In "Calling", Sic Transit Vir never happened. There are a few disturbing images.
Vir knelt on the ground in the imperial garden and, strangely, even though he knew he wasn’t really here, he could feel the cold moisture of the stone seeping through his trouser legs. Above him was Cartagia’s grotesque “example”: upon a pike rested a head that Vir only barely recognized.
A month had passed since Londo had died in his attempt to free the Centauri from the reign of the mad Emperor Cartagia. And yet, every night, Vir’s subconscious brought him here to this place to face his own guilt.
Londo had asked Vir for his help, but Vir’s own duties had prevented him from giving it. When word finally reached Minbar that a group of conspirators had tried to assassinate Emperor Cartagia, that Londo was among those conspirators, and that Londo and all of his relatives and allies were to be captured and executed by the emperor himself, Vir sensed he was in danger and had sought asylum with the Minbari. Now cut off from his people, Vir saw the Centauri homeworld only in his dreams.
The smell of decay surrounded Vir as he stared into the dead eyes that once belonged to his mentor and friend. The severed head’s gray lips parted slightly and Vir shivered in disgust and averted his eyes as several maggots crawled from the opening and inched their way across the rotting flesh.
Incredibly, in this dream a voice broke the silence. “Why are you here?” it asked and the sound of it was so familiar that Vir felt his breath hitch in his chest.
Vir didn’t dare raise his gaze. The feelings that the voice stirred within him were too keen, guilt and hope and sorrow washing over him like a wave. A shadow fell over Vir and a hand touched his chin and forced it up. “Londo,” Vir whispered in astonishment at the sight that met his eyes.
“Why are you here?” Londo asked again. He was crouched before Vir looking very much like he did in life. Yet in some intangible sense he was different- his eyes shone with the knowledge of something far older and wiser.
“I-I don’t know,” Vir said and it was the truth. “I don’t want to be here.”
With dizzying suddenness, the scene changed and Vir was standing before the window in his quarters on Minbar. Sunlight filtered through the crystal spires of the city and fractured into rainbows that played across the walls.
“Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” Vir said. “You… you sent me here. I-I didn’t think I’d like it. I didn’t think… I didn’t think I was good enough. And I-I didn’t want to leave you.”
“Why are you here?”
“I don’t know!” Vir cried and his voice sounded pathetically shrill in his ears. “Why do you keep asking me that? I don’t know why I’m here and I-I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. Am I just supposed to live out the rest of my life here knowing that I… that I have failed you?”
“You believe you have failed your friend?” said the man who looked like Londo and yet wasn’t him somehow. The apparition touched Vir’s shoulder and Vir felt moisture fill his eyes.
“Yes,” Vir whispered. Ashamed by his own weakness, he turned away from the window, sat down on the floor, and rested the back of his head against the wall.
Then the floor tilted and Vir tumbled, his body slamming against a bulkhead. Disoriented and a little nauseous, he grabbed onto a nearby ledge and scrambled to his feet. He was standing on the bridge of a warship and in the middle of that bridge stood the Londo apparition. The ghost regarded Vir with searching eyes. “How can you be a failure when you are not yet finished?” he said.
“I-I-I don’t understand,” Vir said, holding on for dear life as the deck started to vibrate violently beneath his feet.
A roar crescendoed around Vir, rapidly reaching a deafening volume. And then the walls and floor began to crumble and Vir lost his grip and fell.
Vir awoke with a start, knocking over the candle in his panic. Melted wax dripped onto Vir’s hand and he yelped in pain. The door to Vir’s quarters opened and a Minbari acolyte named Meshonn rushed in. Seeing the small fire that had leapt to life on Vir’s mat, Meshonn quickly smothered it with his robe.
“I-I-I’m sorry,” Vir stammered in accented Minbari, a familiar warmth creeping up his cheeks. “I guess I fell asleep.” Attempting to put a pleasant face on it, he said, “If I stay here long enough, I’m sure I’ll burn down this entire building.” Vir laughed feebly, but when Meshonn didn’t immediately respond to the joke, Vir’s face fell.
How mortifying- Vir must’ve pronounced the words wrong. For all he knew, he was babbling about fish. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “Maybe I’m never going to master this. I mean, I-I’ve been trying to for the past month but… I-I just can’t concentrate. I don’t understand anymore now than I did when I first came here.” He sighed. “Maybe a Centauri is incapable of finding wisdom.”
Meshonn smiled at this. “Wisdom belongs to no race, Vir Cotto. It simply is.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Vir conceded with another sigh. “I just wish it were easier to find.”
“You’re still troubled by your dreams?”
Vir bowed his head in affirmation. “This time, Londo spoke to me… well, actually, it wasn’t really Londo,” Vir amended, his hands fluttering before him. “He looked like Londo, but he wasn’t… anyway, whoever it was told me that I wasn’t finished… I-I don’t know what he was talking about… and I was standing on this…” Vir trailed off when he saw Meshonn’s puzzled look. “I’m not making any sense, am I?” he said ruefully.
“A dream is always confusing to a person who has not experienced it.” Off Vir’s nonverbal expression of frustration, Meshonn said, “Patience, Vir Cotto. Understanding will come in time.”
Meshonn’s words echoed in Vir’s mind long after his host left to tend to other matters. Lying on his back on the floor, Vir allowed his thoughts to roil uninterrupted through his mind.
“Understanding will come in time…”
Images from another nightmare flashed before his eyes. Now Vir was standing in Londo’s quarters on Babylon 5, watching as Londo spoke with the Narn Na’Far. Gone was all the warmth and soul that Vir had come to know- it had been replaced by a hardened, icy arrogance. This part was memory, but in the dream, the scene shuddered and twisted and suddenly Londo was on Na’Far, drawing a knife across the Narn’s throat.
On Vir’s first night on Minbar, he had woken up screaming from this nightmare, the reek of blood still lingering in his nose. The smell made him gag, but he gained control of himself before his evening meal made a return appearance. The noise aroused his Minbari hosts, and it had taken a great deal of time for the flushed, trembling Vir to convince the acolytes that he was just fine. It had been most embarrassing… and the humiliation had only grown more intense when he reached up to rub the fog from his eyes and discovered that his face was wet with tears.
“A dream is always confusing to a person who has not experienced it.” And frequently, a dream confused- even frightened- the one who had.
As the months went by, Vir adjusted to his new position. He even developed a newfound sense of empowerment in the role when he discovered he could channel his compassion for the Narn into worthwhile activities for the first time. Further, Vir came to appreciate the sense of order and purpose that seemed to permeate the daily lives of his hosts. Even now, with internal divisions between the castes growing ever more evident, Vir saw a light among the Minbari that was a hundred and eighty degrees opposed to the eternal grasping that seemed to define his own people.
Yet the nightmares still plagued Vir despite his newfound confidence. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had broken an unspoken promise in leaving Londo behind. And when he learned of Londo’s death, that feeling burned with even greater strength.
“Understanding will come in time…”
In the early days of his exile, sadness and shame overwhelmed Vir so completely that restful sleep repeatedly eluded him. The Minbari began to refer to him as zhalen ra duma, wanderer of the night, and it was decided that Vir would learn how to meditate to cope with his grief.
How very strange he must’ve looked sitting in silence and staring into the candlelight! Vir had never communed with the gods in this manner. It was not the Centauri way.
But then, the Centauri way had never been his way. Not really. He had toasted with Londo at the Celebration of Life. He had devoured Centauri comedy and gloried in Centauri opera. But many corners of Centauri life were closed to Vir. This was never made more clear than when Londo had to stop and explain some aspect of Centauri culture that Vir’s guardians and tutors had never thought to teach him.
“Wisdom belongs to no race…”
The Minbari spoke to a part of Vir’s soul he had never known existed. They said that the candle represented life. They said that all life was born from the same stardust and it was only the ego that forgot, that believed itself superior to the rest. They said that each flame, each life, was unique, but equal to all the others in its creation. They said all of these things and Vir knew in his hearts that they were true. Yet he still felt like an imposter, a foreigner chanting words that were not his to speak.
How was he, Vir Cotto, man of two worlds yet belonging to none, supposed to pray?
“How can you be a failure when you are not yet finished?”
The answer was in his dreams. Vir could feel it. Yet no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't quite touch it.
“Not yet finished…” the voice whispered in his ears.
And then, with stunning suddenness, he understood.
“Do not move,” said Vito Aleron. “I’m almost finished.”
Vir bit his lip and turned his red face away as Vito continued to bind the wound on Vir’s arm. When he finished, Vito asked, “Can you move your hand?”
Vir looked down and opened and closed his hand experimentally. “Yes, I think so.”
“Good. Then there is no nerve damage.”
Vir slid off the table, closing his fingers around the hilt of his kutari and raising it until the tip of the blade was pointed at Vito’s chest. “Okay,” Vir said, “now show me how you did that.”
Vito flashed his young guest an incredulous look. “Perhaps we should stop for today. It is almost time for the evening meal, and your concentration is beginning to falter.”
Indeed, Vir was looking considerably the worse for wear. His face was flushed and filthy and his undershirt was soaked with sweat, his left sleeve hanging in tatters by his side. But at Vito’s suggestion that they cease their exercises, Vir’s jaw stiffened. “No,” he said. “I have to know how you did that. Show me.”
Vito sighed and rubbed his bald head with his hand.
When Vito Aleron left his post as head of the Centauri diplomatic mission on Minbar and settled on an isolated tract of land on the Minbari colony world of Sh’Lekk’Tha, he believed he would never see another of his kind again. It was his expectation that upon renouncing his Centauri citizenship, he would be declared persona non grata, as the Humans say, among the Centauri- a result the rebellious Vito was quite willing to abide.
It was thus a great surprise when, a few months before, Vir Cotto appeared on his doorstep and requested that he be taught to fight in the Centauri way.
Vito had been tempted to refuse. His military experience was something he had put far out of mind when he adopted the Minbari way of life and he did not wish to be reminded of his youthful exploits. But Vir spoke of the tyranny that had descended upon the world of Vito’s birth with such quiet relentlessness and passion that Vito found it difficult to turn him away.
Once they had begun, it became instantly apparent that the task of teaching Vir how to fight would be very difficult indeed. Vir was by nature a gentle young man and he often held back in their duels, afraid that he would injure his teacher. But Vir was also hardworking and, when it counted, surprisingly brave.
Vito once asked Vir why it mattered to him so much, the fate of the Centauri Republic. “Because it mattered to my friend,” Vir said and in his eyes was a sadness so profound that Vito was left unable to respond.
It was then that Vito realized that he was deeply fond of Vir.
It was that fondness he was feeling now as he watched Vir rub the sweat off of his face with his remaining sleeve and tighten his grip on his kutari, his expression hardening with determination.
“All right,” Vito said. “One more time.”
Delenn was not certain of the identity of the cloaked figure who had just passed through Customs until the man pulled back the hood which obscured his features in shadow. When she caught a glimpse of the familiar face, she smiled. “Vir.”
It had been almost two years since Delenn had last spoken to the former diplomatic attaché, and it was clear that those years had affected Vir profoundly. While Vir’s face still carried the suggestion of youth, there was a gravity in his eyes that spoke of terrible loss. Delenn took Vir into her arms and Vir stiffened slightly in surprise before relaxing in the embrace.
Pulling away, Delenn said, “It’s good to see you, Vir. I worried about you when the capital was attacked last year.”
“I had already left for Sh’Lekk’Tha when the fighting started.” Then Vir turned to the man who stood beside Delenn and held out his hand in the Human manner. “Captain Sheridan.”
“Hello, Vir,” said John. “I understand you have something to discuss with Delenn and me.”
“Actually, there is someone else I would like to see as well…”
Later, Delenn and John sat quietly in John’s office while Vir came near to wearing a hole in the floor with his nervous pacing. At last, the fourth attendee arrived, stopping the anxious Vir in his tracks.
Citizen G’Kar of Narn stood for a time in the doorway, examining the smaller Vir with a searching gaze. Vir swallowed audibly as he took in the angry scar that marred G’Kar’s face. Delenn knew that G’Kar had acquired that scar in his fight to evade capture after the attempt on Emperor Cartagia’s life had failed.
Vir had folded his hands before his mid-section and had opened his mouth to speak when G’Kar raised his fists to his chest and bowed his head.
“You have helped thousands of my people escape to freedom, Cotto, and for that, you have my respect.”
“Thank you,” Vir said softly. It took him a moment to come back to himself and restore the focus that had brought him to Babylon 5. “I asked to see you all today because… well, I need your help. I-I’m not really sure how to ask this, so…” Vir was bracing himself. Delenn could see Vir’s facial muscles tense slightly before the rest of his words spilled out in a rush. “So I’m just going to ask it. I need your help to free my people.”
John’s expression was troubled. “That’s a very serious request, Vir,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure we can help. Our resources were strained to the limit fighting President Clark’s forces. And even if we put those concerns aside, I’m not sure I can gather the support either back home or here to intervene on a matter internal to the Centauri.”
“I know that. I-I do. But I also know that you’ve been having trouble curbing my government’s military aggression. That problem could be solved if you help me build a force that can stand in opposition to Cartagia. You’d stop the attacks on the Non-Aligned Worlds, you’d free my people… and you’d free the Narn too,” Vir added with a glance to G’Kar. “I’m not asking you to make it official. I’ve spent the past year learning everything from hand-to-hand combat to piloting a ship. I think… I think I can lead the force. But I’m going to need weapons and other supplies to make it happen.”
“There are ways what you ask can be accomplished,” said G’Kar after trading a look with John. “I have a great deal of experience acquiring necessary resources through unofficial channels and I am willing to assist you in the name of freedom for my people. But I must ask you, Cotto… are you sure you are ready to lead a resistance?”
A long moment of silence passed before Vir spoke. “No, I-I’m not sure,” he admitted with complete honesty. “But I don’t think I’m ever going to be completely sure and the Centauri can’t wait for something that probably will never come. Londo tried to kill Cartagia to save us. That’s the only thing I’m sure about and… well, that’s enough for me. I-I have to… I have to finish what he started.”
Delenn had seen that light in Vir’s eyes once before. After a disastrous meeting between Londo and the Drazi Ambassador- a meeting Delenn had been asked to mediate- Vir had stood before her and expressed his utter conviction that Londo was not lost, that Londo could be saved. As Lennier once observed after an evening spent consoling a troubled Vir, such hope was a heavy burden for one man to carry on his shoulders.
As John assured Vir that they would consider his request, Delenn found herself wondering whether Vir Cotto might have something to teach about the importance of faith.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Vir pulled himself across the deck of the ruined ship with his arms, ducking when a shower of sparks rained down on his head. His left leg stopped at the knee. The rest was blown off in an explosion, but he could still feel the toe of his boot dragging behind him.
The shuddering had stopped. Apparently, the Centauri military neither noticed nor cared that there was still one rebel alive on this vessel and had moved on to other targets.
A blinding flash of pain shot through Vir’s abdomen and he cried out. The sound was weak and pitiful in his ears. He rested his cheek against the deck, gasping for air, his vision beginning to dim. And it was strange, but he could hear voices calling to him from a great distance.
Who are you?
What do you want?
Why are you here?
Where are you going?
What do you serve?
“I serve my friend,” Vir whispered as he lost his battle with the darkness, tears falling and evaporating on his face.
And because I wasn't sure I liked how segment V ended, I have written a brief postscript for the whole story. This postscript is canonical and takes place after Sleeping in Light.
Postscript: What Truly Came to Pass
Vir stood on the balcony of the royal suite, a light breeze fluttering through his robe and nightgown.
It was a beautiful night. Vir didn’t think he had ever seen the stars shine as brightly as they did at this moment. But in truth, his mind was focused more on the following day’s events than on the current state of the weather.
The statues he had commissioned for the gates of the capital city were finally complete and he was to give a dedication.
Of all the duties that fell upon Vir as Emperor of the Centauri Republic, it was public speaking that stirred up the most anxiety. After all, he had a great deal to live up to. Londo Mollari had a voice and a bearing that commanded instant attention and a way with words that was rivaled by few others. Vir felt very inadequate in comparison. Though he had long ago stopped stammering, he still had a soft and high-pitched voice- not the voice of a natural orator.
“It’s not the style that matters, Vir,” Senna had once affectionately reminded him. “It’s the substance.”
On this occasion, it was the substance that was giving Vir his principle trouble. The recent dinner with Captain Sheridan had stirred up a lot of old memories and arranging all of those memories into a coherent whole was proving quite difficult.
Speaking of G’Kar was somewhat easier. There was a certain distance in Vir’s relationship with G’Kar, though the respect between them was quite real. In the end, G’Kar was far closer to Londo than he was to Vir.
Londo. Thinking of Londo brought forth a jumbled mess of feeling and thought and memory. It was amazing, really, how close Vir came to embarrassing himself before Sheridan and the others. Years had passed since Londo’s death, yet a sound, a word, a casual conversation could bring it all back with such force that he often had to excuse himself to preserve his dignity. How was he to explain that to the Centauri he ruled? How was he to sum up all he knew of Londo in a single speech?
Vir closed his eyes and allowed the memories to swirl through his soul.
As always, constructive criticism is appreciated.