They said that Kosh spent too much time among the younger races. They said that he allowed sentimentality to weaken discipline. They said that, in failing to keep himself above the conflict, he revealed how far he had fallen.
Now he would pay the price.
In his simple residence on Babylon 5, Kosh waited. He knew what would happen, as did all the Vorlons. Yet they would do nothing to stop it, and he must do nothing to stop it. He must pay this price, so that others would not.
It was as the Vorlons had always professed: Some must be sacrificed, so that all could be saved.
The fabulists had understood, better than any Vorlon, this harrowing truth at the core of all Vorlon teachings. They had refused alliance with the forces of chaos, had upheld their principles, though it would mean their extinction. They sacrificed themselves for the good of the galaxy. And in so doing, they showed Kosh the way.
For it was not only the younger races who must sacrifice, he now understood, but the Vorlons as well.
All that the others said of him was true. He had spent too much time among the younger races: too much time watching them struggle, under his distant guidance, toward order; too much time watching the enemy undermine any hard-earned progress they made; too much time watching them suffer and die. The rules of engagement, formulated eons ago through the mediation of the First One, dictated that the Vorlons and the maelstrom would launch no direct attacks upon each other. Kosh had broken those rules. He had come down from on high and stood beside the younger ones, had fought with them.
Now he would die with them.
Already the stench of chaos grew stronger, as the enemy advanced through the station toward him.
In the face of approaching death, those of the younger races attempted to evaluate their lives, find significance in their deaths. Kosh had never contemplated his own mortality. Yet he knew that at the end of a being, one could judge that being’s importance, his accomplishments. Looking back on his existence in this manner, he found surprisingly little of worth. Of all his acts, he felt truly proud only of his last, the one that had precipitated his end.
He must make certain that Sheridan felt no guilt for it. Sheridan had pushed him to action—more evidence that he spent too much time among the younger races, allowing one so inferior to affect his course. But he no longer thought of Sheridan as his inferior. In Kosh’s mind, Sheridan had become something else, had risen to a new level of growth, one Kosh did not fully understand. Kosh had even come to believe that if ever the cycle of war and death was to end, if ever the forces of order were to be definitively proven superior, it would be through Sheridan. Sheridan had not the wisdom or the knowledge or the discipline of a Vorlon, yet he had other qualities, Human qualities, that seemed to carry their own value and worth. Among those was guilt, an emotion long studied by the Vorlons. Kosh did not want Sheridan to be crippled by it.
Sheridan had done no more than speak aloud the argument Kosh had many times made to himself. From the mouth of Sheridan, though, the argument took on a simplicity and a power Kosh obscured behind subtleties and rationalizations.
How many people have already died fighting this war of yours? Sheridan said. How many more will die before you come down off that mountain and get involved?
For the first time in millennia, fear governed Kosh’s action. He struck out at Sheridan three times, the discharges of his essence nearly killing the Human.
Impudent, Kosh said.
Incorrect, Kosh said.
We are not prepared yet, Kosh said.
Yet it was only Kosh who was not prepared, not prepared to die.
The ancient enemy ascended through the station to his level, bent their steps toward him.
Sheridan had simply spoken the truth. As Kosh had stood on high and watched, the fabulists had gone, and they had been but the first in an escalating series of losses.
The forces of chaos had begun by forming secret alliances with some of the younger races, encouraging and provoking them into vicious wars with their neighbors. Now the enemy openly attacked the younger races, killing at will. And from a planet near the enemy’s home on the rim, Kosh’s buoys had sung a disturbing song. The two fabulists who served chaos were rebuilding an ancient force that hadn’t been used for many millennia. Billions already had died, and billions more would die. The maelstrom hungered to subsume all.
Only in banding together to fight the maelstrom could the majority of the younger races survive. They would not fight, though, if they believed themselves overwhelmed by an invincible enemy. They must have hope they could win, and that hope, as Sheridan had argued, could only be provided by the Vorlons. And so Kosh had brought the Vorlons into the war, had engaged the enemy directly for the first time since their ancient agreement had been reached. With that one battle, he had provided Sheridan the victory necessary to draw the others into alliance.
Now the enemy would demand recompense for the Vorlons’ transgression.
Sheridan had not understood what he had asked. Kosh had told him: There is a price to pay. I will not be there to help you when you go to Z’ha’dum.
Still Sheridan had not understood. The Human believed he himself must pay the price. He believed that, if ever he went to the enemy’s home, Kosh would withhold help out of anger. Yet Kosh would not be unwilling to help; he would be unable.
The enemy was close now, the stench of chaos saturating his senses.
Kosh poured himself into the sleek brown and green shell of his encounter suit. No disguise was necessary, but the hard casement would provide a few moments’ defense.
Death was harder to accept than he had thought. Vorlons rarely died; in the last millennium, only one had perished. He feared how the others would proceed in this war without his counsel. He had placed them upon a narrow path. They must participate in the war only when absolutely necessary; they must not dominate it. Yet he did not believe the Vorlons had the will to follow that path. Some hoped that Kosh’s death would bring the conflict back into equilibrium, allow them to return to the ancient rules of engagement, to resume their manipulations from on high. But a growing number believed Kosh’s action the first step toward a total, final war with the enemy, one that would end with the complete annihilation of the forces of chaos and everything they had touched. In such a total war, Kosh knew, the Vorlons would exterminate as many of the younger races as the maelstrom.
He wished he could remain among them, guide them. If his aide were nearby, he could pour the core of his essence into her, as he sometimes did. She had been modified and trained to carry him, concealed inside her, when he required it. No other on the station had the strength to carry even a small portion of his core. If she were here, though, the enemy would have first sought her out and killed her, to prevent any such transfer. Kosh was glad he had sent her away.
The ancient enemy stood now outside his door. Three of them, and their servant, the pestilence Morden. Morden tampered with the lock.
It was time.
From the core of his essence, Kosh reached out. First, he slipped into the song of his ship. It lay docked in a special bay on the station. It was resting, humming softly to itself of the beauty of order, the satisfaction of service, the harmony of the spheres. He directed it to take no action in the coming moments, when it might sense he was threatened.
A dissonance entered the ship’s song, and its tempo quickened. It did not understand. It was frightened.
Kosh repeated his order, and its tempo slightly slowed. It remained anxious, but it would obey; obedience was its greatest joy.
Without him to serve, Kosh knew, the ship would have no purpose. It would follow its long-standing directives and kill itself by flying into the nearest sun. For many millennia, it had attended him well. He took a moment to convey a simple, calming harmonic.
The ship adopted it eagerly, the dissonance fading away. It sang of perfect symmetry and ultimate peace. Kosh slipped from its song.
The door to his residence slid open and the enemy entered. They too were creatures of light, yet they preferred a more material form, encasing themselves in jagged carapaces of blackness, adopting outer shapes that reflected the inner truth of their beings. Their six-legged bodies scissored forward, the fourteen pinpoints of their eyes burning with brilliant hatred. They reeked of dissolution and chaos. Kosh had long stood in the way of their agenda. They were glad to have the excuse, at last, to be rid of him.
Yet he sensed, as the three spread in a circle about him, that they were afraid. They feared he would fight them. Even now they did not understand Vorlon ways.
Morden remained just inside the door, the clear covering of a breather over his face. Though his expression was obscured by Kosh’s reflection, Kosh imagined the pestilence was smiling.
From the enemies’ eyes, ropes of brilliant light emerged, twisting toward him. That light was infected with anarchy, with the contagion of desire, the dream of the maelstrom.
Again Kosh reached out with his core, quickly now, this time to Sheridan. He had established a connection with the Human soon after they had met, and had strengthened that connection over time, through occasional visits to Sheridan’s dreams, and lessons in a few basic ways of Vorlon thought.
He found Sheridan sleeping, stimulated the Human’s mind into a dream state. He took for himself the appearance of Sheridan’s elderly father, David. That image existed very clearly in Sheridan’s mind, carrying with it David’s ways of acting and speaking. This person commanded Sheridan’s respect, yet could also reassure and soothe him. Kosh could say what was necessary through this vehicle. He gave the dream form, placing them in the family home, a comforting setting. Bright light streamed through the long windows that framed a fireplace.
Sheridan stood with his back to Kosh, not yet fully aware.
The ropes of light pressed into his encounter suit, melting it, twisting through. Kosh called out in David’s voice. “John. Johnny.”
Sheridan turned to him. “Dad?”
Kosh converted his thoughts into David’s words, into the elder Sheridan’s slow but direct manner. “I don’t have much time, son. I want you to know you were right. I didn’t want to admit that.” He shook his head. “Just pride, I guess. You get my age, and you get kind of set in your ways. But it had to be done. Don’t blame yourself for what happened later.”
The ropes of infected light thrust through his encounter suit and pierced his outer layer. The enemy’s touch was excruciating. From those pinpoint contacts radiated chaos. The light of his body began to lose its coherence, to degenerate.
In the dream he stumbled back, clutched a hand to his stomach.
Sheridan grabbed him. “Dad. Are you— You all right?”
The foul ropes slid deeper, carving through him. They left in their wakes spreading halos of dissolution. Kosh found himself holding on to Sheridan for support, struggling to maintain the dream. He did not want to relinquish the connection yet. “It’s too late for me. I’m sorry for what I did before. I knew what was ahead. I guess . . . I guess I was afraid. When you’ve lived as long as I have, you—kind of get used to it.”
Inside him, the invading ropes reached the boundary of his core. Against its strength the enemy twisted and writhed, unable to penetrate.
The ropes went still. Kosh wondered if the enemy might, somehow, fail to attain their goal.
With a surge of tainted energy, the ropes began to whirl. Quickly their speed increased. Chaos churned through his outer layers, whipping them into turmoil, building into a great, raging storm. His encounter suit broke apart, fell away. He felt as if he must cease to exist. The pain was unbearable.
They had brought the maelstrom with them. It took on a life of its own within him, his outer layers losing their structure, spinning toward disintegration. The ropes slowed, and their movements became sharper, more purposeful. One sliced down through his weakened outer layers, then sliced across. A brilliant fragment ripped away, flying at the wall. Incoherent, separated from the rest, the fragment rapidly faded. Only the faintest remnant of it struck the wall, the last of its energy boiling across the surface.
In the dream, a grunt of pain escaped him. Kosh pushed himself to finish his message to Sheridan. “I wish I could have done more for you. There’s so much I should have said and—now it’s too late. You’re right. It’s time we began fighting this war your way.” He doubled over, holding Sheridan at arm’s length. The maelstrom thrashed through him, the ropes slicing, rending. His residence became a chaos of strobing light and darkness, flashing energies and shifting shadows. Another piece ripped away, and another. Unable to sustain themselves, they faded, died.
Within the anarchy, Kosh found a sliver of hope. Perhaps there was still a way that he could help Sheridan when confronting the enemy on Z’ha’dum. He had never heard of such a thing being done at this distance, nor with one untrained. Yet he had also never heard of a Vorlon being ripped to pieces. In the manner of his death, there might be hope.
He located a piece of himself that still retained some coherence. It had been partially cut away, would soon be lost. Kosh prepared, extending a threadlike tentacle from his core. The enemy’s brilliant ropes sheared the section away. As it ripped from him, he extended the tentacle, seized the fragment, and drew it quickly inside his core.
From there, he forced the fragment out through his connection to Sheridan. The tentacle drove his fragment deep into the Human’s mind, then quickly withdrew. In the chaos, he hoped the enemy would not notice. Sheridan’s energy would have to sustain the fragment, if it could.
The Vorlons would find this further lowering of himself an abomination, when they discovered it. But he no longer cared. In the dream, he forced himself to speak. “I’ve got to go now, John.”
“No—no, don’t leave.” Sheridan’s face was filled with fear and concern.
“It’s all right, son.” For some reason, in that moment, Kosh felt great solace in calling Sheridan son. He realized that he had created this dream not only to reassure Sheridan, but to comfort himself in the moment of his death. “See, as long as you’re here”—he nodded—“I’ll always be here.”
The last of his outer layers ripped away, exposing the core of him, the single brilliant flame of his essence. With a final push, the ropes of light sank into it. As they spun him into an incoherent fury of chaos, the pain bled through him into the dream.
In a final moment of recognition, Sheridan seized his wrist and cried out.
Kosh flew apart.
Sheridan jerked awake. “Kosh!”
The turmoil of his essence faded, faded.
And then he was in darkness, murmurs surrounding him. They were Sheridan’s thoughts, he realized, and within their flow, he could barely sense himself as a distinct entity. He was weak, disordered. He concentrated on the calming harmonic he had sent to his ship. It brought him, bit by bit, back into coherence. This single fragment, this small piece of himself, was all that remained.
He had come down from on high to help the younger races. Whether he had truly brought them closer to a victory against the ancient enemy, whether they all, ultimately, could be saved, he did not know. Before he lost this last piece, he would try to help them a bit more. He must bury himself deeply, to avoid detection. It might be that his attempt to accomplish any more was in vain. But perhaps, when Sheridan went to Z’ha’dum, Kosh could somehow guide him. Perhaps, if there was a way, he could lessen the terrible tragedy that he foresaw.