Patterns of Light and Shadow

by Isoline Sanderson

OPENING of Patterns of Light and Shadow

Neroon, once Alit Neroon, now Satai Neroon, the newest member of the Grey Council, sneered and stormed from the Chamber. He paused long enough to hang up his grey cloak by its voluminous hood, then strode out past the acolytes and guards.

No one dared to stop the warrior, knowing that to interfere with one of his status could have grave consequences indeed. It was also common, but never spoken, knowledge that Neroon possessed a terrible temper, and even if he weren't Satai, to interfere with him could have the same unwelcome consequences.

As he left the restricted area of the Council's cruiser, his personal attendants and guards silently stepped in behind him, relieved when they found themselves to be following to the Star Riders' transport, Enlil. They walked in silence, any sensitives among them easily picking up the waves of anger emanating from their lord. Only when they were aboard the Enlil and the pilot was beginning the launch procedure did any of them dare speak.

"Satai Neroon," the captain of his personal guard ventured softly, "I mean no disrespect, but something is troubling you..."

"Yes, Komarr, something is," Neroon snarled. He tossed his head arrogantly back in the direction of the Chamber and sneered again. "They are a bunch of soft, isolated old fools." During this outburst, the warrior raised his hand and clenched his fist tightly, the leather of his glove creaking with the force of it. Then he slammed his fist down into the armrest of his seat and exhaled forcibly.

Komarr gently gripped his shoulder, concerned about his lord's state of mind. Touching a Satai without permission could be a serious matter, but Komarr had known Neroon for some time and was willing to risk the repercussions.

Neroon breathed deeply, once, twice, a third time, then turned to meet his guard's gaze. "Do not be concerned, my friend... They -- anger me so. Even the other warriors on the Council -- they are so out of touch. They know nothing of what our people want..." Neroon lowered his eyes, sighed, then continued quietly, "They spend all their time in space, on the Cruiser, above and apart from everyone. How can they possibly understand..."

"The Council has ways," Komarr said, "Or so I've heard."

"Yes, yes, they can learn of events, they can see what is happening -- just as they watched the Battle of the Line -- but they cannot know what our people feel..." Neroon frowned and said, "They can only do that if they walk among them, speak to them..." He leaned back in his seat, carefully resting his craggily antlered crest against the cushioned headrest. "I am tired. Arguing with fools tends to do that to me. Wake me when we are home."

"Yes, Satai Neroon."

Earth Ambassador Jeffrey Sinclair sat at his desk, reading through the latest batch of transmissions from EarthCentral. Once again, a bunch of busy-work, a couple of minor treaties to argue out, and lots of nothing. Lots of nothing...

He sighed and reached for his tea, took a healthy swallow and leaned back in his chair, staring into the tea. He frowned, watching the tea leaves floating aimlessly in the bottom of the cup. I think that's how EarthCentral wants to leave me -- drifting, directionless... he thought, feeling the familiar sadness stealing over him. A Commander in EarthForce, he knew a lot of people thought being the first Earth ambassador to Minbar was an incredible feather in his cap, but he knew the truth: This assignment was a punishment -- an attempt to get a problem out of the way. EarthCentral was sweeping him under the rug -- out of sight, out of mind...

He looked up from the teacup, his gaze settling on a brooch resting against the base of his desk lamp: a stylized, almost art nouveau design of two beings, one human, one Minbari, clasping hands and holding between them a field of blue-green stone. He allowed a tiny smile to curve his lips as he thought about everything that brooch signified to him. EarthCentral thought they were sending him somewhere where he'd be powerless. Instead, they had sent him exactly where he was supposed to be.

Of course, he couldn't tell them that, and there were times when the political games and cold shoulder from EarthCentral still depressed him. After all, he had given them many years of loyal service, and they repaid him with nothing but mistrust and dislike. But, he had a job to do -- a calling to follow -- and sitting here moping about the latest garbage sent from Earth was not getting him anywhere.

He put the teacup down, picked up the brooch and traced the shape of it with a fingertip, then nodded to himself. He stood, sliding the brooch into his pocket, and strode from the office.

He strode down a corridor, lined on either side with great arching windows allowing the sunlight in. Much of Yedor, the capital city of Minbar was carved from crystal, and the refractions and reflections of the sun's rays were very beautiful. He would have liked to stand in that corridor and bask in the light, but there was something he had to do. He walked on.

He arrived at his destination -- the living quarters of some of his staff members -- and knocked on the second door he came to. The door opened, and a man with dark, rather wavy hair looked up at him, then out into the hallway. Seeing no one around, he silently ushered the Ambassador in.

"Sir?" he asked, once the door was safely locked behind them.

"I need you to bring a message to Babylon 5 again," Sinclair said softly as they walked to the living room area of the quarters.

The shorter man nodded, then waited for further instructions or information.

"No data crystal this time -- just tell them I am coming for a visit. Tell them it's personal, not business, and that they are not to mention it to anyone else. I will deal with the official channels."

"Sir, that's not really a good idea," the man said, uncomfortably. "We can't guarantee your safety..."

"Don't worry about that -- I'm sure someone on B5 will be guarding me very closely."

"Mr. Garibaldi -- I know. But the Minbari..."

"Will find out I'm leaving, and will send a band of warriors to watch my every move. Yes, I know. The Star Riders can be painfully overzealous at times..." Sinclair grinned, and the other man found himself mirroring the expression.

His expression sobered suddenly, however, and he said, "There's no way to dissuade you, is there." It was not a question.

Sinclair shook his head once and said, "I have to get out of here for a little bit. I want to see my friends face-to-face, and if at all possible, I want to take a flight in a Starfury again." At the man's disapproving look, he explained, "Just a short one -- routine patrol -- anything. I'm a pilot. I've been grounded for too long..."

The man sighed and nodded, knowing that nothing he could say or do would change Sinclair's mind. Liann would not be pleased, Kozorr even less so, but they were not the man's keepers, as much as they fancied themselves so...

"How soon will you make this trip?" he asked, knowing he would at least have time to deliver the message, but probably not more.

"Ten days. That should give you enough time," Sinclair answered. "And it should be enough time for me to finish up my duties here for the time being."

The man nodded, then said, "I'd better prepare for the trip then. A transport leaves tonight. I'll take that one."

"Very good." Sinclair squeezed the man's shoulder gently and said, "Thank you."

Sinclair sat at his desk, recording his latest briefing to EarthCentral, when a commotion in the entrance hall interrupted. It sounded like booted feet marching in, and one of his men challenging the intruder. He recognized the voice responding to his guard -- Neroon...

"End recording," he spoke at the computer. It chirped and stored what he'd recorded so far. He plucked the data crystal from its port and placed it in its case in his desk. Then he stood and headed for the stairs. When he reached the landing, he saw Neroon in heated discussion with one of his human guards, Neroon's two personal guards flanking him starting to bristle at the 'obvious' disrespect the human was showing the warrior.

"It's all right, Jenkins, let him in, I will talk with him," Sinclair called. The man looked up at him, surprised, but acquiesced when Sinclair nodded. "However, the guards will stay down there, if you don't mind, Satai Neroon."

Neroon's eyes narrowed, but he spoke quietly to the guards and they dropped back, assuming a tense 'rest' position near the entrance. Jenkins bowed to Neroon, then resumed his guardpost. The warrior frowned at the man's brooch as he passed him, but said nothing, and strode up the stairs until he stood before Sinclair.

"Shall we go to my office, Satai?" Sinclair asked, once he bowed. Neroon inclined his head slightly, and the corner of Sinclair's mouth twitched into a smile at the arrogance inherent in the gesture.

They walked to Sinclair's office, and once the door was shut behind them, Neroon removed his travelling cloak and folded it carefully, placed it on the couch.

"How may I be of service, Satai?" Sinclair asked, pouring a cup of tea for Neroon and handing it to him. He refreshed his own cup, then waited.

Neroon looked at the tea, tasted it, then smiled and drained the cup. "Why am I not surprised that you, a human, brew this stuff more correctly than the acolytes on the Council's cruiser?" He snorted and began to pace the room, uncomfortable all of a sudden with Sinclair studying him so. He could feel the human looking deep, seeing much more than he really wanted him to.

Finally he stopped by the window and spun to face Sinclair. "When you first came here, Ambassador, you were set up and used by fanatics who seem to want our people to return to war. While I personally would not be averse to this, the use of dishonesty and lies to achieve it disgusts me to the depth of my soul.

"I am afraid that I -- I also used you during that time. I was furious with them, and in my fury struck out at the most convenient target..."

Sinclair kept his face neutral, knowing that if he allowed the astonishment he felt to show Neroon would take it as an insult. When Neroon did not continue, he felt compelled to say, "I think I understand, Satai Neroon, but if I may ask, why were you so angry with them?"

Neroon frowned for an instant, thinking once again that this one had amazing insight -- for a human. Then he sighed and said, "It is common knowledge that Minbari do not lie." The tone in which he said that made it obvious to Sinclair that Neroon believed that statement about as much as he did. "And yet," Neroon continued, "when they picked me to replace -- her -- on the Council, I learned we had been lied to for the past twelve years!" Neroon clenched his fist and sneered, continuing, "It has long been known that the Council never tells anyone the whole truth, but to see the depth of their deceptions..."

"Neroon, is it wise to speak that way of the Nine now that you are one of them?"

"Now that I am one of them I understand all the more how they have misled us over the years. So isolated, so self-involved..." He trailed off and met Sinclair's gaze.

"I hurt you because in hurting you I could hurt her," he finally said quietly.

This time Sinclair could not contain the surprise. "You mean Delenn? Neroon, why?"

"I do not have to bare my soul to you, Ambassador," Neroon said tensely, narrowing his eyes for a moment, until he saw sudden understanding flit across Sinclair's face. Damn this perceptive human, he thought.

"It's all because of the incident with Shai Alit Branmer's remains, isn't it?" Sinclair asked. "You must have cared for him very deeply, Neroon. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

Neroon looked at the couch and said, "I believe I will sit..." He walked to the couch and sank into the cushions, Sinclair following to sit at the opposite end. He could see some of Neroon's pain and sadness around the edges of his fraying mask of arrogance and anger. He understood all too well what it was like to be used by his own government, knew all too well how much it hurt to swallow his own feelings and the truth, for the sake of appearances...

"Branmer was everything, Ambassador," Neroon said softly. "I would have gladly given my life for his... When he died, all I wanted was to give him the honour he deserved, in the best way I knew how. She -- Delenn -- took that away from me. All I had left of him she took from me. And then to save my clan I had to live her lie."

"And now that lie is too well-known to divulge the truth," Sinclair said, remembering what Lennier had told him when he discovered the Wind Swords had shielded the Dilgar war criminal Jha'Dur.

"Yes. Even though she no longer has that kind of power over me, I can not regain what she took from me..." Neroon took a deep breath, looked at his empty teacup. "May I have some more tea?"

"Yes -- of course! My apologies, Neroon," Sinclair said, standing and getting the thermal pot. He poured Neroon another cup, then replaced the pot and sat down again.

Neroon used that diversion to compose himself again, so that when Sinclair sat down he seemed much calmer. "Thank you," he said quietly, then sipped the tea.

Sinclair drank a bit of his, wondering what else Neroon was planning to tell him -- it was obvious from his demeanour that there was something else, and either he was unsure of how to say it, or uncomfortable saying it...

Finally Neroon looked at him again and nodded. "Yes, there is something more, Ambassador. You read people too well -- are you sure you are not one of these 'Psis'?"

"Not that I know of, Neroon."

"Hmnh. Well. You know that I am not very fond of humans -- I find this idea of Delenn's very offensive, and if this bit of absurdity is true, it would be better if we exterminated your entire race so that it would stop stealing our souls..."

"We aren't stealing them, Neroon..." Sinclair said softly, well aware of how seriously Neroon felt that.

"Yes, I know, supposedly they are leaving on their own, in an attempt to tell us our two races need to join together if we are to survive. I have heard the Prophecy, I've had it shoved down my throat quite a lot over the past months."

"I'm not going to tell you what you should or shouldn't believe, Neroon, but my own beliefs are that we do need to at least peacefully co-exist. There are -- forces -- out there stronger than either of our races. The longer we are apart, the less trouble they'll have destroying us both..."

"The great Darkness," Neroon said with a slight snort. "If the Darkness is coming, I am afraid the rest of the Nine have little idea how to fight it..." He paused and drank more tea, then said, "Enough of this. I -- understand the theory. That is enough for now." He looked up at Sinclair again, then spoke quietly, "As I said, you know I am not fond of your kind. And yet I find myself -- very comfortable around you... I told you once that you talk like a Minbari... That was not a lie -- you talk more like a Minbari than many of my own people these days." He took a deep breath and continued, "Sometimes it frightens me. The things I hear you say -- the way you knew our own laws well enough to twist them around on us so that you could live to follow this mad calling of yours... Sometimes I expect to see Branmer, but instead it is this human, with hair, and those funny ears, and no crest..."

Neroon trailed off, his hands shaking. When Sinclair met his gaze he thought he could see tears glistening in the corners of his eyes.

"Neroon, I don't know what to say..." He swallowed, then continued, "I'm honoured."

"I -- had to tell you that. I do not know how to reconcile these feelings yet -- I have been somewhat outspoken against your kind and the obscenity that Delenn has become, and yet I cannot bring myself to feel that way about you."

Neroon stood, suddenly, before Sinclair had a chance to think of an appropriate response. Neroon placed his teacup on the table and bowed slightly. "Thank you for the tea, Ambassador. I have business I must attend to."

Sinclair was on his feet by the time Neroon had finished his bow, caught off-guard by the sudden change of subject. He bowed in return and answered, "I welcome the chance to talk with you, Satai Neroon. I hope that you will come to visit again when you have more time."

Neroon didn't answer, but the corner of his mouth twitched into something that was almost a smile. He picked up his travelling cloak, inclined his head, then left quickly. For the longest time, Sinclair merely stood in his office, stunned by the visit...

"Chief, are you sure this is such a good idea?" Zack Allan asked quietly as he crept carefully along a corridor in DownBelow. The younger Security officer hefted what looked at first glance like a PPG rifle and looked through the sight down the corridor.

Michael Garibaldi sighed and looked back at Zack, then answered, "Things've been getting pretty tense recently. I want the troops to be able to blow off some steam and still keep in training. Wargames've worked for the military for centuries -- why stop now?"

Zack slung the rifle over his shoulder again and said, "Because how do you know someone hasn't switched the training rifle for a real one?"

Garibaldi winced at that, knowing it had been one of the main concerns he'd had about this... "Why do you think I'm wearing my flak suit, Zack? You think I like nearly being killed? Now keep quiet, or Lou's team'll find us and then I'll owe him dinner."

"That could be really expensive..." Zack muttered. The two Security men crept onwards, pausing every few feet to listen. Garibaldi wasn't about to admit to Zack that one of his other main reasons for suggesting the wargame exercise was to test and hone his own instincts. After recent events, he wanted to make absolutely certain he wasn't losing his edge...

He reached out with every sense he could, peering into the darkness in search of movement, listening for sounds other than the ones Zack was making behind him, (smell he'd given up as inadvisable while DownBelow), and even reaching out with that sixth sense any good cop developed if he or she lived long enough to be a good cop. 'Cop's intuition', his father had called it -- he didn't know if it was just instinct, or an acute awareness of his surroundings similar to what the better pilots had, or even some kind of psi-ability -- although he had never tested positive for it before, so he doubted that possibility. Whatever it was, it had let him down at New Year's, and he could not afford a repeat of that lapse...

As he reached out, trying to 'read' the dark corridor ahead of him, he felt a little shiver run through him, and all the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. There was someone ahead of them... He hadn't seen or heard anything, but he knew someone was there.

He motioned to Zack, then unslung his own training rifle and tried the sight. Nothing. Whoever it was, they weren't moving, and he couldn't see the vaguest shape of a person...

"There's no one there, Chief," Zack whispered, watching Garibaldi with some concern.

"Yes, there is," Garibaldi hissed, moving forward again very carefully. Zack shrugged and followed him, rifle at the ready but not expecting to need it.

Garibaldi paused, and Zack wasn't sure if he was listening, or what. Zack could see that he was concentrating intently, but beyond that, he had no idea.

Garibaldi smiled slightly, motioned forward with his right hand, then leapt forward and swung around the corner, rifle at the ready. Gotcha, he thought, firing the rifle into a recess in the corridor.

From the shadowed recess, simultaneously they heard the voice of the B5 computer saying, "Target hit -- result: fatality," and Lou Welch's voice growling, "Oh, Frag it!"

Zack rounded the corner just in time to see Lou step out of the alcove, stripping off the sensor vest that had registered Garibaldi's hit. Zack stopped short and blinked in surprise at the outcome. Even as Lou was saying, "You got me, Chief. Guess I owe you dinner," Garibaldi raised his rifle again and fired down the corridor into the darkness.

Echoing down the corridor came the computer's voice, "Target hit -- result: incapacitation." This time Zack and Lou both stared at Garibaldi, who seemed somewhat surprised himself. A few moments later, the other member of Lou's team, Officer Hanson, walked down the hall to join them.

"Good shot, Chief," Hanson said with admiration.

"Yeah, good shot," Zack said, studying Garibaldi's reactions. "How did you know they were there? I didn't see or hear anything..."

Garibaldi opened his mouth to answer, but knew he really had no answer. Lou saw his indecision and said, "The Chief's got a lot of experience, Zack. He gets a hunch, it's usually right." However, he caught Garibaldi's eye and gave him a look that very plainly said "We've gotta talk..."

Zack shook his head and said, "Damn, I wish my hunches worked like that..."

"Yeah, I bet," Hanson responded. "If they did, that dancing girl woulda been wrapping you up in her scarves instead of Ambassador G'Kar..." Zack frowned at Hanson, who chuckled in response.

"Okay, kids, time to go home," Garibaldi announced, before things got any further out of hand. "We'll see how the other teams are doing, and then that's it for the day. I'm beat." He clapped Lou firmly on the shoulder and said, "You two did a damn good job of hiding."

"Thanks, Chief!" Lou answered, genuinely pleased. The four of them headed for the Security office.

Unseen and unheard, and quite some distance behind them, a shape detached from the shadows and crept carefully after, pausing in the darker recesses and keeping a keen eye on the taller balding one in the lead.

"Well, that's not too bad overall," Zack said, looking at the compiled computer results of the 'wargame'. "Although I dunno about Yamada and Crockett 'killing' each other."

"Yeah, that's a little counterproductive," Garibaldi mused, "but overall, looks like everyone's pretty sharp. I'm gonna pack it in for the night -- I want to see everyone in the briefing room in the morning to get their reports. Would you make sure everyone knows?"

"Sure, Chief. Have a good night," Zack said.

"Yeah, you too." Garibaldi left the Security office, hesitating when he realized he was still wearing the flak suit even though he'd removed the sensor vest. Oops... Oh well, so I AM paranoid. No shit...

As he rounded the corner he knew Lou was waiting there. When his friend fell into step beside him all he said was, "Okay, Lou, what's up?"

"I dunno, Chief. This is gettin' kinda spooky if you ask me," the hefty guard said nervously. "I mean I know I was hidden well, and I didn't move once I heard you and Zack coming my way. Hanson was all the way down the hall and hiding... How did you know we were there?"

"I dunno, Lou. The same way I knew Stoner was bad news from the instant I saw him. The same way I knew the Gropos were gonna buy it at Metok..." The note of sadness that crept into his voice was not lost on Lou, who reached up and gently squeezed his shoulder. "I'm okay," he said in response. "No, I'm not... I don't know how I knew -- it just happens. You know how much of this job is following hunches. They just turn out right an awful lot of the time... Except at New Year's..."

Lou's eyes narrowed as he thought about the death of President Santiago and near-death of Garibaldi. "I wish I'd had a few more minutes with that little sonofa..." Lou mused. "I woulda shown him."

"Yeah, I know..." Garibaldi said, smiling humorlessly. "Lou -- thanks for taking him down -- he may have gotten away in the end, but at least I had a chance to talk to him before he did..."

"Chief, you know I'd do anything for you," Lou said softly. "I just wish I --"

"Yeah, I know. Hey, don't worry about it. I've got a hunch we haven't seen the last of him, anyway..." Garibaldi paused, suddenly realizing his choice of words wasn't the best considering how the discussion had started.

"One of those hunches?" Lou asked, picking up on it too.

"Yeah, one of those hunches," Garibaldi admitted. "Look, Lou, you know me -- Psi-Corps gives me the creeps. Especially after Jack... I'm not one of them, I don't ever want to be one of them. Cops've been following hunches for ages -- it doesn't make us psis. I can't read thoughts, or do any of the other stuff Ms. Winters does."

"Maybe just 'cause you haven't been trained," Lou suggested. Garibaldi looked at him with disbelief. "Hey, just playing devil's advocate, Chief. It's possible..."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Garibaldi admitted. "I guess there's always that chance... But you know the psi tests they run on all EarthForce personnel. I've failed all of them -- or passed all of them, depending on your point of view..."

"It's possible it could be something specific they haven't targeted the tests for," Lou suggested.

Garibaldi rolled his eyes and said, "Thanks a lot, Lou. I do not want the bozos in the black coats coming to take me away..."

Lou grinned and said, "Don't worry -- I wouldn't let 'em, anyway."

"They'd drum you out for disobeying the rules. A rogue psi is a rogue psi..."

"Yeah, but you're my friend -- that's... more important in the long run," Lou explained quietly. "But you're probably right, anyway, Chief. It's just probably just like we told Zack -- things you learn through experience, cop's intuition, whatever."

"Yeah..." Garibaldi nodded and clapped Lou on the back, "Whatever." He looked up at his friend and grinned lopsidedly. "Thanks, Lou." When Lou looked at him questioningly, he explained, "For being someone I can trust. Too few of you around now with Jeff gone..."

Lou raised his eyebrows at that, but did not question it. Instead, he just smiled and said, "That's what friends are for, Chief."

Garibaldi smiled and nodded, then asked, "So, everything okay?"

"Yeah, I think so. Just don't go getting too spooky around Zack, okay? I don't know where he stands, if you know what I mean," Lou said quietly.

Garibaldi nodded and said, "I know exactly what you mean..." He yawned and stretched, then said, "Like I said earlier, I'm beat. I'm gonna go crash."

"Sounds good, Chief. See you in the morning."

Lou walked the short distance back to the transport tube and pushed the button, watching as Garibaldi continued down the hall. It was obvious that Garibaldi did know exactly what he meant, he thought, when he realized the Chief was still wearing the flak suit. Not that I blame him one teensy bit... Hell of a rough thing to be betrayed by someone you trusted and trained yourself. Don't worry, Chief, I'll guard your back from now on, as long as you let me...

Garibaldi disappeared around a corner, and the lift arrived, so Lou missed the figure in dark clothing who sidled down the corridor after the Chief...

Garibaldi strolled down the corridor towards his quarters, finally unfastening the collar of the flak suit and starting to relax. Just as he turned a corner, a shiver passed through him and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up -- the same feeling he had when he knew Lou was hiding nearby... Someone is following me, he thought, ducking back against the wall and waiting, silent.

The hooded figure turned the corner and Garibaldi leaped out, grabbing the figure from behind with an arm around its throat.

"Okay, pal, I'm tired, I've had a long day, and I'm not in the mood. Why the hell are you following me?" he hissed as the figure stopped struggling.

"Mr. Garibaldi, please let me go..." the figure -- a man, by his voice and the form under the hooded tunic -- said.

Garibaldi released him with one hand and yanked the hood down, then muttered a curse under his breath. "You again!" The plain face and curly head before him belonged to the first Ranger he'd ever met - and in similar circumstances too. Garibaldi let him go.

The man looked around the corridor to make sure no one had seen them, then turned to face Garibaldi. "I need to talk with you -- I have another message."

"Okay, in my quarters," Garibaldi said, walking to the door and keying the lock. Once they were safely inside, he said, "Jeez -- don't do that to me! There's got to be a better way to get in touch with me than stalk me around this place! I might've killed you if I wasn't so tired..."

"Sorry. I -- next time I'll send a message ahead or something..." the Ranger replied, rubbing absently at his throat. "I didn't think about your -- defense mechanisms."

"Yeah, well, once burned, twice shy, you know?"

The Ranger nodded -- he'd heard about Garibaldi's near-death at the hands of his own Aide, and understood completely his reasons for being cautious -- there was far too much darkness these days...

"So, what's the message?" Garibaldi asked while peeling himself out of the flak suit jacket.

"He is coming here," the Ranger answered. "He'll be here in a week."

"Here? Why? What's going on?" Garibaldi asked, concern clear in his eyes.

The Ranger smiled crookedly and answered, "He wants to visit."

"Visit?" Garibaldi asked, incredulous. "That's it? He's taking a vacation?"

"Yes, that's it... although he did make some noise about putting in some flight time..."

"Good ol' Jeff -- I was wondering when being grounded was going to get to him... I don't even know why I'm asking this, but does he want to keep this visit a secret?"

"Well, he said he'd 'deal with the official channels'," the Ranger answered.

"I hope he knows what he's doing -- Captain Sheridan gets wind he's coming to visit and he'll be all over us to treat him like a VIP -- I don't think Jeff'll want that kind of attention..."

"I doubt he will, but if he intends to take out a Starfury, there will be no way to keep that a secret..."

"Yeah, tell me about it..." Garibaldi murmured. "Unless... If he gets the clearance sent to Minbar... There's a chance we could go out while Sheridan's busy with something. As far as quarters go, I can either get him one of the regular rental quarters, or put him up here. That'll keep him from having to stay in the VIP areas..." Garibaldi thought aloud. "But the second someone recognizes him, it'll be all over the station..."

"I tried to tell him it was a bad idea..." the Ranger said. Garibaldi nodded and grinned lopsidedly.

"Yeah, I know. That's the way he is... Look, thanks for the warning -- I'll figure something out. You tell him everything will be arranged."

"And you will keep him safe?"

"Guard him with my life -- you've got my word on that," Garibaldi said firmly. "I know he's very important to the -- cause -- but he's also my best friend."

"I know. I just had to ask -- you understand, don't you?" the Ranger asked softly, hoping he hadn't annoyed Garibaldi. "If we lose him, then... everything is lost."

"I understand. Believe me, I understand..." Garibaldi answered. He covered a yawn, then looked at the chrono reading on his Link and grimaced. "I hate to do this to you, but if I'm gonna function at all tomorrow and start making arrangements..."

"You need to sleep -- yes. I'm sorry, Mr. Garibaldi, I didn't think. I'll be here a few more days -- if you need anything, I'm in Red 17..."

"Thanks. Good night," Garibaldi said, covering another yawn and showing the Ranger out.

Aw, Jeff, why are you doin' this to me? he thought, getting ready for bed. I want to see you, but this could be real entertaining if Sheridan or the NightWatch or anything else goes wrong... How am I gonna keep them from finding out you're here? And when they do, it'll be 'Ambassador this' and 'Ambassador that' -- you'll hate it.

He sighed and threw himself into bed, deciding he couldn't figure anything out with his mind fogged by exhaustion and an impending headache...

//The blue space-suited figure solidified, almost as if it were a mist becoming solid, and the strange alien beside them grew excited. Garibaldi frowned, looking from the gesturing Zathras to Jeffrey Sinclair standing next to him. The man was transfixed...

What the hell...? Garibaldi wondered, following Sinclair's gaze to the figure. It -- although he was almost positive the figure was male, so -- he stood awkwardly. He seemed to tremble.

"He's in pain," Sinclair said, his voice gravelled and shaky as if the pain were his own...

Zathras was saying something but Garibaldi's attention was riveted on Sinclair. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it registered that Zathras said the figure was 'The One' -- the person leading Zathras and who knew who else in a battle against the 'forces of Darkness'. Whatever those were...

Sinclair, almost mesmerised by the figure -- The One -- walked forward towards him. The One sank to his knees in his pain... Garibaldi tried to stop him -- he knew this was a bad idea -- but Sinclair was determined... He was drawn to The One...

The One reached out his hand, fingers slowly uncurling, towards Sinclair, and Sinclair mirrored the gesture.

Mirrored it exactly...

When their fingertips touched, light -- some kind of energy which looked just like the time-distortion barrier they had passed through coming to Babylon 4 -- arced between them. Suddenly, explosively, Jeffrey Sinclair was thrown back -- repelled, as if he and The One were the like poles of two magnets...//

"No -- Jeff!" Garibaldi cried out, rocketing awake in bed. He was drenched in sweat and trembling violently. He untangled himself from the sheets and sat up, rubbing a hand over his face. Oh god -- it was a dream... he thought, realizing they weren't back on Babylon 4 dealing with the wrenching timeslips and panicked evacuation. Except that it wasn't just a dream -- that's what HAPPENED. He shook his head, trying to drive the images back into his subconscious where he wouldn't have to see them, wouldn't have to think of them and of what they might mean.

Unfortunately, dreams were rarely that cooperative -- the ones you wanted desperately to remember faded away like mist, the ones you wanted to forget were indelibly stamped on your memory... Garibaldi stood and padded to the kitchen area, poured himself a glass of water, and downed it, trying to ignore the way his hand shook.

Hands... The thought came to his mind unbidden, along with the image of The One and Jeffrey Sinclair reaching out to each other, identical gestures, identical movements. Garibaldi shook his head again, not wanting to see any more, to know any more...

The One had been in pain, and Sinclair had known. His own voice had sounded rough, as if the pain were his. Zathras had told them of a 'Great war, terrible war...' and 'A great Darkness...'

Garibaldi swallowed, dreading the correlation that popped into his mind on its own. He whispered, "No -- oh damn it, no... Just once let my hunch be wrong..." He staggered back to his bed and sat heavily, buried his head in his hands. Sinclair had sent him a message crystal, and he had memorized every word and nuance of tone and expression on it. Including Jeffrey Sinclair saying, "There's a great Darkness coming, Michael..."

No, damn it, NO! Garibaldi thought, The Ranger said they were an army... Jeff said he'd given the message to an 'associate' who'd sworn to bring it to me 'at any cost, including his own life'... And Zathras said 'We live for The One. We would die for The One.'

He shook his head, trying desperately to shut out the voices of his memories, and whispered, "Damn it, Jeff, what are you doing... You've already been a hero, you don't have to do it anymore..."

"Watch out for the Shadows. They move when you're not looking at them." Shadows -- great Darkness? Oh hell, Jeff, what have you gotten yourself into?

He lay down again, bundling himself under the sheets and comforter in an attempt to banish the chill that had settled over him. Eventually he sank back into a fitful doze, Zathras' words echoing around in his head: "We live for the One. We would die for the One..."

The next morning found Garibaldi sitting in the mess, his tray of breakfast sitting untouched before him and a mug of caf, the synthetic coffee normally available on B5, clutched in his hands. He glowered blearily at anyone who came too close, and knew that anyone who thought he still drank would be convinced he was hung over. He didn't care. However, he had contemplated going to MedLab and getting some stims to wake up, but knew that would lead to just as vicious a cycle. Something to wake up, something else to sleep, all of it dulling my senses until I really do something dumb -- no way. I'm not playing that game anymore. Especially not with Sheridan in charge.

"Is this a private party or can anyone hate the world this morning?" a voice intruded on his thoughts. He blinked and forced himself to focus on the woman standing before him. If it had been anyone else, with the possible exception of Captain Sheridan, he would have told them to 'stroke off and die', but it was Commander Susan Ivanova, and she hated mornings even more than he did. She also looked as if she'd had as good a night as he had. He made room for her at the table and attempted a grin as she sat down.

"Give it up, Garibaldi, you look like hell," she sighed, looking at his tray. "And it's got to be a bad day if you aren't eating..."

"And a happy good morning to you, too," Garibaldi muttered.

"Mmf... " Ivanova responded, taking a bite of toast. "Security problems?"

Garibaldi shook his head and said, "Nah, just couldn't sleep well. Security's fine right now -- I ran a drill for everyone yesterday, and it went fine. You?"

"Mornings." She shrugged, "Isn't that enough of a reason?"

Garibaldi nodded, finally taking a sip of the now lukewarm caf. "Ugh -- stuff's bad enough when it's hot."

Ivanova nodded and picked up her own mug. "You aren't kidding," she answered, staring into the synthetic brew. "It's amazing how they can take all the chemical components of coffee and turn them into the world's worst paint thinner." She took a huge swallow and grimaced. "And this is about the worst yet. Did everyone get up on the wrong side of the bed today?"

"I'm beginning to wonder -- although I haven't run into Zack or the Captain yet, so I don't know for sure. If both of them are in bad moods, I say we write this day off as a loss and start tomorrow early..."

"One morning's as bad as another -- at least this one's halfway over..." Ivanova said, stifling a yawn and checking her chrono. "Oh hell, I'm due in C&C -- I'll see you later."

"Have fun," Garibaldi muttered, nodding to her as she stood and hurried out. Then he sighed and eyed his breakfast with suspicion -- the sausage looked cold and greasy, and he knew the pancakes would sit like lead, no matter how much syrup he drowned them in. He sighed and ate all nine pieces of fruit in the 'fruit cup', wondering whether Dr. Franklin would consider it a healthy breakfast.

Ah hell, I can sit and grump as easily in the Security office as I can here -- I might as well get to work...

He dumped the remains of breakfast into the recycler and slouched out, heading for the Security office. In one of the main corridors, he passed Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari and Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon. They seemed to be discussing something and Delenn was very animated -- almost agitated -- he noted. "'Morning, Ambassadors," he said, forcing some pleasantness into his voice.

Delenn looked up at him, surprised, stopping in mid-word, and Garibaldi could see her eyes looking into him -- searching his face and possibly deeper -- for something. Then she smiled sympathetically and said softly, "Mister Garibaldi." She inclined her head slightly and he bowed a little in response.

He could feel Kosh studying him too, knew that whatever served as the Vorlon's eyes were looking as deep as Delenn had. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

He couldn't be sure whether Kosh had found what he was looking for because the Vorlon said nothing. He merely inclined his headgear and then he and Delenn continued on their way. Garibaldi could see the conversation start up again, and at least twice he could have sworn he'd seen Delenn glance back at him...

He stood in the hall, confused, and wondered, Just what the hell was all that about?

Finally he shrugged and continued on to the office, threw himself into his chair, and got to work reviewing the Security logs. He pushed the confusing encounter to the back of his mind, adding it to the lengthening list of 'Things to think about -- later.'