(c) Copyright 1998 by Rhonda Eudaly. All Rights Reserved.
Peace reigned on the normally chaotic Babylon 5 Station. Except those required to maintain the station, almost every entity in the sector slept. The Command and Control Center remained quiet. Even the minor energy spike in the sensors only generated a momentary spurt of interest. That, too, passed. At least in CNC.
Deep in the bowels of Babylon 5 is a place called Down Below. The ragged inhabitants of Down Below slept huddled in corners, in boxes, and wrapped in rags, refuse, and shattered dreams. Except for one. A mound of refuse exploded upward, revealing a wild eyed, wild haired, lurker clutching the tails of a long scarf. He looked around his area, and gathering his scarf with the lapels of his jacket, he headed away from where he slept.
Michael Garibaldi, Chief of Security, slept soundly. The urgent and continual signaling of his door finally roused him from his slumber. With a groan, Garibaldi struggled upright.
"I'm coming. I'm coming," he mumbled, blinking in the light.
Garibaldi looked around. He'd fallen asleep on his sofa. The vid screen blinked insistently for attention. He turned it off as he picked up his brown fedora from where it had fallen when he sat up. The door chimes had yet to let up on their intensity. He stumbled to the door and signaled the lock, just to silence the chimes.
"What?!" Garibaldi demanded. He didn't recognize the wild lurker at first. "Amis?"
"It ain't the Easter Bunny," Amis snapped. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"
Garibaldi automatically stepped out of the way and let the lurker sweep by him. The chief blinked in sleep befuddled confusion. He turned around as the door closed. Amis was studying Garibaldi's brown fedora. Before Garibaldi could stop him, Amis put the hat on and pulled it down over one eye. Oddly enough, it was a good look for him.
"Amis! It's four in the morning," Garibaldi finally protested.
"Really? I wasn't sure," Amis mumbled, studying his surroundings. "Interesting."
Garibaldi moved into his kitchen. He had to do something while he tried to make sense of everything. "I'm make some coffee. You want some?"
Amis made noises in compliance. Then he said, "You live here?"
"Yes. And I like it here, Amis," Garibaldi replied, slightly defensively. "What are you doing here at this inhumane hour? And how did you find my quarters?"
"Ours is not to wonder why...or how. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters, Chief, nothing at all."
Garibaldi put a coffee cup in Amis' hand and sat down. He watched the lurker pace the floor like a caged animal. He wondered if he shouldn't have made decaf instead. "Would you get to the point, please, Amis? It's late and I would really like to get back to this wonderful dream I was having."
"The dreams," Amis replied in a far away voice. He fixed on some point only he could see over Garibaldi's left shoulder. "It's the dreams, Michael Garibaldi. Beware the dreams."
"Come on, Amis, what's going on here? What's all of this about dreams. I thought we got rid of your demons," Garibaldi replied with a sigh. It was going to be a long night...or day if he didn't get back to sleep before his shift started.
"They're not my demons, Michael. The dreams are alive. And this time it's not in my head, Michael, it's in yours," Amis tapped Garibaldi's forehead with the end of his statement.
Garibaldi wasn't even aware the odd lurker stood that close to him until Amis touched him. Before Garibaldi could react, Amis turned and left Garibaldi's quarters muttering, "It's all in your head. Beware the dreams."
Garibaldi blinked suddenly and cursed. "He took my coffee cup."
Continuing to mutter, Garibaldi drained his own coffee cup and headed for his room. He crawled into his bed and turned off the lights. "Finally. Maybe I can get some sleep, and back to that dream."
The power surge occurred again, this time at an intensity to attract attention of the CNC crew on the late shift. The sensor operator brought it to the attention of the lieutenant in command. Lieutenant Chambers studied the sensor log. He whistled, "She's gonna kill me for waking her up, but the Commander should see this."
"Your call, Lieutenant."
Chambers took a deep breath. "CNC to Commander Ivanova."
Commander Susan Ivanova grumbled to herself all the way to CNC. She went straight to the lieutenant. "What is it, Chambers?"
"Sorry to have awakened you, Commander."
"Don't worry about it. I had to be up in about four hours, anyway. Now, show me what you've got. And if someone can find me some coffee, I'd be greatly appreciative."
Less than five minutes later, Ivanova was pouring over the sensor logs, sipping from a steaming mug, and frowning. She looked at the operator, "Is this all there is?"
"Yes, Commander, I..." The operator was interrupted by an indicator light and a slight shift in the deck plates.
"What was that?" Ivanova demanded, shifting her mug to her other hand so she could shake a couple of drops of splashed coffee from her fingers.
"Energy pulse. Identical to the previous one except for magnitude."
"Did you trace it?" Ivanova demanded. "Where's it coming from?"
"Uncertain, Commander. The trace went beyond our sensor range, and there aren't any vessels in the general area of the pulse. I don't know where it came from," another crew member announced.
"I was afraid of that. Damage?"
"Thank God for small favors then," Ivanova muttered. "Okay, then, track it to the edge of sensor range then project out a probable line to an origination point. If anything looks remotely threatening, let me know immediately."
"Where are you going to be, Commander?" Chambers asked.
"Breakfast. Too late to try to get back to sleep now," she replied. "I'm up. I might as well stay that way. Get a jump on the day and all."
Ivanova was through the first sheaf of reports and her third cup of coffee. The remnants of a decent breakfast were pushed aside. She was reaching for her cup when a shadow fell across the table.
"Getting an early start, aren't you, Commander?" a familiar male voice asked.
"Good morning, Captain," she responded to Captain John Sheridan.
"Do you mind?" Sheridan asked, gesturing to an unoccupied chair at the table.
"Oh, sure," Ivanova said, making room for him.
Sheridan set his tray down first. "So," he asked, "What gets you up and at 'em so early in the morning?"
"This," Ivanova handed him the report on the energy pulse.
Sheridan put down his fork and took the report from Ivanova. He skimmed through it and looked at her. "This is it?"
"So far. I haven't heard anything new on the situation."
"Does Michael know about this?"
Ivanova shook her head. "I haven't seen him yet. So far there hasn't been any reason to expect a security problem."
"Understood. I'll want him to know though, just in case. Who knows how some of the people on this station would react to an unknown energy pulse. Best be prepared."
"Agreed. Actually, I'm surprised we haven't seen Michael yet. He's usually around by now."
"It's still early. I wouldn't be concerned for a while yet."
An hour later and Garibaldi still hadn't made an appearance. Sheridan and Ivanova might have been concerned had they noticed. The sensor information on the energy pulse occupied most of their attention.
"Okay, we have an area to check out now," Sheridan said, once they were able to go over the projections.
"We should probably send a ship to check it out."
"Let's wait until we know more," Sheridan replied. "Then if the sensors don't come up with something more, then we can risk a ship. Marcus would've been perfect. He's good at sniffing these things out."
"Too bad he's been called back to Minbar," Ivanova responded. "We should bring Michael in on this now."
"Speaking of Michael, we still haven't seen him yet," Sheridan tapped the link on his hand. "Sheridan to Garibaldi. Garibaldi come in."
There was a long pause. Sheridan looked at Ivanova. "Sheridan to Security."
"Allen here, sir," came the voice of Garibaldi's second-in-command.
"I was looking for Mr. Garibaldi, Mr. Allen."
"I haven't seen the chief all morning, Captain," Allen reported. "I don't know where he is."
Sheridan and Ivanova looked at each other. "Mr. Allen, meet me at Mr. Garibaldi's quarters and bring a couple of men with you."
Moments later they were outside Garibaldi's quarters. After a couple of attempts to get the security chief to open the door, Sheridan had the security men with Zack Allen force open the door. The officers split up to search the place.
"Captain!" Ivanova called out from Garibaldi's bedroom. "You need to see this."
Sheridan and Zack joined Ivanova. All three stared at the unconscious form of Michael Garibaldi. "He looks like he's asleep," Zack commented.
"Then why isn't he was walking up?" Ivanova asked.
Dr. Stephen Franklin, Chief Medical Officer of Babylon 5, directed the antigrav gurney out of Garibaldi's quarters. Once through the door, he turned back to Sheridan. "I'll let you know what I find, Captain. Michael's strong. We'll pull him out of...whatever this is."
"I know you will, Stephen. I want to know the moment there's any change."
"Of course, Captain."
"What do you suppose happened to Michael?" Ivanova asked as they watched the medical team take their friend away.
"I don't know," Sheridan admitted. "But I definitely want that energy pulse checked out...now."
"You think they're connected?"
"Let's just say I've stopped believing in coincidences since I've come to this station."
Michael Garibaldi felt pretty good when he woke up. He stretched as he set on the edge of his bed. He dressed and headed for his office. At first, he enjoyed the quiet walk toward the command levels of the station. Slowly he became puzzled by the quietness of the station. The security chief went straight to Sheridan's office. The door was open and the chair turned away from the door. Garibaldi knew someone was there.
"Captain, something seems odd," he said, from just inside the door.
"Tell me about it," the voice said from the chair.
"Everything's just off. Too quiet. Did something happen during the night?" Garibaldi asked, moving to the chair opposite Sheridan's desk.
"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps you can tell me."
The chair moved, and so did Garibaldi. Backwards over his chair as the person registered. The man in the captain's chair, wearing the captain's uniform was not Captain John Sheridan. The man grinned as Garibaldi got to his feet.
"What...what's going on here?" He sputtered.
"What does it look like, Chief?"
"Amis? Amis, what are you doing here? This is Sheridan's office."
"Sheridan? Do I look like Sheridan to you, Chief? Sheridan doesn't even exist here."
"What are you talking about?" Garibaldi demanded, getting to his feet and planting his hand on the desk, glaring at the lurker in the Earth Force uniform. "Tell me what going on around here!"
"'To be or not to be. That is the question,'" Amis quoted.
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"'Whether 'tis nobler in the mind...'" Amis trailed off, then he leaned across the desk and planted one finger in between Garibaldi's eyes. "Figure out what's going on in your noble mind. Then let me know."
Garibaldi didn't move for a long moment. He stared into the depths of Amis' deep brown eyes. Neither flinched. Neither blinked. Garibaldi failed to find any hint of the madness evident at times in the lurker's eyes. Garibaldi had to look away as he felt the first tremors of control slipping away.
"This can't be real," he finally said.
Amis narrowed his eyes at Garibaldi then came around the desk. He slapped Garibaldi lightly on the cheek. "The great Michael Garibaldi has spoken. None of this is real. We're not really here. And if none of this is real, then this won't hurt."
Before Garibaldi saw it coming, Amis landed a remarkably solid punch to his stomach. Before Garibaldi could suck in enough air to stand up straight, Amis was gone. Garibaldi made a token effort to catch him, but the lurker had faded into the walls. Garibaldi didn't even bother to try to chase him down.
"Dr. Franklin!" an urgent voice called out.
Steven Franklin didn't look up from the readouts on the instruments attending Michael Garibaldi's comatose form. "I'm a little busy here!" he called back without looking up. "Give it to someone else."
Suddenly, one of his people was right in his ear. "I think you ought to take a look at this, Stephen. I think it's relevant."
Stephen sighed, loudly, as he turned and left Garibaldi's bedside. Another gurney was in the next room. A prone figure lie on it. "What have we got?" he asked grudgingly.
"Human male, approximately forty. A lurker by the looks of him. Found comatose not far from crew quarters...of all places."
Stephen stepped to where he could see the patient's face. Stephen froze. "Where was this man found? Where exactly?"
"Two corridors away and a deck down from Mr. Garibaldi," came the answer. "Do you know him, Doctor?"
"Maybe. Someone get Captain Sheridan down here."
Sheridan made the distance from CNC to Med Lab in record time. Though when he walked through the door, he appeared as calm and unruffled as if he'd been just around the corner. He strode calmly over to Franklin. "Talk to me, Stephen."
Stephen led Sheridan to Amis' bedside. "He was just brought in. Found real close to Michael's quarters. Exact same condition."
"This thing is spreading?" Sheridan asked sharply.
"I don't think so, though I do think the cases are related."
"Why?" Sheridan wanted to know.
"See for yourself."
Sheridan finally looked down at the figure in the bed. "Amis?" He looked at Franklin. "You think they're connected. Why?"
"Besides location and symptoms, Garibaldi spent a lot of time with this guy when we first started becoming aware of the Shadows."
"Yes, when the Copernicus was here," Sheridan agreed. "But that was some time ago."
"True, but it's the only thing I have to go on."
Sheridan thought for a moment. "Let me check into a couple of things. And if you don't mind, I want to ask Lyta to come down. Maybe there's a telepathic link we're missing or something."
"Right now, I'd even take Houdini if I thought he could help get to the bottom of this," Stephen responded. "I'm not getting anywhere with the methods left to me."
Sometimes even being a telepath didn't help figure out all situations. Lyta Alexander couldn't tell from Sheridan's cryptic message what was on the captain's mind, nor could she tell why he wanted to see her in Med Lab. Curiosity carried her a little faster through the corridors than was strictly dignified.
When she reached the Med Lab, she saw Zack standing guard outside the door. Lyta didn't need to be telepathic to know he was worried about something.
"Zack? What's wrong?" she asked.
Zack swallowed and clamped down on any stray thought. "They're waiting for you," he told her, stepping away from the door so she could pass.
Lyta wondered who "they" were. Who was waiting for her when she entered the Med Lab? Worry hit her like a brick wall. She immediately looked between Sheridan and Franklin. "What is it? What's happened?"
Garibaldi wished he could figure out what was happening. Amis had said everything was in his head. But how could that be and why would Amis be involved in all of this. Whatever this was. The emptiness of the station was getting to him.
"Amis? Amis, can you hear me? Come on, we stand a better chance at figuring this thing out if we stick together. I need you, Amis!"
"When have you ever needed anyone, Michael Garibaldi?" the lurker asked, suddenly behind the security chief.
Garibaldi whirled on Amis. "How do you do that?"
"Do you know what you're asking?" Lyta asked.
"I know it's highly irregular. Maybe even slightly illegal in Psi Corps terms," Sheridan replied. "But we're running out of options."
"I don't have a medical source or cause for either person's coma. It's not even a traditional coma," Steven interjected. "I can't do anything for them."
"You think it might be some kind of psychic lock?" Lyta asked.
"I don't know what to think," Stephen told her. "Just that I've tried everything in my power to save them, but not everything in yours."
"All right. All right. Since it's an emergency," Lyta acquiesced. "I'll do it. But I'll need privacy. If it is a psychic lock, breaking it won't be pretty."
"Just do your best, Lyta," Sheridan replied. "Do your best."
Sheridan and Stephen retreated to the far side of Med Lab to give Lyta space to work. Stephen looked at the captain, "Do you think this will work?"
"Do we have any other options?"
Susan Ivanova stood on the decks of CNC and personally went over every sensor log since the strange energy pulse from the night before. The terminus point of the pulse was still out of range of the sensors, but not of the communications systems of even a small ship. Ivanova hit a button. "Alpha Six you are cleared for launch. Go when ready."
"Roger, CNC, Alpha Six ready for launch."
The Starfury was shot out of the belly of the station and streaked away along the preprogrammed course of the energy pulse. Nothing would satisfy Ivanova until she knew what the pulse was and who was responsible for it. She found out only one solid piece of information, the two pulses both hit in the same specific area. Crew quarters. More specifically, the area around Garibaldi's quarters.
Ivanova didn't want to report her conclusions to Sheridan until she had more proof and some way to counteract the pulse. They still didn't know what they were dealing with when it came to the probe. And until she did, she was not about to raise anyone's hopes, much less her own.
Lyta Alexander took a couple of deep breaths to center herself. She reached out to place bare hands on Garibaldi's forehead. With one more deep breath, Lyta descended into Garibaldi's mind and immediately met with resistance.
"Come on, Amis, if we're going to get out of here, we're going to need some options," Garibaldi snapped. "As amusing as your poetry and psychological riddles are, they're not helping us get out of whatever this is. Now, I've seen you be as clear and rational as the next man. That's the Amis I want to speak to now."
Before Amis could answer, a sharp, shooting pain swept through his head and knocked him to his knees. The lurker was immediately next to him, a coherent look of concern in his deep brown eyes. "Garibaldi! What is it? What's happening?"
The pain kept Michael from answering, even if he could explain it. Garibaldi rocked back and forth, holding his head. Amis looked around, knowing there could be no help. Then he shouted. "Let him go! Leave him alone! You can't accomplish anything by killing him! Leave him alone! If you have to take a mind, take mine!"
A scream reverberated off the walls, through every fiber of their bodies, along every synapse of the mind, and finally came out the throat. Then Stephen Franklin was yanking Lyta's hands away from Garibaldi's head while Sheridan kept her from falling to the floor. The monitors on both Garibaldi and Amis started shrieking along with the stricken telepath. Doctors and nurses rushed to do Franklin's shouted bidding to stabilize the comatose patients while Sheridan removed Lyta to another slot in Med Lab. An instinct told him to put in a call to Delenn. The Minbari were the only other telepaths on the station, and Sheridan was sure they would need another one.
Lyta was no longer screaming when three Minbari arrived. Delenn and Lennier stood back in concern and support while their telepath nudged Sheridan aside. Lyta appeared to be in a catatonic shock. Her eyes wide and unseeing, hands clenched. Delenn helped pull Sheridan back, whispering comforting sounds in his ear. The telepath went to work. A few moments later, her eyes closed and her body relaxed. The Minbari telepath eased her back down onto the hospital bed and came over to Delenn.
"What was it? What happened to her?" Sheridan demanded almost immediately.
"She came in contact with a powerful alien presence. Her attempt to enter Mr. Garibaldi's state almost trapped her inside with him and the other man. She was able to pull out, but not without considerable trauma. I have eased the pain and confusion. She will sleep now."
"But what about Michael and Amis?" Sheridan wanted to know. "How do we release them from their comas?"
"They are not in a coma, Captain," the telepath explained. "It's more like they are trapped in a dream. Some kind of alien psychic dream."
"Then how do we wake them up?" Stephen wanted to know, following the conversation avidly.
"I do not think we can, Doctor. Not until the alien presence wishes them to."
"What alien presence is it, then?" Sheridan asked. "We'll contact them and get them to release Michael and Amis."
"I do not know, Captain. Even the third-hand image I received, I have never encountered such a presence before. All I know is that whatever is responsible is not on this station."
"How did this happen? There's no one else on the station but us," Amis muttered. "Who's responsible?"
Amis continued to mutter to himself as he tried to help Garibaldi, reduced to a fetal position on the empty deck of the station. Slowly, Garibaldi started to unfold himself and come around. "Lyta," he muttered. "I could have sworn Lyta was here. Where is she?"
"Now who's talking in psychotic riddles? There's no one here but us, Michael. You know that. Come on, wake up, Michael. I'm tired of this game. It's time to get out of here."
Garibaldi slowly moved from his side, to his knees, then staggered to his feet. "What happened? Where's Lyta? She was here."
"Where, Michael? Where was she?" Amis demanded.
"In my head. I think," Garibaldi said, struggling to remember, "she was in my head, but something kicked her out. And it wasn't me."
"Now you're starting to see that I was right. It is all in your head," Amis replied.
"I was also right, Amis. You can be rational and lucid when you want to be."
"Maybe you just want me to be, and I'm conforming to your mental parameters."
"Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe. Come on, let's find a way out of this mess," Michael said, pulling Amis along with him toward CNC.
Ivanova paced the upper level of CNC waiting for Alpha Six's report. So far the pilot had found a whole lot of nothing. Then suddenly, there was a response, but it was so garbled, Ivanova had to ask him to repeat it.
"Holy Mother of God, it's huge," the pilot all but shrieked. "I've never seen anything like it."
"Like what, Alpha Six? Report," Ivanova all but shouted back.
"It's...it's a ship. A big mother of a ship. I'm running a recording, but Babylon Control, I'm heading home. That thing will consider me an insect if it sees me."
"What's its heading, Alpha Six?" Ivanova wanted to know.
"Straight for Babylon 5. God help us, straight for Babylon 5."
Sheridan stood with Susan a short time later, reviewing the data from Alpha Six's flight recorder. The pictures of the ship weren't necessary; the ship was now within sensor range and within moments would even be in visual range. The readings were confirmed. The energy pulse had been emitted from the ship. There was only one thing to do--try to contact the ship.
"This is Babylon 5 to unknown vessel," Sheridan began. "Please identify yourself, and your intentions."
"I don't know what it is, or what it wants," Michael Garibaldi said looking out the view screen and seeing the approaching ship. "It doesn't seem to want to answer my hails."
"Perhaps it already knows what it wants to know," Amis suggested.
"That's not helpful, Amis," Garibaldi scolded. "We've got to keep trying."
"What about the weapons?"
"Oh, yeah, that's going to accomplish a lot. Even if we could pull that off, why would we want to? That ship hasn't done anything to us, we won't do anything to it. Outright violence is best left to the cartoons, where no one really gets hurt. Me, I have an aversion to bleeding. Somehow, I think that's a universal concept."
"We come in peace," came the final reply from the alien ship.
"How have you learned our language?" Sheridan asked, once the dialogue was established.
"Probed? Probed how?" Ivanova demanded, thinking she knew the answer.
"Energy beam. Had to learn about station. We greet you, brothers in space. We have traveled long to find others worthy of knowledge."
"You mentioned an energy beam. We have two men who seem to be trapped in a dream. Is that the cause of your beam?"
"We learn through the dreaming. They have provided much useful information. We thank you. We will pass on our journey."
"Wait!" Sheridan cried. "Those in the dreaming, their minds are trapped in the dreaming. Can you break your probe of their minds? If you can't, they will die."
"We have no desire for another's life. The probe reversed. Healing will be done."
Garibaldi and Amis looked at each other. "What was that all about?" Garibaldi asked.
"I think our time together here is done, Michael Garibaldi. We are about to go our separate ways."
A bright light flashed. Then there was darkness. When Sheridan and Susan could see again, the alien ship was gone. "What was that?" Ivanova demanded.
"One last energy probe, Commander. Different than the other," a lieutenant reported promptly.
Sheridan's link beeped insistently. "Sheridan, go."
"Captain, you best get down here right away," Franklin's voice came over the link urgently.
Sheridan and Ivanova hit the doors of Med Lab at a run, afraid for the worst. They skidded to a stop before a beaming Stephen Franklin. "What? What's happened?" Sheridan demanded.
"I think you should see for yourself," Stephen said, gesturing toward Garibaldi's bed.
Sheridan and Ivanova went around the partition to see Garibaldi sitting up in his bed, looking none the worse for the wear. "John! Susan! Tell that maniac doctor to let me out of here. I'm fine. And tell him to let me have some real food. I'm starving."
"He's back to normal," Ivanova said with an insincere snort of disgust. "Why were we ever worried."
"What about Amis?" Michael asked past them to Stephen. "He's all right isn't he?"
"Yeah, he'll be fine. I'd like to keep him for a couple of days, though. He's battling some things other than his own demons."
"Don't bother, Doc. You won't be able to keep him here."
"Doctor Franklin!" a nurse called out from the other slip. "He's gone! The patient just disappeared! How could that happen?"
Stephen opened and closed his mouth, unable to answer. He, Sheridan, and Ivanova all looked at Garibaldi. "It's a long story. I doubt you'd believe me. But I had this weird dream, and none of you were there, except Amis...and I think Lyta. And the Wizard of Oz it weren't."
"Would you two get him out of here," Stephen said with resigned indignation. "Med Lab is for sick people."
Sheridan and Ivanova walked with Garibaldi toward his quarters. Ivanova looked at him. "Are you going to rest after your ordeal?"
"No, I think I'll get back to work. Another trip to dreamland right now is not something I'm looking forward to anytime soon."
"We'll see you when you're ready, Michael, take your time," Sheridan responded as he and Ivanova left Garibaldi at his door. "We're just glad you're all right."
Garibaldi went into his quarters and stood with his back to the door in the dark. After a moment he called for lights and wasn't surprised to see Amis sitting on his couch. "Maybe you'll believe me next time, Garibaldi."
Garibaldi went into his kitchen and poured a glass of water for himself and Amis. Amis took the glass from him. "If it'll keep you out of my dreams, Amis, anything."
"Sweet dreams, Mr. Garibaldi, sweet dreams."