For more specifics on the Virtual-Reality-Cybernet see the first season episode "And the Sky Full of Stars."
You should probably consider this a spoiler for anything up to "Secrets of the Soul" and perhaps a bit further.
For all you H-R's (Hopeless Romantics) out there, if you get past the technical and psychological stuff, there's a bit of a pay off at the end. So hang in there, okay?
I have to thank Laura Linde for helping me through a writer's block. I think we had too much soda (not pop) that weekend...
Disclaimer; I don't own B5, it belongs to jms and Warner Bros. I didn't get permission and they don't know about my writing stuff about their universe. If they ever find out I hope they'll be easy on me and not sue or anything because I really can't afford it. For anyone still reading this disclaimer, you can archive this, have links to this, post it on B5 forums, etc. (just tell me first if the latter, okay) and basically do anything but say it's yours and make money off it.
Have a nice day. ^_^
Zack had finished the message. The most gut
wrenching message he'd ever gotten during his four years aboard Babylon
They had entered the Academy together. How had they ended up on opposite sides? How had this happened?
My God, he was his best friend.
Freddie Luding had been in one of the opposing Starfuries during the final battle of the Earth Alliance civil war. Killed in action.
His best friend.
The words stuck in his mind, like a broken record. He could not stop them from repeating. Freddie... killed almost a... sorry to have to... I know the two of you... he gave his life... I knew it would turn out... I never believed the ISN... not you... call anytime you need to talk.
The message appeared to be so mechanical, as though Freddie's mother had written it a hundred times already.
He didn't get any sleep that night.
"Well, so far all the ambassadors have cooperated
to the best of their ability," Franklin reported at the command staff meeting
the next morning. "We had a bit of a problem with the Hyach but that's
been cleared up."
"That's good to hear," said Lochley, "Ambasador Delenn must be thrilled. All right, Zack, what's the situation on the smugglers from Proxima?"
Zack sat in his chair, still absorbed in the message and letting the meeting fade to the background.
The strong tone snapped Zack back to reality. "Right, the Proxima smugglers. Um. All three of them are in holding and I've gotten statements from the Lurker who came forward and my people involved. That's pretty much it, we've got an airtight case."
"Good. The less crap that comes through here, the better for everyone. If there's nothing else, I guess that's it."
There were a few murmurs of agreement as everyone rose from their seats and started to leave.
"Not you, Zack," Lochley stated as they were exiting.
Zack's skin jumped and he swallowed nervously before turning back around to speak to the CO. "Captain?"
"I had to regain your attention twice during the meeting," she said, "is there something I should know about?"
"Just a personal problem, Captain."
Lochley nodded. "I know you're probably already doing your best, but I need you to keep that outside of the meetings. You've been doing a Hell of a job around here. I wouldn't want to see that fall apart."
Lochley's link chimed. "I gotta take this. Go on. I'll see you later."
Zack nodded and left Lochley's office as she answered her page.
"Corwin, ma'am," came the reply, "we're reading that strange power spike again in Grey Sector."
"Anything in danger of blowing the place up?" Lochley asked, a bit sarcastic.
"It's doesn't seem to be affecting things. Should I have security take a look?"
Lochley sighed considering. "No," she said, "it's probably just a glitch in the wiring. Send a maintenance team to check it out."
Zack strolled into Security Central, a cup of green,
cafinated sludge in hand, sat at the desk, and put a foot upon the ledge.
"Computer," he commanded, "outline previous night's activities."
"Three arrests for smuggling," the computer began, "twelve arrests for pettie theft, eight reported robberies unsolved; items, one data crystal, two cartons of shipped spoo, one standard issue energy pod-"
"Pause. Detail missing energy pod."
"Previous inventory for storage locker nine indicated twenty standard issue energy pods. Current inventory indicates nineteen. No registered personnel have checked out an energy pod between inventories."
"Weird. All right-"
Zack's link chimed.
"Computer hold." He toggled his link in answer. "Zack here, go."
"Um, Chief," said the slightly uncertain voice on the other end, "we have another smuggler report from a Lurker. I think there might actually be something to it."
Zack ignored the slight nervousness in the officer's voice. Binnet was new and it was taking her a while to get used to the place. He sighed in spite of himself. "All right. Where are ya'?"
"Brown 14, section 6."
"I'll be right down. Over and out."
He sighed and levered himself out of his seat.
On his way, he began thinking of the smugglers. He'd thought he'd taken care of them when security had arrested the last three. Perhaps the problem was deeper than he first thought.
Or perhaps the captain was right; maybe he was falling apart and letting his job do the same.
He entered an elevator and found it thankfully empty. "Brown 14," he ordered. As the car started its descent, he slumped against the wall in thought.
His mind wandered back to Freddie for the millionth time that day. He still couldn't figure out how it had happened. He started with the battle for Earth and moved backward through the events of the past couple of years. Mars, Proxima 3, the end of the Shadow War, Sheridan's visit to Z'ha'dum (that part still gave him a headache), more Shadow War, their battle for independence, the time he turned in the Nightwatch on station...
He paused at the last event his mind had conjured up. He turned in the Nightwatch who were trying to take control of the station about mid 2260. They were going to arrest Captain Sheridan and the rest of the Command Staff. There would have been no battle for independence, no great crusade to Proxima or Mars, no final battle for Earth.
Freddie would still be alive.
Had he caused it? By the simple act of doing what he thought to be right at the time, had he caused the death of his best friend? Of everyone who'd fought and died in the civil war?
Was it all his fault?
Zack was started out of his reverie when the doors of the car opened to a hallway in Brown 14. He gathered himself up and headed toward section 6.
The hallway was par for the course in Brown sector. Messy floor, unkempt people, a little graffiti here and there. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
His mind wandered again as he walked the halls and drifted back to his previous thoughts. It was becoming more and more clear by the moment; through his actions, he was responsible for the death of Freddie Luding, his best friend.
So immersed was he in his growing depression that he didn't notice that all the people in Brown 14, section 6 had let him pass and started following him.
He was again ripped from his thoughts by a noise. This time it was a PPG powering up its cells, ready to fire. A figure stepped out in front of him, blocking his path.
"Allo, Mr. Allan," he said in a slightly diluted Liverpool accent, "didn't think we'd see you 'round these parts."
Suddenly aware of what was happening around him, Zack reached for his PPG.
"Oh, I wouldn't do that," said the one in his way, motioning to someone else around the corner. A female figure came around the corner pointing a gun at officer Binnet with one hand and holding her hands with the other.
Oh shit! Zack thought.
That was just before something hard flashed across the back of his head and introduced him to blackness.
Garibaldi strolled into Security Central.
He found it completely deserted.
He expected any number of things from Zack going over paper work to a bunch of telepaths being questioned, but he didn't expect it to be completely deserted.
Garibaldi had a few questions about the telepaths under his employ as covert intelligence officers and had set up a meeting with Zack. If he expected anything, it was that Zack be there. This wasn't like him.
Upon closer inspection, he found the computer on standby and a cold cup of that awful green stuff of the desk.
I can't believe he drinks that stuff!
Finally, Garibaldi decided that Zack had to rush out and break up a mob or break up some heads or had something to deal with and that he'd be back shortly. So he sat in his old chair and waited.
A half an hour came and went. Garibaldi began to grow a bit worried. If Zack was going to be this late, he would have linked in by now to say he couldn't make it.
He started hypothesizing, looking for a reasonable explanation. The computer was on standby, so he must have left in a hurry and forgot about it. The green stuff, which was normally served hot, was cold, so Zack had left at least a half an hour before he'd gotten there. It must have been a call. He decided he'd try linking in with Zack and finding out where he was.
"This link is no longer operational," the computer reported.
Now Garibaldi was really worried. Zack may have forgotten a few small things here and there, but he never forgot to make sure his link didn't get damaged.
He toggled his link again. "Garibaldi to Lochley."
"This is Garibaldi. Is Zack around up there, Captain?"
"No, I haven't seen him since this morning's meeting. Why?"
"Aw Hell. Captain, I need to see you and the president ASAP. We may have a problem."
Zack awoke on the cold hard floor of somewhere in
"How'd I get here?" he wondered out loud.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps behind him. "Maybe you sleepwalked," said a female voice, "maybe you've contracted a short term amnesia. Or maybe someone knocked you out and dragged you here when you foolishly had you thoughts on something else." The person to whom the voice belonged stepped out from the shadows. "Or maybe you're not here at all. Maybe you're dreaming, you're sick and hallucinating, you were drugged perhaps, in virtual reality." She got right next to his face, despite the fact that she was slightly shorter. "Or a combination."
"I recognize you," said Zack finally.
"You do? I'm honored, but for the life of me I can't remember where. Where was it that we saw each other?"
Zack felt something move inside his mind. Then the scenery of Grey Sector changed to that of Security Central.
"What the Hell," Zack exclaimed.
On the newly formed wall, the vid screen was active. On it was a large and not all that attractive face in the foreground and a few others in the background holding guns.
"Oh yeah," said the woman, "that."
"You were part of Boggs' Nightwatch crew," said Zack, "the ones who kidnapped Ambassador Delenn just after we broke away from Earth in '60."
"So what are you doing in my dream."
"Oh, Zack, haven't you figured it out yet? This isn't a dream." She calmly stepped away from him and put up her hand.
Almost instantly, Zack's vision was reduced to a bright, blinding blue. A second later came the pain. It felt as though he were burning alive. Every inch of his being, right down to his mind, was in the most excruciating pain he'd ever felt. He was frozen in place unable to even cry out.
The light dimmed and the pain subsided. Zack collapsed to the floor moaning.
"You see, the pain is real," said the woman, crouching next to him, "and the less you resist me, the less time this will take."
"Where... are we?" Zack managed out.
"Well, you sure aren't as acute as Mr. Garibaldi. But then, that's right, you weren't here yet when... The Virtual Reality Cybernet. I presume you've heard of it. Some better knowing, self proclaimed truth seekers brought one here in '58 and hooked Commander Sinclair up to it. We found it in the station's evidence locker and, well, picked it up."
"Let's just say that there are those of us who used to be in a certain organization that don't much like some of the things you've done."
"You're catching on. You betrayed us, Zack. We don't like that much. It was because of you we couldn't keep things bottled up around here and prevent Sheridan from taking action against Earth." She paused for a moment. "But you already know that, don't you. If it weren't for you, your deal pal Freddie would still be alive, wouldn't he."
As Zack's senses of reason slowly recovered from the recent shock, he realized that she was reading his mind. He had to think of something else. Remembering something Lyta once told him, he started singing the first song that came to mind.
"Oh, so you're one of that type, huh? All right, we'll wait a while."
"The computer was accessed at 07:38 hours," Garibaldi
reported to Sheridan and Lochley, "and there was a cold cup of whatever
that green stuff is."
"He drinks that?" Lochley exclaimed.
"Everyone has their vices," said Sheridan, "but that's not the point. It seems pretty apparent to me that he got a call and something happened to him. In any case, we have to find him. Suggestions?"
"Trace the last location of his link and go from there," Lochley suggested.
"That may tell us what happened there, but not where he is now," said Garibaldi, "but I can't think of anything better at the moment."
"We've also been detecting an odd power surge in Grey Sector," said Lochley, "we sent maintenance down to fix the problem, but it's still happening."
"Grey Sector," Garibaldi sighed.
"Did Zack hear about it?" Sheridan asked.
"I can't say for sure," said Lochley.
"It's possible he did," Garibaldi said, clicking his pen open and shut in thought.
"I still think our best bet is to trace his link," said Sheridan, "the power surge is just a hunch and we have to find him quickly. He could be hurt, unable to respond, anything."
"I'll get right on it," stated Lochley.
"Conjunction junction, what's your function."
"Oh, now it's School House Rock, is it? You know, I find it hard to believe that childish, stick in your head songs are all there is to you. Isn't there something else, something more creative?"
Zack smiled and took a bit of pleasure in her annoyance. "Greased lightnin', Go greased lightnin'!"
"Yeah, well, back at ya'."
Silence for a while.
"Anaya," she said out of the blue.
"What?" Zack asked, puzzled.
The woman looked at her wrist as if looking at a watch. "One hour, three minutes, fourty-seven seconds. You're not very good at this Zack. You were busy wondering what my name was. I've always liked Anaya, so what the hell."
"You stay outta my head!"
"Or what? You seem to forget, we're already in your head, but the only thing is, me and my pal out there are in control. Now then. Since you're a bit more sociable now, isn't there somewhere else, other than Security Central, you'd rather be right now?"
The scene shifted to that of Zack's quarters, lights off.
"Well, not quite as dramatic as I'd hoped," Anaya sighed, "guess we'll just have to do something about it. Be right back." The air around her shifted and wrinkled as she disappeared.
"Yeah, don't bother!" Zack shouted. He flopped down on the bed he knew to be simulated, and decided that it felt close enough. He was about to drift off to sleep when his head started to make the room tip. Of all the things Zack had been afraid of living in space for, he never thought he'd get sea sick. He turned over, trying to shake the feeling and saw Anaya standing next to the bed, looking down at him.
"You don't look so good," she quipped.
"What did you do to me?"
"Interesting feeling, hm? Nothing like a good shot of sodium pentothal to brighten your day. Now. I'm up for a little walk. Shall we see what's floating around in your head?"
"Go ta Hell!"
"Ah, ah, ah. No badmouthing, now." She raised her hand up next to her head.
Again came the blinding blue light and the burning pain. It passed after a few seconds that felt like a few lifetimes.
Zack was now curled up on the bed, fighting to stay conscious. There was no way he was going to black out and let Anaya, or whoever she was, have free reign of his mind.
"Now, whatever you do, Zack, don't think about Nightwatch," said Anaya.
As Zack began to regain his feet, the scene immediately shifted to that of the docking bay. Around him were all the security who had become part of Nightwatch. One of them came forward, PPG leveled at him.
"You betrayed us, Zack," she said.
"You betrayed Earth," said another.
"You betrayed Earthforce," said yet another.
"And the entire Human race," chimed another.
"So many people died because of you, Zack," said Anaya, "and that bugs you, doesn't it?"
"I didn't betray anyone," Zack protested, "you did, you all did."
"This is your head, Zack," stated Anaya, "if you didn't believe that was a lie, they wouldn't be here." She turned around as the crowd parted. "And neither would he."
From the crowd emerged a familiar face. A Earthforce Starfury pilot with an oval face and sandy brown hair.
"Freddie?" Zack breathed.
It was so quiet the breathing of the simulated Nightwatchmen could be heard. Freddie took a few steps toward Zack. "You betrayed me, Zack."
"No," Zack whispered, "no, it's not true."
"Why, Zack? Why did you do it?"
"It wasn't... what you think, Freddie. You weren't there, you couldn't know."
"I know what you did. You betrayed me, and everyone else."
"No," Zack repeated.
"Garibaldi!" Lochley called from one end of the corridor.
"Over here, Captain," Garibaldi responded from the side of a slightly worse for wear security officer. Lochley made her way over.
"Anything?" she asked.
"Not too much to go on," Garibaldi responded, "Binnet?"
"I was the one who called him down here, Captain," said the security officer, "I didn't know what they wanted, but they made me call him. They knocked him out and took him somewhere. I don't know where. I didn't think anything like this would happen."
"There was a guy in there," Garibaldi said pointing to a room. He pulled out a PPG. "He had this on him and seemed to be guarding the exit."
"And you were in there with him?" Lochley asked Binnet.
"You think you could identify the other perps?" Garibaldi asked.
"All right, thanks," said Garibaldi, "why don't you go back to Security with Morishi and Kellmen. See if you can ID these guys."
"Yes, sir," she said as the other two security behind her nodded.
"Well, you seem to be taking charge pretty well around here," Lochley commented as they left.
"They know it's unofficial, but old habits die hard, I guess. Damn, that's not much to go on, is it?"
"No it's not," Lochley agreed, "maybe we should check on Grey sector. Those power surges aren't going away, no matter how many times we send a maintenance team in there to fix it."
"Somethin' like that, we should check anyway." They started walking back toward Blue Sector. "It's actually even more possible now. We know they took Zack somewhere, and it would probably need to be somewhere where no one's gonna go for a while. That's Grey Sector. Man, I hate it down there."
"We'd better check it out, it's the only lead we have, even though it's a long shot."
Zack stood in the middle of a circle of Nightwatchmen.
Freddie was circling around the outer edge of it, letting his boots clack
on the floor.
"You betrayed us all, Zack."
"No," Zack was adamant, speaking to all of them, "it was you. You never had to join the Nightwatch, you never had to keep Clark's secrets for him. I did what I had to."
"Did you?" Anaya asked.
The scene changed to his quarters once again. The nightwatch disappeared and were replaced by Sheridan, Ivanova, Garibaldi, and G'kar. And there, always in the background, was Anaya.
The others stepped forward in turn. "It's your choice," said Garibaldi.
"We can't make you," stated Sheridan.
"It's up to you," agreed Ivanova.
"We're counting on your actions," said G'kar.
"We can't do it without you," chimed Garibaldi.
"We must continue," said Sheridan.
"Will you help us?" Ivanova asked.
"No," Zack snapped, "it wasn't my choice. I had to do the right thing. I had to stop them before they took the place over. I had to-"
"You had to what?" Anaya asked. "You don't really know, do you? Oh, you're in trouble now. You've got a pretty bad lawyer, he doesn't believe you. Only problem is it's you. What a predicament. You don't really believe your own defense." She turned from him and started pacing the room. "Earth, home. You betrayed everything you love." She paused and turned back, a surprised look on her face. "Except for... oh, now that is surprising. You've been making nice with the teep!"
"Leave her out of this!"
"Why should I? How do I know you didn't do it all for her?"
"I said leave her out of this!" Zack lunged at Anaya, pinning her to the wall.
"Well, hit a nerve, have we?" She suddenly looked up as if listening to something. "Something's come up," she said, "I'll be back later." She disappeared again, as did the other virtual doubles. Zack was left with nothing to do but hit the wall with his fists.
Earthdome isn't paying me enough for this, Lochley
thought as she crawled through the Babylon 5 air ducts for the second time
in as many weeks. She really hoped that Garibaldi's plan worked.
It hadn't been too long after they had gotten to Grey Sector that shots rang out at the two of them. They had retreated, figuring that even if it wasn't the people who had Zack, it was definitely something to look in on. With more people. So they returned shortly later with Garibaldi's plan in mind.
Garibaldi and everyone else would keep the gunmen busy while someone climbed up into the air ducts and scouted things out beyond.
That someone ended up being Lochley.
She sighed as she made her way through. At one point, she looked through some grating and saw two people, each with about four PPG's on them, shooting at the unseen security forces. She continued forward until she saw that she was over another room. She burst through the grating as quietly as possible, then waited, hoping that the gunmen hadn't heard her. When she was certain no one was coming, she turned around to survey the rest of the room and was brought up short by the horrifying sight.
Zack was strapped to a chair and wrapped in more wires and cables than were in all of C&C. The wires seemed to concentrate around his head and something was continuously shining into his eyes.
What the hell?
She noticed more of the room to the right of Zack. There was a smaller chair with more wires, simpler in design, and a control panel near it. On the ledge of the panel was resting a leather case. Lochley picked it up and looked inside, finding an empty syringe.
She'd read about one of these things. The Virtual Reality Cybernet. In effect, it made an interactive computer game out of someone's mind. In theory, it was supposed to help victims of trauma recover lost memories with the help of a guide. But it was discovered that any pain that seemed to happen to the person on the inside, the person actually felt, so its use was banned.
Apparently, however, someone had found a use for it after all.
Lochley put down the leather case in disgust and inspected the control panel. Unable to make heads or tails of the buttons and dails, she decided she didn't have enough time to get Zack out. So she did the next best thing.
She hooked herself up to the smaller chair and a moment later, found herself in Zack's quarters, lights dimmed and seemingly empty.
"Zack?" she called. When there was no reply, she tried again. "Zack, I know you're in here, somewhere."
"Go away," came a voice from the darkened corner.
"You're not real, go away."
Upon closer inspection of the corner, Lochley found Zack, curled up and leaning against the wall, head buried in arms. Slowly, she made her way over to him.
"My God," she whispered to herself.
"Go away," he repeated, "stop doing this to me."
She put her hand over his. "Zack, it's me. It's Captain Lochley. Garibaldi and I are trying to get you out. We can't do it yet, but we're trying."
"You're not real," he insisted, almost to himself.
"Yes I am. Listen to me. You have to hang in there. Don't let whoever's trying to do this to you win. We need you around here. Are you listening? Zack!"
"Go away," he said again.
Lochley got up from the floor. "If you don't believe anything else, believe that we're trying to get you out, all right?" She turned to try and leave the cybernet when she heard him say something to her.
He looked at her with the most imploring eyes she'd ever seen. "Get me out."
She nodded. "We will. Just hang in there."
Still looking at her with those eyes, he nodded back once.
Lochley climbed back out of the air vent behind Garibaldi
as he gave the retreat order. When everyone was back beyond the section
and the PPG fire had ceased, Garibaldi asked the obvious question.
"What'd you find in there?"
"He's in there, all right," said Lochley, "but I think I'd rather tell you the rest in private with the president and Dr. Franklin."
Garibaldi could see that something had horrified the captain. "All right, everyone. Back to Blue Sector. We have to work out a plan."
Zack couldn't help but wonder if that had really
been the captain. Or was it one of Anaya's ploys to break his grip
He preferred to think it was the captain. That way, he had a bit of hope of getting out of this thing without completely losing his marbles.
Just then, Anaya popped back on the scene. "Feeling a little down, are we? So, anything interesting happen while I was gone?"
"Oh, come now. Is that any way to treat a guest? The way I see it, you owe me and the rest of the Nightwatch big time for what you did, what you caused. Isn't that right?"
"It wasn't me," he insisted.
"Really? Let's see that instant replay, hmm?"
The scene shifted to the cargo bay again. Most of the Nightwatch were standing around in flack jackets, waiting for something to happen. Zack shouted "now" into his link and started for the door as the one opposite it closed. He dove through as it shut behind him, trapping the Nightwatch inside.
But instead of Sheridan, Garibaldi, Ivanova, and Franklin waiting on the other side, it was Anaya.
"Looks like you did it to me. You can't fool your own memories, Zack. That's what happened. And because you didn't let us take control, Sheridan was free to wage his little war and get hundreds of people killed."
Suddenly, behind Anaya, was an image of Lochley. "Hang in there, Zack," it said.
"What's this?" Anaya asked, turning to look at the image. "She got through to you, didn't she? While we were... oh, very clever. But she didn't know that you're going to pay for her little rescue attempt." She backed away and, again, raised her hand in the air.
The blinding and burning blue engulfed him once again. It was so intense this time that he could actually see the edges of his vision turn black. He fought it back with most of his will power.
After it passed, he was again left curled up on the floor, the pain still lingering.
"Hang in there, Zack," repeated the image of Lochley.
"Oh, I get it," said Anaya, suddenly, "it's all so literal. She represents your hope of getting out of here, doesn't she?" She pulled out a PPG and held it close to his face for inspection. "What if I told you that if something were to happen to me and my bud' out there, you'd be trapped in here. Hm? How would you like that?"
She turned around and shot the image of Lochley. "So much for hope."
"Micheal, the VR Cybernet is one of the most dangerous
pieces of equipment ever developed by the Earthforce science division,"
"I know, we had a little run in with one in '58," said Garibaldi, "two guys were probing around in Commander Sinclair's mind. When he finally got free, he was delusional and the guy who was inside with him had his synapses fried."
"I remember," said Franklin, "worst case of accidental brainwipe I've ever seen. The guy was barely able to remember how to talk. The commander got lucky it didn't happen to him too."
"I read the report on it," said Lochley, "the guy who was running it on the outside was killed, wasn't he?"
"Right," confirmed Garibaldi, "so we never found out who was behind it all. We confiscated the machine and it's been in evidence ever since. But I just checked. It's missing. And so was a power pod from storage locker nine."
"They wouldn't even have to get all that past customs then," said Lochley.
"Which was probably their plan," said Sheridan, "call as little attention to themselves as possible, come in, do a number on Zack, then get out without a trace."
"Yeah, but a good question is why," stated Franklin, "I mean, why go to all the trouble? Zack's got nothing to hide. Who'd want to do this to him?"
"My guess is the few people who've stayed with the Nightwatch ideals," said Garibaldi, "let's face it, here. When we asked Zack to turn them all in a few years ago, he didn't exactly make a lot of friends with that bunch. Since the war ended, there've been a few reports of ex-Nightwatch personnel going AWOL and popping up in cases involving the attacks of certain people whom the Nightwatch felt were responsible for the war. I think it's them."
"It makes sense," said Lochley, "while I was inside, he seemed to be trying to convince himself of things. God, I've never seen anything like it. He was terrified."
"If that is the case," said Franklin, "it would stand to reason that they think it's mostly his fault. Think about it. John, you ended up leading the resistance after General Hague was killed. That was only able to happen because the Nightwatch wasn't able to take control of Babylon 5. Why was that? Zack turned them all in."
"Then we have a major problem on our hands," said Sheridan, "if that's all true, these people are going to be out for blood. We have to get Zack out of there right now or who knows what they could do to him. And with the VR Cybernet, they could do a whole lot."
"We better hope it isn't, John," said Garibaldi, " 'cause if it is, it's going to hit him hard."
"Do you know what your problem is, Zack?" Anaya asked.
"It's that you can't accept the truth. You know that it was because
of you the Nightwatch wasn't able to keep things under control here.
Do you deny it?"
"No, and that was the point."
"So you admit it. The war was your fault."
"No, it wasn't."
"Oh, you know it was. If you hadn't betrayed us, Sheridan wouldn't have been able to keep his control. Do you deny it?"
"Then, I'm right."
"Then who is right?"
"I don't know."
"But someone has to be right, don't they? If everyone is wrong, how can the universe function?"
"Not my problem."
"But you're a part of that universe, Zack. A universe where everyone has to make decisions and everyone has to take responsibility for their actions. Do you deny it?"
"Then, I am right."
"What about your actions?"
" 'Scuse me?"
"You. You joined Clark's little dictatorship blindly. If it wasn't for him, Sheridan wouldn't have had to take up the fight. You helped cause the problems too."
"No, I was creating the order. The order is that certain people lead and certain people follow. We can't have that order disrupted, now can we."
"So Sheridan's a leader!"
"And you followed him blindly. He caused all the chaos in the Earth Alliance. And you just let him. You helped him, enabled him. So, now it's time to pay the piper."
"And you're the piper I suppose?"
"I suppose. Oh, and, I'll be asking the questions." Anaya raised her hand again and, for what seemed to be the millionth time, Zack was engulfed in the burning blue. "The Nightwatch was helping to create the order," Anaya continued through Zack's pain. "We will punish those who betrayed us and we'll begin to rebuild the order again!"
"All units check in," Lochley commanded over the
ear mounted link she had on.
"Bravo Two, standing by," Garibaldi responded.
"Bravo Three, ready to rock," said another voice.
"Bravo Four, waitin' for the order."
"Bravo Five, here."
"This is Bravo One," said Lochley, "all units, crash the mainframe."
"With pleasure, Bravo One," Garibaldi responded for all.
Lochley moved with caution down the corridor, PPG ready to fire at anything that looked like a gun. They had to cover all the entrances to Grey 4, section 9 or Zack's captors would have an escape route. Lochley didn't want that to happen, she wanted these guys alive, if possible, dead if not. In any case, she wanted them.
Officer Binnet, labeled Bravo Six for this little outing, came along behind her.
"Three to One!" cried an urgent voice. "I've seen movement, exchanging fire, repeate, exchanging-" Bravo Three's link went dead.
"They know we're here," warned Garibaldi.
"One to Eight! Back up Three. Everyone else, charge the guns!"
Lochley and Binnet broke into a full run. When they got to the cross section nearest the place where Zack's captors had all their stuff set up, they found two bodies on the deck. The first was the man from Brown Sector who'd held Binnet captive and the other was his woman partner.
"Morishi and Torres came across two more back that way," Garibaldi reported.
"Damn!" Lochley swore. "All right, let's get a med team down here. Garibaldi." She motioned for the head of covert intelligence to follow her into the hideout.
When they entered, they found it much the same way it had been when Lochley had scouted the place.
"Holy jumpin'..." Garibaldi breathed.
Lochley hurried to the control panel. But when she tried pressing buttons for the shut down sequence, the mechanized voice of the machine's computer responded. "Unable to comply. System lockdown. All access denied without proper passcode."
"Oh, shit," said Lochley.
Zack wasn't sure if he'd passed out or not.
One moment, he'd been engulfed in the burning blue, the next, everything was nothing but black. Dark, quiet black. No Anaya, no simulated Nightwatch, not even a simulated room. Just black.
After a few moments, he decided that he hadn't blacked out. He'd been knocked unconscious before and this wasn't what it felt like. He'd always been able to find his way back. This felt as though he were trapped.
He suddenly recalled Anaya's words.
What if I told you that if something were to happen to me and my bud' out there, you'd be trapped in here. Hm? How would you like that?
He was trapped.
He was trapped.
In the dark.
In the night.
"Heartrate is up," Franklin reported, "respiration
is up." He observed Zack's hands and noticed that the thumbs were
clenched toward the palms at the joint. "He's hyper ventalating."
"Damn it!" Garibaldi shouted. "Why don't we just unplug the thing?"
"It doesn't work like that," said Franklin, "if we just pull him out without any intervening steps, it could cause brain damage."
"Then what the Hell are we supposed to do, huh? Dammit, he's stuck in there! We don't have a lot of options."
"We may have one," said Lochley.
Lyta walked into the room, thinking, hoping, she
was prepared for the sight. Those hopes were dashed as soon as she
She'd seen things while she'd interned with the Psi-cops, things she now wished she hadn't. But all that paled in comparison to the sight of Zack, wrapped and tangled in wires and cables, unaware of what was going on around him in the real world.
But, then again, the people the Psi-cops went after were people she'd been taught she needed to hate for her own survival. People she'd never actually befriended.
But this was different. Zack had been the first to be anything more than an acquaintance since Kosh had died. He'd had enough of a kind heart to reach past any fears he'd had and become a much needed friend.
To see him like this was gut-wrenching.
She almost felt as though she was going to throw up.
Dr. Franklin noticed her suddenly lighter complexion. "Lyta, are you all right with this."
"Doctor," she said, letting more anger than she cared to admit through her voice, "if I were any more all right with this, I think I'd be out there trying to strangle the kidnappers' dead bodies."
Franklin took a step back. He may have had the curious scientist's mind, but he knew when it was time to get out of the way and let a ticked off person do their thing. He wasn't nuts, after all.
Lyta stepped forward and sat on the floor, next to Zack. She removed the leather glove she was forced to wear and clasped her hand around his.
Zack, she called out from the recesses of her mind.
Not a moment had gone by when she found herself in a world of darkness. No form, no depth, not even recognizable thought. This place was cold and lonely and...
Afraid. This place was afraid.
Zack, she tried again.
Suddenly, the fear that seemed so heavy laden in this place lifted and a single, faint voice called out of the night.
The voice had been so faint and so unfamiliar that she wasn't sure it was actually Zack. He was always so bubbly, so friendly. This sounded like a person who'd known nothing but grief and pain. She wasn't sure it was the same person.
Lyta? it called again. Help me, please.
I'm here, Zack. Help me to help you.
I'm trapped, Lyta. I'm afraid.
I know. Let it go. We can leave together.
On the outside world, the system started up a myriad
"System lockdown terminated," the mechanized voice reported, "all systems ready for shutdown. Shutdown sequence initiated."
Lyta broke her telepathic link with Zack as the system began shutting down. Silently, she walked out of the room.
Meanwhile, Dr. Franklin stood absolutely dumbfounded. "Can someone please tell me how she did that," he said when Garibaldi and Lochley reentered.
Lochley's only response was to look back at Lyta, puzzled.
"Don't look at me, doc," said Garibaldi, shrugging.
Now freed from the world of darkness and isolation, Zack's glazed and drugged eyes cast about for a recognizable face. He found one such face in Dr. Franklin and felt free to surrender to the more friendly black of unconsciousness.
Lochley strolled into Medlab after her shift in C&C
where she found Franklin working on some paper work at his desk.
"Hello, Captain," he greeted her.
"Doctor," she responded, "so how's he doing?"
Franklin chuckled to himself a bit. "Well, that's now officially a command staff and a half," he said, motioning to a corner of seats. Three of them were occupied by Lyta, Garibaldi, and Sheridan. "Well, they pumped him pretty full of sodium pentothal, and he has quite a bump on his head. But, other than that, physically, he'll be fine after he sleeps off the drugs. I'm going to prescribe two additional days off-duty, just so you know."
"I'm sure his people can handle it," said Lochley.
"I'm actually more concerned about what this is going to do to him mentally. Like I said, he's fine physically, but I don't know what those people were doing to him in the Cybernet."
Lochley grunted in comprehension. "Call me as soon as he wakes up, okay?"
"Sure thing, Captain."
She was about to exit, when she turned back and saw the other three in the corner, waiting silently, anxiously. She especially noticed Lyta, wallowing in some sort of sadness.
Oh, what the Hell, she thought, what else have I got to do right now?
She walked over to the corner of chairs and occupied another.
Zack awoke to a presence above him. Grogily,
he forced his eyes to open.
"Welcome back," said the over friendly voice of Dr. Franklin, "you had quite a nap."
"You woke me up," he mock complained.
"I seem to have that effect on people. Anything you need?"
"Asprin," said Zack, "lots of Asprin."
"Probobly not a good idea, just yet. I want to make sure all that sodium pentothal is out of your system first."
Garibaldi poked his head around the corner. "What's up doc?" he asked, referring to the bit of activity in the little room.
"Okay, that's enough," sighed Zack, "just put me back out."
"Very funny," Garibaldi complained, entering fully. "So how're ya' feelin'?"
"Call if you need anything," said Franklin, exiting.
"You know, it's about time you woke up," said Garibaldi.
"Don't tell me. You were taking bets again?"
"Hell no. It's just really boring out there with nothing to read. Which reminds me. The Captain had to go back on shift, but she asked me to tell you that they got this message for you a couple of hours ago." He dug in his pocket and produced a data crystal. "I think you should look at it. And if you need to talk later, uh, you know where to find me." He left the crystal in the port on his way out.
Curious, Zack levered himself upright and commanded the computer to play the message.
"Hey, Zack, how's it goin'?" the message began.
Zack's eyes widened.
It was Freddie.
In disbelief, he glanced at the time stamp. It was a day ago.
"I realized I hadn't heard anything from you since before the war, and I wanted to see how you were doing," the message continued, "actually, what got me thinking about ya' was mom. She called and said she'd gotten a really weird message from you. She said it was about me. Well, she told me that, uh, well she told me what it said. I can only conclude that wires got crossed in that old maze of bureaucracy we live in, but I wanted to check up on ya' anyway. Do you realize it's been almost two years since we've talked? Yeah, I was amazed too, when I realized it. Anyway, call me sometime, bro. We've got a lot to catch up on, us two. I'm a squad leader now, you know. What're you up to? Nothing too dangerous, yeah right." Freddie gave a much practiced, three fingered salute. "See ya' 'round, bro. Bye."
The message ended and Zack just kept staring at the blank screen.
He was released from Medlab that evening and Captain
Lochley had given him two days off. Actually, it was more like she
forced him to take them off.
So, suddenly, Zack was bored. He also found that he had a lot of thinking to do. He decided to try something he'd seen plenty of other people do and made his way to the chapel. There he stood, looking out at the stars spinning outside the windows. It was really quite hypnotic.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said a surprised voice behind him. He turned to see Lyta just outside the entrance. "I can come back later."
"No, that's all right," said Zack, "I wasn't doing anything important."
"Tell that to your face," she said entering, "so what's on your mind?"
"You're a teep, you tell me."
"Is that official permission?"
Zack laughed in spite of the slightly bad mood that hung over him. Staring back out the windows, he searched for the right words.
"Can I ask you a question?" He asked Lyta.
"Shoot," she responded.
"When the Vorlons started destroying worlds, did you feel like it was your fault?"
"Well, in truth, only for a little while. Then I realized, there wasn't a damn thing I could have done to stop them."
"What if there had been?"
"Well, I'm not sure, really. There was always that part of me that wanted to stop the killing. But there was also that part that said that someone had to stop the Shadows, no matter what the cost. I'm not sure what I would have done. Zack, you didn't buy into all that crap she was feeding you, did you?"
Zack sighed. "I don't know," he said, "I just don't know."
They stood in silence for a moment.
Sensing there was no more she could do, Lyta wordlessly turned to leave. "If it's any comfort," she said from the door, "I've found that sometimes, it's our actions that choose us, not the other way around."
When Zack made no response, she left.
He resumed his lonely staring at the stars, wishing that his actions had chosen someone else for once.