Summary: Vorlons, time travel and pie.
Warning: For my chronology challenge, Lyssie wanted Susan Ivanova, 7/22/87, and pie. It's melancholy and makes no sense. At all.
She thinks a lot about Jeff.
That isn't really surprising, since the last time Susan saw him they were four years in the past and he was getting ready to go back another 996. She's only – "only" – 275 years in the past, but his story is still the most relevant comparison.
It's pretty unlikely that she'll be rescued at all, since this was one hell of an accident to begin with, so imagining Jeff riding Babylon 4 through time to her aid is as good a long shot as any.
"Top-up?" the waitress asks, and doesn't wait for an answer before refilling Susan's coffee and walking on. The smoke she leaves behind her stings Susan's eyes.
When the waitress makes another pass through the diner twenty minutes later, she tears the front page off the calendar hanging by the cash register. 1987, July 22.
It feels like she's on some godforsaken Drazi colony somewhere instead of New York City. Gone are the clean domes and sky bridges thirty stories up. Everything smells like garbage, human and otherwise. She's been living on a space station or an Vengeance-class starship for the past seven years. Down Below was pretty bad, but at least the air was recycled.
The natives here are restless, wandering the streets late into the night. Not long after she arrived, two of them jumped her looking for valuables, and she knocked them both out before lifting wads of currency from them, their spoils from earlier in the evening, probably. If only all the banks weren't going to fall five or six times before she was born – she could make a killing on interest.
A police car crawls slowly down the street in front of her, spewing exhaust, and the black hats make her think of the Psi Cops, but it'll be a while before them, too.
She ends up back at the diner because it's as good a place as any and they have pie (from fruit, honest-to-god fruit). John Sheridan would be champing at the bit already, making plans, finding answers, optimistically plotting an escape (impossible) or a new life (depressing). That's not Susan's way. She's willing to admit that life knocked her off her feet with this one (for Christ's sake, her ship was all the way in the Proxima sector, and nowhere near Draal or anyone else who should be capable of catapulting her across time and space). She's gonna lay low for a night or two until the reality sinks in, and then she'll probably get really fragging drunk.
"How's the pie?" the waitress's name, according to her nametag, is Tammi, with an i.
"Fine, thanks," Susan says. The radio (Susan thinks it's a radio, history was never her strong suit) is wailing the same song it's played four times tonight, I can't liiiive with or without you... "Is there a place around here to rent cheap rooms?"
"Flophouse down the street. Might be a little too cheap, if you know what I mean. Where's that accent from, hon?"
The future, Susan thinks. "Russia," she says instead.
Tammi's scrutinizing her now, like she might be dangerous. "You some kinda spy?"
Susan has no idea what she's talking about, and doesn't want to call attention to her 23rd century inflections, so she just shrugs.
In the morning, she sorts out how to drop a coin into a metal box and get the paper, and figures out what Tammi meant about Russia. She always thought the famous communist experiment and Cold War was in the 19th century, but then, she never cared much about history before interstellar travel. Garibaldi cared about that sort of thing, and John, and her ship's medical officer Taren Daley, who keeps a box of ancient medical torture devices on display in a frame. She wishes she'd paid more attention; then she might know where on the planet to head toward that might be less depressing.
She heads out of the Bronx and in to Manhattan by train. The buildings are taller here, made with steel and concrete and glass, and it's hard to feel like she can touch anything without breaking it, like she's in a bustling, cussing, honking museum.
Time-travel isn't really a phenomenon people talk about outside of science fiction vids, but she supposes she should try to keep from interfering in case she kill her own great-great-great-great-great-grandfathe
The dark humor of that last one pleases her, a bit. It would serve the universe right.
She passes building after building with glass-walled main floors. While looking at her reflection, she thinks she hears, the wind is never the wind, and it sounds like Kosh.
She whips around. There's a woman with a stroller yelling at a cab driver, a man hawking sausage links, a man in a business suit knocking into Susan's shoulder without even an apology, like she's not even there.
She sighs, and thinks about Jeff again. Maybe she should start a religion.
She hears the Kosh voice again, a few times, and she's about ready to put her fist through a wall. The answer is clearly that she's insane. She's gone crazy, and rational thought is being replaced by Vorlon platitudes, the sky does not wait for the bird, the echo makes the voice or something like that, and she can't even tell anyone about it, because no one here has ever even met a Vorlon.
She goes to an Italian restaurant, because the least she can do while she's here for the rest of her miserable life is make Garibaldi jealous.
She drinks too much wine with dinner. It's the best plan she can come up with.
The man in the flophouse lobby who took her cash for the room the night before doesn't look up when she walks in, so she goes past him. When she opens the door to her sorry accomodations, there's no sink or cot or room, only the Great Machine on Epsilon III.
She blinks, and she's back in the lobby, and the man's asking her for money.
"Something weird is going on here," she tells him.
He doesn't even answer her, just counts out ones and gives her change.
She wakes up to the rattle of the underground train beneath the building.
The diner is open. She orders pie for breakfast. Does that kind of thing matter, in the past?
It's strawberry-rhubarb, with a fresh strawberry served next to the slice on the plate. It smells fresh from the oven.
It tastes like sand.
As she goes to spit it out, the Kosh-voice says, the future is a pebble.
"What the hell does THAT mean?" she demands of the voice in her head.
No one, none of the other patrons or Tammi behind the counter, looks up.
The people in the Bronx have stopped speaking English. It sounds a bit like Centauri.
She takes the train into Manhattan to try her luck there, but all she sees are aging, weathered buildings and a poster of President Luchenko calling for war.
She stares at that for a long time, wondering why it doesn't make sense.
Susan doesn't go back to the flophouse. She isn't tired, mostly because she feels like she's already asleep. She rides the train back and forth, through dark tunnels lined with old-fashioned lights.
She still drifts off for a second, and sees the Great Machine again, but this time, it's like she's looking at it from the inside.
Oh, God, she thinks in a panic, wondering for an instant if everything after the Great Machine is a dream, if they're still fighting the war back home, if she's still on Babylon 5, if she never got victory and a command and Marcus' heart on her conscience.
There's no one else on the subway car, so she says it out loud.
"I've had enough."
This could be the work of an alien, and they could be listening.
"I've had enough. Stop it."
It was worth a try.
She tries to make sense of Kosh's riddles in her mind, which is a bad idea on the best of days, and goes round and round in circles.
The future is a pebble. The small stone that starts an avalanche? Is she a small stone? Does she need to find a pebble to get back to the future?
The vodka isn't helping.
She's still hearing voices. This one sounds like Taren Daley, telling someone, We'll know in an hour.
She closes her eyes and tries to remember what it felt like to be in the Great Machine, whipping through space and time and the machine's grand memory. Eyes staring at her from the dark. Her grip on reality tenuous, only as thick as a voice.
She wonders if this was what Marcus felt like, before the end. Detached. Unclear. Drifting.
She thinks about the war, about Marcus and Franklin and Garibaldi and Sheridan and Delenn, and wants to feel in her body again the sensation of having a purpose.
When she wakes in Taren's infirmary, she's not surprised.
"We thought we'd lost you, Captain," Taren says, taking her blood pressure. "You've been in a coma for five days."
Others from her command staff drift by to greet her. They found an alien probe, apparently, derelict and abandoned. They brought it on board. Susan said something about the technology looked familiar and was there when her science team analyzed it. She touched a piece of it the others had handled dozens of times already, and collapsed.
Susan guesses, to herself, that it has something to do with the alien device that brought her back from the dead.
Taren guesses out loud that it has something to do with a low-level energy field they couldn't identify. "Your mother was a telepath. Perhaps you carry some genetic material that makes you susceptible to this energy."
Susan will never tell her about her own latent telepathy. She trusts her officers, but this is a different time. Things were different, during the war.
"Where's the probe now?"
"The R&D center on Proxima. It seemed wise to get it off the ship and into better quarrantine facilities."
"Early reports suggest the technology has a Vorlon influence."
Some of not-Kosh's nonsense phrases filter into her head again. The whole experience is fading fast, but those are hanging on the longest. "The Vorlons influenced a lot of cultures. Including ours."
Taren touches her shoulder. "You should rest, Captain. If you take anything from this experience, it should be that your crew can take care of the ship, with or without you." It's an old argument, one they've had a lot, about how Susan doesn't sleep because she spends so much time on the bridge, waiting for disaster to strike. It rarely does, anymore. "Paul was even good enough to order that chef make pie with the fresh fruit we picked up on Proxima. I'll have some brought for you after dinner."
Susan remembers Kosh's voice, and the taste of sand.
"Maybe tomorrow," she says, and closes her eyes to rest.