Alfred Bester (Babylon 5)
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|Babylon 5 character|
|First appearance||Mind War|
|Last appearance||The Corps Is Mother, the Corps Is Father|
|Portrayed by||Walter Koenig|
|Affiliated with||Psi Corps|
Alfred Bester is a Babylon 5 character played by Walter Koenig. He is a senior Psi Cop and a recurring antagonist in the series. J. Michael Straczynski named the character after the science fiction writer Alfred Bester, since telepathy is a recurring theme in his work (most notably The Demolished Man, which partly may have inspired the Psi corps and the "death of personality" legal punishment in the Babylon 5 universe).
Early Life and Career
The birth, life and death of Alfred Bester is chronicled in the Psi Corps Trilogy by Gregory Keyes, which reveals that the infant Stephen Kevin Dexter had been renamed by his grandfather, Kevin Vacit, in order to conceal his parentage. His chosen assumed name refers to the science fiction author, Alfred Bester.
His biological parents were Matthew and Fiona Dexter, both leaders in the earliest days of the resistance against the Psi Corps. While director of the Psi Corps, Kevin Vacit arranged for his daughter Fiona to be broken out of a rogue telepath reeducation camp, as a part of his campaign to actually nurture the resistance, believing at the time that the competition between the rogues and the Corps would strengthen the telepaths' gene pool through natural selection. An encounter with the Vorlons changed his position on this, leading him to believe that only deliberate experimentation and selective breeding would produce telepaths strong enough to protect humanity from future threats. This led directly to the purges of 2189, a Psi Corps offensive which decimated the resistance and in which Bester's parents were killed. He was found by the Psi Corps, renamed, and placed in Cadre Prime, a training group composed of telepaths whose ESP had manifested during infancy. Bester was told that his parents were members in good standing of the Corps who had been murdered by the resistance, though he was not told their names or shown any photographs. This did not distress him, as he had full confidence in the Corps' slogan, "The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father."
Being a P-12, the strongest naturally occurring category of human telepaths, he was able to join the metasensory police and eventually tracked down the resistance's leader, Stephen Walters. He did not yet know that Walters had been his parents' closest friend and ally, or that the man was in fact his godfather and namesake. When Walters revealed Bester's true heritage, Bester went berserk and emptied his PPG at the man. Bester was left with a tight psychological knot of rage, guilt and denial, resulting in a mental block that left his left hand (with which he'd fired the gun) permanently non-functional. Throughout the TV series, Bester's left fist is always clenched, a predicament that is never explained or even discussed. Only with the appearance of the second novel in the Bester trilogy (which was published in 1999, when the series had already ended), do we get the explanation.
Bester was notorious even among his fellow telepaths of the Corps for his ruthlessness, performing illegal mind scans on Mundanes at need, disregarding privacy laws and due process and heedless of the dangers such "Deep Scans" pose to the subjects' mental and physical safety. He also had a disturbing willingness to perform so-called Deathbed Scans, combing a dying person's mind for vital information up until the very moment of death. Such scans were known to be harmful to the telepath's mental health, with some believing that one lost a piece of one's soul by being in contact with the person as they crossed the threshold. Almost no telepath, having once done so, would willingly do so a second time, with subsequent attempts thought to be very damaging to the psyche. However, Bester repeatedly volunteered for such duty, believing that he could gain some special knowledge from the experience, ultimately performing an unprecedented eight deathbed scans. During the eighth, he follows his subject into the "void" and has a near-death experience in which he is informed that a telepath investigating death only experiences what he brings in his heart; he realized his is empty as he then experiences nothingness before being resuscitated by the hospital staff attending to the dying subject.
During his career as a member of the Psi Corps, he was responsible for retaking the post of director of the Psi Corps from the mundanes by assassinating the director of the Psi Corps.
Involvement within the Series
When Bester first appeared in the Babylon 5 series, he was in pursuit of a powerful telepath named Jason Ironheart, who had been the victim of illegal genetic and drug experiments by the Psi Corps in an attempt to create a powerful supertelepath, a P20 or beyond. Bester didn't get along with the command staff, a point which continually occurred throughout the series.
Bester eventually agreed to work with Captain John Sheridan at several points during the Shadow War particularly after the Shadows captured someone very close to Bester. However, after Michael Garibaldi was captured during an attack by the Shadows on the station, Bester was able to secretly recover and capture him in turn. Bester had become aware of an anti-telepath conspiracy, and decided to try to use Garibaldi to expose it. Bester subjected him to subtle reprogramming in order to use him as a sleeper agent. He exploited Garibaldi's inherent traits of paranoia and distrust of authority, correctly believing that the conspiracy would view Garibaldi as a prime recruit once alienated from his friends and work.
The wealthy industrialist William Edgars, the plot's mastermind, believed that a civil war among humanity would be counterproductive no matter how totalitarian the current regime. Edgars insisted that Garibaldi draw out Sheridan before he would bring Garibaldi fully into his confidence. Garibaldi, not suspecting why he was so driven to find out the innermost secrets of the plot, betrayed Sheridan to agents of the corrupt President Clark. Edgars then revealed that his pharmaceutical company, Edgars Industries, had perfected a lethal virus which would attack telepaths' unique genes. Any infected telepath would quickly die without regular doses of the antidote they had also created. This would reduce telepaths to a slave race and avert the war which many normals and telepaths believed loomed on the horizon. After learning this, Garibaldi entered a fugue state, and alerted Bester and the Psi Corps. The Corps murdered William Edgars and captured the only known samples of both the virus and antidote. Bester came to Garibaldi, still locked in his robotic paralysis, and revealed the details of the brainwashing and the deception. Although tempted to kill Garibaldi, Bester instead removed the commands and left Garibaldi to cope with the realization that he had betrayed everyone he knew on all sides.
It was later revealed that, even with the programming removed, Bester had left in place an 'Asimov', a type of mental block - adapted from the first of Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics (Bester stated that it had been adapted from the first two of Asimov's laws, but his explanation only covered the first law) - knowing that Garibaldi would likely murder him on sight if not prevented from doing so. Lyta Alexander eventually agreed to remove the block from Garibaldi's mind, once he had helped her destroy the Psi Corps.
After the series
Following the Telepath War, Alfred Bester was wanted for war crimes that he committed. He was planned to appear in the Crusade episode "Value Judgments", written by Fiona Avery, on the run from the authorities and being sought by Garibaldi's agents. The episode would have shown him encountering the crew of the Excalibur, who require a powerful telepath to open a lock that responds to powerful telepathy. The episode would have ended with him escaping once again.
He spent several years on the run before moving to Paris, France, where he fell in love with a local businesswoman named Louise. But Michael Garibaldi was relentless in his pursuit, and eventually tracked him down. Bester was brought before the war crimes tribunal, and was tried in France for his crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison and subjected to the Sleeper drugs that deprived him of his telepathic abilities. During that time, a statue was even made of the lost child of Fiona. He then spent the next 10 years in a maximum-security prison, and died shortly after the death of John Sheridan in 2281. The very day before his death, he finally accepted that he was indeed the 'lost child' of Matthew and Fiona Dexter, and his left fist finally reopened as a result. Even in death, Garibaldi pursued him. After Bester's funeral, Garibaldi went to the gravesite and hammered a wooden stake into the ground above Bester's coffin. This quite amused a departing watcher, who was fully aware of what Bester had done and been in life.
Appearance in Babylon 5 novels
- Babylon 5: Book 1 - Voices
- Psi Corps Trilogy:
- Babylon 5: Dark Genesis: The Birth of the Psi Corp (part 1)
- Babylon 5: Deadly Relations: Bester Ascendant (part 2)
- Babylon 5: Final Reckoning: The Fate of Bester (part 3)
- "Babylon 5 Behind the Scenes: Literary and Historical References". Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. November 5, 1999. Retrieved February 7, 2019.
The antagonist in "Mind War" was named after Alfred Bester, author of "The Demolished Man," a classic SF work about telepathy. The novel also featured a telepaths' guild similar in many ways to B5's Psi Corps.
- Keyes, J. Gregory, Babylon 5: Final Reckoning - The Fate of Bester, Del Rey Books, 1999