The shifting reds of hyperspace were endlessly passing the false window, bathing everyone in the bridge with a dull red glow. At the center of the bridge, sitting stiffly and observing his crew with an expression of mild disapproval was a man with a ruff of great hear that stuck out like a peacock's feathers. The man's hair and everything about his dress was tailored specifically to reflect his status and bloodline. Seated at the command consuls were young men with similar, though smaller, crests of feathered hair. The only man in the room wearing a crest of hair vaguely as grand as Captian Ibil's, was an abstentious looking man in the broad striped silks of the Psychic's guild. Ibil sat with his elbows on the armrests and his fingertips pressed together at his lips in an expression of concentration.
"Pretty, isn't it sir?" asked a young officer with a broad smile and smug eyes. One of a number of officers assigned to the primus by blood rather than merit, thought Ibil. They did have a habit of opening their mouths in order to prove their inexperience. For reasons beyond his understanding his new recruits were convinced that a captain staring out into hyperspace was thinking deep thoughts rather than doing what any sane person did while on standby in hyperspace. Namely thinking of everywhere you would rather be than sitting in a chair staring at shifting red nothingness for ten hour shifts, "Shame it's only a view screen and not a real window. I want to be able to see our enemies with my own eyes, look in to their hearts."
"Mr. Marran I suggest in future you simply shut your lips and look like a fool rather than open your lips and prove my suspicions," The Bridge of a Primus had no true windows. It was seated in the ships heart behind many thick sheets of armored metal and ceramics. The command crew of the "Majesty of Morva" was seated at their posts. The Centauri went through great pains to ensure that the exact location of the bridge on a primus was slightly different from ship to ship. It was more expensive to produce ships that way. Substantially more expensive than the cost of making the newer, faster Vorchan class warships but it prevented Narn saboteurs from being able to sneak to the bridge and assassinate high-ranking officials and officers. Unfortunately for Captain Ibil Movan it also meant that the servants responsible from bringing him hot Jala was always insufferably late in coming. Not for the first time since being given the duty of patrolling the wild space at the edge of Drazi territory did he curse the name of Vocator Reefa for condemning him to this pitiful scrap of nowhere.
What matter was it to the great Centauri if the Drazi were to choose to attack their neighbors? The great Centauri Lion ought to be stretching its claws and grasping back the territories lost, not watching the lesser powers fighting over table's scraps. It was a sad time to be a Centauri for sure. He rubbed his hand over his generous forehead and muttered darkly as his aide strode into the room carrying a glass of hot Jala on a silver platter. Ibil must have done something to set himself in disfavor with his house to earn him the misfortune of such an addlebrained aide; the boy walked with altogether too much pride for his station but it was perhaps to be expected from house Reefa, "Great Maker! Did you feel the need to walk every corridor in the ship before coming?"
"Apologies sir, I'm not used to the ships layout yet. My previous posting was on a luxury liner, I could not find a map of the ship."
"Addlebrained child, this is a warship not a pleasure liner. There are no maps posted on the walls nor will there ever be," he shared a pained look with the guardsman to his right. The guardsman, in the tight breeches and green jacket of house Movan stared back impassively. Just as well he didn't talk, a soldier who wasted too much time on words was a fool in Ibil's mind. He looked to the data pad in his aide's hand being careful not to say the aide's name and risk giving any impression of approval, "I'll take my messages now as well boy. Be quick about it."
His aide scowled as he put down the tray on the table next to Ibil and looked down to the data pad, "You've received several messages from home-world sir. Your wife has laid out a list of the expenses of your household that she had billed to your personal accounts. I'd suggest altering the access codes to them soon sir, there are some irregularities in the accounting." Unsurprising but not tragic, it was a wife's prerogative to steal from her husband in case of divorce or dishonor in later life. The next message was just as mundane but no less frustrating, "It would seem that we've surrendered another colony to the Narn or rather are about to soon. House Reefa seems to believe that we will soon be forced to retreat from quadrant 37."
"Another glorious victory for the Centauri Republic," muttered Ibil darkly. The Emperor was not as great of a leader as his father. His father had perhaps had a taste for war beyond what was strictly necessary but the new Emperor was almost six rods short of a man. Most people said so in private though none had the political power to do much else than mutter darkly. There was little impetus to do more than talk though. Taking over the Empire at this point was a fool's errand, who wants to be the next in a line of failing Emperors?
His Aide continued, "There's also a general order about our mission in wild space warning us to beware of Drazi warships and… I believe that we need to get a doctor into the bridge as soon as is possible."
"Is our mission making you ill boy?"
"No sir," he protested though his expression had gone distinctly nauseous, "But I believe the honorable representative of the Guild of Psychers is in some considerable pain."
He was right. Elan Vashan was swaying drunkenly as he gritted his teeth together moaning. He was gripping the sash that marked his rank within psychic's guild tightly, stretching the silk to the point of breaking. Two guardsmen ran from Ibil's side to help steady the guild representative. The psychic's face had gone totally white and his eyes were unfocused. The tentacles wrapped around his pelvis shifted and jerked beneath his shirt indecently. His arms and legs twitched. He muttered to himself darkly as he steadied himself, walked over behind a hanging tapestry, and emptied the contents of his stomach.
Ibil winced at the scent of vomit, "Call the doctor to the bridge. Mr. Vashan seems to have taken ill." He waved to his aide.
"No! Not… not ill," Elan Vashan wiped at his face with his sleeve, "Not me anyway. I don't know about him."
"I see. He's the one in pain then?" said a slightly apprehensive Ibil. Elan was starting at a blank patch of gilded metal on the wall with wrapped attention, "Rush that order for the doctor Mr. Reefa."
"Great maker! Listen, I am not ill and I am not hallucinating. I'm fine just listen," his tone was anything but fine, "I just received a message, at least I think it was a message. There's someone out here lost, in trouble. They want help."
Par Milla, the comms officer, looked up perplexed, "I haven't received any distress signals in hours sir. Are you sure you've not taken ill. Fever will make a man imagine any number of things."
Elan closed his eyes in an apparent effort to resist the urge to scream, "To hell with fever. I don't give a damn what you have and have not received. There is a distress signal being sent out from a nearby system… by someone not recorded in Centauri history. No race I can think of has such powerful psychics."
"The Vorlons?" Mr. Reefa looked hopeful. Ibis couldn't blame him. The idea of coming to a Vorlon's rescue had a distinct appeal to it.
"The Vorlons send tachyon transmissions the same as anyone else… at least I think they do. I suppose they could send a telepathic distress signal, they're rumored to be able to any number of things," Ibil twisted the stem of his glass between his thumb and index finger watching the green liquid swirl, "But I can't see them pleading with one of the lesser races for help. And even if they did, what can we do against something that troubles a Vorlon?"
"Sir, if we don't help whomever it is sending the message I do suspect I will go mad. It's like being trapped in a room with someone distinctly infuriating who won't stop talking," Elan said in a pained voice, "And I suspect I should become an infuriating man in this bridge till someone was so kind as to liberate me of the noise."
"Don't be melodramatic Mr. Elan," Ibis smiled, "And calm your nerves. I intend to respond to your distress signal. It isn't as though we're saddled with an abundance of other pressing matters. I suspect the Drazi will survive without us for the next few hours without the benevolent gaze of the Centauri Republic's finest."
"Of course sir. I knew you would make the right choice. I have absolute confidence in your judgment," he said in a voice of great anticipation, "I'm not sure exactly where the signal is coming from but I believe it's in this direction." The psychic pointed off into the void of hyperspace.
It was strange to be traveling through hyperspace without exact co-ordinates of the destination. The Majesty of Morva was not a particularly agile ship and every time Elan decided that they were going in the wrong direction course corrections took longer than Ibis would normally care for. Elan was taking them farther and farther into wild space, the area at the rim of the known galaxy. Little was known about the rim and few expeditions were willingly taken to it. It was an odd place where many dark races were rumored to live and only a handful of known hyperspace gates existed.
Elan was determined to drag them as far into that scrap of nowhere as he could, farther and farther from the network of hyperspace gates. Farther from safety, perhaps this would be a true first contact situation after all. The men who made first contact with other races were often richly paid for their efforts in land and titles. The ill-fated Centauri first contact with the Dilgar had been rewarded by the Centarum in spite of fiasco. The Centauri hated unknowns. The unknown could not be prepared for or used and was insufferably prone to destroying the machinations of the noble houses. Those who made the unknown matters of the universe known and quantifiable were rewarded accordingly.
"Just a bit farther," Elan muttered to himself. His eyes were closed and his ear was raised as though he was trying to hear something in the distance. He opened his eyes and tapped on the display in front of officer seated at navigation controls, "There. We need to exit there."
The Majesty of Morva's hyperdrive generator hummed into life and a swirling window opened in front of it. After a brief flash of light the view screen shifted from images of a swirling red maelstrom to blackness of space dappled with pinpricks of starlight. They'd existed into a binary star system with seven planets, twenty one moons, and one great hulking mass of spaceship in orbit of the fourth moon of the fifth planet.
"It would seem Mr. Elan's fever is catching. For if he's going mad then I suppose I am as well," chuckled the navigation officer.
"Great Maker that's a large ship!" Ibis muttered darkly. It was easily three times the size of the Majesty of Morva, "Not a transport certainly."
The tactical officer Pex Wen was starting at readout with wrapped attention. Pex was running his fingers through his ridiculous goatee and drumming his fingers on his knee "I believe it's a warship. It certainly has enough guns to be one. Then again even a transport is capable of carrying guns."
"Is this a trap?" Ibis said as the viewscreen zoomed in closer to the ship. It was most certainly well armed even if it wasn't a warship. A number of smaller craft were darting about it, moving to the planet below and to the moons beyond, "A large ship doesn't guarantee great weapons but I'd prefer not to chance it."
"I would assume their signal is genuine. They aren't making any efforts to use electronic countermeasures and there are several gaping holes in the hull that have only recently been patched. You don't plan an ambush with a single damaged warship, even a large one," Pex muttered to himself, "There are some strange energy readings to this ship though, readings I can't place."
"I would be astounded if we were able to just guess at the purposes of every system," Ibil stood up and walked over to the tactical display, "Do they know we're here?"
"They know… muttered Elan," the psychic sat down on the floor, "I can't understand the thoughts exactly but I understand the message. They're frightened but glad to see another person. At least I think they are, the specifics are always confusing when communicating with non-Centauri minds," he started pawing at his sash, "I think I've managed to convince him that we're no danger to them, at least for now."
"Hail them Mr. Milla," Ibis smiled, "Its about time we met our new friends."
"I've tried sending tachyon signals but they're not responding sir," the young officer was looking perplexed, "I think that they must rely on psychics for long ranged communications," his eyes widened as the gears turned in his head, "And why would they? If they're going to send out distress signals though psychics then why not use them exclusively for long-range communications? Sir I don't know if I'm even going to be able to reach these people."
"Don't be too sure of that Mr. Milla," Pex sounded pleased with himself, "Check microwave band and radio transmissions and try running them through an audio-visual encoder. I suspect that their short range transmissions might be more viable."
"Microwave? Damned primitives," muttered Milla as he re-calibrated the communications network, "By the Gods they're definitely sending out radio signals and microwave signals to communicate between the larger ship and the smaller ones."
"Can the language programs translate?" This was looking increasingly better to Ibis. He could think of at least one technology these primitives might want to trade for right off the bat.
"Doubtful sir," Milla shook his head, "Not without a frame of reference. And even then," he looked down at a flashing light, "sir, I think they're hailing us."
"Then respond Maker take you! We can't afford to anger them this early into a first contact situation," Ibis couldn't help but wonder what they would look like. Would they be bipedal like the Humans and Narn or insectoid like the Gaim, or even crystalline as some claimed the Vorlons to be? He briefly amused himself with fantasies of a race of beautiful promiscuous women with smooth heads and golden skin. Great Maker it had been far too long since he'd last attended a gentleman's establishment.
"Just calibrating a few things sir," Millan muttered as he jiggled the controls, "And there we go!"
The entire bridge crew held its collective breath as a image flickered into life on the viewscreen and Ibis looked at a scene that seemed familiar but at the same time altogether alien. The first thing Ibis noticed was the wide double-headed bird of prey painted onto the wall behind the aliens. The solid gold of the eagle stood out garishly against the crimson paint on the wall. In front of the wall were figures that shared a passing resemblance to the Centauri, but only a passing one. A group of figures wearing hooded red cloaks fringed with black and white checks were clustered around a smaller, somewhat frazzled looking alien strapped into a chair. White globes with mechanical arms hovered about the machine, adjusting and tweaking it. In front of that cluster were two men; at least he assumed they were men, facing the camera. The first was almost skeletal looking and pallid. He had a milky white eye third sitting in the center of his forehead that glowed slightly. The man to his right was, for lack of a better word, massive, not muscular just large. Great folds of blubber hung down from his arms and his entire body was suspended from a mechanical frame.
The blubbery man and the smaller man raised their arms to their chests, crossing them with thumbs locked and fanning them over their chests. The larger man spoke at friendly pace in alien speech, "Guten Tag creatura foris plurrimi sanctus terra Imperator. Dhe paqe qoftë mbi ju." He smiled widely in what Ibis hoped was a friendly gesture. Considering the man's considerable girth Ibis couldn't help but wonder what prey this species ate to make it so large.
Still it couldn't hurt to be polite. He responded by offering his hands palms up and saying, "Greetings from the Centauri Republic. I offer you the hands of friendship!"
The wobbling chins shook with approval. Apparently the hands of friendship had some sort of similar cultural basis. The man spoke in the alien tones again apparently eager to get to business. Ibis turned to Elan, "Do they realize we can't understand a word they're saying?"
"Apparently not. I'll try to explain it," Elan scrunched up his face and grunted. The men in the Alien ship turned around to the man strapped to the chair as he started to speak. Ibis realized with dawning horror that the man strapped into the machine must be a psychic, the chair he sat in was probably way permitted him to send psychic transmissions into hyperspace. Moreover it seemed likely that the psychic had no choice in the matter, one rarely shackled themselves to a chair of their own volition. More alarmingly after closer examination the globe like robots flitting about the room were quite clearly built to resemble skulls. No, not to resemble skulls, they were skulls.
The large man, apparently unaware of Ibis revulsion, turned from the psychic and bowed slightly. Apparently he was apologizing for his rudeness. Ibis bowed back, "Mister Milla would you be so kind as to transmit the first contact protocols to them via microwave transmission. I would like to be able to actually do more than bow at some point."
"Of course sir."
The two men on the other ship turned to the cluster of men in red robes when one of them started to speak. The voice was distinctly metallic. It seemed entirely possible that the men in red robes were some form of android or servant species to the other two. One of the androids pulled up a red box and asked something of the larger man. The larger man smiled and nodded.
"Well men, prepare to receive their language codes, this went about as smoothly as I could hope for," Ibis smiled to himself. His contentment did not last. As soon as the men in red turned back to the man on the chair and tapped into the small computer Elan began to scream. Ibis jerked back in horror and looked up at the men on the screen, "Stop damnit! Stop!"
The skeletal man rounded on the men behind him, "Stop jetzt! Vacuus creatura de apparatus, Stop jetzt pro EGO Träne sicco vestri pectus pectoris of lux lucis! Nos brauchen lemma."
One of the metal men responded impassively, "Nos can non subsisto. Phasmatis of apparatus hat einen eigenen Willen. Wissen du geest est partis per mens."
"Disconnect the transmission," Ibis yelled, "Do it now!"
"Do I fire on them sir! Do I fire on them?" The tactical officer was starting at the twitching psychic with mounting apprehension. Ibis was tempted to agree with him, they needed to get out of that system quickly. He might have been too eager to dismiss the ship as a threat.
"No!" Elan spat up a bloody glob of spittle, "They aren't attacking. They're sharing their language and basic math," he grunted in pain, "At least I think that's what's happening. I don't think they intended for this to be sent to someone who wasn't prepared for it."
Elan groaned in frustration, "Somebody get me paper," he waved away the soldier helping him to his feet, "to the abyss with standing up just get me some damned paper."
"Even so I must insist that we leave the system immediately," the tactical officer had already started typing in the commands to warm up the hyperspace engines, "We can head for homeworld and regroup."
"Fine, send them the co-ordinates for Babylon 5 and get us out of here. We've done our duty. Let Mollari deal with this mess." Ibis was not looking forward to this debriefing on the home world. It would be a nightmare.
Please review. Any input at all is useful.
I'm combining german, latin, and albanian to make "Gothic" anything that is said in gothic will be either explained later in the story or will made clear by context (hopefully). I always find it annoying when everyone in the damn universe speaks English or to have a Western Uk/American perspective on life.