The Swirling Dark
This story takes place during "The Face of the Enemy"
Susan Ivanova paused at the entrance to the holding cell, far off the main decks of Babylon 5. From her position she could barely see the occupant--a slender man, with vacant eyes. What am I doing? I need on be on the bridge of the White Star... Still, she remained. She had questions for this man--questions that would not wait.
(c) Copyright 1997 by Erinyes. All Rights Reserved.
His husky voice sounded eerily. "It is the poetry of betrayal that sets the dance--duplicity spins webs of light, until the shape of mercy is lost in flames."
The words chilled Ivanova. Is this a coincidence? She had returned to Babylon 5 from the helm of the flagship of the White Star Fleet, where she had been preparing to lead the Earth Invasion force. As much as she had longed for command, she had never imagined it would fall on her in such tragic circumstances.
The facts were plain--to some extent: Captain John Sheridan, leader of Babylon 5 and the White Star Fleet, was gone--captured by President Clark's Earth Forces. The person who had summoned him from the relative safety of the White Star Fleet was his former Security Chief Michael Garibaldi.
Garibaldi. The thought of her erstwhile friend stiffened her. Garibaldi had saved her life, risked his life for her, and his companions. Sheridan had trusted him--even after Garibaldi had resigned as Head of Security. Could she believe Michael had betrayed them--all of them? She hadn't paid much attention to Michael recently, but she could not conceive that he would have delivered the Captain to almost certain death. The enormity of this treachery choked her. If Michael was capable of this act, why hadn't they--she--his friends!--realized it? Maybe the tormented soul before her could give her the information she so desperately sought.
A stifled groan wafted from the detention cell. Susan drew nearer. The thin man was still staring at the ceiling, but his eyes were no longer blank. The dark orbs seethed with anger, hatred and...pain.
"Amis." There was no response. Susan motioned the attendant to extinguish the force field. After she entered, he replaced it, then obeyed her motioned order to withdraw.
Amis was lying on the built-in cot. Heavy, soft mitts were fastened to his hands--minimum restraints to prevent him from injuring himself. So far, he had shown no signs of hostility toward anyone else.
Normally, such a lurker would have been dispatched Below. Babylon 5's resource were finite--none to spare for under-performing life forms. Amis, however, had been special to Garibaldi--a living memory of the horrors of war, the helplessness of Gropos--pawns in machinations of which they were only dimly aware.
Amis had been a ground pounder--a foot soldier, stationed on a planet that had been invaded by a horrific creature, a minion of the destructive Shadows. The creature killed and eviscerated most of its victims, but an unfortunate few, including Amis, were kept alive--barely--to sustain the creature. This death-in-life had driven Amis mad. After his rescue from the planet, Amis had somehow landed on Babylon 5. Homeless, he had been living a life of relatively harmless lunacy, when an ancient sleep ship, the Copernicus, had accidentally brought the creature to Babylon 5. Its arrival had stirred terror in Amis--and awakened some residual tentacle in his mind. Amis had sensed the creature's presence, and became the bait that led to its destruction.
After the creature's demise, Amis seemed more lucid, as if the part of the creature lodged in his psyche had finally been exorcised. For a while, it seemed that Amis would rejoin the light permanently. Garibaldi had arranged for him to be trained in security. Amis had blossomed, proving his worth on numerous assignments, developing a special relationship with Garibaldi.
Then Amis had begun to revert. Soon after Captain Sheridan had gone to Z'ha'dum, home world of the Shadows, Amis had begun his slide back into darkness. Soon, his fellow officers remarked that Amis seemed unable to concentrate at briefings, was unreliable in the field, talked to himself incessantly. Garibaldi, who had gone missing himself for a time, had listened, but personnel management issues had not been a priority. The Shadow War and the ongoing hostilities with Earth loomed above everything else.
Moreover, Garibaldi himself had changed. After Sheridan had returned from Z'ha'dum, most of the crew had noticed a difference in the commanding officer, but few had remarked upon the difference in the Security Chief. Those that perceived the change attributed Garibaldi's attitude to physical or mental stress, barely noticing that Michael Garibaldi was growing harsher and more remote each day.
Then Garibaldi had resigned as head of security, developed a marginal business in "finding things", then disappeared from the station, without a word. Again, Susan had been too absorbed in her duties to miss him--or to be concerned by what was happening to Amis. Gradually, however, the reports of Amis' strange behavior were growing too numerous to disregard. Finally, one night, she had been called to the Med Lab.
Amis had been found wandering through the decks near what had been Garibaldi's quarters. He was raving, and, it appeared, hallucinating. When Security found him, he was huddled in corner, whimpering. According to the official report, he was tearing at his head, weeping bitterly and begging some unseen assailant to leave him alone.
When Susan had arrived, she was irritated. An errant Security officer was a nuisance she didn't need. Seeing the unkempt figure of Garibaldi's friend had increased her ire. Another little mess Michael left behind.
Amis had been mumbling. Impatiently, Susan had reviewed the reports and had ignored his noise, until she had felt a tiny prickle in her consciousness--a feeling Susan had trained herself to ignore.
Susan's mother had been a telepath, and she herself had a latent telepathic power. Rarely, however, was this power stimulated. In fact, she had trained herself to ignore the signals. Few on Babylon 5 knew Susan's secret--and John Sheridan had been one of those few.
This particular signal could not be ignored, however: through Amis' ranting came a coherent message--one meant just for her. Fear gripped her. The content of the message was startling. Amis "spoke" to her of the security measures that Susan knew Sheridan was contemplating--measures unknown to anyone but Sheridan and herself.
Susan, startled, had asked the doctor how long Amis had been raving. The doctor shrugged. It was clear from his response that Amis' ranting meant nothing to him. He had restrained the man because he was suicidal. As a member of the security forces, Amis posed an inherently dangerous situation. The current security chief, Zack Allen, was occupied elsewhere. What did Ivanova want him to do?
Susan had dismissed the doctor, and sat next to the restrained man. Bound in swaths of clear fabric, he struggled uselessly. She leaned close to his face. As his eyes focussed, a small smile crossed his lips.
"Susan. Good of you to come."
She pulled back. This man hardly knew her--certainly would have never called her by her first name. The hearty tone, the implied camaraderie, the brief sincerity of the greeting--imparted even more surprises. It was Amis' voice in her ears, but Sheridan's in her mind.
Foolishness! she had told herself. Yet.... "Amis..."
"Susan." His voice was gently reproachful. "You can call me John"
This is a trick! "Okay...John. You were...talking about the security measures planned for the jumpgate." She drew in a deep breath. "...The use of Minbari technology to predict the direction of jumpers."
Amis looked confused. "It's the holiest of nights--can we fail to observe? Fireflies in the ink singing of past whales and future perfects. Notions of honor, nations of pain--Dear God, what pain will come!" His voice drifted off. Susan waited, almost hoping that the rants would continue. If this is just some babble...
Amis struggled against his restraints: "Not Minbari, nor Delenn. Deeper, further, no light, all shadows, all swirling....falling into the dark." The pleasant demeanor snapped back into place. "Susan, you know it isn't Minbari technology--it's Vorlon. What is this, a test? Well, teacher, did I pass?"
Susan felt her body turn to lead. Only John and she knew the origins of the new jumpgate device. How did this lunatic find out? She had nothing against Amis in particular--he was just inexplicably tied to Garibaldi--and Garibaldi was pretty low on her list nowadays. If he were a spy, however, punishment would be swift ...and final.
Still, the prickle in her mind prompted her to try again. "Uh, John, why are you talking to me--here--from this body?"
"Fallen angels left for dead, revive the flowers cast....where? Darkness fell to fertile ground and blossomed in a grave."
This is getting nowhere. She was about to leave when Amis threw himself against the restraints. "Don't you see? He left pieces in me--and I in him? Incomplete, open, waiting for the seed, waiting for death, the final sleep..."
Straining, he hissed, "The tool of the shadows, left me bleeding, raw, ready for the return of life--life snatched from the shadows. But it wasn't my life...it isn't my voice...I can't shut it out...I can't make anyone hear it...." Exhausted, he slumped back onto the examination table.
Stunned, Ivanova had tried to gather her thoughts. Has the creature returned? There had been no reports of the kind of death and mutilation that had accompanied the creature. In any case, how did Amis know about the jumpgate technology? Bewildered, she turned again to Amis, and was surprised to find him looking at her calmly.
"You want to know why I am talking to you." Again, the strange inner voice reverberated. "Susan, something happened on Z'ha'dum--something I can't even begin to explain. It's as if a piece of me were lost, part of my spirit chipped off, and landed...here. It's me, Susan...in flashes of light... An ironic symmetry--two souls damaged by the Shadows...intersecting...for a moment."
This is all perfectly obscure! Susan grumbled to herself. If this is Sheridan, he better be able to prove it! On the other hand, the Captain has been acting--differently. Try as she might, Susan could not remember hearing a cheerful tone from Sheridan since his return from Z'ha'dum. A tone--like the one Amis was using...
"Um, John...where is your father?"
Amis' eyes grew serious. "You know I can't tell you that, Susan. It's safer if you don't know. Clark would stop at nothing to compromise our position. My father is my responsibility--I can't make him yours."
Susan swallowed her astonishment. A few days before, Sheridan had used these exact words in answer to the same question. Even the husky tone--the cadence was the same. They had been alone at the time, in a secured area. Still...
"John, I have one more question."
Amis waited silently.
"During the Shadow War, I asked you a favor.... Do you remember?
An affectionate gravity passed over his face. "You asked that I not protect you--not leave you behind in the heat of battle."
"And would you have?"
A vivid flush passed over his face, but his dark eyes met hers fully. "I don't know, Susan. You are a fine officer, too good, perhaps, to be a second-in-command. If I were to go down in battle, part of me would want you at my side. Part of me, however, would want you to live--to escape.... You rejected that option, and you were right."
Susan contemplated the man silently. Is this my imagination, or would John have said exactly that--had I ever asked?
The opportunity for answers had passed: Amis' eyes lost focus, and the stern demeanor was replaced with a silly grin: "Beyond Io hides a maid, met her once--stayed and played. Rocked and rolled and ran away, I'll be back with her some day."
For a while, Susan had tried to speak rationally with Amis, but he had never returned to a lucid state. Coldly, she analyzed the situation: Whatever the source, Amis had confidential information. If he did have some form of mind link with the Captain, Amis could receive highly sensitive information. If that information leaked out, picked up by an undercover Psi Cop, the consequences could be devastating. It was too dangerous to send him back Down Below, where the hoards of lurkers could include any number of undesirables. He couldn't stay in Med Lab--anyone could wander in. Besides, we'll need the space for the wounded...
Her decision made, Susan rose. Waiting for the doctor's return, she had felt a twinge of regret. Nothing more to be done, she thought brusquely.
"Send him to detention block C."
"Solitary confinement?" The doctor's tone had been merely curious.
"Yes. No visitors except for essential medical personnel--and myself."
And so she had consigned this man, with his hidden path to the Captain's mind, to isolation. For a brief second, she had considered trying to get word of Amis' situation to Garibaldi, but dismissed the idea. She had confirmed her decision with Sheridan, but his response had been muted. A flicker ofinterest passed over his face when she mentioned the mind link, but he had dismissed it quickly. Of course, he was distracted. The Shadow War and the hostilities with Earth Force were far more important than some poor soul's bizarre patter. All in all, he showed little interest in the fate of Amis.
Now she stood at the door of the detention cell. The last words Sheridan had said to her were, "I'll see you soon." If Clark indeed had the Captain, that seemed unlikely. Still, John might be alive...
If Amis had missed human companionship, he gave no sign. Once a day, he was fed through a slot. Once a week he was examined and cleaned by a medical technician. The technician, a Narn, wore ear blocks--to protect his delicate hearing from the patient's intermittent screaming--or so he had been told. Most of the time, Amis simply lay on his bunk and stared, or sang nonsense songs.
Standing by the cell door, Susan shook off her feelings of remorse: She had a job to do, and Amis could have interfered with it. It was better for the station, better for the Captain. "Better for you, too..." she muttered.
Amis raised his head at the sound of her voice. "The Warrior Princess arrives...borne on winged creatures too horrible to behold..." The sentence rasped to a halt. It had not been a good day for Amis. As usual, he had eaten very little, and his pale skin clung to his slight frame. His hair was falling out in clumps, and he showed signs of dehydration.
My God, Susan swore to herself, Those fools are starving him! She whirled around, angrily searching for the Narn, but Amis stopped her with the voice that sounded only in her mind.
"Susan. Come here, I need to speak to you."
Amis swung his legs over the edge of the cot and struggled into a hunched sitting position. He seemed stiff and uncomfortable, his hands held awkwardly on his lap, as if he could raise them no higher. The eyes were focused, but brimming with pain.
His smile was faint, as he ducked his head to brush away something with the clumsy mitts. "We have to talk. I haven't got much time--he'll be back soon..."
"Who--who'll be back?"
"Never mind. Just come here." He held out his hand for her. "I have to whisper..."
Kneeling next to him, Susan placed her hand on his leg. Instantly, he flinched. "Sorry," he hissed, "I think that was a bad kick."
Involuntarily, she asked, "John, are they...hurting you?"
He smiled gently. "That's not important, Susan. What is important is that you must continue the fight...you must lead the White Star--AAAAHHHH!" The scream ripped into his sentence, his head snapped back. Susan rocked onto her heels. Amis stood and tried to raise his hands to block an unseen blow, but abruptly stopped, as if restrained. The scream echoed throughout the detention center.
"John!" Susan reached for him, pulling him back to his seat. "It's okay, it's okay..." What's okay? she thought bitterly. What comfort do I have for this tortured soul--or for John?
Amis shuddered deeply. "Susan, before they begin again, you must know--it doesn't matter what they do to me--or to my father--you must think of us as dead." He tried to grab her hands, but the clumsy mitts prevented him. "The person is--I am--expendable. The job is not." He touched her face frantically. "They're coming! Promise me--You must not stop--you must not let them use me to stop you...Promise!"
"I promise, John. I won't let them stop us." Susan's answer seemed to calm him, but he kept his hands on her face.
A look of near serenity passed over Amis' face. "Good, Susan, good." He folded his covered hands on his lap, and assumed an expectant air.
"John, just tell me one thing--was it Garibaldi who betrayed you?"
His eyes flitted back to her. "It was arrogance, Susan--I never thought about being caught. The vehicle of my demise is not the cause..."
"John. Was it Michael?"
He smiled quizzically. "'Before the cock crows twice you shall deny me thrice...' Michael tranquilized me, warned me not to fight them...I didn't listen--'Do not go gentle into that good night...' "
Amis was slipping away from her. Roughly, she grabbed his wrists and shook him. She felt something warm on her fingers.
Around his wrists were bands of blood--the skin worn through as if chaffed by something hard--like shackles. Her grip caused a warm spurt that stained the mitts.
Horrified, Susan dropped his hands. By now, Amis had drifted off completely, staring vacantly. Blood--his blood--dripped silently from her hands.
Her entry onto the White Star flagship was characteristically brisk. Marcus sat at his station tensely anticipating her comments regarding the Captain. Her orders regarding Garibaldi were sharp: "If he turns up on the station, I want that son of a bitch shot on sight."
Disregarding Marcus' shocked reaction, Susan stood, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. When asked what was going to happen, she said grimly: "We finish what we started. If Clark thinks this is going to slow us down, he's in for a very big surprise."
"The Captain once told me: 'The person is expendable. The job is not.'" She faced Marcus. "We keep going."
The flood of items that occupy a commander's mind engulfed her, removing thoughts of Garibaldi, Amis and even Sheridan, as the White Star Fleet prepared for its invasion of Earth.
On Babylon 5, in Detention Block C, a man sat alone. For the most part, he was silent. Occasionally, he sang. Tonight, however, he merely whispered, "Go with God, Susan"--to no one in particular.