In The Wake Of Shadows
Disclaimer: Babylon 5 and its characters don't belong to me. The characters mentioned all belong to J. Michael Straczynski, and my amateur efforts probably can't do justice to his work. Delenn's line about creatures of destiny is taken from the novelization of "In the Beginning". I don't remember if it's actually in the movie, or if it's one of those numerous things that get cut for lack of time. I liked it, though, and it works, so there it is. :)
Author's note: I freely admit that this is the strangest thing I've written to date. I spent a long time trying to figure out just who the narrator of this story is. In "Nightmares in Waking", it was always clear to me that the narrator's voice was Londo's- that was the whole premise of that story, that it was Londo who was speaking. Here, well... I finally came to the realization that even I don't know who is speaking, if they are male or female, Human or Minbari or Narn or Centauri or something else. All I can tell you is that the narrator's not a Vorlon or a Shadow, and felt themselves on the side of light during the Shadow War. I had a fleeting thought of making the narrator a simple, unnamed Human Ranger, but it never worked that way. I guess because talking about who or what the narrator is, within the story itself, would probably take away from that story. You don't need their face or their name to understand what they're saying, really.
"In the Wake of Shadows"
by Christine Anderson
aka Anla'shok Ivanova
We were ignorant in ways we had never dreamed. Oh, yes. All of us were. Even those who knew what was going to happen, even those of us who saw it coming. There came a point where everyone saw things getting worse, when even the most oblivious sensed the coming darkness, but none of us knew- none of us knew anything at all.
The Vorlons should have warned us, you say. Perhaps you're right about that. But then again, maybe they were right not to. We heard warnings enough and ignored them- we just weren't wise enough to understand. We saw what we wanted to and nothing more, right up until the point where the Shadow ships were there before us, leaving nothing but death and destruction in their wake. Only then did the realizations come for some, and by then, it was too late for twice as many. Darkness fell then, and for some, it was never to lift again.
I want to say that it began when darkness walked among us in the unassuming form of a man who had once been Dr. Morden. Only by then he was Mister Morden, and I, personally, have my doubts about how much of those doctorate classes he retains the memory of. I know that what we saw then was only reaping what the Shadows had sewn in ages past, in ages between the time of Valen and the time of what was. Between the darkness of then, and the light of now, there was this grey mist, and from that mist, neither good nor ill in and of itself, but not boding well for all that- from that stepped Morden.
Death knells should have sounded in that man's wake. But they did not, and he came to us not draped in evil, but masked by the guise of the man he'd been. Morden. It's not even a very extraordinary name. It sounded to me like a salesman's name, and that's what he seemed like. Somebody selling something. What it was he sold none of us could have said then, only that it seemed both innocent and frivolous, and yet for anyone with eyes to see there was a wrongness about the whole thing, something that should have screamed warnings in voices we could not ignore. Or that should have, at the least, sent somebody older and wiser rushing to our rescue, to sweep us into safety or warn us off. But none of these things happened.
The Vorlons, again. If they wouldn't warn us, shouldn't they at least have protected us from what, you might argue, came upon us because of them? Maybe. But again, the Vorlons expected a certain amount of wisdom and such from us, and when they didn't get it, not only were they not very forgiving, but they could be... petulant. They had this way of speaking that could convey their contempt and annoyance with a single word. We weren't worthy of their warnings, nor were we worthy of their protections. If we wouldn't have taken the former in any case, what right did we have to the latter?
And, that being the case, I think the only one who could have granted us protection from the insidious voice of the Shadow agent was Sinclair, the Minbari not of Minbari, but he had yet to realize his destiny, had yet to realize so, so much. The Shadow agents stayed away from him, so perhaps if we had stayed close enough to him, we'd have been...not safe, no, because those weren't safe times, but protected, even just a little, from that one thing.
But we can dwell forever on what might've been or could've been, and it won't change any of what was.
So. Morden came among us and asked a question. To those of us who survived the Shadow war, that question can still send chills down our spines, even now. Even now. Some laughed him off as one more crazy, one more scam artist in a small sea of them. Some, like Sinclair, he was under orders not to approach, not to go near. Some saw what he was, knew at some level that everything this man touched would turn to dust, or worse. And some... some answered.
The question is simple enough. What do you want? We all want things, don't we? We all want things it seems we can never have. And this begs the question, then: What would you do in exchange for having the impossible made possible? What would you do? Londo Mollari wanted to see the Centauri Republic returned to its former glory. It was a nice dream, even a commendable one, but the chances of it happening were slim to none. Until Morden. I would like to believe that when Londo answered the question, he did it in anger, an outburst, not meaning to have it taken literally, only meaning it in the sense of, "you really want to know what I want? Here it is, and I know it's impossible, so take your nonsense and go away." But it doesn't matter what I believe. That's the trouble; it never has. And if that was the way that he meant the statement to be taken, there was also a tone of seriousness to it, just the barest suggestion- "If this can be done, if it truly can-"
And therein lies the trouble. Oh, but trouble doesn't even begin to describe it. For, you see... It wasn't nonsense, and it was done. It was done. Morden asked; Londo answered. And in the end, he got everything that he wanted. Every single thing, may his gods help him.
It was only the beginning of Londo Mollari's tragedy. The others were to have their own as well, and things yet to be would spare not a one of them. But standing there and listening to that insidious yet innocent-seeming question, none of us knew. None of us knew!
We didn't know that Sheridan would go to Z'ha'dum, or that he would do the impossible and come back. We didn't know that Marcus would survive the war only to die in the name of a love unspoken until the very last. We didn't know how hard or how long the civil war with Earth would be, or what the victories would cost us when at last they came. We didn't know the eventual fate of Bester or the Psi Corps, or Lyta's part in it. We didn't know how the strength of the Interstellar Alliance would be tested, or how it would emerge, forged ever stronger, from those fires. We didn't know the Drakh would come, calling the Excalibur at long last back from Avalon to save us all. We didn't know that twenty years past Babylon 5, twenty years after Sheridan at Z'ha'dum, they would turn out the lights on B5 for the last time, and that a chapter in so many lives would be closed forever. We didn't know we would go on from there, nor in what ways.
It's amazing how twenty years can change everything. There are those grown to adulthood now who never knew war against the Shadows, who never knew the pain or the fear of that sweeping darkness, who never knew the thought that we might not make it. Enough of us died to grant them this peace, but I find that I too easily resent them for it.
And, I? Who, what, am I? The ones who come after will never know my name. I was never a grand hero, never a Valen or a Sinclair, a Sheridan or a Delenn, an Ivanova or a Cole. Maybe I was a Vir or a Lennier, but even they went on to do greater things than I. What I do instead is both more and less. Simple and yet so very complicated.
I remember. It is not a grand form of service, but it is what I have to give. And someone has do it. Someone must write these things down and see that they're remembered, even if by the time the knowledge is needed again no one will believe it. I think of the tales of Shadows come again in the Book of G'Quan, and I hope that what I have to tell here is not of such vital import to the generations that will follow me. I hope only that these words will be sought by those who wish to know what was, for no greater or lesser reason, and with no greater need. I think that it will be so, that what was once, and what came again, that great darkness of Valen's age, and Sheridan's, will not come again. But if, Valen help me, I am wrong, if there is a third coming of Shadows... then let these words stand as witness and warning both. Even if I am right, let them stand so in any case. I was there, though history knows not my name. I was there, and I saw it all.
Time wasn't linear in those days. What was, would be again. It seemed to the ancients that there would always be Shadows. Driven back once, they came again, and that time it was different. That time there was no holding back, and there was only one way it would end. Forever in darkness, or forever in light. No war since has ever been so very desperate, no war has ever so very greatly needed to be won, save in the time of the ancients. They called theirs Valen's War. We had no true name for ours, only the Great War or the Shadow War, and yet they were so much the same.
They are gone now; we drove them back, just as Valen drove them back in his day, in the time they called Valen's War. The Vorlons picked their avatars, the Shadows theirs, and they loosed one upon the other. They pulled our strings and we danced- we had to, or see all that we loved destroyed in a cataclysmic war of gods. The Vorlon said to the dying Centauri emperor that it would end in fire. And it did. They came in the past and then they came again.
There will not be a third coming of Shadows. Sheridan saw to that, at a cost so terribly high. So terribly high. And if coming back when he never should have changed him in ways maybe not even those closest to him could understand, if it made him something more and less than what he'd been before, who can blame him? Who would dare? He saved us all, never counting, never thinking, what it would cost him, because it had to be done, and he was the only one- the only one -who could take the necessary actions. The Vorlons knew that, and they did their best to prepare him for it, but not even they knew in truth what he'd face. Only Sheridan knows it now, and you can't blame him for not wishing to speak of it. Even if I could, it wouldn't have once crossed my mind to ask.
I don't pretend to understand it. I don't pretend to understand a lot of things, but I have learned to live with that, have learned to recognize the times when I will never have all the answers, when no matter my desire for them, they will not be forthcoming. Truth and understanding go together, and truth is very much a Vorlon thing. Even when you think you have come to grasp it, it isn't always so, and you had better be careful that what you hold in your hand doesn't turn 'round and bite you while you're not looking. They, the Vorlons, say that understanding is a three-edged sword. Your side, their side...and the truth.
Truth, too, is like Babylon 5 there in the eternal night of space. You can never look away from it, because its fundamental nature is always changing. It was what they wanted it to be, of course- a focal point for the efforts of finding peace, but when that failed, Babylon 5 was still there, now staging point for the war councils and the battles yet to be. Designed to save us from war, it helped us fight one, then another, enabled us to keep going for the sake of things greater than ourselves, even when at times it seemed there was neither any point nor any hope. The hope always came back to us, and I think that was something of B5's nature, as if hope had been welded and built into the place, and could not seep out, not even when the skies were dark with Shadows.
Was I there? It's what you want to know more than anything else, I think. Was I there, did I see it with my own eyes? Did I know any of the pivotal players, or even their supporting casts? Did I gamble with Londo Mollari, have drinks with Michael Garibaldi and then scrape him off the floor afterwards? Did I think and pray and fight alongside Delenn? Did I stand beside Susan Ivanova in C&C, or did I learn to do battle as Anla'shok with Marcus Cole? Did I stand aside and watch it happen when he fought Neroon- did I see the secrets of that one's soul, too? Was I chained beside G'Kar for the mad Centauri Emperor? Did I ever chance to speak to Sinclair, or Valen? Did Stephen Franklin ever patch me up after a fight or a battle that hadn't gone our way? Did I have tea with Talia Winters, or curse PsiCorps and Bester with Lyta? For that matter, did I know Bester? Vir? Lennier?
I did none of these things, and all of them. I knew each of these people intimately, and none of them. They never knew me, though I was always there, and I saw it all. I am not a Vorlon, so I can't explain everything in terms you'll never understand, but start to finish I was a part of that place, as much as if I had been born there, lived and died there, never knowing any other world or frame of existence. I knew them all and loved them well, even the ones I came to hate.
Everyone paid for their mistakes, for their arrogance, for their pride. They paid for doing the wrong thing for the right reasons...They paid for it all. Which is why I no longer blame them for much of anything. Because they have paid their dues. They suffered for their crimes, paid prices dear and then some. Some of them never knew love or joy or passion again. Some of them, from the first step to the last, belonged to Shadows, belonged to darkness. Some of them spent everything they had trying to escape that, trying to find their way back to the light, only to discover that the door was closed to them then, closed forever.
I stood by and watched it all, watched it as if it had already happened. So many times I wanted to cry out in denial of what was, of what had to be. I wanted to scream, to rage against the heartless whim of destiny that swept them all up in its wake with so little regard for them, for their right to exist and to know peace and joy and simple existence, or Valen forbid, obscurity.
Delenn said once that they were not normal beings, that they were creatures of destiny. That they had not so much lives to lead as they had parts to play. And who am I, now or then, to say that I know best? To dare to try and change things, never knowing what damage I might do? I was only an observer, never really a part of the changing dynamics of that place. That was the way it had to be, and I accepted it from the beginning. But to know so much, and to never be able to say even a word of it- oh, the pain of that nearly drove me mad.
I think of it now- all the things we never knew, how some of them wrapped us in chains and others set us free. And how some secrets, no matter how closely kept, ate away at us until there was nothing left but an empty shell.
Despite which, we didn't do all that badly. At the end of these long days I can look back and I can see it- the progress we made, the ground covered. Babylon 5 failed to give us peace, but in the end it gave us something else. Hope, and a fighting chance to win a war we couldn't afford to loose.
Maybe they were just the toys of giants in the playground. Maybe. But they, we, all of us, did the best we could, sometimes in the worst of times. Not all of us made it, but I'd like to think that the ones who died, died for greater things. Valen was dead before I was ever born, and that death had to have such meaning as can never be described, only seen and felt and at some level too deep to put into words, understood. Marcus, who had been seeking a way to give his death meaning since joining the Rangers, found that meaning in a way he'd never dreamed. Even Neroon, of whom I was never particularly fond, died for a greater cause than himself- and I think that was truly the warrior's great triumph- the realization that there was something greater than him. Lyta, too, died for her ideals. And Londo... Londo troubles me still. But he died because the universe does have a sense of justice, even if these things do take time. He was beyond redemption a long time ago, and it was only a matter of waiting for things to catch up, which I knew they would do. All things come in time. Maybe it is not right, but it is fair, if a brutal, ruthless sort of fairness that the Vorlons would applaud.
They're gone now. The Vorlons and the Shadows, too. Sheridan went to Z'ha'dum, faced destiny and death and forces I can only guess at, and the Shadows and Vorlons went far beyond the rim, gone forever. Their passing changed the universe as much as the wars ever had.
And then there was this moment where we all got to step back and take stock. When everybody took a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief, that we had weathered that great dark storm. The galaxy was simply ours then, and if we were too tired, too bone-weary to celebrate, there was celebration enough in our hearts.
We stood there in the wake of passing shadows, and knew that from then on we would be alright. The struggles that came after, even in their darkest moments we knew that we could find our way past them, because we had faced Shadows and survived.
The galaxy went on, and it did so in ways we'd never dreamed. But that, as they say, is another story, for another time.