It had been one hell of a day. For Captain John Sheridan, it had started out like any typical day of the past two weeks or so: wake up after getting between 2 and 4 hours of sleep (4 on a good night), hope to have enough time to eat most of his breakfast, before being consumed by the day-to-day necessities of running Babylon 5, and keeping track of the war, while worrying about Doctor Franklin’s safety while on his sabbatical in Down Below, and trying to find time to see Delenn outside of these obligations. Then, in the span of less than four hours, his day had been turned upside down.
Hearing a distress call from Commander Susan Ivanova emanating from Sector 14, while she had been standing right next to him, had been unnerving, then the sudden appearance of Jeffrey Sinclair in the war room, which seemed to be timed to the second. Then, it was off to the White Star on some mysterious trip to Sector 14, and finding out that he would be responsible for the baffling disappearance of Babylon 4, and then delivering it to the Minbari some one thousand years in the past, had left his mind spinning. Fortunately for Sheridan, he was a fighter pilot, and vertigo wasn’t something he couldn’t handle.
But then came the Shadow fusion bomb, the blast wave, and him being thrown perhaps two decades into the future, to see a hellish Centauri Prime and a thoroughly unhappy Londo Mollari as Emperor. He’d encountered Delenn there, learned they had a son together, and received an unfortunately spotty summary of the events that had led to this future, and how he might have caused it. The ordeal had lasted perhaps a couple of hours, before a half-cocked attempt to pull him back, undertaken by their eccentric technical consultant, who went by the name of Zathras, had paid off, and John Sheridan had found himself on Babylon 4, in the presence of his friends, colleagues, and Delenn, which was at that moment, in the Earth Year 2254.
He'd joined in their efforts to complete their mission, and it seemed that the hard part was nearly over.
“Moving the last piece into the central power core,” he announced through the comms of his blue pressure suit, as he drifted towards Babylon 4’s primary fusion reactors, with Jeffrey Sinclair nearby acting as spotter.
“Ah. Must being, very careful,” he could hear the voice of Zathras over his headset, as he spoke to Susan Ivanova on the bridge of the White Star. “Time jump system, very delicate. When finished, station will be stabilized, for time travel.”
“Captain,” broke through the voice of Ivanova, in a welcome return to a more familiar speech pattern, which Zathras seemed to lack, “I just finished rigging the scanners on B4, to detect a phony alert in the fusion reactor. It’ll make it look like the whole place is going critical. That should encourage the crew to evacuate so we can move this thing.”
“Roger that,” Sheridan replied. He finished attaching the last of the relays from the reactor to the time-jump generator, and briefly shook his head mentally at the absurdity of his situation, when the device suddenly powered up of its own accord. He was about to ask Zathras if this was part of the plan, when there came a massive power surge from the reactor, which caused an energy wave to emit from the time device, and he felt himself being pulled again.
During his unplanned visit to his own future on the nightmarish Centauri Prime, he had felt his own body being pulled and yanked through time twice, as well as a few partial transits. He had thus become familiar with the sensation, and knew that he would soon find himself in another time, and another place. He hoped that he wouldn’t end up back on Centauri Prime, 20 years into his future, but if not there and then, then when and where?
When he was finally released from the temporal rift, and his senses cleared, Sheridan found that he could see nothing, but it didn’t take long to realize that there was a cloth bag over his head. He also discovered that his wrists were bound together behind his back, and he was feeling pains in his back and ribs, as though he had been given a working over by someone.
‘Wherever and whenever I seem to end up, someone always seems to want to beat me up,’ Sheridan joked to himself mildly.
While he couldn’t see, he could rely on his other senses. Wherever he was, there was gravity, there was oxygen, and he could hear the sounds of at least two other people breathing nearby. He also picked out a hum of sorts, not so much as a sound, but rather as a very subtle vibration, signaling that this was an artificial structure he was being held in.
Then, there was the sounds of voices in what appeared to be a nearby room, which he quickly identified as Minbari voices, and while he was far from being fluent in any Minbari language, he could at least identify which Minbari language it was… Feek, the language of the Warrior caste. He could make out a few words, but he most recognized ‘Drala’fi’, and ‘Drala’toth’, the latter of which he had come to learn years later, was the word they had used to refer to him… ‘Starkiller’.
That put his current point in time at LEAST ten years into his past, but when would he have been bound and blindfolded in Minbari custody? The answer came to him almost immediately, which he confirmed when he recognized the breathing of his two companions, who were almost certainly Stephen Franklin, and G’Kar. This would have been early in the Earth-Minbari War, just after their failed peace mission to the Epsilon system.
The ranger Lenonn had given him a phrase and a word to remember in Adronato, which would grant them safe passage… ‘Isil'Zha’, which he learned soon after roughly translated as, ‘the future’. He and the others had been taken aboard a Minbari cruiser, and brought before a hooded Minbari woman. She seemed to have been in charge, and by her reverence for the body of Lenonn, had been a friend of his. He could remember the bulky robes she had worn, and based on what he had learned since, realized that she had likely been a member of the Grey Council, their ruling body. She had spoken some English, and seemed to understand the significance of Lenonn’s last message. Whatever it had meant to her, she had then ordered their release.
They had been taken to a Minbari shuttle and brought to somewhere in Narn space, where they were dumped off, along with a few words from their Minbari Warrior escort, who warned the Narn government not to get involved in their affairs again. Sheridan thought that this statement was likely given by someone OTHER than the Minbari woman, as it was the Minbari themselves who had initiated contact with the Narn, likely at the behest of Lenonn and his Grey Council colleague.
Upon understanding where and when he was, Sheridan was again puzzled, as he did not recall this exact moment in his past. After meeting with the Minbari woman, and her order to release them, the Warriors had rebound them, and given all three of them a few more belts in the stomach for good measure, and he had passed out, later coming to in the shuttle, on its way to Narn space.
‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘the reason I couldn’t remember it, was because my future self… me, was inhabiting my body, as I am now.’
As he pondered this thought, and wondered how long he would reside in the body of his younger self, he heard a new voice some distance away, speaking to the two Minbari Warriors in the next room. He couldn’t make out the words, but he could identify that it was female… perhaps the Grey Council woman he’d encountered earlier. The sound of boots clapping against the floor, drawing closer, told him that the two warriors were entering the room where he was, and Sheridan braced himself for another beating.
They grabbed a hold of him from either side, and pulled him gruffly up. One spoke to him in Feek, in what he loosely translated as, ‘on your feet,’ but the other then surprised him, speaking in English. “STAND,” came the heavily accented command.
Sheridan considered providing some kind of resistance to their commands, not because he felt anger towards them, but because he felt that’s how his current-time self would have reacted, to maintain consistency. Once he had gotten to his feet however, the second Minbari commanded, “WALK,” but as he heard no further threats to him in their conversation, he decided to play it cool, and follow their commands.
They walked him through several corridors, before stepping into a small room, and then leaving him standing there, in near silence. Sheridan wondered if perhaps he’d been placed in an airlock, and was about to be ejected into space. This brought about further questions, as to whether the death of his younger self in that moment, would destroy the future, in the same way as their hypothetical failure to secure Babylon 4, could lead to a bulked-up Shadow fleet in an alternate timeline. Then he reminded himself, that he hadn’t done anything since merging into that time-frame, that would warrant executing him, but as he had no memories of this moment, he was still quite puzzled as to what was to come next.
He heard soft footfalls, and some shuffling nearby, and waited.
“It is regrettable that we should meet in this manner, Starkiller,” began a female voice. Sheridan felt the hairs on the back of his neck tingle, as he recognized the voice immediately, and further ramifications were realized. This was Delenn’s voice… possessing more of a Minbari accent than he was used to, and from before her transformation, but it WAS her. He also recalled the voice from further back… from, in fact, only a short time ago, in real time. This was ALSO the voice of the hooded Minbari woman who had ordered his release. He’d known that Delenn had been a member of the Grey Council until recently… well, recently to HIS time, that is. He hadn’t been aware that she’d been Grey Council during the war, though.
“I can say the same,” he managed in reply, disguising the shock in his voice.
“Lenonn, the one who was sent to meet you,” Delenn continued, softly, “had volunteered for this task, at great personal risk. He was a close, personal, friend, and one who knew the importance of sacrifice and honor.” Here, her voice became harder and angrier. “Was it YOUR people who attacked? Do your people believe that it is better to die as a race, than seek peace?”
“I would be lying if I said that there are no humans who feel that way,” he responded, frankly. Sheridan had seen first hand just how fanatical some of his own fellow officers could be, especially in the final days, when defeat and extinction seemed a near-certainty. He ALSO knew, that General Lefcourt, who had recruited him for that mission, wouldn’t have included anyone with that attitude into his confidence. “But I didn’t get that impression from my superiors. That said, there’s no way I could completely rule it out.”
“I appreciate your honesty, Starkiller,” Delenn’s voice had become softer again, filled with undeniable sorrow. “Did you see anything? Any indication of who it may have been?”
“No,” he shook his head, angling it downwards in resignation, “but whoever it was, they managed to wipe out a Narn heavy cruiser in a matter of seconds. And while your ships certainly have the power to do that, I don’t think any of your people are responsible either.”
“How do you reach that assumption?” she probed.
“I’ve never seen Minbari use missiles before, and our position was hit by a volley of them,” Sheridan explained. “Also, assuming that the attackers knew WHO they were firing at, and as it is my understanding that Minbari don’t kill Minbari, firing on us would have been violating that law.”
“You are correctly informed, Starkiller,” resigned Delenn.
“That said,” he continued, “can you categorically say that none of the more radical Warrior clans, couldn’t have avoided breaking that law, by hiring an outside source to do their dirty work?”
“MINBARI DO NOT KILL MINBARI,” Delenn asserted with authority, then added solftly, “but, as you said, there is no way I can completely rule it out.”
“So, we’re back to square one,” summed up Sheridan with a single chuckle of irony. “It could have been MY people, but I doubt it. It could have been YOUR people, but I doubt it. I don’t think the Narn would destroy one of their OWN cruisers. The Centauri would have nothing to gain by sabotaging peace. None of the other races have the power or the motivation to do it. Maybe there’s someone else out there.”
Sheridan had pondered this question over and over in the years since the actual attack. He hadn’t had such deep understanding of the Minbari back then as he possessed in 2260, not that he knew them through and through, mind you. He supposed that there COULD have been a leak somewhere in Earth Dome, prompting some rogue mission by extremist generals like Fontaine. Franklin had briefed him on Fontaine and his questionable morality. All things considered, it would have taken a coordinated strike by at least THREE Earth Force warships to take out a Narn cruiser that fast. The more ships, the harder it becomes to keep it a secret. Earth Force Naval Intelligence, perhaps? It didn’t feel right to Sheridan. He could recall the attack, and it wasn’t executed in a very, ‘Earth Force’ way. Also, the Alliance had almost completely done away with missiles after the end of the Dilgar War… they required too much of a supply chain for a downsized, peacetime military.
“We have encountered few races with such capabilities,” confirmed Delenn. “Many were defeated, a long… LONG time ago.”
Sheridan knew who she was referring to… The Shadows. Along with the Vorlons and other ‘First Ones’ races, and a few other of the younger races, the Minbari had defeated the Shadows a thousand years ago… a victory that hinged on he, Sinclair, and the rest of the White Star’s team, successfully delivering Babylon 4 into the past… one thousand years. Sheridan wondered what had happened on the station, when the fusion reactor had spiked. Had the station survived? No… he’d known of events they hadn’t yet encountered. Garibaldi had told him how the station had reappeared in late 2258, suffering from temporal instability. Garibaldi and Sinclair had evacuated the crew, just in time for the station to disappear again. Those events had yet to occur to their team. It would all come to pass, but he needed to get back there. He needed to be alone again, or risk someone seeing him when the temporal rift yanked him back again.
The Shadows. Could they have been responsible? This was before they became active again… or so Delenn had told him. They CERTAINLY possessed the power to knock out a Narn warship… and had done so in the past… that is, the future. Damned tenses! No. Missiles were a technology that was beneath them. Of course, they had employed others to disguise their actions before, but it again came down to someone with both the power to knock out a Narn G’Quan class Heavy Cruiser, and who ALSO used missiles. A thought rang through his mind like a hammer on an anvil… the Centauri. They had warships with such power, AND they still used missiles in planetary assaults. On top of that, the Shadows had… would, use them to camouflage their activities… and Mollari WAS assigned as the Centauri diplomatic representative to Earth Dome… Sheridan had met him briefly, just after the Prometheus incident. No. The timing was all off. Also, what would the Shadows have to gain? Well, to be fair, no one really knew WHAT the Shadows wanted. Their motivations remained a mystery.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be any more helpful,” Sheridan volunteered, sincerely.
“I thank you for your candour, Starkiller,” Delenn spoke up after a few moments of silence, and appeared to be moving away.
“It’s the least I could do, Delenn,” the word was out of his mouth before he realized it. ‘You IDIOT!’ he scolded himself.
“How do you know my name?” she responded, in overt suspicion.
“I… heard it from Lenonn,” Sheridan managed to improvise, and continued to race for more claims to support his explanation. “He told me… that only YOU would understand the meaning of his message.”
Silence followed for several seconds, and he assumed that Delenn was considering his words, trying to figure out if he was being truthful or not. He then heard the same shuffling sound from further away in the room, moving his way, but the next sound he heard, caused another shiver to cascade up the back of his neck. There was a pattern of soft musical tones, like a cross between a harp and wind chimes… a sound he recognized, as that accompanying the cryptic words of the Vorlon, Kosh.
“It is the wolf I see, but the sheep that speaks,” Kosh’s haunting voice echoed through the room.
Then, there came another series of tones from the opposite corner of the room… not musical, but rather like a dull, metallic vibration. “What are you hiding from us?” asked what Sheridan deduced must be another Vorlon, with whom he wasn’t acquainted. Its voice was less soft, and slightly higher-pitched than Kosh’s.
“I am a Commander in Earth Force in a time of war,” replied Sheridan defiantly to the unseen and unfamiliar voice. “If I told you everything I know, I would be a traitor.”
“You came to offer peace for your people,” resumed the second Vorlon, “you have failed. Why are you here?”
“DO NOT ANSWER HIM!” came a sudden voice within his head. Though Kosh had not spoken, Sheridan was convinced that it was Kosh’s voice he’d heard.
Turning towards where he assumed Kosh himself was standing, Sheridan offered a reply, one he wasn’t entirely sure he himself had come up with. “I have ALWAYS been here.”
“What does that mean?” asked Delenn, realizing that the conversation had left her behind.
“You do not belong here, traveller,” announced Kosh, in a tone Sheridan could almost describe as puzzled, or at the very least, uncertain. “Return to your own people. Finish your task. Complete the circle.” Sheridan then heard the shuffling sound again, and realized that Kosh was moving off, and the other Vorlon seemed to follow suit after a few seconds.
Delenn’s footfalls moved closer to him, until he guessed that she must have been only about two feet away from him. “You are not what I expected, Starkiller,” she stated, in a more relaxed tone. “You are not the vicious creatures many of us believed your kind to be.”
“I’d like to believe none of us are,” he admitted.
There was a slight clicking sound from Delenn, of a personal communicator, and the door behind Sheridan opened, and the boots of the Warriors returned. Delenn spoke to them in a more formal variant of Feek, and Sheridan recognized the word for ‘return’.
“The guards will bring you back to your two companions now,” she assured Sheridan. “You will be provided with food and liquids before boarding a flyer, which will take you to Narn territory, and release you into their custody. Should you die during this war, I hope that you die with honour… Starkiller.”
“My name is John,” were his last words to her, as the warriors escorted him out of the room. They passed through several corridors, likely taking an alternate route back to confuse his sense of direction. They had just finished dumping him off next to the still unconscious Stephen Franklin and G’Kar, when Sheridan felt the familiar tug of time begin to drag him away from this moment. What a story he would have for Delenn once he got back.