The odious creature stared at the newly appointed Centauri Ambassador with mild disgust, flicking its fat tongue over its eyes to clear out the dust kicked up by opening the cabinet. Vir poked the oversized lizard with the handle of a broom in a futile effort to dislodge the creature from where it had apparently decided to nest in the large cupboard of his office.
The lizard hissed twice, before fluttering its blue flaps of calloused scales angrily. This was its territory now, and Vir was trespassing.
Like most buildings in the nascent Imperial colony, nature had reclaimed the ambassadorial residence of the Centauri with astonishing thoroughness. The staff left behind by the Centauri fleet had been minimal: ten Centauri Guardsmen and a single sullen secretary from House Drogo. It was all they could do to make the residence livable with so few warm bodies on hand to do what was needed.
Vir contemplated asking one of the guardsmen to come in and shoot the creature as Londo Mollari swaggered into Vir's office. "Are you still dealing with that damnable creature?"
"It's starting to budge," Vir prodded it with the shaft of the broom, jostling the disinterested creature's excess girth. It narrowed its slitted yellow eyes, trilling in irritation as it snapped at the shift. With a jerk of its neck the shaft snapped, cut clean along the razor sharp beak's edge. "Or not!"
Londo sprinted the distance to the cupboard, slamming the thick wooden door as Vir recoiled from a swipe of the now angry beast's claws. It scratched angrily at the cupboard door's interior, hissing.
"Vir, perhaps this is a job best handled by men with training," Londo pushed his shoulder into the cupboard door as it bucked forward, twisting the deadbolt into place to prevent the creature's escape. "And guns. Large guns."
"I didn't want to hurt him." Vir sighed.
"It would seem that you achieved your goal most admirably, Mr. Cotto." Londo jibed. "The creature is most definitely uninjured. Whether we remain similarly well is up to the quality of this lock. Hopefully they didn't try to cut costs on that; it would be like them to skip on details like that."
"Londo I don't know if I'm ready for this. I mean, an Ambassador? Me? It's too much." Vir swallowed nervously. "I mean, you know?"
"Vir, if you continue to fish for compliments then I will be forced to deflate your already non-existent ego." The elder Centauri picked up a bottle of Imperial wine gifted from the Lady Sáclair from the table, opening it and sniffing the contents inquisitorially. Apparently meeting his standards in such things he poured generous, measure into glassed for the two of them. "Which would be a shame so early into your tenure. I would prefer to save that for your first major screw up, so that I can enjoy the privilege properly."
"I just - " Vir interjected.
"I will hear no more of this insistent self-deprecation. You will do fine, Vir. The Imperials already like you, which is more than most Ambassadors can say. They trust you - to some degree, at least." He pointed to the bottle of liquor. "This is a good vintage of wine. Not a great one. Not a spectacular one. A good one. Do you know what that means, Vir?"
"That they didn't have much wine on hand?" Vir replied exasperatedly. "I'm not really a heavy drinker, Ambassador."
"Vir. When I give a gift on behalf of my government I buy something extravagant. It has to be something that will showcase the might and majesty of our Republic. When I give a gift as an Ambassador or as a member of house Mollari I must be memorable, but not wasteful, in demonstrating my own importance to society." Londo sipped the wine before continuing. "But this, this is the sort of wine one does not keep in a cellar for generations to prove that you own the bottle. This is not a wine that is brought out for some special once in a lifetime occasion. This is a wine to be drunk, a wine to be enjoyed with a pleasant meal. It is a casual gift between equals."
Vir took a drink from his own glass. It was...nice. Not the best he'd ever had, but it had a smooth and earthy flavor. "You're sure?"
"You have much to learn, Vir." Londo lounged in the chair of Vir's new office. "But you will learn, and learn quickly. You are not as incompetent as you at first appear."
From Londo, it was high praise.
"I've taken the liberty of contacting the Homeworld and informing them of the situation. I admit that they were surprised by your appointment to the position but when I informed them that it was you or no-one else, not even the Homeworld was foolish enough to miss a chance at permanent diplomatic relations with the Empire." Londo shook his head, and slapped Vir across the shoulders. "Why are you so determined to fight thism Vir? It is a good move for you, a smart move. Be happy, or at least pretend to be till I leave."
"It just isn't me. I'm not – I can't be," The younger Centauri pulled at his collar, trying and failing to cool his chest with the stiflingly humid air. "It's just – too important for me."
"It is important Vir. It is extremely important." The Ambassador swirled his wine, resting his hand upon the windowsill. Tropical birds trilled happily, flitting about the bright green foliage encroaching upon the settlement. "Vir, do you know why I was appointed to Babylon 5? It was not out of respect for my abilities and my position, I assure you. It was a joke. No one expected it to last more than a year. No one expected to last more than a week. It was a final insult to end my career and destroy what remained of my honor."
Londo turned from the window, raising his glass and leering happily as he chuckled in mirth, "But now? Now I am important. People seek me out, seek my favors. The fortunes of house Mollari are my own."
With a sigh of exasperated sympathy, he patted Vir's arm paternally. "You must never let them think that this job is – that you are – a joke. It must never be a joke to them, or to you. Our people are great, but we forget our limits. You have an opportunity to make
yourself relevant, to make yourself capable. I expect great things of you, Mr. Cotto."
"But what about you?" Vir's mind returned to the devious man who now guided those same good fortunes Londo enjoyed, the snake Morden. "What will you do without me?"
"Vir!" Londo's voice cracked irritatedly. "I survived without you for years of my life. The couple of months it will take to send me a new secretary will not kill me."
"But-" Vir tried to get a word in edgewise, failing miserably.
"But nothing, Vir." The Ambassador downed his drink, slamming the glass on Vir's desk. "You will be here and you will do a good job of it too. I've promised the home office that you are a qualified Ambassador and I will not have you making a fool of me."
Londo frowned, a hiccup working its way into his speech. "And – and I feel it would be better for you to be away from me, Vir."
"Ambassador?" Vir swallowed apprehensively.
"Vir, things are getting beyond my control. You've seen the signs: the Vorlon fleet attacking seemingly at random, new powers arising that can destroy entire Narn fleets, and even the appearance of the Empire. The galaxy is changing, and I think not for the better."
Londo picked at his jacket, pulling a burr from it and flicking it to the floor. "I've allied myself with dangerous people, Vir. People who will destroy anyone who is not a useful ally. I – I need you here Vir. I need you to be safe. I – I need someone I can trust in a position to help the Empire if something should – should something happen to me."
A hard rapping crack of a guardsman's knuckle upon the door to Vir's office silenced whatever reply he might have had. Vir looked to Mollari, briefly expecting the elder Centauri to speak, before remembering that they were in Vir's Embassy, not Mollari's.
He spoke a nervous, "Enter." that earned him an eye-roll from Ambassador Mollari. He could expect a lecture from Ambassador Londo on a properly scornful greeting in the near future.
The breast-plated guardsman strode into the room, saluting and declaring, "Ambassador Ta'lon to see you sir," before turning permitting a broad-shouldered Narn through the door.
G'Kar had appointed the singularly intimidating Narn to the rank of "interim-ambassador" until the Narn homeworld could select an appropriate diplomatic representative. Although he was probably the best choice from the Narn fleet on hand, Vir suspected that the decision had not been made in the best of faith by G'Kar. The warrior was a curious choice of representative, for as a bearer of the K'tok, he could never permit his blade to be taken by another.
Vir had, thankfully, been warned of Ta'lon's appointment with enough prior warning to issue a standing order to permit him to carry the K'tok blade to avoid a diplomatic incident. The Guardsmen still eyed the blade disapprovingly, but Vir doubted he had anything to fear from the other Narn.
In their time together on the Endless Bounty Vir had come to know him as a recalcitrant, irascible, and crotchety grimace of a man, never using five words when a decent grunt and glare would do just as well. For all his apparent unpleasantness, though, he was a surprisingly forward-thinking person and well respected by his Narn peers.
Ta'lon did not like the Centauri, but by all accounts he seemed to tolerate Vir. It was as much as anyone could hope for, he supposed.
"The Imperial is causing me problems," Ta'lon interjected without preamble or greeting. "I assume he is causing you the same."
"Yes," Vir sighed. "He is."
The 'he' in question was none other than Gaer Tiber, the cyborg in charge of Belzafest's military. The sour tempered cyborg hated all aliens. He resented the embassies, the Centauri, the Narn and anything that wasn't a pureblood human. Gaer could not, of course, do anything overtly hostile to either the Narn or the Centauri while they had the blessing of both the Inquisitor and Lady Sáclair but that did not stop a number of "accidents" from happening around the alien embassies.
Supplies disappeared. Predators made it past the security perimeter. All manner of local flora and fauna proved to be regularly too much for the Imperials to clear without specialized equipment, which of course could not be spared for weeks or even months. Individually none of these were enough to suggest malfeasance, but the accidents were happening with such regularity that they could be nothing other than intentional sabotage.
The Imperial had obviously blamed it on internal strife with a displaced ethnic group, but it was obvious in the man's scorn that he was lying. Vir recognized that look of contempt. It was the same look his uncle had worn whenever he'd spoken of the Narn.
"I've had to repair my tachyon array ten times in the past three days." Ta'lon barked. "The flying skulls keep 'accidentally' flying into its transmission dish. The man claimed that we were 'summoning them' with our foul machine spirits."
"And what do you propose we do about it?" Vir looked to Londo. "Confront him?"
"Not unless you want to look like an idiot." Ta'lon growled. "No, that would only result in more overt hostility from the man. We do not need to irritate the hound to stop him from biting us; we need only yell to the ones holding his leash. You have... connections that I cannot claim."
Vir nodded. House Sáclair had a certain level of respect for him. And while he couldn't be sure of the Lady Sáclair, he knew for a fact that Ami Sáclair would be a sympathetic to his plight. "Do you want to be at the meeting?"
"Yes," Ta'lon growled. "I do."
The electric lights flickered, spitting and hissing as they struggled to draw power. A distant screech of machinery howled out from the center of the settlement, mingling with the screeching binary prayers of Imperial Machine cultists.
"Great Maker!" Londo shoved his fingers into his ears. "What the devil is that?"
"It would seem that the pillar they've been building in the town square is being put to use." Ta'lon commented dryly, massaging his own ear with a gauntleted palm. "They do seem determined to make the loudest racket possible."
"They ripped up most of the internal defenses we left behind," Vir shouted over the noise. "They seemed to think they couldn't trust them."
"Probably wise," Londo admitted. "They were outdated by decades, even by our standards of weaponry. They must look archaic to the Empire."
A pillar of light shot up from the town center, a flowering ark of blue light emanating from the fifteen story tower and spreading out into the sky. A thin film of energy spread across the settlement in all directions for ten miles, providing a translucent canopy of protective force. Tiny motes of light rained down from the energy dome, tiny dancing stars frolicking through the sky.
It was a shield, a shield that covered the settlement - and then some.
"Great Maker," Londo whispered.
"It is a wall," Ta'Lon growled. "Nothing more. Will, flesh, and minds will trump it no matter how impressive it might be."
"I would very much like to see you defeat that with your blade," Londo joked scathingly.
"I already have defeated it." Ta'lon replied. "A wall cannot keep out a man who is already beyond it."
The Narn nodded to Vir, "Arrange a meeting with the young Ms. Sáclair, before her mad dog takes it upon himself to correct that error."
Vir nodded, staring from Ta'lon's blade to the now closed closet and back as a thought took shape. "Ambassador Ta'lon. How well does a K'tok cut through scales?"
The Ambassador's lopsided mouth curved up into a grin, "The K'tok cuts through solid steel. Why?"
Vir explained his lizard problem over the sound of Londo's uproarious laughter and Ta'lon's muffled chuckling. Let them laugh! The creature would finally be gone. The Narn Ambassador wiped tears of mirth from his eyes, sauntering over to the still-rocking cabinet.
"Come then Ambassador Vir, let us battle with your fearsome foe."
At least one thing would go right today.
Last edited by Todeswind; 10-24-13 at 03:56 AM.