A single red giant glowed at the center of the system like a baleful eye in the middle of the cold stone of a dozen dead worlds. They were shadowy seats of powers long dead or so G'kar had believed. A squadron of ships had been lurking in the gravity well of the moon.
The dead did not rest easy it would seem.
At the edge of sensor range ships black as hell were tearing through space, hell bent on his destruction. They'd stumbled into a hornet's nest of black darts and plasma-fire.
The engines of his Frazi class heavy fighter groaned and screeched as he watched the three flickering blips. He licked his lips in frustration and tapped the communicator. "Stay together! Just a little further to the gate."
He flinched as a great purple blob of plasma shot past his window. It collided with one of his escorts. The ship cracked and burst, tossing shrapnel against the hull. It thudded and pinged ominously against the already stressed sides.
G'Nok, leader of his escort, yelled from the fighter behild G'kar, "We're not going to make it."
"Yes we will," G'Kar said, not believing a word of it. These darts were faster than his ship could hope to be. There was no practical way he'd reach the jump-gate in time.
"No," G'Nok said in a tone of stony resolve, "Leave us. Tell the others. Warn them!"
G'Kar winced as the two little green hexagons on his radar turned and charged the ships behind them, firing as fast as they could. The black darts slowed and tried to correct their course to avoid the fighters. He could still hear the warning klaxons of an imminent hull depressurization as G'Nok yelled, "In death we salute you….Honor our names, goodbye."
G'Nok's ship crashed into the dart-ship, exploding with the force of the ship's fission reactors and tossing the other darts off course. G'Kar closed his eyes prayed for their souls. By G'Quan, he would escape to validate their sacrifices, "G'Quan bless your names. You will be remembered with honor."
G'Kar didn't even bother to wait for his sensors to properly calibrate before he started up his computers and activated the command system, "Set Jumpgate sequence, destination Babylon 5."
"No," Susan repeated for the fifth time over the Interlac translator, "Those are friendlies, I repeat those are friendlies. Do not fire on them. Do not fire on anyone coming through the gate unless they fire first."
She turned to Lt. Corwin and suppressed as screech as she switched off the transmission, "I swear to God, these Imperials had better have something worth all the insanity that we're having to go through for them. They're insufferable."
"I think it's an automated system they've got programmed to ask that question whenever a new ship enters the system. The grammar is always exactly the same for every ship that enters the system."
"I'm just grateful we finally convinced them that they didn't need to have their gun-ports open at all times. ISN is going to have a field day over this thing if something tweaks them off. I'd rather not put those shields of theirs to the test," The Imperials were understandably trigger-happy what had
happened on their first day at Babylon 5. It was uncommon to be involved in a firefight at was supposed to be neutral territory even when you understood all the players involved in local politics.
It had been two weeks and they didn't know any more about these Imperials than what the Centauri had shared. The repair bots had got some candid shots of spacesuit-clad bipeds crawling about around on the hull conducting repairs. Small shuttles and Imperial fighters had been flying around the system at odd hours, always filing flight plans with Babylon 5 but never explaining what they were doing or why.
"They sent another request to verify the atmospheric conditions of the station that came in last shift. I did what you asked and just re-sent the same data as last time with an updated scan of the docking bay," he pulled out a data crystal, "We actually had one of the techs set up a macro for it in the future."
"Oh, I could hug you Lieutenant. Typing that command in five times a day was enough once in a lifetime, every day for two weeks….it's just too much." Additional quarantine procedures that were demanded of any species coming to Babylon 5 for the first time but the steps the Imperials were
demanding was wholesale paranoia.
It had been two weeks since the crimson and gold ship had arrived and Susan was still confirming a re-confirming the most basic of atmospheric data and bacteria warnings, even after they'd informed her that they had no intention of entering the station without encounter suits. It was like dealing with some hypochondriac version of the Vorlon Empire. At least the Vorlons had the common sense to simply sit in the distance and look cryptic, the chatter between the station and the Imperial ship had been incessant.
The Imperial ship had sent not one but five alphabets and distinct languages. When Susan had asked if they could specify which languages were used by the Imperial government in official documents the Imperials had responded that they already had done so then sent an additional six hundred languages that were apparently colloquial languages of the Empire. She rather pitied the linguistics department at Earthdome who got to sift through that data.
And the prayers! Every three hours without fail the ship would broadcast a signal to the various ships in system. When Babylon 5 had sent a request for a translation of the signal they'd gotten more than they bargained for. Most of the finer points of the prayers were lost in translation to and from interlac but there were some uncomfortable lines about "burning the unclean" and "cleansing the unworthy" that reminded her too much of Dilgar battle rhetoric.
"On the bright side Mam' they seem to have very advanced technologies," the lieutenant smiled, "I wouldn't mind getting a look at the cockpit of one of those Imperial fighters. They may maneuver like a tank but they're fast as all get out."
"You might get your chance Lieutenant," Susan looked down at the chiming interlac translator, "They're requesting permission to dock with the station in docking bay 19 at 13:00 hours."
"That's great Commander," Corwin smiled, "I'll inform the Captain and the Ambassadors."
"I don't know Lieutenant," Susan stared at the ship, "Something about that ship just feels… wrong to me. It's the start of something new but I can't help but shake the feeling that we might be about to find out how Jankowski felt in his later years."
The isolation ward behind the thick glass of the environmentally sealed healing chamber looked as sterile and uncomfortable as Sheridan remembered those on the Agamemnon being. He looked in at the Starfury pilots who managed to get away from the blast and couldn't help but think of those who hadn't.
Treatment for radiation burns was a small price to pay by comparison.
He turned as he heard footsteps behind him, "Doctor, how's it going? I thought you'd be off duty by now."
"I'm running a little late," Dr. Franklin squinted and rubbed as his eyes, staring blearily at his patients, "Can I talk to you for a moment?"
"Yeah," Sheridan looked down at his watch, "I can afford a minute. My sister's coming for a visit. I have time before she arrives. How is mister Garibaldi?"
"Frankly not great," the doctor pulled a series of radion treatment vials and passed them to a nurse. The nurse walked away and entered the isolation ward, "That's what I want to talk to you about. I've pulled out every trick I know and nothing seems to work. He's not coming out of that coma."
Sheridan grunted noncommittally. Security Chief Michael Garibaldi had been shot in the back under mysterious circumstances several weeks ago by a person or persons unknown. Garibaldi's record was colorful but the near universal respect and understanding the crew seemed to have for the man overshadowed his past. It would be a tragedy if they lost someone so clearly important to the cohesion of Babylon 5. Even the Centauri Ambassador seemed to be genuinely worried about Mr. Garibaldi's recovery.
The doctor eyed Sheridan's pensive look and continued, "Now there is one other option but it means performing an unauthorized procedure."
"I see," authorizing any more esoteric medical procedures was uncommon but within his rights as military governor of the station, "Have you tried contacting his next of kin?"
"I tried and failed," the doctor's voice took on some genuine fear, "And I'm afraid if we wait any longer it wont do any good." It was unlikely that he would ever find any of Garibaldi's relatives. Michel was tight lipped about the specifics of his home life growing up but Stephen had always gotten the impression that Garibaldi's family was long dead.
Sheridan tilted his head, "What's the procedure?"
"Last year I came into possession of an alien device capable of draining the life energy from a person and giving it to somebody else," Sheridan's eyebrow quirked upwards, the use of alien medical technology was permitted on earth force stations but rarely without decades of testing to make sure it didn't have any side effects, "It was used as a kind of death penalty."
Death was definitely a side effect, "Sounds nasty,"
"But it can be used safely at lower settings," Dr. Franklin's hesitated, "to heal people."
"Are you speaking from personal experience?" Dr. Franklin did not seem like the type to suggest this sort of thing without evidence, and if he was conducting medical research on station without informing Sheridan this conversation could prove to be problematic.
"Oh no, no, no, no I haven't done it myself but I have seen it used that way," the doctor shook his head wildly, "Still there is a risk and I wanted your permission before I tried it."
"And there's no other way?"
Dr. Franklin shook his head, "It's his only hope."
Sheridan smiled sadly, "We don't have much choice do we?" The doctor's face broke into an expression of great relief as Sheridan continued, "Who are you going to hook up to the machine."
"Well I can't ask somebody else to hook up to the machine if something goes wrong," Dr. Franklin looked into the long term ward pensively, "I'll do it"
Abbas felt hopelessly small as the held the ornamental tool chest and carried it over with Dax, another of Kerrigan's apprentices. It was a large framed steel box emblazoned with the cog of the Adeptus Mechanicus and filled to the brim with large tools intended to be held by agumentically enhanced arms, altogether too heavy for a single boy of Abbas' size to carry on his own.
He felt his knees shake slightly as Dax tilted the box upwards and set his side on the workbench of Kerrigan's workbench. Abbas pushed hard and shoved the box onto the table. His eyes widened as he realized he'd misjudged his own strength and the reached to stop the tool-case from tipping off the other side of the workbench.
A long mechandrite shot out from seemingly nowhere and a harsh metallic voice rang out, "I believe it was the table I wanted those on young master Abbas. Not the floor. Let's avoid blasphemy in your first week."
Blasphemy, it was so odd to be worshiping the Machine aspect of the Emperor rather than the usual cult of the Emperor. Tools were icons of worship much as the golden aquilla under the robes of any common man of the Empire would be.
He looked up at the inscrutable and scarred face of Enginseer Iino. Iino was not a bad teacher by any measure but Abbas preferred the carefree joy Kerrigan showed in her worship of the machine rather than the dirge like meticulousness of Enginseer Iino's idea of worship, "Of course machine-brother Iino. I understand," he caught Iino's stern look, "No Enginseer… I really don't. I'm sorry."
"No child," he chuckled, "You do not. But someday you will," he said in a surprisingly kind tone before turning to the other apprentice, "Dax I believe? Yes, you are. Report to the fight deck, you'll be with Engineer Xon learning about the proper invocations of preparation."
He snorted at the slightly startled expression on Dax's face at Iino remembering his name, "Memory Engrams boy. I'm not about to forget a name or a face this century. Now go! And I expect you to grab the incense for the ritual before you get there."
Dax hopped to attention and shuffled out of the room, making a rough facsimile of the hunched position of prayer he'd seen done by the elder devotees of the machine god. Iino rolled his remaining eye and turned to Abbas, "You, on the other hand will be helping me with something else."
"What machine-brother?" For all Iino's severe traditionalism and businesslike manner his works were always fascinating. Abbas understood little of what he saw and littler of what it did but he would. He would be allowed to know things about the bounty that even his father would never know, a thought that appealed to him greatly.
"A thirst for knowledge is a good thing child," Iino said in a tone of mild disapproval, "But don't let it override your common sense. You may be apprenticed to the Magos but certain aspects of her ideology are wisest if not fully explored."
Iino had been hinting at some 'issue' of 'ideology' shown by Kerrigan for some time though Abbas had no idea what he was speaking of. He suspected it was some sort of test of loyalty or something, testing him to see if he would crack under pressure and start revealing things about the magos. He simply nodded politely and said, "I suspect I'm too early into my apprenticeship to understand what it means to be a Tech-priest."
"Truer words were never spoken boy," Iino started to pull bizarre instruments out of the toolbox and prod them at a skull-faced helmet on the table, "Now tell me, what is it that I'm working on right now."
Abbas smiled, he might actually know this one, "The Inquisitor's pressure suit I believe… flak armor layered over a bodysuit." It was as ornate and ostentatious a suit of body-armor as even his father could have hoped for. Every inch of flak armor was covered with a thin layer of some obsidian colored ceramic covered in small golden hexegrammic wards and prayers written in blocky high-gothic. The skull-faced golden death mask in Iino's hands was covered in cables leading to a complicated machine seated at the base of the neck and leading down the spine.
Iino tapped at the helmet with the tool, "Child you might has well tell me I was working on 'something' for the Inquisitor. Specifically what am I working on?"
Abbas approached and eyed the fine and tubes Iino was running through his fingers, "That's the filtration system right? To separate out any harmful elements out of the air, bacterial and the like."
"Good," Iino nodded curtly, "And why are we rubbing the oils into the machine's workings?"
"To cleanse and appease the machine's will?" He said tentatively. There were so many conflicting rites and rituals it was hard to keep them straight in his mind.
"All rituals we do are to that end child. Let's try something different," he pointed to the find bundled cables streaming from the back of the helmet, "What function do these serve in the filtration system."
"Uh, none I can think of machine brother," he looked closer and pointed at a machine thin machine on the left side of the belt of the inquisitor's suit, "That's the filtration unit so unless it's a redundant system I can't think of any way it could be part of it."
"Good," Iino nodded, "It is not. This is part of the Inquistor's psychic hood. This symbol here," he pointed to a symbol of a yawning skull burning overlaid on the Inquisitorial sigil, "This warns of psychically reactive materials within the machine. Never attempt to repair a machine with this symbol on it."
"With what symbol on it?" rang out a voice from behind them. Abbas turned and found himself face to face with Inquisitor Hilder himself. He hadn't even heard the man approach at all. The Inquisitor's sandy hair and hawk like features seemed even more stony and intimidating than the rumors made them out to be.
He tried to clear his mind of all impure thoughts, Inquisitors could supposedly sniff out heresies no matter now remote. As he tried not to think of how many times he'd taken the Emperor's name in vain when he'd stubbed his toe in the dark this morning Iino started conversing with the Inquisitor after greeting the Inquisitor's Skitarii bodyguard in binary.
"Your suit is just about ready Inquisitor. I'm just making some final adjustments to the hood's calibrations. Are you quite sure you want it to be activated when you arrive?"
"Better safe than sorry, they've already shown what the value of 'neutral' ground means in this sector of space. That ship may well have been a renegade but I'm not taking any chances. I know for a fact that several psychics have tried and failed to probe past the ship's wards. We need all the defenses we can have." He looked around the room,"Where's Magos Frist?"
"Retrieving the Archo-flagellant," Iino said impassively, "And getting your Ogryn to wear a pressure suit I suspect."
"Rather mundane work for a Magos," The Inquisitor blinked in surprise, "I wasn't surprised she agreed to my plan but I didn't expect her to become this personally involved," he chuckled.
"The Magos has become security conscious as of late," Iino said, looking deliberately at the helmet on the table and away from the Inquisitor, "She preferred to limit the range of communications with the staff."
"Not the damned Amon Sui again? Who did they get this time? How can I help?" The inquisitor rested his hand on the hilt of a well-worn power sword. Abbas stiffened slightly as he watched the Inquisitor's fingers caress the ruby pommel of the sword and briefly imagined wearing the full battle harness of a Magos and fighting at the Inquisitor's side.
"You need not trouble yourself inquisitor," Iino lifted the helmet, "Lets get you suited up!"
"I really must insist," the Inquisitor said in a voice of dangerous calm.
"This is an internal affair of the Adeptus Mechanicus, I am neither required nor welling to reveal more to you than I have. Now strip and put on this suit or I shall weld it to you," the Inquisitor flinched as though he were about to say something, but thought better of it, nodded and acquiesced.
"Very well then Enginseer," The Inquisitor started stripping down to a skin tight sythaskin body-glove, "If I'm to be suited up, suit me up," he raised a finger, "but I demand the opportunity to question any Amon Sui prisoners you take."
The enginseer lifted the helmet Daul's pressure suit and shoved it into the Inquisitor's hands, "You may demand all you like Inquisitor, I'm sure the Magos will consider it."
Abbas suddently wondered if it was wise to stand between the two men.
John smiled as he spotted a hand waving over the crowd and heard a familiar voice yell, "Johnny!" A blonde head popped into and out of view as it jumped up and down like an excited spaniel. The crowd shifted and a short, friendly-looking woman in a fashionable suit forced her way through the crowd and made her way over to John.
She had always been a bit pushy. John suspected it was to compensate for never growing as tall as her big brother.
"Lizzy!" He hugged her and twirled her in the air "Lizzy, Lizzy!"
"Hi big brother," Liz giggled as John set her on the ground.
"Oh it's good to see you. How was your flight? I hope the extra security for our new arrivals didn't slow you down much." It had only been a matter of hours since the Imperials had declared they were finally sending over an envoy and Babylon security had been put on high alert.
"Fine, a little bumpy coming out of hyperspace and your security guards seemed especially on edge but otherwise no complaints."
"You look like you've gained weight."
"Ah well," Liz always had a habit of mothering him, "What can I say. After three years in deep patrol eating synthetics I took one look at the garden here and completely lost control."
"Sounds great. I'm starved" Liz rubbed the sides of her stomach.
"Good, let's get you something to eat! I'll have your bags sent to your quarters," he smiled bashfully, "Liz I'm sorry but before we eat I've got to help with the meet and greet. It's a first contact situation and they can't risk snubbing the guy in charge by having him meet with the second in command and not the first."
"Oh," Liz smiled, "Any juicy stories?"
John chuckled and grinned, "You have no idea. Still it hopefully won't keep me too long. It's just a basic meet, greet, and show them to their temporary quarters."
"Quarters eh? Which sector?"
"Green actually," John smiled, "There's a special section of green sector made for this exact purpose, though it hasn't gotten much use. The Senate was actually debating repurposing them as paid living spaces because they were used so little."
"I'd say that argument got shot down," Liz laughed, "Don't worry about me. You go meet whoever it is you need to, I could use a nap after that trip anyway."
"Great, let's show you to your quarters."
Londo sat in the garden staring at a bush and wondering why the Earther's seemed to be so determined to plant orange flowers all over the place. They were truly garish looking buds, vaguely resembling Narn skin tones. Vir Cotto, his attendant, assured him they had always been planted there but he didn't believe that for a moment. It was some subtle insult from someone. It had to be.
It was probably the doing of a Narn.
Mollari had Narns on the brain as of late. Mollari had always hated the Narn but hadn't ever feared them, not more than any other Centauri did.
Now, with what he had done… no not what he had done, what he had allowed to happen Mollari feared every single Narn he saw on the station. Which of them held a dagger with his name on it thirsting for his blood? There was not a Narn alive who would not declare a blood oath against him if they knew his crimes against them.
They might be coming for him already.
Lost in these dark thoughts he flinched as he heard a familiar voice from behind him, "I understand you were looking for me Ambassador."
Londo turned and saw a stone faced Earther in a tidy suit, one Mr. Morden. He did not know Mr. Morden's first name or his history, nor did he wish to. Mr. Morden had come into Mollari's life with the past month seemingly out of nowhere offering the impossible, and delivering it. Mr. Morden represented someone very powerful in the universe. They were the sorts of people willing to destroy a Narn outpost as a demonstration.
The ever smiling Morden strode forward at a confident pace, "How can I be of service?"
"The destruction of the Narn base in quadrant 37 is drawing quite a lot of attention," Mollari stared Mr. Morden straight in the eye. Showing fear or mistrust would be unwise in these sort of secret dealings.
Mordren smiled and started to walk along the path past Mollari, "Yes, that was the intent."
Mollari reached out and hesitantly grabbed Mr. Morden by the sleeve, " And you are absolutely certain this cannot be traced back me?"
"Oh, without a shadow of a doubt," Mr. Morden's confident assurances somehow made Mollari less comfortable rather than moreso, "The Narn's will never be able to prove that it was done at your instigation." Mordren smiles, "And based upon your promise to take care of it your government accepts your responsibility without question or hesitation."
"Perfect symmetry and balance." Mr. Morden laughed as though he'd just made a great joke, "I believe that this little demonstration will bring you some very interesting propositions."
"Yes," Londo twisted his face halfway between a scowl and a smile, "but what happens if I'm asked for another of these little demonstrations?"
"Then we'll provide it. Simply choose your target, a colony, an outpost."
Londo snorted, "Why don't you eliminate the entire Narn home world while you're at it?"
"One step at a time Ambassador, one step at a time," Mr. Morden's voice had a dangerous edge to it.
Londo blanched and stared.
Mordren started to walk away and stopped, "Oh, one last thing, a small favor in return for our good efforts on your behalf. A person in an important position like yours hears many things. And if you should hear about anything strange happening out on the rim I'd appreciate being informed. Even if it seems unimportant."
Londo snorted, "Other than these Imperials you mean."
"That is a start," the human had an unnatural tendency not to blink, "I would appreciate you being so kind as to keep my appraised of any major events that might come to pass with these," he paused as though considering the name, "Imperials."
"These associates of yours," Londo chuckled, "Not a big fan of outside influences causing conflict in their plans are they? Keeping an eye on things I see?"
"Nothing so blunt ambassador," Morden smiled wider and shook his head laughing at some private joke, "Call it a… professional rivalry. My associates are especially interested in fostering a welcoming environment for these Imperials if possible. Perhaps even coming to a similar friendship as ours."
"What am I supposed to do then?"
"Nothing that you wouldn't be trying to do already. Open trade with them, have cultural exchanges," Mr. Morden rubbed his hands together, "We would appreciate it if you saw to it that the Imperials were properly introduced to the community as smoothly as is possible."
"I see," Londo felt a powerful need for Brivari.
"I doubt that," Morden looked down at his watch, "I apologize for my abruptness but I have business elsewhere. Good day ambassador."
The Earther bowed his head and exited the gardens. Londo sat down on the cold stone of the bench and once again wondered just who it was he was in business with. He would sit there for another hour just thinking till his communicator chimed warning him of the incoming Imperial ambassador. He stood and wandered off to the docking bays.
Lennier scratched at the spot on his arm where he'd been inoculated with the cocktails of anti-bacterial and anit-viral preventatives. It was necessary for first contact situations but it made his arm twinge painfully. He tried to distract himself by looking around the room.
It was an inauspicious space for the first contact with such a clearly advanced race. The Earther's had done their best to decorate the area to make it properly fitting of such an event but they were only human. No Minbari would even begin to consider using a space without proper incense or candlelight but the Earthers were odd that way.
Delenn had always assured Lennier that the human preference for subdued minimalism was to their credit but he could not help but feel the flags and fanfare of the Earthforce honor guard would be outshined by an elegant and contemplative religious caste embassy. However needs were musts and Babylon 5 was an Earther station and beholden to Earther traditions, unsophisticated though they were.
He did deeply wish that it were Delenn who was responsible for the first contact with the Imperials rather than he. The Grey Council had authorized him to be at the first contact, it would not do for the younger races to be present but not the Minbari. He was not to negotiate anything, mind you, but to be the first representative of Minbar to meet them. It was a great honor, if an admittedly intimidating one.
There were a good two-dozen odd Ambassadors packed into the small space of the docking bay along with an honor guard of Babylon 5 security officers in full black armor. There was a powerful atmosphere of excitement as the Starkiller… no not the Starkiller, Captian Sheridan. The man's name was John Sheridan. He had to keep reminding himself of that, if he continued to think of the Captain in terms of his war record it could make thinks awkward later. Captain Sheridan walked into the docking bay with his second in command Lieutenant Commander Ivanova.
"Strange scamperings at the twilight hour," Lennier nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice. How could something that big be that quiet?
Lennier turned and faced the enigmatic creature behind him. Ambassador Kosh was a Vorlon, the Ambassador to the Vorlon Empire, and as unfathomable as any of his species. The Vorlons were creatures of myths and legend. Even the Minbari, favored among the Vorlon's allies, were left in shadow to all things Vorlon.
Rumor had it that members of the Grey Council were permitted to see a Vorlon without the massive encounter suit favored by the Vorlons but that was only one of a thousand rumors about the Vorlons, each less credible than the last.
"It is good to see you Ambassador Kosh," Lennier said, trying to look Ambassador Kosh in the helmet without flinching at the single red optic in the middle of it, "What brings you to this gathering?"
For anyone else it would have been an odd question. First contact situations with new species were massive political affairs. However the Vorlons rarely concerned themselves with the doings of other, lesser, races. Kosh was not even particularly wont to attending meetings of the Council, in spite of his species having one of the five major votes.
Kosh sighed deeply, "The unusual. "
"What is unusual?" Vorlons had an infuriating habit of speaking in riddles. There were septs of the Minbari priest class who did nothing but listen for the meaning and wisdom in Vorlon speech.
"The unexpected… the unknown," The Vorlon's eye focused into the distance and grew sad, "The predictable and the predetermined."
Lennier looked in the direction the Vorlon was staring. The Centauri had been the ones to first contact the Imperials so it was fitting that they took the lead in greeting them. It was an honor that rankled other members of the Council and the League.
The Drazi and Brakiri ambassadors seemed to be vying over which of them could give the most derisive looks to the Centauri ambassador. Well at least vying for second to the Narn delegate. Na'Toth stood in the second row of the greeting committee with the non-aligned worlds ambassadors for the Drazi and Brakiri home worlds. She stared at Londo with a smoldering hatred Lennier hoped he would never understand.
"They do seem determined to keep their hatreds alive for eternity," Lennier sighed and looked back at Ambassador Kosh.
Kosh was no longer paying attention to the Minbari. The single red optic was focused on a nondescript bit of wall and he was muttering something about a widening circle.
The Vorlons could be fickle like that. Lennier resisted the urge to bob on his heels in anticipation as a human voice crackled over the speakers, "Incoming Imperial shuttle one. Prepare for disembarkation."
Lenneir head a low whistle of amazement from Captain Sheridan as the airlock doors opened and large transport slowly lowered to the floor of the docking bay. He noticed the great gilded paintings of lions on the bottoms of the wings and rose his brow rose in mild surprise. It was uncommon for species to decorate their shuttles, the micro debris and radiation of space often made such ornamentation prohibitively expensive and impractical to maintain.
The floor beneath the ship glowed blue, as it's antigravity repulsions flared against the deck. Three stocky legs extended from the ship and the hum of engine and repulsion fields cut. As the rear door hissed and groaned from opening into a variable pressure environment, a slight mist forming in the air where ice crystals cracked off the door that had formed in the vacuum. Lennier couldn't help but notice what looked distinctly like weapon mounts on the nose and wings of the shuttle.
"Curious," The Vorlon quirked his head at the sound of feet hitting deck echoing from inside the ship. Over a dozen wildly different looking sentient creatures ambled down the walkway. They were nearly as varied and odd a collection of creatures as the League itself.
The first to exit were a quartet of broad shouldered bipeds wearing bright crimson and gold pressure suits under broad silk cloaks and pants. They edged warily down the ramp with the air of professional soldiers and twitched their arms as though they would much prefer to be holding pulse-rifles rather than unarmed. They were closely flanked by a giant figure in a massive black pressure suit, a warped mechanical creature with numerous mechanical tentacles that waved about as though sniffing the air, and an avian creature wearing a cotton jerkin and holding the leash to two lean reptilian mastiffs.
The security officers around the room rubbed their pulse rifles confidently, eying the newcomers and daring them to start trouble. The man at the front of them eventually relaxed slightly and yelled, "Is est tutus. Vos können Ausfahrt traba Inchizitor."
Out from the dark interior of the ship strode a small cluster of other figures easily as eclectic as the first. This newfound Empire had to consist of dozens of member species to contain such vast variation in its members. It would be exciting to share their respective cultures. He was however somewhat apprehensive to discover exactly what purpose the naked humanoid creature with the thick beard and the whips grafted onto his fingers served.
The Captain and the rest of the honor guard approached the newcomers. Sheridan's tone was infectiously happy as he said in broken interlac, "On behalf on the Earth alliance it is my pleasure to welcome you to Babylon 5," and held out his hand.
The skull-masked man in the center of the group eyed Sheridan's hand as though looking for the trap, nodded and shook the proffered appendage before turning to the slightly twitching man to his left and speaking in the gruff tones of one of the Imperial languages.
The twitching man nodded began to speak, "On behalf of the Empire we greet you, may his grace shine upon this meeting. I am Jak, I am a speaker of fact," Lennier winced linguistic nuance was often lost in interlac, "and I will make the voice of honorable Daul Hilder heard."
"And who is Daul Hilder, if I might ask? Is he the captain of your ship?" Mollari rubbed his hands together eagerly.
Jack turned to Hilder and spoke in the rough Imperial language. The Imperials burst into a gibbering mess of hooting and hollering with laughter. Mollari had apparently made a joke, though if it was simply an issue of idiomatic translation or cultural misunderstanding was unclear.
Mollari deflated a bit at the apparent cultural misstep. His crest of hair seemed to droop as he smiled right on back. It was the same smile he wore when speaking to the Narn Ambassador, forced and painful.
After a few moments Jack turned back to the Earthforce honor guard and began speaking in Interlac, "The Captain of the Endless Bounty is indisposed at the moment but we have brought the proper technology to communicate with him directly at the later meeting. Daul Hilder's position within the hierarchy is more… this language lacks the proper words… he is a seeker of hidden truth and a finder of lies. I will endeavor to make these linguistic complexities clearer. "
Sheridan smiled, "We expect our computers to have a translator up an running by the time we have an actual meeting so as to expedite the process," he nodded, "provided of course it's ok for us to do so."
Jack translated again. The three-eyed man wearing the transparent glass helmet blinked his bottom two eyes in surprise and spoke in condescending tones for a few seconds. He was cut off by an abrupt screeching metallic warble from the mechanical man.
The skull helmeted man raised his hands to the two of them and spoke in clipped orders before turning back to Jak and speaking in measured tones.
"You would not require us to receive implants for that would you?"
Sheridan smiled patiently, "That will not be necessary, we simply would need you to carry a translation device with you. For the moment we'll need to use one of the bulkier more complex devices."
Jak nodded slowly, "These devices would be acceptable. For the meetings only, we will not allow listening devices with us outside of the meetings."
"Great," Sheridan waved his arm. "If you will follow me I would be glad to direct you to your apartments. We've scheduled a number of meetings and cultural exchanges between our worlds so that you might better…" Sheridan trailed off as the skull helmeted man raised a gloved hand to his forehead, "Are you quite alright?"
The man responded in scornful Imperial dialect. As the large mechanical man rushed to his side small plumes of blue static bloomed from the skull-faced man's neck and helmet, glowing eerily. The "truth seeker" growled gutturally and howled something furiously. Plumes of static discharge spat from his body.
Jak's voice became even more clipped and businesslike, "Lord Hilder will not tolerate psychic probes into his mind or into the minds of his retinue. We were very clear that there should be no psychics here to greet us. He graciously allows you forgiveness for this one offense but will shred the mind of the next man to try it."
Sheridan glared daggers at the others in the room and nodded, "Of course. I understand," he switched back into English as the honor guard started leading the Imperials into green sector, "And I shouldn't have to remind you what a stupid idea it is to conduct an illegal and unregistered mind probe on a species we've never met before on an Earthforce military outpost. I will, of course, be launching an investigation into this."
Lennier turned to ask Kosh if he had any idea what device the Imperial diplomat had stopped the would-be probe with but the Vorlon had already vanished. How someone so large could be so stealthy made no sense at all.
It was a shame Delenn hadn't been here to greet them.
Dauls head throbbed badly as he berated himself for revealing that he had a defense against psychic intrusions into his mind. The xenos mind-probing had been delicate, nothing more than a mild surface scan to make him aware that there was a powerful psychic mind in the room. It was common for psychic species to do so as a polite way of allowing other species to be aware of them.
He'd intended to simply ignore the probe or bat it away with his own mind but the familiar warm probing sensation caused something in him to snap. Beyond all reason he wanted to keep that probe away from his mind at all costs. He'd put so much force into tossing away a minor probe that he doubted he'd be able to do it a second time.
Hopefully whatever had tried it wouldn't do so a second time.
Cairn was torn between his urge to mother Daul and his urge to intimidate the station security officers. Cairn settled for giving mildly worried looks in Daul's direction and staying close enough to the security officers to unnerve them with his waving mechandrites.
The broad jawed humanoid in charge of the station "Sha-in-clair" was at least esthetically of Terran stock. The Captain's accent and mannerisms resembled those of the Merican guardsmen who'd served in his retinue at the Ve'x'xiz offensive but numerous species resembled humans esthetically if not biologically. He would not be lulled by a friendly face.
The Lionhearts walked proudly but a bit nakedly without the ornate weapons they usually carried with them at all times. Daul doubted they'd obeyed his order not to bring any weapons with them. He'd certainly dropped enough hints that they were to carry secret weapons that it would have taken someone simpler than a grox to have missed his actual intent in warning them not to carry weapons with them, namely not getting caught.
Babylon Five was an odd place to be sure. The décor was an odd mix of Spartan practicality and gaudy showiness. Everything about the station indicated a new race that had just started to spread out to the stars.
Danzig smiled and chuckled and shook his head. The long hose from his air-scrubber shook and clicked against the flak armor under his silken shirts and leather jerkin, "I don't like this sir, there are too many bulkheads between us and our ship."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it Colonel," Daul felt the pain abating in his temples, "For now keep talk like that to a minimum. Assume the walls have ears."
The oily voice of Navigator Calven was somewhat muffled by the vox unit on his helmet as he said, "They said they're working on a translator but I'd wager good money that it's already being used to listen in on us. I would pick my words with care honored Inquisitor… then again I suspect you already have more than enough practice at saying less than you mean and meaning less than you say."
Daul wondered how badly it would damage negotiations were he to punch the navigators face. It was probably not worth the brief satisfaction it would give, but only just so. Daul felt something bump into his side and looked down to see the normally unnaturally chipper face of Dorn twisted into a scowl of dislike for the Navigator.
He blinked and looked back down at the servitor in confusion. Dorn was smiling and drooling the same as he always did. "Fantastic," groaned Daul, "Now I'm imagining things. I need a good stiff drink."
"A foolish man sees that he sees and knows what he knows. A clever man trys to undersand," whistled Vira'Capac from behind Daul. His two mastiffs growled and clicked their beaks eagerly.
"I did not ask for your advice," Daul said in a tone that invited no argument.
"You did not need to," tittered Vira'Capac, "Wisdom is tempered by criticism."
"Are you sure I can't shoot it?" Hamman said in a tone of strained patience.
"Not yet," Daul muttered as the Babylon Captian led them deeper into the bowels of the ship, "Not yet."
As they walked to the Imperial ambassador's suite Jack translated the various rules and regulations of the station being explained by the Captain. The protocols expected of the Imperials was strict, but not prohibitively or unacceptably so. Anyone from Daul's entourage was welcome to tour the ship and make use of its facilities, provided they continued to wear their encounter suits till their doctors ensured they were carrying no harmful bacteria, but never without an escort.
It was all very reasonable to Daul, however there was a particular point to the station's rules that incensed Vira'Capac. He would not be allowed to take his mastiffs out of the diplomatic quarters. The tall Kroot actually grabbed the Captain by his shirt with his taloned hands and screeched furiously in the Kroot language at the idea of being separated from what remained of his brood. The two mastiffs, still muzzled and on their leads growled ominously.
Daul eyed the now primed and aimed weapons of their security escort wondering if he would be able to grab the Kroot in time to stop him from ripping the Captain's throat out. Fortunately Gault, in a brief moment of agility, swatted Vira'Capac across the beak with the backside of his trash-bin lid sized hand, knocking the Kroot senseless senseless. He draped the dazed Kroot over his shoulder and grabbed the two stunned looking mastiffs by the leathery scruff of their necks, tucking them under each arm.
Daul bit his lip to stop from laughing as brutish ogryn actually started humming to the wildly kicking mastiffs to soothe them. Cairn's shoulder's were shaking fit to burst and there was an infuriating smugness to him as Daul whispered, "I get it you mechanical maniac. You were right, I was wrong. The oaf is useful and we can keep him. Now do you want to explain to the men aiming guns at us why shooting at us would be a bad thing or shall I?"
The black suited security officers were pointing bulky rifles at the Imperials aiming at the stony faced Lionhearts who in turn had shifted and were preparing themselves to strike at a moments notice. The primed weapons were giving off a high pitched whistling noise that sounded all too much like the priming of plasma weaponry for comfort.
The only ones who didn't seem to be on edge about the situation were Galut, who by all accounts considered his part in the confrontation to be over, Calven, who was making every effort to seem bored with the situation, and Dorn, who never had a clue where he was under the best of circumstances.
The Captain of the Babylon station ran his fingers along where Vira'Capac's talons had ripped his uniform and said something in a language Daul did not understand. Language was, however, only supplementary to the conversation at this point. The man's expression of barely controlled anger needed no words.
Jak opened his mouth to translate but was interrupted by Daul, "I know what he said. Tell him this, word for word as close as you can manage it. I apologize for the confusion. We seem to have had a cultural misunderstanding. I expect there will be many of them in the days to come. The Kroot hounds are actually infant forms of the larger Kroot creature. Vira'Capac believed you wanted to take away his children."
"Those hounds will no more develop into hunters in their lifetimes than an ape would develop into you or I," Jak twitched.
"Jak, just lie. It may very well bite us later in negotiations but hopefully not as bad as being shot now would now would hurt us all," Daul said in a voice of measured calm, "Now translate what I said."
Jak translated. The Captains face went from angry, to shocked, to embarrassed, and then back to friendly. He said something to the back-suited security forces and they relaxed somewhat, their weapons no longer whining with primed energy. The Captain flashed a dazzling smile and spoke to Jack.
"The Kroot will be permitted to travel with his… children," Jak's lip quirked, "But he must insist that if they misbehave they be confined to quarters else both they and their parent return to your base ship."
Daul nodded curtly, "Tell him that will be acceptable, now it would be best if we went to our quarters I think. I've had more than enough excitement for the moment."