In our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
drop by drop
upon the heart
until, despite our will,
through the awful grace of God.
Londo squinted at the bio-reader on the security panel at the back entrance of Lady Timov's vault with a scowl. "Well," he muttered to himself, "I suppose now we will find out if anyone had the forethought to cancel an emperor's security credentials." He waved his hand at the bio-reader, and after a pregnant pause, the door to the crypt whooshed opened. His face brightened considerably. The vault door opened temporarily, allowing him to slip in, and as he passed the threshold, just as quickly, the door closed behind him, leaving his eyes to adjust to a dimly lit room.
Soft lights illuminated the vestibule's long hallway which led to carved marble steps descending downward. Despite the misleadingly small exterior size of the vault, Londo immediately appreciated that the underground interior was far larger. He followed the steps into a broad underground room containing a reflecting pool. A fountain on the opposite wall covered pale blue and white lights cascading to the floor.
Londo walked slowly along the reflecting pool in the dark lighting, his ringing bootsteps muffled only by the soft drip-dropping of the fountain's water falling into the reflecting pool. He turned for a moment watching the blue and white lights dance on the water's surface like a starry sky before he turned back to the room, his eyes still adjusting to the darkness.
After a moment, his eyes alighted on an intricately carved motif along the length of the room. A slight smile crossed his face as he realized they were Beloveds. His face dropped into seriousness as he eyed the far wall. There was some hesitation in his step as he descended several more stairs, bound for the back of the vault. He clasped his hands behind his back, his step slowing even further as he reached an ethereal wall of glass infused with gelled sea phosphorous illuminating the back of the structure. Beyond the glass, he could see the form of a somber marble catafalque.
"Open," Londo's gravelly voice instructed the glass doors. The glass door whooshed open, and a brisk wave of coldness hit him as the cryogenic seal was broken.
Londo took a deep breath and slowly walked through the door which closed behind him.
"You're late," the piqued voice of Timov greeted him from the darkness.
His aggravation disappeared and a slight smile reappeared on his face. "I knew it," he said softly. "You had to have the last word."
"You're late," the sound of Timov's voice repeated, clearly eminating from the computerized security console.
This time, Londo only nodded, turning toward the catafalque. As he moved closer, he made out the words carved at its base. He stared speechlessly at them. Timov, that intractable woman, had been known by her father's House her entire life. After the occasion of her marriage, she had purposely not changed any of her stationary, her embroidered belongings, and she most certainly had never consented to being officially introduced as anything but Timov, House of Algul. She had soundly rejected the implication of taking on Londo's House name, and in their twilight years, she had never relented in this respect. By that time, however, Londo had written it off as habit as much as it was originally contempt for the implication that she might belong to anyone else's House, let alone his. But there the words were, boldly inscribed at the base of her catafalque:
Regent & Empress Dowager
Tears welled in his eyes. "Well," he managed, his voice sounding hollow, "Timov of Mollari hardly even sounds right, does it?"
"All right," Londo said, aggravation beginning to color his tone. "I get it. Computer, suspend automated response of my wife's successful attempts to irritate me."
Finally feeling the chill from the cryogenic room, Londo rubbed his hands together. "Suspend cryogenic temperatures," he instructed the computer system. "Restore ambient climate for six hours before resuming cryogenic temperatures."
The console bleated its acquiescence.
"I saw your granddaughter today," he said in the direction of the casket. "I knew I had made it home, at last, when one of the female members of my family was angry with me." He shook his head with a bemused smile, "There were moments that I could see that she has the fire of a Refa in her," he said. "As her mother did at that age."
For several minutes, Londo said nothing more, but at last, he moved forward to the catafalque. Slowly, he put out a hand, touching the cold casket. With a tremor in his voice, at last he said quietly, "Open casket."
The lid slid back revealing its serene occupant, her eyes closed so many years before, cryogenically preserved as if she was merely asleep.
"Beautiful," Londo said softly. He reached out a hand to touch her arm. "I had hoped," he said quietly, "that when you did not visit me in the dreaming, you were merely exercising your intractable obstinacy against your illness." He frowned deeply. "So, I still had hope that perhaps—," he swallowed hard, and his voice cracked. "I should have understood that you would exercise your stubbornness, just not in the way I had hoped." It took him a moment to gather himself before he could continue. "I did locate an agony machine on the Rim, as I promised to do. But in the end, I knew you would not want it, so I traded it for this," he took a small ball that was spinning underneath an intricate cover from his pocket. Twisting the two portions of the cover in opposite directions, it snapped into place, its colors changing from blue to red, and he placed it beside her.
"For my part," he squeezed the words from a choked voice, "I been true to my word. I used my last breath to make it home to Centauri Prime – to you."
He stared at her for a moment before he glanced around the room, searching it with his eyes.
"Surely you left a data crystal, if not for me, then for your grandchild, yes?" He ran his hands along the carvings on the far wall, but he did not find what he was looking for. For some time he searched, but after awhile with a frustrated groan, he sat down on a marble bench at the back of the room, his hands on his knees, a scowl on his face.
"Bushed?" came Timov's voice unexpectedly in the darkness, as if egging him on.
At her voice recorded on the computer controlling the room's security, Londo turned sharply, shaking a knowing finger in the air as his eyes searched the carved panels along the wall in the outside hallway. His eyes narrowed at a small carved shrub tree and he followed its grooves with his finger until, at last, one of the carved branches pressed back into the stone, revealing a hidden hole in the wall. Inside it, warmth flowed, and he leaned down to peer inside it, noting that it had a separate temperature and humidity control system.
"Ah," he grinned, "you remembered!" He pulled out an excellent vintage of brivari from the cubby hole, its tawny color dark with age. The glass sitting beside it had his royal seal embossed on it. Opening the lid, he wafted the scent of the brivari, and he groaned with delight. "Do you know how long it has been since I have had a fine brivari? Years. I trust you poisoned it," he chuckled to himself. "I will remind you that it is your last chance." Reaching back into the cubby hole, Londo found the accompanying data crystal and a handheld reader.
Londo picked up the crystal and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger before walking back to the marble bench in Timov's burial chamber. He dragged a large carved chest toward the bench and sat down, propping his feet on the chest. He stared thoughtfully at the data crystal, perhaps a bit pensively, before inserting it into the reader and waiting expectantly, but nothing happened. He turned, looking about the room as a scowl formed. "Initialize," he commanded the reader.
"Password required," a digital voice informed him.
"Password?" Londo said in disbelief. He looked thoughtfully at the gold-leafed ceiling of the vault. "House of Algul?" he said.
"No, I mean this is idiotic," Londo said in frustration.
Londo growled and stood back up, pacing the room. His bootsteps rang against the marble floor as he shook his head. He glanced back in Timov's direction, "You put a security requirement on the building, you hid the data crystal, and now you require a voice-activated password. I hope you are getting some pleasure out of this."
With no answer, he stared at the floor thoughtfully. At last, he looked up, a scowl on his face. "Only you," he said, grinding his teeth. A strangled word escaped his clenched teeth, "Reformer."
He shook a frustrated finger toward her, "I should have known! You've still got it, years in your grave, and you're still able to do it to me."
Londo sat back down, and he leaned back against the marble bench, sipping his drink slowly as he scrolled through the reader. He scrolled past messages tagged for Corianna and Vir, and he noted some were still time-locked. Timov had thoughtfully recorded annual birthday and graduation messages for Corianna that would only unlock on the date specified. And there, at the end of a long list, was one with his name on it, marked "Unread."
"Play," he commanded.
A holographic vision of Timov appeared in front of him, projecting her figure into the darkness. She stood there for some time, her hand clasped in front of her, without saying a word. "I see you remembered the password," she finally said, understatedly. "I am glad you are embracing your legacy at last."
Londo ground his teeth, "This?" he threw up a hand in annoyance, "This is what you wait 15 years to say to me? I travel across half the known galaxy and this is—"
A smile played across Timov's lips. At last she added, "You know everything I have to say, so why waste time repeating it?" Her face fell serious, "I do, however, have an important message for you. I had a rather prophetic dream, Londo, and I know how much stock you place in those." She sighed, arching a brow, clearly annoyed at what she had to say. "I dreamed that you found a device, one that would cast your consciousness back in your life to re-live it with new choices. It was a little spinning ball with glowing colors inside it. It looked like some sort of alien technology you could only have found on the Rim. Whatever you do, Londo, if you find such a device, stay far, far away from it. Do not, I repeat, do not, use it."
Londo pursed his lips in thought, a dismayed look on his face, and he glanced at the ball he had laid at the foot of the coffin earlier.
"Don't fall for the promises of alien race, Londo," the recording continued. "It won't regain you any time, and I know that is what you are looking for—"
"—It is not time I am looking for," Londo said heatedly. "It is Senna's life. And a treatment for your illness. Even if I must endure years of the Drakh around my throat again, if I could just—"
"—You have lived a better life than I would have thought possible many years ago. Our people have survived, the Drakh have been driven from our space, and you want to risk it all to have another go at it—"
"—Believe me, I'd rather not live it again, but I thought perhaps I could do better, and—"
"—You'll be robbed of your memories of this life, and no one can say whether gambling on such a thing will provide a better or a worse future—"
"—Even if I am robbed of my memories and set back to another point in time in my life, how could my hearts forget what happened to Senna? Or the way you have been ravaged by this illness, and the time that has been stolen from you by the stress and angst of caring for our people and the throne during my heart attack. I know the knowledge of what happened will unconsciously live in my soul, and I will not let it happen again, no matter what—"
"—Whatever you do, Londo, if you've somehow gotten ahold of such a device, don't use it. For the love of all the gods, do not use it."
Londo glanced at the flashing ball, dismayed. After some thought, he begrudgingly walked over to it, Timov's hologram still imploring him not to use it, and he muttered, "The seller did not tell me what the other settings do." He twisted the two halves of the outer layer of the ball in opposite directions several more times, clicking through several positions, until they were resting back in their original position, but the blinking lights on the interior spinning ball did not return to blue. Now, they glowed a turquoise-yellow.
"Pause," Londo instructed the holographic message as he gritted his teeth, twisting the outer ball several more times. Each time the ball snapped into a new locked position, it glowed another color, but it never returned to its original color. At last, he threw up his hands, "I don't know, Timov, now I don't know what will happen. I thought I had . . . " he grimaced, emotion overtaking him again, "found a solution to our predicament. And now . . ." he spread his hands in despair. "I thought at the very least, I would see you again, even if you still could not stand the sight of me again, even if it was 30 years ago. . . ."
Londo threw back another shot of brivari before he stared back again at the frozen hologram, "Play," he said quietly.
"Anyway, I just wanted to say, 'Welcome home,' Londo. I am sorry that I am not able to be there in person to meet you, but the Fates command, and we must comply."
"You don't believe in the Fates," Londo muttered, frowning.
Timov smiled as her hologram began to fade away. "I love you."
Londo looked back at her fading image sharply, fighting his emotions, tears in his eyes. "I know," he whispered, putting a hand to his chest. "Of course I know."
After collecting himself, Londo looked back at the reader. "Delete last message," he commanded, his tone regaining its firmness. With a mere beep, the evidence of Londo & Timov's last communication was saved only to his memory.
"Create message for Corianna," he commanded the reader. "Save to data crystal. Unlock under her verbal authentication only."
"Confirmed. Recording started," the automated voice replied.
Londo sipped his brivari. "Corianna, my love," he started the holographic recording, "it would have created many problems if your guards had discovered my identity, not the least of which was that I had a promise to fulfill and a very limited time to do so, so I hope that you will forgive an old man his many transgressions. You asked for my stories, and in truth, I have many to tell you but not enough time. Anything that I have missed, you will ask Palco or Emanio or Illyia, and perhaps they will reveal to you all of the secrets that they have gathered over the years," he chuckled. "At the very least, I hope that you will pass these stories on to your children."
He grimaced, "I am afraid that I do not have much time left in this world. He put a hand on his chest as he glanced at the clock counting down to when the room would cryogenically cool again, "A man can feel the hand of the Fates reaching for him. I know that people have probably told you that I was a vain man, an overly ambitious man, a weak man crushed under the will of the Drakh. They have said, I am sure, that I was irascible, arrogant, and conceited. I was all of these things," he admitted, shrugging candidly. "But I want you to know that I was also driven, honorable, and impassioned. While I have been a fool, I have also been a patriot. I would do anything for Centauri Prime, for my people, my friends, my family, and for you. I made a promise years ago, laying on the floor crushed under the heel of the Drakh, that I would free our people from them, and I have done it; but it was at a great cost. My life has not been a straight road. Do not let the historians of our people say that my eyes were not open. If I have tried and failed," he looked thoughtfully away from the projector, "at least I have given everything I have to my failure. I have lived at the edges of life, testing its boundaries, forcing it to reveal its depths to me. And in that experience, the gods have blessed me with riches that ducats cannot buy — friendships and love that I would not have chosen for myself in my dreams as a young man, but which have meant more to me than—" he paused, unable to continue. He blew out a big breath, shaking his emotion away. He studied the floor for a moment, regaining his composure. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, my love, that I know that you will make the right decision at the right time with Dius."
Londo shook off his sentimental thoughts, "But now, I have 15 years of stories from the Rim to tell you."
Lightheartedness filled his frame, and he added, "I must tell you that I had the most galling traveling companion. His secret, you see, is to outlive us all and rewrite the histories to cast himself into a better light." Londo's voice softened, "I will admit that, already, I miss him. We were separated for over a year after becoming lost in the most bizarre alien market you have ever seen, but—" He raised his hand in a signal to stop, "I am getting ahead of myself. I suppose I must give you the abbreviated version of the last 15 years, and the lengths to which G'Kar and I had to go to seek the Drakh base. But first," he sat forward, his voice growing stronger, "I wanted to tell you about meeting your father for the first time on Babylon 5. He was my attaché, you know, and the quadruple-damned bucket of bolts we were appointed to was a sacrificial assignment. But it turned into much more than that," he chuckled.
For several hours Londo animatedly recounted his reminisces with Vir at Babylon 5 and on the Rim with G'Kar, ending with the desperate bid to make it home before his final breaths expired, and his chance encounter with Corianna in the Royal Cemetery.
When Londo had worn himself out, his bottle of brivari nearly empty, he ended the recording and walked the data crystal back to its hidden cubby hole, stowing it safely for the next time his granddaughter would visit the vault to pay her respects to her grandmother.
He sauntered back to Timov's resting place, his step considerably more unsteady under the effects of the brivari. He sat down for a moment staring at his glass of brivari. "Do you remember that night we went to the Royal Opera to see Bartoli?" he asked softly, the pale lights illuminating his features in the darkness. "That was a very enjoyable evening." He gazed at the far wall, his thoughts turning to the past. "Or how you scolded me when I made you regent?" He chuckled, shaking his head. "I remember those long nights we spent together in the dungeon, although you wouldn't speak to me for days." He smiled at the memories. "It all seems so long ago now." His expression turned melancholy. He slowly raised his glass toward her resting place in a toast. "Valtoo," he said softly.
He pushed forward from his knees, standing up with a groan before he approached the casket and leaned forward, kissing Timov's forehead gently. Then, he stood up straight, "Perhaps the gods will bless our shades, and I will see you in the morning." He gazed softly at her for a moment before he added, "Close lid." The lid slid closed, and Timov's figure disappeared beneath the enclosure once again.
Londo returned to the marble bench, his eyelids becoming heavy. As he sat down, he threw his feet back up on the trunk. "I hope you don't mind," he said drowsily toward the direction of the catafalque, "if I leave my boots on."
Londo rested his glass of brivari on his chest and folded his hands on his stomach. "Do not say that I was not a kind and generous man," he muttered in Timov's direction before he turned to the security console. "Resume my wife's security protocols."
The console beeped in acknowledgement.
"I will let you have the last word," his voice faded as he closed his eyes.
"You're late," came Timov's voice again.
A half-smile appeared on Londo's face, and within a few minutes, his chin dropped to his chest, and his shade departed his body for the dreaming.
Author's Note: Thank you for reading! Please drop me a line or a review and let me know what you thought!