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BABYLON 5, Ivanova, Talia, and all characters and situations thereof, are all rights and J. Michael Straczynski and Bablyonian Productions. This is a not-for-profit effort for the purpose of fan-to-fan appreciation of some wonderful characters :).

further notes: B5 fifth season. A stand-alone Captain Ivanova story. Strong language. Russian profanity. Two-fisted violence. Ass-kicking. Guns. Nudity. Death. This is not hardware sci-fi, it's adventure/romance fiction, depicting a love relationship between two women. If this sensibility disturbs/does not interest you, please read no further.

Any feedback comments are welcomed and appreciated. Edited by calliope2000, who has my most sincere thanks.

Thank you, and enjoy. :)

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EURYDICE

by metis

psimetis@netscape.net

Prologue

The year was 2262, only two months after the end of the Earth Alliance Civil War between the forces of the disgraced President Clark and the triumphant fighters of the Resistance and break away colonies. Despite such a momentous event in EarthGov history, not everything--or everyone--was affected by the change in power. Major players within the Alliance managed to ride out the war unscathed; powerful corporations still influenced the economic and political situations of Earth, its many colonies, and the Alliance's dealings with alien worlds, and the Psi-Corps, the arm of the EA that controlled and trained human telepaths, continued nonplused in its own, opportunistic agendas... agendas which non-telepaths--the 'normals', as polite Psi-Corps members referred to them-- knew absolutely nothing about.

One out of 1000 humans may be telepathic, a person who can 'read' thoughts and communicate via thoughts; one out of 10,000 telepaths may be that rare being, a telekinetic, a person who can control matter with his or her mind, though finding a stable telekinetic who was not driven mad by that ability was even rarer. Psi-Corps was created to protect other humans from the telepaths and occasional telekinetic; to separate the psionically talented from society, to train them, enforce upon them the strict laws and regulations that governed their existence within EA, and to give them a place to serve the Alliance and the commercial sector. Only the most powerful in telepathic ability served in that Psi-Corps branch which policed the telepaths themselves, that branch known as the Psi-Cops. It was they who enforced the laws that made it a crime for any human telepath to exist outside the Corps, and to insure loyalty and obedience within the Family. For all telepaths, the Corps was Mother and the Corps was Father, and what the Corps needed of them, they gave.

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Chapter One: Mars to Gaia

Syria Planum, Psi-Corps Research Facility, Mars

February 4th, 2262

In the cold, sterile confines of one of the many med-labs within the secret research facility of Psi-Corps, the gray-smocked personne went about their duties under the harsh lights, moving like disinterested passerby who ignored the unfortunate in their busy midst; one unfortunate, a thin, seemingly fragile, sleeping occupant nestled in one of the lab beds.

The youthful figure of a silent Psi-Cop stood, black gloved hands clasped before her black uniformed front, and watched the sleeping woman. The intensity of the Psi-Cop's bright, gray-eyed gaze was the only indication of her concentrated scanning. Dark lashed lids blinked a moment as she paused at the intrusion of an external psychic question. Recognizing the mental imprint of the sender, the Psi-Cop raised her head in the visitor's direction.

Beyond the glass observation window of the lab, stood the small, deceptively unassuming, uniformed-clad figure of Alfred Bester, the older man's own dark eyes watching his colleague just as she had watched her sleeping subject. With precise, concise movements, he carefully entered the lab, avidly regarding the young woman. A sentiment of formal respect emanated from the younger Psi-Cop.

Yes sir, I've been monitoring her since the psychic operation, she sent in answer to the senior Psi-Cop's previous mental inquiry. I've tested the perimeters of her new conditioning in several different ways. The protocols you had specifically asked to be placed in her mind appear to be in full effect.

Good, came the smaller man's pleased, mental tone. He gazed down on the finely sculptured features of the pale, sleeping woman. And what of her recent injury?

Nearby, a doctor glanced up from his lab work, the question directed at his mind. He moved for the transparency clipped to the bed, reviewing its information.

Her gunshot wound is fully healed and no longer requires monitoring, he telepathically informed the Psi-Cops. She is cleared to leave whenever you are ready, sir.

As the doctor returned to his work, Bester caught the fragment of a possibly mental comment--more like a whispered observation, from his outwardly impassive companion.

The result of an unfortunate....mishap during a training experiment, he allowed as way of elaboration. It had involved a slug-thrower rather than the standard issued PPG.

The only indication of what his fellow Psi-Cop thought of the information was a slight raising of her eyebrows. Slug throwers were the descendants of old Earth weapons that discharged projectiles--the sort of weapon that was rarely utilized, much less distributed, off-Earth. Projectile firing had the potential to punch a hole in ships, space stations, or domed colonies like Mars' own settlements. This was why the PPG--the "phased plasma gun"--was the weapon of choice among known sentient races universe wide.

With some amusement, Bester noted the careful mental shielding his colleague utilized concerning her own personal conclusion as to how the woman in the med bed might have come by her injury. The younger Psi-Cop was too professionally polite to question Bester further, which, he concluded, was a definite sign of inexperience on her part. Not that he would have cared to have given her further details, anyway.

He returned his attention to the bed and intensified his gaze upon the sleeping, still form lying before him...

The woman's eyes flew open at the telepathic communication. Chilling, blue, and wide, they immediately found Bester's own intense orbs and regarded the older man curiously. Bester found it interesting that even after all this time--the span of two and a half years--he was still unused to seeing the strangely cool regard of the Psi-Corps' implanted, artificial personality stare from eyes he had remembered as being--softer, back on Babylon 5. Surprising, Bester inwardly commented, bemused by his own reaction. Possible testimony to the distinct impression the woman this once was, had left him; a woman whose consciousness and identity was now long destroyed, and in her place, that of a Psi-Corps-created servant. He returned the artificial construct's cool gaze with a curious one of his own.

Get dressed, he ordered the staring woman. You are being sent to Earth.

Anticipation and excitement immediately emanated from the woman. She rose eagerly from the bed, and without modesty, shrugged out of the medlab issued gown. She grabbed her Psi-Cops' aide uniform. It was not black, like the Psi-Cops' own intimidating attire, but its dark green had the same military cut.

The younger Psi-Cop watched the curvaceous, nude body dress, and noted the small, white bandage affixed to the woman's lean belly. Despite her professional impassiveness, the Psi-Cop could not help a subtle shake of her dark head.

Do you question the wisdom of my utilizing this subject, agent? Bester's mental tone suddenly uttered in her mind. If the Psi-Cop was surprised by her older colleague's ease at scanning her well-shielded surface thoughts, she did not show it. All Psi-Cops were level-12 telepaths, of more or less equal psionic strength to each other, but it was common knowledge that Alfred Bester, perhaps due to decades of field experience and personal, legendary disciplines, had a remarkable ability for unsettling even his own fellow Psi-Cops. Either that, or he was an exceptionally good guesser.

The young woman watched the patient button her uniform front, before carefully replying.

My apologies, sir, but with all due respect, I had taken the opportunity to review the subject's service history to the Psi-Cops since her transfer from Babylon 5 and the Commercial Corps. Her recent 'mishap' is just another in a long list of incidences where she has proven a difficult and contrary agent. She was slated for final research and termination before you pulled her for this assignment.

She gave the older Psi-Cop a significant glance and deliberated whether she should continue. Alfred Bester smiled. The woman before them had finished slipping on her Corps regulated black gloves and now stood, hands clasped behind her, staring inquisitively. She was scanning them, and being only of P-5 level telepathic ability, she, of course, could not glean even an inkling of what the two far stronger telepaths were psychically discussing. Yet despite the futility of the attempt she continued to stare openly, wide eyes intent and chillingly blue.

And she's insolent, the younger Psi-Cop added finally, unable to hide her irritation, as she felt the patient's insistent scan knock against her own shields repeatedly.

Stop that, came the quietly voiced psychic order, and for a moment, the younger Psi-Cop nearly thought the mental command was directed at her. The woman's scanning ceased. Shiny, blonde hair momentarily arced in the air as the patient gave what could possibly be interpreted, as a defiant toss of her golden head. The younger Psi-Cop frowned. The blonde was a lower level telepath, yet her repeated attempts to invasively scan the Psi-Cops had actually begun to irritate, if not hurt a bit. To her own knowledge, she doubted any weaker telepath ever had the audacity to try to scan a Psi-Cop before, especially one who was practically half a level-12's strength level. The circumstance was baffling.

In every situation, gold can be made of lead, agent, came the reflective observation to the young Psi-Cop's mind. I like the odds of such an impossibility being achieved. Her older colleague's glittering eyes met her calm gray ones. Thick dark brows were knitted together in an attitude of pensive amusement.

It can be quite gratifying, he added.

He sent an additional thought to the Psi-Cop; a request to see to their travel arrangements. The young woman nodded, then took her silent leave. Bester returned his attention to the taller, fair-haired woman before him.

With a slow gesture, like a magician displaying his hand, he revealed the shiny flat card of a holoview case. Low heeled shoes eagerly clicked on the cold tile of the medlab floor as the blonde approached the holoview. It flickered to life. The tiny, 3-dimensional image of a beautifully featured, dark-haired woman garbed in an unfamiliar, black command uniform appeared, arms crossed and smiling confidently, as an ISN voice-over played.

"...once the Voice of the Resistance, the second in command of rebel leader John Sheridan and of the break-away space station colony, Babylon 5, and now EarthForce's latest re-acquisition, has been promoted to captain and given the helm of one of the much anticipated Warlock class cruisers debuting from the shipyards at Io...."

"Susan," crooned the deep, husky sound of the woman's throaty voice, low and sweet in the stark quiet of the medlab. A brilliant, broad smile slowly broke on her fine boned features as her black gloved fingers caressed the tiny hologram, momentarily disrupting the projection. Bester neatly shut the case. His own, accented tones sounded in the sterile air.

"I think it's time you and she came together again, Ms. Winters."

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Geneva, Earth

February 5th, 2262

The winter night was a crisp, deep indigo hazed by the steady city lights of that part of the historic city of Geneva where the sedately majestic complex of buildings and impressively lined avenues of the governing capital of Earth Alliance and its crowning structural symbol, Earthdome, resided. Inside that part of the open air complex which housed the military might of EA, its EarthForce, stood the building where EF's finest spent off-duty to drink and unwind. Tonight, the usually casual, sometimes rambunctious atmosphere of the officers' lounge was replaced by the innocuous strains of polite jazz and the presence of officers in smartly pressed dress grays, drinks in hand, bantering congenially. Stepping away from the sea of ribbons and brass present, a dark haired woman, tall and impressive in her own gold trimmed grays, poked a moment out upon the sudden brisk winter air of the patio to glance up inquisitively at the night sky.

Large, bright blue eyes scanned the black heavens, orbs shining intelligent and alert beneath elegant, dark eyebrows. Since returning to Earth, it had become Captain Susan Ivanova's habit to gaze up at every opportunity and take in the sight of the sky. Three prominent satellites twinkled from their position in the night tapestry before her scrutiny, as she raised a reflective hand to elegantly, and absently, adjust the long tight braid of her brunette hair. Ivanova finally lowered her gaze to nod politely to the now interested eyes of the officers who had retreated to the patio to smoke cigars, and withdrew back into the lounge.

"Captain," acknowledged her assigned second in command, Zhang Chen, in his pleasantly smooth voice. A tall, gracefully thin man, his handsome, high cheek-boned features were often schooled in a repose of quiet humor. "The Great Black Beyond still as it should be?"

"As soon as we're up and in that Beyond, commander, it will be," Ivanova smartly replied in her rich voice, her wide mouth quirking into a smile. She liberated a champagne flute from a waiter's passing tray, sipping it as she stood with her second. "Heard anything yet on the progress of the repairs?"

To Ivanova's disappointment, her XO shook his head. This was the third time in a month that the new ship she was set to captain, the E.A.S. Orpheus, had suffered an unexplained 'accident', or, what Ivanova actually suspected, an incident of sabotage. They were three weeks behind schedule for their maiden launch, and despite Earth Intelligence finally getting involved with their own investigations, they were no closer to explaining the incidents or catching whoever was causing them. It was a pretty lousy way to begin one's captaincy, Ivanova had groused privately.

That, and one other matter as well, which had followed her in one form or another since leaving John Sheridan and Babylon 5. Even through the throng of milling EF officers, she could feel the glowering stare from the short, but formidable, compact form attached to the bar counter across the room.

"Real nice celebration for Admiral Fayek's appointment to Orion, don't you think?" entered the upbeat tones of a cheery male voice, interrupting Ivanova's thoughts. She could not help a responsive grin as she caught amused, bright brown eyes. Running into her brother Ganya's old flight school mate, Lt. Commander Fidel Bassa, while awaiting her debriefing had definitely helped her spirits; her usually pessimistic Russian nature had been wringing out every worried speculation possible as to why she and Chen had been called back to Earth from Io. Bassa put a brown, broad hand to his mouth, stifling a pretend yawn as he winked.

"Watch it, Jaguar, his daughter may be watching," Ivanova lightly reprimanded, utilizing her old friend's fighter nickname and reminding him of who had organized this event for the admiral. The captain and Cm. Chen shared a grin over the lt. commander's slick-backed head as he quickly glanced around.

"Well, I don't see the daughter for the moment, but you appear to have an admirer, 'Nova," Bassa observed breezily. Upon hearing that statement, Ivanova gave her XO a meaningful look, as she sipped her glass.

"Know him?" She asked, low-toned. Cm. Chen discreetly glanced over her shoulder towards the direction of the bar, noting the short, muscled figure slowly fingering his dress collar like a bulldog pulling meditatively on a chain.

"Captain Teddy Atlas, newly promoted, like yourself, and during the civil war, a Clark supporter. His brother was a fighter pilot who died in combat recently."

Chen returned his eyes to Ivanova, watching her carefully.

"At Mars," he added quietly.

Ivanova silently processed the information, as her second waited patiently. Even Bassa wisely refrained from comment. His old flight buddy's sister was, only two months ago, the soldier who had led the rebel Resistance fleet against President Clark's EF ships, forcing them back all the way to Mars. Everyone had believed that she had fallen that day at the red planet, mortally wounded, but under her inspiring command the rebel forces had advanced farther than anyone could have anticipated, carving a path for Captain John Sheridan to follow straight to Earth and to the inevitable overthrow of President Clark. Despite the Resistance's victory and Ivanova's return to EarthForce, not everyone viewed her homecoming as deserving, or her remarkable service to the Resistance as heroism. Bassa watched as Ivanova dropped off her empty flute on another passing waiter's tray.

"Think I need something stronger, gentlemen," she stated, and with a quick nod, turned for the bar. Bassa was about to follow in Ivanova's assertive stride when he felt a firm hand clap his shoulder.

"Captain to captain," Chen informed him.

"Right, captain to captain," Bassa echoed, trying to look unconcerned, but he noticed that the commander only waited a few more seconds before nonchalantly stepping in the direction of the bar himself. Bassa grinned and followed the tall, thin form in.

"Vodka," Ivanova requested. She watched the bartender retrieve the bottle and ready a glass.

"Care to join me in a drink, Captain?" She lightly asked, not looking to her side where the compact form leaned. Captain Atlas' small pale eyes narrowed, as he polished off his shot of scotch.

"I don't drink with rebels," his gravelly voice stated, the shot glass coming down with a decisive clunk to the surface of the bar top. Cold flints for eyes regarded Ivanova casually in their thinly veiled derision.

"We're on the same side now, Captain," Ivanova quietly informed him, now facing the shorter man. She casually leaned on the bar in the same manner Atlas' body rested, watching now as his broad jaw clenched in reaction, popping a tense muscle out of his thick neck.

"I don't think someone like you belongs in Earthforce, 'Captain'," he slowly grated out, his address of Ivanova's rank a mocking acknowledgment. A hard, cold stare now forged between the two unblinking captains.

"You should have stayed dead at Mars," came the menacing sentiment through rows of gritted teeth.

Ivanova leaned in, bright blue eyes wide and iced.

"And you," Ivanova enunciated slowly, her rich tone deep. "Shouldn't dishonor your brother's death by acting like a stupid drunk."

Atlas stood up, his barrel chest suddenly butting up against Ivanova's as she easily took his body's shove with one back of her own. She stared intensely down into Atlas' small hard eyes just as the shorter captain stared hot and fierce in return.

"Cover up!" Chen quickly whispered to Bassa as he stepped forward. The fighter pilot vainly tried to accommodate the commander's request by blocking the other party-goers' view of the bar with his back. How does one successfully do that while two headstrong Earthforce captains were chest to chest like two prized fighter cocks ready at any moment to let loose spurs?? Bassa moved a little from side to side, hoping that would help.

Like a practiced pacifist of many an enlisted man's bar scene, Chen roughly interceded his tall, wiry frame between the two, irately engrossed captains, and effectively elbowed the contestants apart just as Atlas' own XO decided to act. Both men successfully covered their captains, only working a little harder to move the near unmoveable objects away from each other by repeatedly urging their respective COs backward.

"Excuse me, but are you Capt. Ivanova, Ma'am?" A lieutenant suddenly, and loudly, interrupted at Chen's and Ivanova's side, standing smartly.

Chen stared at the slim man, utterly baffled. His captain ignored the lieutenant and continued her stare contest with her bulldog foe.

"Yes lieutenant, yes she is," Chen answered for her.

"Information from Earth Intel concerning your ship, Ma'am," the slim man continued, obviously aware of the tense situation as evidenced by his wide eyes, but still dedicated to performing his duty.

"For your ears only, Ma'am," he added.

Ivanova's eyes narrowed, as she returned Captain Atlas' own flinted regard.

"Another time, Captain," she quietly promised.

Atlas snorted, his teeth showing in a mirthless grin.

"Another time, Captain," his gravely voice slowly pronounced, emphasizing the last word with definite promise.

Ivanova firmly moved Chen aside and reached for her drink at the bar counter. She downed the shot, and with one last deadly, dark gaze at Atlas, turned. The lieutenant opened and then closed his mouth, finding the captain passing him without a glance. As Ivanova's proud form disappeared into the crowd of party-goers--the slim frame of the lieutenant valiantly following--a relieved Cm. Chen leaned heavily on the bar.

"Care to bet on how exciting serving under 'Nova is going to be?" Bassa grinned as he joined the lanky commander.

Chen laughed softly, shaking his head.

"Noooo need for bets," his smooth, wry tones only commented.

Ivanova stepped out into the chilly night air, boots setting a brisk rhythm on the pavement, and let out a deep breath. Giving the admiral her regards back at the party had not been easy. Fayek had witnessed the entire confrontation between she and Capt. Atlas and in true, two star, thin-lipped fashion, made sure Ivanova's ego had the pleasure of regressing to her wet-eared cadet days. Fayek could be so damn dry in his wit, Ivanova fretted. She could never be sure when he was truly displeased or not. She just hoped that she hadn't lost one of the few supporters she had in EarthGov, even though that supporter was now transferring to Orion colony. She heard boots hurry to come alongside her.

"What have you got for me, lieutenant," she demanded.

"Captain," the lieutenant addressed. He seemed a bit flustered, as he matched Ivanova's quick stride. He produced a folded piece of paper. "From the admiral's daughter."

Ivanova stopped short and arched a sharp eyebrow at the slim man before her, hardly expecting this additional development. She took the paper, quickly perused it, then stuffed it in her pocket. The only indication of her personal bemusement was a quick shake of her dark head as she resumed walking. That girl was so damn persistent.

"About my ship, lieutenant," Ivanova ordered.

"Yes sir. Earth Intelligence has found evidence that the three separate incidents that damaged the E.A.S. Orpheus are most likely deliberate, and though they've not yet identified who exactly executed the sabotage, they have traced a possible connection back to here, on Earth."

"And?" Ivanova prompted. God, she thought to herself. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. Bureaucratic agencies were good for nothing but 'possibilities' and 'maybes'. She was beginning to realize that, despite the conspiracies and plots they had struggled with on Babylon 5, it had actually been a good thing when Sheridan had declared the EA space station an independent state in the face of Clark's increasingly intolerable rule. The only beauracracy she had had to deal with then was either John or herself, since she was the second in command, therefore it was no surprise that things had gotten done. Or that they were the ones who won the war, for that matter.

"Captain..."

To her surprise, the slim man suddenly moved before her, effectively stopping Ivanova in her path. By the lamplights that lit the pavement they walked upon, Ivanova could now see the urgent, and earnest seriousness in the man's large eyes.

"What is it lieutenant," Ivanova quietly questioned.

"Captain," the man continued, his voice sincere and quiet. "I have personal knowledge that an attempt will be made on your life, tonight. I can't tell you if this is connected with what has been happening to your ship, but I am very certain that this is going to happen."

Sharp blue eyes now focused intently on the man's face--measuring what could be seen in his own pale eyes. He was handsome, his black hair short and wavy, receding from a broad, wide forehead. His earnest eyes were light blue, large and thickly lashed; his mouth was pretty--a kissable mouth, by Ivanova's casual estimation. He had a youthful look about him, but could easily be her own age. She could see the maturity in his eyes, despite the ingenue-like sincerity. This was a man who had seen, and known, things.

"Who are you," she finally demanded, stepping forward. "Are you Earth Intel? What are you doing in an Earthforce uniform?"

"Captain," the slim man began. He stopped as he heard the approach of heeled shoes and the quiet tones of women conversing. He watched Ivanova's own bright eyes rise to regard the women passing on the cross path behind him, her sharp brows suddenly springing up as realization and utter disbelief emanated from her.

He felt himself holding his own breath as the women's heeled shoes began to distance in sound, his emotions fascinatingly in tune with Ivanova's own, apparently shocked state.

"Wait here!" She barked out before he could react. She moved quickly past him and ran determinedly down the path.

Shoulder length, straight, gold hair swung in the dark; the achingly familiar sway of curvaceous hips to the casual step of beautifully formed legs so apparent beneath an Earthforce skirt drew Ivanova like a beacon. The height--the shape---she grabbed the woman by the arm, swinging her about, startling her. She had to know--

It was not her. Susan's heart pounded in her ears. The face was so young, and only slightly like--Ivanova stared into wide hazel-green eyes and knew she had to speak or frighten the young woman further. It was not her at all.

"I'm very sorry, ensign," Ivanova finally spoke, her breath still rapid with emotion. Her exhales misted in the winter air between she and the girl, puffs leaving her lips like a quiet desperation. She let go of the young woman's arm. "I had thought you were someone else."

"Perhaps we can help you find her, Captain?" The young ensign asked helpfully, concern and the spark of attraction in her eyes-- her words catching Ivanova as the captain made to turn away. The voice was not even close--light and girlish in its youthfulness.

"Thank you ensign, but there's no need," Ivanova replied, giving a polite smile that hardly masked the emotional turmoil in her darkened eyes. She nodded to the two young women, before finally turning away. "Have a good evening."

"Ma'am," the other young woman acknowledged to the captain's retreating back, before turning to her rather crestfallen blonde companion.

"She looked like she had seen a ghost," she confided to her fair-haired friend.

The slim man in the lieutenant's uniform straightened as Ivanova returned. The captain appeared distracted--actually upset, but the moment her intense eyes met his once again he knew not to even ask what he wasn't sure how to ask, anyway.

"Tell me who you are, right now," Came the biting command as a firm finger jabbed him in the chest. "Because I am having one hell of a bad night that just seems to get worse, and I might as well round out this sorry excuse for an evening with whatever you've got--so spill it!"

"Captain, there is going to be an attempt on your life tonight," the man earnestly explained. "During the course of my carrying out another investigation, I happen to learn of a plot where a pro-Clark, militant group intends to--"

"Are you Intel?" Ivanova's hand sliced through the air before her emphatically, broaching no more sidestepping to her question.

The man's large eyes stared almost helplessly for a moment into Ivanova's, as he stood in a subtle state of defeated resignation. He sighed.

"No Captain," he finally replied. "I'm Psi-Corps."

He was not surprised to find himself shoved roughly aside by an angry shoulder as Ivanova brusquely dismissed him. It was not entirely well-known, but in some circles, Ivanova's disgust and hatred of Psi-Corps was near legendary. He had only to review the Psi-Corps file on her to know how eloquently the captain was capable of expressing her feelings towards telepaths--one prime example being, when she was a young lieutenant assigned to Io, her throwing a Psi-Corps member out of a three story window into a hotel pool.

"Captain," he tried again, chasing after her. "I had picked up the thoughts of the conspirators and decided to come directly to you to warn you. They know how you routinely take the lake monorail to your apartment in Geneva every night. They plan to--"

The Psi-Corps agent stopped a moment, barely compensating for the abrupt turn Ivanova made down an alternate walkway away from him. He followed beside her gamely. She made another sharp turn, flustering him again.

"Captain--"

Ivanova found herself stumbling into the agent as he forcibly placed himself before her, grabbing her arms.

"Idiotka!!" Ivanova cursed at him, snapping her arms out of his.

"Tonight!" The agent rapidly explained. "When you take the train across the lake. Someone will be at the station to identify your car and relay it to a boat waiting out on the water. When your train passes, the boat will launch an explosive--"

"WHAT??" Came Ivanova's incredulous, shouted reply.

"A missile--" the agent continued, finding his face self-consciously reaching a shade of red.

"Are you nuts??! " The exclamation came from a wide mouth now hung open at the sheer audacity of what was being heard, Ivanova's eyes nearly sparkling with a kind of mirth only found with the absurd.

"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!" She added, facing the now embarrassed man. Her arm jabbed in the air, emphasizing her words. "Why not just rig my car to explode? Why not just take a shot at me in the street right now??"

"I don't--" the Psi-Corps agent attempted.

"Do you expect me to believe a bunch of people want to shoot me out of the sky like some duck??"

"Look, they're a stupid militant group, all right?" The agent finally acknowledged in frustration and complete embarrassment. Ivanova snorted loudly, turning away.

"Psi-Corps must really be running out of good ideas to try something as lame as this story on me," she scoffed derisively in parting. The agent's black-haired head snapped up, umbrage at her words bringing a frown to his smooth wide brow.

"Psi-Corps is not behind this," he clarified, following the brisk pace of the captain once again. "What I'm telling you is the truth--"

"Look," Ivanova emphasized, stopping once more to meet the agent's eyes. "You're working undercover, therefore you must be a Psi-Cop, and as a Psi-Cop you damn well know what agendas your 'Mother' and 'Father' conspire to, so don't bullshit me into trying to believe that this isn't yet another Psi-Corps game. You've had your say so you're done, whoever-you-are! Now I suggest you take your teep ass out of my sight before my boot finds it!!"

Flabbergasted, the agent could only stop in his tracks and stare in the lamplit darkness after Ivanova's marching back. Her actual words had not astonished him as much as her use of the term 'teep'--a slang reference for 'telepath' he had thought only Corps members used among each other. He had never heard it out of the mouth of a 'normal' until now. Ever since Ivanova's presence began to affect the Alliance's awareness as the Voice of the Resistance, he had personally felt that there was something especially fascinating about her. Perhaps this personal assessment was what motivated him now to bother justifying himself to this exceptionally stubborn woman. He gamely ran after the captain once again, determination in his voice.

"Do you think every Psi-Corps member has an agenda, some part in some secret plot to fulfill?" He called out. "Can't you give me credit that I want to help you as much as that telepath did who saved President Robinson's life??"

"Don't you even quote back that event to me," she threatened quietly, referring to that historic incident that precipitated the creation of Psi-Corps. "Because that was probably the only, and last time, a telepath ever did good of his own free will."

The well lit monorail lakeside train station now loomed in the darkness sedately before them, its steps and platform deserted during this late night when office workers and other such personnel had long fled the capital's many buildings for their homes. Ivanova took to the steps quickly, easily outstripping the slim Psi-Cop, who, though an athletically capable man, found his five foot six inch frame outmatched by the captain's four inch height advantage.

"Captain, please don't take that car!" He warned, a frantic tone entering his voice. "Captain Ivanova!"

He decided on one desperate, last ploy. Pale eyes stopped to concentrate and focus intensely upon the back of Ivanova's head.......

It happened so quickly, he barely understood how it happened. One moment he was scanning--sending a direct telepathic communication to Ivanova; the next, he was airborne, feet dangling, his body swinging like a rag doll's off the train station steps to impact with a body-stunning thud into a support pillar.

"NO ONE--" came the furious hot tones upon the surface of his face as his wide eyes took in the pained visage of incredibly angry, hurt blue eyes. "No one gets in my mind!! NOBODY! I'll shove your head up your ass for that!!"

Her tumultuous thoughts were so openly wrought, especially in their close proximity to him, the Psi-Cop could not block Ivanova's emotional turmoil even if he tried. The sensations of such pain and fear which he had caused resonated from the furious captain like light waves; he caught the images of two faces--one, an older woman, similar in looks to Ivanova... another, of a pale featured, attractive blonde, with warm, blue-gray eyes...

"I'm sorry--" he managed to gasp aloud under the steel pressure of Ivanova's forearm upon his throat. "Sorry--"

"Captain! Ma'am! Can we assist you?" A male voice suddenly interrupted to their right. Three formidable, uniformed figures of Earthforce's military police stood upon the platform, at the ready.

Ivanova removed her arm with a jerk, allowing the gasping Psi-Cop to stand freely as he put a hand to his throat in relief.

"This man is a Psi-Corps agent masquerading as an Earthforce lieutenant," she stated in harsh tones. "Against EA law, he has just scanned me without permission. Haul his ass into the nearest brig and get him out of my sight!"

"Yes Sir!" The MPs barked, grabbing the agent. The slim man struggled futilely, making a last ditch effort to call after the now oblivious woman walking assertively away.

"Ivanova!!" trailed his voice behind her. "Don't take the train! What I sent you was the truth!! Ivanova!!!"

With a grim satisfaction, Ivanova heard nothing more behind her. One good thing about EF's MPs was that they knew how to shut someone up.

A monorail car was already docked at the platform. She entered as the car's doors slid shut behind her, the train now accelerating to leave the station. Lost in her own dark thoughts, she did not notice the civilian custodian unobtrusively cleaning the platform deck, his eyes following the captain into the car...

"At ease, sergeant," Ivanova requested quietly, almost wearily, of the military police officer who stood at attention when she had entered the car.

"Yes ma'am," came the black man's easy-going, deep voice as he relaxed his six foot plus tall frame. Ivanova stared out the darkened window, easily dismissing the big man; he was the only other presence in the car with her, tonight. The car's bright interior lights didn't allow her to gaze out. Instead, she could only see her own reflection, and the sadness of her own large eyes...

Damn that telepath, she wearily cursed, unable to banish unwanted memories prompted by her mind being touched once again by another--even when that touch had been entirely unwelcome. Only two people in her life had ever been allowed into her mind; one had been driven to suicide by the Corps, and the other had been wrenched from her life by the horrifying circumstance of a secret Corps plot meant to destroy Ivanova and the command staff of Babylon 5. Her mama, Sofie Ivanov, a rogue telepath eventually tracked down by Psi-Corps, had killed herself, unable to take the depressive state the Sleeper drugs had put her in--drugs that, by law, were given to telepaths who refused to go to prison or to join the Corps. Her tragic death was the reason for Ivanova's near irrational hate of Psi-Corps. That, and the grievous lost of the other telepath she had let into her life....

Ivanova blinked rapidly, hoping the tears she felt rise and rim her wide eyes would go unnoticed by the humming sergeant standing only a few feet away from her reflection in the black window. She did not want to think about it, because it had happened two and a half years ago, and thinking about it again would not bring back the woman she had learned to love so deeply, from that gut-wrenching instant when one of Psi-Corps' insidious conspiracies had her lover taken away forever. Susan would only allow one thought, and then would place the painful emotions deep into the tightly locked mental box she had kept those feelings in since that first devastating lost: she had never stopped loving Talia Winters.

As she inhaled slowly, hoping to regain some semblance of composure despite the evidence of her sad reflection, Ivanova suddenly experienced the disturbing flashback of voices--of an overheard conversation she had no personal memory of having overheard. She scowled, realizing that this 'flashback' was just the recall of the telepathically sent information that infuriating Psi-Cop agent had tried to give her. Since the 'memory' was only that of voices, rather than images, Ivanova could barely discern this as actual evidence of the remarkably ridiculous plot the Psi-Cop alleged it to be.

God above, she sighed ruefully, rubbing at an eye wearily as she watched faint indications of the lake's black waters beneath the high track the train ran upon, speed past her reflective sight. She was missing John terribly--all her friends on Babylon 5, and she knew why. At least there, when stupid conspiracies were conspiring to ruin her life, she knew who to trust--to some extent, anyway. Here on Earth, she was completely on her own, and not even the thought of a bottle of vodka and a soak in a real, antique bathtub was going to placate the depression her cynical Russian soul was recycling for her. She glanced back at the humming sergeant, who now rocked on his heels to an inner rhythm. At least someone on this train was going home happy tonight.

Then she sensed it.

The hairs pricked up eerily at the back of her neck; her old warning sign of imminent danger--

She swung her head and saw a bright flash pop out on the lake's surface, briefly illuminating a small boat before her wide eyes--

She spun around and leapt for the sergeant, grabbing the slug-thrower from the astonished man's hip holster. She brought the gun up, the man's eyes going stark and wide as the barrel fired at a target right over his shoulder--

Glass shattered behind the man, the rushing, whistling winter wind now buffeting the car interior as Ivanova stepped back, then ran forward and down with all the force she could muster, already sensing--with absolutely no need to confirm with her eyes--the bright, lighted heat headed straight behind her. With a thudding impact she tackled the heavy body of the larger sergeant, her momentum sending them both right out the shattered window and sailing bodily into the wide open, brisk night air--

"Incomin--" came the sergeant's strangled, dumbfounded cry, stolen by the wind as Ivanova heard the familiar, searing thunderclap sound behind her, then the ear-shattering implosion of the speeding car. The powerful plasma wave caught their falling bodies, ripping Ivanova and the sergeant apart to tumble rapidly for the black lake waters below. Ivanova's last coherent thought before hitting the frigid waters was that she hoped the sarge knew how to swim......

-----------------------------------------------------------

Geneva, Earth

February 6th, 2262

"And how is our captain doing today?" came the pleasant, smooth tones of Commander Zhang Chen.

Ivanova sat up immediately in her medlab bed, wide mouth broadening in a grateful smile as she saw the suit bag that contained her uniform, held up by her lanky second in command.

"Thanks for going to my apartment, Chen," her rich voice expressed appreciatively, her hands reaching for the overnight bag he had also brought. The commander noted the regenerated derm mark--a now faint and silvery scar--on Ivanova's forearm as the sleeve of the med gown rode up. When he had heard of the spectacular attempt on Ivanova's life, he had come directly to the hospital she had been brought to and found out, much to his relief, that she had only suffered some shrapnel cuts and bruises. Had she been in the freezing waters of Lake Geneva any longer she might have suffered severe hypothermia, but luckily for this apparently nine-lived captain, she had been quickly picked up by an emergency response team.

It certainly wasn't like they could miss that particular explosion, the commander mused. He lost his train of thought for a moment, realizing, as Ivanova rose from the bed to head for the changing screen, that the med gown didn't exactly hide much. He also realized that this was the first time he had ever seen his captain's hair loose; the long, wavy tresses, brunette dark and thick as she absently tossed it back over her shoulder.

"Chen," he heard her rich tones say. "About the sergeant."

"Oh," Chen recovered. "Yes. Well. I found out that he did suffer an internal injury from hitting the water, like you suspected, in addition to the broken ribs. Besides that, he's fine and will make a full recovery."

"Good. And when he does, I hope he'll sign up for swimming lessons for the next time he needs to leap into a freezing lake from an exploding train car," Ivanova quipped from behind the screen. Chen chuckled, then noticed his captain's head pop back from behind the screen, eyebrow arched.

"Nice choice," she wryly noted, holding up the black lace, matching bra and panties set the commander had chosen from Ivanova's underwear drawer. Chen's chuckle turned to a cough as he self-consciously ran a hand through his hair.

"And about this crazy militant group that wanted me blown out of the sky?" She added, calling out from behind the screen.

"Well hello, hello!" sauntered in a dark suited, grinning man, his hands casually thrust into pants pockets. Behind him, a similarly suited black woman, eyes intelligent and observant, followed, casually positioning herself in the back of the med room.

"Agent Dillon, Earth Intelligence, Commander," continued the grinning, sandy-haired man, putting a hand out for Chen to firmly shake. He indicated the silent woman with him. "And my partner, Agent Halas. How's our captain doing?"

Ivanova strolled out from behind the screen, eyes bright and keenly alert. She was barefoot but already in Earthforce blue slacks, her slender fingers fastening the last buttons of her white dress shirt. Her XO was suitably impressed by her speed. He added that impression to his mental 'things to know about one's captain' list.

"Agent Dillon," she acknowledged, shaking the man's hand. His thin-lipped smirk did not impress her. She watched as the other agent stepped forward to shake her hand. And this must be the sensible one, Ivanova concluded to herself. "Agent Halas."

"Well, whatever news you've got for me, agents, let's hear it," Ivanova requested, returning behind the screen.

"Well captain, let's just say that what we've got could make for one heck of a funny story," Dillon replied, giving Chen a half-laugh the commander didn't bother to respond to. Dillon shrugged and continued.

"We checked out the boat and arrested members of a radical militant group who call themselves 'Die Ivanova'--"

At this Ivanova emerged from behind the screen once more, incredulous, with a boot held in her hands. Dillon shrugged again, a bemused kind of humor present in his lean face.

"As far as we can tell, there are only five members, some of whom have mental patient histories and all of whom apparently funded this grandiose scheme of assassinating you using their life savings and a friend's leisure boat."

Dillon scratched his nose reflectively.

"Frankly, Earth Intel doesn't even have a file on these people; it's like 'Die Ivanova' didn't exist before this day, but who knows, maybe they were a weekend chat club before they decided to become assassins," he added with another half-laugh.

"Does this have anything to do with my ship and what's been happening to it?" Ivanova demanded, privately wondering when it was that planet Earth's inhabitants had all gone mad.

"That, we're still working on, and whether," and here, Agent Dillon gave the room an entertaining pause, as if his next words were a private joke. "'Die Ivanova' is connected to the incidents happening to the E.A.S. Orpheus, we will soon find out."

"In the meanwhile," Dillon continued breezily, as an exasperated Ivanova pulled on her boots. "EarthGov has been finding all this high profile attention on you pretty disturbing, so Intel and Earthforce has agreed to a suggestion from Psi-Corps to provide you with a telepath bodyguard--"

"WHAT??" Ivanova exclaimed.

"--while Intel goes about managing some damage control. All of which your immediate superior, Admiral Fayek, will be explaining to you when he arrives. Okay!" Dillon clapped his hands together, obviously pleased at successfully delivering his information. He handed the dumbstruck Ivanova a card. "Need an update on what's going on when and where, just give me a call. Have a good evening, captain."

He gave Chen a casual salute as he sauntered out, his partner following.

"Commander," Dillon acknowledged pleasantly, before exiting the door.

With the Intel agents now gone, Ivanova turned to her second, knowing there was even more that she really didn't want to hear.

"What's going on," she quietly demanded.

Chen activated the com unit set in the med room's wall.

"ISN," he requested outloud. The screen flickered to reveal the interstellar news network and the subject of its present, rabid focus. As the com unit switched between the ten ISN channels, revealing coverage of the explosion site, Io and Ivanova's berthed ship, her past on Babylon 5--it became sickenly apparent that the images and newscasters' voices were centered on one fascinating subject: Captain Susan Ivanova.

"'Die Ivanova' had released one formal statement after the incident; they had wanted your death to draw complete media attention. What they didn't count on was your surviving the assassination attempt, saving the life of an Earthforce sergeant, and keeping him alive for the 20 minutes you were in Lake Geneva's freezing waters."

Chen shut down the com.

"This is even bigger than what you did for the Resistance. ISN has you a hero all over again, Captain."

Ivanova said nothing, her face intent as she slowly absorbed this new information. Automatically, she slipped on her EF jacket and absent-mindedly packed her overnight satchel. Chen had to reflect; here was one career Earthforce officer who acted every inch the hero but couldn't care a rat's ass for the glory of it. He wondered how he would measure in just such a circumstance.

"Ebyona mat'," Ivanova cursed quietly.

Then Admiral Fayek walked in.

Two pairs of Earthforce boots quickly clicked to attention as bodies straightened in the presence of the two star general. Black, piercing eyes seemed to scan the air even above the tall commander's head, as Admiral Fayek moved slowly into the room.

"At ease," his accented tones ordered. Relaxing out of attention, Ivanova took the moment to hastily button her EF jacket up completely before dropping her hands to clasp them behind her. Chalk one up to her dependable XO for having the foresight to pin her gold statbar and EA badge on the front before bringing the uniform to her, Ivanova thought gratefully.

"Commander," Fayek quietly acknowledged, not bothering to communicate more. Chen took the hint, straightening once again to attention.

"Yes Sir!" He replied, then smartly turned on his heel, exiting out of the room.

"Well captain," Fayek continued pensively, as he stood before Ivanova. "You have certainly been busy since coming back to Earth."

"Sir," Ivanova only replied, her attempt to look calm hardly placating her irrational desire to grab the admiral and ask him a hundred questions at once.

"When you were given back your position in Earthforce--your service record and benefits fully reinstated, a promotion and the helm of a new ship...understand that my support in accepting you back into EF was for the overall good of the Alliance. I believed that allowing you to serve Earth again would hasten healing the rift among our people that the civil war had brought."

"Sir," Ivanova dared to interrupt. "I had never stopped serving Earth."

Fayek actually allowed his mustached mouth to quirk at that response, the only other indication of his amusement was a possible twinkle in his black eyes. Like his desert ancestors, he had a noble bearing to his dark, impassive features, with black browed orbs legendary for their intensity.

"I believe more so, that you have never stopped serving the universe," he clarified. "Which is why you are better suited up there." And the admiral accompanied his quiet tones with a brief glance above. "However, these events which have happened and the attention you are receiving as a result is making certain EarthGov interests unhappy."

"Sir," Ivanova again interrupted. "In another week, ISN will find someone else to focus their attention on. I'm just the catch of the day for them--"

"Captain," Fayek quietly interjected, effectively shutting the expressive Russian up. His chin lifted then, jaw firm, and Ivanova knew the time for any kind of argument was long over.

"You have been given two weeks leave, effective immediately. Commander Chen will return to Io to oversee the E.A.S. Orpheus' readiness for space. To insure your safety against further, possible 'incidences', you will be accompanied by a Psi-Corps bodyguard during your leave."

"Sir!" Ivanova interjected in utter dismay. "With all due respect, I can take care of myself! I don't need some Psi-Corps goon to get in my way and I certainly will not accept one to follow me around!!"

"And I would agree, captain, that Earthforce has no need for protective aid from Psi-Corps," Fayek added darkly, his black eyes now briefly flashing his ire. "But opportunities are taken by certain interests which, at times, do not have to do with the matter at hand as more with the political situation of the moment. Do you understand, captain?"

Ivanova swallowed, nodding her begrudged understanding. She herself, back when Babylon 5 was an independent state, had, on occasion, orchestrated such 'situations'. Sometimes the game had nothing to do with the pawn, as much as the gesture of the move did with the state of affairs of the entire game board. She wondered bitterly, whose 'situation' in EarthGov was forcing her to accept this 'offer' of Psi-Corps. She could not help the sigh that escaped her lips. She could at least depend on one thing; Admiral Fayek was an honest man, and if he could answer her question, he would.

"Sir," Ivanova finally spoke. "Does this have any connection to the Psi-Cop agent who warned me about the attempt on my life?"

Fayek looked at her inquisitively, black eyebrows raised slightly.

"I saw that mentioned in your report. Intel has not yet received confirmation concerning the existence of this agent or why he was in EF's complex."

Ivanova nodded grimly, silently thanking the admiral with her eyes. She really didn't expect more than that.

"Enjoy your leave, captain," Fayek added quietly.

"Thank you sir," Ivanova replied automatically. To her surprise, the admiral made no further move to leave. Instead, he remained before Ivanova, reflectively studying her features.

Aw heck, Ivanova thought nervously, as her hands twitched behind her back.

"About my daughter, captain," Fayek began, in a low bemused tone.

"Sir," Ivanova interrupted. "She is a beautiful and charming young woman. A very young woman. I'm sure that anyone who has the pleasure of enjoying her--ah, wit and intelligence, would be a very lucky person, indeed."

Fayek's black eyes sparkled a bit, his mustached mouth quirking once again.

"Should you come to Orion, you are welcomed at my home, captain," he finally offered casually.

"Yes Sir! Thank you Sir!" Ivanova responded, and immediately clicked to attention as the admiral turned away.

"And captain," Fayek added, only turning his head slightly in parting. "Beware of bulldogs."

"Aye Aye, Sir," Ivanova firmly acknowledged, watching with some fatigue and relief, as the admiral depart her med room.

The captain shook her head, the implications of her recent orders now becoming apparent in their depressing weight: Ivanova has been grounded. She turned and put out a hand to flick the view window open, revealing the fiery red of a sinking sun casting fading fingers of light on a darkening city and sky. Already her searching eyes could discern the persistent twinkle of a tiny satellite hanging resolutely in its position in the stretching darkness above. Two weeks, she mused despondently to herself. And it was becoming very possible that in that time, the promise of a ship and a return to the stars could easily be taken away from her.

She could wonder again, about why she had left Sheridan and Babylon 5. Earthforce did not offer her the space station's command, but she could have asked for it. And had she not returned to EF, she could have helped John in his presidency of the newly formed Interstellar Alliance, after EarthGov had requested his resignation from EF service. She could dwell on the 'perhaps' of two months ago, but there had never been any doubt about the path she was going to choose. She had needed to get away from everything... Sheridan, the station... get away from that part of her life and the burdening reminder of why she did not die after what had happened at Mars.

As she stood, staring up into the now deepening black, the last of the sun's touch dematerializing to a serene, winter night, she heard the soft steps of a silent individual, and the heeled click of another, enter her med room.

Commander Chen? she thought idly, not bothering to turn. Then that familiar, eerie prickle rose upon the back of her neck again, electric and alarming. Oh no.

"Captain Ivanova," came the congenially polite and accented tones of Alfred Bester. "So good to see you again."

Ivanova wished then that it were possible for her to immediately jump out of her med room window.

Memories returned to her of this awful little man; this arrogant Psi-Cop who had made no apologies for the disdain he had of the non-telepathic--the 'mundanes', as he was fond of calling the rest of humanity. He was everything that Ivanova despised and could not tolerate of the Corps. he was secrets, and selfish, cruel agendas. He was the ruin of innocent lives and the killer of loved ones whose only crime was the desire to exist without the Corps' all-consuming influence. Alfred Bester was the Corps, and no deal with EarthGov or Earthforce, no possible threat of friends in high places, was going to save him from a deserving dose of Ivanova-manifested wrath--

She turned, a cold fury already building. Her fierce gaze fell upon the gently smiling visage of Bester and then---

She saw who stood beside him.

"Susan," came the caressing, throaty tones as the woman who was once her Talia Winters, stepped forward with frank and keenly interested blue eyes.

For once in her life, a truly, deeply, frightened Ivanova wished that the nightmare would end and that she would just wake up.

 

Chapter 1: Mars to Gaia   Chapter 2: Ms. Winters

"Delta leader to delta wing, show’s over. Let’s collect the stragglers and return to base." ( Signs and Portents )