All Babylon 5 names and references are the exclusive property of J. Michael Straczynski, TNT and Warner Brothers. All rights reserved. They are used here for private entertainment purposes.
Customs waved Dr. Susie Q. Franklin through with only a cursory glance at her identicard (one didn't look too closely at diplomatic passports). As a result, she arrived in the disembarkation lobby a full 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, so she was not surprised that there was no one there to meet her. Shrugging her shoulders, she collected her luggage and made her own way to her quarters in blue sector.
The station had the comfortable feel of familiarity about it. She had visited it many times before, either with her father, Steven Franklin; or her godmother, Susan Ivanova, and though Susie had never stayed on the station for more than a few weeks, it still felt like a second home. She found her quarters easily and began to unpack. Her door chimed and she called for it to open.
“Still wearing those atrocious suits, I see?” a biting voice said. Susie turned to find Susan Ivanova in the doorway.
“I happen to like them and if you continue to criticize my taste, I will purposely mangle your introduction tomorrow!” Susie threatened as she hugged her godmother. Susan Ivanova was getting on in years, but her embrace was still strong and her spine straight. She walked with the same authority and command that she had always possessed.
“It’s good to see you, Susie. I’m afraid I cannot stay long, only long enough to make Jacob very uncomfortable for not having been in customs in time to meet you!”
“You always had a wicked sense of humor! And dad wonders where I get it from . . .” Susie settled across from her godmother and the two women fell into easy company.
Morden flicked a speck of invisible lint off her jacket as the security guard at customs examined her identicard suspiciously. She gave the guard a glare of aristocratic impatience, but inwardly she was amused. 30 years since Sheridan and his lot had cleared out of Babylon 5 and yet the name "Morden" was still regarded with suspicion. The guard was finally forced to give Morden her identicard and reluctantly waved her through.
Morden paused in the lobby and took a deep breath of recycled air. It had been a long time since her Associates had allowed anyone to visit the five mile tin can which passed as a space station and it felt good to be back. She could feel her Associates were uneasy though, and it was no wonder. Not only was the station a painful reminder of what Sheridan had done to them, but there seemed to be a rather large number of Rangers swarming about and the only people her Associates hated more than Sheridan or the Vorlons were Rangers. She didn't waste any time then and proceeded directly to Information and Hospitality to book a room.
Jacob Cole waited until all the passengers had finished disembarking before giving up on Ms. Franklin. She had obviously already disembarked and her luggage had been claimed, so he could only assume she was in her quarters. It was a rather poor way to begin relations with the public relations officer, but there was nothing he could do about it, so he put on his best smile and made sure his hair was combed before ringing the door chime outside her quarters. The door ground open and he found himself staring directly into the piercing eyes of the Entil’zha.
“I was beginning to wonder if you’d been ambushed, Mr. Cole.”
Jacob gulped and bowed. “Apologies, Entil’zha. It was my mistake.”
“Yes, it was.” With that, Ivanova swept past him and Jacob was left staring into another pair of piercing blue eyes.
"Ms. Franklin? I'm Jacob Cole, your liaison with the Rangers."
"Ah, Mr. Cole, I've been expecting you. Please, come in."
Susie stepped aside and allowed the blonde haired Ranger to enter.
"And it's Dr. Franklin actually. I received my Ph.D. in political communications from the University of Earth, Minbari campus. Would you like some coffee?"
"Certainly." Jacob observed Dr. Franklin as she busied herself in the kitchen. She was a striking woman with her hair pulled up into a neat French twist and her classic, tailored suit was free of wrinkles, despite the long trip from earth. "Did you have a pleasant flight?" he asked, trying to fill the silence.
"Not really. I had a snoring Pak'ma'ra on one side of me and a lunatic who kept asking me what I want over and over, on the other side," Susie replied as she handed him his coffee and settled onto the couch. She motioned for him to sit as well.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there to meet you, Dr. Franklin, but the ship docked early, and you cleared customs with amazing speed."
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Cole. Babylon 5 is familiar to me." She paused, then asked "Cole? Any relation to Marcus Cole?"
"Yes," Jacob said, surprised she should recognize the name. "He was my uncle. William Cole was Marcus' younger brother and my father. I don't claim the relationship much though."
"Why not? It's a very illustrious heritage."
"Not as illustrious as you might think. My mother was a drifter, lurking from one outpost to the next, getting money how and when she could. She hooked up with William Cole for awhile, then took off when she realized she was pregnant, taking his wallet with her. So we drifted around for a while, just the two of us. She was killed in a bar fight when I was 12. Not exactly a history to be proud of," William said, but there was no bitterness in his words.
"I'm sorry," Susie said softly.
"Don't be. My mother was a desperate woman, and her values may have been a bit . . . mercenary, but she had a decent heart and in her own way loved me very much."
"Then how does an orphaned drifter become a Ranger?"
"When I was 15, I had the poor sense to try to pickpocket a Ranger. Well, Montoya not only took back his money, but literally turned me upside down and emptied the rest of the items in my pockets, including William's identicard. He recognized William Cole and by this time the blood was rushing to my head so it seemed a good idea to tell him where I had gotten it. The Ranger took pity on me, hauled me back to Minbar and handed me over to some human foster parents, who straightened me out pretty quickly. Unfortunately, William Cole was already dead by that time. I never met William Cole, so I see no need to ride on his legend or Marcus Cole's, for that matter. But enough about me, Dr. Franklin, what of you?"
Susie considered it only fair that she return the story.
"My father was Dr. Steven Franklin . . . M.D., that is. He met my mother when he became head of Xenobiology for Earth Dome in 2262. She was a very inept lab assistant who threw away the results of a very important and very expensive research project because she thought it was a moldy sandwich. Love was inevitable. They married and my mother stopped working in the lab to become an old fashioned homemaker. My mother and I followed my father all over the galaxy chasing diseases and when I got bored with that, I went to visit my godmother, Susan Ivanova, wherever she happened to be. When I was 19, I returned to Earth and attended the University of Moscow for my bachelor's degree in public relations; University of Geneva, for my master's in communications science; and Earth University on Minbar for my doctorate. I did corporate work for a bit, worked for a senator as a speech writer during a campaign. When he was elected, he rewarded me with this post. So here I am! And now, Mr. Cole, I suggest we get to work.”
“Do you know, I never thought I’d see the day when the Rangers would need public relations officers.”
“Mr. Cole, everyone needs a public relations
Morden unpacked and fixed herself a bowl of Count Chocula before settling down in front of the computer console.
“Computer, access back issues of Universe Today for the past four weeks. Language preference: English. Search for all articles containing the word “Rangers” or “Anla’shok.” Display results on console.” The computer displayed the results, and Morden scanned the headlines. She pulled up an article and began to read.
“New White Star Unveiling Ceremony to be held at Babylon 5” the headline read. “After the creation of the new destroyer class ships for the interstellar alliance, technicians and strategists for the Anla’shok decided to complement the new technology by creating an improved White Star. These new white Stars are larger than the original design by approximately 10% . . .” Morden skipped over the techno jargon, scanning until she reached the bottom of the article. "To demonstrate the abilities of the new ships, the Rangers have chosen to play a War Game at Babylon 5. Three of the original White Star battle ships, the same ships that carried John Sheridan and Delenn of Mir, founders of the Interstellar Alliance, will be given crews composed of respected Rangers and instructors from the training bases. Their role is to 'attack' Babylon 5. The station will be protected by three of the new battle ships, crewed by recently graduated Rangers and trainees. The safety of Babylon 5 rests in their hands."
"For clarification, the attacking fleet will be referred to as 'Gold Star Fleet' and the defending fleet will be referred to as 'White Star Fleet'. Can age and experience hold up against youth and technology? Come to Babylon 5 for this exciting event!" The rest of the article contained travel details and Morden shut off the computer console. Already her brain was moving and a slow, cat-like smile spread over her face. So the Rangers were playing war games, hmm? No wonder the station was swarming with them. She was ready to have some fun and this was the perfect opportunity.
“I’m going out,” Morden told her Associates. “Are you coming with me? Fine, but don’t go making trouble while I’m gone,” she warned.
Morden went back to Information and Hospitality, and collected an information packet on the war game. It was to take place on Saturday, three days from now, and she flipped the schedule of events looking for anything that would inspire her.
“See a piece of history! Tours will be offered of the Gold Star fleet three times a day until Friday at 1000, 1200 and 1400 EST. Buy your ticket today! All proceeds will be donated to the Make a Wish Foundation.”
Morden closed the brochure and checked her watch. If she hurried, she could just make the first tour of the day.
Morden trailed along at the back of the tour group, ignoring the annoyingly perky tour guide. Morden was more interested in the ship than in the historical mumbo jumbo. Despite the lingering smell of Vorlon, Morden had to admit the White Star ("Gold Star", she corrected herself) was a nice piece of work. The electronics were in pristine condition, neatly color coded and labeled in Minbari religious caste dialect. That would take a bit of deciphering. She much preferred and was more fluent in the straightforward worker caste dialect, which had become the dominant tongue on Minbar since the restructuring of the Gray Council. But it was nothing that she couldn’t handle.
“Do you have a question?”
Morden jumped as the perky tour guide peered over her shoulder. Despite her desire to throw the guide out the airlock, Morden smiled.
“I was just wondering if there are any safeguards to deter theft of the Gold Stars by, well, raiders or enemies spies, for instance?” she said in her sweetest, most innocent voice.
“There are no safeguards installed, but they are physically guarded by the crews. Of course, to operate one of these original White Stars, one would need to be fluent in Minbari religious dialect, as . . .”
Morden tuned out the rest of the tour. Things were shaping up nicely, but she still had thinking to do.
“Now, the Entil’zha is scheduled to address the crowd at . . .” Susie’s voice died off as she realized that Jacob was staring at her. “Yes?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Have you ever considered becoming a Ranger? You already have the mental discipline. Your focus is absolutely astounding. You’ve been talking business for hours now!”
Susie couldn’t prevent a small smile.
“Are you trying to tell me something?”
“Yes,” Jacob grinned. “You need a break . . . hell, I need a break. I’m not used to sitting around.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Come with me!”
A few minutes later, Susie was running her hands almost wistfully over the arms of the commander’s chair. She settled into it and gazed over the bridge of the Gold Star.
“It’s a beautiful ship, isn’t it?” Jacob observed. Susie smiled.
“It brings back memories . . . the last time I was on one of these things I was a teenager. My godmother had just been made Entil’zha. She sent one of the White Stars to chauffeur me to Minbar as a high school graduation gift. She always said they were one hell of ride and as usual, she wasn’t wrong. Do these ships still run like they used to?”
“Of course!” Jacob smiled. “This girl’s a classic. She may be retired, but she’s still unbeatable!”
“I pity those poor recruits--technology is no match for old age and treachery!”
“Old! This ship isn’t old!”
Susie laughed. “A pilot to the end! I was referring to you, not the ship!”
“Well, I resent that too!” Jacob said, but his boyish grin removed any censure from his words. “And I think you, Ms. Susie Q. Franklin, should apologize for your very rude comments . . . over dinner.”
“Oh?” Susie raised an eyebrow imperiously. Jacob took Susie’s arms and led her off the bridge.
“I have a table reserved at Fresh Air and since empty chairs make for poor conversations, I would be very pleased if you would grant me the honor of your presence.”
“Hmm . . . say please.”
Susie Q. Franklin cleared her throat behind the podium and the crowd gradually fell silent.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Interstellar Alliance, guests and distinguished visors,” she began. “We have come to Babylon 5 today to witness a small piece of history. The White Stars which carried the Alliance to victory during the Shadow War have given over 30 years of unblemished service to the Alliance and they have entered their golden years. Rechristened 'Gold Stars', these historic ships will face one final battle before being retired. Their rival today will also be their replacement, for today we will also witness the unveiling of the new White Star fleet. Past and present will meet in more ways than one.”
“The Gold Star fleet will be commanded by the leader of the Anla’shok, Entil’zha Ivanova, who will be in personal command of Gold Star One. Gold Stars Two and Three will be under the command of respected teacher Montoya and respected Anla’shok Cole.”
Susie continued on with the speech, introducing the other commanders, and then they left to join their crews. Susie filled time by outlining the War Game and throwing in historical information.
“And now, if you will direct your attention to the observation ports and viewscreens, and please welcome the Gold Star Fleet.” The three ships made several acrobatic passes around the station before taking up position outside the docking bay.
“It is now my great pleasure to introduce the White Star Fleet.” The docking bay doors slid open as three ships emerged from the docking bay. Applause erupted as the new ships saluted the old ones, then moved off in a burst of speed, showing off before taking up defensive positions around the station. Once the applause died down, Susie returned to the microphone and explained that the Gold Stars would jump to hyperspace. They would have 60 minutes in which to begin the attack.
“The game will be over when the station is destroyed, or when one fleet destroys all of its opponents. I would like to remind everyone that this a simulation and the weapons fire will cause no actual damage to the ships or the station. Instead, a computer will calculate and simulate damage. Continuous updates will be available on station channel 12 and hourly updates will be broadcast on ISN. Meanwhile, on behalf of the crew of Babylon 5 and the Anla’shok, I invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.” Susie left the podium accompanied by a smattering of applause, and began to mingle.
Morden had to fight down a fit of the giggles. It had been too easy . . . as soon as the disarmed Gold Stars entered hyperspace, they had been easily commandeered by herself and her Associates, with the help of a few raiders. The old rusty Rangers had been captured and thrown into the brig by her Associates, and now the ships belonged to Morden. All she had to do was bring the weapons systems online . . . and destroy Babylon 5.
Carver Leverette could barely contain his apprehension. He had won the prestigious command of the new White Star fleet and he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself . . . he hoped. He was filled with a mix of relief and nervous tension as the scanners beeped.
“Gold Star Three approaching!”
“Maintain defensive positions . . . let them take the first shot!” Carver commanded. The first Gold Star careened past, drawing attention away from the two Gold Star ships which came slingshotting around Epsilon 3, weapons firing.
“Evasive actions . . . all ships engage!”
The White Star was suddenly wracked with an explosion.
“What the hell was that?”
The young Ranger at tactical looked up with a worried expression. “We’ve been hit sir. Scanners indicate that the Gold Stars have standard weapons on-line. We’re being shot at.”
“Gold Star One is hailing us!”
Morden’s face appeared and she smiled congenially.
“Good afternoon, boys and girls. Welcome to Defense 101. I’m your instructor, Mr. Morden. Today’s dilemma - the Gold Star ships have been overtaken by a malicious villain (me) intent on destroying Babylon 5. I have imprisoned your leaders, stolen your ships and disabled the defense grid of Babylon 5. The safety of the station is in your hands . . . but remember, destroy my ship and you destroy your precious Entil’zha as well! What do you do? You have two minutes to decide.” Morden smiled brightly and severed the connection.
“Get me Babylon 5! And get those weapons on line!”
Morden’s face blinked off the screen and uproar exploded. Susie fought down her own panic, calling on her deepest reserves of professionalism. She spoke with the security guards and assumed the podium. It took some effort, but she reduced the noise to a disgruntled murmur.
“Ladies and gentleman, we have confirmation that the transmission we just received was genuine. Station personnel is asking that you remain calm . . . the situation is under control. For your safety, we are closing the blast doors and requesting that you stay where you are. A security team will be by as soon as possible to escort you to a shelter. Again, please remain calm.”
There was a single minute of stunned silence before hell broke loose.
What are Morden's intentions? Would she really hurt
Entil'zha Ivanova and the crew? What can Susie Q. Franklin's P.R.
training do to quell the situation? Read the
exciting conclusion of Spinning!