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Monday, January 14, 2013

Talia Winters’ Plight

Often, we wish that we possessed superior abilities, without realizing that every gift comes with a price.  Take, for example, the fictional ability of telepathy.  Sure, it could sometimes work to your advantage to know what others are thinking.  But imagine never being able to turn this ability off.  How many people could you draw close to, if you were constantly assaulted by their every dark thought or negative reaction?  Imagine hearing all the things they would never say about you, but cannot help thinking?  Imagine also how they would feel about you, if they knew they could hide nothing from you, if their every thought, reaction, and plan was laid bare in your presence.  Suddenly, it sounds as though the costs of possessing telepathy might outweigh the benefits, doesn’t it?

In the TV series Babylon 5, anyone with telepathic ability is given a choice: they must either take drugs to suppress this ability, or join Psi Corps.  Any drug can induce side effects, sometimes drastic ones, and such was the case with Commander Susan Ivanova’s mother, which is why a relationship between Ivanova and Harriman Gray would prove difficult, if not impossible.  But joining Psi Corps is no treat either, because then you become part of their system, and lose the independence and freedom of choice that most of us value.  Yet Talia Winters seems to have made this system work for her.  In the first two seasons, she’s Babylon 5’s resident commercial telepath, and even though her Psi rating is average, she’s gained unique experience by constantly peering into alien minds on behalf of her clients.  But all her hard work, and her special place on the space station, are ripped away from her in the novel Voices, by John Vornholt.  When a bomb explodes during the Psi Corps conference on Babylon 5, the evidence paints her as the chief suspect.  Suddenly, most normal people demand her arrest, and her fellow telepaths, outraged by her seeming betrayal, want her condemned to death without a trial.  So she finds herself a fugitive, fleeing the space station on her own, and hoping to find evidence to clear her name before the authorities or the Psi Cops can catch her.

Unlike his predecessor Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, in the pilot movie “The Gathering,” Captain John Sheridan doesn’t lock down the space station after the explosion that kills several members of Psi Corps. So Security Chief Michael Garibaldi must return to Earth, alongside Harriman Gray, as the two men try to discover the person responsible for the bombing.  In Garibaldi’s case, he’s got something of a crush on Talia, so he’s got added incentive to clear her name.  But Gray also has something to prove.  He wants to impress Susan Ivanova, to make her look past his Psi Corps badge, and see that he might be someone worthy of her affections.

"The Gathering," can be found on
the five disc Babylon 5 Movie Collection

Talia’s flight will take her across the American Southwest, where she’ll meet a group of outsiders called the Bilagaani, who have forsaken the modern world to celebrate a culture that died out hundreds of years previously. Garibaldi and Gray’s investigations will take them to twenty-third century Boston and Washington D.C.  Eventually, all three, along with the top Psi Cop Mr. Bester, will make their way to Mars, for a showdown with the party responsible for the bombings on Babylon 5 and at the Royal Tharsis Lodge on Mars.  (Remember, I said it was a Mars novel).

By the end of the story, Talia realizes that she had taken her place on Babylon 5 for granted.  Now she longs to return there, “to see the aliens, who were less judgmental and prejudiced than her own species.  Among aliens you could be whoever you were, she realized, but among humans you had to be whoever they wanted you to be.  And no one was what they seemed.”

In many ways, it can be a good thing to break down the walls that separate us. But perhaps it's an equally good thing to preserve our uniqueness, and not to know too much about each other.  For, as John Vornholt writes, we are all aliens to each other.  Maybe that’s a good thing. 

Note: While I've given you a rough outline of the story, I've tried to avoid sharing any real spoilers.  If you're a fan of Babylon 5, I think you'll enjoy returning to that milieu in Vornholt's novel, even if most of the action takes place not on the space station, but on Earth and Mars.

Dragon Dave  

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