw. John had been savagely beaten, on more than one occasion; deep bruises and wounds in various stages of healing marred his body just about everywhere. He had at least four cracked ribs, revealed by the pain she saw in his eyes when she touched each one. His neck and wrists were raw with unhealed burns; Narn paingivers, she thought, barely containing her revulsion. Using her ability to 'see within', Elo'ria easily found the effects of poisoning. There were micro-hemorrhages in all organ systems and the nerves throughout his body were extensively irritated, not enough to kill, but enough to cause excruciating pain. She found two small blood clots on his right lung, most likely caused by blows to his chest from a blunt instrument. John's arms were a map of track marks; she discovered an implanted electronic device under the skin of his shoulder for delivering drugs over days. Stephen helped her by removing it; a small amount of drug remained in its reservoir. Without more sophisticated equipment, neither he or Elo'ria could tell exactly what the substance was, but they were sure that John was better off without it. He was dehydrated and in the beginning stages of starvation. That John was still able to move about and function attested to the excellent health he was in before his capture; anyone else would have been incapacitated by now.

   **"You have seen what they have done to him, Be'ron,"** Elo'ria breathed, sickened by what she had discovered, particularly when she touched John Sheridan's mind. In place of the warm and open person she remembered, there was now hardly a trace, only a small empty place before a strong barrier. It reached upwards, and to either side, as far as she could see. Probing the wall, she had called out, **"John. John Sheridan! Please answer me; it is I, Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah. I have come to help."** Silence had been the answer. **"There is no danger, John. You have felt my mind before. Allow me to come closer, so that you may know that I speak the truth."**

    She heard a distant voice, like the sighing of the wind, so tired and hurt. **"Leave me alone. I will not betray those whose lives depend on me. You will not use me in the games you play, not as long as I live."**

    Elo'ria had pleaded, **"John, there is no one to trick you. How would anyone among your captors know of what has passed between us? I am truly Elo'ria; Delenn sent me to take you back to her. Please trust me."** Silence had greeted her appeal. John was not a telepath; his barriers could not stand up to a concerted push from her mind. She decided quickly not to attempt it; it was impossible to tell how he would react.

   **"Yes, Elo'ria, I have seen. It would appear that his captors treated him with drugs that induced waking dreams, hallucinations that they were able to manipulate to bend his reality to whatever path they chose,"** Be'ron said, deeply affected. **"To treat a fellow sentient being this way is unconscionable."**

    **"This may well be beyond my abilities, my lord,"** Elo'ria said, her uncertainty returning. Looking at John's dreadful injuries had made her blood run cold. **"The drugs I carry that would help him let go of the barriers must be avoided. If I were to use any one of them, John would surely feel it and believe that he is being betrayed again. No, that way is blocked. I could continue to try to persuade, and given time, he might even listen, but there is not enough time. My experience is just too limited, Be'ron; I cannot do this."** Her lack of confidence had her on the edge of panic.

    **"Who are you?"** Be'ron's voice was serious.

    **"You know very well, my lord,"** Elo'ria replied, struck with wonder and confusion at the question she had heard only once before.

    **"Who are you?"** his voice again commanded.

    **"I am a healer, preserver of life, comforter to those who suffer...,"** she recited the words she had said to the First One.

    **"What do you want?"** Be'ron's voice shot through her mind.

    Remembering her reply to Lorien, she said, **"I wish to serve those who bring Light into the dark places."** The meaning of the words now struck at her heart.

    **"And why are you here?"** he demanded.

    Seeing surely that she was being called to make good on her words, she swallowed hard, then replied, **"Because that is what is required, my lord."**

    **"Then do what is required, healer,"** Be'ron demanded, is if to an errant child, **"There are people depending on you and your skill is their only hope."**

    Chastened by his words, and her mind racing for answers, she asked, **"You have told me that the coron'daj has powers of healing. Would such power be enough for this task, Be'ron?"**

    **"For this task, and more, cha'na,"** he said, his voice much gentler. **"But I must caution you that the stone exacts a price from the user. You must be sure you are willing to pay it."**

    **"Will I die, my lord?"** Elo'ria asked, determined not to be afraid, no matter the answer.

    **"That I cannot say. Would it make a difference?"**

   This was real, now. No more dreams or inflated words; no more playing at being brave. Elo'ria felt her blood cool from fear; still, she gathered every ounce of courage she possessed.

    **"No, my lord. I will do what is required, as I have pledged as a healer. One should never think that such an oath will not have to be proved one day. All else is in the hands of the Source of All Things,"** Elo'ria said, a calm coming over her soul. **"Now let us get on with this quickly, before my small courage fails. I have an idea as to how this can be done..."**

    Lord Be'ron listened to Elo'ria's plan, marveling at the bravery she evinced at the risks it involved. When the time came, he would extend to her all the protection his power could give. He had to trust the Source that it would be enough.

   

   Chapter 16

    Delenn sat on the floor of her quarters on the White Star, attempting without much success to control her breathing and enter a light meditative state. It was the only way she could think to escape her fear for John and the others, as well as find distraction from thoughts of the battle this fleet of ships would certainly fight only hours from now. She focused her gaze again on the flame of a candle that burned on a low table in front of her, and took her mind through a simple exercise learned in Temple long ago. Her breathing slowed to match the cadence of the chanted words, each word a call to a part of her body to unwind. Attaining a calm state of relaxation, she continued to stare at the flame. As she watched in surprise, it began to change, growing brighter and expanding to fill her entire field of vision. The light began to hurt her eyes; she tried to turn away, but something drew her inescapably to continue to watch. The brightness slowly coalesced, and a figure stood before her. A voice called to her, as if from a great distance.

    "Delenn. Listen to me please; there is very little time. John has been cruelly hurt, and as a result, he prevents all contact with those around him. He believes he is still a captive; the drugs they used on him have made him distrust his own senses. I have need of your help to reach him."

    Delenn looked closely and saw the semblance of her friend, Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah. She was wearing human style clothes and her eyes were a strange color. On her left hand, she wore a very large ring; its stone glowed strangely, pulsating as if it were alive.

    "How...?" Delenn asked warily.

    "With the aid of this thing of power," Elo'ria answered, indicating the ring, "Your consciousness will travel the necessary distance to reach John. You have done it before, have you not?"

    Delenn nodded slowly, remembering her dream. The strange stone in Elo'ria's ring drew her gaze, and in her ears she could hear a song, made up of the voices of many peoples speaking in languages she could not understand. It filled her with wonder. Knowing that she would surely give her life for John, she said quietly, "Tell me what I must do."

    "First, you must trust me, my friend. Then you must let go of your thoughts and follow the images the lifestone will show you. You will not be harmed; I and my companion will be with you. Listen to our voices and do without hesitation what we will tell you." Elo'ria spoke with calm assurance.

    Taking her friend's proffered hand, Delenn felt herself being drawn forward at incredible speed, the song of the lifestone becoming ever louder, the air around her alive with motion and color. A cold finger of fear touched her heart as she remembered another time, long ago, when a Soul Hunter had tried to take her soul, threatening to rip it from her body. She wondered if her soul were leaving her body now, and whether she would find her way back again. Another instant passed and Delenn found herself in a plain, sterile looking chamber, the colors and sounds now fading away. Ahead of her, she saw Elo'ria bending over a figure in the shadows. Her heart lurched as she saw that it was John; he looked much as he had in her dream, but now his eyes were empty and he sat on the floor in the corner unmoving. Delenn looked around the room they were in; there was a metal chair in the middle of the room, equipped with ugly- looking metal shackles. Bags of intravenous fluid hung on poles next to the chair. A steel table stood opposite the chair, a control panel of some kind covering part of its surface. Delenn suppressed a shudder. Elo'ria turned away from John and approached her.

    "What is this place?" Delenn asked quietly.

    "John believes he is still a prisoner; this is the image he has of the place of torture."

    "Can you take him out of here, Elo'ria?" Delenn's voice pleaded, desperate as she was for John's waking nightmare to end.

    "Yes, Delenn, but you must help me. It is necessary for me to push past the wall he has created around himself in his mind. John is sure to interpret that as an attack; I cannot say what he will do, but he has intimated that death is preferable to avoid betraying those whose lives depend on his silence."

    At once, Delenn found herself, with Elo'ria, in a small open place before which rose a high wall that extended high above and to either side of her gaze.

    Elo'ria turned to face Delenn, the look on her face serious, but strangely calm. "The barrier John maintains against the pain and intrusion," she said, pointing to the wall. "Follow me closely. When the wall is breached, you must find John quickly and surround him with every ounce of your love."

    Delenn nodded her understanding. Memories came flooding back, of the first moment she had seen John Sheridan, the day she had presented her changed self to the Council. Thoughts came of their first dinner together, when she had discovered how much Minbari and Humans had in common; their willingness to sacrifice everything for each other when the Inquisitor tested them; his deeply felt words to her as she lay in Medlab after being stabbed; the sight of him when he returned from Z'ha'dum... Now she watched as Elo'ria approached John's barrier, the ring on her hand alive again, its song of voices reaching a crescendo. The healer touched her hand to the wall and sparks of energy danced away from the contact. In that instant, the wall dissolved.

    "Hurry, Delenn. Cross the breach and find him," Elo'ria's voice commanded.

    Without hesitation, Delenn summoned all of her courage and ran forward into the dimness. She called out, "John? Please John, let me find you!" Taking a deep breath and letting go of any other thought, she let her love draw her to the one she sought. In moments she was kneeling next to John in the corner of that room she had seen. He was lying against the wall, perfectly still; she did not see him take a breath. She gathered his body into her arms and held him close, allowing all of the love she felt for him to reach out to his soul, willing him to live.

    Delenn looked around frantically for her friend. Elo'ria stood a small distance away, her eyes closed, unmoving. Delenn called out, "Please, Elo'ria, help him; he is dying!"

    Elo'ria opened her eyes and smiled at her Minbari friend. And then there was another with her, a diminutive glowing creature of fragile beauty, suspended in the air on golden wings. Delenn was momentarily entranced as this being moved toward her, a smile of recognition on its face. "Be at peace, Entil'Zha Delenn. Your love is what anchors John Sheridan to this life; it always has. Take your hand, place it over his heart, then match his heartbeat to yours."

    Delenn did as she was told, feeling first how the faltering pulse steadied, then marveling at how easily the steady rhythm of her own heartbeat was echoed by John's. She looked up to find the Varn companion gone. Elo'ria was standing close by, holding the coron'daj, the swirling images moving across its surface with greater speed. As the healer knelt down and held the stone close to John, it seemed to Delenn that it recognized him. Seeking tendrils of light and energy reached out to touch John, then a burst of light enveloped him. Delenn did not loosen her hold on his body. John's eyes opened, the knowledge in them clear. The voices spoke to him. Delenn could understand nothing of what was said, but John definitely did, for he nodded several times with understanding.

    A tendril of energy reached out from the lifestone and penetrated Elo'ria's body in its center, then another stream of blue-white power escaped the stone to transfix John's body. Each remained suspended like this as the seconds passed. Delenn could feel the incredible power through her contact with John; even if she had wanted to move, she found she was riveted to the spot. She watched with dread as Elo'ria's form seemed to grow more insubstantial, until finally her image dissolved and disappeared...

   ----------

    John Sheridan opened his eyes and found himself looking into the face of his friend, Stephen Franklin. The captain felt dazed and disoriented. He looked around at the room they were in, not remembering where this place was or how he got here. His head ached unmercifully, and a lance of pain ripped through his chest with every breath he took. Stephen was saying something to him; he had to concentrate on hearing his voice.

    "John? Can you hear me? It's Stephen..."

    Sheridan opened his mouth to speak, but his throat was so dry, he could barely make a sound. A cup of water found its way to his lips and he sipped at it tentatively, tasting for the bitter aftertaste of drugs. But the water was sweet, cooling his throat, and he drank it down greedily.

    "Where...?" he asked, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.

    Franklin answered, "We're still on Mars. We got you out of the prison a little over three days ago. The Resistance helped us to hide. Do you remember anything?"

    The memory of his capture, the beatings, the interrogations, the torture...they were all there, right where even a stray thought could make him shrink back from the pain he knew had to be coming. The rest-how he got here-was less clear, like a slowly fading dream. John fought to hold on to the images. Delenn. Something about Delenn...

    "Delenn...where is she?" he croaked. He tried to get up; Stephen's hand stopped him.

    "Take it easy, John. Delenn is not here; she is safe aboard a White Star with the Fleet."

    "But I don't understand. I just saw her; she was right here," the captain said, looking around frantically.

    "Look, you've been through alot. You haven't been yourself. Things will start to make more sense; you just have to give it some time," Stephen urged.

    Sheridan shook his head, trying in vain to clear the fog over his memories. He took another few sips of the water. It still hurt like hell to breathe, and his head was still pounding. He leaned back against the wall and said to Franklin, "Nothing's making much sense. What are you and I doing here?"

    "I'm not alone, John. Lyta is with me, and Lady Elo'ria and a Ranger friend of hers. Delenn sent them when we were sure we couldn't get you through any security checks in the shape you were in," Stephen answered. He stole a glance toward Lyta, who was sitting along side Elo'ria's inert form. Lyta picked up the healer's hand, then shook her head to indicate that Elo'ria was still unconscious. Sheridan followed Stephen's eyes. When he saw Elo'ria, a memory surged in his mind of a woman, holding something almost too bright to look at that spoke to him. She had been there, in that other place, with Delenn.

    "Stephen, Elo'ria came with Delenn. She did something..."

    "I don't know what she did or how she did it, but Elo'ria somehow got through to you when the rest of us couldn't. If I don't miss my guess, you are going to be okay," Stephen said.

    "And what about her? Is she going to be okay?" John asked, looking at the unconscious healer.

    "I don't know, John," Franklin replied, plainly worried. "She's in some kind of shock. Lyta says her mind is 'elsewhere'; I don't really understand what that means. She is holding on to life, as far as we can tell. I'm not sure I know enough about the remedies she brought with her to use them to help her."

    Garibaldi picked this moment to show up. Franklin wasn't even sure where he'd been, though he guessed the former Security chief was keeping watch on their perimeter, along with the Ranger. Anger and betrayal in his eyes, John Sheridan balled his fists and tried to stand.

    "God dammit, Michael. Why the hell did you do it? Where's my father? What have they done with him?" Sheridan hissed through gritted teeth.

    Franklin reached out to stop him. John slid down the wall, the pain throughout his body now excruciating. "Easy, John," he said.

    "Captain, I..." Garibaldi, for once, didn't know what to say.

    "It's a long story," Stephen continued, a hand on Sheridan's shoulder, "and you are definitely not in any shape to hear it now. Suffice it to say that your father was never a captive. It was a phony story set up to draw you out. Garibaldi was a pawn, and I have just one word to describe the real culprit: Bester."

    "That guy's getting to be a real pain in my ass," Sheridan said, wincing with each breath.

    "Can he move?" Michael asked Stephen quietly. "Tom and I heard voices again, and it seems like they're closer. We may have to get out of here in a hurry. As it is, we have about five more hours before that freighter's going to take off."

    "I can give him something for the pain; that should help so he can walk. But we have another problem," Stephen said, turning to look at Elo'ria. Garibaldi's eyes widened, a shadow of pain in his gaze.

    "Is she...is she dead?" he asked Franklin.

    "No, but she's in shock. She needs proper attention, and right now, I'm not sure I can give it to her."

    John said, "Look, Stephen, just do what you can for her. I'll be okay."

    Franklin nodded, moved to Elo'ria's side, and started searching through her healer's case....

   ----------

    Her quarters on the White Star took shape around her. Delenn let out the breath she was holding. Coming back had been like turning around in a dream. First one reality, then the older, familiar one formed as her gaze shifted. She wondered for a few seconds if the journey she had just been on had been real. The candle on the table in front of her had burned down half its length. The com display was signaling softly, telling her of incoming messages. It was obvious that time had passed, and she had been unaware. Could it have happened that she had slipped into a deep meditative trance? No, that was not an explanation for all she had seen and felt. Delenn could still feel the warmth of John's body in her arms, and the tingle of power still echoed in every nerve. She wondered anxiously what exactly had happened in that other place Eloria had taken her to, and whether or not John was well. Then she thought about her friend. Why had she disappeared? Whatever power the strange ring had possessed, it seemed to Delenn that it had cost Elo'ria more than a little to wield it. She fervently prayed that whatever price it required had not been too high.

    The door chime sounded. She got to her feet gingerly, feeling more tired than at any time since the Shadow War had ended. Delenn walked to the door and said, "Enter."

    Lennier came into the room, concern evident on his face. "Delenn," he said, bowing before her. "When you did not answer your messages, I became uneasy. Please forgive me if I have interrupted your meditations." He did not like the way she looked, shadows of fatigue under her eyes and a look of distraction on her face.

    "I am all right, Lennier," she said, smiling wanly. "It would seem that my meditations took me far away for a time. I apologize if I caused you any worry."

    Lennier nodded, accepting her self-appraisal, but he remained concerned. "Commander Ivanova has asked me to inform you that our ships will jump out of hyperspace in approximately thirty standard minutes."

    "Give me a moment, please, Lennier, to refresh myself. Then I will accompany you to the command deck." Delenn knew well what was expected of her. She put her fears for John and the others aside. There could be nothing to distract her from being there to watch Susan's back. After washing her face and drinking some cold tea, she followed Lennier as battle alert sounded throughout the ship…

   

   Chapter 17

    **"I know this place, my lord,"** Elo'ria whispered, as she looked down on the domed city spread out below her perch on the windswept ridge. She tried to remember how she got here. There was the image of Delenn, holding John Sheridan, and the song of the coron'daj.

   And then there had been the white heat of power, piercing her soul, laying bare her entire being. Everywhere around her, images had surged: battles on unknown worlds, cities rising into alien skies, great beings she did not recognize. The searing power transformed itself into the cold blade of a sword. Out of the swirling storm, she had felt the sword slash through her last defenses, then bury itself deep, her life-force bleeding out into the vastness. She steeled herself not to fear, but she had looked around and saw that she was alone. That was more than she could bear, and she cried out in terror. At that moment, Elo'ria had felt the presence of her companion. Be'ron's power surrounded her, his touch stemming the hemorrhage of life energy. But that did not matter, now that she was no longer alone. Darkness had followed, swallowing her whole.

    **"And what do you know of this place, cha'na?"** Be'ron asked softly.

    **"Ale'a took me here before she…left. She told me then that I had an important task to do here."** Elo'ria steadied herself against the wind, a bone-numbing fatigue beginning to make its way through her body. The dust in the air assaulted her skin with icy fingers, but, as before, she did not freeze.

    The Varn lord seemed to smile in Elo'ria's thoughts. **"It would appear that you have done the work my daughter told you of. The city you see below is the place in which you and your friends are now concealed."**

    **"John Sheridan. His mind has been healed?"** Elo'ria asked, anxious to know the result of what had transpired.

    **"Yes, and more. The coron'daj has restored the balance of things. John Sheridan's destiny is now his own again, free of the manipulations of the Vorlons and the Shadows. The time that was taken from him has been restored."**

    **"Then the millenium of war and chaos will be averted."** Elo'ria said.

    **"The future is ever-changing, El', but now the odds are on the side of peace. It remains to be seen how choices yet to come will play out,"** Be'ron cautioned.

    Elo'ria looked down at the city, with its great glowing domes and pulsating 'arteries' of light connecting them in a huge network. Sol, the star of this system, was beginning to push itself above the rugged horizon, its light turned red by the ever-present dust in the atmosphere. The weakness she felt was firmly established now, and every bone in her body cried out to sleep. She thought that she should be afraid; after all, the sleep of death was what called to her. But somehow, it seemed all right. Be'ron was correct; the balance had been reset.

    **"It is time to go, cha'na. Those who await us cannot tarry much longer,"** Be'ron told her. His voice had the edge of urgency.

    Gathering her fading strength, Elo'ria answered, **"I am ready, my lord. I will return to the Source with you, as I promised."** She tried to put out of her mind her regret at never having loved or had a family of her own. A sacrifice had been asked and given; there was no turning back.

    Lord Be'ron's voice was gentle and full of affection, **"No, El', the time for our return is not yet, but soon. For now, you must live; there are other things we must do."**

    **"How long?"** Elo'ria asked.

    **"That is hard to say. The price the coron'daj took was heavy… I would hazard the guess that the years of a normal human lifespan is all either of us can expect now. I am sorry…"**

    **"I am grateful, my lord. A moment ago, I faced death with regret. Now you tell me that there may yet be time…it will be enough. I will make it so." Elo'ria thought of the normal lifespan for a joined Lonorian: two hundred fifty standard years, and sometimes more. She would have to make every moment count of the fifty or sixty she now had left.

    **"Be at peace,"** Be'ron said gently. **"A wonderful journey lies before us both…"**

    Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, healer, felt herself falling as the vision faded.

   ----------

    Stephen Franklin looked carefully over Elo'ria's arm, easily finding a vein under her alabaster skin. He cleansed the area, then slid the needle under the skin and entered the vein, drawing back a small bit of bluish red blood, the color normal for a Lonorian. He started to push tiny amounts of the medication in the syringe very slowly into the vein. Franklin looked around; Lyta was gone, having left with Garibaldi and the Ranger to check out the presence of others in the building.

    Motioning to Sheridan, he said, "Can you give me some help over here, John?"

    "Sure, anything I can do." Sheridan looked slightly better, now that Stephen had given him a small piece of tamek, an herb the healer used to relieve pain. It seemed to be working well. "What are you giving her?"

    "It's a drug I've seen Elo'ria use before, on patients who were having trouble coming around from neural anesthesia. I'm not quite sure how it works. Come over here by her head." Sheridan followed the doctor's order. "It's important to keep track of her pulse and breathing. I know how much drug she gave to humans, but I'm not sure what the dose is for her species. I'm starting slow," Stephen added, beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. He was definitely taking a chance, and he hoped he was going to get lucky.

    "What do you want me to do?" Sheridan asked.

    "Find the pulse at her neck by sliding your fingers just under her jawline, below her ear. Got it?"

    "Yeah. It's pretty slow."

    "That's not a terribly good sign; the normal Lonorian pulse is faster than humans. Now watch her breathing. Let me know about any sharp changes, okay?" Stephen continued to push the thick, white fluid slowly until the amount he had drawn up was gone.

    "Her pulse is getting faster, Stephen. It's getting above a hundred a minute. Her breathing is okay, I think," Sheridan said. If he could, he wanted to will her to wake up and be okay.

    "That's good, John." Franklin withdrew the needle and applied pressure to the puncture. He could feel her skin getting warmer. He wished he had some oxygen compound to give her; he dismissed the thought of looking through Elo'ria's case again. He didn't want to push his luck.

    Minutes ticked by, marking what seemed like forever. Stephen was about to try some more of the drug, when Elo'ria took a deep breath and sighed painfully. Her eyes fluttered open.

    Looking into Sheridan's warm eyes, she whispered, "Are you well, captain?"

    John smiled, "Yes, I think so, thanks to you, and Delenn. She was really there, wasn't she?"

    "Yes," Elo'ria breathed. She tried to sit up. Stephen restrained her.

    "The ship will leave…" she said, breathless now.

    "Don't worry, El', we still have some time," Stephen said.

    "Stephen….please…in my case…a red vial. Bring it, and a syringe."

    John was already opening the case; he produced the a vial. Stephen held it up for Elo'ria to see. "Is this the one?" he asked.

    "Yes. Now fill the syringe and inject me with the contents."

    Stephen did as Elo'ria asked, John taking his position again at her head. The injection went smoothly and in seconds, her breathlessness had resolved. Elo'ria sat up, feeling stronger.

    "What was that?" Stephen asked, his scientific curiosity always engaged.

    "It is a substance our healers call 'lacid'. The effect is a temporary rise in energy levels, much like something you call 'stims'. It will last for three or four hours," Elo'ria replied. "If you trust my judgment, I would say that John could benefit from a dose as well. It is safe for humans."

    Stephen had just finished giving the captain his dose of the healer's drug, when Michael, Lyta, and Tom arrived, breathing heavily as if they'd run from a distance. Garibaldi glanced quickly at Sheridan, and then at Elo'ria, relief evident in his eyes as he met her gaze. He looked away and said to Stephen, "We have to get out of here, now. Lyta picked up some thoughts; looks like Mars Security is finally getting around to checking this place out.

    "They're getting closer, and whoever it is definitely is looking for something. Somehow I don't think it's spare parts," Lyta said, looking at the packing crates.

    Garibaldi lowered his voice and turned to talk to Stephen. "Are they going to make it?" Michael asked, indicating the captain and the healer.

    "Yes, I think they can, but we'll have to hurry," Stephen answered.

    "No sweat, doc. That's just what I had in mind." Garibaldi raised his voice slightly so that all could hear. "Let's saddle up, folks. It's a long walk and we may have company before we're through."

    The Ranger, Tom McCabe, went immediately to Elo'ria's side. He helped her to stand, staying near to steady her. The room rocked for a moment under her, then settled down. She reached for the water bottle she had with her and poured some of the contents on a cloth, using it to wipe her face with coolness. Within two minutes, the healer was back with the others.

    "Let me help you," Tom said to Elo'ria. "I have pledged to your brother that you will return safely." Lowering his voice and coming closer, he took her hands. "You mean a great deal to me; I would be honored if you will allow me…"

    "Yes, Tom," she replied, squeezing his hands. "It is I who am honored, for having the protection of a Ranger." Elo'ria looked past Tom's shoulder, to glimpse Garibaldi watching her. She lowered her gaze and turned away, letting Tom's hands go. "I must retrieve my healer's case, and hide all the used supplies."

    Within minutes, everyone was ready and they headed out into the tunnels, Lyta and Michael taking the point. Even those who had no psychic talent could feel the danger stalking just behind, waiting to close its fist around them…

   ----------

    "Come about, Lennier. Scan for lifesigns…," Delenn ordered, having watched with horror as the command Whitestar was hit by blast debris from the Earthforce battle cruiser it had just destroyed. Commander Ivanova had wanted all of the Shadow-based ships destroyed; none could be permitted to survive to warn the main Earthforce fleet. Her ship had gotten in close to prevent the last ship's escape. It was done at a terrible price.

    "Scanning…Registering four lifepods, with eight lifeforms. White Star One shows no remaining lifesigns. Delenn…the ship is beginning to break up," Lennier reported.

    "Take us in as quickly as you can to retrieve the lifepods. Let me know as soon as we have them on board," Delenn said, controlling her anguish. There had been friends on that ship, and Susan and Marcus… How much more was the Universe going to require they pay?

    Turning to a Minbari crewman, she said, "Start gathering damage reports from our ships. As soon as it is reasonably safe to do so, we must leave this quadrant…"

    With her experienced crew, it did not take long to get the lifepods on board. Commander Ivanova was alive, but barely. The Minbari physicians had begun emergency surgery as soon as she was brought out. They would not say whether or not she would survive. Marcus Cole was also alive; he had carried Susan out of the wreckage. Delenn had not spoken to him yet; he refused to leave Susan's side. Her thoughts turned to her beloved John and the others on Mars. So many good people were paying a terrible price in blood to bring about the birth of a new age for their alliance. Tears, coming so easily to the part of her that was Human, filled her eyes and slipped down her cheeks. For a few moments, she gave in to the fear and grief. Delenn sank to the floor of her quarters, her sobs echoing in the quiet…

   ----------

    They had been walking for over an hour, and one tunnel was beginning to look like every other, Garibaldi thought. He looked behind; the captain and the E'lasian healer were trying bravely to keep up the quick pace, but he could see that they were beginning to fall behind.

    "Okay, let's take a short rest," Michael said to Lyta and the doctor. Looking at his watch, he lowered his voice and said to Franklin, "Time's getting pretty tight, but if we don't rest, we may end up having to carry them," indicating Sheridan and Elo'ria. Stephen nodded and went to talk to them.

    John Sheridan was showing signs of severe fatigue; when the halt was called, he sat down heavily and leaned against a tunnel wall. Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah was having difficulty as well; her breath was becoming short again and her lower limbs were beginning to feel numb. She sat down on the tunnel floor, and opened her case, thanking heaven that there was enough light to see. Some of the places they had been through had been shrouded in darkness. She found an envelope containing a small amount of greenish powder. Taking the last of her water, she emptied the powder into it and stirred it around. Moving to John's side, she handed him the container.

    "Drink this, John. It tastes vile, but it will help you endure a while longer."

    Sheridan looked at the green liquid dubiously. "Can I ask what this stuff is?"

    "Yes, but you would not like the answer. I will just say that the solution contains vital nutrients; your body is very depleted. It should make you feel better," Elo'ria answered.

    John put the potion to his lips; Elo'ria was right, even the smell was bad. He took two swallows, then handed the container back to the healer. "I think that was just about the worst stuff I've ever tasted," he said, then grinned, "Just don't let Stephen get a hold of it; he will make us all drink it twice a day…"

    "I heard that. You discovering a new potion I can add to the Medlab stock?" Stephen smiled as he moved toward them.

   ----------

    Elo'ria drank the rest of the solution herself. She put down the urge to get sick; there would be time later when they were out of this place. She smiled wanly at Franklin and moved away so he could talk to John. Looking around, she saw Tom close by. He was sitting with his eyes closed, obviously practicing some kind of Minbari meditation. Elo'ria felt Lyta's mind as a background presence; it was reassuring. Garibaldi was off by himself, crouched against the tunnel wall, fingering his rifle. Even in the dim light, he looked terribly pale, and she caught the signs of unguarded pain when he thought no one saw. She moved toward him with caution, remembering his ability to wound her feelings.

    "You appear unwell. Are you injured, Mister Garibaldi?" Elo'ria asked, preferring to keep formality between them.

    Garibaldi looked up and met her gaze. "Nah, I'm okay; it's just a scratch," he lied.

    "Whatever it is seems to be causing you more than a little pain. Will you allow me to see the injury? It is possible that I can help," she replied.

    "It's all right; nothing for you to worry about. The doc already patched me up. Just take care of the captain; I'll be fine," he answered. Michael Garibaldi was hurting and afraid; he didn't want anyone, especially the woman before him, to see it.

    Elo'ria felt a flash of anger. "It appears that you do not trust me. It will be as you wish; I will not trouble you again," she said. She gathered herself to move away, silently naming herself a fool for even attempting to talk to Garibaldi.

    **"It would appear that this is the one you spoke of. Have patience, El'. He carries hurts that are more than physical…"** Be'ron began, breaking his silence.

    **"It is not your concern, my lord. Please do not interfere in this,"** she answered irritably. Her feelings were raw from fatigue and fear. She knew she would be sorry later for treating Be'ron so badly, but the apology would have to wait. It was then that she heard Garibaldi's voice and felt the touch of his hand on her arm. Elo'ria turned and looked at his hand, then her eyes met his.

    "Wait, please," he was saying, "don't leave. Look, I'm sorry. It's not you…I mean, it's not that I don't trust you. It's just that…with all that's happened…I guess I just don't trust myself. Hell, I don't even know if I am myself anymore." Michael took his hand away from her arm and began to unbutton his jacket. "Could you take a look at this? It hurts like hell, and Stephen's been worried that it's infected." He saw the uncertainty in her eyes. Smiling a bit, he said, "I promise to be good. Will you trust me?"

    Elo'ria nodded, then followed his hands to the spot on his lower back where a large stain of dried blood marred his shirt. She opened her healer's case and set out a few instruments and some bandaging materials. After spraying her hands with a covering to prevent transfer of micro-organisms, she lifted his shirt. Her expert eyes did not miss the many marks of old injuries on his back. This wound measured more than five centimeters long; the sutures Franklin had placed were gaping and the area was red and swollen. "How did this happen?" she asked him, keeping her voice even.

    "Had a disagreement with a security guard who didn't want to lend me his uniform." When she looked puzzled, Garibaldi continued, "We were on our way to break into the prison and get the captain out of there. These guards were on patrol and it occurred to me that their uniforms would get us in past the checkpoints a lot quicker. Got 'nicked' in the fight."

   "This is more than a 'nick'," Elo'ria said, pouring a powder and some liquid into a small bowl and stirring it before adding some of the bandaging. "This is going to hurt," she added, then began removing the sutures and cleaning the angry-looking gash. She took a thin piece of medicine-soaked bandage and poked it gently into the wound, making Garibaldi gasp in pain. "I am sorry," she said, "The pain will fade; I have added a local anesthetic, and an antibiotic agent to control the infection." Elo'ria continued to pack the wound with the bandaging. Garibaldi found her cool and efficient hands very soothing…and something else. That knowledge, deep inside, that somehow this woman was a part of his life in a way he didn't understand yet, was stirring again.

    The healer finished the dressing with a soft moss-like material, then sprayed on a clear covering. "This is only temporary, Mister Garibaldi. The medication will keep the infection at bay for a while, but you will have to have the wound tended to when we get back to the Fleet." She helped him put his jacket back on.

    Garibaldi hesitated for a moment, weighing what he would say to her. "I'm not going back to the Fleet," he said finally.

    "But why not?" Elo'ria asked, clearly alarmed. "We have pursuers; at this moment they are trying to hunt us down. If you stay, you will be in grave danger." The familiar tug on her heart was stronger now. "Just why are you with John and the others, Michael?" she continued, capturing his gaze. "When I last saw you on Babylon 5, you were determined to put these people and their cause out of your life. You were going to work for a very rich man. Now I find you here, hiding out with these 'fugitives', putting your life in danger. Why? Was it not you who said that you did not trust them anymore?"

    Garibaldi shifted uncomfortably and looked down a moment, then his blue eyes looked into hers again. "A lot has changed since I last saw you, Elo'ria. It's a long story and now's not the time. It's my fault we're here in this mess. Right now, it's my job to see everyone gets out of here in one piece."

    "Then do it and come with us," Elo'ria said anxiously, her hand reaching out unconsciously to touch his shoulder. The touch opened his feelings to her; they were full of guilt and anger.

    Michael moved his hand up to take hers, pressing it close to his body. "I can't. I have unfinished business here. Besides, John is going to need someone on the ground to work with the Mars Resistance. They don't like me much, but I'm a familiar face. The way I figure, he's got to move against President Clark directly by going on to Earth. He'll either need to take Mars first, or neutralize the threat of the forces here so nothing will threaten his back when he heads for Earth. I'll be here in either case. I owe him that." Garibaldi's face was determined.

    "I still do not understand why it must be you," Elo'ria said, searching his face. As her feelings became more insistent that this man was the one who carried a part of her soul, the thought of losing him brought her to near panic. Would this be another sacrifice the Source would demand of her?

    Garibaldi caressed the side of her face with gentle fingers. In these few moments he could understand how John and Delenn could ignore every objection to their relationship. The call of the heart was very powerful. "John Sheridan is a friend, and what happened to him was partly my fault; it happened because of what I am." Elo'ria could feel his pain without seeing it in his eyes. "I won't leave here until the things I have to do are done," he said.

    Elo'ria blinked back tears. "Then promise me something, Michael," she whispered, bringing her hand up to touch his face in return.

    "If I can," he answered, holding her fingers to his lips.

    "Promise me that you will stay alive," she demanded.

    A shadow of sadness swept over his face, then he smiled, "I'll do what I can, if only so that I will see you again." He came close and touched her lips gently with his, then moved them across her cheek to kiss her tears. Moving back and putting some of his barriers up again, he looked away and said, "Thanks for your help; the pain is already better. You'd better rest for a few minutes. It won't be long before we have to start walking again."

    Elo'ria nodded as she bent over to put away her healer's supplies. She moved to a spot a few feet away, sat down and closed her eyes. Her mind was racing, thinking of all that had just passed between them. With everything that had happened to her in this brief span of days, she knew it would be a while before she had it all sorted out. Nevertheless, it had been driven deeply home to her that time was precious, and so were the souls one was destined to travel with. In the face of that, Elo'ria determined to trust her feelings. The knowledge within of this human's importance in her life could not be ignored any longer. Turning to Garibaldi and opening her mind, she risked his anger by sending him a final thought, **"I will be here when you can trust me enough to tell me of your hurt. Stay alive and I will find you…"**

    Garibaldi's eyes flew open at the touch on his mind. He heard the thought, like a soft caress. He looked over at Elo'ria and saw that her eyes were closed, apparently asleep. A smile flickered across his face, then he consulted his watch. Another ten minutes, then the final walk to the docking pad. Somehow he knew it wasn't going to be that easy.

   

   Chapter 18

    "Inform me immediately of any changes in her condition, doctor," Delenn told the physician. She looked again at the still form of Susan Ivanova lying on the life-support stretcher in the White Star's small medlab. Marcus Cole sat nearby, as he had done since she was first brought aboard, watching over her. Delenn bowed to the Minbari physician, and then to Marcus, then turned and entered the passageway. In the midst of their victory against the Earthforce Shadow vessels, she felt sad and defeated. Susan was dying; the doctors had done all they could. They gave her a few days at most to live. Already she was drifting in and out of consciousness and the periods of unconsciousness were getting longer. Delenn agreed with Marcus that this was a blessing. When Susan was awake, she was in excruciating pain and nothing anyone could do would take it away. Marcus was with her almost constantly. He spoke very little and seemed to have withdrawn far away from everyone around him. Delenn was deeply concerned for what would happen to him when Susan died…

    Delenn felt her spirits lighten a little at the sight of Lennier approaching. "Lennier," she said, bowing. "Have you any news?"

    "Repairs to our fleet are progressing well, Delenn. All but two of the damaged ships will be fully functional within forty-eight standard hours." Lennier paused, choosing his words. "We have been in contact with the White Star that is waiting to pick up the captain and the rest of our people on Mars."

    Delenn held her breath. "Have they heard from John or the others?"

    "I am sorry, Delenn, but they have heard nothing yet. There is still time," he added, trying to reassure her. Lennier did not add that the time limit given by the freighter pilot was about to expire.

    Delenn nodded, the pain evident on her face. "Thank you, my friend. Please let me know the instant you hear anything." She hated this waiting, not knowing what was going on. And she needed John now, everyone did. He was a brilliant strategist, the military half of the team they made together. With Susan down, it was more urgent than ever that he return and take control of this fight. Until he did, Delenn would have to step into the breach…

   ----------

    "Ready?" the Ranger asked quietly.

    The healer nodded, trying hard to control her fear. Something did not feel right, but she could not name it. "I will go first," she whispered, then turned to Franklin and Sheridan. They, along with Garibaldi and Lyta Alexander, were secreted in a small storeroom, several feet away from the entrance to the docking pad. "Here are the identicards we brought with us." She took them from a hidden compartment in her case and handed them to John. "Please take no offense when I say that you look bad enough that it is likely that you will not be recognized immediately, captain. But just in case, wear this," she said, handing him her long black cloak. When he put it on, she nodded to the Ranger, "Now he looks like one of the denizens of the libraries on my world. With luck it will be enough to hide the truth."

    "Come; it is time," Tom said to her, taking her hand. "I'll be right behind you; it'll be a piece of cake."

    She looked at him strangely, wondering why he was talking about food at a time like this. "It's an Earth expression," he smiled, "it means that it will go very easily."

    Elo'ria saw the glint in his brown eyes and for a moment felt reassured. She squeezed his hand, then let it go and walked though the entry way, hoping desperately that Tom was right.

    The gate at the docking pad was quiet. There were a few longshoremen working on moving cargo and the two customs officials at the checkpoint were idle for the moment. Tom McCabe and Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah walked toward the gate alone, trying hard to look casual and unhurried. They had come through this gate on their arrival, and were sure to be recognized by the officials. It had been decided on their walk here that Elo'ria and Tom would go first, in keeping with their story of being academics who had come to Mars to collect friends and get out of the way of the coming war. The others would pose as those friends and approach together after it was apparent that there would be no problems. Garibaldi had finally admitted to John and Stephen that he would not be leaving Mars; they initially were vehement in their insistence that he leave with them, but finally gave in to his assertion that he could help the fight better by staying. Michael had objected to Elo'ria going first to the gate, but she had expertly used his own arguments against him, and he'd capitulated.

    Elo'ria walked up to the checkpoint, Tom not far behind. The first of the guards, a heavy-set man she recognized from their first trip through this place, came toward them and asked, "You planning on leaving with this freighter?"

    "Why, yes," she smiled. "I hope we are not too awfully late. Getting here was a frightful trip." Elo'ria could feel something-a tension that did not fit with what she was seeing around her.

    The official looked them both up and down. "Identicards, please" he said, picking up his scanner. . She turned to Tom and watched while he handed over their cards. The other official, a dark-haired woman with a cold expression, moved closer. Elo'ria did not remember seeing her before.

    Seconds crawled by while the guards took their time, asking questions about information that they should have been able to see on their display. Elo'ria became more and more uneasy, until finally she asked, "Is there a problem?"

    The dark-haired woman turned frigid eyes in Elo'ria's direction. "Why no, should there be?" she asked. "With so much trouble on Mars, you can understand that we must be very careful."

    Tom moved closer, until Elo'ria could feel his warmth at her back. She felt his heightened alertness; obviously he suspected trouble as well. "Of course," Elo'ria answered. "It's just that the ship will be leaving soon…"

    "Oh, I don't think you have to worry about that," a voice said, coming from a man who now approached, dressed in Earthforce blue. He leveled a P.P.G. at the two travelers. "Put your hands up slowly and don't try anything," he ordered. Two others, also Earthforce by the look of them, came out of the shadows in front of the gate and moved to surround Tom and Elo'ria. The Earthforce officer continued, "We've been looking for you two for quite some time. Now we'll just wait here until your friends show up." He smiled in triumph.

    At that moment, the healer heard the click and swish of Tom's Minbari fighting pike, and strong hands pushed her down hard to the floor. Then she heard the whistle of the pike swinging through the air, loud thumps, and groans of pain. And then the room erupted with P.P.G. fire; the air became hot and smelled of ozone. Voices were shouting, and there were screams of pain. Elo'ria wanted to see what was happening, but Be'ron's voice insisted, **"No, stay down!"**

    The fight was over in seconds, though it seemed like hours. The firing stopped, and Elo'ria became aware of Lyta's hands helping her to sit up. The E'lasian quickly put up her barriers at the telepath's touch; Be'ron had told her that Lyta had been altered in some way by the Vorlons. Better to avoid deep contact for now. "What has happened?" Elo'ria asked Lyta, "Is everyone all right?"

    Garibaldi rushed up and helped Elo'ria to stand. "Are you okay?, he asked, holding his hands around her a few seconds longer than necessary. She nodded slowly. "They were waiting for us," he said. "There's sure to be more; you've got to get out of here now."

    Sheridan appeared, his weapon drawn. He was plainly agitated. "Where's Stephen-and the Ranger?" Garibaldi asked him.

    "Tom took a hit from a P.P.G; he's over there," John said, pointing to a corner near the gangway to the ship. The dock workers had disappeared and now the only sound was muffled voices.

    Elo'ria pushed past the others and went quickly to the Ranger's side, passing by the bodies of their brief captors. Tom was lying face up in a widening pool of blood, the right side of his tunic burned away to the flesh underneath. Franklin answered the frantic questions in Elo'ria's eyes with a negative shake of his head. The Ranger was having a difficult time breathing. Stephen had propped his shoulders up, trying to help. The healer closed her eyes, gathered her strength, and gently "looked within". The plasma blast had torn through Tom's right lung and part of his liver, causing a massive hemorrhage. With every passing second, more of his blood slipped out to the floor. Elo'ria bit back tears; even with the best medical facilities, there was little chance to save him. And here, in this place, there was no chance at all. Tom's eyes were closed, his breathing coming more and more in gasps. Elo'ria took his hand, and touched his face. His eyes opened and he tried to smile, even though she knew he had to be in tremendous pain.

    "You're all right," he breathed.

    She said softly, "Yes, because of you, Ranger." Tears fell from her eyes.

    "I don't think…you can prevent…my leaving……this time, healer," he sighed weakly.

    "No," she said. "But I will stay with you and we will do this together. Do you trust me?"

    Tom closed his eyes and nodded imperceptibly. Garibaldi took Elo'ria's shoulders and whispered anxiously in her ear, "Time is running out. You have to leave. I've already gotten the Captain and Lyta on the ship. All hell is gonna break loose around here any minute. Please-you have to go." He and Stephen tried to get Elo'ria to let go of Tom.

    "No! I will not leave him like this! I owe him my life twice over and I promised…" she said firmly, not willing to budge.

    Garibaldi and Franklin looked at each other and then back at Elo'ria's determined face. As carefully as they could, they both lifted the dying Ranger and carried him to the ship, the ship's captain helping them to get him onto a stretcher in a tiny room kept for a medlab. Michael turned to Daniel Ortiz and said, "You'd better fly this bucket of bolts outta here as fast as you can. And if you can get that White Star to come any quicker, you'd better do it. Patrol ships are going to be all over you as soon as you try to leave Mars space without confirmation from this gate. Unless…"

    "Unless what?" Sheridan interjected.

    "Look, John, you folks just get that White Star to jump in quick. You'll have to trust me for the rest."

    Captain Sheridan looked at his former Security Chief, as if measuring every inch of his trustworthiness. "Okay, Michael, but be careful. I need you alive down here."

    "Sure thing, John," Garibaldi said. He turned around as he was going to leave and knelt down next to Elo'ria. "I'm sorry," he said, at a loss for what to say to her. She looked up at him, eyes red with tears, her clothes stained with blood. She reached out to him and a small cry escaped her lips. He encircled her with his arms, holding her close. Her body felt warm and soft pressed next to his and he felt her tremble. Painfully, he let her go. "I have to leave," he said. She nodded and turned back to the Ranger.

    As Garibaldi left the ship, a soft breeze stirred in his mind. ** "I hold you to your promise to stay alive…,"** it said.

   ----------

    The freighter took off and lumbered slowly out of the Mars atmosphere. John Sheridan stood nervously on the bridge with the ship's pilot, his frustration with the lack of speed and maneuverability clearly evident. He waited for patrol ships, or warnings from planetary defense satellites, but so far, everything was quiet. John guessed that Garibaldi somehow faked a gate authorization; so far it was doing the trick. But he also knew that their good fortune could change at any moment, and at the freighter's sluggish pace, they were very vulnerable.

    "How long will it take before we can get a signal off to the White Star?," Sheridan asked.

    Daniel Ortiz, the pilot, was feeling just a bit stressed at the moment. His large hands moved across the navigation console with deliberate speed, while he took his time answering the question.

    "At this rate, Captain, I'd say it'll take around thirty minutes to reach the correct range," he answered finally.

    "That's not good enough, Mister Ortiz. Garibaldi has covered our take-off, but it won't be long before those gate officials are going to be missed. We have to get more speed," Sheridan replied.

    "Not with this ship, Captain," Daniel said. "It just can't do the stuff you fighter jocks are used to!"

    Sheridan thought for a moment, then said, "Divert as much power as you can to the engines and keep on course for that rendezvous point. I'll be back shortly; I have an idea...

   -----------

    In the tiny medlab, Doctor Stephen Franklin worked feverishly with the E'lasian healer to control the Ranger's bleeding. The scientist in him could see that what they were doing would ultimately be futile, but the physician in him continued to work in the belief that as long as there was a spark of life, there was hope.

    "How does it look, El'?" he asked.

    "The bleeding has stopped for the present, but without immediate surgery and blood replacement, the bleeding is sure to start again, and he will die," Elo'ria answered. Her voice was flat and emotionless.

    "I've found a couple of bags of synthetic blood in the ship's medkit. One has already transfused and I'm working on the second," Stephen said.

    "It will not be enough, Stephen. He needs the factors that make the blood clot; you and I know that the synthetics do not contain the most perishable ones."

    Elo'ria turned away from Franklin as she felt Tom come to consciousness. She wondered how he could possibly bear the pain. Leaning close to his face, she heard him whisper weakly, "Hurts…Oh God…" Each tortured breath came with great effort.

    The healer moved her face close to the Ranger's ear and spoke softly, "It is possible to relieve your pain, Tom, but it is likely that you will not wake up again. Do you wish me to?" She looked into his eyes, searching for his trust.

    Tom McCabe closed his eyes for several heartbeats; when he opened them again, he met Elo'ria's gaze squarely and nodded his assent. The healer searched her supply of drugs, finally reaching a small vial of clear fluid that sparkled like it was made from liquid diamonds. She drew a tiny amount into a syringe.

    "What are you giving him?" Franklin asked.

    Elo'ria continued her preparations while speaking in a flat voice. "This drug will interest you, Stephen. It comes from a planet named 'Cjntah', a world of vast oceans. In those oceans lives a predator of modest size, no match at first glance for the larger creatures that are its food. But it has a weapon that ensures its survival: its saliva. After a single drop of its saliva enters the bloodstream, the prey becomes blissfully unaware that it is being devoured, failing even to try to escape. The natives of Cjntah have used a derivative of this substance for centuries. It can relieve even the most severe pain.

    "But it isn't without risk, is it?" Stephen asked, his voice betraying his concern.

    "No. It is likely that his breathing will stop," Elo'ria said in a low voice. "But with or without the drug, he is dying, Stephen. Relief of pain is the only thing we have left to offer."

    Franklin's voice was stern. "I won't condone mercy killing, Elo'ria. I can't let you do this. There has to be some other way to help him."

    A sound of footsteps make them turn in unison, frustration plain on their faces. John Sheridan appeared in the doorway. "Stephen, I need your help on the bridge," he said. Turning to Elo'ria he asked, "How is he?" even though he could see the answer in her expression.

    Elo'ria shook her head in the negative, adding, "It does not go well, John."

    Pain clouded Sheridan's face, then he nodded and stode off into the passageway. Elo'ria could hear him ask Franklin if he knew where Lyta Alexander was.

    Elo'ria turned back to Tom. She put the syringe down. With her ethics and her honor as a healer now in question by Stephen, she would not use the drug. But she had made Tom a promise. Directing her thoughts within, she said urgently, **"Be'ron, I have need of your help."**

    **"Show me what I must do,"** he answered, his voice a gentle stir in her mind.

    She stood close to the Ranger and placed her hands, one over his forehead, the other over his heart. In a moment, they both stood in the garden on E'las, Elo'ria's center, the three moons glowing overhead. Elo'ria could see the pain clouding the young man's eyes. "Where is this place?" he asked, glancing around.

    "It exists in my thoughts; it is a place of safety," Elo'ria answered. She walked over and took the Ranger's hands. "Let the pain go, Tom, all of it. I will hold it away where it can no longer touch you."

    He looked for a moment like he would refuse, but exhaustion won out and like a dark flood, the pain washed over Elo'ria; it was so intense that she breathed a plea to Be'ron. "My lord, please, I would keep this from him in his last moments, but my weakness makes it hard to bear…"

    Silently, the Varn lord embraced her with his power as her consciousness tried to flee from the agony.

   ----------

   John Sheridan hurried through the ship's corridors toward the medlab room. The shuttle from the White Star was at this moment docking with the freighter. It had taken a great deal of Lyta's strength, but she had managed to get a telepathic message to some of the Whitestar's Minbari crew and now the ship was here to take them out of Mars space. And none too soon; patrol ships were approaching fast. They only had a few minutes. Daniel Ortiz and his crew would follow them into the jump point the White Star would open.

    Reaching the doorway, John could see Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah sitting dazed on the floor alongside the stretcher. The Ranger on it appeared to be dead. John reached out and touched his neck, feeling for a pulse under the still-warm skin. There was none. He turned back to the healer and knelt beside her.

    "Elo'ria, it's time to go," he urged as he shook her gently. "We have to get out of here."

    Her eyes came open with a start. She got up, almost too quickly, and reached out to touch the Ranger's body. John watched silently as Elo'ria seemed as if she was bidding Tom farewell. Then she turned and looked at him. "I will follow you, Captain," she said, without emotion, picking up her healer's case. Sheridan wasn't sure what had happened, but Elo'ria was changed somehow. Even so, he couldn't stop to ask questions. He lead the way while Elo'ria walked out of the room toward the waiting shuttle. John Sheridan noticed that she did not look back.

   

   Chapter 19

    Delenn of Mir, Entil'Zha of the Rangers, received another report on the state of their forces from one of the Minbari crewmembers. She bowed politely and turned to go back to her quarters. That is when she saw him, standing before her, just as he had been in her 'dreams'. As she looked at her John, time slowed to a halt; all the cares and concerns of the last few days fell away and all that was left was his face.

    Delenn let go of the breath she unconsciously held and rushed to meet him, her arms reaching out to hold him close. She stepped into his embrace and stood there drinking in his presence for several moments, then looked up into his eyes. John held her face tenderly in his hands and his lips came down to touch hers. As she tasted his kiss and returned it with all of her love, she felt the heat of passion spark deep within. There had been many moments since she last felt his touch when she thought she would never see him again, never again to be with the other half of her soul. Now that they were together once more, she was whole again, without that yawning emptiness their separation had caused inside her being. When they reluctantly broke the kiss, she held on to his arms and stood back to look at him.

    "Thank Valen, you are safe," she said, watching his eyes.

    John was pale and his face was haggard, his beard unshaven. He seemed older; a shadow of hurt lay in his eyes. With her fingers, she gently traced the new lines on his handsome face. His body was thinner, but it did not diminish his presence or the strength she felt under her hands when he moved. But Delenn noticed that the movement also caused him to involuntarily flinch.

    "Are you well?" Delenn asked him. "I will have my personal physician tend you right away, John."

    John touched her face tenderly. "It's okay, Delenn. There's no need. Just seeing you is all the help I need." He paused, looking down for a second, "The physician you sent did her job well. But you know that, don't you?"

    Delenn held her beloved close and laid her head on his shoulder. "Yes, John, I think I do." She looked up at him, questions in her eyes.

    "We'll talk later, I promise," John said. "Right now, I want to see her…"

    "Of course," Delenn said, sadness returning. She took his hand and led him down the passageway toward the room where Susan Ivanova lay dying.

   ----------

    The Lady Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, Personal Journal Entry: the 17h day of Demet, in the year 982 of the Return (2261 Standard):

    It has been two standard days since I and my fellow travelers made our rendezvous with the Alliance fleet. After following us in, the freighter pilot left hastily for Minbar and safe harbor there. Tom McCabe's body was given to the care of Entil'Zha and the Rangers. Apart from those few moments, I have seen little of Delenn or John Sheridan. I have been told that they are planning the final push to the Human homeworld and the details are a well-guarded secret.

    No further words have passed between myself and Stephen Franklin. After what happened with Tom, my anger prevented me from speaking to him about any of it. Now the anger has cooled and I realize that I was wrong to take such offense. Stephen loves and respects life; I could have expected no other response but the one he made in those last moments with the Ranger. And I would never have intentionally taken Tom's life. Had my anger not been in the way, we might have talked about it, but as it is, Stephen is gone now. They say he has returned to Babylon 5, on a mission for the Captain that no one is willing to talk about.

    There has been no word from Michael Garibaldi, at least none that I have knowledge of. My questions about his status are met with assurances not to worry, or no response at all. Not knowing anything is painful, and I feel as if part of my heart has been left with him on Mars.

    Since our journey here, I have kept my barriers up, permitting little contact with my companion, Be'ron. It is a serious insult to the promises I made at our Joining, but I must have time alone to deal with everything that has happened. And added to that, I find I do not know how to atone for the terrible things I said to him when grief and anger were all I could see…

    **"You knew, did you not, my lord?"** I asked furiously, grief turning to rage. Alone in the sleeping quarters on the White Star that rescued us, I turned my unshed tears into sharp-edged words, meant to wound. **"You knew of the harm that would befall Tom and you did nothing, not even a warning!"

    Be'ron's voice was calm and gentle. **"Yes, Elo'ria, I saw the possibility. But that is all. No one can know another's ultimate fate. That knowledge resides with the Source alone."**

    **"But you made no warning. If you had, his death might have been avoided!"** I cried.

    **"And if you had known, what would you have done differently?"** he asked me softly. **"Would you have prevented him from saving the others from capture? Would you have put yourself in the line of fire, causing him to fail in his duty to protect you? Should it have been him looking down at your death throes, to suffer the agony of loss, knowing that your brother would pursue him to his death for his failure? Each of us has our destiny, El'; to tamper with it is to invite disaster."**

    Be'ron's words were penetrating my grief, and that just made the anger stronger. I did not want to listen to reason. **"You do amuse me, my lord. Such words, coming from you. You and your kind were quick to 'tamper' with the destiny of John Sheridan."**

    **"His case is different, Elo'ria. His destiny affects millions yet unborn. And even what we did was taking an enormous chance. It was not done lightly, nor was it without its price."**

    **"And are the rest of us so small, Be'ron, that nothing that happens to us matters? Are we just playthings for the Varn to manipulate? You saw Tom; he was at the beginning of his life. You saw how he died…"** My mind was reverberating with my own shouts.

    **"Yes, Elo'ria, I saw. And I also saw that he met his destiny with courage, and that he had the touch of compassion to take with him when he returned to the Source,"** Be'ron replied.

    **"You could have saved him, Be'ron! But he was nothing to you. You are just like the Shadows-and the Vorlons-using the rest of us to have your way, without an ounce of pity!"** I cried.

    A moment of silence greeted my awful words. When Be'ron spoke, his voice betrayed his pain. A cold feeling spread through my veins as the bitterness of my words came back to me.

    **"You wound me deeply, lady,"** he whispered in my mind. **"It may not be obvious, but I am not without feelings. I thought we had each other's trust. It would seem that I was wrong…"**

    I tried to think of a way to repair the damage I had done, but there seemed nothing more inside for me to give. From that time, Be'ron has been silent; it is my belief that he communes with the other Varn. A terrible loneliness has settled over my soul.

    As for the rest, it would seem that I am in the way now. There is no real function for me here on this ship. It has been mentioned to me by Delenn's aide, Lennier, that she is concerned for my safety if I should remain aboard when they go into battle. So that is why I sent word to Ve'lar with a request for a ship to take me home. With good fortune, the Benares, a warship, will arrive in ten standard hours. I had thought never to be glad of returning to E'las, but now it shines as a beacon of peace.

    There is but one more thing I must do here. In two hours I will meet once more with John and Delenn. They have asked an additional favor of me and I saw no reason not to grant it.

   ----------

    "When will you leave for the Agammemnon?" Delenn asked John. Susan had made a final request that he lead the battle for Earth from the ship he had once commanded.

    "I have one more thing to do here, then I will go," he answered.

    "And what is that? Is it anything I can help you with?"

    John Sheridan put down the papers he was going over and crossed the space separating them. He took Delenn in his arms, smiled, and said, "Yes, you certainly can. Marry me. Right here, right now."

    Delenn looked for a minute like she wasn't sure about his sanity, but when she searched his eyes, she saw that he was very serious and quite sane. "I thought we had decided to wait until this war is over," she said.

    "Delenn, when I was in that prison, I never knew from one moment to the next what was going to happen, or whether I would survive another hour. I knew it was only a matter of time before they tired of the game and I would be killed. And the only real regret that I had was that I had not made you my wife and given you my name and my family."

    "John, please, you do not…"

    "Please, let me finish this so I get it right," John said, putting his finger on her lips. Then he went to one knee and held her hand. "Marry me, Delenn. Before another hour passes. No matter what happens after that, I'll be okay with it."

    Delenn looked down at her John, on his knee like a courtier before a queen. She loved this about humans-the ability to be impulsive and spontaneous. It was something the Minbari needed to find in themselves again.

    "Yes, John. I will marry you, now or at whatever time you desire," she said softly, tears forming in her eyes. The part of Delenn that was Minbari felt very daring at such a promise; the part that was Human felt very good about that.

    "Good-that's wonderful," he said as he got to his feet, his relief plain. "It's all been arranged." John kissed her deeply.

    "I must go and prepare," Delenn said as she moved to the door. "There are meditations to be performed…"

    John's smile followed her as she left.

   -----------

    "Come," the voice said from beyond the door.

    Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah smoothed the plain silk dress she was wearing and entered the small office. John Sheridan got up from the desk and crossed the room, his hand out to take hers. As had happened so many months before, his touch brought warmth and vital energy with it. It pleased her to know that he was coming back to himself again.

    "You sent for me, Captain."

    "Yes, I did," Sheridan said, guiding her to a chair. "Please, sit down. Delenn will be here in a moment. We wanted to talk to you before your ship arrives."

    "Of course," Elo'ria replied. She lifted the fine lace veil covering her face. "And I must speak to you as well. I have done as you requested and there are decisions to be made before I leave."

    John nodded thoughtfully. At that moment, the door opened and Delenn glided gracefully into the room. Elo'ria was momentarily taken with how beautiful she looked. Delenn was dressed in the most exquisite gown of the Minbari style that Elo'ria had ever seen her wear. The color was a light rose, and the material was meticulously embroidered with gold and silver threads and accented with small jewels. And her face radiated happiness; the shadow of worry had vanished.

   It was obvious that John could pay attention to little else as his eyes followed his beloved while she crossed the room to embrace the healer.

    "I am so pleased that you are here, Elo'ria," Delenn said, smiling. She sat down in a chair near John.

    "What do you wish to speak to me about?" Elo'ria came directly to the point.

    The captain cleared his throat and looked at Delenn. He began by telling the healer that he was very grateful for what she had done to heal the effects of the drugs and torture he had endured. Delenn also added her thanks for Elo'ria's aid in getting John back to her. They went on like this for a few moments, until Elo'ria began to feel self-conscious. The two seemed to sense this and stopped talking, to look at each other uncomfortably. It was Delenn who continued.

    "But you did much more than the healing we spoke of," Delenn said firmly

    Elo'ria chose her words carefully, wanting to avoid adding to their burden. "It is as you say, Delenn. Much more was required. I did what was necessary…"

    John Sheridan asked intently, "What did you do? I remember hearing strange voices, and I saw images of places and things I will never figure out. You were wearing a ring, with a stone-like a stone I have seen before…And that feeling, of immense power-I'd felt something like it, with Lorien…"

    "And what did the voices you heard say to you?" Elo'ria asked, for even she did not understand them.

    "I'm not sure of all of it, but I do remember…it seemed like the voices belonged to others, like me…soldiers, I think…they fought the Shadows too." John strained to remember. "I think they were wishing me well."

    Be'ron whispered in Elo'ria's mind, **"He is correct. The others recognized him."**

    The healer was glad to hear Be'ron's voice after so much silence; she allowed that thought to go unguarded.

    "The stone you saw is called the coron'daj. By its agency, the balance that was disrupted by the Shadows has been reset," Elo'ria replied.

    "I don't understand. What balance? I feel as if something has changed, but I don't know what it is," John said, his tone puzzled.

    Delenn regarded Elo'ria, noting her reluctance to elaborate. "It could be, John, that our friend is not permitted to tell us more."

    "I can tell you this," the healer said quietly, "The balance is that of destiny. You are a nexus, John Sheridan. Where you go, many others will follow. The future will tend to turn in the direction you set. It was necessary to make sure you have the time." Elo'ria caught Sheridan's gaze and held his eyes. "Your destiny is your own again."

    "I saw you when you held that stone. This thing you did for John; it had a price, did it not?" Delenn asked quietly.

    Elo'ria met Delenn's eyes, then looked away. "Little was asked when one compares it to what was gained. Each of us do what is required. I believe the price was fair." Looking at Delenn again, she said, "I have fulfilled the promise I made to you, Delenn." To John, she added, "Be at peace. It is an honor to count you as friends and to give some small service to the future we share."

    There was an awkward moment of silence, then John said, "I apologize if we've made you uncomfortable with our questions. Please, tell me what you wanted to talk to me about."

    "I have done what you requested and examined your friend, Commander Ivanova." She paused, seeing the hope in their eyes. "She is very gravely hurt and her condition is beyond my abilities. There is very little time."

    "Then you cannot help her," John said, his voice mirroring his disappointment.

    "No, captain, I did not say that. What I have done is to transmit her medical records to my mentor, Ca'mar, on E'las. He is the best expert in traumatic injury we have, and he is widely known for his knowledge of the ancient records. Ca'mar has sent word that he thinks he can help the Commander…"

    Elo'ria heard both of the people before her let out a breath. Delenn said, "Again you have our thanks."

    "Do not thank me yet. Commander Ivanova must survive the trip to E'las; nothing more can be done for her here. If she lives, she will have to endure much pain and many months of treatment. Since I cannot ask her, I will ask you-is she strong enough? Would this be what she would want?"

    Sheridan thought for a moment, then replied, "I think she would want to live. And she is as stubborn as a mule."

    "I do not understand 'mule', but I will take your word, John. Now I must ask for your approval to take her with me to E'las. I understand she has no family."

    "Of course, Elo'ria, you may do whatever is necessary. All I ask is that you keep Stephen up on her progress," John answered.

    She nodded. "That brings me to my second request," the healer said, turning to Delenn. "It would be well if the Commander had an escort; someone of her own kind who can make it easier on her when she comes to consciousness on a strange world."

    Delenn smiled a bit. "You have someone in mind?"

    "Yes. There is a Ranger who keeps watch at her bedside. He does not hide his tender feelings for her. If he can be spared, Entil'Zha, I wish him to come with us. Love is a great healer and Commander Ivanova will need a lot of it if she is to recover."

    John and Delenn turned to each other, trying without success to keep their expressions serious. They finally gave in to smiles of amusement. "Marcus Cole is a very good Ranger, one of the best," Delenn said, controlling herself. "Of course he may go to E'las with Susan, and he may stay as long as he is needed there."

    "Thank you," Elo'ria said, moving toward the door. "And now I must go. There are preparations…"

    Almost in unison, John and Delenn said, "No, please stay. Just for a few minutes. It would mean a great deal to us for you to be here." They came to stand together, arms slipping around each other.

    Elo'ria replied, "I do not understand. I really must…" Just then, the door opened and two officers dressed in Earthforce uniforms entered, followed by Lennier, and several members of the Minbari crew.

    John introduced one of the officers, a rather distinguished looking man with greying hair who looked back at the healer with interest. "Elo'ria D'Nos'Tah, may I present my good friend, Bill Johnson, the captain of the Earth battleship, Agammemnon." Explaining further, John said, "It is an ancient Earth custom that a ship's captain may perform marriage ceremonies while at sea-or in space. Bill is here to marry us. We didn't want to wait any longer."

    "But captain, my appearance is not suitable, and I have no gift…"

    Delenn came close and took Elo'ria's hand. "I believe that what you have given us is a gift beyond price. But aside from that, you are a treasured friend. Stay, please, and be a witness for us."

   Tears sprang to her eyes as she felt the love in that room. It was a palpable force. Elo'ria thought again of the man who held a part of her soul, now so far away and likely in terrible danger. Turning to Delenn, she bowed low and said, "I am honored."

    The room became quiet as Captain Johnson began speaking the words of the marriage ceremony. He paused to ask the questions, and all listened as the couple repeated the age-old vows. Lennier handed Delenn a ring, a beautifully carved circlet of silver, something her father wore that she always kept with her. She placed it onto John's left hand with great tenderness. The second officer present handed John a ring, a delicate polished gold circlet. He placed it on Delenn's left hand lovingly, his eyes never leaving hers. One of the Minbari present chanted something that sounded like a prayer, slow and melodious. When it was done, John Sheridan took his bride into his arms, his heart so full he could barely speak. He held her face in his hands and kissed her passionately. Then the ceremony was over; a celebration would have to wait until the war was over and they were back on Babylon 5.

   As everyone in the room offered their congratulations, Elo'ria silently slipped out the door. The marriage ceremony had touched her deeply. As she headed to the medlab to prepare Susan Ivanova for the journey to E'las, she whispered in her mind, **"It does not take the far-sight to see that their lives will contain a great deal of suffering and sacrifice, Be'ron. Sometimes I wonder if the gift we have given them is not, in reality, a curse."**

    **"What you say is true, cha'na,"** Be'ron answered. **"But, in the midst of it all, they will have the joy of the close bond they share, and the children they will be devoted to, and the momentous work they will do…"

    Elo'ria was silent for many moments, thinking of John and Delenn and how important their trust and friendship had become to her. She wished them every blessing.

    And thoughts of Michael Garibaldi stole over her heart. **"Will he live, my lord?"** she asked, hazarding the question. **"Will I find him again?"**

    She was answered with silence. Feeling ashamed, she said, **"I am sorry, Be'ron-for these questions-and for everything else. What I said on the trip here was cruel and unforgivable, but still I ask you to forgive me. I will not ask you for the far-sight again."**

    **"You are forgiven, El',"** Be'ron's voice was soft in her mind. **"The desire to know the future is a temptation you will have to wrestle with for the rest of your life. It will fall to me to resist the desire to please you by answering." Another moment of silence, and then the Varn lord said, **"Follow your heart, my companion. You will find the other part of your soul…"**

    **"Thank you, my lord,"** Elo'ria replied. A smile played around her lips briefly, then she entered the medlab and approached Ivanova's bedside.

   ----------

    "Lights, low," Delenn commanded into the dark. The resulting dim glow allowed her to see John. His face was contorted in pain and sweat had broken out on his forehead. His body jerked several times, as if he were taking blows from some unseen object. She put her hand gently on his shoulder.

    "John. Wake up. John…."

    Sheridan awakened with a start and looked about the room, blinking. He looked at Delenn's face, then cautiously reached out to touch her hand, as if to assure himself that she was real.

    "What is wrong, John? You cried out in your sleep."

    "I'm sorry, Delenn. I must have been having a nightmare," John said. His voice betrayed exhaustion. The fading images of the dreams that continued to plague his sleep were bitter, to be sure.

    "This is not the first time since your return, is it?"

    John leaned his head back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling. He thought for a moment of trying to deflect Delenn's concern. He was going to leave in another few hours and he did not want to leave her with worry. This was their wedding night. John remembered their time together, always so precious, and the tenderness of their love-making. He wanted to shield his beloved from the things that turned his dreams into terror.

    Delenn's eyes met his. "There is nothing that you can tell me that will be as bad as silence and secrets between us. Please, it will help if you talk about it."

    John returned her gaze, seeing the trust and honesty in her face, and the strength that her fragile appearance belied. He recalled his promise to her on their return. "There's a lot to tell, and some of it I haven't even figured out yet."

    "Then just start at the beginning, John, and I will listen…" Delenn said quietly.

    And so John Sheridan began to talk, as Delenn held him close. He told her about his visit to Z'ha'dum, his loss of Anna a second time, and his terrifying plunge into the unknown-things he had never spoken of and only the E'lasian healer had seen. He divulged to her his fear for his family back on Earth, his anger at his father's "capture", and the terrible hurt of betrayal by a friend. Through his words, the images of the cell on Mars, with its instruments of torture, came alive again. He confided to her his pain and fear, unburdening his heart to her about the waking dreams and his dread of inadvertently causing harm to those who trusted their lives to him.

    "I never gave them anything…so many times I saw you there…without you, I could never have survived…" John was saying, as weariness finally won, and he drifted to sleep in the safety of Delenn's embrace.

    Delenn sat very still and her thoughts returned again to the moments when Elo'ria had employed the stone to give her John the time that had been stolen from him on Z'ha'dum, for she was sure now that this is what had happened. She wondered again what price had been asked of Elo'ria for this gift. It was sure that she and John had a unique bond with the healer. They would see each other again, Delenn was certain. She looked at John's sleeping face; even with the terrible burden he carried, his features remained handsome and boyish. It was doubtful that he knew yet what Elo'ria had truly done, but it would not take long for his quick mind to figure it out. Delenn knew they would have to talk again, and soon, if they survived what was coming.

    "Lights, off," Delenn said, laying her head on John's chest, to relish these few moments of peace before the Universe would take her beloved away again….

    END

 

*****

 

 

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