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Synopsis by Arturo Magidin (magidin@matem.unam.mx)

On a desolate planet, amidst old ruins, a group of human archaeologists work carefully in a deep tunnel. The leader, Dr. Bryson, is sure they are about to get to "the main vault," although according to another archaeologist, he has been saying that for two days. But soon Dr. Bryson finds a metal disc on the wall; on one side is the symbol for death, and on the other side the symbol for eternal life. The wall is broken down, and they find themselves in a large gallery full of small, glowing globes, thousands of them. But as they enter, a beacon is activated outside.

According to Bryson, the globes hold personalities, souls. He believes they will lead him to the secret of immortality. As Bryson's hand nears a globe, whispers are heard throughout the room. The whispers die away when he withdraws his hand.

Just then, they hear a ship flying outside. The second in command, Klaus, orders everyone out. "If whoever built this place has come back," he says, "they might let us leave alive if we touch nothing." Klaus and the others leave, but Bryson takes some sort of device, and a globe which is larger than the rest. Then he follows the others, and arrives at the entrance to the tunnel just in time to see the others running towards their ship. But they don't make it: a craft fires on them and they are caught in an explosion. Bryson hides inside the tunnel, avoiding detection. As he hugs the globe he has taken, he seems to hear something. "Hmmm? No, don't... don't worry," he tells the globe. "We'll find a way. I'll never let you go. Never." Outside, the alien ship is gone, and Bryson makes his way back to his ship.

A few days later, Lt. Corwin runs into a relaxed Capt. Lochley in the Zocalo on Babylon 5. Lochley notes that things have been quiet since Sheridan and Garibaldi left the station for Minbar and Mars, respectively ("Objects at Rest", "Objects in Motion"). No big crises. She likens it to the "Pauli effect," named after Wolfgang Pauli, a 20th century physicist whose mere presence in the lab would, according to folklore, ruin experiments, and make equipment malfunction or even blow up. "So now there is the Sheridan/Garibaldi effect," she jokes as she buys a glass vase. She misses Sheridan on a personal level, but the problems also seem to be gone. The station is quiet, pleasant, almost manageable.

Lt. Corwin was looking for Lochley, though, to tell her Garibaldi has just come on board. Just then, a fistfight erupts behind them. "Suddenly," says Lochley, "I have this great blinding pain behind my left eye..."

An unassuming man makes his way to Brown Sector, and knocks a prearranged rhythm on a door. The door slides open, and he steps into a room adorned with neon lights reading "Virtual Excitment" and "Pleasure for men and women."

"Is she ready?" he asks the owner. It is a holobrothel. The image of a scantily clad woman appears, taken from a photograph he supplied. The proprietor asks him if he knows how to use the VR suits, offering assistance, but the customer assures him he can figure it out. He goes into a room, following the hologram. A few seconds later, the lights dim briefly and a yell of pain is heard. "I said he didn't know how to use it," the proprietor says angrily. "Idiot. If he shorts that thing out, I'm going to charge him double."

Mr. Garibaldi is in Lochley's office, explaining why he is there. Ever since taking over Edgars Industries ("Objects in Motion") he has been tracking down black projects the company ran under Clark's administration. Programs Edgars never told anyone about. He keeps the good ones, and closes the not so good ones. He is on the station because it was a convenient place to meet the man in charge of one such project; he'll leave once the meeting is dones. Lochley is called on the link: Mr. Garibaldi's appointment has arrived. "You told him to meet you here?" Lochely asks, clearly annoyed. Garibaldi figured it would be a good place in case they missed each other. Before the man comes in, though, Lochley asks, "Still sober?" "As a judge," Garibaldi answers. "I'm glad," says Lochley sincerely.

The man comes in: Dr. Robert Bryson. Dr. Bryson and Garibaldi leave to talk. In Dr. Bryson's quarters, the globe he found on the planet glows.

Garibaldi wants to know what the project Bryson is working on is. He's received over 2 million credits a year, but the project is only identified in the records as "L.E." Bryson explains it might refer to his pet name for the project: "Life Eternal." Bryson wants to discover the secret to immortality. Bryson points out humans can live to 110, 115 years, but other, more advanced races, can live for double, triple that; some sustain life one way or another for thousands of years, and others have eliminated death entirely.

Garibaldi is not convinced. Even assuming immortality exists, it would probably be available only to the very rich. Dr. Bryson agrees; in fact, the probable profit is what made William Edgars invest in the project in the first place. And after three years, Bryson believes a recent discovery may unlock the secret to eternal life. But he doesn't want to share more until he is more certain.

Garibaldi is not impressed, and is unwilling to grant even the few days Brson wants to finish his preliminary analysis. He insists that Bryson turn over the notes from his last three years of work, in the morning at the latest, so Garibaldi can decide whether to continue funding. Bryson has no choice: he promises the notes will be ready in the morning.

Lochley is working in her office when Corwin escorts a man inside. He is Mr. Clute, the customer from the holobrothel. Mr. Clute wants to complain about the equipment there, claiming it was dangerously faulty. Lochley doesn't understand: as far as she is aware, there are no holobrothels on Babylon 5. But Mr. Clute claims the business is sanctioned by Babylon 5. Lochley asks Corwin to have Mr. Clute give a full report to security, and then let Zack take care of the problem.

In his quarters, Dr. Bryson has rigged an interface with the station's power lines, which he uses to activate the device he took from the gallery. The device seems to act as a viewer or communicator, allowing him to peer inside the globe. There he sees a face, but it appears the face does not hear or see him. Bryson records in his log, "I've made contact."

In Brown 11, Zack Allan reaches the holobrothel. The door opens after he knocks the required rhythm. He asks to see the owner, who arrives and identifies himself as Jacob Mayhew. Zack tells him to pack up and leave the station as soon as possible, but Mayhew refuses: he has a six month lease, paid for in advance, and an entertainment license. The license does not exclude holobrothels specifically, and according to Mayhew may be interpreted as covering them. The permit allows him to run an entertainment business, after all. And it is all illusions: holograms and sensual telemetry body suits. "You can do anything you want to anybody you want. You just bring me a picture, I'll supply the fantasy," he offers Zack. But Zack clearly is not interested. Mayhew refuses again to leave, and is willing to go to court over it. "You got it," says Zack. "Meanwhile, I suggest you tell these other folk here about how this equipment of yours is dangerous and faulty. Hell, I'm suprised nobody has been electrocuted by now." Zack leaves, and Mayhew tells his secretary to call 'Riley.'

Meanwhile, Bryson continues his experiments using more power to try to communicate better. And he succeeds: a tendril of light connects the globe and the device, and a shape forms, hanging in mid-air. Bryson finally manages to communicate, and asks the figure its name. But the figure doesn't seem to understand, and screams in agony. "What's wrong?" Bryson asks.

"They came for us," the figure says. "They took us away. They had no right. Let me go back to sleep. Let me die." "Then you're not dead!" says Bryson, elated and curious. "You don't understand," the figure continues. "Leave us alone..." "Don't understand... what?" asks Bryson. "Leave us alone!" yells the figure before exploding into tiny shards of light, which then coalesce back to the tendril of light and return to the globe.

"Must write this down," Bryson mutters to himself. But he is too tired, and soon falls asleep. His pen knocks the globe into the device, and a surge travels from the globe all the way to Babylon 5's power grid.

Zack is patrolling in Blue Sector when he hears whimpering and crying. A woman draped in dark veils sits on some stairs crying for her children. When Zack flashes his flashlight in her direction, he can see through her as if she were a projection. "Where are my children?" continues the figure, and then jumps straight through Zack before disappearing.

In the morning, while Lochley is having breakfast, she is approached by a man who identifies himself as James Riley. He is Mayhew's attorney, and has a restraining order. He also serves Lochley, who is bein sued (as is Babylon 5 as a corporation) for harassment, violation to Mayhew's rights, obstruction of trade, and slander. The last refers to Zack's parting comments about the equipment. Lochley thinks it is some kind of joke, but Riley points out that the fines, for which Lochley would be liable, could amount to millions of credits. "See you in court," he adds cheerfully on his way out of the Zocalo.

Garibaldi arrives in Bryson's quarters, and finds him very excited. Bryson has clearly not slept much. The room is a mess. When Garibaldi asks for the notes, Bryson tells him he has burned them: they've become irrelevant in light of his new find. He doesn't even need the money anymore. "I have everything that I need," says Bryons. "I just need to go deeper, look more deeply, listen to them more closely." Bryson then kicks Garibaldi out.

Zack is astounded when he hears that Mayhew is suing them. He can't win, after all. But Lochley points out that the objective is really intimidation, harassment, and perhaps a settlement. In any case, they can certainly tie things up until the lease expires. They need to be more discreet dealing with Mayhew. But Zack is very unhappy. He even claims Mayhew sent a hologram to try to scare him. He recounts his experience with the crying woman. But Lochley points out the amount of energy needed to do that is too big. Mayhew can only create holograms within the confines of his establishment.

Just then, Garibaldi comes in. He's done, and will be leaving as soon as he can. They are interrupted by the Captain's link: something unusual is coming through the jumpgate. She turns on the screen to see it, and Garibaldi recognizes the ship: a Soul Hunter ship ("Soul Hunter"). The globe in Bryson's office shines more brightly; he approaches it, and listens to sounds only he can hear. "They're here," Bryson mutters, and packs the globe away.

Meanwhile, Garibaldi is telling Lochley what he knows: Soul Hunters show up when someone is about to die. Lochley asks him to help out with the Soul Hunters, since he has had some dealings with them before. Lochely, Garibaldi, and Zack arrive at the docking bay, with an armed security detail, just as the Soul Hunter emerges from his ship.

"Who are you here for?" asks Garibaldi. "Not you," answers the Soul Hunter. "None of you, not today. Something was stolen from us. Taken here." When asked how he knows, the Soul Hunter says the thief's companions told him; he then produces a small shining globe. The lights dim, and inside the globe they can see faces screaming in agony. "How do we know?" answers the Soul Hunter. "We know." The lights go back up. He even knows the name of the thief: Bryson.

"What did he take?" asks Garibaldi. "More than you can possibly imagine," replies the Soul Hunter. The globe contains the entire civilization from Ralga, an advanced race that chose not to fare among the stars. They were all going to die, so the order of Soul Hunters arrived to save the entire world. It was one of three times the Soul Hunters captured an entire planet at the moment of death. Then the vessel was put in a whisper gallery, where Bryson found it.

Lochley agrees with the Soul Hunter that the globe should be returned, but Zack isn't so sure. Who gave the Hunters permission? Were the peole of Ralga consulted, and did they choose to be locked up forever? The Soul Hunter points out the alternative is death, and "nothing is beyond" death, according to their beliefs.

Bryson's quarters are searched, but he is gone. The Soul Hunter says that the longer you have the vessel, the more you can hear the voices of the souls inside. The vessel should be returned: only the Soul Hunters can attend to it safely. When Lochley asks him what he means, the Soul Hunter replies: "There is strength enough in one mind, one soul, to change the universe. Can you imagine how much strength there is in one billion souls, all focused on escape?" "Or worse," Lochley points out. "Revenge." Given someone they can influence and enough time, the souls could do anything.

Somewhere on the station, the souls speak to Bryson. "Yes, I understand," Bryson tells the globe. "I won't let them have you. No matter what. Better to destroy the station, embrace the darkness, than go back there."

Lochley orders a full search of the entire station, and wants to hear reports on anything strange. Meanwhile, Bryson again powers up the device and touches it to the soul vessel, allowing more souls to travel through the power grid. Two of them make their way to the holobrothel, where they inhabit the holograms of two of Mayhew's 'creations,' and start kissing. Another makes it to a Babcom screen, and then appears carrying a long blade, with which he attacks someone.

Lochley enters her quarters and finds the Soul Hunter inside; he made the guards 'sleep' and came inside because his spirit wanted him to be there. He is curious: Soul Hunters have little to do with others. When Lochley asks, he describes what they do with the souls. They are placed in great halls, where they can talk to one another or to the Soul Hunters, but can do nothing else. Lochley says that sounds like hell to her, but the Soul Hunter insists she does not understand: her desires and needs are a product of her flesh, not her soul.

Their conversation is interrupted as the lights dim inside. Some souls have been following the sound of the Hunter's voice, and are pushing against the walls. A power surge forms on a console. The Soul Hunter tells Lochley to leave, but as she is doing so, she sees the souls about to strike the Hunter from behind. He pushes him out of the way, and is hit in the chest instead, thrown to the far wall. She slowly slips to the ground and falls unconscious.

She is taken to MedLab, where her heart stops. She can then feel herself outside her body, plummeting down through the decks, and then keeps falling. Finally she arrives in a place she does not know: Ralga, inside the soul vessel.

There she is met by what appears to be Dr. Franklin. But that's only because that is who she wants it to be. According to Franklin, inside the globe one sees only the familiar. He is really a Ralgan. He explains she got caught in a power struggle. The "Mad Ones" were trying to kill the Soul Hunter, but the rest managed to change the surge so it wouldn't kill her; instead, it stopped her heart for a second, so they could bring her in to talk. He continues to explain: the "Mad Ones" are those driven insane by the 10000 years of captivity, and there are more of them every year.

Lochley wonders why they don't just get Bryson to destroy the globe so they can die, but Franklin explain they were not dying in the first place. They were about to undergo an evolutionary change, leave their bodies behind, become energy, when the Soul Hunters came and imprisoned them. The Soul Hunters made a mistake, and he hopes Lochley can make them understand that. But she is leaving the vessel already, as her heart begin to beat again.

Outside the station, dozens more Soul Hunter ships are arriving.

The Soul Hunter comes to see Lochley and to thank her for saving him: she is the first one ever to save a Soul Hunter; in so doing, she has helped change his view of others, and for that he wants to thank her. He also tells her the other Soul Hunters have arrived, impatient with his lack of progress. Unless the soul vessel is returned soon, they will come aboard and attend to it themselves. Their ships can burn through the hull if necessary. He will speak on behalf of Babylon 5, but he also warns Lochley they are less patient with other races than he is. "Our order is disciplined and directed. We do not make mistakes."

"Yes, you do," replies Lochley, getting up. She tells him she was taken inside the vessel, but the doesn't believe her at first: it's impossible. She describes the planet, and he is less sure, but still cannot understand: ordinarily, souls shouldn't be that strong yet. Lochley points out they aren't ordinary souls, and explains the Ralgans were evolving into beings of pure energy, not dying; but the Soul Hunters came and imprisoned them. They made a mistake, trapped living souls in their prime. The Soul Hunter cannot believe it, but must. He wants to know what to do. For now, Lochley asks him to help keep the others out, buy her more time. He agrees to try, and leaves. She follows him out, still in pain and groggy. She makes her way to Brown 11, where Zack has concentrated his investigation. While en route, she is told the Soul Hunters are holding position, and that some atypical readings from the reactor have been detected.

Zack and Garibaldi find the man who was attacked by the ghost with the blade. He is dead, but not from any injuries: he was literally scared to death.

Mayhew makes his way to Zack, complaining all the way. He accuses Zack of harassment, and of interfering with his programs. Then he notices the dead body. "You mean this isn't a routine just to get rid of us?" he asks, and takes them to the holobrothel, where hundreds of luminous shapes are moving around, leaving the room. Zack thinks it makes sense: they are trying to get into bodies, even if they are only projections. According to Mayhew, they have access to all his files. Just then, a projection of Lochley, scantily clad, walks by the doorway.

The real Lochley arrives and is extremely angered by the image. But she has better things to do. She points out the souls must be pumping in a lot of energy in order to be taking the images out of the brothel. Then, humanoid shapes move past the Lochley image, and the latter joins them. In a large bay, the holographic Lochley joins hundreds of glowing humanoids, and addresses them:

"For 10000 years we have been prisoners. For ten thousand years we have had one need, one dream, one ambition. To strike back at those who imprisoned us. Though we will enter the great dark with them, the sacrifice is a worthy one. To end our suffering and our pain. To end it all... We are on the path. Now all we have to do is wait here, and let our vengeance come to us."

The lights dim for a second, but the holograms do not. Lochley realizes this, and is suddenly very worried. She leaves to 'test a theory.' She joins the now still images, but they don't react. "I was right," she says to herself. They are meant as a distraction: nobody is really there. But before continuing, she wants to get rid of the holograms anyway: the Mad Ones could use them to see and hear. So over Mayhew's vocal protests, she throws a thermal grenade into the holobrothel, blowing up the holographic projectors.

Lochley points out they must have access to the enhanced fusion reactor in Babylon 5. They will probably blow up the station, so they can destroy the Soul Hunters outside, even if it means dying themselves.

Indeed, the reactor will go critical in 15 minutes, and Bryson has locked up the controls. But now they know where he is. Zack goes to gather a strike team, and Garibaldi and Lochley make their own way there.

On the way, they find the Soul Hunter. Unfortunately, the other Soul Hunters did not believe him. Since he is only 4000 years old, they think he is too naive. The others think it is all an elaborate ruse to keep the soul vessel. After all, if the story about the souls were true, a routine investigation would have detected it. But since the order couldn't have made a mistake in the first place, such an investigation was never made. If the vessel is not returned within 20 minutes, the Soul Hunters will attack the station.

Bryson is sitting alone, surrounded by a shimmering column of energy, the vessel floating just above his hands. He seems oblivious to everything. The assault team gathers around him, as Garibaldi tries to talk to Bryson. But he cannot get through, and the souls attack him instead. The assault team fires, but the PPG charges can't get through the column of energy.

The Soul Hunter blames his order, their arrogance, for the current crisis. He now sees their many mistakes: storing the souls in dark places where they would go mad; taking them in the first place was a mistake. "We actually thought we were doing them a service, an honor," says the Soul Hunter. "Can you imagine... Instead, we were monsters, a terror worse than death."

In time, he is sure, the others would understand... and he gets an idea. He goes towards Bryson, and says: "Listen to me, please. What we did to you was wrong. I see that now... And there may be a way to correct our mistake. But this destruction is not it. We can return you to our world and find a way to release you from your bondage. At first, for brief times of course, as you have achieved here through the holograms. And then, later, we can invite others to come and allow you to express yourselves through them. Allow you to... see an open sky again, allow you to feel the ground under your feet again. Until that day when we will release you permanently. I know that my order will set this mistake right, once they undertand that they have made a mistake. Once we make them understand."

Until then, the Soul Hunter offers himself as a symbol of his sincerity. If the souls take him inside the globe, it will prove they are really highly developed living souls, cut off at the wrong time. And once he is inside, they will know he is telling the truth. "Let my soul be a bridge between us, and let my soul be doorway to hope."

He touches the column of energy, and is engulfed in light. The light then retreats into the globe, and the Soul Hunter's body slumps to the grond, dead. The column disappears, the globe falls back to Bryson's hands, and Bryson collapses.

A lone Soul Hunter arrives later to claim the vessel. Lochley tells him: "I never knew the name of the other one from your order who came here. He never told me. I don't even know if you have names. All I know is that he gave his promise and his life to protect you and this place, and the billion minds trapped inside this thing. Make sure that the promises he made on your behalf are kept, or I promise you, the Hunters will become the hunted. I will do whatever it takes to make sure his sacrifice was not in vain."

The Soul Hunter nods and takes the globe. Inside, the first Soul Hunter sees Lochley walking towards him, saying "The mind sees what it needs to see. The soul sees what the soul sees." The Soul Hunter smiles, content.

Outside, the Soul Hunters leave, the crisis safely over. Garibaldi is also leaving soon; but unfortunately for Lochley, he has plans to come back in a month. As he leaves the office, a vase falls to the ground and shatters, another manifestation of the Garibaldi-effect.

Riley comes in. Since Lochley blew up his client's establishment, they will press criminal charges as well. But, according to Lochley, the lease specifies that there is no liability for damages due to military action. In fact, she already has the depositions of all security personnel involved, supporting her conduct and decision. Also, since the establishment is gone, the other charges are moot. If they contest this, she will sue them for unauthorized use of her image in the holobrothel, a case they will surely lose. They will get nothing. Riley is nonplussed, but leaves empty handed. Another crisis is over as well.

Babylon 5 can get back to normal... for now.


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Last update: November 25, 1998