Geneva is beautiful in spring. John had been to the capital city of Earth before, but never during spring. In spite of their newfound importance where the Earth government had been founded, the Swiss staunchly refused to allow any developments that might ruin the aesthetic beauty of their countryside. Barring, of course, the sizable space ports in Zurich and Geneva.
It was odd really, as Jon wasn't unaccustomed to either travel. As the son of a diplomat he'd grown up being carted around from place to place, always finding himself in foreign worlds. Yet for whatever reason, Geneva just hadn't really figured into his travel plans. When he'd finally been old enough to pay for his own vacations, it had felt simpler to head back home and visit family.
Oh hell, he'd forgotten to call his mother when he landed. He'd sent her an interlink message, of course, but she wouldn't stop being anxious till she spoke face to face on the comms. John couldn't wish for a better mother, but the woman was the queen of worriers.
He looked to his lawyer as she examined her legal briefings for what had to be the millionth time, asking “Is there a telephone in this car?”
“This is a government issue limousine, Captain, and no location devices of any kind are in use.” She held up a handheld telephone and tapped the top left corner, where a prominent red “ø” flashed, “And they prevent any signals from leaving it as well. Its a new procedure they've put in place to prevent the remote detonation of bombs. The new Earth Force One has something similar.”
“Will I be able to make a call before my hearing?” John really ought to call her.
“Captain we're lucky they didn't do the hearing in absentia,” Miss Corey joked darkly, surreptitiously eyeing his uniform as though searching for the slightest flaw that might harm her case. Finding none, she pulled a small box from her handbag and tossed it to John.
He caught it and pulled a long yellow band of fabric out, “What's this?”
“I want you to wrap that around your left arm,” She pointed to a series of symbols stitched on the cloth, “It's a 'remembrance band.' Some pop celebrity from Argentina came up with it. Those are the words for 'Hope' and 'Peace' written in Spanish, Drazi, Minbari, Centauri and Narn. Some of them also include it written in languages of the Non-Aligned worlds.”
“And the double headed eagle is for the Imperials, then?” John queried, running the fabric through his fingers and examining the symbols. The Minbari rune was actually slightly misspelled by whoever had done the sewing, saying 'hope and luck' instead.
“It’s become a hot button political issue. You have to wear the sash to show that you're supporting the families of the people who died on the station,” The stern woman intoned in a voice of deadly seriousness. “If you don't wear it, people will take it as a sign that you don't take their losses seriously.”
“I was there. I don't need to have a piece of cloth to remind me of something that happened directly to me.” John sighed even as he tied it around his bicep.
“I know that. You know that. Heck, even the people who are trying to nail you for this know that. But the talking heads and media circuses that will be following this trial don't care about what makes sense. It’s easier to go after you for not wearing the armband than it is to go after your military record. Hell, it’s even better for being fake outrage, because they can spend as much time talking about why it's not an issue worth speaking about as they spend talking about the issue,” She shrugged, “You can waste a bunch of time and energy on trying to fix the entire media structure, or you can wear the armband. Your choice.”
“Yeah, right,” John sighed as they pulled up to the capitol building. A sea of reporters, cameramen, and boom-microphone operators stood at the door in a veritable feeding frenzy. “Any last advice?”
“Yes,” The woman replied as she lifted herself up and climbed from the limousine, “If you end up shooting one of them, aim for Alistair Brant. I cannot stand that man's voice.”
The second he walked out of the limousine he was deluged with so many questions that it became hard to pick them out individually. An incoherent series of “Captain how...” “...what do you...” “...how did they...” and “What will be done about...” washed over him as he politely pushed his way through, repeating the same phrase over and over again, “No comment, no comment, I have no comment.”
Resisting the urge to rip an overzealous boom-microphone from its bearer's hands and beat him about the head with it, John followed the be-pantsuited lawyer on her trail up the stairs and into the capitol building. The sea of reporters washed up to the red velvet rope marking off the limit to which a civilian might walk, as even the most single-minded of them was unwilling to try the patience of the stern faced marines lining the perimeter.
John noticed idly that all of the marines were wearing the yellow bands out of their pockets rather than on their arms so as not to violate the strict uniform expectations of their superior officer. Perhaps Miss Corey had been right about the band.
The ostentatious interior of Earthdome was abuzz with interns and Senators discussing matters of state in hushed tones. Judging by their silence when he was within earshot, they were likely discussing him. John tried not to pay it too much attention, as it was bound to happen really. It didn't matter if one was in middle school or the highest offices of government; gossip was a universal currency.
Miss Corey checked her watch and looked at the flashing red light above the Senate door to indicate that they were locked, “I didn't know that there was going to be a Senate vote this morning. They usually vote on Thursdays, don't they?”
“Not exclusively,” John caught the eye of Senator Gomez, “But let's find out. Senator Gomez! It's been a while.”
“¿Qué tal, Capitan Sherídan?” The boisterous Spaniard replied, politely breaking away from his conversation with a lobbyist, “How are you?”
“I could be better, Senator. The sooner this ends the better,” John admitted. “I've never especially liked this sort of inquiry, even when I'm not the one being questioned.”
“Eh, these things they're never- cómo se dice- civilized. Sure we sit around speaking pretty but a knife in the back is still a knife in the back,” The senator said with his usual candor, “Most of them will pretend, but I've got another three years before reelection, so I can afford a little bit of honesty at the moment.”
“Why aren't you inside, Senator?” Miss Corey looked around at the collection of Senators that weren't within the room, “Shouldn't all the senators be voting in a closed vote?”
“For some things? Yes, of course. But some committees meet behind closed doors before bringing their findings to the general assembly. Defense, for example,” the Spaniard tossed his hands to the air in an exaggerated gesture of confusion, “We do not communicate so well between the committees, I think.”
“Which committee is meeting now?” John asked conversationally. Senator Gomez was on both the Defense Committee and the Babylon 5 Oversight Committee; any relevant vote to his own inquiry would be going through them.
“The Foreign Affairs Committee,” the Senator replied, “The Abbai have sent a delegation to Earth with some sort of a proposal for greater cooperation. No idea what it is, but Clark was eager to see that it happened.”
“Clark?” Miss Corey repeated in incredulity, “President Clark was eager to pass a proposal suggested by aliens for greater cooperation?”
“It was a good deal,” Senator replied as he looked to the suddenly green light, “You'll have to excuse me. I need to go to my seat. Good luck, Captain. For what it's worth, I'm on your side.”
“Thank you Senator,” John smiled in reply, “It means a great deal.”
“Well that's one down,” John's lawyer crossed her arms and chewed her inner lip, “That leaves only a couple hundred to go.”
“Eh,” John replied noncommittally. Nothing more really needed to be said as they walked with the general mass of people through the ornately carved doors of the Senate. The huge tiered room was structured like an amphitheater, clustered tables and wooden cubicles on each level representing the regions of the Earth Sphere government.
The Abbai delegation bowed to him politely as they passed, pausing to exchange polite greetings. The Ambassador actually flashed him a wave of her head fins, an Abbai gesture of approbation, “Captain Sheridan. It is good to see you.”
“Ambassador,” John smiled and interlocked his fingers in front of him in the Abbai gesture of welcome, “I thought you'd gone back to your home world for the Festival of Lights.”
“Lamentably, I will miss it this year. I regret it, but this was more important.” She licked the sharp inner rows of teeth with her elongated tongue. Peaceful though the Abbai were, certain predatory aspects of their former life as aquatic predators could not be overlooked. “It is lamentable, but necessary.”
“Ambassador, exactly what are you proposing that is this important?” John asked in genuine curiosity.
“Captain, my people have exactly one advantage over every other ship galaxy - shields. The Brakiri have some shielding, but when it comes to ship-to-ship combat, nobody comes close to us. It has been an advantage that has allowed us to hold our own even in the worst of times against the Dilgar,” She sighed morosely, “But now with the Imperials, it becomes transparently obvious that this advantage can not be exclusively relied upon. The landscape of warfare has changed entirely Captain. My people must adapt or soon find themselves outstripped.”
“You're here to trade for weapons?” It wasn't implausible. The Earth Alliance's offensive weapons technology was highly effective.
“We're willing to trade shielding technology in exchange for weapons, yes. And assuming it passes the general assembly, we will,” The Abbai ambassador's fin twitched, “I do not like to negotiate for weapons, but I trust Earth more than I trust Narn or Centauri Prime.”
“Understandable,” John replied, smiling at the thought of shielded Earthforce warships, “Good luck Ambassador.”
“And to you, Captain,” The Ambassador replied, leading her delegation past him and out the door, “The best of luck to you.”
John smiled back, knowing full well that the woman might have just sealed the coffin on his court-martial. Miss Corey muttered a series of four letter profanities before hissing, “You have got to be kidding me? Now? She does this now?”
“I actually approached her about something like this to her when the Imperials destroyed the Trigati.” John sighed, “Though I doubt it was presented as my idea when it came up in the Marti of Abbai. It seems like the battle with the Vorlons changed their minds.”
“It looks like we're going to do this one on charm alone then. God help you.” Miss Corey tore two pages of notes out of her legal brief and stuffed them into a pocket as they walked up to the long wooden table that sat in front of the raised podiums behind which sat the senior members of the military oversight commission, “We can't offer them the Imperial shielding technology without it being interpreted as a tacit preference for them over the Abbai. And we do not want you to appear any more aligned with them than you already appear to be.”
“Of course,” John was beginning to suspect that the universe was conspiring against him for some reason as he took his seat. The ten men upon the military oversight committee observed him with grim expressions, none of them betraying their feelings towards him. Even Senator Hidoshi, a man who was genuinely in his camp, wore an expression of disapproval.
“It's an act,” the lawyer whispered into his ear, “The ones that like you have to look just as angry as the ones that don't for the cameras. This session is being broadcast live.”
“This is a military hearing,” John hissed back, “Why are they risking the display of sensitive information?”
“Because it's a public enough tragedy that everyone thinks they have a right to hear every question being asked, and they're hoping that you will reveal something so that they can end your career for dishonorable conduct,” She whispered back, “It's not playing fair, but it's entirely legal.”
“A lot of things seem to be going that way lately,” John replied in resignation.
The Vice President looked around the room as everyone found their seats and rapped his gavel upon the podium twice once he was sure the senators were present and accounted for. “Ladies and gentleman of the Earth Alliance Senate, I call the 522nd session of the Spring Congress to order. Senator Lechner, please read the order of business.”
Senator Lechner, a red faced man with a bulbous nose, stood up from his seat behind one of the ten podiums and spoke in a sour drone, “Today's business is order G subsection 223.a.5; An Inquiry into events transporting on Babylon 5 on June 15th of 2259.”
“Very well, Senator Lechner,” The Vice President nodded once before turning towards John, “Are you Captain John Sheridan, commander of Babylon 5?”
John leaned towards his microphone and spoke into it directly, craning uncomfortably to reach it, “Yes Mr. Vice President, I am.”
“And do you swear to speak the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”
“I do,” John replied.
“Then let us begin,” The Vice President pulled a thick stack of paper out from a manilla envelope, put on a pair of reading glasses and looked over the stack of paper. A Jamaican man of considerable years, the Vice President was never one to be rushed. He paused for a good minute before saying, “Is this the report you submitted on June 18th?”
John opened his mouth to confirm but his lawyer reached over and snatched the microphone, “My client cannot be sure if the report you have is or is not the report he submitted, without reading the entire report in front of you. He can, however, affirm the accuracy of the report he did submit on the 18th.”
“Very well,” The Vice President thumbed through the pages, looking at each in turn, “I have to say, it's a fascinating read. Demons, the dead coming back to life, duels of sorcery with Vorlons and even an exorcism.”
“Demon was the word used by the Inquisitor, not myself.” Though if John were being brutally honest he couldn't think of a more apt word to describe the massive gaping maws and impossible geometries of the creature. The thing had just been unnatural.
“But you do insist that the dead did in fact come back to life,” Queried a Chinese senator with a pronounced mandarin slur in her “r” and “n” sounds. Her tone of amused dismissal was contemptuous in its rejection of the idea.
“We do have both corroborating witness statements and Dr. Franklin's death certificates for a dozen sentients who later came back to life and attempted to eat the patients in the Baylon med-bay,” Miss Corey interjected, pulling a thick binder out from her box, “We also have the witness statements of a dozens of Earthforce marines.”
“You cannae mean for us to believe that this is the product of sorcery,” scoffed a Senator with a distinct Scottish brogue.
“I don’t,” John shook his head, “I refer to the dead rising as 'warp sorcery' because those were the words chosen by Inquisitor Daul Hilder. I don't know how it was done, only that it was.”
“Respectfully Senator Joyce, when the dead start rising from their graves with the intention of consuming the flesh of the living, how does one refer to that without making at least casual reference to necromancy?” Senator Lechner joked politely, “If it had happened on my ship when I served in Earthforce doubt I would have resisted referring to it as a sign of the second coming.”
The assembled senators broke into polite bursts of laughter, cutting the tension somewhat. Senator Lechner waited for the laughter to subside before breaking into a question of his own, “When Inquisitor Hilder told you there was a demon on the station, did you take him at his word?”
“Of course not. It sounded insane and he assaulted a woman in the process,” John replied.
“In spite of your decision to protect the Endless Bounty from a Psi-corps investigation. A decision that robbed a number of young men of their lives,” The Chinese woman rejoined. “A curious decision.”
“I was following the charter of my station,” John ignored the jab, “I protected the Imperial ship because that was the legal thing to do, and I arrested the Inquisitor because he'd broken the law.”
“But you now believe that to have been in error?” asked senator Lechner.
“I supported it at the time, but knowing what I know now? Absolutely.” John nodded affirmatively, “In a heartbeat.”
“Because of the demon,” Sneered Senator Joyce.
“Senator, have you seen the video footage of the creature?” Miss Corey snorted, “It's a thirty-foot-tall, endless set of teeth that spat poison, ate sentients, and had an army of the risen dead. If you have a more scientifically palatable name for what the creature manage to do, my client is more than willing to use that.”
“My client is understandably emotional,” Miss Corey continued with a slight flourish of her hand, “But it cannot be overstated the invasion of the entity could not have been predicted. If you will please check section d-32 of the report I forwarded to all of you, it is abundantly clear that all required safety procedures were taken in the handling of the sleeper ship. The Captain went so far as to have an armed patrol search it. All security measures we knew to take were taken.”
The senator grumbled in disapproval, but did not overtly question the matter. The vice president however was not so quiet, “Captain, would you please like to explain why you ordered your ships to open fire upon a sovereign Vorlon vessel?”
“Captain Xinjang had already engaged in a firefight by the time I manage to order fighters to scramble,” Captain Sheridan replied, “I merely reacted to the ongoing situation.”
“And your decision to involve the Minbari attached to the machine on the planet below?” Queried an Arab senator in irritation, “Was that truly necessary?”
Before John could even consider replying to that question his lawyer had already started speaking, “Captain Sheridan could not have foreseen the force with which the Minbari in the machine would apply to the Vorlon fleet. It was entirely plausible that the Minbari would have negotiated a ceasefire, especially since the Minbari-Vorlon relationship has always previously seemed cordial. Too little is known about how that machine works at all.”
“That rather strikes me as a pertinent reason to not agitate the planet-sized death machine, then,” Senator Joyce interjected, pushing his glasses back up his nose, “Your previous reports indicated highly aggressive posturing from the planet the last time it was contacted.”
“When it was controlled by an unknown,” Senator Hidoshi cut in. “Ambassador Delenn assured us that her former mentor was virtually a pacifist. Certainly none of his published works indicated a propensity for such decisive violence.”
“Babylon 5 is not equipped to withstand a Vorlon war fleet unaided. When it comes down to a choice between making the Hail Mary play or letting the quarter of a million people on Babylon 5 die, I chose the latter. What else –,” John's temper was already starting to show more than was probably wise as his lawyer grabbed him by the sleeve and veritably tossed him back into his seat whispering, “Not now!”
“Honorable Senators, this is not reasonable,” She asserted, holding up a picture of the Vorlon Ambassador, “The wanton deaths caused by the Vorlon Kosh Naranek indicated a clear pattern of violence that would have been directed at Babylon 5. The war criminal Naranek remains under house arrest until he can be sent back to Vorlon space.”
John felt that house arrest was a generous term for pointing guns at his door and hoping he didn't come out and murder everything in his path, but pointing that out seemed unlikely to help his current situation. Leaning past Miss Corey he vocalized an irritation that had been nagging at him for a while, “Speaking of which has the Vorlon government replied to our request that he be removed from the station, or have his diplomatic status revoked so that we can try him for murder?”
“Kosh Naranek... has not been recalled by his government,” Senator Hidoshi uttered in a voice of disgust. “They assert that he acted within the limits of 'higher law,' and thus is not accountable for his actions. He will remain their Ambassador.”
“Like hell he will!” John stood up and grabbed the microphone, ignoring his lawyers attempts to snatch it back from him, “This is outrageous!”
“I couldn't agree with you more, Captain,” A firm midwestern twang rang across the senate floor as an aging man in a angularly cut grey suit. William Morgan Clark, president of the Earth Alliance, strode down the steps of the senate, looking as presidential as John had ever seen him, “This entire procedure is outrageous.”
“President Clark,” Senator Müller, a portly german man with an unconvincing wig, sighed in irritation, “Is there a reason you're interrupting this investigation?”
“I'd say that the far more pressing question is why the Earth Alliance Senate is sitting around and accusing a war hero of being derelict in his duty,” The President strode between the desk and the raised podiums, his quarter brogue oxfords clicking across the floor. He continued till he stood in the exact center of the room, on top of the semi-precious stones set into the floor in the shape of the Earth Alliance seal before continuing.
“Captain Sheridan is a man who stood up to the Minbari, the Centauri, the Narn, and even the Vorlons. He has stood defiant and he has won. This man, more than any of us, embodies Earth's fighting spirit and will to continue.”
“Mr. President,” Interjected Senator Joyce in irritation, “I do not appreciate you trying to make this issue of station of oversight into a political matter.”
“Isn't it, though?” The President shook his head, “We're looking for a head to put on the chopping block because someone must be responsible, and it's natural to look for the man who is seated highest. He has the farthest to fall, after all, and the only thing people love more than a hero is to watch him fall. Well, I don't know about you all, but I'm damn tired of us tossing away our heroes.”
There was an affirmative set of murmurs from the collected Senators, matched by an irritated hiss from Clark's political opposition. John's blood ran cold as it became abundantly clear that the President had aligned himself with the Captain. He had to resist jumping in shock when the president walked up next to him and slapped him jovially on the shoulder, “Well I believe in heroes. And Captain Sheridan is as heroic as they come. I don't know about the rest of you but I have read the station logs from that day. If the Captain will indulge me, I would like to speak in his defense briefly.”
“Yes,” John spoke, though it felt like another person was actually saying the words as he saluted the commander and chief, “Of course, Mr. President.”
“This is taken from a letter written by the head of the dock worker’s guild, a miss Neeoma Connally. She mailed it to me after she found out that the Captain was possibly going to face court martial,” He clucked as he pulled his glasses and the letter from a jacket pocket, “I'll skip past the paragraph where she uses some rather unpleasant words to describe the person who came to the decision to remove Captain Sheridan from Command. And I quote 'The fact that any of us managed to live through the horrors of June is thanks to John Sheridan. The Captain faced down an army of the undead, staying behind in the market district to make time for the rest of us to hide. I don't know what went wrong but if anyone wants to say it's John Sheridan they're going to have to go through the dock workers first.”
He held up the letter and waved the twelve pages to demonstrate his point, “There are eight hundred signatures on this letter. The surviving dock workers, not a one of them even begins to blame John Sheridan for this. Four thousand surviving crew and administration, and none of them blame John Sheridan for this.”
“And what of Commander Susan Ivanova's defection to the Empire? What of her secret telepathy?” senator Joyce interjected, “Are we to believe that he was wholly ignorant of this?”
“Susan's what!” John squawked, completely forgetting decorum, “How! Why? When?”
“The former commander Ivanova fooled everyone she knew for twenty nine years,” Senator Lechner shook his head, “The Captain cannot be realistically expected to outwit a woman who can read his mind. That's the entire purpose of the Psi-corps, to avoid that sort of abuse of power.
“Sorry, I want to go back to Susan Ivanova being in the Imperium. How the hell do you know that and why wasn't I informed?” John only realized he was shouting half way through talking. Christ, who was Garibaldi on his way to save? Had there ever even been a woman on the ship with Bester?
The Captain's heart stopped a beat. The Guards whose minds had been altered were also men he'd assigned to guarding the Inquisitor. Bester might have been a skilled enough telepath to alter men's minds but Daul Hilder was skilled enough to warp reality, “No... no she couldn't have... It isn't... how?”
“This farce has gone on long enough,” sighed the President. “I am abolishing this inquiry under article three of the Zelenka Act. Any actions taken by Captain Sheridan in the defense of his station were taken under wartime conditions and thus are not subject to peacetime expectations.”
“This is outrageous,” barked the irritated Chinese Senator. “It is an outright abuse of power! The Zelenka Act can only be invoked when war has been declared by a foreign power. I challenge this action!”
“You're welcome to try and overrule me in the general assembly,” replied the President as he shouted out to the crowd, “Is there a second?”
“I second,” replied the Senator Joyce, red-faced with anger.
“Very well then,” The Vice President, apparently the only person in the room who'd been expecting this turn of events, chuckled in amusement, “We shall put it to a vote, then.”
“All in favor of upholding the President's invocation of the Zelenka Act,” Green lights flashed from the Senators’ cubicles as they pressed the affirmative votes on their vid screens. John looked around the room trying to get a sense for how many had voted in his favor, but could not be sure.
“And all those opposed?” Another round of lights flashed, this time red, as Clark's opposition weighed in. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but there seemed to be fewer nay votes.
The Vice President waited a minute to be sure that all the votes had been tabulated by the computer before smiling slightly. He fell slightly into his native patois as he said, “Well den' twoud' seem 'dat you've managed another one, Clark. The Act is upheld by fifty two votes.”
“Justice prevails, as it should,” replied Clark as he walked over to John Sheridan and held out his hand. The President smiled and said, “It would be my honor if you'd allow me to give you a ride back to Babylon 5 on Earthforce One.”
John stared at the hand of the man he knew to have killed the previous president, the man he was secretly working to overthrow. President Clark was man who he trusted less than a snake in the grass. Shaking the man's hand would be a show of televised support for a man who'd knowingly committed regicide. It would, for better or worse, link him publicly to the Clark administration.
John shook the viper's hand, knowing full well he would one day be the President's undoing. “Thank you, Mr. President.”
He would get to continue running Babylon 5. A key portion of the Earth Alliance government would remain outside of Clark's control, no matter the public perception. And the reality of what he was doing far outstripped the importance of any temporary political embarrassment.
An injury well earned was better than none, so long as it won you the war.