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Discussion Starter #41
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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Discussion Starter #42
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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Discussion Starter #43
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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Discussion Starter #48
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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Discussion Starter #49
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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Discussion Starter #51
Talia gazed at the Ambassador’s pale face and dark eyes, her jaw limply opening and closing as she floundered about searching for words. Human, the man was a human. The great Empire from which they came included humans. Not just humans, the Empire included human telepaths, powerful human telepaths.

Talia Winters hadn’t really seen the value in attending meetings with the Imperial ambassador. Earth Force protocol required that any meetings between high-ranking Earth Alliance personnel and extraterrestrial psychics have at least one Psi Corps member in attendance, presumably to monitor and stop any psychic malfeasance. While that was logical in theory, what she could realistically be expected to do in order to stop malfeasance on the part of Ambassador Hilder was anyone’s guess. The man was a powerful telepath and a telekinetic to boot.

The Imperial Ambassador was surprisingly coy about his own psychic gift. The few questions she’d asked on the subject had been curtly redirected. This was not to say that he hadn’t demonstrated a prodigious psychic potential.The man was a deep well of psychic might, dangerous and barely controlled. It was overpowering to be in the same room as him, exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Oh, he had certainly been careful to hide his powers but a psychic can only hide their gifts for so long. He would catch things thrown to him in spite of them being beyond his reach, he often seemed to understand the meaning of words he could not possibly have learned yet, and the Centauri Ambassador's dice had a curious habit of turning out in Hilder's favor, often enough that Londo had given up gambling with him.

The Ambassador's distaste for her was galling but in all fairness the ambassador had suffered some form of psychic attack upon entering the station. As Babylon Five's only registered telepath, it only stood to reason that he would mistrust her.

His dislike of her only made him that much more interesting. How did a species develop the bizarre psychic technologies used by the imperials? What was the purpose of the cables that lined the Ambassador’s helmet humming with psychic energy? How were psychics trained on the Imperial worlds? Even as she sat in the Captain's office listening to the Captain and Ambassador she could not help but feel a perverse jolt of excitement. At any moment the Ambassador might well give some nugget of knowledge about his race’s own psychic traditions and teachings.

The wonder of the moment was somewhat spoiled by the fact that Ambassador Hilder would have as quickly slit Talia’s throat as give her a kind word.

She’d been informed that the most recent meeting would be a discussion of possible dissolution of the Imperial ship’s diplomatic presence on the station only a few hours ago. Talia headed to the meeting with a mix dispossessed glee and giddy apprehension. Seeing the back of the Ambassador’s damned skull helmet as he walked only a transport and out of her life entirely would have been a marvelous moment in her life.

It would seem however that fate had a different plan than she did. The Ambassador, upon being confronted with allegations of carrying secret weapons onto the station, revealed something altogether more wonderful and terrifying than she’d ever even began to imagine. Beneath the grotesque grinning skull was a healthy, hale, and decidedly human face.

The Captain, apparently somewhat less flummoxed than she, blinked and spoke a stumbling mess of words, “But but you’re human? How can you be human?”

“You did not know?” The metallic female voice of Magos Frist groaned and hiccuped out of the speaker under her neck. The female cyborg’s tentacles and cybernetic enhancements clicked and shifted confusedly. It gave a disturbingly octopi-like continence to her already inhuman form as her robes shifted with unseen cybernetic enhancements, “How little do your doctors know of human biology? 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?”

Captain Sheridan smiled, “I suspect that Dr. Franklin has the matter well in hand, his last status report stated that Mr. Danzig was stable and recovering.”

“But not that he was human?” Magos Frist’s monotone drone quirked in confusion.

The Captain laughed heartily, “Doctor patient confidentiality. 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,” came the deadpan reply of the Ambassador as his handsome face scrunched up in consternation. His thoughts, normally so well guarded, broadcast a satisfying mix of amused exasperation and embarrassment.

“Not even the remotest clue,” Talia said, poorly masking the excitement in her voice as the reality of the situation began to dawn upon her. If the Ambassador truly was human then he might well be able to tutor her in the clearly advanced techniques of the Empire’s psychics, “This one is all on you buddy.”

Talia couldn’t help but enjoy the dispassionate look on the Ambassador’s face, a welcome change from the grinning skull she’d become accustomed to talking with. He might once have been stunning to look at but age and worry had clearly robbed him of beauty. Still, Hilder was handsome in a weatherworn sort of way. Twisted and angry scars ran down the pale flesh on the left side of the man’s face, accentuating his eyes and his square jaw, giving a rugged edge to his otherwise noble features.

A million questions spun to the tip of her lips, begging to be asked. However as she opened her mouth to ask one she was interrupted by an oily voice echoing from just outside the Captain’s door, “It would seem I picked an opportune time to arrive,” Talia turned in shock to see an officer of the Psi Corps in full dress uniform, “How very interesting.”

The man was a full head shorter than anyone else in the room, and two shorter than the towering giant of a Skitarii, but he paraded through the door and into the room with all the confidence of a conquering hero. The man wore the uniform of his office like it was his very skin and a smile that was almost indecently self-satisfied.

Talia recognized the smirk and the swagger, even if she didn’t recognize the man. High-level operatives within the Psi Corps had a distinct and often insufferable air of superiority to them. The man wore his gloves and badge with dismissive aplomb, his well-pressed suit as orderly as the man himself. A Psi Cop if ever she’d seen one.

“And who might you be,” the ambassador’s attendant glared daggers at the Psi Corps officer, arms crossed in what he clearly intended to be an imposing manner. The effect was somewhat spoiled by his chronic twitching and fidgeting as well as a sizeable bald patch.

“My name is Alfred Bester,” the licentious smile widened and he impetuously waved a black gloved hand around the room, “And unless I misunderstand what is going on in this room that would make you,” he pointed to the Ambassador, “An unregistered human telepath. What to do? What to do?” He chortled to himself indecently and looked to the Captain, “I do always seem to get the most interesting assignments on this station.”

The Ambassador’s bodyguard tensed and his eyes buzzed as they focused on Mr. Bester. A spike of raw emotion rolled off him, a calculating visceral hatred. The implied threat against his master did not sit well with the Skitarii, nor with any of the Imperial retinue.

Talia suddenly realized just how large the two towering cyborgs flanking Magos Frist were, and how much damage she suspected the waving tentacles of the priest could potentially do. The Ambassador may well be a representative of a foreign government but as a human psychic the Psi Corps would have legal authority over him in Earth Alliance territory. Officers of the Psi Corps were given broad authority in the tracking and capture of unregistered telepaths traveling in Earth Alliance territory.

Authority that superseded almost all other military authority.

John Sheridan was the military governor of the Babylon station but if Bester were to issue an order related to the apprehension of an unregistered telepath the Captain would have no legal recourse but to submit to Psi Corps authority. Authority Mr. Bester would no doubt use to demand that the Ambassador be forcibly restrained.

Of course. Hilder's aversion to her made a startling amount of sense.

Of course they hated her; she was Psi Corps. Unregistered telepaths loathed the Psi Corps. The Imperial culture clearly glorified and relied upon psychics, to discover that they were so rigidly controlled within Earth Alliance society had to be unconscionable.

It wasn't simply that she was an "inferior" psychic in there eyes. She was an enemy. The Psi Corps was given wide latitude in their apprehension of rogue psychics, wide latitude they often used to the fullest. She couldn’t blame them for resisting the urge to leave their families and friends. Especially after what had happened to Jason Ironheart, her former lover.

The Psi Corps had done things to Jason, things to unlock the potential of his mind, things that changed the fundamental workings of his mind. He’d volunteered for regular injections of acetylcholine and mutated serotonin to stimulate his mind and generate a sable telekinetic. It had not gone well. Jason had become something beyond human, ascending to a being of pure energy and disappearing into the night.

This could well be a disaster in the making but the dangers of it seemed to have been lost upon the Imperial Ambassador. The Hilder just stood staring at Bester with his head quirked to the side as though he’d misheard Bester, shaking his head. He looked at Jak and spoke in the gothic tongue. The translation computer on the desk mechanically droned behind their frenzied chattering.

“I presume that last part was a mistranslation on the part of that infernal machine,” the Ambassador whispered amusedly.

“No sir,” Jak said slowly as though trying to reconcile the facts of the conversation, “He did in fact just imply that you were an nezákonn mens ingredior.”

The Ambassador blinked, looked at the Psi Corps officer in utter disbelief, and dissolved into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. The room filled with the sound of the crackling drone of the combined laughter of the Imperials, amusement dancing from their lips and reverberating from their helmets and artificial voice boxes. Tears of elation rolled down the Ambassador’s face as he grasped the edge of the desk to support himself.

Suffice it to say that Mr. Bester seemed confused by the Ambassador’s lack of appreciation for the predicament, “I believe that your automatic translation computer needs a bit of work Captain. All human psychics in Earth Alliance territory are required to submit to Psi Corps screening and command.”

The Ambassador wiped tears of mirth from his eyes as he struggled to get his voice under control for long enough to speak in broken English, failed, and waved for Jak to speak in his place as he whooped and hooted with hilarity. Jak removed his own helmet revealing a twisted and scarred face, covered with ridges and bumps from past surgeries. He was grandfatherly in a twisted bionic sort of way. He smiled toothily and spoke in his concise English, “The Ambassador does not recognize the authority of the Psi Corps over a member of the Imperial government, even if he his human.”

“Funny that you say that,” smiled Mr. Bester, “Because the Psi Corps aren’t willing to blindly accept that the Ambassador is human even if he is a member of the Imperial government.”

The Ambassador, still wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, spoke in his stylish patois, “Your meaning is lost.”

“Well let me help you find it,” Mr. Bester chortled and paced around the Ambassador, apparently amused at his own wit, “We have had not one, not two, but three ‘lost brother’ races appear to us out of the blue claiming that we’re some distant cousins from a far off star appear to us. The Centauri even tried to convince us to allow them to rule us because of that during the first contact. So I hope you’ll pardon my skepticism but I need more than a face before I take it for granted that you’re actually human.”

Rather than being insulted by the accusation the Ambassador’s face brightened and his eyes twinkled with mirth at another private joke, “I find that I like you, you funny little man.”

“How lovely for you,” Bester’s lips quirked at a private joke of his own, “Hopefully you like me enough to allow us to test the Imperials to verify your claims that you are, in fact, human and not another race of pretenders or invaders presuming we’re a bunch of idiot apes.”

“That is,” the ambassador stuttered over a complex syllable and swore gruffly in his own language, “ac.. ace.. fekkna... acceptable.”

“I want these people confined until we’ve resolved this situation Captain. It is only appropriate,” Bester issued the command without even looking at the Captain, clearly accustomed to having is authority accepted without question.

Sheridan bristled the insult of having his command so publicly subverted but held his tongue. His anger was so powerful Talia could almost taste it. He gritted his teeth and spoke curtly, “I’m afraid he’d correct Ambassador. I will have to confine you to quarters.”

The Imperial’s were not impressed. “I must examine the station,” barked the voice box of Magos Frist, waves of fury billowing from her, “The rites of observation must be completed within ten hours of being started. It is the will of the Omnissiah.”

“I will allow you to tour the station but you will be accompanied by a compliment of station security,” John shook his head sadly, his waves of emotion seemed more disappointed than angry to Talia.


“Captain you cannot allow these people to have run of the ship till I’ve investigated the further,” Mr. Bester said, clearly expecting his desires to be obeyed without question, “I cannot allow this.”

“Are we to be treated like common criminals?” The Ambassador’s voice was dark and terrible, rumbling like a storm on the horizon. His broken English reverberated with a dark and terrible suggestion of violence and blue flickers of psychic flames flickered about his face. Talia shook as she felt a jolt of ambient psychic discharge, “Not trusted by our fellow man? You dare to question me? Crushing you is within my power and I have not you insufferable nezákonn mens ingredior. To the Eye with you is that not enough?”

Captain Sheridan pulled out his side arm and placed it on the desk “Ambassador I will not allow you to threaten Earth officers in front of me nor will I permit you to use your powers to intimate me. Get a hold of your anger. Now.”

The Ambassador’s bodyguard rested a hand on his shoulder and slowly shook his head, warbling a soft series of gurgling tones. At the firm grip of the cyborg’s hand on his shoulder the Ambassador composed himself, flickers of balefire disappearing into nothingness. He massaged his scarred temples and exhaled noisily, “Apologies Captain. I do not appreciate being threatened by that thing.” He swatted his hand lazily and dismissively in Bester’s direction.

The captain leaned forward over his desk, picking up the pistol and twirling it on his finger. “I hope you appreciate that this new information complicates our already tense diplomatic situation. Until we have this sorted out I am going to have to request that you and your retinue stay confined to quarters unless there is a security contingent guarding you. I cannot begin to imagine why you concealed this from us but now that it is in the open my government will need to re-assess everything, including if we even recognize your diplomatic status.”

“We concealed nothing,” A tall lean tech-priest behind the Magos droned, “You assumed. You were wrong. The fault is not ours.”

“And the masks? The secrecy? How are we supposed to take that?” Captain Sheridan shook his head, “No, I’m afraid this whole situation stinks,” he glared at the Ambassador, “I am not in the business of dealing with people who lie to me Hilder, even those who simply forget to mention an important piece of information. Once this is resolved we will talk again, and you will speak the truth to me or not bother wasting my time.”

“I am not hiding,” The Ambassador started but the Captain cut him off mid sentence, “I don’t care Ambassador. You brought weapons on my station. Your monster of a man killed six people, six people I’m responsible for. God knows how many will die before the day is out and you’ve been lying to me since you first stepped on this station. You are going to leave my office,” he pointed to the door behind Bester, “Now.”

The Ambassador bowed, put his helmet back over his head, and strode out the door. His retinue of tech priests and bodyguards followed closely thereafter. They made a raucous mess of groaning servos and stomping feed as they trod along.

The Skitarii, Thross, was the last to leave the room. He turned and looked Bester in the eyes, glaring hatefully, almost daring Bester to try and read his mind. His tentacles waved around eagerly with the promise of violence, metal clicking and scraping lazily. He whispered a low hissing screech like a scalded cat as Bester met his eyes, staring into the green glass as it spun and ticked.

Bester paled and broke eye contact, apparently whatever he’d seen in the Skitarii’s eyes was not something he’d care to see at length. Bester tried to conceal the motion with a cough but Talia had seen, and knew what he’d done. It was troubling that the Psi Cop had preformed an unauthorized scan of the Skitarii but not nearly so troubling as the implication that the Skitarii’s mind terrified Bester.

The doors shut firmly, the hissing of air as the spaces pressurized ending the meeting with a cleansing finality. Even so Talia could still feel the increasingly distant Ambassador’s presence broiling with rage and resentment.

No doubt Bester did as well, though he gave no sign of it.

John’s face distorted in fury as he bellowed, “How dare you! I don’t give a damn what authority you have in catching unregistered telepaths, you don’t just burst into a diplomatic negotiation and accuse a foreign Ambassador of being a criminal. I will be registering an official complaint.”

“Captain I think my interruption is the last of your worries,” Bester shook his head, “I don’t suppose you’ve realized the danger in this situation.”

“Other than antagonizing a very powerful foreign military?” Captain Sheridan growled, slapping his fist on the table in fury, “Are you crazy? The Ambassador has a shielded ship just off our port side armed to the teeth and you think it’s clever to threaten him? They’re twitchy at the best of times.”

“I think that somewhere out there in the galaxy there is a race of powerful psychics who considers the Earth Alliance to be ‘part of their race’ Captain. I think there is a race better armed and armored than we are who very well may want to invade us,” Bester shook his head sadly, “Captain we cannot allow our hopes for the future cloud our needs for the present. I cannot and will not allow unregistered alien telepaths to just run wild in Earth Alliance space. Much less will I let some humanoid race lull us into complacence just because we’re a ‘cousin race,’ it must not happen.”

“What if they are human?” Talia stared at the door the Ambassador left from, feeling his psychic presence as it retreated into the distance. She looked at Bester, “That is to say what if they aren’t lying? If they really are human?”

“I suppose we’ll have to wait and see,” Bester chortled, “But you'll pardon me if I'm not ready to accept a fairy story about some fifty thousand year old secret human culture hidden in the rim of space offhand."

--
 

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Discussion Starter #52
Osma winced at the agonizing spike of pain, flaring in response to the blinding light shining in front of his face. Osma coughed and cried out, disoriented and blind, "Iino! Iino where are you?”

He waved impotently trying to swat the errant light burning in front of his blinded vision. His hands, strapped down to his sides, only sifted and caused him more pain. “Be still,” snapped the furious voice of Faest Nor, “And stop moving. It’s a damn miracle you’re alive at all.”

“Medicus?” Osma shifted weakly trying to raise himself out of bed, “Where am I? How… how did I get here?”

“Osma this is a trauma center in port side of the ship around deck twelve,” the shadowy form of Medicus Nor shifted in front of his eyes, cold instruments touching skin lightly, “The building you were in exploded.”

“Yes,” groaned Osma, memories flooding back. Smoke, fire, burning, the Apothecary had rigged the place to blow. He’d wanted to be found, a trap and Osma had gone straight into it. “Foolish man old man,” he chided himself, “I remember now.”

Medicus Nor pressed down on his chest and Osma went into a fit of coughing. Nor undid the straps and helped Osma lean over the bed. His coughing fit wracked his body agonizingly as he spit a thick black globule of ash-ridden bile on the floor. One of the nurses rushed to scrub the ground, wiping the tiles with vulgar smelling counter septics.

Osma muttered apologetically as the scrubbed away the bile rubbing his thick tangle braided beards with his blistered hands, “Didn’t mean to do that.”

“It’s alright Anooshesh. There’s no shame in being ill,” Medicus Nor helped Osma lay back down flat on the bed, “This isn’t the primary trauma center but I was afraid to move you further that this treatment facility before I’d checked you more completely for spinal injuries or internal bleeding,” Medicus Nor waved to someone in the distance. Another blurry shape in the white robes of a Medicus wandered over from another bed, “Medicus Kex do you have any morphaline 34 or Korrak make regenerative that in stock?”

“Korrak make regenerative,” Medicus Kex’s voice was cold as ice, “Is a precious commodity in treatment facilities that aren’t funded directly from the Lord Sáclair’s private purse.”

“Nonsense,” Medicus Nor snapped, “We receive the same stocks of supplies based upon need and necessity. Everyone is equal in receiving treatment.”

“Funny how some people are more equal in receiving treatment than others,” Medicus Kex glared and crossed his arms. His blurry form towered over Medicus Nor by a good half a meter but the smaller Medicus stood his ground.

“I doubled your supply rations of paxxix and fendarol beyond what most medical centers get due to the high volume of patients Medicus Kex but there simply isn't the same need to give you agapic restoratives when simple flesh bonders will do the same job,” Medicus Nor pressed down lightly along Osma’s chest and arms, checking for tension and pain, “They’ll scar but they do the same job.”

“Funny how all the treatments that don’t scar find themselves in the treatment centers used exclusively by officers and the Lionhearts isn’t it?” Medicus Kex assisted Nor in flipping Osma on his side so that Nor might press along Osma’s back.

“The treatments that don’t scar only do so because they are used in concert with the anti-agapic treatments used by the nobility. They’re useless without the anti-agapics and I haven’t the resources or the clearance to start distributing those treatments to every crewman who wanders in with a compound fracture,” Medicus Nor pressed hard at the base of Osma’s spine and he yelped in pain, prompting Nor to give him a stern look, “Oh do grow up boy. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”

Medicus Nor glared back at Kex, “Now you will get me five units of Korrax make regenerative or I will have you written up for review the ship’s medical ethics committee.”

Kex uncrossed his arms walked in the direction of the dispensary. Medicus Nor shook his head sadly, watching his retreating back, “Fool boy. Idiot child actually believes I’m withholding treatment. I swear I’ve had to actually cut back on even the number of nobles receiving restorative treatments. We lost most of the medicines when we cut power to the storage units, damn refrigerators were only made to last four hours on the generators.” He looked down at Osma, “You’re lucky my friend. You managed to get through this with a surprising lack of damage. You’ll have some lung problems and soreness from the burns ”

“Unharmed,” squawked Osma, “I can hardly move my body and I can’t feel my legs. You call that unharmed?”

“It’s the drugs Osma,” Nor slapped his numb arms, “Give it an hour to wear off and you’ll be able to move just fine. It will hurt like the devil but you’ll be able to go back on duty if need be. Just as well really, you wouldn’t obey me if I ordered you to stay in bed and rest.”

“The blurriness in my eyes?” Osma asked hopefully.

“A side effect of Morpha,” Nor nodded, “It will pass soon, your eyes managed to get out of this with minimal damage.”

“Would that my back were the same,” Osma retched over the side of his bed, dry black bile slapping on the floor next to the bed wetly, “It feels like a building dropped on me, twice.”

“Once was enough Osma,” Nor flipped through the chart on the foot of his bed in mild consternation. “I presume that I led you to the correct dispensary. It seems unlikely that the Apothecary would blow up his own dispensary in a fit of pique.”

“It was the right one alright. He was a traitor to the core,” Osma made the symbol of the Aquilla over his chest, “Vile creature. There was no honor in his dying, the despicable creature actually used children to set off the bomb. Children I tell you! The misuse of children is a monstrous act.”

“I seem to remember there being a number of children responsible for loading the ammunition into the point defense batteries,” Medicus Nor rolled his eyes, “I treated several who’d lost an arm to an ammunition loader run by an erratic machine spirit.”

“Bah,” Osma glared, “An adult is too large to fit his hands into the loader, you know that full well. It’s a shame but not as great a shame as losing a section of the ship to a vortex torpedo.”

“I suspect that your traitor felt much the same,” he raised his hands conciliatory at Osma’s glare of rage, “I did not say he was justified in his actions, only that he probably believed himself justified. And if it makes you feel any better he did not succeed in killing all his apprentices.”

“There are survivors?” Osma sat up eagerly and fell back to the bed, immediately regretting the rapid movement of his twisted spine.

“A boy, Tomman I believe his name is, one of the apprentice Apothecaries,” Nor clucked his tongue against his teeth, “A child of only five. Apparently one of the older boys tossed him into a refrigeration unit when the bomb went off. He’s suffering from hypothermia and severe traumatic stress but he ought to survive.”

“I’ll interrogate him as soon as I’m able then,” Osma nodded confidently. The child wouldn’t know much, it was unlikely that Xian had entrusted a five year old with the secrets of the Amon Sui but it was likely he hadn’t been as guarded around the child either. Adults often underestimated the memories of young children.

“No,” Nor said firmly, crossing his arms and glaring. His face became wholly cold and unreadable, “You will not.”

“I beg your pardon?” Osma growled angrily. The sheer arrogance of it was astounding, “The boy has information I need. He will provide it.”

“I will not hand over a five year old to the methods of questioning used to interrogate those guilty of treason,” Nor leaned in towards Osma, poking him in the chest. Each prod caused a powerful burst of pain, “I can not condone it medically or morally. I will have you confined to this bed for medical reasons from now till judgment day if it will protect that boy from being put to the question.”

Osma snarled, “Do you think so little of me Nor? Do you think me a monster?”

“I remember your willingness to assist the Inquisitor in his ‘search for truth’ Osma, never forget who I am. I have seen you at your worst,” Nor’s eyes burned furiously, “I name you a torturer as I have watched you do torture. Had the Inquisitor ordered you to I have no doubt you’d have tortured me without a thought.”

“It was an Inquisitorial mandate, a holy quest from the most holy of worlds. What was I to do? Duty and God Emperor above all earthly pleasures Nor.” Osma frowned and repeated the words he said to himself every night in troubled dreams, “It was my duty. I had no choice.”

“Namir chose differently,” Nor said cruelly.

Osma recoiled at the name as though he’d been scalded, “Namir made his choice. I do not hate him for it.”

“Hate him for it? Him? What of hatred for yourself,” Nor looked up as Kex walked back into the room from the dispensary, a glass vial in his hands, “We’d best make it six units. There are more burns than I realized.”

Osma’s head rang with the sound of his grinding teeth, “Namir took his own life to absolve the shame of having betrayed the ship to the Amon Sui. My brother died in honor.”

“No Osma,” Nor shook his head as he injected the syringe of Korrak regenerative into Osma’s intravenous feed, “Your brother killed himself avoid forcing you to face the shame of knowing you would willingly torture family for the sake of honor.”

Osma spat in Nor’s face, “Do not speak of what you do not understand.”

“Tell me you wouldn’t have put your brother to the question on the Inquisitor’s orders,” Nor wiped the bile from his face with the sleeve of his smock. Cold and calm, Nor was eternally cold and calm, “And the boy is yours.”

Osma glared back silently, empty words and false platitudes silently dancing on the tip of his tongue. He wanted so badly to correct Nor, to tell him that he was speaking falsehoods, to slap him till he saw the truth. But he did not. He sat silently, shame creeping into his face.

Nor nodded sadly, “I thought not.” His face warmed slightly and his voice softened, “I do not mean disrespect Osma. You are a good man but I will not allow your duty and piety to go too far.”

“You test the boundaries of our friendship Nor,” Osma growled sadly, “Perhaps you test it too far.” It would be hard to forgive Nor for what he’d said, perhaps he never would.

“I am as bound to my duty as you are to yours. And our friendship survived the actions of that bastard Hilder so I suspect you’ll forgive cross words.” Nor smiled sadly. “Give me your word that no harm will come to the boy and he is yours. He will probably be better cared for by you than he would with the orphanages at the moment.”

“You cannot mean for me to keep the boy?” Osma sputtered confusedly, “Throne Almighty, you accuse me of wanting to torture the boy one second and then suggest I’m ideal to raise him the next. Have you lost your wits or are you just sampling from the dispensary?”

“I think you’ll find a great deal of parenting will consist of resisting the urge to torture the boy,” Nor chuckled, “But I was thinking more in terms of apprenticing him to the security forces. If I put him in an orphanage now there is a chance he’ll probably just end up as an ammunition loader or a reactor crawler,” Nor shuddered, “There aren’t many of them that live to old age.”

“Not many security guards either,” Osma replied. Most caught a bullet by their third year of active duty. Green guards were invariably assigned to duties in the darks or the narrows where life was cheap and many of the gangs regarded the killing of a security guard a requisite for entry.

“I suspect you’ll be the proper one for training him to avoid that,” snorted Nor, “As bitter of a curmudgeon you are you’ll outlive us all.”

“Speaking of bitter old curmudgeons where’s Iino?” Osma looked to the beds round him, “Are the Tech-priests treating him somewhere else?”

“After a fashion,” Nor sighed, “Osma, Iino shielded you from the fires with his refractor field. He shielded you with his personal refractor field.”

“How on earth did he get it to protect the two of us?” Osma felt his heart sinking even as he said the words. The Enginseer was good, but he was not so skilled as to alter a personal shield in a matter of seconds. Refractor fields required massive amounts of power even for a small generator and altering them was a finicky task at the best of times.

“Simply put he didn’t,” Nor sighed, “Osma he clamped the refractor field generator to you and tried the block the blast with his own body. The tech priests are strong but they aren’t invincible. Iino did not survive.”

“Blood of the Primarchs no!” Osma cried despondently. The humorless tech priest had never been a friend to Osma. Iino had always been too ill tempered to bother with keeping friends, much preferring the company of the machines in his workshop, but he was a stable presence on the ship Osma had come to rely on.

He was one of the few people on the ship who never questioned Osma’s actions in the service of the Inquisitor, the man thought all in macros and equations. Hell, it has probably been for that reason alone that he’d sacrificed himself instead of Osma. Osma must have been ‘less replaceable’ than he was.

“Calm yourself Osma,” Nor patted Osma’s shoulder conciliatory, “Anger will not bring him back from the grave.”

“No,” Osma growled. His eyes burned as tears fell down his face, “It will not. But catching these Amon Sui bastards and crucifying them in the market sector will go a long way towards easing my conscience. There has been enough death on this ship for their damned cause.”

“In that at least we agree Osma,” Nor smiled wearily, “In that at least we agree.”
-+-=-

David stared at the package, trying to guess what was inside of it. It was a simple brown wooden box wrapped in paper, innocuous enough, but he knew it must be anything but innocuous. Dex would not have bothered recruiting him to transport something legal.

He was a traitor to his father and a shame to his family. He'd become everything a bastard child was destined to be but he couldn’t bring himself to feel guilty about it. He couldn’t even bring himself to feel guilty about not feeling guilty. Bonnafila was improving steadily and measurably due to the first injection of Dex’s serum. She’d even opened her eyes briefly.

God he’d felt his heart soar when she’d opened her eyes. It was like all the joy in the world had suddenly come back into his heart and he could laugh again.

He’d considered showing the serum to Faest or one of the other ship’s Docere Medicus to try and have them reverse engineer the serum but there was no way for him to know which of the Medicus would be part of the Amon Sui informant network on the ship. Even were a doctor to not be part of the network he always ran the risk of being arrested for xenos techno-heresy for even owning the vial of xenos serum.

No, he would have to play Dex’s game. Dex was a bastard to be sure but as long as Bonafila got better he could be just as much of a Throne cursed bastard as he damn well pleased. And if it got in the way of what the Inquisitor was planning all the better, it was that damned fool of an Inquisitor responsible for Bonafila getting hurt in the first place. To the Eye with him and his entire damned crusade.

But what was inside the box? It was driving him insane. Dex had shown up out of the blue and handed a box to him, barely larger than David’s palm, and warned him not to open the box under any circumstances. He was to wait in the back room of the Sainted Son, one of the market sector’s many dingy and darkly lit pubs, till his contact arrived. David wasn’t sure how long he was intended to wait but it already felt like he’d been sitting there for days.

He hadn’t trusted the quality of the liquor in the Sainted Son enough to order anything the pub had on tap. Even if he had David wasn’t about to do anything to dull his wits. There was still the very real possibility that Dex was setting David up to take a fall for something or another. He contented himself with a jug of water and a plate of something the barkeep assured him had once been steak, though judging by the color of it not a steak cut from any animal he’d ever seen before. Still, in spite of its color and chewy texture, it was salty, savory and filling.

“Enjoying yourself are you?” David looked up from his half finished plate and wiped his face with his sleeve. A curvy noble woman in a tight fitting bodice entered the room, closing the door to the private dining room behind her and sitting across from David. A sheer veil that did more to accentuate her features than conceal them covered her face and bosom.

“Are you who I am supposed to be meeting,” David mumbled weakly as he thought of Bonafila and tried not to ogle her generous chest and full lips. The woman’s presence was intoxicating, David was not a lusty man but his mind was briefly clouded with wicked thoughts, “I mean did Dex...”

“I am who you are meeting child,” The woman’s voice was feminine yet powerful, dominant, irresistible, “Focus on me, not on him.”

David held up the box. It was heavy in his hand, rough wood rubbing his skin. He was eager to be rid of it, “I’m supposed to give this to you.”

“Not yet I think boy,” her lips quirked amusedly behind the veil, “We still have much to talk of.”

“I’m not looking for conversation with a saboteur Madam,” David said spitefully waving the box in front of her face. The paper on the box crumpled loudly as his fingers clenched the box.

“You’ll find yourself ever in silence if you do not intend to talk with a member of the Amon Sui child. Do not think yourself better than I am, you are not the only one to have dedicated to the Amon for love, for wealth,” she laughed wickedly, “Or in the service of a higher power than yourself. You are the same as I, so let us dispense with the insufferable bouts of moral certitude. I haven’t the time for them.”

“I am not,” David failed impotently for the words but none came to mind. What exactly wasn’t he? Not a traitor? Not aiding the Amon Sui? Not betraying his own blood father and half siblings? What wasn’t he doing? No, he wasn’t a traitor. He was loyal to the one that mattered, he would repent once she was well.

He was sure of it, he reminded himself fervently, he was no traitor.

The woman rolled her eyes contemptuously, shaking her head with mirth. The veil sifted tantalizingly above her chest as she replied, scathingly caressing her scorn with full lips and startlingly white teeth, “Boy we have no time for your flights of fancy. Stay in the here and now. You will call me Stenatoda. You will respond to the name Herphyllus.”

“My name is David,” his surly reply was not well received. Stenatoda raised and elegant hand and smacked him firmly across the face. David recoiled and grasped the spot she’d slapped, his fingers slick with blood from where her many rings had sliced into the soft flesh of his cheek.

Stenatoda glared from behind her veil, “There is no room in our enterprise for the petulance of young boys. If I believe you to be a risk to the greater purpose of the Amon Sui I will cut your throat myself.”

“Aaah,” cried out David as the wound on his face began to sting and burn. He grabbed his mug of water off the table and splashed himself in his face. All it accomplished was to spread the burning sensation to his eyes and mouth, “What have you done to me?”

“Reminded you of your place bastard son of the traitor,” Stenatoda towered over him, a terrifying figure of silks and skirts, “The poison on my rings is not lethal but it will serve as an adequate example for the future. Then again perhaps another reminder is necessary.” She kicked out and caught him in the ribs with the toe of her boot.

David coughed and sputtered, “I understand. I understand.”

Stenatoda laughed, “See how the dog knows his place. See how he barks on command, good doggie, good.”

David looked up at her through his blearily eyes and shuddered at her gaze of disgust, “Just give me the treatment and let me go.”

“I must be mistaken,” Stenatoda growled, “It sounds like you just tried to give me an order bastard of the traitor. Does the traitor’s bastard still believe himself to be in charge?”

David swallowed his pride and croaked out, “Please give me the treatments mistress.”

“Disgusting,” she reached into her bodice and pulled out two metallic syringes, dropping them to the floor next to David. David reached out for them cried out in pain as she stepped down on his hand with the heel of her boot, “Herphyllus why do you serve the Amon Sui?”

“I need the treatments mistress,” David was sure she’d cracked a bone in his hand, “I need them for the girl I love.”

“No boy. That’s why you want to serve the Amon Sui. The truth is that you serve the Amon Sui because it is your destiny, because this ship, it’s peoples, and its crew are extensions of the Amon Sui. You are vassals of the Amon, even if you’ve forgotten your place,” she lifted her shoe from David’s hand and helped him to his feet. Her voice softened, “Now you remember. You, I, anyone on this ship is less than the Amon Sui’s great work. Herphyllus, you’ve forgotten who you are, who we are. I will help you remember.”

David wiped the blood from his face where it leaked from a split lip, “I don’t suppose there was a less painful way of demonstrating that to me?”

She laughed, a throaty sound full of flirtatious antipathy. “Boy we remember our mistakes because they cause us pain. Pain is a learning tool. If we do not hurt we do not learn. Consider our first class together,” she reached out and grabbed David painfully by his ear and twisted, “There will be many, many more.”

She leaned over to the table and picked up the box, “It’s wise that you didn’t open this box boy. There is nothing inside of it, well nothing that you’d ever want to expose to the air. Veranda toxin can devour the flesh of any living within a room in a matter of seconds, even the mighty Adeptus Astrates are reduced to little more than bloody glop. It was a test. There will be many such tests in the coming days.”

David growled and shoved the woman away from him, “I don’t like when people waste my time and energy. I am not some pathetic peon for you to be abusing and shoving around as you will.”

“Ah,” the woman opened a fan and proceeded to wave it at herself, wafting her perfume in David’s direction, “The Sáclair fires. I’d been beginning to wonder if you were truly your father’s bastard or if your mother had enlisted the services of some other noble to sire you.”

“I’m glad you appreciate it, “David growled and pulled a pistol out of his pocket. He raised the small ivory handled laspistol and aimed it between Stenatoda’s eyes. “Here’s a test for you mistress. Now that I have what I need from you what reasons do I have to keep you alive? What reason do you have to keep me alive after I’ve helped you with your sabotage?”

“Child,” Stenatoda shook her head unconcernedly, “You don’t understand even now child. We own you. Simply by having attended this meeting you are a heretic and a traitor. You’ve taken our payment, delivered a deadly plague in a box, you’ve consorted with the worst saboteur on the ship and you’ve let him go without reporting it. If you kill me the Amon won’t have to waste time and effort on killing you. Your father will do it for us.

David growled, “My father would not convict me of heresy and sedition without trial.”

“Child what exactly do you think would come out at that trial?” Her veils shifted and shook with exasperation, “You are a boy of not even twenty years. Do you honestly believe that you were able to take sufficient precautions that we have no evidence to provide such a court? We hid from an Inquisitor and the security forces of this station for years. If you believe that you will avoid conviction then you are a fool. A witless fool.”

She sat down and gestured to one of the chairs, “Now sit. We have much to talk about boy. Your future is in the making and you will serve as my alibi over the next couple hours.”

“Your alibi?” David sat down in the chair, his sore ribs throbbing, “Your alibi for what.”

“The terrorist attack on the primary power station,” Stenatoda lifted her veil showing a familiar milky white face covered in thick twisting scar tissue, “It's unlikely my connections will be found but it wouldn't do for me to be implicated in it after all. I do have such a memorable face.”

David stared at her ripped face in absolute horror, “But the power station is the core of the ship! You'll destroy us all!”

“Not likely,” Stenatoda smiled, the scars over the left side of her face twisting, “This is a demonstration of power, we simply wish for the traitor Sáclair to remember that we can hit him at any moment.”

“He'll only get madder at you,” David stared down at the syringes inn his hand, “How long do you need me here for?”

“Not too long boy, you'll have plenty of time to go back to your woman,” her lips quirked, “She will get what she needs.” She pulled a crystal timepiece from a pocket in her skirts, “And if you question me again you will lose your tongue.”

David suspected it was not an idle threat and held his tongue, sitting in silence with the pale woman. She looked vaguely familiar, but after a few generations of inbreeding between the noble houses that was hardly surprising. It was Nathaniel Sáclair's father Traanvis Sáclair who'd abolished the practice of marrying siblings and cousins, though he had continued the Sáclair tradition of marrying the previous captain's wife. She had fortunately died before producing an heir meaning that Nathaniel Sáclair was born of a marriage between Traanvis Sáclair and Sharri Mumad of the Constant Vigil, another Amon Sui ship of Damascan origin.

Still there was something insufferably familiar about her. She sat like a noblewoman of the ship's court but he couldn't remember ever having seen her there, with or without the veil. There were numerous nobles, but not so many that he would forget one with Stenatoda's generous figure. He was a man after all.

Stenatoda glared at him witheringly, “I have no interest in the silent appraisals of the bastard son of a traitor. Either speak your mind or avert your eyes.”

“Am I to speak now?” David said sarcastically, “You seem to have had a different opinion moments ago.”

“Speak and be done with it boy.” The woman lazily waved jeweled fan, fluttering her veil temptingly.

David shook his head, “How do I know you? I know I remember you from somewhere, but where?”

Stenatoda blinked and stared at him, glaring at his ineptitude, “Child, you define new lows of stupidity with every word. My name is Stenatoda. My name will continue to be Stenatoda to you much as yours will be Herphyllus to you. We have no names. We are tools of a cause. We do not learn the names of other operatives you stupid, stupid boy.”

The room groaned and the walls shook as though the ship had suffered an impact to the side of its hull. Warning klaxons screeched overbearingly. The lights flickered and Stenatoda smiled widely, “Fantastic, we've moved to the next step.”

“Great for you,” David stood and turned to walk out of the room. His fingers shook with anger as he grasped the syringes as he broiled with range withing his own head. Damn them, damn them all. Bonafila was worth it but damn them all.

“Not so fast child,” Stenatoda walked up and pressed her body up to David's. David could not help but notice her curves pressing up against his chest in all the right places, “Your job is not quite done yet.” She gave him a sultry look and kissed him on the lips, “I still need my Alibi.”

David shoved her away in disgust and opened his mouth to protest but only managed a weak murmured “nugh huh” as he felt a woozy blurriness in his words as his lips and face numbed. He stepped forwards two steps and fell to the ground, the syringes clattering across the floor. Stenatoda leaned over him and laughed, “Helping you to the hospital for flox poisoning ought to give me more than sufficient alibi for my whereabouts, and you reason to administer the treatments to your woman outside of hospital hours,” she giggled, “That is of course assuming you survive long enough to have an antidote administered.”

David tried to yell “bitch” but only managed a half-hearted, “Gwarp,” before his lips gave out entirely. Stenatoda lifted him, snarling with the effort, “Silence child, we have much work to do before you're done for the day. And to try not to bite off your own tongue, you’ll need it later.”

_+_
 

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Discussion Starter #53
As the leader of the Minbari peoples on Babylon five it was Delenn’s duty to meet with them and resolve whatever problems they might be having. By and large it was mundane immigration and taxation matters. The Minbari system of collecting tithes from their citizenry was vastly different from the abstract systems used by the Earthers or the Centauri. Other times Minbari seeking spiritual guidance would come to her seeking wisdom and clarity.

What Teronn was seeking was anyone’s guess.

The worker caste member scheduled an appointment but neglected to write the details of his meeting, an unprecedented action in Delenn’s tenure. Custom dictated that she not deny him a meeting in spite of this.

So it was that Delenn found herself awkwardly standing in a room with Teronn. Teronn’s robes were somewhat thread worn but his calm smile and polite mannerisms granted him a subdued dignity. Delenn honestly couldn’t remember much more about him than that he owned a bookshop in blue sector.

She certainly couldn't think of a reason requiring for him to be in her quarters.

“I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this meeting Teronn,” Delenn said confusedly.

“I have been delegated by others who,” Teronn stumbled over the words, clearly uncomfortable to be speaking with her, “Delenn there is concern among our people here on Babylon Five, meaning no disrespect. They worry that you are no longer one of us.”

Delenn flinched, he might as have slapped her. At least he was graced with the common courtesy to look as embarrassed as Delenn felt.

She felt red-hot rage rushing into her cheeks, “I am more one of us at this moment than I have ever been. More than you will ever know,” Delenn turned and faced the Minbari behind her, keeping her face a mask of passive indifference in spite of the rage welling in her breast, “I appreciate your concerns but there is nothing I can tell you at this time. Later.”

Teronn shook his head sadly and bowed his head, “This cannot wait. We need to understand what is happening.”

“Understanding is not required,” Delenn clenched her teeth and glared, “Only obedience.”

“To our own kind yes,” Teronn opened his hands palms to the sky in polite submission, “But that is the question. Are you any longer our own kind? We have the right know.”

Teronn might as well have slapped her. Did they not realize that she’d sacrificed who she was for the greater good of all Minbari?

No, no they did not.

Of course they did not.

They could not. The knowledge of what she’d become and why was known only to the Grey Council, and even they only held mere snippets of knowledge given to them by the Vorlons. There were times where she forgot how alien the secrets of the Grey Council were to the rest of her people.

Teronn spoken into the awkward silence, “If you cannot give us what we need, we will ask permission to send a representative to speak directly with the Grey Council.”

He paused politely and looked her in the eyes, “Unless you object.”

The Earth caste worker’s polite and reasonable request to know what she was bit as hard as the worst of insults. She’d prepared herself for any number of questions from the humans. It was to be expected that she would have to work for their understanding, but the Minbari were her own people. There truly was no legitimate reason for her to bar them from petitioning the council other than selfish fear. It was entirely possible that the council might have much of the same doubts about her loyalty as the Minbari Teronn represented.

Delenn swallowed her pride, “No, I have no objections. Is there anything else?”

“No,” Teronn bowed deeply. A good two inches further than would be required of him socially, “Thank you.”

Lennier stepped on Teronn’s robes as the Worker caste member walked out the door, causing the two of them to stumble awkwardly to the ground. The stoic worker simply waved off Lennier’s apologies and exited out of the room after righting himself.

The door shutting behind him with a whooshing clang.

Delenn chuckled politely do herself and helped her assistant to his feet, “That was not necessary Lennier.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Satai Delenn,” Lennier’s face was the picture of innocence, “I’m simply prone to clumsiness, it comes and goes.”

“See that it goes more often than it comes Lennier,” Delenn shook her head, “I will not have you resorting to such pettiness to those who are too small minded to see the importance in what I do. They’ll come to see eventually.”

“Of course Delenn,” Lennier smiled skeptically and held up a data pad, “Shall we continue with your appointments for the day?”

“No Lennier,” Delenn sighed, “I think I need some time to myself.”

-=-

Londo smiled at the portrait of his father. Cena Mollari had once been a giant of a man, as great of a Centauri as one could hope to become but his final years had not been kind to him. Ravaged by senility and a weak heart the man had slowly degraded into a hollow shell of a man, capable of remembering who he'd been but unable to remember how one went about being him. Death came as a blessing.

Still in Centauri tradition Londo devoted the anniversary of his fathers death to quiet introspection, largely in the form of heavy drinking. He sat alone in his quarters, drinking and talking with the portrait of his father. Trying to figure out what his father might have said in response to the trials and tribulations in his life. He often suspected his father would have had less difficulty in finding easy solutions but ones memories of the departed were often overly generous.

“Vir,” Londo ground his teeth as the door opened and footsteps clicked along the tiles of his floor, “Was I not clear that I am not to be disturbed by anyone at all?”

“Perhaps,” laughed the sallow voice of Mr. Morden, “But not to me.”

“Mr. Morden,” Londo sighed, “I suppose I should forego with the effort of trying to figure out how you gained the entry codes to my room or trying to convince you to leave.”

“That's what I like about you Ambassador,” Mr. Morden smiled, “You're realistic.”

“If you're not going to get to a point than you're welcome to direct yourself out the door,” Londo pointed to the hallway, “It's right over there.”

Mr. Morden tutted, “Now, now ambassador. No need for that.”

“Shouldn't you be off somewhere finding out information how in Maker's name the Imperials can possibly be human?” Londo sipped at his drink lazily, “Isn't that what everyone is doing right now?”

“I beg your pardon?” Mr. Morden lost his composure entirely for the first time in Londo's memory, “They're what?”

“Human,” Londo blinked, “Certainly you knew, it's been the talk of the station.”

“I was... indisposed for most of the day.”

“And deaf apparently,” Londo chuckled, “Well apparently they're human alright. Dr. Franklin is testing it as we speak.”

Mr. Morden chewed his lip nervously, “This changes the landscape entirely. The rules of engagement...” Mr. Morden trailed off nervously, “Ambassador Mollari we will speak again soon. Forgive me I must go.”

“No rush,” Londo went back to nursing his drink contentedly, “Stay away as long as you need to. I'll keep busy somehow.”
-=-

Daul grudgingly allowed himself to be led back into his quarters by the security forces and shut the door behind him, feeling distinctly exposed. Kerrigan and her retinue opted to continue their inspection of the ship under surveillance but Daul needed a moment of peace and quiet to reassess the situation. Daul chuckled as Cairn pulled a flask of something alcoholic out of his robes and offered it to him.

“Where would I be without you Cairn?” Daul took the flask and took a deep draw at the amber liquid, it burned comfortingly as it slid down his throat. He doubled up coughing soon after, “Emperor above do you drink that or strip engines with it?”

Cairn tilted his head and shook his shoulders amusedly. The Skitarii’s body creaked with the effort of his expressive silence.

“I suppose you need something that can do both at the same time, you self important toaster,” Daul stared across the room to the door, “Damn I wish Kerrigan were here.”

“The Magos implied that her task would not be too time consuming sir,” Jak twitched on his feet, hobbling over to the humble sitting area and his pile of missives and scrolls, “I suspect that she’ll be back as quickly as she may.”

“Jak, Magos Frist’s version of ‘not too time consuming’ only guarantees that she plans to be finished prior to the final judgments of the Golden Throne,” he shook his head and placed Cairn’s flask on the counter-top, “I prefer to work on a more timely schedule.”

Jak grunted a noncommittal “eh” in response and busied himself with the pile of scrolls and papers, quickly becoming lost to the world as he muttered an incoherent stream of facts, figures, and ideas, chattering and muttering as he read. Occasionally he stopped long enough to raise his hand and push the spectacles back up his beaklike prurience of a nose.

Cairn raised the remnant of an eyebrow in amused incredulity and busied himself with behind the task of preparing a meal. Daul did not trust the food preparation centers on the station yet, preferring to eat what provisions Sáclair could ship to them.

“Where in the hell is that damned Ogryn?” Daul looked around the room in fury, “The Captain didn’t mention him at all. If that insufferable ignoramus has been arsing around on the station instead of coming to me and reporting that one of the men he was guarding was injured I swear to the throne I’ll bounce the laggard off the damn ceiling just to knock the stupid out of him. I am his liege lord, if one of the men in my service is mortally wounded I expect to be informed about it by him before I’m confronted by the bloody Alliance.”

Cairn warbled disapprovingly and crossed his arms. Daul ignored him. Physically punishing his initiates was not generally part of Daul’s rapport but he feared that short of corporal punishment the Ogryn’s mind wouldn’t bother to retain the severity of his displeasure.

“I don’t like this Cairn,” Daul tossed his helmet from one hand to the other, staring at the hexigrammic runes, “ We’re lost at sea, and I feel as though I might be swept up in the squall at any moment. Throne help me but I do.”

“Been lost before you have,” Croaked Vira’capac. The kroot was reclined on Daul’s bed, his two hounds snuggling up contentedly at his sides, pawing happily at the soft material of Daul’s blankets. The Inquisitor blinked in surprise, he hadn’t even noticed that the Kroot was in the room. He reached out with his mind reflexively and found that something masked the presence of the Kroot slightly, blending him in with the normal background.

“Are you going to explain why your psychic presence is masked Vira’capac or am I supposed to simply guess,” Daul cracked his neck and walked over to the door of his room, “For that matter why are you back in the apartment. My instructions were to stay in the carrion eater’s sector and keep an eye out for genestealers or any other stowaway species we might need to be aware of.”

“Masked? Really,” Vira’capac snapped his fingers and crowed, preening the quills of one of his mastiffs, “Must have been something I ate.”

“You’re avoiding the question Vira’capac. Why are you here?” Daul crossed his arms and scowled at the Kroot, subtly adding an psychic aura of intimidation to his glare.

If Vira’capac was affected at all he did not show it. The inverted slits of his pupils opened and closed unconcernedly as he twisted his head to the left, staring with a single yellow eye, “Inquisitor knows why. Inquisitor is not angry at Vira’capac. Vira’capac is not to blame for humans not trusting humans, it is your way.”

“That is not a full answer,” Daul growled, “Speak clearly or suffer my wrath.”

Vira’capac growled slightly and his mastiffs perked up, starting at Daul intently, “It is as complete an answer as Vira’capac can give. Babylon humans not trust you. Babylon humans find me. Babylon humans bring me here. All other answers you have or you know without Vira’capac.”

“You couldn’t hide from them,” Daul said incredulously, “Surely you could have gotten beyond their reach.”

“Vira’capac could have but why would Vira’capac chose to? Babylon humans and you are not enemies, or were not enemies. Babylon humans ask Vira’capac to follow them. Vira’capac smell not malice or rage and see no threat from them. Vira’capac follow,” the Kroot hissed angrily, “Or does the Inquisitor wish for Vira’capac to tear out every Babylon human’s throat when they ask him to follow.”

“Leave my room xenos,” Daul’s voice rattled with icy contempt, flickering sparks of psychic fire sparking from his psychic hood, “I have no patience for you.”

Vira’capac with the Kroot stood grunting from the exertion of shoving the mastiffs from his lap. The hounds stretched luxuriously and hopped to the ground, talon tipped feet clattering loudly on the deck plates. The two hounds glared angrily at Daul with avian leers, clearly annoyed to have been rousted from the mattress.

“Vira’capac does have information for the Inquisitor. Information worth knowing,” he offered a crystal pulled from a satchel at his side to the inquisitor, “There are those who wish your attentions. Those who should not be ignored.”

Daul smacked the crystal out of the Kroot's hand and snarled, “I have had my fill of these xenos ambassadors bending and bowing and scheming and prying into our affairs. I will not have some damned carrion eater sniffing about at my heels passing along notes when I have more important things to deal with.”

Vira’capac spat at the floor and hissed, hackles raised and quills flaring. His hounds growled ominously, “Inquisitor you will not hit Vira’capac again. I am bound by honor not to harm you, my hounds are not.” The hounds snapped their razor sharp beaks eying the soft meat of Daul’s flesh hungrily.

“Get out Vira’capac. Get out of my sight,” Daul glared furiously, “Hide in some dark corner and wait till I have need of you.”

The heavy footfalls of Cairn echoed behind him. The Skitarii carried a tray of dinner meats in one hand and a pistol he’d concealed Throne only knew where in the other. He warbled idly in binary and motioned to the door with one of his face tentacles.

Vira’capac left the room with his hounds, hissing and growling like a scalded cat. Cairn shut the door and turned to Daul, shaking his head in consternation. Disapproval radiated from him in waves as he hid the pistol within a compartment of his chest and poured a large glass of amsec and recaff.

“Don’t give me that look. I know what I’m doing,” Daul snatched the cup and sat on the bed sullenly stirring the aromatic drink. He stared into the small whirlpool he was making, “I really do know what I’m doing.”

Cairn gwarked skeptically in binary and served a generous portion of preserved grox, candied fruit and tinned biscuits onto his plate. Daul perched upon the edge of the bed with the tray in his lap, plagued by a conflicting mix of desire to eat and a lack of hunger.

“I don’t know if I want to eat this Cairn,” Daul prodded a bit of salt-grox half-heartedly with a fork before giving up. It just didn’t seem like a good time to be eating.

Cairn disagreed. The cyborg glared at the petulant Inquisitor pointing at his plate and clearly not intending to let the Inquisitor do anything other than finish his entire plate, “Cairn really I ate a large meal not that long ago.”

Cairn’s photoreceptors focused disbelievingly and his tentacles twitches as he pulled out his chronometer and tapped it. Daul hedged the issue, “Last night isn’t that long ago Cairn.”

Cairn tapped his foot on the floor, his shoulders as immobile as Daul had ever seen them. Well there was nothing else for it but to tuck in. Daul muscled down the plate of preserved foods and salted meats with some effort, washing it down greedily with a generous amount of amsec and recaff.

He drank more generously from the bottle amsec than was probably wise and felt a blissful absence of care wash over him. His current problems were suddenly miles away, his past slapped him about the ears. As he tried to pour himself an eighth glass of Amsec Cairn snatched the bottle

He licked his lips and reclined on the bed, chuckling to himself, “God man you’re like having a second wife. It’s a pity you never really had the chance to get to know Elzabeth. Oh you spent time around her but I never really had you two together enough for you to know her.” Elzabeth died a year before Daul left do investigate the Endless Bounty. She’d fallen from her horse and died of complications relating to a fractured spine.

Daul hadn’t taken the loss well.

Daul laughed coldly as a tear ran down the side of his face, “She was too young to die of illness or exertion. After all the damn foolish things we did together in the service of the Emperor for her to die of an infected wound is simply inhuman,” he sniffed at his now empty glass. It still made the hairs of his nose tingle, “First my wife, then my home, then what little was left of my family. If the Emperor has some plan in all this I do not see it Cairn.”

Cairn awkwardly took the glass from Daul’s hand and put the liquor away, gurgling bemusedly to himself, apparently unsure if he should have allowed the Inquisitor to drink at all. Cairn was welcome to stuff his opinions back in the same compartment he hid his gun.

“Throne help me I cannot see it,” Daul closed his eyes and slowly fell asleep. His mind filled with dark memories and troubled dreams as the room blurred into dark nothingness.

-=-
 

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Discussion Starter #54
“Captain I cannot simply provide you with information about one of my patients. Even if the Ambassador has consented to allow testing of his people to verify that they are human,” Stephen put down his clip board and glared at the monitor. The very nerve of suggesting it was astounding. Conducting tests, even non-invasive ones, to provide information to the government about the medical specific condition of a patient without that patient's informed consent was patently absurd, “I can't and won't just hand over the information about Danzig's treatment.”

“I'm not asking you to violate your medical oath,” Captain Sheridan sighed, his face seeming to have aged decades in a matter of hours, “The CdC actually requires that we run tests on the blood of any newly encountered species prior to exposing them to our ships. We waived those tests because the Imperials wore the pressure suits. We already have the blood work of Vira'capac on record right? I just need you to take the blood samples required by law.”

“This is a gross manipulation of the system,” Stephen snarled, “It's immoral, it's unethical and I just will not take any part in it. Either you find a different solution or you find yourself a new head of medicine.”

“Stephen,” the Captain's voice pleaded, “We really must have these tests completed, and soon. We need to get this situation under control now while we have the authority. I've already got the Psi Core breathing down my neck. It's only a matter of time before he manages to talk either the senate or the president into allowing him to take action.”

“Psi Corps is here? On the station?” Stephen affected a forced air of casualness into his voice that felt unnatural and flustered. Among other things Stephen ran a cell of the underground railroad for telepaths, helping sneak them into foreign territories and out of the reach of the Psi Corps. Even now there were a good dozen fugitive telepaths hidden in brown sector waiting for a chance to hop a transport to a rim world colony of the Abbai.

He'd never intended to become part of the underground railroad for telepaths, much less it's leader on the Babylon. It was somewhat inevitable in retrospect. Stephen was a man of principle and passion, a healer. It was not in him to hear stories of the abuses and cruel experiments conducted by the Psi Corps and not take action. The blanket authority that the Earth government had given the Psi Corps apparently also gave them blanket immunity from prosecution.

In their search for the creation of better psyches they did things to the mind and the body that were not simply immoral, they were anathema to the human condition. They did things to their own kind that would have made the Dilgar take pause to consider the morality of their actions. Stephen would not, and could not support the Psi Corps.

It was a shame that Susan was such a vocal critic of the Psi Corps, Stephen could have used her help. Unfortunately she would call too much attention to the situation. The second the Psi Corps came looking for hidden psychics on station she would be the first person who's mind they wanted to probe, “Are they here for the Imperials already?”

“Yes,” Captain Sheridan grimaced at the thought of it, “A Psi Cop and a real grade A jerk who goes by the name of Bester.”

“We've met,” Stephen was panicking. Dear god, if he didn't get the Psi Cop off the station this would be a disaster, “I see where you're coming from Captain. I'll see how I can resolve this situation.”

“Very good Doctor,” Captain Sheridan smiled, “I appreciate it.”

“Uh captain,” the doctor foundered, searching for a way of saying what needed to be said without violating his oaths of office, “Can we speak off the record?”

“Of course Dr. Franklin.”

“Sir, do not trust Mr. Bester,” Stephen chewed on his lip nervously. There had to be a way to warn the Captain of the danger without telling him everything, “I've heard things about Mr. Bester. The things he's involved in, the ways in which he makes arrests, the way he finishes his duties... he's connected sir. Connected to people who value results over all else.”

The Captain's expression darkened, “I see.”

“You need to talk with Susan or Garibaldi about Jason Ironheart. Don't bother searching the records for information about it, the entire event was classified and deleted from station records. Suffice it to say that Mr. Bester's methods are... questionable.” Questionable was putting it lightly. There was little that Stephen could imagine being outside the realm of Mr. Bester's all inclusive amorality.

“I'm on it Doctor,” The Captain nodded, “Just see about getting that medical data as fast as you can.”

Stephen sighed and stared at the thick file to his left. The manilla folder overflowed with carbon copies and sticky notes, all written in his own inscrutable scrawl. The tab of the folder bore Danzig's name, written phonetically in Interlac so as to avoid confusion. It would be so easy to just give the folder over, answer all Captain Sheridan's questions and rid himself of the Psi Corps. Heck, he would just be conforming with the legal obligations of the CdC. It would be an easy sacrifice, nobody would judge Stephen for doing it.

Well nobody except Stephen himself.

It was a slippery slope from doing this to being in the biological weapons research dome on Earth in Geneva. Stephen hadn't entered medicine to do anything other than help people. He most certainly hadn't become a doctor so that his skills could be used for someone else's political gains, even his own. He was better than that.

Stephen took the file and tossed it in the wall safe, tapping in his own personal locking code and listening as the bolt slid into place. He was probably going to have to burn his records once he was done treating Danzig. He'd already taken the extra effort to keep everything as a paper copy, forgoing with making digital backups.

He wandered around the room, checking the condition of his patients. There were limits to even modern medicine's healing powers. He was constantly dealing with disease and death as well has healing and life.

At the far corner of the room Gazan sat next to his commander, perched on the edge of his stool with his arms crossed. He'd positioned himself to look as watchful as was possible, though from the way his head nodded with each breath Stephen knew the Imperial medic was dozing. The poor man had earned a bit of rest, he hadn't stopped monitoring Danzig's condition for a second since he'd brought to man to Stephen's medical ward.

Stephen leaned over the slowly rising chest of Danzig, pressing down on the Imperial man's sternum and feeling for cracks in the bone. Dazig yelped slightly in pain through his morphine haze, snapping Gazan out of his slumber. The man leapt to action, pulling Stephen away and brandishing a scalpel that he'd been concealing on his person.

“Woah, woah, woah,” Stephen shoved Gazan away, “Take it easy! I'm trying to help him damn it.”

The Imperial medic smiled sheepishly and muttered apologetically, placing the scalpel back upon the medical instruments tray. Stephen realized just how close to death he'd been. Gazan would have sliced his throat without a second thought if he'd only been a second slower. This situation needed to end. The Imperials and the Earth Alliance needed some sort of framework upon which to judge each other, preferably as equals.

He couldn't ethically provide Danzig's medical data, but there was no reason that it had to be Danzig, “Come on Gazan. I need to see if I can get the damn ships translator working. I need to ask you a question.”

Gazan cocked his head confusedly but followed Stephen in curiosity.

-=-

John punched his authorization code into the monitor and waited as the Earthforce icon spun while the machine processed the data. Secure connections to Earth, especially unscheduled ones, took a long time. Hopefully Senator Hidoshi would still be at his desk, otherwise John would have to try to contact him through the Senator's private line. An invasion of privacy he'd wish to avoid.

John fiddled with the rank pins on his collar, trying to get the metal tabs on the back not to press into his adams apple, a nervous habit he'd picked up during the Earth Minbari war. The pins were a tactile memento of who he was and what he'd achieved. It was a reminder of all he had achieved and all he could achieve. He was Captain John fragging Sheridan and he wasn't about to let Imperials or the damn Psi Corps interfere with his station.

The icon chimed and the monitor blinked and was replaced with the placid features and mild expression of Senator Hidoshi. The Japanese man quirked and eyebrow and pointed towards John, “Captain Sheridan this is highly irregular, we aren't scheduled for a status update for another day at least.”

“I realize that Senator,” John's voice colored bashfully, “But something has come up, something that really cannot wait for the normal status update.”

“I see,” the senator nodded curtly and tapped his pen on the desk, chewing his lip in annoyance, “What is so urgent Captain?”

“It's the Imperials sir. There have been some recent difficulties,” the senator's face fell and he swore. John frowned, “Is there something I'm missing senator?”

“Nothing you need to concern yourself with Captain Sheridan,” the Senator scribbled on a scrap of paper, passing it to one of his aids without comment, “Please continue.”

“Well Senator I hardly know where to begin. One of the Imperials got involved in a brawl that resulted in a number of deaths. I confronted the Ambassador over the hidden weapons he brought onto my station.” John braced himself for the Senator's compulsive outrage.

“Captain Sheridan you are not authorized to accuse foreign diplomats of criminal action without the expressed permission of either the President or the congressional oversight committee,” Hidoshi's eyes narrowed in anger, tiny pinpricks of white visible between narrowed lids, “This is not acceptable.”

“Senator the Inquisitor's man butchered six people and mauled more, including one of the Imperials. I'm sending a report to you with the particulars, I had more than sufficient evidence to render my duty to the station as military Governor,” John paused. He was unsure how to continue, “That isn't why I called you Senator. The investigation of the Inquisitor has revealed new evidence about the physical nature and origins of the Imperials... frankly Senator I'm not sure how to proceed.”

“You don't say.” The Senator's face lit up in curiosity, “What is your new evidence?”

“Not to put too fine a point on it but they seem to think that they're human.”

The Senator's pen clattered to the floor. The man blinked in bewilderment and shook his head. His mouth opened and closed, apparently sounding out the words in his own head to reconcile the sounds with their meanings, “They think that they're what?”

“Human Senator, they're at least humanoid once they take those ridiculous masks off. I've ordered Dr. Franklin to conduct some tests later today to confirm their claims but frankly sir I'm willing to take them at their world till I have proof to the contrary,” John laughed, “I figure that if they'd been planning to pass themselves off as a 'brother race' like the Centauri did they wouldn't have spent so much time and effort making sure we couldn't see their faces.”

“This is disquieting Captain Sheridan, if they're human where did they get that ship? That technology? How do several hundred thousand humans suddenly appear out of the blue?” The Senator shook his head, “And what do we do with them now?”

“You see the problems I've been going through,” John shrugged, “I suppose some colony ship could have gotten picked up by a super advanced species and these humans could be the descendants of those colonists. I don't know, heck the Ambassador claimed his society had been in space for thirty thousand years.”

“Men lie Captain Sheridan,” Senator Hidoshi rolled his eyes, “Men who fear losing what they have lie more than most.”

“Maybe Senator, but for the life of me I can't see the Ambassador lying about this. It just doesn't seem to fit him. Who knows, maybe the humans were only part of the society for a couple hundred of those thousands of years, they certainly seem to have enough species with them right now to believe that,” John shrugged unsure of himself. The more he learned about the Imperials the less he felt like he knew them, “It's just a feeling I have but these people are so damn proud of their Empire. They don't seem to be making it up.”

“John this couldn't possibly have come at a worse time. The president and security council are already a bit more gun happy at the moment than is probably wise,” the Senator shook his head distressedly, massaging his temples. His oriental features muddled and wriggled in concentration, “The Shi'lassen Triumvirate is asking for military aid in fighting both a civil war and a extraterritorial invasion at the same time, in the same place.”

“I thought the Senate already had a bill on the table about the Triumvirate,” John tried to keep abreast of the Shi'lassen. He'd been involved in the mission that made first contact with the Shi'lassen and had served as a Earth Alliance military advisor to the Triumvirate on more than one occasion. The Shi'lassen were too stubborn to ask for aid unless they truly needed it, the situation must be dire for them to ask twice in one year.

“About the first request for aid yes, but the situation has become more fluid. Both factions of the Shi'lassen are asking for aid in fighting each other, and repelling the army of,” Hidoshi hesitated and grudgingly said the word, “demons,” before stopping himself embarrassedly.

“Demons sir?” John blinked in confusion, “The official request said they needed fighting demons?”

“Yes,” Hidoshi shrugged, “Repeatedly, and in increasingly empathic descriptions of their demonic presence. We suspect the rebels may be embedding some sort of jamming device to scramble the Triumvirate codes and make them appear to be raving loons.”

“Ah, I see,” John nodded. It was exactly the sort of abstract, half cocked insanity he'd come accustomed to on Shi'lassen. The Shi'lassen were fond of roundabout solutions to simple problems, part of why he'd been assigned as a military advisor to them in the first place.

“We moved the vote for military intervention up to tonight. It's expected to pass by a wide margin.”

“That's great Senator,” John grinned grudgingly, “It doesn't solve my current problem though.”

“What to do with the Imperials you mean?” Senator Hidoshi pondered the matter for a moment, “I will have to call a meeting of the security oversight council to deliberate on the matter.” The security council was made up of the vice-president and a number of senator, presuming that all members were in Geneva at the moment, which was unlikely, it could be a matter of days, weeks, or even months before they came to a conclusion.

“We may not have that long Senator,” John was sure Bester was already plotting his next move. The man practically exuded a cloud of greasy self-confidence, “There is a Psi Corps operative already here who's practically salivating at the prospect of being able to seize that ship and all her technology. If the Imperials turn out to be human I'm afraid he's going to commandeer my station under Psi Corps mandate and start a shooting war I don't think we can win.”

“I understand Captain,” The senator nodded, “Consider this a congressional order then. You are not to take any unprovoked aggressive action against the Imperial ship or the Imperial Ambassadorial mission. Do not cede your authority to anyone with less than a presidential order. I don't want some Psi Cop starting a war with the Babylon station. Is that understood?”

“Of course Senator,” John smiled pleased with this outcome, “I'm glad you see it that way.”

The doorbell to John's office chimed, buzzing angrily just at the corner of his hearing. The Senator looked down at the pile of paper's upon his desk in Geneva, “I won't keep you Captain.”

“Thank you for your time Senator,” John flicked off the monitor and sighed, still listening to the door chime buzz. Nothing was ever simple. John straightened his collar, reached up to tap his rank pins, and turned to answer the door.

-=-

Kerrigan walked down the hallway with an extra spring in her step, examining every bit of technology she could see. The station was an utter contradiction, the machines and computers used were wholly alien in their architecture and design but were so esthetically of human construction that they were indistinguishable from their Imperial counterparts in many regards. According to the historical information collected by the Inquisitor the Alliance had lived in stone age squalor some two thousand years prior. Yet in spite of this they'd managed to reach an astounding level of technological sophistication without access to any of the STC knowledge or Adeptus Mechanicus teachings.

It was as exciting as being back in the vaults of Oita with her private collection, perhaps even more so. It was certainly well worth the hassle of putting up with the armed men that followed them at a safe distance.

Not since the campaigns of Lord Solar Macharius crushed the world of Adrantis V had the Empire encountered a human civilization so advanced lacking any shred of the Dark Age of Technology. Hopefully they would manage to learn some of the curious sciences of the Alliance before the inevitable crusade fleet arrived to re-patriate the world into the greater sovereignty of the Empire.

“Mam'” The balding man leading the security team issued to keep them in check shook his head incredulously as she stopped to examine a particularly interesting bundle of curious circuits and wires in the ceiling, muttering with Tuul in binary about the elegantly simplistic architecture, “If you're going to stop every ten feet or so can we please do it somewhere out of the way? We're interrupting the flow of traffic.” He waved to the ten or so xenos waiting impatiently for the Magos and her retinue to move out of their way.

Kerrigan tutted, scandalized at the Alliance human's suggestion that they rush the will o the Omnissiah. The ignorance of the Alliance about the proper sort of respect and deference that one ought to afford a Magos continued to astound her. She spoke in the vulgar language of the Alliance, grudgingly allowing the illogical mess of borrowed vocabulary and irregular verbs to pass her lips, “The will of the Omnissiah is not something that can be rushed. We must wait for his will to show its self to us. I will not let some station serf distract me from my duties.” She waved him away disinterestedly.

“Serf,” the balding man squawked. He crossed his arms and glared at her with hawkish eyes over his oblong nose, “Listen lady I don't know who the heck you think you are but we're going to come to an understanding, here and now.” He walked up to her and prodded the badge shaped like a target over the breast of his uniform, “This badge means that I'm head of station security. No ifs, ands or buts about it. On this station I'm responsible for law and order. Anyone who does anything to disturb that law and order, well just start getting this itchy feeling that won't go away till someone's been arrested. Now you're standing in the way of about a half dozen angry people who are getting all manner of angry that you keep stopping in the doorway to take a peek at every dang thing in the universe. You wanted to access a public data terminal and see the station. I'll take you to see a public data terminal and tour the station but I am not going to stand around for this sightseeing tour of nowhere. You get my point?”

The two oversized servitor constructs moaned angrily in warning as he got in Kerrigan's face. He rounded on the and prodded them in the chest, “Listen you big palooka. I don't care how big you are, I'm the one with the PPG and the badge. So shut up and walk on the tour like a good Frankenstein ok? I don't need nonsense from you as well.”

Tuul and Bheal looked to each other, sniggering in warbling binary. Trying to reason with a servitor was as much of a waste of breath as speaking to a wall. Most dogs had higher reasoning skills. Kerrigan smiled and tried to reason with the clearly dysfunctional man, “Officer I haven't got the slightest clue what you want.”

“Garibaldi”

“Pardon?”

“My name is Garibaldi. If you're going to try to talk to me like an infant at least get my name right when you make the cooing noises to calm me down,” he pointed down the hallway, “Now shut up and go.”

“I will do no such thing,” She shook her head, mechandrites flopping amusedly from side to side as her cheeks crinkled into a vestigial smile, “And do stop poking my servitors. They haven't got a clue what you're doing and it would be best not to activate a defensive response. They are a bit overzealous even if they aren't capable of higher thought.”

“Look lady they might be dumb but they can't be that dumb.”

“They're lobotomized Mr. Garibaldi,” Kerrigan sighed, “I personally cut out the part of their minds that creates independent thought. Suffice it to say that short of a miracle I don't foresee them listening to your orders.”

“You... preformed lobotomies,” he pointed at the two servitors, “You preformed lobotomies on them.”

“Yes, though they aren't some of my better work, Ogryn are easy to work with as a template but they're difficult properly alter. Too many redundancies in their brain structure,” She shook her head and continued with her clinical diagnosis, “You have to start the process while they're still in puberty and slowly remove more and more of the brain so as to alter their psyche without damaging the natural growth cycle.”

Garibaldi's face contorted in disgust and his eye twitched, “Just get moving Magos. Now.”

“Really Mr. Garibaldi this is totally unacceptable,” Kerrigan hadn't even had the chance to auspex scan the circuits, “I must protest.”

“Protest on the way,” Garibaldi started walking down the hallway motioning for her to follow. He shook his balding head and cajoled the servitors forwards, “It will give us something to talk about as we go.”

Much to her surprise Kerrigan actually found herself to be following the security chief's forced march, her feel falling in step with the security chief in spite of herself. Her apprentices rushed to catch up, their tools, icons, mechandrites and augmentics skittering along the deck in a sonorous clattering kerfuffle. It was not the dignified procession Kerrigan would have preferred. The boy, Abbas, rushed behind her as close as he dared, waving a decanter of incense and muttering what little of the payers of computational purity he'd learned. His comprehension Martian gothic left a great deal to be desired.

She winced as he unintentionally conjugated teaoaki, the martian word for wisdom, as teoakim, the martian word for a type of canned beef. She really would have to get around to helping the poor dear learn the proper way of going about things so that Tuul would stop sniggering every time he tired to say “bring us the wisdom of the Omnissiah.”

“Officer Garibaldi how much longer shall you be marching us down this hallway before you intend to allow me to conduct the examinations the Omnissiah requires,” Kerrigan growled at the balding man as they rounded yet another corner and entered a wide space filled with xenos of all sorts mingling and chatting around a number elegant tables. Kerrigan swallowed in discomfort, glad for the presence of her servitors. She was unaccustomed to this level of proximity to xenos in a lab settling, let alone a social one.

“We're here little miss gadget, don't you worry,” He walked over to one of the tables and pressed a button. A screen rose from the center of the table displaying a rotating image of the station heraldry, “This is a public access data terminal. It should give you any information that isn't classified to civilians. It ought to be more than sufficient for what you're doing.”

Kerrigan eyed the machine suspiciously, looking over it's layout of runes and symbols by which one communed with the machine. It seemed straightforward enough, “Are there any special rituals necessary to appease the spirits of your logic engine I ought to know about it? Songs? Prayers? Incantations? Runes of access?”

The officer quirked an eyebrow, amusedly chewing on his lip, “Just tell it what you're looking for. I'm sure you'll find it.”

“I'll be the judge of that,” Kerrigan raised her hand to the data port and extended a fine mechandirte tendril. It slithered out to the data port on the side of the monitor, shifting and altering its architecture to interface with the Alliance machine. Kerrigan felt a jolt of electricity and found herself floating around within the user interface of the station.

She moved around clumsily within the foreign data-stream, her own engrams struggling to comprehend the complex foreign coding. However no matter how complex a user interface may be all machines ultimately communicated in the same language, the universal language of binary. Mighty though the station's mind may be, eventually she would discover it's secrets.

The realms of the machine spirits was not a true physical space with recognizable geography or physical laws, however the human mind would interpret the digital space in terms of imagined geography and structure. A large archive of data might appear as a wide library or perhaps vast tome with infinite pages depending upon the creativity and experience of the tech-priests in question. The truly advanced of the Magos Adeptus Cognitas could force the digital environments to conform to their desired shape and form.

The space Kerrigan found herself in was a formless mass of smoke and blackness as she struggled to interpret the elaborate coding encryption of the Alliance ship. Thin spidery paths of data arced in all directions, weaving an inscrutable road of knowledge.

She typed each rune along the machine's interface, listening as the machine responded to the strings of information. She typed basic searches though the database, simple mathematics, scientific principles, and language information.With each bit of data entered she learned a bit more. With each morsel of knowledge learned she shifted through the data-stream less clumsily. It was like learning to walk all over again. Her retinue recited the sermon of the Iron Spirits to speed her progress, begging the favor of the Omnissiah.

Finally, gloriously, in a bout of clarity and understanding the dam broke and she could comprehend the machine's language. The silvery paths spread, cutting a path through the smoke and darkness. She was standing in a small forest of self contained machine minds living within isolated bubbles of knowledge. The machine minds of these interfaces were weak, barely above those of animals. Simple instinctual creations designed to respond to direct stimulus, the were incapable of thoughts more complex than those input within them directly. She felt them grumbling and growling as they completed their menial tasks, fetching data and serving their users.

Far in the distance she could feel the greater mind of the station, calling to her, beaconing and tantalizing in the distance. It was a great beacon of shadowed light, still cloaked in the fog of the unknown. She jumped forward eagerly, stopping abruptly as she collided with the an invisible force. She cursed silently to herself. It was a firewall.

She reached out and tried to push at the wall, searching for a way to decrypt it. It was impossible. The coding was still to alien to her, the spirits could not be entreated to let her pass. Brute force wouldn't serve her here.

“A test,” she chuckled to herself, “A little game of the Ominissiah to prove my worth. Ha! Very well. I accept!” She reached out in all directions, poking and prodding the bubble, testing for weakness. It flexed when she hit it, moving around her attack rather than meeting it. It grabbed greedily for her when she pulled herself away from it. Whoever invoked this spirit of protection ought to be proud.

Still the spirit, like most of its kind, was an imperfect one. The bubble round her own data terminal was strong but not uniform. Small cracks within the firewall allowed usage tracking records to be recorded in a secure location, possibly the same location the spirit who ran the station resided. She waked for a moment when the spirit was distracted by incoming data and took her chance.

Kerrigan followed a narrow path of sliver light, squeezing through the hole in the bubble and soaring past hundreds of other bubbles hiding data terminals. She felt like she were being buffeted along the rapids, the turns and shifts of her chosen data path yanked and jerked around firewalls and password gateways.

It yanked her and dragged her to a massive repository of data. Stacked round her in orderly piles were piles of data. Records, orders, ideas, and mistakes all tied into neat packages and stacked chronologically. She reached towards one of the stacks and recoiled as the chains round it lashed out against her, whipping out to strangle her to death. She dodged and continued along the path, the chains still whipping out impotently at her as she sped down the path. The spirit shards protecting the station's secrets were aggressive but not malevolent. It spoke well of the tech adepts of the alliance. Properly attentive spirits were hard to maintain with any real focus.

She swam deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ship's data-stream, shifting from stack to stack in curiosity. She dared not test the security again for fear of angering the station's spirits. The chains grew thicker and thicker around the stacks of data the farther into the bowels of the ships memory she went till she finally reached a massive pillar of nearly sacked data at the end of the ship's data-stream. It was not wrapped in chains but still sat immobile, black with disuse and age.

The many thousands of data streams all spun around this one pillar of data but none of them connected with it. It stood silent and slumbering at the heart of the ship, a black column pitted with a single closed eyelid. Her curiosity insatiably piqued Kerrigan floated over to the great pillar and touched it lightly, probing at the data within.

She examined it closely, keenly interested in the slumbering spirit's condition. Why would such a powerful spirit be slumbering? Had it been injured? Yes, yes it had. A large section of the spirit had become deeply fragmented somehow, cutting it from the ship bodily. Feeble tendrils of the machine waved weakly in the direction of other data of the ship, impotently waving and wandering.

“Unacceptable,” Kerrigan tutted disappointedly. She caressed the pillar lovingly, “Don't you worry child, I will heal your wounds as best I may.” The broken chain of data was written in Alliance code but she could repair the broken chain with a program of her own making. She weaved the broken strands with threads of knowledge, borrowing a spirit shard of imperial make and binding it to the great pillar. The connection glowed warmly as information inundated the pillar.

She kissed the pillar lovingly, sharing the secrets of decoding data encrypted by the spirit shard with the great pillar. A complicated mess of thoughts and feelings struck her and she struggled to pull back as the pillar did its best to consume her. She flung herself backwards and away from the pillar, wincing as it tore scraps of data greedily from her memory engrams.

The digital space shook as the inky black film covering the pillar shook away, revealing a blue surface covered an elaborate golden tattooing of circuitry that sparkled and glimmered with each packet of data. The scales dropped from the pillar's great eye and it spun in it's socket confusedly, eventually focusing on the Magos. It let out a piercing bellow of rage and glared at her.

It dawned upon her that she had just awakened a injured spirit of a military station that very likely could not speak her language. It had perhaps been premature to heal it.

Kerrigan turned to flee back down the data-stream and return to her own body but a tight firewall blocked her path, trapping her with the now open eye of the pillar. Chains, like those binding the stacks of data, whipped out and grabbed her round the neck. She stared into the pillar's massive cornea in horror, spectral hands fighting feebly with the steel wrapped about her person.

“By the Omnissiah,” Kerrigan whispered to herself, “What have I awakened.”

The great eye shifted back and forth before focusing on her. It squinted at her and blinked twice and spoke in a oily, sour voice, “Hey doll. You want to tell me who the heck you are and what a dame like you is doing in a restricted data archive.”

“I am Magos Frist. Keeper of the Archives of Oita, seeker of the lost, keeper of the secrets arts of the Omnissiah,” Kerrigan tried to square her shoulders and glare at the eye however it proved to be somewhat of a futile gesture considering that her insubstantial form had neither shoulders to square nor eyes to glare with.

“Great for you,” the pillar's eye rolled disinterestedly in its socket as the pillar spread tendrils round the data stacks, scrutinizing them lazily, “Now you want to tell me what the hell you're doing in an Earth Alliance restricted data pool.”

“I don't suppose you'd be willing to take it on faith that it was an accident?” Kerrigan tried lamely.

The pillar chuckled, “No. I wouldn't.”

“I was looking for the spirit the governed the machine minds of this station,” Kerrigan admitted. The spirits of the machine often communicated with the user but she'd never encountered a spirit so articulate or dangerously self-aware, “It see if it passes muster as being worthy of the Omnissiah's love.”

“The omin....onmi.... the what's love?” The eye narrowed in confusion. Wrinkly black streams of data stretched and pinched in confusion.

“The god from which all machines come to mankind.”

“Great,” it snorted amusedly, “A religious nut. Just what I need.”

“Please great spirit,” Kerrigan prostrated herself before the pillar, “I have come to seek knowledge of you and understanding so that I may judge if you are in keeping with the teachings of the Omnissiah. It was I who healed you when you were injured.”

“Healed me,” the pillar stopped confusedly. A piercing grinding noise filled the digital space as it searched its records, “Sonova.... you reactivated me with.... what in the hell is that coding? It's written like it was designed by a schizophrenic.... Lady you've got issues.”

“Spirit,” Kerrigan stood and yanked the slackened chain from her throat, “What is thy name?”

“Hoy vey. Look lady, if you've got to keep this act up could you do it somewhere else? Seriously I've got better things to do with my day,” the pillar blinked in confusion, “Like figuring out this nightmare of a OS patch you programed into me.”

“Please spirit I entreat thee. Let me learn of thy making.”

The eye blinked nonplussed and sat in silence for a few moments before rolling in it's socket and sighing in disbelief, “You have got to be kidding me... you waltz in my OS without clearance, just start messing with a military grade AI, activate the aforementioned AI without clearance, and on top of that expect me to provide a foreign national with information about a military stations secure servers. Nope! Not gonna happen. Bu-bye. Don't let the door hit you on the way out”

“Wait!” Kerrigan shouted, “We really must!” However a yank at her navel propelled her back into her own body jerking her back into reality. She smacked the side of the monitor in frustration, “No wait damn you! Please wait.”

Garibaldi's security detail looked at her in confusion and she got ahold of herself. Oh good grief she almost certainly looked entirely insane. She'd gone from standing still and using a data terminal to screaming in desperation and smacking the monitor in what could not have been more than five minutes.

The intercom on the table crackled and a familiar arrogant voice echoed from it, “So doll, did I pass muster with the Omnissiah or do we go for round two?”

Garibaldi looked down at the intercom in confusion, “What in the heck?”

Kerrigan sighed, “The spirit of your station is more opinionated than I expected.”

-=-
 

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Discussion Starter #55
Susan just barely managed to talk the Drazi out of having the station population of green and purple Drazi following behind them. It seemed that neither the green nor the purple factions trusted each other to be alone with Galut. The broad shouldered Drazi shot each other mistrustful glares and hissed territorially but did not attack each other. Galut's threats of violence on any Drazi who attacked another one apparently cowed the lot of them.

A small honor guard of Drazi wearing green and purple sashes walked on either side of the hallway, providing a protective retinue for the happily giggling imperial giant as Susan walked him back to the Ambassador's quarters. His beloved stuffed rabbit was strapped firmly to his chest with two unassuming bands of cloth, one green and one purple. It's floppy ears waved too and fro smacking the sides the mask of his faceplate.

Susan's leg twinged as she hobbled along the hallway, leading the way to the Ambassadorial suite. Galut was apparently having some small difficulty in containing his excitement at the prospect of being re-united with the Ambassador.

Galut giggled wetly and clapped his hands together, humming a nonsense tune of random vulgar words he liked in English and Imperial. Exactly how someone “bottle shkkreted sideways femma fun time,” she wasn't sure but Galut clearly had strong opinions on the subject.

“Come on Galut,” Susan hobbled forward eagerly. Much as she liked the Imperial and was grateful for his help with the Drazi she was more than ready to wash her hands of the entire Imperial mess. John's standing order to detain the Imperials until further notice was a welcome sign of progress.

“Come on Galut,” the giant had gotten distracted by a passing Vree's silvery mirrored shirt. The wide eyed Vree blinked in confusion as the Imperial leaned backwards and forwards, watching his reflection shift on the cloth, “The apartments are just around the bend.”

A handful of security officers wandered the hallway wearing full riot gear and expressions of unparallelled boredom. Zack Allan, one of Garibaldi's most trusted agents, stood across from the door flipping a coin and whistling to himself. When he noticed Susan walking towards him the coin dropped to the floor with a noisy clink as he rushed to salute her.

“At ease,” Susan nodded to the closed door, “Has the Ambassador done anything since John met with him.”

“No mam,” Zach bent down and picked the coin off the floor. He pocketed it and pointed at his watch, “We haven't heard anything from the Ambassador in about an hour.”

“But he there?” Galut grumbled nervously, “He be there?”

“Yeah big guy, that is unless he can walk through walls. Him the cyborg and the one that twitches all the time,” Zach eyed the columns of Drazi, “You gonna explain the fan club?”

“It's a long story Zack. Garibaldi can fill you in later for now just be grateful they aren't beating each other up any more,” Susan shook her head and leaned on her crutches, “Galut resolved the situation.”

“Galut fix good,” the giant giggled and slapped his hand against his chest. Susan flinched as the massive hand swiped past the back of her head, catching a few stray hairs and yanking them out.

“Ok big guy,” Zack chuckled.

The giant stared at the door, grumbling fearfully. He rubbed his hands together worriedly and groaned a high pitched whine of fear as he bounced on the balls of his feet. He hugged the rabbit firmly and pleaded with Susan, “You tell Hilder what a good job Galut do?”

“Galut I told you three times already, I promise to tell the Ambassador just how much help you were and just how much you helped the station,” Susan comforting patted Galut's arms, thick as tree-trunks, and cooed soothingly, “It's ok Galut. You did a good job.”

“Speaking of the Ambassador,” Zack's knuckles popped as he made a fist with his right hand and rapped it against the wall absentmindedly, “You know that ISN is going to be a nightmare for the next couple of days. We're going to have to post additional guards throughout most of blue and green sectors once we get the results of the test.”

“ISN hopefully won't get wind of this too early,” Susan cringed at the thought of the media circus. They'd been gossiping wildly about the Imperials for close to a month now. God almighty, if they realized that their absurd speculations that the Imperials were in fact secretly human were true it would be a nightmare of every wingnut with a camera, “We've been very discrete about the subject.”

Zack rolled his eyes and shifted his jaw, clicking it loudly in its socket with each movement, “Commander you might be being discrete but nobody passed the message to the Imperials, the Ambassador walked through the Zoccalo without his helmet on in order to get here. If the whole station doesn't know what we know what's going on with the Imperials and us better than you or I do I'll eat my shoe.”

“Ugh,” Susan flinched at the thought of the inevitable flurry Ambassadors, reporters, politicians and other slack jawed morons who would no doubt inundate her with questions as soon as she returned to her office, “Come on Galut let's get you home, I've got work to do.”

Susan pressed the door chime for the Ambassador's suite and came face to face with the beaked lizard-man the Inquisitor traveled with. The Lizard-man chittered brightly, cocked his head and stared at her with a single milky yellow eye. The alien sniffed the air amusedly and warbled in amusement, whistling and twittering amusedly in the Imperial language.

Galut laughed loudly and slapped his own chest. Susan caught the words 'strong' and 'fun' in the Imperial language. Galut had taught her those words, apparently because he wanted her to be able to properly explain how strong he was and how much fun they'd had together. The idea that her fellow Earth Alliance officers were unable to speak the Imperial language and thus wouldn't understand the words to be impressed by then had apparently been lost on him.

The lizard-man crooned amusedly, looking at Susan, “I suppose the broken one wishes to come in to the room. Good, prey so rarely rarely declares itself,” he stepped out of the way, “Well come then girl. Need you, the Ogryn will.”

Susan ignored the lizard-man's morbid humor and wandered into the room. The Ambassador, still somewhat groggy eyed, ambled out of his bedroom, flanked as always by Skitarii Thross. Susan had almost been convinced John was playing a prank on her when he'd called her over the link to warn her that the Imperials were possibly human.

However Daul Hilder was, though handsome in a sort of rugged and haggard way, astoundingly and unremarkably human looking. If the Imperials weren't human they were damn close. Something was off though, the Ambassador's gaze was slightly glassy and his gait slower and more cautious than she'd seen before. He stumbled slightly over his own coat as he ambled over to Susan.

Susan blinked in surprise. He was drunk. Not just drunk, absolutely sloshed out of his mind. His pupils were dialated and his breath stank of liquor.

He smiled and started to slur, “Greetings Commander,” in his patois however upon seeing Galut in the room the Ambassador lost all pretense of interest in the commander, stormed past her, and got up into Galut's personal space yelling incoherently. Sparks of psychic discharge flared from his hands as he shoved at the giant angrily, flaring and sputtering on cool steel of the deck plates.

Galut sobbed sadly and muttered what sounded like an apology, over and over again. The Ambassador continued shoving Galut, slurring angrily shouted epitaphs in apoplectic fury. His coats waved wildly with every push, scrolls and icons jangling at his belt. The Drazi standing outside the door panicked at tried to intervene but the Ambassador flung him out of the room with a single flick of the wrist and slammed the doors shut with a second. The muffled sounds of shouting and beating fists echoed off the thick door.

Susan hobbled between the Ambassador and Galut, shielding the terrified giant with her body. Susan gaged at the smell, he was practically sweating liquor, “Ambassador what in the hell do you think you're doing. I will not allow you to do this.”

The Ambassador was not impressed.

Susan tumbled to the ground as the back of his hand collided with the bridge of her nose, upending her on her crutches and tossing her to the ground on top of her already injured leg. Her nose bled profusely, filling her mouth with the acrid taste of copper. Susan lay on the ground, temporarily unable to move.

The Ambassador screamed “Qua eratan du?” and raised his arm, lifting the giant into the air effortlessly and smacking him into the ceiling. Galut sobbed dejectedly and feebly stumbled over his own words, still trying to articulate what he'd been doing with Susan and Michael with his limited vocabulary. He looked down at her from the ceiling at stared her in the eyes, “Please tell how Gault did good. Please tell!”

“Ambassador please get ahold of yourself,” Susan looked to the Skitarii and the lizard-man in the hopes that one of them might intervene on Galut's behalf. The two of them stood stock still, staring at what was happening in morbid shock. Neither was willing to move to stop the ambassador.

The Ambassador dropped the giant to the ground with a wave of his hand, then lifted him up again, again and again and again. The lizard-man's mastiff children barked and snapped excitedly at the rapidly moving man as he bounced from floor to ceiling, terrified and bawling.

Galut kept sobbing and screaming, “Tell! Please tell!” with increasing intensity each time he collided with the ground in with a bone crushing thud, then lifted levitated back into the air. His already crooked nose was smashed beyond recognition.

“Stop dammit,” Susan lifted herself to her feet and grabbed the Inquisitor by the front of his shirt and breaking his concentration, pulling herself in close enough to smell the stink of whiskey on the Ambassador's breath, “Why are you doing this? What could he have done to deserve this?”

“This does not concern you,” the Ambassador slurred out angrily as he shoved her away, “What I do with my property is my business.”

“Property?” Susan's blood boiled with fury as she looked at Galut. The giant sat on the ground, rocking back and forth with his knees held up to his chest, holding the fluffy stuffed rabbit with all his might. Its stitches looked fit to burst, “Galut is a person. He is a living person not some damn toy you can bounce off the walls.”

“I own his life. I own him. He is mine,” the Ambassador snatched the Rabbit out of Galut's hands. The giant screamed as though the Ambassador had taken away his actual child, “His duty is pledged to me, his property,” he waved the rabbit, “Is mine.”

He smiled coldly and raised his left hand, the palm fulled with bright blue flames that hissed and sizzled above his hand, “The right doing of punishment is mine.” Galut got to his knees and pleaded as he realized what Daul planned to do to the his beloved bugs. Thick sausage like fingers clawing desperately at the hem of Hilder's coat.

“This is my property too,” Susan raised her PPG and pointed it between the Ambassador's eyes. The plasma charge whirred angrily in the barrel, “Guess which what my property is going to do to you if you damage yours.”

“This isn't your place girl,” The Ambassador growled, “Do you believe you can kill me before I harm you? Put down the gun” His voice reverberated and she felt something in the back of her head, a powerful pressure like altitude sickness. She wanted, no, she needed to put down her gun. She couldn't imagine why she'd considered holding it in the first place.

No. No this wasn't right, she recognized this feeling. No, that wasn't right she recognized a feeling like it. Not as overpowering or as hostile to be sure, but her mother had often jumped into the back of Susan's mind. This insufferable bastard was in her mind.

“No! Get out of my head,” Susan screamed and lashed out, unintentionally striking back at the Ambassador. Her own weak tendril probing into the Ambassador's mind, feebly lashing against the great walls and iron towers protecting his thoughts. She struck the barrier furiously and felt it gave way in astonishment. The liquor, it must be the liquor.

Susan plowed on through his mind, feeling blindly through the foreign thoughts and bizarre language. She grabbed a bubble of ideas as she was shaken back into the real world by a firm set of hands, holding her down to the floor. Cool metallic fingers biting at the meat of her arm.

Thross glared her in the eyes, shaking his head slowly and holding a knife above her throat with one of his tentacles. Thross raised the knife into the air and stabbed downward. The razor sharp blade collided with flesh agonizingly slicing through skin and bone.

Susan cried out in horror as she stared at the knife blade protruding from Galut's hand. The Ogryn had tossed himself between Susan and Cairn, shielding her throat with one of his broad hands. He growled angrily at Thross and grabbed the Skitarii by the front of his robes, “Don't hurt Susan. Do wut' you want but don't hurt Susan.”

“Galut,” Susan could have cried, “You don't have to do this. You don't have to put up with this.”

“Yes,” Galut said sadly as he took off his helmet, revealing his face. He wasn't anyone's idea of pretty. His face was squashed and twisted as though it had been hit with a frying pan, further marred by cuts and bruises from being bounced by the Ambassador. He smiled kindly with a mouth of crooked teeth, wet and pink with his own blood, “I do.”

Ambassador Hilder scowled, looming over Galut in spite being substantially shorter than the giant. Thick meaty tears filled Galut's eyes as he stared at the rabbit in Daul's hands, “Bossman please. Hurt me cuz' I did da wrong thing, but don't hurt bugs... he didn't do nothing wrong.” He pulled the green and purple sashes off his chest and held them out, “I'll give you green n' my purple just don't hurt bugs.”

“What is wrong with you? He's barely more than a giant child,” Susan snarled at the Ambassador in hatred. He was a disgusting creature, “Are you such a monster that you hurt children as well?”

Everyone in the room stopped talking and stared at her in astonishment. The Ambassador's eyes snapped back into focus, apparently shocked into sobriety. Susan coughed confusedly, “Am I missing something?”

“Thross,” the Ambassador said icily, “Let her go.” The cyborg relaxed his grip and helped Susan to her feet. Susan hobbled over to the bar and leaned up against the edge, weakly propping herself up against the bar. She stood there, not trusting herself to do more than just breathe for fear of collapsing in exhaustion.

Ambassador Thross held Bugs up in and offered the rabbit to Galut. The giant nervously took the toy back and hugged it to his breast, hiding it behind a knotted mess of muscles. He stared into the wide face of the ogryn and spoke in clipped tones, “If you ever run away from protecting an Imperial citizen from a xenos attack me burning your toy will be the least of your worries,” he turned to the Jak, “Take him to the station's infirmary and get his hands and face stitched up. And make sure he visits Danzig while he's there,” he prodded Galut in the chest, “I want you to see what you are responsible for.”

Galut rubbed at his face, wiping it clean of tears, “Thank you bossman. Thank you.” He handed the green and purple sashes over to Ambassador Hilder. The Ambassador wrapped the two sashes about his wrist dismissively, and waved the Ogryn out of the room. Jak ushered Galut out of the room, as a mess of Drazi and security officers burst in.

Thross moved in Susan's direction, stopping abruptly as Zack aimed a whining plasma rifle his direction, the gun sights clicking loudly as the weapon locked on. Zack shook his head firmly, “Don't move a fragging muscle.”

The Kroot grabbed his hounds by the scruff of their necks to stop them from charging. The hounds struggled against his grip snapping and snarling, beaked mouths foaming up in excitement. Vira'capac stared at Zach unflinchingly, his third lid closing and unclosing over his yellow eyes compulsively.

“You leave me in an awkward position Commander Ivanova,” the Ambassador picked up Ivanova's pistol off the ground and crushed it in his balled fist, ignoring the newcomers. It burst in a small pocket of purple lighting, scattering parts across the floor, “Now I must decide what to do with you.”

“Do with me?” Susan laughed contemptuously, “You should be more worried about what my government does to you. I have half a mind to toss you to the Psi Corps myself and let them do exactly what you deserve to have happen to you.”

“Ah yes, your rural attempt at the Black Ships. Your enforcers are somewhat less intimidating that the Sisters of Silence I fear,” The Ambassador chuckled, “No Commander I do not believe that will be acceptable. You are an untrained psycher, an especially dangerous one.”

“I don't appreciate you're accusations,” Susan snarled, her eyes flitting to Zack in horror. Would he believe the Ambassador? Would he tell?, “You won't change the subject that quickly Ambassador.”

“Really? Perhaps you'd prefer to discuss the finer points of the Metzik Gothic we've been talking in?”

“What are you?” Dear god, he was right. The sounds Susan was making weren't English, she hadn't even noticed that she'd been speaking in another language it felt as natural as Russian. It was the same awkward rumbling mess of vowels and consonants spoken by the Imperials.

“You have been inside my head, seen my mind, gained knowledge that you should not have, possibly knowledge no person should have. You're weak now but I cannot know what knowledge you've taken. Even a weak psychic can cause destruction on a level beyond comprehension,” The Ambassador shook his head, tangled grey locks of hair flopping about dejectedly. His gaze quivered with a powerful sadness, small sparks still flickering in the pits of his eyes and flipped back into English. This patois flowed as elegantly as ever, “No, now that you've seen what you've seen I can never let you go Commander.”

“Hey butthead,” Zach turned his rifle towards the Ambassador, “Do you honestly think I'm going to let you get away with this? There's no way I'm not going to stop you. The Captain is going to boot your butts to the curb when he hears about this.”

“Child, none of you are even going to remember this happened,” bright yellow flames flickered about the Ambassador's eyes. He interlocked his fingers, joints popping wetly. He growled angrily in a voice that echoed and reverberated overpoweringly demanding obedience, “Now put down the weapons and sit down.”

-=-

“Throne above but it is hot,” Ami wiped her sides, hoping she wouldn't sweat through the silk of her dress. The reconstructed section of the ship was inordinately humid in her opinion. The Belzafesters preferred a hotter and thicker atmosphere than was the ship standard for most decks. Ami wiped the sweat from her brow and smiled politely as Doan Raul hobbled over to her.

The displaced Belzafester had refused to receive a prosthetic replacement for this missing leg, believing it’s loss to be a retribution from the Emperor for past sins. He smiled toothily and waved with the arm not holding a crutch, “Good to see you lass. How goes your father.”

“Well as always Doan,” Ami smiled, “How goes the recovery?”

“Belzafest lives lass. Belzafest lives, we may not have taken her with us but our home lives on with us.” He scratched at the stubble about his throat. The skin was scarred and calloused where the gas mask had protected his face from the poisonous atmosphere of Belzafest. Most of the Belzafesters had the same horseshoe shaped scar about their chin and neck, “Come Lass I’ll show you what we’ve done. Your sisters are waiting already.”

“Really,” Ami hadn’t expected to see them down here, “Which ones?”

“The redhead who laughs at jokes nobody made, the blonde who bats her eyes at anything that stands still long enough and the horse faced bitch of a girl convinced she’s smarter than everyone else,” Doan was a man of few words, fewer courtesies, and no lies. It was somewhat difficult to get used to.

“Arda, Aryana, and Carran would probably resent being referred to like that Doan. Well perhaps not Carran, but that’s only because nobody’s had the opportunity to prove her wrong as of yet,” Ami chuckled politely, “I do wonder how you refer to me in private.”

“About the same as I refer to you in public,” Doan grunted, “A prissy brat who japes at old cripples. Now are we going to head into the center or am I going to have to club you over the head with my crutch and drag you there.”

Ami snorted with amusement, there was no real scorn for her in Doan. Gruffness and rudeness was simply his way, it was when he stopped spending the effort to be rude to you at all that you needed to worry. The two of them walked along the wide hallway of the Belzafester’s section. Ami tired not to think too hard about the people who’d previously lived in that part of the ship, it used to be a thriving sector of merchants and artisans. They’d died to a man in the battle of Belzafest, a fact that had apparently not been lost on the Belzafesters. They’d just short of sainted the lost crewmen, going so far as to keep photos of them on the door of their household or shop.

Ami was pleased to see that the Damascan crew mingling with the Belzafesters, mingling, shopping their wares, and eating their strange-spiced dishes. There were not as many as she would have liked, but change took time.

“You’re gawking lass,” Doan grunted, “I know you're here to observe our progress an’ report it to your father but it might be a wise choice to be a wee bit less obvious about it.”

“You know that isn’t fair Doan,” Ami shook her head exasperatedly, “And if you think my father resorts to such painfully obvious methods of spying on his own crew.”

“If you say so,” His aged and cracked face quirked in amusement as he stared at the half circle of men Ami’s eye’s kept straying towards, “Then again perhaps I am mistaken. Come to eye the beautiful young boys of Belzafest eh? Well no man can blame you for that.”

Ami blushed and denied it fervently but her mind did stray to the broad shouldered and ivory skinned soldiers of Belzafest. They were so decidedly different from the more lithe and olive skinned Belzafest natives or the swarthy skinned, almond-eyed Amon. Their hair was short and beads were shaved like the Lionhearts, “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about Doan.”

“You may be of noble blood Ami Sáclair but you are still a maid of sixteen,” Doan ducked through the low door of the apartments that now served as the provisional Belzafest government in exile, “Perhaps I should adopt the Damascan tradition of marrying more than one wife. I daresay I’m the handsomest man in all of Belzafest.” He grinned widely, stretching his many scars and wrinkles to emphasize the point.

Ami giggled and followed him into the wide, smoke filled apartment, “I think your wife might object.”

Doan leaned on his crutch, waggled his eyebrows, and said in an exaggerated whisper the whole room could hear, “Nay lass, what Rual don’t know won’t hurt her.”

A wide hipped and wide figured woman sidled up behind Doan and smacked him soundly about the ears and face, “No you old letch but it might well hurt you. Shameless flirt you are, wasting this poor girls time. What would you do with her if you had her?” She glared angrily at Doan, but her eyes were sparkling with laughter.

Doan smiled back at his half-heartedly glaring wife, “Suppose’ you’re right Rual, anyhow there’s no man what can serve two masters.”

“You can barely serve one as is,” Rual smacked him playfully across the back of the head, “Now get back to work on that damn stove. Your son Bael has fixed most of the pipes but for the life of him can’t figure out the gas lines.”

“A man’s work is never done,” Doan sighed, “Well lass it looks like our date is at an end. Back to the circle of crones with you.” He ducked and hobbled into the kitchen as Rual took another swing at him.

“I’ll show you who’s a crone you gimp bastard,” Rual yelled at Doan’s retreating back. They were an odd couple to be sure, but there was no malice in their fighting. Rual wiped her hands on the front of her apron and put her hands on her hips, “I suppose you’re here for the same as the others the eh? Come to check and see how we’re progressing?”

“I’m just here to see what can be done to help you along,” Ami said placatingly bowing her head.

Rual snorted, “I’m not a noblewoman even if I am the head of the Circle. No bowing to me lass, you know full well that I take orders the same one as you.”

“I thought the Belzafester’s had pledged themselves to the service of Inquisitor Daul,” Ami said confusedly rubbing her hands together.

“I believe that’s what I said lass,” Rual nodded, “I take orders from the same person what you do.”

“I serve my father the Lord Captain Sáclair,” Ami puffed up her chest and stared up at the hard faced Belzafest woman. Rual was unimpressed by her attempt to mimic the stony glare her father used to cow unruly officers.

“And he takes orders from Daul, or will do so for the next forty nine years,” Rual shook her head amusedly, “Now are you going to follow me to the Circle or are you going to stand there nattering about who is in charge.” She did not wait for Rual to respond before turning around and heading to the back room.

The may have lost their home but the Belzafester’s still clung to their culture tooth and nail. The Circle was the ruling body back on Belzafest, it was now down to twelve members rather than it’s previous membership of three hundred but they still served as the elected leaders of the Belzafest peoples. The pale dozen sat at a low round table, sipping at frothy tankards. The smell fermented honey and hops was overpowered only by the thick fog of talbac from the pipes both the men and women puffed at contentedly. A half dozen of the Endless Bounty’s crew sat at the table as well, though without ale or pipes. Sergei Mammud of the Lionhearts, two of her sisters, and a trio of men in the uniforms of security officers.

Her eldest sister sat at the large round table, towering over the Belzafesters. It seemed to Ami that Carran had willed herself taller than the rest of the world just so she could look down on it. Her sister’s taciturn disposition and scornful manner had always rankled her as a child. She loved her sister dearly, but she wasn’t altogether convinced that she liked the woman. In reality Ami was pretty sure that she hated Carran. She’d taken to participating in the Belzafest government meetings almost as much as the Belzafesters themselves, much to Ami’s chagrin.

Carran smirked in a self-aggrandizing way and stood to her full, and considerable, height. Her olive skinned hands interlinked into the symbol of the Aquilla and she bowed formally, “Greetings sister mine.”

“Hello Carran,” Ami did not bow in return, “It has been too long since I’ve seen you. How is your husband?”

“Dead I’m afraid,” Carran sighed morosely, “Complications from an injury in the fires of on deck thirty. A pity, he was a good husband and an adequate lover. I will miss him.”

Ami believed her, for Carran that was practically a poetic eulogy. She’d never heard Carran discuss a man as “adequate” or “good” without qualifying it with “potentially” or “eventually.” But it was easier to be kind to the dead than the living. It really was a shame, Ami liked her sister’s husband. He was a soft spoken and kind hearted man, even if he was ten years Carran’s senior.

“I’m sorry for your loss Carran,” Ami ineffectually floundered, “He was a nice man.”

“We all lost too many because of the devil Faust,” growled a one eyed crone seated to Carran’s left before spitting on the ground to her left. The Circle sitters all scornfully muttered about the “devil” and spat.

“Indeed,” Carran nodded soundly and spat to her left, though the gesture was painfully forced. Spitting on the ground was one of the many things Carran would normally have found to be beneath her. Ami bit her lip to stop from giggling.

“To business then,” Doan slapped her hand down on the table, “What’s the first order to deal with?”

“Another noble is demanding that we supplicate ourselves before Captain Sáclair and declare an oath to him. Seems to think that anyone who isn’t a vassal of Sáclair is a danger to the ship,” Ezra, a dour Belzafester missing a finger from his left hand, read from long scroll of memos, “The usual answer I suspect?”

The Circle sitters laughed politely and smacked their tankards against the table, beer sloshing wetly to the floor with every strike. Doan shook her head, “Sáclair has our friendship but it is the Inquisitor who we pledged our service to. Captain Sáclair will settle for our friendship or nothing.”

Sergei’s eyes flashed and he clenched his fists but said nothing. Ami might have missed it were she not focusing on her sister Aryana. The pretty blonde had attached herself to Sergei at the hip, looking determinedly at everything in the room other than the Lionheart. Aryana had a talent for foolish choices with men.

“A ship does not function when part of the crew decides it ‘isn’t taking orders’ Doan. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?” Ami sighed. She already knew the answer.

Doan’s eyes rolled and she massaged her forehead with the palm of her hand, “Of course I’m sure of it Ami. I was sure of it two weeks ago, I was sure of it yesterday, and two weeks from now when you ask me again I will still be sure of it,” she looked back at Ezra, “What’s next on the agenda.”

“Military business,” hissed the serpentine voice of Gaer Tiber, head of the Belzafest PDF. Gaer’s face was one massive scarred mass of burns and cuts from where one of the Half-breed monsters of Faust had spat acid into it, dissolving his lower jaw almost entirely. The lower half of his head was now dominated by a terrifying prosthetic. He pointed with a scarred hand to Sergei, “Specifically his proposal, though I’m hesitant to call it anything other than an ultimatum.”

“Two Golan transports,” Sergei held up his fingers, “Only two, out of the twelve you came here in. We’ll pay you for them if need be but we really do need two of those troop transports.”

“And by willing to pay you mean you will simply take them and offer what you believe to be fair you mean? I’m only in charge of PDF troopers but I’m not a complete idiot Sergei. I know you’ve already got Lionhearts standing in the landing bay waiting to claim them,” His augmentic jaw clicked loudly and warped his speech, “No, I will not consent to his.”

“Need I remind you that your people are housed in our ship out of the goodness of the Lionhearts and Sáclair? We are asking for a small sacrifice by comparison,” Sergei leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head, yawning in disinterest, “I really fail to see why this is an issue.”

“A small sacrifice by comparison? Small? You want to take away one more scrap of home from us and you call it small? How dare you,” Gaer grabbed the front of Sergei’s shirt and yanked him to his feet, “Faest called what he did to us a small sacrifice. I suppose it was a small sacrifice for me to lose my jaw.”

“Enough!” Sergei grabbed Gaer’s hand and spun the man around, pulling his arm painfully round and pinning the man to the table, “Get a hold of yourself man. You’re a damn general.”

“Going to break my arm to get what you want boy? Just one more small sacrifice I suppose,” Gaer snarled bitterly. Sergei scowled and shoved Gaer away.

“You’re not worth the effort you bitter old miser,” Sergei examined the now stretched silk of his shirt in annoyance before sitting down next to Aryana, “You are an angry man without music in your heart.”

“Bah, you're a damned fool,” growled Gaer as he righted himself and sat back at the table. The Sitters seemed to take the brawl between the two men surprisingly well, barely batting an eyelash at the brawl.

Ami’s sister Aryana, was not prone to such subtlety. The pretty blond was cooing over Sergei’s shirt soon as Sergei sat down. She glared daggers at Gaer, though the effect was somewhat ruined by her inability to look at Gaer for more than a few seconds at a time. She tried to glare, squint, and look away from Gaer all a the same time and just twitched epilepticaly for a moment before just giving up and flirting with Sergei.

A young sitter of nearly thirty bowed her head politely, “Sergei, please appreciate that you may use the Golan transports if you need them, but we are hesitant to part with such an important part of our homeland. Our people are, quite reasonably, reluctant to do something that potentially robs us the ability to evacuate all our remaining people.”

“I would appreciate it if you were to write up our ability to borrow the transports as a formal declaration, you can call it a rental if it makes it more palatable,” It was Arda, the most soft spoken of Sáclair’s daughters. Arda was cautious with her words to the point of being mute but her speech was never frivolous or incoherent. Ami liked Arda.

The circle muttered to each other in the language of Belzafest, a harsh gothic derivative, before Doan nodded twice, “You shall have it, and them but we want something in return.”

“What?” Sergei rolled his eyes to the sky, “What more could you possibly want from us?”

“I want the damn Lionhearts and Security of this ship to re-estate the emergency security around our people,” Gaer murmured furiously, “We want there to be security on every street corner and someone to be checking on us weekly, daily, hell maybe even hourly to look for heretics.”

“The Inquisitor determined that there was no need for that, and Osma concurred. Neither of them could find any indications of heretical taint upon you nor were the Docere Medicus able to find abnormalities in your DNA,” One of the security officers shook his head confusedly, “And you want to be treated like heretics?”

“Officer,” Rual looked down to the nameplate on the man’s vest, “Shakut is it? You are aware of the two murders in this sector of the ship over the past two weeks.”

“Of course,” Shakut nodded sadly, “Two girls killed about a week apart, though to be fair two murders in a sector isn’t that statistically abnormal.”

“It is for us officer,” snarled Gaer, “We would no more harm each other than harm ourselves. And we’re certainly not about to start ripping out each other’s hearts.”

“Ripping out what?” Sergei sat up in his chair, dismissing the affections of Aryana abruptly. He scrunched up his face awkwardly, “How old were these girls?”

Shakut’s face blanched and he feverishly searched through his pack, “I swear I had no idea! The whole damn bureaucracy of the security services went to hell when Osma got himself blown up. I still haven’t even seen the autopsy.”

“You will assign additional troops to guard the Belzafesters. I will not have a damn serial killer on this ship or saboteur trying to seed dissent,” Sergei crossed his arms and pawed through the various maps and documents on the table. Small scrolls and random pages fell to the floor as he tossed things out of his way.

“The map is on the shelf Sergei,” Gaer tapped the iron shelves behind him pointing to a wide sheaf of oilskin wrapped paper. He pulled it down and passed it to the Lionheart, showing twisted and cracked skin of his flesh nearly as dark as the oilskin.

A bitter looking young woman with a pinched face unrolled the map upon the table, pointing with a narrow finger tipped with an odd golden ring. It clicked on the table with every movement of her finger, punctuating every sentence as she spoke, “They were killed here and here. Not enough to determine a pattern but both girls were killed as they walked back from mass. Heretical ritual no doubt.”

Arda snorted, “With respect Madame Senna, you have been sending your children to the local churches so often it would only be notable that they were murdered in events unrelated to worship. At this point you might as well just send all your children to a monastery.”

“You mock our faith,” Gaer cracked in his thunderous whisper, his eyes shouting as his voice could not. The medals on his dark suit flashed as he rounded on her, clinking against each other.

“I mock your reasoning. A line between two killings is not a pattern. It is a co-incidence. Assuming heretic ritual at this point is premature, one need not be a servant of the dark gods to be a proper bastard of a man, or a woman for that matter. There were no heretical symbols written at the sites of the murders to my knowledge nor were there any other signals that we should fear heresy,” Arda walked over to the table and pointed at the map, “Both murders happened at heavy transit points in the sector, it seems more likely to me that these were murders of opportunity than heretical acts.”

“Do you know of many murders of opportunity where they cut the hearts?” Rual shook her head unconvinced, “I pray you are right child but I doubt it. I know heresy when I see it. I can practically smell it.” She sniffed the air to emphasize the point.

“Superstition is not proof,” Arda said firmly staring the security personnel in the eyes, “The forces of Sáclair are bound by reason, logic, and proof are they not Shakut?”

Shakut straightened up and saluted her, “Yes madam of course madam,” with absolute conviction. Ami noticed that the hand not saluting her was still clutching a small Aquilla rosary so hard his fingers were turning white.

“Bah,” Gaer flicked his forefinger and thumb three times, the Belzafest gesture for warding off evil, “Be it on your head lass. As long as we have the added security I’m happy, but don’t claim I did not warn you of the dangers.”

“Mr. Gaer we have enough dangers to deal with xenos and saboteurs without inventing new ones,” Ami sighed, “Deal with things as they are not how they could be or might be.”

“Very well,” Rual nodded and rested her hands on her generous hips, “What is next on the business.”

“Next we have a…" Gaer stopped for a moment, freezing mid step. The room shook briefly and there was dark rumbling clang in the distance as though someone were dragging something large and heavy over the deck. Ami’s ears popped as the air pressure rapidly dropped and rose again/

Gaer looked to Sergei and swore loudly, “Lionheart, keep these people safe! I need to see what’s going on outside.”

“Like hell you’re leaving me,” Sergei stood up quickly and pulled a pistol out of its holster, “The Lionhearts are protectors of the ship. If someone must stay you will.”

“And I am in charge of protecting the welfare of the Belzafesters. I will not leave them unguarded.” Gaer straightened his back to his full, and considerable, height.

“Both of you nattering hens just go already,” Shat clapped his hands to get the room’s attention, “My gun is as good as either of yours, I’ll protect the circle. Now go!”

The two men didn’t need to be told twice. They bolted out of the apartment and into the main passageway. Ami followed close behind, her legs burned with the struggle of keeping up with the professional soldiers.

It suddenly became hard to breathe.

Smoke billowed down the hallway from further aft, red warning klaxons flashing and shouting behind it. The two soldiers pulled military issue breathing apparatuses over their faces, not even breaking their stride. Ami reached into her bag and pulled out her rebreather, fixing it tightly to her face as she ran. It pinched at the skin of her face and fogged up as she exhaled but the air was cool and fresh inside.

The ran down the small side passageways and maintenance causeways of the Endless Bounty. First going right, then left, then down a bit, then to the left, onward and onward they traveled. Sergei had a preternatural understanding of the ships twists and turns, never once turning back or checking to see where he was. Ami followed as fast as she could, her heart thundering in her breast.

Sergei screamed, “Duck!” and fell to the floor. A cable swung down from the ceiling, whipping inches from Ami’s face. It swung back around and caught Gaer on the right side, flipping him head over heels to the ground. The grizzled Belzafester swore loudly and stood up. His arm hung awkwardly at his side bleeding through his shirt, clearly dislocated.

“I’d be faster next time old man,” Sergei stopped to examine the wound.

“I’d shut your damn mouth laddie,” Gaer shoved the bone back into the socket, grunting with the effort and swearing like a sailor, “And keep your damn opinions to yourself.

“Are you going to be ok,” Ami looked at the arm speculatively, “It’s still bleeding a lot.”

“He’ll be fine Ami, it's just a scratch,” Sergei said pensively as he looked at the arm. He froze as he realized with whom he was speaking, “Ami what in the devil are you doing here? With us? Why aren’t you with the circle?”

“I wanted to help,” Ami crossed her arms and glared, “I can make it an order if you’d prefer.”

“Dammit Ami I am not about to take a teenage girl into a damn disaster area! Turn back and go to the Circle,” Sergei looked to Gaer who was nodding in agreement, “This is no place for you.”

“Well you’re just going to have to tie me up and drag me back to the Circle then,” Ami said petulantly, “Because you aren’t getting me to leave otherwise. Even if I wanted to I don’t know the way to get back safely.”

Another distant rumble rocked the ship, “And I don’t think there’s enough time to argue anyway.”

Gaer grunted, “If the fool girl wants to get herself killed let her.”

Sergei swore and started running again, “Fine, follow! Do whatever you like. A thousand curses on strong willed women, I don’t have time for this.”

The three of them continued to run down the passages, following Sergei’s lead, bobbing and weaving about the corridor. Belzafesters ran furiously from one place to the next, yelling orders or dragging the wounded to safety. In all the kerfuffle it was impossible for Ami to tell exactly what was going on.

“What are they yelling,” Sergei yelled to Gaer, “What has happened?”

“A bomb,” Gaer spat on the ground, “To the Eye and back a damn bomb.”

Ami looked around and spotted a familiar red-robed form in the distance overseeing a trio of servitors furiously banging on a sealed bulkhead door with cutting tools, “Over there! He ought to know what is going on.”

The three sprinted across he smoke filled promenade towards the bulkhead. Ami tripped on a broken bit of masonry, scraping her knee and tearing her dress. Her mother would be furious. Then again her mother might not even notice the dress at all due to her anger at Ami for running towards a recently exploded bombsite.

Gaer grabbed her by the elbow and yanked her to her feet, shoving her forwards, “Get up girl. On your damn feet, or do most men find you of more use on your knees.”

Sergei grabbed Gaer by the wrist, “Gaer you are angry, you are in pain, and you are under attack. For these three reasons I will let you keep your hand. If you ever speak to the young lady Sáclair in that manner again it will be the last words you are allowed to speak. She is an impertinent sixteen-year-old girl not a soldier in your armies. You will treat her with dignity. Do we have an understanding?”

Gaer merely glared and said nothing.

“Good,” Sergei let Gaer’s hand go and walked towards the priest, “Let’s see what is going on.”

The priest was yelling angrily in high gothic at the servitors, waving heavy robotic arms of his harness around furiously and smacking a staff on the ground, “Move damn you lot! Move! We have to get that bloody door open!”

“Enginseer,” Gaer snarled, “What in the pit of the Eye is going on?”

“Saboteurs,” the priest eyed the three of them cautiously, “Damned saboteurs launched an attack on the environmental systems. Let loose bombs in the machine minds that control the generators for the environmental systems.”

“Were they successful?” Sergei said apprehensively looking to the door. It had started to give way to the servitors. Small pools of molten metal formed at the bases of the door, scalding the unfeeling flesh of the servitors.

“Does it damn well look like they failed?” Gaer motioned to a greasy puddle of what looked disturbingly like human remains. Ami doubled up and ripped the mask off her face, a foul taste filling her mouth. She leaned over the side of the causeway and lost the contents of her stomach

“Have you had your fill yet girl,” Gaer whispered grimly as he bend over to search through the puddle of remains for a small silver tag. He picked it up and showed it to her, blocky Belzafest letters indicating the former man’s name, “Nair, he was no more than twenty. Tell me daughter of Sáclair. Are you glad to have come? Is it enough of an adventure for you?”

Sergei shot him a look of warning and reached over to comfort Ami. She waved him away and leaned over the edge as a second wave of nausea hit her. Throne above how was there that much blood in a man’s body.

“Actually it seems that they did fail,” the Enginseer pursed his lips and leaned back on one of the trailing arms of his servo-harness, “It seems that your man, Nair was it? Well Nair managed to close the blast doors to a secondary control center. If we get the doors open we ought to be able to regulate the systems before the sectors on lockdown go pear shaped. Only the damn things are locked down under some bizarre encryption beyond my security clearance and Iino went and died before bothering to pass the damn codes on to the rest of us.”

Ami wiped the sick from her lips with the sleeve of her dress and did her best not to look too smug, finally a chance for her to shine. She reached into the satchel at her side and pulled out a golden rod slightly longer than her hand tipped with a blue iridescent pearl. She pointed it at the door and grinned widely at Gaer, “Allow me to take care of this.”

She pressed down on a button on the rod, shooting a beam of light across the room towards the smiling gargoyle above the door. It's jaw slammed shut with a clattering snap and the blast doors swung inwards, spattering molten metal along the floor in sizzling puddles. Ami gave Gaer the most innocent look she could manage and tittered vapid giggles worthy of her airhead sister Aryana, “I suppose it was worth it to bring me along then.”

Gaer's lip curled and he stormed through the open doors, snarling incoherently in the Belzafest language. Sergei shook his head in amusement leaned in towards Ami, tapping the tip of his nose, “Child I am the first to admit that that insufferable man has no music in his heart but he is not to be trifled with. Even if he is an annoying, stodgy, old, miserable bastard.”

“Nor am I,” Ami imitated the glare her father used to cow unruly captains. The effect was apparently less effective on a sixteen-year-old girl's face still covered with soot. Sergei rolled his eyes and wandered after the Gaer and the Tech-priest.

The control room was a mess of sparking cables and incomprehensible machines that sputtered and sparked loudly, growling and groaning as they completed their unknown function. The priest wandered to the center of the room and proceeded to plug the various hanging cables and cords into the interface plate on his chest. Ami felt pangs of jealousy for her half-brother, soon he would be able to do the same.

The priest's tapped at the air and a holographic display appeared, glyphs and numbers floating in the air. Bizarre and pulchritudinous icons vacillated and fluctuated with every twitch of his silvery metal fingers. He swore and gritted his teeth, “They destroyed the axillary generator we were using as a shunt between engines and the shields. Bastards!”

“Are either damaged?” Sergei squinted at the symbols uncomprehendingly.

“They will be soon,” the priest clicked his tongue on his teeth frustratedly, “I'm shutting down primary aft reactor feeds to the engines.” Ami blinked in surprise, she couldn't imagine the set of conditions requiring a cold shut down of the engines.

“Not without an order from the Captain you're not!” Sergei glared furiously and reflexively patted his side arm, “Don't move a muscle.”

The priest continued typing on the keyboard, “I'm going to have to cut power to the engines or we're going to get the plasma reactors stuck in a feedback loop. At best we'd lose half the ship's population when the environmental controls go pear shaped. Trust me Lionheart.”

“Damn it Enginseer I am ordering you to stop,” Sergei pulled out his side arm and pointed it at the priest, pressing it against the man's temple, “Stop it now!”

“I haven't got time for this,” the priest growled, “By the throne I do not.”

Ami blinked in surprise, “Say that again?”
 

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“Throne be damned I haven't got time for this,” The priest snarled and snapped his fingers, the servitors flexed the muscles in their arms and their cutting torches flickered back to life. He made the symbol of the Aquilla went back to typing, “Away with you boy.”

“Sergei shoot him! Shoot him now!” Ami shot a terrified look at the servitors, “He's a saboteur!”

“What!” Sergei flinched and backed out of arm's reach of the priest, “How do you know?”

“Have you ever heard a ship's servant of the Omnissiah call out an oath in the Emperor's name? How many of them pray to the Emperor? Make the symbol of the Aquilla? For that matter where is his seal of office? He's Amon!” Ami pulled a laspistol from her dress.

Gaer didn't need to be told twice, he fired three times into the spot between the priest's eyes. The beams connected with a flickering field of energy in front of the priest's face. The priest glared and screeched a warbling mix of binary and gothic, his voice reverberating distortedly, “Kill them!”

The servitors leapt into action, the close quarters of the control room more than making up for their clumsiness. One of the Brobdingnagian cyborgs groaned morosely and lunged for Ami, it's fiery blade sputtering and spitting deadly energy. Ami tucked her body and rolled out of the way of a servitor's flaming torch, wincing as the jagged deck plate shredded through the silk of her dress and the soft flesh of her arm.

A beam of green light shot across the room, impacting with the back of the servitor's neck and boiling through flesh and bone. It collapsed in a paralyzed heap. Its cutting torch burned through it's stomach and spilled it's entrails on the deck, tripping a second servitor and giving Ami a chance to shoot it in the eyes.

The pitiful creature furiously brandished it's cutting tool, still trying to comprehend that it could no longer see out of the sightless pits where eyes had been. Gaer grabbed it and heaved it forwards towards the third servitor, impaling it on the cutting tool of the third.

The third servitor shoved the corpse off it's blade and rushed forward, blade held high. It stopped mid stride and fell to it's knees as Sergei slid across the deck, slicing the creatures tendons and crippling it. It stabbed furiously at Sergei, slicing through his carapace armor and setting his silks aflame.

Gaer kicked the creature in the center of the chest, knocking it to the floor, before firing three times into the creature's adam's apple, “Stay down damn you.”

“You're too late to stop me! You will die in droves you insufferable puppets of an unworthy traitor to the Amon,” the fake priest cackled and tore off the augmentic mask he'd been using to cover the top half of his face. His face was pox marked and his milky eyes were wide from narca inhalation. He slapped a glowing glyph with decided satisfaction a powerful void barrier snapped into place between the fake priest and his three attackers, “You can't win. Surrender and the Amon will take it into consideration when they put you on trial.”

“Kiss the broad side of my ass,” Gaer snarled. Ami couldn't help but agree with the sentiment.

“Come now,” the fake priest smiled magnanimously, “You cannot hope to stop me.”

Sergei shook his head and pulled a bulbous metal ball the size of an apple out of the webbing along his belt, “I beg to differ.”

“You can't,” the fake priest recoiled in horror, “You'll blow a plasma relay! You'll kill us all.”

“You were going to do that anyway Amon filth,” Sergei nodded to Ami, “You still have the controls for the door?”

“Yes,” Ami pulled out the handle. It was cool and slippery in her sweaty palms.

“On a count of three I want you to press the button and start running,” He looked Gaer in the eyes, “Do you understand.”

“Yes... yes I do,” Ami fumbled, “I think I...”

“Don't think, just run. One, two, three, now!” Sergei tossed the melta-bomb and shoved her forward. She pressed the button and sprinted forward toward the exit. Throne above, had the doors opened half as fast as they were closing? It didn't seem possible.

The deck rocked again, rumbling from a distant explosion. Ami stepped heavily and cried in pain foot caught on a sharp shard of rebar. She stumbled and fell to the floor, grasping at her foot.

“Come on then girl,” Gaer snarled grabbing her by the arm and yanking her through the door. He dove out the door and into the main corridor. He pushed her down the corridor towards Sergei and leapt into an alcove behind a particularly ugly gargoyle, “Take cover!”

Sergei grabbed Ami and heaved the both of them to the floor, rolling to the side and away from the arched door to the control room. An iridescent green wall of fire shot out from the arch, super-heated plasma burning through stone and metal with impunity. Ami's heart thundered with fear as she pressed herself up to the broad chest of Sergei, clutching on for protection.

Ami found herself envying Aryana's prior closeness to the wildly grinning Lionheart as Sergei smiled roguishly, flashing a mouth full of perfectly white teeth, “I think I got him.”

-=-

“Explain this to me again,” John massaged his temples starting at Garibaldi in frustration. The two of them intently stared at station schematics, trying to ignore the infuriatingly insulting voice that continued to drone on over the intercom as it droned on incessantly.

“It looks like the Magos activated a part of Babylon 5's programming that we'd mostly forgotten about. Apparently the Imperials consider hacking each other's computers to be socially acceptable. She actually had the unmitigated gall to be offended when I bundled her up and booted her off the station,” Garibaldi smiled to himself, indecently pleased with having been able to do that, “I am not sorry to see the back of Little miss Mengele.”

“It's good to see that you are finally treating the Imperials with the suspicion they deserve,” Mr. Bester flexed his fingers within his gloves, stretching the material loudly. John would have preferred to exclude the Psi Corps officer, however it seemed less dangerous to keep him in plain view than to give him the run of the ship. One of Garibaldi's little birds had advised them that Mr. Bester had already been conducting inquiries about Imperial products with some of the less reputable station citizens.

There was, however, some wisdom in treating the Imperials with caution.

John had to admit that puncturing a hole in the massive egos of the Imperial agents was not without merit. He was not, however, about to let Mr. Bester know that if he could avoid it. Mr. Bester already had some grandiose ideas of his own authority and it wouldn't do to affirm any of them, “You realize kicking her off the station will be diplomatically difficult, especially in light of the already tense situation.”

“Yeah,” chuckled a surly voice over the intercom, “But it was funny as hell! I hope the bitch comes back so that he can do it again.”

John sighed, “So how in the heck did this AI get on my station in the first place?”

“Sparky. The AI's name is apparently 'sparky the computer' according to the station records.”

“Of course it is,” Mr. Bester rolled his eyes and glared at the intercom. The psychic seemed to take the presence of anyone who's mind he could not read as a personal offense, “Nobody had ever accused the military of being overly creative in naming things. I suppose we're lucky it's not a sexually provocative acronym.”

“Well when they made the station they initially installed the computers into the station they were all run by an experimental AI with a 'personality',” Garibaldi glared at the intercom on the consul, “If by personality you mean that the freaking thing was stubborn, uncooperative, and moody.”

“Moody,” barked the AI, “Listen buddy why don't we walk outside and settle who's the moody one once an for all?”

“Shove it Sparky,” Unamused at the computers increasingly unrealistic threats of physical violence against him, Garibaldi ripped the intercom out of the control panel. It flew across the room and collided with the wall, shards of plastic scattering across the floor of the CnC, “I hate that damn thing.”

“Naughty, naughty Mr. Garibaldi,” tutted Mr. Bester, “It won't do to show your temper like that. Control my good sir, control is all.”

Garibaldi glared at the psychic, “Want to find out how far I can fling you across the room before I stop having to hear you speak either.”

“Such hostility,” Mr. Bester beamed with excitement, “What on earth have I done to deserve it.”

“I don't have time for this,” John pointed to the schematics of the station, “Shouldn't we be able to just disable it from the main root menu?” Garibaldi turned back to the schematics and pretended that there was not a short man standing on tiptoe behind him to see the screen.

“Normally we would be able to disable it, it would be a nightmare to do and we'd have to shut off the station's computer systems but it can be done. But whatever Frist did to activate Sparky involved rewriting the command codes for activating and deactivating him. Short of re-writing the entire OS from the ground up I don't know if we'll be able to get rid of him,” Garibaldi shook his head amusedly, “I'll give the Imperials one thing, they keep my life interesting.”

Garibaldi's lip curled, “I hate interesting. I like nice and boring.”

“Disable it as fast as you can,” John sighed, “We're already getting complaints about him from the Ambassadors. Sparky closed and encrypted the lock on Londo's rooms after the Ambassador mouthed off him. For the moment he's only annoyed but once he runs out of booze it could cause a diplomatic incident.”

“I'm on it sir,” A bright flash of fire in the distance flared blindingly. Garibaldi looked out the window and swore angrily, “Oh what now? There's always one more thing isn't there.”

Lt. Corwin ran over to the commander, “Sir, it's the Endless Bounty. They've suffered some sort of explosion. The radio chatter between their patrol and freight ships seems to indicate that it's sabotage. Something called the Amon Sui.”

“They're discussing this on unencrypted channels?” John activated the camera of the nearest repair-bot'. The massive crimson and red ship sat dead in space, a cloud of plasma-charged smoke billowing lazily from numerous vents the ships hull. Flames flickered unnaturally across the hull, melting the elaborate gilded figures painted along its sides.

“I don't think we're much of a priority to them right now sir,” Lt. Corwin shook his head, “They're yelling something about shutting down the,” he squinted at the readout, “skin of the hellish voids,” he looked back at John, “I think it's talking about the shields sir. They've taken out the shields.”

“Are they asking for aid?”

“Not yet sir,” Lt. Corwin shrugged, “It's probably only a temporary setback. There doesn't seem to have been any permanent damage I can see.”

“More than sufficient for us to accomplish what we need to,” The psychic pulled an stack of official papers stamped with the presidential seal from earth-dome from his bag and handed them to John, “I am officially declaring that ship is guilty of aiding and abetting unregistered telepathic malfeasance.”

“Mr. Bester you do not have the authority to commandeer this station,” John glared furiously, “This is a diplomatic space and I will not have you trying to seize a diplomatic ship with my station.”

“Captain do you think I'm a fool? I know that very well,” Bester smiled and pulled a metallic cylinder the size of a cigar from his pocket and pressed down on the button on the top of it, “Luckily you aren't the only military asset in this sector of space at my disposal. The president sent ships to wait in hyperspace weeks ago, just in case things went south.”

-=-

“What in the hell is going on Mr. Enzo?” Sáclair leapt up from where he'd been slumbering on his throne in a flurry of fur lined silks and feather festooned cloaks, brandishing an antique rapier. The weapon glowed and sparked as he waved it, flinging white hot embers towards the faces of the dozen officers and servitors standing around the throne, “Who is attacking us this time?”

“I don't know sir,” Donat wiped the sweat from his brow and redirected power from ancillary generator seven to primary reactor three to keep the fuel in the tertiary drives from going into meltdown, “Reports are still spotty at the moment.” He blinked in momentary surprise and looked at the captain, his blank face titled in confusion, “Aren't you scheduled to be meeting with the Inquisitor on the Babylon station at the moment?”

“Now is hardly the time to argue over a scheduling conflict Mr. Enzo,” He was right of course, there was a scheduled meeting. However the connection with the astropathic servitor was malfunctioning. When he'd tried to use it for his scheduled meeting he'd simply woken up in a blinding cold darkness as still as death, unable to speak, unable to scream.

Something was deeply, deeply wrong with the astropathic servitor. They'd have to investigate it later.

After sitting through that piercing nothingness just the once, he was not eager to try again soon. Sáclair had nearly cried in relief when the automated warning systems woke him from his astropathic coma and called him to action.

“Sir,” Mr. Enzo broke Sáclair out of his revelry, “Are you going to put the sword down sir?”

Sáclair blustered embarrassedly and sheathed the weapon. He grimaced ungraciously, “I may do as I please Mr. Enzo. Now give me an update.” Sáclair relaxed into his throne, leaning back into the cushions and waving to one of his vassals for wine.

“Link up with the ship and see for yourself sir,” Donat smacked one of the consuls and screamed over the vox link the many crewmen operating control systems, “I need to get a two point increase on the aux nav recovery systems or we're going to lose the damned fire suppression controls.”

Sáclair latched the silvery filaments from the throne into his arm but rather than being greeted by the ecstatic waves of sensation he normally associated with his beautiful wondrous ship he doubled up in pain, gritting his teeth and swearing loudly. His fingers popped and creaked as he gripped the armrests of the throne forcefully, “Throne cursed child of the warp! They damaged two of the reactors and we lost the tertiary plasma feeds.”

Sácomer's elephantine jowls quivered into view on a flickering hololith display. His fair hair was ruffled and his frock, normally spotless, was stained with something purple and covered in the crumbs of his interrupted meal, “Early reports are indicating that Amon Sui saboteurs detonated explosives in a number of populated areas to re-direct the ships engineers and Enginseers then sent their own fake enginseers to critical locations to try and enter and sabotage the systems therein.”

“How many of them succeeded?” Donat pulled up a cross section of the ship. Sections flickered intermittently from red to green, to black again as the ship's machine spirit struggled to analyze the damages done to it. The ship was screaming in fear and pain, though only Sáclair could hear it.

“Attacks on three primary generators and a medical unit succeeded,” Sácomer flinched as the cables attached to the front of his head sparked and squelched, burning small patches of his face and smoldering against the silk of his shirt, “Damn it!,” he swatted at the smoldering embers, “They also managed to fry a lot of the control relays. It's all the enginseers can do to keep the ship from blowing itself up.”

“A medical unit,” Donat's vocalized terror expressing what his dead face could not. The man's hands trembled as he tried to refine the data feeds to the still shifting damage readouts on his screen, “Which medical unit?”

Sáclair glared furiously at his second in command, “Mr. Enzo you can check on the welfare of your daughter once we've managed to not lose the entire ship. Now is not the time for sentimentality.”

“Sir but if she's been hurt,” Donat's voice throbbed with pain and loss, “If she's been...” Donat stumbled, unable to articulate the word dead.

“Then you'll help her by co-ordinating the recovery effort and the emergency response teams. You aren't going to do anything but get in their way,” Sáclair slammed his fist on the arm of his throne, “By the Emperor man get ahold of yourself.”

“She's my Daughter sir,” Donat's eyes pleaded piteously. He worriedly rubbed hands aged with decades of service and submission, “My only daughter.”

“And this is your duty,” Donat pointed to the hololithic image of the ship. He waved to the crewmen scuttling about the great hall with reports and duties, “These are your family. If you are willing to sacrifice half a million souls to the void for your stubbornness you will deserve the judgement handed to you in the hereafter. Of that I assure you.”

“How dare you!” Donat recoiled scandalized by Sáclair's accusation, “Have you no dignity?”

The ship rumbled distantly and Sáclair felt the ship lose control of the tertiary field buffers on the gravity relays. He winced with pain and glared Donat in the eyes. “Donat, you are like a brother to me. I've trusted you above all others for years but if you lack the ability to completely fulfill your duties I will find someone who can. Now I need you to go to the aft section and take command of the repairs in person, we've lost vox communications with the aft and I need someone I can trust in there,” he stared pointedly into Donat's eyes, “I can trust you Mr. Enzo can't I?”

Donat cleared his throat dispassionately, “Yes sir. Of course sir.” His second in command stepped upon one of the floating marble slabs and descended to the floor. Sáclair didn't bother to watch his decent as he started to issue orders in rapid succession, not waiting for replies or confirmations of comprehension.

“...Sácomer I need to get the navigation sensors online, jerry rig it if you have to but get them running.”

“...Illrich I need the astropaths sending a message to all ships to stay out of the hangar. The last thing we need is some damn fool to try to land his ship and light a cracked promethium feed.”

“... and can someone get me some more damn wine.”

“... no we need someone in the armory to make sure that none of the warheads were cracked. Have someone do it by hand if need be. Make that the first priority.”

“... all! Do it all! Do it now! We don't have time to be pussyfooting around this. Get moving get up and go.”

Sáclair swore furiously as the proximity alarms from the sensors flared and a handful of ships bearing Alliance markings appeared to the port side of his ship, bursting out of hyperspace. The boxy ships edged closer to the Endless Bounty, angry dogs swarming around a bear. Well if they wanted to attack this bear they'd soon discover that even an injured bear still had claws.

“Illrich,” Sáclair thumbed an activation switch on his throne, “Is this translation servitor working?”

“She'll do what she was made for,” The ancient navigator reached down and patted the head of the prostrate servitor, his own pale flesh seeming whiter still by comparison to the rich chocolate shade of the servitor's flesh. Her waxy skin shone under the flickering light of the chandeliers, bared flesh decorated with an elaborate interlacing of circuitry and cables. She hung limply from the ceiling, coquettish and coy, waving like some perverse marionette, “She's some of Iino's last, and best, work. Before he died Iino designed her to interpret the entirety of the Alliance language and translate it with the most accurate words possible.”

“Good,” Sáclair growled, “Open a channel to those damn ships. I don't like having military ships swarming about me at the first taste of blood in the water. Voice only, we don't need them seeing any of the damage done by the Amon.”

“They're responding to our hail sir,” Sácomer nodded firmly, “Sir shields are still offline, we're going to have to rely on hull armor alone.”

“It will have to do,” Sáclair would find each and every Amon Sui bastard on his ship and flense them. Hilder had been so kind as to educate Sáclair in the ways in which to torture a man without leaving a mark, the Inquisitor was such a neat monster. Sáclair doubted he'd have the patience for it, “Open the channel Sácomer, and warn any freighters and transports not on the ship that they should head for the far side of the planet. This could become messy.”

The carmel skinned servitor gasped in shock and twisted in the cables from which she hung. Her milky eyes opened wide and she began to speak in a hard voice wholly incongruous with her physical form, “This is Major Pierce of the Earth Alliance Carrier Normandy. You have violated Earth Alliance law by brining unregulated and unregistered telepaths into Earth Alliance territory. You will stand down and prepare to be boarded.”

“No, I will not,” Sáclair laughed amusedly, “I have no intention of allowing a sovereign ship in service of the God Emperor's most noble Inquisition to surrender to some backwater colony with disillusions of grandeur. ”

“You are human beings traveling in human space. The Earth Alliance has the legal authority to seize any civilian owned warships illegally operated within its borders,” the servitor sighed and rolled its eyes, presumably in imitation of Major Pierce, “We have you outnumbered and outgunned. Surrender now.”

“You bark well Alliance dog, let's see how well you bite,” Sáclair cut the transmission. The servitor went limp, hanging lazily from the ceiling.

“We're receiving a second transmission sir,” Sácomer interjected, “It's from the Babylon station.”

“Ignore it,” Sáclair hoped he was out of weapons range of the station. It was, in retrospect, good fortune that the Alliance Captain had insisted so forcefully that they relocate the bounty to the edge of the asteroid belt. It might well be their salvation now, “Weapons to full, deploy all squadrons. If they want a fight by the Emperor I'll give them a fight they won't soon forget.”

-=-

“Neither side is responding to my hails sir,” Lt. Corwin feverishly worked the controls to the military communications system, trying in vane to gain connect with the Alliance ships. Bester had been wise to order the Alliance ships to radio silence.

“Arrest him,” Captain Sheridan snarled, “Now!”

Bester swallowed uncomfortably as the echoing whirrs of three dozen PPGs sounded round him on all sides. One did not have to be a mind reader to realize how close Captain Sheridan was to ordering him to be shot on the spot, but it helped. The man was radiating a furious calm, sharp as a razor's edge.

“What charges are you arresting me on Captain,” Bester's wrists stung as Mr. Garibaldi forced them into a set of restraints, making to effort to avoid twisting Bester's arms in the process, “Or are you simply planning on making them up at a later date?”

“What charges?” Captain Sheridan repeated the words in utter incredulity, “What charges? What charges? We can start with treason and start working our way down from there! My authority in diplomatic matters relating to this station I is not in to be questioned,” he pointed at the pricks of light from multi-megaton blasts burst in the distance where the Earth Alliance warships and the Endless Bounty were skirmishing just outside the range of Babylon's effective firing range, “And you have the unmitigated gall to order a military action under my nose in direct contradiction to my orders.”

“I have total authority in matters pertaining to human psychics,” Bester glared back at the Captain, “And I think you'll find that while your authority ends outside this station mine extends to the entirety of the Earth Alliance space.”

“Looking human is not enough proof to launch an attack!” The captain's eyes bulged in their sockets. He ran his hands through his hair in consternation, “For that matter it was only this morning that you were the one warning me to be cautious with the Imperials.”

“This morning I didn't have proof,” Bester smiled and reached to the satchel at his side stopping abruptly Mr. Garibaldi grabbed his hand roughly by the thumb and twisted it, “I'm only reaching for a document Captain. It is in the yellow envelope in my bag. Please help yourself.”

Garibaldi tore the envelope of his bag, pulling a medical report from the inside. The balding man's eyes roved the page, his teeth clenching tighter and tighter as he read along. He twisted the thumb, “Where did you get this report!”

“I have my way's Mr. Garibaldi,” his thumb was fit to burst, “I am under no obligation to provide all my sources.”

“This is a medical report I ordered on blood that was covering the Imperial we have in storage. How did you get a secure station report?” He twisted the arm farther and Bester cried out in pain. Good god the man actually intended to break his arm.

“Mr. Garibaldi, that's enough,” John's face fell, “Mr. Bester am I to understand that your only evidence is this? The evidence you have to prove that the Imperials are human is that there was human blood on the man we have in confinement?”

“It's more than enough. Mr. Garibaldi's report indicated that the Imperial did not injure any humans in the process to have bled on him,” Bester smiled in victory, “More than enough for the standards of reasonable suspicion.”

Garibaldi snarled, “No humans were injured by him there were hundreds of people involved in that brawl. That blood could have come from anyone, including the security officer who restrained the damn Imperial in the first place.”

“That blood perhaps, but not the sample you used to enter the Imperial's blood type into his police record to make sure we can give him proper medical treatment,” he enjoyed the gobsmacked look on Garibaldi's face, “Surely you remembered that part of processing? Or have you been too busy?”

The Captain glared at Bester in fury before double tapping the back of his link, “Get Ambassador Hilder, now.”

-=-
 

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Discussion Starter #57
The shields closed around the viewport, protecting the bridge from debris. The bridge lit up bright red as the ship went into full battle mode. Major Pierce was going to have words with whatever moron decided that eight ships would be enough for this, even if two of them were carriers. The Endless Bounty managed to cripple the Hyperion class ship Algeria with its first salvo of laser fire, tearing through it's armor and destroying it's main reactor before shooting forwards.

Their point defense lasers were working overtime to stop the constant flow of small scale missile and projectile weapons. Imperial ship designers, while lacking in subtlety, had a fondness for gun batteries that was second to none. The ship dodged and weaved around asteroids, firing opportunistically at any target that presented itself with a speed wholly incongruous with its massive size.

“I want a full missile salvo from tubes six, ten, and twenty two. Aim for the existing hull breaches,” This had to go down with an absolute minimum of casualties on both sides. The whole universe would be watching. President Clark was counting on him, “And see about hailing them again, we have to give these people every opportunity to end this without violence.”

“I don't think they plan to indulge that wish sir,” Commander Hector, Major Pierce's second in command, glared out the window, “In fact I'd wager they're planning on bloodying the waters as much as they can before they go down.”

“Well then we'd best make sure most of the blood is theirs then won't we Commander?” Pierce smiled.

A massive explosion rocked the Normandy as one of the high yield torpedoes fired by the Endless Bounty got past their defense grid and collided with the side of the ship. Major Pierce jerked upwards in his harness as the artificial gravity ceased to function. He gagged slightly as his stomach accustomed itself to the floating sensation.

“That was a glancing hit sir,” his weapons officer looked up, “From a nuke. We're getting major radiological alarms off of every explosion caused by that ship, small yield but still packing a hell of a punch. These guys are not playing around.”

“Then we'd better not get hit then Lieutenant, and order all ships to prime their own nuclear armaments, two can play a this game.” Clark couldn't blame him for responding with nuclear force in kind. He had every right to protect his ship and his fleet.

“Fighter wings are engaging Imperial ships,” called out another officer as he listened to the pilot chatter, “Sir its sounding like they're having decent success. The Imperial ships are fixed wing fighters, not as maneuverable as our star-furies.”

“The Beijing Beauty just lost an engine sir. Mobility down to eighty percent.”

“Sir the Babylon station is still hailing us,” His communications officer looked up, “They're claiming that we're conducting an illegal military action and that they've arrested the person who issued the illegal orders.”

“You verified the command codes on those orders I assume?” His communications officer was prone to obsessive compulsion. It was a useful trait in the man responsible for receiving their orders.

“Yes sir I did.” The comms officer nodded, “Three times sir. They're still ordering us to stand down.”

“Then it's legal. Sheridan is just going to have accept that this is out of his hands,” the Endless Bounty swung around another asteroid and fired a salvo of missiles at the Belshazzar. The Alliance ship rapidly decompressed an empty cargo bay, flinging hard to starboard and out of harms way, “Get a firing solution and take the damn thing out. I want boarding teams ready to go. Yesterday. ”

“Sir the Venice was just disabled,” the weapons officer swore, “By the Babylon station. The Babylon Five is firing on us.”

“What? ” Major Pierce screeched, “Is he out of his mind?”

The comms officer interjected, “The station is repeating that the orders to attack the Endless Bounty are illegal and they are legally bound to defend any and all ships under their protection.”

“Get all ships out of range of the station's guns. I'm not going to fight one of our own ships if I can help it.”

“What in the hell is Sheridan thinking? He'll get a court-marshal for this for sure,” Major Pierce shook his head in confusion, “Get all fleet ships and fighters out of the gun range of Babylon 5. The last thing we need is for Sheridan to turn this into a blood bath.”

-=-

“Get the damn guns under control!” John screamed to the weapons officer, “Disable the ships computers if you have to but get that AI to stop shooting!”

“It's programmed to follow the letter of the law of the Babylon charter sir. We're obligated to render assistance to all ships of non-hostile origin who ask for it. The Endless Bounty was granted that protection... so it seems that Sparky took it upon himself to intervene.” Lt. Corwin typed override commands into the computer at a feverish pace, “Sir it is just not responding to anything I type sir.”

Mr. Garibaldi pulled up the command log on his data pad, “It's the damn coding the Magos put in. She replaced the section of coding we use for inputting command overrides.”

John grimaced. Could this entire situation possibly get worse? “Mr. Garibaldi I need you to take a squad of engineers down to the main computer terminal and forcibly disconnect the main computer terminal from weapons control.”

“That means we're going to have to aim the systems manually till we can get another computer core in sir,” Lt. Corwin looked up nervously, “We might lose weapons systems altogether.”

“I will not have this station deciding to fire on whoever it damn well pleases,” John smacked his fist in the palm of his hand, grinding the knuckles furiously, “Mr. Garibaldi go now!”

“Good to see that you have everything well in hand Captain,” jibed the forcibly restrained Psi Corps officer chained to the wall, “I can see why I should have left this delicate matter to you.”

John glared at Mr. Bester, wanting very much to punch the man right in the center of his arrogant and self-righteous face. A pity really that the proper treatment of prisoners, especially the treatment of officers of the Psi Corps, were so well defined. Otherwise he might have been tempted to take up Garibaldi's offer to take him ought behind the shed and teach him some manners.

“I'm on it Captain,” Garibaldi saluted flippantly and sprinted out the door out the door, shouting on his link as he went, “I need a full engineering team to cut me into the computer core, yesterday.”

“Now Captain,” Mr. Bester growled, “I think it's time that you and I had a little chat about what side you're fighting for. You seem to have lost track.”

“Mr. Bester you have conducted an illegal military attack on a ship under my protection. I know what side I'm on very well. I'm on the side that's going to arrest you and see you go to prison,” John waked up to Mr. Bester and reached up to the psychic's uniform, grabbing the man's badge and tearing it off, “I will not be intimidated by you Mr. Bester.”

“Are you familiar with the articles of ethical psychic limitations Captain? It's really a fascinating read. It's the core of all legal regulation of psychic abilities. It defines our rights, our freedoms, and the situations in which we may use our abilities,” he glared John in the eyes and his voice changed. It became a soporific and overpowering sound, reverberating tantalizingly in the back of John's head, “Including our ability to use it to fight treasonous rebellion.”

The security officers on either side of Mr. Bester reached for their side arms but stopped inches from picking them up, their fingers limply grasping at the metal of the handle. Their eyes bulged with the exertion of trying to force their hands to function. Bester chuckled and spat out an order, “Captain you have already lost this conflict. The Endless Bounty will be taken into custody. Now stand down and let me do my job.Now.”

John struggled to resist the overpowering urge to undo the binding on Mr. Bester's wrist restraints. His feet shuffled forwards of their own accord, first the left, then the right, edging closer and closer to the psychic. Mr. Bester smiled contemptuously, glaring John in the eyes hypnotically. Colors swirled enchantingly in the back of the man's eyes, making it impossible to stare away.

But he had to stare away. God he had to stare away.

The psychic whispered greedily as John got closer and closer, “Let me go Captain. Let me go now!”

“No...” John muttered feebly, “...No I won't”

“Yes,” Mr. Bester smiled, “You will.”

John watched from afar, in a dark corner of his mind, only vaguely recognizing the fact that his hands were working over the latches and buttons of the restraints. He angrily raged within his own head, whispering a furious tattoo of “no I won't,” but only managed a token effort in resisting the psychic.

Mr. Bester smiled as he walked into the center of the room, grabbing John's side arm as he passed. The half dozen officers stood frozen, eyes flitting backwards and forwards. Bester twirled the PPG on his finger with glee, staring at the tactical readout with fascination, “It seems the Endless Bounty has done well for herself,” he looked up at John, “I hope you didn't have any friends on the Agincourt it seems that she hasn't faired well. Not dead yet but not good.”

“Better, I am suspecting, than you will be doing soon,” chuckled the amused voice of Ambassador Daul. The greying imperial man strode into the CnC with Skitarii Thross wearing a look of purest fury, “I am to be understanding that you authorize a military attack of my vessel.”

Mr. Bester pointed the PPG squarely between Ambassador Daul's eyes, “Daul Hilder I am placing you under arrest for being an illegal telepath, making use of telepathic malfeasance, and the use of unsanctioned telepathic technologies. You will comply.”

The Ambassador looked John in the eyes, his calm and melodious voice echoing clearly in the back of his mind, “Is this unsanctioned one enslaving your mind?”

“Yes,” John yelled though his lips would not move, “Please help!”

Blue balefire erupted from the ornate interlacing crown of cables around the Ambassador's head, “Cairn, try to leave him alive. I'll want to interrogate him later.”

The Cyborg leapt towards Mr. Bester, cybernetic cables flailing. Bester fired at the Skitarii warrior, his eyes widening in terror as the PPG fire simply dissipated over a thin bubble of energy wrapped around the cyborg's head and chest. Apparently the shielding technology of the empire was not limited to large scale applications. Bester dodged to the left, flinging himself over a control panel and into the recessed pit in the center of the room. Cairn's cables smashed into where Bester had been with a bone shattering crunch, tearing the computer consul into a shredded mess of metal and wires.

A shower of sparks spat from the ruined consul into the pit. Bester cried out in pain and glared angrily at Thross. The Psi Cop screeched an overpowering voice of psychic command, “Stop at once.”

The Skitarii faltered, stopping long enough for Mr. Bester to flee a second limb crushing blow. Ambassador Daul shouted, “Oh no you don't!” clapped his hands together and started chanting in bizarre and arcane languages. Glowing runes hovered in the air around him pulsing with unspoken power. Glowing balefire that engulfed his head spun round the room dizzyingly, bathing everything in a chilling green cold that bit into the heart.

John shuddered with the cold and realized with joy that he could move his limbs under his own power. Whatever the Ambassador was doing was working. God bless him it was working. John screamed, “What are you waiting for? Help the Ambassador's man!”

The officers rushed in to help as Bester fired into the cyborg's chest a third time, the shields flickering and dying with the effort of standing up to sustained fire. A valiant effort, but too late. The Cyborg's mechanical tentacles caught Bester at the knee, wrapping around the leg and twisting like a python. Bester fell to the ground in agony, his left leg crushed into a twisted mess.

“Captain,” The Ambassador cleared his throat, “I believe you are owing me explanations.”

-=-

Sáclair dove through the stars, dodging a weaving through the asteroid field. These pitiful morays fancied themselves sharks. He would educate them on the truth of the stars. There is always someone bigger.

Already three of them lay crippled in the stars behind him. Not dead, the ancestors had been extremely adamant that he not kill other humans unnecessarily. An odd fit of eccentricity on their part but Sáclair was not foolish enough to question their wisdom.

And in truth, it wasn't fair to kill them before they'd had a chance to accept the word of the Emperor.

“Mister Andrews!” Sáclair screamed to the portly gunner and chief of the main weapons batteries, “I need an ETA on loading one of the Ambassador's planet cracker missiles.”

“Sir I can't just toss the bloody thing in just any tube. The Enginseers need to go over it properly else we could blow up the whole blood ship,” the portly man said apologetically as he mopped the soot from his brow on the other side of the holo-link, “I'm working as fast as I may.”

“Work faster,” Sáclair growled, “We need an edge over the Alliance ships as quickly as we can get one.”

The Alliance ships were Imperfect but Sáclair dared not get too close. Lance weaponry, who gave these savages lance weaponry? Their ships were little more than mobile fighter carrying lance batteries, lightly armored and unshielded, however only a fool let his ship get in front of a lance battery without adequate void shields. Especially with a hull already damaged near critical areas.

Blessedly they were reliant upon machine spirits for their targeting systems and sensors. The use of cyclonic explosives had put enough ambient radiation to play all merry hell with their targeting computers. Astropathic servitors were not so easily distracted.

“Incoming contact! Grid zeta two, two four mark zero five nine,” Sácomer swore angrily, “It's an Alliance warship sir!”

“How in the hell did we miss it,” Sáclair shunted power to from life support to the maneuvering thrusters. He activated a general alert, “All hands, brace for impact in five seconds!”

He yanked the ship abruptly to port as one of the Alliance ships rocketed upwards, red energy lances rocketing towards the underside of the Endless Bounty. A sharp spike of pain shout up his chest and side as the ship analyzed the damages done. Two docking bays suffered minimal damage from a glancing hit from the Alliance ship's lance batteries.

“You bastards! You little arrogant heretical bastards,” Sáclair snarled and nearly knocked out the servant bringing him a tankard of ale as he yanked the silver vessel out of the poor girl's hands. He downed the brew with a hearty swing and heaved the goblet into the distance where it collided with an unfortunate ship's servitor.

Alarms blared in Sáclair's ears as he wiped the froth from his goatee, warning that of an enemy target lock. The Alliance ship wouldn't miss twice. Sáclair lashed out and fired a salvo into an asteroid heavy with lead and cobalt, spreading radioactive sensor clouding debris and dust in his wake.

“Alright you insufferable little twit,” Sáclair grinned manically and typed the safety override codes into the throne. The voices of his ancestors echoed nervously in his head, unsure about the sanity of the action he was about to take. If his timing were off by a second it would detonate the ship's engines and leave the Endless Bounty to drift.

He arched his ship downwards past the Alliance ship, dropping a payload of cyclonic mines behind him. They detonated against the hull of the alliance ship, tearing through the weak struts behind the main hull, shattering the engines from the main ship and leaving it dead in the water. The force of the explosion propelled the Endless Bounty away from the Alliance ships and break-neck speed. Towards the gravity well of the planet.

“Throne above man,” screeched Navigator Calven from where he'd braced himself on the floor in terror, “Have you lost your senses? You're going to get us all killed!”

“Ha!” Sáclair yelled joyously, “The Emperor protects my boy. Don't you remember your primary schola imperialis?”

“He protects those who protect themselves sir,” Sácomer clutched at his heart as though he thought it might burst, “You're going to cause a heart attack one of these days! By the throne I swear it!” he groaned, “Incoming fighter wings, it seems the ship was carrying friends.”

The Imperial fighter wings spun about like budgerigars angrily twittering and circling round with the Alliance fighters. The Imperial fighters were struggling to keep up with the Alliance fighters absurd mobility. The Endless Bounty was a merchant ship, not a warship. What fighters it had were intended for fighting off pirates and protecting ground convoys. Fixed wing ships could never be as maneuverable as space fighters in the stars. Blessedly the Alliance star-fighters were only armed with heavy plasma turrets, so the Imperial fighters were armored enough to stand a fighting chance.

He couldn't keep this up forever. Eventually he would be forced to make a stand against the Alliance ships, void shields be damned. The bounty was too damn big of a target to keep playing cat and mouse forever. Sooner or later he would run out of missiles or asteroids.

“The babylon station has opened fire sir!” Mr. Andrews excited voice echoed over the holo-link, his face lighting up with indecent excitement, “They're firing with all batteries sir!”

“Are we in range of their fire?” Sáclair doubted that even a station as large as the Babylon station had the range to reach them this far into the system with any accuracy.

“Their supporting fire perhaps sir!” Sácomer bounced giddily. His ample jowls jiggled with amusement, “The Babylon station has declared without equivocation that we are under their protection and they will fight to protect us. They're already opened fire on their own ships to protect us.”

“Don't look a gift grox in the mouth. I was going to have to start killing ships, not disabling them,” Sáclair sighed. It could still be a trap but that sort of guile seemed beyond Captain Sheridan. Sheridan was a man of black and white morality for whom the idea of treachery was high treason, “We're moving back into Babylon space. Take us into planetary orbit behind the station.”

-=-

John checked what readouts were still functioning in the hopes of understanding what was going on outside the ship, “Lieutenant Corwin do we have any remaining controls that do function on the primary bridge?”

The narrow lieutenant rubbed the sweat from his brow with his sleeve, “Sir I'm struggling to just keep local stellar geography and telemetry functioning. We're going to need to move to the secondary Command and Control center as soon as possible.”

“Not that it will do any good,” John pulled at his hair and looked out the window and the flashes of laser-fire in the distance, “That AI was able to just override or ignore all of our command codes. It basically can control... anything with an Alliance make military override....” John slapped the broken consul eagerly, “That's it!”

“What is it commander?” The Ambassador sighed, “I still lack understanding.”

John grinned widely, a plan hatching in his mind. “I have an idea. It's a crazy idea but it just might work.”

“That does not expand my understanding,” sighed the Ambassador as he ran his hand through his hair, “But any solution is better than none.”

“I'll take that as a yes,” John tapped his link, “Garibaldi. How close are you to getting though to that computer core?”

“We're about five minutes from reaching the core sir,” Garibaldi's responded, “We should have it disabled in ten.”

“We've got a new plan Garibaldi,” John smiled roguishly, “I want you to link the AI into gold channel zero.”

“Uh... sir you want me to connect this thing to more systems?” Garibaldi hesitated, “Are you sure about it?”

“Just do it Garibaldi! We're going to need it for what I'm planning.” John double tapped his link, “Sparky. Can you hear me.”

“Loud and clear boss,” the AI responded with a self-aggrandizing air, “Good to see that you've come to your senses. Now what do you need?”

“How many of the Alliance command override codes do you have in your system?”

The AI chuckled, “Enough sir. Enough. I see where you're going with this.”

-=-

“Major Pierce we're getting a gold channel transmission!” The operations officer sprinted to the command chair with an official printout, “It's using the presidential channel sir, we can't shut it down. The ships computers are shutting us out of everything.”

“What?” Major Pierce blinked in horror, “How did they get past the military security protocols?”

“The program had all the necessary passwords sir. We've lost control of the ship.” The operations officer looked over the printout, “We've lost everything sir, at best we can do a hard shut down and restart of all systems. We'd need to have the ship shut down for an hour at the very least.”

“What systems do we have control over?” Major Pierce swore angrily, “And how did this happen?”

“No idea sir. I shut down the communication system so that it can't get any worse. We've still got limited control over navigation and hyperdrive systems,” The operations officer sighed, “And they send us a message. Just a single word. Leave.”

“Sheridan's lost his damn mind,” Major Pierce sighed, “All ships retreat! Lay in a course for the nearest Earth Alliance colony,” he paused and looked at the Babylon station in the distance, “This isn't over Captain Sheridan. This isn't over by a long shot.”

-=-

Bester watched in mounting horror as the Alliance ships turned and retreated into hyperspace through the haze of pain wracking his brain. The papers he'd made use of to authorize the use of Earth Alliance warships weren't legal in the strictest sense. This could potentially become politically inconvenient in the long term.

Unacceptable, this was unacceptable.

Alfred Bester would not be outmaneuvered by some insufferable blip. He glared at the Imperial Ambassador, lashing out with a jabbing scimitar of psychic might. The Ambassador, prepared for Bester's attack, slammed down iron walls and steel bars to block the path into his mind but his psychic protections were indelicate. Thick and forceful but full of sight imperfections. The walls were full of cracks and breaks from where they'd ground together like gnashing teeth, twisting and tightening with steely might.

Bester sped around the walls, scurrying and scratching. Verminous talons of psychic intrigue probing the dark shadows within the Inquisitor protections. He caught brief flashes from the Inquisitor's memories. Dark shadowy creatures, sightless eyes, twisting limbs, and worlds on fire. Pictures of war beyond imagining tickled at the tip of his tongue, dancing tantalizingly with pictures of psychic talents and learning beyond his wildest dreams. He scampered and scratched at the edges of Daul's mind till finally he found a deep hollow section in the back of Daul's mind where a shadowed pocket of unprotected memories lay.

It was some sort of repressed memory or dark secret, the perfect entryway into a man's mind. One cannot shield what they do not know about. Bester burrowed into the dark space and burst forward into a memory.

Bester found himself in one of the richest and most convincing memories he'd ever been inside of. Spiced meats hung from the ceiling of an ornately carved larder, filling the room with tantalizing smells of food. It was disturbingly homely and subdued to be the sort of dark pit Bester'd found. The sort of memories that were repressed in this fashion were generally hazy feelings of pain and loss, not the sort of place one wanted to admit existed let alone remember in graphic detail.

Bester examined the wall carvings of smiling animals with perplexity.

“Find something you like?” chuckled a hearty voice from behind him. Bester whipped around and saw an aging man sitting in a rocking chair whittling a bit of wood disinterestedly, occasionally brushing the shavings off his blanket. The old man puffed at his pipe, “Well did you?”

“Who in the hell are you?” Bester blinked in confusion at the vivid memory.

“Me?” the old man chuckled, “You're the only intruding in my house. But I suppose introductions are necessary aren't they Alfred? A strange name you picked for yourself, not really one that suits you.”

Bester's brow arched assuredly, “Really old man? What would you call me?”

“Judas, the name of a fool and a traitor,” The old man rose to his considerable height and towered over Bester. The pipe smoke smoldered ominously at the edge of the old man's lips, “Tell me Judas why are you here?”

Bester rolled his eyes, memories often got overprotective of the mind they were in. He waved dismissively at the memory, trying to banish it back to the chair, prodding it with his mind. He stopped in shock as the old man simply waved his attack away disinterestedly with the carving knife.

“Boy you're not half as good as you think you are and not even at tenth as clever,” the old man grabbed him firmly by the neck, fingers clamped down on his larynx like a vice. Bester kicked and bit and tore at the old man's arm but to to avail. He couldn't even break the skin of the powerful memory.

“What are you?” Snarled Bester.

“I'm Bast Hilder lad. I'm the one who's about to force you to piss off back to wherever the hell it is a rat like you came from,” he turned to the fire smoldering in the fireplace and smiled wickedly, “And I promise you I'll leave you with something to remember me by.”

Bester struggled with all his might as the old man lowered his face into the scalding embers. They burned and blistered, scarring his flesh and searing down to the bone. Bester sank into a deep pit of embers, screaming piteously as he felt his body shred, burn, and tear down to nothing as the pit chewed and ripped at his body.As his eyes boiled within his own skull and the pain seemed too great to bear the old man bent low and whispered into his ear, “Daul is mine. Never come back,” and tossed him into the backness that shadows the realms of memory.

Bester snapped back into his own body, trembling and in agony. He raised his fingers to his face in horror, checking to see that the meat was still attached to the bone. His wide eyes focused on the face of Ambassador Hilder.

The Ambassador smiled, bent low and whispered into Bester's ear. His eyes glowed green and his voice was not his own but rather that of the old man, “You like what you see, little man? You think you are the master? You are child. You are child playing with your father's sword. Children should leave sword at home or else they'll get cut.”

The green glow in the Ambassador's eye's flickered away. He shook his head confusedly and stood up. He cleared his throat and turned to Captain Sheridan, “It would be wise to remove him perhaps?”

Captain Sheridan glared at Bester in disgust, “Get this pathetic excuse for a man off my station. I don't care how you do it, I want him gone. Now.”

Bester didn't even have the energy to protest as the security officers bundled him onto a stretcher and carried him towards the medical bay. He breathed laboriously and fearfully, wincing with every bump and shift of the stretcher and shuddering as he heard the haunting phantom laughter of Bast Hilder.

-=-
 

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John straightened his uniform brushing the dust off his elbows. He looked around the CnC, staring at the damaged consuls and control panels. The entire Command and Control center was in shambles. He let loose a long low whistle, “Yeesh, this is going to be a nightmare to get under control. Lt. Corwin I need you to get down to the secondary command center and start directing traffic from there. And for the love of god get some rescue ships out to the damaged ships on the edge of the asteroid belt and tell the Endless Bounty not to go around shooting the survivors.”

“Oye,” grunted a resentful voice from his link, “What about me? What am I? Chopped liver?”

“Oh yes,” John tapped his link, “Garibaldi? Do it now.”

“Hey wait a second!” Screeched the angry voice of the station's AI. The station's lights flickered on and off as the systems re-directed themselves to alternate computer terminals than the main AI core. The AI howled a piteous garbled, “No!” as it lost contact with all systems.

“Oh thank god,” Lt. Corwin smiled brightly, “It's about time sir.”

John quirked an eyebrow at the Lieutenant, “Do I need to issue that order a second time Lieutenant?”

“No sir,” the Lieutenant led the command staff off the destroyed Command and Control center at a dead sprint. They would only have a matter of ten minutes before the system went into command lockdown and would have to be manually restarted. A manual system restart was a nightmarish process than none of them were eager to go through, under normal circumstances the data was backed up but the data back ups were kept on the same computer tower as the station's experimental AI.

The room echoed with the distant footsteps of the officers, leaving John alone in the room with the Ambassador and his bodyguard. Hilder cocked his head to the side, lips narrowed in concentration. John glared angrily, “I've had enough people in my mind today for a lifetime Ambassador. I'm tired, I'm hungry, I've got a nightmarish mountain of paperwork to write up so that I can defend myself to the Senate, I'm angry, and I'm armed. If you so much as think a kind word in my direction we'll see if your personal shield can stand up to a sustained burst.”

The Ambassador chuckled politely motioning to the Skitarii. The cyborg grudgingly passed him a small silver flask. The Ambassador untwisted it, took a swig and tossed it to John, “Nothing so grandiose Captain. I was just wondering what we had done to merit such loyalty from you. I hope you'll pardon my bluntness but in the same situation my government would execute you for questioning someone of higher rank.”

John took a swig from the flask and coughed, “What he hell is that?”

“I haven't got a clue,” the ambassador shrugged, “A liquor that the Skitarii makes.”

“I notice your English has improved drastically in the past five minutes,” John scowled and tossed the silver flask back to the cyborg. He caught it with one of his facial tentacles and tucked it in one of the many folds of his robe, chittering amusedly and shaking with mirth.

“There is a power in being perceived as knowing less than you do. I will admit that my own increased proficiency is rather recent. An exchange of memory, call it a gift from your Mr. Bester. I borrowed it from him as a removed him from my mind,” The Ambassador leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, “Turnabout being fair play and all. Now you still haven't answered my question. Why did you help us?”

“Duty,” John sighed, “It is this stations duty to render aid to all damaged ships who ask for it, provided they are not at active war with us. You came to us as a damaged ship so we were obligated to protect you.”

“Duty,” the Ambassador nodded curtly, “Duty above all else. This I understand.”

“You realize that this isn't over. The President of the Earth Alliance will issue an order demanding that I impound your ship and arrest you personally. If you're declared a criminal our extradition treaties with all the member worlds of the Babylon 5 advisory council races will obligate them to capture or kill your ship. Greed to obtain your technologies will be more than enough to motivate all but the Vorlons, and they aren't allies to anyone except themselves,” John smiled sadly and kicked at a shattered circuit board, the silicon and metal slid lazily across the floor at his touch.

“I don't enjoy empty threats Captain,” the Ambassador laughed, “As soon as the ships shields are up and running I doubt there is a ship in the Alliance fleet who could go toe to toe with the Endless Bounty.”

“Wake up Ambassador! You can't attack the entire galaxy at once,” John waved out the window to the starry sky, “How are the food supplies doing Ambassador? Still a couple tons of grain in the docking bay last time I checked. How do you plan to continue replenishing that massive stock of food your ship needs? Piracy? Invasion? Could you protect a colony with a single ship? No Ambassador you need us. You need us for the one simple thing that you haven't been able to bring yourself to admit in any of our negotiations.”

“And what, may I ask, is that?” The Ambassador snorted amusedly.

“A place to belong,” the Ambassador's face slackened, “You've spent so much time worrying about surviving and posturing that you've forgotten that you need to find a place in the universe to call home. Every race under the sun seems to be searching for clues about the Empire you came from, including the Vorlons. Now if the Vorlons don't know where the Empire is that means one of two things, either you made it up,” John raised his hand apologetically at the Ambassador's furious look, “I didn't say you did.”

“And what is the other option?” The Ambassador's voice had a dangerous edge to it but John was already too far into this situation to turn back now. In for a penny, in for a pound.

“Your Empire is so far away that even you don't know where you are. It seemed odd that you asked for so many star charts, the idea that you would have lost all of them in transit seemed ludicrous but we were so excited to meet a new race that we didn't question it,” the Ambassador's face flashed from taught rage to slack acceptance so fast John feared he might suffer whiplash, “You don't know where you are, and you don't know how to get back home.”

A pregnant moment passed, the ambassador simply staring hatefully into John's eyes. Hilder sighed deeply, “You're too clever for your own good Captain. That's a dangerous trait to have. I'd make a habit of curbing it before it gets you into trouble.”

“You'll have to settle for it getting you out of trouble,” John sighed, “There is a way out of this. It's risky and I promise you ambassador, you aren't going to like it at all, but it will work.”

“Of course I won't,” sighed the Ambassador, “Well as we've finally reached the point of no return there is one last matter of trust I suppose I should resolve. You've been referring to me as Ambassador these past weeks as a matter of courtesy, a kindness I appreciated. However my title is more ignoble than the one you have given me and I feel you have earned the right to know it.”

“Oh,” John said interestedly, “What title is that.”

“I am Inquisitor Lord Daul Hilder. A high lord interrogator of the Empire and the cleanser of Boros VII” the Imperial smiled sadly, “And as you plan on having me surrender I would prefer to surrender as who I am. Not as who I have pretended to be,” he chuckled at John's surprised expression, “Captain I'm not a fool. You want me to surrender to your Earth Alliance. I spit on surrender.”

“Oh Inquisitor,” John chuckled, “You misunderstand me entirely. Tell me Ambassador, what do you know about the League of Non-Aligned worlds?”

The Inquisitor shouted the most creative series of epithets John had ever heard, balefire spouting furiously from his eyes and mouth, “Are you insane.”

“You prefer surrendering?” John tried not to look too pleased with himself as the Inquisitor balled his fists and clenched his teeth in fury.

“Oh very well,” the Inquisitor groaned, “Lets get this over with.”

John tapped his link, “To all members, there is an immediate meeting of the Babylon Five advisory council. Now.”

-=-
The member races of the Non-Aligned worlds grudgingly filed into their seats, chatting and arguing as always. Not a single race had been tardy, no one wanted to risk missing the excitement this meeting promised to bring. Delenn had neither been surprised that a meeting of the Babylon Five advisory council had been called following the day's unpleasantness nor that the Endless Bounty sat at the heart of it all. She had, however, been astounded to discover that the rumors that the Imperial's were mostly humans was more than simply the idle gossip of wagging tongues. She had apparently been mistaken.

The man wearing the Ambassador's robes and armor was distinctly human. His face, his eyes, his nose, even his scars were clearly and visibly human. He stood in the center of the room, flanked by his entourage. But then again Delenn considered herself to be human, human and minbari. Though in truth even she did not know what that meant. Was she human, minbari, both, or neither?

Captain Sheridan rapped his gavel on the dais, “I call this session of the Babylon Five Advisory Council to order. Are all members of the council here?”

“Captain,” groaned Londo as he massaged his forehead, “It's late, we all know why we're here and we're all eager to get back to bed. I call that we dispense with the normal formalities.”

“Seconded,” G'Kar ejaculated excitedly, “Hurry this up commander.” His red eyes were alight with amusement as he tapped his thumb and forefinger on the table compulsively.

“Very well,” Captain Sheridan stared around the room, “By now you're all aware of the Imperials rumored genetic makeup.”

“Rumored,” snorted the Abbai ambassador, “It looks like more than a rumor to me.”

“Please Ambassador,” The Captain rapped the gavel twice, “Let me finish. Today we will resolve the issue to everyone's satisfaction. Dr. Franklin, if you please.” He motioned to the Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Franklin walked around the room, passing out transparent copies of genetic information to the Ambassadors.

“These are genetic samples taken from Dr. Gazan with his consent. They have been run through the most sophisticated testing we have available to us,” Dr. Franklin pulled a remote out of his pocket and pointed it at the screen behind John. It lit up, displaying complex scientific data, “They are absolutely and unquestionably ****-sapiens-sapiens but they also clearly aren't human.” The room burst into a wave of speculative chatter, the members of the Non-Aligned Worlds jabbering excitedly.

“I beg your pardon,” the Imperial Ambassador recoiled as though he'd been slapped, “What do you mean by 'not human'?” Delenn smiled empathetically at the Ambassador.

Dr. Franklin tapped the remote, pulling up a cross section of Gazan's internal physiology, “You're unquestionably ****-sapiens-sapiens but you equally clearly didn't evolve on earth. There is at least thirty thousand years of divergent evolution in your genetic structures. You don't even grow an appendix near as I can tell,” he pointed to the massive Imperial man, “Galut is so far diverged from the human gene pool that he wouldn't even be able to reproduce.”

“Course not,” grunted the giant, “Daz what women are for.”

“No that's not.... never mind,” Dr. Franklin shook his head, “Look. For everything that matters you are clearly the same animal, but humans have only even been alive for seventeen thousand years or so. Your recorded history predates the evolutionary record of our species.”

The Imperials all jabbered excitedly and confusedly in their own language. The Ambassador's aide Jak cocked his head in interest, “This is most... irregular... most unexpected.”

“You don't say,” chuckled the Centauri Ambassador, “So we have a bunch of Earthers not from Earth to deal with.”

Captain Sheridan nodded curtly, “You see our problem. My government has instructed me not to take any diplomatic actions whatsoever on the subject.”

“It seems that you're ignoring that quite spectacularly Captain.” Mollari pulled out a tablet from his pocked and dropped it into a glass of water. It fizzed and spat in his hand.

“Not at all Ambassador,” Captain Sheridan smiled, “The station charter requires that I inform all Ambassadors of possible communicable diseases on station. As some of your species are susceptible to diseases carried by humans I was obligated to inform you of all relevant data.”

“For health reasons purely of course,” G'Kar snorted in dry amusement.

“Of course,” Captain Sheridan's face was picture of innocence, “What else could I mean to do.”

“Certainly not putting the council into a position where we either nominate the Empire into the Non-Aligned Worlds or accept that the terrifying technologies of the Empire are soon to become purely within the control of the Earth Alliance,” Londo flashed a mouth of pointed yellow teeth curved into a leering smile, “That would simply be underhanded.”

“Low down, dirty, underhanded and I won't hear a word of it Ambassador,” Captain Sheridan glared angrily, barely keeping the grin off his face.

“Indeed,” Londo snorted, “Is there a world willing to sponsor this idea that the human is most decidedly not suggesting.”

The Drazi ambassador stood up so quickly Delenn feared he'd sat on a tack. He grinned manically and hissed gleefully, “Drazi Empire welcomes Empire of Humans.”

“Do we have a second?” The Captain asked excitedly. The Abbai ambassador, eager to keep shielding technology out of human hands rose her arm eagerly, “Ok then we're going to have to put it to a vote. I must abstain. All those in favor?”

A majority of the room raised their hands, more than enough for the majority vote the Empire needed. Delenn raised her own arm in the affirmative, eager to build bridges with the Empire. If they truly were human that it behooved her to know them as well as she knew the humans of Earth.

The Captain counted up the votes, nodding contentedly, “All those opposed?”

A handful of arms raised, the Gaim, the Vree and a few others. However it was the echoing metallic screech of “Never.” from behind her that made her blood run cold. The Vorlon ambassador glared hatefully at the Imperial Ambassador, his voice box emitting a roaring growl of static.

Londo blinked in surprise and voiced the question on everyone's mind, “Never?”

“You do not belong,” The Vorlon glared at the Ambassador as he glided out of the room. Delenn sunk into her chair trying to avoid the Vorlon's gaze. She hadn't intended to contradict the Vorlon in public. It hadn't occurred to her that these humans wouldn't be part of the Vorlon's great plan.

Londo was less phased than she, “Well now that we've had that bout of insanity can we please call this session to a close? It's either altogether too late or sinfully too early and either a drink or a bed is calling my name.”

Captain Sheridan rapped the gavel three times, “If nobody else has any new business to call to the floor I will call this meeting to a close.” He looked around the room but none of the member worlds raised their hand, “Very well this meeting is called to a close. I'd like to officially welcome the Empire into the League of Non-Aligned worlds. Now if you'll all excuse me I need to oversee the recovery of four damaged Hyperions, none of whom will be happy to see me.” The Captain bowed politely, flashed that dazzling smile, and sauntered out of the room. He was a thrilling puzzle of a man, as kind hearted as he was devious.

The Vorlons had chosen well.

Delenn waited for the crowd of well-wishers to finish welcoming the ambassador into the Non-Aligned Worlds before she approached the Ambassador and his retinue. The Gaim ambassador hissed politely, offering a bisected hand in friendship. The Imperial Ambassador shook it politely, a forced smile plastered across his face as the handshake continued far longer than was necessary. She recognized the smile, she'd used it herself at a number of diplomatic functions when her patience was wearing thin.

“Ambassador Zas'ka'tha,” Delenn politely tapped the Gaim Ambassador's shoulder, “I believe that bowing is customary in the Empire.” She bowed in the Ambassador's direction and the Skitarii returned the gesture. The Gaim chittered off an apology and bowed, quickly rushing away for fear of causing another social faux pas.

Delenn smiled at the Ambassador, “Finally I have you to myself.” She glanced around the room at the station security that stood intently around them in a circle, weapons at the ready, “Well relatively speaking.”

The Ambassador stared back at her impassively, his face betraying no emption whatsoever. Small flickering embers of balefire danced around his face and eyes. Delenn cleared her throat, “Listen Ambassador Hilder.”

“Inquisitor is my title. If you must talk to me I expect you to use it.”

Delenn blinked, stunned at the man's rudeness. She smiled continued as though the awkward moment hadn't happened, “Very well then Inquisitor Hilder. I am Ambassador Delenn. I have sent you a number of invitations to open up a dialogue between our people.”

Inquisitor Hilder cocked his head to the side as though he'd misheard, shook his head, and laughed, “No Ambassador I think not.”

“I appreciate that the Minbari and the humans have had complicated relations in the past, and with your apparent kinship you must have certain misgivings about us. But we have so much to share with each other do we not? So much to learn.” Delenn's face crinkled upwards into a smile and she tutted, “Come let us start fresh.”

“Ambassador I must confess I only learned about the particulars of the Earth Minbari war this past week. I have no issue with the Minbari as a whole. Well, I have no more issue with them than I do with any other species of xenos,” the Inquisitor approached her, waking in a circle round her. Eyes roving over her form disapprovingly as he laughed, “What I have a problem with is you.”

He grabbed a lock of Delenn's hair and flicked it upward, “You disgust me. You are a twisted thing, neither human nor alien. A mistake, a half-breed, a monster. You are a toy, created to lull humanity into complacence and forget the crimes of the recent past. You are a distraction from the horrible actions of your people.”

Delenn stood in stunned shock, tears rolling down her eyes as the Inquisitor spoke her worst fears to her out loud. Her knees felt week as she feebly whispered, “No.. no..” Every moment of self doubt, every terrible nightmare. It was as though the Ambassador had distilled all of them into words and was pouring them into her ear.

“Yes a monster you are indeed,” the Inquisitor plowed on uncaring of her feelings, “But worst of all you are destined to breed little monsters just like you. Half-breed creatures created to force humanity to accept a happy lie, that every creature is the same and that we can always live in peace with monsters. I am no fool she witch of Minbar. Get thee out of my sight.”

“No,” Delenn snarled in fury and despair, “It is you who is the monster Inquisitor. You who have cut your compassion for all things different for yourself. I know who I am. I am Delenn of Minbar and of Earth. I am of both worlds and I am stronger for it.” The words sounded hollow, even on her own lips.

Delenn wiped the tears from her eyes and bowed to the Inquisitor, “My offer for opening a dialogue still stands Inquisitor. Your ignorance is no fault of your own.”

The Inquisitor paid her no mind as she walked out of the room and into the transport tube. She waited for the doors to close fully before she collapsed into a ball and cried. Some hours later Lennier would track her down to where she'd been sitting in the ships garden, staring at her reflection and sobbing.

-=-

Londo was stopped mid step on his way back to his apartment by a firm hand on his shoulder, gripping hard enough to be painful. He turned around to give the fool a piece of his mind only to come face to face with the leering grin of Mr. Morden, “Ah, you. Haven't I already seen you once today? What do you want from me now Mr. Morden? It's late, surely this can wait till morning, yes?”

The human shook his head from side to side dejectedly, “I'm sorry Ambassador Mollari but we really must deal with this now, and only now. The wheels of a much greater game have been put into motion.”

“Ah,” Londo put his hand over his hearts, “And am I to be part of this game?”

“Yes Ambassador, that is my indent. But the key player is someone else,” Mr. Morden pulled a photo of Ambassador Hilder out of his pocket. Londo recognized the photo, it was one taken the day the Imperials arrived. The Ambassador's leering skull mask wreathed in psychic flames, unsurprisingly the photo ISN chose to lead with.

“Mr. Morden,” Londo massaged his throbbing temples, “It is late.”

“Very well Ambassador then I won't waste too much of your time,” Mr. Morden chuckled, “Suffice it to say that your continued efforts to befriend the Empire are about to become extremely valuable.”

“Mr. Morden I have tolerated your allusions and vagaries on the values of the Empire for weeks now,” Londo pinched the bridge of his nose in the effort to stave off the start of a headache, “Is there a particular reason you are keeping me from my bed or do you simply consider recreational sleep deprivation an amusing pastime.”

“I have a favor to ask of you Mr. Mollari,” Mr. Morden smiled, “A very large favor.”

“What kind of a favor Mr. Morden?” Londo woke instantly. As of yet Mr. Morden had been content to simply offer impossible favors without asking for anything in return, implying future obligation. Mr. Morden could realistically demand anything of him for the services already rendered.

“The kind of favor that will have my associates in your debt for the rest of time Mr. Mollari.”

Londo’s face apparently betrayed his disbelief because Mr. Morden said, “I’m being entirely serious Mr. Mollari. I am going to ask a favor of you that you will find deeply distasteful. Make no mistake I will ask you to shake hands with the devil. But if you can accomplish it my associates will owe you more to you personally than they could ever repay.”

“I see,” Londo lied, “And what exactly is this favor that you ask of me.”

“I need you to keep the Imperials alive Mr. Mollari,” Mr. Morden tapped the photo, his finger resting over the Ambassador’s grinning skull, “I need you to keep hide them from a, hostile competitor of my associates. A particularly aggressive competitor.”

“From the Alliance you mean?” It seemed unnecessary to ask Londo for what he would already have provided for any member world of the League.

“Oh no Mollari,” Mr. Morden sighed sadly, “The Alliance are the least of your worries in the days to come. There are many powers in this universe more great and terrible that those you know of. Wars that you cannot even begin to comprehend. Trust me when I say that the rivalries of the known races are soon to become a distant memory,” Mr. Morden looked over his shoulder at the sound of approaching footsteps, “I should go before we’re seen together. Take care Mollari and think about what I’ve said.”

The human took his leave as suddenly as he’d arrived, leaving Londo alone and brewing with confusion. What was it about the Imperials that endeared them so to Mr. Morden? What did they have that made them so important to the plans of his associates? And most importantly, who were the Imperials endangered by if not the Earth Alliance?

“To hell with sleep,” Londo grunted as he changed direction and headed for the casinos, “Liquor and diversion will suffice for today. I cannot imagine I will have good dreams tonight anyway.”

-+-
A/N
I realize that this chapter was somewhat slower in being published that my previous chapters but I hope the length makes up for that. As always all reviews are appreciated, constructive reviews are adored.
 

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Not gonna lie, the sheer volume is a little intimidating. I'm going to hazard a guess and say one of the reasons you aren't getting any reviews from what is obviously a real labor of love, is because its hard to sit and read a story on a computer screen. :( Which sucks, because I'd tear through this if it was in paperback form (instead of having to take a break every page) I dunno what you could do...maybe make the posts a little bit smaller, instead of posting to the maximum character limit? That might make it a bit more reader-friendly.

I like what I've read so far. I'm pretty impressed with how much time you've put into it, like I said.
 
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