Voice From The Past
by Jenny Hayward
OPENING of Voice From The Past
Sooner or later, everyone comes to Babylon 5.
He wore his suit-coat as if it were a straight-jacket, and only convention prevented him from taking it off and swinging it over his shoulder. His fine, pale face and red-tinged curly hair betrayed his Irish ancestry. He handed his ID-card to Lou Welch, who had pulled customs duty that afternoon.
"Business or pleasure?" Lou asked. The scanner identified the man as Collin Magill , born 12/12/2232 on Earth. Just too young to have been in the War, but old enough to remember it.
"Business before pleasure," Magill sighed. "Though this Mutai sounds interesting."
"You don't look the type," Lou commented, taking in his clothes that spoke money, and by corollary, sophistication. The Mutai tended to be a sport spectated by those of less refined tastes.
"Is there a dress code?" came the reply.
"Fancy threads cry out 'hit me! hit me!' in places like that," Lou said.
"Or 'beat me up and take my money'?" Magill returned.
"That too," Lou agreed.
"Fear not, sir," Magill grinned. "I was born and bred in a briar patch, Brer Fox," he quoted. "I'll be careful."
Not far away, a roving Garibaldi smiled at the redhead's comment, and followed him with his eyes as he continued to the end of the concourse. What he saw gave him a surprise. Someone was waiting for Magill. Someone that Garibaldi knew quite well. Talia Winters.
Greetings dispensed with, Talia and Collin walked through the crowds in the direction of the transport tubes. "I'm sorry about Taro Isogi," Collin said. "He was a friend."
"He spoke of you," Talia replied. "Said he couldn't have started Futurecorp without you."
Collin smiled sadly. "He had the ideas. I just had the money."
The faintest trace of a frown creased Talia's brow. "Funny, I thought you'd be -"
"Older?" he finished for her.
She looked at his eyes, the sadness in them. "You are older," she declared with an uncanny certainty.
"I grew up fast," he said by way of an answer to her unspoken question. It was true, but it wasn't the truth.
Garibaldi continued looking at the pair of them, wondering who the man was. But then he noticed someone else staring at them. The watcher wasn't much to look at - mousy hair, average height, ordinary clothes - but his interest seemed more than casual. Garibaldi's instinct prickled. As the telepath and the businessman entered the elevator, the other man actually ran up to the elevator in order to share it with them. That was enough to set Garibaldi's hackles rising. He started walking quickly towards the elevator area, activating his link as he did so. "Lou, this Garibaldi," he began.
"So how did you meet Taro Isogi?" The elevator was fairly full, and Talia wanted to distract herself from the closeness by continuing the conversation, even if it were in such a public place.
Collin turned his head to look at her. "I had an inheritance from an uncle -" he averted his eyes, "he died on the Line - and I wanted to make some long-term investments." He shrugged. "Futurecorp was one of them."
"But you could have invested without meeting him," Talia commented.
"One of the things I've learned in life," he said with a bitter twist to his mouth, "is that you can't trust institutions. You can only trust people." His stare made her uncomfortable.
"Even when the people are part of the institutions?" she asked, wondering if his comment was more than hypothetical. He wouldn't be the first person she'd met who distrusted Psi Corps.
The elevator stopped at a level and there was a fair bit of shuffling as someone at the back wanted to get out. The fellow standing in front of them, one who had gotten on at the last minute, was jostled, flinging out an arm to hold himself steady. Collin stared at him and frowned. He seemed annoyed, though Talia couldn't figure a reason for it. The man hadn't jostled him.
"Even when the people are part of the institutions?" she repeated, trying to recapture his attention.
He turned back to her. "Cogs in the wheels can't do much about the direction of the machine," he said. "Unless they try not to be cogs, and then they get crushed."
"I'd think you wouldn't have anything to do with any institutions with an attitude like that," she said dryly. "And certainly not negotiating on behalf of one."
He grinned at her. "I pretend to be a cog," he said.
Armed with information that Lou and the station computer had given him, Garibaldi made his best way to Red Seven. Magill was staying in suite 12, but Garibaldi was five or ten minutes behind him. When he turned down the corridor, there was no sign of Magill or Talia, nor of the man he suspected of having followed them. The corridor was empty. The direct approach, then.
Garibaldi stepped up to suite 12. "Mr. Magill?" he called. He was greeted with silence. "Mr. Magill, this is Security Chief Garibaldi. I have to talk to you." There was no answer. The silence rang hollowly. Considering what had happened to the previous person in Magill's shoes, this was not a good sign. Was he too late? Had Magill been killed like Isogi, having barely set foot on Babylon 5? And if Talia had been with him... Garibaldi went to the side of the door and overrode the lock. The door opened, and Garibaldi stepped cautiously inside.
The room was empty. No dead bodies on the floor, or even unconscious ones. "If I get any more jumpy, I'll start eating carrots," Garibaldi muttered disgustedly to himself. "Damn!" Garibaldi's instincts had run away with him. Magill hadn't even been to his suite yet.
So where the hell was he?
Collin Magill was toying with a drink at a bar in the Zocalo. He had parted company with Talia after confirming the time of the first meeting with Amanda Carter the next morning. He had pretended there was nothing wrong, but he had avoided his suite and gone straight to the Zocalo. As he suspected would happen, the man he noticed in the lift followed him. He sighed. He'd hoped to have left that behind, coming here, but it seemed that wasn't to be. At least he'd spotted who they'd assigned to him. This time. Must be a new one. They usually weren't that careless. Or was he simply getting better at spotting them? He sighed again, feeling old. Better forget about it. Get back to the everyday world, push the world of shadows and secrets aside for a while.
Now was the time to relax, before the work of negotiations began the next day. Not that there was that much to do with Amanda Carter; it was the alien business interests that were the next big step. He smiled, thinking how surprised some of the friends of his youth would have been if they could see him now. Business executive was a long way from breaking-and-entering. Then again, it was a long way from racing or fighter piloting - deliberately so. Less chance of being recognised by old friends - or old enemies. Except for his friendly neighbourhood watchdogs, of course. And they were perfectly safe - unless one of them decided to go feral.
He sighed. He was trying to forget that, wasn't he?
The place was fairly busy. More humans than others, but there were plenty of others; Centauri men with their electric-shock hairstyles, and their women with heads as smooth as eggs; Narns all brown and orange; Markabs looking like shaved earless teddy-bears; Drazi all iron-grey and scales; Minbari pale and solemn, and many more.
One of the Minbari caught his wandering attention. He'd been told that everything they wore was symbolic, that it meant something. Typical Minbari - to turn even getting dressed into something of spiritual significance. This one wore a tunic, the dark brown of War and tree-boles, pinned with a brooch with a large stone, green as the leaves of a fir in winter. Not something he'd seen before. He wondered idly what it meant.
Magill glanced up at the nearby video monitor. Some topical current-affairs-type interview. A dark-haired woman in a dark blue tailored dress stared confrontationally across at an older man with a rugged tanned face and hair that was either blond or prematurely white. The caption underneath the man said: John Kerrin, Children of Light.
The interviewer leaned forward. "And is it true that a number of aliens have joined your movement, Mr. Kerrin?"
The pale-haired man smiled. "We are all alien to each other," he said. "Love is the universal language. Why shouldn't our brothers in different skin seek the Light along with the rest of us?"
"You gotta hand it to him," Magill remarked, "he doesn't stop trying."
"That is one of the strengths of humanity," a voice commented to his left. It was deep, feminine, with an exotic accent, and it set up the faintest of resonances in his memory. "Your unparallelled capacity for hope," the voice continued, coming closer.
He turned to find the speaker. She stood a seat or two over, but the spaces between them were unoccupied. Her hair was long and dark, caught about an elaborate grey headpiece. Her skin was as pale as any Caucasian, but her facial bones were not quite right . Her clothes were almost ancient Japanese in style, long and flowing, straight and layered and padded.
"Hope?" he said wryly to her. He glanced at the screen where Kerrin was talking about forgiveness. "Maybe it's just a better choice than madness."
"Is that the only choice you see?" she asked, stepping up and sitting down in the empty seat to his left. She seemed genuinely curious.
He had an impulse to tell her to forget it, he was just rambling, but something stopped him. There was something about her, something about her voice. Something nagging him. He said the first thing that came to his mind. "It's all the same, you see," he said. "Madness, despair, apathy - they're all death. Death while you're alive." He waved at the screen. "He knows that. Knows that better than a lot of people. I still think he's crazy, but you've got to admire him."
"Is this so common, that humans call True Seekers crazy?" she asked, with a shade of disapproval in that low, exotic voice.
He looked at her again. An alien, was she? "Well," he drawled, with a twinkle in his eye, "why else do they call it divine madness?" And then it came to him what was bugging him. He'd heard her voice before, somewhere. "Have we met?" he asked her suddenly. "You seem familiar, somehow."
She inclined her head towards him. "Perhaps our souls met, in another life," she suggested.
"Souls?" he echoed and paused, staring past her at nothing, staring at a memory. A memory of pain. He clenched his right hand. "How can you tell the colour of someone's soul?" he murmured to himself, but not low enough that she did not hear.
Her eyes widened. "What did you say?" she asked him.
"I don't believe in reincarnation," he declared, looking at her again, too late to catch her troubled expression. He stared at her face, the long brown hair cascading down on one side, and gave a frown of his own. "I'm afraid I was mistaken," he said. "You aren't who I thought you were."
"That is strange," she said. "I was just thinking - how much you look like someone I... encountered once. But he is dead."
"Excuse me, Ambassador Delenn," the voice of Security Chief Garibaldi interrupted her thoughts, "but Mister Magill could soon be dead himself if he doesn't take a bit more care about his security."
"Ambassador Delenn!" Magill exclaimed, standing up. "I had no idea. I had no idea that you were... you don't look like a..."
"Like a Minbari?" she smiled, but her eyes held a spark of pain. "I underwent this change to be a bridge of understanding between our peoples."
He stared at her. "You - you are the..." his voice trailed off.
"Mr. Magill," Garibaldi interjected into the pause. "If you'll come with me..." He tapped Magill on the shoulder.
Magill whirled, grabbed Garibaldi's arm and had it twisted up behind his back before you could say "Vorlons eat rabbits for breakfast." Then his brain caught up with his reflexes and he let go, by which time Garibaldi's reflexes kicked in, and Magill ended up with his face on the floor and Garibaldi's knee in his back.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Garibaldi exclaimed.
"You startled me," Magill gargled from his place on the floor.
"I startled you," Garibaldi muttered, bemused. "That's original."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Magill said in a strangled voice. "Will you let me up? I promise it won't happen again."
Cautiously, Garibaldi let go his hold and Magill climbed to his feet. "You were planning on entering the Mutai, weren't you?" Garibaldi guessed, his heart sinking into his boots. Magill was fast, faster than almost anyone he'd met, but that wouldn't save him from a gun. The confident ones were the hardest to protect. They never thought it could happen to them.
"Now that Walker Smith paved the way," Magill replied, "I thought it would be a challenge." He shrugged.
Before Garibaldi could comment on that, Delenn spoke. "I will take my leave of you, gentlemen," she said, bowing her head slightly.
Magill returned his attention to Delenn. He placed his hand on his heart and bowed to the Ambassador. "Peace be on your House," he said in Minbari.
"And on yours," she returned automatically in the same language, before she even realised what she had said. Then she took a sharp breath. "How did you come to learn Minbari?" she asked Magill in English.
"A Minbari said something over my head once," he replied, gazing at her steadily. "I wanted to know what it meant."
"And did you?" she asked.
"Not until now," he answered.
Delenn opened her mouth and then shut it again. "Perhaps we may talk of this again," she said to Magill. "Good day, gentlemen." She nodded and left. Magill stared after her.
Garibaldi wondered what the hell all that was about, and filed it away to take out and puzzle over later. He cleared his throat to get Magill's attention. He wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. "For your own safety," Garibaldi said, "you're coming with me."
"My safety?" Magill echoed. "Why the sudden concern, Mr. - Garibaldi, isn't it?"
"How did you know?" Garibaldi asked suspiciously.
"The personnel information about Babylon 5 isn't exactly Top Secret, y'know," Magill returned. "I like to keep informed."
"My concern , Mr. Magill," Garibaldi continued, wanting to get this conversation back on track, "is that you don't meet the same fate as your predecessor, Taro Isogi."
This got Magill's attention, but not in the way Garibaldi had hoped. Magill merely smiled. "I won't," he said.
"And you're a prophet as well as a businessman?"
"A businessman calculates risks. And I assure you, there is no risk that I'll die at the hands of some half-baked assassin."
"Oh? You've rounded up the ones responsible and they'll never bother us again?" Garibaldi said sarcastically.
Magill's face darkened, and he turned to face Garibaldi squarely. "No," he said shortly. "Have you?" The two men were eye to eye, and both sets of eyes burned.
"That is precisely my point," Garibaldi said slowly and carefully. "Someone has already attempted to follow you."
"I know that ," Magill said scornfully. "Fellow in the green and brown jumpsuit, second table from the left at the back, drinking an Olympus Mons. Don't look," he continued, barely pausing for breath. "He doesn't know he's been made, and I'd like it to stay that way."
Nevertheless, Garibaldi took a half-turn and flicked his eyes sideways to glance at the table Magill had indicated. It was the same man all right.
Garibaldi rounded on Magill. "You knew you were being followed and you're not worried? Are you nuts?"
Magill sighed. How was he going to explain this? "The only nut around here," he said, "is him." He jerked his chin in the direction of the watcher. "He's a religious nut. I recognised him by the tattoo on his wrist. They've been following me about for years."
"God knows," Magill shrugged. "They won't talk," he said with certainty. "Maybe I was born under a lucky star," he added sarcastically.
"You're going to need all the luck you can get," Garibaldi commented.
"I can look after myself," Magill said.
"Many a dead man said that before he croaked," Garibaldi said.
Magill raised his eyebrows and cracked a smile. "Why don't we discuss this somewhere a little less public?" he suggested.
Garibaldi rolled his eyes and bit back the retort he was tempted to make. "Yes, why don't we do that," he said between gritted teeth.