DISCLAIMER: Babylon 5 and its characters are the property of J. Michael Straczynski, Warner Brothers, PTEN, and/or TNT.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Living with Ghosts
By Susan P
Commander Susan Ivanova strode into Medlab to find Dr. Franklin bent over a computer console, studying the readout on the screen. He spared an occasional glance for the female patient in the nearest bed, but was oblivious to all else, including her entry.
"You wanted to see me, Stephen?"
Startled. "Oh...Ivanova. Yes, I've received some information from 'Number One.'" He points to the computer readout. "I've just been looking over the information on the data crystal, and Captain Sheridan was unavailable..."
"I'll be sure he gets the information. Is there anything I should be aware of?"
"Yes, and no. There's not much new information. Resistance members have stopped bombings of civilian targets. The resistance leaders are still willing to support Sheridan and carry out orders from Babylon 5. There've been some vague rumors about a disease striking telepaths...It seems Edgars Industries is involved somehow, presumably in the search for a cure. There's not much more information--this communiqué was mainly an excuse to get my most recent patient off Mars." Indicating the woman on the bio-bed. "She was smuggled in on a commercial transport that docked at 0200--Drazi, with a partly human crew, some of whom are friends of the Resistance."
"She was with the Resistance?"
"Apparently so. She was injured during her escape. PPG burns, and a few broken ribs. Nothing serious, they patched her up the best they could, given their lack of medical supplies--I repaired the damage, but an infection had already set in. She's been in and out of consciousness since before they brought her aboard. She'll be fine--at this point she just needs rest."
"Do they know who attacked her?"
"Yes, and that's what worries me. It was a Psi Cop."
"Apparently not--according to my sources, she was never with the Corps. I don't have any details, but, if she has any reason to run from Psi Corps, it is probably best that she go 'underground.'"
"Well, someone who's in trouble with Psi Corps can't be all bad. Will your contacts in the 'Railroad' be able to make arrangements for her?"
"I think so, but it may take a few days. She may need temporary quarters once she's released from Medlab."
"The antibiotics seem to be working...it could be as early as tomorrow afternoon."
"I'll see what I can do."
At that moment, the woman cried out, "NO! Stay away from her!" She struggled to get up...to run. It took both of them to restrain her and get her settled back into the bed. Her struggling subsided as she looked from Franklin's to Ivanova's faces. She seemed to remember where she was. And, as her gaze held Ivanova's...something else...
Her hand found Ivanova's, and Susan sensed, rather than heard the name. <Katya>...and the depths of sorrow that it evoked in the semi-conscious woman.
The moment of lucidity passed, and the woman closed her eyes and slipped back into blackness.
Leaving Ivanova stunned...and more shaken than she'd been...Since...
She released the woman's hand, and quickly composed herself, but not before Franklin noticed the look of intense pain and confusion that had crossed her face.
"The data crystal, Stephen." Her tones were cool and clipped. "I'll be sure the Captain gets it."
"Yes. Of course." He moved to retrieve the crystal from his computer terminal. He placed it in her outstretched hand, studying her face intently.
Eager to forestall any questions, she said quickly, "I'll make arrangements for quarters for..." Again, that momentary confusion--at more than not knowing the woman's name. "For our, guest." And with that, she turned and walked out of Medlab, leaving a confused Franklin to stare at her retreating back.
She kept walking, projecting her usual staid composure, until she made it to the transport tube. Finding it empty, she quietly informed the computer of her destination. Then, seconds later, "Computer. Halt, hold position. Seal tube doors--Authorization: Commander Susan Ivanova, Security Code: Griffin." Then her composure drained away like water, and she backed into the wall of the transport, needing the external support as she remembered the mysterious woman in Medlab. And, inexplicably, Talia.
She didn't know how long she'd stood in the empty transport tube, staring off into space--being buffeted by memories she didn't want to deal with, but was powerless to stop. Of Talia's mind touching hers. Of her mother's. And that woman in Medlab. Who was she? I never even got her name. And, HOW? How was I able to read her?
She finally managed to rouse herself enough to get back to her duties. Work. Work would keep the memories at bay--it had to. She had things to do.
That evening, Ivanova, in civilian clothing, was sitting at the bar of one of the public restaurants, alternately staring at the wall, and at the glass of vodka before her. Stephen Franklin was watching her from the upper level--had been for some time. Marcus approached and joined him at the railing.
"Hello, Stephen." Noticing Franklin's attention was elsewhere, "What are you looking at?"
Turning to look at Marcus for the first time--considering his answer. "Not what, who."
"Ah. A woman, perhaps?" smiling. He scanned the crowd below, searching for the object of Stephen's attention.
"Susan! What's she doing here? ...She doesn't look too...happy...does she?
"Do you know how long she's been there?"
"At least a half-hour." At Marcus' look, he quickly added, "I passed by earlier on an errand and noticed her there. When I came back this way, I noticed she was still there--I've been watching her for about ten minutes."
"You haven't...?" Franklin shook his head. "Well, maybe I should..."
Franklin grabbed his arm as he started to move away. "Marcus, do yourself a favor, and let her be. At this point, she is more likely to resent your presence as an intrusion than welcome the company."
"How do you know...?"
"One. Ivanova's not one to wear her feelings on her sleeve--except maybe anger," he smirked, "--or share confidences easily. Two. If she were looking to socialize, she'd most likely be in Earhart's, where she'd be in familiar company--not in a public bar, alone. There is a certain anonymity to being in a crowd. Three. She's barely acknowledged or spoken to anyone since I've been here, except the bartender, and that was to order another drink. Four. She should know by now that there are people on this station who care about her, and if she wanted to talk about it, she could have easily found a sympathetic ear by now. Judging by the way she looks, she hasn't done that--yet."
"She's a grown woman, Marcus. She's been through a lot and has managed to survive this long. She'll either work it out on her own, or she'll ask for help--when she chooses and from whom she chooses."
Marcus relented--for the moment. "Maybe you're right....Any idea what it is that's bothering her?"
"Not exactly." At Marcus' raised eyebrows, he added, "I think it has something to do with a patient in Medlab--though I have no idea what....the woman was barely conscious... Maybe she reminded Ivanova of...someone or something...I don't know. Ivanova was helping me keep the patient from getting out of bed and hurting herself, and when I looked up, Susan had this look on her face." The confusion shone in his face, "I can't explain it. but, she made it very clear that she didn't want to answer any questions before she took off."
"I see," though it was clear that he didn't understand it any more than Franklin did.
The conversation lapsed, and they both resumed their positions at the railing--watching Ivanova stare off into space.
Ivanova took a drink of her vodka and grimaced. <Too warm--that's what I get for going to a public bar!> She could feel eyes on her--whose, she didn't know. Didn't matter, as long as whoever it was stayed the hell away. She was in no mood for pick-up lines or polite conversation right now.
She could still sense the brief contact with the woman in Medlab as intensely as she had when it happened. How had she been able to 'read' her? <I've never been able to read anyone, except my mother. And Talia, but she initiated the contact both times. The deep scan she did on me when I was suspected in the J.D. Ortega case to help me figure out the note Ortega had left me before he was killed--I 'heard' her thoughts in my mind then. And, the night we...made love...I felt her desire...heard her thoughts in my mind. I let down my own barriers to a large degree, but I was too afraid, even then, to risk reaching out to her mind. Good thing, given what happened. If Talia had sensed my latent abilities, the 'Control' personality the Psi Corps planted in her mind surely would have sent them after me, once it took over.>
She shivered inwardly at that thought, knowing the only choices she would be left with: join the Corps--never; jail--no thanks; take the 'sleepers'--after what they'd done to her mother? Her mother hadn't been willing to join Psi Corps and leave her family and had opted to take the 'sleepers' instead. Susan had watched the drugs slowly take her mother away from her--dulling her mind and plunging her into a depression that eventually drove her to suicide. <I'd rather die than let them get their filthy hands on me!> The only other alternative would be to run. The Underground Railroad offered at least the possibility of escape from the Corps, but it would mean the end of her career--whatever might actually be left of it, given Babylon 5's secession from Earth Alliance--and, the end of any kind of a 'stable' life, most likely.
Her thoughts turned again to Talia. <We'd barely had the chance to become close, before I lost her. I'd spent so much time avoiding her--resenting her because, to me, she represented Psi Corps and everything I hated about it. Then, just when I'd finally stopped fighting her.... Dead...she's as dead to me now as if her body had died..... She might even really be dead by now. The Corps might have simply eliminated her once they got whatever information they could from her.>
<NO!> She tried desperately to clamp down on the grief and rage that had begun to well up in her. She picked up the glass before her and drained it in one gulp, hoping it would take the edge off the pain.
She turned her mind back to the woman in Medlab. <I don't even know her name...Does Stephen, I wonder?> What was so disturbing about the encounter? <Was it just that I sensed her thoughts when I shouldn't have been able to? Or was it the terrible grief I sensed in her? Was that what made me think of Talia?>
She remembered her words to Captain Sheridan when she'd confessed that she was a latent telepath: "I can pick up on strong feelings, sometimes." But, this time it had been more than that. <I didn't just get some vague sense of her grief--I felt it, for a moment. And I heard the name in my mind--Katya. Who was she?> She suddenly felt as if she'd missed, or forgotten, something. She replayed the incident over and over in her mind. <Wait. There was something...something about the way she looked at me.... It was as if she...recognized me somehow. That's it! I remind her of this Katya, whoever she was. Was--she's dead.> Somehow, Ivanova was as sure of that as if the woman had spoken it aloud. <Still. I shouldn't have been able to sense all that I did-- even with the woman's emotional state. Unless....Unless she'd been projecting her thoughts to me--or, maybe, to Katya, if that's who she thought I was.>
"Damn. All this speculation is getting me nowhere," she mumbled under her breath. She looked up to see if anyone showed signs of having heard her--luckily, the area around the bar was fairly empty, and even the bartender was at the opposite end of the bar, talking to a more responsive customer. Then, she began to notice how tired she really was. She settled the tab she'd been running with the barkeep, and left for her own quarters, hoping that sleep would give her some respite from her thoughts.
She didn't notice the lone figure hanging over the railing on the upper level, nor did she notice him straighten and move in her direction as she left the bar.
Marcus Cole was careful to keep a safe distance between himself and Ivanova as he followed her. She seemed steady enough on her feet, but he wanted to be sure she was all right. <After all, a gentleman always walks a lady home....>
Command and Control. 1020 hours. Ivanova was at her console in 'the pit,' as it had come to be known, reviewing the docking manifest and the schedule of ships due to come through the jumpgate for the next few hours. Traffic had been heavy this morning, including one near-collision due to a faulty navigational system on a Pak'm'ra freighter. but, things had calmed down considerably, and there were only four arrivals scheduled over the next few hours--nothing that would require her presence. <Better get out of here before all hell breaks loose. It always does, sooner or later.>
"I have a meeting with Captain Sheridan, and I have some arrangements to make for one of Dr. Franklin's patients. You're in charge until I return. If there are any problems, contact me via link."
"Yes, Commander." Corwin moved to take her place as she left for Sheridan's office.
Captain Sheridan was at his desk in his office, reviewing the information on the data crystal. The door chime sounded.
"Come." He greeted the Commander as she walked in, "Ivanova."
"I've just been reviewing Number One's report. You were right, there's not much new information in it."
"Yes, sir. But, it seems, in this case, that the messenger is more important than the message."
"Yes. How is this mystery patient?"
"She regained consciousness late last night--that's all I know at this point. One of Franklin's nurses called me about an hour ago, but things were busy in C & C at the time, so I didn't have time to find out much more. Franklin said yesterday that she might be released as early as this afternoon."
"Ah." Sheridan lifted his hand to tap his link, "Sheridan to Dr. Franklin."
"Franklin here. Yes, Captain?"
"Stephen. What's the status of your patient?"
"She seems to be fine. At this point, she just needs rest more than anything else. I'd like to keep her another twelve hours or so, for observation, but she's been rather adamant about getting out of here, so I'll probably release her in a couple of hours. Captain, have you spoken with Ivanova?"
Ivanova broke in, "I'm right here, Stephen."
"Ivanova, have you arranged for quarters for...our guest?" he avoided using the woman's name.
"Yes, I made a reservation for a suite in Red Sector for 'Alexandra Bradshaw.' But, I still need to make arrangements to...ah...replace" she shared an ironic glance with Sheridan, "Ms. Bradshaw's identicard and set up a line of credit for her while on board. It should take me another hour or so to take care of the details. "
"Good. Could you stop by Medlab when everything's been arranged, and escort Ms....Bradshaw to her quarters?"
"Sure." <I'd intended to do just that. I need to find out more about this woman.>
"Doctor," Sheridan broke in, "have you gotten any more information about what happened to this woman and why she was being pursued by Psi Cops?"
"All I've gotten out of her at this point is that she had been involved with the Free Mars movement, and that she had been involved, in a minor way, with the Railroad--providing medical supplies. That would be enough to attract the Corps interest, but I get the feeling there's more to the story. I'll see if I can find out anything from my Railroad contacts in the area, but it may not be possible to verify her story, given the communications blackout from Earth. Still, someone may have heard of her. Number One did confirm her involvement with the resistance, so that much is true."
"What's your impression of her? Do you think she can be trusted?"
"Yes. I get the feeling she's holding something back, but that could involve personal matters. I think she's dealing with more than just physical injuries."
"Thank you, Stephen. Let me know anything else you find out. Sheridan out." He noted the pensive look on Ivanova's face. "There's something about this woman that bothers you." It was a statement--not a question.
"Yes...No...I...don't know!" She managed a tight-lipped smile, "Sorry, I've been trying to figure this out since yesterday. I think what Stephen just said is true. I think she is holding something back--and I think I know part of what she's hiding, and that she is dealing with more than the aftermath of her attack. She's grieving for someone."
"How do you..."
Susan began pacing as she tried to explain--trying to work off her own frustration. "Something happened yesterday when I was in Medlab. She woke up briefly--crying out from a nightmare, I guess, and I had to help Franklin keep her from getting out of bed. Then...she grabbed my hand and she stared at me, and..." She stopped pacing and turned back to Sheridan, "John, I think she's a latent telepath."
"How?... Did she try to scan you?"
"No. That's not why I... I 'heard' a name in my mind--like she was calling out to someone. And I felt her pain...very intensely. Given the limits of my abilities, I shouldn't have been able to read her like that, unless..."
"Unless she was projecting."
She sighed, "Yes. At least, that's the only explanation I have for it."
Sheridan leaned back in his chair, thinking, "Well, it looks like this is only going to get more complicated."
"For what it's worth, Captain, I don't get any sense that she's a threat to us."
"Hmm." He raised one eyebrow. "Telepathy?"
She grinned in response. "Women's intuition."
Grateful for the momentary change in mood, "Well, I hope you're right." But he quickly turned serious again. "We have enough problems right now, without worrying about any other threats. What with the situation back on Earth and the colonies, and with the number of reports coming in about raids in the space bordering League worlds, I'm not sure I can deal with any more bad news.... Ivanova, I want to set up a meeting with this woman and the command staff--tomorrow, if possible, but check with Stephen to be sure she'll be up to it. I want to find out as much as we can about her situation, and we need to consider what we're going to do with her. If she is on the run from Psi Corps, I'm not sure how long we could keep her safe here, especially since Bester seems to have no trouble getting past the EarthForce embargo of this sector."
Ivanova winced at the mention of the Psi Cop. "Yes, he does have that annoying habit of showing up at the worst times."
"Oh, and I want Lyta there for the meeting. If this woman will consent to it, I want her scanned. If not, Lyta may still be useful, given her old contacts in the Railroad."
"Yes, sir. I'll contact her."
"And, Susan, I'd like you to stick close to this woman while she's here--see if you can find out anything more about her."
"Yes, sir. Is there anything else?"
"No." He grinned at Ivanova, "I guess I should let you get back to securing Ms. Bradshaw a replacement ID."
She smiled at that. "Yes, sir--I should get right on that!" and she headed for the door.
Before she could reach it though, Sheridan called out, "Ivanova." She turned around to look back at the Captain. "I forgot to ask--How's it going with the Voice of the Resistance broadcasts?"
She nodded. "Oh, fine. The power hook-up from the Great Machine on Epsilon Three seems to be working. We don't know yet if the broadcasts are reaching all the way to Earth, but intelligence from the resistance on Proxima Three indicates that they are receiving them, which is a good sign. The next broadcast will be this afternoon."
"Good. Thank you, Susan."
After leaving Capt. Sheridan's office, Ivanova put the finishing touches on the forged identicard, including a fairly detailed 'history' on the woman. She'd consulted with Franklin via the link, trying to match the physical description and personal background of the 'Alexandra Bradshaw' identity as closely as possible to that of the woman under Franklin's care--based on what little information he'd managed to get from the woman. She then arranged for a relatively generous line of credit, and had even managed to provide one change of clothes, in addition to the outfit one of Franklin's assistants had offered to loan the patient. The woman had come aboard with next to nothing in the way of personal possessions--she'd obviously left in quite a hurry, and the clothes she'd been wearing when she got to the station were in pretty bad condition. After leaving the clothing and a few other things she thought the woman might need in the room she had reserved earlier, Susan headed for Medlab.
A thought struck her while she was riding the transport tube to Blue 7. <Damn. All that time talking to Franklin, and I forget to ask the woman's name. Brilliant! Then again, he never mentioned it...>
She passed through Medlab and, seeing no signs of the woman or Franklin, headed for his office, where she found them both. The woman seemed to feel well enough to argue with the good doctor. Ivanova thought she detected a slight Russian accent in the woman's voice.
"I assure you, Doctor, I feel well enough to find my own way about..."
"Ah. Commander Ivanova!" Stephen seemed grateful for the interruption--apparently, he'd been on the receiving end of this long enough.
The woman repeated the name, as she turned to face the door. "Ivanova?" There was a question implicit in her voicing of the name, but when she saw Susan's face, she just let out an audible gasp and stared at Ivanova. Conflicting emotions passed rapidly over her face, but she managed to speak, after a moment. "You.....You were....here.... yesterday. "I remember..."
"Yes, and you seemed as determined to get out of here then as you are now." She smiled, trying to put the woman at ease, "Careful, you might give the poor doctor some kind of complex." Ivanova wanted to ask just what, exactly, the woman remembered about their encounter yesterday, but she held v
The woman relaxed slightly at that. "Forgive me. I....I thought it was all part of a dream. But, it was you." She studied, "I remember the uniform now."
Franklin broke in, trying to dispel the awkwardness. Turning first to his patient, and then towards Ivanova, he introduced the two, "This is Commander Susan Ivanova. Susan, this is..." he faltered there.
"Natalia Bakunina," extending her hand towards Ivanova, and managing a weak smile, "Please, call me 'Talia.'"
Now it was Susan's turn to react. She managed to grasp the woman's hand, woodenly, as she tried and failed to keep the pain from flashing across her face. <Damn. No wonder Franklin didn't mention her name. How can I call her that and not remember...? Oh, hell. Say something, before they both think you've lost your mind!>
"Ah. Pleased to meet you.....Talia," She forced the name out, with difficulty, before releasing the woman's hand.
As if sensing the problem, and trying to get them all past another awkward moment, the woman said, "Actually, Commander, I think I would prefer it if you called me 'Tani.' A....friend....of mine used to call me that, and you remind me a little of her." <Forgive me, Katya!>
Ivanova had noted the hesitation and the slight tremor in the woman's voice, but was too grateful for the way out of her own dilemma to give it much thought at that moment. "Tani. It's an interesting nickname. I like it."
Franklin sensed that each of them had stood for a moment at the edge of a cliff overlooking some private hell, though he wasn't sure what had brought either of them to the edge. Although he sensed that they'd both managed to pull back onto more solid ground, he wasn't sure how to, or whether he should, break the silence that had fallen over them. So, he waited.
Bakunina was the first to break the silence. "Commander..."
Ivanova held up a hand to forestall her. "Please, call me Susan."
"Susan. You are Russian?" She smiled, interested.
Ivanova returned the smile, "Yes, I was born in the Consortium--in St. Petersburg. But, I was educated...elsewhere. I haven't been home in some time." <Not much to go back to, now.>
"Ah. I, too, have been away for some time--we were on Mars four years....Now, I fear I will not see my home again." Her words, and her thoughts, trailed off, as she was momentarily distracted by the memories.
Franklin broke in, concern for her apparent in his voice, "You said 'we'. Is there someone else who will be joining you--someone else we need to get off Mars?"
"My...wife, Katya." Her eyes caught and held Ivanova's--saw the shock and recognition there--and knew. But the shock of that realization did, at least, allow her to push aside more disturbing thoughts. She and Ivanova shared a long, measuring stare, after which she knew that, if nothing else, they would not turn her over to the Corps willingly.
Franklin again noted the tension between the two women. There didn't seem to be any animosity between the two, but there was something unspoken happening between them that he was at a loss to understand or explain--even to himself. But, he again stayed out of it, waiting for one of them to break the moment. Then Bakunina spoke again.
"The answer to your other question, Doctor, is no. She did not make it off Mars." The implication was clear, and she couldn't bring herself to say anything more. She found herself wishing for the leaden dullness, and even the unconsciousness that had resulted from her injuries--it was a kind of escape, at least. <Now is not the time for these memories. I have to get through their questions, first.>
Ivanova felt a sudden surge of protectiveness for this woman --or maybe it had been there all along--and determined to get her out of Medlab and into more comfortable surroundings as soon as possible.
"Stephen, is Ms..." At the older woman's arch look, she quickly amended, "...is Tani ready to be released yet?"
Relieved to drawn back to familiar territory, Franklin said, "Yes, but..." Turning to his patient, "You've been through a lot recently. You need rest--take things easy for the next few days, and if you experience any--and I do mean any--problems, I want you to contact me. Understood?"
"Yes, Doctor. And...thank you."
Smiling, and obviously more concerned than before, he replied, "You're welcome."
But Ivanova had one bit of business to take care of before they could leave. "Tani....Captain Sheridan would like to meet with you and the Command staff tomorrow afternoon, but if it would be easier for you, I'm sure I could get him to postpone it for a day or so."
She seemed to consider it for a moment. "No. No, I think I would prefer to get it over with. Just let me know when."
"I will." She turned to Stephen and asked, "Is that okay with you, Doctor?"
"Yes, I suppose. It shouldn't put too much strain on her physically." But it was her mental state that was bothering him more than anything at this point.
Tani broke in before he could voice his reservations. "Good. I will go get my things," and she left the office quickly.
Franklin spoke in a low voice, "Ivanova. First of all, would you care to enlighten me as to what is going on between you and this woman? Don't tell me it's nothing."
"I'm fairly certain that she is a latent telepath," she said as she glanced quickly out the door. "Ask Sheridan to fill you in on the details. And, now she knows that I know. But, it seems she has decided to trust me...us."
He considered that. "That would explain why the Psi Corps is after her..."
"Maybe. But I get the feeling they haven't found out about her abilities yet."
"Hmm." <I'm not even going to ask.> "Look...before she gets back...I'm very concerned about her mental state--this woman has been injured, lost her home, most likely her sense of security as well, and someone who obviously meant a great deal to her--all within a very short span of time. And she hasn't grieved. I....Please, just keep an eye on her--do what you can to help her."
"Don't worry, Stephen. I will." Ivanova shook her head slightly. "It's funny, we barely know this woman--we have little reason to trust her...and yet..."
Franklin finished her thought. "We do--and we want to protect her."
"Well, I have had that effect on people before." They both started guiltily at the sound of her voice, but her smile made it clear that she'd meant it as a joke, so they both relaxed.
Glancing at Ivanova, "May we go now, Susan?" Then turning to Franklin, "No offense, Doctor, but I have no great love of hospitals."
Franklin said, "None taken," to her retreating back.
The two women walked on in silence for some time. Susan was unwilling to break in on the woman's thoughts, and couldn't think of anything to say that would be a comfort, in any case.
As the silence wore on between them, Tani slowly, tentatively, opened her senses--her mind--to Susan's presence. She made no attempt to scan the young woman, somehow knowing it would be unwelcome, but she did sense Susan's concern for her, as well as her confusion, quite clearly.
While they were alone in the transport tube, she finally said, "So. Who am I in to be in this place?"
Momentarily confused, Susan replied, "Excuse me?......Oh. That." She reached into a uniform pocket to retrieve the identicard and creditchit, and handed them to the other woman. "'Alexandra Bradshaw'--the identicard should be good enough that you won't be bothered--the hotel suite is registered under that name, and I arranged for a line of credit for you."
"You did this?" indicating the identicard. At Ivanova's nod, she said, "You do good work, Commander. Surely forgery is not taught in EarthForce Officers' Training?"
Ivanova laughed, "Well....not exactly. But you would be surprised at what necessity can lead a person to do."
Tani glanced at Susan, deadly serious. "No. I do not think I would. At least....not any longer. Four years of hiding from Psi Corps, of trying to keep Katya from their clutches--and from those damnable drugs, of leaving jobs--identities--behind like yesterday's news....No, I am no longer innocent about what I can be made to do, given the right circumstances. And...there is much I would trade for that innocence, now." She had noted Susan's reaction to her mention of the sleeper drugs, but did not comment.
Susan said nothing, but she reached up and put her hand on Tani's shoulder, and left it there for some moments after they stepped out of the transport tube in Red Sector.
They had walked several meters before Tani spoke again. "Your people have questions about me."
"Yes." Susan replied.
"And, you have questions about me as well."
"Yes. I do."
The two women walked on in silence until they reached the suite that Ivanova had reserved. Tani put her identicard in the slot and the door slid open. She motioned Ivanova into the suite, and looked around at the layout of the small living area adjacent to the bedroom. The accommodations were more generous than she had been expecting. She suspected that this young woman had had something to do with that, but said nothing.
Susan had been speaking throughout Tani's survey of the room. "Ah, here it is. I purchased a change of clothing, plus a few other things that you might need. Anything else, you should be able to get from room service, or from one of the shops in the Zocalo. There are several good restaurants in this section, as well."
"Yes," she said absently. Then she looked into Susan's eyes, and said, "Susan....Please, sit for a moment?" And she sank down wearily on the couch.
Ivanova said nothing--merely moved to take a seat on the couch--her position mirroring that of the older woman's, with one leg drawn up on the couch, an ankle hooked under a knee, and turned sideways, so that they were facing one another.
"Susan. There are secrets between us....well, perhaps they are not absolutely secret, but they still require explanation." At Susan's nod, she continued, "And...it would seem that we are...both...tiptoeing around a pair of ghosts. Mine is named Katya....and yours...is named Talia."
Susan sighed, audibly, before answering, "Yes." And then a thought struck her. "And, 'Tani' was Katya's nickname for you, wasn't it?. How can you stand to have me call you that?"
She was a little surprised, both that Susan had guessed, and that she actually didn't mind it. "Yes. But, it really does not bother me when you call me that. Maybe it is because you do remind me a little of Katya, when she was younger. Perhaps that is why I mistook you for her yesterday, in my delirium. Why I....."
"Reached out for her mind..." I have to know, Susan thought.
"Yes.....I..." She slumped against the couch for a moment before continuing. "Forgive me, Susan, but I think I must rest. I am more weary than I would have admitted to Dr. Franklin."
"Yes. Of course, I'll..." She started to rise, but Tani grabbed her arm lightly.
"No. Wait a moment. Would you...meet me for dinner later? I am...not sure I can face eating alone anyway. Then we can discuss these things. Maybe talk a little about our respective 'ghosts,' as well?
"Dinner, yes. As for the rest of it, we'll see how each of us feels about that tonight."
"Is it my pain that worries you?....or, your own?"
"You have not grieved for her. And, I have not mourned Katya properly. Perhaps we could help one another begin the process."
<Maybe I do need to talk about it with someone.> "Perhaps. Shall I pick you up at seven?"
"That would be fine. I will go rest in the meantime. And, Susan....Thank you for everything that you have done."
"You're welcome, Tani. Please, go lie down, I'll let myself out."
Tani moved slowly to the bedroom, as Ivanova walked out. She set the alarm, wanting to be prepared should she actually manage to fall asleep. Then, the sea of memories that she had held at bay for the past few hours came crashing in on her, and she sank down onto the bed. And wept....until sleep finally, mercifully, claimed her.
Ivanova walked slowly, unseeing, to the nearest transport tube, stepping through the open doors without even noticing the tube's other occupant..
"Commander," came the friendly greeting. Then, when there was no response, "Commander Ivanova?"
Susan looked up, startled, at the red-haired telepath next to her. "Lyta. I'm sorry. I was....distracted."
"So I noticed," Lyta replied with a wry smile.
"Actually, I needed to ask you something anyway. Captain Sheridan has arranged a meeting tomorrow with a woman that was smuggled in from Mars. She's....had run-ins with Psi-Corps, and the Captain wants to know if she can be trusted, and, if so, if she has any information that can be useful to us. The Captain would like you to attend....to scan her" Ivanova held up her hand to forestall Lyta's protest. "Assuming she agrees to it, that is. And, the Captain also thought you might be able to help up figure out a way to get her off Babylon Five get her to someplace safe. Between you and Stephen, maybe you could call in some favors from your old Railroad ties?"
"I'll be there. I'm not sure that my Railroad contacts would be much help--most of them were based on Mars. But, I'll be glad to do whatever I can to help."
"Fine, I'll get back to you when I have a definite time."
They were silent a moment, before Ivanova spoke up. "Lyta?
"When telepaths are under great physical or emotional strain, would that impair their ability to shield themselves properly? Would they 'project' their thoughts, or would they still be able to control them to some degree?"
"Well, depending upon the type of strain or how much pain they were in, yes, they could possibly lose control over their ability to shield their thoughts. It would be more likely to happen if the telepath were relatively untrained, or badly trained, though.
Carefully considering her next question. "If a telepath in such a condition were to project his thoughts, would other telepaths in the area be able to 'hear' them?
"Not necessarily. It would depend on their proximity to the individual, their own strength, as well as that of the person in question--a P-12 would have much stronger shielding against the other thoughts, for example, and a P-12 under such duress would project their thoughts quite strongly as well."
"What about those without Psi ability? Would they be able to sense the thoughts?"
"Well, it is possible, but in most cases, it wouldn't be very likely. Again, it might depend on the strength of the telepath in question. And, physical contact would increase the likelihood of a 'normal' hearing the person's thoughts as well, since that enhances the telepathic link."
"Uh-huh. Thank you." Ivanova was grateful that the tube doors opened at that point, and she took that opportunity to escape before Lyta asked any questions of her own. "I'll let you know about the time of that meeting." And with that, she left the bemused telepath standing in the transport tube.
"Fine," Lyta said, shaking her head.
As she continued on her way back to C & C, Ivanova thought, <So, she's probably not that strong a telepath. I was touching her hand, but Stephen was also touching her, I think, and he seemed to have no idea what happened between us.>
Ivanova completed her shift in C & C with no major incidents. She wasn't sure whether to be grateful for that or not, since a minor crisis or two would have at least distracted her from her preoccupation with Tani Bakunina. She had spent long moments during the remainder of her shift staring out the Observation Dome at the vastness of space and re-thinking everything that had happened between her and the other woman. She had not managed to come to any real conclusions about her, other than the fact that she liked Tani and trusted her--or wanted to trust her. Still, she had the feeling that there was a lot that this woman hadn't said--some of which might be important.
After having updated the Captain on what little new information she'd gotten about Bakunina, she headed for her quarters to change and relax for a few moments before her dinner with Tani.
Meanwhile, Tani had awakened at the sound of the alarm, her eyes tired and still swollen from crying. She showered--the first real, hot-water shower she'd had in years. God, she missed it. She indulged herself as long as she felt she could, then got out and changed into the clothes that Ivanova had provided. She studied her face in the mirror above the basin, still noticing her swollen, bloodshot eyes. She splashed cold water on her face, hoping it would ease the raw sensation in her now-dry eyes a little. She then settled on the couch and turned on the vid monitor to try to keep her mind occupied, eventually switching from ISN's latest Pro-Clark propaganda to a re-broadcast of Ivanova's earlier VoR report.
Ivanova and Tani enjoyed a leisurely dinner in the Eclipse Cafe, restricting the conversation to relatively 'safe' topics while they were in public. Ivanova noted that the older woman looked somewhat more rested than she had earlier, despite the evidence of her tears. As they talked, Ivanova studied Tani more closely. The woman appeared to be in her mid- to late-40's, with salt-and-pepper hair--shoulder length, but in a short, functional cut. Her dark hair provided a nice contrast to the green of her eyes. Her eyes were quite expressive, though they seemed ill-suited to the quiet desolation that lurked behind them at times.
Tani's voice interrupted her thoughts. "You have family in Russia, Susan?"
Ivanova's expression sobered somewhat. "No. Not anymore. My mother died in 2246--suicide." Ivanova noticed the shock, and sympathy, in Tani's eyes, and continued--still not sure why she felt compelled to tell this relative stranger such personal details. "She was....a latent telepath. Her abilities surfaced late in life, after she'd married and begun her family. She managed to hide her talent for some time, but the Corps eventually caught up with her. She wasn't willing to leave us for the Corps, so she opted to take the 'sleepers'..... For ten years, I watched as they slowly dulled her mind, and eventually took her from us anyway. I guess she just got to the point where she couldn't take it anymore, and then she ended it."
"Yes. Katya took them for almost 4 years. She had a similar reaction, and she finally decided that she would rather take her chances and run, rather than lose herself to the drugs."
Ivanova's mouth had dropped open at the admission. "Katya was a telepath?"
"Yes. Her abilities appeared somewhat late--around 19 or 20. She managed to hide it a long time before being discovered. By then, she had made a life for herself--we had made a life together--and she would not leave it. And, for awhile, the drugs were a small price to pay."
Ivanova now had even more questions, but she decided they could wait until they could speak in private. So, she changed the subject. "Tani, tell me about your background. What about your family?"
She understood the reason for the shift. "My family lived in Krasnoi, in the Smolensk province. My mother, Natalia--I was named for her, you see--was a teacher. She loved children. After my sister, Eva, was born, she was told she could not have more, so I think her students helped fulfill that need in her. She died in '56--about a year and a half before Katya and I left Earth. I miss her. But, I was at least able to honor the first yahrzeit--the anniversary of her death--at her gravesite. Katya and I went to place stones on her grave--and those of my father and brother as well. I have since been grateful that I had the chance to do that then--I do not know when, or if, I will be able to return home.
"My father, Alexei, worked in the local power relay station--as a computer technician. He had died four years before Mother--there was an explosion at the relay station, and a section of the building collapsed. By the time they dug him out, it was too late. Mikhail, my brother, died in the war with the Minbari--at the Battle of the Line. It was a great blow to all of us, but I think my father suffered the most."
Susan spoke up then, "I understand. My brother, Ganya, died in the war, too--the year after my mother. Things were never quite the same between my father and I after that. I guess that's one of the reasons I joined EarthForce."
"The other reason being you wanted revenge."
"Yes. I suppose I did--at the time."
"But, not now."
"No. Not now."
"That is good, Susan. It was a war born out of ignorance--as are most wars. We all need to learn to forgive the Minbari, and ourselves, and move on."
They sat in silence for some moments, each lost in her own thoughts, before Tani spoke again. "Now, Commander Ivanova, I must thank you for accompanying me this evening. Dinner was wonderful, and the company was welcome."
Susan had caught the teasing tone in Tani's voice, and so let the use of her formal title pass. "You are quite welcome. I enjoyed it," she said, returning Tani's smile.
"But, we have other things to discuss. Yes? I managed to obtain a bottle of vodka this afternoon--join me for a drink?"
The two women left the restaurant--Ivanova having taken care of the tab, despite Bakunina's protests--and headed for Tani's room in companionable silence. Ivanova was comfortably settled on the couch in Tani's room, as Tani was pouring the drinks, before a thought struck her. "Tani, are you sure you should be drinking? You're still weak."
"Bah. I am never too weak for a good glass of vodka!" And, before Susan could protest, she scolded, "Daragaya moiya," the endearment taking the edge off her words, "I am sure Dr. Franklin told you what a terrible patient I am. And, you do not even have the benefit of a medical license to back up your advice!"
Susan laughed and held up both hands in resignation. "All right. All right. You win!"
"Good!" Tani handed a glass to Ivanova. "Here. Drink."
Ivanova did just that as the other woman settled on the couch--again facing her, but closer this time.
"Susan. I will not drag this out any longer. As you no doubt discovered yesterday, I, too, am a telepath." She held up a hand to forestall any comment from Ivanova. "No, just hear me out. My abilities--such as they are--appeared late in life. Later than Katya's, even. I often wonder if it was she who acted as the catalyst." She paused for a moment, thinking.
"Perhaps I should start at the beginning--at least, the only beginning that matters to me.... I was nineteen when I went to Moscow State University to study psychology. There I met Katya, and Moscow became my new home. Katya and I worked in one of the laboratories and quickly became friends. I was drawn to her from the first moment I saw her--she seemed so different, and yet so like me in some ways, that I was fascinated. I was so shy, back then, and she seemed anything but. I had never had trouble making friends, but I usually did not do so quickly. I found myself making more of an effort with Katya than I might have with someone else. Somehow, I knew--from the first--that this was someone I wanted to know, and know well." She paused, smiling softly to herself--oblivious to Susan's presence.
Susan took the opportunity to study the older woman's face, and marveled at the transformation that had taken place. Had she not spoken another word, that faraway look said all that needed to be said about Tani's feelings for Katya.
But, after a moment, she continued, "I suppose I started falling in love with her from the beginning. Of course, I was too foolish to realize it at first. We had been friends about eight months.... We were out walking late one afternoon. I had been wrapped up in my own thoughts, and she had gotten ahead of me. At one point, she turned back and called to me, 'Wake up, Tani! You are missing the sunset.' I looked up, saw her face framed by the colors in the sky, and I suddenly knew that hers was the face I wanted to see everyday....for the rest of my life."
Tani paused for a moment, and her smile turned ironic as she looked at Susan. "But, I had no idea how to tell Katya--how to find out if she felt the same way... It is ironic. For all the tolerance accorded same-sex love, it is still talked of so little that it seems...unexpected--out of the ordinary--to most people. Telepaths may be subject to the fear and prejudice of 'normals'--but, someone with developing psi-abilities at least knows what choices are available. And, for those who deal with the Corps, for any reason, their futures are clearly mapped out for them. But, a woman loving a woman? Where are the directions for that?"
She smiled, refilled her and Susan's glasses, and continued. "For almost two months, I walked around in a fog, with Katya always somewhere in my thoughts. Every little thing that happened to me--good or bad--I wanted to tell her first. Every time I saw a sunset, a full moon--anything that struck me as beautiful, or interesting--I would wish she were there to share it. Still, I could not bring myself to tell her. I told Eva before I ever said anything to Katya."
"How did your sister react to that?"
"I am not sure she really understood, at first. I think she may have even been a little jealous of Katya--for stealing my attention. But, she did try to understand, and I think she came to love Katya almost as much as I did.
"And, what happened with Katya?" Susan prodded.
"Ah. My Katushka was always the bolder one. She apparently...got tired of waiting for me. We were in her room, studying, one night...And, at one point, she simply leaned over and gave me a kiss that....removed all doubt as to her feelings for me." She smiled. "By the beginning of the next term, we were living together. We married the summer after graduation, and before we continued our respective studies. We made a life together in Moscow, and stayed there until Katya decided it was time to escape Psi Corps' control."
"She sounds like an amazing woman."
"Yes. She was. It has been good to be able to speak of her--to think of her--without weeping. This is the first time I have been able to do so since... Thank you."
"I've done nothing but listen. But, if that has helped, I'm glad. It's good to see you smile."
"Yes. Well, I suppose I should get back to the subject at hand. Katya had never told me of her telepathic abilities--at least, not until it became obvious. One night, while we were making love, I felt her in my mind. It was...an incredible sensation, but it was also quite disconcerting--for a number of reasons. It was so...strange...feeling her presence in my mind--I felt what she felt...heard her thoughts. But, it was a shock, too. I had never experienced telepathic contact. The idea of having her in my mind--having anyone in my mind--was...a little frightening. But, it was also...intriguing, exciting, and even comforting--to have such powerful evidence of her feelings for me. It made it difficult to be angry with her. I never had the nerve to ask whether her reaching out to me that night was deliberate, or whether she'd simply lost control for the moment. Maybe I did not want to know. In the end, the fact that she had not told me earlier was what angered me the most. That she did not feel she could trust me enough to say the words. It bothered me. Apparently, she had been aware of her abilities for a couple of years at that point--had learned to shield as a matter of course--in self-defense. But, after that night, we talked about her fears--of being discovered by, or turned in to, Psi Corps--though she did not fear I would do such a thing. She said that she feared losing me more than anything the Corps could do to her. That, I could understand. By that point, I could no longer imagine a life without her in it--no more then than now, I fear. So, I forgave her. After the initial shock--and adjustment, she began to reach out to my mind on occasion--rarely at first, but then with increasing frequency. I think she was afraid that too much too soon would frighten me. She was so careful about it then.
"Gradually, I learned how to shield myself and block her, when I wanted to. Maybe my own abilities had always been there--dormant. I'm not sure. I had always had an uncanny ability to sense what others were feeling, but I had always considered it a matter of intuition, or my observational skills. At any rate, I not only learned to shield myself from Katya--I eventually learned how to reach out to her, as well. Neither of us had any desire to join Psi Corps, so we did whatever we could to keep our abilities secret. We would 'practice' with each other though--when we were alone, of course. We each grew stronger with practice, but neither of us grew to be very strong telepaths. When the Corps brought Katya in, she tested as a P-3, and she was a bit stronger than I, so I would probably be a P-2. I think the relative weakness of our abilities is what allowed Katya to escape the Corps' notice for so long--and why they never found out about me."
"Then how did they find out about her?"
"An accident. Katya was a biochemist. There was a minor accident in her lab--she suffered some chemical burns--and, in her attempt to get to the med-kit, she tripped, hit her head, and lost consciousness for a couple of hours. Apparently, while she was still unconscious--or as she was regaining consciousness, she was mentally calling to me--and projecting. As luck would have it, a Psi Cop was being treated in the same hospital where she had been taken, and his partner managed to track the stray thoughts to her--how, I am not sure. I wonder if anyone would have ever found out, if those Psi Cops had not been in that place at that time. Anyway, by the time I reached the emergency room, she was already awake and the Psi Cop was in the room with her. Luckily, Katya had the presence of mind to introduce me to the Psi Cop as 'Natalia,' and they never made the connection to 'Tani'--I suppose they took it for the mental equivalent of gibberish. But, Katya was always careful after that to only refer to me by my full name in front of anyone from the Corps. And, somehow, she managed to keep her knowledge of my abilities from their scans, though I am not sure how she did it."
"So, Psi Corps still doesn't know about your abilities?"
"Then, why were they after you?"
"They....." A shadow crossed her face, and she seemed unable to go on for a moment. "They became aware of Katya's and my involvement with the Underground Railroad--and the Resistance. We were funneling medical supplies to them. They tracked the supplies back to us, and we ran. We were both injured in their attack.....Katya...did not survive. She...she died in my arms." Then, the tightness in her throat would not allow her to continue.
Ivanova reached out for her hand, instinctively--wanting to comfort this woman who had been through so much--and so recently. She had the sense that Tani had left something out of her story, but she couldn't decide whether she was deliberately hiding something, or whether she was just trying to avoid a particularly painful memory. Still, she wanted to trust her.
Moments passed, with Tani gripping Susan's hand. Gradually, Ivanova felt the other woman's intense emotions subside somewhat, and her grip loosened, but she didn't release Susan's hand. Finally, Susan spoke, gently, "Would you prefer it if I left?"
"Is there anything else you want to tell me?" she asked, out of duty more than anything else. She didn't want to press her, or cause her any more pain.
"There is nothing that cannot wait until the meeting tomorrow." She looked into Ivanova's eyes. "Now it is your turn, Susan. Talk to me. Tell me about Talia."
Susan had been dreading this moment, and she felt the old, now-familiar pain welling up in her. "I....."
"You have not spoken of her to anyone?"
"Not really.. Not all of it."
"You should--it may help."
<Maybe it would.> she thought, sure that Tani would catch the sense of it, if not the words themselves. She squeezed Tani's hand, and then released it as her resolve grew. She hadn't spoken of Talia with anyone, beyond confessing her feelings for Talia to Delenn as a part of that Minbari ritual. It had felt good to say those words--words she had never said, and would never have the chance to say, to Talia. But, even Delenn had not broached the subject since. Maybe it was time.
Tani had waited patiently while Ivanova debated with herself--partly because she knew Susan could not be pushed into discussing an obviously painful subject, but she also had some sense that the young woman would choose to do so, now.
"I guess you could say it ended similarly to your situation. You could say that I watched Talia die right in front of me--despite the fact that someone who looked just like her walked out of that room and off this station." At Tani's confused look, she broke off, and mumbled, more for her own benefit than Tani's, "...begin at the beginning..."
She sighed, and continued, "Talia Winters was the commercial telepath assigned to this station--she was here almost two years. She had tried, from our first meeting, to make friends with me, but my hatred of Psi Corps got in the way. I couldn't see past that damned badge. After what they'd done to my mother--what they still could do to me--I just couldn't let myself trust her. Not at first. But, between her dealings with the Psi Cops who came to the station, and an encounter with a group of rogue telepaths, she began to see how the Corps really operates--I guess it finally shook her faith in it--in all that 'Corps is mother, Corps is father' garbage. Once she admitted that to me, it became easier for me to trust her. We became friends. I guess you could say we became lovers--if the one night counts for anything. The next day, both our worlds fell apart. The specifics aren't that important, but...Talia had been a part of some Psi Corps research project. Those bastards programmed her." She spat the words out, infusing them with all the anger and bitterness she still felt. "When her 'programming' was triggered that day, it basically destroyed her personality, and activated another one to take the place of the original. I saw her change completely in a matter of a few seconds. She left the station soon after that. For all I know, the Psi Corps 'researchers' killed her after they got what information they could from her."
"You never got to say good-bye to her."
"Not really. I tried--with the 'alternate' personality. I had hoped that some part of the Talia I knew might be left to hear me. But, it was hopeless--whoever was walking around in Talia's body bore no resemblance to the one I knew."
"God had little to do with it, I'm afraid."
Now it was Tani who reached out to Susan. "I cannot imagine what that must have been like for you. To have your relationship end, almost before it had begun. I...." But, there were no words for this, and she knew it.
"In a way, it worked out for the best. If we'd become more intimate before her 'transformation,' I might have had much more to worry about. You see, I'm a latent telepath myself--though a weak one. I've never been able to read anyone but my mother--though I 'heard' you yesterday in Medlab, and Talia, that one night. My mother taught me how to detect and block a scan, how to fool the tests given in school. Above all, she wanted me to be sure to keep my abilities secret, at all costs. I guess that's why I couldn't quite let myself trust Talia enough to even try to reach out to her mind, or let her know that I had felt her touch mine. If she'd found out--Bester would've come after me." She shuddered at the thought.
"Bester?" Tani spat.
"You know the little worm, too?"
"Yes. He was part of the team that came after us. He had also been there for Katya's initial testing."
"Hmm. Should've blown him out of the sky while I had the chance," Susan mumbled.
"Unfortunately, there are more where he came from."
"Tani, I want you to know--whatever happens, I won't let any Psi Cops get their hands on you while you're on this station."
"I do know that, Susan. I trust you completely in that regard."
"Well, it's getting late. I should probably go, and let you get some rest."
"Yes...." She started to rise along with Susan, but with difficulty. "Aaaahhh." One hand reached for Susan's arm to steady herself, as the other went to her head.
"What's wrong?" Susan asked, concerned.
"It...is nothing. It will pass in a moment."
"I knew I shouldn't have let you drink. Franklin will kill me."
"Not if he does not hear of it. I just need rest, Susan, I will be fine." She started to move toward the bedroom.
"Oh no you don't. Let me help you. I want to make sure you're all right, before I leave." Susan moved to help support Tani, and helped her into the bedroom, pushing her to sit on the bed. "Stay there a moment. Does your head hurt?"
"A little. But, I am..."
Susan cut her off and headed for the bathroom. "I'll be right back."
She was back in a moment. "Here. This will neutralize the alcohol in your system, and this should take care of the headache." She handed each medication to Tani in turn, along with a glass of water, and waited until the woman had taken them.
"Satisfied?" Tani's tone was part annoyance, part weary indulgence.
Susan ignored it. "Yes, as a matter of fact. Now, we're going to get you changed and into bed."
"I am quite capable...."
"Yes, yes. But, you'll find I am quite determined."
"All right," the older woman sighed, "you win." Tani began removing her clothing, as Ivanova dug around for the oversized shirt she had purchased along with the other things that afternoon. "Here. This should do the trick." Susan turned as Tani was removing her shirt, which left her naked except for her underwear. Susan hesitated for a moment, trying not to stare. She recovered fairly quickly, and managed to mutely hold the shirt out and help Tani slip into it. But she felt her body respond to the sight of this woman, in a way that it hadn't--in months. Tani had turned back toward her slightly, and was now buttoning the shirt. Susan hoped that she'd managed to hide her reaction, even as she felt the flush of embarrassment creep into her cheeks.
<I am flattered, Susan.>
Damn, she thought. "Tani, I....I'm sorry."
"Do not be. As I said, I am flattered." She smiled. "However, I am also very tired."
"Yes. I didn't mean..." Ivanova held her hands up in negation and stumbled backwards.
"Susan," Tani soothed, "please sit down. You are making me nervous."
Ivanova sat on the edge of the bed--at some distance from Tani.
Tani spoke calmly and quietly, "Now. Listen. I am not offended, or even shocked, that you find me attractive. You are a very lovely woman, Susan. And a charming distraction. And, should you decide to...make an offer, I am not sure I could easily refuse you. I think we could both benefit from seeking a little comfort in another's arms. But, you must remember that I will--I must--leave here, and soon. That will not change, and I have no wish to add to your wounds. You have lost much already."
"No more than you," Susan protested.
"Perhaps. But, I had Katya's love to sustain me through many years, and some tragedy of my own. It made the difference. She gave me reason to hope. And her love gave me the means to cope.
"And another thing you should remember: We both still carry our ghosts with us. Four in a bed--things would be... A little crowded."
"I understand. I'll....keep that in mind." Susan paused a moment, then put on a mock-stern expression before adding, "Now. Get into bed so I can get out of here."
"You must be an excellent Commander--you are so good at giving orders!" Tani smiled as she climbed into the bed and slipped under the covers.
"Giving orders is my specialty--that...and intimidation." She returned the smile. "Good night."
Susan had turned to leave when a thought struck her, and she turned back to ask, "Tani, when was the last time you heard from your sister?"
Tani seemed surprised at the question, but was soon lost in thought--trying to remember. "It was....about three months before I left Mars. The Resistance managed to smuggle messages between us on occasion. She and her husband were expecting their first child. I may be an Aunt by now! I had almost forgotten..." she smiled, wistfully.
"That's wonderful. What's her husband's name?"
"They live in Krasnoi?"
Ivanova held up a hand. "I'll explain later. Now. Go to sleep. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes, Susan," she replied tiredly.
"Computer--dim lights by ninety-five percent," Ivanova commanded on her way out.
As she headed back toward Blue Sector, Ivanova thought back over the last moments of her evening with Tani. She still felt a little foolish for not being able to control--much less hide--her response. <Not exactly 'professional' conduct. Then again, any chance at strict professionalism pretty much ended when she touched my mind. .It became personal for me, then.> She found herself thinking back to what she'd told Lorien months ago. <'My heart and I don't speak anymore.' Now, if my hormones would just shut the hell up....>
She shook herself out of her reverie, and turned her thoughts to something she might actually be able to accomplish--with help. She tapped her comlink, "Ivanova to Dr. Franklin."
"Stephen, where are you?
"Medlab One. Why?"
"What are you doing there this time of night?--No, nevermind. I need a favor and I needed it yesterday! I'm on my way there now. Ivanova out."
She cut the communication before she could hear Franklin's retort: "Good evening to you, too, Commander. Anything I can do to help...."
At 1300, when Ivanova and Bakunina walked into the conference room, Dr. Franklin and Security Chief Zack Allen were already there, seated at the table. She and Tani took seats opposite the two men, as Captain Sheridan entered and took his seat at the head of the table. Susan proceeded to introduce Sheridan and Allen, then hesitated a moment before introducing Tani, unsure which name to use.
But, Tani sensed her confusion and quickly jumped in, "Natalia Bakunina." Looking at each man, in turn, "Captain Sheridan....Mr. Allen. Please, call me Natalia. You too, Doctor."
Franklin took the opportunity to ask, "Natalia, how are you feeling?"
She stole a quick look at Ivanova, before answering, "Better, thank you."
Sheridan took over at that point, "Well, Natalia. We're missing someone else who..."
At that point, Lyta came in and spoke up as Sheridan looked up, "I'm sorry Captain, I was...."
Tani had turned at the sound of Lyta's voice, and Lyta faltered as she saw the woman. "Dr. Bakunina!"
Tani smiled at the woman, covering her own shock, just a little. "Lyta. I did not know you were here."
"Nor I you....I..."
Before she could continue, Franklin and Ivanova both spoke up at once, "Doctor Bakunina?"
And, then Sheridan spoke up, addressing Lyta, "I take it you two know one another?" This was getting more complicated by the minute, and Sheridan was clearly annoyed that things had gotten so off course so quickly.
"Forgive me, Captain." Lyta moved to take the seat to Bakunina's left. "Yes, I met Dr. Bakunina and her wife once on Earth--I was in an internship with the Psi Cops, and I went along on one of the monthly visits to administer the sleepers to Katya. I met them again years later on Mars--through my contacts in the Railroad and Free Mars."
"So, you're aware of Natalia's activities in Free Mars and the Railroad?"
"To some extent, yes, Captain. We worked together a couple of times."
Sheridan then addressed Bakunina again, "Natalia. I asked Lyta to this meeting partly because we thought she might have some contacts in the Railroad who could help us get you off Babylon 5 and relocated someplace safer. But, the main reason she is here is..."
Tani cut him off at that point and she spoke up, "Is because you want her to scan me. So that you can be sure I am telling you the truth."
She kept her eyes on Sheridan as he answered, "Yes." She then turned her attention to Lyta, as the telepath spoke up.
"Dr. Bakunina, you know that I can't perform any scan without your permission."
"Of course you could child, but I know that you will not. And, call me Natalia, please."
Tani then looked at Ivanova for a moment, saw Susan nod slightly in an attempt to reassure her, and made her decision.
"Captain. I will submit to a scan. I have come to trust Commander Ivanova and Dr. Franklin. They seem to trust you, and I am in need of your help, so I will do my best to cooperate and answer your questions."
"Good. Perhaps you could begin by telling us how you got involved in the Resistance, and with the Railroad."
Tani turned her attention to Lyta for a moment and placed her hand on the table, allowing Lyta to place her hand on top of it, knowing that the physical contact would enhance the mental connection. She took a moment to send the telepath a message. <I do trust you Lyta. And, they already know about my abilities--as well as Katya's.>
Lyta nodded in response, but said nothing.
Tani then proceeded to answer the Captain's query. "I assume Commander Ivanova has told you about my wife's experiences with the Psi Corps. When she decided to run, we had both heard rumors about the Railroad. But, when we first started discussing the possibility of escape, we knew of no one who could help us. We had been discussing it- -arguing really--for several weeks.... I was more worried about the risks than she was, but she was growing desperate.
"Katya worked for a pharmaceutical company--doing research. A colleague of hers was conducting a research trial on a new type of sleeper medication--testing its effectiveness against the drug currently in use. Katya was not assigned to the project due to the conflict of interest--her employer knew she was on the sleepers. But, Katya used her access to the lab to collect samples of both medications. She collected the used vials from the trash and collected the leftover serum until she had a large enough sample of each medication to run tests on. She was determined to find a way to counteract the effects of the sleepers, or at least find some way to neutralize the side effects.
"She knew the danger and was very careful, but she apparently did not hide her activities as well as she thought. She was working in the lab--after hours, which was the only time she could work on her illicit project. One evening, the colleague who was conducting the study on the sleepers caught, and confronted her. He had been aware that something had been happening with the discarded medicine vials and traced the problem to Katya. She made no attempt to bluff her way out of it, because he had made it clear that he had been watching her very closely and knew exactly what she had been doing with the vials. So, she simply confessed to what she was doing, and why. She expected him to threaten to have her arrested--or at least fired, but he offered to help her, instead. He was working with the Railroad. Although his research trials were legitimate, some of the 'volunteers' were rogue telepaths that he was helping to escape.
"So, Katya convinced me to meet with him. I was not sure we could trust him, but we did not have much choice--and no one else to turn to. So, we worked out a plan to escape the next month, after Psi Corps came to administer the sleepers to Katya. He helped get us on a transport to Mars colony in 2257--just after the New Year.
"When our Mars contacts from the Railroad discovered Katya's background in pharmaceuticals, and my medical background--" she looked from Franklin to Ivanova as she continued, "I had had a Psychiatric practice in Moscow--they asked if we would be willing to work with the Railroad. We agreed. We both knew that we were still at risk and always would be, whether we tried to live 'safely' or not. And, we felt an obligation--both to those who had helped us, and to those who might need our help. This made taking the added risk acceptable. So, we were given new identities that enabled us to get jobs in key positions--Katya got a job with Edgars Industries, in the pharmaceuticals division, and I was employed as an assistant to the head of the hospital pharmacy in MarsDome, who worked with the Railroad as well. Thus, Katya and I were in good positions to funnel medical supplies to the Railroad, and we eventually did the same for the Free Mars movement, and later for the Resistance."
"Then, once we had proven ourselves, they began putting my rather rusty medical skills to good use. Minor first aid mostly, but I was quite involved during the Mars Rebellion in '58. And, after Santiago's assassination, as the Resistance movement began to grow against the Clark government, there gradually began to be more need for my medical skills--especially after Clark declared martial law."
Lyta spoke up at this point, "I can vouch for that Captain--she treated me a couple of times. And, I served as a lookout on a couple of supply deliveries in which she was involved."
"Thank you, Lyta," Sheridan said. "Natalia, what was the name of the head of the pharmacy that you worked for? We may need to verify the information."
Tani looked at Franklin, who nodded, before answering. "Dr. Lydia Foster. Captain, if you do find any information about what happened to her, would you let me know? I hope that she was able to hide her own involvement in the theft and smuggling of the drugs to the Railroad and the Resistance by implicating me, but I never got the chance to find out what happened."
"If we find out anything, one of us will let you know."
"Thank you, Captain. There is something else I should tell you, although I am not sure what, if anything, can be done about it at the moment. You saw the information on the data crystal about a new virus that could affect telepaths?" At Sheridan's nod, she continued, "Number One's information called it a 'rumor,' but the only reason anyone in the Resistance knew anything about it, is because Katya managed to access some information on a top secret project being conducted at Edgars Pharmaceuticals. It is not common knowledge. And, Katya was not able to find out much about it, either. From what she did see of the structure of the virus, she said it looked as though it was genetically engineered, and that it appeared to be of alien origin. Captain, it is likely that someone created this virus to specifically target telepaths--and it would be fatal without treatment."
"And, Edgars Industries is working on a cure?"
Tani hesitated a moment at Sheridan's question. "That is difficult to know, based on the information Katya discovered. She saw part of the research on a treatment for the symptoms of the disease that was being developed, but it was not a cure. It is possible that she only saw a small piece of the available data on the virus, but...."
"But, there's something else," Ivanova finished for her.
"She had....no proof. But, Katya said she had a....bad feeling....about the whole thing. What little information she saw was on another researcher's computer, and he had shut down the file quickly once he knew she had seen it. But, she caught some sense of his emotions for a moment--as if he were torn about something--and she was sure that it had something to do with his work on this project. She told me she could not shake this 'feeling of darkness,' as she put it, connected to this project." She shrugged, "But, she was never able to find out anything more about the project before our activities attracted the attention of the Psi Cops. She never saw the man again after that day, and there was no evidence of any such files on his terminal after that--none that she could find. And she never heard any rumors about any such secret project, much less any concrete details, after that."
Sheridan looked to Lyta, who nodded. "She's telling the truth as she knows it, Captain."
"OK. Natalia, do you know how Psi Corps found out about Katya and your smuggling of supplies to the underground?"
"No. Things happened too fast for me to find out. But, someone in the Resistance found out about the investigation--apparently, the Psi Cops discovered Katya's part in it first, and they probably realized that she was a 'blip,' on the run, soon after that. If they had not found out about my participation by that point, they soon would have. But, someone from the Resistance warned Dr. Foster, who warned me. I tried to get to Katya at Edgars Pharmaceuticals--to get her out of there before the Psi Cops got there. I was not quite fast enough, though. We barely made it out of there, and the Psi Cops got close enough to fire a couple of shots at us. We were both injured--Katya worse than myself, but we managed to start a chemical fire in one of the labs, and that slowed them down long enough for us to escape the complex. A rendezvous had been set up with a Resistance contact--in an abandoned part of the underground tunnels that the Resistance used occasionally. We barely managed to find our way into the underground tunnels, using the sewer tunnels, and we met our contact, who was supposed to arrange to get us on a transport off Mars." She fell silent then, and seemed to be struggling for control.
Lyta had begun to sense that Bakunina was trying to hold something back, but she was distracted by Sheridan's next comment before she could probe further.
"Natalia. I know this has been difficult for you, but we need to know what we're up against with Psi Corps. Is there any chance that the Psi Cops think that you're dead, as well as..... Or, are they likely to come after you?"
Lyta sensed the growing anxiety in the woman as she struggled to answer the question.
"Captain. Unless my friends in the underground pulled off some kind of miracle, the Psi Cops probably believe I am alive. As for whether they will pursue me, that may depend on how much they know.... If they are still unaware of my Psi abilities, and if they know only that I provided medical supplies to the Railroad, they may not take the trouble to continue their search for me. But..."
Lyta's horrified gasp cut through the air, and the eyes of everyone on the Command Staff focused on her and Dr. Bakunina.
Lyta had sensed the barriers drop in Natalia's mind--as though the woman had suddenly come to a decision--and was slammed with the intensity of the pain the woman was experiencing, and with the full knowledge of what was behind it. She gripped Natalia's hand in both of hers, and concentrated on trying to comfort the other woman as much as she could--on trying to infuse her with the strength and the control she would need to continue.
Tani had faltered--unwilling or unable to utter the horrible truth, and had all but succumbed to the pain of her loss, and the guilt. The initial added contact of Lyta's mind--of Lyta's reaction echoing through her mind--had made it impossible to continue for a moment. But, then she felt Lyta's reassurance--and, amazingly, her compassion--which, eventually, made it possible to continue. Her eyes locked on to Lyta's for a moment as she sent a weak, <Thank you.> Then, she squared her shoulders--her hand still gripped in Lyta's--and turned back to Sheridan and the others.
She took a moment to address Susan, knowing the young woman's eyes were still focused on her. "Everything I have told you is the truth, Susan, but it was not exactly the....whole truth."
She then continued. "There is a.....danger, Captain. It is possible the Psi Cops believe that I am responsible for the murder of a telepath."
She avoided Ivanova's shocked gaze and focused on Sheridan, who merely asked, "Who?"
"Ekaterina Volkova. My wife." She forced the words out, her voice raw with emotion.
After a moment, she continued. "If the Psi Cops know about this, they will not rest until they find me, and kill me, or..."
"Or worse." Lyta finished.
Susan sat in stunned silence, unsure what to think--or feel--about Tani's confession. She had sensed the other woman's emotions....and someone else's. <Lyta's?> But, the intensity of the grief, and guilt, she'd sensed, as well as the more positive emotions coming from Lyta <Who else could it be?>, made it difficult to sort out her own feelings.
Before she had the chance to really figure anything out, though, Sheridan spoke again.
"Natalia, we'll need to hear the whole story. If we decide to help you, we'll need to be able to prepare for every contingency."
"Yes, Captain." She took a deep breath before continuing. "Everything I told you about Katya's and my escape from the Psi Cops was true. But, I will need to explain something else before I can tell you what happened after Katya and I made it into the tunnels. Katya was suffering from Lake's Syndrome. She was in the early stages, but she knew--we both knew--how the disease would progress. Another advantage of our both having access to medical supplies on Mars was that we could obtain the medication for her pain. She had told me that she did not want to become so blinded by the pain that she was unaware of anything around her. She said she wanted to die with dignity--awake and aware. She made me promise to....help her end it....when the time came." She stopped then, unable to continue.
Everyone remained silent as the woman struggled to compose herself enough to continue. Meanwhile, Ivanova had come to a decision, of sorts. The movement mostly hidden by the tabletop, she slipped her hand onto Tani's right thigh, lending her own support to Lyta's.
Tani was a little surprised at this. She could not quite bring herself to look at Susan, but, after a moment, she gratefully covered Susan's hand with her own, and held it.
"I had made that promise to her--not even knowing whether I would be able to go through with it if...or when, it became necessary. Throughout my medical, and psychiatric training, one thing had been emphasized above all else: 'Do no harm.' I had learned that lesson well. I was as afraid as she about what the end would be like, and I had no wish to see her suffer more than she already was. It was difficult enough at the time, seeing her deal with the pain and the fatigue, and she was still able, then, to keep up with her usual routine--or just too stubborn to cut back. Still, I was not sure whether I could willingly take a life--any life. She was...the most precious thing in my life, Captain. Can you imagine having to make that kind of decision about someone you loved?"
Tani's question was merely rhetorical, and her eyes remained fixed on the tabletop, as they had been. She, therefore, remained unaware of the shadow of pain that crossed Sheridan's face, and of his struggle to control it. She was, however, the only one in the room who was so unaware.
After a moment, she continued, "As I said earlier, Katya was wounded more severely in our escape from the Psi Cops than I was. Getting her out of the Edgars' Industries complex and down into the tunnels was...difficult. I had to support her most of the way. She tried to convince me to leave her and save myself, but I could not. By the time we made it to the rendezvous point, we were late, and our contact had been about to leave. Katya had lost a lot of blood by that point, and could not continue. I convinced our contact to go get a med-kit and bring it to me, but before he left Katya told him to make sure to get a vial of Metazine.
"I knew why she asked for the Metazine. I....I tried to convince her--and myself--that I could take care of her wounds...that she would be all right. But, she knew better. She just said, 'It is time, Tani. You promised.' I tried to convince her to change her mind, and when that did not work, to convince her that I could not do it. But she would not budge. I.... when our contact came back, I gave her an overdose of Metazine, and stayed with her while she.....while she...."
She stopped, shut her eyes tightly to stop the tears that were threatening, and tightened her grip on Susan's and Lyta's hands for a moment. Then, she took a deep breath before speaking. "She.....would have died from her wounds anyway. I know that. I gave her an....easier....death, but knowing that does not make things easier for me.
"Our Resistance contact managed to make other arrangements to get me off Mars--the transport we were supposed to leave on could not delay its departure any longer without arousing suspicion. But, I...would not leave Katya's body until I made him promise to find some way to keep it out of Psi Corps' hands, and try to get it to my sister--on Earth. He had worked with both Katya and I before, so I knew that I could trust him to do whatever he could to keep that promise. I hope that they were successful, but if Psi Corps managed to get their hands on the body, and if anyone performed an autopsy, they might find out that the overdose was the cause of death. I would then be their most obvious, and most convenient, suspect. The Corps could then shift the blame to me, and plead ignorance of the shooting. The murder of a telepath--even a 'blip'--might be enough of an excuse for them to come after me. Then again, Bester may just consider the whole thing finished, once he knows she is dead. He may simply assume she died from the PPG wound and leave it at that. I have no way of knowing what happened--or will happen--Captain, but you should be aware of the possibility."
"Thank you, Dr. Bakunina. I know this has been difficult for you. I'll have to discuss this further with my staff. We need to figure out how to handle this...situation." Sheridan then looked at Lyta, "Ms. Alexander, one of us will fill you in on the details later. We may need your help, also. But, for now, perhaps you could escort Dr. Bakunina back to her quarters?"
"Yes, Captain," Lyta replied.
Tani reclaimed her hands from Lyta and Susan, and addressed Sheridan, before standing to leave. "Thank you, Captain. I will abide by your decision. And, I hope that my being here does not cause any major problems for you."
When Tani and Lyta stood, Ivanova did as well. She caught Lyta's eye and said softly, "Take care of her." It was both a plea--and a threat.Lyta simply nodded, and Tani exchanged a look with Ivanova, before following Lyta out of the conference room.
Once the two women had left and Ivanova had resumed her seat, Sheridan spoke again.
"Well, it would seem we may have our work cut out for us. Stephen, find a way to get in touch with your Resistance and Railroad contacts on Mars. We need to find out as much information--including 'official' and unofficial reports of the incident--about what happened, and the aftermath, as possible. If there's any chance that Bester or any other Psi Cops are headed for this station, we'll need as much warning as possible. There's still too much at stake in the situation with Earth for Psi Corps to find out what our plans are. Get Marcus to check with his Resistance contacts and with the Rangers. While you're at it--see what we can do to get Bakunina off this station safely. But, try to keep it as quiet as possible--we don't want to attract attention to this woman, or to us."
Ivanova broke in at this point. "So, we're going to help her, Captain?"
Sheridan looked from Zack, to Stephen, to Susan as he spoke. "I don't know about Zack, here, but I get the distinct impression from Stephen and you--and Lyta--that this woman would get the help she needs even if it were against my direct orders."
Franklin and Ivanova exchanged a look, but both, wisely, remained silent.
"So," the Captain went on, "I may as well be involved. At least then I can be sure that there are as few repercussions for Babylon 5 and our plans as possible... Besides. She's given us no reason to doubt her word. I'm betting the Resistance will confirm her story."
Lyta and Tani were silent as they headed for Red Sector. After some moments, Tani mentally reached out to Lyta, engaging her in a silent conversation. <Lyta. I want to thank you.....For your help. You made things....much easier for me.>
<Good.> Lyta then concentrated on conveying her sympathy to the woman, as well as her own grief at Katya's death. <I liked Katya.>
<I know. She liked you, too. As do I. I was glad to find out you were all right.>
The 'conversation' lapsed for a moment, before Tani ventured to ask, <You...are a P-5??> she conveyed her disbelief, along with the words.
Lyta merely replied, <I have....changed.>
Tani did not ask, merely muttered aloud, "Apparently."
They continued on to Tani's quarters, and they both hesitated outside the door.
Lyta asked, <Do you want me to stay?>
<No.....I think I need....to be alone. For awhile.>
Lyta took the woman's hand in her own, again, and said, "If you need anything--contact me."
"I will. Thank you. For everything."
<Forgive yourself, Natalia. Katya would want you to.> Lyta hesitated a moment, before adding, <Susan has.>
Tani started a bit at that, but merely replied, <It will....take time.>
With that, they parted.
".... If it came to that, Down Below would be a good place for her to 'get lost'...." Sheridan said.
Franklin spoke up, "Lyta managed to hide out there, after the incident with Talia," he and Sheridan both tried to ignore Ivanova's grimace at the reminder, "--before she managed to get off the station."
"Yes, but could we make sure she'd be safe there. Stephen, have you re-opened your clinic down there?"
At Franklin's shocked stare, Sheridan just said, "Yes. I knew about it. Have you re-opened it?"
"Good. If any Psi Cops show up, you'll gain another 'assistant,' temporarily. Maybe she'll be safer down there, if she can use her medical training as a bargaining chip."
"Maybe you're right. That could work."
"OK. I think we can count on Lyta to protect us from any unauthorized scans--especially if Bester does show up himself. That should allow us to keep her secrets, as well as our own. Ivanova, arrange a schedule to have a White Star constantly on patrol near the jumpgate at the edge of EarthForce's embargo of Babylon 5 space. Instruct them to be on the lookout for any Black Omega Starfuries, but they should also investigate any unidentified ships in the area."
"Well, that's about all we can do for now--until we find out more about the situation. If anything else comes up, or if any of you have any ideas about where we can relocate Natalia--and how to get her there safely--let me know. Dismissed."
Sheridan realized it was nearly 1500--it had been a long meeting. As his officers stood, and moved to leave, he spoke again, "Commander Ivanova, wait a moment."
Ivanova turned back to face Sheridan. "Yes, Captain?"
"Once you take care of setting up the White Star patrols, why don't you knock off early. Things have been relatively quiet on the station--for the moment. You should take advantage of it. Corwin can probably handle anything that comes up--if not, have him contact me."
"I'll tell him." She hesitated a moment, then added, "Thanks, John," before leaving.
Tani was curled up on the bed, asleep. Lyta's earlier words echoed through her dreams: "Forgive yourself, Natalia. Katya would want you to. Susan has." Susan... And then there was Katya, in her arms in that hot, Martian tunnel--and her last words, "Forgive me, Tani. Forgive yourself. Go on--Live. I love you."
And then, even as her dream-self still cradled her dead lover--there was Katya, bathed in light--bending over them both. "Katya!"
"Tani. Do not be afraid to let go. I will always be there, in your heart. But. There will be room for others."
"Forgive yourself, Tani. Susan has."
With that, the image was gone, and Tani jerked awake, and upright. She slumped over, holding her head in her hands, as her breathing and heart-rate slowed, giving way to the tears.
Some time later....
Tani was sitting on the couch, in the dark, her knees drawn up to her chest, a glass of vodka forgotten on the nearby table.
The door chime sounded, and sounded again. The sound slowly seeped into her consciousness, and she finally shifted positions to put her bare feet on the floor.
"Come," she said as she stood--stretching the unused muscles a bit.
The door slid open, and Commander Ivanova stepped in, still in uniform. There was an awkward silence, before her visitor spoke, "The Captain has decided to help you. We've been trying to make arrangements to keep you safe, in case Bester or any other Psi Cops show up. And, we're working on a plan to get you out of here. It may take awhile, but we'll call in every favor we have to, if necessary."
Tani took a deep breath, relieved. "Thank you, Susan. Please tell the Captain I am very grateful. I..."
"I'll be sure he knows," Susan replied. She had not intended to stay. Or had she? She just stood there, unable to move. Tani looked so small, suddenly. Finally, she sighed, and she held Tani's gaze as her hands moved to undo the fastenings on her uniform jacket. She slid the jacket off her shoulders, and adjusted the cuff of one of her shirtsleeves as she moved closer to Tani, who was still standing in front of the couch. She leaned over to place the jacket across the back of the couch. She took her eyes from Tani just long enough to remove the comlink from the back of her left hand and place it on top of her jacket.
She turned back to Tani, and watched the woman watch her as she stepped closer. Susan reached out to grasp one of Tani's hands in her own. Neither woman uttered a word; they merely looked at one another.
Finally, Tani broke the silence. "Susan...."
At the voicing of her name, the last of her resolve drained away. Her other hand moved to caress Tani's face. Then, she did something she had not done....for a very long time. She reached out with her mind..... <Tani.>
Tani shuddered at the contact, and slid into Susan's embrace.
0650, Ivanova's quarters. She started awake at the sound of the alarm, and mumbled, "I hate mornings," before telling the computer to silence the alarm. She turned to her right, and reached out..... But what she didn't find brought her fully awake, and she got up. Grabbing her robe and pulling it on, she made her way to the kitchen, finding Tani up and dressed already. Taking the cup of Caff from Tani's outstretched hand, she said, "Tani, I have to be up at this ridiculous hour, what's your excuse?"
"I woke up an hour ago. There seemed no point in trying to sleep longer."
Susan took a sip of Caff and grimaced. "Ugh. I miss coffee." Her own stash obtained from the hydroponic gardens had run out, and with the Earthforce embargo of this sector, she hadn't managed to find another supply.
Susan looked back at Tani and said, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I am...worried. I have been here ten days, and your people sent messages to Mars a week ago. The silence is becoming deafening."
"I understand. But, remember, we can't risk broadcasting a transmission to the Resistance on Mars--not one that would make sense to them and not give away anything that could be used against you, anyway. We're having to do this through messengers, and that takes time. We should hear something soon, though."
"I know, but the uncertainty is driving me mad!"
"I know. But, our patrols haven't seen anything suspicious in this sector, and no Psi Corps ships at all. And, frankly, if Bester wanted you, and thought you were here, he--or one of his men--would probably already be here."
"Yes. You are probably right. But, the not knowing is so frustrating."
Before Susan could reply, her link chirped. She smiled at Tani, said, "Excuse me," and went to retrieve it.
"Susan. It's Stephen. We received some information from Mars last night."
"I'm not sure. I haven't seen any of it yet. The Captain has it. He just called me to tell me there will be a meeting at 1100, though. I told him I'd pass the news along."
"I'll be there."
"One more thing. About that favor,..."
Susan cut him off before he could continue. "You have it."
"Good, I'll stop by Medlab on my way to C&C. Ivanova out."
She looked up at Tani, who had overheard, "Well, we should know something soon."
"I'll contact you when the meeting is over. I'll tell you whatever I can at that point."
"OK. What was that the Dr. said about a favor?"
Susan just smiled and said, "It's a surprise, I'll tell you later."
"Suzotchka..." she stopped when she saw the look on Susan's face. "Ah, I have stepped on another memory. Your mother?"
"She used to call me that. It's....good...to hear it again. I'm sorry, what were you going to say?" Susan smiled.
"It can wait. You should get ready."
Remembering she had to stop by Medlab, "You're right, I should." She took one last sip of the Caff, rolled her eyes, and said, "Thanks."
After Susan had gone into the bathroom, and she heard the water running, Tani said softly, "Saying 'good-bye' to you will be difficult......For both of us."
After Susan had showered and changed, she found Tani sitting on the couch, reading. When the other woman looked up, she said, "I'll contact you as soon as I can, Tani. Try not to worry."
Tani just nodded in response.
At 1100, Ivanova found herself in the conference room--alone. A few minutes later, someone else entered. As Susan turned, she was shocked to see Tani standing there.
Ivanova stiffened, knowing something wasn't right. "What.....What are you doing here? Where is....?"
Tani just held up a hand to quiet Susan, and said, "No one else will be coming. However, the Captain will be waiting for you in his office when we are finished."
Angry now, "What the hell is going on?"
Tani just sighed and said softly, "Please, Susan, sit. I will explain."
Susan controlled her anger--for the moment--and sat. Tani took the seat next to her, and turned toward Susan before continuing.
"There was an 1100 meeting planned for the Command staff that would not have included me. But...something came up--a possibility for getting me off Babylon 5. The Captain felt it required my agreement, before he could make the arrangements. So, he contacted me. I agreed, but I asked him to allow me to tell you personally. He also told me about the news from Mars. Which would you like to hear first?"
Ivanova's emotions vacillated between her still-smoldering anger, and sadness at the realization that someone else was about to walk out of her life--and the possibility that she might never see Tani again. She had tried to remind herself that Tani would--had to--leave, but it had always seemed like a remote possibility, in spite of everything. And this woman had become such a part of her, and so quickly, that the thought of losing her was....
"Susan?" Tani's voice broke into her thoughts. She wanted to reach out to the young woman--mentally and physically--but she restrained herself and waited.
"Tell me about Mars," Susan managed to croak.
"Katya's death was classified as a 'justifiable' homicide--she was 'fleeing the authorities,' after all." Tani's smile was bitter. "The Resistance apparently had a 'friend' in the local Coroner's office, who contacted my sister on Earth. Eva stepped in as next of kin, and refused the autopsy--as she would have done in any case. I do not know if she was told the full story--probably not, though. The less information she has about Katya's death, and my whereabouts, the less that can be discovered through a telepathic scan.
"So, the body was shipped to Earth. I am not wanted for murder, but the Psi Cops are still trying to find me--for 'aiding and abetting,' I believe. So, I hide for the rest of my life," she shrugged. "But, I can perhaps rest a little easier now. And, Dr. Foster is still working at the hospital pharmacy--and someone else is, no doubt, stealing drugs now, in her place--so, the Corps either did not know about that, or it suits their current purposes to pretend they do not."
Susan spoke up at this point, knowing she couldn't postpone the inevitable much longer. "And where will you be going, now?"
"The medical colony on Beta Iridani. One of Marcus' contacts pilots a shuttle run between Proxima Three and the colony, and he occasionally smuggles in refugees from Proxima. Marcus will use one of the White Stars to rendezvous with the shuttle somewhere between the two systems, where I will transfer to the shuttle. Beta Iridani is receiving a number of the sick and wounded from Proxima, and they need people with medical skills. Sheridan contacted me to ask whether I was willing to put myself back into such a situation." She shrugged again and smiled, "Being a revolutionary has become habit, I suppose--surprising for a Russian, no?"
Tani then turned serious again. "I leave day after tomorrow. Lyta will accompany us."
"Lyta?" Ivanova cried, "What the..."
But, Tani cut her off, her voice still and quiet--forcing the other woman to pay attention. "Susan. I told the Captain I did not want you coming along." She saw the flash of anger in Ivanova's eyes and continued quickly, "Parting will be difficult enough as it is. Do you really want to say your good-byes in the presence of those under your command?"
The fight drained out of Ivanova at that point. Momentarily resigned, she just said, "Damn you for being so sensible about this."
<Suzotchka.> "I do not feel remotely sensible, where you are concerned. But, staying here would not be safe for me. The Captain mentioned Bester's tendency to visit this place often. If he came and I were still here, could you really set aside worrying about me enough to maintain your shields properly? He could easily overpower you anyway, but he would not hesitate to do so if he suspected you were hiding something.
"And, I can be of use on Beta Iridani. Here, I feel as though I am in the way. I need something to do, Susan."
Ivanova sighed in resignation, "I know."
Tani then grasped Susan's hand and squeezed it. "Now. Captain Sheridan is waiting for you. Do not be too hard on him. He has already had to deal with me today, and I--like you--can be quite determined, also."
Susan managed a smile, then, and squeezed Tani's hand once more before she left the room.
Minutes later, Ivanova strode into Sheridan's office and faced him across his desk.
"Permission to speak freely, Sir?"
Sheridan braced himself for the worst. "Granted."
Ivanova leaned menacingly over the desk as she all but shouted, "John, if you ever do anything like that to me again...."
Sheridan held up his hands in surrender. "Understood. I wasn't comfortable keeping you out of the loop like that. But, it seemed important to her that you not find out in the middle of a big staff meeting. And, since most of the arrangements could be taken care of without everyone present, I didn't see the harm...."
"What about sending Marcus and Lyta on the mission?" Susan broke in.
"That made good tactical sense. You are essential to the day-to-day operation of this station. If anything came up in the situation with Earth, I would need your help--either working with me, or taking care of things here. Then there are the Voice of the Resistance broadcasts to consider. Also, it's Marcus' contact they'll be meeting, so it makes sense for him to go. As for Lyta, she could protect against telepathic scans on the off chance that the Psi Cops had set some kind of trap, and she knows Natalia--she would be a familiar presence."
"All right, all right! You win--this time." Susan conceded.
"Good. So....do you think you can manage to finish your shift without killing or maiming any of the junior officers?" Sheridan smiled.
Ivanova allowed a small grin. "Possibly."
"Wonderful. And Susan, as of the end of your duty shift today, consider yourself on leave for the next 48 hours."
"Consider that an order, Commander," Sheridan broke in with his command voice. He then said softly, "Take the time, Susan."
She wondered, not for the first time, if her feelings for Tani were that obvious. Would Sheridan have set up the leave--would he have even considered indulging Tani's request--otherwise? "Yes, sir. Thank you."
When Ivanova came back to her quarters after her shift, she was drawn to the kitchen by the wonderful smells coming from it. Standing in the doorway, she took a deep breath, and sighed. "Hmm. What's that?
Tani turned at the sound, initially unaware of Susan's presence. She set the dish in her hands down on the table, and just said, "Dinner."
Susan gave a short laugh, "I gathered that."
"I thought I should make up for having....compromised....your position with your commanding officer."
"John is also my friend.....And," she smiled, "you're forgiven."
"Good. On both counts. Now that I am absolved of guilt, I can eat with a clear conscience," Tani joked, trying to keep the mood light.
Ivanova looked at this woman who had slipped into her heart so effortlessly. There was so much she wanted to say, but all that came out was, "I will....miss you."
Tani just stepped over and took Susan into her arms. "I know. I know. I just hope that our paths will cross again, someday."
Tani looked into her eyes, and replied, "Yes. I do. You were--are--my...gift from the Universe. I do not know how I would have survived this time without your presence."
"Whatever I've given--you've returned. Ghosts and all, this time with you has been wonderful."
Tani tightened her embrace. "It has been that." After a moment, she backed away slightly and said, "Now. Go and change--so we can eat!"
Susan smiled, and leaned over to kiss Tani, briefly, before complying.
Later that evening, the two women were settled on Susan's couch in companionable silence. Susan suddenly sat up, and cried out, "Damn. I almost forgot!"
"Forgot what?" Tani asked, startled.
"Your surprise! I'll be right back," she said--already moving toward the bedroom. When she came back, she sat beside Tani again and handed her a data crystal.
"What is this?" Tani asked.
"A message. From Earth."
Tani's mouth dropped open. "From Eva?"
"That night," Tani said wonderingly. "All those questions...."
"Yes. I thought it was worth a try, at least, but I didn't want to get your hopes up unnecessarily. It came in last night--along with the other information from Mars. Would you like to be alone while you watch it?"
"Of course not! This is due to your efforts."
With that, they both got up, and walked over to drop the crystal into the reader. "Computer, playback recording," Ivanova commanded.
After a moment, an image of a young woman in her mid- to late-30's appeared. She said, "Talia, I can only hope that this reaches you, wherever you are, and that you can find some way to contact us once you reach Ori--" Her face contorted, slightly, before she continued, "Vega Colony."
Tani said, "Computer, pause playback," and turned to Susan, laughing. "My sister--the actress! One could almost believe that was really a slip of the tongue. Won't the resistance have fun routing my messages to her through the Orion system?"
Susan returned her smile. "Let's just hope it works, and throws Bester off the trail. Or that the Resistance gave her a false location for you to begin with."
Tani instructed the computer to resume the playback, and turned back to the screen. Eva's recording continued, "We were notified of Katya's...death." The woman in the image struggled to compose herself for a moment, before continuing, "I was allowed to claim the body--she lies beside our mother now. Please know that I will honor her memory, and her grave, as I honor those of our parents and brother--as I would honor yours."
For a brief moment, the image changed to that of Katya's grave stone, with three small stones carefully placed atop it. When Eva's image reappeared, she began again, "Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba..." Tani and Susan joined in and echoed Eva's recitation of the mourner's Kaddish. After they were finished, there were silent a long moment, as was the recording. Tani was weeping silently, and Susan quietly took Tani's hand in her own.
After another moment, Eva's image spoke up again. "Talia. There is someone you should meet." Then, a man entered the frame and placed a tiny, newborn in Eva's arms. Sergei announced, "Your niece." Eva then spoke again, "Talia, meet 'Ekaterina Natalia Sergeivitch Kropotkina.'" The child then yawned and stretched out a tiny fist, never bothering to open her eyes. Eva then continued, "She was born two days ago. I--we-- could think of no more fitting a tribute. When the time is right, Ekaterina will learn all about her namesake. And...I hope she will be able to meet her Aunt Natalia, someday.
"Be well, Talia, and be careful. But, find a way to get word to us!" Sergei joined in to echo her final words, "We love you." And then the image faded.
Susan carefully removed the crystal from the reader and handed it to Tani.
As her fingers closed around it, Tani asked, "How? How do I thank you for this?"
Susan reached up to hold Tani's face in her hands, began wiping some of the tears away, and said, "You have."
Two days later, Docking Bay 4, 1400 hours. They had already said their good-byes, but Susan insisted on accompanying Tani to the ship. Marcus and Lyta were already aboard, as was the crew, which left the two women alone.
The silence stretched out between them as they stood staring at one another. Finally, Tani broke the silence. "I must go, Susan."
"I cannot tell you what this time has meant to me."
<You have, Tani. Every time you touched my mind.>
<One more time, then.> and Tani then concentrated on sharing her feelings with Susan.
Susan drew in a ragged breath at the intensity of the contact, as she reciprocated and opened her mind to the other woman. Then she said, fiercely, "Find a way to keep in touch with me!"
"I will. You do the same."
They embraced one last time, and Tani whispered, "Do not be so afraid to listen to your heart, Suzotchka. It is stronger than you believe."
As they separated, Susan could only nod in response. She watched the older woman board the White Star. She then left the docking bay and made her way to the nearest observation port. She watched as the ship disembarked, and headed for the jumpgate. She said softly, "'May gods come between you and harm in all the empty places where you must walk.' Ya tebya liubliu, Tani." She stood there, alone, staring out at space, long after the ship had disappeared through the jumpgate.
"Daragaya moiya" = my dear
"Bozhe moiya" = "My God"
"Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba..." = 1st part of the 1st line of the Mourner's Kaddish (recited by the mourners) translates (possibly roughly) to "Magnified and sanctified be God's great name..." from the Yiddish
*"Ya tebya liubliu" = Russian for 'i love you' (or so i hope--gotta check w/my source in this area to be sure...)
Return to Babylon 5 Fiction
Return to Main Page