SHORT STORY REVIEW: “Hidden Agendas” by J. Michael Straczynski

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After Babylon 5 ended, there were a spate of official, canonical short stories published, mostly written by series creator Joe Straczynski himself. These stories have never been reprinted, nor collected, and given the general lack of media interest in B5, they're unlikely to be anytime soon. I have all the stories, but for obvious legal reasons I can't simply post 'em here. As a service to fans who might be driving themselves crazy trying to find these particular straws in a needle-stack, I offer an overview, review, and my observations. It's not much, but it's what I've got.

This particular story takes place shortly after the beginning of the final season.

PLAY BY PLAY

Ivonova and her new ship visit the station. “The Titans” is not just a terribly awkward name for a vessel (In that it’s a plural being used for a singular thing), but it’s also Earthforce’s new top-of-the-line Warlock-class destroyer. And it’s giving Ivonova the heebie jeebies.

Her visit to the station is unauthorized, and she’s way off course, but she needs the help of her old friends to deal with a sensitive matter. She invites Sheridan over to the ship, and he instantly agrees with her: The Warlocks are built around Shadowtech, at least partially. Back on B5, they have a staff meeting to decide what to do. Lochley is in attendance, and she and Ivonova get on surprisingly amiably.

The problem is this: If there’s Shadowtech in the ship, then Earthgov and/or Earthforce almost undoubtedly know about it already. They can’t complain, or else Ivonova gets booted to the command of a garbage scow. They can’t find the stuff, but if they could, and removed it, Earthforce would undoubtedly notice, and again Ivonova gets booted to the Scow. How to fix it without ruining her life or tipping her hand?

Sheridan hires Lyta to help out. She goes over to The Titans and waits. He, himself, goes down to Bay 13, the place they used to keep Kosh’s old ship. After Kosh Ulkesh, better known as Kosh II (Gezundheit!) was killed, his ship had been destroyed. Although they never mentioned it until now, Sheridan had them gather up the pieces and store ‘em in Bay 13. They were gradually regenerating into a full Vorlon Transport. When the Shadow/Vorlon exodus happened, the ship just stopped and went dormant.

Sheridan contacts the Vorlon ship, which apparently recognizes the fingerprints of its dead master upon him. He talks with it a while, and it agrees to help. He flies the ship over to The Titans, where it lands in Cargo Bay 7. The moment it touches the deck, the Shadowtech attempts to fight it, then, failing that, it attempts to destroy itself and Susan’s new ship in the process. Lyta fights alongside the Vorlon Transport, and eventually the shadowtech is neutralized. It goes dormant. So long as the Vorlon ship is on hand to suppress it, anyway.

Ivonova tells her crew that they’ve been on a secret mission that they’re never supposed to tell anyone about. Lyta goes back to B5, Sheridan gives Ivanova a hug, and she issues orders that no one ever, under any circumstances, is to go into Bay 7.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Say, this one was pretty good! A nice fun “Let’s get the band back together” romp, and a nice positive sendoff for Ivonova, who, frankly, never got the one she deserved. The story is interesting, brisk, and clever. It could have used some kind of complication somewhere in the middle - they basically decide to do something, then do it without incident - since there’s no real conflict here, but it’s still not bad. A lot of the B5 stories tend to cruise by entirely based on our happy memories of the characters, but this one actually doesn’t abuse that. Thumbs up.

The title refers to the motivations of the people who built the Warlock class ships. Obviously they must have been in development in - and prior to - the Civil War, a period when the Shadows’ minions were running rampant in Earthgov and Earthforce. What was the purpose of keeping the stuff surreptitiously in the Warlocks? Susan et al can’t possibly know, but they decide to deny whomever it was the possibility of making use of it.

They make a point of mentioning that Shadow Tech can be controlled by more powerful Shadowtech, and hence the Warlocks could conceivably end up as heavily beweaponed R/C cars for some nefarious power. I wonder: was this something that they were maybe going to do in Crusade? Unlike a lot of the deuterocanonical stuff we’re swimming through in these non-episode reviews, this one actually feels like a plot element, you know?

We’re told this story starts out six days after Byron arrived at the station, before Lyta’s spoken with him. This places it after “No Compromises,” and before “The Paragon of Animals.” It probably takes place immediately before “The Very Long Night of Londo Molari.” Lochley comments that she’s been on the station “Less than a month, and already needs a vacation.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t we told on the show that the name of Susan’s new ship was “The Warlock?” First ship of a new class? In any event, I can not stress how bad a name “The Titans” is. Technically, it’s name would be “EAS The Titans” which means if one were speaking of it formally they’d have to say “The EAS The Titans.” Informally is even worse: “Oh, yeah, my husband works on the The Titans.” “I’m sorry, Betty, I think your stammer’s come back again…”

So how long has Susan been in command? When last we saw her, she was still on B5 at the end of “Rising Star,” though clearly she was just about to head out. How long has she been in command of the new ship? Wouldn’t their be some kind of training program for that? I mean, it *IS* a brand new ship, just off the assembly line, and a new design. You wouldn’t think they’d just plop her behind the wheel without any training and say “Fly, be free!” Evidently not, though. In any event, she couldn’t have been in charge for very long.

On that note, how long was it between Rising Star and the start of Season 5? A week? A month? How long was the Sheridan’s honeymoon? The numbers never quite add up. As we’ll see, the chronology of Season 5 is a bit squishy, and hence so is everything tied into season 5, just like this story.

Despite making a point of involving Lyta prominently in the story, she really does nothing apart from moon over Byron and do her cross-eyed nosebleed thing again. In the notes for “Sleeping in Light,” we’re told that when Ivonova says Marcus’ name, it’s the first time she’s been able to bring herself to say it in twenty years. Here she says it without too much hesitation.

I’m assuming Earthforce didn’t know about the left over Vorlontech on B5. Would Lochley report in about that? More to the point, why wouldn’t she? A jillion people saw it. Lies about covert ops or not, you really can’t hope to keep that a secret. And just stashing the thing on The Titans won’t work for a host of logical reasons. I mean, it’s a warship. Star Trek notwithstanding, they change command staff all the time. The USS Ronald Reagan, for instance, was commissioned in 2000, and it’s had four Captains in that time. Clearly, whomever replaces Susan as CO in two or three years is going to want to look in there, and then the jig is up. I’d imagine Susan’s superiors would look dimly on her integrating alien tech into their vehicle.

We later find out in the TV series (By later, I mean in stories that take place chronologically after this one) that Shadowtech is now illegal within the ISA. What about Vorlontech? It’s potentially every bit as dangerous.

Of all the B5 short stories I’ve read, this is the one that most captures the feel of the show, and the one I’d most liked to have seen as an actual episode.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS STORY?

Perhaps. It depends on how paranoid you are about our government, or how cynical you are about our government being manipulated unawares by outside forces. Really, in either case, this one's a winner!

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