Psi Corps Series #2: Deadly Relations: Bester Ascendant

Written by J. Gregory Keyes
Based on an original outline by J. Michael Straczynski
DelRey, March 1999

This novel spans the years 2195 to 2258 (immediately prior to the episode Mind War).  (Please note: some of the dates given here are estimates only from information within the text.)

Deadly Relations: Bester Ascendant

2195: Al Bester, at six years old, is determined to be the best.  He is taken to Psi Corps director Kevin Vacit where he admits to wanting to become a Psi Cop.  Vacit wishes him well, and warns him that although Psi Corps may change after his impending retirement, it still has an important purpose; he also tells him to beware of Shadows.

2201: Before advancement into the Minor Academy, the masked "Grins" that monitored the children during their training are revealed to be their teachers, ensuring the children maintain their commitment and value to the Corps.  Bester feels that individuals cannot be trusted at all: his trust belongs only to the Corps.

2203: Bester learns that Psi Cop-turned-rogue Stephen Walters is still alive, and hopes one day to catch him himself.  He decides that the best way to catch rogues is to understand them and their motives, a philosophy usually frowned upon in the Corps.  On a hiking trip with his old Cadre Prime classmates, Bester is taunted and beaten by normals; he concludes that telepaths may be required to protect and serve normals, but they should also look after each other as well.

Returning from the hike, Bester recognizes a woman as Lara Brazg, a Blip suspected to be involved in a recent bombing attack on the UIN building.  Following her on a train to Paris, he is eventually caught and almost killed by another rogue, Portis Nielsson, before a Psi Cop, Dr Sandoval Bey, rescues him.  Bester faces punishment from the new mundane Director of Psi Corps, but Dr Bey intervenes and takes Al into his care, encouraging him to open himself up to art, literature, and other people in order to achieve his aim to "be the best".

2204: Bey confides to Bester that Director Johnston is suspicious of their activities - and also of the reason why Director Vacit had been so interested in Bester.  He decides that the best solution is to sever his connections with Bester so he will be free to continue his career advancement undaunted.  However, after Bester is questioned of Bey's activities by Director Johnston, Bey is found hanged in his quarters - an apparent suicide, but Al suspects otherwise.

2205: On a field exercise in his final year at the Minor Academy, Bester falls in love with Elizabeth Montoya.  They develop a relationship for a year, but when Bester tells her he has discovered that they are a genetic match (so that Psi Corps would approve of a child-bearing union between them) she seems less enthusiastic.  She eventually tells Bester that she wants to be free of the Corps and encourages Al to go with her.  She is caught and taken for re-education after Bester informs the Corps.

2222: Bester follows a lead to Mars in the hunt for Resistance leader Stephen Walters.  He discovers the local Psi Corps agents have been more "lenient" on Blips coming to Mars largely due to the involvement of Department Sigma - a top secret organization within the Corps, rumoured to have its own secret base on Mars.  He meets the Department head - Natasha Alexander, who helps him track down the underground headquarters and they locate Walters.  Walters is wounded in the attack - and when Bester finds him he realizes that this is the Dexters' son, whom he has been trying to locate for so long.  Bester dismisses his claims as lies - and kills him.

Bester performs a deathbed scan on one of Walters' associates, Selto, to learn the locations of the major Resistance cells.  His mind is still connected with Selto's when he dies, giving Bester his first glimpse of what may lie beyond death.

2223: Actively volunteering to perform deathbed scans, Bester is drawn to the experience to learn more.  Fearing that the Corps would restrict him, or punish him, he is surprised when they assign him a genetically-matched mate: Alisha Ross.  He does not fall in love with her, but finds himself settling into a comfortable new home life.

He performs his seventh deathbed scan on a rogue from Mars, who has been severely brain damaged.  In the scan, he has a vision of terrifying, arachnid-like beings...  He volunteers to perform his final (unofficial) deathbed scan on a normal - to finally determine whether there is something beyond death.  He learns that all there is is what the heart brings with it - and for him, it's nothing.

Bester learns from his wife that she is pregnant (despite the fact she had been having an affair, Al is not concerned about whether or not the child is his).  At the same time, he learns that a transfer to Mars has been approved by the Corps.

2250: Bester has formed a group of highly-trained operatives, the Black Omega Squadron.  He learns from a mundane that Department Sigma is involved in a highly secretive operation on Mars - something involving the same arachnid-like alien beings he encountered years ago.  One of his former Cadre Prime classmates, Brett, contacts him and warns him about Director Johnston's dislike of Bester personally, and the handling of telepaths and the Corps generally by Johnston and other mundanes.  To protect Al from being implicated in Brett's work, he stages his own death.

2253: Bester tracks an escapee from Department Sigma's operations and discovers once again evidence of experiments on telepaths - involving alien technology.  He is shown an excavation site where a huge alien ship has been unearthed.  He remembers Vacit's warning about Shadows, and makes an agreement with the project administrator to work more closely with them.

Following a spate of telepath killings on Beta Colony, including two Psi Cops, Bester is sent to investigate.  Working with intern Lyta Alexander (Natasha's grand-daughter), he learns of the Colony's distrust of telepaths, and determines that the killings are ritualistic, pointing to a cult of "Adamites" - telepath haters.  Lyta is upset at Bester's methods, which include illegal scans and planting permanent nightmare images in the killer's mind.

2257: With the help of his own inner circle, and the facilities of a secret base in the asteroid belt, Bester learns of an IPX expedition scheduled to leave for Alpha Omega 3 - the location of the alien ship tracked from Mars.  He sends one of his agents to go on the expedition aboard the Icarus.  Following a bogus trail tracking a blip, leading to an attempt on his life, Bester travels to a secret installation on Ganymede along with one of his protégés, Byron.  Bester is taken into a meeting with another new arrival on Ganymede - Psi Corps Director Johnston.  With the help of some agents in his inner circle, Bester stages Johnston's assassination; he knows that a war between mundanes and telepaths is coming, and Bester would rather be the one in control.

Bester takes his Squadron, including Byron, on a chase after a civilian transport holding rogue telepaths.  The transport surrenders the telepaths in a life pod and prepare to surrender.  In order to test Byron's loyalties, Bester orders Byron to shoot down the unarmed transport.  At first Byron is reluctant, but eventually complies.

2258: The Icarus expedition has been officially declared as lost.  Byron has also disappeared, presumed dead after a shoot-out with a rogue transport.  Bester is resigned to continue with his work and his new mission - tracking an escaped Department Sigma subject, Jason Ironheart, to Babylon 5...

Notes: Bester's involvement in "deathbed scans" is mentioned in The Paragon of Animals.  The Shadow vessels found on Mars and Ganymede are seen in Messages From Earth (the one on Mars also in the comic strip Shadows Past and Present).  Byron is seen again in Season Five, and his internship with Bester (and the attack on the civilian transport) recalled in Phoenix Rising.  The events of the Icarus mission are explored in detail in the novel The Shadow Within.  It is revealed that the story about William Karges (see the comic The Psi Corps and You!) is bogus; mention is made of the Psi Corps' involvement with the manufacture of the telepathy-inducing drug dust (Dust to Dust).

Recurring Characters: Alfred Bester, Lyta Alexander, Byron (whose surname is revealed to be Gordon).  Kevin Vacit, Natasha Alexander and Stephen Walters feature in the novel Dark GenesisMorden makes a brief appearance on Ganymede.