"When the time comes to choose your target, be sure to pick the right one. Because you will only get one shot . . ."
The Shadow War is long over, and the Interstellar Alliancepresided over by former Babylon 5 commander John Sheridanis about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of peace among its united member worlds.
But a planet, annihilated by an unspeakable weapon appears in chilling dreams. And on that world there lies a terrifying promise of Armageddon. For the Drakh, once servants of the bloodthirsty Shadows, are following in the footsteps of their vanquished masterspreparing to launch a devastating interstellar war. Their first target is Earth.
This threat will draw Sheridan back to Babylon 5and into an uneasy partnership with a beautiful and deadly survivor of Shadow genocide. In the desperate race to warn Earth, he must face an apocalyptic showdown with the ultimate war machineone capable of killing an entire world . . .
About the Author
Robert Sheckley has written several hundred stories and sixty-five books to date. His best known novels in the science fiction field are Immortality, Inc. (produced as the movie Freejack, starring Mick Jagger and René Russo), Mindswap, and Dimension of Miracles. Mr. Sheckley also worked on the computer game Netrunner. In 1991 he received the Daniel F. Gallun Award for contributions to the genre of science fiction. He is married to writer Gail Dana, and they live in Portland, Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
It was a neutral kind of a darkness to which John Sheridan opened his eyes. The first sense that kicked in was smell. The place was immediately characterized by a lack of smell.
But as soon as he concentrated, Sheridan picked up faint traces of a familiar and not offensive scent. Minbari. Of course. He was on a Minbari cruiser.
He opened his eyes in the small darkened room they had assigned him. He noticed the luminous dial of a clock on a facing wall. It was just two minutes before the time he had asked them to call him.
He still retained the military training that had been instilled in him over the years. No matter how much time passed, he would never forget the beefy captain of cadets back at the Academy, his voice full of mock irony as he drawled, "Gentlemen, shall we rise and shine? Or shall we linger in our beds awhile longer, thus inviting company punishment at the best, courts-martial at the worst?" And out they'd pile, all the new cadets, Sheridan among them, ready to face the new day and whatever it might bring.
Discipline had been so deeply ingrained in Sheridan that nothing could erase it. Even when he was off duty, even while he and Delenn had been on their honeymoon, he had always been up before dawn--no matter what time dawn was on whatever planet he happened to be stationed. And not just up but awake, alert, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to face whatever the new day might bring.
His wrist link went off, pulling him back to the present. He toggled it.
"President Sheridan?" It was the voice of the duty officer. Sheridan remembered him from the mess table the previous night. A large, cheerful Minbari with a goodsense of humor. He had told several lively jokes, not all of them comprehensible to a Terran.
But his voice was formal and serious now. "This is the call you requested. The White Star is within visual range."
"Yes, thank you," Sheridan said. "I'll be up to the bridge presently."
He rolled out of bed. The bathroom was a tiny cubicle; the Minbari wasted no time installing amenities on their capital ships, even for the senior officers. He took a cold shower, enjoying the needle spray of water stinging his skin. He dried off and wrapped himself in a towel, then shaved, and tried to remember his dream of the night before.
It had been the same dream again, like the ones he'd experienced so many times recently. The ones he couldn't quite remember. The ones that felt so important, but always vanished as soon as he woke up, leaving only lingering hints.
He dressed, and mused. This particular series of dreams had been going on for a while now, though he couldn't remember just how long. The one last night had been like the others: it inspired a feeling that someone was trying to warn him of something important, to break through the daytime barrier in his mind. There was the familiar sense--of something urgent that he needed to remember, something he had to do, and quickly, quickly, not a moment to be lost.
But what was it?
He hadn't told anyone about the dreams. Some people thought he was crazy enough as it was, with his hunches that were too complex and multileveled to explain. And besides, there was nothing to tell. Whenever he woke up, his dreams dissolved before he could grasp them. But even though he wasn't sure of their content, he knew they were important, and he couldn't escape the feeling that something or someone was trying to communicate with him.
Although he considered himself a rational man, Sheridan didn't discount the importance of dreams. So often they were portents of things to come. More than once, dreams had played a crucial part in his life. But he didn't like to overstress their importance. He knew that some dreams, while they might seem important, simply weren't visionary.
He had even studied the subject in what he laughingly referred to as his spare time, looking up the subject in the big on-line library maintained on the Babylon 5 space station, where he had begun his presidency, only five years previous.
Some of the ancients had documented interesting ideas on dreams. Iamblichus, for example, was a Greek who had devoted his studies to the Egyptian mysteries of Serapis. He had written a book on dream explanation and interpretation as early as a.d. 235. The next prominent figure had been Marsilio Ficino, writing in Italy during the Renaissance. Still later, the Frenchman Binet had been an early pioneer in dream research. His work had been extended by the French Desoille, by Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung.
Freud had been responsible for the line of reasoning that claimed dreams were reenactments of childhood scenes. The Jungians seemed to feel dreams related to figures in what they called the "archetypal consciousness." Writers like Hillman and Cobb felt dreams were a road into an inner landscape of the underworld, which they felt every person possessed. One school held that dreams were composed of odds and ends thrown up by the mind, things thought or seen during the day that hadn't quite reached the threshold of consciousness.
But some authorities, like Jannig and Vierese, believed there were visionary dreams, too, scenes and visions viewed by the mind as it traveled in many dimensions in its nightly wanderings. Their theories had gained new popularity in 2115, with the confirmation of telepathy.
Sheridan suspected his recent dreams didn't fit any of the standard categories. It was almost as if someone or something was trying to send him a dream, or to get in contact with him while he was sleeping. He wondered, uneasily, if his dream experiences might in fact have something to do with telepathy. He sincerely hoped not. His experiences with the Psi Corps had left him with a deep suspicion of this wild talent, and like so many, he maintained a fear of falling under its spell.
It was true that the Psi Corps had been reformed and transformed. There was more freedom for telepaths, and mingling between telepaths and normals was no longer forbidden. Telepaths no longer had to wear gloves and special uniforms, but still, each telepath was scanned every six months to make sure they hadn't been infringing on the rights of normals. And Sheridan still held many of his old suspicions.
Whatever the explanation, dreams haunted his sleep most nights and left him wondering about them during the day.
He hadn't been sleeping well recently. He attributed that in part to the fact that he was so far from Delenn. His wife was on Minbar, her home planet, and he was on a Minbari cruiser, en route to a rendezvous with Michael Garibaldi.
He and Delenn had become very close, almost psychically attuned to one another. Sometimes he felt incomplete without her by his side. But she was acting as a combined vice president and First Lady for the Interstellar Alliance of Races.
The vague dreams made him uneasy, and though he didn't care to acknowledge the feeling, he wished he could talk it over with Delenn. But the very nature of their responsibilities kept them apart. She couldn't leave Minbar on a whim; her presence was necessary there. And their unique relationship allowed them to carry on in two places at once. Though Sheridan didn't like to admit it even to himself, he knew they were both considered indispensable.
But he also had learned, from his military background, his lifetime of service, not to take himself too seriously, no matter what his rank or position. Men and women came and went, but the workings of the universe went on--the all-important mechanics of civilization, great tasks such as creating peace and order where war and chaos had been before. If he wasn't around to perform those tasks, then someone else would be.
That's what he believed, but it wasn't the sort of thing you talked about.
So he straightened his clothing and prepared to go to the bridge.
Indispensable? Maybe not, in a general sense. But in a limited way, yes, since events hinged on the lives of individuals. He and Delenn were pivotal people. They were the first leaders of the Interstellar Alliance--people who, due to their placement, not necessarily to their abilities, were crucial to the unfolding of events.
Delenn was currently organizing and orchestrating the events of the grand celebration that would mark the fifth anniversary of the Alliance. And he? He was having dreams that he couldn't remember. Not any of their content, not even their mood. There was only one thing his dreams seemed to be telling him--that something big was going to happen, and it wouldn't be a party.
Finishing his preparations, and skipping breakfast, Sheridan came directly to the bridge of the cruiser. The White Star to which he was transferring was already within visual range. The sleek, hawklike form of these ships never ceased to thrill him.
The bridge was a scene of quiet, organized activity as the Minbari navigator made the final adjustments to match his ship's speed to that of the White Star. All around him there was the hushed discipline of a well-run ship, officers and crews attending to their duties with a minimum of conversation.
The Minbari commander was aware of Sheridan as soon as he stepped onto the bridge. The commander had arrived early to be sure of greeting him properly. He'd had a talk with his officers late last night, after Sheridan had turned in, just to be sure they'd know how to act. He'd told them, "President Sheridan likes to keep things casual. I don't suppose he knows it, but that presents more of a problem than if he were a stickler for strict discipline. If he addresses any of you, respond in a friendly manner, but always with reserve and respect. Do I make myself clear?"
Sure, sir, we'll deal with him just like we deal with you, his junior officers were thinking, but by no means saying. The Minbari commander, though well liked, simply didn't realize that he was a problem for his junior officers just like Sheridan was a problem for him.
But Sheridan wasn't in a very conversational mood that morning. He nodded pleasantly enough to the commander and his bridge crew.
"Everything in order for the transfer?"
"Yes, sir!" the Minbari commander responded. "The White Star is in place, and our launch is ready to take you over to her."
"Might as well get on with it, then," Sheridan said, and started toward the lock, the Minbari commander accompanying him.
"Good luck, sir," the Minbari said when they reached the lock entrance. "It's been a pleasure escorting you here. Hope to see you again soon."
"I look forward to it," Sheridan said. He gave the commander a friendly nod and entered the lock.
Now that there was work to do, he put aside his musings. All that was left of his dream was a vague premonition. But not even that gave him a clue as to just what was to come.
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