Disclaimer: "Babylon 5" has been through so many hands that I'm not sure who it belongs to, but I do know it isn't me. I'm just using a couple of the characters in a manner that is not intended to infringe on the right of those who do own it. (In other words, I'm not getting a cent out of this.)
Please do not use this story without author's permission.
Warning: Women are in love with each other in this story, however there is no graphic sex depicted. (Maybe a kiss or two.)
The Way Back Home
by Vaxen firstname.lastname@example.org
The door between the main corridor and Commander Ivanova's quarters whispered shut, closing out the noise and harsh light of the station. For the first time since morning she had time to think about herself. As second in command of Babylon 5, there were days when the exhaustion of duty left little time or energy for thought of any kind. Sometimes she felt as if she operated on reflex and instinct alone. Aside from the normal duties involving the movement of cargo and deploying and docking ships, her burden had lately been aggravated by the Shadow wars. However, this day was over and, barring a disaster, the next 12 hours were hers.
A single, dim lamp burned on the bar. Ivanova opened the collar of her uniform and poured herself a drink. She warmed the glass in the palms of her hands and breathed deeply of the vapors as they rose from the amber liquid. A smile played across her lips, but her eyes remained sad.
"A credit for your thoughts," came a voice from a dark corner of the room. Someone, a woman, was seated there. Susan could just make out the faintly illuminated surface of two long, slender legs that terminated in a pair of stylish high heels.
"Who is it?"
"I hoped you'd remember me longer than this."
"Talia?" Susan virtually breathed the name.
The legs uncrossed and the rest of the figure moved into the light, revealing B5's former resident telepath.
"But Bester," Susan stammered, struggling for control, "Bester let us believe you were dead."
"Bester couldn't kill me. He only thinks I died, just like he thought the underground railroad was destroyed."
"What are you doing here? How did you get here?"
"How I got here doesn't matter. The reason I've come here is to ask for your help."
Susan was so stunned at seeing Talia alive that she had forengott the circumstances of their last encounter. Her posture stiffened as she glared at Talia.
"I wouldn't spit on you if you asked for water. You're not Talia. She's dead and you killed her. Now get out of my quarters and off this station before I turn you over to Psi Corps myself."
"I'm not doing this very well. You don't understand," Talia pleaded, stepping forward with her arms open.
Susan jerked back and assumed a defensive stance. Talia's eyes dropped to the floor as she wrapped her arms around herself.
"I'm not that person. I never was." She didn't know if Susan would believe her. She wasn't sure she would be forgiven even if she was believed, but she had to try. "You remember Jason Ironheart. Before he left he gave me some very special gifts. One of them was the ability to implant images, to make people believe what I want them to believe. It's a strong gift - even stronger than the resources of a P12 like Bester. All of the gifts are that way. Aside from Ironheart, I'm probably the strongest telepath that ever lived."
"I'm very happy for you," Susan remarked sarcastically. "I'm not famous for my patience, so if you'd like to make a point..."
"That is the point. I could make you believe anything I wanted, but that isn't how I want things to be between us."
A wedge of doubt pushed its way into Susan's convictions. "Telling me this doesn't make it true. You told me Talia was destroyed, that there was nothing left of the Talia I knew. Where you lying then or are you lying now?"
"I was lying then."
"Now I know you're not Talia. She wouldn't have done that to me."
She could see the suffering in Susan's face and the weight of it weakened her knees and pressed her into the nearest chair.
"I had to. I hated it, but I had to. I owed that much to Jason and all the other telepaths that Psi Corps used for its experiments. I swear, I didn't know about the implanted personality until Lyta transmitted the password. I didn't know until then that I was one of their experiments. I allowed the implant to assert itself, while I hid in the background. It was my turn to watch and wait. I wanted to know why Psi Corps had done it. I couldn't believe they would go to all that trouble just to spy on the command staff of Babylon 5. There had to be something more." Talia's fingers rolled into fists then flexed open again. "I watched while that monster said those awful things to you, knowing I had the power to stop it, but also knowing that Psi Corps had to be convinced and that it was the only way. And it was all for nothing. I gave the Psi Corps more credit than they deserved."
"Nothing but small minds," Talia continued, bitterly. "At the end of our last interview, Bester picked a gun off the desk, pointed it at me and fired. I let him see what he wanted to see. It was over and the only place I wanted to go, I couldn't. All I wanted was to come back to you, but the implant had ruined anything there might have been between us."
"Let's say I believe you and at this point that would still be a rash assumption, why did you come back now?"
Talia smiled mirthlessly. "It sounds absurd, but I'm here to save humanity." Susan made no comment so she continued. "Psi Corps has made a deal with the devil. The Shadows have offered them technology that will enhance a normal telepath's ability tenfold. They want to create more super telepaths, but they're even more interested in the effect it has on normals. Every human has latent telepathic powers, but most are so weak they're practically nonexistent. They don't know they're there. This technology enhances that latent power 1000 times. Normals can't handle it. Their minds turns against them in a suicidal frenzy and they literally destroy their own bodies with their telepathic powers."
"If this is true..."
"What do I have to gain from lying?" Talia shouted in frustration, almost immediately regretting the impulse.
Susan's eyes flickered, but she maintained her composure. "And what do you want me to do?"
"There's a rendezvous between Psi Corps and one of the Shadow's minions scheduled to occur in hyperspace. This is where the exchange will take place. I need you to get me there."
"And what do the Shadows get out of the deal?"
"An ally, or at least that's what they think. Psi Corps believes they can control the Shadows. Maybe they figure humanity will kill itself off and that will be one less enemy to fight."
"It's a good story, but I need proof and I'm still not sure who you really are."
"What do you want me to do - take control of someone?"
"That would only prove you had the ability. It wouldn't prove to me you were Talia."
"What can I do to convince you?"
"Submit to a scan."
"I could manipulate any telepath as easily as I did Bester?"
"Not the one I have in mind."
"Who is it?"
"Alexander?!" Talia snorted. "She's barely a P5."
"There've been some changes in her since you last met," Susan assured her. "I'll contact her and see if she's willing. Have a seat." Ivanova went to the bedroom.
The face of Kosh's assistant appeared on the communications screen. "Commander Ivanova, I'm afraid Ambassador Kosh isn't available right now," Lyta said, assuming she was calling in an official capacity.
"Actually, it isn't Kosh I wanted to talk to - it's you, it's personal. I know we've never been friendly, but I need to ask a favor of you."
Lyta squinted. "I take it you need to scan someone and I'd guess it's probably without their consent."
"Yes and no. I need a scan, but the party is willing."
"Then it shouldn't be a problem. I'm very tired. Can it wait until tomorrow morning?"
Susan thought about it a moment. She wasn't keen on the delay, but if Lyta was tired she might be more susceptible to the abilities that Talia claimed to have. "Tomorrow is good."
"Then I'll meet you in your office at eight."
"Could you come to my quarters instead?"
Lyta glanced at her quizzically. "In your quarters then."
"Thanks," Susan said and broke the connection.
She returned to her main living area to find Talia deep in thought. There was peace and grace in every angle and expression of the woman. In an unguarded moment Susan spoke, "Credit for your thoughts."
"I was thinking of you," she responded without hesitation. Talia saw the look of regret for the momentary indulgence cloud Susan's face as the suspicion returned. "It was difficult to earn your trust. I know the implant told you she made me do it, but I did it for myself. She believed it. I had to let her. It took a long time to get close to you and now we're back at square one."
"We're a lot farther back than that. And what if Lyta hadn't arrived and sent the password when she did. We've broken away from Earthforce now, but then we were part of a secret conspiracy, a conspiracy the implant was designed to uncover. What would have happened if we'd let you into our confidence, if you had become a member of our conspiracy?"
"I would never have betrayed you. I'd have destroyed the implant."
Susan gave her a doubtful look.
Talia said, "I never told anyone you were a telepath."
"You scanned me," Susan snarled at her.
"No, I would never do that without your permission, but I told you what it was like when telepaths make love. I didn't have to scan you. We were in physical contact and you were projecting. You did say anything, so I let it pass."
Susan remembered those few precious nights of passion and a part of her wanted to trust this woman. The fact that she was handling this matter herself and had not notified Sheridan confirmed her reluctance. She looked at the blanket draped across her arm, then handed it to Talia. "Lyta will be here in the morning at eight. You can sleep on the sofa."
It was a restless night for Ivanova. Just as her mind began to wander down the diverging paths of possibilities, the knowledge that Talia - a woman she thought was dead, a woman whose name she had spoken in the same sentence with the word 'love' - was in the next room and that knowledge would startle her awake. It was almost a relief when it was time to get up and prepare for Lyta's arrival. After she showered and dressed, she checked on Talia, who was still asleep on the couch.
"Talia," she said, "get up. Lyta will be here soon."
She glanced at Susan through bleary eyes, amidst moans of protest. She took a deep breath and wrinkled her nose. "I need to shower."
"It's almost eight. There isn't time."
"It won't take but a minute."
"Maybe you could just make us think you don't smell," Susan suggested.
"You don't believe I can do any of the things I say. I'll prove it to you."
"Stay out of my mind," Susan warned.
"Maybe a telekinetic demonstration. Do you have a metal fork?"
"Get it and put it on the table."
As soon as Susan placed the utensil on the table it flipped off onto the floor. At first she though that Talia had merely moved it, but a closer examination revealed that the handle had been twisted in a loop and the tines were jutting in four different directions.
"Believe," Talia stated and walked out of the room.
Susan was still studying the fork when the chime sounded, announcing Lyta's arrival. She ushered her in, but before Ivanova could explain, Talia appeared from the bedroom, toweling her damp hair.
"This is who you want me to scan," Lyta said, the revulsion obvious in her voice.
"Nice to see you too, Lyta."
"Stop it," Susan snapped at Talia, then turning her attention back to Lyta continued, "She claims that she is the real Talia and that the implant has been destroyed. Can you tell me if it's true."
"I should warn you that her telepathic power has been enhanced," Susan said.
"Have they?" Lyta commented with a flick of her eyebrow. "This could be interesting."
The smug look on Talia's face disappeared as Lyta touched her mind. Their eyed fixed in strained concentration. Minutes passed - longer than any scan Ivanova had ever witnessed - until both women broke the contact simultaneously, massaging their temples.
"What happened to you?" Lyta asked.
"I might ask the same of you," Talia responded.
"Vorlon," said Lyta.
"Ironheart," said Talia. They nodded in understanding.
Susan was getting restless. "What about the implant?" she blurted.
"I couldn't find any trace of the implant, but she's blocking something."
"Susan, are you sure you want her to know everything I know?" Talia asked.
Susan realized what that information would be. She also realized that it could be used as an excuse to withhold something else. Her mother's admonition to tell no one battled with her need to know. "Yes," she replied. The second scan took only a second.
"As far as I can tell, the implanted personality is gone," Lyta declared. "And you don't have to worry, Commander Ivanova, I suspected you were a latent telepath when you were able to block me from sending the password."
Susan didn't know whether to feel angry or relieved by the news. "Thank you for your help. I'll see that you're compensated."
"Your not getting rid of me that easy. I want to know what's going on."
Susan looked at Talia and Lyta followed her gaze. Talia hesitated. The more people who knew, the less chance she had of succeeding.
"Come on, Psi Corps, I want to hear it," Lyta taunted.
"I'm as rogue as you are now."
"I know," Lyta acknowledged. "You're after some Shadow technology that enhances the senses of teeps and kills normals and you need Susan's help, but I don't understand what's in it for you."
"You're very good. I thought I'd scrambled that better."
"Believe me, you didn't make it easy. Now, why?" Talia gazed at Lyta, transmitting the answer telepathically. Lyta responded, "I understand."
"I need to dry my hair and dress," Talia said. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
"What was her reason?" Susan asked when Talia was gone.
"She wouldn't want me to tell you."
"I want to know."
"It was you."
"For all intents and purposes, you are a normal. You're one of the ones who would self-destruct." Lyta gave her a moment to absorb the full meaning. "So you're going to get her to hyperspace and then..."
"...and then," Talia picked up the thread, "I'll make all parties believe that the exchange has taken place. Psi Corps will attempt to use the bogus enhancer, it won't work and that will be the end of that beautiful friendship. Meanwhile, I will destroy the real technology."
"Sounds like a dangerous plan," Lyta commented.
"Dangerous?" Susan exclaimed. "It sounds simple enough."
"They had to test the technology, enhance a human telepath," Lyta speculated. "There's a good chance the test subject will be there. If he or she is stronger than Talia..."
Talia said, "I'll handle it."
"I could come along," Lyta suggested.
"No," Talia protested.
"Yes," Susan insisted. "There would be less risk with two of you."
Lyta added, "There would also be less risk to Ivanova."
"Susan isn't going," Talia objected.
"You didn't think I was going to let you take off with one of B5's fighters, did you?"
It was obvious from Talia's expression that was exactly her intention.
"Think again. How soon does this rendezvous take place."
"Tomorrow, maybe sooner."
"Then we should leave now, while things are still quiet on the station. Are you ready, Lyta?"
"I'll need to contact Kosh and grab a few things. I'll meet you there," Lyta called back as she let herself out.
"The three of us aren't going to fit into a fighter," Talia objected.
"I think I can arrange something."
The corridors were fairly empty and they used the remote routes through brown sector to make their way to the Whitestar's docking bay. They stood for a moment admiring the beauty of the ship. Lyta soon joined them. The area seemed clear as they crossed the deck.
"You ladies going somewhere?" Garibaldi called as they approached the ramp. They turned, he recognized Talia, then his face went slack.
It took Ivanova a few seconds to realize what had happened and she turned angrily to Talia. "You're controlling him," she accused.
"I have to. He'll try to stop us."
"Leave him alone," Susan demanded. "I can handle this."
Talia nodded and the life returned to Garibaldi's features. Ivanova explained the situation.
"I hope you know what you're doing," Garibaldi finally relented, after a fierce attempt to talk her out of it.
"I hope we do, too," Susan agreed.
"And as for you," he said, looking at Talia, "after getting a taste of your power I just want to say that I'm sorry for every lewd thought I ever had about you."
"You say it, but you don't mean it," Talia retorted.
"Are you reading my mind." Garibaldi asked.
"She doesn't have scan you to know that," Susan quipped.
"Be careful," he admonished.
The Whitestar arrived at the coordinates. Power was reduced to minimum, leaving the ship to drift and, with a little luck, go unnoticed by later arrivals.
"The Mimbari aren't much for creature comforts," Talia remarked when Ivanova showed her to a sleeping quarters.
"Sometimes you have to make your own comfort," Susan said as she dragged the pads off their slanted boards and threw them on the floor.
"You always did know how to get things done." Talia automatically caressed Susan's arm. Susan flinched. "You still don't trust me?"
"I trust you. I know it's you, Talia, but then again it isn't you. I have to admit, what you did with the fork and to Garibaldi frightens me a little."
"And so goes the history of telepaths and normals - one having and one fearing the other because they don't have. That's how witch hunts happened. That's why Psi Corps was created. The Corps was intended to control telepaths, to give normals a nice, secure feeling that their thoughts would be their own. They gathered all the telepaths together in one place to protect themselves, but they didn't realized that at the same time they were concentrating all that power in one place with a few minds, twisted by hate, controlling it all. We couldn't stand alone against the prejudice of millenniums, but together we could rule the world. Most rogues would be content to coexist with normals or live a segregated life in a colony of telepaths, but Psi Corps wants to control normals or eliminate them."
"And here we are," said Susan, "me, not quite a normal, and you, more than a telepath. A fine couple of misfits."
They smiled and this time it was Ivanova who touched Talia. She reciprocated, pulling Ivanova closer until their lips met and their mouths merged in passionate desire. All their misfortunes were forgotten in the pleasure of that contact. They continued to kiss and extended their caresses as they sank to the cushions on the floor.
"Two jump points opening," Lyta announced over the sounds of heavy breathing.
"Of course," Ivanova rasped in frustration.
"I have to get to the command center," Talia explained. "It will be easier with a line of sight."
"I'll come with you."
The two ships were nothing but specs in the distance turbulence of hyperspace.
"I can feel him," Talia whispered.
"Yes, but the important thing is that he hasn't found us. How can I help?"
"Take my hand." Lyta hesitated to touch the hand that stretched out to her. She'd been a rogue for years, but it was still hard to break the Psi Corps training that mandated all telepaths to wear gloved. With wariness, she wrapped her hand around Talia's and immediately sensed the strength of their combined force. Lyta followed her lead as they simultaneously probed the minds of the ships' inhabitants. A pod had been released from the Shadow vessel and was drifting in the direction of the Psi Corps ship. It veered off course, heading swiftly toward the Whitestar. To Ivanova, it looked like a missal about to collide with them, but instead of impacting with the hull, it passed through it and came to rest on the floor.
It was a featureless box about one cubic meter in size. Ivanova felt the command chair begin to shift under her and jumped out of it. It's structure shifted shape and color until it resembled the box on the floor and then it burst through the side of the ship.
It had all taken place in silence. Ivanova was startled when a voice in her head said, "He's sensing something." Ivanova did not hesitate. In an almost reflexive motion, she placed her hand over the joined hands of Talia and Lyta. Susan experienced a momentary lightheadedness, but there were no further voices and she could see the expression on Talia's face relax. All was once again quiet, until two jump points opened in the distance and the Talia and Lyta exhaled in weary sighs, then looked at Ivanova's hand where it still rested on theirs.
"I wondered were that little extra help came from when we needed it," Talia said, gracing Susan with a warm smile. "How about taking us home now, Commander."
Talia awoke to find Ivanova sitting just out of her reach on another misappropriated pad with her back against the wall. She thought how handsome Susan looked in her uniform, but was saddened by the distant look on her face.
"Susan," she called softly.
"You're finally awake. I was beginning to worry." She slid over and grasped Talia's hand.
"She's asleep in another room. I never knew telepathy was such hard work." Ivanova's attempt at humor lacked joy. "You won't be staying on B5, will you?"
"No." Talia brought Susan's hand to her face and stroked it with her cheek. "Psi Corps is bound to find out that I was there. One day I may be able to face them, but right now I need answers and I won't find them on Babylon either."
"It would probably be best if you didn't go back at all."
"You set a course for somewhere else already," Talia said, her face showing surprise then concern. "I wasn't scanning."
"I know you weren't. I think I'm beyond caring if you were. I just wish you could stay."
"I'd suggest you come with me, but I know you have responsibilities and I don't think you would like the kind of life we would have to live."
"I think if you asked me I'd give it all up and say, 'To hell with the consequences,' but I know you won't ask."
"Sounds like a stalemate." Talia pulled Ivanova's hand up and maneuvered it to bring the arm around her shoulder. She settled her head on the commander's thigh. "How long until we reach my new home?"
"Two hours, maybe a little less." Ivanova combed her fingers through the fine blonde tresses that dispersed across her lap and wondered when or if they would ever share a moment like this again.
"I don't want to say good-bye to you in front of Lyta."
"I understand." After a long pause she said, "Good-bye, Talia.
"Good-bye, Susan." Neither woman moved until a chime disturbed their solitary musings.
"That will be Lovalt Outpost contacting us with docking instructions. I better respond before they send the troops after us."
Talia got to her feet then helped Ivanova, pulling her into a tight embrace. She released it just enough to allow her to find Susan's lips. Susan felt a tendril of thought touch her mind. The old reflex urged her to resist, but the delicate persuasion of that thought coerced her mind to open just as the tongue that probed her mouth caused her lips to separate and welcome that essence that was Talia. Ivanova would feel the pleasure is gave to Talia and she knew by some means that defied explanation that Talia could feel the love that she had been unable to express. Knowing gave her even more joy - joy that seemed to build in a feedback loop of mental exchange until both women were weeping from the love of knowing one another and the anguish of parting.
Delenn met Ivanova when the Whitestar had docked. "I hope your mission was successful."
"It was. I'd tell you about it, but I'm afraid it would sound like bad science fiction."
"There is a rumor circulating around the station that Talia Winters was here. Your mission wouldn't have anything to do with that."
"Yes, it did, but it really was Talia - not the implant."
"I trust you, Susan. And if you trust Talia, that is all I need to know. It must have been very difficult for you to see her again." Both women were thinking about the admission Ivanova made at the Mimbari rebirth ceremony.
"I told you I thought I loved Talia. I was wrong. I don't think I love her, I know I do. She says that one day she'll come back to me if she can."
"What will you do?"
"What can I do? I'll wait."