Category: Babylon 5, pre-series
Characters: Talia Winters, Garibaldi, Bester
Spoilers: No plot spoilers, but I was thinking a lot about "Soul Mates" and "Divided Loyalties."
Summary: On Mars, Talia Winters' career is about to take off.
Author's Note: Pain meds. Not beta'd.
It was essentially a living hell.
A seething, pompous, cocktail-party hell, Talia Winters amended, dodging a wayward elbow belonging to a someone who might have been able to conceal that he wasn't here with his wife if he hadn't been quite so drunk.
She'd actually been looking forward to this all week. Mars, so far, hadn't provided much in the way of social diversion -- the last party she'd been to had been the internship program sendoff party at the Academy ballroom on Earth. That hadn't been in her top-five, either, since Matt Stoner had been there, and his thoughts had been even more suggestive than they had been when he was her teacher or her boyfriend, and she'd left early with him to spend a rather... interesting evening.
Talia had been looking forward to coming to this alone. Matt, and his bizarrely possessive behavior over her internship posting to the Psi Cops division on Mars, was on a whole other planet. The Senatorial Colonial Ball was the event of the Mars social season, inagurating the yearly Founders' Week. Everybody who was anybody was present -- at the bar in the lobby if not at the penthouse ballroom -- and Talia's superior had thrown an invite her way because she "gave the Corps the right look."
Talia knew that. Her superiors had even suggested her attire -- there wasn't much shopping in the middle of the desert, so her options were limited -- and the outfit was enough to know exactly why she'd been chosen for this honor, lest she had any other ideas. There were Psi Cops mingling about, of course, but she was the only trainee, and the only one in a designer pink dress that called all too much attention to her. She had a memorized a list of people to speak with and subjects to mention. Beyond being an innocent-looking blonde twenty-one year old who put a cherubic face and long legs on everybody's worst nightmare, she was actually good at shaking hands and committing random acts of small talk. The average Corps member was fairly anti-social, as a rule. She wasn't, and it wasn't like the Psi Cops to squander any advantage.
She had just... never spent much time around mundanes, and after three months in intensive -- and often disturbing -- work and study at the secretive Psi Corps compound on the Syria Planum, she was out of practice. Every loose thought in the crowd of hundreds made her want to turn around and identify its source to better block it out, and all the spinning was starting to make her nauseated.
"Are you the lovely Miss Winters that George Conroy was telling me I had to meet?"
That was a real voice -- she was sure of it -- and she turned and smiled, hand extended.
"Talia Winters. Pleased to meet you."
She was here to do a job, and, like most of the other jobs she'd had in the last few months, it wasn't one she was entirely comfortable with. But it was a job, and she squared her shoulders and joined the melee.
"You understand the dilemma we've been facing with the ministerial cabinet trying to foster acceptance of the school testing bill..."
She'd lost count of how many of these dignitaries and police chiefs and politicos she'd spoken with, but this one at least offered her a drink before he started undressing her with his thoughts.
"That's very interesting, Senator," Talia said, "How do you plan to increase the interest from the outlying regions?"
Instead, he told her: "That's a great dress."
His thoughts got just a little too indecent at that moment, and she didn't even try making a polite excuse when she bolted.
She bypassed the coat room -- she couldn't leave, not with nowhere to go and the other Psi Cops still milling around and observing her progress, but she needed a break and some air. She made it to the elevator before Senator Parenti caught up with her.
She sagged against the elevator wall, sucking in air and the absence of five hundred minds, before she realized that she wasn't alone and jerked up to standing.
"Hey, you okay?"
She sized him up quickly, as she'd been doing all evening: twenty-something, Earth Force noncom, uniform too wrinkled to necessitate her political sucking-up, probably two or three drinks in. Earth Force was all over this event, and he was probably a medium-level lackey along for the ride. Despite it being a civilian Mars affair, the costly and unexpected victory in the Minbari war was less than a year old and that necessitated inviting uniforms to absolutely everything.
"I'm fine, thank you."
"Psi Cop, eh?" He was apparently sizing her up, too.
There was fear and distrust and hate in his eyes, though he was obviously trying not to show it. The other Psi Cops relished the negative attention, and honestly, Talia figured that was probably the only way to survive in that uniform. Talia couldn't stand it, and she wasn't getting used to it. She didn't want total strangers to hate her. Currently, she just wanted them to leave her alone.
"I'm a trainee," she admitted. "Not that it's any of your business."
The man's eyes widened, fear replaced with something else, and she blocked out his thoughts as hard as she could. At least there was only one of him. She could deal with one.
"So, what's that like?"
"Sir, if you don't mind..." Talia sighed. "I've just about had it with small talk for the night."
"I can do the talking. Ma'am."
"Well, please don't."
The elevator opened and she powerwalked out, through the lobby and out to the street. Annoyingly, her companion trotted after her. "Michael Garibaldi," he introduced himself persistently.
"Charmed." Six paces later, Talia's manners finally brought her up short and she turned around. "Talia Winters. I'm sorry I was rude to you, I just-"
"Had enough of small talk for the night. Got it." His eyes traced the dress, the hated pink, slit-skirt, revealing monstrosity that she was wearing as some twisted form of public relations, and she knew what he was going to say before it came out of his mouth. "I wasn't really thinking of talking."
She slapped him, all semblance of patience and diplomacy and putting on a cheery face for the mundanes of the world -- the military, no less -- put aside in the face of an utterly hellacious evening. She wanted out of this dress, out of the Psi Cops, back on Earth, back at school, hell, even back dating Matt didn't sound so bad right at the moment.
"Ow! You could've just said no-"
"What force would possess you to even ask me that?" Talia demanded. "No! I'm completely sick of being surrounded by mundanes who think it's fine to think the worst things at me just because you can't hear them. What is wrong with you? You're disgusting."
He looked surprised at her outburst, and she couldn't sense what he was thinking. That happened when she got emotional; her instructors always told her to work on that.
"Lady," he told her. "You seriously need a drink."
"I seriously need you to leave me alone." She covered her face with her hands and hoped very hard that her Psi Cop instructors weren't listening in. "I'm sorry. Mr... Garibaldi, was it? Really. Not very... political of me. I apologize."
He shrugged and bounced on the balls of his feet. "Hey, hey, happens to the best of us." He took two steps back, and then returned. "You shouldn't stay out here too long. You're gonna want to be on the roof for the fireworks."
"There's no public roof access on this building," she said. The Psi Cops had insisted that she study the specs of all the buildings they'd be in. No one was expecting an incident, but it was good paranoia practice.
"I know a way. You can practice being... political. I'm actually very interesting once you get to know me. You don't know what you're missing..."
He did not give up. Talia glanced down. Her dress couldn't be that good. Maybe Lyta was right -- mundane men really were dogs.
"And hey, it's less stuffy than the ballroom, and you seemed to be looking for a way out."
That might almost have tempted her, almost, if he hadn't waggled his eyebrows.
"I'll take my chances. Have a pleasant evening, Sergeant."
She stalked off back to the elevators, and missed Lyta right then even more than her other, closer friends. In her place, Lyta would've had a field day picking this persistent man apart, but then, she highly doubted anyone in the Psi Cops would have selected the outspoken redhead to be their scantily-clad political frontliner. She knew Lyta was applying for the Psi Cops internship the following semester, and next Colonial Ball, politically wise or not, she was definitely bringing her along to this for moral support.
If she survived that long. The Earth Force soldier's blatant come-on was obnoxious, but at least she knew what he wanted from her. The sexual innuendo was the least disturbing part of the politicking going on upstairs.
She could transfer at the end of the year, maybe, if she kicked up a fuss. Psi Cops had been her first choice because of the greatest chance to be sent on exciting deep-space assignments, but she was only a P5, and her abilities could be applied elsewhere.
She turned around. "Sir. Mr. Bester. How can I help you?" She tried to swallow the flash of uneasiness that ran through her before he could sense it, but it was a lost cause. Mr. Bester's career was said to be on the fast track -- he was already closely connected to the highest members of the Corps -- and it worried her that he had lately taken the time to personally check up on her studies when she was only a P5, and therefore shouldn't have been very interesting. It worried her even more that his interest genuinely didn't seem to be sexual.
"Don't be silly, Miss Winters, it isn't that I find you unattractive," he said, and she blanched at the way he responded to her thoughts like she'd said them aloud. "It would simply be inappropriate for a student-teacher relationship... don't you think?"
Matt. Inappropriate and stupid, and obviously Mr. Bester knew about it. She sighed, resigned to how transparant her thoughts were about to be. She needed to work on that. "Did you need something, sir?"
"No, no, just wanted to see how you're doing."
She knew he didn't mean her well-being. "I've managed to speak with most of the people you mentioned. I brought up your proposals when I could -- they seemed amenable to listening further."
"Indeed. Senator Parenti is quite taken with you. We can use that to our advantage in future negotiations -- he hasn't always been the most agreeable when dealing with the Corps, but as with most people, it's all about asking the right way. They come around."
She swallowed, off-handedly wishing that the persistent soldier from earlier would come upstairs to find her and interrupt this conversation. "I'll be happy to help, sir."
He studied her. She knew her discomfort must have been showing, but strangely, that made him smile more. "It's a rare gift you have. Mundanes are... creatures of habit. It isn't easy for them to put aside their fears and discriminations and trust a member of the Corps, particularly one working with the Psi Cops."
"I wouldn't say he trusts me, sir."
"Have you ever considered the commercial sector, Talia?"
She paused, mind racing for the right answer. Was this her chance, or had she done something wrong? "Are you... proposing a transfer?"
"No, no, just making conversation." He looked her over like she was a medical specimen under a microscope. "There are many ways to serve the Corps, Talia. We'll talk more the next time I'm in the area. So far, I've been very impressed with you. I'd like to recommend you for some additional training, if you don't mind. It will look very good on your C.V., and make you much more valuable to the Corps, no matter which field you ultimately choose."
"Thank you, sir." The uneasiness was probably temporary, and it was good to know that she could choose a different field without being blackballed if the Psi Cops continued to be too much for her. Her career was about to take off, one way or the other, and all she'd had to do was suffer through one very strange night, and ignore the flutters of warning in her stomach after her conversation with Mr. Bester.
"The fireworks are starting," Mr. Bester said. "You should go enjoy yourself."
Talia watched the fireworks from the ballroom windows, draping her coat over the pink dress.
The night was almost over, but she had a feeling -- not a good or a bad feeling, necessarily, just a feeling -- that things were about to begin.
Edit: Oh, and miera_c and I committed Atlantis fic in this other post.