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post #41 of 159 (permalink) Old 05-21-11, 10:22 AM Thread Starter
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The Sh’lassen Triumvirate had predicted a quick victory against the rebels. They were, after all, a disorganized group of religious fanatics. They were eternal optimists. They were hopeful. They were idiots.

Of course none of that changed the fact that the rebels were winning the war. It was hardly difficult to realize why.

The rebels held the fortress of Matok. It had been hewn from the undying stone during the last great invasion of the old war. The impregnable construction was completed in the time before words the honored nameless gods, ancient races of power and might beyond imagining.

The honored nameless gods, who the holy books name as intrinsically cleverer and more dangerous than the Sh’lassen could dream to be, designed the great walls and impossible geometries shielding Matok from the rage of the Ever-dying armies of the Bringer of Nightmares in the time before their banishment.

The eternal secrets of the honored nameless were hidden in Matok. The riddle of their disappearance entrusted only to the priest caste. The priests had hidden it from the Sh’lassen people in the height of their arrogance. Now the priests rebelled so that they might hide the secret of the nameless for eternity.

Matok was called the place of fire in the old days and in the old legends. It earned that name. Geysers of natural gasses filled the air. The smells of sulfur and methane seeped into the very flesh of those who walked through it. To wander the fields of Matok was to be stained for life with its taint and be haunted by the distant rumble of exploding clouds in the distance.

The Triumvirate couldn’t begin to hope to mount an aerial assault or launch ballistic missiles at Matok. Any missile or aircraft flying through the skies of Martok simply exploded before reaching its indented target. Laser fire burned clouds but was refracted into nothingness before orbital bombardment could have any effect.

So they fought on the land, as their ancestors did, and theirs before them. The Triumvirate partisans huddled in deep trenches inching forwards step by laborious step. V’cath had spent the better part of the past year hunched and huddled in the steeping and sulfurous muck at the bottom of the trenches swatting the flies from his haunches and prying small stones from his hooves.

He hadn’t yet even seen a rebel. Supposedly they filed their horns down to the nub but he couldn’t imagine any man willingly cutting off his own horns. It’s no wonder they started this insane war. How can a man with no horns be expected to think rationally?

He looked over the edge, squinting from the glare and from the smell. The heat haze from the deep geysers of methane and sulfur blurred his vision and made everything in the distance look the same shade of red. Another benefit of the landscape that crippled the attackers, Sh’lassen eyes saw heat not color. V’cath’s normally acute sense of smell hadn’t noticed anything other than the overpowering smell of rotting eggs since he’d spent his first night in the trenches.

The war leaders of his company assured him that his nose would eventually become accustomed to the ambient scents and adapt. They also promised him that he would only be fighting for two weeks rather than two years. The government promised soldiers many things.

He took a bite of his ration bar and wondered idly when they would create rations that don’t all taste like they were chewed by at least three soldiers prior to reaching him. The bars, jokingly called “recycled food,” consisted of a number of nutrient supplements bound to a protein and fiber combination base with roughly the consistency of sawdust and steel wool. It was best not to think too hard about where the protein in them came from if one wanted to keep them down.

After three weeks in the trenches without support V’cath would have gladly killed his own father for just a bite of decent food and clean water.

The hard earth above the trench reverberated with the sounds of hoof beats and V’cath grabbed his rifle tighter to his chest. A voice bleated exhaustedly and a shabby looking grey figure landed horns first in the trench.

V’cath relaxed. The familiar grey and black spotted fir and yellow sash indicated him at a Triumvirate partisan. He crawled over and helped the partisan up, “Come now, we can’t have you going hooves up on me just yet.”

The partisan spat out a glob of muck from his mouth and massaged an egg-sized lump on the bottom of his throat. Like most of the southern partisans he was a bit parrot mouthed and seemed to be suffering from a slight case of bottle jaw from the parasites that lived in the earth.

V’cath noticed the black bandanna wrapped around Matok’s horns and snapped to attention. The man was one of the commanders of the foreword sorties, “Sorry sir. I did not realize who you were sir.”

“At ease,” the partisan commander pulled out a pair of field glasses and put them up to his face, looking to the sky. He muttered to himself in frustration, “Damn, damn, damn.”

“Sir?” V’cath strained his eyes looking at the sky, “What’s the matter?”

The commander furiously shoved the field glasses into V’cath’s hands, “Look for yourself.” V’cath nervously looked through the glasses. The ambient heat haze cleared out of his vision and he was left with a clear vision of a number of wide shapes falling through the sky towards the ground. Some damned fool must have ordered an air strike and gotten the wrong orbital coordinates.

He looked at V’cath, eyes roving over V’cath’s scout rank insignia, “Do you have a mobile communications setup or is your unit relying on runners?”

“Runners sir,” V’cath said nervously. There weren’t enough mobile communications equipment powerful enough to transmit through the magnetic interference of the local terrain, “The next one should be here in ten minutes.”

“Damn,” The commander swore loudly, “We need to get those deactivated remotely. If the rebels go on high alert the assault I’ve been planning for the past three days will have to retreat.” He spat on the ground, “Who would be so stupid? We haven’t tired anything like that since the first days of the war.”

“Sir,” V’cath felt his blood running cold, “I think we should take cover, now.”

“Are you giving me, orders whelp?” The commander snarled before V’cath grabbed him by the shoulders, shouted, “sooner would be better than later sir,” and tossed him into the shallow cave at the back of the trench, crawling in soon after.

The skies turned to fire, blinding and malodorous. The battlefield suddenly became a roaring inferno of screaming and gunfire as the geysers lit aflame and forced entire squads to run into open ground. After a few minutes of fire the partisan commander popped his head out of the cave and motioned for V’cath to follow.

The two crawled out and looked over the rim of the trench. Not twenty yards away a trio of surviving rebels was on the open ground, pawing through the remains of several partisan soldiers who’d tried, and failed, to use the fire as a distraction to conceal their assault.

"I'll overlook breaking the chain of command this once," the partisan growled. Mud had caked in his mane and dribbled from his horns.

V'cath snorted, it wasn't worth the effort to argue with the partisan. He was longer in the horn than V'cath by at least ten summers and no doubt ten times as stubborn to boot. Luckily he had three perfectly good reasons to ignore the partisan in his sights.

V’cath shouldered his bulbous weapon and fired sort stream of phased plasma at the nearest of the three. He caught the rebel’s shoulder, burning the flesh and tendons down to the bone. The rebel screamed and collapsed.

His fellow scavengers fell to the ground, shooting wildly and haphazardly. V’cath winced as a shot hit the earth in front of him, spraying his face with molten hot clay. He swatted the plasma-heated earth away from his face and resisted the urge to plunge his head into the pool of water at the bottom of the trench. It would provide a temporary comfort for his wound but more than likely go septic within hours.

The commander pulled a grenade out of a pouch on his bandolier and lobbed it towards in a high ark the prostrate rebels. They screamed and tried to run away but only managed to stand before it burst into a ball of flame, igniting a pocket of gas in the air and vaporizing them both. The commander yelled to V’cath, “Come on! We need to take the ground while we still can!”

V’cath nodded and left a red flag in the trench to let the runner know he’d advanced. The two of them hopped over the side and ran towards the next trench. As he hooves clipped over the packed earth V’cath prayed silently that there weren’t any land mines in the thick orange clay.

Only ten meters to go.

The commander was leaping over stretches of uneven ground and corpses with a grace that V’cath lacked. V’cath felt his own hooves slipping and shifting on stones and nearly tripped over the tangled limbs of half a partisan.

Only five meters to go

The terrifying smell of rotten eggs filled his nose. There was a gas pocket forming nearby. It could be a small one that would only burn his fur or a large one that would leave a steaming pile of charnel, either way he didn't want to find out.

Three meters to go.

V’cath ran as fast as his meaty haunches would propel his goatish body forewords. The commander was ahead of him, already jumping face-first into the narrow trench. V’cath leapt into the air and way flung forewords but the concussive force of the blasting gas bubble as a huge shape impacted with the earth behind him.

He tumbled head over hooves beyond the trench and collapsed into a crater. His entire body throbbed with pain. He lay on his back breathing laboriously, not even trying to move.

A sound, a loud reverberating a metallic squelch echoed from where V’cath had been flung. The thudding of metal on clay followed it soon after, echoing an unnatural reverberating chorus of growling mewls. A dozen shambling feel rushed along the ground, chattering and arguing in some guttural speech he could not place.

A plasma shot’s buzzing hiss cracked out and the commander yelled, “Stop where you are or we will open fire. I have ten men in this trench with me.”

Another shot rang out, “I’m serious damn it.”

Another shot, then another, and another, “Die! Damn you! Die!”

The commander screamed then went silent. V’cath shook in fear as the wet and unmistakable sounds of chewing echoed from the trench. The voices growled and hissed at each other with contempt as they chewed and swallowed luxuriously. An eternity later the great hulking sinewy men crawled over the edge of the trench and advanced towards the fortress of Matok. Their tentacles twitched angrily and the bursts of exploding gas lit up the spurs and crests of bone along their body terrifyingly. They each wore ragged scraps of armor bearing defiled images of what might have once been a two-headed bird of prey.

They walked only inches from his stunned body. He felt drips of blood drip off their talons and onto his charred fur. They dismissed his broken body and walked on, their hunger apparently sated for the moment.

It would be an hour till he got enough feeling back in his arms to drag himself back to the partisan camps or enough courage to risk being seen by the monsters. Time enough for him to sit and watch as some thousand capsules of the monsters impacted with the side of Matok.

Gods help them. The devils had returned for their ancestral home.
--
Michael hated the med bay. Dr. Franklin was nice enough, as good of a doctor as one could hope for, but the constant overpowering smell of antiseptics and sterile swabs was so thick he could taste it. It made him want to gag.

Why every doctor in the history of time had universally agreed that the doctor’s office must be a good three to five degrees colder than anywhere else was a mystery. Garibaldi sat shirtless on the table as the doc waved a dermal regenerator over his spine. It whirred and spat loudly.

After a few moments the doc nodded and pulled out a stethoscope, “Breathe in please”

Michael breathed in, grimacing at the feel of the cold metal and freezing hands on his back. He exhaled as slowly as he could, counting backwards from three. If he had to go through another week of this he would go insane.

“Again slowly,” Michael repeated the process, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. It burned a bit to move his chest that much but admitting it would get him another damned week of bed rest. Michel could have gladly never slept again.

“Does it hurt when I do that?” Dr. Franklin pressed down on a nerve cluster and throbbed badly.

“No” Michel lied, “No it’s fine I don’t feel a thing."

Dr. Franklin pressed down onto the nerve cluster and twisted. Michael jerked and yelled, “OW! Hey!”

“I don’t like it when my patients lie to me.” Dr. Franklin said in a tone of businesslike near calm. Michael recognized the tone, he used for interrogations. The Doc wasn't going to let him off easy this time. Damn, just his luck.

“Yeah well we could have discussed it. Geese what do you do when a patient’s late? Stick needles in their eyes.” The nerve cluster pounded with pain.

“I cannot fill out an honest physical evaluation without your co-operation,” the doctor waved around the stylus to his pen like he was brandishing a sword, “You are being cranky and difficult.”

“You try getting shot in the back sometime and see what it does for your disposition.” Michael started putting back on his shirt. His shoulder burned from the effort of twisting it back into the sleeve, “Ugh, so how’s it look?” Bad no doubt, it would be bad.

“Allowing for your tendency not to report everything that hurts, your condition seems to be improving right on schedule. I imagine you’ll be able to get back to work in the next day or so,” the way he said in a no-nonsense tone, “Providing you don't exert yourself.”

“Yeah… well I gotta check in with the new Captain first. See if he even wants me around,” Michael hedged, “Sides’ I don't know about this guy. I keep thinking how everybody and his brother wanted Sinclair outta’ here. Now all of a sudden this change of command.” He chewed his lip, “Sinclair I could trust. This guy… I don't know.”

Dr. Franklin quirked an eyebrow, “If you don’t mind my saying so, you didn’t exactly sound excited when I mentioned going back to work. I thought you’d be pleased.”

“Yeah I am,” Michael, said as much to convince himself as the doctor, “Mostly.”

Michael tried to leave the med bay when a hand reached out and firmly grabbed him by the shoulder, “Hey Michael!” Michael turned to the concerned face of Dr. Franklin, “Want to talk about it?”

“Doc what do you want me to say,” Michael sighed, “I got shot in the back by my own guy. My own second in command. He was right there all this time, a snake in the garden and I didn't even see it. What the hell kind of a security chief am I supposed to be, if I can’t see something like that.”

“You can’t be expected to know everything.”

“Yes I can. I coulda known and I shoulda known. And now I,” Michael sighed piteously, “I just don't know if I’m cut out for any damn use to anybody any more.” Michael would have liked nothing more than to just climb into a bottle and never crawl out. “You know I keep asking myself what qualifies me to take back my job and I haven’t got an answer.”

He walked to the door of the med bay and turned back to the Doctor, “I wish the hell I did.” He walked out of the med bay with a clean bill of health and a loaded conscience.

-=-
The pilot sputtered in indignation, “You honestly expect me to make small talk with a blasted xenos sir?”

“What I expect you to do,” Sáclair said in a slow and dangerous voice, “You officious, self-righteous, rebellious, little toad, is to fly to the Babylon station, shake hands with the captain of the Centauri ship, smile, laugh at his jokes, and then I expect you to get on with him as though you were the best of friends at least for the next hour.” Sáclair towered over the pilot, “You seem to have forgotten with whom you are speaking. I am your liege lord. Do not mistake your place.”

“If you feel the need to undergo ritual cleansing afterwards to purge yourself of the xenos influence then do so,” Sáclair raised his finger and pointed it in the face of the freighter pilot, “But if you so much as show a frown before you’ve loaded every ounce of grain onto your ship I will have you made into a waste reclamation servitor.”

Sáclair punctuated the conversation with the strongest glare he could manage. Between his memories and those of his predecessors he had a good three centuries worth of practice at intimidating looks, “Do I make myself clear.”

“Sir!” the pilot swallowed nervously, “Transparently so sir.”

“Good,” Sáclair nodded, “Now do your damned job.” The pilot, eager to be out of Sáclair’s sight, rushed away tripping over his own boots as he went.

Sáclair was unwilling to allow xenos ships to berth on his longer than was absolutely necessary. After the first dozen or so tanker ships carrying water had arrived he’d insisted that all ships unload their cargo on Babylon 5 then load them onto Imperial freighters. It was a frustrating decision but politically necessary. Pilots without jobs are prone to mutiny. Loosening the alcohol rationing would have made them less mutinous but would have damaged the productivity of other crewmen.

He smiled and looked up at the half mended walls. The marble was cracked and several walls would need to be replaced but for the moment tapestries of his ancestral history and exploits covered the worst of the damage.

It felt good to be holding court in the great hall again. Much as he liked his apartments his true home was on the bridge of his ship. The Lady Sáclair often referred to herself as the mistress of a man already married to the stars.

She wasn’t that far wrong.

“Who is next on the agenda for today Preston?” acerbic though the man was, Preston’s secretarial skills were unmatched, the product of a splendidly underdeveloped imagination.

“The usual string of marriages, divorces, and inheritance disputes sir. There is one rather pressing petition though,” Preston looked down at a data slate, “Father Al’Ashir is requesting, well demanding to be frank, another audience with your lordship.”

Sáclair winced. This would make the seventh petition put foreword by Al’Ashir this week, “Very well. I’ll see him.”

One of the floating marble platforms rose to the great throne, depositing the bearded and scowling Al’Ashir at the foot of his throne. Al’Ashir was wearing the full robes of a member of the Ecclesiarchy, the seals, and ring of his office. It was a less than subtle reminder that although he resided upon Sáclair’s ship he was not truly bound by Sácliar’s orders except by custom.

“Captain Sáclair,” Al’Ashir said in a voice that threatened a sermon at any moment, “I once again put forth my request that I might bring missionaries over to the lost souls on board the Babylon station. It is through no fault of their own that they have not yet found the light of the Emperor. I will not condemn them to hellfire and nothingness for my inaction.”

“And I will not alienate our only source of food and fresh water on some ill advised jihad,” Sáclair looked at one of the many chandeliers trying to avoid catching Al’Ashir’s gaze, “I agree wholeheartedly that they ought to find His light but I will not send missionaries to save their souls at the cost of crew’s lives.”

Father Al’Ashir bristled, “I’m not advocating that we storm the station and burn out the heretics. They aren’t traitors. They’re ignorant children. Children can only learn if we teach them.”

“Children learn only if they’re willing to learn,” Sáclair chuckled, “When they’re willing to learn and when they’re capable of learning the material.”

“I seem to remember tutoring a young boy on the history of the Saints who learned them all by memory in spite of his best efforts,” Al’Ashir smiled widely, “Or have you forgotten?”

“Not bloody likely,” Sáclair reflexively massaged the back of his hands. Al’Ashir had been fond of whipping students with a long stitch when they made mistakes, “I still wake up some nights and have to remind myself that neither am I ten nor am I in the middle of Ecclesial instruction.”

“If you’d simply bothered to study the material instead of re-reading the military campaigns of the Primarchs then I wouldn’t have had to switch your hands,” Al’Ashir smiled kindly, “All I’m asking is that you give me the chance to bring His word to those without it.”

“Father you know I cannot approve it,” Sáclair picked up his goblet and stood from his throne, stretching his shoulders slightly, “The Inquisitor feels that it would be unwise to do so.”

“To the eye with what Hilder thinks. Don’t hide behind your debts to him,” Al’Ashir swore, “I’m not asking him. I’m asking you. I know you are as God fearing as any other man on this ship, more than most. How can this be anything but the will of the Emperor?”

Sáclair bristled at the mention of his debts to the Inquisitor. Ones obligations of honor simply weren’t something one discussed in polite company, certainly not with one’s priest, “Father, for the love of all that is holy use your head. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We many never get back. If and when we get back to His holy dominion we can inform the nearest crusade fleet that there are a series of populated worlds under xenos influence but until that point it might be best not to give them the impression that we might bring a crusade fleet down on them.”

“And if we can convince them to find the light without the use of such crude measures?” Al’Ashir was not about to be side tracked from his goal, “What then? Are we better men for having forced men into His light that would have gone willingly? Must we enact pogroms and genocide where words will do? No I will not tolerate the heretic but the abuse of the ignorant and uninformed is equally barbaric.”

Sáclair rubbed his temple with the palm of his hand searching for the correct worlds when he felt a supple and elegant hand resting on his shoulder. He turned around and came face to face with the soft porcelain face of an angel. The Lady Sáclair had arrived.

He smiled and kissed her on the lips and grabbed a generous handful of her hips, “Darling, it is good to see you.”

The Lady Sáclair quirked her lip, “And you husband,” she nodded to the holy man and reluctantly removed Sáclair hand for proprieties sake, “Father Al’Ashir lovely to see you once again.”

“And you madam,” Al’Ashir grinned wildly, “Radiant as always my Lady you outshine the stars. Were I fifty years younger and not already bound to the Word I would move the stars themselves for a face like that.”

“Were you not vowed to celibacy,” Laughed the Lady, “I would fear you intend to steal me from my good husband.” She laughed dryly, “My husband tolerates no other man to flirt with me as you do.”

“I tend not to fear the advances of any man who cannot open a jar unassisted,” Sáclair sipped as his wine and stared at Al’Ashir’s look of mock outrage, “Oh come off it Father Al’Ashir, half the time you talk about the great crusades in your sermons I wonder if you’re talking from first hand experience. Were someone to tell me that you stood on the great mount with Gilliman himself I wouldn’t even question it.”

“A pity you will not let me share the thrill of my experiences with the Alliance then,” Al’Ashir continued, “I’m sure they could benefit from the moral truths of it.”

“Al’Ashir,” he sighed, “I cannot.”

“Husband,” The lady strode forward and put her arms round his waist, resting her head on his chest, “There can be no harm in allowing him to petition the Inquisitor in person. I’m sure that Misters Danzig and Gazan are in want of a priest to oversee their confession,” She smiled dazzlingly at Father Al’Ashir, briefly small emeralds inserted into each tooth, “If the Inquisitor forbids it so be it but let the decision rest on the one who wishes it so.”

Al’Ashir was formidable enough with those he liked. The Inquisitor was a meddlesome stranger. Yes, yes it made sense to allow that. Sáclair laughed rowdily, “Very well good wife mine, so shall it be.”

“I acquiesce to your wisdom,” Al’Ashir bowed slightly, “I look forwards to preaching to those in need of His word.” His hand was tapping at the holy book at his side like wild with anticipation.

“If he acquiesces,” Sáclair reminded Al’Ashir gently.

“When, not if,” Al’Ashir laughed, “With the will of the Emperor all things are simply a matter of when.”

“Oh very well when he acquiesces if it must be so,” Sáclair snapped his fingers for a new goblet of wine, “How in the devil do you plan to preach to them? That devil box of a translator butchers every other word I say.”

“Child,” Al’Ashir shook his head, “One does not let a machine speak for him. One must teach the word of the Emperor from their heart. So it is that I have been learning the language of the Alliance so that they might hear from my heart.”

“You speak the Alliance language already?” The Lady Sáclair blinked.

“In a manner of speaking,” Al’Ashir evaded the question, “I apologize my Lord and Lady Sáclair. I must be going. The next freighter leaving in a matter of twenty minutes. I will already have to rush to get there.”

Sáclair watched the priest retreat with mild amusement. Poor Hildy wouldn’t know what hit him. He idly took the new goblet of wine offered to him by Preston, “Perfect. Just perfect.”

-=-
Lord Refa had great taste in liquor judging by the year on the bottle but Londo suspected his talents leaned more in the way of drinking liquor than serving it. The fine crystal glasses clinked together clumsily as Lord Refa poured a generous measure of port into each of them. One did not, however, complain when someone of higher standing poured you a drink, much less if he was an under qualified servant.

Then again they were now on equal social standing weren’t they? His household had enlarged due to his good fortune a number of parcels of land and property now sat in his household trusts, each covertly gifted by an appreciative friend in the aristocracy. Even as he sat the soft snipping of scissors reminded him that Vir was enlarging the crest of his hair to reflect his new importance.

Refa smiled with polite and friendly insincerity, “So we set up monitoring stations near quadrant 37 to keep an eye on the Narn buildup. We heard that you would personally take care of the problem. But of course I’m sure you understand our skepticism,” he chortled and trailed off.

“Yes I’m sure it sounded quite absurd,” Londo basked in the moment.

“More like insane,” Refa carried the drinks over and passed one to Londo, “But then the probes went silent. Sensors confirmed that the entire Narn outpost had been wiped out. I would be very interested to know how you did that ambassador.” His eyes shone expectantly but Mollari was no fool.

“Yes, I’m sure that you would,” the two men laughed together as old friends, though neither of their smiles reached their eyes. The joys of court life.

“We are also very interested in your budding friendship with the Empire,” Refa spun the liquid around in his glass and clicked his tongue against his teeth, “I must confess that we were somewhat surprised that you had agreed to make such a large gift of good will to them,” he waved a hand suggestively at Londo’s shocked look, “Come now Mollari, you hid it well but not perfectly enough to conceal such a substantial amount of irregular cargo heading to a diplomatic way station. One might even think that the appearance of this new military power in the galaxy were connected with each other.”

Londo snorted impolitely, “One might think but one would be very much wrong.”

Refa turned his back to Londo an sidled over to the plush couch, flopped down and draped himself over it, “Very well, keep your secrets for now. What matters is that you have saved our people another embarrassing surrender by our idiot Emperor.”

Londo quirked his brow, the Emperor was not the most popular of leaders but most Centauri limited their complaints to dark mutterings about the Narn ‘appeasement.’

Refa sipped at the amber liquid in contemplation, “What you did required independence of thought, initiative, courage, and a rather large and aggressive strike force that you have managed to assemble without anyone knowing about it. Even the Narns don’t suspect it was us.” He gave the ambassador a meaningful glance “Or more precisely you. We need more people like you Mollari.”

Vir’s comb snagged on a bit of hair and Londo winced, “For what?”

Refa’s lips twitched, unspeaking. His eyes wandered to the squat form of Vir as he preened Londo’s crest. Londo nodded to his attendant, “He can be trusted.”

“The Emperor is old sick and frightened he’s a pitiful figure. With the recent death of his son there’s no clear line of succession. When the time comes my associates and I intend to fill that vacuum. It will not be easy. There will be resistance from the old guard. Overcoming that resistance may require force. Can we count on your support Ambassador?” It all flowed out in a great rush, Lord Refa’s excitement clearly mounting with each syllable.

“What you are asking could be considered treason.” Londo rubbed his fingers together; the effort of keeping his voice calm was making him jittery.

Refa nodded slowly, his eyes searching Londo’s posture and disposition, “Or the first step to restoring our people to their proper place in the galaxy depending on who writes the history books. I think it will be us,” his voice excited, “What do you think?”

The rightful place of the Republic in the galaxy, Londo’s head filled with visions of the great Centauri Empire of old stretching back out and grabbing the stars themselves.

Londo held up his glass to that of Lord Refa, “I think that we have a great deal of work ahead of us.”

-=-
The Imperial Ambassador sat straight backed on the chair across the desk from John, his golden skull mask glinting with soft plumes of Purple static. The small twitching man sat in the chair next to the Ambassador, adjusting a matte black re-breather.

John hated the masks though not as much as he hated the Ambassador’s bodyguard. Skitarii Thross would be in every meeting with the Ambassador, standing in the distance. He never spoke, never laughed, and never even seemed to be breathing. He simply stood there staring hatefully at Miss Winters, arms crossed, growling slightly as she shifted in her chair. Ivanova had insisted that Miss Winters be present at all meetings to ensure that the Ambassador not use his own psychic abilities to ill effect.

The Ambassador apparently found her presence to be hilariously funny.

John felt the bodyguard’s optics staring him down as he spoke to the Hilder, “I’m sorry to say this Ambassador but I need you to move your warship out of Babylon Five orbit. This is a diplomatic station, part of our charter demands that we do not allow foreign military vessels to berth here for any length of time.” John smiled and waited as Jak started to repeat what he said. The translation computer sat turned off at the Ambassador’s request, he had distaste for any sort of device that recorded his voice. It was probably some sort of social taboo but it would have made this sort of thing substantially easier.

The Ambassador raised his hand, cutting Jak off, “I understand what you speech. Listening to your words I have. Your meaning is shared.” Jak politely whispered in the harsh Imperial language and the Ambassador nodded, “… meaning is understood.”

John blinked in surprise, “You’re picking up English very quickly.”

“I listen,” Ambassador Hilder nodded curtly, “It is necessary. Complex words are lost, like a child I speak.”

“The Ambassador has a talent for languages,” Jak interjected in accented English looking distinctly pleased with himself. Jak seemed to take unnatural pleasure in knowing he was cleverer than those with whom he conversed, “And we have taken a personal interest in fostering friendship with your race.” The Ambassador tapped his hand against Sheridan’s desk twice, silencing his translator.

"And we appreciate it," John smiled politely and poured himself a cup of coffee, "Would you care for some?"

"I appreciate much, thank please," the Ambassador reached over and took the porcelain mug in his gloved hand, "Hospitatity is wise between friends."

The Imperials Ambassador always referred to the humans as friends, though only in private. No doubt he offered sumilar framiliarities with the Ambassadors of the non-aligned worlds as well. Yet for all the grotesque imagery and terrifying physical presence of the Imperial agents the Ambassador was positively paternal in his manner.

“Infinitas infinitio Spende no move.” He nodded his head firmly as though the matter were settled, “What other you request?”

“No,” John said patiently, “You will movie it into neutral space somewhere else. It doesn’t have to be far away, but yes it will move.”

“Not military ships no need move yes?” The Ambassador rambled in his half-coherent English patois, “Not military ship keep here. So keep here.” He motioned to the station floor.

“Yes,” John tried to wade through the sentence structure but with no luck. He glanced at the silent Jak, “A non military ship may be granted permission to stay here briefly.”

Ambassador Hilder cocked his head confusedly and looked to Jak, saying a long string of something in his native language. They chattered at each other for a good thirty seconds before Jak smiled and looked at John.

“Captain Sheridan,” the man twitched in a friendly manner, “Infinitas infinitio Spende, or Endless Bounty as it would be in your language, is not a military vessel. Not even remotely so, it is under armored, under equipped, and overall outclassed by the Imperial Navy. We aren’t to be trifled with," he hastily corrected himself, "But we are not a military vessel.”

“You expect me to believe that a shielded ship over half the length of this military installation is simply a courier? You expect my government to do the same?” Sheridan stood up and paced round the room to where the Ambassador and his aide were sitting, leaning up against the edge of the table, “Even if that’s true my government is still going to require that you move a safe distance away from the station. One of the other planets in system would do but you cannot keep it in orbit of this particular planet.”

He stared into the gilded skull that the Imperial Ambassador wore over his face. Small static discharges sparked off the helmet at odd moments, making it difficult to stare into the Ambassador’s eyes. They stood in silence just staring, each waiting for the other to break.

“We get grain and water,” flowed the Ambassador’s elegant patois, “And we move the ship. Is this,” he muttered in the Imperial language searching for the proper words, “acceptable?”

“It will do for now,” John nodded conciliatorily. Earthdome really only needed him to say he was making ‘progress’ with the Imperial Ambassador, “I was also wondering about the cultural exchange we had discussed. We are more than willing to exchange our entire historical records for as much of yours as you feel comfortable sharing.”

The Ambassador laughed and John’s face creased into a frown of consternation, “I’m sorry is there something I’m missing in the translation.” Imperial humor was insufferably obtuse.

Jak, fidgeted about though a sack at his side. The soft jingling of crystal against crystal heralded him pulling out a long, thin piece of quartz and holding it out on his palm, “An exchange of cultural data was already part of our agenda. The history of the Empire is long, and at times confusing but this crystal contains a summary of the most important events of the past ten thousand calendar years.”

“Wow,” John took the crystal and felt the cool weight of it in his palm, “Ten thousand years? How old is your species,” his cheeks reddened, “That is, providing that isn’t a rude question.”

“We estimate around fifty thousand calendar years,” Jak played with the long cord of his breathing mask. It twisted and shifted warping the sound of his voice, “Though anything before around ten thousand years ago becomes unreliable. There were certain… complications.”

“We prefer not discuss the Dark Age,” Ambassador Daul bowed his head, flashing gold gothic lettering on the dome of his helmet, “Sad speech is for different time. Now we discuss Magos Frist.” The ambassador shifted his baroque cloak of firs and leather covering his ornate pressure suit to better reach a metal disk attached to his belt. He tapped the scroll on Sheridan’s desk and a small image of what might once have been a woman appeared. In the pale Green light of the hologram she looked altogether inhuman.

“Yes, the priestess of the machines,” John tripped over her title. The concept of scientific research being a religious pursuit was wholly alien to him. How the two professions meshed was a mystery, “She’s coming today then is she?”

“She wishes to observe your machines. She decide which are and are not will of Omnissiah,” the chair creaked and shifted as ambassador stood eye to eye with the Captain, “Her judgments the voice of the cog. Final. I not dispute. Unable to dispute.”

“And if she finds us lacking?” John’s tone carried an edge to it. The Imperial Ambassador’s voice held a tone of threat in it that he didn’t appreciate.

“Unfortunate,” The ambassador picked up the disk of the table and passed it to his bodyguard, “Much unfortunate.”

“I don’t appreciate threats against my station Ambassador,” John poked his finger into the Ambassadors chest. Before he knew it a powerful hand was gripping his own at the wrist, metallic fingers cutting into the flesh. Thross, the Ambassador’s bodyguard did not appreciate John’s closeness to his master.

John scowled at the face to half-face with the glaring bodyguard as a sharp pain burned in his wrist, “Ambassador Hilder control your man.”


The Ambassador barked something in the Imperial language and released his wrist. “Skitarii Thross take position seriously,” Daul waved the bodyguard back to the wall, “Perhaps too seriously. Are you alright?” He stood and reached for John’s wrist in concern.

John recoiled from the Ambassador’s grasp as Talia stood up and moved towards John protectively, "I beileve it's time to assert my position as mediator in the discussion, we must end for the moment."

“Yes,” John massaged his wrist and winced as he pressed down and pain flared, “This meeting is over. We will meet again in six hours when your Machine priest arrives.” He glared at the bodyguard, “And I expect mister Thross to be out of my sight for the next week at the very least. I will have armed guards at our next meeting.”

“Throne’s light shine upon you,” The Ambassador interlocked his fingers in front of his chest in a vague imitation of the double-headed imperial eagle and bowed before striding out of the room, cape and coat billowing behind him.

The door to his office slid shut and John swore loudly. He gingerly tapped the link on his left hand so as not to move the arm too much, “Dr. Franklin can you please get someone up to the Commander's office? I need you to fuse a fractured wrist.”
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post #42 of 159 (permalink) Old 05-21-11, 10:23 AM Thread Starter
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Delenn’s fingers fumbled slightly as the pen swooped across the page, smudging the cursive script. Her hands hadn’t responded properly to what she wanted them to do since the change. Human muscles were strong but clumsy, ill suited to the elaborate Minbari calligraphy. A pity, she'd always been proud of her flowing written script. Still pride goeth before the fall, as the humans were prone to saying.

She'd have to remember to learn more human phrases and proverbs. There was so much to learn about her new life, about the race she'd become part of. But that would have to wait for the moment, she had diplomatic duties to catch up on. The letter in front of her was her third attempt at writing an invitation for Ambassador Daul. It would more than likely be the third unanswered invitation as well.

Lennier leaned over the invitation, “Delenn I could do this for you if you wished me to. I would not think less of you for letting me help.”

“You are kind Lennier,” Delenn rolled the pen around between her fingers considering the next words to write, “But I must learn to do this myself. If I do not learn now I well may put it off forever and that would not do at all.”

“It isn’t the matter of writing that I refer to Satai Delenn,” Lennier let the silence fill in his meaning after his words. The Imperial Ambassador and his retinue clearly, wholly, and unapologetically despised the Minbari.

“They will learn to accept with time Lennier,” Delenn shoved her hair to the side, “We cannot expect them to accept us so soon after we attack while their are wounded and limping to a safe harbor. We started a war with the humans for less”

“Satai Delenn I suspect their distaste for our species goes far beyond the incident of the Trigati. They are a very troubling people.” Lennier placed a cup of spiced tea on the table that smelled temptingly of ripe fruit.

“As were we before the coming of Valen,” Delenn smiled and lifted the cup with both hands, careful not to spill. Lennier was really so young sometimes, “Wisdom comes with time.”

“Wisdom,” echoed a metallic voice as the door swung open, “Comes to those with open hearts and willing minds.”

Delenn stood up, bowing in greeting, “Ambassador Kosh I was not expecting you. How may I help?” The Vorlon rarely dropped in unannounced and never did so without a goal in mind. Delenn hadn’t seen him since in private since before she’d activated the process to change her genetic structure.

“The Circle widens,” the Vorlon glided into the middle of the room, his single red optic flitting about. The suit twitched and flashed with every word. As Kosh reached the table he looked down at the letter and stopped.

“Ambassador Kosh?” Delenn prompted after a few moments of pregnant silence.

“Tainted,” The Vorlon said, his voice dripping with contempt, "Arrogant."

“Does the circle have no place for the Imperials in it?” Delenn picked up her invitation and gazed at the still drying ink.

“All have their place in the circle, now or later,” Kosh looked at the letter a second time with equal contempt, “But to travel to the third space is folly. What lives beyond is not meant to be.”

Delenn quirked her head, “What is the third space?”

“A mistake,” The crystals on Vorlon’s chest flashed with each wheezing, raspy word, “The third space taints all those who travel though it. Do not trust those who walk it freely, they bring nightmares with them.”

“Are they servants of Shadow?” Delenn worried, "Has the enemy moved so soon?"

"All enemies move eventually," Kosh started, "but not always the ones we prepare for."

"And are we prepared for what comes?"

“Perhaps,” Kosh considered the matter, “Perhaps.” Kosh turned and glided out of the room, “The circle ever widens and ever twists.”

Delenn looked down at her invitation, crumpled it up, and tossed it in the rubbish bin. She could always try again later.

-=-

The bazaar was packed with more bustling and chattering xenos than Danzig cared to count. It was simply perverse to see that many xenos chatting, cavorting, and commiserating with humans. With a great shudder and a sigh of frustration he turned to Gazan, “How far is it to where we’re meeting the Inquisitor?”

Gazan shifted the thong of leather he was leading the Inquisitor’s servitor about the station with to his left hand and pulled out a slip of paper, “Two span more I think,” he tilted the map to the side, “Or six.”

“Which is it? Two or six?” Danzig leaned over to look at the scrap of paper, taking care not to step on the trailing tentacles of the servitor. Even deactivated they could easily give burns and a nasty shock.

“Damned if I know,” he passed the scrap of paper to Danzig, “See if you can read this any better than I. ”

Jak had, in a fit of pique, written the instructions in Merican Gothic. One of the major languages of High Terra, Merican Gothic was universally recognizable and universally hated for its situational grammar and hodge-podge collection of borrowed words. Anyone who attended the Schola Imperialis ostensibly became ‘fluent’ in High Merican-root Gothic but few learned more than scraps in their native tongue. The Damascan variant of the Imperial cult didn’t even use that much.

“Damn,” he twisted the inscrutable mess of complex characters that circled the vague map on its side, “To the Eye with it. We’re going to have to wander this Throne cursed xenos mess for hours.”

His words felt limp as they fell from his lips. Xenos mess it might well be but over since the discovery of common ancestry of the Alliance and Empire Danzig could not help but feel a morbid fascination for the common areas in which the sentient species engaged in commerce. He’d been to borderland outposts where alien and human met to trade before but the Babylon station was different. Even upon the rich commerce planets that bordered between xenos and Imperial control there was a constant tension between human and alien, a false air of civility cloaking millennia of hardships between their peoples.

The Babylon station was practically domestic by comparison. The Alliance humans didn’t simply accept the presence of xenos on their station they seemed hard pressed to even notice it.

The servitor leaned in the direction of a vendor pushing a cart of cured meats and was yanked backwards by Gazan, “Well let’s get to it. I don’t fancy myself to be a servitor herder for longer than is absolutely necessary. Galut! We don’t have time for that.”

The Ogryn had wandered over to the Meat vendor. The purveyor of the meat cart, a squat xenos in a purple dress, chattered quickly and eyed the human sized shape of the astropathic servitor in the silk sack over the Ogryn’s ample shoulders with trepidation. Danzig wished the Inquisitor hadn’t allowed the Kroot to join the other carrion eaters onboard the ship. The Babylon station denizens were apparently convinced that all the delegation shared the Kroot’s distasteful appetites.

“Galut,” Danzig walked over to Ogryn and yanked on the sleeve of his tabard, “We aren’t stopping here and we certainly aren’t eating food that’s been prepared by a xenos.” The Ogryn ignored him and continued listen to the xenos’ ramblings.

“We have less than half an hour to reach the meeting place,” Danzig stood between the vendor and the ogryn snapped his fingers in front of the ogryn’s face, “Galut do you hear me. We have to get moving.”

Gazan ambled over, half dragging the servitor behind him, “We’re getting more attention from the locals that I’d prefer.” It was true. Half the bazaar was pretending to be looking at displays of xenos artwork rather than starting at the Imperials.

The ogryn’s massive head looked down at Danzig, black pressure suit material straining to contain him, “We go a block dat’ way den’ we make a right at the place wit’ da’ big fish in front.”

Danzig blinked and looked down at the map, “How in the blazes do you know that?”

With a shake of his meaty hand the ogryn motioned to the wall. There, plain as day was a massive brightly colored overhead map of the station complete with a list of points of interest written in three different languages and a little red spot indicating their current position, “I was askin’ vendor where it was on the map. Maps are good for finding things.”

“That they are Galut,” Danzig sighed, “Well let’s get to it then. Lead the way Galut, well done.”

The ogryn strutted in front of the two Lionheats, positively beaming with pride. Gazan bent in close to Danzig’s ear, “If anyone in the regiment ever finds out the ogryn learned Alliance common faster than we did we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I won’t tell if you don’t,” Danzig arranged the silk veil draped over his rebreather, “But the ogryn tend to be fast learners. It’s just hard to get them to pay attention to anything they don’t feel is important.”

“Fighting, friends, and fornicating,” Gazan chuckled. “The core of all ogryn society.”

“We use bigger words and bathe more often Medic Gazan,” Danzig stared at the back of the ogryn's head, “But I don’t think we base our actions around different things.”

“Poetic sir,” Gazan eyed a display of odd alien jewelry seemingly carved out of bone. A pair of knob-headed sentients was arguing over the price of some bit of bone puffing off small plumes of perfumed smoke, “Not much in your usual train of thinking, if you’ll pardon me saying.”

“Never fear to speak your mind Gazan. I’m your superior but we’ve known each other since the cradle. I trust your judgment.”

Gazan snorted, “Sir the Lionhearts all know each other cradle to grave.”

“Then I suppose I trust in the judgment and thinking of my regiment,” Danzig waved his hand exaggeratedly.

“Even Fadir?” Gazan chortled.

“Perhaps not Fadir,” Danzig eyed a column of the large grey biped reptiles. Even before Jak had warned them of the Drazi’s temperamental nature he’d already picked them out as being potentially dangerous. Anything with that much bone on the outside of their body couldn’t be trusted, “At least where women are concerned. Now tell me Gazan is it just me or are we fixing to find ourselves in the middle of some local color?”

A number of Drazi were marching up and down the Bazaar in groups of four or five, clustered into groups of either Green or Purple sashes. Their pacing, their posture, and the way their scales flared at the neck caused the skin on the back of Danzig’s neck to stand on end, “If the local color involves the Drazi patrolling the bazaar in squads then yes I’d say we were in for a heck of a lot of local color.

“Galut!” Gazan pressed on the back of the ogryn, “We need to leave as soon as is possible.”

“Too late,” with a growl and sound of breaking china the bazaar burst into an all out brawl between the two factions of Drazi. A stray plate soared through the air and crashed down onto Galut’s head. Suitably angered by the Green sauce dripping down his visor the ogryn bellowed, unceremoniously dropped the silk bag carrying the astropathic avatar, and charged into the brawl grabbing a Drazi and tossing him the length of the bazaar.

It was a mess of shouting, grabbing and clawing between the Drazi and those trying to get out of their way. Dazing balled his fist and struck as hard as he could between the eyes of the nearest Drazi. He yelped with pain and cradled his hand as the stunned xenos fell to the ground, the crest of bone was substantially harder than he’d expected.

“Oh hell!” Gazan yelled, “Run Danzig, for the love of all that’s holy run! He's coming for you!”

Danzig laughed as he turned to Gazan, the man worried too much and this was the best proper bar room scuffle he’d gotten in to in weeks. He smiled, opened his mouth, and felt blinding pain in his chest as an electroshock flail seared through his pressure suit and cooked the flesh beneath. He fell to the ground frothing in pain and trying to figure out what was going on. As his eyes glazed over and he fell into a bloodless stupor he heard the sounds of discharging weapons and saw the servitor fall in a heap on the ground in front of Gazan.

He croaked and smiled up at his old friend, hot blood seeping out of the tear along his chest. He feebly pressed his hands along the slice in his chest trying to keep his entrails inside his chest. “I believe we’ll be a bit late for the Inquisitor’s scheduled meeting.”
-=-
Vir didn’t like Lord Refa. Lord Refa was of the old guard, the sort of barbaric person who thought of servants as property and employees as only a step above slaves. He would have been well suited for the court of the late Countess Leenar, cheering as she roasted Narn dissidents alive on a spit.

The sort of man his family wished him to become.

Vir was very grateful to be seeing the back of him. A pity that the Babylon customs officers didn't accept bribes, he would gladly have expedited the speed at which Lord Refa’s transport shuttle left. As it was they had to sit with Lord Refa in customs for a good hour before his ship was ready to leave.

An hour of Lord Refa’s terrifyingly racist Narn jokes. An hour that Vir was not sad to see ending.

“Goodbye Refa. You will give my regards to the other. For a long time they’ve been looking for a sign that it’s time for our people to step forward into history. I will try to convince them that you are that sign.” Londo grasped Lord Refa’s hands at the wrists firmly in the hands of friendship.

Refa smiled wryly and walked away, “See you again soon Mollari.”

As Lord Refa turned the corner Vir exhaled a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. He simply hadn’t been made for this sort of posturing and artifice. Sticking him with Ambassador Mollari was some sort of cruel joke on the part of the gods. It simply had to be.

The Ambassador stiffened and gasped, pointing at the arrival gate in astonishment, “Great Maker! It’s a Technomage, looks like a human.”

Vir squinted at a stern faced, bald man striding through the gate. Other than a distinct scowl and an oversized staff he was strikingly normal, “What’s a Technomage?”

“We used to have them back home, long ago. They use science to achieve the appearance of magic,” his voice misted over thinking of younger days, “I haven’t seen one in years. They don’t like to leave their places of power. To see even one of them is a rare thing. To see more than one of them is considered a very bad omen.”

The unassuming man was followed by another two similarly garbed scowling figures. They strode across the waiting area, robes swelling round them, never looking anyone in the eye. They made Vir’s skin crawl.

“Three, this is definitely not good.”

It was just another ill omen in a series that followed the Ambassador. Vir sighed. At least the Ambassador could see this one. Londo always seemed to miss the other danger signs till they’d already passed.
-=-
Dr. Franklin rushed the wounded into the intensive care beds as quickly as was possible. The bazaar brawl had turned into a bloody massacre, he still hadn’t gotten the specifics on what happened but four Drazi were confirmed dead by the first responder and another six might well die soon as well as a handful of unfortunate Narn and Minbari in critical condition.

“Get him into bed three. I need him on a drip of two-part paxylin-R and make sure you don’t combine it with morphine. He’s allergic. Franklin turned to Dr. Hobbes in confusion, “How may are incoming still?”

A haggard sweat stained Dr. Lillian Hobbes shot Dr. Franklin a withering look as she waved a dermal generator over a long laceration in the side of a groaning Minbari, “We can’t handle many more sir, we’re running out of crash carts as is. We well may have to put the worst cases in cryogenic storage till we can deal with them.”

Stephen swore as the door to the med bay burst open, “Not another one!” He rushed over to the groaning form on the stretcher and recoiled in astonishment. Lying on the stretcher was a badly wounded member of the Imperial diplomatic mission.

“Good god,” Stephen felt the blood run from his face, “Lou why bring him to me? Watch him die? I haven’t got a clue how to fix him.”

“Not my idea sir,” Lou nodded to an unwounded Imperial helping him carry the stretcher, “He insisted, Gazan that is. According to the security briefings apparently some sort of medical doctor.”

The Imperial groaned in pain and the second Imperial chattered angrily and pointed to an unoccupied bed. Lou nodded, “Yeah, yeah, we’re moving, we’re moving.”

“Dr. Hobbes,” Franklin stared at the protruding intestine, “How stable are the other patients?”

“Not in a good state sir,” the drug dispenser in her hands clicked and hissed as it administered a painkiller to the Minbari on the table in front of her, “But stable enough for us to handle them.”

“Good,” Dr. Franklin rolled up his sleeves and walked along with the stretcher, “I will be assisting Dr. Gazan.”

Dr. Gazan counted down on his fingers from three to one and they shifted the groaning Imperial over to the table. Gazan smiled and talked soft words of comfort in the Imperial language, “Operor nich Verdruß. Ego gesehen recedentia peior verwonding. Vos ero nipozto.”

With great care the Imperial Doctor proceeded to remove his helmet and gloves revealing a scarred face half covered in stubble, olive skin and the sort of salt and pepper hair that doctors seemed to get faster than anyone else. He raised his hands and mimed washing them.

“Of course,” Dr. Franklin nodded, “Over here.” He waved the Imperial doctor over to a sterile sink and handed him a bar of soap. The Doctor thoroughly washed his hands, shaking them dry rather than rubbing them with a towel.

The more that Stephen’s expert xeno-biologist eyes roved over the Imperial’s features the more striking the similarities in their biology were. He washed his own hands and joined Dr. Gazan at the operating table. The Imperial doctor rooted about in a small back pouch, pulling out a small circular saw.

Franklin looked at the thick layers of flak armor back to the tiny saw and shook his head, “I have something more suited to our needs,” he tapped the controls to the overhead device and a thin metal reed popped down from the ceiling. A sliver of white-hot light shot down from it, slicing cleanly through the material of the pressure suit but only slightly burning the skin beneath.

Dr. Gazan swore and looked angry but didn’t protest as Stephen helped him peel the armor off the now deliriously muttering Imperial. The flesh around the wound was puckered and angry looking, thick globules of melted plastic and shards of ceramic had lodged themselves in the intestinal walls that would have to be removed before they even attempted to shut the wound.

As he looked over the wounds and examined the damaged organs Stephen became less worried. The Imperial would survive, Stephen was sure of it. He was one of the most skilled experimental xeno-biologists in the galaxy.

Fixing a human was well within his skill set.
-=-

Captain Sheridan leaved over the display squinting at the latest security briefing, squinting slightly, “How long has this fighting been going on?’

“Uh a couple of weeks, it’s been building up.” Susan had personally been involved in stopping three separate smaller altercations between Drazi but hadn’t chalked it up to anything more than drunken stupidity. Never let something go for granted Susan, she had chided herself. You’ll always miss things that way. “It’s a cultural thing. One every five years all the Drazi divide into two camps and fight it out.

“But it’s not a fight to the death?” The Captain tapped the screen pointing to a noteworthy casualty statistic from earlier in the day.

“No, just until the loser gives up or is knocked senseless. The group with the most wins gets to run the Drazi government for the next five years, then it starts all over again.
Or at least that’s how it usually goes,” Susan chewed her lip in frustration, “Those casualties are actually the fault of one of the Imperials. Apparently one of their servitors suffered a psychotic breakdown and stated attacking anything in sight at the brawl.”

“He killed six people?” Captain Sheridan’s voice darkened and fire burned in the back of his eyes. A shadow of what he’d been in the war played in his face.

“Six people so far,” Susan corrected herself. She paused for a second then, much to her chagrin, added, “But apparently the Imperials with him were wounded trying to get him under control and they only fought in self-defense. I would note that apparently the servitor was equipped with undeclared weapons.”

Sheridan’s face relaxed and he snapped back into his omnipresent smile as he wandered over to the bar at the side of his office and busied himself with pouring drinks, “There seem to be a number of ‘cultural’ issues with the Ambassador as of late.” He massaged the orthogenic simulator on his wrist.

“It warrants increased security over the Imperial Ambassadorial mission doesn’t it.” Susan groaned, “I can’t say I like dealing with the two problems at once.”

“Actually the timing of this is perfect. I’ve decided that it’s time for you to learn the fine art of diplomacy.” The glasses clinked in Sheridan’s hands a liberal serving of orange liquid in each, “If you could handle the low priority conflicts it would help me to focus on the other problems. Besides added responsibility comes with any promotion. I know it’s annoying an inconvenient but…”

Susan shook her head confusedly, “I’m sorry Sir did you just say promotion?

“Yes. Would you like some juice? It’s fresh from the hydroponics garden. I told them to leave the pulp in, that’s the best part.” He placed the glass in her hands, not waiting for a response, “Don't you think so commander? I pushed though the paperwork the day I got here. I think you’ve more than earned it.”

Susan smiled and looked down at her glass of orange juice, “I don't know what to say.”

“Thank you would be a good start.” Captain Sheridan sipped his juice contentedly.

“Thank you” Susan laughed.

“Now, your first job will be to find a peaceful solution to the Drazi problem, okay?” Captain Sheridan looked down at his watch and placed his empty glass down on the table, “Now if you’ll excuse me I have to pay a visit to someone.”

Susan sat basking in the glow of what had just happened and rolled the idea of “Commander Ivanova” around in her head a couple times. She smiled, turned her head, and looked back to see the replay of the events that happened prior in the day. The sprawling melee of Drazi wasn’t exactly how she imagined her promotion to turn out.
-=-
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Kerrigan felt naked without her full cadre of attendants. It was a silly thing but she’d spent so much of the past century constantly being surrounded by a small army of servants, servitors, and bodyguards that not having them all with her for an official function was grating. The Inquisitor had, of course, not been so crass as to request she leave her cadre on the Endless Bounty. What sort of dignitary arrives without attendants after all?

Two servitors and four apprentices would be more than sufficient for her needs. She hadn’t spent nearly enough time with her apprentices as of late. It would be unwise to allow Iino too much time alone with her students.

Iino was good at his job but insufferably narrow minded. If she allowed him enough time with them he might very well damage their understanding of he holiness of her works. She’d given up her home and her livelihood for her principles. It would not do to lose a student.

Her newest student, Abbas, was seated on the edge of his chair staring out the window, fiddling with the hem of his robe, and intently avoiding making eye contact with Father Al’Ashir, “You’re not betraying your faith in the Emperor Abbas.”

Abbas stiffened as though he’d just stepped on a live wire and stared at Kerrigan with wide eyes, “I don’t know what you mean Magos.” His hand shifted to he breast of his shirt, feeling for an Aquilla no doubt.

“My mistake,” She stared out the window and pointed in the direction Abbas was staring, “I must have underestimated the interest that you have for garbage scows. You truly are devoted to the Omnissiah. I must confess that even I tend to find the machine spirits of those ancient workhorses to be a bit dull.”

Abbas blushed and fiddled with the Aquilla beneath his robes, “It’s just,” he licked his lips, “Well Magos I haven’t gone to confess my sins to father Al’Ashir since I’ve been in training. The Tech-priests of the ship all pray to the Omnissiah in binary and I can’t understand a word of it. I don’t mean to disrespect my calling but how can my prayers be heard if I can’t speak them?”

“Go an confess to him then,” Kerrigan smiled, “Your faith in the Emperor and your devotion to the Omnissiah aren’t in conflict child. There’s no need to hide your Aquilla beneath your robes either,” she smiled as he stopped grabbing at the breast of his robes, “Honestly child what do you think we’re saying in binary? Half the time we’re saying variations on the same prayers from the Ecclesiarchy’s hymn books with additional lines added in to pray for the spirits of the machines.”

She leaned in and brushed off his robes, smoothing out the creases his worrying hands had balled into the material, “If confessing your sins to the father brings you peace then go and confess to him,” she pulled out a small jeweled Aquilla out of her robes with a mechandrite, “We each the path to the Omassiah in our own way.”

Abbas smiled and wandered over to Father Al’Ashir’s seat. Kerrigan turned to the soft metallic chuckles of apprentice Sven Tuul as he clicked cheekily binary, “I seem to recall you smacking me senseless for trying to purge myself of sin in the early part of my apprentice hood.”

“Apprentice Tuul had apprentice Sáclair pulled out a spiked belt and proceeded to beat himself bloody with it for each minor sin he committed that week I would have intervened for his own welfare,” She smacked him softly at the chest her own silvery binary voice trilling in response, “But I suppose one apprentice stupid enough to self flagellate is enough for a lifetime.”

“I can hardly be criticized for obeying my faith,” Sven said in mock offense.

“I am your Magos Lord,” Kerrigan said dryly, “I care to disagree.”

Tuul grunted and looked out the window of the grain barge, “It’s amazing what these humans have managed without the aide of the STC designs. I wonder how much of it will pass muster?”

“Some definitely, most perhaps,” Kerrigan’s mood soured, “The humans of this region are altogether too eager to absorb the knowledge and learning of other races.”

“Were we not expelled for the same mistress?” Tuul leaned on the wall.

“Perhaps,” Kerrigan watched the shuttles dart in and out of the wide mouth of the station, “But in seeking knowledge one must temper it with a generous measure of caution else go the way of Faust the Despised.”

“I must confess mistress that I wasn’t ever fully told why Faust is so despised by the Adeptus Mechanicus,” he shrugged, “Other than the obvious destruction of Arturus VIII that is. I’ve never heard of an Inquisitor quite as hated by the Magi of Oita.”

“They hate for reasons far more troubling than the destruction of a forge world child,” Kerrigan sighed, “I was only told the story in the vaguest of terms. As you no doubt are aware the Magos of one forge will guard their knowledge jealously, even from those of our own order. The Magos of Arturus VIII were entrusted with a relic of the dark ages in their vaults. As to the function it served or form it took I can only speculate but the devotees of the Omnissiah do not guard trivial knowledge in the deep vaults of the forge.”

She thought of the two broad shouldered servitors behind her. They were the sort of stocky built war servitors favored by those of the Oita forge but they weren’t even close to as sophisticated as the war machines of Arturus had been. The Machines of Oita were delicate creations of finesse. Those of Arturus were brutish and well suited for fighting the Green Tide to the galactic south. Even with their armies of servitors, titans, and Skitarii they’d fallen to the force of Faust’s combined forces.

“It is for plundering the deeps that we hate him apprentice Tuul,” Kerrigan started to feel the weight of her own considerable age, “The secrets of the machine spirit are ours to keep and ours alone. Those who rob us of knowledge and learning will know our wrath.”

Tuul grunted. They stared out the window in silence listening to the soft prayers of penitence of Abbas in his native Damascan tongue.
-=-

Vir finds Londo at the bar, “Ah Ambassador! There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. The Abbai delegation is waiting to see you. They had an appointment, they wanted to talk about,” Londo grabbed Vir and shoved him into a chair. Vir winced with the collision, “On the other hand maybe I’ll just sit here a while.”

“Vir,” the Ambassador twisted his hand, swirling the liquid about in his glass, “Do you believe in fate?”

Vir swallowed and thought about it, “Well actually I believe there are currents in the universe. Eddies and tides that pull us one way or the other, some we have to fight. Others we have to embrace.”

“Unfortunately the ones we have to fight look exactly like the currents we have to embrace. The current’s we think are the ones that are going to make us stronger, those are the ones that are going to destroy us. The ones that we think are going to destroy us, they’re the ones that are going to make us stronger. Now the other currents,” Vir stopped at the furious look of strained tolerance the Ambassador’s face.

Ambassador Mollari scowled and smacked his fist on the bar, “Vir! Yes or no!”

“Yes… you know somewhat,” Vir stumbled over his words. He never seemed to say the right thing with the Ambassador, “Why.”

“I was thinking about what Refa said when he left. That they’re looking for a sign back home.” His eyes flashed with purpose, “Before our first Emperor too the throne of the Centauri Republic he was visited by three Technomages who gave him their blessing. Now that is a very powerful symbol with those of us who still believe in the old ways.”

“They want me to help restore the republic?” Ambassador Mollari waved his arms wide, “It wouldn’t hurt to be associated with the Emperor.” It was an oddly reasonable thought for Mollari’s usually grandiose aspirations. There would of course be a catch; there was always a catch with the Ambassador.

“Yes… I will consult them. It will have considerable influence back home,” he smiled and pointed to Vir, “Go to them. Arrange it. I’ll be in my quarters.”

“Uh Londo… I really don’t think I want to do this. Londo?” Vir yelled impotently at the retreating back of the Ambassador. It was hopeless. The Ambassador’s mind was made up.

Damn.

Vir sighed deeply and grabbed the Ambassador’s discarded glass. As his uncle Foon had always said, “If a man can’t find any courage in his heart he might as well look at the bottom of a bottle. He might not find courage but he ought to forget he’s a coward for long enough to get the job done.”

His uncle Foon hadn’t, however, calculated on the Ambassador’s fondness for absurdly strong beverages. Vir downed the drink, took a step, and fell into a state of blissful unconsciousness on the floor.

“Odd,” Vir’s body tingled and relaxed, “I could have sworn the Ambassador wasn’t set to get a new shipment of narca essence till next Tuesday.”

-=-

It wasn’t a flashy side arm. The newer models had more settings and tended to have a better fire rate but Michael Garibaldi was a creature of habit. The pistol had belonged to his partner on Mars during happier days and it had never seemed right to upgrade his pistol any more than it would feel proper to ‘upgrade’ one’s wife. You found one that worked and stuck with it.

He sat at his couch thinking about nothing and everything as he inserted and removed the charge cap from the pistol. The click and whine of the pistol was oddly therapeutic. Click whine, how in the hell had he missed it? Click whine, Jack had been part of his staff for close to two years. No decent chief misses a sleeper agent for two damned years. Click whine, Jack wouldn’t be the only sleeper agent on station. He had to assume that everyone could potentially be an agent of the Psi Corps, or whomever it was Jack worked for. Click whine, did he dare to be in charge of the safety of the station?

He was rousted from his thoughts by the chiming of his doorbell, “Yeah come in.”

The door swung open and the hale-faced Captain Sheridan stepped into his quarters, “Mr. Garibaldi.”

“Captain,” Michael put his pistol down on the table and stood. He still hadn’t really gotten the measure of Captain Sheridan. He seemed decent enough, and his war record was exemplary but then again so was Jack’s.

‘I’ve been expecting you to come by for some time,” The Captain chuckled, “Since you hadn't I decided the mountain should visit Mohammed after all. I’ve spoken with Dr. Franklin. He says you can come back to work any time you like. What do you say?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready to come back,” Michael sighed, “Or if you even want me back. Maybe it would just be easier if I resigned and everyone moved on.” He could always go back to Mars or even Brooklyn. It had been a long time since he’d been earth-side.

“Probably but the Universe doesn't give you any points for doing things that are easy,” the Captain wandered over to his table and picked up the pistol and palmed it, feeling the weight of it, “Your record is colorful to say the least. But everything I’ve heard suggests that you know this station better than anyone else.”

The Captain put the pistol on the table, “I would be foolish to toss away a valuable resource without at least trying to work together. I need someone I can trust running security. I’d like it to be you.”

The Captain sauntered to the door, “Now if you decide you’d rather be someplace else, I’ll understand. I’ll hold your job open as long as I can.” he paused as he walked out the door, “Don’t take too long ok.”

Michael sat back down and started to pop the energy cap back in and out if his pistol and thought.

Click whirr.

Click whirr.

Click whirr.
-=-

The chambers of the Babylon Five Advisory council were full of Drazi. The two factions sat in the bleachers that were normally occupied by the various dignitaries of the Non-Aligned Worlds, split down the middle into partisan groups of Green and Purple. It was as though someone had drawn a line down the middle that neither of side dared cross.

For the moment at least the Drazi seemed content to just stare at each other angrily rather than openly brawl with each other, which was something at least. Susan, emboldened by her new rank pins, strode in front of the two self-proclaimed faction leaders.

“As you all know, we’re having a bit of a problem here right now. The aforementioned problem being that you keep trying to beat each other senseless; Banging up against bulkheads, pounding, bugging, jumping, and generally carry on crankly. While some of the other species wouldn’t mind if you wiped each other out, even they would prefer you did so quietly but this station is dedicated to finding peaceful solutions to our problems.” the Drazi whispered to each other, nodding and pointing, “I would like to find one here. Now you can help by letting me to understand the conflict between the two sides that you’ve set up.”

The Purple Drazi leader pointed to the Green Drazi leader, “Green.”

The Green Drazi leader nodded as though that made perfect sense, pointed back to the Purple leader and said, “Purple.”

Susan massaged her temples. This might be a long meeting, “No I understand that there are two factions but what is your point of contention, where do you disagree with each other?”

The two leaders looked at her in total confusion responding once again with “Purple,” and “Green” respectively.

“Yes but who gets to wear the Purple sash and who gets to wear the Green sash,” Susan pointed to the leader sashes, “Is it based on income or caste or rank or…”

The Green Drazi leader looked to the Purple Drazi leader, shrugged his shoulders and started to speak, “We put Green and Purple in great barrel, equal to numbers of Drazi. Then we reach in. We take. Where there was one Drazi people now there are two. The two fight until there are one.” The Purple leader nodded emphatically.

“That’s it?” Susan stuttered gob smacked, “It’s totally random? Arbitrary? Then how do you choose the leader for either side?”

“One cloth has mark of leadership. He who takes leader cloth is leader. He who takes Green cloth is Green and follows Green leader. He who Purple is Purple and follows Purple leader.”

“Ok so in other words,” Susan looked to the front row of the bleachers and pointed to the nearest green and purple Drazi, “Would you two step forward for a second please?”

They stood and approached her. Susan smiled and reached towards the purple silk, “So what you’re trying to tell me is that if I take this Purple sash off of him,” she lifted the purple shawl, “and put it onto him that this one thing alone is enough,” As the purple fabric settled into the shoulders of the green sashed Drazi the entire room burst into a swinging melee of screaming, punching, kicking, and biting Drazi.

Before Susan knew it she was at the bottom of a large pile of thrashing Drazi, screaming in pain from a compound fracture protruding from her thigh. Not the most auspicious start to her diplomatic career.

-=-
Sørian didn’t even dare breathe as the Magos and her small party passed him. It was unlikely she would recognize him, especially in the plainclothes of the common freight worker rather than the wardrobe and livery more fitting of his station but at this point he wasn’t planning on leaving anything to chance.

He hadn’t dared to use a spell of concealment, not this close to the Inquisitor. His magic had become unpredictable as of late and a flare would mean the end of everything for him. Even if he escaped the Inquisitor’s rage Phoneutria would end him for disobeying orders and coming to the Babylon station.

“Move your ass Cag,” grunted the pilot as he shifted a crate to the hover pallet, “We aint’ got all day and I want to be off this accursed xenos cesspool as fast as we can work it. And keep the pressure helmet on at all times. I see your ugly mug out of it even once and I’ll shoot you myself to save us a trip to quarantine. You kin neh?” His voice grunted incoherently in the dialect of the freighter captains for a while.

Sørian flipped a rude hand gesture in response and shoved the cart forwards. He was normally above such menial tasks but his devotion to Slaanesh had ensured that his form was at least capable of such exertion. The real Cag was dead, or would at least be so before anyone caught the wiser. Hexathehelidae could at least be trusted to ensure that much.

He pushed the heavy cart forwards. Small plumes of antigravity repulsor energy cascaded on the ground, cracking and shifting. With every step Sørian felt his heart race. It was a fantastic sensation, danger always felt wonderfully exciting.

“Oh bloody fantastic,” he muttered as he reached the bottom of the freighter’s ramp, “Just bloody fantastic.”

Not even three meters away was Inquisitor Hilder, standing as impassive and uncaring as ever. The tempting weight of a single shot plasma pistol rested underneath his robes. It would be easy. It would just be so easy. It would be easy and he would be dead as a doorbell.

That is to say they would both be dead. Sørian could not hope to kill the Inquisitor in plain view of so many allies and survive. No, it was best to bide his time. There would be another chance.

His mission was too important to risk it either way.

He shoved the cart across the room till he met an overbearing man standing in front of a pile of sacks of grain. His slightly abnormal proportions and prominent brow marked him as xenos. His dress and accent marked him as Centauri.

The Centauri were a self-centered, decadent, arrogant, irreverent society of amoral pagans. In short they were perfect for his patron, or they would be with proper guidance. The arrogantly sneering Centauri snorted as he took in the disheveled appearance of Sørian. He spoke and a small computer at his waist translated into plain gothic, “Let’s get this over with. I prefer to spend as little time around you low breed servants as is possible.”

Sørian appreciated the insult. It made what he was planning easier. He bowed in deference, as he knew the freight workers had been instructed to and started piling the sacks of grain onto the hover pallet.

“I haven’t got all day, lets get this moving.” The Centauri stood and watched him pile bags of grain onto the pallet in the way one might watch an interesting animal at the zoo perform an unexpected trick, not bothering to offer help

Sørian’s heart raced as he hefted the bags. His eyes flitting to the Inquisitor and the Magos, if they didn’t leave soon he didn’t know if he was going to be able to pull off his plan. He swore softly to himself under his breath, “Come on, leave damn it leave.”

After ten heart wrenching minutes the Inquisitor bowed to the Magos and led her out of the docking bay, their respective retinues close at hand. He counted to two hundred to be sure that they were really gone then let his plan go into action.

He forced himself to trip as he started carrying the last bag, overturning and allowing a small golden ring to come off his finger and roll in the direction of the Centauri. He quickly righted himself and tossed the bag onto the pallet. Rushing back to the freighter even as the Centauri yelled that he’d dropped something.

“The hell’s he yelling about?” Grunted the pilot as Sørian boarded.

Sørian shrugged exaggeratedly, “No idea. Damned xenos went mad when I suggested the Emperor was mightier than his god.”

The pilot nodded and hit the door controls, sealing the airlock tightly and silencing the shouts of the Centauri, “Well I can’t blame you for telling the damned xenos scum the truth of our salvation and his damnation. Let’s get out of this scum pit as quick as we can.”

The ring was valuable, if he left the Centauri would no doubt keep it or pawn it. Even in the unlikely event that the Centauri tried to return it to the Imperial mission someone would try to put it on their finger and then his trap would be sprung.

Chaos would prevail.
-=-
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Daul was grateful to have Kerrigan’s company once again. Her unadulterated enthusiasm for every bit of technology they saw was infectious. The security detail nervously shied away from them as Kerrigan positively trilled with excitement examining the guns and armor they wore. The guards nervously muttered to each other apparently unsure how to take the female cyborg’s coos and cries of interest.

“Fantastic, simply fantastic what they’ve managed since the fall. Why I’d say they’ve managed to advance further than any society I’ve seen do without the help of an STC to base their techonology off of, but I suppose they did have the xenotech,” she motioned to one of her apprentices, “Tuul does that look like a plasma discharge weapon.”

The tall and lean Tuul had a stretched and pinched face that when combined with his robes made him look distinctly like a scarecrow. Still he managed to have a distinctly mischievous air to him in spite of his imposing presence, “Perhaps mistress it is unwise for us to show such an exuberant interest to our guard’s weapons. They seem to find it unnerving.”

“Nonsense,” she shook her head, “It’s purely academic they understand.” The muttering of the guards combined with what little English he did understand seemed to indicate quite the opposite however. He caught the phrases “raving lunatic” and “monster” more than once.

“Kerrigan,” Daul smiled widely behind his mask and tried to bring her back to reality, “It’s a pleasure to see you once again. I hope your travels were not too taxing. We really must get to the business at hand.”

“Not at all,” Kerrigan was eyeing everything in sight with wrapped attention, “The journey proved most enlightening. I must confess I’m positively thrilled by the prospect of reverse engineering some of this technology.” She snapped her fingers and her attendants and servitors came to attention, “There will be time to examine it later my loves. Now Daul where is the quarters where we will be housed.”

“In good time Magos,” Daul waved over Cairn, “First I wish to discuss the other matter. The other matter.” Kerrigan’s mission on the station was twofold. First and foremost she was here to determine if the humans of the Alliance had any technologies that could ethically be brought into the blanket of the Omassiah and more importantly to deliver information to Daul that could not be trusted to any courier or transmitter.

He bowed politely to the guards escorting him and said, “Please show us to the Ambassadors quarters,” in as close as he could manage to English and motioned for Kerrigan to follow. Cairn started chatting avidly with Tuul in binary, the two of them laughing like a pair of plains jackals. Daul shook his head, “I swear one day I will understand something that boy says. I’ve never failed to learn a language yet.”

“I think you’d best give up on learning binary,” chuckled Kerrigan, “It doesn’t exactly function for organic minds.”

“Yes,” groused Daul as he followed the black-suited guards, “I’d suspected as much.”

“Where are the Lionhearts?” piped up a young voice from behind them. It was Abbas, the bastard child of Sáclair, if Daul’s eyes did not deceive him. Kerrigan raised an eyebrow and Abbas looked ashamed, “This is to say… I’m sorry for speaking out of turn mistress.”

“I swear boy one day you will learn not to apologize for asking proper questions,” Kerrigan shook her head, “You’re slipping Daul, when a boy of less than twenty can notice your glaring lack of security it’s time to consider retiring.”

Daul bristled, “I have Cairn with me, he’s more than enough for the moment.”
“Inquisitor of all the people in the world I expected to have to remind that they are not invincible, you are the last I expected to have to do so for. Cairn is a superb warrior but he is not invincible or omnipresent. Where are the Lionhearts,” Kerrigan said, motioning the oversized servitors over to her side, “We aren’t in danger at the moment are we? Have they been taken?”

“Calm yourself woman,” sighed Daul, “I’m in no danger so long as the Alliance believes us to be allies. I’ve never run into a bunch of humans as blindly inclined to trusting outside influences as these ones are. I have near unrestricted access to the ship. This group,” he pointed to the black suited security officers, “Are an honor guard of some sort.”

“How much of the station is ‘unrestricted?” Asked Kerrigan pointedly.

“Enough,” Daul said pointedly, “And I’m not sure how much time we have till we walk within range of a translation computer. I’d appreciate knowing the content of your message to me.”

“Of course,” Kerrigan nodded, “The matter of the two murdered tech priests by the Amon Sui has led to some disturbing conclusions. I know for a fact that someone murdered two of my men to gain access to the Dorn unit but to what end I cannot say. The door was opened twice and certain chemicals where injected into the Dorn unit, though if they were both injected by the same person or by two men with different agendas I cannot say.”

“What chemicals exactly?” Daul rubbed the pommel of his sword nervously, “Be specific.” The prospect of having someone sabotage the Dorn unit was terrifying. If something were to go wrong with an Arco-flagellant the consequences for the diplomatic mission could be disastrous.

“The first we assume to be some sort of toxin though I cannot be sure if it was a venom or something designed to damage the psychological conditioning of the unit. The second time was anti-viral and agapic restorative agents, the sort we use to resuscitate recently dead brain and body tissue. I assume that there were two separate actors and the second tried to undo the work of the first,” Kerrigan cocked her head, “Though for the life of me I haven't been able to find a damn trace of the bloody toxin.”

Daul blinked in surprise at Kerrigan’s sudden course language, it was wildly out of character, “None at all?”

“Faest ran the tests himself,” Kerrigan shook her head resignedly, “Osma’s tracking down the Apothecary where the restorative anti-agapic was made with the help of Iino. We’ll know more once they’ve finished.”


“I don’t like not knowing what’s going on with my men,” Daul grunted angrily.

“I thought you wanted to be rid of that servitor once and for all ages ago,” chided Kerrigan, “You despise the damned thing.”

“Yes,” Daul agreed, “I do, but it’s for me to decide when the damn thing lives or dies. Me and nobody else.”

Daul stopped abruptly, one of the black suited security guards had frozen in front of them listening to his communicator. The Alliance guard nodded turned to Jak and spoke in measured tones. The auto-savant nodded politely and turned to Daul apologetically, “Sir there’s been an incident. The Captain needs to see you, immediately. If you must bring Cairn bring him but the commander wishes to see you posthaste.”

“An incident with what?” Daul growled in English to the guard. The guard backed away palms raised non-threateningly, speaking in the same slow and calm English. Jak popped in, “Sir it would seem there was a brawl. It’s Danzig. He’s dying sir. They have him in their medical bay sir. Gazan’s with him.”

“Damn,” Daul suddenly felt the world spinning round his head. They had Danzig in the medical bay. They were operating on Danzig. Throne of Terra. Daul groaned, “Throne of Terra they know.”

Cairn’s shoulders shook with mirth and Kerrigan rolled her eyes, “It was bound to happen at some point Daul. I’m more curious about exactly how Danzig went entered into his current state.”

Daul nodded and gripped his sword, “You’re right, as always, Kerrigan. It’s time to have a conversation with the Captain.”

“And if it transpires that the humans of this ship are responsible for the harm done to him?” Kerrigan asked pointedly, eyeing the guard’s weapons with renewed interest.

“Then I daresay it would be our duty to return the favor,” Daul felt bursts of psychic discharge cascade around his body, “Wouldn’t you?”

-=-


The section of the station rented out by the Technomages was as imposing as Vir had feared. It was a place of shadows and groans, filled with the distant hum of machines and gears. The portly Centauri felt icy lances of fear pierce his belly, slowing his mind and tripping his feet. Every step into the dark corridor was a ballet with blinding terror.

“Hello?” Vir shivered as half heard whispers cackled and crowed in the echoing darkness “I am Vir Cotto, diplomatic attaché to Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic. I am told that this is where I could find the Technomages. I’m here on behalf of Ambassador Mollari and I need to speak to someone who is in charge.”

The corridor twisted and spund with the echoing crack of thunder in the distance. Vir swallowed nervously, “Obviously this would be at your earliest convenience.”

The end of the corridor shone red and a great sinewy form of muscle, horns, and teeth stumbled down the corridor. It wasn't so much a man as a great gaping maw of teeth propelled by strong arms and long legs. It looked at Vir hungrily and charged.

Vir hated this, he hated his job, he hated everything about what he was doing but he would not allow himself to back down. Backing down would mean his uncle had been right all those times he reminded Vir how useless he was, “My name is Vir Cotto, diplomatic attaché to Londo Mollari of the Centuari Republic. My name is Vir Cotto, diplomatic attaché to Londo Mollari of the Centuari Republic.”

He could feel the beast's steps shake the floor as it barreled towards him growling and snapping, “My name is Vir Cotto, diplomatic attaché to Londo Mollari of the Centuari Republic!”

Vir could feel its breath on his face; the tips of its long, pointed teeth as they opened around his head, and feel the warm stink of its saliva. Just as he became convinced he was definitely going to meet the great maker a bored voice in the distance said, “Stop program.”

The Creature burst into flame and he was suddenly alone.

“You don’t frighten easily,” It was the stern faced Technomage he'd seen in the boarding area; still wearing the same angry scowl.

“I work for Ambassador Mollari," Vir smiled, "After a while, nothing bothers you.”

Technomage burst into flame and appeared behind Vir, “And what does your master want with me?”

Finally the easy part, “My employer requests an audience.”

“My apologies, neither I nor my brothers do private audiences," The technomage raised a penciled eyebrow, "We have nothing more to say to anyone this side of the galactic rim.”

Vir rubbed his thumb and forefingers together in front of his face, “Ah but he’s willing to pay.”

“Money is also irrelevant," the technomage scoffed, "Where we’re going it will do us no good.”

Well where bribes had not functioned perhaps threats would do, “Let me put this another way. If I go back without a yes the personal consequences could be profoundly unfortunate.”

The tecnomage's voice darkened, “And if you try to force us to walk where we do chose to walk the consequences will be even more unfortunate," his eyes wandered down to the breast pocket of Vir's jacket, "What is that?"

Vir looked down, settled above his family crest was a simple pin given to him by Ambassador Hilder. It was a pretty trinket but little else, though the Ambassador promised it would ward away evil spirts, the sort of jeweled nothing Ambassadors were wont to give as gifts to an ambassador's aide, "My pin?"

"Yes," said the technomage warily as he held out his hand, "You will let me see it." It was not a question.

Vir unhooked the pin and handed it over to the techonmage. The technomage tossed it into the air where it floated above his staff, bathed in a pale green light. The mage cocked his head and narrowed his eyes, "Curious, how very curious."

Vir cleared his throat, "If you don't intend to grant an audience might I at least have a name?"

"You shall have my name," grunted the Technomage, "And more, I will consent to an Audience, though not with your master. Things have changed, and a new path must be forged. I am Eldric and we have much to speak of Vir Cotto, much to speak of indeed."
-=-

“Ow” Susan winced as pain filled her leg “Come on doctor there’s got to be a better way.”

“Your foot is broken in three places," Dr. Franklin said patiently, "Now I can fuse the larger break but the other two are delicate bones in difficult places. If I fuse them you might lose some agility. Now I can speed up the process so they’ll heal in three weeks rather than nine but it will hurt and you’ll have to wear a cast.”

Fantastic, just fantastic. She would be hobbling to her duties for weeks, not exactly the idea command presence. She twisted slightly in bed and agitated her leg the wrong way, “Ow!”

“I can give you something for the pain," Dr. Franklin held up a pill bottle.

“Oh great. Now you can give me something for the pain. Where were you when I was going through puberty,” Susan snatched it out of the doctors hand, uncerimoniously ripping off the lid and swallowing two tablets. Franklin chuckled politely and massaged his hand.

“No,” Susan’s voice softened. She really did not mean to seem ungrateful, “It’s ok I’ll get used to it. If it gets too bad I’ll just gnaw it off at the ankle.” She looked over Dr. Franklin's shoulder at the broad encounter-suited figure bedecked in silk, "What's with the Imperial?"

"Dr. Gazan is learning Earth Alliance medical procedures," the Imperial bowed his head at the sound of his name, "Or at least he's trying to learn. To be honest mostly he's simply been guarding the isolation room that the wounded Imperial is in. He's quite protective of his patient even if some of his tools are archaic."

"He's a Doctor? I thought he was one of the Ambassador's bodyguards," Susan tried not to be too offended as the Imperial bent down to examine her cast and the dermal regenerator.

"Apparently he's both," Franklin shrugged.

"So," Susan eyed the closed door to the private rooms of the isolation ward, "Are you going to share with the class what they look like doctor?"

Franklin chuckled, "That would be a breach of ethics commander."

"Bah, no fun at all," she turned to the Imperial who was continuing to examine her face with wrapped attention. She grabbed him by the air tube and stared him straight in the visor, "You wanna back off a bit there buddy?"

The door to the infirmary opened and the Captain entered, still cradling his own, bandaged wrist. It seemed as though the entire command staff of the station would be injured before the day was out.

“Captain.” Dr. Franklin turned around, "Are you here to have me check your wrist again?"

"What?" The Captain blinked and looked down at his wrist as though surprised to discover his own injury, “Oh right the arm, no not at the moment. I'm actually here for the Commander. Could I speak to her for a moment?”

“Sure.” Dr. Franklin wandered out of earshot and over to one of his other patients, motioning the Imperial to follow.

Susan looked down at the hardening plaster, “Not exactly an auspicious beginning to my diplomatic career.”

“We learn by doing and in the process we’re going to fall on our face a few times,” he tapped his nose amusedly, “Though I didn’t expect you to take it quite that literally. So, what’s your next move?”

“Other than putting the Drazi onto a ship and firing it into the sun?” Susan's voice dripped with sarcasm.

Sheridan chuckled, “Other than that yes. Uh on the other hand look you got pretty banged up here.”

“No, no,” Susan shook the cobwebs out of her head as the pain medication kicked in, “Getting them together to resolve their differences didn’t work because they don’t have any differences to resolve. Maybe I’ve got to come at this from another angle, maybe find an nonviolent way to structure the conflict so nobody gets hurt.”

“Sounds good,” Sheridan walked towards the Imperial doctor, “take care of that foot.”

“Don’t you want me to explain it?” Susan leaned forewords.

“I have absolute trust in your abilities.” Sheridan waved politely as he walked into the distance.

“Well that’s a hell of a thing to tell someone,” Susan groaned and tapped her link, “No pressure. Ivanova to security, tell the Drazi we’ll meet in chambers and try this again,” She tried to turn her torso and collapsed back into a heap on the bed, “As soon as I can figure out how to stand up.”

-=-
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The carrion eaters section was an unpleasant place for an unpleasant sort of sentient. The pak’ma’ra were only one of the hundreds of corpse eaters that made their festering warrens in the dank, dark corridor in which they might slake their hunger. It was exactly the sort of place G'Kar did not want to be in, yet there he was in the middle of one of the most vile smelling warrens of charnel and disgust.

Dealing with the pak’ma’ra was one of his more unpleasant duties as an Ambassador, even though the breaking mask he could still taste the foetid air and smell the scent of decay. It was disgusting, still he was glad to be there. After the insult of having Centauri warships at their border the pak’ma’ra had become increasingly interested in incrusted connections with the Narn Empire. G'Kar believed a mutual defense treaty might even be possible.

So it was that he sat at the same table as the pak’ma’ra Ambassador's family, watching them eat and resisting the urge to cringe. It had been wise to take an agent to paralyze his gag-reflex prior to coming. He had to admit that their choice of Centauri as the main dish was oddly apt though.

He cleared his throat, "Shall we talk business Ambassador?"

One of the pak’ma’ra looked up, "We wait for him to come."

"Whom?" G'Kar moved his hand back as a bit of finger fell from the quivering tentacled jowls of the pak’ma’ra.

"The one who comes," responded another of the pak’ma’ra.

G'kar grunted frustratedly. The pak’ma’ra had no real sense of self. All pak’ma’ra were the same as all other pak’ma’ra in their eyes. Any pak’ma’ra had the right to speak on behalf of the entire race but could not actually enact anything till their entire race had a chance to consider the matter. It also meant that they found the concept of personal names and pronouns to be often unnecessary, "And who is the one who comes?"

"Him," a third pak’ma’ra pointed towards the door through which a tall slender figure with a pronounced beak was entering the room, trailed closely by two growling mastiffs. An Imperial, how curious.

The Imperial crowed and whistled heartily, "Late I come. Food bring I. Vira'Capac is ready."

The Pak’ma’ra bowed slightly, "Welcome to our table honored hunter."

"I accept your offer dishonorable scavenger. Strange to find you at the table first, " the Imperial crowed and the Pak’ma’ra chattered with laughter. Carrion eater humor, charming.

The Imperial sauntered over on his spindly legs and squatted on one of the low cushions round the table. His two hounds cuddled up behind him panting slightly and eying the table with hungry eyes. G'Kar looked up when he realized he was being spoken to, "I'm sorry my mind was elsewhere. What did you say?"

The Quills on the back of Vira'Capac's head twitched amusedly, "I said why do you not eat?"

"Why don't you?" G'Kar deflected. It wouldn't do to insult his hosts by expressing his displeasure for rotting flesh.

The Imperial howled with laughter, "Wiser than you realize you are." He spoke in a mix of broken English and incoherent whistling chirps, "And cleverer than you know I am."

"It is foolish to believe you are clever," one of the mastiffs approached G'Kar, sniffing his hand curiously, "And you haven't said why yet."

"Haven't I?" G'Kar pulled back his hand quickly as the mastiff took a snap at it and returned to its master, positively purring as the beaked sentient ran a clawed hand through the mastiff's thick mane of quills and fur.

"No, you have not," G'Kar's brow twisted in indignation, "Tell me is it all imperials who are this insufferably incoherent or is it just you? If I have this to look forward to from the Ambassador I will be very cross."

Vira'capac's quills quivered dangerously and his voice slowed. Rage quivered from every sign-song syllable, "Vira'capac is not Imperial, Vira'capac is Kroot."

"You aren't Imperial?" G'Kar knew his voice was too eager. Information on the Imperial society was scarce, to the Narn more than most. The Narn race was without telepaths so arranging meetings in advance with the Ambassador had proved difficult. What little contact he’d managed with the Ambassador had been at public functions, and the Ambassador was tight lipped as a Vorlon.

"Kroot only ruled by Kroot," He ran a blue tongue out of his beak and over his eyes, "Vira'capac follow Hilder for blood debt, nothing more."

"Ah. I see," G'Kar thought of the Narn binding blood oaths. Such things were not spoken of lightly in his society.

"The sort we do not discuss with strangers," the Kroot continued, "You ask why I do not eat? I do not eat because I did not kill. The pak’ma’ra are scavengers, they eat what is already dead. The Kroot must kill our own meat, even then we must only kill that which is a challenge."

"You are what you eat, as the humans say," the Pak’ma’ra Ambassador tore off an ear and tossed it in his mouth.

"There is truth in the humans words," the Kroot shook his head morosely, "A pity they lack the wisdom to hear it."


“I find that is often the case with all races, not exclusively the humans,” G’Kar waved a gauntleted hand surreptitiously and gave a little bow, “Though they do seem to have made more of an art of ignoring their own wisdom than most.”

“They talk much,” Vira’capac whistled, “Listen little. Comes from too many words, they don’t know how to listen, only know how to hear. Hearing is good for little beasts, food-creatures, and the stupid Krootlings who get eaten by their elders. A clever creature must listen.”

“And what do you listen to Vira’capac?” G’Quan had once said something very similar to what the Kroot had said, though with admittedly fewer references to cannibalism.

“Noise, change, wisdom, and nothing,” The Kroot preened his two mastiffs, running through their quills and fur with his long talons and picking out the bugs and dirt, “I hear what I already know and what I seek to learn. I heart the voices of my brood urging me to be worthy of them. I hear the deeds still that must be done and those I must never do. I hear what is important,” he rubbed the throat of his mastiffs and the two dogs trilled placidly. He quirked his head to the side, eying G’Kar with a single slatted eye, “And you fellow hunter what do you hear?”

“Nothing so grand as you Vira’capac,” G’Kar smiled, “Just the chewing of the pak’ma’ra and the sounds of your voice, though I know there is more to hear that I do not think to listen for.”

“That is good,” the Kroot spun his head the other way looking at G’Kar with his other eye. A thick mass of scar ran from the socket of the eye down the length of the kroot’s beak giving him a distinctly brutal visage, “You listen to the here and now. Though I see in you voices of the past still speaking to you.”

G’Kar sighed, “There are still voices I carry with me. Angry voices who cry out for blood and justice. They are the voices of my family, my pouch brothers, and my people. I am bound by blood to see that they no longer cry for vengeance.”

Vira’capac shook his head sadly, “You hear but you do not listen.”

G'Kar laughed, "Perhaps we will go hunting together someday. I hear there is great game on the Abbai home world. Great creatures the size of transports on the southern island."

"I suspect that when we hunt together Narn it will be for prey wearing silk and jewels not claws and fur." He waved to the half eaten Centauri on the table and crowed with laugher again.

G'Kar smiled back cheerily at Vira'capac. Perhaps G'Kar could come to like carrion eater humor after all.
-=-

The Apothecary was surprisingly well mantianed and obviously well run. It still had the rows of herbs, potions, and charms that the elderly were so fond of but behind those were more modern shelves full of various modern medicines in glass vials and syringes. Had the Doctor Faest not pointed him in the correct direction he would never have even begun to suspect the establishement of anything other than grossly overpriced essence of mirk-root.

"I really must protest this treatment," gruted Cha'wu Xian the surly Medicus who ran the Apothecary as the security team rooted through his shelves and papers, "You will damange my medicines and harm my preparations."

"Just as well you have no choice in the matter," droned the monotone voice of Iino. The Ensigneer was plugged into a data-socket in the wall, searching the shop's records.

"This is sovereign territory of the Alchemist's Guild," the Medicus ignored the angrily waving servo arm, "I will not be bullied in my own shop. Leave now, I'll go so far as to summon Chief Anoosheh Osma if I have to."

"I think you'll find," Grunted Osma, "That I've already been summoned, though I take heart that you know me by reputation even if you don't know me by sight."

The Medicus took a step back and steadied himself against a shelf. He turned to his young apprentice, "Boy, get the other apprenctices and lock yourselves in the cellar."

"Sir," said a scared young boy of seven.

"Just do it boy," the Medicus struck the boy about the head strong enough to make him bleed, "Now."

"It is unwise to mishandle the boy in front of me," Osma's voice darkened, "I do not like such action."

"What will you do? Shoot me twice for treason?" The Medicus sat on the floor in a sullen heap, tears rolling down the side of his face.

"You do not protest it then," Iino did not even bother to look up from the data-pad, "You killed two of my brother priests to poison the Inquisitor's servitor."

The Medicus barked with laughter as two security guards lifted him and clapped him in irons, "Ha, would that I had strength enough in my limbs to kill two machine men. Age and your trusted Inqusitor's interrogations robbed me of my ability to do more than provide supplies to the Amon Sui." Ah, that made more sense. He wouldn't be the first to join the Amon Sui to avenge themselves for Inquisitorial interrogation.

Osma nodded to his men to hold the Medicus tightly by the arms. The security chief bent forwards and slapped the Medicus soundly across the face, stinging his fingers and breaking the skin of the Medicus' cheek, "I find your joy unbecoming of your captivity."

"We tracked you down easily enough," droned Iino, "We will find the other traitors soon enough."

"Traitors? You have the stones to call me a traitor? The Endless Bounty was in Amon Sui service for generators," his eyes glowed with pride, "We were part of something greater than we were alone. Now we are simply a pale shadow drifting into nothing."

The words stung, not because of the hatred behind them but because of how true he'd once believed them to be. The Endless Bounty was a proud ship of the Amon Fleet. It was not the biggest or the grandest but it was part of something bigger and grander that made up for those inadequacies. However it had been the Amon who'd tried to sacrifice the bounty, not the other way round.

Unfortunately the crew believed only some of the truth but all of the rumor, especially that rumor that contradicted truth.

"Were it not necessary that you be able to speak I would glady cut the tongue from your lips," grunted Osma as he clutched the dagger at his side reflexively. Rubbing the pommel of the dagger calmed his nerves and allowed him to control his anger.

"I do not believe I will consent to that. Being interrogated once by the Inquistion was more than sufficient for ten lifetimes," he smiled widely and green foam started to spill from his lips, "So I say to you, farewell."

Osma swore and looked around the shelves for an anti-venom. Fumbling through the glass vials. There had to be one somewhere, there just had to, "Iino, does the database say anything about where the anivenom is stored?"

"Second shelf in the back, right corner," Osma was running before Iino even finished speaking, "G-234." Shelves upon shelves whipped by A, then B, then C, and so on till he finally reached G. The row was as haphazard and ill labeled as any other section of the apothecary. Worse still the vials had all been moved out of place on Osma's orders in order to search for bombs.

Osma fumbled through the vials picking them up and eying the labels, "Damn, damn, damn, damn. G-145 a cure for headaches, G-333 a topical skin ointment, G-234, where are you G-234?" He fumbled aound the back of the shelf and lifted a small slivery vial, "There you are."

Osma rushed back to the Medicus and angrily smashed the antidote on the floor. He had been too late, the Medicus was long dead, "Damn, check on the boy downstairs."

Osma crouched down next to the Medicus as the five guards stormed the cellar, "Odd that he was so willing to toss away his own life."

"Odd that he was so determined to be found," Iino flipped the data pad towards Osma, "He's fully capable of creating a compound without linking it to the sort of trackable production markers we used to find him."

That was bad. That was very bad, the Amon Sui never wanted to be found and never killed themselves unless they thought they could take out a key member of the command structure. A key member of the command structure like Iino or Osma, "Throne Almighty! We need to get out of here."

Iino rushed the door and tried to force his way out only to recoil as his augmetic fingers sparked and crackled with electricity. A thin translucent field of energy, a void shield, covered the door entirely. They were trapped.

The ground beneath them heaved as a deafening boom nearly loud enough to drown out the screams of pain from the guards and the apprentices echoed from the cellar below. Fire poured into the room consuming everything in it's path. Osma chuckled hollowly as the smoke filled his lungs and the heat seared his flesh, "For the Emperor."

The last thing he felt before passing out from the smoke was a strong augmentic hand grabbing him by the shirt and the buzzing smell of ozone.
-=-
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Michael had always liked the Bazaar. It was busy it was, vibrant, it was loud, and there was at least a one in three chance that the guy selling you something was not trying to screw you over. The skeezebag currently trying to sell him a Daffy Duck watch as an ancient human heirloom from the sixteen hundreds was probably not that one.

“Hey chief! How you doing?” Michael looked up from the display and turned around to the heavyset security guard behind him.

“Fine Lou, and you?” Michael stared up at the massive figure looming behind Lou.

“You know, the usual,” Lou shrugged impassively, apparently oblivious to the giant behind him.

"So, uh Lou," Michael smiled, "You gonna introduce me to your friend or am I just going to have to guess?"

"Oh him," Lou looked behind him, "That's Galut. Least I think that's his name, at least he responds to it."

"I Galut," the giant rumbled in response though his interest seemed to be focused on a display of stuffed rabbits rather than Garibaldi.

"Galut?" Michael shook his head briefly, "Lou I'm not in another coma or hallucinating am I?"

"Oh right," Lou laughed, "You haven't met the Imperials yet have you?"

"Uh no Lou, I haven't," He hadn't really had the opportunity. The Imperials were nearly as secretive as the Vorlons though, apparently not as subtle as them. The giant wandered over to the plush rabbits and started poking them and giggling, "They're, uh, bigger than I expected." The man’s arms were as thick around as Michael’s torso.

"Galut is bigger than most of them but he's a real softie. After the Drazi brawl he got separated from the other Imperials and started wandering the station. I found him in the garden crying because he was lost and scared," Lou smiled and rubbed his hand through what was left of his hair.

"The guy's the size of an average planet and he was scared?" Michael watched as Galut negotiated with the shopkeep with a credit chip one hand and a massively oversized rabbit in the other. The shopkeeper seemed to be fighting the urge to run.

"He doesn't like being alone," Lou shrugged, "Near as I can tell he was worried he'd been fired because he couldn't protect his friends in the Drazi brawl. Wasn't sure if they'd let him come home."

"Will they?" Michael said with trepidation.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Lou bit his lip, "The Imperial that got hurt, Danzig, was cut up real bad. He was bleeding all over the place. Worse still it was the hunchback Imperial that did it. Dorn or something like that. Mean son of a bitch that one, we've got him in lockdown but we've had to sedate him even in isolation to stop him from trying to cut his way through the door with those flails grafted onto his hands."

"What grafted onto where?" Michael rubbed his own knuckles reflexively, checking that they were still there.

"Chief have you not been watching ISN at all since you woke up?" Lou laughed grudgingly.

"I've been catching up, so sue me," Michael had been keeping up with the news but he was still a few months behind. He'd seen some images of the imperials but ISN and Earth Today were more prone to show pictures of the golden skull of the ambassador or the great prow of the Endless Bounty. Though that probably had more to do with the EA's intentional censorship of the Imperials, "Just pretend like I've been in a coma or something."

Lou smiled, "sorry Chief, I'm just not used to the idea of you not being in the loop before I am, ya know?"

Michael sighed, "Yeah I know Lou, just tell me."

"Not much to say, the Imperials got a thing for not wasting bodies. You die and your corpse gets done up with more tech than a battleship and the use it to haul around cargo or work as a bodyguard. It's creepy as anything I've ever seen Chief," Lou stopped for a second, "There are rumors that the people they do it to aren't dead when it gets done to them. Like it's a prison term only for life. Sorta like the death of personality only you’re supposed to remember why it was done to you."

"Yeesh," Michael whistled, "That's Old Testament alright. Can't say as I like the idea of that."

“I hear that," Lou paused nervously, "Me and the rest of the guys we were wondering, when you gonna come back on duty?” He laughed nervously and rubbed his hands together, “Look, we bought ya a cake alright? It’s been sitting there for two days now.”

Garibaldi stops, “Are you kidding me? You passed up a cake for two days?” He grabbed Lou by the collar and said in a tone of mock serious, “What have you done with the real Lou Welch huh?” He shook by the shoulders, “Hey security! Security over here we’ve got another guy in a changeling net.”

Lou laughed and shook him off, “Seriously Chief, when you coming back? Everybody misses you, just you know it aint’ been the same without ya’.”

“Soon, real soon now.” Michael said as much to convince himself as Lou but was saved from further discussion when Lou's comm. chirped a warning about a Drazi fight on station.

Lou looked nervously at Galut; the giant was wandering over with his massively oversized stuffed rabbit. " look I gotta go, catch you later?”

“Yeah,” Michael smiled, " No problem."

"I hate to ask a favor, seeing as how you're taking it easy and all but could you take Galut? I don't want to drag the poor guy to another brawl," Lou looked down at his watch.

"I got it Lou don't worry," he waved Lou off, "Its under control."

Lou ran off leaving Michael alone with the giant and his stuffed rabbit, "So... you're Galut?"

Galut grunted.

"How much did you pay for the rabbit?"

Galut raised five fingers.

"Five credits?" He stared at the massive felt rabbit, "Not a bad deal. I'm surprised, the traders here can be real slime sometimes."

Galut hugged the rabbit tighter, "Good price is when trader not smiling. Smiling trader getting too much money."

Michael laughed and slapped Galut as high on the shoulder as he could reach, "I think you and I are going to get along swimmingly," a twisted thought popped into his head, "How would you like to see my second favorite thing in the world?"
-=-

Vir did not want to be in the small room with the thirteen robed figures but couldn't think of a polite way to excuse himself from the center of the circle. So he sat in the uncomfortable iron chair as the thirteen of them chanted and chattered in arcane words beyond his understanding. The techonmages were a bizarre collection of peoples to be sure. There were at least half a dozen different sentient species in the room, at least one of whom he was convinced was from a supposedly extinct species. He could not help but feel small and childish with his legs dangling above the ground as he sat in the two sizes too large seat.

Eldric slammed his staff on the ground with a resounding crack, small sparks of light and energy blistering into the air, "It is decided."

"What is decided exactly," Vir shifted and squirmed on the chair and mopped his brow, "I could come back later if you need me to, I mean there's no need to be hasty."

Eldric simply stared at him with glassy dead eyes that seemed to bore into Vir's own head. Vir squirmed, "Or now... now is good too. I like now. I live in now. I'm rambing incoherently aren't I."

Eldric nodded politely, "You are a kind soul in a universe that is cruel Vir Cotto. Under different circumstances I believe your kindness would have led you to glory and wealth beyond most men's dreams."

"I don't suppose you could give that to my Uncle in writing could you?" Vir blushed even as the words came from his lips.

"I suspect you'll want me to devote my energies to more important matters Mr. Vir Cotto. But then, you would have no way to understand the importance of what you do not understand," the thirteen technomages chuckled eerily. Throaty and dark laughter echoed with unspoken power.

"I'm sorry I seem to be confused. It's not you specifically, I usually am just confused. I mean, life is confusing after all. We know some things and not others for no real reason. What we do know often doesn't matter and what we don't know often does matter. But we can't know what does matter and what doesn't matter until it's to late for it to matter," Vir floundered, his face heating up with embarrassment.

Eldric opened his arms wide and motioned to the thirteen technomages, "You are here Mr. Cotto, because you are supposed to be here. Because you need to be here," he raised a hand as Vir opened his mouth to talk, "I know you do not want to be here. Only fools and those with no choice in the matter seek to defy my order's wishes for privacy. But here you are. Seeing as how the universe has dropped you into my lap Mr. Cotto it stands to reason the universe has a plan for you."

One of the other technomages, a lean minbari with an eyepatch croaked with a dry and cracked voice, "There are two paths that lie in front of us where once there was one. Endings and beginnings beyond what we expected. We have seen the path for thousands of years and now we know not to where it will lead."

A barrel chested centauri slurped on his own words, "Right decisions lead to wrong just as surely as wrong decisions lead to right, it is to the end we must consider not the begning or the middle."

Eldric nodded and waved his staff above Vir's head, "War comes soon, terrible war. A worse conflict than that which we ever imagined. Old enemies walk the universe greater and terrible than you know of even in legend. Death itself will take to the starts." Bright runes burst into the air and swirled about the circle coalescing into images of skulls and death. Morbid tableaus of societies burning and worlds crumbling to ash.

"We have seen it," wailed a female human, "It wil come." She fell to her knees and broke down into sobs, her staff cracking on the ground.

"It will come," echoed the thirteen as they helped her back to her feet. She stood drunkenly with the support of another technomage, her body swaying with silent tears.

Eldric stared Vir in the eyes, "It will come and you must listen and learn."

Vir stood up from the chair and started edging towards the door. These mages were completely insane, "I'll do my best to help with that."

"I did not give you permission to leave Mr. Cotto," cracked the voice of Eldric. He waved his staff and Vir felt a strong tug to his navel. The Centauri crashed to the ground and was heaved by an invisible force back to the chair, "We will finish our conversation before you leave."

"People know where I am," Vir struggled against the invisible force, panic coloring his voice, "The Ambassador will send people to find me."

"I don't doubt that," Eldric calmly leaned on his staff staring Vir in the eyes, "But not for a couple hours at least, more than enough time for us to finish what needs to be finished," his voice softened somewhat, "I am sorry that I must be so cruel. You do not deserve my cruelty but you require my council. You must be warned of what comes. Of what you must do."

"Why me?" Vir gave up struggling and sat slack in the chair, "Why are you determined to use me?"

"Not you specifically Mr. Cotto, but we are going to put you on a path that will offer you many opportunities for power and glory," Eldric smiled, "Which makes you perfect."

"But I don't wan't those things," whined Vir piteously.

"A man who is greedy, or selfish, or foolish, or weak might take those opportunities and lead us to ruin," Eldric reached out and tapped Vir's hearts, "You mistake the callousness of your master for strength when his true strength, and yours, comes from in here. Now you will listen to my advice and go. Do you understand?"

Vir nodded, eager to be free of the circle of thirteen, "Yes, of course I do."

"Of course you do," Eldric said in a voice of dispassionate amusement, "Or at least you think you do, which will do for now. Heed my words Centauri, for I will say them once and once only. Dark days are coming from which cannot be avoided. The battle between light and shadow will soon become irrelevant. The hasty decisions of your Master may prove more useful than foolish in the days to come, much as it pains me to admit it. The old Alliances and old hatreds do not matter. Do not seek the path to eternity, for she is treacherous and untrustworthy. Help the man with the pierced hand find peace else vengeance will consume all else. Kill the one who betrays the stars for he is an abomination. Do this and you will survive, fail in this and all things that you love will wither and die."

Vir flinched as Eldric reached into Vir's breast pocket and slid something heavy into it. The sharp edges pressed uncomfortably against his chest, "This is not an endorsement for what your master plans. Yes child I know what lies in Londo's heart, I know him better than he knows himself," he brushed at a bit of lint on Vir's shoulder, "But that is neither here nor there. You will go back to him and give him the data crystal I have placed in your pocket. That is for him, and him alone. There is also another item that may one day save your life. That is for you and you alone."

He leaned in close to Vir and glared, his hot breath painfully close to Vir's eyes, "Do not waste my gift and do not let anyone know of my gift to you till the moment is right and you have no other choice. Anything else would be unwise."

He waved his hand and Vir felt the force holding him down slacken, "Get away Mr. Cotto. Leave this place and never return. I pray we never meet again."

Vir ran away as fast as he could, forcing his legs to work as he'd never done before. His body ached from the pressure that held him down and his head tingled slightly from runes floating in the air but he wouldn't allow himself to spend a second more in that terrible place. Glimpses of rooms with arcane machines and wondrous images flashed past his view as he fled the corridor but the only wondrous thing he cared to see was the exit to red sector.

He ran out the door so fast that he tripped over his own feet and tumbled down a flight of stairs, landing in a heap on top of himself. He groaned in pain and tried to stand up, twisting and falling drunkenly on his tired legs. A strong hand reached out and grabbed him as he overbalanced for the second time.

"It would be wise for you to slow yourself somewhat Mr. Cotto," spoke a calm and even voice, "Else you might do yourself serious harm. I would regret to see that happen."

"I'm okay," blustered Vir, "Really I'm," he stumbled and nearly fell again, "Let's just find me a chair alright." He looked up at the stoic face of Lennier, "Thank you Lennier."

"It is alright Mr. Cotto," Lennier helped him hobble over to a bench, setting him down gracefully to collapse on it, "I will get some water for you while you compose yourself."

As Lennier wandered off to get water Vir reached into his pocket and pulled out the black silk pouch shoved into his breast pocket. The silk shimmered and disappeared as he poured the contents out into his hand. The first object he recognized readily enough, a common data crystal, but the second object, the object Eldric had instructed him to keep secret and safe, was utterly alien to him. It was a necklace made from angular and jagged strips of bone set in gold from which hung a sling clear stone the size of his thumb. The stone carved visage of a leering toadish face was stretched and mocking, almost laughing at Vir's confusion and disarray.

He tossed it into his bag and rubbed the crystal around between his fingers, staring up at the blank space of wall where the door to the technomage's apartments had once been, "Londo had better find what he wants on this crystal. Dealing with technomages once is enough for a lifetime."
-=-
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Senator Hidoshi cracked his neck and shifted in his chair to try and improve circulation to his legs. The meeting had been going on for a good three hours longer than they'd expected and it was already a six hour long meeting. This was not to say that he didn't want to be there, far from it. As the Babylon 5 liaison to the Senate it was his job and his privelage to be represeting the station for the exploratory comittee, expecially for such an interesting subject. He wondered if this was how the men discussion their options after first contact with the Centauri felt, excited and confused about what comes next.

It was an advanced civilization, utterly alien and unknown to all races. Even the Vorlons supposedly knew little to nothing about them and they chose to make first contact with the known worlds on a Earth Alliance station. He just wished the Senators who kept entering the room late would stop asking the same questions over and over again.

"The implications of this are very exciting gentlemen," Senator Joyce smiled as he poured himself another cup of coffee, his rich irish accent coloring every word, "I'll be damned if I can't help but get a bit giddy about it all."

"Nobody blames you Connor," Senator Gomez said through a mouthful of half eaten danish. He swallowed wrong and coughed, "Excuse me. That is to say we're all very excited about what this could mean for the future."

"Lets not be too hasty," droned the sour voice of Senator Lechner, "Let's not get our hopes up about these people. We know next to nothing about them. Who's to say this Empire won't invade us the first chance they get."

Hidoshi rolled his eyes. One could always count on Clark's partisans to draw their own `earth first` prejudices into the debate, "Give it a rest Lechner. So far their only military actions we've seen have been defending an Earthforce station against a Minbari terrorist assault."

"Defending their only port of call for supplies you mean," whispered the smooth voice of Senator Martin as she tapped her pen nervously on her teeth, "Everything they've done so far could just as easily be self preservation as it is altruism."

"So what? The ship with vastly superior weapons and armaments decided to defend a neutral station from attack by the Minbari for fun? You've seen the battle footage the same as I did, they cut through the Trigati like it was paper," Senator Franken waved a printout of the battle in front of Senator Lechner's face.

"They defeated a ship with its ECM turned off," Countered a red faced Senator Lechner, "They practically kill themselves."

"Did they? Or did they disable the Minbari ECM remotely?" Senator Franken said knowingly as he tapped the frame of his glasses, "There were some interesting exotic particles that ship put out when it came out of hyperspace. Who's to say they didn't do something to the Trigati?"

"An interesting theory," Hidoshi looked down at his own report of the battle, "But at the moment it is little more than idle speculation. As are almost all theories we have on the Imperials. We know they are trading large quantities of something with the Centauri in their diplomatic hanger but other than running weapons signature scans on the cargo our trade agreements prevent us from knowing much about the specifics of what they're trading. We do know they've approached some governments about the prices of water, foodstuffs, and basic trade materials so we speculate they're trying to get a sense for the actual market value of goods in the sector."

“There is another matter that needs to be discussed gentlemen,” Hidoshi admitted diffidently, “We still haven’t made any decision as to our protocol in dealing with the Imperial telepaths.”

“Damned unnerving that they’d send a telepathic Ambassador as their first contact. Damned unnerving and that’s to be sure,” Senator Gomez chewed his lip, “¿Pero qué sé yo? It seems that their society is much more comfortable with telepaths than ours is. I must confess the idea of using telepathic communications in place of Tachyons hadn’t even popped into my head as a possibility.”

“Because so far as the Psi Corps was concerned it was science fiction. To be honest I’m still not convinced it isn’t.” Agent Thomas was the Psi Corps representative at the meeting. As far as Psi Corps officers went he was positively congenial, “If the reports are to be believed the Ambassador is a telepath and a telekinetic but the reports so far have been mostly speculative. We do know for a fact that they have some technology, possibly psychic technology, which allows the Captain of their ship to be in two places at once through the use of a “meat puppet.”

“A meat puppet?” Senator Franken said with incredulity.

“It’s the closest thing the translation computer could get to the actual word sir. I’m sure it’s more impressive in it’s mother tongue,” Agent Thomas pulled a stack of photos from a folder and started passing them around, “I apologize in advance for the graphic nature of these. It would seem that the Imperials have a mismatches sense of modesty.”

One of the Generals whistled as he got a copy of the photo, “But a damned great taste in women. This is the meat puppet?”

“So it would seem. Near as we can tell it’s an animated human corpse that gets operated remotely by the captain,” The agent grinned embarrassedly, “Apparently he seems to believe that human representatives are easier to deal with when they’re properly distracted.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask but where did they get the corpse?” Senator Joyce pushed his coffee away. Apparently he’d lost his appetite. Hidoshi couldn’t blame him.

“It’s not beyond belief that they’d have the technology to clone a human body,” Hidoshi said tentatively.

“Nor is it beyond belief that they killed and vivisected an Earth Alliance explorer at some point Senator Hidoshi,” Senator Lechner countered bluntly, “At this point we simply don’t know one way or the other.”

"I hope this doesn't go south on us," groaned Senator Gomez, "The last thing we need is to antagonize a race that ISN has got the voters to believe is the next Vorlon Empire."

"They might be right," Hidoshi flipped his report to the most recent report by Susan Ivanova. He adjusted his glasses and scanned for the relevant passage, "Ah here it is. I'm deeply unnerved by the implications of some things the Ambassador has said about the size of his Empire. The Centauri Ambassador was, in a moment of bravado, prompted to brag about the size of the Centauri Republic at its height of power. Ambassador Hilder stared back impassively as the ambassador listed off the hundred worlds and races conquered by the great general Vanthora Advance over a period of ten years, famous for the conquer of Narn among other worlds.

The Ambassador found his story to be hilariously funny when it was translated, responded years if the Empire had ever had any generals incompetent enough to take ten years to conquer a hundred worlds he would be mocked at parties for generations in the Empire as well. The Centauri Ambassador decided not to finish his story."

"Ten years to conquer a hundred worlds is worthy of scorn?" General Lefcourt said in an unreadable voice of calm. The trio of Generals in the corner had, as of yet, elected mostly to sit in silence.

"I suspect he was simply sick of the Centauri's drunken bravado," Senator Joyce said between sips of coffee, "Still it wouldn't be unwise to start drawing up tactical plans to fight off the Imperials just in case."

"First good idea you've had all day," chuckled Senator Lechner looking to the Generals, “How many tactical assets do we have in the space surrounding Babylon 5 at the moment?”

As the meeting continued and the Generals continued to give increasingly confident predictions for ways in which the Imperial vessel could be captured or destroyed Senator Hidoshi could not help but feel a slight sensation of dread in the pit of his stomach. Was the human race so eager to start another war so soon after nearly loosing the last one?
-=-

Standing in Command and Control was agonizing. Even with the pain medication and the crutches the broken bones in her foot protested every second motion with a shooting stab of throbbing pain. The command staff was scurrying around her doing everything in their power not to make eye contact with her.

She had not, however, gotten to be the Commander of the most important diplomatic station in the known universe by standing down from a challenge. As a soldier, especially as a woman, Susan felt obligated to muscle her way past the pain and do her job. She could not afford to ever show a sign of womanly weakness, not even for a broken limb. The second she started letting someone treat her like a delicate flower and not a soldier was the day she would stop being able to function in a command position.

So it was that she stood on duty, wincing in pain as she watched the duty clock slowly tick towards her scheduled meeting with the Drazi when she would finally, blissfully, be able to sit down and take the weight off her injured foot. It almost made her look forward to the negotiations with the Drazi.

“Commander Ivanova I just thought you should know we just got a message from the Drazi home world,” Lt. Corwin wandered over carrying a data pad and wearing a look of concern. Perhaps she’d spoken too soon. There was always something else, damn.

“Make my day and say this stupid fighting is over with,” Susan said hopefully as she chewed another pain tablet. She’d spent most of the day in either agony or woozy incoherence, neither of which made for a particularly effective officer. Still she couldn’t let this Drazi situation beat her.

“Just the opposite. The Greens have upped the ante, they’ve started killing Purples not just wounding them,” Lt. Corwin flinched a bit at the spiteful look that she shot at him. There was no need for that, honestly. It wasn’t him that she wanted to hit. He was just the closest to her.

“Have the local Drazi heard about this yet?” Susan’s blood ran cold. The scheduled meeting was only in a matter of minutes.

Lt. Corwin shook his head, “I don’t know.”

“I need a full tactical squad and I need it now!” Susan hobbled painfully towards the lift, tapping her communicator as she went.

“On the way,” replied the voice of Lou.

Susan entered the transport tube knowing all too well that once she got to the conference room she would discover a slaughter. It was all decidedly Russian.

-=-

The popcorn in the bowl smelled gloriously of butter and hot sauce as he flopped down on the sagging couch, setting next to the giant of a man. He smiled and pressed the play button, glad to finally have someone else who appreciated the theatrical genius of 20th century cartoons.

Galut sat on his couch staring at the vid screen with near religious reverence, clapping his dinner plate sized hands together with readily apparent glee. His oversized plush rabbit, now named Bugs, or rather “Ba-ga-za” the closest approximation to Bugs Galut could manage, was clutched to Galut’s chest and already looked in danger of splitting at the seams.

The two of them had been watching Looney Tunes for the better part of two hours now without stop, and it seemed as though Galut wouldn’t ever willingly stop. The alien showed a sort of childlike glee and wonder that Michel envied, the immature simplicity that allowed someone to watch cartoons and treat them as reality.

It was bizarrely reassuring to deal with the alien. There was no lying to him. Galut was what Galut was without space for guile or deception. For the first time in weeks Michael didn’t feel like he needed to watch his back.

“Want some popcorn?” He offered the bowl to the giant.

Galut shook his head and pointed to his helmet, “Can’t eat.”

“Sorry,” Michael blushed, “I forgot.”

“It is ok,” grumbled Galut, “I forget things also. People tell important ones twice, no worry.”

Michael laughed, “I guess so.”

Galut nodded and watched the television, shaking his rabbit to make it look like it was talking in time with Bugs Bunny. An overripe melon that Galut had stuffed into a pouch at his side, god only knew why, was standing in for the role of Elmer Fudd. It dripped slightly as Galut shook. Apparently this added to the fun.

“Can I ask a question Galut?” Michael said as he tossed a newspaper down on the ground under Galut’s feet to catch the melon drippings.

“You just did.” Galut slapped the melon and the rabbit together, making them kiss.
“Why are you here?”

“To watch rabbit.” Galut pointed to the screen with the stuffed animal, melon bits dripping off its face.

“No,” Michael shook his head and ate a handful of popcorn, “I mean why are the Imperials here, on Babylon 5. Why are you here?”

Galut considered the matter for a few seconds then grumbled, looking to the door, “Where should Galut be?”

“You’re welcome to be here Galut,” Michael backpedaled, “I didn’t mean you had to leave. I just wanted to know why your ship was here? Why is Ambassador Hilder here?”

Galut cocked his head and grunted, “Galut not know.”

“They don’t tell you?”

“Oh they tell,” Galut said somewhat embarrassedly, “I forget things. My job protecting. Where going is other job.”

“It’s ok,” Michael smiled, “My job was protecting people as well.”

“Why was? Why no is?” Galut returned the half mashed melon into a pouch of what look suspiciously like more mangled and misused foodstuffs.

“It’s difficult to explain Galut,” Michael took a sip of cola, “I got hurt trying to protect someone important. Someone I trusted and liked hurt me and killed the man I was trying to protect. He nearly killed me, shot me in the back.”

Galut grunted with incomprehension, “You willing to die if he could live?”

“I… I think I much rather would have caught them all and not been hurt,” Michael sighed, “Caught them before they could do anything. I don’t want to die but I’m willing to do it if I can help people.”

Galut shook his head and smacked Michael in a convivial way that still knocked him a bit silly, “Then why say “was job” is not “was job” is an “is job” silly man. You like protecting so you protecting man. One mistake not ends that.”

Michael shook his head ate another handful of popcorn, “It might well be Galut. It might well be.”
-=-
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Bonafila was a pale shadow of herself, nothing but stretched skin and bone kept alive by the mess of cables and tubes leading into her body. It was a miracle that she was alive at all but the Enzo were a hearty breed born of Amon stock, though few proud people of Amon stock admitted so after the late unpleasantness.

David stared at her and wondered again if he would ever be able to hold her in his arms or to hear her voice. She was a thing of wonder and beauty beyond his wildest dreams. He knew that as a bastard child of Sáclair he’d never be able to wed her, Donat would never consent to marring of his heir to a bastard, but that did not stop him from loving her.

It was strange how freak accidents of birth could affect things one way or another. He would never be able to inherit the ship, nor would any of his living brothers because they were born of the wrong mother. Likewise his sisters born of the right mother would never be able to inherit the ship, as the Emperor had not seen fit to make them of the proper sex. It would be the unborn prince that slept within the Lady Sáclair’s womb who would inherit the keys to the ship and glory eternal.

David took no issue with that. He did not want glory eternal. He wanted Bonafila. Worse still, she wanted him. It would have made things so much easier had she simply spurned his advances as her father would have wished but for his handsome face and his kind manner she had loved him in return.

It seemed death would resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, Mr. Enzo was no doubt grateful to be spared the shame of his daughter loving a bastard. The man might intentionally let his daughter die just to spite him.

Every day David would sit at Bonafila’s side, brooding, praying, and weeping. He left her side as little as is possible, though the Medicus had made it abundantly clear that he was never to be at her side when the girl’s mother or father were visiting her.

His hand strayed to a golden lock of hair and he felt a lump in his throat, “Damn it Bon, why’d you have to go and do a damn fool thing like that? Shoving me out of the way like that? It should be me on this bed not you! I’m strong one remember? I’d be up and kicking in no time, never mind the bulkhead,” his voice choked up, “And if I wasn’t then losing me is a lot less important to the world than losing you. I know the Emperor must want a pretty girl like you up with him to keep him company at the Golden Throne but he can't have you yet. You aren’t his to have, not yet anyway, not till you’re old and have a whole mess of grandchildren.”

He kissed her forehead, “So wake up soon. Please Bon, wake up soon.”


“It’s always a shame to see those we love injured,” David jumped at the unexpected voice. He hadn’t realized anyone else was in the room. He turned and saw a plump noble wearing flowing silks and a great fur cloak. The plump noble grinned unabashed, “Sorry lad, I hadn’t meant to frighten you. I was just visiting one of my own.”

David nodded politely, “No harm done. I’m just not used to other people being in this section of the med-bay.”

“Aye,” nodded the noble, “Not much surprised by that. Faest has been making an extra effort to make sure that you’re not in here at the same time as anyone else. Suppose Donat doesn’t want it known that you’re kissing his sleeping beauty.”

“Now see here,” Started an affronted David, “What business is it of yours?”

“Calm yourself lad,” laughed the noble, “Enzo can stuff it for all I care. So can all those imbecilic blood purists who go on about ‘keeping the lines untainted’ and the like. Near as I can tell being noble or a bastard hasn’t got a damn thing to do with your parents being married or not.”

David was unsure what to say to that. The court of Sáclair rarely acknowledged that he was a bastard openly; it was too impolite for conversation behind closed doors let alone to one’s face. Yet David found the noble’s words to be comforting.

He put a hand on David’s shoulder, “Don’t you worry about old Dex telling on you. Old Dex has got more secrets of his own that he’d prefer to keep than you lad. She’s a pretty thing, I’d be more worried about you if you weren’t in love with the girl.”

“I’m not in love with her,” David started lamely.

“Not much of a liar are you boy?” Dex chortled, “Or not willing to lie about this? Either way it doesn’t matter to me, I’m here on other business.”

“What business is that?” David floundered.

“The kind that aint’ none of yours,” Dex shook his head, “Honestly boy I’m sneaking into the med-lab at a time when only the disgraced bastards are in here visiting their unconscious love, do you think I’m doing something what I’m supposed to be doing?”

“I rather confess I’d assumed you were just another visitor,” David shook his head trying to make sense of what was being said to him, “That is to say aren’t you one?”

“After a fashion lad, I suppose I am,” Dex chortled, “Though I’m not visiting a friend so much as a professional associate. You see I’ve got someone what I need to cure so he doesn’t go and blab about some embarrassing things. I could kill him, that’d certainly do the job but I prefer to keep my mates alive rather than kill them. A man’s more useful alive than dead eh?”

“Kill him?” David’s eyes widened and realized he’d left both his pistol and saber at the security check-in, “Why would you kill your friend?”

“Because we’re Amon Sui saboteurs of course,” Dex said glibly, “He knows my face and could lead back to our operation.”

“You’re being awfully open about it. What’s to stop me from just going and blabbing to security,” David watched as Dex sauntered over to a comatose man and injected something into the man’s arm, “You… you aren’t going to kill me are you?” David’s eyes wandered over to the doors to the med-bay. A light flashed indicating they’d been magnetically sealed.

“Kill you?” Dex laughed, “Lad we’re about to become the best of friends,” He turned to the comatose man, “Oy pisshead! Wake up.”

The comatose man groaned and opened his eyes groggily, “What happened?”

“You decided to take a three week long nap after taking a blow to the head,” Dex grunted, “Now get up out of bed before I decide it’s more than it’s worth to keep you alive and awake.”

David blinked in astonishment, “What was that? How did you do that?”

“Lad the problem with Faest’s methods is that there’s some techniques he aint’ willing to use. There are methods of xenotech healing far beyond what he can even dream of,” He looked David in the eye, “But they ain’t free and they aint’ legal in the strictest sense.”

“Will they be able to help her?” David felt his heart thud in his throat.

“Might be,” Dex helped his associate to his feet. The recently resuscitated man stumbled weakly on his legs from lack of use, grabbing tightly at Dex’s cloak, “This lout’s been getting treatments for weeks now. Can’t say as to how long it would take to work even if it does work for her.”

“But there’s a chance?” David said desperately.

“Better than she’s got now I’d say,” Dex smiled predatorily, “So lad you willing to bargain?”

“Whatever the price is,” David said breathlessly, “I’ll pay it for her.”

“Aye lad,” Dex said sadly, “I know. And you will. You will.”

He put a full syringe in David’s hand, “We’ll be in touch then lad. Welcome to the Amon Sui. It goes without saying of course that if ye turn on us lad the consequences will be profoundly unpleasant.”

David felt a cold sinking sensation in his heart as he pocketed the syringe and watched Dex and the other man hobble out of the med-bay. Throne Almighty what had he just done? It was worth it, for her it was worth it. Anything was worth it.

As he injected the syringe into Bonafila’s arm he told himself hollow promises and empty lies that the Amon would not make him do anything against his family or his father, lies that he was willing to believe just to have another second with his Bon.

-=-

“What do you mean they’re gone? How can they possibly just be gone,” Londo raged at his monitor in fury, “There were hundreds of Technomages on this station, each with ships, luggage, attendants and you mean to tell me that they just all went up. Poof,” he waved his arms in the air, “Like magic?”

“Londo I don’t know what to tell you,” Vir flinched away from Londo’s wildly waving arms, “They gave me a crystal to give to you then kicked me out. When I checked the station logs to figure out when they were planning on leaving I discovered that the station computers never even logged them as entering the station. Their ships aren’t in any of the hangers, no fuel is missing from the station’s reserves, it is as though they were never here at all.”

“But they were here!” Vir stamped his foot petulantly on the ground, “I saw them. You saw them. We saw them together. I just finished having an entire conversation with the Abbai Ambassador about how odd it was to have so many technomages in a single place at once.”

“I know they were here Sir,” Vir tried not to thing about the circle of thirteen, “But they aren't here any more. I don’t think anybody can or will stand in the way of where they want to go.”

“But what do they want? Why were they here?” Vir pulled at his hair, “It’s enough to drive you mad.”

“They did give you the crystal sir,” Vir offered, pointing to the small stone sitting on a stack of unread reports. It glinted and shone in the dim candlelight of Mollari’s quarters.

“This?” Screeched Mollari as he grabbed the stone and waved it in Vir’s face, “This is somebody’s idea of a joke. It's a collection of myths and legends from the known worlds about the wars of the first ones. The wars of life and death, children’s stories about races long dead and buried. A reminder of how even the mighty disappear into obscurity.”

Mollari’s lip curled and he flung the crystal contemptuously at a chair where it thudded dully on the cushion, “A cruel joke reminding me how the Centauri are doomed to descend into obscurity and nothingness like they did. Bah.” Mollari swore, “I have no time for such cruelties.”

“Ambassador I do not believe they would have given you this information out of spite,” Vir though back to the level of gravitas that Eldric treated every word with, “I’m sure that crystal is important somehow.”

“And how would you know? Is it your extensive knowledge of Technomage humor? Fine you want the damned thing,” Londo wandered over to the sofa and grabbed the crystal, “Take it!”

Londo shoved the crystal into Vir’s hands, “Take it and get out of here. I have no more use for you today. Do whatever it is you do when you aren’t here as far away from me as you can manage.

The door slammed behind Vir, leaving him confused and alone holding the crystal. It had to be important, he didn’t know why but it had to.
-=-

This was a bad idea and Susan knew it but it had taken her too long already to track down the headquarters of the Green Drazi and she had no time to wait for backup. It was now or never. The green Drazi had holed up in a disused storage locker for military goods. It wasn’t a particularly livable space but it did lock from the inside. She couldn’t risk them getting actual weapons into that space or it would be impossible to clear them out without bloodshed, human bloodshed.

“I want to see the leader of the Greens,” Susan growled to the Drazi guarding the door. “We just had another Drazi killed.”

“Natural selection,” the Drazi scornfully replied as it rubbed the thick scaly plate of bone that covered its forehead. It was perversely excited at the idea of dead purple Drazi, “Do not interfere.”

“I have to. I can’t have this station disrupted any further. I hast to stop and it has to stop now,” Susan hobbled forward trying to appeal to the it’s humanity, “Look I just hobbled over from blue sector. You can at least let me talk to him.”

The door opened behind the guard and the Drazi guarding it bowed and let her pass. Susan hobbled past him and tried not to trip over the raised step of the door. The uneven floor was agony to walk over.

In the middle of the wide storage room the Drazi stood in a wide circle around the Drazi leader, breathing heavily and exuding a pungent musk that Susan assumed was to mark territory. It made her nose itch badly.

“Drazi stronghold not place to humans. You not talk polite to Drazi but because you hurt by Drazi I welcome you,” The green Drazi leader smiled and waved, “Rise above our differences.”

“Our differences are not the issue. The issue is Drazi killing each other here and on your home world.” Susan had had enough of this. It was time for it to end.

“Would you prefer we murder humans?” The Drazi leader said sarcastically. The other Drazi laughed maliciously.

“Do you want my help negotiating or not,” growled Susan.

“No! We take help,” the Green Drazi leader said eagerly, “I have solution to our problem.”

“Go on,” Susan looked around the room eying for caches of weapons or armor, anything to indicate the Green Drazi were planning an assault.

“You tell Purple Drazi to gather in Brown 29. Not used by others, will not be disturbed. Talk peace talk find solution,” The Green Drazi leader was near epileptic with excitement “If you tell they trust.”

“Then what,” Susan blinked in surprise. That was an astoundingly reasonable sounding plan. If they could simply get together in neutral space and resolve their differences it would solve the problem, God willing.

The Drazi’s face took on an unnatural look of glee, “Then when all Purple Drazi in one place, open hatch. Flush oxygen into space. Purple Drazi cannot breathe. All Purple Drazi, all Purple Drazi die,” he smiled wickedly, “Station is quiet again. No more fighting. Green Drazi win. You win. Everybody, everybody win.”

“I don’t believe this! You’re talking about the cold-blooded slaughter of almost two thousand Drazi,” Susan screeched in horror “Don’t you understand these are your own people!”

“No!” the Drazi said venomously, “Purple! Purple. You will help?”

“No,” Susan shook her head and backed towards the door.

The Green Drazi leader tutted and shook his head, “Ah, great shame. We already tell Purple to come. Use your name. You will stay here till we are done.”

Susan screamed, “Ivanova to security!” and reached for her link but the Drazi were too fast and her reflexes were too dulled by pain medication. One of the Drazi put a knife to her throat and she froze.

“Now we finish this, our way.” The Drazi leader bent over and snagged her communicator, still smiling an evil smile.
-=-

Michael stopped abruptly to avoid colliding with the string of security guards running towards brown sector as he stepped from the transport, leaving Galut grunting and snorting in frustration behind him. The giant suffered from some form of claustrophobia and was eager to exit the transport tube as fast as was possible.

“Woah, woah, woah, Lou? What’s going on? What's the commotion?” Michael said as Galut shoved past him grumbling.

“We got an uplink from Commander Ivanova. We’ve gotta clear out brown 29 for some big Drazi meeting.” Lou looked up at Galut with a look of polite amusement as he walked away, “You still hanging round with the big guy?”

“Yeah I was just showing him some old cartoons…wait? Commander? Good for her. Good to see things are working out for someone around here.” Michael grabbed Lou by the shoulder as a thought struck him, “Wait, wait, wait! Lou you said you got an uplink, not a personal message?”

“Yeah but we checked the ID on the dataflow, it came from her link,” Lou said exasperatedly shaking his head.

“Yeah I know,” Michael said slowly, a feeling of paranoia setting in. “I know, but did you talk to her?”

“Nah the message said she’d be offline for a while,” Lou smiled clearly trying to ease Michael’s conscience.

“Where did she say she’d be,” Michael didn’t like the sound of that. Susan was never separated from her link for more than half a second. He couldn’t think of a moment where she was less than a step from it since she’d come on the station.

“Her last uplink was from brown two,” Lou looked down at his watch, “I’ve got to go commander.”

“Of course Lou,” Michael waved him along, “Do what you gotta do.”

Lou walked along the corridor then turned round the bend, well out of earshot. Michael looked up at Galut, “Well big guy, how do you feel about checking on a friend of mine?”

Galut stroked the head of his stuffed rabbit, “That sound fun.”

-=-

Fadir hated the Navigators. It wasn’t anything personal against the navigators of the bounty. He hated all Navigators. They were warp-touched creatures, unclean things. And they thought they were better than he was, better for Throne’s sake.

They were a necessary evil at best. At least sanctioned psychics didn’t have delusions of grandeur.

Fadir and Hamman sat on either side of the door, listening to the three Navigators drone on about stars and dates and drift and about ten other blessed things Fadir didn’t give a damn about. Worse still the chairs were unspeakably uncomfortable pieces made for their beauty rather than their practicality but custom dictated that the two Lionhearts guard the door while all three Navigators were in the same place at the same time to ensure they weren’t assassinated.

By hour eight he was praying for an Amon Sui assassin to help liven up the tedium. Calven, Illirch, and Shemn stood in wide triangle around a holographic display of stars arguing with each other like a bunch of drowning cats.

“And I’m telling you that there are only so many of these lesser astropathic beacons gates we have to find before we can determine a pattern to how or why they’re placed where they are,” Calven continued for the fiftieth time or so.

“To what end Navigator Calven? To what end? We are beyond the light of the Astronomicon are we to wander aimlessly till death claims us and we are unable to wander farther,” Illrich waved his bat-like sleeves and furiously blinked his eyes, “Our resources are not limitless.”

“Is not our order an order of explorers? Are we not destined to discover the unknown?” Calven countered angrily, “I stand by our need to explore the surrounding area. Perhaps we ought to go as far as the Alliance homeworld.”

“We’ll have to rename it when we take it over,” laughed Illrich, “Can’t have two planets named Terra.”

“The colonists who got cut off in after the Dark Age are insufferably prone to naming their planets after Holy Terra,” Calven shook his head wearily, “They even named their fourth planet Mars.”

“How creative of them,” sighed Illirch.

“We are not of the Navigatus Nobilite Gnoscere, we are simple Navigators set to paths already set by the God Emperor’s will,” Shemn’s reedy hollow voice countered, “To walk the path unknown without getting his consecrations and blessings is folly.”

“As is to sit and accomplish nothing my brothers,” Calven, “What do we have to fear that we do not already fear through inaction?”

“We are bound to follow the will of the Inquisitor,” Illrich shook his head.

“Why?” Shemn started abruptly, “Why are we still bound to do so? We relied upon his protection before but as you’ve already said we’re far beyond the reaches of the Astronomicon, neither the Amon Sui neither the Inquisition can hope to touch us here so why are we bound to obey him? He has no power over us but what we let him have.”

“Silence you dog,” growled Fadir before he realized his lips had moved. Hamman looked at him in horror and shock. It was customary that the two Lionheart guards remain silent. After all what could they know of the business of Navigators?

Shemn flinched as though he’d been slapped, “And you forget your place cats paw of the Inquisition. You are forbidden to speak within the sacred hall of the navigators.”

“Actually you’ll find the silence of the Liohearts in our hall is a matter of custom not law,” Illirch said venomously, “And in this case I’m inclined give the lad pardon to speak even if it were a hanging offense,” he turned to Fadir, “Boy I know you have no love for the Inquisitor so why should we obey him.”

“We should obey him,” Fadir said uncertain of his words, he was unaccustomed to being spoken to by such company, “We should obey him because we have given our word. Sáclair’s pledge is the pledge of every man on this ship. If we dishonor a pledge given to a servant of the most holy Inquisition to aid him in seeking out Heresy and wrongness then we become the worst sort of heretics, oath breakers.” He paused lamely, “And on a more practical note we’ve set him up as being the sole authority in negotiating with the people providing us with food and fresh water.”

Calven snorted with amusement, “There is a curious wisdom to your words Lionheart. We cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds us, for now at least we are bound to the Alliance and to the Inquisitor.” Something about the way that the navigator complimented Fadir made his skin crawl. He sat back down in his chair and prayed they would ignore him and that he hadn’t made a new enemy of Shem.



-=-
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Sáclair collapsed onto his bed next to his wife, his chest heaving and sweaty from recent exertion. The soft skin of her body nearly melted into his own. His mind, for the first time in weeks, was totally blank. Even the voices of his ancestors were silent as he simply listened to their combined ragged breath.

“I believe,” Nathaniel Sáclair swallowed and shifted his weight to look his wife in the eyes, “That I should have seen to this hours ago.”

“Yes,” his wife said dryly, “You should have.”

Sáclair quirked his eyebrow, “What? No words of love or desire eternal Anna? No comments about long lonely nights or duty coming before,” he looked over her porcelain flesh, “desire?”

“You found time enough for both with your concubines light of my life. You’ll find few women who find joy in anticipation when they know full well that their man is slaking his desire within another,” Annabelle Sáclair playfully pinched a sensitive part of her husband’s anatomy making him yelp and groan, “If you must find time for duties of desire as well, find them with me first.”

“Your words are unkind,” Sáclair teased, “I must ensure the survival of my crew and the wellbeing of the Inquisitor’s ambassadorial mission. And I have not seen my concubines since last I shared a bed with you concurrently.”

“Ah,” Annabelle giggled as Sáclair tickled her sides, “You forget your other two mistresses. Your Adamanium mistress of the stars and your holy mistress of the most holy Inquisition.”

“I’ll grant you that her Ladyship The Endless Bounty is a lover without compare,” Sáclair cuddled up to his wife, “But I suspect that Hilder would prove an inept lover.”

“Oh I wouldn’t say that,” Annabelle ground her back against him deliciously, “He is a man of fire and passion wrapped in a shell of restraint. Such men often have great passions that once released can consume you whole.”

Sáclair turned her face to him and kissed her passionately, “I do not like you speaking of the passions of other men.”

“Who’s passions am I to speak of when I go to bed cold and alone so often,” Annabelle pouted her lips and went to work with her hands, “Perhaps I should seek a concubine of my own to occupy the hours you are gone for. It would be a simple enough matter to acquire.”

“I shan’t worry about that too much,” Sáclair laughed as he felt his blood rush to Annabelle’s touch, “Five daughters is enough to keep you too occupied to consider such licentious hobbies.”

“Five daughters and ten sons,” Annabelle corrected crossly. She took her role as the matriarch of his family seriously. His concubines were sisters to her and his bastard children adopted with more love and care than was normally fitting of her station, “They may not inherit from you but I am as much mother to them as you are father. They are of you so they as deserving of my love as you.”

“I love my bastards in my own way,” Sáclair hedged awkwardly. The Emperor had graced him with the most beautiful and wonderful of women in creation but he had also cursed her with a truly curious attitude toward bastard children. The custom of the court for some thousand years before the Lady Annabelle had been to quietly hide bastard children or to induct them into the priesthood to avoid scandal. After David had been born the Lady Sáclair herself had taken the newborn babe and her mother to the great throne to announce to the entire ship that the Lord Sáclair had fathered a strong healthy boy.

It wasn’t that he didn’t love his bastard sons, he did after a fashion, but he could not spend as much time with them as the Lady Sáclair would prefer as well as completing his duties as Captain, “I plan to take Abbas to the Theater tomorrow.”

Annabelle hand’s stopped and she sat up furiously shoving the silk sheets aside with a furious wave of her elegant arm, “How can one be so divorced form ones own son’s lives? Truly my love how can you?” She scowled at Sáclair her nakedness somehow enhancing her fury, “Abbas has taken up the cowl of the Omassiah some two weeks ago. Did you forget all? He travels with the Magos to the Alliance station.”

Sáclair blinked nonplussed and floundered for the right words, “It is good that he has found a path in life.”

“Save your platitudes husband,” Annabelle spat out scornfully, “If this is the love you show to your blood that is I shudder to think how you’ll treat your blood that will be.”

“I will love them as much as I love you, and as much as I will love him,” Sáclair reached down and rubbed his hand over Annabelle’s belly, round and hale with child. His son, his first trueborn son stirred beneath her flesh.

“Now come,” his wife giggled heartily as he tossed her down to the bed, “It is time to remind you how I need your touch and why you miss me when I am gone from your bed.”

As flesh met flesh and the lovers truly embraced for the second time that night, Sáclair felt his mind clear of worry or care for the future. He lived for the now, let Donat worry about what came later, “Come beloved, I have centuries of experience in my head. Lets put it to new use.


-=-

Abbas wriggled in his robes uncomfortably as he wandered behind the Magos and Inquisitor. The pressure mask over his face was intended for a previous apprentice who’d replaced most of his lower jaw with augmentic enhancements so it pinched and puckered at odd places, rubbing uncomfortably against the skin of his face. He longed to take it off but the Magos had assured the apprentices that anyone who removed their masks prematurely would suffer her displeasure.

Much as Abbas trusted in the Mago’s good nature he preferred not to risk offending her sense of propriety or her expectations of obedience. Still he could not help but feel a bit awkward and gangly by comparison to Tuul or the other apprentices. It seemed as though the other apprentices already knew and understood the roles expected of them.

He looked around at the various races and technologies of the Alliance and its allies, his eyes wide with wonder.

He’d never seen so many different xenos together in a book, let alone a marketplace. Sure, he’d met the occasional xenos dignitary on his father’s ship. Once they’d even had an Eldar onboard the bounty who came to give advice to his father. But those incidents had always been isolated and controlled by Osma’s security forces and his father. There was something delightfully raw and untamed about the Babylon station.

Perhaps one day he would become part of the Adeptus Biologis and study these very species. “No,” Abbas whispered to himself as he stared into the crowd, “I am going to do something more worthy and adventurous with my life. One day I will wander the galaxy like mistress Kerrigan.”

“Be careful what you wish for Child,” said the cool voice of Inquisitor Hilder, “You just might get it.”

Abbas jumped as though he’d been scalded and looked over to the other apprentices, all of who had stopped with the Magos to examine the transport tube. The security forces of the bounty stood around them wearing mixed expressions of exasperation and amusement.

“I didn’t realize I’d said that out loud,” Abbas said lamely. He looked to his feet, trying to avoid eye contact with the Inquisitor. He felt especially young and silly talking to the Inquisitor.

“Look up boy,” Hilder chided him, “There’s a good lad. Look up.” Abbas looked into the terrifying skull mask and winced slightly as a small plume of energy flashed off the skull. The Inquisitor tutted, “If I needed you to say what you were thinking to know what you were thinking I wouldn’t be an especially good Inquisitor now would I?”

Abbas stared back incredulously, hesitant to say what was on his mind.

The Inquisitor laughed, and turned to the Skitarii, “I’ve lost him it seems,” he turned back to Abbas, “A life of adventure is amusing to other people but tiresome to those who live it. You’re young, too young to understand. I’m not so old to have forgotten standing in Master Gaal’s garden playing make believe heretics and aliens with imaginary legions of space marines behind me.”

“No,” Abbas shook his head, “It’s nothing like that.”

“Isn’t it now?” The Inquisitor cocked his head to the side and shrugged, “Do you think the boy actually believes he can lie to me or do you suppose this is what passes for humor for the Sáclair clan. His father’s sense of humor is warped as well.

The Skitarii’s shoulders shook wildly with laughter. The Skitarii was laughing at him. The Skitarii was laughing at him. Abbas blinked in consternation, “Are you mocking me Inquisitor?”

“Of course I am child,” the Inquisitor chuckled, “What’s the point in having near omnipotent authority if you can’t laugh every once in a while. Now stop trying to understand what I’m rambling about and get on the lift with the other apprentices.”


-=-

“Will you please listen to me?” Susan struggled against the thick ropes binding her wrists and tried to stay calm. The two Drazi guarding her stared impassively at her impotent flailing, “You’re making a mistake of galactic proportions. Assaulting an Earth Alliance officer, attempting mass murder.”

The first Drazi shook his head angrily, “Green must fight Purple, Purple must fight Green, is no other way.”

“Just my luck,” Susan sighed, “I get stuck with a race that speaks only in macros.”

There was a slight creaking of the door opening and a scuffling of feet as someone, no two people entered past the bulkhead door. One of the Drazi snapped into action and grabbed her roughly from behind, pressing a serrated knife to her jugular and snarling, “Quiet!”


The man who walked in the room started to speak and Susan felt a rush of anticipation, it was Garibaldi. It was Garibaldi and someone else, no doubt looking for her. Garibaldi’s voice echoed off the walls as he spoke rapidly, forcing his way into the Drazi stronghold, “Well howdy do sir, I’m looking for the lady of the house… assuming you’re not the lady of the house. Anyway I’m here to sell you something to make you’re life easier, cleaner, and all around happier,” there was a sound of him tapping something out of sight, “Yes the acme handy, dandy micro-helper, right here in this box.”

Michael’s footsteps echoed as he took a step forward then stopped as a snarling Drazi shoved himself in front of him. He was only meters away from being able to see Susan. Just another meter, please god let him walk another meter. “If you’ll just allow me to demonstrate. This will only take a moment. Well, well, well,” he laughed as a Drazi snarled in his face, “I can see this is going to be a hard sell. Galut if you would be so kind as to take this.”

The Drazi holding her relaxed the knife at her throat slightly as it raised its head to confusedly sniff at the air. Susan held her breath and tried not to move as the Drazi lowered the knife little by little. “Just a little more,” she whispered to herself, “Just a little more.”

“This is just my little way of helping so trust me ok?” Michael clapped his hands in the entryway, “Now as a matter of fact if there’s anyone in here who could use some help just say the word and I’m here.”

Susan shoved the Drazi with the knife away from her and yelled “Garibaldi!” as the second one dragged her bodily to the ground. The broken bones in her leg pounded with agony as his scaly hands tossed her to the ground, bruising her ribs.

She raised her head and abruptly ducked as the Drazi who had been guarding the entrance went soaring across the room. He collided with the far wall with a wet smack and lay in a heap of purplish blood, coughing wetly.

The two Drazi that had been guarding snarled and backed away as a two-meter high behemoth in a pitch black pressure suit strode into the room with a green sash in one hand and an oversized stuffed rabbit in the other. At his side stood a balding Italian-American with a silly grin on his face and a PPG in his hand.

“Ok boys I’d like to introduce you to my buddy Galut here. Say hello to the nice Drazi Galut,” the giant roared angrily and the Drazi backed up looking at each other fearfully, “Yeah he’s not too good with English right now but he seems to be a great judge of character. And right now he doesn’t seem to like you guys too much now does he? I’ve got half a mind to just shoot you and the other half is rather liking the idea of letting Galut pound you into paste so sit down, shut up and get out of my way.”

Susan righted herself with the help of Michael and managed to hobble towards the door with the help of the giant. Massive sausage like fingers held her around the waist in one hand, thumb and forefinger nearly touching.

The door shut behind them with a resounding clanging. Susan flinched when Michael fired his PPG at the door, activating the internal magnetic locks. Nobody would be able to enter or leave the door for at least thirty minutes without a security code. Theoretically the two Drazi wouldn't have it but theoretically they shouldn’t have had access to her link ID codes either.

“We have to get to brown 29,” Susan groaned leaning on the giant, “We have to get there before it’s too late.”

God please let it not be too late. It took twenty agonizing minutes for Galut and Michael to help Susan hobble, hop, wobble and wander brown sector. Twenty minutes that well might have been twenty minutes to many. “Come on” Susan gritted with pain as she hopped the length of the corridor and into the transport tube, “Garibaldi I need your communicator.”

Garibaldi pulled it off the back of his hand and tossed it to her. She squeezed the small pentagon of metal and waited for the chime, “This is Susan Ivanova to security with a priority one alert. Lou do you read me?”

The easygoing voice of Lou crackled back over the link, “Yeah Commander I read you what’s up?”

“Are the purple Drazi already in brown sector?” Susan leaned against the wall and disregarded the pain in her foot.

“Yeah commander,” Lou grunted, “We got the entire area cleared out and are sitting back. The purples are all there just waiting for the greens to come on by. Just like you ordered.”

“Not my orders Lou,” Susan snarled, “The Green Drazi kidnapped me and used my link ID. I need you to lock the bulkhead to brown 29 from the outside and not let anyone in or out.”

“Uh, for how long Commander,” Lou tentatively probed.

“Lou,” Michael sighed, “Just do it. I’ll approve how ever much overtime we need to approve.”

“Oh,” Lou sounded distinctly relieved, “Well ok then. Consider it done. I guess this means you’re back eh’ Chief?”

“Yeah,” smiled Garibaldi, “I’m back.”

Susan deactivated the link, “This is only half the problem you realize. We’re still going to have to confront the Green Drazi.”

“Yeah,” Michael nodded, “But I figure you’re probably on the right track. They ought to be content just trapping their enemies in a cell for… what are you doing Galut?”

Galut had taken the stuffed rabbit and was tying something to its waist, “Bugs need sword. Galut making belt to hold it.” He held Bugs up to demonstrate the green sash and Drazi knife it had been armed with.

“Careful not to cut yourself with that big guy,” Michael smiled warmly and looked back at Susan’s incredulous gaze, “What?”

Susan rubbed a hand over the back of her head, “I didn’t hallucinate that there is a two meter tall man in a pressure suit tying a machete to the waist of a child sized pink, fluffy, stuffed rabbit standing in the lift tube did I? I mean I know I hit my head hard at least once.”

“Be nice,” Garibaldi laughed, “Susan Ivanova this is Galut of the Empire and his companion Bugs. Galut of the Empire and Bugs this is Susan.”

“Why is he here, with you, in this elevator, with the Rabbit?” Susan pulled the bottle of pills out of a pocket and chewed on two.

“He got lost and followed me home,” Garibaldi said with an expression of almost indecent sincerity.

“Garibaldi I’m tired, I’m angry, I’m wounded, and I’m Russian. If you do not stop being so unbearably annoying I will be forced to harm you bodily,” Susan massaged her temples.

“You’re welcome,” Garibaldi said as he looked up at the current floor number, “We’re here.”

Hobbling away from the elevator was nearly as painful as hobbling into it but luckily there was a substantially smaller distance to be traveled. Some ten yards past the lift the Green Drazi were all traveling in a tight group, led by the head Green Drazi.

Susan headed off the group and stared down the Green Drazi leader. The bastard had the indecency to actually smile at her. After all that he’d done to her the bastard was smiling. Susan bit back an urge to beat the Drazi senseless with her shoe and spoke clearly, “It’s over. This little war you’ve been staging is coming to an end. Now.

The Green Leader laughed, “Not over. Never over. Green fights purple. Purple fights green. It has always been this way. It will always be this way. It is fate. You fight fate.”

“Perhaps,” Susan sighed, “Or perhaps I have an alternate solution.”

“We listen,” the Drazi leader crossed his arms. The other Drazi stood behind him, flexing and hissing. Their eyes flitted around in nervous anticipation, eager to spill blood.

“The Purple Drazi are all in brown 29. So long as they’re there they’re immobilized, taken out of the game,” Susan nodded emphatically, “This completion lasts a cycle so we’ll keep them in there for the twelve days that make up a Drazi week and then let them go.”

The Drazi chuckled and hissed to each other amusedly. Susan looked to Michael, “What’s so funny?”

The Drazi leader cackled with laughter, “Drazi cycle not Drazi week. Drazi cycle is Drazi year. Can you keep Drazi captive that long? Can you human? No, we do this our way. We do this Drazi way. Better way.”

“Can't you see this makes no sense,” Susan pleaded, “You aren’t fighting over anything, it's a cloth, a stupid piece of cloth.”

“You do the same, yes? You fight for flag, for country?” The Drazi leader nodded emphatically, “Is same is it not?”

“Our flags actually mean something though,” Susan started when she felt a massive hand gently rest on her shoulder. Galut, the imperial giant wandered forward and handed his rabbit to Susan. She grabbed it and held it in surprise.

The giant leaned in towards the Green Drazi leader, “You Green Drazi?”

“I green Drazi leader,” hissed the Drazi furiously, “He who wear sash is green, he who wear sash of green leader is green leader.”

Galut nodded and tilted his head, “You put Susan in dark place with knife people,” he considered it for a moment then punched the Green leader in the face as hard as he could. The Green leader’s face colored with purplish blood where his bone plate was cracked and he fell to the floor in pain, “I no like.”

Galut reached down a ripped the sash off the now unconscious Drazi and tied it round his wrist, “Now Galut Green leader.”

Susan opened her mouth to explain that that wasn’t how it worked then realized with astonishment that the Drazi were all looking at Galut expectantly, “Wait? You mean to tell me that now that he holds the Green piece of cloth he’s the green leader.”

One of the green Drazi smiled nervously, “Rules of combat ancient, much older than rules of combat. Rules change caught up in committee. Not come through yet.”

“Bureaucracy,” Laughed Susan, “Gotta hate it.”

-=-

Six people dead. There were six people dead because of weapons snuck onto his station by the Imperial Ambassador. John had ignored a couple of minor rules of station security in order to avoid faux pas in a first contact situation and he would have to answer for that to his superiors.

Hopefully he would not lose his command for this.

The time for politeness had ended. It was time to remind the Imperial Ambassador that he was a guest on an Earth Alliance military station and was, while onboard, subject to Earth Alliance law. John turned to the Babylon security officer, “Are your men in place?”

“Yes,” responded the officer, “We have sixty people in full riot gear and armaments in plain view standing every meter or so in the path from the transport tube to your office.”

“Good,” John wandered over to his desk and sat down next to Miss Winters, “I don’t want the Ambassador to be able to blink without thinking about the armed men surrounding him.” The officer saluted as he brusquely strode to the line of security officers standing behind John’s desk, weapons at the ready.

John picked up the data pad on his desk as he sat down, “Are you all right Miss Winters?”

“Yes, Captain I’m all right,” Miss Winters shifted anxiously in her chair, brushing strands of silvery blonde hair from her face. She stared at the door and adjusted her gloves, “It’s just well,” she bit her lip, “Captain the Ambassador, he… well he scares me.”

“Scares you Miss Winters?” John’s voice cracked with astonishment. He thumbed through the report on the Drazi brawl again, reminding himself of the salient points to confront the Ambassador with.

“It’s not anything he’s said or done Captain,” Miss Winters sighed, “It’s just a feeling. With most people you can sense something to them, feelings, stray thoughts, stuff like that. There’s no way of avoiding it.”

“I thought you were banned from random surface reads,” John quirked an eyebrow and checked to make sure she was still wearing her gloves.

“We are,” Miss Winters rubbed her Psi Corps medallion reflexively, “But strong feelings, truly strong ones are impossible to cut out entirely. Even when we can’t read thoughts we always can feel minds close to us and sense where they are,” she brushed back her hair, “But the Ambassador is different, powerful, overwhelming. I don’t trust him.”

“Neither do I Miss Winters,” John motioned to the armed guards, “But we can only condemn people for things they’ve actually done not how they make us feel. Depending on how this meeting goes you might not have to meet the Ambassador again for a while,” the door chimed and John looked up, “Showtime.”

He tapped his link, “Send them in.”

The Imperials entered in a tight procession headed by the Ambassador, his translator and his bodyguard. A gaggle of red robed figures followed them flanked by two oversized muscular cyborgs. The red robed figures chattered excitedly to each other in a garish clicking language, evidently thrilled to be on the station.

“Magos Kerrigan I presume,” John stood and offered his hand to the red robed cyborg a the head of the group. She cooed amusedly and took his outstretched hand in a long mechanical probe. John shook the tentacle apprehensively, “I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.”

“Not at all,” the Magos spoke in a cool, feminine, mechanical drone, “My apprentices and I are eager to visit your station as soon as possible.”

“Yes,” John said coldly as he activated the translation computer on his desk, “About that. There will be delays as we search your quarters and your persons for hidden armaments.”

“Then this is not a friendly visit,” growled the ambassador, “I cannot imagine how we warrant such hostility.”

“Can’t you?” John replied stonily, “I suspect you can hazard a guess.” He tapped a button on his desk and a security tape of the Drazi brawl earlier in the day flickered into view on the monitor showing twisted and warped figure was attacking the crowd with long whips that spat globules of energy and ate through flesh, “I don’t like when people sneak weapons onto my station.”

“What activated the Dorn unit,” the eyes of the Magos whirred and clicked as they zoomed to focus on the footage, “Something had to activate it’s self preservation mode.”

“Nothing happened to the Dorn unit,” John snarled, “We’ve got video of that fight from thirty different angles. Nobody even touched him, he just decided to attack the Drazi of his own free will.”

The imperials looked at each other in absolute horror and started gibbering to each in their native tongue. The translation computer clicked and whirred as it struggled to keep up with their rapid conversation.

“By the Throne, it cannot possibly be,” The Ambassador turned to his bodyguard and translator exchanging looks of horror, “Nothing remains of the host mind.”

“Tuul I need the data of Faest’s findings,” A tall lean cyborg handed her a data tablet. She took the tablet from his hand with a swipe of her cybernetic tentacles, “Not unless you start restoring it with powerful anti-agapic restoratives. How could I be so blind.”

“Nobody blames you Magos Kerrigan,” said the lean cyborg.

“Nobody asked you apprentice Tuul,” growled Kerrigan in response. She looked at the Ambassador still ignoring John’s increasingly confused expression, “There wasn’t ever any poison injected into the servitor at all. The first entry was someone injecting the servitor with a restorative to repair the damaged parts of the arco-flagellants brain the second person was simply trying to undo the work of the first. But the second only knew enough to know that the servitor was being injected with something harmful, so he of course assumed poison not brain restorative.”

“Of course,” groaned the Ambassador, “It would just be a matter of waiting for the thing to become self aware or perhaps regain some of it’s memories and it might well have assassinated me or Sáclair. It’s a wonder the damn thing didn’t attack me on Belzafest.”

“I apologize for inconvenience,” the Ambassador said in broken English to John, “This was assassination attempt against me. Internal matter, many apologies.”

“No it is not an internal matter. Not any more,” John’s eyes narrowed, “People are dead on my station. People are dead because you snuck weapons onto the station and attached them to that,” he faltered, searching for the right word, “psychopath onto my station. We’ve had to sedate him just to keep him from attacking everything in sight and doing harm to himself and others.”

John slapped his hand against the table in fury, “No more secrets. No more lies. This hurts your people and mine. I want to hear the truth from you. Do you hear me?”

“Yes commander,” sighed Ambassador Hilder, “I quite understand. I hoped that I’d been wrong about my initial assumption,” he sighed, “I liked simple, I rarely deal with simple but life no simple. Now you know and things become less simple you see?”

John did not see but it hardly seemed the time to say so. He blinked in astonishment as the Ambassador lifted the golden skull from his head and revealed his face. The Ambassador’s face was scarred, aged by worry and warfare, and handsome unmistakably human features. The Ambassador smiled abashedly, “You see how this is uncomfortable for us yes?”

“But,” floundered John in surprise, “But you’re human? How can you be human?”

“You did not know?” The tech priest said incredulously, “How little do your doctors know of human biology,” her tone suddenly became horrified, “Should I be going to the med bay to assist Gazan? If their doctor can’t recognize human organs on site can we trust his expertise?”

“Doctor patient confidentiality,” John laughed shaking his head, “He can’t legally tell me any information about the patient that the patient himself hasn't consented to provide me with.”

“You had no idea,” the Ambassador said in a voice of deadly calm. His bodyguard was shaking behind him with fits of silent laughter, “Truly?”

“Not the remotest clue,” Chimed in Miss Winters stonily, apparently grateful to have won a minor victory over the Imperial Ambassador, “You’re human… you really are human how could I not have sensed it. You’re a human psychic.”

“Indeed I am,” the ambassador sighed cracked his neck, “Though I would prefer you not focus on that aspect of my character.”

“So wait,” John pulled the Centauri report on the Imperials up on his data-pad excitedly, “You communicate long distances with psychics? Human psychics?”

“It would seem I picked an opportune time to arrive,” Chimed an oily voice from just outside the door. A short man with vaguely Russian features wandered into the room wearing a Psi Corps uniform, “How very interesting.”

“And who might you be,” Jak in an icy professional tone.

“My name is Alfred Bester,” Smiled the little man, “And unless I misunderstand what is going on in this room that would make you,” he pointed to the Ambassador, “An unregistered human telepath.”

He laughed at looked at John, “I do always seem to get the most interesting assignments on this station. What to do? What to do?”

---

As always thanks for reading. As always reviews are welcome and please feel free to point out spelling and grammar errors.
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