by Penumbra. Please see part 1 for disclaimers.


PART 2



Grub was grub, no matter how much parsley you sprinkled on it. Ivanova fought to swallow the lump of rubbery imitation chicken in her mouth and set her fork down, chewing industriously.

"This seat taken or do you plan to enjoy the gourmet cooking alone?"

The Commander lifted her eyes. It was Mr Garibaldi, looking all the more haggard, if possible. The big man's trousers were in deep creases and his collar unfastened, what was left of his hair flew wild around his head. Ivanova cleared her throat from the sticky sauce and gestured towards the chair opposite her.

"Thanks," the Chief breathed and sat down. Giving her a once-over, he smiled. "The cooks have outdone themselves again?"

"Definitely. Best vulcanised rubber chicken I've ever had," the Second in Command grimaced and grabbed her water mug. "What's with you, did you run the obstacle course in your uniform?"

"Had a small misunderstanding with the Caparriel. Seems they've decided that the Zocalo is their holy place and now they're holding court smack in the middle of the restaurant sector."

"And?" Ivanova prompted, debating with herself whether she should get more kaf or not. Her hands were already shaking from too much caffeine.

"Tried to detain him, his folks got nasty on me and my people. The brig's full of the loonies now. And the leader, he's in some kind of trance, speaking to 'The One' or whatever deity it was that they were grovelling before." His voice was full of sarcasm, so much only an agnostic could achieve it. Ivanova lifted an eyebrow at him and leaned across the table.

"The Zocalo? Could there be a connection?"

"With the power grid going ga-ga on us? Yeah, but damn if I know what. The leader's supposed to wake up from his state tomorrow, or so the other berobed dudes told me. I'm planning on asking all kinds of nasty questions from him then."

The conversation was interrupted while Ivanova fetched two cups of kaf. After she returned, they sipped the hot liquid in silence for a while. It was really irritating at how the solution to the puzzle eluded them. It had been over two days since the glitches started and still they were no farther on the road to answer.

"You've done some interviewing on the telepaths as well?"

"The ones that have been able to chat with me, yeah," he grunted and leaned back, rolling his shoulder until the joint exclaimed a satisfying pop. "All they say is that they heard a scream, loud as a fraggin' neutron bomb. That's it. A few more teeps to comb through."

"Sounds like loads of happy hours for ya."

"Yeah," Garibaldi said and pushed himself up. "Gotta go. The Narns and Centauri are at each other's throats over the restricted docking permits."

"Have fun," Ivanova called out but that earned her only a dour glare. It was refreshing to know someone was having an even worse day, the Commander mused and disposed of what remained of her lunch. The chrono at the back of her hand stated that she had five more hours of duty ahead of her. The fake chicken rested heavily in her stomach. Oh, darn... forgot to ask Garibaldi about his crush and progress on that front, she thought suddenly and sighed before taking the nearest stairs towards C&C.

 


 

She was almost reluctant to don the mauve and black uniform again. Despite the circumstances, it had been nice to have a bit of a vacation; the recent Centauri-Drazi negotiations had been taxing beyond belief. The air had been so full of tension and negative emotions that she had had a constant battle with her mental state. Keeping out the waves of emotional pain had been as frustrating as trying to block a leaking dam with bubblegum and dead rats.

The skirt felt constricting, the jacket was heavy on her shoulders. And the heaviest of them all... as she attached the Psi-Corps insignia to her lapel, she could feel the cold metal on her fingers, warming to touch slowly. So much mixed emotions and turmoil came attached to that small jewel. And at last, the gloves. Her barrier against the world, and probably the thing that set her apart the most, but it was a fact of life she had to live with.

"Goodbye, Doctor Franklin," she said softly on her way out and the man nodded to her briefly before re-focusing on the array of test tubes before him. Pausing at the nearest terminal, the telepath checked her messages. Two business related, one urgent. From Mr. Garibaldi. What on earth...?

"Nice to see you're up again, Ms Winters," the Chief's smiling face pronounced. "When you have time, I need to interview you regarding the circumstances of you, er, unfortunate collapse. Give me a word." After a final wink, the BabCom logo flashed to the screen.

Ah well. 'Unfortunate collapse'...? Puzzling over the faint undertone in the Chief's voice she couldn't quite put her finger on, she sent a short message, telling him that she'd come visit him right away. Better get this done with, Talia thought, images of a hot, solitary bath and lunch lingering at the back of her mind. Her health was still far from optimal.

 


 

"Oh shit!"

The sudden bark went unheard, for the Chief was the only one present in his office. The stacks of reports on his desk fluttered at the exhale but that was all. Smoothing his mussed hair, Garibaldi glanced down at his wrinkled uniform and groaned. Of all the times... He really hadn't expected for the station's resident telepath to have so much free time that she would come visit right away. His chair moaned in protest as he stood up and finally fastened his uniform collar properly before cleaning up one visitor chair of flimsies. After a few minutes of fidgeting, the doorbell chirped.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Garibaldi."

That voice always managed to make his knees rubbery. Smiling to cover his nervousness and desire to perspire, he gestured for Talia Winters to enter. She did so, sitting in the visitor chair. Even though she had gone through a hospital trip, the telepath managed to look no less than perfect. Her hair was brushed smooth, the curve of her eyebrows as divine as ever. The Chief sat in his chair and tried not to stare, failing miserably as always.

"You wanted to see me about the power disturbances?"

"Yes, krhm," he said and leaned back, glancing at his notes, all business now. "In your own words, could you tell me what happened yesterday at the Zocalo?"

And Talia did. She left out some details like what she had had for dinner (not relevant) and who she had been lunching with (none his damn business). The setting, the Caparriel, the scream and the pain. "... it is something quite unimaginable. Like having someone squeeze your brain, from the inside."

"I'm sorry," Garibaldi said, his tone sincere. He really was. "Do you remember exactly how the... voice was timed? Any idea of its origin."

"It started mere seconds before the lights went out, mellowing out slowly towards the end. As for its source..." The telepath trailed off, her eyes fixed somewhere far away. "It was old. One voice, but all around. No one location, more of a spiritual presence than a flesh and blood creature." She re-focused on the genuinely puzzled Chief and smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry I can't be of more help but it was something I had never before experienced. A scream of pain with no source. A personality not in our normal space-time continuum. That's the best description I can come up with."

Garibaldi hummed and entwined his fingers. He was good when dealing with thieves, enraged Narns and invading races but this... aw hell. Making a mental note to have a serious chat with the Caparriel chief about the true form of whatever it was that they worshiped, he leaned forward, catching her eye. Damn she's gorgeous...

"Well, I've got no more questions for you, Ms Winters..." She nodded and rose, tugging her left glove better before turning towards the door. "Except for one."

"Yes?" she asked, a ghost of a smile still on her lips as she turned back.

"Would you... um, well, if you haven't had your dinner yet, would you like to go grab a bite?"

She smiled a dreamy smile and re-focused on some distant galaxy in the star field, visible through the small window of the Chief's office. "I'm sorry but I have other engagements tonight."

"Another time then," he said to the closing door. Damn...

 


 

"Well fuck this!"

The noise in C&C died down at the sudden exclamation and all heads turned towards the tall woman standing in front of the window who turned around and leaned against the console she had been studying just moments before. A collective gulp went around the room upon the look in the Commander's harder-than-duranium eyes.

"All right, who told The Expectant they could have a primary approach vector? We have an incoming Alkaian envoy, entering normal space riiiight about..." Ivanova glanced at the chronometer on the C&C's wall. "Now."

On cue, the jump gate alarm sprang to life and the display behind Lt Corwin flashed red. "I'm on it, ma'am," the man said and his fingers flew over his primary display as he tried to find a compensating vector for the cube-like Alkaian ship as The Expectant scrambled from its path. In the end, there was barely a breath of space between the two ships. Ivanova breathed a sigh of relief as both of the vehicles disappeared inside the station.

The transport door whooshed open.

"Evening, Lt. Commander Kreyszig," Ivanova greeted the night watch commander, who saluted and smiled.

"Good evening, ma'am. Anything on the incapacitated docking bays?"

"Engineering is working on them, they promised bays 24 thru 29 by 2300 hours. Other than that, no other big news. Eighteen outbound vessels in the next half an hour so you have your work cut out for you," Ivanova smile grimly. Everybody was scared about the power failures and thus, no-one wanted to linger on the station.

"See you in the morning, ma'am."

"You're pulling a double?"

"Don't remind me," the man grimaced and stepped up to the console. The rest of the day shift would get relieved within an hour.

Now, what to do tonight... She always had the option of doing the bottle hugging routine but for some reason, that didn't seem like so much fun today. Open air and some peace and quiet was what she needed. And, there was still the case of the unopened wine bottle. Pausing at her quarters only to fetch the said item, Ivanova headed straight to Talia's.

The telepath was dressed in a nightgown and a thin silken robe and the sight of all that shimmering Prussian blue silk turned the Commander's mouth dry in a snap. Her clever opening line went away in a cloud of haze and she just managed to open her mouth. No sound.

"Hello, Susan," the telepath smiled. "I was just taking a nap. The headache hasn't allowed me a decent night's sleep."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb..." Ivanova began to retreat but was halted by a casual wave of hand.

"No, I needed to get up anyway. So... what did you have in mind for this evening?"

How about strip poker? "Well, there's always the vid but being cooped up inside just doesn't sound very enchanting right now."

"Yeah. Do you have bikinis?"

Ivanova balked slightly at the odd question. "Well, sure, but not with me right now. What --"

"Excellent," Talia interrupted her, a huge grin on her face. "I know just the place."

 


 

Despite the breathtaking views and excitement, life in the forever night had several serious setbacks. One was the lack of sunlight and thus, one could tell the stage of a person's rotation from the severity of his or her pallor. However, if one was inventive enough, or had inventive friends...

"How come I never thought of this?" Ivanova murmured and shifted her sunglasses. She could almost feel the smile that came on the telepath's lips at the rhetorical question but she didn't have the energy to validate her hunch.

"I have much more free time than you seem to have."

The Commander gathered up some energy reserves and rose from her reclining position to a half sitting one, propping her torso up on one elbow. "Well, thank you for showing me this... Talia." The name rolled off her tongue with smooth determination and she very much liked how it felt. The soft syllables. A perfect match for the figure that lay in the next deck chair, clad only in a white bikini. "Seems you frequent the place."

"Yeah, you could say that," the telepath smiled and lowered her top a fraction. "Tan lines."

No kidding, Ivanova thought and swallowed. She couldn't think which one of the colours was the more enchanting one: the creamy, silky skin inside the top, or the more subdued smoothness of the skin outside that was the colour of... honey. Waiting to be licked. She felt like slapping herself after that fleeting thought but made do with a small sigh and leaned back.

It was the best artificial beach the station had to offer. No sign of sand though, and if one looked over the edge of the platform, there was a dizzying drop down to the agricultural fields below. And perversely enough, the sky was not of blue air but of the same green squares of heavily irrigated farming land. They hung halfway between the fields and the artificial sun lamps, on a widening of the maze of maintenance corridors, the countryside slowly rotating around them.

The air around them, mostly because of its relative thinness, was quiet. The powerful lamps hummed in a soft, steady rhythm but other than that, the only sound was the faint rustle of paper as the telepath leafed through an antique book. A hardback copy of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, very much read, judging from the frayed edges and yellowed paper.

"Does that book have special significance to you?"

"Hm?" Talia lifted her head and lowered her sunglasses. "Ah, yes. It's a rare edition from the year 2119, one of the last books ever printed on paper. It was a gift... for my graduation at the Psi-Corps." Seeing the sudden stiffening of the Commander's face at the mention of the Corps, Talia regretted her thoroughness. Setting the book carefully next to her wine glass, she swung her legs over the deck chair's edge and leaned forward. Ivanova wouldn't meet her eyes. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. It's just a... a gut reaction."

"I know. But you must understand that the Core is a big part of me. For good and for bad."

The quiet wistfulness in the voice was something the Commander was not used to hearing from the blonde woman. She felt a pang of sadness in her, for the fact that both her prejudices and the telepath's life of isolation because of a talent handed to her at birth, everything was working against them. Ashamed of her instinctive and negative reaction to an offhand comment, Ivanova sat up as well and leaned forward, so close she could sense the faint, liquid scent of Talia's perfume.

"No, I'm sorry. I of all people should know not to judge people as a part of something but as individuals, or to associate them with... unpleasant things."

The fair head rose and a small smile caressed Talia's lips. And suddenly, Ivanova became aware of exactly how beautiful that full lower lip was, and how close she was to a telepath without gloves. And how ill-clothed they both were. Shifting quickly back in her seat, she sipped at her neglected and slowly warming wine and put her sunglasses back, missing Talia's quick, knowing smile. Both leaned back on their respective chairs and while the telepath continued on with her book, Ivanova wished for a hailstorm of ice cubes. Or a cold shower.

 


 

"Agh. I think I have a sunburn."

"Nah. It's just a bit red," Talia countered, eyeing the Commander's shoulders. "But still, I think it's time to go. My skin feels somewhat pruned as well."

They gathered their things quietly and as they waited for the service lift to arrive, the telepath waved the book to produce some wind where there was none. The platform was so hot that even in bikinis, the women were soaked in sweat.

The car arrived finally and they stepped in, only to find a man already in it, on his way down. The Commander racked her brain for a name. Wise? Wess? Something like that... ah.

"Evening, Lieutenant Weiss."

"Ah, er... good evening, Commander," the man managed, hovering over a snap decision on whether to salute or not. He decided on inactivity since the Second in Command was hardly in uniform. Not by a mile, and nor was her companion. The two women settled into the transport tube and traded knowing looks at the young man's fidgeting. Deciding to spare him of further embarrassment, they pulled on some clothes as the car descended and temperatures became more tolerable.

"Dinner?" Talia asked as she buttoned her loose shirt.

"Definitely," Ivanova growled. The rubber chicken hadn't yet settled properly but she had a hunch some real food would do the trick. The door whooshed quietly open and they stepped into the refreshingly cool corridor. Lieutenant Weiss exhaled a breath he had been unintentionally holding ever since the two women had stepped into the transport.

 


 

"Well, to sunshine," said Commander Ivanova and lifted her glass of merlot. The dark red liquid swayed sluggishly in the frail glass as it met another, producing a small clink. The skin around her shoulders felt a bit tight but nothing a few days of fluorescent light wouldn't negate. Her face burned for entirely other reasons: the dinner had been heavily laced with spices and the rich red wine had flowed freely. It was nice to have some quality free time for a change, and the wine seemed to have an effect on the woman sitting next to her in the secluded booth.

Ah yes, the woman... casting a furtive sideways glance, the Commander noted the telepath's relaxed pose and the faint colouring of her cheeks as she leaned back.

"That was hot," Talia pronounced and pushed her now empty plate forward on the table, to make room for her wine glass. "But good." Brushing away a drop of wine from her lips with a napkin, she adjusted the lapel of her black power suit. The restaurant they had decided on adhered to strict dress code; one couldn't just walk in wearing sneakers and a sweaty oversized shirt. She didn't know why Ivanova had decided on such an expensive place, but she wasn't complaining. The food had been truly worth the money, and the private, quiet atmosphere was charged with good mood in a pleasant, sensuous way.

"This is the only place within twelve parseks that serves decent red wine. But don't tell anyone," the Commander answered, leaning back in the semi-circular booth so that her shoulder almost touched Talia's. They were conversing in low voices but the proximity allowed them to hear one another through the muted background music of Bach's piano concertos, played by a real pianist on a real grand piano. A few couples were swaying to the music on the restaurant's small dance floor.

So that's why... "Yes, the wine is excellent. But y'know..." Talia smiled and turned her head towards Ivanova, "your secret about this place is out now."

"Ah well... if you decide to take Bester here for a nice steak the next time he's around, I'll conquer your secret sunny platform with the rowdiest macho pilots in the Alpha squadron. With two kegs of ale."

"Touche," the telepath laughed and turned halfway towards Ivanova, resting her elbow on the back of the sofa and her chin against her hand. The Commander's sharp profile was softer than usual in the muted candlelight. The thick braid flowed from her head to the shoulder of her shirt, onto the clean, thick cotton that was almost painfully white. "So, do you want to dance?" Talia joked.

The Commander had been in the process of lifting the glass to her lips when the sudden quip entered her somewhat slow consciousness. As such, she was quite unprepared for it and thus managed to jerk forward, sending some of her wine flying towards the table and Talia.

"Oh, sh-- I mean, damn! Didn't mean to," Ivanova exclaimed and grabbing her napkin, dabbed the wine off the telepath's chest. Too much wine... damn. Gods the woman makes me nervous... A warm hand on hers stopped her and a finger landed on her lips, cutting down the stream of apologies.

"Shhh. It's nothing. My fault," Talia whispered, smiling slightly before moving her finger away from Ivanova's lips. The Commander regretted the loss of contact, until the touch returned on her cheek. She leaned into the hand and hers came to rest on the telepath's collar, the delicate bone under her fingers covered with the smoothest of skins imaginable. "Why are you so tense?" the smoky, enchanting alto whispered. The voice in her dreams, the voice that followed her in her waking hours.

The skin on Talia's neck was warm silk under her touch and as she moved her hand up, Ivanova could feel the rapid pulse against her fingers. Throwing caution to the wind, she wrapped her hand around the telepath's slender neck and gave in to the crave building inside her, the undeniable need to taste those full, perfect lips, to finally know if they felt as exquisite as they looked. Leaning forward, she took a shuddering breath and pulled Talia into a kiss.

It was supposed to be a light, tentative touch, just to satisfy her curiosity. Instead, it became something far more prolonged as the first gentle caress proved to be so electric. The texture of Talia's lips was as divine as she had imagined, Ivanova's brain hazily registered, and she entwined her hand in the cool fair hair at the nape of her neck. Talia's hand grasped the back of her head, roughly, and pulled her close, crushing her mouth against the telepath's. She could feel her eyes close slowly as she focused on the heat the slide of her lips on Talia's generated, and the dizzying feeling of the equally forceful grasp the other woman had on her hair. She purred deep in her throat.

The touch of cool velvet on her lips sobered her up instantly. Talia's tongue traced the edge of her lower lip with slow persistence, making her skin tingle. The electric feeling didn't halt at her over-sensitised lips but it went deeper, zinging through her heart, leaving behind a hollow ache before heading straight to points south. She wanted more. Something. Anything... the tongue on her lips peeked gently inside Ivanova's mouth and she obeyed the implied command, parting her lips and delving deeper into the hot kiss. A quiet moan, more a sigh than anything, left the telepath, only to be swallowed by the intensity of the contact.

~~ Oh my... ~~

The throaty whisper inside her head shook the Commander out of the trance and she tore away from the telepath. Her look must've been one of utter terror, for Talia leaned back towards her, concern warring with hurt in her eyes.

"Susan... I'm sorry."

The Commander's eyes darted from the beautiful face before her to the slim, delicate hand approaching her and she scooted backwards in the booth, afraid of the touch. The words Tell no one! echoed in her head, the clearest of the few memories she had of her mother... It took Ivanova a moment to return from the memory lane, back to the reality of the quiet, shadowy restaurant around her. And to the sword of Damocles above her.

"No, please... Talia, look at me," the Commander uttered softly, upon seeing the faraway, hard look in the telepath's eyes; the impassive shell was back. "I'm sorry. It's not your fault."

The fair head turned slowly, a faintly quizzing eyebrow the only indication Talia had heard. The cool, mute eyes turned to Ivanova, two beautiful pools of ice so intelligent it made Ivanova absolutely weak at the knees. The coldness turned briefly to comprehension as the telepath had a sudden flash of insight. The lips, the mouth so soft, parted and Talia exhaled.

"You heard me. In you."

Ivanova could feel the piercing gaze on her as she studied her empty glass. She was walking on the edge of a fucking bottomless chasm here.

"Yeah... I heard you," she finally whispered and met the gray eyes. "We need to talk."

 


 

The weight of the hand was like a lead mountain, pressing down on her soul. Commander Ivanova had rarely been so scared in her life. The telepath's slender fingers slid into her hair and she could feel the heat of the connection, the horizon in her mind that was running away from her with the speed of thought, the immense void making a spot of fire ignite in her. Fear, and new avenues of life; extreme sensitiveness and the faint presence of the woman standing next to her.

"I can feel it. Feel you," Ivanova whispered and closed her burning eyes. Her fate was in the Psi-Corps' hands.

The fingers drew away from her skull, as did the presence from within her head, and she slumped forward, the forever world in her sinking into background noise. The sofa next to her rocked as Talia sat. Ivanova could hear the rustle of clothing, even beyond the rush of blood in her ears.

"Susan. Susan, please... look at me."

The voice was gentle, with a hint of sorrow. It brought a tear to her eye and the hot pearl of salt ran down her cheek. But she did as she was told: opened her eyes and focused on the tall, fair woman next to her. A very much gloveless hand landed on hers and to her surprise, Talia smiled. It was all that it took, to bring the warmth back to her heart.

"I understand your worry. But I understand the consequences, better than you think." A pause, and the telepath came a fraction closer. Her smile was nothing but gentle; the cold Core that used to be her life as distant as the end of the Universe. "You are safe with me. I promise."

Simple words... and were they just words?

"I don't want to go away... to die inside because of this."

"Yes," Talia smiled. Ivanova could feel the telepath's fingers glide over the back of her hand, leaving a trail of goose bumps. "It is your choice and I respect it. Trust me."

Such weight in so few words. Trust her? Did she have a choice? "Yeah..." A beat, and Ivanova inhaled shakily. "Talia... I'm scared."

"C'mere," the telepath purred and pulled the quite limp Commander to her. Despite the circumstances, she found this suddenly so human Ivanova quite enchanting, not to mention tempting. And to hold her like this, with the delicious weight of the woman's body resting against her, it was very distracting. The Commander's head was resting on her shoulder and she need only turn her head to feel the silky hair on her cheek and to feel the woman's skin on her lips. And so she pressed her mouth to Ivanova's temple.

The Commander exhaled with a quiet sound, the ghost of a touch on her temple coaxing her mind away from the fears. The last bitter tear rolled down her cheek, its progress halted by a tongue that caught it deftly, licking away the salt with gentleness that made Ivanova's heart quiver. The heat of Talia's breath on her sensitised skin was too much... abruptly turning in the embrace, she rested her palms on the woman's chest and sought out the telepath's soft gray eyes.

Or not so soft. There was a new sheen to them and in the low lights of the room, the hooded eyes shone in a dark shade of cobalt. Naked desire, thin and cutting as a razor.

"Talia..." she began but her sentence faltered after that one beautiful word. She could not find the words, but it wasn't important; it was inherent in her nature to speak with her actions. Her lips found Talia's again, enjoying the newfound familiarity and the rush of effervescence the contact brought about, as it overcame her rational mind's protests on the absurdity of the situation.

After a small eternity of floating, when the kiss finally ended, Ivanova pulled away. She was breathless, her heart ricocheting inside her ribcage.

"Are you OK, Susan?" the telepath asked, her voice slightly unsteady. Her cheeks were flushed and she valiantly fought the urge to rip off the Commander's clothes and throw her on the bed, just a few feet away. The woman was just too damn arousing, not to mention beautiful, for her own good. Doing a few quadratic equations in her mind helped and she wrapped her arms around Ivanova's midsection, just holding her.

"Yeah... well, no," the obviously flustered Commander offered. She just looked at the exquisite creature holding her, her eyes unblinking. The feel of the soft, heated woman under her was seriously overloading her consciousness, to the point that she felt her skin was alive, raw nerve endings stimulated to the extreme. "Please. I want you."

The quadratic equations vanished in a blink, to be replaced by a new wave of desire. The telepath's eyes fairly shone with passion as she slid her hands up Ivanova's back, leaving behind a trail of white-hot fire. The hands ended up on the Commander's hair and began to untangle the thick braid. Talia wanted nothing more than to feel that stream of silken strands on her fingers. Well, I guess there's something even nicer, along the lines of trailing my tongue-- She clamped down on the thought, resolved to take things slow. But it was so hard. The gentle pressure of Ivanova's breasts on hers, the scent of cool cotton and fragile passion, mixed with the Commander's perfume, all inflamed her beyond belief. She was more than aroused... her mind's simmering, dark passion barely held in check.

"Susan... do you know what it's like when telepaths make love?"

Ivanova bit her lower lip and rested her head on Talia's chest again, concentrating on the feel of the gentle, knowing hands in her hair. Her negative murmur was barely discernable, more so as all she heard was the quickened heartbeat under her head and the roar of blood in her own ears.

"It has no bounds. It's a melting of minds, as well as bodies." A pause, and Ivanova heard the telepath inhale slowly, searching for the words. "All barriers come down."

"Well, that sure alleviated my fears," the Commander quipped, drunk as she was with these long-dormant feelings. Her ironic tone was understood and low laughter shook the other woman. Ivanova found the voice most interesting; low, meandering chuckles that seemed to wrap around her hearing, softly, bringing a new wave of heat to her veins. The laughter broke the tension in the air and as she lifted her head, Ivanova found out that Talia was smiling. "Talk about pressure to perform."

"Yeah, sorry about that," the telepath whispered, her smile twisting into a lopsided one. "Just wanted to avoid any nasty surprises."

"Oh, I've had plenty of those tonight," Ivanova said and echoed the smile. "Not of the nasty type, though," she added quickly and to enforce her words, tightened her hold on Talia's sides, before smoothing her palms over the silky fabric of her shirt.

"That sure alleviated my fears," the telepath mimed the Commander's words, a wry grin on your face. "But I want to be sure."

"Oh, I am sure," Ivanova breathed, her eyes ablaze with desire. Her hands meandered back up the silk shirt's sides, before coming to rest under the telepath's full breasts. Her fingers traced the bottom edge of her bra, occasionally brushing the soft mounds through all the fabric. "You were saying about telepaths making," a bolder brush that almost reached a straining nipple, "love?"

"Ah yes," Talia exhaled, her eyes glazing over when Ivanova's other hand unbuttoned the topmost button of her shirt. "Susan..."

"Do continue," the Commander whispered. She wanted nothing but to hear that deep, sonorous alto voice, and to touch the woman to whom it belonged. Touch her and hear that voice become rough, throaty... passionate. Undoing the second of the small pearl buttons, she bent to kiss the exposed skin, her cheek semi-accidentally grazing a breast. Talia exhaled with a hissing sound.

"All you see..."

Another button.

"... hear..."

Another, and as the Commander parted the shirt front, the edges of Talia's bra came into view. Nuzzling into that satin-covered soft flesh, the Commander purred deep within her throat. Her fingers found a nipple, ready and waiting, and she pinched it through the bra.

"Ah... Susan!" the telepath exclaimed as her hips jerked.

"Go on," Ivanova hummed, her eyes drooping almost closed. Pushing the shirt open even more, the whole of Talia's breasts were exposed, wrapped as they still were in the white satin. She traced the edges of the cups, first with her fingers and then with her tongue, tasting the slight musk of arousal on the skin.

"All you taste... is the other person. Please..."

The last word was a desperate plea. Ivanova could feel the telepath's heightened state in the frantic heartbeat and in the erratic rise and fall of the chest. Reaching into the shirt, she pushed down the bra's straps from Talia's shoulders and gently brushed the satin down.

"All you feel is the othe-- Oh!"

The last word was a breathless exclamation that turned into an equally breathless moan as Ivanova bowed her head to one breast, grabbing it tightly before drawing the taut bud into her mouth. Sucking the sensitive, hard nub gently, the Commander was rewarded by a low moan from the woman under her. Strong, slim fingers tangled with her hair and urged her to be bolder with her efforts. She was only happy to comply.

Her hands were everywhere, unsure at this uncharted territory at first but growing bolder by the moment. She was guided and coaxed by the telepath's hands who were reflexively grasping and releasing her hair, in a rhythm that spoke of urgent need. After tasting the other pink, delicious nipple on her tongue, Ivanova reluctantly extracted her mouth from the enticing flesh. Dragging her gaze away from the creamy flesh, now tinted to a delicate pink hue, she sought out the gray eyes again. She reached out to both of the sensitised nipples and rolled the pebbles between with knowing fingers. Talia stifled a gasp by biting her lower lip and the Commander found the expression most enchanting.

"You were saying?" she hissed and doubled her efforts on the nipples. Talia arched her chest towards her touch, her breathing short and erratic. Ivanova smiled at the obvious troubles the blonde woman was having with words, and licked a bead of sweat from between her breasts. "Hmmm?"

The torturing hands were suddenly seized and Ivanova found herself pushed off the squirming woman, to a more upright position. Her legs were awkward and she struggled to make her position more comfortable. Talia shifted her grip from Ivanova's wrists to her face, feeling the silky smooth skin under her palms. The Commander smiled at the telepath's expression, the way her lipstick had given way to another kind of red and the way her hair was falling in wild, mussed strands around her face.

"Enough words," Talia husked, her voice thick with desire. Ivanova traced her suddenly dry lips with her tongue. The woman opposite her fairly reeked of sex and at that moment of sudden perspicacity, upon seeing Talia so turned on, she was overcome with the need to possess. And to be taken .

"Well, then," Ivanova said, her voice thrumming with tension. "Show me."

"I thought you'd never ask," the telepath replied and moved her hands to the Commander's shoulders. Talia's smile turned to one hinting at the things to come, the full, generous lips curving with just a hint of sybaritic enjoyment in them. The smile made Ivanova's toes curl. "If you are sure."

The Commander fought the urge to roll her eyes. "For the love of... will you just takmmmphh..." The sentence was interrupted with another kiss and Ivanova lost track of the words. Of her vocabulary altogether, it seemed. The hands on her shoulders guided her up from the sofa and onto her wobbly feet.

Somehow, they managed to walk without breaking their lip lock, Talia pushing the Commander in front of her. The telepath's hands meandered down from the shoulders to the buttons of Ivanova's shirt, tugging feebly at its bindings. When the buttons proved out to be an insurmountable problem, the telepath murmured something very impatient into the kiss. Her hands gripped the shirt's edges and tore it open. Ivanova exclaimed at the brash move and her eyes flew open, only to find Talia's, a trace of a smirk in them.

The Commander backtracked the familiar path towards her bed and the telepath followed her, brushing the shirt down her shoulders and taking the bra with it. The garments fell to the floor with the quiet rustle of cotton and both women stepped over them, their tongues battling for space. Talia's shirt followed suit and Ivanova hazily admired the woman's ability at multitasking. Her calves bumped at the edge of the mattress and as the telepath still kept on going, she was forced to sit down.

Hum, not that this is bad development, Ivanova smirked in her mind and drew the woman in front of her to stand between her legs. She was at level with Talia's waistband, her eyes fixing on the faintly muscular stomach and all that lovely creamy skin above it, just begging to be touched. Grabbing the telepath's buttocks through the thin fabric of her trousers, she heard a hissing exhalation and Talia's hands tangled in her hair again. She squeezed the two trim globes, pulling them slightly apart, enjoying the tremble of the big muscles and the quiver of the abdomen under her cheek.

Pushing down the absurdity of the situation, a thought that persisted in whispering at the fringes of her mind, the Commander looked up, resting her chin on Talia's stomach while her fingers started on her trousers. Past the expanse of her abdomen, past the proud swell of her breasts, she could see the heavy-lidded gray eyes and the smile that was absolutely beatific, adorning the face she had seen in her dreams for so long. God she is so... bozhestvenni'i. Gorgeous, absolutely, Ivanova thought and felt a sudden pang in her chest that was making breathing very difficult. She knew she was in deep trouble when she resorted to her native tongue. The trousers needed no coaxing; they fell down on their own volition when they were undone.

"Are they designed to do that?" Ivanova asked, murmuring the question against Talia's abdomen. She just wanted to hear that absolutely thrilling, low laugh and she did, the telepath tracing her fingertips along Ivanova's cheeks. The Commander smoothed her palms over the now exposed buttocks. All that clothed Talia were her smooth satin panties and suddenly it dawned on the Commander that she had no idea what to do. As far as her rather eidetic memory insisted, the logistics of having sex with a woman had not been included in her Humanoid Biology and Behavioural Patterns 101 at the EarthForce academy.

"Perhaps," was the answer and the telepath crouched, bringing her head even with Ivanova's.

"Y'know, I'm a bit stymied here. I don't, um, what to do," Ivanova confessed, cursing the blush that was creeping on her cheeks. Trying to breathe normally was becoming a daunting task, especially as Talia insisted on smiling in a most humid, heated way that her abdomen seemed to echo in roiling cramps.

"Mmm, the mechanics...," the telepath smiled. "Do you want me to show you?" she continued, raising one impish eyebrow that spoke volumes. As did her hands as they travelled up the Commander's thighs, thumbs brushing the sensitive skin on the inner thigh. Ivanova could actually feel the frantic beat of her heart as the telepath covered her femoral arteries with long fingers. The digits danced over her taut muscles.

"Ah...," Ivanova began and swallowed before continuing. "Please do so."

Her trousers were off in record time, followed by her panties, all in one mussed-up puddle of cotton and silk. Ivanova had barely time to take in a breath to protest the speedy disrobing of her lower body before the telepath's fair head dipped between her legs and did something... quite wondrous to her. The air exited her in a pained scream as her hips bucked against Talia's face, enhancing the already delicious friction of her tongue against-- Her tongue?! Oh...my, was all the Commander had time to think before the other woman regained control of her wildly undulating hips, wrapped surprisingly strong arms around her thighs and attached her mouth to the sweet bundle of nerves.

It took the Commander a while to remember that breathing was important. She inhaled and the dizziness she had been feeling lessened somewhat. She let her head fall back to the mattress and gripped the midnight blue sheets with both hands, her entire focus on that sweet spot just... there. Right there. With unerring accuracy, the telepath had found it and was busy bathing it with her tongue, small murmurs of pleasure testifying her utter concentration to the task. When she switched tactics, raking short fingernails over the heated skin at the insides of Ivanova's thighs, capturing the throbbing bud between her lips and sucking, the muffled moans were overwhelmed by the Commanders quite audible, throaty growl, coming from somewhere deep within her chest.

~~God you are so beautiful... beautiful...~~

The voice was quiet in her head, more a gentle whisper than the grating, harsh boom of what she had assumed telepathic contacts to be like. The words, more sensed that pronounced, brought with them a wave of heat, what the telepath felt when touching her. The moisture, the quiver of muscles, the sweet scent of need she recognised as hers. It was her making love to herself, her making love to... Talia. A finger travelled the entire length of her slit, from the throbbing clit to her sphincter, finally ending up at her opening. There was mild hesitation in the stream of thoughts in her head.

"Mmhhh...oh... please. Please, Talia...," the Commander breathed, her other hand leaving the sheets and wandering down to caress the telepath's head. She could almost feel Talia smile at her centre, before long fingers entered her, reaching to her depths before curving and rubbing that one slick bump at her inner wall...

"Oh fuck!" Ivanova screamed, the small of her back lifting off the bed as she was transported to the highest peak of her pleasure. Waaaay too long since the last time, was the only thought her brain could process before she surrendered to the blinding, hard pleasure. Her climax was sudden, fierce, breathtaking enough to make her extremities curl in delight. At the fringes of her mind, she was aware of her own voice, a keening sob so unlike her, mixed with the matching sound from Talia. Her pleasure was mirrored and reflected back, only to be mirrored again.

~~Oh... who-- mmmmhh... ~~

That was her thought. Hers. She felt her mind project them, the few words of Cro-Magnon, as she floated down from the peak.

~~Susan...?~~

~~Yeah... too limp to talk right now.~~ Ivanova smiled in her mind to the wary query. She felt Talia extract her mouth from her still throbbing centre, kiss the thatch of coarse, straight hair at the apex of her legs, before moving to lay next to her on the bed. With great difficulty, she slowed down her breathing and cracked an eyelid.

"First time for everything, including premature ejaculation," the Commander said, her voice a bit hoarse from overuse. Talia flashed her a humoured, wide smile and adjusted her position on the bed, propping herself up on one elbow. "That was... something else."

"Well, you didn't let me finish my lecture on telepaths making love," the telepath accused her sternly, jabbing a finger between her ribs. Ivanova flinched and bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.

"As I recall, you were the one who said something about enough words."

"Ah... but you were entirely too distracting," Talia smiled and bent down to kiss her. She could taste herself on the sweet, soft lips and the feel of the warm woman, so close to her, was making her blood boil again. Tracing the soft curves from hips to the wonderful weight of Talia's breasts and back, she grabbed the woman firmly and flipped her on her back. With her now on top, the quite inflaming feel of her nipples brushing Talia's, she kissed the woman. Hotly, openly, she let her tongue explore the moist warmth inside, swallowing the telepath's silent moan.

"Now, let's see what I learned, Ms. Winters," she murmured to one delicate ear before capturing the lobe between her teeth.

 


 

Ensign de la Chapelle blinked. Hard. Now really... this place is getting stranger by the day, she thought and shifted her flimsies under the other arm. The disruptions, odd waves of monks and chaos over the malfunctioning docking bays, all were dime a dozen occurrences on Babylon 5, but this... Commander Ivanova, in the morning, whistling. As a concept, a cheery Second in Command was about as plausible as a pacifist Narn.

Ivanova didn't notice the Ensign's curious glances, she was too busy smiling. Whistling an old Russian dock workers' song, she bounced on the balls of her feet, flicking a fleck of nonexistent lint off her sleeve when the transport halted at Engineering. The poor Ensign almost tripped when exiting as the Commander flashed a radiant grin at her.

"Good morning, everyone," Ivanova pronounced as she stepped into C&C. It was followed by a silence so deafening one could have heard the duranium walls settle. The Commander didn't notice it however; she headed straight towards Lt. Commander Kreyszig, who eyed her with utter bafflement. Most of the night watch was already in their bunks, the Commander was last of the morning rotation to arrive. Either it's an alien clone of the Commander or I shouldn't push double shifts. Hallucination, Kreyszig thought and decided on the latter.

"Morning, Commander," the man saluted and jabbed a thumb over his shoulder towards the blackness of space outside. "Busy bee day again. Night was quite a chaos and the morning regulars depart within an hour."

"Excellent," Ivanova smiled and almost radiated expectant glee.

Ten credits on option three... she's gone insane, Kreyszig sighed and rubbed his weary eyes. "Well, you have a nice day. Again at 1800 hours, ma'am," he said curtly and saluted again before exiting. Ivanova assumed his place and logged herself in as the Alpha shift commander. Unconsciously, she continued whistling. The men and women in the crew pit were quite unable to concentrate on their tasks.

"What's with her?" whispered Chief Petty Officer Lorrah from her station to particularly no-one. Her crew evaluation reports lay forgotten before her as she stared at the bouncy Commander's back.

The Ensign manning the auxiliary tactical station next to her leaned conspiratorially towards her and waggled his eyebrows. "Well, the little I know of women says that either she's in love or she got laid last night." Lorrah flashed an incredulous look towards him, to which he replied only by winking.

"Ensign Mbele, I would prefer that you refrain from such comments."

At the stern whisper, as much as such a thing was possible, the flippant man turned. "I apologise, Lieutenant Corwin. We're just glad to see her happy." The young Lieutenant seemed sceptical but let the comment pass.

"I'm guessing both," the incorrigible Ensign whispered to Chief Lorrah who promptly muffled a burst of laughter into her palm. Her giggles refused to subside, however, even as she tried to re-focus on the reports that were due in two hours.

"Ensign!" Lt. Corwin didn't know if he was more shocked by Mbele's audacity or by the suggestion that the Commander might have someone in her life. It seemed he had waited for too long to ask her out; now someone had snatched her right in front of his nose. I wonder who...? His heart felt a bit unsteady, as if it was slowly falling apart.

"Sorry, sir," the Ensign said with mock seriousness to Lt. Corwin. His wink to Chief Lorrah threatened to start the giggles again, but the woman bit down on the inside of her cheek. The pain helped. Until her eyes found the relaxed Commander Ivanova again, who had changed whistling to humming a cheery EarthForce march.

"Silence on deck, Chief Petty Officer Lorrah," the Commander said, her eyebrows drawing together as she watched the woman writhe in an uncontrollable bout of laughter. Giggling was, after all, strictly verboten in a military installation.

"I'm so sorry, ma'am," Lorrah managed and with a pained cough, she turned back towards the reports.

 


 

"Mmmh... mmhhhtlmgggmm..." Ivanova mumbled but her words were quite incomprehensible, mostly because there was a lovely, hot, divine mouth at her lips to swallow them. Giving up on speaking altogether, the Commander lifted both her hands from Talia's hips to cup her face, delving deeper with her tongue into that moist warmth. It was certainly a kiss that did not stop at the mouth. No, Ivanova could feel it all the way to her toes... though most of the effect seemed to concentrate around her lower abdomen.

After a small eternity of utter bliss and wandering hands, they had to come up for air. Gulping in the cool air, Ivanova ran a hand under the collar of her suddenly so constricting uniform.

"You were saying?" Talia smiled and gently extracted the Commander's other hand from her upper thigh where it had pushed the hem of her skirt.

"Forgot entirely," Ivanova replied and lifted a wry eyebrow. "But who cares?"

"Something about tomorrow?"

"Ah, yes," the Commander said and put her arms loosely around the blonde woman's waist. "I have, uh, about five months' worth of accumulated shore leave and I'm thinking of having a day off tomorrow."

"Oh, what for?" the telepath asked dreamily, wrapping her arms around Ivanova's neck before nuzzling her neck. This woman has the most enchanting scent, she mused.

"To finish what we started... last night," the Commander husked. All morning she had been thinking of nothing but the sight that had greeted her on that morning: the halo of mussed, fair hair around the most perfectly structured face this side of Uranus. The curves of the slender, tall body curled around her; the disarray of the sweat-soaked sheets around them; the lucid, dark, aroused look in the telepath's gray eyes when she had not been able to resist the temptation to touch the sleeping woman at the most intimate of places. And finally, the last, heated kiss they had shared before the Commander had rushed off to work.

"What, six times not enough for you?" the telepath smiled, mock horror in her voice.

"Seven, if I can count my fingers right," Ivanova corrected. "And no. Not enough. It was something quite magical."

"So I take there are no regrets?"

"Only that I didn't think of this sooner," Ivanova smiled and kissed the tip of Talia's nose.

"Mushball," the telepath accused her gently.

"Yeah, that was very syrupy of me. Which reminds me..." The Commander straightened her back and looked around in the store room. "We better get out of here before someone comes in a vain search for real food."

"That bad, huh?" the telepath asked, brushing an errant strand of dark brown hair behind Ivanova's ear.

"You'll flunk the Academy if you can't down two Chief's Special rubber steaks back to back."

"Ouch," Talia winced. "It's a good thing that I have a lunch meeting with a client, then."

"You could say that. Most of the time the mess hall food really fits the place's name well," Ivanova grimaced. "Tonight then?"

"Certainly. We have... a lot to talk about," Talia said, her voice suddenly a very low, throaty murmur. Ivanova was sure someone had turned the store room's thermostat to Full Blast. "About many things," she continued, touching Ivanova's forehead with one black gloved hand.

"Yeah."

One last kiss and they exited, with enough stealth that no-one noticed. Talia headed off towards her meeting and Ivanova joined the lunch queue. Her quick get-together with Talia had gone on a bit longer than anticipated and so, she was amidst the worst hassle time in the mess hall. Battling to get herself a big bowl of soup about the consistency of a day-old porridge, she scanned the hall. A-ha...

"Afternoon, Michael. You look a bit worse for the wear."

If eyes could throw daggers, the Commander would've been Swiss cheese. As it was, they couldn't, so she retained her cheery form intact as she sat opposite the brooding Chief of Security. Not only was the front of his uniform in a seemingly perpetual state of wrinkles these days, he looked as if the world had kicked him in the nuts.

"You, on the other hand, are irritatingly jolly," he said and spooned some of the soup into his mouth.

"What's not to be cheery about?" Ivanova exclaimed, and a few heads turned her way. "It's a beautiful day out there. Lots of exciting stuff... which reminds me. How did it go with the wooing?"

"Don't remind me," he sighed and rolled his eyes.

Ivanova clicked his tongue and leaned towards him, her soup fortunately forgotten. "That bad, huh?"

"Worse," he replied succinctly. "And the monks have been following me around, demanding that I release their spiritual leader. But..." his eyes took on some of the old twinkle as he got a bit excited about the matter. "I did manage to have the most interesting conversation with the said leader this morning."

"Oh?"

"Yeah... but I'll tell all about it at the meeting at 1700 hours. Gotta go now," Garibaldi sighed as he glanced at his chrono.

"OK, see you then. And as for the mystery lady," Ivanova smiled cheekily, "don't give up. Most women like playing hard to get."

"If you say so," the man smiled and rose from his seat, leaving Ivanova to tackle with her rather unappetising lunch alone. Alone until a new figure in EarthForce uniform came to stand next to her table. She looked up and lifted an eyebrow to the slightly fidgeting man. "Lt. Corwin. Do sit down," she said and gestured with her spoon.

"Thank you, Commander," the man said and smiled nervously as he folded his tall frame into the chair. "The food must be real bad, ma'am, if you're eating it this slowly."

"Ah, no... I got... sidetracked," she corrected him, vainly trying to will down the blush she felt rising to her cheeks. The soup tasted even worse as it now had cooled to lukewarm.

"I saw in the rotation log that you're taking tomorrow off. Is something special going down, ma'am?"

Ivanova almost choked on her soup. Me, for starters... "No, nothing... special. I just felt like taking the day off."

"Indeed." Corwin's voice was highly sceptical. "Tomorrow is my day off as well, so Lieutenant Weiss is the shift commander."

"Yes. So, what are you going to do on your mini vacation then?" the Commander asked absently, still dabbing on the soup with her spoon.

"I was thinking of going to see the new batch of Minbari flora in the arboretum..." He trailed off and swallowed. This was his chance. "Um, Commander, if you're not busy tomorrow, mayb--"

Twirrrp! Ivanova's comm link cut off the Lieutenant's sentence and he bit his lip to keep from spewing out a litany of curses. He was sure that it would take him another eternity to gather up enough courage to ask the Commander out again.

"C&C to Commander Ivanova. We have an incoming Drazi vessel who refuses to give identification."

"I'll be right there," Ivanova said and rose with a sigh. "Have a nice meal, Lieutenant Corwin. I'll see you back in Observation."

"Yes, ma'am," he said weakly and concentrated on his soup for the remainder of the lunch hour.

 


 

If the synthesized coffee, kaf, tasted like boiled shoe soles, the synthesized tea was much worse. It was as if someone had taken brackish water, added some colour to it, and then washed his week-old socks with it before serving. Talia flinched and set the tea glass down gingerly, trying hard not to make a sour face. The bad tea wasn't helping her headache, not one bit.

The station had seen two small tremors that day, both spaced within fifteen standard minutes. With the help of Dr. Franklin's inhibitor drug, the sonic voice didn't screech though her head like a freight train. Instead, it was a vaguely disturbing, hollow sound at the back of her mind, the echo refusing to leave her brain no matter how hard she tried. And the drug had one unfortunate side effect: it also dulled her abilities. It was, in effect, a milder version of the sleepers the Corps used on rogues, hopefully without the unfortunate side effects the latter tended to have. She was too young to go insane.

The usual hum of thousands of voices she always heard was more subdued today than it usually was. Babylon 5's populace was on its toes, unconsciously quieting down, concentrating on holding on to the nearest bulkhead, in case the station's conga lessons would continue suddenly. But the throbbing of her head didn't prevent her from recognising a familiar signal, approaching her from behind, radiating extreme nervousness.

"Mr. Garibaldi," the telepath said, a touch of strain colouring her voice. She couldn't understand why the man was being such a pest. The Chief of Security came around her small table in one of the numerous cafes in the Zocalo and put his hand on the back of the chair opposite her.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Winters. How is your day?"

"Headache, busy, hell," she snapped. The man jerked visibly and the telepath felt sudden shame for her cool demeanour towards the man. After all, he was just trying to be courteous. "I'm sorry, the last few hours have been a bit nuisance-ridden." To put it mildly; she had spent the hours with a bunch of Drazi negotiators deep in difficult negotiations with a particularly shady-looking man from a Martian corporation. "Do sit down. I don't recommend the tea though," she finished and offered a small smile to the man.

The Chief's face lit up and he sat down, leaning heavily against the backrest. "So, how did your night go?"

The telepath made a small sound in her throat, something halfway between a cough and a deep breath. "Excuse me?" she managed.

"You said you had some pressing engagements."

Pressing, indeed... "Yes, well, it was fine. Excellent, in fact," she said, finally regaining control of her breathing. Oh, it had been more than excellent. Unconsciously, she smiled a radiant, wicked leer that made the Chief's socks absolutely twirl in his feet. "Mmm, did you have something you wanted to tell me?"

"Hm?" Garibaldi had forgotten himself and with great difficulty, tore his eyes away from the telepath's lips. "Yes... there is a command staff meeting at 1700 hours. I'm sorry about the short notice, but would it be possible for you to attend?"

"Me?" Talia's eyebrows hitched halfway to her hairline.

"Yes. It's entirely possible that your, um, special talents are required in finding out the reason behind these irritating power disruptions. More specifically, in locating the origin, by listening in on one of the fluctuations."

Affording a small, private grin at his hesitation on the words special talents, the telepath nodded. She would be more than happy to help if it meant that the headaches would go away and she could get off the drug. Her chrono showed the time to be 1642 hours.

"Shall we go there now?"

"Yeah," the Chief smiled and rose. His bow was more than a bit on the silly side. "After you, ma'am."

Talia rolled her eyes before standing up and smoothing her uniform, which needed about as much smoothing as the station reactor's toroidal confinement chamber's walls. She stepped onto the chaotic main way of the Zocalo with Garibaldi, and the ever-flowing mass of humanoids and members of species quite not so humanoid swallowed them quickly.

 


 

Ivanova noted with interest the station's resident telepath joined the meeting, and with even more interest, she noted that she was accompanied by Mr. Garibaldi -- accompanied at a very close range. In other words, his hand was on her elbow. Well well. The Commander folded her arms across her chest and lifted a discreet eyebrow at the sight. Talia dispensed with Ivanova's small pang of jealousy with a small wink and a gaze that spoke more than a thousand words, and then some. Ivanova felt the room's temperature rise at least ten degrees at the hot look.

After the harried-looking Franklin arrived a few moments later, the only one still missing was the Captain. Ivanova glanced at her chrono that confirmed the man was ten minutes late. Very unusual of him, she thought, her brows tightening. Anyway... she sighed and tried very hard not to stare at Talia. The telepath, however, had positioned herself wisely and she had free rein to stare at the Commander without the fear of anyone noticing. Ivanova felt the piercing gaze burn holes to her temple and was forced to lock her gaze to the space view on the Captain's wall, as to not to pounce on the telepath right then and there.

After a few more minutes of idle chit chat between the command staff and some nervous fidgeting on the Doctor's part, firm footfalls, as well as some loud muttering, announced the approaching Captain.

"...stupid bloody alien hooligan scum idiot bastard tight asses!" His tirade ended with him emerging through the door, trying very hard to disentangle a long string of beads from around his limbs and body. He was practically cocooned inside a mass of the small, brown pearls that gave off a slightly sour odour. Ivanova's nostrils twitched at the smell and she tried very hard not to laugh. Garibaldi, however, was unable to show compassion to the man's predicament and a loud guffaw ensued from his general direction. Ripping off a section of the organic pearl string, Sheridan eyed him murderously. "I don't find this amusing at all, Mr. Garibaldi."

"No, of course not, sir," he managed and exhaled with a strangled cough as the laugh subsided. "Do you require assistance, sir?"

"Yes, please," Sheridan said, sarcasm lacing his voice. The Chief attacked the maze with vengeance and with the help of an unusually giggly Ivanova.

"The Alkaians sure have some odd traditions," the Commander ventured. She managed not to laugh at Garibaldi's derisive snort.

"Understatement of the millennium, Commander," the Captain grunted as he tugged on a reluctant knot around his left bicep. The string broke and the beads fell free, rolling all over the conference room. "Aw, hell... and here I thought getting wrapped into this stuff was the worst part of the final negotiations."

"But I take the talks are going well, sir?"

"Yes, Commander, they are. Another two days of talking and then there's some sort of ritual. I shudder to think what that entails," the Captain said and unwrapped the last of the string from his leg. "Ah. Finally," he sighed and turned towards Garibaldi. "Chief, you had some interesting news to share."

Setting his feet carefully as not to slip on the small pearls dotting the usually so pristine floor, the Chief of Security walked to the wall display and slipped in a data crystal before turning back towards his attentive audience. "This is a recording from this morning, when the Caparriel monks' leader, identifying himself only as Follower one, finally woke up from his trance and was gracious enough to grant us an audience in the brig."

The man was about as guru-like as they come. White trimmed beard adorned his jaw, the familiar sine-wave tattoo his wrinkled forehead. His eyes were calm and intelligent and even though he was but a recording, one could feel the charm and calmness he exuded, so unlike his bit kooky followers. When the video-ed Garibaldi told him as much, he laughed a low belly laugh, his eyes twinkling with mirth. His story was simple and it didn't long to tell it, even with the ever-suspicious Garibaldi poking at it, unnerved as he was with the leader's positive, forthcoming way to weave the tale.

The Caparriel monks (as their self-designated title pronounced them to be, although there were females of various species in their midst) were an ancient order, dating back to the times when Humans were still fighting with spears and swords. They believed in the might of the One (whoever it was) and It's everlasting existence (whatever that entailed). However, something bad had happened and in his never ending journey through the Universe to seek out all that It had created (at this point, Garibaldi could be seen yawning in the corner of the holding cell) and the One had been wounded in Sector 14.

Long story short. The monks had followed their God, feeling It talk to them, expressing Its pain, before reaching Babylon 5. The recording ended with the leader lifting his arms in a prayer, smiling towards the ceiling. "It is gaining strength... we are near." The enraptured face froze before being replaced by the EarthForce Security logo.

"Interesting piece of yadda yadda, wasn't it? Not that I understand any of it," the Chief concluded, succinctly, before removing the crystal and finding his way gingerly back to his seat.

"Sector 14, was it? How intriguing," the Minbari ambassador murmured to herself, twirling one brown bead in her fingers.

"Indeed, Delenn," the Captain agreed with her and leaned back in his chair. "Delenn"?! When did the Ambassador and Captain get on a first name basis? Ivanova wondered in her mind. I wonder...

"Mr. Garibaldi," the telepath's warm alto began. "By any chance, are the Caparriel telepathic?"

For a moment, the Chief seemed as if the telepath had come around the corner and butted him on the head with a PPG assault rifle. "Um... actually, I didn't even think to ask."

"Well, if he says the One is 'talking' to them, though none of us can hear It, the actual sound could be telepathic. And the scream I heard," Talia said, grimacing at the memory, "was certainly someone's, or something's, voice. Not mechanical."

"Intriguing," the Captain mused, picking on his lower lip with two fingers. With keen interest, Ivanova noted the lingering looks the Minbari ambassador was giving to the man. "Seems we should devise another tactic of approach. Instead of listening, maybe we should try talking."

"Assuming this One fellow, or whatever it is that's feeding on our power supply, is something sentient," the Chief added, with his usual, innate scepticism.

"Well, at this point I'm willing to consult tea leaves and believe in blue moons," Sheridan sighed and indicated the stack of flimsies on his desk. They were the numerous reports the people at Engineering had assembled regarding the anomalies, all saying that no-one had the slightest clue what or who was sucking up the energy. All ports, terminals, conduits and reactor terminators had been checked, re-checked and checked again. Nothing. Everything was intact and the reactor was feeling well.

"Tea leaves?"

"It's a... erm, I'll explain later," the Captain said, smiling, to Delenn. Her puzzled look lessened and she returned the smile. Ohey, Ivanova thought and promptly gave herself a severe mental slap; it did her no good to get so interested in the Captain's personal life. Her own was looking to be so much more interesting from now on, she mused and hazarded a quick glance towards Talia, sitting very erect and composed in her chair. The gray eyes met Ivanova's and under the cool professionalism, there was a visible layer of heat -- a promise of things to come. Personally, the Commander couldn't wait for the end of her shift. Nuh-uh.

"Tomorrow, then. Ms. Winters?" the Captain said, turning towards the telepath. She ran through her mental appointment book.

"No appointments I can't cancel. At your convenience, Captain," she replied.

"Excellent. Mr. Garibaldi, you co-ordinate any other available telepaths to be present, as well as the Caparriel leader."

The conversation trailed off to the nuances of the day to come. Conversation flowed around freely and before the details were hammered out to the last point, it was past 1800 hours. The Captain excused himself on the pre-tense of needing a shower to get rid of the odour of the Alkaian pearls. The telepath left with the Doctor who insisted she come to the Sickbay for one more shot of the inhibitor. That left only Garibaldi and the Commander. The latter settled on the sofa and rubbed her eyes with both hands.

"She's something else, isn't she, Susan?"

"Who?" asked Ivanova, now massaging the bridge of her nose.

"Ms. Winters."

The Commander's jaw fell open enough to catch canaries, before she caught herself and closed the orifice with an audible click. So that's who he's been drooling after, she thought and couldn't decide whether she should feel smug or sorry for the man.

"I mean, doesn't she have just the most perfect behind," the Chief sighed, apparently forgetting who he was talking to.

With that kind of attitude from him, definitely smug, she decided. And yeah, she does. "I wouldn't know," Ivanova pronounced smoothly and turned towards the man. "But I gotta warn you. She might be way out of your league."

"How so?" he asked, clearly puzzled.

"Well, I've heard from a, krhm," the Commander paused to clear her throat, the gesture helping her to subdue an impending smirk, "reliable source that she, mmm, could be seeing someone else." I hope, the Commander added silently, her chest suddenly aching with the new possible angle to the previous night. Although Talia didn't seem to be the type to have one-night stands, still...

The Chief's exclamation fortunately derailed her train of thought. "What! Who?" The Commander's neutral shrug didn't help. "Are you sure you don't know who the guy is?" he asked again, coming nearer to her.

"If Ms. Winters has a man in her life, I have no idea who it would be," Ivanova said, hoping that the somewhat forced, odd phrasing would pass Garibaldi's muster. Sorry, old friend... I'm not at liberty to blather out everything without consulting all parties concerned, she apologized silently. Not that I know where I stand with Talia, she added. Something to discuss tonight, then.

"Hell," he said and frowned.

"I'm sorry, Michael," the Commander said, meaning it. Garibaldi's face had fallen at least ten centimetres in five minutes, now drooping somewhere between angry curiosity and defeat. Ivanova's chrono beeped; it was half past six already, and she had an appointment. Dinner actually... and I'm really waiting for the dessert. No, desserts, plural, she mused, a grin creeping on her face. Oh, how clich� of me, she groaned and got up, tugging down the front of her uniform. "I gotta go. You sure you're all right?"

"Yeah, yeah. See you tomorrow," Garibaldi waved. Ivanova gave him one last pat on the shoulder before she left the conference room.


On to part 3 (conclusion)

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