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post #31 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-18-11, 03:20 PM Thread Starter
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Lennier didn't notice that there was anyone else in the room with him till he heard the sound of a pulse pistol charging. He turned around in shock to find himself facing a cruel faced warrior cast member.

"Get up," grunted the warrior. Lennier stood at the ready, striking up a pose of the religious cast's fighting form and placing himself between the gun and Delenn. The warrior stared furiously beyond where Lennier at Delenn's cocoon.

"She's in there isn't she?" The warrior screamed in fury. He waved his pistol in Lennier's face, "More aside. Move aside!"

Mimbari did not kill Mimbari but this warrior seemed to have lost his mind entirely. It must be Kalain, or someone else from the Trigati. He would not allow harm to befall Delenn. Delenn was the most wonderful woman he'd ever met in his life and some deranged, gun-toting, sociopath would not be allowed to touch her on his watch.

He would die for her if he had to. Lennier swallowed and started to recite the rites of conclusion to himself, preparing himself for the end. Members of the religious cast were supposed to accept their own death as they did their own life but Lennier would have been lying to say he was not supremely pleased when the door opened revealing a handful of well-armed security officers.

"Freeze!" a half dozen officers pointed PPGs at the back of Kalain's head.

A tall man walked into the room wearing an Earthforce uniform, "Put the gun down! Put the gun down and we won't hurt you."

Lennier relaxed and stared Kalain in the face. It was time for this to end, "If you are going to kill me then do so. Otherwise I have considerable work to get do."

Kalain smiled amusedly and handed his weapon to the officers. They cuffed him and frog marched him out of the room, pointing their PPGs deep into his ribs to keep him from struggling.

The Earthforce officer walked up to Lennier. Lennier eyed the pips on the human's collar and the way the Lieutennant Commander seemed to be deferring to him. He sighed, he'd hoped rumors of Sinclair's reassignment had been exaggerated, "You are the new commanding officer."

"Captain John Sheridan Earth Force," Oh in Valen's name what were the human's thinking sending the Star Killer to a place of diplomacy? He would ruin the place within the month.

"Lennier of the Third Fane of Chudomo," he would not disgrace his clan by hiding it, even from the Star Killer.

Sheridan eyed Delenn's cocoon in curiosity and tired to enter. Lennier tensed up and moved in front of him. The sheer cheek of entering farther into Delenn's private rooms without permission from Lennier, "Ambassador Delenn is indisposed at the moment," Sheridan continued to examine cocoon apparently oblivious to his rudeness, "Perhaps you would come back later. Much later."

Sheridan smiled embarrassedly and nodded, "Of course."

Lennier watched him leave before sitting down to meditate on what had just happened. For some reason he could not help but feel like Delenn was staring at him disapprovingly for his harsh words.
--

Magos Frist looked down at the two bodies sitting on the steel tables of the coroner's office with clinical interest. They were still possessed of the features of youth, though the redhead was covered in substantially more augmenters than the brunette. She had known them of course. There wasn't any member of Tech-cults on the ship she did not know. But she had assumed they'd been killed in the decompression of the docks. There were many unaccounted for members of the crew who'd most likely been lost that way. She sighed, "They were tech-priests alright."

Osma chucked, "The mechandrites gave that away Magos. Still it's procedure that I ask the next of kin to come and identify their bodies. You were the closest thing I could think of for these two."

"I'm surprised you didn't just bring them down to the service we conducted earlier today," Kerrigan ran her hand over the face of the redheaded boy, "They should have been properly preserved in the afterlife."

"Normally I would Magos but I suspect foul play," Osma held his pillbox hat between his hands, "I can't find the cause of death and they were found in one of the cremation chambers. Someone not from the church apparently has a key to the blasted chambers. Hell they would have been cremated long ago of the flaming things hadn't gone up the spout on us after the last fight. I've ordered some of my men to start camping outside the cremation chambers. I don't want to know how many bodies were dumped there before we caught these two."

"Cremation chambers? With their agumentics still attached?" Kerrigan's eyes widened in shock, "They were most certainly not put there by adepts of the machine god."

"I thought at first that maybe a crewman found their bodies and put them in he chambers as the fighting was going on. They crew isn't exactly expert on the rites of the Techs but then I found this," he held up a report in his hand, "It's their duty roster. The last thing I can confirm they showed up for was checking the plasma readouts for the main cannons and then nothing. I can't find a single one of their duties they showed up twelve hours prior to the invasion of Belzafest."

"Damn," Kerrigan swore, "And you're not sure how they died?"

"The Coroner was afraid to do an autopsy. Hell he wasn't even sure how to do one even if I'd allowed him to try," Osma laughed, "He was afraid the might trip some failsafe and blow himself up."

"Its not as impossible as you might think Mr. Osma. I have systems to that affect to protect my secrets, and they were more than capable of making similar ones," she looked down at them, "But I can save him the trouble. You see this notch right here? It's an intravenous nutrient feed line. They're quite common for priests who've given up having a digestive system," she picked up and pinched the cable revealing a tiny black blemish imperceptible to normal human eyes, "it's been punctured. I suspect someone fed poison into the feed lines. I'll have to analyze it to be sure but I feel confident that it was something quick acting, a small mercy at least."

"Amon Sui saboteurs?" Osma spat on the ground, "Damn, I was afraid of that. They were quiet for the past few weeks but I knew that was more about them lying low than them having given up. "

"May I see the duty roster?" Kerrigan reached out with a mechandrite.

"Of course," he handed it over to Kerrigan, "I'd appreciate any help you can give me. I don't really understand enough about the Ad-Mech to make a complete investigation into the matter without your advice."

"No, I don't suppose you would at that," Kerrigan's eyes flitted from line to line. Most of the duties given to the two priests hand been standard maintenance, none of it spectacularly important and nearly all of it was shared between multiple priests to ensure it got done in a timely fashion, "I'd have to suspect the Amon Sui partisans were just sowing chaos. Proving that they can attack at any time, it's not as though they have much in the way of resources to do a lot else. They were hardly given… any…." her eyes stopped and she felt a feeling of dread crawl up her spine, "Mr. Osma, can you say without a doubt that these men died before completing any of the other duties on this list."

"Reasonably so," Osma nodded and positioned his pillbox hat so that it covered the bald patch on the crown of his head, "We got a time stamp off the door longs for the crematorium. Not the main logs, mind you, they'd tampered with those but there is a secondary log in a redundant system that we checked. Or I should say your boys checked, Tech-Adept Tyan was of great assistance to me."

"I'll pass along your compliments when I see him next. If he's to be trusted, and his work usually is, this is troubling. Mr. Osma… these were the tech priests who's job it was to activate the Inquisitor's Arco-flagellant," Kerrigan looked down at the paper in confusion, "But I know for a fact that the Dorn unit was on Belzafest with the Inquisitor and used to great effect. The attempt at sabotage clearly failed…so who was it that activated it? And why?"
--
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post #32 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-18-11, 03:21 PM Thread Starter
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The interrogation room of was a small octagonal space with a couple of alcoves for the guards to stand in with a table in between them and the prisoner. Kalain sat shackled to the floor and staring straight ahead, smirking slightly. John leaned in and got close to the Mimbari's face, "Let me get this straight. A high ranking member of the Mimbari warrior caste who no one has seen in nearly twelve years suddenly appears and for no apparent reason breaks into Ambassador Delenn's quarters gun in hand." John paced back and forth around the room, "Now if you were looking the Mimbari tourist bureau, you were just a little off course. Wouldn't you say? But the curious thing is, you don't finish the job," he continued his pacing around the room looking briefly at the two officers eying Kalain with their hands close to their PPGs, "You could have killed both of them and been out of there in two minutes. Instead we find you standing there, practically waiting for us."

Kalain sneered, "Everyone knows Mimbari do not kill Mimbari."

John rounded on him, slamming his palms against the table with a smack. His hands throbbed from the force of it, "Then why are you here?"

"Perhaps everyone is wrong," the Mimbari's voice dripped with venom.

"Maybe you never intended to kill them at all," John considered the series of illogical events. Kalain was up to something, "Perhaps something else is going on."

"Perhaps you are the problem."

"What's that supposed to mean," John glowered at Kalain till he felt the firm pressure of Susan's hand pressing on his shoulder. His second in command shook her head.

"Captain, we're not getting anywhere. I suggest we wrap it up for now and try again tomorrow."

"No…one last thing," John eyed Kalain, "I'm told that after the death of your commanding officer you took command of a Mimbari War Cruiser… but if you're here where's your ship?"

Kalain simply stared and smirked. John saw white and quickly exited the room. If he didn't leave soon he would start pummeling the warrior caste member in his insufferably smug face. That would be satisfying but wouldn't accomplish anything. Susan sensed his mood and said nothing as they walked out of the brig and down the corridors of blue sector.

A familiar voice rang out from behind him as soon as he walked out, "Captain, please wait captain!"

He turned around to see Mr. Lennier, the assistant to Ambassador Delenn, was rushing towards them. He winced and prepared himself for another Mimbari verbal assault. The small Mimbari bowed deeply when he reached them, "Captain! I apologize if I was rude earlier. There is something we need to discuss, especially in light of Kalain's presence. It concerns the reason you were sent here, the relocation of Commander Sinclair and the reason we surrendered at the Battle of the Line."

Well, when it rains it pours.
--

Abbas adjusted the brown robe for a third time since he put it on. The robes of a novice were meant to show the humility and respect for the higher members of the orders of the machine, they were symbols of the greater society of the Omassiah. They also itched very badly. Abbas, as a son of Sáclair, was used to the softness of velvet and silk not the course fibers of wool used for the robe. He resisted the urge to scratch at his back looked at himself in the mirror of his room for the fifth time since he put it on.

In spite of being nowhere near as fine as the clothing he was used to he could not help but feel that the tech-novice's robes he wore were the most impressive thing he'd ever owned. He raised his hand in a mechanical fashion and pointed it at his reflection in the mirror pretending it was one of the augmentic concealed weapons of the tech-priests. It was about midway though making machine gun noises with his lips at imaginary pirates that he noticed that there was someone behind him in the room, someone biting down on their lip to silence giggles, his half-sister Ami.

"Brother, I suspect that vanity is one of the things the Adeptus Mechanicus try to weed out of their members," she brushed back honey blonde curls and walked over to him. She reached out and straightened the collar of his cowl, "And I suspect they don't tuck their hood into the back of their shirt either."

Abbas jerked and reached behind him. When he discovered his hood in the proper place he glared sullenly at Ami who only giggled in response, "I'll have you know I intend to be the best tech-priest there ever was, maybe even the Fabricator General on Mars!"

"Dream big little brother," she hugged him and ruffled his hair, "You're a Sáclair and the Sáclair do not do things by half measures. I think we'd be cross with you if you didn't plan to change the universe," she looked down at him, "but I suspect you'll have to grow a few inches before they let you run a Titan."

Abbas laughed. Ami was fond of calling him the runt of the litter, in spite of being a good three inches shorter than he was. She was older than he by a good three years and had gotten in the habit of helping mother him early on. The Lady Sáclair insisted that the legitimate children of their father help raise the bastard children to ensure there was no jealousy between them. It wasn't a perfect solution but it certainly helped. Ami was his favorite sister by far. He would miss living with her when he moved in with the other novices, "I'm sorry Ami, I was coming to say goodbye to you before I left."

"You were going to say goodbye to me if you ever pried yourself away from your own reflection you mean," she squeezed his shoulders, "Don't worry little brother, we're all proud of you and happy for you. Well all of us but the heir apparent and till mother gives birth to him his opinion doesn't matter. You're still going to be able to visit at free times and on holidays, the Magos Kerrigan promised it."

"I know but I'll miss you all terribly," He felt his eyes tearing up a bit.

"Hey, hey, no tears," she wiped his cheek with her thumb, "This is a good thing, remember," she got a stern expression, "Now go and say goodbye to the rest of your siblings. They're in the den waiting with a cake, we'd have grabbed you earlier but Isaac got distracted by trying to spy on the inquisitor. He got the backside of mother's hand for his troubles too. Now come on, I want to eat cake," she laughed, "And try to act surprised."
--
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post #33 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-18-11, 03:23 PM Thread Starter
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Lennier looked especially uncomfortable, even smaller and more fidgety than he did normally on the wide couch of John's office. He licked his lips and began to speak in a slow measured tone as though he was delivering a lecture. John listened to every word with fascination, "After three years, the holy war that begin when our leader was killed by an Earth explorer division was almost over. To avenge Dhukat's death we had pursued your forces all the way back to your homeworld. The few surviving Earth ships that had been were ordered to defend your world at any cost were not an obstacle. The Grey Council had come to oversee our final victory over the earth forces. They took Sinclair on board their ship, at first he was tortured but then he was scanned. And they discovered….they were horrified to find it out but it was true."

Susan shook her head and said the question that was at the forefront of John's mind, "What was discovered?"

Lennier swallowed and looked up as though considering how to word his response, "It is our belief that every generation of Mimbari is reborn in each following generation. Remove those souls and the whole suffers. We are diminished. Over the last two thousand years there have been fewer Mimbari born into each generation. Those who are born do not seem equal to those who came before. It is almost as though our greater souls have been disappearing. At the battle of the line we discovered where our souls were going. They were going to you. Mimbari souls were being reborn, in part or in full, in human bodies.

Susan blanched, "So you stopped the war in order to avoid harming your own souls?"

"Yes. But the council knew that our people and yours were not ready for this information. It could unravel our entire society. So we could not tell our generals the reason for the surrender. We had all memory of the examination erased from Sinclair's mind and we let him go. It has been our secret. Now it is yours. It must be kept." So, that was why they'd ended it. That was why they'd surrendered. If they'd called for a truce of some sort the Humans would have questioned why but nobody bothered to worry why they'd won a war.

Susan shook her head in confustion, "Then why break the silence now? I mean why tell us?"

"Because changes are coming," Lennier seemed to be hinting at something important, "Commander Sinclair was the first, there will be more."

John's link went off and the looked down, "Sheridan."

A garbled voice played out of it, "Captain we've got something major coming through the jump gate. It's a Mimbari cruiser. Her gunports are open and targeting systems are online. She's on an attack vector."

John and Susan looked at each other, stood up and sprinted towards the CnC. The commanding officer's office was placed directly above it specifically so that when these sort of situations happened he would be able to get to the CnC in short order. It didn't make every second they spent sprinting to the command center feel any less like an eternity. John knocked over two officers and a Brakiri Ambassadorial attendant in his hurry.

Huffing and puffing from their exertions the two officers burst through the open door to the command and control center.. Sheridan sprung into action the second he was in the command center, "Red Alert! I want all squadrons on standby but to take no actions. I don't want to do anything that might be provocative."

Susan rushed to the main control consul, "Scrambling fighters"

The curving shape of the Mimbari cruiser was visible in the distance. The Sharlin was a beautiful angular curving predator of the stars, vaguely resembling a blue angelfish. It's elegance was matched only by its firepower, it would be more than enough to damage or destroy Babylon 5. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that. John walked up to the communications display and activated a wide band transmission, "This is Captian John Sheridan, Earth Alliance Babylon 5 to the Mimbari war cruiser. Power down your weapons this is a diplomatic station."

A haughty looking Mimbari answered his call. She sneered and said, "I am Ay'leet Duran of the Mimbari War Cruiser Trigati. You have illegally arrested and detained the captain of this vessel."

Sheridan squared his shoulders, "Your captain assaulted one of my crew and was caught in an attempted murder."

"None of your people were killed. No Mimbari was killed. You have not been harmed. You will release our captain," Her condescension increased with every syllable. She didn't even need to say the words 'star killer' for him to feel her hatred boring through him.

He stared right on back, "And if we refuse?"

"Captain she's launching fighters," yelled an operations officer. The small inverted dart-like shapes of Nial fighters disgorged from the belly of the great ship and swarmed about the larger craft."

John turned to the monitor, "This is madness. Babylon 5 is a place of peace. There must be for some way to reach a non-violent solution to this. Please just listen for a moment."

"The time for talking is over Human, as is the time for listening. You had the opportunity to talk and listen to the greatest of us and instead you chose to kill him," She shook her head, "All that remains now is honor and… and death" She looked at something in the distance, outside the view of the camera. She yelled something in the Mimbari warrior caste language and deactivated the transmission.

John turned around, "Somebody get me a translation for what she just said. I caught the word impossible and didn't catch the rest."

"Sir," the telemetry operations terminal officer turned around, "I don't think we're going to need a translation for that. There's something extremely odd going on near the hyperspace gate. Something's coming in though the gateway… but whatever it's opening up to most certainly isn't hyperspace."

"What do you mean," Susan approached the consul, eyeing the readouts, "What is it opening up to?"

"I don't know but these readings are off the charts for exotic particles. We're getting alarms for every known type of exotic radiation and a couple of exotic particles I think we've never encountered outside of a particle-collider."

"Sir!" hollered the operations officer, "Something's coming out of it. Something big, something very, very, big."

Sheridan turned to the main view-screen, "Somebody get me the view off the nearest repair-bot in the area."

The screen flickered and a grainy picture of a blue, swirling puncture in space appeared on the screen. It was right behind the rapidly fleeing Trigali billowing an ominous electric blue, nothing like any hyperspace window John had ever seen. A wide gilded prow larger in the shape of a predatory bird was piercing out of the blue. Iridescent green lighting shot out from the blue smoky void and danced across the hull, "What in the hell is that?"

Susan laughed, "That would be the new species the Centauri contacted at the edge of Drazi space yesterday. Ambassador Mollari warned me they might be coming to Babylon 5 but assumed he meant in days or weeks not hours. The Drazi territories are halfway across the galaxy."

"Damn," swore John. The last thing he wanted was for a first contact situation to end with a firefight, "Do we know how to contact them? Warn them that the Trigati isn't ours."

"According to the Centauri they communicate with microwave transmissions for short range communications sir," she sighed, "But I have no way of knowing if they've learned Interlac."

"Do it, send them a transmission to stay out of this. This is our fight not theirs." John looked out at the two massive ships outside Babylon five and the slowly dissipating blue cloud. The bright crimson ship with the golden prow was easily more than half the size of Babylon five, "And tell our fighters not to shoot till someone starts shooting at them.

"We're getting a message from the Trigati sir," the Susan looked at John, "I'll put it on the main screen."

"Do it, and keep transmitting to the other ship that they don't have to help defend the station," John turned to the monitor and looked into the livid face of the Ay'leet Duran, "Mimbari war cruiser Trigali. Do not fire on the incoming ship. I repeat do not fire on the incoming ship. They are a new race. This is a first contact situation. Your problems are with us, not them."

"It is you I want Star Killer, do not worry," Duran smiled cruely, "It is time we finished what we could not at the battle of the line."

"There's no reason for this," Sheridan waved his hands, "The war is over."

"The war is never over Star Killer," she turned her head, "And for some it is just beginning. It seems the choice of keeping the young race out of this battle was taken out of our hands. Defend yourselves!"

"Sir! The new ship has deployed fighters and is engaging the Mimbari warship," Susan looked up, "They sent us a message in reply to our warnings to stay out of the fighting. 'Onward to death, for the homeword, for the Emperor."

"Tell the fighters they are free to engage the Mimbari targets," Sheridan said in a defeated tone, "If they're willing to die to protect the station the least we can do is support them. Activate the station weapons and bulkheads. All hands prepare for impact."

The Sharlin turned to the red ship and fired its man cannon. Brilliant green lances of energy shot out and cut across the port side of the ship. An invisible wall of energy shimmered and spat from the impact.

"Shields," John's eyebrows raised, "They have shields. Are they holding?"

"How should I know?" Susan turned to John, "The Abbai haven't been exactly forthcoming with information about their shield technology." The distant rumbling pulse of the stations pulse cannons and plasma weapons rumbled though its superstructure.

John looked a the tactical readout, "Wait. We can target them?"

Susan raised an eyebrow, "That's odd, do you suppose the other ship is undoing the Jamming technologies?"

"No," he shook his head, "No we've been able to lock onto the ship ever since it came through hyperspace… but that would mean… no… no! They came here to die! They want to be martyrs. Call the other ship! Warn them not to shoot!"

It was too late, the crimson ship's powerful port-side batteries opened fire on the Trigati, crippling it. John activated an open channel to the crimson ship in interlac, "Cease fire! I repeat, cease fire! The Trigati is disabled."

The crimson ship's guns stopped firing, though it's fighters continued to skirmish with Mimbari fighters. John sighed with relief.

"Sir another hyperspace window is forming. It's another Shalin class sir," Susan groaned, "They brought re-enforcements."

"No they didn't commander, I called that one here to help with the Trigati… and for the love of god will someone please get a warning off to the crimson ship that the other Sharlin is a friendly!" He said as the crimson ships fighters moved to engage the incoming Sharlin. He tapped the communicator, "The incoming ship is friendly, I repeat the incoming ship is friendly."

"Sir the Trigati is hailing us," the communications officer blanched, "One word only, 'honor."

Susan yelled, "Radiological alarm, get our fighters out of there." Seconds before a brilliant white plume of energy burst outside the station, rendering the Trigali to debris.

John blinked the stars out of his eyes, "Is everyone ok?"

Susan groaned, "We lost five pilots in the blast sir." Damn, five men dead on his first day. Damn and double damn.

"The other Sharlin is haling us sir."

John winced, "Put it on screen."

A dour and depressed looking mimbari appeared on the viewer, "Perhaps to you this was a tactical problem to be solved, for us this was a great sorrow. The crew of the Trigati were heroes to many of the warrior caste. Their death will be mourned and your name will be remembered, Sheridan Star Killer." The transmission cut to black. The Sharlin turned and sped away into hyperspace even as the crimson ship's fighters sped to intercept it.

Sheridan looked around at the depressing scene outside the station, and to the crimson ship in the distance. He sighed and began to speak into the relative silence of the CnC, "It was an early Earth president, Abraham Lincoln, who best described our situation. 'The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. We cannot escape history. We will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial though which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the last generation.' We shall nobly save or meanly lose our last, best hope of Earth. We can only seek the future while trying to honor the past."

"Now please try to open up a channel to the other ship."
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post #34 of 159 (permalink) Old 02-19-11, 03:59 AM
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Hey, brother, I've read through the first 3 posts so far and it's pretty good stuff.

HOWEVER, let me caution you against posting such a huge amount of text in a single without letting any readers comment. My recommendation would be to post in 1,000 word chunks, roughly once a day to try and catch some attention without being intimidated by the immense amount of reading that they have to do. You seem to pump it out in chunks which you could space out more to make it a little less daunting.

Yes, you've given us all ample time to check out this story, but at the same point, you should try checking out some other stories too. While it may make me shallow, I'm more inclined to read other's stories if I know they've read mine, and I know the same applies to others. To try and get your name, and by extension your story, out there, try to read and comment on some other authors' works.

But I do promise I'll slug it through the rest of this, it really is (so far) a good piece of literature, just very daunting with the amount that's here and with limited time will take me a while to get through.

-Boc


Heresy-Online's Expeditious Stories Challenge 13-06: "Serenity" has started, get your stories in by July 11th!

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3. Nothing Boc said should ever be taken seriously. Unless he's talking about being behind you. Then you run like fuck.
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I update once every week or so on several sites. I hope people do not give up on my story because I have a regular update schedule of about 20k words.
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post #36 of 159 (permalink) Old 03-25-11, 02:10 AM Thread Starter
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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."

"Good."

"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."
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To be reduced to asking her for help was insufferable. Sørian would gladly have turned to anyone else, literally anyone, before turning to her but he could think of no alternative to it. Contacting other members of the Amon Sui networks was an unstated unwritten taboo yet he needed to know if other practitioners were experiencing difficulty. His value to Phoneutria was almost wholly dependant upon his ability to collect information, were that avenue closed to him it would possibly spell his doom.

The bar he'd chosen was one of the private clubs favored by the officers with unique appetites. It catered to the unique needs of the Bounty's profitable and well to do in the privacy of soundproof cells. Sørian commonly used it as a recruiting ground for lesser operatives and minor cult practitioners, it was prime real-estate for those pledged to excess.

It also had the benefit of weapons scanners sophisticated enough to find most weapons and poisons. Sørian would of course be allowed to carry his weapons through, he owned part of the club after all, but that insufferable women would have to be on the defensive. He snorted the white powder off the table and felt his senses heighten and his fingers twinge. Slaught was a narcotic powerful enough that it ought to boost his reaction times to being roughly equal those of the cultist, or so he hoped.

The door cracked and through it stepped the familiar porcelain masked figure. Tall, lithe, and swaying, Hexathelidae had arrived. She glided over to one of the cushioned sofas and stretched on it luxuriously. Sørian ignored the way that the silks stretched deliciously over her every curve.

"You've noticed then I take it?"

She laughed cruelly, "Noticed what little boy. Why did you bring me here? To talk about the work of the Prince or was it to show me your gun," she puckered her lips and eyed his pistol exaggeratedly, doing something with her index finger that made him swallow uncomfortably.

"Games later Hexathelidae," he smiled, "You wouldn't deign to come when I called unless you had dire need or you were sure it would be to put a knife in my throat."

"We all have hobbies," she said with deliberate disinterest as she ran her fingernails over the plush material of the couch, "And I have no need of you."

"Don't you?" Sørian smiled, "And if I were to tell you I had a way to get back in contact with our patron so that he will respond to our sacrifices."

Hexathelidae flinched visibly and the pretenses of civility left her voice, "You did this to me didn't you," she eyed his pistol seemingly considering jumping the table and throttling him, "you robbed me of my boon and my savior!"

"Nothing so fortunate I'm afraid," said in a calming tone. He was sure he would win a fight but he had no doubt Hexathelidae would gouge his eyes out first, "I am similarly indisposed. There is something off about this region of space, the patron seems not to have reached here yet."

"My summons have gone," she licked her lips, "Awry."

"The wrong daemon came when you summoned and demanded answers?" Sørian shook his head, "Damned addlebrained creatures of Tzeench rambling about what lies beyond the well?"

"Khorne actually," Hexathelidae said the word Khorne with the tone of one discussing a particularly nasty but of filth, "Scornful and frothing as ever."

"There is something very wrong with this sector of space. The virgin warp-flows where we are seem to be almost even beyond all but the strongest of the servants of the true gods," Sørian eyed Hexathelidae and considered whether to continue, "There is… opportunity in that."

"How so?" Hexathelidae's eyes lit up.

"This part of space is only beyond the reach of our patron so far. There is no reason to assume that we could not expand his domain to include this realm." Sørian's eyes lit up, "Imagine it! Imagine how he would favor us for our deeds. A new galaxy ripe for the taking and full of creatures to corrupt outside the reach of the realms of his fellow gods."

Hexathelidae smiled widely and started to run her hands over her sides, hugging her hips and cupping her generous bosoms, "A sacrifice worthy my ascension."

"Our ascension," he winked, "I suspect the prince will grant all those who aid in brining him over to this realm the gift of immortality."

"And why would you get it," Hexathelidae said huskily, "What need do I have of you?"

"Why Hexathelidae," Sørian smiled, "It isn't I who needs to prove my value in this relationship. What need do I have of you? I am the sorcerer, it will be my understanding of magic and ritual that brings the prince to this realm."

Hexathelidae stood and removed her shirt, letting it fall to the ground and exposing corset and bare flesh before sauntering over to Sørian, "Why there are any number of reasons. I have operatives, I have a talent for subterfuge, and I have one thing no other woman has," she gripped Sørian's inner thigh and whispered into his ear, "An understanding of those rituals of our great lord beyond any other save you."

Sørian smiled and cupped the porcelain face, "It would seem that we are allies." She smiled back and moved her hand, crouching between his legs. As Sørain felt lust overtake him he wondered how far into the process they would get before he had to kill her.

A shooting sensation of electric ecstasy spread through his body. He smiled and muttered to himself, "Not for the next hour at least."

-=-

Fresh Air was a small restaurant in the middle of the gardens of Babylon Five with a reputation for quality food and exotic cuisine. It was the choice eatery of diplomats, traders, and businessmen. It was hard to even get a reservation, let alone bump one back four hours because but being the commander of the station had its perks. John was grateful to finally have some time to simply sit and unwind with his sister, though the Imperials had certainly gotten his adrenaline running.

"And it's certainly a big change from running the Agamemnon. It's more like being the military governor of a small self contained country," John waved his chopsticks, "You know, with it's own borders, customs, a thousand different languages, everyone coming and going at all hours. Still there's a terrific energy here, a sense of really being out on the frontier. The Imperials are just the icing on the cake."

He looked at his sister and saw the familiar sight of Liz half listening and moving things around with her chopsticks. It was the same thing she used to do when their dad told her she wouldn't be able to go out and play with the neigborhood kids and play till she finished her homework. He leaned over and looked at her food, "How's your salad?"

She looked down, "Oh, it's fine. Fine."

Something about the way she said 'fine' convinced him that it was anything but, "You don't look fine."

"It's just, we haven't seen each other in two years and from the moment I've gotten here you haven't stopped talking about work," she said exasperatedly "this is me Johnny, remember?"

"I'm sorry," John stumbled over his words, "I just, uh, seeing you again. It brings it all back."

"I know," Liz reached out and touched his hand, "That's why I'm here. Nothing has ever really been the same between us, not since Anna passed away."

"I need more time, that's all," John did not want to be discussing this.

"Johnny," Liz said calmly "It's been two years."

"Then why I still have to remind myself that she's gone? Why when I see something interesting on the news I'll say to myself. 'Oh! I've got to remember to mention this to Ann Tonight' Sometimes I will turn to say something to her. She's not there but just for a second I don't know why she's not there," John hadn't meant to snap and regretted it as soon as Liz's look of irritation appeared, "I miss her Liz, I miss her and love her as much right now as I did when she was still here."

"I know," Liz said as though explaining two plus two equals four, "It's not easy. She was my friend for a lot longer than you were married to her and I miss her too. But if she were here right now she would be mad as hell at you. She would want you to get on with your life and stop burying yourself in your work."

"It's not about work!" John slapped his chopsticks against the table.

"What's it about?"

Sheridan rubbed his fingers together, "I… I just don't want to get into this thing right now. Can we just table this for a while? Can't we just talk for a while? Get to know each other again, just catch up a little."

Hold hands, "Ok. The discussion is tabled." "Until later."

John exhaled.

-=-

Kerrigan stood in the cell where Dorn was kept in storage. The normally dark cell was lit up brightly so as not to allow any detail to escape her gaze. A small army of sensor equipped servo skulls flitted about the room, numerous needle thin sensor arrays hanging down from their undercarriages shooting out taking samples of anything suspicious.

Something that happened in this room had been worth killing two of her men. Her initial hypothesis had been that someone intended to poison the servitor with something slow acting, something to prevent it functioning at a crucial moment.

As of yet she'd managed to find a copious amount of anti-venom and restoratives added to the nutrient feeds that was outside the parameters of safe operation. The chemical content of the feed had been altered, but whatever alterations had been done seemed to be to benign affect.

"Why would kill two men to hide the fact that you were injecting antidote into a servitor… to a poison that he hasn't been infected with?"

She'd managed to track down the duty rosters and discover who was responsible for injecting the chemicals. Two of the security staff had been ordered to come into the Arco-flagellant's cell, inject an unspecified chemical into the servitor, then to leave. Unfortunately she wouldn't ever be able to question the two of them, they'd died in the decompression of the docking bay.

Backtracking who'd given the orders had proven to be similarly fruitless. No effort had been expended whatsoever to conceal the identification code of the issuer, but it seemed unlikely that Xelkk Pok had risen from the grave to start issuing orders. His command codes must never have been erased from the system. How anyone knew them or was able to use them was an equal mystery.

There were too many unknown variables to make a decision about who had done to make a decision yet. Kerrigan reached up and massaged her temples, the cool metal of her augmentic fingers felt good and soothed her troubled mind.

Once again Kerrigan started pacing around the chair, "Why? Why would anyone chose to do that? It makes no sense."

She ran a finger over the bindings on the chair, feeling for any clues at all, "The doors were accessed twice. Assuming the first group came in twice one has to wonder what took two trips. If there are two groups we have to wonder if they're working alone or together. If they aren't working together why did each group enter the room?"

A servo skull whipped past her head and stared sampling the mold growing in a corner of the room along the wall.

"If they entered separately were they aware of each other or acting independently of each other?" Kerrigan waved her arms impotently, "And why would two separate groups of people unaware of each other go though the trouble of killing two tech-priests in order to inject antivenin into a servitor in secret."

Kerrigan paused, "Unless the first one was doing something else and second assumed the first was poisoning Dorn," she shook her head, "But how would the second group know about the first group? If they did know about each other how would the second group know enough about the plans of the first group to select an antivenin? And to what purpose was any of this done?"

Kerrigan swore and grabbed the main nutrient cistern, lifting it off where it was hanging and bringing it to eye level. If the good Samaritan had assumed that adding anivenin was the proper solution to aid the servitor then it stood to reason something had been added to the cistern in order for him to jump to that conclusion. Her face reflected off the watery contents of the cistern.

There were advanced sensors back in her lab. If the cistern contained any clues she would find them.
-=-

Lennier dabbed at the waxy shell of the cocoon with a towel. He'd taken to bathing the cocoon twice a day in the purifying agents used by the Minbari to shed he outer layer of skin and remove any bacteria or impurities. It was a contemplative, meditative act. Just as well, Lennier had a lot to think about.

After the Imperials had been led out of the docking bay he'd stayed to watch the Imperial ship. His curiosity had gotten the better of him and he'd stayed to watch the baggage of the Imperials clearing customs. What he'd seen alarmed him. A handful of humanoids were carrying the bags and supplies to a pallet destined for the first contact suites. A more pitful group of humanoids Lennier had never seen.

They were shambling and foolish creatures, their limbs sawed off and replaced with crude mechanical substitutions. They seemed barely alive, responding only to the curt commands of the ship's red-suited pilot. They were twisted, warped, and hollow shells of what might once have been men. Lennier hoped he was wrong about what the half-metal men were.

However it was early and there might very well be a reasonable cultural explanation to explain why and how these twisted abattoir creatures came to be. He doubted it but there were often things he doubted that came to be. It was part of the mystery of the universe.

A fragment of shell cracked off and came with his towel. Lennier smiled and looked at it. "Soon now, soon."

Delenn would have clearer thoughts than he in this situation, he was sure of it.
-=-

Stephen was hooking up Garibaldi to the alien device when someone spoke behind him, "Doctor."

"Captain?" Stephen straightened up in surprise and turned to Captain Sheridan, "You're up late." He was unsure why the Captain was in med-bay. A sinking feeling of dread started to set in.

Had he come to prevent the use of the machine? It had seemed too easy to get him to agree to it the first time. He'd been sure the conversation would require a great deal more convincing.

"I couldn't sleep. I started thinking about life and death, what we can do, what we can't do and maybe what we should do when we have the chance." Captain Sheridan pointed to the device, "This is the device, eh'?"

"Correct, I was just about to," Stephen moved to insert his arm before the Captain could stop him. If he could just get the machine started before the Captain told him it was too dangerous to do so he could make up some techo-medical-babble reason why it was too dangerous to detach him from the machine before Garibaldi was healed. He might get

"Plug me in," the Captain cut him off, rolling up his sleeve and moving into the seat in front of the machine. It was not the response Stephen had been expecting.

Stephen blinked a couple of times as he realized what Sheridan had actually said, sputtered in surprise and said, "No, but, I thought we agreed."

"I can't have you giving your life energy and operating this machine at the same time. What would happen if you pass out during the process huh? It'll just keep taking your life energy until you're dead correct?"

"I don't know." Stephen assumed the machine had some sort of a cut off to stop the donor from passing out that but there was no guarantee.

"Exactly, It's better you're running it and someone else is at this end." The Captain nodded with insufferable satisfaction. More frustratingly he was correct.

"He's my patient!" Stephen said somewhat petulantly.

"But when I took over B5 he became my responsibility," The Captain smiled in a friendly but commanding way, "I don't think loosing my head of security in under two weeks of being on the station will look good on my resume."

"Alright," Stephen gave up on arguing, "we split the difference, we'll both do it in shifts but I'll go first. Have to make sure the configuration is correct."

He stuck out his hand and offered it to Sheridan, "Deal?"

"Done and done." Sheridan grabbed his hand and slapped him on the shoulder with the other one. It would seem that Earthdome had found a more than suitable stand in for Jeffrey Sinclair, at least for now.

-=-

"No Inquisitor," Hakam Danzig said as he swept through the room for the fifth time, "We have no found any listening devices so far."

The second that the doors to the modest apartments had closed the Inquisitor had ordered the Skitarii and Lionhearts to examine the room for any and all traps, secret passages, and listening devices. In fact they had been checking and re-checking the room for the better part of six hours. Were it not so crucial that they have privacy Danzig would have found the task to be tedious, but needs were musts.

He greatly wished that he could take off the pressure suit, but till the device in the Skitarii's hands checking to make sure there were no atmospheric contagions it would have to stay on. He couldn't help but look at the slowly descending numbers and think about how badly he needed to use the necessary.

"Every damn time I have to wear one of these things for hours on end," he muttered. Danzig navigated around the sofa upon which the unconscious Kroot was draped and flinched as the mastiffs growled ominously. Muzzle or no they were damn intimidating.

"Sir at this point if they've managed to hide a bug from us and have figured out how to properly translate I say let them listen. Anyone that skilled deserves to hear us," Hamman opened a cabinet and pulled out a bottle, opened it and eyed the contents, "And frankly considering their taste in liquor I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. If I didn't know better I'd say this is aged amsec."

"Don't you dare think popping the seals on your helmet and drinking that till the scan's come up clean and Gazan's run a damn poison swoop over it," Fadir said in a tone of uncharacteristic sobriety. He trusted the Babylonians even less than he trusted the Inquisitor. Danzig didn't trust them either if it came down to it, "Xenos can be traded with but they can't be trusted. About the only xenos you can trust is the nids' and they aren't exactly the conversational type."

"A wise bit of advice," the Navigator was thumbing through a book of photos left on the table, "We should take nothing at face value… we should…" the navigator trailed off staring at one of the photos. He picked it up in his near translucent fingers and flipped the photo over to read the writing on the back.

"Is something wrong honored Navigator?" the Inquisitor said in a friendly tone.

"Nothing," the navigator blinked all three eyes as he pocketed the photo, "but I have a suspicion I want to test."

"What suspicion is that," asked Gazan as he spread anitseptic ointments onto the small healing cuts on Dorn's back. The still healing stitches on Dorn's side were an angry red but as of yet they hadn't suffered any infection.

"Never mind," The Navigator put the tips of his fingers together in an arch, elbows resting on his knees, "Deal with the here and now. I'd prefer to be able to verify my fits of fancy before I indulge in sharing them with others."

Danzig flinched at a loud thud, the Skitarii dropped a large tome onto the table next to the auto-savant. Jak looked up from the pages of invitations, letters and requests from the various sentient creatures on station offering audiences and requests to open trade relations to nod in thanks to the Skitarii before turning to the Inquisitor, "We're scheduled to meet with the major diplomatic forum later in the day, and a number of smaller powers have requested meetings prior to that."

"Just get the water and the star charts from whoever is willing to trade the fastest and let's get out of here," Fadir rubbed his hands together and made the sign of the aquilla, "This place feels wrong to me. There is a sensation of instability that I cannot shake."

"Daz' because the ship spins," grunted Galut helpfully. The giant leaned in close and spun one of his great sausage-like fingers in a wide circle to demonstrate what he meant. Fadir's eye twitched as he bit back a scathing retort. It would be unwise to anger the Ogryn, at best he would be cruelly insulting a mental simpleton and at worst the ogryn might take offense and tear off Fadir's head.

The Skitarii's shoulders shook as he searched the ceiling for listening devices with his mechandrites. It jiggled a bit of dust off the top of one of the lamps and onto the table in front of Danzig.

"I suspect that he mean metaphorical instability Galut," Galut stared back at the Inquisitor uncomprehending the Inquisitor's words, "It's… it's a joke Galut. Fadir made a funny joke, now go and play with the hounds. They miss you." Galut shook his head at not understanding the joke but was seemingly satisfied pet the two increasingly docile looking hounds.

Danzig shook his head. The Inquisitor continued to puzzle him. The revelation that he'd had a Kroot mercenary in his employ was not beyond belief but was substantially unexpected considering the Inquisitor's professional interest in ensuring minimal contact between humans and xenos. Sergei had some choice words on the matter when that bombshell was dropped on them.

It was just as well that the Inquisitor couldn't speak Damascan or Danzig had no doubt the Inquisitor would have gladly flayed his second in command alive.

Vira'Capac seemed like a good sort, well as good as the xenos could hope to be, but he was clearly unbalanced and unpredictable. Danzig would have to be prepared to kill the xenos if it snapped again like it had done in the corridor. The Inqusitor's reasons, as always, were no-one's but his own and were shared with none save the Skitarii and possibly Captian Sáclair. The ogryn was more than likely privy to them as well but the ogryn were prone to ignore anything not said to them directly and to remember less.

"Jak, would you be so kind as to give a political summary of the climate we've entered into. I suspect that by now reading those invitations and documents has given you at least a rough picture of whom we're dealing with," the Inquisitor walked past Danzig. Soft blue plumes of benign psychic discharge blossomed off the leads in his psychic hood, they tingled on Danzig's face as the Inquisitor passed.

Jak lifted the scroll he'd been scribbling notes on and passed it over to the Inquisitor, "They've been surprisingly candid. I suspect initiating trade relations with unknown species is a mark of status else they would be a bit more guarded. The strongest powers seem to be the Alliance, the Minbari, the Narn, and the Centauri. It was the Centauri that we made contact with first."

"Why do you assume that they are the strongest powers?" Calven's simpering voice rang out. The Navigator had a unique talent for wording a reasonable question in the smarmiest of ways.

"Because they talk about opening trade in very open and direct terms. The wording of their letters is structured in such a way that it's clear it never
even began to occur to them to approach us as anything but equals. The other nations, ones less sure if they will have something we want or if they could stop an invasion, talk in terms of opening friendship and trading culture," The savant tapped on a part of the page the Inquisitor was holding, "See? It's quite simple really, a nation that believes it needs nothing from you will try to negotiate from a position of strength or outright indifference."

"A reasonable deduction," the Inquisitor nodded and tapped his hand against the ceramic armor on his legs, "but what is this note right here?" He pointed to a series of scrawling repetitions of the same word with tally marks beneath them. Danzig tried and failed to read the crunched gothic script of the savant. It wouldn't be uncommon for a savant to write notes in code but Danzig suspected this was more of an issue of penmanship than secrecy.

Jak's face lit up, "That is a riddle I've been trying to puzzle out. We keep getting asked about our connections with someone called the "First Ones." Sometimes people are asking if we are one of these "First Ones," others are asking if we've met them. They're also curious for our knowledge of something called a Vorlon."

"A what?" Hamman had poured a glass of the amsec and was staring at the chronometer waiting for an all clear. Danzig shot him a murderous look to which he bristled and spoke in calm but angry Damascan, "I haven't drunk it yet and if we don't get the all clear I wont, but there's no harm in pouring a glass," then switched back into gothic as though nothing happened, "What is a Vorlon?"

Jak blinked at the sudden string of Damascan but shook his head and continued, "It is, well that is to say they are… to be honest I haven't a clue what they are. There is a domain called the Vorlon Empire at the edge of space. Presumably the Vorlons are very powerful and important and I suppose not much is known about them. They must be especially secretive for them to be willing to ask perfect strangers for any scrap of information they know on the subject."

Danzig grunted. He wasn't spectacularly fond of the xenos species he knew; the addition of a new, unknown and enigmatic species did not lift his mood. He felt for the ceramic knives hidden in the copious silk sleeves of his shirt to reassure himself that he was armed, however lightly. It was at least some comfort.

Gazan smiled as the chronometer chimed, "Well lads, the air is breathable and the viral and bacterial content of the station is well within the tolerances of the standard inoculations. Pop the helemets if you will," Gazan raised a hand and stopped Hamman from removing his helmet, "If you take that off and try to drink that without first running it under a poison sweep, throne help me, I will cause you pain."

"I would suggest," Navigator Calven started, "That we continue to wear pressure suits outside this apartment, at least till I've had a chance to test my theory."

The Inquisitor gave the Navigator an inscrutable look and said something in an archaic variant of High Gothic that Danzig couldn't even begin to place. The Navigator had no such difficulties. His three eyes narrowed and the smiled slightly, "Perhaps Inquisitor, perhaps. Play the role of the "enigmatic stranger" for now. I suspect you're well practiced at it."

The Inquisitor nodded and once again Danzig got a sinking feeling that the Inqusitor's plans were once again seated on the razor's edge, "We should keep some of our party in the quarters to ensure that no devices are placed inside while we are gone. Danzig, Gazan, Calven, Cairn, the servitor, and I will proceed to the meetings as planned. The rest of you will stay here. Jak I want you to keep running over local history. I don't want any surprises."

"Wise Inquisitor," Calven nodded, "I concur."

The Navigator and the Inqusitor were agreeing. Eye of Horus that was bad.

-=-

The stack of diplomatic reports just barely balanced on her knee as Na'Toth swiped her ID card at the entrance to G'Kar's chambers. Every day since he'd left she would gather all the diplomatic reports and missives, look through them, and leave them in a stack on G'Kar's desk. It was a thankless and mundane task considering that there was no ambassador to read them, but she didn't want to risk falling out of the habit of doing so else she might forget her job when he returned.

G'Kar's quarters were pitch black. The computer must have switched off the lights to save power since she was last in the room. Rather than search around in the dark Na'Toth stood at the door reading the data-slate from the light of the hallway. Her eyes strained to read in the dull light.
"Close the door," Na'toth looked up in surprise. There was already someone in the room.
"Close," the dim red light of the room flickered on revealing a tall, broad Narn in a slightly battered shirt sitting on the bed. It was ambassador G'Kar, looking more terrified and despondent than she had ever seen him.

The ambassador grasped the bridge of his nose between leather gauntleted thumb and forefinger and sighed, "Weep for the future Na'toth, weep for us all."

"Are you alright?" It wasn't the most eloquent thing to say but Na'Toth was at a loss for something more elegant to say.

"I have looked into the Darkness Na'Toth. You cannot do that and ever be the same again. When you told me about the destruction of our base at quadrant 37 I knew that only a major power could attempt an assault of that magnitude. But none of the governments here could have done it, which left only two possibilities. A new race or an old race… a very old race," the Ambassador picked up a well worn prayer book and flipped to a page showing a spidery black ship and a hunched skull faced figure with horns, "Ga'Quan spoke of a great war long ago against an enemy so terrible it nearly overwhelmed the stars themselves. Ga'Quan said that before that enemy was thrown down it dwelled in the systems at the rim of known space."
Na'Toth pursed her lips. The veracity of the ancient superstitions of her people were at times suspect, for every nugget of truth in the holy books of the Narn there were ten bits of history long since disproved by science. However something about G'Kar's tone didn't seem to be leaving the matter up for discussion.

"I searched for days, going from one system to another." The ambassador stared at a point in the distance, "Then in the dark deserted worlds where there should be no life, where no living thing has walked in over a thousand years something was moving, gathering its forces quietly, quietly. Hoping to go unnoticed."

His voice filled with sadness and he choked on his own words, "We must warn the others Na'Toth. After a thousand years the darkness has come again."

-=-
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The use of astropathic puppets always unnerved Sáclair. It was similar to the method by which Sáclair communed with the ship but was nothing other than a pale shadow of the experience of being one with the ship. Sáclair's senses were dulled though the avatar, there was always a sense of lethargy. It was as though every thought and movement he took was done while wading through a thick syrupy mess. In fact out of his vast collection of previous lives only those memories from the life of Hezekiah the Unsound seemed to indicate anything but utter hatred for the use of astropathic puppets.

Little by little he felt the great throne of the Endless Bounty disappearing from beneath him into a dull numb nothingness. The Navigators assured him that the nothingness was only the delay between sending and receiving sensory feedback from the puppet but every second of nothingness felt like a small death. Sáclair always feared that one day he might fall into that darkness and never come out.

Something was resisting him. Trying to force his mind away from where it wished to go. The presence was strong, but not strong enough to drown out the entire astropathic choir performing in concert. It struggled against him but was swept away with the tidal wave of will.

Blissfully Sáclair felt the numb tingles of sensation as the muscles of the puppet synched with the psychic projection of his mind. It would be a few minutes before he was able to move anything. Sáclair tried to absorb his surroundings as he waited for his body to respond to his commands.
Sounds, garbled at first, filtered into his hearing, "Ambassador your translator is not malfunctioning. That is what I said."

The disjointed half-speech half-mechanical translation of an alien voice speaking in a baroque language chattered back rudely, "My apologies then Ambassador. Allow me to rephrase. I didn't really want to know. 'Is that a corpse?' I was altogether too absorbed with the more pressing question why have you found it necessary to drag the corpse into my apartments? A pretty corpse is still a corpse."

"Ambassador I assure you that," the smarmy voice of Calven started.

"Assure, cajole, promise, do whatever you feel is necessary," the scornful voice replied, "But get that festering pile of flesh out of my room. The Centauri Republic will not stand for such insults. The indignity of it."

Sinclair opened his eyes and squinted in he direction of the scornful voice. At a height of at least a thirty centimeters shorter than anyone else in the room stood an officious looking pudgy humanoid. His features were hawk like and his currently bared teeth were abnormally pointed and flashing at the Inquisitor. It was a bit like watching one of the sparrows that were so fond of roosting in the high places on the Endless Bounty cursing at a hawk. Sáclair found himself instantly liking the man, "I don't give a damn what is customary on your homeworld Ambassador Hilder. If you do not remove this corpse at once I will remove every one of you from this room, this station, and this galaxy even if I have to carry your ship on my back and paddle it out to the rim of space while holding my breath. Is that clear!"

"How long have they been at this?" Sáclair said out loud, looking at the smaller softer looking xenos nervously standing between Galut and Danzig. The xenos squealed and flinched as Sáclair started to drunkenly move his limbs about.

"A good thirty minutes I'd guess sir," Danzig smiled, "What do you think Mr. Cotto?"

The disheveled Cotto nodded and spoke through his translation computer, "A good thirty minutes… Mrs… nice… corpse lady." The xenos winced as the words fell lamely from his lips.

Sáclair adjusted the sheer sheet covering the puppet's frame for modesty's sake, noting idly that the body was female. He stood and cracked his neck, "Captain Nathaniel Emmanuelle Sáclair at your service."

The officious man with the feathery crest of hair blinked blandly and quirked an eyebrow, "You are significantly less dead than you were when you were carried into my quarters. Exactly how did you achieve that madam?"

"Mister actually. This form," he ran his hands down his body, "is simply a puppet, a servitor to serve as my shape during these negotiations. My actual body is substantially more dashing… and substantially more male."

"Of course it is," Sáclair couldn't tell which was more scornful, the native speech dripping with sarcasm or the deadpan delivery of the translator. He rounded on the Inquisitor, "Are there any other surprises you feel compelled to deliver to me Ambassador Hilder?"

"I have no doubt there are Ambassador Mollari," The Inquisitor stared at Sáclair's avatar pointedly, "but hopefully not today."

"Really Inquisitor I must ask why you did not simply wait to bring me in till our scheduled time rather than having the added confusion?" Sáclair shook his head in mild consternation. If this was some political strategy on the part of the Inquisitor to gain influence on the Endless Bounty it was hardly the time for it.

Unexpectely it was Navigator Calven who came to the Inquisitor's defense, "Honored Captain you are an hour late. We would have kept the avatar concealed longer but we were unsure if it had ceased functioning."

"An hour?" Sáclair blinked sluggishly as he examined the delicate hands of the Avatar, "I experienced some resistance in reaching the station but I assumed it had been over a matter of minutes not a matter of hours."

The Inquisitor's voice darkened, "It would seem our psychic intruder from the landing bay has been up to more mischief. It appears that we need to take additional precautions."

"Bah," exclaimed the Ambassador, "Psychics, hang the lot of them and let the maker sort them out," he shook a sausage-like finger, "You mark my word, a psychic left to his own devices can only lead to bad things." The Imperials laughed politely and the portly xenos seemed to relax somewhat, though Sáclair noticed Mollari's eyes lingered on the chest and hips of the avatar. He would have to remember that in future, he could use it.

The Ambassador clapped his hands together and the portly, shorter xenos waddled out with a tray of some aromatic green liquor. He nervously approached each of the Imperials in turn offering the liquor and they each in turn politely turned the offer down with the exception of the Inquisitor and, surprisingly, the Skitarii. The Inquisitor had to accept the drink for politeness sake but Sáclair couldn't fathom why the Skitarii had accepted the drink. Not to be outdone, as the tray reached Sáclair's avatar he snatched a glass of the steaming liquid with delicate fingers.

"Ah good!" Chortled the Ambassador, "I was beginning to think your species was a bunch of insufferable teetotalers. A toast then! To the meeting of our worlds." He raised his glass then drank the entire contents of it. The Imperials each raised their glasses and downed their own. Sáclair repeated in kind, knowing full well alcohol would have no effect on the avatar. The Inquisitor tipped the contents of his glass into the space between the skull mask's teeth, no doubt into some secret catheter or pouch specifically for this purpose. The Skitharii sipped with gusto from his drink with a proboscis like mechandrite.

The Inquisitor interjected, "While I do enjoy pleasantries we do have pressing business to deal with Ambassador. I hate to break with such lovely revelry but we truly must get to business."

Sáclair chortled, "Business, business, business, it's always business with you Hildy," the leaned towards Ambassador Mollari and said in a false whisper, "Unfortunately he is correct though. We do need to get to business."

The Inquisitor snapped his fingers and the fidgety autosavant approached with a long scroll written in the simplistic script of Interlac. The Ambassador took the proffered list and eyed in with forced mild disinterest then his eyes widened, "You have of course double checked this figure on how much water you want. It's double what Babylon 5 makes use of in monthly operations."

"The figure is correct," Sáclair said firmly.

"Great maker… you must be dying of thirst!"

"Not as of yet," the Inquisitor said in a tone of measured indifference nearly as flat as the translation out of the small computer on the table.

"None of these demands seem unreasonable. Getting this much potable water here on your timeline will be difficult and expensive but not impossible," he waved over to his attendant who walked over with a data tablet, "The grain and… what is a grox?"

"A quadruped commonly consumed for its meat," the Inquisitor stated dryly, "We'll settle for any low maintenance large edible quadruped."

"Yes, the sale of grain and foodstuffs must go through proper medical quarantine procedures first. We'll need to make sure it doesn't damage your first. If you'll provide us with medical records we can…" The Ambassador cut off as the Inquisitor raised his hand palm facing outwards.

"If that is the case then we request samples of the grain and animals in question. We are fully capable of testing them ourselves," Sáclair nodded. He was in no rush to provide xenos with biological profiles of humans.

"If you insist," the Ambassador fidgeted with the data tablet, "The water will be here within two days, you have my word on that. As to the matter of payment," Sáclair stiffened, "It has been covered by a third party already."

Sáclair blinked nonplussed and stared at the blank mask of the Inquisitor, "Paid? Paid for by whom?" The Inquisitor shook his head a fraction of a centimeter, he had no idea who their donor was either.

"They have stated their wish to stay anonymous," the Ambassador nursed a fresh drink, "However they appear to have a common professional interest in your goals in this sector and in keeping you independent from local entanglements. It is a wise suggestion, I would obey it if I were you."

"Is that a threat Ambassador Mollari?" The Inquisitor rubbed his fingers together, small flickers of psychic energy sparked in his palm.
The Ambassador chuckled, "I have no need to threaten you. You will find out quickly enough that the universe is dangerous enough for all of us without the need to manufacture enemies where there are none. Take the water, the food, and the advice. Freedom is a gift. Do not squander it."

-=-

The council would listen. They had to listen. They had to listen or all would be lost. G'kar had spend his entire life working for one cause or another. When he'd been younger it had been helping form the Narn government, which had led to politics, which had led to his position on Babylon 5. Now he once again found himself on the precipice of great strife. There was wisdom an clarity in that.

G'Kar had always been a man of clear head and clear thought. He found purpose in right action and planning for the worst. It had served him well in the past and now might very well serve all the races of the galaxy. The teachings G'Quan state that the universe brings each of us to pivotal moments in time in which we shape the face of things to come. G'Kar believed meeting of the council was one such moment. Yet even as G'Kar spoke of his travels and the dark danger he'd uncovered he felt the cool indifference of disbelief from the other members, "I believe that the ancient race described in our holy books may have returned. If true this holds grave danger for all of us."

"You say the dead worlds previously controlled by this force are inhabited again," the new Captain waved his hand, "Maybe they've been colonized by someone else? The Imperials perhaps?"

"No it's them I'm sure of it. The configuration of the ships that fired on us was too similar to the drawings made by G'Quan," G'Kar shook his head, "The imperial ships are nothing like those that fired on mine."

"Then why have we heard nothing official from the Narn home world confirming your opinion," G'Kar winced. The Human's comment was entirely reasonable but not productive to G'Kar's goals.

"My government has certain reservations." G'Kar hedged.

"Then we're back where we started. We need proof." The human was insufferably narrow-minded. Sinclair would have perhaps been more agreeable to taking G'Kar's word on faith.

"And I am prepared to give you that proof, despite the misgivings of a few in the inner circle of my government I have convinced them to send a ship to the heart of the enemy's old domain located at the rim of known space," G'kar shuddered at the memory, "A dark terrible place known as Za'ha'dum. It has been dead for a thousand years. No one goes there, no one."

Mollari stiffened considerably. He'd never expected the Centauri to be the one to simply sit back and listen to G'Kar without skepticisim. The Centauri had been positively respectful through the entire meeting. Apparently Mollari had taken their previous conversation to heart.

G'Kar continued, "Our ship will arrive in twelve hours coming out of hyperspace as close to enemy's home world as possible. They will scan the
planet for signs of life and return to hyperspace before anyone can attack."

"And if someone is living there?" Sheridan still didn't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation. But how could he? He was an ignorant human, unaware of the teachings of G'Quan.

"Then all our races stand on the edge of extinction," The council members looked at him with varying levels of incredulity. The Vorlon was, as always, silent.

-=-

"Navigator if you ever have the unmitigated gall to interfere with an ongoing negotiation with a foreign government with something as insufferably petty as name calling I will cut off your arms," Daul's temper finally boiled over, "You are welcome to engage in whatever power plays and word games you wish in within the confines of the Endless Bounty but I will not allow your ego to damage our safety in this region."

It had been some three hours since they'd started negotiating with the Drazi Ambassador for the right to pass through their territory. It could easily have been two if Daul hadn't been forced to talk up, down, over and around the Navigator's insufferable backtalk. He seemed not to have noticed yet that once you spoke through a translation computer the subtle nuances of the language were lost. Every word spoken was taken at face value as truth.

Daul narrowly missed tripping over one of Dorn's dragging whips as they walked along, flanked closely by the armored security officials. Daul had realized with some surprise that they seemed to be serving their stated purpose of guarding the Imperial envoy rather than spying on it. Their ambient thoughts were mostly indicative of curiosity rather than suspicion.

"I'm sure I haven't a clue what you're speaking of Inquisitor," the Navigator snidely droned in an unconvincing manner. Having a seven foot scaly beast threaten to tear your limbs off at feed them to your was generally accepted to be a memorable event.

"Then figure it out else keep your abnormally sharp tongue immobile. This is not the time or the place for us to match wits," Daul cracked his neck, "And I cannot always use my own talents to save you from your own foolishness."

Using psychic suggestion to convince the Ambassador had been risky. Races had gone to war for less.

"Inquisitor I assure you, you have never matched my wit." Calven swiped at the ruffled bit of his silk overcoat.

"Navigator," Sáclair's Avatar said in a voice of dangerous calm, "Propriety demands that we have a navigator as part of any diplomatic entourage. There is nothing stating that you need to be conscious. Don't tempt fate."

The navigator bristled at the insult but stayed blissfully silent for the next thirty minutes. Daul knew he would pay for it later but enjoyed the brief respite from the navigator's sanctimony.

-=-

Mr. Morden entered Londo's quarters with his usual calm and swagger, "You wanted to see me ambassador?"

"You said I should tell you if I heard about anything unusual happening out on the rim," Londo eyed his face with interest, "the Narns have sent a military ship to investigate a world called Za'ha'dum."

Morden stiffened, near imperceptivity, but he did stiffen.

"Ah," Londo's face cracked into a smile, "I see you know it."

"Only in passing," Mr. Morden's face was a blank mask of serenity, "Do you by any chance know when it's scheduled to arrive?'

"Yes, in a little under ten hours," Londo didn't know why he told Mr. Morden what he asked for. It wasn't that he felt he owed Mr. Morden anything. He simply feared that his involvement with Mr. Morden might be discovered.

"An what of the other matter? The Imperials?" His face betrayed some excitement at the word 'Imperials.'

"They have requested large qualities of grain and water," Londo paused, "Not large, massive, monumental, insane quantities of grain and water."

"My associates might be interested in financing part of that," Mr Morden started.

"I'm sorry Mr. Morden but the cost has already been met," Londo tried to keep his face straight, "They are a proud people and were unwilling to put themselves in the debt of anyone else. They actually negotiated the price up so that it would better reflect the value being offered."

"Interesting," Mr. Morden smiled the grin that didn't reach his eyes and bowed slightly, "Well I must take my leave of you Ambassador. I hope you forgive me." Then he left without waiting for so much as a goodbye.

As the door shut his attendant Vir asked, "Sir, why did you lie to him? You paid the cost of getting the water and grain here, at substantial cost to your diplomatic accounts I might add. What is served by pretending that the Imperials are unwilling to receive gifts."

Londo nodded, "Vir, I am old. I am too old to change my ways but I am not so old as to have gone foolish." He walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink, "The Imperials must be truly at the edge of their wits to request that much water at once. I don't even want to begin to imagine the sort of rationing they're doing. Mr. Morden relies upon the desires of those in need. I simply removed some of that need."

"But we know nothing of these Imperials sir! What we do know is troubling."

"Better to have them as an ally then isn't it?" Londo sighed, "In truth Vir I do not know why I did it. It seemed to be the right thing to offer them the water just as now it seems wise to distance myself from them to Mr. Morden. It is perhaps best not to think about it too hard," he downed his drink, "I won't."

-=-

Talia Winters strode down the hallway with Lou Welch, trying to ignore the stray thoughts she way catching from the security guard. Lou wasn't stupid by any measure, but nobody had ever accused the man of being overtly complex. The man wore his heart on his sleeve and his thoughts could easily be heard out loud even if you weren't a psychic. A dull hum of worry about the security chief and stray thoughts about women they passed in the hallway buzzed in the back of her mind.

Talia liked Lou, there was no insincerity too him, she just wished fewer of his stray thoughts about women had to do with her. She rolled her eyes as the doors to the med bay opened and another stray thought of Lou's ran through her head. Well, at least that one was mildly romantic.
Lou walked into the med bay, bent over one of the sleeping figures and gently shook Garibaldi, "Chief, I brought her like you asked,"

Garibaldi looked up, "Hey Lou, good work," he looked at Talia, "He tell you?" Garibaldi's mind always projected a subtle edge of planning into a room. It was a bit like standing next to a chess match, you never quite got a read on his surface thoughts but he gave you the impression he'd already planned out checkmate.

Unfortunately the side effect of being so good at planning ahead was that he sometimes lost track of the here and now, "Yes, Mr. Garibaldi you have to understand that even if I do go into your mind, even if I do find anything, it's not admissible in court."

Garibaldi shook his head, "I know," Talia felt a jolt of his desperation, "Look I've gotta find out who did this to me. If there's anything in my memory, anything I missed or forgot you can find it."

"You may be placing too much faith in my abilities," Talia said nervously as she realized how conflicted Garibaldi was feeling, "But I'll try."

She removed her gloves, "In this condition this will have to be a deep scan." She smiled politely, "It may cause you some discomfort." There was no "may" about it. It was going to hurt like hell but there was no reason to get him more worked up than he already was.

Garibaldi grabbed her hand without a second thought, "Let's do it."

Talia felt the jolt of being in his mind. It was an odd sensation being in someone else's memories. She didn't simply view the memories, she became part of them for a short while. She felt the cold air of down below, the slight twinge from a cut on Michael's hand and a sight pang of hunger from having missed lunch.

But above all she felt the rush of adrenaline that Garibaldi felt as he apprehended three ner-do-well thugs in brown sector. They were the sort of thug for hire that thrived in brown sector, all muscle and no neck. A squinty eyed man with a slight slur spoke to Michael fearlessly, "I told you, not to poke around in things that are too big for you."

"Yeah well it's a litter late for that," Talia felt Michel's surge of amusement at his own wit. The man way all together too satisfied with his own sense of humor, "Now up against the wall"

"I think not," The man smiled and looked past Michael.

The memory started to freeze and skip for a moment, Michael's memory was approaching the point where he blacked out. Talia felt fear, exhalation, and confusion as the whine of a plasma pistol firing sounded in the small corridor and Michael's world exploded into pain.

The memory skipped and restarted as Michel's mind tried with all it's might to force itself away from that moment of pain. Not just the pain… the betrayal.

Why betrayal? The face, a face, there was a familiar face in the mirror. A face holding a gun, a known face, a trusted face, it was a friend's face.
Talia let got of Mr. Garibaldi's hand in horror when she realized who's face she was looking at, "No! Oh god no…" She gently massaged her hand.
Lou grabbed her shoulders and tried to comfort her, "What? What'd you see?"

Talia tried to say but simply stood in horror as Mr. Garibaldi seethed in rage, his every revenge fantasy playing through her mind.

Checkmate.
-=-
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Jack looked through yet another stack of requisition forms wondering idly how Garibaldi managed to get all this paperwork done and micromanage as much of the station security operations as he did. There had to be some secret to it but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what it was. By all accounts Garibaldi had to be employing elves or something to do it for him otherwise he had given up sleep altogether.

Chen Park rushed into the room breaking Jack's train of thought, "Hey, come you gotta see this!"

"What is it? I'm kind of busy here," Jack tired to remember what word he'd been intending to write next. Theft of goods perhaps? Damn.

"Ambassador Delenn is out of that weird cocoon and she's got wings just like a butterfly," he flapped his arms exaggeratedly, "You gotta come see."

Jack rolled his eyes and followed into corridor. Delenn had better not have sprouted wings or he owed Mike Turner fifty credits. As he wondered if he'd be able to Welch his way out of paying the bet he felt a powerful pair of hands grab him and toss him to the wall. Before he knew it a fist had clipped him in the face and he was sitting in a half dazed heap with a plasma rifle inches from his mouth.

Jack looked up to see half the security staff of the ship in full body armor pointing PPGs in his face. He smiled shaking his head, Garibaldi had told him that this was the right of initiation for a new security chief but he'd never actually believed it. Lou hadn't needed to hit him quite so hard for the joke but Lou wasn't the most subtle man on the planet.

Lou sneered and yelled, "Go ahead, go for it, make my fragging solar year." As he plasma rifle whined with a round.

Jack flinched. This was no joke, Lou was not that good of an actor and wasn't about to have a live round on anyone he didn't actually intend to shoot. Garibaldi had instilled that in them all very early on. As Lou's foot connected with his kidney Jack coughed up phleghm and realized what was happening.

Garibaldi's memory must have returned. Damn, and double damn, he should have just shot him twice to be sure in Brown sector.

"That's enough," Sheridan walked down the corridor and eyed Jack with disdain.

"He's all your's sir," Lou growled looking down at Jack with murder in his eyes, "Unless you want to walk around the block a few times and leave him to us."

"I appreciate your enthusiasm but I don't think that'll be necessary." Sheridan said in a pleasantly brusque tone, "Put him in lockup under maximum security I want check ups every quarter hour."

"Yes sir," Jack winced in pain as Lou yanked him up and tossed him to two other security officers. Jack noticed they never took their fingers off the trigger of their guns. An accident still seemed entirely likely, "Take him."

As they dragged him away Jack resisted the urge to smile. They should have just shot him when they had the chance.

-=-

As Daul sat on one of the sofas in the apartment granted to the Imperial diplomatic envoy he reflected on his day. Meeting the diplomats had been simple, almost pleasant even.

In the space of a day they'd met the Centauri, Drazi, Abbai and Vree representatives. Wholly inexperienced with the foreign policy of the Empire the various races with Embassies on Babylon 5 had been all too willing to provide maps and star charts with the hope of procuring trade in future. Their openness about providing details of their spatial geography was jarring really, they acquired so much information that Navigator Calven insisted upon returning to the Endless Bounty so that it could be analyzed.

So eager was Daul to rid himself of the insufferable nuisance of a Navigator it was not till the shuttle had lifted off carrying Calven, Fadir, and Hamman that Daul realized he had no exit strategy if relations on the Babylon station soured. After all the danger and fear of the past week the openness and apparent friendship of the Babylon station had tricked him into letting his guard down. He tried not to think of what his mentor Inquistior Gaal would have had to say about something as foolish as letting a questionable ally leave with the only escape craft.

The Sáclair's avatar stood at the bar fixing another drink for itself. Hamman shook his head and turned to him, "Captian what point is there in wasting alcohol on an astropathic avatar?"

"Inquisitor at some point you will realize that there is an art to hospitality," he lifted the glass of the blue liquid, "When you are offered drink, you drink. The Vree honored me by offering me a strong spirit, thus I must drink it."

Gazan smiled as he looked at the poison swoop in his hands, "And the fact that you can drink what is effectively promethium at no risk to your own liver is only part of it sir? I think Hamman uses less potent materials in his flamer."

Daul chuckled dryly, "Unless I miss my mark what they said is 'may your ship drink this.' I'm reasonably certain that is a fuel additive."

"Is it now?" the avatar wiped it's lips, "We'll I'd best disconnect from the avatar before it eats through the synthetics lining the stomach and starts to cause the avatar pain. Cheers Hildy." The avatar placed it's glass on the counter and fell boneless in a heap on the floor. Cairn, chattering angrily in binary lifted the body and carried it back to the bed. Daul recognized that tone, it was the same tone he was subjected to when he broke an auspex.

Vira'Capac growled and stirred from his place on the floor with his mastiffs, "Something comes. Old, I do not like it." The dogs snapped their jaws, "Neither do my hounds."

"Helmets ON!" Daul ordered as he scrambled to replace his own. There was something to be said for intimidation.

The door chimed and the Lionhearts hopped to attention on either side of it. Daul nodded to Danzig and he pressed the button to permit entry. A tall man in a tailored suit sauntered in smiling at Daul as though he weren't surrounded. He cocked his head and started to speak in gothic, "Good day Inquisitor. Lovely weather we've been having lately isn't it."

Daul blinked nonplussed and walked over to the grinning man, "You speak high gothic?"

"I am Mr. Morden. My associate's understanding of language far supercedes that of those on Babylon five. Suffice it to say they find you to be," he tapped his fingers together searching for the right word, "…interesting. And thus they provided me with the necessary… equipment to fulfill the role of communicating with you."

"And just who might these linguistically savvy associates be?" Daul crossed his arms. The temptation to simply allow Galut to pound the arrogant man to paste was ample.

"Now, now," The man smiled, "Start small. I've come to ask you a question… a riddle really. They want to see if you know the answer to it."
"Indeed?" Daul said impassively. A few pregnant moments of silence passed as Mr. Morden stood smiling. Daul raised his palm to his forehead as he realized what Mr. Moren was waiting for, "Mr. Morden what is your question?"

The man grinned, "What do you want?"

"What are the policy goals of my government?" Daul asked politely. It wasn't a spectacularly unexpected question, and was admittedly one he'd hedged around for most of the day.

"No," Mr. Morden shook his head, "You personally. What do you want?"

"Mr. Morden," Daul's annoyance seeped into his voice, "I hope you are not deliberately wasting my time."

"It's a simple question Inquisitor," The man continued, "What do you want."

"I want all the gold in the universe," Daul waved to the open door, "Now leave."

"What do you want?" the man was unabashed.

"I want you to leave." Daul waved to his retinue, all of whom started cracking their knuckles and glaring.

"What do you want?" The man wholly ignored even the ogryn and the yapping mastiffs.

Before he knew it Daul was screaming. He hadn't intended to say it but for some reason it boiled out of him, "I want to find and kill Soren Faust. I want to torture him for an age and a day then kill him so slowly the dark pits of hell will seem like a glorious holiday by comparison. I want to find all his works and render them to ash and erase him from history and memory."

The man grinned widely, "And then?"

Daul glowered, ashamed that he'd admitted as much as he had, "And then if you do not leave this room in ten seconds I will flay the skin from your bones and allow Vira'Capac to consume your entrails." His face left no room for doubt that he meant what he said.

The man bowed and politely excused himself from the room, smiling broadly, "I'll see you soon Inquisitor."

Daul stared the man in the eyes and realized idly that he would most likely have to kill that man before the year ended. He doubted he would regret the action.

-=-

Michael hobbled around the interrogation room, staring at Jack with irate fury. It had taken a massive amount of effort to get the doctor to agree to dope him up enough that he could stare his shooter in the face. Now that he was here he only felt cold burning disappointment, "I trusted you. I taught you everything I knew. I gave you every break," he growled, "I even treated you like my own brother."

Jack looked to the wall in front of him, pretending not to even notice Michael. Micheal slammed his cane on table. Jack flinched but said nothing.
"My god why did you do it?" Michael felt a desperation seep into in his voice. It made no sense, why would Jack do this? Even consider this?
"I had my instructions," Jack said with cool confidence.

"From who?" Michael said with as much venom as he could manage.

"There's a new order coming back home Garibaldi. You can either be part of it or you can be stepped on.. be a winner or loser," Jack said with cult-like conviction, "I'm with the side that's going to win."

"Home Guard?" It wouldn't be beyond their agenda to do so. They'd caused numerous smaller incidents back on earth.

"Home Guard," Jack chuckled, "They're a bunch of misfits." He squinted at Michael in surprise, "You really don't have a clue do you Garibaldi."
Michael was in no mood to be condescended to by his shooter, "Look if I were you I'd start talking straight because right now you're in a whole world of trouble."

"You don't even know what trouble is," Jack smiled brightly, "but you're going to find out real soon."

"Yeah well, while I'm worrying about that," Michael leaned in close to Jack's ear, "roll this one around in your head. Shooting a senior officer is an act of treason and mutiny. The penalty is spacing. They put you in an airlock, seal it, and open the space door. You spend the next five minutes chewing vacuum until your lungs turn inside out, your eyeballs freeze and your heart explodes. It's the worst kind of death you can imagine."
Jack's face tightened and Michael continued, "And when that day comes, I'll be there to push the button."

Garibaldi walked to exit with a heavy heart and his blood boiling.

"Hey Garibaldi," Jack saluted Michael's turned back, "Be seeing you."

-=-

John sat in his office doing paperwork. It was a fantastic excuse to brood in private rather than have another of the insufferably personal conversations that Liz seemed determined to foist on him. He finished reading another report on the state of station hydroponics and felt his head throb. The throbbing turned into a shooting pain as the monitor rang.

He pressed the activator and the face of Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova appeared on the monitor, "Captain."

"I know. I know. The council meeting. I'm just trying to finish up a few things here before I go." John picked up the hydroponics report and tossed it in a drawer. It didn't help his headache but it did give a strange sense of satisfaction.

"It's the President. He's on Gold Channel One. He wants to speak with you," Ivanova smiled knowingly "Unless you'd like to have me tell him to call back later?"

"Ivanova," John sighed in exasperation. One did not tell the President to call back later, especially not one of his military officers.

"Yes sir," she smiled "Stand by."

Sheridan stood and moved over to main viewer behind his desk. He thought idly that he really ought to have worn his formal uniform today rather than his standard one as the Balding and sour face of President Clarkeappeared on screen. Rumor had it that the new President had an obsession with proper appearance.

"Mr. President, to what do I owe the honor of this call?"

"Captain Sheridan I've just read the report on your recent arrest," the President's voice filled with shock, "Do you really think this individual was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate my predecessor?"

"It's a little early for that sir. All we have on him now is attempted murder of the senior officer who discovered the alleged conspiracy." Sheridan wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be true, but he was still hoping it was simply an unfortunate co-incidence.

"I see," President Clarkenodded, "This is very serious captain if there's the slightest chance this might be true we need to investigate fully."

"Oh I agree sir."

"Good," the president clapped his hands "I want him put on the first prison ship to Earth."

"I'm not sure I understand sir," it would potentially break the chain of evidence to have the investigation run from Earthdome. They still needed to interrogate Jack further.

"We can't risk this being mishandled Captain. During the time I as Vice President under Santiago I grew to admire and appreciate the man. I owe it to his memory to personally oversee any inquiry," Clarkeleft no room for debate in his voice. It was an order, simply not stated as such, "The first shuttle out Captain."

"And I want all transcripts, vid, and background materials sent with him. I need to have everything right at my fingertips." Sheridan felt the same feeling of confusion again but this was doubtless going to be a highly political trial. It wouldn't do to lose on a technicality he supposed.

"Yes sir," he hesitated slightly, "Of course sir."

"You're a good man Sheridan," the President smiled brightly.

"Thank you," Sheridan beamed at the compliment.

"Good work on this," the President said with gusto, "To you and your chief of security. I'll keep you informed of anything we find. Earth dome out."
Sheridan stood in confusion for a few minutes before heading out of his office. The council was waiting. The whole situation was astoundingly strange.

-=-

Magos Frist flinched at the severe tone of the Chief Docere Medicus, "I do not even begin to understand why you are in my surgery and making use of my equipment but if you do not put that regent pack back into the cupboard ask me for it first I will remove the hand that is holding it with a bonesaw."

Kerrigan turned to Docere Nor as the diminutive surgeon stood there in his white scrubs and apron with his arms crossed tapping his foot, "My apologies Docere but there are some necessary tests I need to do…"

"They'd better be damn necessary for you to try and sneak a level two contained substance out of my supply cabinets without my knowledge," He pointed to the numberous servo-skulls flitting about the room, "You do realize the servo-skulls are programmed to inform me or the nearest doctor the second that anyone tries to remove anything from the medical supplies without going through proper channels? You're lucky you didn't set off the damn gun turrets."

"Not lucky per se," Kerrigan smiled as she put the regent pack down, but not quite away, "I disabled the defense turrets."

"Damn it woman! We use those to discourage the theft of opiates," Nor waved his scalpel around in the air to emphasize his point, the silver tip flashed in the bright sterile light of the surgery.

"I indented to activate them after I left," Kerrigan bristled, "But it really was urgent to test this sample." Kerrigan pulled out the vial from her robes full of the nutrient liquid from Dorn's chambers, "I believe there might be an exotic toxin in it."

"Oh for the love of…." The Docere strode forwards and snatched the vial out of Kerrigan's hand, "Testing this with a level two pack is only going to tell you how to treat a human being and if one of the things it can treat is in it. None of those things are "exotic" in the slightest." He stared at the vial, "If you want it tested proper I can do it but it might take a matter of some days."

Kerrigan smiled. It was not the ideal solution but it seemed unlikely she would get a better offer, "You realize I will require some discretion in this of course? And one of my attendants will be with the sample to observe the procedure."

"Of course," Nor nodded, "Just stay out of my damn surgery. Half my patients are so doped up they were screaming they saw a daemon when you walked by. I've got enough to get on with without psychotic breakdowns."

-=-

"I'm afraid to say that the ship dispatched to investigate Za'ha'dum has been destroyed. They're reporting it as an accident with the jump engines. It happened just as they left hyperspace. The Ka'ri says it cannot afford to send another ship for some time." Na'toth's news was like a dagger in G'Kar's heart. The assembled council stared at him expectantly.

He had no proof, damn.

"No I won't accept this," He slapped his hand against the table, "This cannot have been an accident. When a warship jumps to normal space it's briefly out of contact because of the energy drain. It might have been attacked during that period."

"But that couldn't happen unless," a dangerous thought flitted into his mind, "unless they knew the ship was coming and were waiting for it. But no one knew except," trailed off and looked at the council members in horror.

"What exactly are you implying Ambassador?" Sheridan growled.

G'Kar moaned dejectedly, "Nothing. I'm too late. Everything is too late." His purpose, his goal, all was lost. They would come and the worlds would no be ready.

His dark thoughts were broken as the Minbari Mr. Lennier walked in proudly, "If I may address the council."

"Yes Mr. Lennier?" Sheridan smiled politely. Human friendliness involved altogether too much baring of teeth. It was difficult to tell rage from joy.

"Ambassador Delenn has been unavailable of late," Ambassador Mollari snorted at the understatement, "She has now returned and wishes to know if she may take back her seat on the council."

"Well yes, of course. Have her come in," the human said in his usual gung-ho boorish voice, "I've been looking forward to meeting her."

Lennier bowed and exited. In his wake a white robed figure entered the room, Delenn. She lowered her head and revealed something altogether not Minbari. G'Kar's jaw dropped in astonishment. The face and bone ridge had changed significantly, softening and subduing the angular features of the Minbari. Her crest of bone had bisected and now covered a generous mane of soft brown hair that reached down to her shoulders.

She was beautiful.

She spoke in the familiar comforting tone G'Kar remembered, "Ambassador Sinclair has been allowed to live on my world as an act of good faith to create a greater understanding between Minbari and humans. In return I have undergone this change with the blessings of my government so that I might become a bridge between our worlds in the hope that we will never know war between us again."

Perhaps not all was lost yet after all.

-=-

It was some hours later that John was back in his quarters with his sister, still reeling at the events of the council meeting, "All I could do was sit there my jaw on the floor looking at her"

"I can't say as I blame you," Liz smiled, "Has her genetic structure changed as well or just her outward appearance."

"I don't know but she didn't seem to inclined to talk about it," John smiled brightly "God what a day, the Imperials, Garibaldi, the President, the Imperials, and now this?"

"And it's not quite over yet," Liz said morosely, "When I decided to come see you I brought something with me. I've been debating over if I ought to show it to you or not but after our talk the other night… and you blaming yourself for Anna taking that job on the Icarus, I think it's something you ought to see."

She pulled a video crystal out of her purse, "Its part of a message sent to me about a week before she left on the Icarus." John took the crystal and stared at it in numb shock "I'll be in my quarters if you want to talk."

She rose and left the room. After a moment John walked over to computers and put in the crystal, "Play."

Ann appeared on screen just as beautiful as he remembered her, "Ah well maybe we'll have the chance to try again later. I am really excited about signing up for the Icarus next week. John and I were supposed to spend some time together but Dr. Chang thinks he's found the ruins to an ancient civilization nobody's ever heard of before and the chance to be there when the discovery is confirmed is just too good of an opportunity to pass up. I had already decided to put off our vacation when John called and told me that he had to cancel so it worked out just great."

She laughed and John felt knives in his heart, "Though the poor dear looked so put out about canceling I wanted to tell him that I was going away anyway but we had so much else to cover and there's never enough time. I'll just have to fill him in when I get back."

"You've got quite a brother there Liz. I can't tell you how lucky I feel sometimes. When he's not here I just… someone said that love knows no borders and ours certainly tests the meaning. I'll check in with you when I get back but with any luck you'll hear about it on the news first. My love to Danny and the kids. Bye!"

John reached a shaking hand to the screen said, "Goodbye. I love you Anna," and broke down crying for the first time in years.

-=-

"I want to thank you for helping out," Michael turned to Talia and Susan as they entered the med-bay.

"Don't worry but it's still not admissible in court." Talia waved her gloved hand knowingly.

"Nah, now that you've got the ol' memory going I'll be able to find and, uh, speaking of taking it from here," Michael nodded to Susan, "Can I have a minute?"

"Oh! Sure, I'll see you later." Talia politely let herself out.

Susan raised an eyebrow, "Is something the matter?"

"No," Michael said unconvincingly, "I just didn't want her to hear this. I trust her… well I trust her as much as I trust any telepath but she's still Psi-core."

"What does Psi-core have to do with this?" Susan blinked.

"I've been thinking about this little salute Jack gave me back in his cell, it's the same as that Psycop Bester gave," He imitated the salute, "Its like he was rubbing my nose in something he knew I could never prove. Remember there was a big scandal about the core endorsing Vice-President Clark?"

"Sure it was big news, made all the nets," Susan shook her head in disgust, "Their charter prohibits them from recommending candidates to their members."

"Exactly," Michael waved his finger in the air, "Now Jack didn't admit anything but he did say the home guard wasn't behind President Santiago's assassination. What if it was the Psi-core? What if they wanted someone in office who was sympathetic to the core? Right before Earthforce One exploded the Vice President got off at Mars saying he had the flu. It's pretty convenient wouldn't you say?"

-=-

The Inquisitor pulled the servo skull out of it's case and passed it to Gazan. It felt cold in his hands. He pursed his lips and looked at the Inquisitor,

"Sir?"

"The probes on the skull ought to have collected some hair and skin cells covertly. I want the samples tested against known biological profiles for species in known space," he pointed to the skitarii, "Cairn is more than capable of doing the analysis but he won't be able to tell me what the results are in plain speech."

"Which is where we come in," Gazan said looking at Jak.

"Which is where you come in," Daul nodded, "I'm going to get some sleep. I've been awake for close to seventy-two hours now. Wake me the second you finish the analysis."

Gazan nodded as the Inquisitor walked away. It was jarring to think of the Inquisitor doing something as normal as eating or sleeping. He'd certainly never done either in view of any of the Lionhearts. There were some bizarre rumors that the Inquisitor required neither and simply survived by consuming the souls of heretics.

Danzig wandered over as the Skitarii set up some unrecognizable scanning equipment and shoved the servo-skulls sample tray unto it. The Lieutenant eyed the Skitarii and muttered, "Gazan do you have the remotest clue what he's doing?"

"I suspect that he's scanning it with a sophisticated medical Auspex to determine the genetic profile of the species on station through a xeno-dna-cipher at level 1 clearance planning profile," Jak smiled at Danzig's uncomprehending look, "Yes Lieutentant I do have an understanding of it."

"Good," Danzig cracked his neck, "And it will let us know who we're dealing with?"

Gazan shrugged. It might let them know for some of the species but even the geno-archives of the bounty were limited. There were simply too many species in the galaxy to have records of all of them. Between the auto-savant and his medical logs from the Bounty it ought to more than suffice for identifying the known dangerous breeds, "More or less sir."

The Kroot giggled from its corner, "Can't even see what's staring you in the face can you. Can't taste it. Ignoring the hound to find the wolf."

"Shut it up will you Galut?" Danzig said to the massive ogryn.

The brute blinked confusedly, "Ez' just talkin'. Wot's the matter wid talkin'."

"Because he's saying naughty xenos things," giggled the kroot, "Vira'Capac speaks naughty xenos truths."

"If there's truth hidden in your rambling I've long since missed it," Jak snapped, "Now shut up and let us work."

-=-

It had taken John a long time to get himself composed enough not to burst into tears when he talked to Liz but eventually he soldiered on, put on a smile and helped her carry her bags to the departures section. It was sad to see her leave but he felt as though perhaps some of his regret might be getting on the shuttle and leaving with her.

Liz hugged John and beamed, "You'll write every once and a while to let me know how you are?"

"Yes, yes of course," John said as The intercom called out that Earth Cruiser Von Braun was announcing final boarding.

"That's my ship. Take care Johnny," they hugged again.

"You to huh? Thanks for coming, thanks for everything." John smiled brightly.

Liz swatted his shoulder and walked towards the boarding ramp, "You're my brother."

As John watched her round the corner and board the plane his link chimed, "Sheridan,"

"You're needed in CnC," it was Susan. John stared at the closing doors to the departure airlock and started to walk to blue sector command.

-=-

Na'Toth sat awkwardly in the garden next to G'Kar. He was insufferable when he got into one of his moods. It was best to simply sit back and indulge his introspection; he often came to useful conclusions eventually. She just wished they happened more quickly.

"Things have changed Na'Toth and they will never be the same, but we are Narns. We have learned to cope with change, to triumph in the face of adversity. We will overcome this as well."

G'Kar smiled amusedly and waved about a book, "We have no other choice."

Na'Toth pointed at the book in curiosity, "What is that?"

"A human book," G'Kar smiled and tapped the open page, "I've been studying their literature for a while and it seems that they may be wiser than we had assumed. Listen.


Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?



Na'Toth did not see the importance of it but G'Kar often saw deep meaning in things that disinterested her.

-=-

"So what's the problem?" John walked into the empty CnC. Only Susan was on shift as no ships were scheduled to arrive for another four hours.

"On a hunch I just checked on the ship taking the prisoner back to Earth," Susan frowned "He was transferred to another ship a half an hour later. It had Earthforce security markings, it knew all the right access and identification codes, had papers authorizing the transfer, but I just backtracked with Earth Central and the ID codes don't match any ship registered to Earthforce."

"Oh great!" John swore, "So he's gone and all the evidence with him?"

"I'm afraid so." Susan looked dejected.

"Have you notified President Clark?" John suspected the answer.

Susan shook her head, "He's not taking any calls."

John gritted his teeth and stared at the stars, "Gets cold up here sometimes Lieutenant Commander?"

"Yes sir," Susan nodded, "It does indeed."

-=-

Daul sank into the dream. It was not the nightmare he'd come to expect for decades but the comforting friendly space he'd always desired. He was in a garden, a beautiful garden full of flowers and trees. It was not the bramble filled garden of his family house on Metzik, or the stately order of the gardens at his own estate. It was more structured as though every inch of space had needed to be used.

His grandfather was standing in the middle of a vegetable patch with his goves off, pulling weeds from the sod. He paused his weeding to tug off a glove, pull out a handkerchief, stand up, and mop his brow, "You're late. I expected you days ago. I understand you're busy saving the universe and all but a body needs to sleep."

Daul wandered over to his grandfather and was elated to realize he was fully-grown. He stood a good quarter-meter taller than his grandfather. His grandfather quirked an eyebrow at Daul's expression, "Yes, yes. All boys have to grow up some day," he shoved a bulging basket of round red vegetables into Daul's arms, "Now you get to carry the basket."

Daul lost his balance slightly and had to struggle to keep from falling as the followed his grandfather. Bast Hilder pulled out his pipe and lit it as they wandered a winding path, "Come now boy keep up! We've got a lot of work to do yet."

"Where is this Opa?" Daul said as he stepped quickly to avoid stepping on some buzzing machine that was spraying water on the ground, "I don't recognize it."

"You do," Bast chuckled, "It's your mind after all." After a few minutes they reached a bench in the middle of a circle of flowers and Bast sat down, motioning for Daul to sit as well.

Daul sat and quickly put the basket down. Bast groaned, "Damn it boy! Don't bruise them. It takes too damn long to pick them to get more."
He held out his hand and grabbed one. It was read and juicy looking. When Bast cut a slice out of it, it made a soft squishy crunching sound before he popped it in his mouth, "Beautiful. Just perfectly ripe."

"What are those Opa?" Daul looked at them with interest.

"I don't rightly know," Bast looked up at him, "It's your dream after all. I just live here. Speaking of which you must have something you're dying to ask me else you would have taken one of those insufferable sleep potions you drink like candy."

"I just need to be up at a moment's notice Opa," Daul floundered. He really had been hoping to have the dream again but these new dreams scared him. He couldn't figure out what they meant, the nightmare at least he could categorize and understand. These visions were just too, odd.

"Boy I'm in your mind," Bast chewed another bit of the vegetable, "If you can't trust yourself around me you've gone completely around the bend." He tapped his brow, "Anyhow I know when you lie before you do child. Don't waste the effort."

Daul chuckled, "There's something familiar about this whole station. Ever since we got here I've been having premonitions about things. At first I thought it was just picking up stray thoughts and mistaking them for my own, but it's more than that. I know this place some how. I recognize were I am." Daul picked up one of the red vegetables and took a bite. The savory juice inside ran down his lip and he wiped it with the back of his hand, "I'd wager that were we're sitting right now is probably part of the station I've never been to."

Bast smiled widely, "Now you're using your head boy." He reached up and ruffled Daul's hair, "Now you're using your head."

"But it doesn't make any sense," Daul shuddered, "Why would I know anything about this place."

"Boy," Bast shook his head and puffed at his pipe, "You still aren't asking the right questions yet. You have to pick the right questions to get the right answer."

Bast stood up and dusted off his pant legs, "Now you're going have to wake up boy."

Daul looked up in shock as the garden started to fade, "But Opa!"

"Wake up boy," Bast's face faded out of view, "Wake up boy."

Daul opened his eyes and came face to face with Danzig. The Lionheart had Daul by the shoulder and was shaking him, "Sir you need to wake up! Wake up now!"

"I'm awake Lieutenant," Danzig blinked the stars out of his eyes, "What is so pressing?"

Gazan approached with a data-slate in trembling hands, his face perked upwards into a smile of stunned joy. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it and shook his head.

"Out with it already," Daul massaged his temples, "What is it?"

Vira'Capac laughed uproariously, "Your metal man and flesh-fixer have just discovered that the Babylonians aren't any known form of xeno-breed at all."

"That's hardly that shocking," Daul blinked, "There are billions of unknown and known non-human species that aren't in the data banks."

Vira'Capac crowed with laughter again and Jack swallowed uncomfortably before speaking, "Oh we have a record of the species... it just isn't on any of the 'non-human' lists."

Daul froze and looked at Gazan. Gazan swallowed and said, "Sir, of the forty sentients the servo skull sampled from exactly fifteen of them were one hundred percent pure blood human. Sir… the Babylonians… the Alliance… they're human."

"Throne of Terra almighty… where are we?" Daul's waking mind was wild with the possibilities.
--
A/N- My update schedule will be more irregular for the next couple months. I live in Japan and as I'm sure you know there are some rather... pressing matters that take precedent over writing fanfiction.

As always, reviews are appreciated.
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post #40 of 159 (permalink) Old 04-04-11, 05:58 AM Thread Starter
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I just realized that this is going to end up being longer than the Eye of the World.
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