The hooded figure who walked his solitary path down the long corridor was lost in thought. He had no idea of the presence he had, the innate dignity. Others did, and they noted his passage.
Jeffrey Sinclair was lost in thoughts light years away. He was thinking about events to come. A path had been set in motion when he'd sent the Ranger to Michael. Garibaldi was in the loop now; the rest of the Babylon 5 command staff would follow soon enough. I miss your counsel, old friend.
The sound of running footsteps attracted his attention. It was an unusual sound here in these corridors; the building's history and purpose led more to a sedate and respectful attitude in its inhabitants and visitors. The footsteps drew nearer and he heard a familiar voice - Rathenn - call out, "Entil'zha, please wait!"
Jeffrey stopped and turned. That title still sounded strange to his ears; deep down, though, it felt right. He dismissed the thought - it was for another time. He waited expectantly as Rathenn approached.
Rathenn was someone whose counsel he held in great respect. He had been one of the very first Minbari to accept him and he had been an invaluable aide during Jeffrey's first months here on the Minbari homeworld. From Rathenn he had learned the history of the Rangers; their purpose, their traditions, their legends. The work that had to be done had been made much easier with his help. He was a valued friend.
"Yes, Rathenn; what causes you to hurry so, my friend?"
"Entil'zha, there has been a development. May we talk privately?"
Jeffrey eyed his friend's countenance in concern. There was apprehension there, yes, but there was more excitement. Nothing disastrous then - just interesting. Intrigued, Jeffrey motioned for Rathenn to come with him.
Rathenn fell into step beside the human. He attempted to control his excitement, to show the same air of calm and serenity that the new Ranger One carried with him. Shortly thereafter, they reached the chambers provided for Sinclair. Refusing Entil'zha's offer of refreshment, Rathenn paced the chamber.
"Entil'zha, you will recall the instruction I gave you in the traditions and legends of the Anla'shok. Do you remember the prophecy I recounted to you, known only to the leaders of the Religious Caste and each successive Ranger One; that one day before the next Shadow War one of the Rangers would experience a vision that would affect the future of that war? I believe this has happened."
"Which Ranger has experienced the vision? What have they seen?"
Rathenn dropped into the seat facing Sinclair and continued his tale. "It was Marcus. He's just left on assignment. He reported his vision before he left, and, believing it to be important, his instructor reported it to me.
"Marcus was confused by what he saw. He talked of a place where time does not function normally. He said that he saw a strange ship appear suddenly from that place, and a being, a human. Marcus said quite emphatically that this man would become Anla'shok.
"This next part is why the instructor reported the vision to me. Marcus drew some images while he was experiencing the vision; and as you know, Entil'zha, one gift Marcus does not possess is that for art. These images, though, are detailed and clear. They show this man and his craft. Another shows him in the uniform of the Anla'shok. The last two are of the most interest: there is one of this person with Kosh, on Babylon 5, and the other shows this person, Marcus and another human, also on Babylon 5. From your descriptions, I believe this other human to be Michael Garibaldi."
Rathenn fell silent. Sinclair sat there, lost in thought. He'd have to see these drawings for himself, but he trusted Rathenn's judgement.
"Bring these drawings to me later today. Have a watch set on Sector 14 for as long as it takes for this ship to appear. When it does so, have the ship escorted here to Minbar. We will follow the vision. I will meet this human. If we trust to the vision, I believe he will volunteer to undergo the training to become a Ranger. When he has completed the training, we will send him to Kosh on Babylon 5.
"Marcus is not to be told anything about this. His destiny is obviously linked to this man and they are obviously both linked to Babylon 5. They will meet there."
Rathenn bowed his head in understanding. Entil'zha's orders would be obeyed.
Later that night, as he prepared to sleep, Sinclair thought about the images Marcus had drawn - currently laid out on a table in the other room. This new Ranger was young. His eyes, though, had caught Sinclair's attention; they were old. That contradiction intrigued him.
The silence in the shuttle was becoming oppressive and Liam was wishing longingly for this trip - this entire day - to be over. He'd been called to duty three hours early this morning. There had been an extra security briefing for the scheduled appearance of Da'an and Zo'or later that day, in New York.
Of course, there had been no need to worry; the appearance by the Taelons at the new medical centre went off flawlessly - in public. In private, Da'an and Zo'or had been arguing all day about another one of Zo'or's pet projects. Even Sandoval - to Liam's eyes, anyway - looked fed up. It seemed like this argument had been going on for eternity.
Liam's reverie was interrupted by a sudden call from the Mothership. A worried-looking Volunteer appeared on the screen. The Volunteer didn't seem to know to whom to address their comments - Zo'or, Sandoval or Da'an. Liam felt a little wry sympathy for the hapless Volunteer; this shuttle was currently top-heavy with authority. Eventually, the Volunteer looked at a neutral point straight ahead and said, "Sensors have reported an unknown object on a direct course to Earth. It is believed to be Jaridian in origin. Whatever it is, we don't believe it is a ship, and it does appear to be on a pre-programmed path. I'm feeding you the data we have now..."
Not waiting for the data to appear, Zo'or ordered the immediate dispatch of the two shuttles to capture the object. If that was untenable, then their orders were to destroy it.
Liam immediately rerouted from his initial destination of the Washington Embassy and resumed course for the Mothership. As they were docking, the report from the shuttles came in. The object was armed. One shuttle was destroyed, the other too badly damaged to stop the object's continued trajectory.
Liam swore. "All of you, off the shuttle, now! I'll deal with this!"
Liam's forceful tone surprised his passengers; it was completely out of character. The situation required the utmost urgency, however, so they complied.
As soon as his passengers were safely on board the Mothership, Liam turned his shuttle about and sped off to rendezvous with the surviving shuttle.
A quick conversation with the Volunteer pilot and an even speedier review of the other shuttle's sensor data gave Liam the information he needed. The object had one apparent weakness; a vulnerable point about half a metre wide on its underside.
When Liam announced his plan for hitting the target, the Volunteer pilot expressed his doubts, vocally. Not only did it involve manoeuvres that had never been attempted in a shuttle, the likelihood - if successful - of Liam's shuttle remaining unscathed by the encounter was minimal at best. Unfortunately, the Volunteer couldn't counter the Major's suggestions with anything better.
The other shuttle monitored the Major's progress and relayed a first-hand account to the tense group onboard the Mothership who were awaiting the outcome of this latest attempt to stop the object. There were a few frayed nerves on display until the excited voice of the Volunteer pilot said, "He's done it!"
The celebrations were short-lived. The same voice that had proclaimed triumph seconds before was heard to say, "Oh dear God! Major, get out of there, now! Major Kincaid... Major! Agent Sandoval, the Major's shuttle, sir... it's gone!"
Da'an paled noticeably; even Zo'or looked disturbed. With a - for once - less than impassive expression, Sandoval ordered a full-scale search of the area and a full analysis of the remaining shuttle's sensor data.
Hours later, the search remained unsuccessful. The sensor data showed that there had been an energy backlash from the object when it had exploded. This had caught the rear of the Major's shuttle as he attempted to vacate the area of the explosion, and had flipped the shuttle off its axis and rotated it back into the path of the dissipating energy from the blast.
The Taelon technicians speculated that this had interacted in some way with the shuttle's ID drive. The result was unknown; the shuttle could have been destroyed, thrown off course to practically anywhere, or even be caught somewhere between ID and normal space. There was simply no way to know for sure.
Liam slowly regained consciousness.
It had been a very close call; the energy backlash had caused an overload of some description in the ID drive. He'd had to ride it to its conclusion and hope for the best. His last conscious thought had been a fairly ironic one; what with the shuttle crash earlier this week with Zo'or, and now this, he was definitely not flying a shuttle next week. Portals would have to do. This was getting ridiculous.
Groaning, Liam began the task of checking the conventional and ID drives. They were both fine. That was a good start. Then he checked his sensor readings.
Oh hell, not so good. Where in the name of God was he? The data didn't make sense. Okay, from the star field - not Earth. Fair enough - not good, but fair enough.
The chronometer was going beserk; if it was to be believed, time wasn't working.
Then suddenly, something huge appeared on the guidance tracking systems. Liam looked up from the screens, and stared, amazed. Two things came immediately to mind: one, the ship was beautiful; two, it definitely wasn't Taelon or Jaridian.
The sound of static filled the shuttle and Liam winced. Then it dawned on him what was going on. He scanned all possible frequencies, and eventually a signal, garbled at first, began to get through. The sight that greeted him was many things: confusing, worrying; but most of all, surprising. A human face greeted him, along with some that were most definitely not human!
"Unidentified craft, we mean you no harm. Repeat, we mean you no harm. Please respond."
"This is Taelon Shuttle 2; my name is Major Liam Kincaid. Who are you? Where am I?"
"This is White Star 14. We were told to expect your arrival through the temporal instability in this sector, to meet you on your arrival and escort you to the planet Minbar. Further explanations will be given there."
"Am I a prisoner?" Liam asked, alarmed.
"No, Major. You are under our protection. Please prepare to receive instructions for docking."
Liam copied the data and co-ordinates sent to him. As he did so, he thought about the words 'temporal instability'. Damn it, not time travel - not again!
"Yes, Robert. Report."
The young Ranger, awe in his voice, replied, "Sir, the other vessel has docked. Scanners cannot match it with any known ship configuration; and sir... it's partially organic."
Joshua's eyes widened in surprise. This assignment was turning out to be far from the dull and tedious duty he'd expected.
The Rangers followed orders; Entil'zha had said to wait, that the ship would come. Each Ranger ship assigned to the task had hoped to be the one to make contact. None had, till now. Joshua still couldn't believe it had appeared on his rotation through the sector.
"Set course for Minbar, maximum safe speed. I'm on my way to meet our guest..."
Liam shut down the shuttle's engines and eyed the two people in the docking bay. They looked friendly enough. Sighing, he released himself from the pilot's chair, noting the arrival of the man he'd talked to earlier as he did so. He waved a greeting as he disengaged the virtual glass barrier. He noticed the astonished expressions on the faces of the other three occupants of the by as the barrier faded, and then re-formed after he exited the shuttle. They acted as though they'd never seen virtual glass before.
Liam stepped toward the only person he recognised, hand extended in greeting. "Uh, hello. I'm Major Liam Kincaid. I'm really glad to see you guys. The shuttle accident I was in has sent me way off course. Can you tell me where I am? Also, you mentioned a temporal instability. I hope you don't think this question is too bizarre, but what year is it?... What is it?"
In an awed tone, Joshua said, "What type of ship is that? How did it do that?"
Confused, Liam said, "I told you, it's a Taelon shuttle."
"What's a Taelon?" asked Joshua.
"What do you mean, what's a Taelon? A Taelon, you know... alien beings arrived on Earth... you don't know, do you? What's your name?"
Still staring at Liam's shuttle, amazement in his eyes, the Ranger responded. "My name is Joshua."
"Okay then. Joshua, what was Earth's first contact with an alien race?... When?!"
Joshua was met by a look of confusion on their guest's face as he recounted Earth's first contact with an alien race; as well as a brief run-down on the galaxy's major races.
"Have you ever even heard of the Taelons?"
Liam's question was met with the same look of confusion as before.
"I don't believe this! Are you trying to tell me that not only have I travelled in time - again - but that I've travelled to another dimension too?"
Joshua eyed their guest in concern. He seemed to be quite off-balance; not surprising, considering the circumstances. "Liam - can I call you Liam?"
Their guest nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry if I seem a bit wary, I'm confused. I've no idea how I got here - or how I'm going to get home."
Joshua sighed. "I honestly don't know how much to tell you. I am a Ranger. We have been awaiting your arrival for many months... it was foretold. Entil'zha ordered that you be brought to him as soon as you appeared. You are our honoured guest and under our protection. Entil'zha will explain the situation you have found yourself in.
"We have set course for Minbar; at our present speed, we should be there in a few hours. Why don't you take this opportunity to rest and refresh yourself; no harm will come to you on this ship, I promise you."
Liam, recognising that he would not be able to draw Joshua out any further, nodded his head in agreement. One of the other two - What did Joshua call himself? Oh yeah, a Ranger, - Rangers escorted him to a roomy chamber.
Muttering his thanks, Liam eyed the room. The feel was definitely alien; the beds seemed weird too - what a funny angle to try to rest. Mind whirling, Liam stood there for a long moment. What had he gotten himself into this time?
Sighing, he eyed one of the beds warily and eased himself onto it. He quickly grasped the technique for not sliding off it in an undignified heap. He'd just shut his eyes for a few minutes... His last conscious thought was, These things are more comfortable than they look.
Liam woke up from his rest about two hours later, feeling much refreshed. Cautiously, he stepped outside the sleeping chamber and found himself face to face with another of these 'Rangers'. Smiling shyly, he said, "Is there any chance of getting something to eat around here? Also, can you ask Joshua if I can talk to him again?"
The Ranger said that he would bring some food and refreshment to the chamber and that he would apprise Joshua of Liam's wish to talk to him. Realising that it would be best not to cause too much hassle till he found out what was going on, Liam nodded his thanks.
True to his word, the Ranger returned with some food and refreshments. Liam was just finishing off his second glass of water when Joshua entered the chamber, accompanied by one of the aliens that Liam had seen in Joshua's earlier communication.
"You wanted to see me, Liam? I trust that there is nothing wrong. I assure you that we mean you no harm; we will arrive at Minbar shortly."
Liam smiled and hastened to reassure the other man. "No, Joshua, I have no complaints about the way I have been treated. You have all been very kind.
"Our conversation earlier has raised some questions in my mind, however. From your reactions, you have never heard of the Taelons or seen their technology. I, on the other hand, have never seen anything like this ship, or your companion. You said that my coming was foretold. I don't quite know what to make of that. What is clear is that I seem to have found myself in a different dimension than my own, and a different time - yet again."
Joshua's eyebrows raised at the wry and long-suffering tone in the other man's voice. Their guest had seemed to be taking the situation that he found himself in very calmly. Now he understood; Liam had experienced situations like this before!
Liam continued, "You said that I was being taken to someone who could explain what was going on. I'm all for that, believe me. What I was wondering was this; is there an unbiased historical database on this vessel? I realise that you might not want to give me any data about current events, at least not till I've talked to this 'Entil'zha'. Did I pronounce that right?"
Joshua nodded. "Yes, there is a database. It contains mainly human and Minbari references but there is material from the other races in the galaxy, too."
"Good. May I have access? I think I'm going to need some historical background. You know, acclimate myself to my new suuroundings?
"In my dimension, the Earth's first contact with an alien race was in 2004. That was the year the Taelons arrived. Obviously it was different here. If I am going be here for a while, which seems likely, I'm going to have to learn all that I can. For example, What species is your friend?"
Joshua smiled at his companion and said, "This is Lehan, he is a Minbari."
Liam inclined his head in a greeting before turning back to Joshua and asking, "Are there more alien races that I am going to come into contact with?"
"There are many races in the galaxy, Liam. It is a wondrous place."
Joshua studied their guest for a long moment. He had a valid point. Turning to Lehan, he murmured some quick commands. The Minbari Ranger excused himself with a bow and left to carry out his orders.
Joshua and Liam spent a few minutes engaging in 'polite conversation', and then Lehan returned. The Minbari went to a console and inserted the data crystal that he had been carrying. Motioning to Liam, he said, "This crystal contains the information you requested. It contains some general history of the last two hundred and fifty years. Wars, treaties, great events. It also contains data on each of the major races in the galaxy."
Nodding his thanks, Liam asked how to view the data. Lehan told him it was voice-activated, to just ask for what he wanted to see.
Joshua and Lehan had planned to leave him to his studies, thinking that it would occupy his time till they arrived at Minbar. They were almost at the door when they heard Liam say, "Computer. Can the data be displayed at a greater rate of speed?... Good. Faster... faster... faster!"
Turning in astonishment, Joshua and Lehan watched the data scrolling on the screen in front of Liam; it was almost faster than the eye could see! Suddenly, it stopped. Liam turned; seeing they were still there, he smiled.
"Lehan, you are a Minbari of the Religious caste, correct?"
Using the knowledge he had garnered from his studies, Liam gave Lehan a formal Minbari bow. He then continued. "I understand from this information that you have provided for me that our destination is your homeworld and that it has three distinct languages: light, dark and grey. Do you have any crystals that contain details on these languages? I think it might be helpful if I learned them, yes? Oh, while I'm asking, I'd appreciate the same information on the languages of the Centauri and the Narn."
Shaken, Joshua told Lehan to get Liam the information he had asked for.
A few hours later, they reached Minbar; and Joshua received word that Entil'zha was coming up to the ship to see Liam.
When Ranger One exited his shuttle, Joshua was waiting to greet him. In sincere deference, he gave the traditional Ranger salute. Ranger One, accompanied by Rathenn, strode through the corridors of this particular White Star filled with an intense curiosity about the man he was going to meet. That curiosity only deepened as he listened to Joshua describe the strange young man called Liam Kincaid, his beautiful and mysterious craft, his easy acceptance of having travelled to another time and dimension and, most of all, his uncanny speed in digesting the information given to him. The latter seemed to astonish even Rathenn.
Then they reached the chamber.
Liam was lying down and gazing up at the ceiling of the chamber. He looked over as he heard the doors to the chamber open and got to his feet as he realised that Joshua had brought strangers with him.
His gaze locked with that of the human accompanying Joshua. Liam shivered, an instinctive reaction to seeing the other man. That man seemed to share the moment of recognition. In a tone of command, he said, "Leave us."
When they were alone, Liam said, "You're Entil'zha, aren't you? You're Ranger One."
The older man smiled and nodded. "And you are Liam. Your coming was foretold. You are going to become one of my Rangers."
"I'm going to what?!" exploded Liam. "I think there's been some mistake. Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful that Joshua was there to 'find' me, but I don't belong here. I have to get back to my own time and space. I have responsibilities. You must have the wrong person."
Jeffrey only smiled. Destiny had come knocking for this young man. He knew it, even if Liam didn't. The sooner the other man accepted it, the better.
"There has been no mistake. Look."
He pulled out a rolled up bundle of papers from beneath his robe. He laid them out on the floor and motioned Liam over for a closer look. The younger man gave a gasp as he recognised himself. Feeling a reassuring hand on his shoulder, he looked at the other man, confusion evident in his eyes. Jeffrey sighed.
"Liam, I realise you expected none of this. I am truly sorry. Your coming was foretold a very long time ago. Then recently, another of my Rangers - Marcus - had a vision. We finally had a face to put to the prophecy. He said that you would appear in a place where time does not function properly. Sector 14 has been watched ever since, and you did arrive, exactly as foretold.
"For whatever reason, you were destined to come to this time and place. And, according to Marcus, to become a Ranger. I am loath to go in the face of prophecy. I do sincerely believe you are here for a reason. Trust that, trust us, trust me. We will do our best to see that, if you truly desire it, you can return to your own time and place. Till then, will you follow the vision? Will you follow the path it has set out for you? Will you agree to undergo the training; will you join the Rangers?"
Liam took a deep breath. Did he dare trust again? Finally, tentatively, he said, "Yes."
Jeffrey Sinclair bowed his head. He had seen the look in Liam's eyes, the wariness. Trust had been given before and trust had been betrayed. He prayed that he would not have to do anything to further hurt this young man.
"I thank you, Liam. This is more important than you can possibly imagine. A Ranger's life is not an easy one; it is given over to the service of others. I think, though, that that concept is not a new one for you.
"You will accompany myself and Rathenn down to Minbar. You will join the other Rangers currently in training there. First, though, tell me about your world..."
"...and that's how I got here," said Liam. "The backlash from the explosion reacted with the power core of my shuttle and I lost control. When the shuttle eventually stopped, I was in the place you call Sector 14..."
Liam's voice trailed off and he raised his eyes to Ranger One's face. Jeffrey Sinclair had listened intently to his abridged description of the Taelons, Earth and the incident that had brought him here. Liam sensed that Sinclair was well aware that he had not been told everything but thankfully - at least for now - he seemed willing to let the matter go. Which was just as well, as Liam didn't know how much of the rest of the story to trust him with.
Just as the silence between the two of them was about to become awkward, Joshua returned. "Entil'zha, Rathenn apologies for interrupting you but you have received a summons to return to the surface. There are some urgent messages that need your earliest response.
"Your shuttle will be ready to depart in just a few moments."
Liam interrupted, saying, "Wait. If I am to go with you, what is to become of my shuttle? I can't leave it unattended and - no offence, Joshua - in the care of people that don't understand its power core. It is potentially dangerous. Is there no way that I can take it with me?"
Sinclair sighed. "Liam, even here, we must be concerned for security. Your ship is noticeably 'different'. If we could get it to the surface unseen, then maybe... And, besides, you will be occupied by your training. It would have to be stored in a secure facility."
Liam grinned. Oh, is that all? "Just tell me the co-ordinates of the nearest secure shuttle bay to your destination and I'll take us. We'll be there in moments, sight unseen. I'll set safeguards on the power core and the shuttle can be stored until I can reclaim it."
Joshua looked doubtful, but Sinclair, recalling Liam's explanations of who and what the Taelons were, had a look of anticipation on his face. As a former fighter pilot, he was eager to see what this alien ship could do.
Fifteen minutes later, Liam had settled Rathenn and Sinclair into two of the shuttle's passenger seats. Both had been shocked and amazed by the shuttle; Rathenn was positively intrigued by the concept of virtual glass. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Sinclair watched, fascinated, as Liam took his place in the pilot's seat and brought up the displays and the readouts for the shuttle's kinetic controls.
Receiving clearance to depart, Liam fired up the engines. Then, not telling his passengers that this manoeuvre - while possible - was not really recommended, Liam engaged the ID drive from inside the hangar bay of the White Star. Glancing behind him, Liam had just enough time to note the astounded faces of his passengers before dropping the shuttle back out of ID space and landing it, softly, in the hangar chamber of - from Liam's point of view - an anonymous complex.
Short moments later, several quick commands from Sinclair had the bay secured by Ranger personnel. Liam spent the next ten minutes setting security safeguards on the shuttle and its conventional and ID drives.
Liam looked up as he finished his tasks to see Sinclair patiently waiting on him. Rathenn had been sent on ahead to notify the Ranger training facility that they were coming.
Liam hesitated momentarily; to leave the shuttle behind in the care of the Rangers was to walk away from his old life, at least for now. It was harder to do than he had thought. He gazed out at the calm face of Ranger One and, resolutely, he exited the shuttle and walked away from the security of all that he knew.
Sinclair smiled as he approached him and said, "Ready, Liam?" Not trusting himself to speak, Liam simply nodded.
Ranger training facility, Tuzanor
Entil'zha was greeted with formal, respectful salutes as he and Liam strode down the corridor. Liam's eyes were constantly scrutinising his new surroundings and the people that he was going to be living with for the foreseeable future. He noted the respect accorded to Sinclair - it was genuine. What a difference from the Taelons and the fearful respect that they received from the majority of their Volunteers.
Liam followed Sinclair into what seemed to be a huge training arena. He looked on in fascination and that sparring that was going on between the trainee Rangers, both human and Minbari. Damn, they were good! He was distracted by the approach of a Ranger - obviously one of the instructors. Sinclair greeted him with a smile.
"Christopher, the trainees are looking well, as always. Your presence amongst the instructors has been a blessing."
Christopher bowed his head in acknowledgement of this accolade and eyed Liam with curiosity.
Sinclair, noting his interest, said, "This is Liam. I wish him to join the current cadre of trainees."
Christopher frowned. "Entil'zha, this is most unusual. This group has been together for four weeks now. Wouldn't it be better to send Liam to the camp on the southern continent? Their next batch of trainees is due to arrive next week."
Liam stood there, feeling a little self-conscious. The conversation had been noted by the other trainees and instructors and while they would never intrude on a private conversation, overhearing this conversation was unavoidable.
Sinclair's expression never wavered. "No, Christopher. Liam joins this group. He should have no problem in keeping up with the recruits."
Christopher sighed and said, "As you wish, Entil'zha."
Sinclair, seeing Liam's slightly apprehensive expression, gave him a reassuring smile and said, "It will be all right, Liam. Trust me. This has been foretold."
"I'll do my best, sir."
"Of that I have no doubt, Liam. Remember, you are not alone here. If you ever need to talk, then just ask to send a message to me. I'll come.
"You are in good hands here. Christopher, the instructors and the other trainees will help you. It is the Ranger way."
He gave Liam's shoulder a reassuring squeeze before leaving.
Christopher eyed Liam curiously. Ranger One did not usually get that involved with the new recruits, at least not until they were several weeks into the training. Giving Liam a grin, he said, "Well then. Let's get you some equipment and a bunk. Then, we'll see what you can do. You have a great deal to catch up on..."
Two Months Later
Liam waved and offered a friendly grin to the one or two recruits that called out a greeting to him as he passed them on his way to go rest after his workout. The other trainees, both Minbari and human, had - for the most part - taken a liking to the mysterious human that had been dropped into their midst. There had been a few that stood back a bit, they didn't overtly ostracise him, they just didn't go out of their way to get to know him either.
Liam had been a little disappointed in the reactions of those Rangers but had not made it an issue of contention. The fact of the matter was, as pessimistic an outlook as it may have been, he'd kind of expected it. He didn't seem to fit in completely - anywhere.
The problem was that he was a mass of contradictions to both his fellow trainees and his instructors. There were such huge gaps in his knowledge of the galaxy but he absorbed any information given to him like a sponge. He had taken days and not weeks to catch up with his fellow trainees. His unarmed combat skills had been impressive to begin with, and by the time the instructors had finished with him he was, quite simply, lethal.
He had caused more than simple astonishment with his marksmanship. He'd had no idea how to use the firearms he had been given. Three minutes later, he was easily matching his fellow trainees shot for shot. Armed with other weapons he was just as deadly; his abilities with a denn'bok were phenomenal. He seemed to have been born with the fighting pike in his hands. He quickly exceeded even his instructors' best expectations.
All this made him sound like a pure fighting machine, and that wasn't that case at all. Liam seemed to enjoy the instruction the trainees were given in Minbari language, culture and spirituality even more than the physical aspects of his training. To the annoyance of some of his fellow trainees that - while performing acceptably well - found the physical training to be far harder than he made it look. His instructors had noted his focus on the spiritual and cultural aspects of the training too. His eyes betrayed so many emotions in those classes. The joy of learning about a new culture was there but there was also profound sadness. There was intense speculation about where he had come from and what he had seen that could evoke emotions like that but, as always, their most mysterious trainee never breathed a word about his past.
He was truly happy in one area of the training and even those that resented his skills in other areas couldn't do anything but admire this particular skill. He was a gifted pilot, to be frank; nobody had been able to match him - not even the instructors.
He was also a born leader. In the psychological exercises and the lesson used to impart discipline and obedience, his innate and inborn air of command shone through. His instructors had nothing negative to say about him; and actually, for once this was causing a problem.
They were all agreed that there was only one hurdle remaining before they could say that he had completed his training. Liam had to undergo Mora'dum, the application of terror. As with all Ranger trainees, he had to be exposed to terror, terror from within himself.
And that was the problem.
Nothing was known about him. He had said nothing about his past or where he had come from, and nothing had been revealed during his training. There had been no apparent weaknesses exposed. How could they make him face the terrors of his past and make him face his fears? To look them in the face was the only way to destroy their power; but his instructors didn't know what they were!
Christopher had eventually approached Ranger One as a last resort. He seemed to know more about Liam than anybody else; unfortunately, he too had been unable to shed any light on what they should do. Finally, it was decided that Ranger One would talk to Liam about allowing a telepath to scan his mind for the answers needed for this final test.
Jeffrey Sinclair returned to his work after speaking with Christopher but his heart was not in it. He mentally reviewed the reports he had been given on Liam Kincaid. He had excelled at his training but his instructors felt he was still a little isolated. He had made some friends, yes, but for the most part he seemed to be found on the fringes of groups. When necessity demanded it, he took command and inspired complete obedience, otherwise, he held himself back.
Why? Maybe the Mora'dum would answer that.
Shocked, Liam said, "You want to do what?!"
Sinclair eyed Liam curiously. His reaction seemed a little excessive. He had thrown himself wholeheartedly into every other aspect of his Ranger training. Why was this causing him such concern?
"Your instructors and I see no other way to proceed. This is your final test; your training will not be complete without it."
"You don't know what you're asking of me," murmured Liam, a haunted look in his eyes. He walked towards the window and looked out onto Tuzanor, its beautiful crystal structures for once failing to take his breath away. His shoulders slumped and he sighed. If it was the only way to complete the training... He turned to Sinclair.
"All right, but you have to take some precautions. It's the only way I will agree to this.
"I don't really know how to explain this. My mind could quite easily overwhelm a single telepath 'coming in for a look'. If we do this, there has to be a way to protect the telepath. Can others be used to monitor and, if necessary, break the connection to my mind? I won't do this if the telepath cannot be protected."
Jeffrey Sinclair listened, bewildered, to this impassioned response from Liam. What he was afraid of was beyond him, but Jeffrey recognised the determination in the other man's eyes. This was the only way he would agree to the scans.
"I'll talk to the telepaths, Liam. I'll let you know what they say."
Liam nodded his understanding and excused himself. He'd arranged to help a fellow trainee that was having difficulties mastering the denn'bok.
The day after his talk with Ranger One, a still very apprehensive Liam Kincaid walked into Christopher's office and gave a formal greeting to both the Ranger instructor and the trio of Minbari waiting on him; telepaths of the religious caste.
"Liam," said Christopher, with a smile of greeting, "are you ready for this reading to take place?"
Summoning a wry smile, Liam said, "No, but let's do it anyway." That produced a hastily stifled chuckle from his instructor and even one of the telepaths summoned a slight smile.
"How does this work, sir?"
Christopher nodded to the Minbari that had smiled, saying, "Kerin is the telepath who will be carrying out the deep scan; her associates are here as you requested to monitor and, if necessary, to break the connection. Also, as per Entil'zha's request, I will witness the proceedings."
Liam nodded his acceptance, saying, "Are we doing this here, sir?"
"No, Liam. I've co-opted use of the solarium in the back of the main training complex for this session. Are you ready to proceed?"
Sighing, Liam nodded his assent.
"Then let's get this over with. Shall we proceed, everyone?"
Sitting on the benches in centre of the solarium, Liam and Kerin faced each other head on. The scan was ready to proceed. Liam had made one final reminder to the two silent male Minbari that had accompanied Kerin to be on guard and ready to intercede on behalf of her safety as they deemed necessary. One stood behind Liam, the other took up station behind Kerin.
Christopher took up station at the entrance to the solarium. It gave him a clear field of view of Liam and three telepaths and also allowed him to guard the door so that he could prevent any unanticipated interruptions from outside the room.
Kerin, for all she looked young and waif-like, was actually one of the strongest telepaths currently residing in Tuzanor; that was why Ranger One had approached her with this unusual request. She had been sufficiently curious about the mysterious human that the Ranger corps had been discussing for weeks to agree to perform the scan, especially when she had been made aware that it was the only way that his instructors could detail his own final test, the Mora'dum.
Smiling into the tense green eyes of the unusual human sitting opposite her, Kerin said, "If you will allow it, I will now place my hand on your own and initiate a surface scan. Once I sense your acceptance, I will then proceed to deepen the scan. May I proceed?"
"Yes, Kerin. Just... please, be careful."
Kerin simply nodded at that request; she had never yet met a human that her abilities could not handle. Taking a deep breath, she placed her right hand on Liam's left and initiated the scan. Almost immediately, she drew in a deep and shaken breath that had Christopher, standing sentry at the door, straightening his stance as he watched her; the two male Minbari widened their eyes but otherwise held to their posts.
Kerin felt her heart weep for the loneliness and isolation that this human felt, even here in the community of the Rangers. She also saw the kind heart and unstinting courage that this Liam hid behind a shell of shyness. There was a vast store of knowledge - which she had expected - the reports of his uncanny ability to learn had reached even her ears... and what was this?
Disorientation and confusion? He had arrived from an alternate dimension through a temporal instability?! No wonder he felt isolated! Mentally chiding Ranger One for not sharing this information, Kerin approached that memory as a way to deepen the scan.
The maelstrom of information and feeling that now buffeted her mental shields caused her to unknowingly slip from her bench and drop to her knees in front of the human she was scanning. Christopher watched in fear as the two male Minbari stepped back. One turned to him, eyes apprehensive, saying, "We have lost the link. Liam's mind has pulled Kerin in too deep. He has to be the one to release her or she will be forever lost."
An unending tide of memories swept Kerin into the whirlwind that was this human's mind. She saw the major events of his life, the strange world that he lived in... a woman dying in arms... his mother?!
Unaware of the sight she presented the other occupants in the solarium, Kerin's eyes flooded with tears as she realised that Liam was even more isolated in his own world than he was here. Her mind, now trapped, still sought to see more; she was transfixed by the power contained in this mind - this very young mind. She had seen Liam's memories of his accelerated growth; she knew now that this human was barely a year and a half old.
The memories held showed two human parents, one other. Like a moth to a flame, Kerin's mind sought the connection Liam had to this 'other', and that was when she understood Liam's fears for her safety.
Too much, too beautiful... overwhelming... losing herself...
Then suddenly, as though someone had pressed a button on a console and ordered time itself to stop, all was silence; Kerin came to her senses and found herself sitting slumped on the solarium floor, looking into the abject sorrow of Liam Kincaid's green eyes. "I'm so sorry, Kerin. Are you all right?"
Summoning a smile for this truly unique man who was so worried about her, Kerin said, "I will be fine, Liam. I promise you. I understand now your fears... I understand everything. I will talk to Entil'zha and he will explain matters to your instructors.
"I thank you for the honour you gave me in letting me see your true self." With that, Kerin got to her feet and turned to the bewildered trio watching them, saying, "Christopher, you will contact Entil'zha. I must speak to him as soon as it can be arranged."
She turned and nodded to Liam once again and then exited the solarium, gathering her escort with a nod of her head.
Two hours later, having insisted that her audience with Entil'zha be a private one, Kerin stood and stared out of the huge window in Entil'zha's main living quarters. It was the first time she had been invited there; it was an honour she did not take lightly. She knew how fond Ranger One was of his most unusual recruit.
"Tell me, Kerin. What did you find?"
"Liam has no need to undergo Mora'dum, Entil'zha. His entire existence he has faced his worst fear head on and triumphed and thrived in spite of it."
Jeffrey Sinclair frowned slightly. It was not the answer he hoped for. "Kerin, Christopher told me what happened in the solarium. You will forgive me if I am blunt, but are you sure? I will need more information before I can make that recommendation to Liam's instructors."
Kerin sighed and said, "I do not wish to violate the trust that Liam placed in me, but I think he would understand the necessity. For all that his existence began less than two years ago, his is, as you humans put it, an old soul."
"What?! What do you mean his existence began less than two years ago? That is not humanly possible."
Smiling enigmatically, Kerin said, "Exactly, Entil'zha. Your Ranger trainee is a being unique in the universe. He is not fully human. One of his three parents was an alien being... in fact, from the sheer magnitude of the power and knowledge locked away in his young head, I would go so far as to say that one of his parents is a First One.
"I truly believe that what I saw in his mind is as close as anyone will ever get to seeing the inner mind of a Vorlon."
Jeffrey Sinclair's eyes widened at that announcement and he listened intently to the rest of Kerin's tale of the previous life of Liam Kincaid; it explained much, and yet it raised more questions than it answered.
Almost an hour later, Kerin left with the profound thanks of Ranger One. What she had told Entil'zha, she would take to the grave rather than betray to another living soul. Today, she had touched a mind that was like touching a part of the guiding force of the universe itself.
One week later, newly invested with his isil'zha pin, Ranger Liam Kincaid stood before Entil'zha and awaited his first orders.
Smiling at his most unusual Ranger, Jeffrey Sinclair said, "Well, Liam, you have done your instructors and yourself proud. You are amongst the finest of the Rangers we have ever produced and I know you will be a credit to us all."
"Thank you, sir," said Liam, slightly uncomfortable with all the praise. He was unaccustomed to it. Back home, he was usually looked at askance by people if he did things too easily or too well.
Bringing his attention back to the present, Liam eyed the data crystal in Entil'zha's hand.
"This communique contains some urgent information for Captain Sheridan, Ambassador Delenn, and Security Chief Garibaldi. I wish you to take it to Babylon 5. White Star 12 will rendezvous with one of the warships heading to patrol duty around Babylon 5's space. You will hitch a lift with that ship to Babylon 5."
"Yes, sir," said Liam. "And then?"
Liam sighed at the uncertain shrug that Ranger One offered him, as he said, "I'm honestly not sure, Liam. Marcus is there. His vision put you there wearing a Ranger uniform. Kosh and Garibaldi are both there. The prophecy is ancient, and, as with most prophecies, not exactly clear. All we know for certain is that something important will happen there involving all four of you."
Taking the crystal and securing it in one of the special pouches concealed in the inside of the Ranger tunic he wore, Liam gave a wry smile and said, "Well then, I better not keep fate waiting. With your permission, Entil'zha, I will go pack for my journey."
Smiling, Jeff mirrored the formal salute that Liam offered him and said, "Safe journey, Liam."
"Thank you, sir." Liam nodded another farewell and then made his way from Ranger One's main office. He had to pack up his temporary quarters and make his way to the main shuttle port and find the shuttle that would be transporting him to White Star 12. It was time to jump into the middle of another galactic struggle... the quiet life was something he was obviously not destined for.