Wednesday, August 29, 2012

B5 Rewatch: Believers

Howdy there! Welcome to another edition of the Babylon 5 rewatch! Today's episode is the tenth in season one, "Believers."

Starting today I am going to be trying out a new format for the rewatch as well. The length of these posts (and the time it takes to watch the episode and make them) have been getting kind of out of hand. It's just such a deeply nuanced show. I always end up feeling like there is so much I miss, of what is going on onscreen and of my reactions to it.

I am fairly confident that no one reading this is doing so as a replacement for actually watching the series and has either already seen all of the episodes or is watching them along with me. So instead of giving a step by step recount of the episode, I am going to try doing a much quicker summary of the main events. Then the commentary will be my reactions to events as they unfold, to the actions of the various characters and dialogue, and my thoughts on the matters and how they apply to (what I remember of) future events. Sort of like an in-depth live-blogging, I guess.

So, without further ado, let us get into it. Spoilers, as always!

Let Me Sum Up

Doctor Franklin and his colleague Doctor Hernandez have been brought a patient, a young boy with a respiratory condition. He can be easily treated with a simple surgery but upon learning of this, the child's parents refuse the operation. It is against their religious beliefs to allow any sort of cutting or puncturing of the flesh. Doctor Hernandez tries to explain to them that their son will die without the surgery but they will not relent. Franklin decides to buy some time by offering up an alternative treatment that he and Hernandez know will likely not do much but that he hopes will allow the parents to come around to giving the surgery a chance.

When it becomes clear that will not happen, Franklin appeals to Sinclair to overrule their objections and declare the child's safety paramount, regardless of the religious beliefs. The parents appeal to the various ambassadors on the station hoping one of them will help advocate for them but no one wants to touch the situation with a ten foot pole. There is a lot of debate about religion and respecting the beliefs of others and Sinclair eventually rules in favor of the parents, forbidding the surgery. Franklin refuses to accept this and decides to do it anyway, with Hernandez assisting. The parents react...poorly to this. In fact, they end up killing the child after his surgery, convinced he is just a shell and no longer their son. By the time Franklin realizes what the parents intend, it is too late to stop them.

Meanwhile, C and C has received a distress call from a starliner that had a fire on board. The fire was stopped but they've lost navigation and communication and are now flying blind in Raider territory. Ivanova takes out a fighter squadron to find the starliner and escort it safely to Babylon 5. They find the ship and begin to bring it in when they encounter a lone raider ship on their way back to the jump gate. They jam its signals so it can't call for backup and it flies off, presumably to get out of range. Against orders, Ivanova tells the rest of the squadron to continue their escort while she breaks off to chase the raider and prevent it from calling reinforcements. She manages to get the Raider, only to run smack into a whole squad of its fellows. Still, she manages to get away and get the starliner to the station intact, allowing the episode to end on at least a small bit of a positive note.


Franklin does have to walk a fine line between reassuring/treating his patients and respecting their cultures and beliefs, doesn't he?

Also, don't they have noninvasive surgery by now? I mean, even in the early nineties, wasn't that something that we were already moving towards developing and refining? It's sometimes really hard to watch futuristic fiction where their future ideas are already behind the technology of the present.

Heh. Azimov.

Oh no, Ivanova's not frustrated at all. She's not feeling underutilized or anything.

Hey, let's not knock knitting!

Doctor, your patient's parents have already said that surgery is against their religious beliefs. Explaining that it is a simple procedure will not make it any less a surgery. Although I suppose at least fighting to keep the patient there to give him some kind of treatment is better than not caring.

Yay for Ivanova getting off of the ship to go kick some butt!

Sigh. It does seem like they are going a bit overboard with the parallels of super conservative religion versus modern medicine. It is kind of interesting to see how good Franklin is at playing the game. Also kind of scary, that he can turn it on and off like that.

Oh, let's put Sinclair in the moral pickle now! Spread the uncomfortable feels!

Sigh. Is it really best for a kid to be saved by the doctors when he will then be considered soulless by his family and the rest of his world? In a culture where the soul is a sacred thing to be preserved at all costs? I get what Franklin's trying to do, I really do, but dude. That kid won't thank you for making him a pariah. Part of understanding other cultures is accepting that they don't think like you do. They have an entirely different perspective on how the universe works at the fundamental level. You can't impose your own morality on them. (Okay...pushing my anthropology studies back into the corner now, sorry.)

Whoa, Sinclair. It would make your problem easier if they had an ambassador. Really? Okay, now you've got a death threat against your doctor to consider as well as everything else.

Heh. Going to all of the species that don't like Earth first. Wait. Isn't that all of them? Sigh. Bureaucracy. Oh, god, Kosh. Really? Also, yeah, he's been there, done that. I love the way he talks in riddles. Seriously. Because on one hand I am laughing my ass off at the ridiculousness of it all, but on the other hand, I remember just enough of what's going to happen for some of it to make really scary sense to me.

Thank you Delenn for hitting the crux of the matter! Also, I really have to wonder why the parents would bring their child to seek medical treatment from a species that clearly views things so differently. How can you not expect that they would have different ideas of acceptable treatment?

There is a lot of navel-gazing going on in this episode, isn't there? Although, a large part of this series is about looking at the conflicts of the different beliefs and species and trying to find a middle ground and come to understand each other.

Oh, is Sinclair actually going to ask the kid what he wants? What a novel idea. *headdesk* I kind of love this kid. He knows the gloppit egg is just goo. He also understands that he'll die without the operation, but he truly believes he will lose his spirit if he has it. He also understands that it matters that he believes, even if the people trying to save his life don't.

As much as I hate the thought of letting that kid die, I think Sinclair is making the right call. Of course, you know the show will find a way to save him...

Irate Franklin is irate. Also, rather conceited in his belief being the right one. Damn.

Yup. Franklin is doing the operation anyway. Of course Hernandez is going to encourage him. Sigh. You know, I remember really liking Franklin, but so far on this rewatch he is not my favorite character. Oh, lord. Last minute anxiety that maybe the parents are right. Then Franklin prays.

Maybe the point of this episode is that people (of any species) are rarely ever rational when it comes to religion.

Oh, this poor kid. Damn it Franklin.

Oh, look, a doctor with a god complex. Sigh. I'm just gonna leave that one alone.

Oh my god. Franklin you are so lucky Sinclair didn't punch you for that smirk. I sure as hell would have.

Ouch. That is a painful lesson about one's fallibility. Sigh. Again, I say. That poor damn kid.

Well, looks like Ivanova made it back in one piece. Oops, maybe got a few dings on the ship. Garibaldi is impressed and annoyed. But at least there's one happy ending.

I do like how this episode is a good illustration of the ups and downs of living on the station. For every victory, a defeat. For every believed triumph over superstition, well, a lesson that you can't underestimate the power of another's beliefs and how far they will go to follow them.

I think overall, this episode does do a good job of setting up Franklin's upcoming crisis of faith and self. He had to go through something like this to really understand his place as the head doctor on a station like Babylon 5.

Favorite Quotes

"I think I'll just walk to and fro for a while, maybe over to my console. After that, maybe I'll try pacing fro and to, you know, just for the kick of it." (Ivanova)

"Why do you want to import a steak?" (Sinclair)
"...research." (Franklin)

"The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote." (Kosh)

"Why help yourself to a barrel full of blame if you can avoid it?" (Sinclair)

"What makes a religion false? If any religion is right then maybe they all have to be right." (Sinclair)

"Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't change anything. It can drive you crazy." (Sinclair)


Well, there you have it. Hopefully I'll see you back here again Monday for the next episode, "Survivors." I think I like this new format, so unless I hear any strenuous objections, I will be sticking with it for future installments of the rewatch.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pretty New Things

Alright. I am officially done with the dragon blanket, woohoo! However, I will not be showing it to you just yet. I'd like its new owner to get the first crack at seeing it.

It is absolutely amazing how just the right motivation can take a lingering project from a huge pain that you keep putting off to something you really enjoy doing once more. For me that motivation was the new set of crochet hooks that I received for my birthday.

Knit Picks Harmony Crochet Set (minus the J hook, which was in use when I took this)

Aren't they beautiful?? I love them! I saw that the set had a hook in the size I was using in my project and immediately switched it out. Getting to play with it all week has been a joy. The wood is super smooth and pleasant to hold and they have a nice deep hook that catches the yarn easily.

I also got a new interchangeable circular needle set:

Knit Picks Options Interchangeable Harmony Wood Circular Knitting Needle Set

I haven't gotten to use them yet, but I have been wishing for this set for a while. I cannot wait to break them in! Sadly, I am at a point on my shawl where I am doing short rows and won't be able to just pull a switch like I did with my hooks. I've got two more blankets to crochet (yarn already bought for the first one, which I will be starting this week, but once they are done I plan to do some celebratory knitting. I have one small definite project in mind and then possibly a pair of socks for me.

Maybe even out of one of these:

They Are No One (inspired by "Bad Wolf"/"Parting of the Ways")  [with bonus Doctor Who buttons]

The Dandy Doctor (inspired by the third Doctor)

Scientist, Strategist, Drone, Eternal, & The Supreme

These are the three skeins I got from the summer Doctor Who yarn club (Who's Your Doctor) that Nerd Girl Yarns did. A new skein each month with a colorway directly inspired by the series (with absolutely fantastic names, to boot). You can choose from a variety of yarn bases (or even fiber if you like to spin). I chose their sock yarn Bounce and Stomp.

I love this idea of yarn clubs, seriously. For my birthday I got a subscription to the fall club as well, so I have three more months of Doctor Who goodness to look forward to in my mailbox and on my needles (just in time for the new season to start, even)!

All in all, I think it's safe to say that I have come out on the other side of the yarn slump I've been in and am once more very excited to be making things!

Monday, August 27, 2012

B5 Rewatch: Deathwalker

Hello! Welcome back to the Babylon 5 Rewatch! Today I'll be tackling the ninth episode of season one, "Deathwalker." Spoilers for everything, as always.

What Happened

Talia runs into Ambassador Kosh in the Zocalo and he says he wishes to hire her. He refuses to give her many details about the job, telling her all of the necessary arrangements have already been made. He says he will meet her in Red 3 at the "hour of scampering" and leaves before she can object or turn him down.

Na'Toth enters the customs area and checks on a pending arrival. She learns that the ship she is expecting will be docking momentarily and settles in to wait. While doing so, she notices a hooded figure disembark from a ship and says in surprise, "Deathwalker?" Then she screams it and rushes the figure, attacking. The Deathwalker doesn't put up much of a fight and security arrives, pulling Na'Toth off the injured woman. As she is carried away Na'Toth screams that the woman must die because she is Deathwalker.

Na'Toth's victim is identified as Gyla Lobos, a free trader traveling from Minbari space to Earth. Sinclair asks Garibaldi if Na'Toth gave any reason for attacking Gyla. Garibaldi shakes his head and said she was pretty worked up. All he could get out of her was "Deathwalker." This gives Sinclair pause and it is clear that the term means something significant to both him and Garibaldi.

They go to question Na'Toth about the attack. She claims it is Chon-Kar, a blood oath. The Dilgar attacked the planet where her grandfather's family lived and Deathwalker experimented on them. All of her grandfather's family died due to the experiments, except for her grandfather. He managed to escape back to Narn, but not unscathed. Deathwalker put a machine in his head, Na'Toth claims, and it killed him slowly. At his death her family took the Chon-Kar, or blood oath, to enact vengeance for the deaths.

Sinclair objects that the invasion Na'Toth speaks of happened over thirty years ago. If Deathwalker was still alive, she'd be an old woman by now. Na'Toth says her face is carved into the minds of her family, and she can smell her grandfather's blood on the hands of the woman she attacked. She swears that woman is Deathwalker. Sinclair tells Garibaldi to find out everything he can about the victim. G'Kar apologizes for Na'Toth's behavior and promises to make amends to the victim. He asks for Na'Toth to be released into his custody. Sinclair says that isn't possible but he will agree to house arrest. Na'Toth is escorted to G'Kar's quarters to await further investigation into the matter.

Talia meets with Kosh and says everything seems to be in order. She still doesn't understand something though, and Kosh gives her a cryptic answer before they are joined by a man called Abbut. He claims to be a telepath as well, ranked twenty-three. Kosh asks Talia to scan Abbut and she reports, puzzled, that he has no thoughts at all. It is as if his mind is empty. Kosh says this is excellent and they may begin. Abbut looks around and then says in a mysterious tone, "Crab Nebula." Talia makes a face, realizing this job is likely to be bizarre from start to finish.

Franklin is looking after Na'Toth's victim in the Medlab. They haven't been able to match her species type as of yet, though her vitals seem stable. Sinclair comes to check on her and Franklin says she's better than she should be considering the ferocity of Na'Toth's attack. She appears to have a very fast metabolism and is healing extraordinarily quickly. He laments that he wishes he knew her species, he can't find any match in their files. Sinclair says she is a Dilgar. Franklin is surprised, telling him that Dilgar is a dead race, wiped out when their sun went nova.

Sinclair orders the computer to pull up a history file on Deathwalker. The computer pulls up a picture and a timeline, telling them that Deathwalker was another name for Jha'dur, the leader of the Dilgar Invasion of the Non-Aligned Sectors. They look at the picture and Sinclair says it is from thirty years ago. Franklin says his patient is clearly too young to be Jha'dur and too old to be her daughter. He asks the computer to scan for signs of freezing but nothing comes up. He tells Sinclair he will check MedCorp's files to see if he can figure out a way to make an identification.

Garibaldi arrives and says that they found a Dilgar uniform in the patient's belongings with a name plate reading "Jha'dur." Sinclair says that doesn't prove anything for sure and Garibaldi agrees, but he shows them a syringe containing a strange substance that was also found in the Dilgar's belongings. Franklin takes it for testing. Ivanova radios Sinclair that he has a transmisison from Senator Hidoshi and he heads to take it. He tells Garibaldi to post a full guard detail on the Medlab and keep a tight lid on her presence and possible identity. Just in case.

In G'Kar's quarters Na'Toth apologizes for shaming him with her behavior. He assures her that she does not shame him and he understands how she is feeling. He says he has his own Chon-Kar, many in fact. Unfortunately, hers is rather complicating present matters. She asks what he means and he tells her that Jha'dur is on the station to bargain with one of their councilors. The Narn have recently learned of a discovery of hers that is of great value to their people.

Of course, now the councilor can't approach Jha'dur without drawing Earth Alliance's attention. Now G'Kar has been tasked with getting to the information. Na'Toth claims she will take the information from Jha'dur as she kills her. G'Kar tells her no. They will get the information and they will ensure that Jha'dur arrives at Earth safely, as they have been ordered. Na'Toth protests and G'Kar tells her this is bigger than her, it is about the whole Narn Regime. She must make this sacrifice, as all Narn are called to sacrifice for their people at one time or another. She reluctantly agrees to hold off on seeking vengeance, but only temporarily. After this assignment is fulfilled, she will resume her Chon-Kar. G'Kar approvingly says he would not expect any less of her. He promises to help her fulfill her vow, even.

Sinclair has a conference with Senator Hidoshi. Hidoshi has heard of the attack on Gyla Lobos and asks if she survived. Sinclair says she did, and that she is recovering. Hidoshi is glad to hear it. He tells Sinclair that this good news and orders him to put Gyla on a transport for Earth immediately. Sinclair balks, saying they have found evidence that she might be the Dilgar war criminal Deathwalker. Hidoshi blinks and puts on a false smile, telling Sinclair that Deathwalker is long since dead. He says this is a priority order. Sinclair begins to object and Hidoshi tells him that this is classified above his head and to just do it before signing off.

Franklin is going over data on the substance Garibaldi found in Jha'dur's belongings. From his reaction it is some pretty impressive stuff. Jha'dur wakes up and sees what he is looking at. She freaks out and runs over to snatch it from him, chastising him for touching her life's work. He tries to calm her down and she demands to see Sinclair immediately. Sinclair is walking through the station and Londo confronts him, asking if the rumors that they have Deathwalker on the station in custody are true. Sinclair gives him an evasive answer about not believing rumors before heading to the Medlab to meet with the woman in question.

He introduces himself to her and tells Franklin to give them the room. She remarks that he knows the way of command, impressed. She comments that the Wind Swords are right to fear him. He asks what she knows about them and she says they sheltered her for many years, in return for certain services. She says they speak of him often, claiming he has a hole in his mind. He changes the subject, asking who she is. She tells him she is Jha'dur, not denying the title of Deathwalker. He asks why she isn't older and she shows him the substance, calling it a universal anti-agapic. It is her life's work, she explains, staving off the aging process, preventing illnesses. It is still difficult to produce in large quantities, but as he can see from her example, it works quite well. Basically it's an immortality serum. She says with the help of Earth she will bring it to all of the worlds of the galaxy.

Kosh and Abbut continue their cryptic conversation, which sounds like absolute nonsense to Talia. Kosh abruptly declares the talks over for the day, saying they will continue the next day at the "hour of longing." Abbut has no objections and Kosh leaves, a bewildered Talia watching him go. She starts to chase after him, telling him that Abbut's mind is still as empty as when they started. Kosh says if she seeks meaning she should listen to the music and not the song. Abbut asks if he can buy her a drink and she asks if he can tell her what the hell they're talking about. He says he could but it's not good to reflect too much and he then lays some major telepath mojo on Talia. She claims fatigue and returns to her quarters to retire for the evening.

Sinclair finds Lennier in the Zocalo, asking for his help with the situation (Delenn is off the station at the moment). He asks if Lennier is familiar with Deathwalker. Lennier says yes and eagerly gives us an info dump on the woman's history. Sinclair stops him saying that Na'Toth claims the woman she attacked is Deathwalker and the woman in question confirmed this. He says that Jha'dur was sheltered by the Wind Swords after the invasion. Lennier says the Wind Swords are the most militant of their castes, but even they would not aid one such as Deathwalker. Sinclair admits that she may have been of service to them somehow and asks Lennier to check with his government. Lennier says he cannot speak to the council without permission but he will contact Delenn. Sinclair asks Lennier to keep the information confidential for the time being and Lennier agrees.

G'Kar meets with Jha'dur, apologizing for Na'Toth's attack. He says he is prepared to make her a very generous offer for the anti-agapic on behalf of the Narn Regime. Jha'dur is surprised but impressed that he knows of it, saying the Narn are very clever. If Earth hadn't stopped the Dilgar Invasion, the Dilgar might have helped the Narn wipe the Centauri out completely. G'Kar says she can still help them with the Centauri, promising to triple whatever price Earth Alliance has offered her. She is tempted by the offer. She tells him to grant her one more thing and she will consider it. He says done, name it. Then (of course) she tells him she wants "the head of the animal" that attacked her. Within the hour. G'Kar leaves her quarters, an unsettled look on his face.

Franklin briefs Sinclair, Garibaldi, and Ivanova on his findings. His information from Earth has confirmed that his patient is Jha'dur. He says that gives her claims about her anti-agapic some credibility. Ivanova is impressed, mentioning that the Russian Consortium has been working on something similar for years with no success. Garibaldi doesn't believe it though. He thinks Jha'dur is lying, Franklin says his analysis says she isn't. Sinclair tells them Earth wants her sent there immediately.

This offends Garibaldi to the extreme, he lists some of her crimes, asking what about justice. Clearly, Earth would rather have an immortality serum. Garibaldi then wonders about her motives for providing immortality to the galaxy. Ivanova agrees, thinking once a tyrant, always a tyrant. Still, she says, Earth is better equipped to handle such a sticky situation. Sinclair is of a like mind, giving the order to get her off the station. Franklin and Ivanova leave to make the necessary preparations and Garibaldi asks Sinclair what he's doing. He says he's following orders. Garibaldi argues that the orders stink and Sinclair says yes, but think of what it could mean if she really has discovered what she claims. She can save more lives than she took. Garibaldi says they'd better hope none of the ambassadors find out, they'll tear the station apart if they do.

G'Kar learns of the plan to smuggle Jha'dur off the station. He says they must find a way to stop her. He makes a call to one of the other ambassadors.

Sinclair goes to Jha'dur to inform her of the transportation arrangements. He then asks why she is giving her discovery to Earth. She says it was Earth who turned the tide in stopping her race, it is Earth who should benefit from the conquest. Sinclair says that stopping the Dilgar was an act of preservation. They slaughtered their way indiscriminately through the galaxy. She quips that the Wind Swords told her he was sentimental and scoffs that it is a fatal flaw in a warrior. He persists, wanting to know why she wants to help the race that stopped her own. She says her race is gone, their very name cursed. She is the last of her kind, but her discovery will ensure that the galaxy remembers her race with honor.

They escort her to her shuttle, only to be confronted by a group of ambassadors. One steps forward and demands that Jha'dur be taken into custody and given a trial for her crimes against all of their worlds. He tries to explain that he has orders he must obey and the ambassador says that he will have to kill them all to obey those orders. He looks into her eyes and then says very well. They will convene in three hours to vote on whether or not to hold trial and Jha'dur will be held in maximum security until then. Jha'dur scoffs at him about his fatal flaw and he tells Garibaldi to make sure to increase the security around her.

Talia meets with Kosh and tries to back out of the negotiations. She is feeling in way over her head. He says they have a contract and won't let her out. Abbut arrives and kisses her hand, causing another mental whammy for her.

Sinclair seems glad that Jha'dur's presence has become known to the councilors and ambassadors, though Garibaldi is a bit worried about it blowing up in their faces. Sinclair says that the Narn and Centauri, who both collaborated with the Dilgar, are likely to support Jha'dur, while he and the Minbari will vote against her. That will deadlock the council and leave the decision to the league, which he thinks will definitely vote against her. Garibaldi asks him why he's so sure the Minbari will vote against Jha'dur and he replies that they are an honorable people. He sees no reason for them to vote against a trial.

Everyone is assembled and Sinclair calls them to order. Kalika makes an opening statement, trying to convince the council to approve the league's decision to try Jha'dur as quickly as possible. Sinclair turns to the ambassadors for their votes. As expected, Londo votes no, to the outrage of the league. G'Kar votes yes, but has a condition. The trial must be held on Narn. Kalika objects, and G'Kar says in that case the Narn vote no. Kosh has declined to take part in the proceedings. Sinclair votes yes for Earth and then turns to Lennier. Lennier (repeating instructions he was given by Delenn) says that since the Minbari had no part in the events of the Dilgar Invasion they have no right to judge Jha'dur. The Minbari vote no.

Sinclair, surprised and disappointed, regretfully rules that trial has been declined and says they must find some other solution. The league is, of course, incensed by this ruling. Sinclair tries to offer a compromise and Kalika isn't hearing it. They have always been promised that their worlds would have a voice on the station but now they are being ignored in favor of the very races who helped the Dilgar in the first place. Everyone leaves in a tiff, promising that Sinclair has not heard the last of this.

Lennier apologizes to Sinclair, upset that he is the cause of such an evil woman escaping her fate. Sinclair says that the Wind Swords did shelter Jha'dur then, as she claimed. The Minbari government knew about it. Lennier says no, not at first. But when they went to war with Earth, the Wind Swords came to the council with weapons made by Jha'dur. That's when they found out, but they couldn't reveal it. Now they can't bear the shame of admitting a secret kept so long. He gives Sinclair a sad look and leaves.

In C and C Ivanova is notified that something has arrived through the jump gate. A ship appears, it is a Drazi Space Hawk. The Drazi demands immediate extradition of Jha'dur or they will attack the station. It moves into firing range, charging its weapons. Ivanova responds that the station's gunnery is trained on their ship and if they proceed they will be fired upon as soon as they are in range. The Drazi scowls but backs down. Then another ship comes through. They get reports that more ships are coming. Sinclair tells Ivanova to stall them.

Sinclair goes to Kalika, asking her to call off the league's ships. She is not inclined to do so, saying she doesn't put much stock in Babylon 5's diplomacy at the moment. In fact, she fears they will be severing ties with the place very soon. Sinclair tells her there is something she needs to know before making that decision.

Sinclair returns to C and C and asks Ivanova for an update. She has managed to get the ships' captains into a debate over who has claim to Jha'dur. They won't be attacking until they settle that matter, at least. Sinclair approves, saying it should give them the time they need. The ships begin to move out of firing range and Ivanova asks Sinclair what he did. He tells her he played a wild card, but they aren't out of the woods yet. He tells her to stay on alert and leaves for a closed discussion with the league.

Talia continues to sit in on Kosh and Abbut's meeting. After one coded phrase Kosh turns to her and asks if she understands. She sees a vision of herself walking through a dark corridor and being attacked by a shadowed figure. She grabs her head and screams. Kosh says their business is completed and Abbut tells Talia she did swell. He takes off his hat, revealing that his brain is actually exposed and connected to a mechanical device of some kind. He pulls a data crystal out of a slot and hands it to Kosh before leaving. Talia shakily asks what Abbut is, and what was on the data crystal? Kosh of course doesn't give her a straight answer. She is left very unsettled.

Sinclair explains to Kalika and a few other councilors about Jha'dur's serum. While they see the benefit of the serum, they don't feel that it outweighs Jha'dur's crimes. Sinclair agrees, but has a compromise. Earth is prepared to help Jha'dur develop the serum. Sinclair wants the league to recommend their own coalition of scientists to work with her. When they are satisfied that the serum is ready she will be turned over to the league for trial. They want to know if the Alliance and council will honor the decision. Sinclair says once the news is public, Earth will have no choice but to comply, and the council is out of it, this is between Earth and the league. Kalika says it is a fair and wise solution.

Sinclair and Garibaldi go to escort Jha'dur off the station. Sinclair tells her he is glad Na'Toth didn't kill her, he's looking forward to her trial. She scoffs that Earth will never permit the charade to come to fruition. Sinclair says he will make sure they have to. She tells him it will cost him his command. That is just the way of things. In the scale of things, her people have won. Sinclair doesn't see it that way. She tells him they take comfort in the belief that the Dilgar are monsters, that they could never do what her people did. But. The key ingredient in the serum cannot be synthesized. It must be taken from a living being. For one to become immortal, another must die. She believes the people of the galaxy will fall upon each other like wolves. The billions who become immortal will be a monument to her work and the billions who die to see it happen a continuance of her work. His people, so proud to not be like her, will become her.

Sinclair and many others watch without pleasure as Jha'dur's ship heads for the jump gate. They are surprised when Kosh joins them. Just before the ship gets to the gate, it activates and a Vorlon ship comes through. It fires at Jha'dur's ship, destroying it. Sinclair turns to Kosh, asking him why. He tells them they are not ready for immortality and leaves.

Garibaldi and Sinclair discuss the situation later and Sinclair is having a bit of a morality crisis. He asks if things will always be like this, a power struggle between the mighty and the weak. Garibaldi shrugs and says that seems to be the way it goes for everyone. Except for Sinclair. Maybe that's why Garibaldi likes him so much.

Talia comes up to them and asks Sinclair if he has a moment. She thinks she might be having a problem with Kosh, she tells them. She explains about her job and its nonsensical nature and the images she kept getting in her head. Four years ago she was assigned to scan a serial killer on Mars and it was an extremely frightening experience. The thoughts that she saw were memories from that, but they were forced to the surface rather than her recalling them naturally.

Sinclair asks who the meetings were with and she tells him it was Abbut. Garibaldi seems to know him and tells her that he is a Vicker. A slang term for cyberorganics, they can record things, including thoughts. They think she was set up by Kosh, and she asks why. The Vorlons fear telepaths, Sinclair tells her. If they know what she fears most, they can use it against her if they need to. Talia leaves, extremely disturbed by this revelation.


You know, I wholly failed to anticipate a big difficulty of reviewing this series: the visual aspect. So much of what these stories are about is conveyed in visuals, from the appearances of each alien race, to the layout and decor of the station, to footage of the ships and other special effects. I just feel like there is a lot of what makes this show awesome that I am totally failing to convey.

Getting to the actual episode, it kind of boggles my mind that Franklin and Sinclair are initially so resistant to the idea that Jha'dur might be who Na'Toth claims just because she doesn't "look old enough." Hell, the first thing Franklin notices about her is her jumped up metabolism, which means Dilgar bodies work differently than human bodies, or than other bodies that Franklin is apparently familiar with. Is it that strange to think they age more slowly as well? I can't decide if this is really poor writing or a really clever way to point out that even the best of the humans we meet on this series have a hard time thinking outside of their own experience sometimes. It just seems like an unnecessary point to get hung up on to me. Also, in the era of space travel, and presumably advanced medicine, is thirty years really that much?

I mean, I guess I can see where in the grand scheme of things, it is necessary to be skeptical of long-lived races because we are talking about an immortality serum here. Setting aside the, um, less than likely concept of a universal serum that would work on all the races, this is a weird plot line. I mean seriously, who actually wants to be immortal? Granted in a situation where you have more than one planet available to colonize, I guess overpopulation becomes a non-issue, but still. Also, for me, immortality is something much more closely associated with fantasy than with science fiction. I mean, I have seen examples of an "immortal" race working where that's just how the race's biology works, but those are usually compensated with reproductive limitations.

Though I will admit I guess I can see how the different governments would be falling all over themselves to get their hands on that kind of development. Still. As a basic story line, the whole thing seemed a little off to me. I kind of feel like this entire episode was meant to just be some set up of just how powerful Kosh and the Vorlons are and just how much about them we don't know, as well as a warning that we should definitely be wary.

I did like the fact that Sinclair was thrown in the middle of a direct conflict between what Earth wanted and the desires of the rest of the races he, as commander of the station, is beholden to. I think it is becoming clear to him that in order for Babylon 5 to function as it is meant to, it needs to be run with some autonomy from Earth's chain of command. Otherwise, you get a situation like this one, where it is too easy for Earth to abuse Sinclair's power by simply pulling rank on him.

The Narn culture really is kind of fascinating to me. They are clearly a very war-like culture, with high value placed on honor and duty to the people as a whole. But they also seem to have a strong practical streak. I really liked the interactions between G'Kar and Na'Toth that we got here. I also love that G'Kar doesn't appear to consider for even one moment granting Jha'dur's request for Na'Toth's head, orders and sacrifice be damned. I do wonder how Jha'dur's death at the hands of the Vorlon affects Na'Toth. Is her Chon-Kar satisfied with Jha'dur's death even though she had nothing to do with it? Hmm.

This is the episode where no one like their orders. Sinclair, G'Kar, and Lennier all had to deal with carrying out orders they found morally reprehensible in this one. That is so very much a pattern on this series. I like to think that one of the benefits of living on Babylon 5 is that one's viewpoint is expanded beyond their own race and their own worldview, granting a better understanding of the bigger picture. It goes a long way towards explaining how very often the people on the homeworlds give orders that the people on the station find to be so very missing the point.

I love Kosh's time designations. Is that a Vorlon thing or part of the code with Abbut, I wonder?

Favorite Quotes

"I'll delay the Chon-Kar. But I will not abandon it!" (Na'Toth)
"You would not be Narn if you did. I am proud of you." (G'Kar)

"Delicious irony, don't you think? That those who cursed us will have to thank us for the rest of time?" (Jha'dur)


That's all for today! Join me again on Wednesday, won't you, for the next episode, "Believers." I think I might play around with a slightly different format for the posts for that one. Just a heads up.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Choices Chapter Fifteen

(Previous chapters can be found here.)

Drew and Aaron pulled up short as we approached the estate. Aaron reached over and gently shook me out of my stupor.

"Laren, please, we're going to need your help to get back inside." I stirred and looked around, wondering what we should do next. I didn't want to go back into the manor. I didn't want to face the reality of what had happened, or of what had yet to happen still. Worst was the knowledge that it was my fault this had happened. I had been the one to insist we fight back against Riordan, and that I accompany them to get the documents. I knew Liam was suspicious, I should have made sure to check on him before stepping foot out of the manor...but how could I have ever imagined he would follow me in person? It was so unlike him. "Laren?" Aaron asked quietly.

"It was all for nothing, wasn't it?" I whispered. "Liam is dead, Ballard is likely arrested, and Riordan will have even more fuel to use against all of us. We didn't even get what we went for."

"We did, actually," Aaron said, quietly, reaching inside his shirt.

"Aaron?" Drew asked sharply.

"When Jonah was pulling you out of the office, Laren, I grabbed what I could and hid it, just in case we managed to get out of there."

" did?" I asked. He nodded. Maybe I could soothe my conscience at least a little if we could see Riordan face justice. It was why Ballard had sacrificed himself after all. That, and to try to keep me safe, damn him.

"Maybe it's the only good thing to come of all of this," he added, "but the letters I found before we were discovered, they're important. They contain correspondence tying Riordan to the death of the Magnate in Denara last cycle." I inhaled sharply. That went far beyond blackmail and petty crime.

"Will Vinnis even care about that, though?" Drew asked.

"After the economic havoc the Magnate's death caused in Pelos?" I commented, "He'd be a fool to ignore it." Aaron nodded in agreement. I glanced at Drew sharply. He was of Iron. He would know that as well as Aaron and I, if not better. He caught my look and gave me a small approving smile. Ah. Asking a question he knew I would answer to bring me back to myself more fully. Well played. I tipped my head at him. Oblivious to the byplay, Aaron spoke up.

"Pelos and Denara are allies, at least officially. Vinnis is on shaky ground with the new Magnate, though. But if he can offer up the person responsible for all of the chaos Denara went through..."

"Alright, but how do we get that information to Vinnis now?" Drew asked. There was no heat in the question, just pure curiosity. He had a point. Ballard's sacrifice was also an attempt to give us protection from the authorities--and from Roslyn. We couldn't acknowledge that we had been in that shop.

"We will find a way," I said firmly, resolving not to let Ballard's actions be in vain.

"Right now, however, I am more concerned with how we're going to get back inside," Aaron said, gesturing toward the manor. "Without Ballard, I don't know how we pull that off." I frowned in thought. Ballard had planned to give us an opening to sneak back in through the tunnel nearest the stables. Not knowing how long the job would take, he had arranged the guards' schedules so that we might have at least one opportunity every hour to sneak back in and return the horses unseen so that they would not be missed in the morning. It had been a calculated risk, but he believed no one outside of the manor would notice the openings if they didn't know about them beforehand. As I was thinking, the clock struck the half hour.

"Right," I said, straightening a little, "I think that the original plan, this part of it at least, should still work. We've got about fifteen minutes until it should be safe to go into the tunnel." Both men nodded and a silence fell as we moved to be better placed to act on time.

"I don't get it," Drew said suddenly. "Jonah and Walon shouldn't have been there. Even so, if Riordan had ordered the building watched, we made sure we weren't seen when we got there. And why did Liam follow us?"

"Jonah was already in the cellar, Drew, he must have been. He couldn't have approached through the alley without being seen, not before Walon sent Ballard off, and we never heard him enter the cellar from the shop. He knew exactly what we'd go for if we made a move. He must have had Walon waiting in another building nearby, to come out after we'd entered the alley." Aaron shook his head, continuing, "We should have been better prepared for Riordan to expect us." Again, I felt a twinge of guilt. If I hadn't insisted we could do this all on our own...I curbed that stream of thought sharply. What was done was done. I could second-guess my decisions and actions for the rest of my life and it wouldn't change a damn thing.

"Liam told me earlier today he knew I was up to something. He said he was going to find out what it was." I heaved a sigh of frustration. "I just assumed that he would badger Roslyn until she told him, or set a servant to watch me, at the very least. I can't imagine what he was thinking, following us. He has--had--been on edge lately." I shook my head. "If I had thought for even a second--" Drew placed a comforting hand on my arm.

"That part of it wasn't your fault." He said intensely. "He made his own choice when he decided to follow us. Frankly," he added softly, "I'm not entirely sure he didn't deserve what happened to him." The memories of Liam's last words rang in my ears. I couldn't bring myself to agree with Drew, but once more I felt that horrid sense of relief at avoiding the fate my husband would have so callously left me to.

"It's time," Aaron said after a moment, and we made our way to the manor. The tunnel's entry gate had a smaller door built into it and Aaron dismounted and quickly picked the lock. It was a tight squeeze for the horses but we led them through into the inner courtyard. All was silent and still. We kept to the shadows and quickly made it to the stables without running into anyone. We got the horses into their stalls and brushed down, none the worse for the wear, then returned the way we had come, still keeping to the shadows. I hoped with every fiber of my being that no one was looking into the courtyard. I saw no lights in the windows and the hour was late enough that the odds were in our favor here. Next to the tunnel was a door that led to the kitchens. We slipped inside to find them blessedly deserted and from there made our way back to the north wing. At the landing to the second floor we parted ways, Aaron and Drew continuing upward and me heading to my own rooms.

At least one part of this blasted evening went according to plan. I forced myself to clean up and dress for sleep, even though I wanted nothing more than to fall into my bed. It was only a matter of time before someone reported finding Liam's body to Roslyn, and naturally I would be sent for. I couldn't give any indication that I had been out of the manor that evening. I climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling, waiting, until eventually I fell into a restless slumber.


I was woken by knocking on the outer door to my rooms. I glanced around groggily and saw that the blackness of night was fading into the grey of predawn. It had only been a few hours then. Blearily I stumbled to the door, not even bothering to find my robe. I swung open the door to find Roslyn on the other side. She looked grave.

"Get dressed quickly," she told me quietly, her tone stating that questions would not be welcome. "I need you to come with me."

"Of course," I said, turning back to my room. I reached for the first thing in my armoire, a modest dark blue dress, and slipped it on. As I did up the buttons I looked up to find Roslyn had followed me in and was looking around the room closely. Was she searching for evidence of my activities the previous evening? I started to ask her what was going on but she saw my mouth open and shook her head sharply. I slid on a pair of shoes and she turned on her heel, leading me out of my rooms. I followed her through the manor in silence, tension mounting with every step. I could only assume this was about Liam. Had she been notified of his death? Did she suspect that I was involved? She led me to her office and stopped just outside, her hand on the doorknob.

"Did you know that Ballard was not guarding your brother's rooms last night, Laren?" She asked suddenly, looking at me carefully. I bit my lip and nodded before I had a chance to overthink the question. Roslyn understood secrets, but she did not like lies. The fewer I told, the better this would go. I would just have to be very careful about what answers I gave. "Did he tell you what he was doing instead?" Hesitation was the enemy here, I knew, so I shook my head. She clearly knew that Ballard had been out of the manor but from her questions she didn't seem to know about Aaron, Drew, or myself. Ballard had never actually told me what he was doing. Roslyn made a noncommittal sound and turned away, opening the door.

Inside we found two men in the uniform of the Pelos Guard standing to the side of the room next to the window. Seated in front of Roslyn's desk was Ballard, looking tired and drawn. My heart leapt at the sight of him. I kept my face schooled in a mask of concerned confusion, however. It wasn't that hard. From this point forward I had no idea how things would play out. I noticed with some relief that Ballard was not restrained in any way, nor did the guards seem to be watching him as if he was a suspect. When we entered the guards hastily removed their caps and bowed their heads to us.

"My ladies," one of them said in a deep and sad voice. He clutched his cap between his hands. "I am so sorry to be the bearer of this horrible news."

"What news?" Roslyn demanded, moving to sit behind her desk. She gestured for me to take the free chair next to Ballard. "You said you had news concerning my son, and you show up with a ranking member of my household guard, but you haven't actually told me what you came to say yet."

"Forgive me, my lady, we thought it best to tell you in private, and you wanted to send for your lady daughter-in-law, so it seemed best to wait until you were both gathered."

"Very well, we are all here," she nodded with irritation. "Now please get on with it."

"I regret to inform you that late last evening your son and your lord husband," he turned to me, "Liam of the Stag, was found dead in the Quarter of Trade." I covered my mouth with my hand, widening my eyes in what I hoped was an appropriate amount of horror. Roslyn closed her eyes and inhaled sharply. As she exhaled slowly she pressed her hands to her eyes and I chanced a quick questioning look at Ballard. The guards were both looking at Roslyn nervously and he risked a quick nod of reassurance.

"You were with him, Ballard?" Roslyn asked, lowering her hands and folding them on her desk. Her composure was shaken but she seemed to have a firm grip on her emotions.

"Yes, my lady," he answered.

"Would you care to explain how it is that my son is dead? And why he was in the Quarter of Trade in the middle of the night?"

"He was meeting with two parties in a shop, my lady. He did not explain the situation to me, but they seemed to have information they planned to use against him and the Stag." Ballard began. I thought I saw what he was doing.

"Blackmail?" Roslyn asked sharply. He nodded again. She sat back thoughtfully, gesturing for him to continue.

"Yes, my lady. He said he had need of a guard and that we must move in complete secrecy. I arranged the guard schedule so that we would not be seen leaving or returning and then accompanied him to a tavern in the Quarter of Trade, where we left our horses and proceeded on foot to an alley a few blocks away. He headed to a cellar door in the alley and left me stand guard outside while he went below. After a short time I heard the sounds of a struggle and I went into the cellar to investigate. I found my lord fighting with a man holding a knife and another man pulling out a pistol. My lord seemed to be holding his own with the man who held the knife so I attacked the man with the pistol, trying to disarm him. During our struggle he managed to fire the pistol into the air before I got the gun from his hand and was able to subdue him."

"I went to aid my lord to find both he and the other blackmailer collapsed on the ground. The blackmailer was on top and I pulled him off to find that my lord had managed to wrest the knife from his attacker and open his gut." I sucked in my breath in surprise. That hadn't happened! But if Ballard was including it in his story, that meant he had.... He avoided looking at me as he continued. "My lord was not moving, though, and upon closer inspection I saw that he was dead. The bullet from the gunshot must have ricocheted off of something in the cellar and struck him even as he killed his attacker." All was silent for a few moments.

"Well?" Roslyn asked the guards, turning to them with an arched eyebrow.

"My lady?" The one who had spoke before answered, though he seemed unsure of what he was being asked.

"How do you fit into this?"

"Ah. Right. Well, we heard the gunshot, my lady. We were a few blocks away, and it took us a bit to find the source of it. We finally found it when this young lad here," he indicated Ballard, "ran out into the street shouting for help."

"I see." She said. "And the other attacker, you have him in your custody." The guard looked uncomfortable. "What is it?" She asked impatiently, turning a sharp gaze on the guard. "Did he get away?" Ballard cleared his throat and her head swiveled to face him.

"In my haste to aid my lord, I fear I might have been a bit excessively...forceful when subduing the man." Her eyebrows shot up. I stared at him in astonishment, my jaw falling open. Oh Ballard, what have you done?

"His neck was broke clean, my lady," the guard added. Ballard looked sheepish, but I caught just a hint of satisfaction beneath the facade. I closed my eyes, trying to fight the surge of nausea that coursed through me. The penalty for murder was death. How could he so openly admit to killing Jonah? At least he's dead now, a quiet voice chirped up, and Walon too. They can't hurt you anymore. They can't tell Riordan what happened in that cellar last night, either.

"Since your man here didn't know the men your son was meeting," the other guard piped up, "we went and roused the nearest employee of the shop. He recognized them, said their names were Jonah and Walon." A calculating part of me that I hadn't even known existed seized the opportunity and I gasped quietly at the names. Just enough so that Roslyn and Ballard could hear. Roslyn looked at me sharply for a heartbeat and then turned back to the guard as he continued, "The shop man said that they worked for the owner and sometimes delivered the payroll. He claimed not to know what they were doing in the shop though, or even that they had the keys to get in."

"They must have gotten keys from the owner, then," Roslyn said speculatively, "unless there was sign of a break-in?" The guards shook their heads and she went on, "I highly doubt two delivery men would take it upon themselves to try to blackmail the heir to such a prominent House all on their own." The guards were nodding in agreement. "Who exactly owns the building?"

"We are looking into it, my lady," the first guard said. "There seem to be some irregularities with the bank's paperwork on the matter." Roslyn's eyebrows shot up once more though she said nothing. I saw connections being made behind her eyes. "We will let you know as soon as we find anything more, of course." He added. "As far as the matter of your man here," Ballard straightened in his chair and I braced myself for them to take him into custody, "given the circumstances, and the fact that he came straight to us for help, well, our captain sees no need to hold him accountable for the unfortunate death of the suspect." Roslyn nodded and Ballard relaxed slightly, a very small smirk playing about his lips. He knew that would happen! He had been playing a dangerous game though, if they hadn't believed his version of events...controlling my emotions became nearly impossible for the next few moments but I somehow managed it.

"Thank you, gentlemen." Roslyn said quietly. "Given the delicacy of the matter, I would appreciate the discretion of yourselves and your captain about the manner of my son's death. I would prefer it not be known he died during an attempt at blackmail."

"Of course, my lady," the second guard piped up. "The captain wanted us to assure you we will not publicize the events."

With that, the guards made their farewells and left, promising to keep her apprised of developments in the search for the blackmailers' employer. She saw them out personally, asking Ballard and I to remain in the office and wait for her return. As soon as she was out of earshot, I whirled on Ballard.

"What were you thinking?" I whispered furiously.

"That we couldn't risk those two getting free and talking," he said quietly, arching an eyebrow at me. "That I had to keep you safe," he added, his voice dropping even lower.

"Ballard, I..." I started to reach for him but thought better of it. Roslyn could return at any time.

"That was them, wasn't it? The two who..."

"Yes," I sighed, the relief returning.

"Good." he said firmly. "I am sorry about your hus--Liam," he said awkwardly. "If I could have gotten the gun away from that thug sooner..." I blinked at him in surprise, and then remembered that he hadn't been in the cellar when Liam had offered me up to Jonah. That was...probably for the best. I resolved to make sure Aaron and Drew didn't tell him about that little scene. Thinking of my brother reminded me.

"We did get the documents," I told him, quietly, "some of them at least. Aaron found letters implicating Riordan in the death of Denara's Magnate. I have an idea of how we can get those to Vinnis anonymously, but we're going to need to act swiftly. Jonah pulled us out of the office so fast, Riordan is sure to know we have the papers..." I trailed off when Ballard shook his head.

"I closed the safe and covered it back up, locked the office door. Hopefully that buys us some time until Riordan wonders where his lackeys are and finds out they're dead. He shouldn't go looking for any missing papers until then." I looked at him in amazement. He must have thought and acted incredibly fast to take care of Jonah and Walon and cover up evidence of our theft before chasing down the guard. I shook my head in wonderment. I had been in shock, maybe it had taken longer than I thought for him to follow us out of the cellar.

"Well," Roslyn said, slipping back into the office and disrupting my thoughts. She closed the door and sat down behind her desk again. "This is certainly distressing news, on many levels. Ballard, do you know why Liam asked you to accompany him last night?"

"I really couldn't say, my lady." His voice was even, I wondered if she would believe him. "I did have to change around the guards' schedules, maybe my ability to do so was a factor." Roslyn nodded thoughtfully. I marveled at how calm she seemed despite the deep sorrow I could see in her eyes.

"Perhaps. Do you think this had something to do with our visitors? Was Riordan behind this? Did he perhaps intend to coerce Liam into giving up Laren's brother?"

"I..." Ballard hesitated. "My lord did not explain what these men wanted to meet with him about. I did not hear any of their discussion."

"Hmph. He did like to keep things to himself, didn't he?" Roslyn muttered, displeased at the lack of information. She turned her attention to me. "Now, Laren, would you like to explain why the names of Liam's attackers surprised you so?"

"The men who took me last spring, my lady. One of them was called Jonah."

"You knew one of their names and you never told me?" She seemed surprised.

"I was never asked, my lady," I said honestly, trying not to sound accusing. "By the time I could have talked about it, there seemed little point..." She held up a hand to stop me, sighing as she turned back to Ballard.

"Well, it seems I was wrong to deny you the chance of an investigation into Laren's abduction." I was amazed she would admit such a thing. "Was your abduction related to Riordan, I wonder?" She asked of no one in particular. "It would explain some of the oddities surrounding the event. When did you say your brother returned to Pelos?" She asked me sharply.

"Very shortly after my abduction," I said quietly. She tapped her finger to her lips.

"Hmm. I will require some further proof of course, but it sounds as if Riordan of the Griffon has quite a lot to answer for to the Stag. It seems I will need to reach out to my contact at the banks...Ballard, you will tell me exactly where this shop was." He nodded and gave her the location. "Very well, you may both go." We stood and turned to leave. "Laren, please tell your brother I will be speaking with him later this evening. After you've cleaned yourself up, I will need you in the largest sitting room. I will join you as soon as I've begun the arrangements for the memorial service, but I will have to send Prime Vinnis the news immediately, which means it will be all about Pelos before long." I paused in the doorway.

"What will you tell him, my lady?" I asked, curious as to how she would keep the true details of his death a secret.

"To Prime Vinnis I will tell the truth, otherwise I will have no support from him when I seek justice from the Griffon. To the public? Hmm. Ballard, you saw the body, how noticeable was the wound?"

"It was quite small, my lady," he said somberly. She nodded.

"I think my poor Liam went out for a late night ride and had a fall from his horse. His neck was broken instantly, I fear," she said after a moment's thought. It was not the most solid lie, but it was believable enough. Liam was known for his solitary rides. Of course, I had long since realized those were to rendezvous with his lover. Still, it was an established habit.

"As my lady says," I bowed my head to her and left, Ballard trailing quietly behind. I made my way through the manor, trying to ignore the pitying looks from the servants as I passed. I headed for my rooms and then upon ensuring that Ballard and I weren't observed, I ducked down a back stairwell and up to the third floor, reaching Aaron and Drew's rooms in short order. I knocked on the door quickly and didn't wait for the answer, pushing my way into the room, Ballard on my heels.

"Laren!" Aaron exclaimed, standing from the couch where he and Drew had clearly been waiting. They both looked shocked but relieved to see Ballard. "What is happening?"

I had Ballard explain what had happened after we left, noting the hard looks of approval on both men's faces when they learned the fate of Jonah and Walon. I then filled them in on the official story and let Aaron know that Roslyn would want to speak to him later in the evening. He looked rather alarmed at the prospect.

"I think she just wants to find out from you if Riordan was behind my abduction, and therefore behind Liam's death as well," I reassured him. "If she can confirm that, she'll take care of making sure there's not enough of him left to bother anyone ever again," I added wryly. "Just avoid letting her know we were there, and all should be well. Though if she mentions the shop and you can get her to tell you its location...maybe you can tell her about Riordan's connection to it. If we can lead her to the rest of his documents before he realizes he's in danger..."

"That could work," Drew was nodding along.

"But what about the letters I took?" Aaron asked, pulling them out of his shirt. I knew he was keeping them close until we could either get them into the right hands or decided they must be destroyed. "We can't give them to Roslyn or she'll ask how we got them...."

"Unless you tell her that those are the reason you ran," I interjected. He looked at me in surprise, understanding dawning on his face. "It hinges on when they were dated, though," I said. "If they were written after you got here, that won't work." Aaron was rifling through the letters, a smile of triumph spreading across his face.

"The latest one is dated a full two moons before we came to the Stag," he said, looking up. "Riordan can't refute when they were stolen because he'd have to admit they were his to do so. It would make sense for me to take these, because of all of the harm that did to Jade.... Look," he said, straightening up and glancing at each of us. "As far as you and Ballard are concerned, I never told you about these letters. You don't know they exist. I didn't know if I could trust you, or if I wanted to put you in that kind of danger. Now, of course, after last night's tragedy, it would only be the honorable thing to give them to her." Drew was nodding along. It occurred to me that Roslyn might vent some of her wrath at Aaron for holding on to something so vital for so long, but before I could change my mind about the idea, Ballard spoke up.

"It's a good plan, Laren," he told me quietly. "Roslyn might be angry at Aaron, but she's already admitted she should have investigated your abduction, once she finds out for sure that Riordan was behind it, she's going to hold herself just as accountable for what happened to Liam as she can hold Aaron. She'll also want to keep these two within reach in case she needs witnesses to make her case." He was right and I knew it.

"Alright, I said. Is there anything else we need to discuss?" When no one answered, I stood. "Very well then. I fear I must excuse myself. I need to make myself presentable to greet the sympathizers." I was not looking forward to that. Aaron surprised me by wrapping me up in a strong hug, and Drew pulled me into another as soon as I was released by Aaron. I gave them each a small smile. It looked as if we might have just managed to pull it off after all. I wondered if I would be able to live with the cost.


The aftermath of Liam's death was somehow even worse than that of my parents' deaths. I suppose because, while I was truly sorry Liam  had died as he had, I was not sorry that he was no longer in my life. The added element of the great lie that was the official story made the whole thing even worse, somehow. Lies upon lies, and I couldn't deny their necessity.

By lunch time that first day, Kara of Stars had arrived at the Stag and firmly ensconced herself in the sitting room with Roslyn and myself. To spend the day listening to condolences for my husband's death was unpleasant; to do so with his openly grieving mistress in the same room while I was unable to force myself to shed a single tear was downright miserable. I considered it a penance for my actions though, and a rather light one at that, given the circumstances.

Near the end of the evening a frightened looking maid scurried into the room and quietly told me that a visitor was requesting to speak with me outside. Confused, I asked her who it was.

"Sebastian of Blades, my lady," she squeaked. I realized she was the same maid who had fetched me the day before. No wonder she looked so frightened. Hearing the exchange, Kara looked up and glared at me with what could only be described as disapproval. I met her gaze levelly, refusing to accept the clear rebuke.

"Oh for goodness sake Tandy, calm yourself." Roslyn said to the girl. "Please tell Sebastian he is welcome to come in and pay his condolences." Kara looked at her in indignant surprise but Roslyn steadily ignored her son's lover.

"I tried my lady," Tandy gulped. "But he says he promised not to step foot inside the manor without my lord Liam's leave and so outside he shall remain." She managed to steady her voice by the time she finished relaying the message. Kara made a disgusted noise and for once I was inclined to agree with her. As welcome as a friendly face might be, I was certainly not in the mood for Sebastian's stubbornness.

"You may as well go meet him Laren," Roslyn said, playing her hands at her temples and rubbing as if to banish a headache. "I'll thank him not to cause a scene today of all days. Besides, the hour grows late, I don't expect many more visitors." She glanced wryly at Kara, "I daresay we've got things covered in here."

"Of course my lady," I said, rising from my seat and bowing to her as I turned to leave. Kara looked torn between triumph at being acknowledged by Roslyn and scandal that I would entertain Sebastian's antics. I found him just outside the main entrance, pacing across the steps leading into the manor. My annoyance with him fell away quickly when he rushed to embrace me as I stepped out of the building.

"Laren," he breathed sadly, almost crushing me with his hug. He pushed me out to arm's length and scrutinized me carefully. "How are you holding up? I can only imagine what a confusion of emotions this must be for you." You have no idea how right you are there, I thought. I offered him a small smile of reassurance.

"I am as well as can be expected Sebastian. His death was a shock." Sebastian grunted.

"I won't tell you I'm sorry he's out of your life Laren, but..." He ran a hand through his hair. "I won't keep you, I just needed to see for my own eyes that you are alright. Please, offer Roslyn my condolences. Whatever my grievances with her son, no parent should have to suffer the loss of their child."

"You can offer them yourself, Sebastian," I told him softly. "She wanted me to remind you that your quarrel with Liam was not with the Stag, you know. Despite what Kara seems to think," I added wryly. His cerulean eyes widened.

"Kara is here?" His voice was filled with incredulity. "She has the nerve to intrude upon you today of all days?"

"She has more right than I do to mourn him, Sebastian," I chided, wrapping my arms around myself in a small hug.

"Oh Laren," he sighed and pulled me into another swift embrace. "Are you going to be alright? Truly?" He pulled back once more and searched my face. In that moment I wanted to confess, to tell him everything that had happened over the past moon. But this was neither the time nor the place. Perhaps once everything had calmed down and a new normal had been established. For the first time it crossed my mind to wonder what my place would be in the Stag now that I was no longer to be wife of its Head.

"I will be fine Sebastian," I answered him. It was not what I wanted to say, not really, but it would have to do. "I always manage to pull through, don't I?"

"That you do, my dear," he replied with a small smile. Something of my emotions must have come through because his eyes narrowed ever so slightly. He tipped my chin up and gave me a long hard look. "Once your mourning period is ended Laren, we will have a long talk, you and I. I suspect there is more to this story that I have yet to be told." I drew in a sharp breath and then nodded once in agreement. Satisfied, Sebastian released me and sketched a quick bow. "Be well, my lady," he said at a more normal volume. "I am here if you need me." With that he turned and strode down the stairs to the lawn where his horse was waiting. With a last parting wave, he was gone. I returned to Roslyn and Kara, passing along Sebastian's condolences. Roslyn nodded solemnly, again ignoring Kara's soft sound of derision. A strained silence descended over the three of us as we returned to our duty.

Roslyn lit the funeral pyre the next evening and I stood by her side the entire evening. Kara remained as well, of course. She hadn't left since she'd arrived the day before, decked out in full mourning grey.


Within a moon, Roslyn had utterly destroyed Riordan of the Griffon. She had emerged from her discussion with Aaron with flames in her eyes and had ordered a carriage to take her, along with Aaron, Drew, and Ballard, to House Prima immediately, regardless of the late hour. The letters Aaron had provided gave Vinnis incentive enough to order the prompt arrest of the Head of Griffon as well as a search of the candle shop for other damning documentation. Riordan had apparently not yet learned about Jonah and Walon's deaths and was, for perhaps the first time since he had begun his empire of crime, caught completely off guard.

Once word got around about Riordan's arrest, blackmailed parties began to come forward in (discreet) droves to testify before private courts about his activities. Not every crime he had ever committed came to light, of course, and even what was revealed was sealed to the Council of Houses. The stripping of a Head of his title, property, and wealth was apparently a matter of utmost secrecy. After weeks of investigation and private trials, Riordan was executed for treason against Pelos and its people. Because of the seriousness of his crimes the House of the Griffon was dissolved completely.

Gossip was rampant, but so far as I know, the true details behind the series of events, or anything even close to them, never came to light. I was at once both amazed and disgusted by the way the nobility of Pelos rallied to protect the dirty secrets of its membership in order to keep its own reputation from becoming tarnished by association. Still, Riordan was dead, and his network of spies and criminals destroyed. Maybe some other noble would take up the mantle in his place, but building a new shadow empire would take time.

Spring was starting to peek through the foggy curtain of winter once more when Roslyn called me to her office one morning. I went with a sort of curious dread. She had hardly spoken to me since Liam's funeral. I passed Kara in the corridor on my way, she had taken up permanent residence in the Stag, it seemed. She seemed oddly at peace and did not appear to notice me as our paths crossed. I noted that, while a moon had passed and I had just given up the mourning grey, Kara was still early in the cycle, dressed in a deep grey dress.

"Please shut the door and sit down, dear," Roslyn said when I entered her office. I did as she asked. She did not waste any time before looking at me and saying, "Laren, I dislike being so frank, but I must ask you, are you with child?" I blinked for a few moments. It certainly hadn't been a question I had been expecting, although, maybe I should have been. With Liam dead the line of the Stag had ended, unless he had managed to produce an heir before he had been killed. "No, Roslyn," I said softly, shaking my head. My womanly burden had only recently ended, I knew it was not possible. She sat back, a sad frown on her face. "I am sorry," I said. "I wish I had a different answer for you.

"As do I, Laren, as do I. Very well." She absentmindedly fingered some official looking documents on her desk. "It pains me to have to tell you this, but I see no other choice. It seems Liam and Kara were not as careful as they should have been, and she is three moons along." I sat up a little straighter in my chair. She couldn't mean what I thought she did! "I will acknowledge the child as Liam's and he will be named my heir when he is born. Kara will come to live here and raise the child under my supervision. Vinnis has already approved of the measures, and Kara's father has agreed to give legal custody of the child to the Stag."

I turned my head away, closing my eyes. I supposed it was a good thing for the Stag, there would be no doubt that the child was Liam's by anyone in society. I had no delusions that he would not have much preferred a child of his making with Kara to follow in his footsteps if he had ever been given the choice of the matter. Had he known? Was that why he had been so agitated in the time before his death? Was that why he had been so quick to irritation with me, and to give me up as a lost cause? It galled me more than I cared to admit that Roslyn appeared to have already made all of the arrangements, as if she had expected me to fail in my most important duty as her son's wife.

"What if the child is a girl?" It was all that I could think to say in that moment. Roslyn heaved a sigh. Perhaps she had expected an outburst of some sort from me. I felt a twinge of disappointment. I would have thought she knew me better than that by now. Odd that I still worried about how well she thought of me, after all that had happened.

"That contingency has been thought of," Roslyn replied. "If that is the case, she will be betrothed to a suitable member of the House, far enough removed in relations to avoid a scandal. There are already a few candidates in mind, boys young enough to be brought up here and taught what they will need to know to run the House and as soon as she is of age they will be married. Her children will inherit and Liam's blood will continue to control the Stag."

I shook my head in disgust. This poor child. It had been conceived out of Liam's desire to take what he wanted in his life, and it would have to be the one to suffer the consequences for that decision. Selfish as I might think Liam's actions, I at least understood them. He had found love, and he wasn't willing to let it go. I hoped his child was benefitted the same opportunity, though I feared it would not be so.

"And what of me?" I asked quietly, my mind finally settling on the question it had been avoiding. "I can't imagine it will do anything other than stoke the fires of gossip to have Liam's mistress raising their child in the Stag while his widow haunts the manor."

"No." Roslyn said simply, "You are right about that. While I do not believe that you would ever try to undermine the validity of Liam's heir, there are those that might rally around you as a focal point for resistance if they do not like the future course of things. Your presence here and in the city will only serve to remind society of the child's unorthodox origins, which will make life rather difficult for the child in question. You can't return to the House of the Jade because you would still be a figure of much curiosity." I closed my eyes again. I had faintly hoped that my family home might be an option, but hadn't really expected it to be the case. I suspected what she would say next. I was, of course, wrong. "So, Laren, this means you have a choice." My eyes flew open and I stared at her in confusion.

"A choice?" I asked, trying to understand.

"Yes. Similar situations are, sadly, not unprecedented in Pelos' history. The normal solution is to pack the lawful wife away to a private estate in Denara or Dumais, or to send her to 'manage' one of the House farms or plantations outside of the city. The Stag possesses a small farm in the southwest corner of Pelos, beyond the Quarter of Citizens. You may retire there, where you would live out the remainder of your life managing the farm and staying out of the city proper."

"And my other option?" I asked tentatively.

"I have informed your brother and his companion that they will be leaving the House of the Stag, and Pelos, first thing tomorrow morning." I had fallen back into my chair in resignation but now I shot forward again in surprise. I knew they would have to leave soon, but I was not ready for it to be so sudden a departure. "I cannot have them here any longer," Roslyn continued, "I am, in fact, amazed we have been able to keep their presence a secret for so long, necessary as it was. For their part in helping to bring the man behind both my son's murder and your abduction to justice, I have given them each a horse from the stables as well as enough coin to secure passage on a ship headed out of Pelos, and a little bit of extra coin as well, for their trouble. You may go with them."

"You would let me...just go?" I asked in amazement.

"There would be conditions, of course," she said, raising her eyebrows. "You would have to agree never to set foot in Pelos again, and to cut off correspondence with any residents. No one can know where you have really gone."

"Where I've really gone?"

"Of course I can't have it get out that my son's widow fled the city in the wake of me declaring his mistress' child my heir," she told me. "Officially, you will be sent to that farm, and in a moon or two, you will contract an illness and die quietly in isolation. For all intents and purposes, you will be legally dead. At least in Pelos." I nodded to myself. It would minimize scandal and crush the hope of anyone who wanted to resist the new heir's validity.

"What of the Stag's agreements with Jade?" I asked.

"They would stay in place," she promised. "I will uphold them. You acted in good faith to fulfill your obligations as Liam's wife. You have done nothing to tarnish the reputation of this House despite how difficult my son might have made that for you. I will keep my bargains with your family. Jade will not suffer from these events. You will, of course, receive the same gifts as your brother and his companion, I will not have you leave here with nothing." I mulled it over. "If you needed any further incentive," she said after a few moments, "I feel I must also tell you that I have dismissed Ballard from the House guard."

"What?" I exclaimed, nearly shooting out of my chair.

"He was given a generous retirement pay," she said, smiling slightly. I slowly settled back into my chair. "As a final favor to me, he has agreed to accompany your brother and his companion on their journey, to ensure that they are safely established wherever they choose to settle." She sat back and laced her fingers together under her nose. Her eyes sparkled as she peered at me. My own widened in instant understanding.

She knows! Oh by the flame, she does! How long...?

"Ballard's infatuation with you was quite plain to me shortly after you arrived here, Laren." Her voice was soft and kind. "I assigned him to your personal guard as much because I knew he would be fervent in his protection as because he knew the truth of what you had been through. I was rather surprised it took you two as long to submit to your feelings as it did, to be honest." I could only stare at her in shock. "I thought maybe you deserved a chance at some happiness of your own," she added in an even softer voice.

I looked down at my lap, unsure of what to say. We sat there for quite some time in silence. Eventually I cleared my throat and looked up at her.

"I will go with Aaron and the others," I said, standing. Roslyn nodded. I turned to go and then stopped, turning back. "For what it is worth, Roslyn," I told her sadly, "in many ways you have been more a mother to me than my own ever was. I wish that things had happened differently." She said nothing, only sat there watching me sadly, so I opened the door and stepped into the corridor. As I closed the door behind me I thought I caught a very soft reply.

"So do I, dear. So do I."


I returned to my rooms and looked around them. Less than two cycles I had called them home, and yet, I was afraid to leave. Still, I was being given a chance to finally make my own decisions as to how my life would go. I could not pass it by, especially when the alternative was a life in solitude, never to see any of those I loved or cared for again.

That thought prompted me to pull out some stationary. I sat down at the table and composed a quick letter to Sebastian. I let him know that I was leaving for the farm the next day. I sent my regrets that I could not say goodbye to him in person and my thanks to him for being a true friend to me. I wished that I could tell him the whole story, as I had all but promised to do, but it could never be put in a letter. I asked him to make my farewells to Nathaniel and Madge for me and to convey my fondest wishes for their happiness, and his. Sadly, I informed him that I would not be allowed to correspond with anyone from my retirement. I signed the letter and sealed it carefully, trying not to let myself cry. I had made my decision, and there was no use worrying about regrets now.

I had no desire to start packing yet so instead I left my rooms again and took the letter to a messenger to be delivered. Then, for the first time, I went to the guards' quarters. They were rather empty at this time of day and I wandered about for a bit before I located Ballard's room. His door was open and I could hear him muttering to himself as he rifled through his belongings, no doubt deciding what to take with him on his journey. Our journey. I knocked on the doorframe and he turned around to face his visitor.

"Laren!" He exclaimed. "What are you doing here? If someone sees you..."

"I do not think Roslyn can dismiss you twice in one day, my love," I said quietly.

"You know." He said, resignation entering his voice as he sat down on the end of his bed.

"I was called to Roslyn's office a little while ago," I answered, "she told me you are leaving, and where you are going." He looked up at me, his eyes pleading for understanding.

"She can't let me stay, you know," he told me, clearly hoping I would understand, "I know the truth about how Liam died. She can't risk me ever telling that to anyone, even if she knows it would have to be forced from me. The guards who found him have already been reassigned to the prison outside of the city. They won't have a chance to talk to anyone there." I hadn't known that bit. "At least this way I will be able to keep your brother and Drew safe," he said. "You won't have to worry about them. I can give you that much, at least."

"Kara is with child," I told him. He frowned and cocked his head to one side at this apparently random addition to the conversation.

"What does that have to do with--"

"It's why Roslyn wanted to see me. She's going to acknowledge the child as the heir." I could see a flare of indignation in his eyes, he was offended on my behalf. I fought down a laugh and continued. "Of course, that means I cannot remain in Pelos." He frowned again, and then looked up at me, hope dawning in his eyes. "I was given a choice. Retire to a farm and be permanently exiled from Pelos and isolated from society, or leave with Aaron and never return. After enough time has passed, Roslyn would put out the story that I died of illness."

"Does that mean...?"

"Yes, I am coming with you." I couldn't help it, I beamed at him. He rushed forward and scooped me up in his arms, spinning me around in a circle. He grabbed my hands in his own and leaned his forehead against mine.

"I would never have it wrong to be happy that all of this happened? That it gave us the chance for this?" He asked me.

"As long as we never forget the cost of what it took to get here," I told him quietly, "I think we are in the right. We just cannot ever squander what we have been given." He nodded and leaned down to kiss me.

After a moment he jerked back suddenly. I looked a question at him and he hastily stepped to the door, pushing it shut and locking it. Then he pulled me back into his arms and kissed me again. This kiss was full of hunger and desire and I suddenly realized how long it  had been since we had been together. We began pawing at each other's clothing, removing just enough to complete the coupling. It was over with quickly, and had been more about scratching an itch than experiencing one another. But we have all the time we need to make up for it now, I told myself, smiling softly as we straightened our clothing.

"I should go," I told him. "I am having lunch with Aaron and Drew. I need to tell them that I will be joining your little party. Would you care to join us?"

"I can't," he shook his head. "I need to finish packing and make arrangements to see that my replacement is sufficiently prepared to take over." He reached over and brushed a lock of hair from my face. "But perhaps I might join the three of you for dinner?" I nodded happily and took my leave.

As I made my way to the third floor I began mentally planning what I would pack for my exile. I would have to leave most of my books behind, pity though it was, but surely there would be new books wherever we ended up.


The next morning dawned warm and clear. Not exactly ideal for sneaking away unseen into exile, but it fit my mood well enough. The sun was barely peeking over the top of the trees as we four made our way once more from the House of the Stag in secrecy. We faced our coming venture with no less uncertainty than the last, but at least this time we had some assurance of a happy ending.

We reached the main road and stopped short at the sight of a cloaked man on horseback waiting at the entrance to the estate. When he saw us, he pulled back his hood and I was shocked to see that it was Sebastian.

"Well, now, I was starting to worry that I'd missed you," he said jovially. Aaron and Drew looked at each other in concern and then to me and Ballard. I noticed that Sebastian's saddle bags were full and he had a large satchel hanging from his back. Ballard simply shook his head and I realized he was shaking with suppressed laughter. Had he expected this?

"Sebastian! What are you doing here?" I said, bringing my horse next to his so we did not have to raise our voices. Drew cocked his head to one side, surveying Sebastian carefully. I remembered Drew him telling me of speculation that I might take up an affair with Sebastian, and my insistence that we were close friends but nothing more. Drew seemed to approve of whatever he saw, because he relaxed in his saddle after a few moments. I saw Aaron follow suit.

"Why, I am coming with you, my dear Laren," he said, as if his answer were obvious. "Assuming that your guard does not object, of course?" He glanced at Ballard, who simply waved a hand in acceptance, still struggling to hold in his laughter. I glared at him, but it did no good.

"You are planning to accompany me into retirement on a farm?" I asked pointedly. "I can't imagine your father will approve of that, or the gossip it will spawn."

"You obviously are not retiring to a farm, Laren." I raised my eyebrows at him. "Even if your letter hadn't made me suspicious enough, on top of the word spreading around Pelos of Kara's condition, the state in which you are leaving the Stag is a clear indication."

" couldn't have known that" I protested.

"True." He said, smirking, "But you have just confirmed it." I growled in frustration. Aaron and Drew were grinning now as well. Ballard had given up his internal struggle and was chuckling quietly. What was I getting myself into? I had one last chance to talk him out of this madness.

"What of your family Sebastian? We leave in exile, we will never return to Pelos. I am forbidden from corresponding with anyone here once I am gone, as terms of my agreement with Roslyn."

"Well, you may have noticed that my father has a few extra sons, and it is not as if I am his favorite. So he can hardly begrudge me going out to explore the world." He shrugged, "I have simply grown weary of this city and my inability to find happiness here, so I am off to seek my own fortune. He was quite understanding about it, really." Sebastian grinned. "Besides, I am under no constriction against returning to Pelos. Should I choose to come back again, I will know where you are and that you are safe and, hopefully, happy. I can discreetly assure your other friends of this as well."

I had no argument against that. So I just sighed and nodded my head in acceptance.

"Excellent! Now that we've gotten past that, perhaps some introductions are necessary?" He glanced at Aaron and Drew.

"Sebastian of Blades, may I introduce my brothers Aaron and Drew?" Drew looked sharply at me at the introduction. It was true enough though, and after a moment he smiled and nodded at me. Sebastian looked at the two of them carefully for a few moments, glancing between myself and Aaron and then surveying Drew. After a moment understanding seemed to dawn and he nodded as well.

"Very pleased to make your acquaintances," he told them, bowing his head. "Now," he looked up again and clapped his hands together lightly. "Where are we going?"

"South," Aaron said, speaking up for the first time. "We had best hurry, too, if we mean to catch the next ship out."

We turned our horses down the main street and made our way to the docks. Aaron and Drew led and Sebastian fell behind to the rear, leaving Ballard riding beside me. I glanced at him and smiled. He smiled back, reaching over to grab my hand. We rode like that for some time, moving apart as we reached the docks. Within the hour we had secured passage south down the river through the Wildlands. As the ship left Pelos I stood at the bow with my strange wonderful family around me, watching our future approach while the sun climbed into the sky.

The End