Disclaimer: Babylon 5 is the legal property Warner Bros. TNT, and Babylon Productions, and this is a not for profit fan production, and as such, is not intended to infringe on the rights of any legal holders of copyright.

THE ORPHEUS JOURNEY
Rebecca Hall

PART II

 

"You blew my cover! You're dead do you hear me? You're dead! The Corps is Mother the Corps is Father. We will find you. The Corps will find you!"

 "The program is complete. When the implanted personality took over, it destroyed the original personality in its entirety. The Talia you knew is dead."

 "The Talia you knew is dead."  

There was just too many of them. The icons representing ships in shipping lanes crowded the console. She couldn't concentrate. They were all blending together. Ivanova realized that if she didn't get out of there, she wold explode.

"Lt. Corwin, can you take over please?"

"Certainly, Commander." Corwin leapt from his station to take his commander's place at the main console. He had been worried about her lately, and his concern only grew as she watched Ivanova storm out of C & C. He knew that the split from Earth Force was causing a lot of stress among all the officers, including himself. But this seemed somehow... more severe. It wasn't just that her dry sense of humor was gone. She had exceptionally dark circles under her eyes and all the flexibility in her posture was gone. All that was left was a brittle rigidity. It seemed like the life had been kicked out of her. He hoped for her sake, as well as everyone else's up here in C & C that whatever was eating her would stop soon. As the lift doors closed in front of the Commander, he turned his attention back to the console with a resigned sigh.

Ivanova paced back and forth across the empty Alpha Wing ready room. She needed to go somewhere, anywhere where she could be alone and think. she felt bad leaving Corwin covering her watch but she was worse than useless there. She just needed a little time.

Someone had left an unfinished chess game set up on the floor. She kicked it, hard. The board broke with an unsatisfying cracking sound, and the playing pieces went flying across the room.

"Damn it!", she yelled, at no one in particular and at the whole world. It felt like the station was closing in on her. It was far too small to hold the anger and grief she felt. Her own body felt too small, the feelings piercing through her skin, and her head pounding. She needed out.

She walked through the Cobra Bay and popped the canopy of her fighter. It was reassuring to know that it was always there, ready and waiting for her. She strapped herself in and grabbed her helmet from its rack above her head, running her fingers briefly across the Star of David emblazoned on its' side. She grasped the strap and pulling it over her head, she locked it firmly in place.

Ivanova went through the pre-flight checks hurriedly and without thought.

"C & C, this is Alpha One, with notification of pre-flight drop"

"Is there a problem Commander...?"

"No, lieutenant, I'm just taking her out for a routine..." a routine what? Susan asked herself. There was nothing routine about any of this. "...routine flight check. I need to log some hours on these knew fighters"

"O.K. Commander, Alpha One drop cleared."

As Susan initiated the drop sequence, she could hear the doubt in the lieutenant's voice. They must think I've lost my mind, she thought to herself. But then maybe she had.

Her StarFury traced an arc in space as it dropped "down" and away from the station. She had to figure this out, to resolve this one way or another. It was eating her alive. As she pushed the speed to maximum burn, she watched the station become a speck in her rear viewer and then disappear as though it had never been.

Ivanova always felt things fall into perspective out here. It was a good place to think things through, assuming you weren't preoccupied with blasting enemy ships out of the sky. She had tried to resign herself to the fact that Talia was dead. She tried to add her to the list of those she cared for who were dead and buried. She was used to those feelings of grief and loss. But this was different.

There were the nightmares. They were tearing her up. she couldn't lie down for five minutes without being overtaken by that horrible image of Talia trapped in some impossibly small place, screaming in terror and in pain, and banging her fists bloody on whatever was enclosing her.

The fact was, Talia didn't just die. They stole her. They took away her personality, her essence. Completely replaced it with that Psi Corp plant.

They stole Talia from her. It was just too much like what had happened to her mother. She hated Psi Corps with a profound intensity. She wanted to take her fist and smash it into their collective faces. As she let the anger and hatred flood into her she swore for a solid minute without repeating herself once. She wanted to rip them all apart piece by piece. But instead she just did nothing but watch as the Corps destroyed everyone she cared about. She felt so impossibly powerless!

Not again. Never again, she swore to herself. She would not just sit here and let them do it. She felt in her gut that Talia was still alive and could be saved. She had to find out, to bring her back, or die trying.

She didn't even have to be a pessimistic Russian to know which outcome was most likely.

Ivanova felt clarity and a sense of calm settle into her body, leaving no room for anxiety and indecision. Reducing speed, she completed a 180 degree turn and headed back to the station, resolve etched onto her face.

 ***** 

The airlock cycled shut behind her as she placed the breather over her face, hands shaking. She was nervous. Kosh always made her nervous, as if he was seeing something inside her that no one else could see. Not even herself. It was very disconcerting, like discovering your self inexplicably naked in a crowd. She had never come here alone before, or spoke to Kosh alone. Well, here goes, she told herself as the internal airlock door cycled open.

Kosh was standing on the other side of the glass, its encounter suit on. It caused its door to open and floated backwards, creating space for Ivanova to enter the dark and misty room. Ivanova was never sure with Kosh how to make "eye contact" with its suit, so she kept her eyes focused on the round red opening at the center of the face plate of Kosh's suit. For all she knew, it could be a mouth.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me, Ambassador", Ivanova said. Her voice was distorted by the mask and breather. Trying to communicate with Kosh was always a tangled, circuitous process, so she decided that she at least would come straight to the point.

"You recorded something of Talia, didn't you? You had that...being capture something and store it on a data crystal"

"Yesss..." Kosh responded, with its attending chorus of skweaks and whistle sounds.

"You told Talia... You said something about 'the future'. That it was for the future--"

"Surprise, reflection, terror...for the future...yesss..."

"When is this 'future' you were referring to?" Ivanova asked.

"The future...is...becoming...Always..."

As Kosh's response was distinctly unhelpful, Ivanova decided to try a different tack.

"I'm going to get her and bring her back. Can you help me? If I bring her back, can you do something with that crystal to restore her true self?"

"There is more to this than you can know...You must be... ready. Return when you are ready," Kosh answered, turning its back to Ivanova to indicate that the interview was over.

"Wait! I am ready now. And I'm going whether you help me or not, and I will bring her back. Will you help me?" Ivanova asked again.

Kosh made a half turn back towards Ivanova. "Are you ready...Mindwalker? They...know your name. Do you?"

Mindwalker. What was it talking about? Ivanova asked herself. She was starting to get angry.

"I will ask you again. Kosh, will you help me?"

"On returning...bring her to me here...to this place...I will be here..."

Susan decided to take that as a yes. She turned to go. As the door shut behind her, she heard Kosh's voice in her head: Step with care, Mindwalker, the path is treacherous, and the future is always...becoming... Susan turned around and looked through the airlock door expecting to see Kosh standing there, but he was gone.

Yeah, whatever, she thought to herself. She hung the breather back on the rack, anxious to get out of there.

Delenn was standing in front of Ivanova's quarters, waiting for her.

"We must talk," she told Ivanova, pointing to the door.

Susan keyed her lock, and Delenn followed her in. She had hoped to have time alone to think after talking to Kosh. She was wound up, muscles tense. She felt like a guitar string about to snap. Delenn's presence was unexpected. She had never come to Ivanova's quarters before.

"Would you like some coffee, Ambassador?" Ivanova asked Delenn who had already taken a seat on the couch.

"You refer to the dark bitter liquid that you humans are so fond of? It makes my tongue curl. I will decline."

Shrugging her shoulders, Ivanova poured herself a cup and sat down next to Delenn.

"What can I do for you, Ambassador?"

"I came because of what I can do for you, Commander," Delenn responded. Her speech was somewhat formal, as always, but Ivanova could feel the warmth and concern underneath. "You spoke with Kosh..."

"How did you know?" Ivanova asked. She had no idea how information traveled so fast around here. She had just finished speaking to him.

"That is not important. What is important is the journey you are planning to take."

"If this is about Talia, you can't talk me out of going to get her." Ivanova was angry. This was hard enough without everyone trying to interfere with what she had to do. She had let them convince her that there was no point, to go against what her gut told her had to be done, but not anymore. "Forgive me Ambassador but it is not your concern."

"Ah, in that you are mistaken," Delenn told her. Leaning closer, she met Ivanova's angry gaze. "Commander...Susan. We have been through a lot together, you and I. Forgive me if I rely on our...friendship, so that I may speak frankly. You must know that your decision to bring Talia back is more than a personal matter. It concerns all of us who fight against the coming darkness."

"I don't understand. Delenn, I must do this..."

"Of course you must, and I want to help you, if I can." Delenn stopped as Ivanova let her words sink in.

"You want to help me?" Susan felt a flood of relief. She hadn't realized until now that it was important for her to have someone else's support and understanding. Particularly Delenn's support. Even though she could be exasperatingly oblique at times, Ivanova had enormous respect for Delenn.

"It is a noble thing, to be willing to sacrifice everything to save a loved one. We Minbari believe it is one of the highest principles of sentient beings. And I know you love Talia. I may not know much about Human feeling, but I have seen the pain Talia's loss has caused you. You have been trying so hard to hide it from everyone...even yourself."

"You know more of Human feeling than you realize, Delenn." Susan's eyes were wet. She let out a shaky breath, trying to stop the tears from flowing.

Delenn started to reach her hand out to the Commander. Thinking better of it, she clasped her hands together on her lap instead. "But understand this as well. You have a destiny, Susan Ivanova. A path has been laid before you, a path you must walk with care. A path that you and Talia must walk together. Separate, you are merely a part of what you can be. And separate, Talia will live in darkness. Together, the Shadows will have a formidable enemy."

"Delenn I don't understand what you're telling me..." She was talking like Kosh! None of this made any sense to her. What did Delenn know?

Delenn stood. Reaching into the folds of her tunic, she withdrew what looked to be a piece of broken jewelry. She handed it to Susan. Looking at it more closely, Susan saw that it was the kind of broach Rangers wore. Or rather one half of a broach, with a deep blue stone in a silver setting.

"When you get to Mars, go to a place called the Marinas Cafe in Bradbury Dome. You will find a Human Ranger there. Give her the Broach. She belongs to Omega Watch, and she will be expecting you. She will help you."

"Omega Watch?"

"It is an organization, dedicated to infiltrating the Psi Corps. I cannot explain further. You will learn. Valen speed your journey, Commander."

And with that, Delenn walked out of the door. As the door swung shut behind Delenn, Susan looked down at the broach in her hand.

 ***** 

"Omega Watch?" Garibaldi was standing behind his desk at Security headquarters. There were rows of monitors behind him, displaying various parts of the station. It seemed Garibaldi's cameras were trained on every part of the station where security could be compromised. There ware also transparencies spread out all over his desk, and piles of reports perched precariously in bins designed to hold a fraction of what he had placed in them. Susan had no idea how he found anything in this mess. She knew she couldn't work like that. Normally she wouldn't trust the capabilities of anyone who let their office get into this condition, but she knew Garibaldi. After working with him Since Babylon 5 first went on line, she couldn't think of anyone she'd rather have as chief of security for this place. "I haven't heard very much about it. Just rumors."

"What kind of rumors?" Ivanova asked.

"Oh, fantastic stuff. About rogue telepaths actually staying on Mars, fighting the Psi Corps, helping with the underground railroad. Stuff like that."

Ivanova took the seat in front of Garibaldi's desk. "We know the underground railroad exists. And that means someone has to be running it..."

"True, but.. Want some popcorn?" Garibaldi had picked up a bowl from under his desk and was handing it to Susan. Peering into the plastic bowl, she saw what looked to be popcorn, but she didn't trust it. She shook her head. Garibaldi would eat anything. "True but its hard to believe an organization like that could last." He was picking dust balls out of the popcorn and flicking them in the general direction of the trash. "I mean, that place is crawling with Psi Cops. Don't you think they would find rogue telepaths, living right under their noses?

"Ivanova, I'm telling you, Jeff and I were there and that place gave me the creeps! I couldn't believe we made it out of there alive. And I wouldn't bet money on this Omega Watch, or whatever, being able to help you get Talia out. Assuming she's even alive. Are you sure you wanna go through with this? This is definitely one of your more crazy schemes..."

"I'm truly touched by how much faith you have in me, Michael. I'll remember this the next time you ask me to approve some hair-brained..."

"O.K., O.K. I'm... just worried about you, is all." Garibaldi's air of nonchalance dissipated as he sat back down and turned a serious face to Ivanova. "You know, I was pretty broken up about this whole thing with Talia, too. We weren't, I mean, I know it was different, between you two, but...Dammit Susan, I can't deal with losing another friend right now!"

"Garibaldi, I..." Ivanova didn't know what to say. She wasn't used to Michael being this open about his feelings, without couching it in some pathetic attempt at humor. "You're not going to loose me. I'll be back, and I'll be bringing Talia with me."

"Well, if anyone can do it, you can. Give 'em hell Commander. And don't forget to throw a punch for me!" Standing, Garibaldi took a swing to demonstrate his point. Grabbing Ivanova's hand, he gave it a encouraging, firm shake. But his eyes were sad.

 ***** 

Ivanova stood by the window in the Captain's office which afforded a panoramic view of Babylon 5's central core. The rail for the core shuttle shot through the center, and all around the "walls" were patches of green. Although they looked like abstract paintings from this distance, in fact they were acres and acres of farm land. It was what made the station self- sufficient. Of course when the station was designed, no one expected they would be completely cut off from the Earth Alliance. Since the revolt Babylon 5 had become its own world, the base of operations in the war against the Shadows. The Shadows were taking over everything. They took Earth. No one had heard anything from the Earth colonies, but Ivanova didn't have much hope. She had come to terms with the fact that this station might be all that was left of the old Earth Alliance, before the Shadows came.

And now she planned to leave the relative safety of Babylon 5 and walk right into the mouth of the beast. In order to save Talia, Ivanova had to go to the Psi Corps headquarters on Mars. Their "secret" research and command center where Psi Corps ran their evil empire. And of course the Shadows had taken over the Psi Corps.

Ivanova turned from the huge window to face her Captain. Sheridan was standing behind his desk, concern plain on his face. It seemed her that he had changed dramatically in the last few months. His hair was longer and greyer. There were more lines on his face. He somehow looked more wise, and more handsome. Right now he looked worried.

 "Its too risky Susan. Talk about frying pan into the fire!" Sheridan was yelling.

"What's the worse thing that could happen? I'm a trained soldier! I risk death every day..."

"It could be worse than that, and you know it. you could be captured, for God's sake! By EarthForce---you are probably wanted for treason, after all. Or Psi Corps for being a--" Sheridan's voice dropped several decibels "a rogue."

Ivanova flushed. None of this was new information, but she was terrified. She tried to respond. "But--"

"Or worse!" The Captain had resumed yelling. "The Shadows could get you. What you know, what you are, could be very valuable to them--"

"That's not fair, Captain! That's a risk we all take here every day. The other things you brought up---They're more personal. There's nothing EarthForce or the Psi Corps could do to me that would compromise our... project. Its all set up and in motion--"

"But Susan, what about you?" Sheridan asked plaintively. "The chances of you pulling this off are... slim at best. Have you thought about that?"

"Of course I have, damn it!" Ivanova snapped. The force of her anger made him take an involuntary step back. Ivanova realized that she was speaking disrespectfully to her commanding officer, and she was getting way out of line. He was only trying to express his concern for her well-being, but she just didn't want to hear it right now. "I'm sorry, Captain. That was uncalled for." Ivanova's tone was considerably more contrite. The Captain nodded his head. "But, I need you to understand..." What can I say that will make him understand that I must do this? "I know everyone thinks that Talia is dead. That she is beyond hope. But I know in my gut that she's...I have to know. I have to be certain... I can't live with myself if I don't try."

Sheridan looked at his second in command and saw the pain and desperation on her face. It was familiar. He remembered back to the time he found out that his wife could still be alive, that she might not have died when the Icarus exploded. He had been willing to turn the whole station upside down to find out the truth. He had been willing to throw away his career, everything he had worked for.

He had asked for Susan's understanding then, and she had given it, without hesitation. She trusted him. She backed him up. And now she asked the same of him.

"Captain," Ivanova asked quietly, her last attempt to get him to understand, "What if it were Delenn?"

Ivanova watched as the Captain became very still. The room was so silent, she could almost hear the gears grinding in his head. Then he rose from his seat and walked around his desk, closing the distance between them.

"You love her."

It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes. I do. More then I could ever explain."

"You don't have to." Leaning against his desk and facing Ivanova, he sighed, and ran his hand through his hair. "I do understand. And I'll support you in any way I can."

Without thought Ivanova embraced him. They held each other for a brief second, and then parted somewhat awkwardly. Ivanova turned and walked toward the door.

"Commander!"

"Yes, Captain?" Ivanova turned to face him once again.

"I expect you back here in one piece. Don't disappoint me."

"Yes, sir!" Ivanova smiled at him and walked through the door. Her smile faded as she felt a chill run down her spine. She wondered if she would ever see him again.

 *****

"Earth Alliance Transport Acheron cleared for departure."

Sheridan had decided to do the honors himself, it seemed. As Ivanova's ship cleared the docking bay, the Captain's voice already seemed hopelessly far away. She was in this thing entirely alone. And her relief at deciding to do something about the situation had already begun to fade, only to be replaced by fear. And an impending sense that she would not make it back here. She was taking on the Psi Corps in their own territory. The odds were hardly in her favor. One thing she had going for her, though, was the fact that this plan was so impossibly ludicrous that her enemies would hardly expect it. She hoped that the typical arrogance of the Psi Corps would work for her this time. No one would expect that she would try to break in to their secret headquarters.

No, not entirely alone. Delenn had told her about Omega Watch, had contacted them. They were expecting her. She had to hope they knew what they were doing. She wouldn't have thought to ask for help with this, as she saw it as a strictly personal endeavor. Delenn thought otherwise. And even Kosh had hinted at some greater significance in its typically enigmatic fashion.

"Flight sequence complete, sir. I'm heading for the jump gate," Ivanova told her captain.

"your lane is clear ahead, Commander." Sheridan's voice, again. "And Commander?...Susan?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Good luck. And take care." His voice cracked a little, lacking its usual ringing authority.

"Yes sir. Thank you... John." The jump gate closed behind her, and then she was in the red vortex that was hyperspace.

***** 

The trip from the Port Salyut Orbital Station to Bradbury Dome at the base of Olympus Mons had been uneventful. The fake Identi-Card Garibaldi had prepared was working like a charm. Nevertheless Ivanova had been on edge she arrived on Mars.

Everything was so different! She hadn't expected the changes brought by martial law to have taken effect so rapidly. It had only been a few weeks since the Mars rebellion against President Clark and his minions had failed, but they were everywhere! She could have sworn that there were more EarthForce soldiers than citizens of Mars. They were stopping people left and right, searching them, harassing them. And the looks on the faces of the people seemed a combination of equal parts fear and barely suppressed rage. The whole place felt like a powder keg, waiting to blow. She hoped her instincts were right, that Mars wouldn't put up with Clark for much longer, and its people were just waiting for the right time to rise up. She also hoped that that time would wait until she was back off the planet.

Still, Bradbury Dome was a beautiful city. The omnipresence of Clark's soldiers did nothing to detract from the awe of the place. Part of it had to do with its location, resting as it did on the flank of Olympus Mons. The volcano was named after the home of the gods for a very good reason. Three times the height of Earth's Mount Everest, it was the tallest mountain in the Terran solar system. And absolutely massive--- 600 kilometers wide at its base, larger in fact than Ivanova's entire home province of Ukraine. Of course the best view of Olympus Mons was from far above. It was so massive that Ivanova could only see a small part through the transparent plass of the dome. It was enough, though to make anyone feel like a little speck.

Ivanova was walking down The Apollo Way, one of the major boulevards of Bradbury. All the streets of the Dome were paved with streetgrass, and plants grew in every nook and cranny to provide air as well as food. The Martian colonists had turned the efficient use of space into an art. She had already passed the central square with its statue of the city's name sake, where the eight main boulevards converged, each named after a different Olympian deity. As she kept her eye out for the cafe Delenn told her about, she tried hard to look like she knew where she was going. She had put the changeling net Garibaldi lent her to good use. To anyone who bothered to notice, she looked just like the blonde-haired, blue-eyed computer analyst, permanent resident of Bradbury Dome that she and Garibaldi had concocted back on B5. She had to practice not walking like the soldier she was, though. It seemed to be paying off. No one seemed to notice her.

There it was. Cafe Marinas. As she walked in, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim light that was such a contrast from the too-bright salmon-colored sky outside. The Dome's transparent plass did little to dim the harsh light. She scanned the tables near the back, looking for her contact.

The Ranger was sitting at a booth near the rear of the Cafe. Her back was turned toward the wall, but as Ivanova walked towards her, she could see that she was beautiful, even in the bar's dim light. She was tall and full figured, with dark smooth skin the color of rich coffee. Long dreads were tied behind her head with a cloth, revealing her profile: high cheeks, large almond-shaped dark eyes and a soft face. A scar traced a faint line from her eye to her chin on the right side of her face, but did nothing to compromise her beauty.

As Ivanova approached her table, the Ranger gestured to the seat opposite her. Ivanova sat where she had indicated and took out the piece of the broach Delenn had given her, placing it on the table between them. The Ranger reached into a bag hanging from a belt inside her robe and pulled out what appeared to be the other half. Picking up Susan's half, she held the two pieces together in strong, slender fingers. They fit together perfectly, forming one whole, representing two silver figures, hands clasped over a large blue stone.

"You can call me Imani," The Ranger extended her hand and grasping Ivanova's in a firm, no nonsense grip. "Follow me," she ordered. Rising to her feet she turned, cape swirling behind her, and walked toward the cafe's far wall.

Gladly, Ivanova thought to her self, appreciating the ranger's self-assured presence. Imani didn't even bother to look back, just assuming Ivanova would do as she had been instructed. She appeared quite comfortable with command. Ivanova surmised that a woman like that was used to being followed.

Imani had to duck to enter the door at the back of the room. She was at least a full head taller than Ivanova. Closing the door behind the two of them, Ivanova turned only to face another door. Imani swiped a keycard through it's slot and the second door swung open. As it closed behind them the lights came up to reveal a narrow, twisting passageway. As the two women walked in complete silence, Ivanova could hear the sound of her own heart beat. She was brimming over with questions, but something about Imani's intense silence forbade the asking. As if all would be made clear when Imani was good and ready for it to happen.

After a pretty long walk, they finally reached what appeared to be their destination--- another door. Passing through this final barrier, the two women walked into an underground hangar. There were five aircars of the type typically used by the Mars colonists--- small, oval shaped with a fairly comfortable passenger compartment. Solar panels on the back fed the aircar's reserve batteries, which were tucked underneath the chassis. Imani cracked the canopy on the aircar closest to them and took the pilot's seat. Ivanova folded herself into the small seat next to her and ducked instinctively as the canopy came back down and locked into place with a very unreassuring tinny sound. The whole thing looked incredibly flimsy to Ivanova, but she tried to take it in stride as the aircar rose up through the underground shaft into the pink-orange Martian sky.

The Dome was far behind them and the little craft was being buffeted by the strong winds that often plagued the planet's residents. Ivanova looked over at the Ranger-turned-pilot with an eyebrow raised in consternation.

"A StarFury it's not, Commander," Imani said, the humor apparent in her voice. She was actually enjoying this! For all her strong presence and fiercesome good-looks, she looked more like a gleeful child at one of the planet's cheap Amuso-Parks. The combination of the stress of the trip, the forbidding silence, and now this child-woman sitting next to her was all too much, and Ivanova began laughing uncontrollably. Imani looked at her in fake disapproval, but then she too joined in, with an evil sounding cackle and the little tub of an aircar began shaking even more.

After the women managed to regain their composure, Imani had filled Ivanova in on the workings of Omega Watch. What she had learned was in fact the truth, that the membership was made up of rogue telepaths who organized the underground railroad to aid telepaths on the run from Psi Corps, Mars First revolutionaries, and human Rangers who had been trained on Minbar but stationed here to keep an eye on the Corps connection with the Shadows. It seemed that, even before Clark's declaration of martial law, the three rather disparate groups had banded together in common cause, and once they pooled their knowledge and resources, their worst fears had proven true. The Shadows minions were running the Psi Corps, and they both were running EarthGov. Even before president Santiago was assassinated, the Shadows had begun their take over of the Psi Corps headquarters at Syria Planum, having found a natural ally for their ambitions of galactic domination. This evil joint venture was responsible for the coup on earth.

Thus Omega Watch dedicated itself to undermining the Corps at every opportunity. They also kept their allies informed of the Corps plans through frequent reconnaissance missions.

In Fact, Imani knew all about the Psi Corp's Control Project. She had worked with the reconnaissance mission that had got the information to Babylon 5 through Lyta Alexander. Imani's best operative had been killed for that information, and she was looking forward to anything that would destroy Control and thereby avenge his death. Imani assured Ivanova that they had were well prepared for this mission, and she would meet the others involved when they arrived at the Omega Watch's secret headquarters, code named Tubman. It was clear to Ivanova that there was no love lost between Imani and the Corps, and that was just fine with Ivanova. It was nice to know she had something in common with this imperturbable Ranger.

 ***** 

Their journey from Bradbury Dome to the rebel base took Ivanova over some of the most dramatic landscape Mars had to offer. In order to get to the base, they had to skirt along the northern edge of Syria Planum, which Imani pointed out to her as they flew past. The Psi Corps research center was housed in a massive complex over two hundred kilometers to the south, at the souther edge of Syria Planum. Ivanova could see this vast stretch of land, tucked into the shadow of Tharsis Bulge from where they had come. Despite intense cratering from its history of asteroid collisions, it was relatively flat and uninteresting. Especially compared to the view Ivanova had of the mighty Tharsis behind her, a vast plateau the size of a large continent on Earth, created by the uneven cooling of the planet's surface billions of years ago. Several times higher than Earths' Himalayan plateau, it bore three tall volcanos along its spine, collectively known as the "Tharsis Montes". And then to the North and West of these was Olympus Mons from which they had come. Even from this distance the volcano was unfathomably massive. Ivanova could just see into its vast caldera, 100 kilometers wide.

Amazing, isn't Commander," Imani was saying to Ivanova. Ivanova, cramped in the small passenger seat, managed to turn completely around to take in the spectacular view.

"Yes. It is almost as vast as space itself," the Commander responded, the awe of it plain on her face. "It's a beautiful place where you live."

Imani released a sigh, and her hands tightened visibly on the aircar's controls. Her profile looked very austere, and any trace of the humor Imani had shown Ivanova on their trip evaporated. Ivanova had relaxed her mental shields while taking in the landscape around them, and hadn't resumed the background blocking in time to avoid the flood of anguish radiating from the Ranger. ~~A mistake beginners often make~~ She could remember Talia telling her, could remember her voice.

"I'm...Sorry. I didn't mean to say anything hurtful," Ivanova said, quietly, meeting Imani's gaze.

"Of course you didn't."

The Ranger cast her eyes forward, focusing on the aircar's controls. After a moment, she spoke again.

"Its just that I like to forget I live here now. I come from the Earth mining colony on Orion 4. It wasn't as beautiful as this, of course, but...those I love were there." Imani's hand curled into a tight fist. "Damn this war! Every day I pray that this will be the day it ends. And every night I must reconcile myself to the bitter fact that there seems no end in sight. At least an end I could live with."

There was nothing Ivanova could say to that. Imani had said it all.

They had lost contact with Orion 4 before Clark declared martial law. They had assumed that it shared the fate of several other colonies similarly situated on the edge of Earth space, and had been attacked and mostly likely destroyed by the Shadows or their allies. Ivanova wondered if the Ranger were there at the time of the attack, and if so how she made it to Minbar to become a Ranger.

Thinking of her own grief, the faces of all those Ivanova had lost passed in front of her mind's eye. And for the briefest of seconds, she had a visceral, body memory of how it felt when Talia and she lay sleeping together, Talia's soft body pulled tight against her own. She remembered the exquisite, dreamy softness of Talia as her body molded to Ivanova's every surface, and she felt as if she were sleeping in clouds.

Ivanova's brooding was interrupted when she sensed a subtle change in the aircar's altitude. Directly ahead of them was the Valles Marineris, so named for Earth's Mariner 9 space craft--the first to return with pictures of this astounding network of canyons. Located along Mars' equator, the canyon stretched some 4000 kilometers where it finally emptied into the bleak landscape of Chryse Planitia. Valles Marinus, longer than the Russian Consortium was wide, was Ivanova's destination.

Omega Watch maintained their secret headquarters in the western end of Valles Marineris, a craggy and jumbled terrain known as Noctis Labyrinthus. As Imani brought the aircar down to a lower altitude, Ivanova could see that it truly was a labyrinth, its' network of canyons crisscrossed by deep fractures caused by the ancient uplift of Tharsis Bulge, creating a hostile terrain almost impossible to traverse. In fact the landscape was so rugged that EarthDome had not even bothered to settle the area. As far as the Mars colonial government was concerned, Noctis Labyrinthus was entirely empty.

Which was just how Omega Watch liked it. It was a most unlikely place for a settlement of any kind, and even if the government thought to look for the rebels there, they would never find them amidst the multitude of crevasses and canyons.

Where the aircar passed over there was nothing at all to indicate that deep, deep below the surface, away from the freezing temperatures and poisonous atmosphere, the rebels lived and worked. The aircar began a rapid decent and Imani guided the small craft into a cave, the opening of which was invisible from above. They parked the craft and entered the airlock at the rear.

They walked to a door at the rear of the cave. Imani keyed the lock and the door telescoped opened into total darkness. She gestured for Ivanova to enter and then followed close behind. The door cycled shut behind them and the darkness was complete. A red light came on, illuminating what turned out to be a small chamber. Then there was a hissing sound that seemed to come from every direction at once, and when the ambient light faded from red to blue, Imani snapped open her helmet locks and began to loosen the bindings of her walker suit. Her movements seemed slow and stilted in the eery ambient blue light. They finished removing the walker suits and hung them in an open locker next to several others. Suddenly the whole small room lurched and began to sink. After a short time there was another jerk and they came to a stop.

"All the comforts of home", the Ranger announced wryly, as the chamber door opened into a brightly lit corridor, and the two women stepped through.

The Omega Watch base was buried in a big square chamber cut out of the regolith below the planet surface. Walking through the corridor, Imani pointed out the "sights", as she called them. The corridor they walked led into a largish room, doors in each wall, leading on one side, Imani indicated by pointing, to a lounge and living area, beyond which was the commissary and bunk rooms. The opposite door lead to communications, a training area, equipment storage, life support, research labs, and so on. There were two other levels below this containing more of the same. On the lowest level was operations and the ever important "emergency exit" from the base.

The two levels below the entrance were each considerably larger than the one above, the Ranger explained, and this created a terraced effect into the underground chamber. The base was not entirely shut off from above. Light came down through shafts that ran clear up to surface. Each terraced level opened onto a plass-enclosed deck, exposing the underground chamber, creating a view of columns of light on blood red rock.

Imani lead the Commander to the patio area and left her there, telling her that she had a few things to attend to, and that someone would be here shortly to take her to her quarters. There were a couple of hours before the reconnaissance team met. While she waited, Ivanova was taking in the view, admiring the base's solid and well hidden structure. She leaned her head against the plass sheeting separating her from the underground chamber, trying in vain to view the levels below. But it felt nice just to rest her head on something. She felt as though she hadn't slept since she left Babylon 5, which was not precisely true. She managed to grab an hour here and there on the way to Mars. In any event, this was not the time to catch up. She didn't think she would truly be able to rest until this whole thing was over, Talia and her back on B5 where they belonged. She rubbed her arms vigorously, trying to get her sluggish blood to pick up its pace. She hoped she was more alert by the time the meeting began.

 "You certainly know the way to a woman's heart," Ivanova told the Ranger emphatically, enjoying the rich aroma of the coffee. She had both hands wrapped around the cup possessively and was holding it just below her nose.

Imani responded with a throaty laugh. "Are you going to drink it, or are you planning to just keep inhaling it until it gets cold? It's the real thing, you know."

"Oh, I know," Ivanova assured her.

The two women were sitting at a small table near the rear of the commissary. They had just finished the mission briefing where they had exchanged information and discussed their plans in nauseating detail, until every step and response to every contingency were drilled into their heads. Although they lacked the military discipline of EarthForce, the rebel group was very thorough. One of the group's telepaths, a tall and skinny Asian man called Yoshi had recently returned from the Psi Corps research center with up to date security overrides and a possible fix on Talia's location. Ivanova lit up at even this indirect reference to Talia. She had to remind herself that the woman they were planning to break out of there was not her Talia. Her Talia wouldn't be back until Kosh did whatever it planned to do to restore Talia's original personality. The whole discussion had made Ivanova even more anxious to get on with it.

Now she and Imani were taking a break, and waiting to meet the man who was going to play a key role in letting them get in and out of Psi Corps headquarters undetected. He was a rogue telepath named Eric. When Ivanova had asked why he wasn't at the meeting, Amelia, a free Mars operative who was the only other person at the meeting, had exchanged knowing looks with Imani and Yoshi, and informed Ivanova that Eric didn't "do meetings." Ivanova had to let it go at that, but now Imani was telling her about the man she was to meet shortly. And from what she was hearing, Ivanova wasn't looking forward to it.

"Wasn't Jason Ironheart part of that experiment?"

"Yes. Yes he was. But Jason got off planet, while Eric chose to stay here. After learning the truth about the Corps, he committed himself to using his unique talents to fight the Corps in all its...excesses."

A sour look crossed Imani's face. Ivanova could feel her anger, seething just under the surface. She had become intensely curious about this woman's story. How did she become a Ranger? What motivated her in this struggle?

"It was Eric who helped put the underground railroad in place," Imani explained. "Without him, it never would have worked. But he is a hard man, Commander. Almost impossible to get along with. He knows it, too, which is why he isolates himself. He hardly ever leaves his quarters. Only if the work requires it. Sometimes, though I've seen him leave the base to take long walks through the canyons. Its like the cold doesn't effect him at all. I think he would live out there if he could find some way to breath the air..."

~~So alone~~

Ivanova had not tried to pick up Imani's thought, and felt bad about the intrusion, but the empathy she radiated was hard to miss. Imani didn't seem to notice. "Has he always been like that?" Ivanova asked.

"No, and that's the point. Those The Corps did something to him, in the experiments. I don't know what. All I know is that his Psi rating is off the scale, and no mere human being should be burdened with that kind of power," Crossing her long legs, Imani leaned forward and met Ivanova's eyes, her hands spread in an expansive gesture. "He can feel everything. Since the experiments he has become the ultimate empath. And no psi cop can scan him. they can't even detect his presence! And he can block the mental signatures of others as well, kind of like extending a shield around those in physical proximity to him. When we go in with him, the Corps can't scan us either, which allows us to get in and out of the Corps headquarters. But the ultimate irony is, he can't block the thoughts of others from invading his mind. I can't even begin to imagine what that's like, but it must be a living hell."

Thinking back to her first weeks with Talia, Ivanova could imagine it all too well. A chill ran down her spine just thinking about the time she couldn't block out all of the voices around her. But then Talia helped her, blocked for her, and then taught her how to do it herself. She would have been lost without Talia. But then Ivanova remembered. She was without Talia now, and a wave of anguish, starting from the pit of her stomach, expanded outward and then flooded her. She dropped her head into her hands. Talia...

The Ranger's voice broke through her pain. "Commander? All you alright?"

"I'm fine. Just tired, I guess," Ivanova said. An unconvincing smile flashed briefly across her face.

"You miss her." Imani said, her voice tender. Imani saw the trace of tears in Ivanova's eyes prompted by her concern. Ivanova wiped at her eyes harshly, as if to push the tears back inside. She didn't trust herself to speak in response.

"You know, I've been meaning to tell you, what you're doing here is awfully brave. Talia is lucky to have you. She must be quite a special lady."

"Very special," Ivanova responded at last.

Imani reached across the small table and covered Ivanova's hand with her own. Imani's hand felt soft and warm. "Don't you worry. We'll get her back. We know what we are doing," Imani assured her.

"I'm sure you do," Ivanova said, smiling.

Imani saw the smile animate the Commander's eyes, glad to see a real smile at last. That Talia is a lucky woman, she thought to herself, returning Ivanova's smile. Then Imani's link chimed. "Ready to meet Eric?" She asked. Releasing Ivanova's hand she stood, unfolding her tall frame from the chair, and the two women left the commissary.

 *****

The room was quite dim. The lights were at their lowest setting without being off, and the air was thick and stale. From what Ivanova could see, Eric's small quarters were practically devoid of furniture: just a narrow bed, a desk with a couple of transparencies on it, and the small plastic chair he was occupying at the moment. Ivanova and Imani stood before him, their backs to the door. Eric did not ask them to sit. The floor didn't look very comfortable anyway.

The expression on Eric's face was a snarl. Ivanova did not take it personally. She could tell from the deep lines in his face that the expression was normal for him. She thought if he tried to smile, his face would crack and fall off.

"So. You've come to rescue your telepath girlfriend, eh? A regular knight in shining armor." He rolled his eyes sarcastically.

Ivanova could tell already that this was not going to be fun. There had to be something she could say to smooth this man's ruffled feathers

"Don't bother. I can hear everything you say, even before you do. Don't waste my time." In contrast to his intense and bitter words, Eric was nonchalantly looking down at his fingernails. Ivanova noticed that his skin was practically transparent, the network of veins exposed to view.

"So, you think I'm ugly, too? Well your not the only one. Look, do me a favor and try not to think so loud," Eric barked out a bitter laugh, Ivanova looked over at Imani, who just shrugged. "When we get to the Psi Corps headquarters, just stick close by. I know you don't enjoy my company, but don't wander off. If your not in my line of sight, you are not within my protective psi shield. Understand? Good. You can leave now."

"We meet tonight at 22 hundred, Eric. Try to get some rest. We'll see you then, O.K.?" Imani said. She looked annoyed.

"Ah, Imani don't be mad at me, you know I can't help it, being who I am," Eric drawled.

"You could try," Imani snapped. Putting a protective arm around her shoulders, she lead a very confused Ivanova out of the room.

 ***** 

They had finished packing up. Ivanova watched in fascination as Imani attached yet another weapon to her body, this one a small PPG tucked neatly into her left boot. That made five all together, not counting a mean looking dagger strapped to her forearm, or the small rod tucked into her belt which telescoped into a Minbari fighting stick. That stick was a very effective weapon and if you didn't know how to use it, you didn't carry it. Ivanova felt practically unarmed in comparison. All she had was an EarthForce laser rifle and her PPG. She figured it was enough.

Imani was re-attaching the broach that held her cape in place. They were ready to go.

"Imani, before we leave, there's something I want to tell you, now, in case we don't make it back."

"What is it?" Imani asked, turning to face the Commander.

"I want to thank you, for everything, for helping me--"

Imani shrugged. "When Delenn asks me to do something, I do it. I owe her more than I could ever pay back..."

The silence between the two women resumed. But before they left the room, Imani spoke once more.

"Your welcome. And we will make it back. Now lets go kick some Psi Corps butt!" Ivanova grinned at Imani, appreciating the sentiment, and Imani returned the smile. Then they headed out.

***** 

The darkness was almost complete. Amanda piloted the small bubble-shaped ground car as it crawled over the bumpy terrain. They snaked along the length of a deep ravine. Overhead Ivanova could see the twin moons of Mars as they cast their reflected light on the ledge far above them. Phobos and Deimos, they were called. How appropriate, Ivanova thought to herself, Fear and Terror. They had been traveling for the better part of two hours through the deep and twisted canyons of Noctis Labyrinthus. Fear, Terror, and the Labyrinth. A perfect title for a good Russian novel. Ivanova imagined that hell would look similar.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a caustic laugh. She turned to look at the source. Eric sat at the rear of the car on the floor. His knees were pulled up closely to his chest, his lanky arms wrapped loosely around them. His permanent snarl was lit only slightly from the side by the moonlight, making him look like a demon.

"What's wrong, Commander? Don't you like it here? I do."

"It suits you," Ivanova quipped.

Eric smiled. It looked genuine, the first Ivanova had seen. "Yes, it does "suit me", I suppose. But Psi Corps headquarters is here, so here I must stay."

"Why?"

"Now this you do understand. The hatred you feel when I even mention the name pours from you, and I can feel it in my own stomach like bile. It is not very pretty, Commander."

Stay out of my head! "I don't mean to--

"Of course you don't mean to. But you do it anyway. No one likes others to know their deepest hates and fears, Commander. Since I have no choice but to see that, no one likes me very much either. But let me tell you something about yourself. Not only do you hate the Psi Corps, but perhaps you hate telepaths, too. Perhaps you even hate yourself--"

"That's not true!" Ivanova exclaimed. "I don't hate telepaths. How could I? My own mother--"

"Left you, didn't she? And if she were not a telepath, she might still be here."

"That was hardly her fault."

"That hardly matters," Eric said, mimicking Ivanova's tone. "And then there is Ms. Winters. She would still be here, too--"

"You leave her out of this!" Ivanova felt her fist curl. It was taking all of her willpower not to smash it into his ugly face. She took a deep breath, trying to regain her lost composure. "What do you get out of this, Eric? What do you get out of baiting me?"

A look that was almost compassionate briefly crossed his features, and it looked horribly out of place. "Its my job, you know? To force others to look at themselves. We are in hell, after all. someone has to do it." Then he dropped his head down onto his knees, indicating that the audience was over.

"How convenient. It also ensures that the only response you get from anyone else is hatred. We both know it is almost impossible to see through hatred. Who's job is it to look at you, Eric?"

Eric looked up at that, met Ivanova's eyes. ~~Touche, Commander~~, he sent directly into her mind before dropping his head back down.

 ***** 

"Which way?" Imani whispered. The hallway ahead of them split in two directions, and Imani was using a tiny light to search the map Yoshi had sketched out for them. There was no reference to this juncture. "Did we take a wrong turn?"

The corridor in which the three stood was dark and deserted. Ivanova kept her back close to the wall, just in case. Eric stood behind the two women. It looked like he was doing nothing, but there were beads of sweat on his furrowed brow.

Ivanova managed to tear her back away from the wall, and without consciously realizing what she was doing, she passed her hand along the corridor, first the right fork, then the left.

"I think we are heading in the right direction," Ivanova whispered. "And...we should go left. That feels like the right way."

Imani looked at her in confusion. "What makes you think--"

"Listen to her, Imani," Eric said, interrupting. "She has a special knack for this kind of thing." ~~Isn't that true, Mindwalker?~~ He added, just for Ivanova.

Now it was Ivanova's turn to look confused. She looked quizzically at her hand touching the wall, started to speak, but then changed her mind. She would ask him what he was talking about later. Turning, she led the way down the left corridor. 

They could see a dim, grayish light at the end of the corridor. They approached quietly, and then Imani leaned her head through the archway, gesturing for the others to do the same. The corridor had ended, intersecting a catwalk which wrapped around a huge cavern, forming a complete circle towards the top of the pit. The underground chamber was carved directly from the Martian red rock. A wire-framed elevator connected this level to a series of catwalks below which provided access to other corridors and other rooms. And at the bottom of the chamber was a glass-enclosed dome, which appeared to house several laboratories. From their vantage point near the top, Ivanova could see the guards pacing the bottom of the pit, making their rounds. They had come to the right place.

Imani checked her wrist chrono. They had some time to wait before the next shift change. There would still be guards, but not as many. When the time came, they had only to cross to the other side, and enter the room just to the right of the elevator. They would have less than five minutes to make it back here, with Talia, before the next set of guards rotated in. Then it was back out. Eric would go with Amanda in the ground car, while Ivanova and Imani would take the shuttle that lay hidden and camouflaged outside on the other side of the complex. It was almost over.

Five minutes seemed like five hours, but then the time had come to go out into the open. This was the most dangerous part. Eric could prevent them from being scanned, but he couldn't prevent them from being seen. Taking a deep breath, Ivanova stepped into the cavern's bright light, Imani just behind her, and Eric bringing up the rear.

The three saboteurs crossed the catwalk with their backs hugging the wall behind them. Ivanova tried to take comfort from its rough-hewn surface, convincing herself that they could not be seen by the guards changing shifts below. They should be alright if they did not run into anyone on the catwalk itself. With that thought, Ivanova turned into the archway leading from the pit toward Talia's quarters, and collided head-on with a psi cop.

The look of profound surprise at encountering the intruders before sensing them crumpled as the palm of Ivanova's hand crushed his nose, shoving bone into brain, killing him instantly. Eric's presence stifled his psychic death-scream, but not the sound of his body hitting the floor. Looking down the hall from where the psi cop had come Ivanova saw that the door to Talia's quarters was open. She heard Talia's voice:

"Mr Gordon? Did you forget something " Ivanova quickly stepped over what she presumed to be Gordon's body and dashed into the room, Imani and Eric following on her heals.

Ivanova's PPG was drawn, aimed directly between "Talia's" eyes. Imani had hers trained on the door to the room, covering their backs. Eric stood behind Imani watching Talia carefully. Although Ivanova thus far had been responding with the quickness of the trained soldier she was, seeing Talia again made her gun hand shake.

The creature that had taken Talia's form seemed unfazed by the intruders. Rapidly sizing up the unexpected situation, a derisive smile crossed Talia's face as she saw Ivanova's hand shaking. Her eyes rested briefly on Imani and Eric, and then she focused her attention on what she saw was her best target.

"I didn't think even you were foolish enough to try this." Talia's voice literally dripped with sarcasm as she took a step closer to Ivanova: "Did you miss me that much, hmm?"

"Don't come any closer or I'll blow you brains out," Ivanova said, tightening the grip on her weapon.

The thing pretending to be Talia froze in place for just a moment, calculating possible outcomes, but then it remembered the irrational power of human emotion.

"Come now, Susan, you wouldn't harm your precious Talia," it said with a sneer, and resumed her approach. "After going through so much trouble to get to me, why don't you send your little friends away so we can have some...quality time, alone together?" Talia's hand was reaching out towards Ivanova.

"Watch it Commander." Imani's warning was unnecessary.

"Stay back, and don't touch me. Don't make me hurt you."

Talia ignored Ivanova's threat, but her caustic laugh ended abruptly as Ivanova brought the butt end of her pistol down on her head. Ivanova caught her as she lost consciousness and fell.

"Now what?" The Ranger asked, gesturing towards Talia, who was unconscious in Ivanova's arms.

"I guess I'll have to carry her back." It had to be easier than listening to that control personality's mockery, Ivanova thought to herself.

"It's for the best," Eric added, rubbing his temples. "She's been broadcasting a warning signal since we came, and intercepting it was giving me a headache."

Ivanova shifted Talia's weight to a more manageable position, knowing her back would feel this tomorrow. Assuming I'm alive tomorrow...

 ***** 

As Imani hurriedly initiated the pre-flight sequence, Ivanova strapped Talia into the rear passenger seat. Although still unconscious, Talia's hands were securely tied to the rope around her waist and her legs were bound. Ivanova was taking no chances.

Ivanova reached into her pack and took out the hypo containing the psi-disabling sleeper drugs. Her hands were shaking again. Even though she was upset, the irony of the situation was not lost on her. She couldn't believe she was about to give Talia the very thing that killed her mother. Logically she knew that one dose was not going to hurt her, but she didn't feel logical. She wanted to throw the hypo on the ground and grind it into powder with her boot.

"Come on, Commander, what are you waiting for?" Imani asked, looking over her shoulder. "We need to get out of here, and I need you up here. She'll be O.K."

"Give me a minute--" Ivanova started.

"We don't have a minute!"

"O.K. I'll be right there." Ivanova willed her hands to be still and placed the hypo at Talia's neck. Then she stopped again. It was her first opportunity to look at Talia carefully. Even unconscious she didn't look restful. Her cheeks were sunken, complexion sallow. The bones of her face seemed to show through her skin, which was so pale it was almost translucent. She had lost weight, weight she couldn't afford to lose. She was too skinny to begin with.

"Commander..." Ivanova dimly heard the Ranger's voice.

"O.K." she responded automatically. she released the sleeper drugs into Talia's main artery. Throwing the hypo spray down, she got up and strapped herself into the pilot's seat.

"Let's get the hell out of here," Ivanova stated emphatically while initiating the lift off sequence.

"I couldn't agree with you more," Imani replied.

 ***** 

They had cleared the jump gate in Sector 14. Three more hours in real time before the final jump at the transfer point, and home. The trip so far had been uneventful, but Ivanova had been holding her breath, waiting for the other foot to fall.

She was on edge, her jaw clenched tight. One more time she wished she was piloting a StarFury, instead of this civilian bucket of bolts. The Acheron had no weapons and little shielding. When they discovered Talia was missing, she was certain that the Psi Corps would send out the troops. And if their elite Omega Squadron caught up with them, they didn't have a chance in hell of making it.

They had entered comm range to B5 as soon as they had cleared the last jump. Ivanova had signaled ahead to let the Captain know of their imminent arrival. Hopefully he had already received the message, and the reply should be on its way back. Even so, they wouldn't hear anything for a while.

"Susan...", Ivanova's head snapped around at the sound of Talia's whisper. The muscles of Talia's face were twitching uncontrollably, reflecting some inner struggle. She was clearly fighting to get words out.

"Susan..." her voice was more audible now, but sounded very frail. "Is it really ...?"

"Talia?" Ivanova's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Where are we? How did you get here?..." Sweat was pouring down Talia's brow.

"Don't worry, were taking you home, Talia" Susan unstrapped her harness and started to move towards Talia.

"Don't!..Stay back. I can't control it...Be careful..." Talia choked. Ivanova felt her co-pilot's hand on her thigh, restraining her.

"Listen to her, Commander, stay back. It's too dangerous..."

As Ivanova was half-standing, undecided, she heard Talia yell, "No!" It looked as if the control personality was trying to regain the upper hand, but Talia was fighting it somehow. Tears rolled down her cheek, mixing with sweat. Talia was biting her lip so hard it began to bleed.

Talia's eyes shut, and then re-opened. As Ivanova met her gaze, she knew the real Talia was gone.

"I had you going there, didn't I, Susan." Hatred was plain in the thing that-was-not-Talia's eyes. "You know I told them all about you, and when they find I'm missing they'll know exactly where to look. You will never get away with this."

Ivanova had abruptly collapsed back in her seat as the change came over Talia. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. The change was too much. She felt like her heart was being ripped from her chest.

Imani got up and placed a gag back over Talia's mouth, warning her that if she didn't behave she would get hurt. Ivanova pulled her focus back on piloting the small transport, and watching for enemy fighters.

Ivanova was terrified that what Lyta told her after the control personality initially took over was true-- that the old Talia had been destroyed in the transition. But in her heart she had refused to believe it. Talia's personality, her life force, was so strong to her that she wouldn't believe it could be destroyed, short of death. And her heart also told her that what she had just seen a moment ago was her Talia--the real one. Ivanova was praying with all her might that Kosh could do something to help. It made her sick to think about how it would be if Kosh failed, and Talia remained trapped.

They were getting close to the jump gate into Sector 13. Ivanova estimated it would take no more than one half standard hour--maybe less.

Suddenly she saw three ships enter scanner range behind them.

"Shit!" Imani yelled, seeing them at the same time. "I knew this was going to well!" The two women looked at each other in dismay.

"I'm calculating their e.t.a." Ivanova's fingers were flying over the scanner's keyboard "At present speed, they'll intercept us in...about nine minutes..."

"What are we going ro do? If those are fighters..." Imani was staring at the scanner display.

"Its time to initiate plan B" Ivanova told the Ranger.

"Which is...?" Imani had an eyebrow raised.

"Run like hell, and start praying!"

"I'm down with plan B, Commander. Thrusters at maximum burn...engaging...Now!" All three women were abruptly thrown back against their seats as the ship's speed increased dramatically. Ivanova hoped that the modifications that had been made to the transport to increase its speed would take the enemy by surprise. They were going much faster than they should have been able for this class ship. Whether it was fast enough remained to be seen.

"They're still closing. Estimated time to intercept..seven minutes, thirty seconds." Imani informed Ivanova.

"Damn it!" Ivanova swore. To come so close...

"This is Omega One to Earth Alliance Transport. Stand down at once and prepare to be boarded!"

Imani and Ivanova's eyes met. They didn't have to be able to read each other's minds to figure out that neither of them was willing to surrender to the Psi Corps.

"Eat my dirt, Psi Corps!" Ivanova cried out with a bravado she didn't quite feel. "Can you get any more speed out of this thing?" she asked the Ranger.

"We are already at maximum, Commander. Time to intercept."

They were all flung forward as a burst of plasma hit the rear of the ship. Suddenly they were no longer accelerating. As Ivanova checked the scanner, she saw that the three Omega StarFuries were gaining on them even more rapidly.

"Damage report!"

"We lost the rear thrusters with that impact, Commander. At this rate, we will never make it to the jump."

Imani's voice caught in her throat as they saw the jump gate ahead of them activate. And then directly ahead of them six of Babylon 5's brand new Alpha wing StarFurys were in front of them. They formed a perfect arrow, point poised directly at them and, more importantly, at the Psi Corps ships.

"Omega fighters this is Alpha leader out of Babylon 5." Ivanova almost cried at the sound of Garibaldi's voice over the comm. "Back off the transport immediately or eat plasma!" He yelled.

"Do not interfere, Alpha leader. This is official Psi Corps business. It is not your concern." The Omega Wing commander's voice seemed a little less secure.

"There your wrong, Psi Corps. This is our business and this is your last warning!"

And with that, The Omega fighters responded with more plasma. Ivanova's ship took another hit as two more shots skimmed by either side of them. But before the blast could reach Alpha Wing, they broke formation and faster than anyone expected they circled up and over the transport, firing at will into the Omega fighters.

The Psi Corps fighters didn't have a chance against Babylon 5's new ships, which were much faster and much more maneuverable. Before the Omega Wing could get off another round, Alpha Wing fired. Two of Omega's ships burst into flames, and the third peeled off and ran. Alpha Three and Six tore off after the lone fighter, while the rest of Garibaldi's fighters executed a sharp 180 degree turn, noses facing the transport.

"Glad to see me, Commander?" Garibaldi chided.

"Mere words cannot express my gratitude, Michael. Excellent timing, as always. How did you know?"

"When we got your message I didn't want to take any chances and the Captain agreed, so he sent me out to escort you in case you ran into trouble."

"I'm glad you came. We would've been history if you hadn't- -"

"Commander..." Imani interrupted, pointing to the main console. "That last hit completely took out our navigation, and all excess power has been transferred to life support."

"Garibaldi...?" Ivanova started.

"I'm on it, Commander. Alpha Two and Four, initiate grapple..."

And as the transport lurched forward with the impact of the twin grappling hooks, Ivanova leaned back and let go a long sigh. Imani reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. Ivanova smiled in response.

But as Ivanova withdrew from the controls, letting the Alpha Squadron's StarFuries tow them in, she turned to look at Talia. And the thing-that was-not -Talia stared back at her, the hatred in her eyes so strong that it burned like fire, penetrating her skin and scorching her bones.

*****

Concluded in Part III

Return to the Fanfic Summary Page


You Are On
The Pink Rabbit Consortium
(click the above link to break out of frames)
Send Comments or Questions to Pink Rabbit Productions
pinkrabbit@altfic.com

| Home | Subtext Zone Art Gallery | Subtext LinksWhat's New | HTDTZ? |
 | Xena Fanfic Archive (no frames) | Buffy Fanfic Archive | In Process |