...and Returns

"Time for your next lesson" the image of Jason Ironheart said, grinning.

"Time already? I still haven't recovered from the last lesson" Talia said, tensing slightly. Jason's lessons had been enjoyable and excruciating at the same time - she cherished the time she was spending with him, but lately it seemed like he was completely tearing her brain down and rebuilding it each time. It was physically exhausting - at least what she thought of as physically - AND emotionally draining.

"Tired?" Jason asked. "How can you be tired? That isn't your body any more than this one is mine. You have to stop thinking in terms of corporeal limits if you really want to become all that you can be. Even time is a concept that has no real meaning here."

Both figures seemed to be sitting in a grassy field, with blue sky above and a soft breeze blowing from the distance. But this is only how Talia perceived where they were; in fact, she knew the whole thing was taking place in a sectioned-off corner of her brain. She still used the imagery to help her focus on her task of building up her mental powers before she revealed herself to the outside world again. Bester and the Psi Corp thought she had been wiped out - let them think that until the time was right. But of course, time had meaning she thought, otherwise she would have become stronger instantaneously. "How long have I been in here, Jason?"

"Does it really matter?"

"No. Yes! I mean, I don't know. A day, a week, a year?" She tried to imagine life moving on without her and she couldn't quite grasp it. There had been so many things that were happening on the station, and at the time they seemed the most important things in her life - now they seemed...faded. They were still there, but just not as important as before. Was it because she had learned so much more about herself, or was it because time had faded her memories? "It matters as far as what I'll find when I get out of here" she said, sweeping her arms around. Gone was the uniform of the Psi Corp that she had worn before being exiled inside herself; she was wearing a comfortable blouse and skirt of bright colors, with no gloves or shoes to be seen. The banishment of the gloves and shoes had been the biggest outward sign of her change.

"That's a fair point. I haven't told you yet because I wanted you to focus on your development. I will tell you how long it has been, but after that you will undergo your final lesson with no delay."

"Final lesson? What happens after that?"

"You will understand better after the lesson. It has been thirty years since your retreat to this sanctuary. Now prepare yourself as I enter again..."

Talia started to ask a question in protest but was quickly drowned in the sensation of having her mental processes laid bare, stretched, jumbled and rebuilt again while she simultaneously fought and was awed at the complexity and thoroughness of the procedure.

...

As if emerging from a sleep, Talia slowly became aware of her bare feet standing on the wet sand of a beach. Her vision returned, but the colors were wrong; everything seemed to be made of all colors at once. The sky was blue, but it was also red and yellow and green and black and every other color of the palette. She shifted her gaze to the image in front of her, and Jason stood grinning at her. In a detached way, she noticed that he had no clothes on - only then realizing that she wore nothing either. There was nothing salacious about it; it was just a fact.

"This is the first stage of your new awareness; you see the person and not the cloak of outer garments."

"But you look so solid now - almost as if I could reach out and touch you." She reached out and her finger actually met resistance when it contacted his body. She involuntarily jerked it back while Jason laughed.

"It is because I am more solid like you, or because you are now more free of your body like I am?" Jason asked, bemused.

Talia concentrated and reached down to the sand at her feet; her hand went into the sand without disturbing it. She withdrew it quickly and stared at her fingers in wonder.

"The second stage of your new awareness - you do not require corporeal presence to 'be' what you are."

"What am I?"

"You are still who you were before, just more so. You are the only you there is. The artist looks at the painting; the painting looks at the artist."

"Which one am I?"

"We all are the artist AND the painting. The more you see, the more there is to be seen."

A sudden thought struck Talia. "I won't have any more lessons?"

"Not in here."

"In here?" In realization, she looked up on the side of the cliff beside them. A dozen feet up, the three-foot tall keyhole lay embedded in the rock. It had been a symbol of how much work she had to do; so much that she had temporarily forgotten about it. "Where's the key?"

"Just think of it." Talia did as Jason suggested, and a large key appeared. Excitedly, she imagined the key entering the orifice. As she watched, the image of the key did just that – now matched perfectly to the size of the keyhole. She tried to turn it with her mind, but it refused to budge even when she gave a little grunt.

"Pardon me for holding the key back for the third stage of your new awareness - even with all you have learned, you will still have limitations; there will be times you will have to work around them. One of these limitations is your corporeal body; that which was once known as Talia Winters is no more. It was disposed of years ago when it no longer suited the needs of the Psi Corp."

The thought bothered Talia somewhat, much like someone who might finally have to throw away a favorite shirt after it had been worn so often it had become tattered. A lot must have changed in thirty years. "If my body is gone, where have I been living all this time?"

"During the last five years you have been inside someone else, behind a partition in their mind."

"I won't take over someone else!" Talia said, surprised at her emotional outburst.

"There will be no need. You are free of a need for a body - you can leave without the other person even being aware you were ever there. You can join me and together we will explore the known worlds and beyond. We will be both the painter and the canvas, free to go where we want. All you have to do is turn the key now."

With trepidation, Talia gingerly felt with her mind for the key; finding it, she hesitated and then twisted. The image of the key turned and suddenly she was floating disembodied in the air behind a head. The sensation would have been unnerving if she had any nerves, but it certainly was disorienting had not the similarly disembodied Jason mentally steadied her. She reached out with her new senses and determined that she was in a nearly darkened room. The person in front of her was sitting at a desk lit by low lights; as Talia shifted her senses around she saw two old-style photographs on the desk.

They were of Talia Winters and Marcus Cole.

Confused, she turned her attention forward to a small mirror and caught the reflection of the person that was sitting.

Susan Ivanova.

"Jason?" she asked.

"It has been thirty years and much has happened. Let me tell you of some of the events." Images flooded her consciousness, but what would have overwhelmed her before was now taken and understood. The war with the Shadows. The Telepath War. The Rangers. Marcus. Ivanova. The Babylon 5 station. Sheridan. They were all there as if it was happening, and in an instant they were all gone again - thirty years lived in a moment until she found herself once again in the here and now on Minbar. "Now where do you want to go?"

Talia considered. Much of her wanted to flit away to see some of the places that had appeared in the images. She found that there were still some emotional attachments that had remained even after all of her changes. "Bester?"

"Gone, thanks to Garibaldi."

A small part of her was relieved. He wasn't the head of the Psi Corp but his was the psyche that she most associated with it. But she looked at Ivanova and another small part of her hurt. She looked at the photos again and a spark flared in her imagination. "Jason, is it possible..."

...

The intercom beeped and Susan Ivanova reached over to activate it. "Ivanova."

"Commander, pardon the intrusion. This is Hespria - I work at the medical center." The Minbari, who like most of the religious caste scientists tended to speak in easy moderated tones, was almost excited.

"Yes?"

"Commander, there is...a development. I don't know how, but the monitors indicate...Ranger Marcus is active."

Marcus? "I'll be right there." Ivanova quickly donned her uniform and rushed down to the medical complex where the call had originated. When Marcus had given his life force to bring her back from death, she had his body placed in cryonic suspension and monitored at the medical center while waiting for medical technology to advance sufficiently to revive him.

Entering the main room, she ignored the bows and formalities of the technicians and quickly strode to the room with the cryonic apparatus. "What did you do?"

"Nothing, Commander. There was no one near it when we recorded...activity."

"What kind of activity?"

"Although his body is in suspension, inexplicably his mind has started to work again."

"Sensor error?" Ivanova didn't want to get any hopes up.

"No. Permission to initiate revival?"

"Permission? He's starting to wake up and you ask if we have to keep him tucked in?"

The technician frowned in incomprehension.

"Permission granted. How long will it take?"

"It takes several days for a full recovery on a healthy patient." Ivanova started to scowl which Hespria DID understand. "However, he will be awake in a manner of minutes if you would like to wait" he added.

"I would most definitely NOT like to wait - but I will." For the next several minutes, Susan attempted to wear a hole in the floor as she paced back and forth while Hespria did the best he could to monitor the equipment and stay out of the way. At one point the cover over the top part of the patient slid back to reveal Marcus lying on his back. Ivanova looked anxiously at Hespria who indicated it was too soon.

After an interminable wait of several more minutes, several lights on the console blinked off and Hespria stepped back. "The patient should be waking any moment now" he announced.

Ivanova stepped up to the chamber and stared down at Marcus, looking for signs. He was breathing, which was good. An eyelid twitched and then both opened before they began to look around, the rest of the body remaining still. The eyes roamed until they fell upon Ivanova where they stayed.

"Marcus?"

The eyes moved to the tech and then quickly jerked away, twice. Confused at first, Susan quickly got the message. "Hespria, can you monitor from another room?" she asked after facing the Minbari.

"Yes, we have that capability."

"Then why don't you try it?"

"The system was just tested...oh, I understand. Yours in service" he said as he backed away into the adjoining room.

Left alone, Susan turned her gaze back to Marcus as she bent over the bed. "You're late," she said "the party's been over for years now." She snapped back up with a strange sensation. Being a low-level latent telepath, she had been sensitive to telepathic communication and she felt...something...just now. It was like a soft knock on the door, but it was her mind that was being contacted. Wary, she looked around - but they were alone in the room. She looked down at Marcus again. "Was that you?" The knock came again, soft but definitely there. Ever so carefully, she dropped the block that she habitually kept up around her mind.

"Susan?" the thought asked.

The feeling was familiar, but strange and unexpected. Another terrible loss, so long ago...

"Talia?" she answered back in her mind. Somehow, it had to be - a connection she had felt long ago that finally explained in ways words could not just how special, unique and...intimate...a telepathic link could be. She tried to keep the conversation in her mind, but it was a good thing not to have anyone around right now; she gripped the side of the compartment for stability as she tried to maintain both her balance and her sanity.

"It's okay. I don't blame you - I don't know quite how to explain it, but it's me. Jason Ironheart saved my personality and I've been learning all this time how to get out again. They destroyed my body, and when I found out about Marcus I...well...you aren't mad at me, are you?"

"Mad at you? No, but I think I might be going mad. Is Marcus in there?"

"No. All that he was has gone on. I'm sorry, maybe I shouldn't have..."

"Don't say that!" Susan blurted out loud, and then quickly composed herself. "It's just such a shock; I'm having trouble adjusting. It's really you?"

"It is. Can't you feel me?"

"Yes" she said, blushing a little.

"You had feelings for Marcus too" Talia said, turning her head slowly.

"It wasn't the same. I just...lost you and then..."

"You don't have to say it. Jason filled me in on everything that happened after I left. If you want, after I get stronger I'll leave and..."

"Please...stay. I lost you once; I don't want to lose you again. I might go insane, but I'd like you to be there when I do" Susan said, starting to sniff slightly as she laughed.

"I'd offer you my handkerchief, but I don't seem to be able to raise my arms yet" Talia said, her fingers moving slightly.

...

"That was a nice thing you did" Jason said as the two entities sped away through space.

"I couldn't have done it without you. Part of me felt I had to; Susan was the last person I ever felt close to and I didn't want to see her alone. When I remembered how you made a copy of yourself, I thought we might be able to do the same thing with me. You're sure we didn't wipe out Marcus?"

"No; Marcus hasn't been in that shell for a long time since he moved on. Now they can follow their paths while we follow ours." The two entities dodged a jumpgate and disappeared into the inky blackness of space.

The End


A/N: Okay, THIS is the ending of the story now. I hadn't planned on adding any more to the original, but I had an idea to get her out of the exile she was in and at the same time not disturb the canon of the show. I would have liked to have her take out Bester, but that honor should fall to Garibaldi I think.

NOW I'm finished with it.