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Slave to the Brush
678 Posts
Wow. Excellent work my friend.

I'd have to agree though, the size of the posts are pretty intimidating. I almost didn't read because I started skimming throught the pages and saw the posts staying the same size. Glad I sucked it up and read :)

As for corrections go, I honestly didn't see much of anything that needs to be adjusted or changed. Excellent all around. +rep

Super Moderator
10,978 Posts
Hate to repeat the point, but you really need to consider smaller post sizes. :wacko:

From skimming over this it is clear that you have a well written piece, your technique is solid and the pace looks good.

Hoiwever, it will take some considerable amount of committment to really sit and read through these enormous posts. Rest assured I will try, because this definitely deserves recognition.

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #63
The Inquisitor couldn't have picked a better time to abduct her if he’d tried. In the aftermath of the Drazi situation Dr. Franklin had ordered Susan off the duty roster for two days. Assuming that Garibaldi remained his scrupulously obsessive self that gave the Imperials a twenty-hour lead before they noticed she was gone. More than enough time for the Imperials to spirit her away.

Susan wanted to scream, to cry out for help, to resist but she couldn’t. When she tried to speak her lips would not open, when she tried to run her legs would not work, and when she tried to cry the tears would not come. The injection had seen to that quite nicely. She’d thrashed and screamed as the Inquisitor came at her with the needle but it hadn’t been enough to break the Skitarii’s grip. Within moments of the needle’s kiss she couldn’t move any of her limbs.

Susan used the last of her energy to twist her hand into a rude gesture as she felt herself falling back into a comatose state.

Weakness overtook her and she fell into a deep somber sleep full of frightening dreams. She saw dark worlds, great ships, and twisted monsters flashing past her as she fell into a deep pit lined with fangs. Bursts of color whipped past her eyes. Brief flashes of her own past burst forth in front of her, distorted by the same haze of unnaturalness that overwhelmed every corner of her mind.

Fragmented spirals of thought, form and word wrapped and wriggled round on her powerless form like hungry pythons. They danced and sang in circles in the shape of children singing-mocking rhymes. Her family appeared around her, twisted and snake like singing in mocking tones, “Should have known, she should have known. Die, die alone, she would always die alone. The girl will always die alone.”

She’d woken several times through the night when the stations alarms had sounded, lying limply on the bed and cursing her weakness. She’d shaken off her drug-induced stupor just long enough to limply swat at the bald head of Jak as he injected another syringe of the paralytic agent into her arm.

He always smiled apologetically and stuttered, “I d…do hope you understand. Th…this is for the best.” She couldn’t say how many hours passed before the Inquisitor returned, but when he returned he was not alone.

Gazan, the Imperial doctor, jabbed her side with some bizarre instrument. The machine beeped and whirred, green lights flashing along its sides. The instrument flashed green and whistled a Gazan’s face scrunched in approval, “She’ll keep. She doesn’t seem to be having an adverse reaction to the paralytic agent. If we’re lucky she’ll resuscitate without any permanent damage to mobility.”

Good,” The Inquisitor rubbed his neck, “Very good.”

Susan stared back at him hatefully, thinking the most spiteful and painful things she’d like to do to him with all the force she could muster. He quirked an eyebrow at one of her more creative suggestions for the application of a knife, “You’d have to do that overhand or the whole process is wasted. You cut the femoral artery and you’ll bleed the man out in minutes.”

He sat down on the side of the bed, pushing a lock of fiery hair away from her face. “I am not a good man Ivanova. I do not pretend to be one. But I am not a heartless man and though you may not believe it what I do now I do out of kindness. I chose not...” the Inquisitor stared into Susan’s eyes as they fearfully darted around the room looking for some way of escaping. Daul sighed sadly, “Commander Ivanova I do apologize for the indignity of what comes next but it is necessary,” he nodded to the Skitarii, “Get the items we discussed.”

The Skitarii nodded and walked to a thick ebony chest that sat to the left of the door. Susan tried to watch what he pulled from the chest but her field of vision was blocked by Gazan as the Imperial medic leaned over her. He rubbed at the graying mess of stubble at his chin and clicked his tongue on his teeth.

He tapped the flesh at Susan’s knee, sending a jolt of agony up her spine, “Inquisitor I don’t know about this leg.”

What about it?” The Inquisitor leaned in.

If we strip the cast I fear it will break a second time. The bone fractured a bit already. It might never heal properly,” Susan screamed behind her gag as he tapped a scalpel against the plaster, “Do you really want to do this?”

The astropathic servitor didn’t have a damn cast, let alone one set by the esteemed Medicus Franklin,” the Inquisitor laughed, “If your goal is to be discovered immediately then, by all means, keep the cast. Otherwise Medicus Nor is more than sufficiently equipped to repair broken bones or replace them with augmentics if need be,” he tilted his head, “Come to think of it. It would probably be best for us to break it now. It would go a long way for realism.”

Susan struggled to move her drug-addled body, trying to punch and kick at the lot of them. Hot tears streamed down her fact at the futile wobbles she could muster. Gazan pushed her back down on the bed with minimal effort, not even bothering to look at her as he asked, “With respect sir. Is that wise?”

Perhaps not,” the Inquisitor looked into Susan’s hateful eyes considering the matter, “Cairn, the black one if you please.”

The bed shifted from the weight of the Skitarii as the he leaned in and wrapped a blindfold of black silk embroidered with golden eagles around her eyes. Darkness enveloped her as she felt the Cairn shove a thick leather gag between her lips. She desperately lashed out with her mind, feeble tendrils of thought weakly grasping to those round her.

A firm grip lashed out and grabbed her probe. Susan wrenched to the side and tried to worm out of the grip, biting and scratching at the grip. The inquisitor’s booming voice echoed in her throbbing head, “Enough girl! You’ve lost.”

No!” Susan bellowed, stabbing at the inquisitor’s mind with her own. She must have stabbed a hundred times, but each may as well have been a pinprick. The Inquisitor held firm.

The booming voice echoed in her mind a second time, brimming with satisfaction, “Such spirit! I will have use for you.”

In the distant blackness beyond the blindfold the Inquisitor snarled, “Gazan give her a double dose. I don’t want her waking till this is finished.”

Susan felt another prick, and a slight burning sensation before the world faded into nothingness. Silent screams filled her head as she labored against her weak limbs, futility battling the nothingness.

Break both legs for good measure Cairn. The hands too, I don't want her waking up and trying to fight her way out of this.”

Same to you too buddy,” Zack deactivated the comm. channel and flipped an impolite gesture out the window in the direction of the Beijing beauty. Captain Xingjian was understandably angry at the Babylon station. The orders he’d been issued by Bester were illegally issued, but that didn’t make thirty members of the Beijing Beauty’s crew any less dead, “How many more of these do we still have to get through?”

Lt. Corwin wiped his brow with his sleeve, “It looks like there are two more that will need to be repaired at the station before they can even be dragged to the dry docks by the recovery fleet.”

Oh boy,” Zack sighed, “Only four more of these nightmares to co-ordinate. And with only two thirds of the fighters still in service. The pilots are going to take hell for ejecting as early as they did.”

Better lose the fighter than the pilot though I suppose,” the station lost a lot of good men in defense of the bounty, some at the guns of Imperial ship. Ships were easy to replace, there would never be another Lieutenant Warren Keffer.

Are you sure about relaxing the security procedures on the Imperial dock?” Lt. Corwin chewed his lip, “It seems like the last thing we should be doing is making it look like we’re favoring a foreign government over our own armed forces.”

The faster they get the last of their property out of the cargo bay the faster the Endless Bounty stops sending unarmed transports ships past where we’re going to have five very angry warships. The crews of those ships are going to be hurting over their loss for a while,” Probably more than a while, people never really forgave their comrade’s killers. But would it be the Babylon station or the Imperials who earned the brunt of their hatred? “Best not to tempt fate.”

If you say so sir,” The proximity sensor chimed, a blue light flashing on the control consul in time with the tinny whistling sensor. The Lieutenant leaned in and squinted at the readout, “We have a new contact sir.”

Another sweep of space by the carriers looking for ‘ejected fighter pilots?” Any actually ejected fighter pilots had been recovered days ago but the military charters following Dilgar war stipulated that warships could never be ordered not to recover survivors of a battle after surrender. There was an unauthorized launch every two hours or so when the air group commanders conveniently forgot Sheridan’s orders not to launch fighters. The searches for survivors invariably involved a fly-by of the CnC window, “It’s been a while since Captain Emmett showed off.”

No sir. We picked up a weak signal coming out of deep space” Lt. Corwin typed some corrections into the stations sensor computer, “I’ve just double checked it sir. It’s neither an Earthforce nor an Imperial communication code.”

Coming from regular space?” Zack blinked in surprise and looked at the readout. Regular space travel between solar systems was uncommon for the civilized races. Even the races incapable of creating jump gates usually rented the use of more affluent race’s gates rather than risk the dangers of decades traveling the void.

Yes sir,” Lt. Corwin typed a couple of commands into the computer, “ Riding right on though regular space. It doesn’t seem to be responding to our commands.”

Are we getting anything off it at all?” Zack ignored the flashing red light next to him heralding another communication from the Beijing Beauty and pointed to the sensor readout to Lt. Corwin’s right, “There. What is that?”

That…” Lt. Corwin smiled, “Would be an audio transmission.”

Zack smiled, “Pick up the phone, let’s see who’s coming to dinner.”

Yes sir,” Lt. Corwin chuckled, “Patching it through.”

The transmission was grainy, it echoed with the random hiccups and pulses of radiation in space that distorted and twisted radio signals. However even mired in all that bustle and brouhaha a voice calmy chanted, “This is the Copernicus we come in peace.”

Oh for the love of…. if this was another cousin race come to visit Babylon Five Zack would eat his badge. Keeping the Imperial situation under control was more than he’d care to deal with as it already was. “Of course my day just doesn’t get any easier,” Zack chuckled and tapped his link, “Captain Sheridan, we need you in the CnC.”


Father Al’Ashir tried to twist the stiffness out of his neck. The pile of loose insulation padding he’d chosen to sleep on was serviceable, but left little in the way support. Beggars couldn’t be choosers though and down below offered little in the way of amenities. The security forces of the Babylon Station were looking for Imperial loyalists, and he wasn’t about to get caught. His mastery of the Alliance tongue was limited, but it didn’t take a master of the language to figure out that when the armed guards stormed a cargo bay that one should hide.

Two days had passed since then. On the second day he looked out one of the windows and watched the Endless Bounty exchanging fire with Alliance starships. That made his mission that much more crucial. He had to bring these people into the Emperor’s light before either Sáclair or Inquisitor Hilder tired of dealing with their treachery and destroyed them. No soul deserved to die without knowing the word and love of the Emperor.

He rubbed the spot under his robes where he’d hidden his prayer book. Praise to the Emperor it was still there. He’d feared some vagrant might slit his throat for the paltry couple of iron rings he wore but not nearly as much as he feared someone might take his prayer book. The gilded edges of the cover and hinges would be more than enough motivation for theft.

The destitute wretches in down below needed the word of the Emperor just as badly as any he had ever seen. There was poverty in the slums of the Endless Bounty to be sure, however he hadn’t seen hide or hair of anything that resembled an almshouse or a public kitchen where the poor might get some broth. As soon as he established the local parish, that would have to change.
It was the challenge few missionaries got, the opportunity to bring the word of the Emperor to those who were truly ignorant of it. Many Imperial citizens turned their backs on His word at some point or another, after all if faith were easy then there would be no need for the priesthood at all, but few were ignorant of it even if they were indifferent to it. But these Alliance humans were totally and utterly virgin territory, ripe for His word.

It was the chance of a lifetime, the mission he’d dreamed of since he first entered the clergy. He was living out his dreams, even though it was somewhat less glamorous work then he’d hoped for. This was a miserable space, what little light shone from the reactors was regularly punctuated by the rhythmically spinning exhaust systems of the station. It was the sort of space suited for servitors and little else.

Yet people lived here, people who he would teach. In fact two of the livelier inhabitants of down below were battling over a small scrap of something, twisting and turning on the deck in front of him.

Childrens! Childrens fighting is worthless!” Al’Ashir croaked in his broken English. His plain robes snagged on sharp bits of refuse as he rushed over to them, making him stumble, “Stop! Stop now!”

The two boys continued to paw at each other angrily till a third man emerged from a rotting pile of garbage screaming incoherently. The boys gave up their wrestling match and fled from the monster covered in rotting food.

Aaaarrrggh! Through the walls. Its coming through the walls,” Luker screeched, his eyes wide and out of focus. He blinked and then stared into Father Al’Ashir’s eyes, almost pleadingly, “Ozones… I need some ozones.”

Al’Ashir did not know what an Ozone was, but judging by the way the man searched his pockets frantically he suspected the man was recovering from some sort of narcotic. The man looked up at Al’Ashir disappointedly, “No ozones.”

Are you well my childrens?” Al’Ahishir said tentatively, “Is there helping I can be doing?” Al’Ashir knew he was butchering the Alliance language, but he hoped that perhaps his tone of voice might calm the man, ease him of some of his pain.

The man doubled up in pain clawing at his eyes, “No. Get out of my head.” Father Al’Ashir just barely resisted the urge to grab the man by his arm. Touching the man before gaining his trust would only exacerbate the situation.

Where are you?” the man looked around wildly, staring at everything. After a few moments he rushed over to the wall and started grabbing bits of refuse at random, flinging the garbage wildly about the hall and screaming excitedly, “There you are!”

Father Al’Ashir felt his heart breaking for this poor man as the pitiful creature. The man’s fingers bled from grasping at broken glass and shards of metal as he ripped things away from the window with wanton abandon, desperate to see the stars, “There you are.”

Oh you poor, poor man,” Al’Ashir mumbled in Damascan, “What has happened to you my child? What has happened?”

The man fell to his knees and clutched his hands together pleadingly. He started to pray to his pagan god, fumbling over the words in his haste, “blessed mary, hallowed be, thy kingdom done, thy will something, on earth as it is in space. Hail mary father of,” the man stopped and flung himself to the floor sobbing and screaming, “Gaaahhh.”

Hush,” Father Al’Ashir fell to his knees and bushed the man’s scraggly hair out of his face. “Do not worry my childrens.” He said in what little English he knew, “You are loved by one greater than what you fear.” Al’Ashir grasped the man’s hands, “Nothing to fear.”

The man shook his head and screamed, “No, no, no! I have to warn them! It’s here don’t you see! It’s here”

The man stood up drunkenly and staggered off into the distance at an alarming pace. Without even thinking about it twice, Father Al’Ashir was running after him as brusquely as he could. His legs protested violently, he wasn’t as spry as he’d used to be but he’d found the man most in need of the Word and he’d be damned if he was about to let a lost soul get away from him.

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #64
You’re late Inquisitor,” John looked up from his massive stack of paperwork, deeply grateful for the reprieve even if it was in the form of the Inquisitor and his Skitarii companion. He had half a mind to simply burn several hundred sheets of reports in favor of just facing court-martial. Only the Earth Government could be so horribly backwards as to want him to carbon copy his handwritten reports in triplicate in addition to the normal reports, “I’d almost given up on you showing up at all.”

I was unavoidably detained,” The Inquisitor pulled at the sleeve of his coat, brushing off an errant speck of dust, “In light of the recent unpleasantness your Mr. Garibaldi felt it was wisest for us to remove the remaining cargo I have in your station. Certain personal items required extra preparations,” he looked to the corner of the room, “Miss Winters.”

Inquisitor Daul,” she responded frostily. If looks could kill she would have destroyed the Inquisitor on sight.

John put down his pen and steepled his fingers, “Then you’re planning on leaving?”

Nothing so dramatic is planned Captain. As you so elegantly put it ‘where would I go?” his voice betrayed more than a little bitterness, “However it seemed a wise choice.”

The Inquisitor edged towards John’s desk and motioned vaguely at the mountain of paperwork, “If this is an inconvenient time I could return later Captain. You seem to be rather occupied at the moment. Not all of it is due to us I hope.”

A fair amount of it, yes. But stay, there’s something I need you to see,” Sheridan flipped a switch on his desk, lowering the portrait of President Clark and exposing the wide view screen embedded in the wall, “I received this message from my government this morning with instructions to deliver it to you personally. Please understand that as a priority one transmission I cannot replay this.”

I presume you’ve seen it then?” Flecks of balefire flickered about the man’s shoulders and face, giving an iridescent and distracting quality to his continence. His face crinkled into an amused smile at John’s indignant expression, “Were it a transmission you were expected not to see you would have delivered it to my quarters Captain. You’re feigning a lack of knowledge and an inability to pause it so that you may gauge my expressions and reactions. I don’t need to be a psychic to understand human nature Captain.”

John opened his mouth to disagree but was cut off by a dismissive wave by the Inquisitor, “Oh don’t bother denying it commander. I’m not angry about it, truth be told it’s what I would have done were the tables turned. But do me the common courtesy of assuming I’m as devious as you are,” the Inquisitor chortled, “I’m impressed at your daring if the truth be told.”

John, who was being neither daring nor dastardly, decided that it correcting the Inquisitor’s presumptions about his own cleverness was not in his own interest, “No offense was meant.”

Nor was any taken,” the Inquisitor waved and ornate ebony cane topped with a ruby the size of a man’s thumb towards the view screen, “Well let’s get on with this then. I have still a half dozen meetings with my fellow Non-aligned world members to be getting on with.”

John double tapped his link and pointed it at the view screen, activating the automated message on the crystal. The smiling face and cheerful expression of President Clark greeted them, sitting at the desk of his office in Geneva. He’d clearly posed himself in such a way that he could look and non-threatening as was possible in his body language, but still show the massive mock up of a Hyperion Class starship hanging from his wall. The President smiled into the camera, “Ambassador Daul Hilder I presume?”

He chuckled and leaned back in his chair, “I hope you’ll forgive me for not personally having attempted to contact you previously. The affairs of state often limit ones ability to chat with new neighbors. I just wish we were meeting under better circumstances.”

The bald statesman sighted exaggeratedly and shook his head. His face was a mask of deepest sorrow, “I want to assure you Ambassador of my greatest apologies. The attempt to seize your ship was done without the knowledge or consent of the military leadership of the Earth Alliance. I hope that we can work past this misunderstanding in order to achieve stronger ties of friendship between our two governments.”

The Officer responsible for this whole mess will be held accountable for his actions in a court of law. I assure you of that,” the President punctuated every sentence with a jab of his pen in the direction of the camera, as though he were brandishing a sword, “I will not stand for the legal system being subverted in this manner. This is not how my administration operates.” John carefully converted his laugh to a cough, turning to the side to hide his own incredulity.

Clark punched his fist into the palm of his left hand; leaning so that the presidential office’s model of the Hyperion cruiser was just visible behind him, “There’s no reason for this situation to escalate any farther. Men have died from your ship, men have died from my fleet, but this is the desperation of a single man who was simply overzealous in conducting his own duties. We share a common humanity and should act as such.”

He smacked his desk jovially with the open palm of his hand, the room echoing with the cheery crack of his ring against the mahogany, “To demonstrate the seriousness of our commitment to peace between our worlds I am giving blanket amnesty to all the officers of Babylon Five who came to your aid and attacked Earth Force vessels against the orders of a superior officer. Captain Sheridan, you did your duty better than anyone could have expected of you, well done sir.” The President saluted emphatically. John awkwardly returned the salute, trying to focus more on the compliment than on Clark’s likely involvement in the murder of former President Santiago.

The President smiled widely, “We have much to learn from you and, I hope, we have much to teach you as well. We may not be from the same world but we are brethren. Both strong, powerful, and able peoples capable of action.” The President stood up and held out his hands in a gesture of friendship, “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

The video cut out abruptly, leaving the spinning Earthforce logo in its place. A few pregnant moments of silence passed before the Inquisitor snorted and stood up, “It would seem that the meaningless barking of planetary governors sounds the same in any language,” he shot an incredulous look at John, “Does your chief of state actually believe that a five minute picture recording in which he rambles obtusely about us being brothers out of one side of his lips will make me forget that he would gladly have praised Mr. Bester out of the other side had the mission succeeded? And honestly? A recording? Have the dignity to speak to my face.”

I cannot speak to the motivations of the President,” Nor did he wish to. John would not bad moth Clark in front of the Inquisitor but he was not obligated to defend him either.

Hum,” the Inquisitor pondered the moment, rubbing absently at the stubble about his chin, “Can’t you. I wonder.” The Inquisitor fixed him with a piercing stare that John feared could see right through him, making the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

Stay out of my head Inquisitor.” John reached back and rested his hand on his side arm. Thross’ metallic limbs creaked ominously. The pistons in Thross’ arms twitched nervously, flexing cybernetic fists ready to tear John limb from limb at a moment’s notice. Let him try it, thought John. He’d placed a satchel charge behind the wall Thross preferred to lean on, not enough to kill Thross but probably enough to give John enough time to get out of his office.

I do not need to read your mind to get inside your head Captain. You should realize that as a military governor,” the Inquisitor pulled some sort of hard candy out of one of his inner pockets. He popped between his lips and sucked it greedily, “Nor do I need to be an expert in reading facial expressions to tell that you aren’t President Clark’s most ardent of supporters, even if you are loyal to your government.”

He’s telling the truth,” Talia admitted grudgingly, “I haven’t felt even a passive scan. Unless he’s very subtle and able to hide better than anyone I’ve ever met he hasn’t done anything… yet.”

The Inquisitor snorted in an undignified manner, “Miss Winters, if I wished to read the Captain’s mind I wouldn’t waste time trying to hide from your… limited abilities. I would simply overpower your talents and take what I needed from his mind.”

Enough” John cut in. Since the Psi Corps had attempted to arrest him the Inquisitor had taken every possible chance to inform Miss Winters of just how inferior of a psychic she was by comparison, “Inquisitor you will not insult my staff. Miss Winters is not responsible for the actions of Mr. Bester and I will not allow you to belittle her for your own amusement.”

Perhaps it would be best for us to continue with other business then Captain,” the Inquisitor said between chews of his hard candy, “I have other meetings to get to after this one.”

Have you finally agreed to meet with the Narn Ambassador?” G’Kar had been in John’s office at least twice claming that the Centauri had poisoned the Imperials against the Narn Empire. For all John knew G’Kar was right. Virtually all the supplies going to the Imperial ship were of Centauri origin or funded by Centauri gold. However John could not force the Imperial Ambassador to negotiate with anyone he did not wish to.

Yes, I have,” the Inquisitor chuckled and looped his thumbs through the pockets of his coat, “In truth I did not even realize that I’d been remiss in meeting with the Ambassador. I’d delegated the duty of meeting with some of the more,” he snapped his fingers searching for the correct word, “Ah, yes, some of the more esoteric races like the pak’ma’ra to Vira’capac. When he brought me the ambassador’s request I’d been distracted by the injury of Danzig, we had a difference of opinion, I slapped the data crystal out of his hand and in all the excitement of the past days I must confess it had slipped my mind. Jak discovered the invitation to open a dialogue only this morning.”

I’m sure G’Kar will be thrilled to her that. He’s been looking forward to talking with you for some time.” The Inquisitor shrugged disinterestedly at the prospect.

There is still the matter of your man in the brig,” John crossed his arms, “He killed a half dozen sentient beings on a whim. I want him brought to justice.”

Captain you can no more bring him to justice than you might bring a malfunctioning transport to justice. He is equipment that has been sabotaged. Don’t let the human shape fool you.”

You do realize I’m going to need independent medical verification of the non-sentience of the… servitor?” John stumbled over the word awkwardly. What little John understood about how the Empire made servitors caused him unease.

I want my property back Captain.” Flames flickered in an angry crown at Inquisitor Hilder’s brow, “This is non-negotiable.”

Inquisitor your ‘property’ killed people. What part of that hasn’t sunk in yet? I don’t know how they deal with criminals where you come from but we aren’t about to let him go just because you tell me to,” Miss Winters cut in exasperatedly, “Our legal system demands that all cases get investigated fully.”

The Inquisitor burst into a jovial barking laugh, “How foolish of me to be so lenient to those who defy the law. Very well, do your tests. Have your justice. Kill it if you must but try to leave it in once piece so that when I hand the remains over to Magos Frist she isn’t starting from scratch on the rebuild.”

John deeply hoped the Inquisitor was joking. He still hadn’t managed to get a grip on what would set the Ambassador into fits of laughter. They truly were a strange, strange people.

The Inquisitor jabbered quickly in the Imperial language to his bodyguard. The stoic Mr. Thross nodded sagely and the Inquisitor turned back to John, “Really all I need left in tact is the head. Do what you will with the rest.”

Less of a joke than John had hoped, “You’ll have to direct all questions to Mr. Garibaldi. This matter is under his jurisdiction.”

Ah yes,” the Inquisitor nodded approvingly, “The formidable Mr. Garibaldi. I regret that I only have knowledge of the man by virtue of his reputation. Magos Frist was quite… vocal on the subject of Mr. Garibaldi.”

I stand fully behind Mr. Garibaldi’s decision to remove her,” it was still a matter of speculation as to how the Magos had accessed restricted files through a public terminal. The security experts he’d spoken to in Geneva initially thought he was playing a prank on them when he’d asked. They had not, as of yet, been able to define or replicate the manner in which Kerrigan accessed the station’s computer core, “I cannot have people endangering station operations.”

I understand entirely Captain, I’m just astounded that the Magos ended up finding someone more stubborn and hard headed than she. Were I not already sure that your Mr. Garibaldi is not a psychic I would suspect the use of psychic compulsion was required. The idea that someone could remove Kerrigan from a machine she wanted to study against her will had never occurred to me, not without the assistance of a small army and perhaps an orbital strike,” He exchanged an amused glance with his bodyguard, Most certainly not by just ‘telling her it was time to go.”

Mr. Garibaldi is a persistent man,” Miss Winters examined her gloves with measured disinterest, “A hard man to go up against.”

John’s linked chimed and he raised it to his ear, “What is it?”

Captain Sheridan, we need you in the CnC.” Zack Allen said insistently over the link, “There’s something you should see.”

I’ll be there in a moment,” John deactivated his link and smiled apologetically at the Inquisitor, “I’m sorry Inquisitor Hilder, we’re going to have to cut this meeting short. I’m needed elsewhere.”

The Inquisitor’s eyes were focused on a blank wall of his office in wrapped concentration, utterly oblivious to John. “Inquisitor?” John tried a second time.

The Inquisitor’s focus snapped back to John, his face briefly a rictus of spite. In an instant it was gone and all that remained was the calm paternal face of Daul Hilder John had come accustomed to, “I’m sorry I was miles away for a moment.”

I need to go Inquisitor. I have pressing business elsewhere that cannot wait.”

No,” the Inquisitor said with resolute agreement as he stared into the distance. His lip twisted up in disgust, “No it cannot.”

Very well, we’ll pick this up later in the day then,” John shook the Inquisitor’s hand firmly, “Good day Inquisitor.”

Good day Captain,” the Inquisitor stared back from the wall staring directly into the Captain’s eyes, almost pleadingly, “Captain, remember some things are best left undisturbed and undiscovered.”

You know something I don’t?”

Of that Captain, I have no doubt.”


Lennier froze at the entrance to the garden, unsure if he should to enter or not. He’d adopted the habit of going to the gardens once a day when Delenn meditated in private. He used the time to review the day’s agenda and found the fresh air of the gardens to be beneficial to his thought processes. It required either diplomatic or military clearance to enter the garden so he could generally rely upon it being abandoned.

This morning he had company. The fearsome lithe form of Vira’capac stood in the center of the garden cooing with amusement as he played with his hounds. He was playing some sort of odd game with a large hunk of meat attached to the end of a stick. Whenever one of the hounds would get close enough to take a bite of the meat he swiped hard with his talons and quills, trying to stab them.

The hounds barked and crooned joyously as they dodged, weaved and snapped at the hunk of meat. Vira’capac replied eagerly with his own yips, whistles, and twittering barks, clearly enjoying the dangerous game as much as his hounds. Lennier winced as one of the hounds came dangerously close to biting through Vira’capac’s leg tendon.

The Kroot stopped abruptly and looked at Lennier, his hounds stopping in eerie synchronicity. The meat on the stake remained in Vira’capac’s hand, seemingly forgotten. As they all stared at him in the same way they’d stared at bleeding hunk of flesh with their unfeeling reptilian eyes Lennier couldn’t help but notice their sharp beaks and prominent talons with dread.

He swallowed nervously and smiled, bowing politely, “Good day to you Vira’capac. I hope I am not intruding.”

Vira’capac tilted his head to the side, parrot like, examining him intently. He sniffed twice then relaxed, barking and tossing the hunk of meat to the side for the mastiffs to fight over, “No intrusion was made Lennier of the Third Fane of Chudomo.”

You have me at an advantage it seems,” Lennier focused on Vira’capac, focusing on drowning out the wet smacking chomps to his left as the hounds tore hunks of flesh off and swallowed them whole, “I do not know the name of your caste else I would gladly do them honor as well.”

Wisdom your race has.” Vira’capac sighed, “See value in peace you do. A pity.”

Wisdom is never a shame Vira’capac.” Lennier smiled, “Nor is peace.”

If you were a foolish race you might have tried to fight me when you felt danger. If you tried to fight me I could battle you to the death and consume you,” the quills at the back of Vira’capac’s head twitched, causing the many beads and baubles to clatter against each other. Lennier noticed with discomfort that they seemed to be carved out of the finger bones of sentient species.

Consume me?” Lennier eyed the hunk of meat warily.

It is the flesh of an Ogryn who died in battle against the Alliance. Not my kill but a worthy death deserving of continuing into the next generation. A rare gift from the Inquisitor,” Vira’capac looked at his hounds lovingly, “We take in the best of those we consume and change, we adapt. We consume the strong to become strong, we consume the quick for their speed, we consume the dangerous for their potency but rarely do we consume the wise. The wise are usually clever enough not to fight when it is not needed,” he hooted with laughter and clapped Lennier about the shoulder jovially, “Just as well that wisdom is better earned than given or we would never be wise.”

I presume that you’re not planning to eat me then,” Lennier said in a hopeful voice. He suspected he’d be able to overpower the Kroot but he had his doubts about the hounds.

Not today Lennier of the third Fane of Chudomo,” he sat cross legged on the grass and motioned in front of him, “You will sit and I will tell you of my people. I shamed you by naming your brood before naming mine.”

You did not shame me,” Lennier bowed his head as he sat, “You flatter me that I am worthy of notice. I had not believed your embassy paid much attention to my people. Inquisitor Hilder’s last encounter with my government was… unpleasant.” Lennier did not bother to disguise the venom in his voice for the Inquisitor. Delenn had cried for hours after whatever it was Daul said to her.

The Imperials hear much and listen to little. They are too caught up in who they were and what they fear, but they live in a world of secrets and danger,” Vira’capac shook his head morosely, “But I am Kroot. Kroot is different. I will tell you of the Kroot.”


Because I am lonely. Because I am bored. Because I am trapped,” the Kroot longingly looked to the stars, “Because one day my people will reach these stars and they need to know I lived a worthy life so that I can continue.”

Continue where?”

Vira’capac pointed to the hounds, “To the next generation of my people. Just as the ogryn continues to my brood cousins.”

You… want them to eat you?” Lennier recoiled and eyed the door apprehensively. It probably wasn’t worth it to run, it might trigger some innate predatory response.

Vira’capac laughed, “Lennier of the Third Fane of Chudomo. You are wise but you have much to learn. So much to learn.”


448 Posts
Discussion Starter #65
Vir tried to make himself as invisible as was possible at the edge of the bazaar. The guy standing on top of the bar across from him was unquestionably a raving mess. Smelly, scraggly, and unkempt, he looked like someone’s worst nightmares about destitution and mental illness. And boy did he have a pair of lungs on him, “Hail to the Lord and the refuse you miserable sinners may be destroyed.”

He waved his arms, jumping down from the bar and scattering the passing shoppers and they fled his ravings. He danced just out of reach of a second man wrapped in the robes of some sort of clergy and screamed, “An army of darkness, soldiers of the Devil or something like that. We’re all in grave danger! A pox upon this station.”

He wriggled out of the clergyman’s grip and rushed Ambassador G’Kar as he meandered past, “You! A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit unless its got bad roots.”

Please I have troubles enough,” G’Kar continued to walk, waving the smelly lunatic away from him. The clergyman continued to try and talk sense into the lurker, speaking soothingly in heavily accented English, “Come now childrens. This is no time for joke. Calm. Calm.”

I have walked in the valley of the shadow of death,” the lurker sermonized, waving his arms wide and calling to the heavens. The clergyman tried to get the man into a full nelson but he simply wriggled out of his grip, he was too covered in filth to get a decent grip.

Good!” Ambassador G’Kar picked up the pace, “Keep on walking.”

Hurry Ambassador. He’s gaining on you,” yelled Londo Mollari from across the bazaar, thoroughly entertained by the Narn Ambassador’s discomfort. Unfortunately for him this only served to bring himself to the lurker’s attention. The lurker ran up to Londo, caressing his crest of hair lovingly, “You with the hair.”

Londo, alarmed either by the man’s odor or his caresses, grabbed fistfuls of jewels from the vendor he’d been perusing, tossed his credit chip at the man and fled away as fast as his legs would take him. The lurker tried to follow but was intercepted by the timely intervention of Mr. Garibaldi.

The lurker struggled in Mr. Garibaldi’s grip, “Now unless you have a class C missionary license its time for a little R and R.”

There is no shelter, it’s coming, it’s coming,” the lurker jerked wildly in Garbaldi’s grip, trying and failing to get away. Mr. Garibaldi was stronger than he looked.

Yeah yeah, I’m sure.” the Earther shook his head amusedly and looked up at the clergyman, “Hold on a second. I know you! You’re the imperial who hopped customs a couple days ago.”

The clergyman blinked in apprehension, turned and tried to run away, tripping over his own robes in the process. Mr. Garibaldi sighed, grabbed the clergyman by the back of his robes and frog marched the two of them out of the Bazaar, “If it’s not one thing it’s another, if it’s not another thing it’s both. Once, just once, I want a simple quiet day. It isn’t too much to ask is it? Really?”

So do I give this credit chip to you or is it a gift?” Vir turned around in surprise. He’d actually forgotten about the Brakiri who owned the jewelry shop. The amused Barkiri held out the credit chip in one hand and an receipt for an exorbitant fee in the other.

The jewelry ambassador Mollari took isn’t worth a quarter this price!” Vir protested. It was practically highway robbery.

Look buddy, my business is mostly haggling. You stick around to haggle the price down, you get a better price. You run off with my merchandize and I double my price just because you’re pissing me off. Either take the chip or I add another charge for wasting my freaking time,” he waved the chip towards his cash register threateningly.

I’ll take it,” Vir snatched it out of his hand, “But you’ll hear from the Ambassador about this.”

I’d love to. Tell you what. I’ll save us both some time. Tell him ‘No refunds’ from me in advance will ya’,” the Brakiri shooed him with a flourish of his hands, “Now get away from my store, you’re scaring away my customers.”

Vir made a halfhearted attempt at a rude gesture but ended up turning it into an insolent wave goodbye halfway through. Vir had never really been able to muster the sort of venom necessary for rudeness; it was part of why his family found him ill suited to politics.It was his own fault for not joining in on the family quarrels he supposed.

He looked down at the credit chip in his hand and chewed on the inside of his lip. Chances were that the Ambassador expected him to continue shopping for him in spite of his hasty retreat, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what was on the Ambassador’s shopping list. Never mind, he would just buy enough alcohol and recreational substances that the Ambassador would simply forget anything else he’d wanted Vir to buy.

He adjusted the necklace beneath his shirt. He hadn’t really meant to wear the necklace that the techno mages had given him. It was an ugly and morbid thing. Yet he could not bring himself to be parted from it. The warnings of Eldric still ran round in his head. He’d taken it to several jewlers, none of whom could identify either the stone in the center or the bone.

Checked the data crystal discarded by Londo in the hopes it might hold some answers but it was encoded by some form to techo-sorcery to open for Mollari and Mollari alone. Whenever he tried to open it the data terminal he used displayed a message. “This is not for you.” As much as he desired to see what was on the crystal he felt that trying to hack into a data crystal designed by a Technomage would be counter intuitive.

Vir wandered past a stall selling brandy at well over three times the price it was worth. The owner must have been convinced all aliens were either too lazy or incapable of checking the prices of other stalls. Judging by the small crowd of people milling about in front of it he probably wasn’t that far off base.

Well, best to get on with it. Chances were that there would be a liquor vendor with prices resembling sanity somewhere on station. If not, then it was the Ambassadors credit chip not his. The gods would forgive him some pettiness.


Captain we cannot ignore the facts. Someone in the command structure is a traitor. Someone in the senior staff,” Donat growled in frustration. Why Sáclair was being so damnably stubborn about this was beyond him. Someone in the senior staff had provided security codes to the Amon Sui saboteurs, allowing them to commit a precision attack on the generators and shielding systems. It was simply a happy accident that the Earth Alliance attacked and forced the Amon Sui partisans back into hiding.

Donat the Amon Sui were more than capable of getting old codes from the system before. Our machine spirit is absent minded, the dead do not always get their access codes removed. Even centuries later I suspect the first captains access codes still function,” Sáclair rubbed at a tuft of hair on his chest that was poking out from the space in his robes. The Captain, disheveled and only half awake took another greatful sip of recaff and eyed Donat distastefully, “I fail to see how this jumps to one of our officers being a traitor.”

Sir the codes they used were new. They hadn’t been entered into the system for more than a couple of hours before they were used,” Donat unfurled a scroll of technical information across the table, being careful not to smudge the ink. It was freshly transcribed by one of the data servitors and the ink was not quite yet dry. The penmanship of the servitor was dubious enough without smudging his writing, “Someone with access had to enter our systems and change the data entries.”

Access doesn’t necessarily mean an officer Donat. The old families all have some level of access to the main computers. You know as well as I do that the noble houses have their ‘secret’ access codes to the mainframe,” he chuckled dryly, “Though I suppose those would have already appeared on the logs wouldn’t they.”

Indeed sir,” Donat smiled, “Making sure that we get logs of the ‘secret’ activities of the noble houses was one of Kerrigans better ideas.”

It also means that the tech priests must be under suspicion for this. Especially considering how many of them were previously in the employ of the Amon Sui at some point or another,” Sáclair smiled as a serving girl arrived with a plate of eggs and some sweet smelling salted meats, “Ah fantastic! I’m starving.”

The serving girl turned to Donat, “Will Mr. Enzo be wanting a plate as well.”

Donat’s eyed the egg mash Sáclair was greedily stuffing into his face with a mix of hunger and apprehension, “I wasn’t aware than any of the birds on deck twelve survived.”

They’re from the latest shipments. Some bird from the Alliance home world… Ostrich or something to that effect, strange looking bird but the flesh is positively succulent. If you want some there’s more than enough. The Throne blessed birds lay eggs the size of my head,” he chewed the salted meat with a pleased look on his face, “The meat isn’t half bad either.”

It’s gotten the all clear from medical?” Donat licked his lips, “It does look quite good.”

Another plate then,” Sáclair nodded to the serving girl, “I have to confess that for such a strange looking animal they are a vast improvement over the inbred strains of grox we were relying upon before. I just wish they weren’t so insufferably violent.”

Violent sir?” Donat gladly accepted a generous helping of scrambled egg and slated meat from the serving girl. It had been hours since his last meal, “How big of a bird is this?”

A good two meters tall with talons more than capable of gutting a man with its feet. Nothing the quartermaster’s staff can’t deal with but not an animal to be trifled with,” Sáclair laughed, “Apparently he’s started nesting them as guard animals in front of the ship’s granaries to keep out intruders.”

Guard birds sir?” Donat rubbed his eyebrow in incredulity. He had a hard time imagining the hardened criminals of the Endless Bounty being intimidated by oversized birds.

Well we lost most of the dogs and unless you want the tech priests to start having to devote repair time to constricting cyber mastiffs in addition to every other damn thing we have to fix on ship then it’s a workable solution,” Sáclair straightened up stock still, “By the Throne that hurt!”

Sir?” Donat blinked in confusion then made an ‘oh’ of comprehension with his lips at the sight of a silver cable running down Sáclair’s arm, “Sir how long have you been linked up with the ship?”

Since the repairs started,” Sáclair winced slightly, “I need to keep a close eye on the progress of repairs, and I’m not going to be caught with my pants down for another Throne cursed sabotage.”

Sir I must insist that you remove yourself from the ship immediately!” Donat could have punched him. Linking with the ship for extended periods of time was dangerous. The human brain was never designed for the volume of data the ship analyzed. Every moment that the captain spent linked into the ships core processes increased the chance that he would get trapped within a rampant data flow. At best he would go hopelessly insane, at worst he would explode the ship with a stray thought.

I know what I’m doing Donat,” Sáclair clutched the cable in his arm possessively. His fingers shook slightly as he held it in place, though it might just have been the alcohol, “I know how to do this safely.”

Sir nobody knows how to long term link into the ship safely. That you haven’t gone totally insane already is nothing short of a miracle. Now you will unhook yourself from the system and get some proper rest or Throne help me I will get Nor and have him sedate you for the next week!” Donat pounded his fist on the table.

Sáclair glared angrily and swatted his cup of recaff across the room where it shattered against the wall. The recaff dripped down an ancient tapestry, staining an embroidered image of Ixxac the Reveler. “Did I ask you for your opinion on the matter Mr. Enzo?”

You did not have to sir. As your second in command and as your friend I am obligated to stop you from being a danger to yourself and others,” Donat pleaded with Sánclair, “Sir do not force me to make this a matter of official record. You know as well as I do how tenuous your position is already. If I have to relieve you of command the nobility may well rebel even if the Amon don’t.”

How dare you,” Sáclair ripped the cable out of his arm in fury, strode over and slapped Donat across the face in fury, “How dare you? I am your captain! I am your liege lord! I will not allow you treat me in this manner. You traitor!”

Donat looked sadly back at Sáclair, the slap deadened by his paralyzed face. Sácliar was capricious at the best of times but he’d never actually hit Donat before, “My liege you are acting like an impudent child. And if my liege touches me again I will be perfectly happy to have Sergei come in from the hallway and assist me in forcing my liege into bed where his wife will more than gladly assist me in tying my liege to the bedpost and sedating him.”

You insufferable… impossible… stick in the mud,” Sánclair floundered around searching for any sort of insult applicable to Donat. His shoulder drooped and he deflated, losing some of his swagger. He sighed and looked Donat in the eyes, “You’re right my friend. I’ve… I’ve spent too much time linked to the ship. My emotions have gone beyond my own rational mind’s control. My worlds were ill chosen.”

My liege has no need to apologize,” Donat said insincerely, “Now we must sit down and figure out how to plug up what is obviously a hole in security, be it a traitor in the command staff or not.”

Donat,” Sáclair sighed, “We must find this leak before the Inquisitor turns his attention from the Alliance. I cannot live through another damned round of him questioning my ship… my staff… my family…” He looked to Donat with wet eyes, “I cannot live through it a second time Donat. I won’t let him do it. I’ll blow the damn ship up first, honor be damned.”

Sir. If it comes to that I’ll kill him myself,” Donat said the words without thinking and realized, with no small amount of alarm, that he meant them, “Enough children have died for his Throne cursed cause. To the Eye with Inquisitor and to the Eye with Faust.”


Just got the message?” Captain Sheridan looked up and smiled at Michael as the Security Chief entered the CnC. The Captain and Lieutenant Corwin were crowded around the Lieutenant’s station intently examining the incoming ship.

Any idea where it’s from?” Michael leaned in. Whatever this Copernicus was, it was speaking English, which meant it was human. Why humans would be out this far into deep space undeclared on any flight plans was anyone’s guess.

Not yet sir,” Lieutenant Corwin scratched his head in confusion, “And for the life of me I can’t identify the make or model of the ship.

Why didn’t it use the jump gate?” Ships didn’t travel though space without using a jump gate, not unless they had some sort of a death wish. There was just too much that could go wrong. In addition to the various pirates, hooligans, and slavers that tended to roam the dark spaces between gates there were billions upon billions of natural phenomenon capable of destroying even the strongest of warships in an instant.

That’s what we’re trying to figure out.” Captain Sheridan smiled amusedly.

Lt. Corwin typed several command macros into the station systems, “Probe bot 2 in place for a longitudal scan. We’re trying for a visual ID now.”

The screen flashed and switched to the camera mounted on the robot. The Copernicus suddenly snapped into view. It was a primitive ship, barely more than a cargo hold slapped onto a set of rocket engines and a fusion reactor. It was the sort of primitive and unsophisticated design one associated with a pre-hyperspace society still constructing ships on the planetary surface.

Those look like letters,” Michael pointed to a small section of the screen, stopping the image and bringing them into focus. The blurred and charred letters were marred by decades of space debris and radiation to the point of being unreadable.

Ah,” Captain Sheridan snapped his fingers in comprehension, “It’s English. It should say USS.”

Earth sir?” Lieutenant Corwin blinked, sharing a look of confusion with Michael. Michael shrugged, he hadn’t the vaguest clue what Sheridan was yammering about.

The Captain nodded, “Check your history. Ships like this were used in deep space exploration back before we got jump gate technology from the Centauri.”

Lt. Corwin looked at the ship in shock, “That was over one hundred years ago, what’s it doing all the way out here?”

Things were pretty primitive back then,” Captain Sheridan shrugged, “Maybe it missed a thruster firing or went off course.”

It’s been adrift ever since,” Michel looked sadly at the ship. What a disappointing fate for the passengers. Adrift in space forever. Ugh, that was not the way he wanted to go out. The idea of being so powerless was terrifying.

Possibly.” Captain Sheridan shrugged, unwilling to speculate. His eyes were fixed upon the ship, no doubt wondering about the history of the ship. The man had a fascination with the past.

That’s a hell of a wrong turn to make.” Michael snorted. He would have loved to see a pilot try to explain that one to the passengers. ‘Um, sorry folks. Looks like were a couple billion light years from were we were trying to get to. Sorry for the delay.’

Maybe it wasn’t a wrong turn.” Captain Sheridan shrugged noncommittally.

Why don’t we ask the pilot?” Lieutenant Corwin said in shock.

There is something alive in there!” Michael damn near shouted. Good god, could the cryogenics systems still be active? He’d heard rumors that theoretically one could be frozen indefinitely but he’d never actually heard of that being put to the test.

Bring her in.” Sheridan nodded to Lieutenant Corwin before tapping his link, “Sheridan to med lab.”

Dr. Franklin speaking.”

We may have a patient for you in docking bay four.”


448 Posts
Discussion Starter #66
Zach snorted with amusement at his co-worker's antics. Officer Montgomery was doing his best not to gawk at the imperial dockworkers but failing badly. They were the oddest assortment of people he’d seen in his entire life, including his time on Babylon 5. Dock ten was a constant flow of cyborgs, servitors, swarthy skinned men with thick beards, and eerie floating skulls with glowing red eyes.

What do you think they want the ostriches for?” Montgomery squinted at trio of the servitors were lazily trying to direct a small crowd of large birds onto one of the eagle shaped transports.

Eggs?” Zack shrugged, “How the hell should I know? I know less about the imperials than you do.”

You were stationed outside their door, you have to know something.” One of the ostriches managed to bolt past the servitor and into the line of swarthy skinned men carrying bags of grain into another transport. The swarthy skinned men screamed and dodged the giant bird, moving out of the way and leaving it to one of the oversized Ogryn to overpower the angry bird.

I know they are very fond of staying inside their room and not talking with security.” Zack watched the battle between man and bird in mild amusement. The infuriated bird was carried one handed by the Ogryn over to a transport and flung in with the other ostriches.

Come on sir you have to give me something better than that.” Montgomery simply refused to believe that escorting the imperials had been as mind numbingly boring as it had been.

You’ve been watching too much ISN Montgomery. Nothing happened,” Zack shrugged, “I might as well have been guarding the Gelf Ambassador when he’s hibernating for all the excitement I got.”

He swatted one of the skulls away from the place where it had been hovering in front of his face, jabbering incoherently in the imperial language. It hissed angrily as it sped away from him and back to one of the cyborgs in the red robes.

Ex…ex… excuse me,” stuttered a pretentious voice from behind him. He turned and came face to face with the Inquisitor’s translator Jak. Crouched behind him and just barely fitting into the narrow passageway was the small mountain of flesh and sinew known as Galut.

Oh!” Zack blinked in surprise, “Hey.”

We ne.. need to get to the transports. Please allow us through,” Jak smiled politely and looked expectantly at Zack. Zack moved to the side, closer to officer Montgomery allowing the shambling intellectual past. Jak meandered forwards at a brisk hobble, lugging a rucksack full of books and scrolls.

Jak turned round after entering and yelled back up the hallway, barking stuttered orders in the imperial language. He sighed and looked to Zack, “Ogryn are st..strong but take a str…strong hand to command. They for..forget things too easily.”

If you say so,” Zack said noncommittally as he stared at the door, watching the Ogryn squeeze through the small door. It wasn’t quite wide enough for him, forcing him to get sideways on his hands and knees. It looked a bit as though the door were giving birth to a particularly large and smelly man.

Something was nagging at the back of Zack’s mind but whenever he tried to put his finger on it seemed to escape him. He knew it was vitally important but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what in the heck it was. Susan… something to do with Susan.

No, he shook his head. Not Susan, there was no reason to think about Susan. But why not? He had just seen her in the Zoccalo on some down time hadn’t he? Wait… when had he been in the Zoccalo? No, he must have been there. Never mind, he had more important things to do.

Officer Allen?” Zack snapped back from his own thoughts abruptly.

Yes… uh…” He floundered for Jak’s title, “I’m not sure what to call you.”

Jak will do officer. I hold no titles nor family names.” Jak watched the Ogryn heave a sheer silk bag over his shoulder. Beneath the sheer white fabric the curvaceous form of a woman was just visible, “Be careful with it Ogryn. Don’t damage the astropathic servitor.”

Zack swallowed and tried not to stare and the supple flesh of the woman. He’d been told about the ‘meat puppet’ that the Captain of the bounty communicated through but he hadn’t expected to see it in person. The imperial standards of modesty apparently varied drastically. He blushed and looked at Officer Montgomery who was staring at the flesh beneath the sheer fabric with wrapped attention.

Damn it Montgomery!” Zach smacked him, “She’s a corpse.”

Quite so,” Jak nodded, “Come Galut.”

The Orgryn stood in place, staring Zack in the eye and chewing his lip. Zack felt that same nagging itch at the back of his mind. There was something he needed to be doing. He opened his lips to ask but the words died in his throat. What was the question he was going to ask? It couldn’t have mattered that much.

Galut! Now” Jak said firmly, motioning for him to head to one of the nearest transports.

The Ogryn stood stock still, shifting on the balls of his feet. Staring from the sack on his shoulder to Zack with a pleading expression. The large man looked on the verge of tears but seemed too terrified to cry. Zack walked up to him and rested a hand on his arm, “Hey there big guy, what’s the matter?”

Jak swore in his native tongue, “C… claustrophia… how c… could I have forgotten? Ugh… with the added stress of course it would go into overdrive.”

Added stress?” The nagging feeling was slowly turning into a throbbing headache.

O.. of leaving his new friends of course,” Jak said a bit too quickly. There was something off with the entire situation.

We’re glad to have you big guy,” Zack smiled politely at the Ogryn, “I know that the Chief and Commander Iva…” Zack trailed off forgetting what he was going to say, “Uh, that is to say we’re glad to have you here and sad to see you go.”

That was enough to set the Ogryn off into a full-blown bout of crying. Tears the size of golf balls rolled down his cheeks, leaving runs down his face where they wiped away about a weeks worth of sweat and grime. He stood there silently balling, rubbing the stuffed rabbit tied to his side for comfort.
Jak’s expression soured and he started yelling in the Imperial language. The Ogryn swallowed, coughed, and started balling again as he followed Jak towards the nearest ship. Officer Montgomery shook his head confusedly, “What in the hell do you think that was about?”

I haven’t got the vaguest idea,” Zack shook his head and tried to ignore the nagging tug at the back of his mind, “Probably best to think about it.”

Yeah, the Empire is freaking weird,” Officer Montgomery smiled, “On the bright side now we know their women have all the right parts in all the right places.”

You’re a pig Montgomery,” Zack chuckled.



Sørian swore and ducked down another corridor as a third security patrol wipped around the corner. How many damn patrols did the Belzafesters have? It seemed like every damn on duty security officer was on their feet and walking around the so-called ‘New Belzafest’ ward of the ship. It was also the strip of what was formerly the main drag where the Amon commonly staged meetings.

Is Phoneutria out of his mind not relocating?” Sørian hissed to himself as he looked down at his chronometer. Twenty minutes to go. Damn it. He could make the meeting but there was no way to avoid the patrols entirely, well better to take the risk than to show up late and end up Hexathelidae’s next sacrifice.

Oh the two of them had a ‘truce’ to be sure, but Sørian didn’t trust that truce even half as far as he could throw it. If he showed up late and angered Phoneutria he would be sacrificed to the Prince of Excess just as surely as anyone else who disobeyed the Amon Sui.

He walked at a brusque pace down the sidewalk, doing his best to look like he belonged. Why on earth was there such a powerful security presence in this section of the ship? Never mind, just two blocks to go. Sørian felt even more naked and out of place among the Belzafesters than he did around any of the other commoners. He couldn’t help but fear that he stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of all these fair skinned foreigners. It was like carrying a sign that said ‘look at me I’m foreign.’

It was a blissful relief to reach the door painted with the green fist of Amon that smelled of Almonds and Cinnamon. He pushed the door open and rushed into the room, saying, “For the glory of the hand that grasps I come, for the glory of the hand that holds I come, for the glory of the hand that gives I come, for the glory of the hand I come,” as quickly as he could manage while rushing over to his place in the circle.

Hexathelidae watched him run past her in apparent disappointment that he’d remembered to say the password this time, absently rubbing one of her knives lovingly. Sørian ignored the woman and suppressed the pleasant memories of what lay beneath the synthaskin bodysuit she wore. Now wasn’t the time for that sort of thinking. He looked at his chronometer, ten seconds to go. Thank the true gods!

He looked up in relief and nearly shouted in shock when he came face to face with the last person he ever expected to see. Nathaniel Emanuelle Sáclair was standing in front of him. It took him a few seconds to realize that Captain Sáclair was neither moving nor breathing, “A damned hologram…”

A damned good hologram,” muttered a surly voice from behind him, “Some of my better work if I do say so myself.”

Dex,” Sørian said coldly to the jovial voice behind him, “I was lead to believe you’d perished in the Belzafest attacks.”

Aye,” Dex nodded, “That sounds about right then eh’ lad. Sept’ of course for the fact what I aint’ dead. Least ways not yet.”

Do learn to speak properly at some point,” Sørian sneered, “It will improver your quality of life greatly.”

Nah, I think I’ll keep me language the way it is, than ye’ kindly. Especially seeing has how it pisses off spoiled little shits like you,” Dex smiled, “I look forward to the day when we no longer require the services of your kind.”

And when will that be? When techo heretics like you finally have the run of what you want? Doing what you want? Making what you want? I may serve evil creatures but it was the likes of you who made the Iron Men who destroyed the first human Empire,” Dex's lip curled and he spat on the ground at Sørian's feet before storming away. Dex was an oddity in the Amon Sui partisans. He made no effort to conceal his face or his motivations, it was entirely possible that Dex was the man's actual name.

That Osma hadn't managed to catch the bull headed prig was a sign of the techo pagan's unique skills. Dex was the worst sort of techo heretic traitor that the Adeptus Mechanicus loathed. He sought knowledge for its own sake and distributed complex and often dangerous technical data to everyone he believed would be able to understand it. If the man had his druthers the Empire would be ruled by cold, emotionless, unthinking machines. Disgusting.

It is unwise to provoke him Latrodectus,” hissed a breathy voice to his side. He looked over at the buxom form of Stenatoda. The dead did seem to be more active today than was usual. Phoneutria was up to something big if he was keeping partisan cells out of the loop.

I hold powers he cannot dream of Stenatoda. The true gods are with me in all I do,” he deeply enjoyed how her lip curled in distaste at a reference to the dark patrons. “I have nothing to fear from him.”

That is only because your imagination is limited Sørian. Not because he is less of a predator than you are,” Stenatoda shook her head dismissively, stretching the porcelian flesh behind her bodice and veil deliciously. She would make a perfect sacrifice to the Thirsting Prince someday. She had the perfect throaty voice for the screams necessary to get that particular demon prince's attention.

Sørian bowed insincerely, “Those with power do not require imagination, only opportunity. Now best not to keep the patron waiting.” He gestured to the wide circle of partisans, dismissing her entirely. The furious Stenatoda strode away, giving Sørian ample time to examine the curve of her hips as she went.

I do not like this Latrodectus,” hissed the smoky voice Hexathelidae as she wrapped her body around his from behind. Lithe hands rested indecently on his person, rubbing and tweaking at his flesh. She really was quite pleasant when she wasn't trying to gut him like a fish.

Nor I Hexathelidae,” Sørian said as he looked around at the room, “Nor do I.”

The circle was larger than was customary. It was rare for more than ten partisans to meet at once, the risk that a single cell might be discovered by ship's security was too great to hazard a large gathering. But there were not less than forty partisans and a good three score bodyguards packed into the modest dwelling.

Something momentous is going to happen soon, though why Poneutria is risking us all in one place is beyond me,” Sørian bit his lip stop from moaning. He grabbed Hexathelida's hand and twisted it painfully, dislocating her thumb, “Now is not the time for that.”

Hexathelida bit his ear hard enough to draw blood and smiled at him. Her eyes clouded with lust and she gurgled in delight as she popped her bone back into place. Damnit, he'd forgotten that the woman had no pain receptors, only pleasure. Insufferable death cultist.

Later woman,” he hissed, “Later.”

Hexithelida caressed her hips and knives, starting at him with murder in her eyes. Sørian turned his back on her, half expecting a sacrificial knife to wedge itself in his spine. Luckily it did not. Hexithelida took her place in the circle next to him, panting slightly with exertion and anticipation.

The room echoed with a booming gong and the center of the room flickered into life. The translucent blue holographic image of Phoneutria glared at everyone and no-one. Sørian had never seen him this angry. The sorcerer smiled, his patron would no doubt have a new sacrifice this day. He exchanged a glance with Hexithelida, her eyes were wild with anticipation.

I am disappointed beyond words at the rampant incompetence displayed by the members of our organization responsible for launching an attack on the shield generators while we are in the middle of hostile territory,” Phoneutria's eyes quivered with rage, “Our purpose is to conquer the Endless Bounty not get it blown up by some gun happy backwater outpost with an over-inflated sense of jingoistic pride.”

A nobleman wearing a feathered frock flinched as Phoneutria's hologram jabbed a glowing finger toward's the flaring nostril's of his stylized porcelian mask, “If we blow up the ship then this was all for nothing. None of this entire damned process matters.”

An opulently dressed merchant wearing a hawklike mask covered with opals burst into tears under Phoneutria's withering gaze, “This is not Imperial space. There is no Amon naval presence to commandeer the bounty after we've disabled the shields. Simply because you've been told that a plan is put in place does not mean that I am ordering you to put it into action the second the whim hits you. For the sake of the Amon think before you act! If I haven't ordered you to launch an attack it's not because I don't realize you can do so. It is because I do not want you to do so.”

Phoneutria's image hissed and sparked as he started to pace at a speed slightly faster than the holographic projector could keep up with. Vauge disappointed after-images of himself bloomed in the space behind him. The ethereal specters of his rage contorted and vanished ominously.

"We cannot afford these mistakes! The pretender Sáclair is in a weakened position. Soon he will fall. This I can promise you faithful brothers of the Amon," Poneutria's eyes narrowed and he glared at Sørian, "That I will meet out punishment to those responsible. Ambition has its limits and loyalty to the Amon is more important than whatever other oaths you may have to keep. It would be wise not to make promises that force you to come into conflict with our glorious purpose."

It took a few moments for Sørian's brain to process what Phoneutria was implying. By the Gods! Phoneutria thought that he was the architect of the failed assault on the Endless Bounty. Sørian's blood ran cold. God's blood, he had no way of proving that he wasn't the archtect. He couldn't exactly claim he wasn't guilty of betraying Phoneutria's plans for the Endless Bounty. He'd gone through a great deal of effort to conceal his movements too and from the ship, but not his absence from his quarters.

A life of heresy and betrayal and his death would most likely be the product of a case of mistaken identity. He would have found it funny were he not inimately aware that he might be torn to pieces at any moment. If it came to a fight he would lose, his own talents in the true craft were limited. Without summoning circles or totems he was hard pressed to create more than a couple bursts of fire before his reserves of psychic energy became depleted. He was a trained summoner, not a battle mage. With his patron's deity's weakened hold on this plane of reality he was hardly even that.

He exchanged a worried look with Hexithelida, though it was hard to read her expression behind her mask her posture had tightened and her fingers were gripping her knives, not caressing them. Judging by her aroused panting she seemed to be expecting the chance to stab someone at a moment's notice.

Sørian wondered how quickly she would turn on him when the opportunity came. Probably she'd be the first. Hexathelidia was not the greatest proponent of loyal service.

Phoneutria snapped his fingers and Sørian abruply snapped back to reality, "We wait. We bide our time. And we will strike. Whoever brings me the head of the man responsible for this nightmare will be rewarded greatly. I will grant a pardon to those caught in his plans, but if and only if they bring me his head," he glanced ominously arount the room, "Do not presume that I do not already know of your treacheries. I am cleverer than you give me credit for and twice as dangerous. Now get to it."

He snarled and clapped his hands, phasing the hologram back into nothingness, leaving the assorted saboteurs together alone in the room. Silence reigned in the room as they Amon Sui partisans stared at each other. A room full of the most capable murders and brigands on the Endless Bounty, all of them wondering who's blood would be spilled. All of them wondering how to pin the failed conquest of the bounty upon.

All of them, that is, with the exception of Dex. The techopagan was not nervously examining his fellow partisans. No his eyes were fixed unflinchingly upon Sørian, his lips quirked into a half smile, and his eyes were twinkling. There was something about that smile more disturbing than any demon he'd ever summoned.

Us least of all I expect,” Hexathelida sighed, “You realize we're the prime suspects of treason and treachery if anyone gets too antsy with their side arm.”

The though had crossed my mind yes. It would be perhaps wise to beat our retreat sooner rather than later?” Sørian tapped slightly into the power of the fetish he had tied about his neck. Power crackled uncomfortably beneath the flesh of his right hand as he made a hasty retreat towards the only door. Sørian felt a surge of relief that he had nearly been late for the meeting, a few minutes earlier and he would have had to muscle past the sour faced trader and his Ogryn bodyguards.

Hurry,” the voice of Hexathelida was heavy with anticipation as she watched a half dozen masked partisans exchanging accusations, “These morons are going to start a fight here and now.”

I'm trying!” Spat Sørian. He fumbled with the controls to the door, punching in the code to exit once, twice, thrice, “What the hell do you mean unable to comply!”

It clicked in his head, “By the Gods... he can't mean for us to...”

This is going to be a blood bath,” hissed Hexathelida in a mix of lust and fear as she inched towards Sørian.

Unless I miss my guess that's the point of having such a large meeting,” Sørian swore, “He's thinning the herd, at least of those of us he has doubts about. He can't risk letting us become too ambitious or too competent while we're out of the range of the Amon's sphere of influence.”

Duck!” Hexathelida screeched and dropped to the floor, yanking Sørian down with her. A cascade of stubber fire raked the door from some damned fool's hold-out pistol. The Amon Sui meeting place turned into a charnel house as the partisans turned on each other.

Oh to hell with this!” Sørian fumbled with the pouch at his waist, examining the supplies he had with him. He didn't have his more esoteric supplies with him, the hand of Gak'vo'ketha'lo would have been substantially more difficult to explain than chalk and feathers, but it would be enough, “Hexathelida! We're getting out of here. I need two hearts, a liver, and an ear.”

Into that?” Hexathelida smiled and looked into the bloodly melee. She licked her lips and breathed heavily, “I suppose it has been too long since I've properly done my devotions to the thirsting one.”

This is not the time Hexathelida! Two hearts, a liver, and an ear!” Sørian flinched as an axe blade swung through the air, sailing past his ear by inches. He reached into his bag and pulled out a small bone totem of a man inscribed with a cruel angular script, “Unless you have some pressing urge to die now I suggest you get moving.”

Hexathelida guttarally screeched and tossed herself into the swirling morass of blades and bullets. Her grimalkin form stretched and swayed rhythmically as she dodged and parried the oversized combat knife carried by a musclebound ogryn.

Sørian grabbed a sliver of chalk out of his bag and started to inscribe blasphemous symbols upon the door. A summoning circle was a dangerous thing, a single rune put out of place or gylph misspelled could result in disaster. It required hours, or even days, of careful planning to do properly. However if one's actual goal was to cause an explosion it could be safely achieved in minutes.

Heretic!” bellowed a furious voice to his left. An aging man with a greying beard was advancing on him with a cruel looking truncheon, “I don't care if you were responsible for this nightmare, I will still gladly see you dead.”

Sørian rolled his eyes, grabbed the bone totem and broke it in half. The old man fell to the ground, dead, “I don't have time for this!” Sørian looked at his circle, the 'ang' rune looked like a 'gelf' but that was probably in his favor this time.

A pistol Sørian,” he shouted to himself as he rooted through his bag for the vial of essence of Tanshir Willow, “Next time bring a pistol to the bloody meeting!”

He looked to the melee, looking for Hexathelida. His brain went white with anger, the damned fool of a cultist had fallen into a blood rage and entirely forgotten about her role in collecting components, “Must I do everything myself?”

Pulling a jagged knife out of his coat, Sørian crawled to the old man. The floor was slick with the blood of the dead and dying. The blood, there was too much blood. Sørian turned in and looked to the door, realizing his mistake too late to change anything. The entire room was one giant charnel house, the poorly made summoning circle wouldn't differentiate between sacrificial murders and general fighting. All it would take is a single drop of blood shed in the battle and the circle would implode.

By the gods! Hexathelida, grab onto something,” Sørian ran to the wall and grabbed the bulkhead as tightly as he could, waiting for an explosion that never came.

Silence descended upon the room as the Amon Sui partisans all came to a halt. He didn't need to look behind himself to recognize the wailing howl behind him. The circle was open and a door to the warp ripped open. A deep birdlike wail echoed from inside the portal as a long skeletal arm reached out from the void and clasped the deck. Steel tore under razor sharp talons.

No, no, no, no!” It was only supposed to explode, not actually open a warp portal. The ship's hexagrammic wards were ostensibly too strong for that to happen. Another impossible thing happening with his summoning circles in the space of a month. It must be a new record.

The talon tipped hand reached out and swatted around as the deamon struggled to enlarge the hole. An unluck partisan caught a viscous backhanded swat that split his head like a mellon. The partisans opened fire on the hand, their murderous intentions briefly forgotten.

Sørian turned and came face to face with the impassive visage of Dex, still wearing that insufferable smile. Sorian grabbed for the front of Dex's shirt with every intention of tossing the bastard to appease the demon, but his hands just passed through and the hologram disappeared.

Cowardly bastard!” Swore Sørian. The sonofabitch had probably disappeared at the same time as Phoneutria. Which meant that the locked door behind the portal wasn't the only door. There had to be another door.

Sørian felt along the wall till his hand found a recessed part, hidden by a hologram. He pressed a button and felt a cool rush of air from the passageway beyond. Sørian exhaled with relief as he ducked down the passageway and gladly lapped at the tepid air. He opened his eyes and realized that he was staring into a timer. A timer slowly declining to zero.

Techopagan bastard,” Sørian ran as fast as his legs would allow, his legs strengthened by the talismanic energies of his fetish. Two minutes, only two minutes till it exploded, only two minutes for him to get to safety, it would be enough.

Sørian ran, jumped, ducked, and leaped his way down the dark tunnel, unsure where it went but unwilling to risk stopping long enough to check the maps along the walls. Just as he felt his lungs were about to burst from exertion a hot blast of air rocked up the corridor. The concussive force knocked him off his feet and flung him off of the causeway.

Sørian fell three stories and crashed bone-crushingly into a large pile of refuse, his arm twisting up the wrong way. Sørian cursed the very souls of Dex and Phoneutria as he plucked spoiled vegetables from his face and hair. The bastards had been working together, Dex had to have known about that passageway in advance from Phoneutira in order to set up the bomb.

Fine then, if that's the way they wanted it Sørian could handle that. Loyalty begets loyalty, treachery begets ambition as his mentor used to say. It was time for Sørian to get ambitious.

The bulkhead of the ancient ship was thicker than the standard modern ship. Without the advanced ship building technologies of he modern era pre-hyperspace ships had been forced to rely on thick hulls to protect them from dangerous space debris. It took nearly an hour to cut through the two feet of sold steel.

When the bulkhead eventually gave way it popped outward with a puckering squelch of changing pressure and crashed deafeningly against the deck plates. Michael and his security contingent stood at the ready, warily staring into the darkness.

Are you sure the added precautions are necessary sir?” Dr. Franklin asked John, “We only detected a single humanoid life-form.”

They're perhaps excessive Mr. Garibaldi, but I prefer to be cautious. Something the Imperial Inquisitor said has me a bit spooked about this ship,” Captain Sheridan eyed the sleeper ship apprehensively, his omnipresent grin dulled somewhat with worry.

The guy gives me the creeps sir,” Michael hadn't cared much for the Inquisitor, eve before he knew the man's official title, “I'm especially uncomfortable with his request to have Dorn returned to him.” Michael motioned for his security team to pile into the ship. The small contingent of men hopped into the ship, guns at the ready.

I don't know if we legally have the right not to return him. He is an imperial citizen,” Captain Sheridan said halfheartedly, the words hollow on his lips, “Members of the non-aligned worlds have the right to request that trials be conducted by their own legal system.”

In this case it would be convicted without trial,”Dr. Franklin's had his medical sensor grasped in a death grip at the thought of the Imperial plan for Dorn, “They've made it abundantly clear they simply intend to lobotomize him or, barring that, desecrate his body.”

I'm with the Doc on this one sir,” Michael nodded to Officer Daniels acknowledging the all clear and motioning for the Captain to follow

Captain Sheridan scratched the back of his head and entered the ship, “I've send a message to Senator Hidoshi but I don't know what we can do about it in the meantime other than stall.”

Michael grunted noncommittally as he entered the pitch black of the ship and squinted trying to make out shapes in the distance. The blindingly bright lights attached to the security officer's guns illuminated random bits of the ship as they searched the corners to re-verify the ship's security. It was dark, damp and more than a bit spooky.

Not exactly a vacation spot,” muttered John as he eyed the ship's architecture with wrapped attention, “Amazing what we were able to do with so little.”

Sir,” Officer Burton walked up to Michael and gave a hasty salute, “We searched the ship. There are two cryogenic freezing tubes. The one on the left is a corpse, the one on the right seems to have kept containment, but I can't say for sure.

I’ve got life signs on this one right here,” Dr. Franklin shouted excitedly. His medical sensor flashed ominously, “her signal is weakening.”

Opening the ship must have triggered something,” Captain Sheridan's eyes widened in alarm and regret. If she died the Captain might not forgive himself, his curiosity might be her undoing.

“We’re going to have to get her back to med lab or we’ll lose her.” Dr. Franklin tapped his link and waved at the security team, “What are you waiting for? Get a gurney!”

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #67
It should have been obvious to him that his mistress' pride had been wounded by Mr. Garibaldi’s dismissial of her but it honestly hadn't occurred to him that the Magos had pride to wound. She'd always seemed somehow serene and beyond such paltry hauteur. Magos Frist was in a petulant mood. Everyone knew that Magos frist was in a petulant mood. Everyone knew that it was unwise to mention the Magos' mood to her. Everyone, that is, except Abbas. Foolishly Abbas had made the mistake of asking her, “What's wrong mistress?”

It had been a mistake.

Magos Frist flew into a rage, ranting about how an apprentice was to listen and obey without question, about how he should not expect special treatment because of his birth, and about how there was no space in her service for such useless drivel as gossip. Abbas was close to tears by the time she finished and greatly feared that she might hit him.

Blessedy Tuul had interceded before she'd actually hit him, claiming that it was time for Abbas' training and indoctrination that day. Abbas could have kissed him. The two of them walked away from the raging Magos, not daring to speak till they'd passed through the ring of cherubs and skulls that was always flying around her.

I don't get it,” Abbas twisted and dislodged himself from Tuuls grip, “What is wrong?”

With the Magos? Not much more than wounded pride. Give her a project to work on and she'll be right as rain in moments,” Tuul barked out a metallic cough of a laugh, “You forgot the Was a woman didn't you?”

Abbas protested indignantly stamping his foot, “I did no such thing.”

Tell me boy,” Tuul said his optics focusing on Abbas' face, “Are you ignorant of women entirely?”

I have many sisters,” Abbas said defensively, “I know how to deal with women.”

You could have fooled me boy,” Tuul playfully ruffled Abbas' hair with a mechandrite as he locked the boy into a headlock, “What's wrong? Honestly? I mean child that is the first mistake any man learns to avoid.”

I...I...” Abbas sighed, “I guess I did forget.”

There's no shame in that boy. I forget sometimes myself. Half the time I forget I'm a man for that matter. As you become more and more machine it matters less and less,” he tapped the side of his head knowingly, “But much as I try to be more machine than flesh every once and a while the flesh gets in the way. It's up to us to aspire for more, but there's only so far we can go.”

I understand,” Abbas smiled, “So we never really lose what makes us who we are.”

Well, not for centuries anyway,” Tuul shrugged, “If you live long enough you will reach a point where all that matters is pure logic, but that isn't something to worry about for a long, long time,” he cracked his neck and gestured to an open door with one of his mechandrites, “Now let us get on with your duties.”

Abbas stared at the curious machine in front of them. It was like nothing he'd ever seen before in his life, a strange mix of alien looking bits and bobs two stories tall, “Magos adept Tuul... what in the name of the Empe.... Omnissiah is that?” Abbas floundered remembering his new devotions.

That is a hyperdrive generator that we... liberated from the wreckage. It has taken weeks to for the Inquisitor to acquire sufficient parts for us to make it function... in theory at least,” Tuul laughed at Abbas' confused expression, “Of course, forgive me. I've been working on this damned thing for so long that I forget that not everyone knows what I'm talking about. Hyperspace how the Alliance travels faster than the speed of light. How they travel faster than the speed of light without entering the warp.”

Abbas' heart was beating fit to burst. Without entering the warp? Was such a thing possible? He had heard tales of such magical devices of course. People told tales of such devices from the dark age of technology when mankind could shape the stars and reform planets at will. But to have such a device within inches of him was just too much.

Yes Abbas,” Tuul continued, “It is truly what you think it is. And I intend to spend the rest of your apprenticeship training you about these sorts of machines and how to construct them. Can you imagine it? Travel without fear of the warp. By the Omnissiah, we could recolonize space no matter the dangers of the warp.”

He ruffled Abbas' hair again, “Now come on then child. Let's get to it. You have a lot to learn.”

She was pretty. Stephen couldn't help but feel somewhat transfixed by her beauty. It was a bit too much like a fairy tale for his taste, the beautiful princess put to sleep for a hundred years only to wake up and still be dying. Well dying wasn't a good end for a fairy tale. It was time for the good doctor to heal her so she could live happily ever after.

She was doing everything in her power to make that difficult. It wasn't her fault. Cryogenic tubes were not intended to last for hundreds of years at a time without maintenance. The few cases of long term cryogenic resuscitation done successfully had been from facilities with regular care and update of the tubes.

This wasn't just less than ideal. This was the nightmare situation. Not only was he trying to revive the woman from a hundred year cryogenic coma he had the added bonus of not having a scrap of the woman's medical history. If he made even one mistake, gave her a single medicine she had an allergy to and she would die then and there.

Her death was not an acceptable outcome.

The nurse at his side grabbed the woman's wrist as she was loaded into the elevator, “I’m losing her pulse, threading. She’s gone into arrest.”

50cc of demolara,” muttered Dr. Franklin absently as he injected the drug. Several pregnant moments passed.

Still flatlining,” another nurse pulled out a medical scanner and waved it over the woman.

Cardiac stimulators,” said the first nurse as she pulled out the metal paddles. Pressing them to the woman's chest and looking to Stephen for permission.

Stephen didn't even hesitate before saying, “hit her.”

The woman's body body jumped with the jolt of electricity as her muscles responded to the unexpected stimulus. However it wasn't enough, “Nothing”

Stephen bit his lip, “Hit her again.”

The body jumped again. The heart beeped faintly for a few seconds on the monitor before going back into cardiac arrest.

She would not die. Stephen wouldn't allow her to die.

Susan had no idea how long she'd been unconscious when she awoke. Long enough to load her onto one of the Imperial transports apparently. She was crowded into a small cargo compartment with the Inquisitor's belongings, Jak, the Imperial doctor, and the Imperial who'd recently recovered from his wounds at Dorn's hands. She'd been roused by a loud argument between the three of them.

Because we're damn well kidnapping a foreign military official that's why,” shouted a scratchy voice just outside of Susan's admittedly limited field of vision. Between the drugs, the black veil and the sheer fabric of the sack she was inside of, “By the Throne, has the Inquisitor gone senile?”

Danzig you know f...full well that the Inquisitor never does anything without having a reason for doing s...so.” Stuttered the diminutive Jak, “In th..this case he f...felt it was unwise to leave a psycher who'd been inside his mind with the Alliance. N...no telling what secrets she got.”

Ah,” Danzig's voice relaxed considerably, “That makes a great deal more sense. If its a bolt magnet I see why we brought it with us.”

She,” Susan slurred out, “Not 'it' I'm a 'she'.”

A not unimpressive she judging by what I can see,” at that grunted a sandy haired man from standing behind Danzig. Gazan if memory served, “Gentlemen we have taken the woman from her home, might I request that we preserve what is left of her modesty?”

Danzig clucked his tongue, “Shameful that it was necessary to do this. Please forgive us for the offenses we are about to commit.”

Susan responded with a string of the most creative phrases she could think of in Russian. Danzig quirked his eyebrow and looked at Jak. The fidgety man shook his head uncomprehendingly, “I'm unsure of that language... it vaguely resembles Vostroyan or Valhallan but I couldn't understand it's meaning. I doubt it was particularly congratulatory.”

I could have told you that,” Gazan stated dryly, “Very well then. Miss Ivanova, yes? That was your name correct? Very well miss Ivanova we are going to take you out of the sack and get you into some proper clothes. It will hurt very badly but if I am going to get your wounds properly dressed and splinted we must do it. I know that even now you are planning your escape. I request that you wait for me to finish. If you are going to try to go out in a blaze of glory it is customary to do so whilst clothed.”

Susan blushed as she realized her own nakedness. She tried to move her arms to cover her front but they only flopped painfully where they were broken. Much as she would have liked to gut the lot of them it seemed that for the moment at least she was their prisoner, “Very well.”

This goes without saying but if we even suspect you of trying to commit psychic witchcraft upon my person or that of anyone on this transport we will fill you full of so many holes they'll have to identify you from your blood records,” Gazan said as he opened the sack and pulled the veil from her eyes. He said the threat in the same paternal tones Susan might have associated with her own parents offering sweets. In his own twisted way Gazan seemed to believe this was being kind to her.

For all their bluster and bravado Gazan and Dazig were both clearly unaccustomed to being this close to a naked woman. The dark skinned men blushed and hesitated as they helped her dress, trying to stare everywhere but at her, lengthening the agonizing process of helping her dress. After a couple painful fumbling moments they manage to have her fully clothed in a simple woolen garb bearing an embroidered sigil in its center.

Much better,” Gazan nodded approvingly, “Now for the hard part. I'm going to have to set the bones.”

Jak sniffed, “T..the Inquisitor hasn't approved that.”

He hasn't approved me shooting you in the head either but if it comes down to it I'm going to that without asking as well. I will not willingly allow a person to go on being injured for no damn reason,” Gazan blithely said as he started to pull support splints he'd clearly borrowed from the Babylon Five medical supplies. He smiled apologetically, “Your Dr. Franklin was more than generous in supplying me with certain medical supplies we were running low on. I am ashamed that they will be put to this purpose but I suspect he would be glad I did what I could to put you back on the path to wellness.”

After breaking my bones in the first place,” Susan said icily. She eyed Gazan's side arm longingly.”

Gazan followed her gaze and tutted, “Not yet miss Ivanova. Soon perhaps, but not now.” He grasped her leg and yanked it into place. Susan swore as the sensation hit her abruptly. “God dammit!”

We're going to have to teach this girl to swear properly,” Danzig rubbed the stiffness out of his wrists, “If she starts blaspheming like that she's likely to get killed for being a heretic.”

T... technically she is a heretic,” Jak interjected, “Well.... a p...pagan.”

Jak. Your lips are moving and sound is coming out,” Danzig said scathingly, “You should see to that.”

Well I n...never!” Jak stood and stormed out of the cargo hold, clearly trying to look dramatic. His natural tics rather ruined the dramatic suspense of the moment.

The door slammed behind him and Gazan smacked Danzig in the chest, causing the younger man to yelp in pain, “That bloody well hurt!”

Good,” the doctor grabbed Susan's arm and examined where he'd broken it, “It was supposed to. Jak is an insufferable pain with little sympathy for others but he's only doing his job.”

Demeaning the woman?”

Providing an honest assessment of the situation. He's an ass but he usually has his facts straight. He can't help that providing us with fact comes out as rude gibberish,” Gazan twisted the arm, then twisted it back because he didn't like the way it was bending. Susan screamed out in pain again and spat in Gazan's face.

That was not necessary young lady,” Gazan wiped his face with a handkerchief as he clamped the splint into place, “Now sit back and let me get back to doing what I need to do.”

And then what? Am I the Inquisitor's servant? His prisoner? His slave?” Susan felt the blissful nothingness of the drugs fading away and being replaced with red hot fury. She was not some damned damsel in distress to be rescued and she wasn't about to be a compliant hostage. She was damn well going to fight every second they had her.

I cannot even begin to guess as to the Inquisitor's plans for you madam,” Danzig helped Gazan dress the wound on Susan's leg before shoving the bone back into place, “But I doubt he wants you for anything untoward if that's what you're implying.”

It took us the better part of three months to realize he wasn't sly,” snorted Gazan, “Honestly how was I supposed to know he was actually watching the boys training? I spent three damn months secretly watching him to make sure he didn't try anything with the new blood before I realized it was a wasted effort.”

Danzig snorted, “I'd forgotten about that.”

Hey! Can we focus please? You're twisting broken bones back into place remember? Kidnapped woman in front of you,” The casual way in which these two were treating the kidnapping was rather disturbing. They had absolutely no fear of being caught what so ever.

Danzig eyed the pile of sheer fabric they'd stripped off of Susan, “What happened to the Astropathic Servitor anyway? I never got a clear answer out of Galut before we left the station.”

Damned if I know,” Gazan rooted around in his bag and pulled out the most wonderful thing Susan had seen in weeks, an ostrodermic regenerator. Her broken bones would heal in a matter of hours rather than weeks. It was likely that it too had been donated by Dr. Franklin. She was so glad to see it that she briefly forgot she was angry with Gazan for breaking her bones in the first place. Gazan continued to talk as he prodded her broken bones with the device, “For what I could glean from Vira'capac he found the scent of it in the carrion eaters wards but never actually found it. He recons something ate it.”

Disgusting,” Danzig's face twisted in distaste, “Why the Alliance allows such creatures is beyond me.”

I don't remember being kidnapped by the pak'ma'ra,” Susan found herself feeling a great deal of positive sentiment for the tentacle faced carrion eaters she'd never really nurtured before. However when compared with the Imperials her relationship with the pak'ma'ra had been idillic.

You'll learn your mistakes soon enough,” Danzig nodded sure of himself, “The Inquisitor will see that you get a proper education. Of that I'm sure.”

The Inquisitor can kiss my ass,” Susan said bluntly, “And so can you, your damn ship, your captain and your damned Emperor.”

Danzig slapped her so hard it nearly dislocated her jaw. He fixed her with a stony stare a spoke in a voice of dangerous calm, “I'm sorry that I needed to do that. You are unaware of the sin you just committed by insulting His name. You need to know now before you anger the wrong noble. Blaspheming is a capitol offense in the Empire, an often enforced one. You will learn to hold your tongue or someone will gladly cut it out for you.”

I'm not afraid of you,” Susan twisted her head and clicked her jaw from side to side. It popped back into place with a wet snap.

Nor should you be,” Danzig nodded, “But I am not the one you need fear. Ivanova you are a captive. If you do not start acting like one soon we will be obligated to remind you of your place. You do not wish for the Inquisitor to remind you of your place.”

What has Hilder done to keep you all in such fear of him?” Susan pleaded, “What can he possibly do to you that engenders this sort of fear and loyalty.”

The Inquisitor?” Danzig laughed dryly, “In the time I've known him he's been single mindedly devoted to a single cause. In the past month alone the pursuit of that goal has destroyed a planet, by accident. And yet he still survives, and we with him.”

Danzig stood up from where he'd been squatting on the floor next to her and brushed off his silk pants, “No Ivanova the question is not why do we trust and fear the Inquisitor, it's how do we aid him better in his quest. For there can be no more noble task than serving the Emperor's will.”

Gazan, I will leave you to your medicines,” He nodded to Susan and walked out of the room, “I will see you later miss Ivanova.”

Susan bit back furious tears as Gazan regrew her broken bones, wishing that Danzig would come back and talk to her so she didn't feel so alone and hating herself for being so weak as to need people around her to distract her. She was an officer of the Earth Alliance damnit. Cowboy up and move forward, she couldn't afford weakness.

It didn't make her feel less alone when she repeated that mantra to herself, but it helped her pretend.


448 Posts
Discussion Starter #68
Checking the cells was therapeutic for Michael. Whenever he felt the urge to drink he would just get up and wander the rows of holding cells, checking on the inmates. It kept him busy and reminded him of why he'd given it up, why he kept himself lucid and capable. It was nice to see the good he'd helped do.

Plus it helped to be aware of what was going on in the cells. There was invariably some thing or another going pear shaped and it helped to be in the loop. About half way down the row of cells, in 3-B the door was wide open and Officer Shiro was standing with his arms crossed, looking into the cell with a worried expression on his face.

Garibaldi walked over to the holding cell at a brisk trot. Within the confines of the cell were the two lurkers he'd arrested earlier in the day in the Baazar. They one sleeping on the bed was twisting fitfully in his sleep and screaming, “Incoming” at random moments, his face fearful and his arms clutched to his chest, grasping at himself trying to make himself smaller.

Damn it” Michael swore to himself. He'd been hoping that the lurker's friend, the priest, would be able to calm him down. Al'Ashir had been kneeling next to the lurker, praying and singing soothing songs to him since the two of them had been put into the cell. The poor guy barely spoke a word of English but he'd been doing everything to comfort his friend.

How long has he been like that?” Shiro shook his head disapprovingly, starting at the lurker with disgust.

A couple hours now.” Michael sighed. If they didn't get him calmed down soon they would need to have a doctor come and check on him. It wasn't healthy.

To the walls, get to the walls.” The lurker grasped at his blankets and tried to shield himself from his nightmare.

Damn lukers,” Shiro scoffed “We ought to space all of them.”

Garibaldi leaned in close to Shiro and whispered, “Were you in the war?”

No I missed it.” Shiro said in a tone that implied he would gladly have been part. The poor bastard actually believed it too.

He didn’t.” Michael flinched as the lurker cried out in terror.

Shiro looked at the lurker in astonishment, “How do you know?”

Michael sighed, “I’ve had that same dream.”

The priest looked up at Garibaldi and smiled, interlocking his thumbs and making a symbol Garibaldi recognized all too well. Ugh, the last thing he wanted was to deal with the Inquisitor today. How in the hell did an Imperial priest end up hanging out with a Lurker?

Michael double tapped his link, “Captain Sheridan, get down to the brig. There's something you should see.”


Surgery had gone about as well as Michael could hope for. The woman's heart restarted upon being directly hit with a class E cardiac stimulator and she had been necessitated without apparent brain damage, though only time would tell on that. In fact other than the fact that she was having fitful dreams she was in perfectly good health considering the circumstances.

It had not been an easy surgery. Twice she'd nearly died on him, it had taken every trick in his bag to bring her back from the brink. Even now he was reluctant to take her off life support for fear she might fall victim to her inherent cryogenic frailty.

Stephen returned from his rounds find nurse Anderson standing over her with a cranial scanner and a worried expression. The woman flailed and shifted furiously in her sleep.

When did it start?” Stephen took the cranial scanner, worried that he'd missed something.

Moments ago. Looks like a dream.” Nurse Anderson brushed the woman's hair from her face.

Or a nightmare,” Stephen said looking at the levels of adrenaline in her body. If he didn't know better he'd think someone had injected this woman with an injection of epinephrine.

The woman shot up in bed thrashing and trying to escape whatever it was pursuing her in the dream. Stephen reached down and grabbed her hand firmly. He cooed softy and rubbed her hands soothingly, “It’s alright. I’m a Doctor. Do you understand?”

Woman nodded curtly, clearly still scared. She seemed somewhat unconvinced she was even alive, let alone safe and in a hospital. Stephen held her hand, giving her a tangible connection to the real world.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll take care of you.” Stephen smiled brightly. She was safe and alive, now for the hard part.

Daul's room seemed naked without all his personal effects. They'd only been on the station for a few weeks and it was already feeling strange to be leaving it. Which, more than anything else, was a clear sign that it was time to go. The Babylon Station was a guilded cage of heresy designed to make forming relationships with dangerous and vile xenobreeds. The longer he stayed the more intertwined he would become with the local politics.

Not me, clean the room. Not me!” Daul chided one of the small army of servo skulls tasked with sanitizing the apartment that decided he was in need of cleaning. He batted the hovering skull away from his face as it tired to spray him in the eyes with disinfectant. It bounced off the wall and hissed furiously as it sped for the relative safety of the bedroom. Daul wiped the stream of soapy water from his hand onto the arm of the sofa, “Cairn when I said program them to search for my DNA and render it inert I intended for you to wait till after it was detached from my person.”

The cybernetic attaché looked up from frosting a plate of biscuits with as close to a cheeky expression as the mute could manage. He twittered to the hovering skulls and nodded in the affirmative to the Inquisitor.

As Daul watched the Skitarii walk the oversized plate of frosted pastries over to the table he got the distinct impression that Cairn had played a prank on him. The blasted tin man was getting a bit to imputed for his tastes. He grabbed a biscuit and chewed it sullenly as he watched the skulls go about their work.

By the day's end they would have all the supplies they needed to begin the search for Faust anew. The distraction of the Babylon Station would finally come to an end. Securing safe passage through the various xenos territories had been well worth the concession of joining the League of Non-Aligned worlds. While he only trusted the treaty as far as he could spit, it seemed that the xenos in local space had a great deal of reverence for it and were unlikely to violate it without cause.

Throne what was wrong with him? Trusting xenos? Had he lost his mind?

For that matter why had he allowed Vira'capac the free reign on the station? Nothing good came from allowing the xenos to be left to their own devices. Then again nothing good came from keeping them under heel either.

Ugh, nothing he seemed to do lately conformed with the rigid tenants of behavior he'd been trained in by Inquisitor Gaal. It was positively infuriating. Every decision he made seemed to be just a step further towards being declared an excommunicate traitor. His excuse of gathering intel for a crusade fleet in the future was starting to seem flimsy, even to him.

Zorn Calven sent a messenger scroll only that morning informing him that the Navigators had been able to quell his suspicions. How the man managed to sound just as condescending by proxy was nothing short of miraculous. The stars of the local system didn't even remotely conform with known space. There were several hundred billion too many stars in the wrong places for it to even possibly part of Terran space, even the marked zones of theoretical extragalactic expansion.

He was still skeptical of the Alliance claim that they were natives of the Terra of this sector. It was not impossible that genetically compatible humans evolved on another planet, however it seemed infinitely more likely that a planet with a vaguely humanoid population had been colonized at some point and the colonists had either mated with or destroyed the native humanoids. There were numerous examples of it, the ratlings and Ogryn being the most prominent.

And really, the Alliance honestly expected him to believe that two separate groups of identical bipedal humanoids originated on a planet they named Terra and did not have similar origins? Daul was no fool. At the moment however it was more politically expedient to continue to allow them to believe what they wished. As time progressed it would be

Tell me Cairn. When did I become responsible for entertaining xenos diplomats? There was a time where I would skewer a man for even suggesting that we allow xenos to surrender. Now I'm greeting a xenos diplomat with tea and buiscits,” he picked up a biscuit and stared at it morosely. The frosted Aquilla stared at him judgmentally till he bit off the heads. The flaky pastry dissolved in his mouth in a sweet mess of crumbs and frosting.

Cairn swooped over with a cloth and assaulted his crumb covered beard. Daul batted him away, “Honestly what has gotten into you?”

Cairn crossed his arms and leaned back on his mechandrites, pointing in the direction of the empty liquor bottles lined up across the sink. The Skitarii had poured out every drop of liquor in the apartment after Daul had stopped disciplining the Ogryn. It was a bit like dealing with Inquisitor Gaal's wife, his foster mother, the first time she'd caught him drinking liquor. Cairn glared at him and he heard her voice saying, “You act like a child and I will treat you like a child.”

Enough Skitarii Thross! Your point is taken. My alcohol consumption was ill advised. We've had to kidnap a woman and wipe the minds of a dozen xenos and humans. We're skating on thin ice. I'm bloody well aware of it,” Daul bit off a wing and chewed the buttery pastry. He raised the remaining wing and brandished the pastry at Cairn, “And the Ogryn as well, don't think I've forgotten I mistreated him. Poor fool, I don't know what came over me. It was like I was a different person for a minute.”

Cairn massaged his temples in frustration, a gesture he'd picked up from watching Mr. Garibaldi. Daul hoped the Skitarii would grow bored of it soon. Cairn hadn't quite mastered it, he mostly just rumpled his hood while appearing to be in pain. It had been too long since Cairn had needed to express emotions of exasperation and he seemed to have forgotten the firmer points of the expression.

Do try to keep your emotions in check when the Ambassador is here.” Daul sighed and swallowed the rest of his biscuit. Cairn twisted his optics indignantly and busied himself with the kettle.

The door chimed and Daul rose to open it, sauntering over to the door and forcing his face to a practiced expression of polite disinterest. The door swung open and the tall mottled orange Narn G'Kar entered his apartment with a smile and a flourish, offering his hand to the Inquisitor, “It is an absolute pleasure to meet you in person Ambassador.”

Inquisitor,” Daul corrected as he accepted the Narn's handshake, “Ambassador was a translation error.”

Ah,” the Narn frowned somewhat off-put by the poor start, “I apologize. I was unaware.”

Don't worry,” Daul sat down in the largest armchair, “As of yet very few of the Ambassadors are aware of my proper title. I only discovered the translation error recently.”

If I may say your English has improved drastically since you spoke to the League of Non-Aligned worlds. If one didn't know better one would assume that you were feigning ignorance for their benefit,” G'Kar accepted the tea cup offered to him by Cairn and sniffed it tentatively, “A confusing move.”

Daul snorted with amusement as one of the skulls hovered inches away from the Ambassador's head. G'Kar hissed and bared his teeth at the skull, getting a mouth full of soap for his efforts. Daul pretended not to notice the Ambassador's discomforted spitting as he responded to his question, “My understanding of the Alliance standard language is a relatively recent development. A side effect of defending myself against the Earth Alliance telepath.”

Ah,” G'Kar's eyes lit up at the mention of the complications between the Alliance and Empire as he wiped his mouth on the back of his gauntlet, “If I may ask what actually happened? The press release is somewhat unclear.”

You may ask,” Daul shook his head, “But I have no intention of exacerbating what is already a tenuous relationship with the Earth Alliance. Suffice it to say certain elements of the Earth Alliance government were educated on the dangers of overzealous ambition.”

And does this education have anything to do with the Earth Alliance fleet that is currently en-route to drag the numerous disabled Earther warships to dry dock,” he chuckled politely at Daul's miffed expression, “You cannot fight a battle under my very nose and expect me not to research it Inquisitor.”

No,” Daul sighed, “I suspect not. Though I suspect we have more productive things to speak of today.”

I do not mean to touch on a delicate subject but I feel it necessary to ask why you have declined my requests to open a dialogue till this point,” G'Kar grabbed one of the biscuits shaped like the bounty and bit into it. Crispy flakes of biscuit fell down his front and G'Kar brushed himself off apologizing profusely, “Oh my, sorry for the mess.”

No worries, Cairn's cooking is delicious but often messy. I suggest eating with the plate beneath your chin to avoid spillage,” Daul chuckled as Thross offered a napkin with a mechandrite. G'Kar tentatively accepted the napkin from the mechanical tentacle, “As to why I did not schedule a meeting with you; it has been a busy couple of weeks. Had I not been occupied with an assault on the Endless Bounty we well may have met prior to this. And you are not the last to meet with me. I still decline to meet with the Minbari.”

You have not met with the Minbari?” G'Kar looked up from his biscuit in surprise. What was this absurd fixation these xenos had with catering to the whims of the Minbari and Vorlon governments? He had yet to witness evidence that either were worthy of the reverence they were given, even if the Minbari military record did justify their fear.

I do not like genocidal monsters as a rule,” G'Kar choked on his biscuit, “Are you alright Ambassador G'Kar?”

I'm sorry Inquisitor,” G'Kar slapped his chest to stop the coughing, “Most people would consider that statement... somewhat... hasty.”

The truth often is,” Daul shook his head, “I prefer to deal in truth, not politically correct fiction. What is it you want from me Ambassador?”

Obviously a simple cultural exchange would be good for a start but we are, like all the other governments I suspect, obviously interested in trading with you for military technologies,” he tapped a gauntleted finger on his chin, “But if I may speak frankly the most useful thing you can provide me with is yourself.”

I beg your pardon?” Daul scowled across his cup of tea and into G'Kar's eyes.

My people no longer have psychics. We did in the ancient days, in the times of G'quan,” G'kar stopped and smiled bashfully, “The great enemy came and killed the psychics with soldiers of darkness. They were eventually sent away but at a great cost. There are no longer Narn telepaths.”

Daul blinked at the absurdity of the conversation. G'Kar was asking him to commit a cardinal heresy, that of artificially creating psychers. They wouldn't even be human psychers. His lip curled in disgust and he shook his head, “I think not... our government has... strict regulations upon the use of psychics. I would be very much interested in this great enemy however.”

On the offhand chance this species killed all their psychics to avoid the predations of chaos he would have to remember to mark them as 'potential allies for the Ordos Malleus.'

G'Kar brightened at the suggestion, “Of course. It would be my pleasure.” From a bag at his side G'Kar pulled out an aging book. The aging leather of the cover was taken from the skin of some great scaly beast and covered in gold leaf. The pages were thick and smelled of papyrus.

This is the book of G'Quan. Copied from his original notes, generation to generation. Each copy must be a perfect imitation of the previous one, every note, every jot, every random dab of the pen. The words in this book are as much the voice of G'Quan those from the prophet's own mouth,” G'Kar lovingly flipped through the pages, his every touch full of reverence.

He turned the book around and handed it to Daul, “The great enemy came on ships black as night that screamed with the voice of a thousand dying men. They brought a century of darkness till one day a coalition of the light managed to drive them away.”

Daul's hands shook with excitement as he looked at the familiar spidery shape on the page. He forced his heart down from his throat and looked up at G'Kar, “And you've got proof that these soldiers of darkness were here?”

Oh very much so,” G'Kar sighed, “And I have seen proof that they are mustering at the edge of known space in a place of great evil but for all my efforts I have not been able to convince anyone of the imminent danger to us all. My own efforts to collect evidence have been less than fruitful.”

Cairn,” Daul turned to his attendant, “Would you be so kind as to pull up the records of the fight over Belzafest. The first battle, before planetfall.”

Belzafest?” G'Kar took a second biscuit and chewed with relish, “These really are magnificent pastries.”

You're more than welcome to take some with you when you leave. They won't keep and I don't plan to say on the station long,” Daul accepted the holographic projector from his attendant and placed it on the table, “Belzafest was a planet at the edge of our holdings. An archeological curiosity really. At least it was till a rogue agent of the Inquisition started using it as a staging base for something more insidious,” he activated the hololithic image of a giant spidery ship in orbit of the planet, “We encountered two ships reminiscent of the designs indicated in your book of G'Quan.”

This is more than I could have hoped to find!” G'Kar's face lit up light a child at his name day, “And you are willing to testify that these ships are a danger to the known worlds.”

Of course,” Daul felt a rush of excitement. The trail had not gone entirely cold after all, “Gladly.”

And can we expect you to provide us with advice on how one might fight the dark ones?” G'Kar posited hopefully.

I will go a step further than that Ambassador. My government is at open war with the monsters that pilot these ships and the bastard who directs them,” Daul stuck his hand out to G'Kar, “My friend if you are willing to aid me in destroying the monsters of Faust you have my aid and my friendship.”

G'Kar reached out and gladly grasped his hand. His face was turned up in the most genuine smile he'd seen in years, “Truly this is an auspicious day. I must confess that I had feared the prejudices of the Centauri might have prevented us from having any sort of relationship between our peoples at all. I regret judging you, your's is a wise and reasonable people.”

Daul smiled and replied, “I hope to prove that wisdom with actions,” even as a dark voice hissed 'heretic' in the corner of his mind, tinny and quiet as an echoing whisper in the night. One more step closer to finding Faust. One more step into heresy.

It was only minor heresy, he reminded himself as he pretended to listen to G'Kar's excited rambling praises. A small heresy to prevent a much greater one. It was all for the good of the Empire after all. 'How often does Faust convince himself of that?' he wondered.

I'm sorry Ambassador,” Daul apologized as he blinked his own confused thoughts away, “I was miles away, what was that again?”

I was just saying that if we were to approach the Centauri Ambassador and get his support as well we could easily convince the known worlds to launch an attack on the enemy while they are still gathering their forces,” he smiled toothily, flashing a mouth full of sharp yellow fangs.

Yes,” Daul smiled and nodded approvingly, “Best to get this over with quickly. Best to be done with it.”

Imagine Inquisitor! We could end the enemy here and now.”

No Ambassador. We would only end the enemy for a while. There is always a new enemy. We are never at a loss for new enemies,” Daul sighed.

A man with enough friends need not fear his enemies.”

No ambassador. A man with enough enemies cannot afford to trust his friends.”

Cairn walked over and passed a message to Daul. He looked over it blinking in abject astonishment. How in the blazes had Al'Ashir gotten himself arrested? How had he gotten on the Babylon station at all for that matter? Daul swore it Metzik, “I'm sorry Ambassador but if we're going to continue this meeting we'll have to do so on the move. Our bishop got it in his head that going and getting himself arrested by Mr. Garibaldi was a wise course of action.”

No time like the present,” G'Kar slapped his knees jovially, “Off we go Inquisitor. It took me this long to find someone with proof of what is coming. I don't plan to let you out of my sight till you've managed to warn the council of the coming danger.”

Daul looked exasperatedly to Cairn and switched back to gothic, “Well come on then Cairn. We can pick up the Ogryn on the way.”

Of course,” G'Kar hesitated, “I don't suppose we could... perhaps...”

Daul rolled his eyes, “Cairn wrap up the biscuits for the Ambassador, we'll have them on the go.

Osma stared at the boy. The boy stared at Osma.

He was little more than a wisp of a boy, the sort of street child that often found himself apprenticed to some merchant or another. The Endless Bounty was full of orphaned or abandoned children, it always had been. Which was just as well, there were many jobs on ship that required small hands and nimble fingers. The work was often hard and dangerous, but most jobs for children were substantially less so that working as a power monkey or in the ironworks. The belt of an angry trader was no doubt preferable to the whip of a taskmaster in the Munitio Fabrica Imperialis.

The boy clearly knew his foster brothers were dead. All the street children were inanimately aware of death. In the old days of Delivan Sáclair hunting the excess orphan population became something of a sport. The practice had been abolished close to three centuries ago but the perception of street children as less than human had never quite been quashed. There were still nobles offering rewards of then thrones for each street child killed by the police.

Osma made a point of crucifying anyone guilty of 'culling the herd' in the center of the marketplace in front of the cathedral. He wanted to make sure that the Emperor could see the sins of the men clearly so that they might meet their judgement swiftly.

He'd always hoped the street children would understand this meant he was on their side. Judging by the sullen expression of the five year old sitting on the other side of the interrogation room the only part that got through was 'I kill people in public.' Worse still, it turns out that Cha'wu Xian raised this boy and his foster brothers for the better part of the past three years.

Xian was a traitor, but he was still the closest thing the child had to a father. The very idea that he might have to break those bonds of trust made Osma's skin crawl, though not as much as the idea that one's father might blow up your house while you were still inside of it.

Osma stared at the child, trying not to be disturbed by the glassy emptiness in the boy's eyes. The child stared at Osma directly, carefully avoiding eye contact, “You're going to be staying with me for a while boy.”

Oh,” the child stared through Osma rather than at him. Still avoiding catching Osma's eyes, “Am I?”

Yes,” Osma nodded, “Your brothers and Master met with an accident.”

I know,” the boy swallowed and stared at his feet. The aged leather of the secondhand shoes Nor had given the boy was scuffed and worn. They were probably the best shoes the boy had ever owned, “I was there.”

Osma chuckled darkly, “Yes child, yes you were. Now do you have a name child? I cannot simply go about calling you child or boy.”

Xian always just called me apprentice or yelled orders,” the child scratched the stubble along his head where his hair was growing back in, “Never really worried about a name.”

Your foster brothers must have called you something.” Osma smiled in what he hoped was a comforting way, “A nickname?”

They... they called me wormy,” The boy rubbed his hands together furiously and shifted in his chair, little legs swinging backwards and forwards beating against the chair leg in a nervous tattoo.

I have no intention of calling you wormy,” Osma rubbed the sleep out of his eye as he pulled out a painkiller and chewed on the pill. The foul tasting capsule slid gloriously down his gullet, its unpleasant tang already numbing his acing jaw, “You'll need a proper name if you're going to be with me.”

The boy looked down at the floor, “If you say so.”

Boy,” Osma's voice cracked like a whip and the child flinched, his arms wrapping around himself to make himself smaller. Osma's face fell, “No child, no.”

He reached over and gently rested his hand on the boy's shoulder. The boy froze, terrified to move. Osma sighed, “Child, listen to me and listen to me well. I do not condone or allow striking a child. I cannot promise never to be angry with you but I will never allow someone to strike you while I am around. Do you understand?”

Sort of,” the child said apprehensively. He probably wasn't the first to have said it to the boy, though he might have been the first to mean it, “I guess so.”

Good,” Osma leaned back in his chair and stroked his beard, “Now I need to give you a name.”

How... how about Guilliman?” The child said hopefully, “Or Sanguinius?”

Osma chuckled, it was the sort of name he might have suggested for himself were he a five year old with a head full of tales of the great deeds of the Primarchs, “Why not simply take the name of the Emperor himself while you're at it child? No, I think we shall leave the names of the most holy to the Cult of the Emperor. Perhaps a saint's name might suit you better.”

Are you sure I can't be called Vulkan?” The boy had started swinging his entire body backwards and forwards in time with his legs. They were clearly reaching the edge of the child's patience for sitting still.

No child, you may not pick Vulkan as your name,” He smiled apologetically, “I would probably have picked Rogal. No I think that Yunus suits you better.”

Yunus?” The boy made a face, “The fat child apprenticed to the baker with the oversized boil on his face is named Yunus.”

Well we can't have people associating you with giant boils now can we?” Osma patted the boy on the shoulder. The child still looked like he wanted to run away, but his flinch was slightly more delayed this time, “Efraim perhaps?”

Efraim is an old person name.” The child scrunched up is face and crossed his arms petulantly, “I'm not old.”

I'll have you know I have a good friend named Efraim.” Osma ran a hand through his hair in exasperation.

An old person,” the child rolled his eyes, “With an old person name. I need a better name.”

Tariq perhaps? It means conqueror in the old tongue,” Osma smiled at the boy's excited expression. The dreams of young boys were always of war and glory.

Tariq,” the child rolled the name around on his tongue, trying it out, “Tariq... Tariq... yes!”

Very well Tariq,” Osma patted his own stomach, “If you are to be my apprentice you are going to have to be properly fed. We are going to go down to the mess hall and grab a bite to eat with your fellow officers and apprentices. You're still a bit too young to train with the new recruits so for now I'm just going to have you tag along with me,” reached down and lifted the boy's chin so that the Tariq would have to look him in the eyes, “Is that ok with you Tariq?”

Can...” the boy hesitated, “Can we go somewhere I can pray afterwards? My brothers never got names. I want to make sure that the Emperor knows who they are... I don't want them to get lost in the crowd.”

Osma beamed at the child, “I think some time at the church would do both of us some good.”

He offered his hand to the child and Tariq grasped it hesitantly. He didn't have the boy's trust yet, but it was a start. First a meal, then prayer, then perhaps the boy would trust Osma enough to talk about Xian. Forcing the child to talk would only get the boy to clam up tighter than he already was.

He would get the Amon Sui bastards soon enough. For the moment helping a boy find peace would have to suffice.

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #69
The bald man stood to the side of the room watching Al'Ashir praying over the twisting and squirming man. Truth be told Al'Ashir was grateful for the company, praying for the souls of the unwell was often a lonely task. Their jailer seemed to take a very active interest in the wellness of his inmates, an uncommon trait for a man of his profession.

The unwell man groaned and sat up in bed blearily looking around the room. The balding man cleared his throat. Al'Ashir listened with wrapped attention trying to understand the curious speech of the Allaince, “You alright?”

The man rubbed the kinks out of his neck,“I never felt better. I’m the picture of health. Where am I?” He froze as he realized where he was, “Oh god… what did I do this time?”

You don’t remember?” The jailer asked calmly.

I find that life, in general, is much easier if I forget most of the things that happen to me.” Al'Ashir reached out to comfort the man but got his hand's slapped away by him.

Well you were about to accuse the Centauri Ambassador of being in league with the Devil which might not be too far from the truth,” He nodded to Al'Ashir, “And I wouldn't hit him if I were you. He may talk like he took too many blows to the head but he's spent the better part of the past day trying to keep you out of trouble.”

“Yeah... thanks buddy,” he said uncertainly to Al'Ashir wincing as he turned his neck, “Ow, my head hurts.”

“Yeah we had to put you out.” The Jailer shrugged.

I was that bad?” Said the man in an unsurprised voice.

You were standing in the middle of the plaza yelling that the day of judgement was coming.”

Did it?”

No not that I know of but I may have missed a staff meeting,” the Jailer sighed “You ever done this before?”

The man laughed, “I’ve done everything before.”

The Jailer pulled up a chair and sits down close to the man, “Where were you stationed?”

Nowhere special,” the man rubbed his nose reflexively. More than likely he was recovering from some recreational substance or another, “Here and there. Just a gropo. No big deal.”

I figured you for a ground pounder. Me too.” The jailer smiled and chuckled jovially.

Looks like we both missed our chance to be heroes,” said the man dejectedly.

What about the dreams?” The jailer said pointedly.

Dreams?” the man's eyes flitted about the room fearfully, “No I… I never dream.”

The jailer wasn't buying it for a moment, “You’ve been talking in your sleep.”

Is there a reason that door is open?” the man snarled and scratched furiously at his own head. Little bits of collected grime flaked off him.

You can go,” the man rose and rushed for the door, eager to be out of the cell. The Jailer calmly watched him leaving as said, “I know some good councilors. I used them myself.”

Now what would a man with everything in the world do with one of them eh?” The man waved his arms widely, his voice anything but convincing.

Al'Ashir stood to leave as well but the jailer pressed his hand to Al'Ashir's chest, “Sorry buddy. Not you.”

I must be going. The man is needing me,” Al'Ashir nervously listened to the man's retreating footsteps with a deep sense foreboding. He could not allow the man to get away from him before he'd had a chance to save him from himself.

“I don't disagree with you padre,” the jailer looked in the direction the man walked, “The man needs serious help from somebody and I'm not necessarily opposed to it being you. But honestly padre, I just can't let you go till we've gotten a couple things ironed out.”

“It is my rights to spread word of Emperor to mankind,” Al'Ashir flustered indignantly, “I may travel as I wish.”

“In the Empire maybe,” Garibaldi shrugged, “But in the Alliance you need to qualify for a missionary license first before you can start preaching to the masses. And I still need to find out how in the heck you snuck past security.”

“It was will of the Emperor,” Al'Ashir fumbled in English for the right words. The whole damned language seemed to be one giant mess of irregular words. It was as bad as High Gothic if not worse, “His will that I be here. His will that I preach his words.”

“Could you point out where it was the Emperor's will you sneak past security on a map? It may have been the Emperor's will that you get past my guys. I doubt that a dust smuggler is in his good books,” the jailer rolled his eyes, clearly less than awed by the divinity of his cause.

You joke of His will?” Al'Ashir shook his head in disappointment, “I have much teaching to do here my childrens.”

“I'm not opposed to it buddy but you have to go through the proper channels for this stuff,” the jailer shrugged, “We can sort this out when the Inquisitor gets here.”

“Ah,” Al'Ashir ran his hand through his beard nervously, “Yes... perhaps we should be talkings about that. If it is a matter of gold I have gold.” He pulled out his heavy purse and poured a couple dozed thumb sized Imperial Thrones into his hand. The jailer's eyes bugged out at the sight of the satchel of gold.

“How in the heck did you keep that freaking sack of gold in down below? The Lurkers would knife a man for a nickel, let alone a sack for fragging gold,” the jailer blinked in surprise. He reflexively reached out for the coins then drew back his hand as though it had been scalded.

An honorable man. A pity, this would have been much easier if he could be bribed. He smiled at the man, “The Emperor protects.”

Then the Emperor may patiently protect you in this cell till the Inquisitor arrives to sort this whole mess out.”

“Very well then,” Al'Ashir smiled, “Perhaps you might be open to listening to his word.”

“Uh... yeah,” the jailer looked over his shoulder at the open door, “Look buddy I've got stuff to get done.”

“Brother confessor Al'Ashir,” said Al'Ashir as he pulled out his player book and thumbed through the pages.

“Michael Garibaldi,” the Jailer replied, “Look have fun praying, or meditating, or whatever it is you do. I need to go meet up with the Captain for a meeting. I'll be back soon with the Inquisitor and we can smooth this all out.”

“Very well Michael,” Al'Ashir smiled at the jailer as he left the cell, “I will pray for you while you are gone my childrens.”

“Pray extra,” the jailer chuckled, “I've done a good bit of sinning.”

Al'Ashir smiled as he kneeled down to pray. The ones worth putting in the effort to save usually had. This was indeed an auspicious day for the Word.

The family meal was a tradition the Lady Sáclair started after the birth of Marco, the captain's third bastard child off his concubines. She'd decided that if she could not stop her husband from sowing his seed wherever he wished she could at least see to it that the 'wild oats' and those cultivated intentionally did not grow to resent each other. To that effect she had insisted that the entire extended family of the Captain would meet for a meal at least once a week.

The first several attempts weren't as idillic as the Lady Sáclair had imagined in her head Ami suspected. More often than not the Lady acted as a peace maker between Sáclair's four concubines for most of the meal and as a peace maker between the children for the rest.

They had since separated the children and the parents into two separate rooms when they ate meals together. Ami liked to believe that it had improved the relationship between the siblings.

For all the passive aggressive sniping and pointless arguments that arose at the table Ami liked the family meetings. She did not often get to see her younger siblings. The youngest, Agustus, was barely out of diapers but had as much sheer cheek and flirt in him as his father. He wandered the dining hall all fat cheeks and wide smiles for the serving girls, raising his arms to the air and saying “up.” He was going to be a heart breaker some day.

Paulo, slightly older than his brother, had progressed to the 'girls are icky' stage of his development and watched his brothers actions with a confused mix of envy and disgust. He kept elbowing his half brother Vincente and whispering in his brother's ear before the two of them dissolved into giggles, doubtlessly wispering dirty things to each other they'd overhead from the Lionhearts. Her youngest sister Marian kept whining to them to let her in on their secret talk, prodding at Vinciente's ribs in annoyance.

Abbas' chair was absent, as were those of the twins Bartimius and Iswin. Abbas' training with the Magos consumed the majority of his time and the twins were back in Imperial space training in the Schola Progenitum. The table felt horriby lonely now that the three of them were gone. Antony was good company to be sure, but he was a bit bland for Ami's taste. Were as Abbas, Bartimius or Iswin would gladly have been plotting some mischief with her Antony was glad to simply sit quietly and observe the other people at the table.

With her elder siblings Vigo, Marco, and Aryana in the hospital visiting David that essentially meant the only people to speak with at the table were her elder sisters Carran and Arda. It had been years since Carran last attended a family meal. If Ami had her way it would be years more till the next one.

I'm telling you Carran I don't think they're looking in the right places for this guy,” Ami crossed her arms frustratedly and scowled at her sister in frustration, “At best they're just getting him to go underground while the security forces are in place.”

Ami must you talk about this at the table?” The Carran massaged her temples in frustration her face the picture of patient suffering. Ami would have liked to toss the dinner roll on her plate straight into Carran's face, “It is hardly an appropriate topic for conversation.”

I find the topic to be fascinating,” Antony said in placid indifference, “What is it that makes you believe that the current measures are only stop gap measures?”

Because we don't have enough security officers to have them patrolling the Belzafest quarter indefinitely,” Arda wiped the sides of her mouth with a napkin, “My word that soup is superb. Pass a roll will you?”

Exactly!” exclaimed Ami as she passed the plate of bread, “Shakut's men are good but any clues they had were destroyed when the crime scenes blew up.”

And what exactly do you propose to do about it?” Chuckled Carran, “Solve it yourself?”

I could,” protested Ami, “I'm as clever as any.”

More than most I suspect... no not at the dinner table!” Antony snagged the butter knives Paulo and Vinciente were about to sword fight with before turning back to Ami, “But I don't think it is wise for you to seek out a murderer Ami. For that matter I don't think its wise for any of us to go anywhere on the ship without a sufficient escort.”

I have no need of any such protection,” hissed Carran indignantly.

Yes,” Arda rolled her eyes behind her spectacles, “You do Carran. Thrones be blessed girl use your head, if Ami's murderer isn't Amon Sui then the bomber more than certainly is. I know you have private security but I will be speaking with the Lady about having the Lionhearts follow all of us.”

I'm not so sure about that,” Ami started hesitantly. She was as reluctant as Carran to be followed by the Lionhearts at all times.

You especially,” Arda brandished her fork in Ami's direction, “I know you too well sister. You're about to go on some fool mission. Well this is the end of it. I dislike losing privacy as much as you but certain things take precedent over our own comfort. No more running into damned battles.”

I didn't go looking for trouble,” Ami protested, “I just wanted to help.”

Well you just helped your way into having a Lionheart with you at all times,” Antony crossed his arms in resignation.

Ami scowled indignantly, even as the sandy blonde hair and brilliant white teeth of Sergi flashed in her memory. Perhaps having a Lionheart around her at all times wouldn't be all bad.

Dr. Franklin's report was grim, “At the time of death the victim’s weight was ninety pounds. Based upon his height and his bone structure his normal weight should have been about one hundred and eighty but malnutrition wasn’t what killed him. He died as a result of organ failure.”

Why” Mr. Garibaldi said suspiciously flipping through the chart, his eyes flitting about the page in confusion.

I don’t know. They’re missing. It’s as though something reached inside of him and pulled them out.” Doctor Franklin pointed to the data display, highlighting the missing organs. How in the heck did something tear out the organs without leaving a mark on the skin?

What happened to the organs?” Mr. Garibaldi made a disgusted face. John couldn't help but share the feeling. Organs did not simply get up and walk away.

There’s no evidence of them anywhere on the ship. We ran a complete scan if there was so much as a cell remaining we’d have found it.” Dr. Franklin shook his head in wonderment, his face utterly flummoxed. That was... disturbing on a level John didn't even know how to discrible.

Something came into the pod, tore out a man's organs without breaking the skin and then disappeared without leaving a trace. It was like some horrible ghost story.

Mr. Garibaldi sighed, “I think we’d better have a talk with the woman who was with him.”

No I don’t think that’s such a good idea yet.” Dr. Franklin shook his head firmly.

A man’s been murdered and the list of suspects is pretty short.” Mr. Garibaldi said flippantly.

Dr. Franklin shook his head, “According to the ship’s logs she was in stasis the whole time.”

There were times where John had difficulty if Dr. Franklin's blind faith in people was optimism or naivety, “Logs can be altered. It’s a safe bet he didn’t reach down his throat and pull out his own heart.”

Dr. Franklin's scowled angrily but before the good doctor could respond his link chimed. He raised it to his ear in frustration, “Yes?”

She’s awake and asking for you Dr. Franklin.”

I have to go,” Dr. Franklin collected his papers and data pad, shoving them into his satchel.

When she’s ready I want to talk to her,” John stated firmly. If nothing else he owed this woman a conversation before he accused her of murder.

Finish up for me,” Dr. Franklin nodded to Michael and rushed out of the room.

Lousy way to die huh,” Mr. Garibaldi stared at the diagram of the dead man with a slightly nauseous expression.

John shook his head and turned the morbid image off, “Last time I checked there weren’t too many good ways.”

Michael looked down at his watch, “Crud! I have to go sir. The Inquisitor is coming down to pick up the priest we found this morning. I'm already going to be late.”

Then you'd better hurry Mr. Garibaldi,” John sighed and dismissed his security officer. He sat down at his desk and turned to the photo of his dead wife, “It's always something isn't it?”

The photo did not reply.

Daul paced impatiently in the brig's waiting room outside of the processing center. It was like everything on the Babylon station, grey, sterile and functional. The very idea of calling him down to the brig to see Father Al'Ashir then making him wait around for Mr. Garibaldi to have a time for him was insufferable. He was a bloody Inquisitor.

The toad of a man who'd been given the duty of doorkeeper refused to allow Daul access to the cells even if he left the Xenos, the Skitarii, and the Ogryn in the waiting room. He'd given some excuse to do with telepathic regulations but Daul was willing to bet the security chief had given orders not to allow him in without Mr. Garibaldi’s direct supervision.

If you keep pacing like that you'll drive yourself insane Inquisitor,” G'Kar said over the cover of his book, “Mr. Garibaldi will be back soon. The man is scrupulously punctual.”

Then where is he,” Daul hissed, “I see no security officer other than that,” he jabbed furiously in the direction of the dour faced man at the main desk, “Impudent cur who had the unmitigated gall to deny me access to my countryman and my property.”

I dislike the reference to a living being as property Inquisitor,” G'Kar adjusted the collar of his jerkin, “It has certain unpleasant precedents with my people.”

We may have a discussion on the ethics of it once Dorn is back on my Throne cursed ship,” Daul breathed deeply resisted the urge to simply tear the door off it's hinges. It would be all too easy. Peace, calm, he needed these people.

Indeed,” G'Kar flipped the page with a flourish.

What on earth are you reading anyway? You've been sitting there with that book in your hand since we arrived,” Daul examined the scribbled writing on the cover.

What this?” G'Kar looked down at it, “A mere curiosity of mine. It is a history of the expeditions into Vorlon space.”

It was my understanding that expeditions into Vorlon space do not return,” Daul looked to Cairn for confirmation. The Skitarii shrugged. How should he know?

G'Kar chuckled, “Yes, the ending of each story is rather similar. But what interests me is why these people go into what is clearly a suicidal situation.”

I would have thought that was obvious,” Daul blinked in confusion.

Obvious,” G'Kar looked up from his book.

Galut,” Daul turned to the wide faced man. The Ogryn was sitting as still as he could manage, doing his best to look well behaved. Upon hearing his name the Ogryn stood up as though he'd just been plugged into a live wire and snapped off a quick salute. His head collided with the ceiling, denting the plating of the ship's hull, “Wut sir?”

Why would someone go on a suicide mission Galut?”

Wut?” The ogryn's slaute faltered fearfully, “Right now you mean sir? Do I have to?”

No,” Daul shook his head, “For pretend. Why would someone go on a mission that they knew they couldn't come back from. One that they don't have to go on.”

Cuz its da' right fing' ta do I suppose,” the Ogryn squinted hard as though he'd been given a complex math equation, “Yeah. Oi'd do it cuz it was the right fing' ta do.”

G'Kar smiled, “Much the same conclusion anyone might come to. But what is it that makes something the right thing? How do we decide it?”

Ambassador,” Daul shook his head and looked to the door, “You're over analyzing a simple thing. Right and wrong aren't choices we make, they're choices made for us once we've been long dead.” He smiled as an ambient sensation of resigned duty creeped up to the door, “And unless I miss my guess the local arbiter of right and wrong approaches.”

Michael entered the brig five minutes later than he'd intended to only to find the Inquisitor and his retinue sitting in the waiting area along with the Narn Ambassador of all people, “Inquisitor Hilder, you're early.”

Mr. Garibaldi,” The Inquisitor replied. Small flames flickered unnervingly in his eyes, “You're late. I do not appreciate being kept waiting.”

I'm sure you don't,” Michael had no intention of playing the Inquisitor's word games or of being intimated by his eery psychic voodoo. The man was a glorified diplomat and would be treated just like every other uppity diplomat, “But we can't always get what we want.”

I wan't my man and my property Mr. Garibaldi,” the Inquisitor rubbed together his thumb and forefinger in frustration, small sparks spat out.

You singe the carpet and you're paying for it buddy,” Michael walked past the Inquisitor ignoring Cairn entirely, “You can bring Galut with you into the holding cells but the tin man and G'Kar are going to have to wait outside.”

I must insist that Cairn be permitted to come with us,” Hilder stated in a tone of dangerous calm. Michael was apparently skating on the edge of his patience.

Then I must insist that Al'Ashir stays a guest of my cells,” Michael tossed the sign in clip board to the Inquisitor, “I don't allow anything with a recording device or capable of hacking a lock into the cells. To my knowledge Cairn is more than capable of both.”

Ah,” The Inquisitor nodded, “Very well. We will comply. Cairn, wait.”

The mechanical man crossed his arms and leaned against the wall making petulant warbling noises and shooting Michael dirty looks. Michael rolled his eyes, “Look buddy take it as a compliment. You're the most dangerous lock pick I've seen in ages. You're like a walking prison break.”

The warbling dulled down to an occasional tweet, even if the sullen body language didn't change.

Michael motioned to the doorkeeper and the door above the entrance to the holding cells flashed green. Michael pushed the button to activate the door and motioned to Daul, “After you. We're heading for cell 15.”

Too kind,” the Inquisitor said dryly as he entered the holding area and eyed the full swat team in riot gear and gas-masks, “Are they for my benefit?”

I remember your performance on the bridge Inquisitor. You try that here and we'll just pump the hallway full of a powerful sedative,” Michael smiled charmingly, “I like to have all my bases covered.”

Michael nodded to the riot squad, they took their places in front of and behind the Inquisitor, side arms at the ready. Rather than looking off put by the treatment the Inquisitor seemed out right giddy.

Quite,” the Inquisitor chuckled amusedly, “Well, this is more like it. I was starting to feel like a damned house pet. Shall we continue then Mr. Garibaldi?”

Yeah,” Michael strode towards Dorn's cell at a healthy pace, trying to keep in stride with the Inquisitor's long shanks, “You do realize that I cannot release Dorn into your custody.”

Your Captain said as much,” Hilder glared icily at Michael, “I have you to thank for that I understand.”

We aren't sure how he fits under our legal system,” Michael scrutinize the Inquisitor right on back, “If Dorn is truly non-sentient property then we're actually obligated to destroy him entirely as he technically constitutes an illegal bio-weapon. If he qualifies as sentient then because your government has no established extradition treaty we are obligated to try him under our system.”

You have no intention of releasing him to me do you?” Hilder raised an eyebrow. His distinguished features looked distinctly hawkish in the dull light of the corridor.

Unless you establish a very specific extradition treaty before you leave here today that applies ex post facto to crimes committed while on station I don't see it happening,” Michael shook his head, “And considering how much he talks I don't see Dorn as being classified as non-sentient.”

Michael continued walking for a few steps before he realized the Inquisitor was not following him. Hilder stood stock still, apparently processing what Michael just said, “Dorn... is talking?”

Yes,” Michael failed to see the relevance of it, “Mostly incoherent chanting about angels but he is talking.”

Cell 15 right?” The Inquisitor didn't wait for Michael to finish saying yes before bolting towards cell 15 at a dead sprint. Balefire fickered around his entire body as the man muttered to himself furiously in his native tongue.

Oh you have got to be kidding me,” Michael broke into a run after the Inquisitor, struggling to keep up with the man's impressive sprint. He caught up with the Imperial ten yards up the corridor as the Hilder stared into the open window of the cell in abject horror.

How did I not see that this would happen! By the throne! How blind am I? A regenerative... it would fix everything the body naturally saw as an error,” The Inquisitor looked to the furious mass of muscle and sinew in the cell beyond, “The damn replicator glands are probably manufacturing it by themselves now. They got more than enough to replicate the pattern.”

Want to share with the class Hilder?” Michael snapped his fingers in front of the other man's face.

War servitors are kept in a murderous rage at all times that is only suppressed with drugs and hypnotic triggers. I cannot always guarantee that I have regular access to the facilities necessary to fabricate the narcotics used to keep an arco-flagellant docile,” He ran his hands through his hair, “I had him implanted with a unique organ designed to replicate the narcotics internally. With the proper gene triggers they could be made to replicate the anti-agapics used by most of the imperial nobility.”

“Anti-agiapics? Age reversing drugs,” Michael had flashes to the Deathwalker incident.

“Mr. Garibaldi, a properly powerful vat of anti-agapic restorative can grow a human from a single cell,” Daul Hilder looked at the psychotically grinning face of Dorn behind the window, “And now Sotu'an Taka, a man responsible for the deaths of six thousand people is regrowing brain function. Mr. Garibaldi this is no longer a request I will be taking Dorn with me when I leave here. One way or another he is coming with me. Sotu'an Taka must not be allowed to regain his higher brain functions.”

“I am not going to release a man to you so that you can lobotomize him. I don't care if he's Adolf Hilter himself, as long as he's under my custody he is guaranteed a trial by jury and equal protection under the law,” Michael pointed to the admittedly terrifying face of Dorn as the man rubbed his face across the window, leaving a trail of spit as he went, “I cannot allow you to torture this helpless man.”

Galut shot Michael a meaningful look, his choice of words was apparently a mistake. “I will be leaving with this man Mr. Garibaldi. You cannot stop me when the time comes,” Hilder said in a voice of complete confidence.

“Try it,” Michael spread his arms, “I'll be right here waiting. In the meantime are you going to take back your preacher or should I plan on him being a long term resident.”

“As tempting as leaving him in a cell is I fear leaving him behind would be more problematic than taking him with me,” The Inquisitor's shot one last angry look at Dorn, “Very well where is he?”

The woman from the sleeper ship sat in bed, doing her best to swallow a cup of water. Considering that she hadn't been making use of the muscles for the better part of a century she was making quite a go of it.

She smiled happily at Stephen when he wandered over to her bed and grabbed her chart. Scrawled in the illegible script of one of the nurse was the name Miranda Cirrus. Finally, a name to go with the face, “Well looking a lot better.”

She positively beamed at him, “Well I’m feeling a lot better thanks to you doctor…”

Stephen offered his hand, “Franklin.”

She shook it jovially and he added hastily, “Stephen.”

Stephen looked down at the largely empty chart. Now was as good a time to fill in the blanks as any. He clicked the pen and smiled at Miranda. “If you don’t mind me asking a couple of questions what were you doing on that ship?”

Will, my husband, and I are part of a commercial research group. They needed volunteers for a long term deep space research mission and I jumped at the chance. They assigned us to the Copernicus. She was programmed to home in on any signal we might come across and wake us up,” she chewed her lip and looked around the hospital excitedly, “I never though the signal could be of human origin. How long were we in stasis.”

Stephen read her eager expression with some concern, “I think we should take this a day at a time.”

That doesn’t sound very good,” damn, she was perceptive. He'd been hoping to delay this to avoid shocking her system. It had already been through substantial stress, “How long.”

Well I don’t have the exact number,” Stephen hesitated, “but over one hundred years.”

A hundred years?” Miranda's face went white as a sheet and she looked around the room, “I’d like to see Will now.”

Stephen froze unsure what to say. Sorry to tell you this but something ate your husband's organs just felt a bit callous. And as long as she was a suspect in the man's murder he didn't even know where to begin.

Miranda swallowed nervously, “Something’s wrong isn’t it?”

Well he had to say something otherwise he would just be standing there staring awkwardly, “I’m afraid he died during the voyage,”

Oh god,” Miranda grabbed her face, unable to believe the words.

We still haven’t been able to determine exactly what happened.” It wasn't strictly a lie. They knew that William had been murdered, they just hadn't got a clue how or why it had been done.

We just said goodnight to each other,” Miranda rubbed her face and stared at Stephen with absolute panic in her voice, “I can’t cry.”

Long term stasis dries the tear ducts,” Stephen got in close and examined her eyes, double checking that there was no permanent damage.

Oh god what have I done,” Miranda grabbed his hand and looked into his eyes, her gaze pleading for everything that happened to just be some terrible nightmare. Stephen couldn't do anything other than squeeze her hand and sit there while she tearlessly sobbed, mourning a husband lost decades ago.

Father Al'Ashir I presume?” Daul leaned door frame in amusement looking into the dimly lit cell, glad to be speaking in High Gothic. Though, now that he thought about it for a moment, it was substantially larger and more luxurious that the quarters Al'Ashir chose to inhabit on the bounty.

Inquisitor Hilder,” Father Al'Ashir rose from his morning prayers positively quivering with excitement, “I have finally found my calling in His name!”

I suspect that He doesn't need you to be in prison Al'Ashir. The worst crime you've committed that I can think of was that insufferably boring sermon about the importance of trust three months ago,” Daul smiled and nodded towards the door, “Come on then. Let's get you out of here.”

Are we all good here?” Mr. Garibaldi rapped on the door, clearly eager to break off the conversation before he became trapped listening to High Gothic at length, “Not that I want to stop this love fest but if you're taking him can you take this conversation on the road.”

A second please Mr. Garibaldi,” Father Al'Ashir said in heavily accented English, “Inquisitor I am wishing to start a permanent mission on station.”

Father Al'Ashir I haven't got a clue what is involved in that,” Daul massaged his throbbing temples, “Nor am I inclined to leave you alone on this station when we leave. Perhaps when we get back to the Empire and send a more permanent presence in this sector of space.”

Inquisitor I am not fool,” Al'Ashir fixed him with a scowl that would have had priest adepts and alter boys cowering in fear, “I do not plan to start a mission here in two hundred years I mean to start a mission now.”

Two hundred years?” Mr. Garibaldi interjected, “Just how far away is the Empire.”

Further than close and closer than forever,” Daul spat back flippantly. He had hoped Al'Ashir would simply pester Sáclair about this insane plan to open a mission on station, “Mr. Garibaldi I am taking Father Al'Ashir with me. I would take it as a kindness if you would assist me in escorting him to a transport. As his only crime is trespassing I hope that would be an acceptable solution.”

Al'Ashir scowled, “I will not be walked off this station at gun point Inquisitor. I am a man of peace. If you must use force on me to have your way so be it. I will follow you, but I know that me being on this station is the will of the Emperor. Mark my words Daul. He will aid me.”


Normally Stephen wouldn't consider taking a patient out of the recovery room this soon but keeping Miranda in the sterile recovery room was only going to give her more time to brood and regret. The faster he could get her scientist mind working on other things the faster she would be able to get on with her life. The hospital was only ten minutes away from the Bazaar and if ever there was a place to lose yourself in the moment, it was in the bazaar.

Miranda froze in astonishment as they exited the lift and a Markab wandered past. Her eyes were wide as saucers as she tried to look everywhere at once. It was like watching a child in a candy shop. She was so interested in everything she could see that her body simply did nothing as her brain tried to reconcile all of it.

Stephen chuckled and gave her a little push to start her walking, “You’ve never seen an alien before have you?”

There were indications that there were other life forms but I never imagined anything like that,” she crooned with anticipation as franklin guided her over to a nearby café, “I’ve missed so much.”

Well, not all of it’s been good.” Franklin said, thinking back to the Earth-Minbari war, “A few years after your ship left Earth we finally made contact with another species, the Centauri. We opened up trade relations and they gave us jump gate technology.”

Before that we’d been pretty much limited to our own solar system.” Stephen waved it off apologetically.

“After that we were out among the stars,” Stephen waved his arms wide, “First leasing time on alien jump gates and then building our own.”

So the cryogenic suspension, the goodbyes… was all for nothing.” Miranda's voice darkened, hinting at another bout of depression, “If we’d just waited a few more years…”

You couldn’t have known,” Stephen patted her hand in awkward compassion, “What you did, it took vision. It took courage.”

What else did I miss?” Miranda said longingly.

The usual. The good times and the bad times. The revelations and the revolutions. Outbreaks of hysteria, the parade of promises, consequences, constitutions and the occasional war,” Stephen paused considering his words, “The last big ones were against the Dilgar which we won and against the Minbari which… well that’s a long story.”

And we still haven’t outgrown violence?” Miranda's face fell disappointedly.

No,” Stephen chuckled, “It’s going to take a lot more than a hundred years to evolve a better human.”

Ambassador G'Kar wandered over to the table with Inquisitor Daul. Stephen smiled, he'd been worried that the Ambassador's fears that the Centauri might have poisoned the imperial opinion of the Narn Empire had been valid.

Ambassador, Inquisitor,” Stephen paused when he got to the bearded man to the right of the Inquisitor.

“Father Al'Ashir,” supplied G'Kar, “Apparently a member of the Imperial clergy.”

“Well,” Stephen nodded politely and offered his hand, “Hello.” The priest took it gladly, bowing slightly as he shook it.

G'Kar smiled brightly at Miranda, “This must be our visitor from the past,”

Miranda, this is Ambassador G’Kar of the Narn and Inquisitor Daul of the Empire,” Stephen was grateful for the Imperial Ambassador's presence even if the man was sour tempered. He was substantially less overwhelming than most of the other aliens.

“The future is always changing madam,” G'Kar smiled at her brightly, “And we will change with it. It is what we make it.”

And then the screaming started.

Miranda fell to the ground twitching in an epileptic fit, screaming about some great beast coming for her in the night. A stabbing shoot of warp energy rocketed up Daul's spine out of nowhere, a bone chilling reminder of the presence of the great enemy. Daul froze for a second when the woman began before leaping into action, “She's been posessed Al'Ashir!”

What?” Al'Ashir blinked in shock, “Here? How? These people know nothing of the warp.”

“When has that ever stopped the great enemy?” Daul pulled a sliver rod covered in hexigrammic wards from his pocket and pointed to Miranda, “Galut! Hold her down. Cairn, keep the onlookers away.”

Dr. Franklin protested vehemently when Cairn pulled him off the woman but could do little other than protest as he was carried away from the woman. G'Kar grabbed Daul by the shoulder hissing angrily, “Inquisitor what do you think you are doing?”

Ambassador I am saving this woman from the worst fate imaginable. There are soldiers of darkness from the ancient times, of that I am sure. But some of them are more subtle than others. Not if you wish this woman to live I must be allowed to finish my work,” he pushed the Ambassador back with a burst of psychic discharge.

Daul kneeled down next to the violently seizing and screaming woman and placed the rod in the woman's mouth. The wards within the silver rod glowed a violent red light and started to spark angrily, “Al'Ashir the right of Exorcisim! I need the word empowering this, I do not know the beast's name.”

The priest did not need to be told twice. He began to chant the Chant of Banishing, invoking the names of the Emperor, Primarchs, and Sainted Matryrs of the Empire. The words calmed Daul's mind and focused his spirit.

This woman is not yours beast,” Daul placed his hands on the woman's forehead and plunged into her mind. Her mind was a tumultuous mess of fear, loss and confusion. It was the perfect cocktail of emotions for a creature of the warp to feed off to sustain itself.

Daul searched the fragmented landscape of the girls mind, searching for the beast's link to her. He wandered past images of houses, trees, shadowy figures of friends and memories of emotion, bursting and brimming with color and feeling, till he reached the dull rust colored image of a rust-bucket freighter.

There was something bad within that freighter, something wrong. He stepped towards it and got an image of running down some dark corridor in his mind. He felt the stale air upon his face. He felt fresh blood dripping from his lips and hands, sticky and sweet from a fresh kill.

Daul retched, the sick bastard was playing with her. He wanted her to watch what he did to others so that she would know that he would one day do it to her. It wanted to feed on her fear, it wanted to gorge itself on terror and despair so that it could sustain itself as long as was possible.

Well, two could play at this game. Daul would not let humans be easy prey to some unholy abomination. Daul forced himself into the ship and grasped at the shadow tendrils that tethered it to the demon. He drove his fingers into them, rejecting the sensations of wretchedness and slime. He drove his fingers to the core and grabbed hold of them, tight as he could and projected all the pain he had ever felt in his entire life in one moment.

The tendrils twitched and tried to retract but Daul would not let them, he continued to feed agony directly into the demon's mind. Again, and again, and again he forced the memories of being flayed alive, of being tortured, of being stabbed, of being burned and all manner of unpleasantness into the creature's mind. He pumped them into the creature's mind till he could hold on no longer and let go of the tendrils.

The demon hurriedly tired to regain it's hold on the woman's mind, but too late. Daul pushed every last scrap of the creature out, barricading the hole in the woman's mind with bricks of his own pain and using his hatred of chaos as the mortar.

He gasped as he left the woman's mind, watching in shock as a tendril of balefire flew from the woman's body and out of the bazaar. Sentients screamed and ducked the billowing black ball of fire as it rocketed into the distance, screaming with unholy fury. The hexigrammic wards in the woman's mouth flared white, then disappeared.

Her ragged breathing soothed and she relaxed enough that Galut could let go of her without risking her doing harm to herself. Daul took the silver gag out of her mouth, stood, and found himself face to face with the the livid face of Talia Winters. She was standing with a PPG in one hand and her Psi Corps badge in the other, “Inquisitor Daul you just committed a forceable intrusion into a woman's mind in plain view of several dozen witnesses. I would ask you what the hell you were thinking but it is abundantly clear to me that you weren't thinking at all.”

Miss Winters, I am not the one you want to point that firearm at. You have an greater problem to deal with. There is a demon on the station. We are all in grave danger.”


Sorry this is only half a chapter but I've been doing relief work at a food bank in Kyoto for most of the month. There should be another one of roughly this length within the week.

I wrote and edited this on my cell phone so if anyone sees any errors please feel free to point them out. I know this chapter isn't up to my usual standard.

Thank you to everyone who's written reviews and a special thank you to those of you who send me messages asking questions. I wish I could answer them but it would run the big reveal later on.

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #70 (Edited)
Wow! I can't believe I missed that one. Thanks for the heads up. What page is it on?

Edit: Snagged it.

That being said, while you are correct that that paragraph was too long I stand by what I've said about your own works, and those of the others I have reviewed. Moreover the length and complexity one should include within a single paragraph within a short story of around a thousand words and the complexity within a story that borders two hundred and fifty thousand words are not the same. In a short story the goal is to provide as much information as quickly as is possible, in as few words as are necessary.

The specific example you chose to copy paste, I assume as an attempt to show me the 'error of my ways' was a very short story about a battle in which it simply did not make sense for the caidence of the story to flow in the way it was flowing. I stand by that those paragraphs ought to have been split.

I'm sure there are numerous examples of errors, likely errors that I've called out other authors on making, in the several hundred pages of text I've written. The entire reason we have an editing process (and request peer review for that matter) is because errors are very easy for an author to miss, simply by virtue of the fact that an author will already have a clear picture of what they wish to express within their own mind.

579 Posts
Just so you know

I agree with you most of the time. I copied that piece so you would know what the heck I was talking about in context.

I still think your paragraphs are to ginormious. Lol. Keep at it and thanks for the C&C.

Super Moderator
10,978 Posts
Story bumped in the name of Featured Fiction. :wild:

Congratulations and keep up your excellent work. :)

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #73 (Edited)
Garibaldi may have given up drinking but a man must have at least some vices or he'd go insane. Garibaldi's vice of choice was food. Hearty wonderful, cholesterol rich, melt in your mouth, take a nap afterwards because you can barely move your toes, just like mother used to make italian goodness.

Real cheese was worth the added cost. Synthetics were about ten times cheaper and arguably had the same nutritional content, but they just weren't the same. They weren't made with love.

Sure, his favorite restaurant on the station had a chinese chef who'd learned to make pizza in chicago, but that only added to the ambiance. And even though it wasn't up to the standards of Italy, or even Brooklyn for that matter, it still beat the hell out of that pathetic excuse for a pizza joint the Brakiri opened up last year. Their fondness for fermented mushrooms and fish luminescent fish appeared to have overpowered their sense of esthetics.

A pizza should not produce a small cloud of purple fog.

He smiled at the savory taste of his own food only pausing the rhythmic movement of fork to lips briefly when when the meal of the Drazi next to him made a run for it. The still living squid creature dragged the plate back towards an open tank of bubbling water.

The Drazi stabbed his errant dinner, pinning it to the bar. He looked up happily, apparently thrilled that his meal still had some fight in it. Supposedly living food aided in the digestive processes of the Drazi species.

“No, no thanks,” Michael politely declined as the Drazi tried to offer him a still wriggling tentacle of something covered in pesto. The fragrance of the basil only partially overcame the musky odor of the mottled purple and blue flesh beneath, “I’m trying to cut down.”

He was saved from having to decline a second tentacle by a screech of dismay. The crowd of idle shopper's parted as the residents of Babylon rushed to get out of an filthy apoplectic panegyarist. Amis, the lurker he'd let out of the drunk tank earlier that day, was standing on yet another counter-top screaming at the top of his lungs.

The lurker's eyes were wild and his face contorted into an insane expression, “You’re all gonna die. The soldier of darkness from the past has come on that ship.”

Michael pushed away the delicious smelling plate, nodding to the Drazi next to him, “Save me some dessert.” The Drazi shrugged and went back to battling with his errant lunch, apparently unconcerned.

“Don’t close your eyes don’t go to sleep! It will find you.” Amis waved his arms wide, dancing a jig on top of the counter. A frustrated looking Abbai chef swatted at the lurker's feet with an oven mitt, swearing furiously. Amis jumped off the counter, oblivious to the Abbai, ran over to Michael, and hugged him more than Michael would have cared to receive, “Brother Garibaldi I was looking for you.”

Michael twisted Ami's arm behind the lurker's back and dragged him away, noting offhandedly that Amis had left brown streaks of oil along Michael's crisp uniform, “Lets take a walk. You’re starting to make the natives restless,”

“I’m not crazy it’s on this station,” Amis yanked his arm out of Michael's grip. The wild man smelled foul and his face was even dirtier than it had been earlier that day. He had to have been crawling through the engineering access tunnels along the edge of the station to get covered in that much engine grease.

“Death,” Amis screeched as much out of fear as anger. It was a hollow desperate sound, the sort a child might have used in convincing his parents that the monster under the bed was real. “It came off that ship from the past. I found it.”

“You’re sure,” Garibaldi said, unsure why the man's words were striking true with him. It was the sanest and most coherent Amis had sounded yet.

“I saw it do the same thing during the war,” Amis nodded then fell to his knees in pain, grasping his own shoulders, and twitching in pain. He yanked at his hair, “It's... it's in pain.”

Amis gritted his teeth, grinning manically and looking happier than Garibaldi had ever seen him. A deep menacing howl echoed from the depths of the station. A shrill, piercing sound somewhere like nails on a chalk board mixed with a distant echoing crowing. There was something wrong, something very wrong.

Michael's link chimed and he answered it, grabbing Amis tightly by the shirt, “Garibaldi here. You want to tell me what in the heck is going on?”

“Sir. The Inquisitor just conducted some sort of Exorcism in the Baazar... he's claiming that there is a demon on the station,” the confused voice of Officer Shiro replied, “Sir... you need to get down here. We're losing control of the situation."

Michael swore, “I'll be there in a minute.”

Amis made a break for it but Michael held firm, “Oh no, get over here. We are going down to processing first.”

“A demon. There is a demon on the station?” It felt odd and unnatural to be saying out loud to a grown man. It was the craziest thing she had every heard someone say out loud. The PPG shook in her hand as she felt stoic resolution roll off the Inquisitor in waves, “My god... you actually believe that don't you?”

Inquisitor Daul believed that there was a demon on the station with absolute conviction, there was not a shred of doubt in the man's mind. His utter faith to that one truth was actually a bit overwhelming. He stared her in the eyes unblinkingly, totally ignoring the presence of the armed security forces massed round them, “Your belief in it is irrelevant. If you do not allow me to take action now people will die.”

The massed group of aliens and humans started muttering to each other fearfully. More than a few of them were giving significant glances in the direction of G'Kar, who had not taken a single step away from the Inquisitor's side even after station security started pointing weapons. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Hilder. His brow furrowed and his glowing red eyes narrowed, burning with an alien sort of satisfied conviction.

Damn it, the Narn was giving an air of legitimacy to to the Inquisitor's insane ravings. This had to be part of some political scheme of the Inquisitor's, though to what end she could not even begin to guess. The politics of the Empire was as much of a mystery as its location.

Officer Shiro took a step towards the Inquisitor but froze mid step as the Skitarii growled menacingly and spread his tentacles, metallic pincers snapping a terrible staccato. The bodyguard's posture spread unnaturally, a subtle reminder that the body beneath his robes was anything but human.

Talia bit her lip nervously. The chances that the Inquisitor actually complied with the Captain's request to remove all hidden weapons from the station were close to nil. Even if Thross no longer had the personal shielding unit who knew how many weapons were incorporated into his body.

“Inquisitor you will comply with us,” Officer Shiro backed up from Thross, waving his pistol backward and forward as he tried to keep all the Imperials covered, “I don't know what it is that you did to that woman but it sure as hell wasn't legal.”

“Foolish boy!” The Inqusitor's voice rumbled with the thread of imminent psychic hazard, “I saved the woman. She was possessed by a hungering spirit. I cannot allow you to delay me in this matter. If I do not act it may well be disastrous.”

“And if you do not come with me into custody it will be deadly,” Talia nodded to the pistol in her hand, “Inquisitor even if you can stop one, two, or even ten of us with the psychic powers you are fond of reminding me are superior to mine, you will not be able to get off this station before we manage to capture or kill you. If a PPG doesn't get you, shutting off an airlock and venting the oxygen to space will. Even if you do get to a transport then you'll just make a nice target for the station's guns.”

The Inquisitor glowered, his voice smoldering with fury. The cups and plates in the cafe shook as the Inquisitor drew in power, “Insolent witch, I should flay you alive for your sheer foolishness. You would doom us all for your inaction.”

“From the demon,” Talia snorted in disbelief, dismissively, as though the Inquisitor's effortless display of telekinesis did not rattle her, “The demon you exorcized.”

“Spirit was cast from mortal vessel,” the Imperial priest linked his thumbs together in the symbol of the Imperial Eagle, bowing his head deeply and cradling a thick tome, “So it is written so it shall be.”

A Markab woman crowed furiously from the edge of the crowd, “Darkness has taken the station! Touched by darkness we all are,” he pointed to the girl still cradled in Galut's tree trunk sized arms, “We must remove the bringer of darkness not the one who fights it!” The general murmurs of assent from the collected aliens was not reassuring.

Babylon Five was a haven and port of call for all the races of the Non-aligned worlds, including a number of theocracies like that of Markab. The Inquisitor's psychically empowered light show was playing off the superstitions of any number of them.

“Lord save us from your followers,” muttered Shiro in a whisper that was clearly intended to be heard by Talia. She agreed with him but still shot him a disapproving look, now was not the time for jokes.

“Yes,” hissed some sort of snake faced alien Talia couldn't begin to identify, “Out the airlock, remove the taint, free the station, better for all of us.”

“Like hell you are,” Dr. Franklin stood up from where he'd been kneeling next to the unconscious woman, the look in his eyes dropped the temperature of the room two degrees, “Nobody is touching my patient. I'm not about to have a lynch mob descending on a woman out of superstition. She hasn't done anything.”

"This is not superstition or fear," the Markab waved his hands in the direction of the woman, twisting his arms in derision, "This is truth. Those tainted by the true evils must not be allowed to stay."

“No,” Hilder's voice rasped out simmering with a subtle psychic aura of intimidation. Talia had to toss up a mental block to stop her knees from shaking, “Any connections she had with the beast have been severed. And I am most certain that nobody here is foolish enough to attack the beast's victim in front of me. I would consider it an insult,” he eyed the Markab in distaste, “A personal insult.”

The Markab didn't get a chance to reply.

A deep bellowing cry echoed through the station, piercing and vile. It left the aftertaste of sour milk on Talia's lips and a greasy feeling of wrongness shifting about in the forefront of Talia's psychic senses. It was the same sort of wanton sense of twisted malice she'd found in the minds of serial killers and rabid animals, spiteful and hungering.

The already agitated crowd panicked.Everyone started to run for all the exits at once, pushing, punching, clawing, and shoving their way away from the unconscious woman.

Shiro yelled into his link, calling Garibaldi and yelling for back-up.

The cry hadn't come from anywhere near Miranda, but in their fear it didn't seem that the fleeing crowd had made that connection. The cry had activated something terrifying and primal ingrained into the sentient psyche, an overpowering urge to flee drawing out all rational thought.

Station security struggled with the rioting mob, desperately trying keep order. A snub-nosed creature grabbed for officer Shiro's side arm, swinging for the Asian man's head with a wild haymaker. He twisted the creature's arm behind its back, smashing the would be attacker to the floor with a resounding thunk of flesh.

"No," Talia all but screamed as Cairn Thross grabbed her by the collar, yanking her forwards and batting the pistol out of her hand. She steeled herself, preparing herself for an agonizing blow from his deadly metal arms.

It never came.

The cybernetic man tossed her behind him, next to the still unconscious Miranda, shielding her with his body. Thross, Daul, and Galut stood in a semi-circle in front of the café, fighting back the tides of the rioting crowd.

"Miss Winters," Inquisitor Hidler's smoldering whisper danced from his lips in frustration, "You must listen to me. There is still time. You must listen to me." A terrified looking Markab made a lunge for the café, trying to get to the exit beyond it. Daul flung him back into the crowd with an errant wave and a burst of psychic energy, “I am trying to help you! Your pride will kill thousands if you do not allow me to aid you.”

"No," Talia stood up and smiled, "I don't think so." Loud klaxons echoed resoundingly through the Bazaar as the bulkhead sealed, driving the already unruly crowd into a frenzy. Talia pulled a mask out of her pocket and fixed it over her nose and mouth, the sterile scent of filtered air filling her nostrils.

The clattering noise of metal canisters rolling along the deck plates of the station echoed around the Bazaar, followed soon by the hissing sound of escaping gas. Talia smiled behind her mask at Daul, "In fact Inquisitor I don't think you're going to be doing much of anything at all."

After the Drazi riot Captain Sheridan took precautions to prevent further bloodshed. The Captain could be accused of many things, shortsightedness was not one of them. In the event of another riot station security was authorized to cut off a section of the ship and flood it with a powerful sedative gas that would knock out everyone but the methane breathers.

The Inquisitor's eyes widened and he reached for the grinning skull helm lashed to his belt, "Heretic witch!" Talia lunged for the Inquisitor and grabbed the golden skull. The Inquisitor shoved her in the chest, pushing a burst of telekenetic energy out of his open palm.

He tossed her back ten feet, but did not manage to loosen her grip on the helmet. The grinning golden skull smacked her in the forehead as she collided with the mirror behind the counter of the café. The impact hurt badly, a shard of the mirrored glass cut her ear, but she had won.

The Inquisitor for all his impressive powers was still human, and limited by the human physiology. Even an Inquisitor had to breathe. He was beaten and he knew it.

The Inquisitor took a drunken step towards her, shielding his mouth and nose with a cupped hand. He made a beaconing gesture towards the mask, power surged forth and summoned the golden skull. Talia gripped the shifting helmet tighter and willed it to stay.

The runes and sigils along the helm glowed with a pale blue light and Talia felt a barrier fall into place inches from her body, protecting her from the Inquisitor's grasping presence. Daul looked at the barrier in horror, mortified at her use of his own psychic protections against him.

Daul, furiously bellowed to Cairn in the Imperial langauge. He only managed a few drunken syllables before he fell to the ground muttering wildly to himself, but the Skitarii had gotten the message.

The cyborg, unaffected by the gas, advanced furiously upon Talia. Mechanical tentacles tossed tables and chairs effortlessly as the mechanical man growled out a grating incoherent war cry. The Skitarii leapt over the bar and swiped at her with a mechanical tentacle, just barely missing her neck but tearing the breathing mask from her face.

A woozy and unsettling feeling oozed through her limbs as she gasped in terror. There was only one clear thought in the mind of the Cyborg, only one aim. Cairn was going to kill her. Cairn was going to kill her as painfully as he could.

She held out her hand and screamed, "No." Pushing at him with all her fear and need. The gilded skull flared for a second time, runes flaring with a cool blue light. The cyborg froze in place standing just outside arm's reach, poised to strike but unable to move.

The skull's runes blazed and grew blisteringly hot, but she dared not let go. Whatever else the helmet was, it clearly worked to focus the psychic potential of its bearer. Whereas she had struggled to move a penny with her mind this morning, with the aid of the skull she was able to stop the movement of the cyborg entirely.

It was a glorious sensation of power like she'd never felt before but it could soon be all for nothing. Talia could already feel eyes heavy with sleep and the pharmaceutical taste of cotton was wrapping around her tongue. It would not be long before the gas robbed her of her concentration and the cyborg could redouble his attack.

There had to be a way, there had to be a way out. There was always a way out.

Talia crab walked along the floor behind the bar, keenly aware that the twitching of the cyborg's limbs was becoming less erratic and more deliberate. Her limbs were weak and shambling, only barely listening to her mind. She stuttered and shook her way to the edge of the bar before her control over the cyborg broke entirely.

The cyborg approached her carelessly, almost lazily. He lifted her to her feet and grasped her about the neck with his tentacle, slowly constricting her air passageway. Talia wanted to fling the helmet at Thross' face but only managed a limp flick of her wrist. The helmet dropped to the groud with a deafening clatter.

Talia's lung's burned, pain overwhelming the soporific effects of the gas. She whimpered lamely as the tentacle grew tighter and tighter, cutting off the precious flow of tainted air. She was neither strong enough, fast enough or skilled enough to get away from him. She had no weapons, no allies, no options. She was going to die.

Something wide and pink collided with Cairn's head, smashing him to the floor. His tentacles tore at the skin of her neck, leaving friction burns behind, but slackened enough for her to escape. Cairn screeched in fury and stared at his attacker in disbelief.

It had been Galut who'd attacked him. Galut, the Inquisitor's second bodyguard was giggling giddily to himself pupils dialated from the gas. He muttered to himself in a sing-song voice only half aware of his surroundings, "No more hurt pretty Susan, no more hurt pretty Susan, no more hurt pretty Susan..."

Cairn swore an oath that sounded something like a hissing vyper and reached for Talia a second time. The giant grabbed his tentacles with a grasp of his meaty fist and yanked backwards. The astonished cyborg sailed through the wooden bar and across the café, flying a good twenty feet before colliding into a vending machine.

Cairn collapsed in the wreckage of the vending machine, silent and unmoving. Galut shook his head in sadness and bent down to check on Talia, cooing softly in the Imperial language. He brushed back a stray hair with an elephantine finger, talking in the same gentle tone one might use when talking to an infant.

He smiled at her protectively and ruffled her hair. No longer powered by adrenaline Talia simply allowed herself to be mothered by the hallucinating giant.

Talia felt at ease as the giant picked her up and cradled her in his arms like a baby, grasping the stuffed rabbit he offered her in gratitude. He sat down next to the unconscious imperials cross legged and rocked her, singing a throaty lullaby. Talia melted into the bulging muscles of Galut's arms and fell into a deep slumber.

"Galut do good Susan," the giant muttered feverishly as his eyes drooped and he fell asleep, "Galut do good."

Under different circumstances Susan might have been honored to be the first Earther on an Imperial vessel.

As it stood, she was not. Heavy iron manacles were bound around her wrists and ankles tied together with heavy links of chain.Susan had nursed hopes that she might escape from Imperial custody by jumping into an escape pod and heading for the station but before she knew it, Susan and her kidnappers were already inside the Imperial ship shoving their way through the varying mass of people wandering about the ship's docking bay.

Yet for all her anger and rage she could not help but look at the interior of the Imperial ship in awe. The swooping gothic architecture and bizarre imperial fashions were more alien than any of the non-aligned worlds she'd seen yet. On the bright side they'd returned her uniform to her before binding her, a small mercy but one she was grateful for. She preferred not to think about how many people had seen her wearing the sheer fabric garment.

Susan shot a murderous glace at Jak as the twitching man excused himself and wandered towards a fat man in rich clothing hanging from a metal frame. The obese figure swung backwards and forwards jovially as Jak walked up to him, kicking his atrophied legs in amusement.

Danzig prodded her onward as she slowed to get a better look at the strange man. The rough callused surface of his right hand squeezed her shoulder, not enough to hurt her but enough that she could not ignore him, “Forwards.”

He pointed though an ornate arch into the corridors beyond. Susan sighed and followed Danzig's instructions. Judging by the speed at which Dazig was nodded through customs it seemed likely Danzig's position in the Imperial command structure was higher than he'd advertised. Another secret, another lie, it was hardly a surprise. The Imperials seemed to lie as often as they spoke.

Her curiosity battled her desire to escape as they wandered through the security check-point and into the inner area of the ship.

The strangeness of the ship was exacerbated by the seeming backwardness of the ship's facilities. Twice they'd passed public fountains from which the crew of the ship was drawing water with large steel buckets and carrying them back to the shops. Pubescent teenagers leaning on ornately carved wooden yokes stood around the fountains in no apparent hurry to return with their carved burden, chatting eagerly.

A couple of them shot curious looks in Susan's direction, apparently more interested in Danizg and gazan than in their captive. Judging by the impressed murmurs of interest Danzig held a position of importance and respect on the ship. The olive skinned man positively preened under their gaze, strutting as he walked next to Susan.

The bustling masses of people were awash with flowing linen garments, red pillbox hats, and simple turbans embroidered with the double headed eagle of the Empire, looking positively domestic for all the alien strangeness of the Imperial customs and clothing. An aging crone of a woman with a face that looked like aged leather approached her with a citrusy smelling fruit, offering her wares for only five sliver thrones. Gazan shooed the old crone away muttering, "Five thrones for fruit? The nerve."

Susan was unquestionably their prisoner, but they seemed surprisingly eager to impress her with the history and grandeur of the Endless Bounty. They pointed to landmarks and frescoes as they wandered the winding corridors. "This is the story of the Primarchs, the most glorious warriors among men," they would say or, "Vurnal Sáclair, Captain of the Endless Bounty in the Age of Apostasy. A great man."

It felt less like a kidnapping and more like being forced to go on a trip to a tourist site with her uncles, in spite of the firearms being pointed at her. They referred to historical events within the Empire as though it were not simply common knowledge, they believed it was innate that a human being would recognize them immediately. She struggled to keep up with the various obscure bits of trivia being tossed her way.

When she escaped knowledge of those land marks might mean the difference between freedom and death. “Primarch,” “Astropath,” “Cultist,” “Genestealer,” and “Amon Sui” meant nothing yet, but they would. Information was a weapon without peer.

Susan swore as she tripped over the manacles binding her arms and legs. They'd fused the bones of her arms and legs where they'd been broken, but the limbs were still sore and uneasy. The muscles seemed to be unconvinced that they weren't supposed to be locking up in pain when she moved. They'd frozen twice, going numb and sending pins and needles shooting up her spine. A side effect of the stimulant they'd used to resuscitate her combined with the earlier sedative no doubt.

Danzig grabbed her as she overbalanced, steadying her against his shoulder. She noted idly the sensation of being pressed agianst dark man's hard muscled arms was not altogether unpleasant. She still slapped Danzig for his efforts, "Don't touch me you bastard."

Her slap was awkward, hampered by the weight of her manacles. Danzig easily snatched the hanging chains with casual aplomb. A slight red mark covered his cheek as he lifted her arms above her head and stared her in the eyes with businesslike dispassion, "You will not do that again."

Susan's eyes smoldered with defiance but she held her tongue. Getting mouthy with Danzig wouldn't achieve anything other than earning her a beating for her efforts. Her limbs were healed, but freshly so. It would take only minimal effort for the professional soldiers to crack the recently fused bone. If she was going to escape she'd have to wait for them to relax their guard.

A hard bark of laughter echoed from across the street where a handsome man with a devil may care sort of smile observed them with an amused expression on his face. He wore the same crimson and gold silks as Danzig and Gazan, topped with a black pillbox hat, "You always had a unique way of dealing with women Danzig."

Gazan snorted, his lips curving up into a smile that twinkled at the edge of his eyes, "Fadir, you will pardon me if I find your perspectives on women suspect."

"I've yet to hear a complaint from the fairer sex," Fadir said in a tone of falsely wounded pride, his hand pressed over his heart, "You wound me."

"Not as well as the husbands of your conquests would wish to I suspect," Gazan said dryly, grabbing Fadir by the wrist and pulling him into a one armed hug. The two men slapped each others backs in an amiable gesture of greeting.

"Perhaps," Fadir's expression grew more serious, "Gazan you need to go and check on Yonal. He's been having complications."

"I thought that Kerrigan did the surgery to implant his augmentics herself," Gazan's smiled slackened a, the twinkle in his eyes turning to a hard professional gaze, "Medicus Nor sent me no messages indicating that there were aftereffects of the surgery."

Fadir nodded sadly, "Not those sorts of complications. He's been taking the loss of Murak badly."

Danzig's breath caught in his teeth, making a hissing noise somewhere between fury and sorrow, "The boy is dead?"

"We lost a lot of the new recruits in the latest attack of the Amon Sui. Sergei and Maziv have been in a frenzy trying to keep the ship in order. We're down to a hundred and fifty new recruits and two hundred Lionhearts, not including those of us too old or too wounded for active duty," Fadir shook his head, "Sergei will give a more full report when you get back to headquarters."

"Traitors blood," snarled Danzig, "I knew we'd taken losses but I had no idea that we'd lost so many. How is Maziv taking it?"

“The old man?” Fadir barked with laughter, slapping his side and rolling his eyes. He pulled back his upper lip and scrunched up his brow in apparent imitation of the man, speaking in a gruff voice that was whistled with every third syllable, “The Lionhearts don't go and waste time feeling sorry for those of us who have the dignity to have died in service of the house Sáclair. Most men don't have the clarity of dying with a purpose, and the Emperor values men of honor.”

Gazan smacked Fadir across the back of younger soldier's head in a playful fashion, “I don't think that old mother would appreciate that you've been imitating him when his back is turned.”

“And I'm sure he'd skin you alive if he heard you calling him mother,” Fadir's face turned serious again, "The Captain felt it was necessary to keep the specific losses of the Lionhearts secret, we didn't want to send that information to you over an open microwave channel. Seeing as how the damn astropathic servitor decided to go and get itself eaten we haven't had a free moment to get the information to you," Fadir shook his head sadly, "We're a mess sir."

Gazan bit his lip and looked at a clock with six hands pressed into a bronze statue of a double headed eagle, “Danzig I really must get to Yonal. He blamed himself for everything that went wrong in his little brother's life already. Now that Murak is dead I need to go and smack some sense into him before he does something stupid," Gazan pointed to Fadir, "The boy is more than capable of dealing with the witch and I need to get to Yonal before he goes for afternoon prayers. "

Danzig gave Susan an appraising look and nodded, “I could probably handle the witch by myself if it came down to it. She isn't much of a threat, she was just foolish enough to sucker punch the Inquisitor of all people.”

Susan bristled at the insult as Fadir swore in fury, "The Alliance woman is a throne cursed psycher? Why are you bringing her onto the ship?"

"Not for you to know Fadir," Danzig said in a tone that left no room for discussion, "We get her where she is going and wait for the Inquisitor. That's it. Anything else is above our pay grade."

Fadir's flirtatious expression turned to one of guarded apprehension. He approached Susan and stood next to her the way one might do with an hungry tiger, anxious and justifiably fearful. He muttered a lyrical prayer to himself in a flowing language that seemed vaguely familiar to Susan, some sort of a ward against evil.

She preferred Fadir's superstitious apprehension to Danzig's outright indifference.

They continued to duck down corridors and into elevators for another thirty minutes. The ship seemed to have been built and rebuilt from the hulls of several different ships, the layout and esthetics of one deck varied greatly from that of another.

Susan tried to memorize the route from the docking bay to their destination but lost track of their path somewhere around a statue of a man driving a sword into a creature vaguely resembing a giant ten legged crab.

The surroundings grew more opulent and well tended as they went higher and higher on the ship. The wide corridors, devoid of the refuse and discarded food wrappers of the lower decks, were full of people wearing rich clothing in a style totally different from that of the lower decks. The upper deck residents were garbed in silk and velvet set with jewels and pearls. They would have looked lavish even within the Centauri Imperial court.

Danzig let out a low whistle when they reached a set of red pressure doors at the end of an obscure side path, "Hamman, are you there?"

The doors opened and the worn face of Hamman popped out, "I need to verify your identity sir."

"Damnit Hamman I have better things to do than this," Swore the broad shouldered man. He massaged his temples as a pillar of marble tipped with a small stone basin rose from the floor, "You know who I am."

"Yes sir I do," Nodded Hamman as he pointed behind Danzig at the high ceiling in the distance, "Those don't."

Susan looked up in the direction Hamman pointed. Shoved into a recesses between the many statues lining the walls of the corridor were a pair of human torsos, servitor constructs. They stared down at the trio in front of the door with glassy, disinterested expressions. Their arms had been replaced with large magazine fed weapons of a caliber Susan didn't care to guess.

Fadir let out a long, low whistle as he pulled the glove off his hand and reached for the thin blade sticking up from the bowl. He pricked his finger, squeezing a thin trickle of blood into it. The bowl sucked the drop into it and chimed in the affirmitive, "That's what Kerrigan meant by a surprise for any visitors. She does 'surprise' pretty damn good."

"A heavy bolter round would be one hell of a surprise," Danzig said as he pricked the tip of his finger, squeezing the blood into the bowl, then spoke in a clear voice, "Corporal Danzig plus one."

As Susan was frog marched into the room she realized that there would be no way of leaving the apartments without being directly in line of sight of the heavy turret weapons pointed at the door.

"Son of a bitch," Susan swore, "That insufferable son of a bitch." They didn't need to keep her in a jail cell. The Inquisitor could give her free run of his apartments, safe in the knowledge that there was no way she would be able to get out of his quarters without getting her head blown off.

Hamman smacked her across the mouth, "You will keep a civil tongue between your teeth or it will be taken away from you witch. It is by the Inquisitor's mercy that you are not simply being tossed out an airlock."

"I'll be glad to return the favor at some point in the future," Susan blinked white flashes of light away from her eyes and was rewarded for her sarcasm with another slap, "Kiss my ass."

Hamman went for a third slap but stopped when Fadir grabbed his wrist. Fadir gave him a stony gaze and spoke in the lyrical language of the Lionhearts. Hamman stiffened in surprise and relented, staring at Susan in shock, "You cannot be serious. She is a heretic at best, there is no way he can be serious about this."

"He is and she will, though she doesn't know it yet," Danzig chuckled dryly, "Damn strange choice for it really."

"Choice for what?" Susan looked back at the corridor, wondering if she would be able to shamble fast enough to avoid the turrets, "What are you going to do with me." A sudden burst of panic overtook her and she struggled against the three men as they dragged her further into the apartment.

Susan whipped the chain binding her wrists up and into Danzig's nose with the wet sound of breaking cartilage. The Lionheart swore loudly but did not let go, “Stop fighting you lunatic woman! We aren't going to hurt you.”

Susan readied herself for another swing of the chain at Fadir when a burst of rolling laughter echoed down the hallway, haughty and trenchant. Susan hesitated for a second, granting a chance for to Fadir snag the chain.

An elegant woman with porcelain skin strode forward, the soft crimson velvet creases in her flowing dress crinkling with every clip of her jewel encrusted slippers. Her dress was well tailored, sweeping angles and hanging fabrics highlighting a belly plump with child rather than concealing it.

Two oversized men, Ogryn like Galut, followed her on either side. The Ogryn wore tight breeches, cutaway skirted coats, lacy waistcoats, perfumed white wigs, garlands of flowers, and expressions of supreme suffering on their wide snaggletoothed faces. Each carried a rifle that seemed to be as much a club as a side-arm. Judging by their stance the weapons they carried were clearly the only part of their uniform not making them uncomfortable.

The woman leaned in close to Susan and crossed her arms over a wide belly full with child. She smiled, flashing a mouth full of teeth only slightly paler than her creamy skin. Susan glared back defiantly, confused by the pregnant woman's presence.

“My Lady Sáclair,” Danzig stood up straight as board and saluted, a gesture made somewhat comical by his broken nose and the slight trickle of blood rolling down his face, “I had not been informed to expect you.”

“I would be very much surprised if you had,” the woman idly remarked, reaching out and running an indifferent finger over Susan's uniform, “I'd been hoping to have a conversation with the Inquisitor. Was his personal transport not the one you arrived on?”

“It was madam, but the Inquisitor is still on the station,” Danzig said in the same tone Susan might have used to address President Clark, “To my knowledge he will return before the day's end.”

The woman grunted in incredulity, “So you say. Though if the slave markets in Alliance space have such stock as this I can hardly blame him for his tardiness. He does have some good taste after all.”

Susan's blood boiled and she spat in the woman's face, “I'm no one's slave you pompous bitch.”

Danzig turned on her, his hand raised to strike but stopped at a gesture and a word from the woman. She wiped the spittle away from her face with a lace handkerchief, something like a smile playing at the edge of her lips, “You are a fiery one, aren't you? No, not a slave. I recognize you Lieutenant Commander. But Hilder wouldn't be taking you against your will if he did not have a purpose for you. Not when it risks all that he has labored to build these past months. Not when killing you would be so much easier.”

“I'm not easy to kill,” Susan yanked her arms down and nearly dislodged the chain from Fadir's grip. Hamman shot her a murderous glance but did not slap her.

“Oh I think I'm going to like you,” tittered the Lady Sáclair, her full lips puckered in thought. Cool eyes roved over her rumpled uniform and manacled hands, taking the measure of her, “I suppose it's too much to hope that the Inquisitor has taken a romantic interest. Hilder would have to relax for more than ten seconds to do that.”

Susan tried not to be ill at the idea of the Inquisitor having romantic intentions for her. The idea of the Inquisitor having romantic intentions for anyone was alarming enough without involving her. If he wished to force himself upon her she wasn't sure if she'd be able to stop him, “I'd rather die.”

“Let's not go wishing more troubles upon ourself yet, shall we? The Emperor gives enough without asking for more.” The woman looked up at Danzig and spoke in a voice of authority, “Colonel Danzig. Are you allowed to speak about the intentions he has for this woman with her.”

“No mam,” Danzig shook his head once. Susan nodded she'd assumed as much.

“Has he given orders not to speak of it to my husband,” The woman, apparently the wife of the ship's captain quirked an eyebrow. Susan tried to recall the dossier she'd been compiling on the ship. Annabelle, yes that had been the woman's name. Annabelle, the Lady Sáclair.

“If he had I wouldn't obey them my lady,” Danzig smiled, “But he has ordered me not to speak of them with anyone else in the command structure of lesser status.”

The Lady laughed a feline laugh, almost a purr, “Then as my husband's equal and proxy I request you inform me.” Susan's breath caught in her throat.

The Lady Sáclair was defying the Inquisitor, maybe even trying to sabotage the Inquisitor's plans. The Inquisitor's authority within the Empire was not as absolute as he'd represented it to Captain Sheridan, even on his own ship.

“Mam,” the Lionheart's eyes widened in vexation, his conflicting oaths of loyalty warring within his head, “I don't know if...”

“If what?” Asked the Lady. She hadn't raised her voice but Danzig hopped as though she'd flung a pot of scalding water in his face, “Your oath of Loyalty is to my husband, not to Hilder. I am his wife and equal on this ship. You will tell me what I want to know. Now.”

“Yes,” Danzig said, his voice resolute, “Of course mam.”

“Good,” The Lady caressed a curl of Susan's fiery red locks that had come loose in the fight, bright orange seeming almost phosphorescent against the inhuman pallor of the Lady's flesh. An unreadable expression played across her face, “Now why does the Inquisitor want her?”

“Yes mam,” He cleared his throat and slapped a firm hand on Susan's shoulder. Her knees buckled, “Allow me to present to you Miss Susan Ivanova, newest apprentice to Inquisitor Daul Hilder.”

Susan's jaw dropped, “You have got to be kidding me.”


448 Posts
Discussion Starter #74
Mark was nervous, and not undeservingly so. Mark was a criminal, and a dangerous one at that, though he was hesitant to think of himself that way. The warrants on him had no doubt gotten to Babylon Fiv blank writs of arrest demanding that he be brought in dead or alive. Mark preferred dead.

Death was preferable to what the Psi Corps would do to him. The couldn't do anything to him once he was dead.

He'd entered the Psi Corps as a child, taken from his parents at age seven. His memories of his parents were vague, but he remembered that they hadn't fought the government officials who'd come to take him away. They'd believed he was being given an opportunity beyond his wildest dreams, a chance at a real future. They thought it was a great choice.

It didn't make him hate them less for giving him up.

They'd raised him much in the way that they claimed they would for the first ten years or so, at least till his eighteenth birthday when he started to manifest telekinesis. It was at that point that he'd been slated for a special project, one of the many unofficial projects done by the Psi Corps.

They'd done things to him, things that he preferred not to remember, things that still gave him nightmares. He'd escaped by the skin of his teeth with the aid of the Underground Railroad, sneaking to the proxima colony via mars for a number of months before fleeting for the Babylon Station. It was one of the few ports where one could reach alien territories that would not extradite to the Earth Alliance.

It was a safe haven for the Underground Railroad, one of the few military installations without its own dedicated Psi Corps presence. About two dozen rogue telepaths would be on station at any given time. They had to be careful, staying out of view and under the radar.

They could only risk sending people into alien space one or two at a time, careful not to draw the notice of immigration. A human arriving on an Earth Force transport was relatively unremarkable, a human leaving on an alien transport was odd. A dozen humans leaving on a transport would draw notice.

They did not wish to draw notice. However somebody was causing psychic pandemonium on station. After the psychic scream rocked the ship Mark headed for the meeting place. No message needed to be sent.

There was already a small crowd of people in the tiny brown sector apartment when he entered. Nobody wasted time with small talk or greetings when he entered the room, few even bothered to look. They'd all sensed his arrival long before he pushed the door open.

Small talk would have been wasted anyway. For safety's sake they exchanged neither names nor personal information. Psychic exchanges of information were often more practical anyway. An ID could be faked, a mind couldn't.

The room resounded with silence as the telepaths exchanged frenzied snippets of information with each other. Something had attacked the station. The Captain had arrested the Imperial Inquisitor. The Imperial Inquisitor had fought a demon and lost. Talia Winters had fought the Inquisitor and won. The conflicting thoughts thundered deafeningly in his head contesting the silent shifting of bodies in the room.

"Enough! We know nothing for sure," Slurred the voice of the de-facto leader of the Underground Railroad, a hunched crone of a man misshapen from the abuses he'd suffered at the orders of the Psi Corps, "Rumors will get us nowhere but into a panic. Getting into a panic will get us caught."

"And getting caught will get us killed," muttered Mark idly to himself, "Which would be bad." The man next to Mark shivered and scratched at his chest, groaning in pain. The poor bastard probably was too afraid to go to the med-center for fear that someone would back track his medical records. They'd lost a man to a ruptured appendix for that very reason last month.

The crowd silently murmured to each other psychically, a shifting morass of fear and anticipation. The hunch-back shouted again in his incoherent mess of slurs, "Enough! We are safe. The Psi Corps has yet to break the Mars cell. We have at least a month before they catch on to us if they ever do. We'll be in Minbari space by then."

The irony of fleeing to Minbar in search of safety was not lost on Mark. He could still remember huddling in a bunker on Earth at the Battle for the Line. Not that long ago the Minbari were the closest thing to Satan he could think of, a post now deservingly occupied by one Alfred Bester.

The Psi Core was hell on Earth.

The crisp uniformity and institutional disinfected sterility that the public was privy to was only a mask over the cankerous purulence of the Psi Cpors' true purposes. God the things the Psi Corps had done to them were unholy, there was no other word for it. Selective breeding, forced abortions, murder, rape, it was a virtual laundry list of every inhuman and unforgivable act that could be committed.

And nobody knew about it. Obfuscation and misdirection were the weapons of the Psi Corps, and they were nothing if not efficient. Nobody believed the ravings of a couple rogue telepaths. Nobody really wanted to. Telepaths were frightening and the Psi Corps allowed normal people to feel protected.

People would sacrifice a lot for that sense of protection. His parents had sacrificed him after all.

Sacrifice, god but he was sick of having to hear that word. Everything was sacrifice. For all that he valued his freedom the pursuit of it was astonishingly limiting. A sentiment that all the pilgrims on the underground railroad felt with equal measure.

"When do we leave?" asked a young girl in pigtails eagerly her face full of unbridled hope. She was only thirteen but would easily be a P-9 when she grew into her full potential. It was probably why the Psi Corps wanted to breed her early.

The hunchback smiled, a gruesome gesture on his twisted features but his good will shone from his mind, "Children will be the first to go. Less than a week for you." The girl smiled and giggled as he pinched her cheek, "Less than a month for us all. We will all be free soon."

The tension in the room dropped drastically and the psychic muttering lulled to dull idle whispering. The prospect of freedom was enough to calm anyone. God bless those bone heads, he would kiss the first one he saw once he got to Minbar. Freedom was a glorious idea.

"Now," Slurred the hunchback, "Go back to your quarters, get some food, get some rest, and be ready for soon it is time. Soon it will be time to go."

The man next to Mark coughed again, blood spurting out of his mouth and nose. Mark cried out without meaning to, "Damnit!"

A dark skinned P6 woman rushed over to the man with a towel, wiping off his face and nose. The ill man's pale and clammy skin was covered in great beads of sweat. He shivered and shook convulsively, "We need to get him to a doctor!"

"No," hissed a P4 with a strong german accent, "If ve do zat den ve vill be caught." Mark wanted to disagree with the man but couldn't. There were too many surgically implanted markers in all members of the Psi Corps to make going to a doctor entirely safe. All it would take was one doctor back-tracking serial numbers in order to get medical records and they'd all be up the creek.

"We can't let him die," cried the young P9 as she yanked frustratedly at her pig tails. Damn the Psi Corps to hell a child shouldn't be forced to make this sort of a decision, "He just can't die."

"No," hissed a P11 woman of vaguely English accent in a green dress. Her face squirmed between warring expressions of pity and fear, "If he dies he dies but we cannot risk all of us for him."

"We don't have to," the hunch back shook his head. He approached the ill man warily, pulling his shirt over his mouth as he examined the black veins of the man's neck, "I know of a doctor who doesn't ask questions. He can be trusted."

"How can you know," hissed the P11 woman in the green dress. She grabbed the hunchback's arm, nails biting at the man's skin as her hands flexed in hysteria, "How can you be sure?"

"I am," said the hunch-back in a voice indicating that he considered the matter to be closed. He brushed the woman's hand away dismissively, "I'll contact him and have him down here to help... who is that?" The hunch back hysteria and stared at the man vomiting up blood, "I've never seen him before. Who is that?"

The man was a stranger. How in the hell had a stranger gotten into their meeting?

Mark backed away in horror as the man stood up, blood still seeping from the man's every orifice and staining his clothing. His face had elongated unnaturally and his skin had pinched into and odd shape, bilious shadow seeping from his shirt and pants.

"Who in the hell are you?" Mark snarled as he pulled out his PPG, "What in the hell are you?"

The man shifted on the balls of his feet and his skin stretched and shifted like an ill-fitting suit, twisting and bursting as horns and claws protruded from where they'd been concealed beneath. The room filled with a malevolent hungering presence.

The hunchback bellowed, "Run," though it hardly needed to be said. As the man's head burst like a ripe mellon revealing a cruel reptilian face beneath the collected telepaths fled. The creature swiped a fist faster than Mark could see, shoving it's hand into the torso of the german telepath and tearing his heart and lungs out of his body without ever breaking the flesh.

The reptilian equine face shimmered and disappeared into a vague shadowy nothingness. The giant body of the creature rippled and shifted as it reached into the body again and again, pulling out hunks of dripping offal.The creature swallowed the organs greedily, ignoring the deluge of PPG shots Mark fired at it as though they were the stinging of bees.

And then he realized what was truly unnerving him. It wasn't only flesh the creature grabbed. There was a vague bluish, silvery something that came up with every handful of meat. With every handful the German man's mind got smaller and weaker, robbing him of everything except the pain.

God almighty it was eating the german psychic's soul.

Mark lashed at the creature with his mind in desperation, forcing his hate into a blade of telepathic energy. The creature dropped a handful of man flesh, snarling in indignant fury. It turned three sets of horrid misshapen eyes on him, glowing in the shadowy dark, and spoke in a voice like rotten food and the buzzing of insects, “Mine.”

Mark screamed as the creature charged him, talon tipped fingers tearing through his flesh without ever leaving a mark. The creature drove its face into Mark's chest, feeding. As Mark felt the creature tearing his intestines from his torso he put the PPG up to his temple and pulled the trigger.

It was a pity he wouldn't see Minbar.


The Inquisitor jerked fitfully in his sleep, plagued by nightmares. Once or twice he'd made a strangled sound halfway between a cry and a yell of anguish. Michael didn't even want to begin to imagine what the Inquisitor had gone through that could make a man's back arch like that in his sleep.

Protocol dictated that he administer a sedative to a prisoner suffering from severe night terrors, but he couldn't do that without first getting a doctor down to examine the Inquisitor. And he couldn't do that without stomping over about ten different treaties. He could, and had, anministered psychic supressants. That at least was his right.

He wasn't even sure if legally he could hold the Inquisitor once he woke up, technically speaking as a duly appointed representative in the League of Non-aligned worlds he was granted diplomatic immunity from anything that wasn't a war crime or covered under an extradition treaty.

At the moment he was only holding the Ambassador under a loophole stating that a representative of the Non-aligned worlds may be taken into protective custody in the event that they were incapacitated. As the Inqusiitor had been incapacitated in the process of quelling a riot it was legal, but only thinly so. Hopefully it would give Captain Sheridan enough time to act.

And someone would have to act soon. The Babylon 5 brig lacked the capacity to arrest everyone involved in the riot so they'd been forced to limit themselves to arresting the Imperials and a single Markab the only ones that Officer Shiro had been able to identify as instigating the riot.

"He exorcized a demon," Michael watched the man twitch in sleep, "As in horns, tail, and pitchfork?"

"He says he exorcized a demon," Officer Shiro said in an unconvinced tone, "But he certainly did something. I don't know if you heard it where you were...”

“I did,” Michael cut him off, rolling his eyes to the sky, “Everyone did. You know that. Christ Shiro, nobody's been talking about anything else.”

Shiro grunted noncommittally, “We putting extra security on the Imperial docking bay? We don't want any of the Imperials getting funny ideas about storming the bring.”

“For who?” Michael snorted, “The Imperials bolted when they heard... whatever that was. Zack says they left half a ton of grain behind but they just got on their ships and left like they thought the devil himself was chasing them.”

Shiro's expression turned blank, “Maybe he was.”

“You have something to say Shiro?” Shiro was not a particularly imaginative or superstitious man. If he was spooked you could bet there was a damn good reason.

The asian man sighed, and spoke in an uncomfortable tone. Each syllable squeezed past his teeth with a generous allowance of skepticism, “He saw something sir. Something in her head, the girl from the ship that is. He saw it and he tore it out. I don't know if it was a demon, but it wasn't friendly.”

Michael nodded once, leaning on the door and starting through the small window, “Maybe. The Captain will be down in about an hour to sort this mess out. In the meanwhile I want everyone on duty. As of now anyone on vacation has their leave canceled.”

Shiro groaned, no doubt having realized that Michael meant for his subordinate the be the one to actually make the announcement, “They aren't going to like that.”

“I'll authorize double overtime,” Michael chewed his lip, pensive. Something had happened earlier in the day. Something that without a doubt involved the Inquisitor, intimately, “Somethings not right Shiro. Something's very not right.”

“You think there's a demon on station?” Shiro said in a mocking tone that only slightly coverd his unease. He put his hands on either side of his head in a crude imitation of devil horns.

Michael swatted his subordinate's hands down in consternation. Honestly, what was Shiro thinking? Michael was the one who was supposed to be cracking wise, “It doesn't have to be a demon to be something nasty Shiro. There's plenty of nasty things in the universe without demons.”

The Inquisitor yelled out a pained cry, whimpering in his own language. Shiro sighed, “There's definitely something that's messing with this guy's head.”

“Life,” Michael tried not to think too hard about his own nightmares as the Inquisitor thrashed in his bed, “Life is more than enough to mess with anyone.” He nearly jumped out of his own skin when his link went off, buzzing a with a tinny whistle.

He tapped it twice, “This is Garibaldi, what's up?”

“Mr. Garibaldi get up to my office,” said Sheridan in a less than confabulatory manner. The man's usual cool was starting to crack, and a twinge of genuine anger was evident in the word, “Now.”

"Time to face the music," Michael sighted and walked out of the brig.

Sørian was a mess.

Every part of his body ached and his arm, still twisted at an unnatural angle, flopped against his side with every step. The physical pain of his arm was far less than the indignity of someone of his status, a devotee of the Keeper of Secrets, being reduced to shambling down access corridors in refuse covered clothing.

“I'll kill the bastard, bring him back to life, and kill him again,” he hissed, teeth clenching so hard they were well in danger of cracking. He picked a bit of vegetable peel from his sleeve and tossed it to the side with effortless contempt. The rotted garbage left green stains of slime on his fingers, “Revolting.”

He shuffled up a slap-shod staircase that had clearly been a recent construction done in the aftermath of the Belzafest assault, sturdy but inelegant. His feet, bloody and shoeless, protested the indignity of walking up the metal grating. Hooked metal ridges, designed to allow the heavy booted crewmen better footing, were murder on the soft flesh of his feet.

A trail of bloody footprints trailed behind him. A more than sufficient trail for even the dimmest of security officers to catch wind of, if they were to find it. And he was walking towards the most likely area they'd be searching.

Sørian probably shouldn't have gone back to the site of the explosion, station security was doubtlessly fighting the fires and sifting through the rubble, but his instincts were telling him that he needed to return.

He'd learned to trust his instincts, twisted though they may be. His devotions to the dark gods granted him with bursts of insight at times, brief flashes of what he ought to do. And they were telling him unequivocally that he ought to return. Though for what reason he could not even hope to predict.

So he hobbled onwards, listening to the lingering touches of awareness. Dark caresses of the god of decadence guided him, muffled beaconing whispers of lust. Like all his messages from the beyond as of late they were pale shadows of the powers he was accustomed to. The vague smell of honeyed milk and rosewater perfume tugged at his tongue, tantalizing him towards the god's purpose.

Sørian attached his mind to that sense of purpose, ignoring the pain and the shame. There was no shame he would not bear for power. The gods valued dedication and devotion above all else, their fickle punishments were only for the undevoted and the unworthy.

Sørian was neither. In fact so dedicated was he to his goal that he did not hear the voice the first, second, or even third time someone called out “Sir” to get his attention. It was only on the fourth attempt that Sørian's mind was drawn away from his task and he focused on the voice.

A squat man with a ruddy face and a nose covered in bulbous growths indicative of excessive drink was staring at him in shock. His jaw hung open and a box of tools lay at his feet, forgotten, “By the throne man! What happened?”

Sørian was too tired and hurt to think up an appropriate lie so he settled on the truth, “The Amon Sui bombed the sector I was in.”

The man's burned half-lips pulled back in disgust, revealing cancerously black gums caked from decades of exposure to oil and promethium. He slapped his knee in disgust and made the sign of the Aquilla, “Damned nobles and their damned infighting, making it so that an honest man can't even ply his trade.”

Sørian wobbled, steadying himself with his hand on the wall. Stopping had been a mistake. All the blood loss and pain seemed to catch him in an instant. His legs buckled and he became instantly aware that he'd lost feeling in his feet.

The ugly man in the torn smock grabbed him with soot stained hands and pulled out a filthy kerchief that smelled of machine lubricant. Sørian noted with no small amount of chagrin that it was still cleaner than the patches of flesh that the ugly man was wiping rubbish off of.

“I swear it don't matter which of them wins,” clucked the ugly man, “Sáclair or the Amon, I just wish whoever was going to win could get on with it so the rest of us could get on with our lives. It don't matter much to me who's running the ship so long as there aint no damned bombs going off.”

He clucked his tongue, “And that damned Inquisitor's as much a menace as anyone, dragging us into fights what we got no buisness in fighting. He'll bring all mess of nasty creatures to this ship you mark my words. Xenos and Demons and Throne only knows what else. It's enough to make you turn blue.”

Sørian started giggling. He hadn't meant to but the whole situation was just to absurd for him. He slumped against the wall, falling to the floor laughing like a madman at the absurdity of it all. The ugly man, apparently aware that he was falling into shock, shook him by the shoulder and looked him in the face with piggish grey eyes, “Don't you go dying on me boy! You don't get to give those bastards that satisfaction.”

He hefted Sørian over his shoulders, “Come on then boy! We're going to get you to someone what can help you. I know a good medicus.”

“No,” hissed Sørian fearfully. If he were to be taken to a medicus there would be inconvenient questions. A medicus would be required to report his injuries to security, and even with bribes there would be no guarantee that the medicus would not report him at a later date under Osma's coercion.

“I won't be having you dying on my watch boy,” clucked the old man as they walked the empty blackness of the ships access corridors, “Too much dying lately.”

A plan formed in the back of his mind as Sørian fumbled at his belt with his good hand, feeling for a familiar ivory hilt. The ritual magic of chaos did not truly require the carefully prepared runes and preparations used by most practitioners. In theory a focused effort of will would be sufficient, however in making treaties with the dark gods such methods of focus were vastly preferable.

To the dark gods, granting a boon never came without a price. The trick was in directing such a price towards another. One took such precautions to prevent the fickle gods from making “slight” deviations from the caster's will and turning the caster into a semi-sentient mutated mass of a monster.

Given his need it was worth the risk.

Focusing his mind on the sigils and rules that he would have carved into the mans flesh under normal circumstances, Sørian raised the blade and drove it between the ugly man's floating ribs. The man let out an angry whispering cry as the blade pierced his lung, collapsing to the ground dead.

Sørian ignored the pain as they fell to the ground, blasphemous words at his lips. The sour syllables ground past his teeth, sending a sense of electricity up his spine. They were not from any language spoken by men or xenos, not for a thousand years.

They were words of unholy power, dark and terrible.

The wound where the blade cut into the man's flesh parted a liquid seeped out that wasn't blood. It was too pink for human blood and smelled more like aged wine, though it still smelled as sour. Sørian pulled out the blade and drank the seeping blood. The scent and flavor was only an illusion, he could still taste the foul earthy taste of copper beneath it. It was a weak illusion but it was enough to complete the ritual.

His arm popped back into place and the flesh knit together in front of his eyes. Sørian fed hungrily at the man's life blood and with it healed his own wounds. Inch by inch, second by second he restored his body to wellness.

The ugly man let out betrayed gurgles of disbelief as the life slowly died from the his eyes. Sørian drank, and drank, and drank glad for the man's strength. The was a time where Sørian would have regretted sacrificing another human being in the name of his own survival but that time was long gone.

It was a shame he had to die, Sørian did not wish him ill, but he couldn't allow anything to get in the way of his revenge.

Sørian stood up, twisting the stiffness out of his neck with a satisfying series of pops. Death only made the old man slightly less attractive, thought Sørian. The man's smock hung in a far more flattering way over the recently mummified flesh of the dead.

Sørian's own clothing too was in a far better sate then they had been only moments ago. Far from being stained with the blood and detris, his robes were as fresh and clean as they'd ever been.

“A fitting boon,” chuckled Sørian as he rand his fingers through his own hair. The remains of what had once been trash fell to the ground in a shower of powdered gold dust.

Sørian picked up the man's corpse and tossed it down the trash chute. It would likely be covered with the collected debris of thousands long before anyone bothered to check it, at which point he should be long gone. The mans body thudded heavily as it fell through the chute, the metal toes of the corpse's boots echoing off the sides.

As he walked away, following the deep intuitive sense of need he realized idly that he hadn't even bothered to ask the man's name. It was just as well he supposed. One did not want to know the name of one's food.

Montgomery's glibness about the whole situation was comforting. Zack hadn't ever been a particularly religious person but there was something distinctly disconcerting about being on a hunt for demons. Montgomery had been raised in a strict Catholic family his entire childhood and gone to Catholic school for proper religious instruction, ironically the perfect breeding ground for an atheist.

And boy was Montgomery an athiest.

“Religion,” groaned Montgomery as he ducked under one of the various curtains the denizens of brown sector were so fond of hanging from the ceiling for privacy. A squat something with bug eyes and a long proboscis of a nose hissed, tittering angrily at having been disturbed while eating, “Yeah, yeah same to you,” he looked back towards Zack, “There's nothing to it but a bunch of superstition and worries.”

“I dunno man,” Zack clicked his tongue off his teeth as he eyed a particularly shifty looking pair of Golians that were looking too chummy with one of N'Grath's underlings, a particularly ugly oversized alien thug with a thick horn. The insectoid crime lord of Babylon 5 had been curiously quiet in the past couple months, uncharacteristically so considering Garibaldi's absence, “Something sure made one heck of a noise. And if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and lets loose scary freaking screams like a duck it might be a demon.”

“I heard a weird noise, sure,” Montgomery raised a finger to his temple, “But that doesn't mean that I've lost my mind. ”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Zach checked his watch. It would be another three hours of this drudgery before he got to leave brown sector, “Dumb it down for us mere mortals okay?”

“If you hear hoofbeats its better to think horse than zebra,” Montgomery waved off Zach's credulity, “The Imperials have an agenda. And by all accounts they're smart. Hell you've seen ISN the same as me.”

Zack had. ISN couldn't get enough of speculating about the origins and culture of the Empire. It was largely conjecture and speculation at this point, of course. Supposedly they'd be doing some sort of in depth report on the information that the Earth Alliance had been provided by the Inquisitor once it passed through the senate. But not having actual facts wasn't about to stop ISN.

“Man you're smarter than that,” Zack laughed, “Have you seen a reporter on station anywhere near the Inquisitor and his crew? Heck have you seen one on the station at all? The chief would have had a fit if one of them snuck in without him knowing.”

“Fair enough,” Montgomery shrugged, “But that doesn't mean they aren't on to something. The Inquisitor has an agenda, same as anyone else. And it doesn't seem beyond them to have the ability to do something that looks like a demon attack. This is a society that uses re-animated corpses for cargo loaders.”

“I'm not looking forward to having more to do with the Imperials in the future,” Zack admitted thinking of the floating skulls, “The whole recycled people thing is just a bit to icky for me.”

Montgomery chucked, “Dunno, I sure as hell like their dress code.”

“She was a corpse,” Zack's face twisted up in disgust, “Do we really have to talk about it still?”

Zach tired to focus on what it was about the corpse that made him feel so uneasy, but it wouldn't come to him. He was saved having to explain the confusing mess of feelings that the servitor made him feel by the approach of N'Grath's underling.

The alien towered over the two security guards but made no overt hostile motions. Zack made sure his hand rested on the handle of his pistol just in case. N'Grath was dangerous, his employees more so. More than one member of station security had simply “disappeared” over the years. It was a safe bet N'Grath had a hand involved in every one.

“My employer has information that you require,” the thug said in a shrill voice that sounded like he'd spent most of his early life consuming helium. His expression clearly indicated he was used to being obeyed in spite it.

“Yeah I'll bet,” snorted Zack. N'Grath often offered dubious information at premium prices but never to security. He might very well triple the price out of pure spite, “We aren't buying.”

“Good, he isn't selling,” snarled the giant in his girlish soprano, “N'Grath doesn't like murder. It's bad for business. Last time I checked you were on board for that as well.”

Zack sobered instantly, shooting a look of alarm to Montgomery, “Why hasn't it been reported to security?”

The giant shot a withering look at Zack and said, in the sort of voice one might use with the mentally handicapped, “That is what I'm doing right now.”

“Ah,” Zack replied lamely, “I guess you are.”

Montgomery, substantially more coherent under the circumstances asked the obvious question, “Where is the murder?”

“Not here,” the thug offered unhelpfully before turning his back on them and walking away, clearly intending for the two of them to follow. Montgomery shrugged and fell into step after the alien. Zack double tapped the locator beacon on his belt to activate it and followed suit.

“Allan and Montgomery deviating from set patrols to investigate a potential disturbance,” he muttered into his link, “We are proceeding with caution.”

“Copy,” echoed the on duty officer, “Over and out.”

Montgomery whispered worriedly to Zack, “Don't look now, but tiny seems to have brothers and sisters.”

A trio of horned aliens, much like the one guiding Zack and Montgomery were walking behind them at a relaxed pace, not so fast that they would be obvious in the crowd and not so slowly that they could be mistaken for doing anything other than following them.

The alien crime lord went out of his way to make sure that he wasn't remotely connected to anything on station. He was too smart for that, too dedicated to the collection of power. He was certainly too smart to try an ambush as ham fisted as asking two security officers to walk into a dark room.

N'Grath had to know that Zack already reported in. So what was the point in making it that obvious? “They're bodyguards,” Zach blinked in incredulity and whispered to himself, “N'Grath has given us bodyguards.”

The alien's head jerked. It was a subtle motion but enough to show Zack his guess was on the mark. Something had N'Grath spooked enough that he needed Garibaldi's help. This was a public declaration of support for Garibaldi's investigations. And he clearly meant for Garibaldi to know it.

“This can't be good,” Montgomery nodded to the entrance of a brown sector apartment complex. Another five muscular bruisers of various species were standing out front, looking distinctly green at the gills.

“Nope,” Agreed Zach as he stared at a Yolu with an expression of outright horror on its face slumped next to the door with his head between its knees, heaving and trying to keep from vomiting, “Not good at all.”

Zack walked through the door and into hell itself. Montgomery swore and ran outside into the corridor where he vomited behind a support beam. Zack nearly joined him but managed, just barely, to keep his stomach in check in spite of the veritable olfactory assault.

Tiny and the other bruisers had done a decent job of keeping the crime scene, though it was unclear what there actually was to preserve. The walls, the ceiling, and the floor were covered in blood and organs. Some sick bastard positioned the severed limbs of eight bodies into an eight pointed star, with a head at each point.

Zack inhaled in shock, slate air tasting of soured blood and regret filling his mouth and nose. The pungent coppery taste of blood was in the very air itself, a bitter sanguinary sorrowful morass. “Focus Zack,” he scrunched his eyes shut and shoved the fear into the back of his mind muttering under his breath, “Getting scared won't help anyone. Focus.”

He opened his eyes, searching for clues. Few were forthcoming under the circumstances. They seemed to be human but it was hard to tell with all the blood. God was there really that much blood in a human body? It seemed impossible that a human could actually have that much blood. Was there that much hot, sticky, horrible... Zack swallowed.

This wasn't helping. He needed to focus on doing something. Running back to his quarters, crawling under the bed, and crying for a few days seemed like a great option.

But he didn't do that. He didn't run. He didn't cry. He didn't even swear. He was just too damn afraid to do that. No, what he did was pull out his note-pad and start writing down everything he saw. Writing was good. When he wrote it let him distill the situation down to its individual facts. And none of the facts were as scary as the whole.

If he focused on the small details while not considering the whole picture it would let him keep control of the situation. He cleared his throat and looked at Tiny, “Who were they?”

Tiny sighed as he looked at the bodies, his morose soprano seemed less comical under the circumstances, “We aren't really sure. The apartment is rented by the hour. And the guy who rents it is that one,” he pointed to the third point in the start, “We're pretty sure he was the first victim... well that or the last.”

“Why do you say that?” Zack vaguely recognized the man. He could swear that he'd seem him in Dr. Franklin's clinic not long ago, though anything Franklin had spoken with him about was probably covered under doctor-patient privilege.

“Rented by the hour remember? Mark collected half his fee before and half his fee after,” the thug clicked his talon tipped fingers on the horn protruding from his head, a nervous grooming gesture, “The people who rented space from Mark paid extra for... considerations. Mark's clients were very protective of their privacy.”

Criminals then, or at least people engaging in questionable activities. Mark, the owner, would have been smart enough to know not to risk wandering in on dust dealers or extortionists. Or worse, if the sloping drain at the center of the room was any indication.

“The killer wanted us to see this. Or he knew someone would see it and didn't care. Disposing of a body from this room would be easy,” Zack said to nobody in particular. Tiny stood still, his face betraying no hint of comprehension or interest. Zack rolled his eyes, “Montgomery you alright?”

The other officer had returned to the scene of the crime, pale faced and covered in small flecks of his own sick. Montgomery stared at the star in utter contempt, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like scripture. Zack snapped his fingers in front of Montgomery's face, “Montgomery! Man are you okay?”

“I'm... fine,” Montgomery wiped his lips on his right sleeve, “I should be okay... well not okay. You know what I mean.”

Zack did. It seemed unlikely anything else would feel alright until they'd caught the sicko who'd murdered these people and put him behind bars. Zack looked at tiny, “Ok, Tiny. What in the hell happened here?”

Tiny scrunched his face up in what could have been either contemplation or agony, brows furrowed about a protuberant horn. Thinking didn't seem to be a skill Tiny was often called upon to do, “Off the record?”

“Sure,” Zack wouldn't be able to use anything that Tiny said as evidence but Tiny clearly wasn't planning on providing him anything useful otherwise, “Off the record.”

“Off the record there is something scaring the crap out of everyone in brown sector. Nobody's seen it but we know it's there,” Tiny looked over his shoulder, dark eyes narrowed in concentration. No, not concentration, fear. Tiny, all three hundred pounds of him, was terrified. The giant lowered his voice as though he were afraid he might be heard speaking, “We can hear it whispering.”

“We all heard the scream,” Zack sighed, “I can assure you that we can guarantee there is nothing to worry about, the Inquisitor has been arrested.”

“Don't you give me any useless lines,” Tiny pointed at the pile of corpses his voice raised in anger, “About there being nothing to worry about. These people didn't kill themselves.”

Zack's retort was cut off by the excited voice of Montgomery. The officer had wandered though the charnel on tip toe, doing his best not to disturb the remains, “Hey Allan! There's something in the middle of the circle of bodies.”

Zack looked back at tiny, “Has anyone been in here other than us?”

“N'Gath made it clear to us that we were to keep everything untouched for you. He didn't want evidence going astray. You might get the wrong idea about his own legitimate business interests,” Tiny said, straight faced. , “We haven't touched or moved anything.”

Zack stifled a pithy retort. No doubt N'Gath had his men remove anything that could have traced back to the crime boss, though it seemed unlikely anyone could have walked into the circle without leaving finger prints. But not all N'Gaths enfocers had fingers.

Montgomery made a surprised noise.

“What is it Montgomery?” Zack strained to see what the other officer was looking at. There was a faint glimmer of gold beneath the blood and offal in the center of the grim tableau. Montgomery pulled a set of latex gloves off his belt and reached down, pulling up a golden coin and palming it in his hand.

“Dunno,” Montgomery wiped it off with his hand, “It's gold... old too by the look of it, real old. There's something written on it. I can just barely read it.” He rubbed at the coin vigorously with his thumb, “It's covered in too much blood I just need to... to wipe it off.”

“Montgomery bag the coin and leave it for the forensics computer,” Zack tasted the foetid taste of meal again and wretched slightly. He was fast reaching his limits for how long he could stand being in the room, “Let's get out of here and get some backup.”

Montgomery continued rubbing the coin aggressively, entirely unimpressed by Zack's suggestion, “Sir it's already coming off, just give me another second.”

“Montgomery I want to get the heck out of this freak show,” Zack walked over to Montgomery and grabbed him by the shoulder, “We need to go.”

“No!” Montgomery slapped Zack's hand away, “I need to figure this out.”

“Woah,” Zack pulled back in shock, hand's raised in a placating way, “Get a hold of yourself Montgomery, we aren't going to solve this right this second. We're too emotional. Just take a step back and relax, okay?”

Montgomery did quite the opposite, clutching the coin within his clenched fist as though he feared it might disappear at any moment and moving to the center of the circle, “I see what this is! It's a set up. You're with N'Gath! You're going to kill me and steal what's mine!”

Zack stared into Montgomery's wide, blood-shot eyes in shock and confusion. What in the heck just happened? Zack tried walking towards Montgomery and asking, “Man what in the heck are you talking about?” but only got so far as “Man what ar-” before Montgomery pulled out his PPG and pointed it at Zack's head.

“I see through you and your lies,” Montgomery leered with hateful eyes that had no place on the kind man's face. His hand shook, his finger already on the trigger. The soft low whine of charging power reverberated in the crime scene, portentous and foreboding.

“Put down the gun Montgomery,” Zack tried his best to comprehend what was going on while sharing a baffled look with Tiny, “We can talk about this. What is going on?”

“The time for talking is long past,” Montgomery laughed. It was high and cruel, wholly unlike Montgomery. Montgomery had an earthy laugh that almost always held the promise of paying for the next round of drink, “I see you for what you are!”

“You want to share with the rest of the class here Montgomery? Because you've clearly read a couple of chapters I missed and I feel like you at least owe me a cliffs notes version of what in the heck is going on,” Zack kept his hands up and away from his own firearm, careful not to make anything resembling a threatening movement.

“You... you know what is going on,” Montgomery faltered slightly, clarity returning to his eyes, “You're with them. You're coming for me.”

“Who are they Montgomery?” Zack slowly walked towards Montgomery, inching forwards to where he'd be able to grab the firearm, “Who am I with?”

“Them...” Montgomery floundered and looked at his clenched fist in confusion, “You're with them...”

“No,” Zack continued to inch forwards, “I'm with you. I'm your friend. I'm your partner.”

“Partner...” Montgomery said vaugely, “Yes... you are my part...” Montgomery recoiled when Zack got within reach of snatching the firearm from his hand, “Like hell you are! Nobody tires to get one up on me you hear! Nobody!”

Zack closed his eyes as he felt the cool barrel of the PPG shoved up into the nape of his neck. Montgomery was exuding hatred and confusion, the sort of wild erratic thinking that he associated with taking dust or heroin.

It was just as Zack became uncomfortably aware that Montgomery was actually going to shoot him that Tiny made his move. The giant alien charged head first, catching Montgomery at the waist with his horned head and tossing him backwards into the circle.

“Thanks,” Zack sighed as he pulled Montgomery's now discarded PPG off the ground and stared at his partner in confusion, “I appreciate it.”

“What was that?” Asked Tiny, the giant was rubbing his knuckles with clear glee apparently weighing the possibility that Zack would allow him to hit Montgomery again.

“I honestly haven't got the slightest clue,” Zack approached his partner the way one might approach a spooked animal, slowly and with deliberate motions. Montgomery was sitting on the ground, his legs splayed in front of him, staring at the coin in his hand.

“I understand now,” he muttered in a sing song chuckle. A thin trickle of blood dripped down his palm from where the golden coin cut into his flesh, “I can hear the song.”

“Montgomery?” Zack stared at the wound in confusion. The blood trailing out of Montgomery's hand was discharging a purplish foul smelling trail of smoke. Sparks of electricity erupted from the coin and up his skin, burning away his uniform and fulling the room with the smell of cooking flesh.

Montgomery dragged himself foreword towards the circle, cackling manically. Zack tried to run forward to help Montgomery, to pull off the coin, to douse the green flames that were starting to consume his partners body but he was stopped. Tiny grabbed him in one elephantine hand and dragged him from the room.

“No,” Zack struggled against Tiny, “I have to help him. I have to help him.”

“He's gone Officer,” Tiny stared at the burning man in abject horror, “That is not your friend. By the Gods I swear it.”

Zack swung the PPG in his hand around and pointed it at Tiny and growled in his most menacing tones, “Let. Me. Go.” He wasn't going to let some superstition stop him from helping Montgomery if he could.

Tiny tried to snatch the PPG out of his hand, swearing loudly, “Foolish man thing I'm helping you! Listen to --” Tiny didn't finish his sentence. Something blurred and emerged from the entrance to the hallway, a veiled glimmering form of shadows and nothingness. It reached into tiny's head and removed his brain, crushing the bulbous mass of grey matter with contemptuous ease.

Zack fell to the ground and crab walked away from the door.

A dark hissing sound like escaping steam echoed from the mass of shadows, a dismissive noise full of satirical loathing. Zack pulled up his PPG and fired into the shadow but the blue bursts of energy simply rolled around the creature's body, no more potent to the creature than a bee's sting.

A hoarse laugh worked it's way out of Montgomery's charred and cracked lips where he sat cross legged in the center of the circle. The man had been reduced to a blackened and bloodied homunculus, barely reminiscent of what he had once been. White teeth, stained with blackened blood flashed and glimmered in the light of the unnatural green flame, “You should have run while you had the chance mortal.”

“Montgomery what the hell is going on,” Zack stood up and continued to fire at the shadowy form with Montgomery's side arm. A wave of panic, stronger than any he'd ever felt was seeping into his very marrow. If this wasn't a demon he damn well didn't know what was.

“A new beginning,” Montgomery's body chuckled, though it was abundantly clear to Zack that Montgomery stopped being in control the second he touched the coin. The entire ritual murder had been a trap, a trick to get someone to pick up the coin, “We are becoming something greater than ourselves. You shall too. Serve your new god and new order and you will find that we are not without compassion.”

“Sure,” Zack stared down the demon, “Join me and we shall rule the universe together?”

“No,” the creature laughed through Montgomery's lips, a reverberating whistling croon that was inappropriate for human vocal chords, “Not together, but I will permit you to serve me without devouring you.”

“Yeah,” Zack grabbed his own side arm off his belt with his left hand and pointed both guns at the creature, “Making a deal with the devil isn't exactly my style.”

The creature chortled eagerly, “Are you sure you cannot be convinced to see the foolishness of your stubbornness?”

“Kiss my ass Lucifer,” Zack spat in the creature's face and started the Lord's Prayer while firing with both guns. The demon snarled in fury, and rushed for the circle. It liquified and shifted into something etherial, a vaporous cloud of ichorous smoke twisted with sulfurous fire. The cloud billowed towards Montgomery's open mouth and charred body.

The not-Montgomery convulsed at the center of the circle as the collected human remains spread out across the room liquified and started flowing into his body. Montgomery's body soaked up the body like a sponge. His limbs shifted, cracking as audibly and bones and cartilage formed in places no human body had a right to have them.

Zack squeezed the triggers to his PPGs over and over again, firing into the bulging and cackling mass of flesh. He wasn't sure when the guns stopped firing but he continued to stand there pulling the triggers long after the charge capsules clicked empty. His throat was ragged and parched from screaming prayers, but he continued to rasp the holy words.

And then he was moving backwards, a firm pair of taloned hands grasping him by the shoulders and dragging him towards the door. He was too terrified to resist, allowing himself to be directed out of the room.

His begrudging hauler muttered angrily into his ear, startling him back into consciousness, “Come foolish man thing, come with Vira'capac. Foolish man thing fights when the wise run. There is no honor in allowing the tainted to consume you.”

It was the Inquisitor's bird man. He stood in the charnel house stoic and unimpressed, an impassive an oasis of calm and clarity. Vira'capac eyed at the teeming mass of flesh in the distance in hatred, cool calculating slitted eyes darting around the room as he dragged Zack out out.

The slowly seeping screams of offal and flesh parted a hands breadth from the Kroot's feet, dark demonic energies unable to touch him as they flickered about the room. The leaping green fire twisted harmlessly around the Kroot, seemingly afraid to touch him.

“What is it,” Zack screamed as Vira'capac tossed him bodily into the hallway. He landed hard on the deck and looked around, praying to wake up from the nightmare. The thugs he'd feared only minutes ago were spread out around the hall, their eyes glazed over in death. Their corpses were oddly flat, as though someone had deflated a balloon, “What in the hell is it?”

“The man thing already knows even if he won't say it out loud. Vira'capac cannot waste time in educating a man on what he already knows,” The Kroot fiddled with a round object the size of an apple from a leather pouch at his waist. He bit at the top of it, tearing a metal pin out, and tossed the grenade into the room before slamming the door closed and locking it.

The muffled sound of an explosion and a piercing howl of annoyance echoed from behind the pressure door as the Kroot ripped out the door lock controls, “Can the man thing walk?”

“Yes,” Zack stood up under his own power, though his legs felt like they could give out from fear at any moment. The cloudy red eyes of a former Narn stared at him pleadingly in death, “I can walk.”

“Good,” Vira'capac rifled through the belongings on the corpses, pulling a blatantly illegal plasma rifle concealed in a dead street tough's jacket and shouldering it, “Get to the other man things and get them armed and armored.”

The locked pressure door shook under the pressure of being struck from the other side, Vira'capac's grenade apparently had only annoyed the demon. Zack stared at the door in horror. It was going to kill them, Zack just knew it. The Kroot grabbed Zack by his shirt and shook him, “Man thing get ahold of yourself. Man thing must go. Man thing must go now or we will all die.”

Zack turned from the Kroot and ran as fast as his legs would take him. It would not be till hours later that he realized that he'd never though to ask where the Kroot had gotten the grenades or how it had known were to find him, by which time it would be too late to ask.
- -

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #75
Shemn was a miserable self important toad of a man but he was never without purpose. It was with this in mind that when Kerrigan discovered that the Navigator had been making modifications to the ship's engines that she resisted the immediate urge to order him shot in the head for meddling with her precious machines and instead made the short trip to the ship's warp engines.

The warp field stabilization generator wasn't really an engine, it was more a metaphysical knife. A ship's warp drive tore a hole in the fabric of reality into a parallel dimension that lay just beneath the material world known as the immaterial realms. The bounty's warp drive was a golden tower six stories tall wrapped in hexagrammic ward shields and dedicated six layer void shield failsafe.

On any ship it was the most vital, and most dangerous, device on board. Were a saboteur to ever gain access to the warp drives directly they could very well open a hole in the fabric of reality inside the ship, circumventing the gellar fields and sucking the bounty into the deepest depths of hell itself.

It sat in a re-enforced chamber at the center of the ship behind ten separate adamantium bulk heads guarded by a small army of servitors, tech-priests, security guards, and Lionhearts. It still felt inadequate for the danger that the device actually presented.

Of all the machines Kerrigan tended to warp drives were the machine that reminded her most of the power and fury of the Omnissiah, tools of the worthy and weapons of the wholly corrupt. Cracked or damaged a warp reactor could condemn the entire ship to death, or worse, in the depths of the void. Even the most demented of saboteurs avoided that.

It was enough to turn one's stomach. Well it would have been if Kerrigan still had a stomach. Just as well that she didn't have one, this would hardly have been the time to start getting queasy.

She was planning on accusing a Navigator of borderline heresy after all.

He wasn't hard to find. The eager tech adepts were standing around the pale and lean profiled Navigator, listening to every word with wrapped attention as he gestured to something that looked suspiciously like a hololithic projection of alliance technical data.

Kerrigan strode past the final security check-point into the warp engines and bellowed as loud as her vox unit would permit in the direction of a small crowd of tech priests., “Navigator Shemn, I insist that you explain why you are co-opting my Enginseers this instant.”

The Navigator did not immediately acknowledge her, instead pulling a pinch out of his snuff box and inhaling it. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose, nursing a long suffering expression and muttering something in the language of the Navigators under his breath. Kerrigan stood behind him, arms crossed in fury, glaring at the Enginseers.

The navigator swore and turned to face the Magos once it became abundantly clear Kerrigan held no intention of leaving without an answer and the Enginseers would not risk her wrath. The pale man's frigid gaze gave no hints to his mind as the ticking of a pocket-watch punctuated the silence with a smooth tick-tock. It hung from a silver string that clashed with the the garish orange and white lace of his shirt and the black silk of his coat.

He smiled, translucent lips pulling back over dark purple gums and teeth like aged ivory. The navigator's smile was like the rest of him, unnaturally stretched and strained for such a slight frame. For a diminutive man he exuded the same predatory malice as a shark of the primordial Terran sea.

“Magos,” he chortled as though his plan had been to invite Kerrigan all along, “How delightful to see you.” The man wielded sincerity the way some men might have carried a battle axe. In a battle of tongues Kerrigan might find herself outmatched, so she decided not to bother with one.

Kerrigan punched Shemn in the face, knocking the astounded Navigator to the ground. The Navigator squealed like a stuck boar as Kerrigan grabbed him and lifted him into the air with a mechanical tentacle and shook him. She shook him back and forth till he begged her to stop then dropped him to the floor.

“Magos,” One of the Enginseers said in fearful tones of astonishment, “He is a Navigator. One does not harm a navigator. It... it just isn't done.”

“Clearly,” droned the sarcastic drawl of Navigator Shemn as he wiped the blood from his nose with a silken handkerchief, “You are mistaken. It can be done and it has been done in front of you.”

“I do not appreciate someone forging work orders Navigator,” Kerrigan reached down and helped the Navigator to his feet, “Especially when it is the Enginseers I've given the job of testing the repaired shield generators.”

“I forged no orders,” the Navigator bristled, managing to look haughty in spite of a broken nose, “Navigators have equal authority to assign Enginseers to duties relating to the maintenance or modification of the warp technologies of the ship.”

Kerrigan slapped him across the face again with the broad side of her augmentic hand. It collided with a panful thunk, “We sustained damage to the warp drives and you're only telling me about this now? By the Omnissiah's cog I would have been here myself had I known.”

“It is not damage as such,” Shemn spat a bloody hunk of phlegm, backing out of the Mago's reach as he hedged around the issue nervously, “It's more of an issue of checking the functionality of an more.... esoteric system.”

“Navigator if you are trying to hide behind technical jargon save your breath,” Kerrigan stormed past Shemn. The man vastly over estimated his own authority if he expected her to just go away with a vague explanation, “What are you doing to this ship?”

“Magos I am bound by the authority of my office not to reveal the secrets of my trade to anyone,” the Navigator rushed in front of Kerrigan and barred her path with his body, his eyes hard and his thin arms outstretched. It was a symbolic gesture at best but it showed a level of bravery she had not expected from the Navigator.

Kerrigan lifted the Navigator for a second time, “And I am bound by mine to bounce your uncooperative head off the side of the warp reactor's void shields until you change your mind. How does that sound?”

“Magos,” hissed a sibilant voice. Head Navigator Illrich and Zorn Calven stood on a raised marble platform in the center of the room at a wide table of adamantium covered in golden painted lions. A few Enginseers stood near them, nervously looking from the Navigators to the Magos unsure what they ought to do. She'd missed them when she entered, the glare of the reactor's power supply having hidden them.

Illrich's chiopterian features were stoic but his eyes flashed with amused severity, “While I have no especial love for my bother navigator I would prefer that you did not harm him simply because he is too stubborn for his own good. The personal consequences of harming a navigator without sufficient cause would be unpleasant.”

“The personal consequences of being declared an excommunicate techo-heretic are no less damning honored Navigator,” Kerrigan scoffed, “Or do you forget my status?” Hopefully he had, otherwise the threat of an exiled Magos would be laughable. Kerrigan could no more challenge the testimony of three navigators than grow wings and fly.

“Perhaps compromise is best,” Calven said in a slightly long suffering tone, “Seeing as how nobody has anything worth losing except their own stubbornness.” The last word was directed at Shemn with outright contempt.

“Navigator Illrich we cannot mean to reveal it to her,” Shemn began to protest but was silenced by a firm jerk of the mechandrite that held him. Kerrigan glared at him and made a shushing gesture with her right hand against where her lips had once been.

Calven rolled his eyes, “Shemn, we're going to tell her about the engines. The rest of it is for our order alone. I doubt the Magos gives two figs what we do as long as we aren't screwing around with the works of the Omnissah. ” Calven didn't give Shemn the chance to reply as he offered the Magos space at the table with a wave of his arm.

Kerrigan approached the platform, raising herself to the table and depositing the Navigator with his fellows in one smooth gesture. Shemn muttered darkly as Calven helped him to his feet. Kerrigan ignored the Navigator's sullen mutters and stared intently at the technical readouts in front of the navigators, surprised at their accuracy.

“Where in the Emperor's name did you get these?” Kerrigan ran a finger over the blueprints with loving care. The drawings were hand done, not printouts and clearly not done by a servitor. They were the sort of swooping curves and jittery angles that could only be managed with a keen eye and an imperfect hand, “They have to be ancient... I've seen scrolls like this in the libraries of Oita.”

“An STC blueprint,” Illrich said with pride as he ran a hand over the aged scroll, “The blueprints used in the construction of this very ship. The ship builders of Damascus were cleverer than most, and the engines have numerous additions they chose not to include in the standard plans entered into the ship's database.”

“You realize that's heresy in the eyes of my order,” Kerrigan sighed as she took in the beauty of the ships systems. They'd simplified, modified, and improved a number of systems that had been badly in need of modernization, “I should have you in irons for this.”

“No Magos, it is not. Not if it is done by the house of Navigators. Not if it has to do with our arts specifically,” Zorn Calven chuckled, “It's the slightest of loopholes but it is no less legal.”

Kerrigan grunted unconvinced, “And what is it that you've got my men here to do?”

Calven pointed to a junction between the reactor's feedback loop and the primary drive coil of the warp engines. There was a vestigial system nestled between two void shields and a hexagrammic ward. A common enough one for most warp drives but hardly worth changing work orders from more vital tasks.

“That one,” Kerrigan said in outright bemusement, “Why are you re-directing men from repairing the shields to repair that system? It's a relic. We don't know what it does, unless you count draining power as a function. Most modern warships remove that relic entirely.”

“Kerrigan,” tutted Illrich in a bemused voice, “I'm surprised at you. Haven't you been studying the blueprints sent over by the Alliance as a show of good faith?”

“Half the ship is in disarray, those few Enginseers who aren't dead or wounded have been co-opted for some foolishness thought up by moon-brained navigators and to top it all off I've lost half the ships work servitors to taking in cargo,” Kerrigan balled her fists and counted back from one thousand in her head. Punching another navigator would be cathartic but impractical in the long run, “No navigator I have not been reading the cultural exchange files sent by the Alliance.”

“A pity,” Illrich pulled out the data-slate he kept in a satchel at his waste. He tapped a couple of activation runes and handed it over to Kerrigan. The Magos took it and stared at it.

She'd began to ask, “What does this have to do with---” when she looked from the slate, to the blueprints, and back again. The were the same. The redundant system operated on the exact same principles as the hyperspace generators of the alliance, “By the Omnissah.”

“My feelings entirely,” Zorn nodded, “It would seem that one of the more elusive technologies from the Dark Age has been within our grip for centuries.”

“How could... how could this be possible?” The very idea that the Adeptus Mechanicus could have something this monumental and not know about it was staggering. It had been not long ago that Kerrigan had written a paper on the necessity of removing vestigial systems with unknown functions.

She would have to revisit her entire premise.

“I suspect that the ancestors gave up hyperspace for good reason,” Calven chewed the inside of his lip, “There were many technologies that we gave up in battling the Men of Stone and Men of Iron. Perhaps there is something about hyperspace that they were able to exploit.”

“It doesn't bode well that they use a technology the first of the tech-priests on Mars chose to discontinue in the war of Iron and Stone,” Kerrigan said with uncertainty, “They would not rob humanity of so potent a technology without reason.”

“Whatever their reason might have been it seems obvious that we need to re-activate the machine as soon as is practical,” Shemn said with a hungry glace at the blueprints. The creation of a sable method of faster than light travel not requiring entry to the warp would be a boon beyond measure for the house of navigators.

“Soon...” Kerrigan nodded in thought, “ But not now. We are in too weak of a position to be experimenting with something this dangerous.”

Shemn swore angrily, “Magos you haven't the authority to stop us.”

“Don't I?” Kerrigan looked around the room, staring into the embarrassed faces of the Enginseers. None of them met her gaze, though a couple briefly tried and failed. They would not disobey the will of a Magos outright, even a Magos in exile, “I believe you overstep your place Navigator. You do have the authority to issue work orders, as much as you wish. I however have the ability to countermand orders and you do not.”

“Magos please reconsider,” Illirch's inhuman face fell, the drooping flesh beneath his three eyes flopping morosely.

“It is not forever but I really must insist that you wait,” Kerrigan sighed and looked longingly at the blueprints, “We must wait.”

Shemn opened his mouth to argue but was silenced by Calven's stern look. Zorn had not missed the longing in her voice. She wanted the secrets of hyperspace as badly as he the Navigators did. But there was a time and a place for everything, this was neither.

Kerrigan nearly jumped out of her robes as the hand-held communicator strapped to her belt chimed loudly and unexpectedly, its loud klaxon cutting off any argument. She pulled the wailing communicator from her side and flipped it open, staring into the machine's screen.

As she read the content of the message her shock at receiving a message on her personal communicator was canceled out by her anger. The Skitarii's message had been short and to the point. He'd clearly feared that it would be either jammed or intercepted by the Alliance.

It had consisted of one word.


Not the sort of thing Cairn would send to her without provocation.

“If you'll pardon me gentlemen, Skitarii Thross just sent me a missive that must be attended to. Good day,” Kerrigan did not wait for the Navigator's sullen goodbyes before turning on her heel and all but sprinting towards Tuul and the docking bay.

There was much to do.

The Captain's silent appraisal of the situation was more threatening than shouting could ever have been. An empty glass of something that smelled vaguely of brandy was clenched so tight in Sheridan's hand that the crystal was in danger of cracking.

Michael had never seen the Captain this angry. He was very glad that the captains ire was not directed at him.

“Miss Winters,” Sheridan pressed his index and forefinger against the spot where his temples met, “Do you have any idea of the diplomatic situation you are putting me in? Of the danger?”

“I am obligated to enforce the laws of the Psi Corps,” Miss Winters started but Captain Sheridan cut her off with a raised hand. His teeth were bared into something vaguely like a grin. It was more menacing than friendly, a forced half grimace rather than a smile.

“On psychics from the Earth Alliance. You are obligated to enforce those laws on members of the Earth Alliance. The Inquisitor is not a member of the Earth Alliance,” Captain Sheridan spoke in an angry simmer. His voice was calm, reasonable and entirely without sympathy, “We do not have jurisdiction to enforce those laws on a non citizen, especially a diplomat. I just spent the better part of a my week getting every senator in Earthdome who would listen of exactly that. And seeing as how I gave tacit support of his admission to the League of Non-aligned worlds I hope you understand why arresting him is a big problem.”

“That's bull and you know it Captain.” Michael burst out before he could stop himself. Waving his hands in the air, “I'm the last person to come out in favor of the freaking Psi Corps but I'm not about to let that self important jerk hide behind diplomatic immunity after starting a riot.”

“There are bigger things at work here than a jurisdictional pissing contest Michael,” Sheridan pulled a document from the table in front of him, “We're already inches away from being put under probationary status by the Joint Chiefs for what happened with Bester. We can't very well go arresting the Inquisitor for the same thing we stopped Bester from doing. Especially if we might get accused of Treason for doing it.”

“Treason?” Talia blinked in shock, “For what?”

“Miss Winters. Have you been asleep for the past month?” Captain Sheridan shook his head sadly, “If the Joint Chiefs decide we do have jurisdiction to arrest them we get charged with treason for fighting Major Pierce. If they decide you don't have jurisdiction then for arresting a diplomat on false charges.”

“Hell,” Michael swore angrily thinking about the current political state of the Earth Alliance Senate, “Those snakes might very well just accuse us of treason to appease the Inquisitor and stop them from going to war with us. My men did their job John. I stand by everything they did. They were right and so was Talia.”

“Yes,” Captain Sheridan sighed, “You were. But at this point even if we let the Inquisitor go they might toss you to the wolves just to appease the League of Non-Aligned worlds.”

“Can you prove that he intended to harm the woman?” Captain Sheridan stood up and paced behind Talia and Michael.

“No,” Taila said, though it clearly pained her to do so. She had the most to lose if the situation deteriorated and was likely the first in line for allegations of treason, “In fact the woman is singing praises for the Inquisitor. I checked her mind myself, if he caused her any harm it was done in a way I don't recognize.”

Michael cleared his throat awkwardly, “I arrested a lurker named Amis who was stationed on a deep space listening post during the war. Forty-seven men landed on that moon. All of them were slaughtered except one.”

Talia shook her head, “Sad... but what does it have to do with the Inquisitor?”

“I believe Mr. Garibaldi means that Amis thinks what wiped out his post came here on the Copernicus,” Sheridan stopped pacing as he considered the matter, “Maybe we're approaching this the wrong way. The Inquisitor has been speaking our language for a short time. If there are physic people then in stands to reason that there are psychic predators. Demon seems as good a word as any to use for that.”

“No,” Talia shifted nervously in her chair, “We haven't got any evidence to support that. Garibaldi's team ran additional sweeps of that ship on your orders. Nothing could sneak past that.”

“Unless it’s something we’ve never seen before. Something completely outside our experience, now I traced the ships path. It passed the gravitational pull of that same moon Amis was stationed on,” Michael pulled out a stellar map and laid it on the table. Tracing a long while line he'd drawn on the page, “It's not too far of a leap to say whatever caused problems there might have found its way here.”

The Captain cricked his neck and rubbed out the tension, “I suppose there's a reason why you're taking the word of a man you've arrested twice in the space of a day quite this seriously.”

“I checked his war record. They put enough ribbons on his chest to open a gift shop.” Michael had also checked the man's psych profile. Prior to his incident on the mood there had been nothing even remotely indicating anything abnormal. Amis had been a model soldier.

“Word of the demon has spread among the alien communities. The Non-aligned Worlds have called a council meeting to discuss the possibility that something came onto this station from that ship,” John reached into his desk and pulled out a rosary, “This demon talk has everybody spooked, even me if it comes down to it.”

Michael turned around as the door to the Captain's office opened unexpectedly and Lt. Corwin ran into the room, accidentally bumping into Talia in his haste. The Lieutenant grasped his side and gasped for breath, having apparently ran the entire way from the CnC. He stood there gasping as he struggled to articulate complete sentences, “Came as fast as I could... big problem...”

Captain Sheridan wore a look of concern on his face for the wellbeing of his subordinate, “Slow down, tell me what's wrong.”

“No,” Talia said in a quiet terrified voice as she stared into the Lieutenant's eyes. Apparently she'd picked up something from Corwin's mind when he'd bumped into her, “Please no.” She wore a look Michael hadn't seen on Talia's face before, even at the prospect of being accused of treason. He didn't like it.

Michael deeply hoped his suspicions were wrong when he asked, “How many people are dead?”

“We don't know,” the Lieutenant shook his head, “It went after the power supply for the links early on. The only concrete evidence we have is from Mr. Allan and he's currently hysterical. Dr. Franklin his helping the wounded as best he can. We've verified at least twenty fatalities so far but there are probably more, lots more.”

“What is it?” the Captain reached into his desk and pulled out a PPG, “Tell me everything.”

“It's big sir, we know that for sure,” Lt. Corwin shuddered, “Other than that we haven't been able to get a concrete report. Big and it can apparently become invisible.”

“Hell,” Michael swore, “Where is it?”

“Security is looking for it in brown and grey sectors but it could be anywhere and security would have no way of telling us,” the Lieutenant shook his head, “It could be anywhere.”

“Lieutenant I want you to go back to the CnC,” the Captain fitted the pulse cap into his gun with a satisfying click, “I want you to get someone to fix the links as quickly as you can, contact the Captain of the Beijing Beauty and route them through his ship. He's a miserable angry son of a gun but he won't leave us hanging, not when there are lives on the line. And get him to send us his Marines.”

“Yes sir,” the Lieutenant nodded, eager to please. The officers emotional switch was so abrupt Michael was afraid Corwin might suffer whiplash, “What will you be doing?”

“There are two people who might have a clue what is going on,” the Captain shot a meaningful glance at Michael and Talia. A silent 'and you arrested them' echoed within his head in the Captain's voice without him needing to speak them, “We're going to the armory and then seeing a man about an exorcism.”

“Of course we are,” Talia ran a gloved hand through her silvery blonde hair, puckering red lips in frustration, “Because sanity has suddenly decided to live elsewhere.”

“Life is nothing if not interesting,” Michael snapped his fingers as an idea came to him. God he was so good he amazed even himself sometimes, “Corwin, can you get a station-wide life signs monitor going? For everything that even remotely resembles life as we know it?”

“I can,” Lt. Corwin nodded, “But if this thing snuck past our first scans I doubt it will do much good.”

“We aren't looking for it,” Michael said in a hollow voice, devoid of his usual good humor, “We're looking for his victims.”


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Discussion Starter #76
Daul woke up in a flurry of fear and confusion, trying to stand up on the rickety cot in his cell and falling to the hard floor with an uncomfortable thwap of skin on deck. His head throbbed and his mouth tasted of cotton as he blinked the stars out of his eyes and tried to place the room he was in from his memory. His mind felt sluggish, as though he were wading through quicksand for every thought.

“Cairn,” he cried out, “Cairn where are you?”

A pair of gentle hands grabbed him by the thin fabric of his shirt and helped him back to the bed. Daul could not remember ever having owned a garment this particular shade of orange, much less having worn one. Sterile and unisex, a it was uniform. It was a prison uniform.

“Miserable bitch,” Daul wiped at the spittle that would not stop dribbling down his lip, “Insufferable witch, I'll draw and quarter her with my bared fists.” He'd protected her, warned her. And the ungrateful snake of a woman had stolen his rebreather and used his sigils of protection against him.

The man who'd helped Daul up chuckled and handed him a paper cup full of water. Daul drank it greedily, struggling not to spill it down his front. The muscles of his cheeks and lips still slightly paralyzed from the gas, he mumbled, “Thank you Father Al'Ashir.”

“It is my duty to tend to my flock,” He raised an wizened brow, “Even those who get me knocked unconscious.” Daul noted with chagrin that Al'Ashir was still in the robes of his office. Station security had taken away none of the holy man's personal effects.

He stood up and saw bright patches of light flare up in front of his eyes, he staggered and steadied himself with Al'Ashir's outstretched hand. A moment ago he would have thought it were just the side effects of the drugs used to knock him unconscious but he doubted that the aged Father Al'Ashir would be so without symptoms were that the case. He looked the priest in the eyes, “They did something to me didn't they?”

The priest nodded once and leaned in for a low whisper, clearly not wanting to be overheard by whatever surveillance the Alliance had in place. His voice was calm but not without worry, “They injected you while you were asleep with something. They called it..what was it.....yes 'sleepers.' They called them sleepers.”

Daul froze, panic overtaking him. He closed his eyes and tried to touch the warp. The void obeyed his will, but it was a pitiful example of his usual power. He'd been able to channel more energy as a novice apprentice.

They'd done it. The bastards had stripped him of his psychic powers. The effects of sleepers weren't permanent, he knew that, but the side effects of being stripped of his psychic powers while a demon was on station would not be, “No, by the Emperor no. Not now! Please not now!”

Pleading would make no difference. Daul was cut off from the warp. Al'Ashir whispered soothingly to the Inquisitor, chanting the words of Sebastian Thor. The litanies of the third veil perhaps, it was difficult to identify the chants in the Damascan High Gothic.

Daul cleared his throat and regained his composure, remembering who he was. He was not some simpering cut-purse to be slapped in irons by the local magistrate. He was an Inquisitor of the Holy Emperor of Mankind. Powers or none he was not about to let himself be defeated.

“I apologize for that,” Daul did not like for anyone to have seen his moment of weakness. Cairn had seen a couple of them, but it mattered less with Cairn. Cairn felt more like an extension of himself than another person, “I don't know what came over me.”

Al'Ashir gave Daul a long, calculating look before his face cracked with pity, “Inquisitor, it is our weakness that makes us human. We are all fallible creatures, if you demand perfection of yourself constantly.”

“You're wrong Father,” Daul felt along the edge of the cell door with his fingers, searching for latches or imperfections and finding none, “I am not a man.”

“You make an ugly woman,” Father Al'Ashir drummed his fingers along his holy book, “And if you're a eunuch I will be exceedingly cross that I have lost a bet.”

“No what I mean is that I'm a symbol of my office...” Daul faltered as Al'Ashir's words caught up with him, “Someone wagered money that I'm an eunuch?”

“Several someones actually. I wouldn't read too far into it, mean spirited gossip is the life's blood of a ship's nobility and an Inquisitor provides infinite opportunities for rumor,” Al'Ashir clucked his teeth together amusedly, “There are also several who've wagered that and the Magos are... close. More still wager that you prefer the company of the Lionhearts or the Skitarii.” The Priest's face was the picture of innocence, as though he were simply discussing the price of butter or bread.

“What business is it for a preacher to be involved in wagering on my manhood?” Daul rounded on him in indignation, ready to defend his honor when he realized the subtext of the priest's wide smirk. Daul shook his head, “You're trying to distract me from my failure.”

“I haven't the remotest idea what you're talking about,” Al'Ashir said with total sincerity before hooting with laughter, “Is it working?”

“Yes,” Daul snorted, “It is.” Daul grudgingly admitted to himself that it was some small comfort to have the preacher with him. He wouldn't have wanted to be alone right now.

As a rule Vir liked the Minbari. Having spent his entire life trapped in the circles of intrigue and dark plots of the Centauri courts he found the straightforwardness of the Minbari to be gloriously refreshing. When a Minbari said something, he meant it. When a Minbari gave his word, he meant it.

This went doubly for Delenn. The Minbari Ambassador was a shining example of morality and honesty beyond compare. It was for that very reason that he hated dealing with her for official matters.

When it came to a matter of honesty Londo was invariably lacking, and regularly gave Vir specific instructions to act in kind. He did so but never without guilt, especially with Delenn. It always felt particularly dirty to have to lie to Delenn.

So it was that he found himself standing in the ships garden facing the Minbari ambassador and trying not to feel too dirty as he lied once again on behalf of Londo.

“What do you mean occupied?” The Minbari Ambassador raised an elegant brow and brushed a lock of hair away from her neck, “Surely the Ambassador realizes that we have a scheduled meeting at this time.”

“I apologize for the lateness of this,” Vir wrung his hands and hoped there wasn't too much sweat dripping down his brow. Oh why couldn't the Gods have made him a better liar, “Important business for the home-world has called him away. He would be here if he could.”

“Odd,” Delenn's lips quirked into a smile, “I'd heard a different rumor.”

“Reports that Ambassador Mollari left the station in a fit of insanity are exaggerated,” It wasn't entirely a lie. Wildly drunk perhaps but the Ambassador was entirely sane.

“Indeed,” Delenn sighed, “Just as well he's not here. I'm not at my best today.”

“Oh,” Vir relaxed somewhat and wiped the sweat from his brow, “Well that's good then.”

“Yes Mr. Cotto,” Delenn smiled a sad little smile, “I need time alone with my thoughts.”

Vir swallowed, unsure what to do he needed to say something. He couldn't just leave the Minbari there by herself in the garden with no-one to talk to. It would have been rude at the best of times and she looked like she could use a friend. He couldn't walk away from that, not when he'd been feeling quite alone himself.

“Delenn,” he started awkwardly, staring into the soft brown eyes full of so much confusion. Then, before he even knew what was happening, the words started to spill out of his lips. He meant every word of them but he was flabbergasted to hear them out loud, “The Inquisitor isn't worth listening to. He never was and he never will be.”

The left side of Delenn's rosy lips dimpled upwards in a pleased way that seemed altogether better suited for her face. She ran her hand through her hair, her fingers curling through her soft brown mane, “And why do you say that Mr. Cotto?”

“Ambassador... I overheard.... that is to say I was there...” Vir shuffled his feet embarrassedly. He hadn't intended to overhear the Inquisitor and Minbari Ambassador talking, he'd only come back to get a file left behind by Londo. She couldn't blame him for that. Not truly. It wasn't his fault.

She continued to stare at him with the same level gaze. Not angry, not sad, not anything, she was listening without a shred of shame or pride. He wished she were angry or embarrassed. He knew what to do then, he didn't know how to deal with this calm acceptance.

She didn't seem to be indicating he should stop though. In for a penny in for a pound, as the Earthers were fond of saying. It wasn't as though he were giving away some deep state secret.

“The Inquisitor sees the world the way he wants to. He believes that nobody can be trusted, so he acts in secret and invents enemies. He believes that he is the only one who can be trusted with information, so he guards it till it is dangerous for everyone. He believes that he hasn't a friend in the world, so he's always alone,” Vir didn't like how many of those comments could have been made about Ambassador Mollari with equal honestly, “Don't let him drag you down to his level Delenn. Don't let him define you.”

Delenn stood up, brushing the dust from the front of her robes. They were in keeping with Minbari fashion, simple, elegant, and unpretentious. They jingled slightly with the sound of small bells sewn into the sleeves.

She did not say anything as she walked up to him and planted a soft kiss on the top of his forehead, a customary Minbari gesture of friendship. Vir blushed and muttered something incoherent. He'd intended to say something about it being no trouble but the worlds ran together and simply came out as a muddled mess of sound.

“It is alright Vir,” Delenn patted him on the cheek and walked back to the bench, “I understand. And you are right, I have allowed my uncertainty to rule me. It is unbecoming of a Minbari.”

“Nobody's perfect,” Vir looked at the garden, searching for a new topic. His eyes focused on a white tree sitting in a bed of yellow flowers, Earther foliage recently planted.

Delenn followed his gaze and chuckled, running her fingers over the petals of the yellow flowers. She bent low and inhaled their fragrance, “There are some things of perfection in the universe Vir. One only needs to look at the most simple of living things to find it.”

“The most imperfect things are always the biggest,” Vir sighed looking down a a footprint at the base of the tree where some inconsiderate sentient had stepped on one of the yellow flowers with a heavy boot. The crushed petals lay there, sad and dead, “And the most dangerous.”

“Vir,” Delenn shook her head and picked up one of the petals he was staring at, “The flower is only gone for a little while. In time the seeds will grow into more flowers and more life. Perfect beauty need not last forever.” The Minbari placidity towards death bordered on the psychotic but Vir could see the logic in it. He often saw the logic in things other Centauri would have mocked him for believing.

Warning klaxons interrupted his deep thoughts as the park's lights flickered and died. The garden fell into shadow illuminated by the distant lights of blue and red sector. Delenn stood up, a worry etched in the corners of her eyes. The soft angles of her face hardened and darkened in the shadows, giving her anxiety an ominous edge.

The door that led from the gardens into the rest of blue and green sectors closed with a resounding click-hiss of the airlock sealing. The door that lead to the opposite direction ground as though it were about to close but hissed and spat in protest as it's motor burned out. A tree branch from a short willow hung lackadaisically through the air intake vent for the aft door, effectively destroying its motor.

“Not another attack on the station,” hissed Vir though clenched teeth. He looked into the shadows in bemused perturbation, “Or another riot.”

“I fear not Mr. Cotto,” Delenn's eyes narrowed and a soft blue bio-luminescent light illuminated a small triangle of flesh in the middle of her forehead. Her eyes were focused on something just out of sight and her hand reached for something inside her robes, “I fear that at least one of the Inquisitor's predictions was worth listening to.”

“Oh...” Vir stuttered as the sound of footsteps rushed in their direction, “That would be bad.”

“Yes,” Delenn pulled out a silver rod from her robes and shook it, extending a meter long sliver quarterstaff. She spun it twice as though verifying its balance and held it out in front of her, ready to strike, “It would be extremely bad.”

Vir looked around for something to use as a weapon. He'd left the dagger given to him by his mother in the chest in his quarters, wrapped in an old sweater. He didn't like having it with him, the presence of the blade scared him. He didn't like even thinking he was remotely capable of hurting another person.

Now that he was scared and in the dark he would have been glad for the blade.

He spotted a likely weapon behind a rose bush and grabbed it, an iron hoe fitted to a thick wooden haft. It wasn't as elegant or sleek as the Minbari's quarterstaff but it was sturdy and he was glad for it. Delenn gave Vir's weapon a brief appraising look, but said nothing.

They stood there, waiting, listening to the rapid footfalls. Thump-thud, thump-thud, thump-thud, close and closer they came. Thump-thud, thump-thud, thump-thud, there were a lot of them, ten at least. Thump-thud, thump-thud, thump-thud, they were scared. Nothing ran that fast for no reason. Thump-thud, thump-thud, thump, they were there.

Terrified looking humans rushed into the garden, they rushed past Vir and Delenn, oblivious to their weapons. They reached the closed pressure doors and beat on them, trying to claw their way through the steel door.

It didn't take long to figure out what had inspired this particular brand of fear in them. If this wasn't the demon advertised by the Inquisitor Vir would eat his own shoe.

He would have much preferred eating his shoe.

It stood three meters tall, though it was difficult to say for sure. Its flesh undulated and shifted as many fanged mouths and pincers appeared and disappeared in constant unnatural metamorphosis. The tiny faces screeched and argued with each other incessantly, warbling and complaining. They urged the creature onwards demanding hot blood and fresh meat, cursing in every language Vir had ever known.

It walked on what could have been two legs and was no more than three, though the billowing noxious shadows that leaked from the jabbering mouths made it hard to tell. In spite of the creature's oblong and impossible physical deformity it moved with a sinewy grace.

It's face swelled and billowed in shadow. Equine lips hung beneath six sets of mismatched eyes, each blinking out of turn. It was big, it was powerful, and it had no right to exist in this or any other planet. The knowledge that a creature like this even could be real was enough to make Vir's skin crawl.

And here it was, snarling and thirsting for his blood. He gripped the hoe tighter in his hands. It wasn't going to kill him without a fight. Vir wasn't strong but he was no coward, no matter how much he wanted to run.

Anyhow there wasn't exactly anywhere to run to. The only exit was behind the demon.

Delenn chanted the ancient prayers of Valeria and slammed her quarterstaff on the ground, putting herself between the demon and the people fleeing it. Vir did the same with his hoe, it was an oddly self-affirming gesture. The demon's many mouth's smiled and it stopped to observe them.

“You do not belong here servant of shadows,” Delenn stared at the creature with absolute conviction. Any lingering doubt the the Minbari had felt about herself was long gone, “Go back to your masters shade of Za'ha'dum.”

The demon stared at Delenn with narrowed eyes and scratched a sagging breast with a scythe-like pincer before speaking. It's voice was as unnatural as the rest of it, enticing and vile at the same time, “What is its name to speak to a god as though it were an equal?”

“I am who I am beast, and you are leaving,” She cracked her staff on the ground three times in proclamation, “Now.”

“No, I shall not,” It whinnied, it's lips pulling back over shark-like rows of fangs, “There is much feasting to be done here before I am strong enough. Your soul shall do as well as the warp-blessed who cower behind you.”

“Get back!” Delenn struck with the staff, driving the haft of her staff into the creature's belly. It sank deep into the bulbous rotten flesh of the creature, spilling a dark stream of green blood. The creature neighed in fury but smiled in victory.

The tiny pincered hands of the creature latched shot out and grabbed at Delenn, tearing the staff from her hand as she fought off the thousands of razor sharp claws. Vir rushed forward with the hoe, smacking them away from her as the two of them backed toward the cowering humans.

The creature advanced with a twisted regal satisfaction. It tore the quarterstaff from its belly with a flourish that spread its filthy blood over the garden. It burned through steel and stone as though it were acid. Where it touched things that were green and growing it turned them into ash and cinders in a flash of orange flame.

It crowed, “Pitiful.”

Delenn jumped into the path of the creature's outstretched claw grabbing a human child and pulling her to the ground out of the creature's reach. Vir took the opportunity to swing the blade of the hoe into the demon's face. The cold iron blistered and burned the demon's flesh, driving it back.

Vir stabbed forward again, and again, and again with the hoe. The makeshift spear burned at the creature's belly, harrying it and keeping it at bay. The creature's tail whipped out and caught him in the stomach, tossing him to the wall and knocking the wind out of his lungs.

He thought he'd been beaten cross-eyed as his mind tried to count a sudden influx of figures in the room. He shook his head and took a couple of deep breaths before he realized that he wasn't insane, there were more people in the garden. Seven of them to be precise.

Seven very angry looking people at that.

Drazi, caught in the throes of their blood lust, rushed into the room heedless of the danger and leapt at the creature screaming, “Green follow's Green Leader!” at the top of their voices. The creature lunged for the humans but Vir tossed the hoe to Delenn.

The Minbari caught it and struck the creature on the snout, repelling it back into the mess of angry Drazi. The broad shouldered lizard men hacked and slashed at the creature with their thick daggers, oblivious to the razor sharp pincers clawing at their thick scales. It hissed in fury and skewered one of them through the chest, not so much a stab-wound as it was outright disembowelment.

The other Drazi simply fought more eagerly, emboldened by the danger. Drazi were odd like that. Disembowel someone in front of their friends and most creatures get away as quick as they can, the Drazi will charge straight for you just to prove they're stronger.

For all their bravado it was abundantly clear that the Drazi were not stronger than the creature. It decapitated a second Drazi with an almost lazy swipe of its tail and licked its chops in glee. At best they were slowing the creature down.

They would not beat it.

A third Drazi died shoving Delenn out of the way of the demon's belly as it shifted into a gaping maw. The jaws of its belly closed with a resounding snap, swallowing the Drazi whole. Vir could not stand this, he had to do something other than just watching and waiting to die. There had to be some way that he could at least help the cowering humans to escape.

The demon wanted them for something, and it couldn't possibly be something good.

“By the Gods what what am I supposed to do?” he muttered as he rubbed his chest, searching for a way out of it. His fingers found the edge of the techno-mage's amulet at his chest and he froze. It was almost too much to hope for.

In all the adrenaline and fear he'd missed the buzzing sensation coming from the necklace he wore, the clear stone hot against his breast. It was shivering and shaking, virtually begging him to touch it. He reached into his shirt and yanked out the stone.

The toadish face had changed from it's leering expression that it had worn this morning to an angry snarl. As he held it in his hand he felt the hair all over his body stand on end with the sensation of control, power and rage. The techno-mages had given him the pendant for a reason. Well, this seemed as good a time as any to test out why. He pointed the face at the demon, praying that he was right.

For a moment he stood there, pointing his open palm towards the demon and feeling silly for having expected anything to happen. It was a stone face, not a plasma turret. What had he expected? He tried to lower his arm and realized that his muscles were not obeying. Every muscle in his body was tensed up in expectation of what was to come.

And by the Gods it came, Vir could attest to that. The power of the icon swept out, catching the demon in its wake.

A gout of green flames burst from the idol, engulfing the demon and igniting it's open wounds. The creature tried to shield itself in shadow but it's sorceries were for nothing, the green flame burned past the shadow and into the many million mouths. Cancerous blood boiled and bubbled beneath the creatures cracked and burning flesh as it howled in fury.

It coiled the muscles of its legs to an impossible tightness and flung itself upwards, past the point where the ships gravity operated and over to the other side of the ship. The green flames chased it, disappearing only when the creature was at a safe distance.

The pendant in Vir's hand dissolved into dust, its power spent and purpose fulfilled. The young Centauri stared at the fine powed still clinging to the sweat of his palms. The Techo-mages may not have known what he would use the pendant on, but the had to know of the presence of demons to give him such a boon. By the Gods what other truths of the universe had he simply dismissed as myth and superstition?

“Next time start with fire. Fire work better than sticks,” crowed an amused voice. The avian warrior Vira'Capac dropped from where he'd been crouching in the sprawling duct work that criss-crossed the station's irrigation system. Vir could have sworn there was nobody up there when he'd entered. The Kroot read as much in his expression, “Wise predator not seen,” he cackled, “And foolish Centauri prey too busy to look.”

Vir pointed at the Kroot's gun, his voice coloring with indignation, “You couldn't have used that to help?”

The Kroot stared at him with one slitted eye narrowed, as though trying to determine if Vir were stupid or simply misinformed. Vir recognized that gaze. It was how Londo looked at him most of the time. Apparently deciding that Vir was simply misinformed the Kroot shook his head in disbelief, “Vira'capac no get clear shot. Wait for clear.”

“Clear! It was as big as a house, you couldn't possibly miss it.” Vir waved in the vague direction the charred earth where the demon had stood. The smoldering ground smelled of brimstone and suffering but he far preferred the smell to the demon.

Delenn walked over, the hoe in her hand still at the ready. The Minbari looked into the Kroot's cool reptilian eyes and touched her thumb and forefingers together to her temple, a horrified look on her face, “You weren't aiming at the demon, were you?”

“No,” Vira'capac said without any guilt in his voice, “Vira'capac was not.”

The human's in the corner were only just then being coaxed out of their blind panic by the remaining Drazi, their incoherently panicking minds not wholly accepting that the demon was gone. Vir looked at the nine year old human child Delenn saved from the creature's claws and back to the Kroot's rifle. Vir gagged, “Them? Why would you shoot at them?”

“Inquisitor's decision was foolish. Insulted demon was not stupid. Fed on warp-touched, grew strong. No warp touched to rob of strength, no strength gained,” Vira'capac cradled his gun, clearly considering the merits of killing the humans then and there, “Think like predator or become prey. If Inquisitor waited, struck while creature weak. Fewer dead... fewer need to die.”

“You will not kill them,” Delenn's voice was not a threat. It was a statement of immutable fact. She would not allow the humans to be harmed, “We must not become that creature to defeat it. If we are to be better than it then we must earn it.”

Vira'capac whistled, “I see. This is good, I feared you had no spine.” The Kroot said it as though he expected it to be a great compliment, “Yes, you will do nicely. Good, Vira'capac will obey for now.”

Delenn tilted her head for a moment then nodded, apparently satisfied with the Kroot's promise. She turned her back on Vira'capac and walked over to the shivering humans, speaking soft words of comfort. They were going to need comfort.

Vir flinched as a distant cry echoed through the station, mewling and indistinct. The creature was on the hunt again. The creature was still on the station, and still hunting. Vir stiffened at looked to the Kroot in fearful comprehension. The creature was pursuing human telepaths and there weren't that many of them on station, “Delenn! We have to warn Miss Winters!”

448 Posts
Discussion Starter #78
The Imperial shuttle darted past the bridge's field of view, speeding into the Babylon station beyond. A ship shaped like a hawk full to the brim with vipers Sheridan would great with open arms with a smile. Gladly shepherding the scorpion on his back across the river.

Li spat on the floor of the Beijing beauty's deck, ignoring the disgusted looks from his second in command and cursing Sheridan for the fifth time that day, “肏你祖宗十八代”

Li Xingjian had never been a large man, even when he'd been a young man living in Wuhan province he'd stood a good two heads shorter than the other boys. Being the runt in his neighborhood had only forced him to harden his heart and sharpen his mind just to survive the slums of Wuhan. Li was never one to let his height or circumstances get in his way. Through sheer force of will alone Li clawed his way out of the slums, into a university, and eventually into Earthforce.

His mother was fond of saying that Xingjian went to space so that he could finally be taller than everyone else. Li was a man who'd earned what he had and never asked for more. However he was without a doubt one of the most headstrong and proud men to have ever worn the Captain's uniform.

And yet here he was, sitting in his ship staring at that damnable station able to do little more than lick his wounds and growl menacingly in Sheridan's direction. He had to sit and beg and salute and follow like a good soldier whilst every bone in his body screamed to open fire on the station, court-marshal be damned.

Li doubted that he would ever be able to forgive Sheridan for having the unmitigated gall to have shattered that pride. To have facilitated the murder of thirty of his soldiers was a forgivable act for an enemy combatant, it was a soldier's duty to fight an die for his nation if necessary. But to aid in the killing of your comrades in arms was an unforgivable trespass. To murder thirty comrades and then be declared the commanding officer of the defeated and betrayed foes was a cosmic wrong of monumental proportions.

“Must you spit on the floor sir?” his second in command Lieutenant Klaus Meyer, a German officer with a sour temperament and a short temper, eyed the green globule of phlegm on the ground with distaste, “It's a disgusting habit.”

“混蛋,” grumbled Li, about nobody in particular, ignoring the chagrin of this second in command. It seemed unlikely Klaus would last for any period of time, but then few officers could. His mannerisms were considered uncouth even in his homeland of China, “I don't care what your delicate stomach can and cannot take.”

“Sir it's been hours since we surrendered, when are you going to take the men off full combat readiness? The men are exhausted and we haven't even had a moment to hold decent funeral services. The men are loyal, but even loyal men have a breaking point.” Klaus had a unique way of making a question to his superior sound distinctly like an ultimatum. Li did not appreciate the implied threat but it was easier to simply show Klaus his place than to correct his poor choice of words.

“You will continue to keep the men in combat rotation till that eyesore is no longer in Earth Alliance space Mr. Meyer,” Li spat on the ground again staring at the Endless Bounty with utter contempt, “I will not allow myself to be caught unawares by those該死.”

Klaus's second appeal for the Captain not to spit on the bridge was interrupted by ensign Daniels. The ensign, still sporting a bandage across one side of his face, snapped his head around so fast that he seemed in danger of getting whiplash, “Captain Xingjian! We're getting orders from Babylon Five.”

“What does the 死屁眼 want this time?” Li's knuckles cracked as he balled and relaxed his fists, stretching the puckered scar tissue that ran down his fingers. Each had a story and a memory, few of them happy.

“Soldiers sir,” Daniels licked his cracked and blistered lips, “Lots of them, and armed. Very well armed. Jesus Christ sir... he wants them armed to the teeth and ready for action.”

“He wants our forces... on his station... armed?” Klaus stroked a small patch of stubble on his neck and chin where his stitches prevented the him from shaving, “Good God the man has lost his marbles.”

"He wants us to deploy marines sir, a boarding action. Apparently some particularly nasty predator got on the station and they don't have enough manpower to both hunt it and keep the aliens under control," Klaus indulged in a rare look of satisfaction, unnatural on his stern face, "Shall we reply sir? Or is this to be another transmission failure?"

Li grunted noncommittally, weighing his options. If Sheridan was willing to risk Li's marines entering his station there was a reason for it. A trap seemed unlikely, Sheridan probably wouldn't to abuse his office so obviously but then again he'd seemed unlikely to open fire on Earth Alliance ships, "No lieutenant, we will obey. I will not defy a direct order from my superior officer, ever one as undeserving as Sheridan. Deploy the marines."

Klaus nodded, "Do we deploy the first responders as well sir? Skull Squad?"

Li chuckled darkly. Sergeant Matthews and his squad were as ruthless as they were decorated and they had an axe to grind with Sheridan. Two of the recent dead were from Skull Squad. It had taken the threat of spacing just to keep Skull Squad from jumping on transports and burning their way into the station.

"Lieutenant, didn't you hear the order? He said he wants all our marines. I obey my orders to the letter." Li smiled maliciously, "Make sure to relay his orders on to the other stragglers.”

Li wouldn't actively betray Sheridan, but were the man to suffer an accident of friendly fire he wouldn't mourn his passing in the slightest. No doubt Skull Squad was not marine group from the ships in orbit of the planed who'd have an axe to grind.

Perhaps he'd get lucky.

“He also wants to divert communications through our systems sir. Military channels only,” it was an unusual request unless the onboard systems of the Babylon station were inoperable.

“Do it,” Li sighed. Another strange request from Sheridan.

The ensign nodded and entered the commands to reconfigure the communications array. The occasional garbled chatter of star furies and security of the Beijing Beauty burst into overdrive as a clamor of frenzied voices, yells, shouts, and screams echoed through the comms, the screams above all else. It sounded like someone was being put through a meat grinder. It was just like the massacres of the early Minbar war. Panic, terror, chaos, he would not allow it on an Earth Force station.

Never again.

All pretense of rebellion or defiance left Li's mind, “Get the marines into breaching pods, immediately. We're cutting our way into the station. Sheridan's want's his marines fast? He's going to damn well get them.”

The door to the Inquisitor's cell opened abruptly, showering the stale shadows with a sudden deluge of near blinding brightness. Daul's eyes struggled to compensate for the rapid shift in illumination as the fast moving form of a man collided with the rear wall of the cell and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Shiro, the ill tempered guard who'd originally arrested them rasped heavily twice from his place on the floor before going silent.

“By His word!” Al'Ashir rushed over to the bruised and groaning man, pressing his wizened fingers against the man's side and checking for cracked ribs. Daul rose to his feet from the cot, taking up a defensive posture and putting himself between Father Al'Ashir and the Drazi. He may not be able to use his psychic talents but he'd be damned if he was about to let xenos filth get at the clergyman. The long curved knives in their hands promised violence to come.

They stood stock still at the door breathing heavily. His eyes adjusted to see the outside, shadowy shapes and golden irises forming into leathery grey scaled xenos. Three squat, wide shouldered forms in the hallway wearing purple sashes and wide grins. Daul did not like the Drazi smile, there was altogether too much human in it.

It was perverse to see that much humanity in a xenos.

“What do you want here xenos?” Daul said it casually, as though he were not terrified out of his mind to be cornered in a dark room by knife toting lizard men. He noted with alarm that the curved knife of the largest Drazi was already colored with what looked uncomfortably like human blood, “There is nothing for you here.”

The Drazi in front quirked his head to the side in confusion and Daul realized he had spoken in High Gothic rather than English. He repeated the phrase, kicking himself for forgetting that Gothic was not the lingua franca and stumbling uncomfortably over the Alliance word for xenos. “Alien” didn't have the same linguistic punch, though it was the closest word in the English language. There was something unsatisfyingly bland about it.

The large Drazi stepped aside and made space for a slightly smaller one carrying a grey box that held belongings Daul immediately recognized as his own. The golden skull mask sat in the center of the box, grinning cheerily. It's morbid face looked remarkably friendly to the Inquisitor, begging to be worn.

It could be a trap, but it was better to risk the trap than continue to feel helpless. Daul accepted the box eagerly, stripping off his prison uniform and pulling on the flak armored pressure suit without a care for his own modesty. The Drazi observed his nakedness with mild clinical interest, curious but sterile. He might as well have stripped in front of one of the Kroot Hounds.

The badges of office and wards noticeable weight about his waist seemed to lift an equal burden from his shoulders, exchanging fear for duty. Daul wore duty more comfortably. As he fastened the last clasp of his flak armored coat into place an odd urge hit him. On a whim he reached into the pouch at his side and pulled out two sashes given to him by Galut and tied them around his waist.

As though this action was what the Drazi had been planning for all along, the Drazi nodded firmly and snapped off a hasty salute thumping meaty fists across their chests, “Purple follows purple leader.”

“Purple leader,” Daul replied confusedly, though the words tugged at his memory. The Drazi he'd ordered out of his quarters two days prior had muttered something about following a purple leader after he'd wiped their memories but he'd thought it was a side effect of the psychic purge, “Are you referring to me?”

“He who wears purple sash is purple and follows purple leader. He who has green sash is green and follows green leader,” One of the Drazi said as though he'd been asked to explain that water was wet, “I am Zha Tekk. I will be your first of purple.”

“You mean to tell me that because my Ogryn manservant gave me a scrap of cloth you intent to assist me in committing treason to escape the station?” Daul fixed the helmet over his face, resisting the sensation of nausea as the HUD overlay appeared in front of his normal vision. Jarring words and images appeared all around him as the machine spirit of the helmet provided him with tactical data.

“Of course not,” Zah snorted as though the suggestion were ridiculous, “Drazi follow Drazi leader orders.”

“No,” Daul pulled the concealed rapier from his cane and activated the concealed weapon's power-blade. It hummed to life with a cool blue light. He pointed the blade to Zah, the point only inches from the face of the hulking xenos, “Then what do you plan then Zah Tekk? Kill me and take the sash?”

Zah squinted as though he didn't entirely understand what Daul had said. He repeated the words as though he were speaking to someone who was a bit thick, apparently oblivious to the danger of his situation. Apparently the status of “purple leader” put the Inquisitor beyond suspicion of violent intentions, “Purple follows purple leader. Purple leader's last order was fight demon. Drazi fight demon.”

Father Al'Ashir massaged his temples with one hand and caressed the holy book at his side with the other, drumming the cover with his fingers in cheery perplexity to the tune of “Faith's Shield.” The clergyman's mind seemed to have frozen in deciding if this was an act of xenos heresy or divine intervention. It was probably best to choose the path of action for him before the clergyman came to a hasty decision and got them both killed.

Daul looked down at the unconscious form of Shiro, enjoying a brief jolt of satisfaction at the look of discomfort on his captor's face then shook it away in shame. The man had only been doing his duty. The harm he'd done was a product of ignorance, not heresy or misdeeds, “How hurt is the officer?”

Al'Ashir shook his head and brushed off his robes, “I am no medicus. I heal the soul, not the body but I see no imminent danger to his survival. It would probably be best to move him to the cot though.”

“Indeed we need to move him,” Agreed Daul. The Inquisitor shifted on his heels, intending to bend over and help pick up Shiro. He hopped out of the way as Zah bolted into the room like an overexcited spaniel and hefted Shiro onto the cot. Daul's fist squeezed the long blade in his hand reflexively, he did not like people approaching him from behind.

He could not remember the last time someone had managed to approach him without his knowledge. It had to have been before his abilities manifested at age fifteen and he'd started using them to nick sweets. His guardian, Inquisitor Gaal, had laughed out loud at the absurdity of having adopted a psychic. There but for the grace of the Emperor he might have become a common astropathic servitor when the Black Ships had come for an orphan child from a border world.

“You will not approach me without my permission,” Daul snarled at the Drazi, “Understand that I will tolerate you and your kind for the service rendered and my current need of aid, but do not mistake this for an alliance between our governments. You will obey me without question.”

Zah hissed and caressed the blade belted to his side, his face blank of any hint of indignation, nodding as though total obedience to the Inquisitor was the most logical thing he might go about doing, “Come Purple leader. We take you to other cells to free.”

“Yes,” Daul strode out into the bright hallway, grateful for the helmet's built in light filters against the antiseptically sterile white lights of the hallway. The soft click of his boots upon the floor tiles of the main corridor echoed hauntingly in the empty solitude of the detention block, “Of course. Cairn and Galut have been detained long enough.”

The five of them walked down the corridor at a brisk pace, looking through small panes of re-enforced glass into cells full of smugglers, pickpockets, thugs, dust-dealers, deviants, and drunks. There were surprisingly few prisoners actually detained for a station of this size and population, though that was probably more to do with the permissiveness of the Alliance society than any failing on the part of Mister Garibaldi. The obvious lack of guards, however, was.

“Where are the security officers for this detention center?” Daul shot Zah a meaningful glance which Zah returned in kind.

The Drazi rolled his eyes and held up three fingers and made a chopping motion with his hand, “To the six we took twelve.”

Daul reminded himself that he couldn't spit fire at the moment, even though it felt as though he could as the words, “Thank you for that charming bit of cryptic nonsense. Now were are the guards?” seared their way past his lips.

The Drazi pointed to one of the cells and motioned to the window. Within the cell Daul could just see three or four human faces press their noses against the glass and shout curses at them, little burst of fog covering the window with each curse. The residents of the sixth cell were none too pleased with their situation, “To the six we took the twelve.”

“How in the blazes did you manage that?” Al'Ashir edged closer to the cell to Daul's right, careful to stay away from the opposite side from Daul's humming power-blade. The clergyman got rude gestures and most likely ruder words from the guards behind the soundproof pane of glass, “Even with three of you they had to be armed.”

“Earthers are not the only ones who can use gas,” grunted the snub-nosed Drazi to Zah's left, “I can toss a can and pull a pin as well. Not much effort to shove a coughing man into a cell, even when there are twelve of them to herd.”

“I suppose it isn't at that,” Daul agreed, careful not to heap too much praise on the xenos, “Which cell are my associates in?”

“The big one got taken to the infirmary, bad reaction to gas tossed. The one with tentacles is in cell twenty,” Zah licked his blue lips with a pink tongue covered in black spots, “ The psychopath is in a secure cell on block E, but those cells went into lockdown. Can't be opened till the station gets off red alert... not without command codes.”

“Cairn will be sufficient,” Daul had no pressing need for the servitor, nor would he till they'd had a chance to properly lobotomize it. It would have been a greater liability than an asset in its current state of disrepair. Not having Galut was a great loss though. He would have liked having Ogryn muscle at his side.

Hopefully the Dr. Franklin could reverse any damage done to the Ogryn. There was no fear that the good doctor might be lax in his care, the man was religiously devoted to his task but his inexperience with Ogryn biology could be disastrous. It would be a shame if the damage was permanent. Ogryn were expensive and hard to train properly, worse still his new apprentice might take it personally were the great oaf to pass away.

She would be hard enough to tame without adding an additional challenge.

The Zah swiped a card across the door and tapped it with one of the hexagonal identity chips carried by the Alliance, liberated from Shiro no doubt. The door popped open with a hiss of hydraulics and a furiously screaming cyborg flung himself out into the hall, tacking the Drazi.

Cairn twisted his arms and split a solid looking set of manacles as though they'd been made of tissue paper. The Skitarii raised his arms to strike the Drazi's head with a death blow when Daul barked, “That will be enough Mr. Thross. If you will not accept my rescue you may wait back in your cell.”

Cairn's agumentic eyes shifted and twitched, lenses popping and whirring. The many mechandrites hanging from his face froze, ceasing their assault upon the confused Drazi. It took Daul a second to realize that the Skitarii hadn't stopped out of obedience but out of shock. Had the Skitarii believed he would not escape? No, it was something else... the Skitarii was disappointed or perhaps ashamed, though Daul hadn't a clue why.

Carin was as hard to figure out as his wife had ever been.

“I am curious,” groused the pinned and prostrate Zah, “How long does it plan to stand on me clicking?” Cairn shot the xenos a disgusted look and lifted himself to his feet, elegantly flowing to a standing position with the aid of his mechandrites. The Skitarii saluted Daul with the sign on the cog and brushed his hands down the front of his robes, in a vain effort to scrape the recent proximity to xenos away.

“I assume that you've contacted the ship somehow,” Daul chuckled. Cairn took particular pride in planning for every possible contingency, “And informed Kerrigan that I need my... personal effects.”

Cairn nodded affirmatively and eyed the Drazi with distrust. Zah's lips pulled back, a low guttural hissing woof slipping past clenched teeth. Carin's optics whirred incredulity and he let loose a long curious beep of binary that Al'Ashir commiserated with too much for Daul's liking.

Daul shrugged and replied in Gothic, “We need allies, there is a demon to slay and the Alliance, in their infinite wisdom, has stripped my of my psychic powers. We can kill them later if it becomes necessary but for now I need as many bodies between me and it as are possible.”

Cairn quirked an eyebrow and tilted his head, apparently weighing the matter. Daul could almost hear the vague whirring noise of memory engrams calculating possibilities and alternatives. Cairn groaned disappointedly and made a cutting motion in the battle hand talk of the Skitarii.

Daul chuckled, “Yes, by all means kill them now if one of them looks at me cross eyed but do try to limit yourself till then.”

Cairn's shoulders shook, his mirth only slightly detracting from the rythmic waving of his undulating mechandrites. Each swaying mechandrite posed like a cobra, snapping out then twisting back into readiness.

“Come Thross,” Daul grinned wildly, “We have a demon to slay... lets...” Daul turned and looked at cell fifteen. There was something naggingly familiar about it, though he couldn't place what it was. Just another door in a hallway of dozens, but Daul knew without the faintest shadow of a doubt that he needed to get into it.

“Give me... give me a moment Thross,” Daul strode toward the door deliberately, almost lazily, knowing what he must do. His fingers found the correct combination of digits on the keypad instinctually, a gift from Mr. Bester no doubt. The green light flashed twice and the cell swung upwards, gears grinding and grumbling for lack of lubricant, “There is someone we still need to get before we leave.”

Daul's eyes fell upon the wretched shivering man in the center of the cell. He sat curled into a ball, covered with a blanked and rocking backwards and forwards muttering furiously. Dulled though his senses were Daul could still see an inky black tendril of something going from the man into the distance like an unholy umbilical cord, “It would seem our demon has been a busy boy.”

He stared at his burgeoning retinue of xenos, “Grab him. We'll need him as well.”

“A demon,” Sáclair flung his glass across the room of the at a painting of his maternal grandmother. The red dripped down the canvas leaving stained streaks where the liquid dissolved the paint. “On the station... of bloody course there is a bleeding demon on the blighted station. Why wouldn't there be a light spited hell beast on the station? It's been hours since something blew up, got sucked into some unforgivable savagery, or tried to eat my spleen so the universe must make up for lost time.”

“He does like to keep us on our toes,” Kerrigan said noncommittally. Approaching Sáclair in his private study was a mistake, it was where he preferred to go when the alcohol was getting to his head but time was of the essence and she could not deploy the Inquisitor's emergency contingency plan without his say so, “Captain I need your authorization.”

“You have it, of course,” Sáclair sighed and sunk into one of the overstuffed chairs lining his study, his body flopped down in drunken relaxation, “What absurd time limit has he placed upon himself this time I wonder?”

“Six hours. If he hasn't either signaled the all clear in six hours we're supposed to destroy everything, the station, the stragglers, hell if we had planet cracker missiles we'd be under orders to conduct a full scale bombing on the planet below just in case of escape pods... I might request that anyway come to think of it,” When it came to dealing with a demonic incursion into the material realms there was simply no such thing as an excessive show of force. Kerrigan disliked dealing with demons. They were under no obligation to obey the natural laws of physics or nature, disregarding logic by their very existence.

“And I had been so looking foreword to monotony after our recent unpleasantness,” Sáclair's breath stank of liquor, and a heavy slurring half-lisp trailed off of every third syllable. His drunkenness was only emphasized by the murderous looks the serving girl mopping the wine from the paining with an old rag shot him, an act she would not have dared were her wits about her. Kerrigan probably should have ordered the servant to report to the kitchens to be strapped, but the servant's disgust was well deserved. The man had become a walking distillery.

“Sáclair,” Kerrigan snapped an augmentic thumb and forefinger with a dull bronze clack, drawing Sáclair's attention as he phased in and out of coherence, “Sáclair I need you to focus. Now is not the time for your foolishness. I need you to give me your imprint on the pad. I need your authority.”

The Captian reached out with his hand towards the small green biometric sensor but grabbed it, rather than simply pressing his thumb in the center of the pad. Sáclair's eyes hazed over, and an oddly sterile and monotonous drone slipped past his lips, “No.”

“I beg your pardon?” Kerrigan's head swam, her mind feeling as clogged and sluggish as if she'd imbibed as much as the Captain. Sáclair's sudden change of mood had near to given her whiplash, “The Inquisitor needs an escape strategy for when he defeats the beast.”

“If he defeats the beast he may need the teleporter. May need it mind you,” Sáclair tossed the pad into the air, almost lazily, spinning it on his palm with surprising dexterity, “If he needs to escape before they've slain the creature I cannot allow them back onto the ship and risk contamination. No. I will not authorize the use of teleporters. We cannot know if the beast can travel the wake in the warp a teleportation leaves.”

Kerrigan's voice box crackled with frustrated static. Drunk as a skunk and defiant of the Inquisitor's intent though he might be the Captain wasn't wrong. He wasn't in violation of the Inquisitor's orders either, not if one obeyed the letter rather than the intent. But the man was altogether too glad to assist the Inquisitor's increasingly self flagellatory plans.

It was hard to tell which of them was more eager for death some days, Sáclair or Hilder.

“Bull headed men,” Kerrigan growled to herself, then berated herself for such unproductive thinking. She'd forgone the physical trappings of femininity long ago but she'd never been entirely able to rid herself of the prejudices of the fairer sex. They were just so insufferably male sometimes.

Luckily Sáclair seemed oblivious to the faux pas, “Kerrigan I know you've sent your men to the station but there is no way for me to commit the bulk of my troops to this without alerting the Alliance to our intentions. They watch our ships like hawks. ”

“Tuul,” Kerrigan sighed, “I sent Tuul. Tuul and my personal security force.” It was no small sacrifice, the six heavily modified Ogryns were some of her best work. In addition to a sophisticated series of agumentic enhancements to their core physiology, their bones had been re-enforced with adamantium composites and heavy duty ceramics etched with hexegrammic runes and sigils. The loss of even one of them would come as a heavy blow to Kerrigan, she no longer had the resources of a forge world behind her to replace them. Nor, for that matter, were the stock of Ogryn on the bounty without limit.

Sáclair smiled ruefully as he sunk into an overstuffed armchair and pulled a silver strand from the cushions, smiling at it contentedly, “I know that he was your apprentice Kerrigan but you must understand that no one man is worth risking the entire ship. Even your former apprentice.”

Apprentice, the word nagged at her for some reason. Why would the word apprentice trouble her so, she wondered. Then it hit her with the force of a lance blast, “Even if that one apprentice is your son?”

Sáclair bared his teeth, contorting his face into a feral grimace of disgust, “You wouldn't.”

“I already have,” Kerrigan's vox caster gave the words the sort of banal finality of closing a coffin lid. It had been an oversight on her part. Tuul and the boy had been tasked with repairing the Glorious Blessing after it's crew finished unloading their cargo of grain. Kerrigan had commandeered the ship and its crew, loaded her bodyguards on board, and ordered them to make for the Babylon without thinking twice about the two boys in novice robes.

“I never expected this from you Kerrigan,” Sáclair's voice crackled with emotion. It might have been sadness or perhaps betrayal but it was difficult to tell beneath the seething palpitations of anger eminating from Sáclair.

“I use what I have to do what is right,” There was no point in explaining that it had been a mistake. It was unlikely Sáclair would forgive her and the admission would undermine her demands.

Sáclair sat motionless and simmering with fury. The ruff of his collar twitched agitatedly with every disgruntled rasp of breath, the white of the makeup upon his face falling upon the purple silk in globules of sticky-sweet wine scented perspiration. His mouth opened and closed, furious whispers of sound slipping past his lips as though trying to say several different things at once. A side effect of having a hundred generations of men cohabiting his head no doubt.

“No,” he finally rasped, “I make no exceptions, not even for my bastard.” His eyes flashed at the last word, a generous measure of disgust coloring the world. He shoved the cable into his arm and convulsed from the rush of sensation as the ship's systems purged his mind of its incoherence. He stared into her eyes with not even a trace of the twinkle he once carried for her, “You will prepare the Inquisitor's other contingencies. If we need the teleporter later we will use it, but not until I permit it. If I permit it.”

Kerrigan bristled at the indignity of being given orders, “I am not beholden to you Captain.”

“Miss Frist,” Kerrigan winced at the intentional insult of leaving off her proper title of Magos, “I don't give a flying toss who you think you are, or are not, beholden to. You will prepare the Inquisitor's contingencies because it is the right thing to do. You will do it because it is logical. And you will do it because I have just given orders to my security forces to kill you and your entire retinue if you do not.”

The doors to Sáclair's study opened inwards and Danzig walked into the room with a team of Lionhearts. The normally jovial private soldiers of Sáclair stood at a safe distance from her mechandrites and cutting tools, faces devoid of emotion and plasma guns aimed at her center mass.

Sáclair swiveled in his chair, turning his back to her and acknowledging her as one might address sick upon the ground, “You will leave now Miss Frist. You have sent my son to his death. A boy too young to have known a woman and you have condemned him to death.”

“I did what I must Nathaniel,” Kerrigan sighed, “We all do what we must in service of the Emperor.”

“That is the last time you may call me by my given name, Miss Frist. For that matter it is the last time I wish to deal with you in person. From now on we will be communicating through intermediaries or not at all. I will tolerate your presence as a sign of respect to our past friendship,” Danzig approached her cautiously as Sáclair exposited, eying her mechandrites as though they were angry vipers. The Lionheart placed an apologetic hand on her shoulder and nodded to the door, “I'm sorry Magos but you need to go now.”

Kerrigan allowed herself to be led out of Sáclair's study and into the hall by Danzig's squad. The wall hangings and portraits of the Sáclair household all looked less cheery than they had when she'd walked past them before. The hook nosed faces all stared her down with hawkish indifference to parallel Sáclair himself.

As the door closed Dazig let loose a nervous sigh and relaxed his rifle, his squad following suit. The guns were no longer humming with charging plasma, but they were only inches from readyness. He scruffed his hand through his hair nervously, “Magos understand that I like you. I enjoyed working with you in the past and I hope to do so in the future. I appreciate duty as much as anyone.”

Kerrigan chuckled. Appreciated duty? Omnissiah guide her, the Lionhearts were as single minded as Kasrkins. She doubted they used the necessary without chalking it up to serving duty in some way, “You don't say.”

“Yes,” Danzig smiled warmly, with all the openess she'd come to admire them for, “I understand why you made the decision you made. It was the correct one.”

“I... well...” Kerrigan stuttered, “I appreciate the support.”

“I wasn't finished,” Dazig's smile disappeared and he raised his plasma gun, pointing it between her eyes, “I don't give a damn if it was the correct decision, it was an unforgivable one. If he gets a cut, you get a scar, if he breaks an arm, you lose one, if he dies may the Emperor have mercy on your soul.”

Danzig was as much a father to the children of Sáclair as the Captain himself, more of a father if some of the rumors were true. The Lionheart was responsible for their safety and security. And he would make good on his threat, or die trying.

“Boy,” Kerrigan shook her head, “Iino is lost to me already. If I am trapped in this godforsaken scrap of nowhere without Tuul, Hilder, or Sáclair I am already dead, just still moving.”

It took some effort to ditch her assigned bodyguard but Ami eventually managed it. Hamman was well intentioned and dedicated, but he was still a man and Ami's chamber maid Marta could be quite distracting. She had a thing for soldiers, especially Lionhearts, but then most women Ami knew did. If even half the stories she'd talked Marta into telling her were true she doubted Hamman would see straight for a day, let alone notice her absence before she'd done what she planned.

The commoners clothing, a set of rough britches and a shirt the color of pale roses and a black veil that covered her mouth and nose covered in hanging jewelery that jingled with every step itched terribly on skin more accustomed to velvet and silk. Amon Sui women's fashions were out of style on the ship, except with the more conservative of the common people and it was easy for her to tell why.

It was a decent disguise but the veil had an annoying habit of bunching up in her mouth when she talked or breathed. She was constantly spitting to blow the sheer fabric from between her lips where the sharp pins of the jewelery poked painfully into the meat of her lips. Modesty was substantially more uncomfortable than she suspected it would be.

The security guards around the Belzafest sector eyed her with suspicion as she walked by them with a practiced nonchalant boredom. The were willing them to simply ignore the teenage girl wandering about on her way to prayers provided she didn't call too much attention to herself. The Belzafest youth went to prayer often enough that it shouldn't be strange for the more conservative of the crew to find common ground with them.

She held her breath as she passed guard post after guard post, never daring to exhale. If she were recognized the point of this entire mission would be moot. Worse still her sister would latch a bodyguard so tightly to her that she wouldn't be able to sneeze without raising an alarm.

She past first one, then two, then thirty guard posts at every access point before she started to get worried. Her plan wasn't as well conceived as it had seemed in her study. Her cover as a lowly crewman’s daughter would only take her so far if she wanted to examine the most recent bomb site for clues. Three blocks around the bomb site were cordoned off on all sides, and she dared not reveal herself to the security forces else risk giving up the chase entirely.

It took a good hour for her to hatch a plan. Ami purchased a paper cone of roasted nuts coated in jam and leaned on the wall of a Belzafester cooper shop. She stood against the cooper shop window, enjoying her snack and listening to the shopkeep wax poetic about the merits of wood sole shoes to anyone who would listen. Eating the nuts through the veil was infuriating and the cooper's voice sounded like a wailing dog but it served a purpose.

Even the most dedicated of guards will lose interest in his job after a while. The security forces of the Endless Bounty were engaging in twelve hour shifts, sometimes double shifts, to protect the Belzafesters. Hussein, a guard she recognized from the more affluent suburbs of an upper tier merchant sector, was not accustomed to such work. He nodded off every ten minutes or so, waking with a startled snort and a look of supreme shame.

The next time he nodded off she near sprinted past his security cordon, blazing past him and into the dangerous section of ship beyond. As his startled yells faded into the distance behind her rapid sprint Ami hoped he wouldn't be punished too badly by Osma for losing her. Just a whipping at worst.

She ducked down through a back passage and weaved her way towards the crime scene, taking care to double back and take an occasional wrong turn just in case Hussein was still following her instead of calling for backup.

The sector was disturbingly empty, the Belzafesters dropped everything and left once the initial explosion went off. You do not survive in occupied territory without gaining a healthy sense of danger management. Her interest however was not in the acts of the saboteurs but in an alley to the left of a small parish a forty meters to port.

It was a disturbingly chipper space. The walls of the parish were painted in near florescent colors by some primary school teacher with more good will than talent to show a group of multicolored stick figure children holding hands around a two headed eagle, insufferably mawkish with it's maudlin smiling beaks, dimpled cheeks and winking eye. A looping script hesitantly spelled out “Miss Ollanda's Scripture School” in gothic letters and Damascan script one above the other.

A lovely place for a murder really.

Another hastily drawn outline of a human lay in the middle of the street draw in in chalk rather than acrylics, shaded with the dull black brown red of caked blood. It wasn't part of the mural. The girl, Athine, had been coming to prepare the school for an evening scripture reading for Belzafester children. She was one of many Belzafesters who'd taken the place of the dead crew, making sure to carry on where they left off.

Osma's report suggested that the girl had been ambushed from behind with a serrated knife between the floating ribs. She had not died quickly or quietly. The endless thrumming hum from an ancillary cooling vent about five meters down the alley had been more than sufficient to cover the poor woman's screams.

They'd been lucky that a parish pastor had come to Athine with some tea and sandwiches as a thank you gift for her hard work. He'd been able to cover her with a blanket and hide her from the children before security arrived. Lord only knew how he'd contaminated the crime scene but children didn't need to see the woman who sung “The Emperor Loves Me” to them and tucked them in for their afternoon nap gutted like a grox.

It was more oppressive than she'd though it would be. It was not the first time she'd been around death. Even the nobles of a starship were crew, and death or near death was a constant threat to the void born. But this empty scrap of nothing was as visceral as any dead body she'd seen. If she squinted Ami could nearly see the Athine's prone body where it had lain.

She pulled off her veil, glad to be rid of it, and thumbed through a small stack of still shots of the area. Osma's record keeping was meticulous, there was not an inch of the hallway for fifty feet that had not been photographed but Ami was sure that she could see something that he hadn't.

Osma was a fantastic security chief but behind closed doors her father sometimes bemoaned the man's lack of imagination or deceit. He simply could not think as a thief or murder might. Incorruptible and hard working though he was, nobody attributed Osma with an abundance of lateral thinking.

After thirty minutes of fumbling with an auspex liberated from Hamman's belonging and an intense inspection of the scene Ami grudgingly found herself admitting that her own observations of the crime scene were equally insufficient. There were no footprints or trace elements that she could track, no security monitors, and whatever other evidence there might have been was covered with a thin layer of pulverized stone and metal blown out by the explosion further into the sector.

“Damn,” Ami swore, “Damn and blast!”

“I believe that you're in the wrong place,” chuckled a grating voice from down the corridor that froze her stock still. A figure stood two arms reach away from her, wearing the red uniform of Belzafest security and a smug look, “A girl could get hurt alone in a place like this.”

“I can take care of myself,” Ami pulled the veil back over her face defensively and tucked the auspex back into her shirt. Had he seen? Ami couldn't let Carran know that she'd defied Carran's orders.

“Can you?” the security officer sauntered over to her unhurriedly, “It seems to me that a pretty girl like you shouldn't be around here. We have orders to detain anyone who comes around here.”

“I'll just be going then,” Ami turned on the ball of her foot and tried to slip past him, only to find her arm stuck in the security officer's firm grip.

“No, I don't think you will,” he snorted, “You see I'm hunting a murderer. And we can't take chances with a murderer.”

Ami shook her head fervently, “I am no murderer.”

“You see, it doesn't work like that. You don't get to just say 'no I'm not' and walk away. It could be you're telling the truth and it could be you're full of it,” he smiled pruriently and gripped her arm painfully tight, “I need some convincing.”

Ami struggled as she realized his intentions but she could not tear herself from his grip. He chuckled at her impotent struggles. “I'm going to need a good deal of convincing there girlie.”

“I... I'm Ami Sáclair your liege lady and mistress,” she hissed in fury, “You will unhand me at once!”

“Impressive,” the guard smiled in amusement. His haggard face and hard eyes bored into her, his powers of reason overpowered by other more pressing concerns, “You even got the high gothic right, but I suppose you religious types learn that don't you? Next time try for something more believable. A sector leader perhaps.”

The man did not believe her. He must believe her

Ami reached to pull of her veil, only to have him grab her other arm. Blind panic seeped into her veins down to her very marrow, as the man licked his lips in anticipation, “Do not do this. You do not want to do this.”

“They tell you it was a terrible sin that would leave you in horrible pain eh' girlie. They do that to religious types sometimes, make you live all quiet and reserved,” he shoved her against the wall, sniffing her hair and groaning, “Fight back if you like girlie, this is going to happen.”

Ami fluttered her eyelashes charmingly, smiled, and cooed, “If you insist.”

Perhaps it was his desire to have a son or simple practicality but her father would never be so remiss as to fail to have his daughters educated in the basics of defense. As the man bent in for a kiss smashed her head into the man's nose, just as she'd been taught to by Danzig, shattering the cartilage. The guard staggered backwards, grasping at his bleeding remnant of a nose.

Thick nasal blood weeped from the oozing mess, clumping in his beard and dripping into his screaming mouth. He snarled and swore, his eyes filling with tears, “Gyoo bitch! Whore! I'll ugly you up for the next man.”

Ami did not wait for him to recover before sprinting down the corridor in the opposite direction. The faster she found somebody, preferably a group of somebodies, the safer she would be. Danzig's voice echoed in the back of her head, “Don't let someone bigger than you have time to think. Hit him hard, hit him fast and get out of there. Winning a fight is less important than getting somewhere safe. You can worry about winning a fight once you've got an advantage.”

The various shipboard sounds and machines were inconspicuous by comparison to the heavy clomping steps of her pursuer and his heavy wet breath. He was far behind her but each step and each breath he took made him seem on top of her already.

She ducked down alleys, doubling back, climbing over low walls and up ladders trying every trick she could think of to lose the man. For all her training though, she felt like a rat being chased by one of the ship's terriers. A rat could run as long as she wanted, the terrier would eventually catch it.

She was so focused on finding something to distract him that she didn't see the pipe till she tripped over it. She went elbows to ankles in a clumsy cartwheel of skirts and veils as her foot tangled in her dress. Her head swam from the impact as she stood up too quickly and felt a rapid spinning sensation, little pinpricks of light blinking and flashing in front of her eyes.

It was wholly unfair of the corridor to start spinning and toss her back on her bottom, it had no right to start moving without her consent, especially since she was no doubt nursing a concussion. A condition that was not helped by the pair of rough hands that grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her back to the floor so violently she feared her head might pop off.

“I got you now you bitch,” the guard pulled a set of riot cuffs from his belt and tied her hands behind her back. Ami's head throbbed with a mix of terror and pain as he yanked the veils from her face and twisted her head around to face him, “I'm gonna make you pay.”

“No,” an educated voice with lilt of nobility chuckled, “I don't believe you are.”

A handsome blonde man, hale and muscular kicked her assailant across the face, knocking him to the ground. His roguishly tattered clothing and knotted muscle marked him as a giddy rapscallion of a man, hale and beautiful. In fairness the most wretched of mutants could have come to her aid and she would gladly have kissed his feet in thanks and called him beautiful.

The guard pushed himself to his feet and pulled a combat blade from his shirt, a short ceramic weapon as long as her forearm. The black knife lashed out towards the blonde man's unprotected chest in a wide swing, leaving a long thin trail of blood along his pecks. The blond man yelped in pain, pushing the knife away from himself and shoving quick succession of palm strikes into his attacker's broken nose.

The guard squealed and staggered back drunkenly, only to receive a rabbit kick to the ribs from a woman in a shredded body-suit who seemed to drop from nowhere. Bucking from the pain the guard collapsed to his knees, begging for mercy. The blonde man grabbed the guard's head from behind, and twisted left in a single agonizing jerk. The ear splitting crack of shattered bone heralded the man's death.

As he smiled at her roguishly Ami remembered where she'd seen him before. He was a member of her father's court. Not a favored member, but not one under suspicion of treachery either.

Ami had never much liked Sørian. He was one of the nobles who valued his own comforts over the well being of the ship. However in this moment she couldn't think of anyone more magnificent in all of the universe. Ami melted into the man's arms, taking comfort in the scent of lavender as he led her away from the corpse.

The lithe woman eyed her dismissively, but followed, her shredded body armor and bleeding wounds apparently troubling her little. She was pretty, if not beautiful, and walked with the grace of a dancer.

Sørian reached down and lifted her to her feet, his face quirked into an amused half smile. He reached brushed her mussed hair away from her face and rubbed the tears away from her cheeks whispering softly, “Don't worry. Don't worry. It will be ok. Sørian is here for you, now lets get you to somewhere safe. You've had enough excitement for today.”

“Why... why are you here?” Ami asked nervously eyeing the wounded woman's shattered porcelain mask and blood covered shirt. It seemed churlish to ask considering the help they'd just given her but it needed to be said.

“Why I would have thought that were obvious,” Sørian chortled looking at his companion amusement, “We're hunting for Amon Sui saboteurs.”

The woman pulled the shattered remnants of what had once been a personal displacer field up from her belt. It was a delicate sort of last resort escape method that teleported its bearer in a random direction, nearly as dangerous as taking a bullet considering that one could easily teleport inside of a wall or into the void of space, “They tried to kill us. We felt it was necessary to return the favor.”

“Now isn't the time to discuss this. That I found you in one piece is a miracle Hex... whatever your real name is. I suppose the time for secrets is over isn't it?” Sørian chewed his lip, “If we don't get out of here soon and to safety we're going to have to explain why we had to kill a security officer in a restricted sector. I don't fancy explaining that to Osma.”

Ami started laughing, the stress of her situation finally overtaking her. She'd helped murder a security officer. In her defense but he was no less dead. She laughed and laughed till her eyes filled with tears and she descended into a fit of grateful sobs. Emperor almighty what had she done, what had she become part of?

Pandemonium reigned in Babylon's customs sector as Tuul and his retinue disembarked, civilian and diplomatic captains alike were scrambling and battling each other for position on the disembarkation queue. A gaggle of chittering insectiods eyed his servitors with a mix of suspicion and fear, long tendrils of condensation puffing from the lip of their visors.

It would seem that the demon had made its presence known on station, but where and to what effect he could not even begin to guess. The apprentices Abbas and Orr, were doing their damnedest to look unaffected by the prospect of facing a demon, with moderate success considering the circumstances. Tuul knew that it was only the heavy equipment in their hands and arms that kept their legs firmly planted enough on the ground to keep them from fleeing in terror, it was about the only thing keeping him in place either.

He would have much preferred for Kerrigan to be here in his place, but the woman was banned from the station. The last thing they needed was to get caught up in a pissing contest with the alliance over the niggling detail of having disrespected Mr. Garibaldi. Tuul was the only one who could do the job, so Tuul it would have to be.

It would be much more to his liking if three dozen very nervous looking guards were not pointing phased plasma weapons at him. Tuul and his phalanx of war servitors had not passed by the notice of the customs officers. They were sturdy built war machines more than capable of assisting the Inquisitor in battling the demon.

Provided, that was, that he could get onto the station without getting a plasma blast to the head. The security forces of the station seemed to be under the impression that rendering his strike team to dust would greatly ameliorate their current situation. Well it wasn't his fault the pig ignorant fools hadn't event take the most basic of precautions in protecting their station from incursions. It was a bleeding miracle they didn't have them every other week.

“Omnissiah's blessed cog,” Tuul swore at the stern faced Alliance security officer. The dark skinned man flinched as the heavy arms of Tuul's full servo harness snapped shut with the crack of sparking metal, “Of course I brought weapons. If I had my druthers I would have a conversion beamer with me now. You have a demon on your station and you're arguing because I brought combat servitors?”

“I'm not letting you on this station with those weapons,” the officer stubbornly protested, “And you're going to have to shoot your way through a whole mess of pissed off marines in a few minutes. So unless you want us to beat your sorry butts sideways you're going to get back on that rickety looking bird and get the hell off our station.”

“Listen to that,” Tuul groaned out in furious monotone, “Listen!” The comm chips of the Alliance officers warbled and screeched with the noise of death and pain. A confused mix of orders, admonitions, swears, prayers, and sounds of chewing squelched out of the Alliance open comms in an unreal symphony of human suffering and confusion, “People are dying!”

The Alliance security officers looked at each other unsure of themselves, they had to know how much trouble their station was currently facing even if they didn't understand exactly what the trouble was. He doubted they'd ever genuinely seen combat, a couple of minor dust ups perhaps but if they did decide to attack he may have to fight his way through them.

Fortunately for them, the decision was taken out of his hands.

“Let them through,” Mr. Garibaldi strode into the customs area, his face contorted as though drinking spoiled milk at having said the words. The security officers seemed unconvinced but obeyed the order, lowering their firearms.

“Mr. Garibaldi,” Tuul chuckled, “It pleases me too see you again, though I wish the circumstances were more prosperous.”

“If they were I wouldn't have to be dealing with you at all tin man, certainly not the sweetheart brigade behind you,” Mr. Garibaldi turned on his heel and started walking at a brusque pace, the black ceramics of his ribbed combat armor surprisingly flexible for their density. Tuul followed him stride for stride, motioning for his retinue to follow with an idle mechandrite.

“What is your current tactical situation?” Tuul twisted to the left, avoiding a Markab carrying two heavy bags laden with possessions. Strange objects at that but the objects refugees determined to be necessary for their escape rarely were decided upon in any rational way.

“The current tactical situation is that your demon has taken up shop in the habitation blocks of the ship and is conducting hit and run attacks everywhere at once. And he seems to have brought friends, though reports are unclear on the how and why,” Mr. Garibaldi grabbed a heavy rifle offered to him by a subordinate and twisted its energy feed to fully automatic, “We've been getting to problem areas in just enough time to see it running away when we try to shoot it. We can't seem to tempt it into an area where we can deal with it.”

“Mr. Garibaldi a demon is not simply some creature you can corral and deal with like some sort of rabid dog, they're clever even at the worst of times. And what tempts a demon you must never give it,” sacrifices and pacts could be used to engage and command a demon but never without a steep price. Those who would willingly summon demons were doomed to one day bind themselves to one of the four great patron gods of the forsaken.

“If you have a better idea I'm willing to hear it,” Garibaldi.

Finally, they were getting somewhere productive. Tuul snapped his fingers twice and motioned to Abbas. The boy pulled a long scroll of parchment from his robes and passed it to Tuul's outstretched hand, “Mr. Garbaldi, how much salt can you acquire and how quickly can you get it into the docking bay we loaded supplies from?”

“Salt?” Mr. Garibaldi raised an eyebrow incredulously, mouthing the word as though he'd never encountered it in his life, “I suppose we could get a couple hundred pounds of it out of storage in blue sector... but why do you need salt?”

“For some form of banishing ritual I presume. The Inquisitor's instructions were highly specific on 'what' but substantially less so on 'how' or 'why',” Tuul shrugged, the heavy arms of his harness heaving in polite incomprehension. The balding man eyed the massive servo arms with abject suspicion, his misgivings about having the armed Imperials transparently painted on his face. Best to give him something else to think about, “Mr. Garibaldi I am not, nor do I claim to be an expert on demonic lore. The Inquisitor is and he says we bloody well need salt.”

“Sir,” one of the security officers, a bubbly woman who couldn't possibly be over the age of twenty five, sprinted over to Mr. Garibaldi with a data pad clutched in her hands. The pad creaked audibly in the woman's hand's in spite of her near hysteria, “The men we lost... the ones who died... they're... that is to say that...”

“Stop. Take a moment and tell me what is going on in full sentences,”Mr. Garibaldi rose a single finger into the air warningly and waved it twice in an effortless show of authority, silencing her. His face bore the picture of patient consternation. If Tuul did not know better he would have sworn Sáclair and Garibaldi were distant cousins, they both held that same unspoken air of authority.

The woman swallowed and looked at Garibaldi in utter disbelief, “I checked the reports sir. It's the same all over the station. The dead sir, they're... well they're not staying that way.

“What way,” Tuul groaned, already guessing the answer.

“Dead,” she finished breathlessly. “The dead are changing into something, something terrible... something wrong... something hungry...”

“It would be best to get that salt sooner Mr. Garibaldi,” Tuul droned as the sounds of screams echoed through the station's comms, “I don't think there is going to be a later.”

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Discussion Starter #79
The breaching pods burst through the side of the ship with a thunderous burst of force and smoke, sending a plates of thick hull careening across the corridor to smash into the adjacent wall. The thunderous noise of stoping hob nailed boots rushed into the shadowy hallway, marching in synchronized incursion.

Sergeant Andrew Matthews chewed the unlit cigar between his lips nervously in the flickering darkness as the squads reported in. Sixty Alliance marines, all ready and raring to go.

Reporting in to Captain Sheridan was impossible, the comms were jammed with too many frenzied screams. So much so, in fact, that he'd ordered his squads to use squad comms only. There was no reason to give their enemy more of a psychological advantage than it already had.

His stomach jerked as his scouts reported in one by one, each reporting more death and destruction than the last. Whatever the thing they were facing was, it seemed to be waging a full psi-ops blitzkrieg. Defiled bodies, darkness, and bloody entrails were everywhere. A pile of corpses with basketball sized holes where their hearts should be blocked access to the nearest lift tube entirely, the doors opening and closing confusedly on the seeping cadavers. Andrew bit down hard on his cigar, nearly severing it in two, when he realized how small some of the bodies were.

“Madre de Dios,” swore PFC Mendez, “What kind of a sick hijo de puta does this to children?”

“I don't know,” Andrew growled, “But I damn well plan to make them pay. Gropos move out! We've got a monster to kill. Hu-rah!”

“Hu-ah,” chanted the GROPOS in reply as they followed Andrew's lead. It was slow going in the darkness, the creature had apparently destroyed a number of power stations on ship, disabling transportation and life support systems on entire sections of the ship. A few incoherently sobbing technicians huddled back into corners of the hallway, gibbering incoherently as they tried to rub the blood and filth from their faces.

“Grab that one,” Andrew pointed to the least insane looking technician, a glassy eyed woman with a shocking mess of red hair. She put up very little resistance as one of the GROPOS helped her to her feet and near carried her over to Andrew. The woman, Ellen Paige according to her uniform, made no effort to look Sgt. Matthews in the eye.

“What happened here,” Andrew turned the woman's face to look at him with a gentle hand, staring into her terrified eyes, “Ensign Paige, what happened here?”

At hearing her rank the woman started speaking in a dull monotone, apparently unaware of her surroundings or the cluster of marines surrounding her in a protective phalanx. He recognized the signs of shell shock, Ensign Paige would probably never recover entirely. He didn't want to force the poor woman to relive her trauma but any information the woman had at all was needed, “At 10:15 hours a team responded to an automated report of power failure in the lighting systems red seven. They never made it. At approximately 10:30 hours they were ambushed by the creature. At 10:35 hours the creature killed all members of the team and moved on.”

“You survived,” Damn, the woman had been more affected by the attack than he assumed. There were at least five technicians moving within view. The poor woman's wits had been addled, “You survived and I promise I won't let you die.”

“No,” the woman's monotone gave way into giddy laughter, girlish and insane, “There is not escape, no survival, no freedom only death, death and hunger.”

“No té preocupes mi linda,” PFC Mendez put a comforting hand on the woman's shoulder, “You're safe.” Mendez never could bear to see a woman in pain, Andrew had seen him involve himself in things that were none of his damn business because of a skirt with a sob story time and time again.

“No.. no... no... no... no!” The woman screamed, falling to her knees and clawing at her face, “You have to kill me. Please kill me before it happens, before I become one of them.”

“Nobody is killing anybody you daft woman,” Andrew backed away as the woman reached for his gun hopefully, trying to point the barrel at her head. Survivors guilt often set in after a traumatic event but he'd never seen it set in this quickly and severely.

“Hunger,” the woman bent over into the fetal position and started shaking violently, “So much hunger... so much pain...”

“We need a medic!” Andrew turned his back on the woman as PFC Mendez bent over next to her, checking her pulse. He only took his eyes off the woman for a second. Truly it was only a second. But it would be a second that would haunt the rest of his life.

It was Mendez's surprised squeals of pain that caught his attention and got him to turn back to face the woman's disjointed and elongated maw, fangs still dripping with the remains of Mendez's throat. The PFC still looked at the woman with betrayed fear and confusion as he died, clearly unsure what had even happened.

The woman moved with a shambling and stiff armed pace that belied her speed as she launched herself at Andrew, closing the distance between them and reaching for his rifle with shaking fingers. Andrew didn't need to think about the situation twice. He fired and filled the hallway with the scent of charred meat, savory and unnatural, as the creature wearing Ellen's skin fell to the ground in death.

“Jesus,” swore Private Mitchell, “She just... changed... what in the hell just happened?”

“I don't know,” Andrews shot the corpse twice for good measure, turning off the safeties on his rifle and charring her face to ash, “But I think this is just the beginning.”

The corridor echoed with the agonized groans and whimpers of the recent dead. Marines yelled in horror and confusion, firing wildly as the corpses along the corridor came to life. Clammy dead hands and gaping fanged maws ripped and tore at the legs of the marines, struggling to drag them down into the hungering dead.

Andrew beat a Drazi missing half it's head away from himself with the butt of his gun before blasting the chest of an armless Minbari taking a bite out of Private Daniel's leg. He shot, shot, and shot again, “Deactivate weapons safeties! Weapons at max power. Burn a power cap if you have to!”

His marines were hardly listening though, the corridor was a fearsome melee of rife butts and small arms fire between the GROPOS and the living dead. Most soldiers dared not fire in such close quarters for fear of friendly fire, and those who did were doing so with mixed success.

“Aaaannndddrreewww,” gurgled a psychotically melodic latin drawl from his left. Andrew's eyes widened at he turned in horror to face Mendez's dead body. Blood seeped out of Mendez's open wound even as the flesh gurgled and transmogrified into something inhuman, a great yellow eye pushing it's way up and out of his esophagus, burning with an incandescent yellow glow. Little spikes pushed their way out of his skin, leaving wounds that seeped clear green blood and orange smoke, “We aren't done Aaaannddreeww.”

“No,” Andrew swore, “You aren't real. This isn't happening.”

“Oh, that's adorable. You're negotiating with us,” The creature wearing Mendez's flesh mewled as it blurred forwards, slicing down with a long scythed talon. Andrews blocked the swipe with his rifle. The weapon burst in a blinding shower of white hot sparks that sizzled on his heat dissapating armor. The creature crowed in pain but swiped a second time, overshooting and giving Andrew a brief chance roll out of the way.

“Die!” Screamed Private Daniels as he fired his rife into the creature's center mass. The plasma shots rolled over the creature and dissolved into nothingness. Daniels shouldered his rifle to fire a second volley, but fell to the ground in pain as a Markab bit into his Achilles tendon.

Andrew pulled his monomolecular combat knives from their sheaths, blocking Mendez's razor sharp uppercut and cutting off a hand at the wrist, though to little effect. Mendez punched hard with his stump into his open palm, seemingly pulling a new hand from the wispy entrails bloodied stump.

The creature smiled in self satisfaction as it kicked Andrew's legs out from under him and raised its taloned fingers for the death strike, only to scream in agony as a three foot saber bisected it from head to groin. The halves fell away and burst in a puff of flame and ashes, leaving only bleached bones.

His savior helped him to his feet as small army of knife wielding Drazi flooded the corridor, stabbing and cutting at the recently risen corpses, turning the tide of battle. The blade hummed with energy as the tall man shook ichorous blood from it, a near pornographic look of satisfaction playing on his face.

“Inquisitor Daul,” Andrew cleared his throat nervously as he looked at the three humans behind Hilder, trying to place faces with names. The first, the Inquisitor's bodyguard and servant, wasn't hard to recognize. One did not often fail to identify a two meter man with mechanical tentacles, however as to the other two he couldn't even hazard a guess.

Andrew fired a blistering shot into the groin of a charging Minbari, bursting the dead things legs and leaving to it flop helplessly on the ground, “You're taller than you look in your photos.”

“Most people look short when they stand next to an Ogryn,” The skull faced man grabbed a plasma rife from one of the dead marines at passed it to Andrew before striding down the corridor lopping the heads off of corpses, “Amis are we heading in the right direction?”

A jittery looking man wearing ragged clothing stumbled forwards, a hungry pleading look in his eyes. In any other situation Andrew would have found the man off-putting but he didn't have a spare ounce of energy to devote to considering the matter. Amis, a man of the Earth Alliance judging by his accent, stretched pinched his cheeks inward pulling thumb and forefinger towards his lips in concentration. He cocked his head like a confused spaniel and whimpered, “It's hiding... there is something that it fears on this station... someone it fears.”

“Me?” The Inquisitor said in a reticent voice as he stabbed legless Drazi torso, severing the head cleanly from the neck in two sweeps of his blade. The festering corpse dissolved into ashes and bleached bone, the powers that brought it back from death severed from its body.

“It isn't that clear,” Amis shook his head and backed behind the massive form of Cairn, “I only get flashes, sparks, I thought I was crazy till this week...” He eyed the massive cyborg, “I'm still not sure this isn't just another hallucination.”

“There are perks to madness I suppose,” The Inquisitor chewed his lip and lifted one of the bleached bones with the blade of his sword, staring at a sigil burned into the bone, “Damnit, Tzeench. It had to be the Throne cursed God of Sorcery.”

The Inquisitor tossed the skull to the floor, shattering it into powder and looked up at the Marine, “You need to take your men and get to the habituation blocks and fallout shelters by now the creature has doubtless started feeding to grow its armies. The Drazi will assist you.”

“I don't take orders from you,” Andrews glared hatefully at the Inquisitor, his gratitude for his own life warring with the memories of his dead subordinates, “And I have not intention of giving you free reign on this ship.”

The Inquisitor waved a small wedge between his fingers and tossed it underhand at Andrews, the burnished metal sailed through the air. Andrew caught it and stared in astonishment at a command level communications link, a link the Inquisitor had obviously stolen. The older man smiled wrily and quirked one side of his lips, “If Mr. Garibaldi's furious questions about 'Why in the hell you burned through his hull?' are to be trusted you have a great deal of difficulty obeying anyone's orders. No, you will go to those habitation blocks and you will allow me to go on as I planned.”

“Why in the bowels of hell would I do that?” Andrew's knew damn well why he wouldn't. His reason was two meters tall, covered in more electronics than a Hyperion Cruiser. He didn't care to scrap with the Skitarii, not without a high powered rifle and a half mile of open ground between them, especially not with a few dozen Drazi surrounding his boys.

“Because I asked nicely,” The Inquisitor smiled sweetly enough to put the sour taste of insincerity in Andrew's mouth, “And because if you want this station to stay in one piece we must work together. We can work together or we can die. Your choice soldier, you want to start throwing punches at me or do you want to save the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians on this station.”

The Inquisitor did not spare a second glance for the Alliance Marines as he turned on his heel and strode down an adjoining corridor to Red Sector, taking his retinue of Imperials with him. It would have been all too easy to just shoot the man in the back of the head. There were days when Andrew hated making the right decision, “Come on GROPOS, it's time to be big damn heroes. Lets save some civies.”

Stephen had been extremely careful to make sure his patients would have a safe place to retreat to at the first signs of trouble, commandeering the recovering Zack Allan and a number of other security personnel to protect the red sector sickbay from anything that might come their way.

Of course it hadn't occurred to him that the attack could come from inside the sickbay rather than from one of the barricades outside it. It had been a sheer stroke of luck that they weren't being overwhelmed by the furiously screaming monsters in the room beyond. Nurse Vivian's decision to sneak a smoke in the morgue may well have saved the lives of everyone in medbay C.

The terrified woman's death screams roused the Galut from his chemically induced sleep. By the time Stephen responded to the screaming, Galut had already torn his bed from where it was bolted to the floor and plugged the door to the morgue with it, holding it in place with his substantial bulk. Clawed fingers and long tentacles tore at the steel bench, perforating it and occasionally eliciting pained whimpers from the Ogryn,“Get out Doc!”

“We have a security breach in the ICU,” Screamed doctor Franklin as what had once been a Vree swiped a taloned hand past the makeshift barricade, tearing a sizable hunk out of of the Ogryn's belly. Thick black blood soaked the Ogryn's pressure suit and stained the stuffed rabbit tucked into his belt, “I need you here now Zack.”

Stephen rushed into his office looking a compression coil of dermal sealant foam only to loose his footing and stumble over a child's toy car, clipping his head on his bookshelf. It was amazing how much a concussion really hurt. He blinked stars out of his eyes and stared into the accusing tear streaked face of a six year old Brakiri holding a now broken toy car.

The daycare center, he'd forgotten about the daycare center.

Many children who'd lost their parents in the confusion of what was going on and simply wandered to the nearest safe place. Because the Stephen wouldn't be able to determine who their parents were until things calmed down he'd put the children into his office and set Miranda to the task of keeping them occupied and happy. A task that seemed to please both Miranda and the children greatly if the smiling children balanced on each of her knees was any indication.

“Really Stephen, say you're sorry to Kekleth. Peter just gave him that car as a present,” Miranda stood up, placing each of the children from her knees to the ground, and walked over to the sobbing Brakiri. She hugged the child and wiped the tears from his eyes. Her smile went away after getting a good look at the grave look on Stephen's face, “What's wrong?”

“Get those children out of here!” Stephen hefted a chubby cheeked Minbari five year old not even old enough to have grown his first crest of bone and did his best to herd the nervous children in the direction of the door, “We're under attack!”

“I want my mommy,” cried an eight year old girl with her dirty blonde hair up in pigtails, “I want my mommy.”

“We'll find your mommy sweetheart,” cooed Miranda soothingly rubbing the girl's back and pushed her towards the door, “Just come with us and it will be all okay. We're all going to play a game, now I want all of you to close your eyes real tight and grab each other's hands! Everybody get a buddy.”

“I don't want a buddy,” sulked Kekleth looking at Stephen spitefully, “And I'm not going with him.”

“Not even if he promises to show you a magic trick?” Stephen grabbed a cylinder of dermal sealant off his shelf and rolled it around his fingers spinning it faster and faster till it appeared to be floating on his fingertips. Kekleth nodded eagerly and grabbed Stephen's pant-leg, the toy car apparently forgotten.

It was a simple surgical dexterity exercise but children loved to watch it. Stephen would have to remember to send a nice letter to Dr. Keller from Mar's General's Pediatrics Ward for teaching it to him. Provided of course, that he lived long enough to write a letter.

“Ok guys remember, eyes closed!” Miranda got behind the group and hurried them forwards, shepherding the children across the surgical ward and away from the morgue. The children fled the screeching and wailing from inside the morgue, none of them particularly eager find out what was causing them.

“Aarrgghhh!” Galut screamed in pain a makeshift spear made from a length of metal pipe burst through the table and into his shoulder, thick arterial blood leaking out from his neck. The Ogryn staggered back in pain letting go of his barricade. A risen human, misshapen and covered in blue feathered quills rushed into the room only to fall to the ground dead as Galut grabbed the human's head and crushed it like a ripe cantaloupe.

The human dissolved into ash, prompting the Brakiri child to start wailing a furious high pitched screech. On Barkir it would have brought every mother for two miles running to the scared child's aid. In the sick bay all it did was hurt Stephen's ears as he rushed the children out of the door.

Stephen shut the door and smashed the control panel, nobody would be opening it from the morgue side. Rough hands tossed him to the floor, knocking the wind out of him. What had once been a Minbari stared at him with hateful eyes as it licked the lips of it's severely dislocated jaw. It gurgled in what might have been a taunt as it picked up a bone saw in one of its translucent and scaly fingers then fell to its knees as a two foot long pipe sailed across the room and smashed its brains to mush, turning the body to ashes and bone.

“No! You no hurt!,” bellowed Galut, groaning from the effort of fighting the six reanimated corpses biting and clawing at his back an sides bled badly from where he'd ripped the spear out of his neck. He grabbed a Vree by the wrists and kicked forcefully into the creature's center mass, detaching the creature's arms from it's torso and pulping it's chest upon the ground.

Galut howled piteously as a markab bit into his finger, tearing off the fifth distal phalanges and swallowing it whole. The grinning markab squeaked and crowed in a disturbing reverberating parody of English dancing out of Galut's reach, “Fresh, fresh, wonderful flesh!”

Galut squealed like a stuck pig, sobbing in fury when the pug nosed Minbari slashed his back with a scalpel, driving a fistful of the blades into the back of Galut's skull. The pug nosed Minbari earned an impromptu disembowelment for his efforts from the highly illegal combat knife, a machete in anyone elses hand, the Ogryn pulled from his boot, “For the Emperor!”

The Ogryn's efforts grew increasingly sluggish as the creatures tore at him. It was like watching hounds take down a bear, no matter how many dogs the bear killed eventually the bear would grow tired and the hounds would feast. There hadn't been many corpses in the morgue, at least not many who had not been placed in stasis for sanitary purposes, but the dozen or so undead were easily overwhelming the Ogryn.

Galut was losing.

Stephen couldn't let these things get the better of him and he damn well wasn't about to let them feast on a patient in his care. He ran to the center of the room and tore a laser saw from where it sat in the ceiling, ripping the safeties out of the surgical laser's focusing chamber. It was a delicate piece of technology, designed for orthopedic surgery not battle, but without a charge limiter it was deadly.

“Galut, get down!” Stephen bellowed as he pulled back on the manual throttle for the charge capacitor, wincing as the delicate machinery sputtered and sparked in protest to his harsh treatment of it. The Ogryn, apparently long used to strange battlefield commands, dropped to the floor, taking special care to cover his kidneys and stomach with his arms. Stephen pressed the laser's firing stud and swept across the room. The laser's beam, no wider than a pencil, sliced a long line across the room, scoring the thick metal plating of the wall and bisecting anything between.

Three sweeps of the beam and the now headless corpses fell to the ground, dissolving to dust. Blood pounded in his ears deafeningly. Stephen tossed the laser to the floor in disgust, guilt pouding in his ears. He'd killed them, killed them without a second thought.

His introspection took a backseat to his medical duties as Galut sobbed in obvious pain.

Stephen grabbed the dermal sealant from his belt and rushed over to the prostrate Ogryn. Galut's face was a mess of small lacerations and abrasions from claws and fingernails and his breath was ragged but his face wore as wide of a smile as Stephen had ever seen, “We won?”

“Yes Galut, we won,” Stephen pulled out a pair of scissors and started cutting the thick mylar fabric of the pressure suit, the Ogryn smelled like a mix of rotting garbage and dead things but he couldn't treat a wound he couldn't see, “Now its time for you to rest.”

“Kids ok?” Galut tried to stand up but flopped back down after putting too much pressure on his injured hand. Galut truly intended to work himself to death if it meant protecting someone else. Stephen wondered if it was a trait of Galut's entire species or purely of Galut, the possibility that a sentient species wholly devoted to the protection of others might exist was greatly heartening.

“We can check on them together once you let me patch your wounds,” Stephen rubbed isopropyl alcohol across Galut's wound with a cotton ball, streaks of green black filth rubbed away revealing long seeping pink puckers of perforated flesh. The dermal generator hissed satisfyingly as it left cool white smears of foam in the wounds, forming artificial scabs.

Galut giggled in fascination as the foam bubbles sunk and hardened into a rubbery substance within the wounds, poking at the aniseptic material of the artificial scabs with brawny digits. The foam would slowly dissolve as the Ogryn's body healed, leaving only pink scar tissue where the gaping wounds had been, but not if he tore them out playing with them.

“If you keep touching them they're going to open up again,” Stephen swatted the Ogryn's hand. The Ogryn flopped back on the ground breathing heavily, too tired to resist Stephen's doctoring, “No fidgeting, you hear me? No fidgeting.”

The Ogryn grunted a grudging affirmative in his native tongue, closed his eyes, and hummed to himself in a charming disharmonious attempt at music. It was a nasal and throaty gargled hymn of some sort, vaguely latin sounding, that could have curdled milk. The Orgyn continued his horrible approximations to music until the door opened and Zack burst into the room with a two man security team.

“Ok boys, check the room,” Zack nodded to the security guards. The pair crept along the wall, training their guns on the bones and the morgue doors respectively, a process that Galut seemed to find equal parts incomprehensible and hilarious. After ten minutes of nervous searching Zach declared the room to be clear and told his men to wait outside the room.

“You're late Mr. Allan,” Stephen snapped harshly, his voice a measured mix of cool professional disapproval and clinical fury. It was a talent that one learned in med school, though not in any classes. As a doctor one often needed to express stern disapproval in a direct manner without resorting to shouting or unprofessional language. It always seemed strange to Stephen that ten minutes quiet disapproval was often more effective than ten hours of shouting.

“Doc, we've been under siege. I came as quick as I could but they freaking massed at the door. It was all we could do to keep them from crossing the barricades,” Zack's voice shook and his boyish smile diminished from its usual sparkle, “We lost Blevins, Cohen and Turrow as well as a group of civilians who were trying to make it to a safe zone... they got them... then we got them when they became them...”

Damn that was all Zack needed. Someone else to blame himself for not being able to save. Under normal circumstances Stephen would have ordered Zack into counseling and two weeks off duty. It was unfair of him to allow Zack onto active duty after losing his partner, but there wasn't much choice. They needed every able body.

“If I'd heard it from somebody without seeing it with my own eyes I'd have written 'corpses coming to life' as a story someone who'd spent too much time in deep space would come up with,” Stephen shook his head as he washed his hands in near scalding water at the sink, cleaning the Ogryn's blood from his hands. It left pink stains on the steel basin, apparently the chemical composition of Ogryn blood was different from than that of a normal human, “Are we any closer to winning?”

“It's hard to tell,” Zack chewed his lip hard, “The reports over the link aren't exactly full of useful information at the moment. I'm not even sure who is really giving information and who's been turned and is leading people into traps.”

“No worry,” Galut rocked back and forwards on his bottom, his knees grasped in each hand, giggling amusedly, “Inquisitor have plan. Bossman always have a good plan.”

“I wish I shared your confidence Galut,” Stephen smiled kindly. It wouldn't do any good to tell the Ogryn that his master was in an Alliance cell. It would only upset the giant.

“Uh... I hope he's right.... because the last update we got from the chief seemed to indicate that there were big plans in the works and that the Inquisitor figured in as a big part of them,” Zack shrugged dismissively at Stephens look of utter incredulity, “Hey don't ask me how or what, its above my pay grade.”

“How exactly is the Inquisitor supposed to arrange anything from his current... accommodations?” Stephen hedged around the issue, taking care to use a euphamisim that the Ogryn probably hadn't learned yet. The Ogryn wasn't dumb but his English was still quite limited, “Garibaldi is very thorough in keeping his guests entertained.”

“Shiro got brought in right before the raid, knocked six ways from sunday. Hilder decided he was checking out,” Zack tossed his hands up in the air in disgust, “And because the Chief said 'hands off', 'hands off' we are. Shiro is furious but he isn't about to go against the chief.”

“Just as good,” Galut nodded sagely, “If Alliance keep Hilder in prison cell Galut have to beat heads till they let him out. Galut not want to do that.”

“No, neither do I” Stephen sighed, feeling distinctly absurd for having tried to talk around the Ogryn. Rule number one of xenology, just because someone doesn't see things the same way you do doesn't make them dumber. It was an easy rule to remember. It was an even easier rule to forget, “Come on big guy, lets get you some Jello. You earned it.”

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Discussion Starter #80
Delenn followed Vira'capac as closely as she dared, following the Kroot through restricted passageways and corridors of the station she'd never even known to exist. After the abject failures of the first four Babylons the Earth Alliance had been hesitant to fund the fifth station as generously. Sections, sometimes entire sectors of the station were walled up and left unfinished in order to meet the self imposed deadline. The one they crawled through had apprently been a incomplete markeing district.

How the Kroot had come to discover such a section of ship was beyond her ken. Of the Imperials the Kroot was the most enigmatic and curious of them. Other than the pak'ma'ra the Kroot rarely had met with anyone on the station, choosing shadows and solitude over socialization.

“Where are we going?” hissed one of the gaggle of human psychics that Delenn had taken custody of in the kerfuffle, a boy of about twenty years with a small patch of stubble on his chin. Her eyes could just see the outline of his wild hair and small glasses in the cloying darkness of the maintenance corridor.

“Where we need to be,” the Kroot answered enigmatically. Delenn shook her head in amusement, the Kroot spoke few words and wasted none of them. He was as insufferably enigmatic as any Vorlon even if he was more direct than Kosh had ever been.

“I think he was hoping for a more specific answer than that Vira'capac,” Delenn ventured in an effort at diplomacy. The bedraggled psychics were more than scared enough without adding in an extra element of confusion. Scared people made hasty decisions, and hasty decisions would get people killed. Delenn knew enough about the Psi Corps to know that these people had more than sufficient justification to be afraid for their own lives even without the addition of dark one.

“People hope for many things,” Vira'capac trilled eagerly as the hurried pattering sounds of taloned paws thundered along the tight corridor. A pair of dark forms rushed out from the shadows, crowing and howling eagerly, “Few get what they wish for, at least not exactly when they expect to get it.

Delenn raised her quarterstaff defensively but relaxed as she got a better view of the two creatures. They were the hound-like infant Kroot he'd arrived with. Presumably Vira'capac stowed his children in the maintenance corridor for safe keeping while he'd come to kill the psychics. The infant Kroot hounds nuzzled up against their parent eagerly, snuffling and snapping at him lovingly. They crooned to each other in a sing song language of twitters and clicks, eager to have been reunited.

“We came all this way for some freaking mutts?” Hissed a furious Englishman in confusion before one of his fellow psychic fugitives whispered into his ear, doubtlessly explaining what little was known of the Kroot metamorphic cycle from youth to adulthood. The Englisman's face colored and he sputtered, “I mean... they're lovely....”

“Vira'capac's mutts.” Snarled Vira'capac furiously as he ran a hand through the hound's quills, ruffling the scaly hide of their backs in a pleasant way, “Very may well be the only reason that are still breathing. Human think that it accident no warp risen in the path? Hounds hunt the path so that silly mindwalkers may whinge about survival while innards still on insides.”

“You sent your children to fight those things?” Mr. Cotto asked incredulously, his pudgy wobbles of flesh were just visible in the dull light of the corridor. The man was greatly flustered, but no more so than was usual for someone working in Ambassador Mollari's employ.

“They are Kroot,” Vira'capac crooned, the skin at the edge of his beak twitching in amusement, shuffling feathery quills back and forth. His hounds snuggled his legs playfully carfree and not looking the least bit capable of killing anything, “Kroot not fear death.”

“If its all the same to you I do,” Delenn rapped the quarterstaff on the ground nervously, examining the dark red liquid on the hound's beaks as her eyes adjusted to the light, “I'd prefer not staying in one place too long.”

“Yes... yes,” clicked Vira'capac excitedly his long rows of quills quivering in excitement. Little bones and metal keepsakes clicked together with each undulating twitch, “Must stay predators to not be prey. Come we go onwards.”

Delenn could not say how long they traveled in the maintenance corridors following the outline of Vira'capac. The Kroot moved with neither urgency nor unease, ducking under pipes and swinging over obstructions. His lithe serpentine form was far more developed for the close quarters and lack of light than either Delenn, Vir, or the humans. He stood beyond each hazard nuzzling his hounds, tapping his foot impatiently and muttering in a twittering warble about “foolish man things.”

It was slow going at the best of times. The young humans were ill suited for this sort of travel, having spent most of their lives in a relatively sedentary lifestyle. The youngest girl had to be carried upon someone's shoulders more than once when her legs were too tired to keep walking.

It was painful to be around displaced humans. There were too many memories of having ordered the wholesale slaughter of human colonies for her to much like such close proximity to human suffering.

The greatest regret of Delenn's life was having cast the deciding vote to go to war with Earth. Her grief at the loss of her teacher and mentor blinded her common sense and set her people on a dark path that perhaps the universe might never forgive her for having committed. Her decision to bind herself to the humans by making herself a peace offering to them was in no small part born of her own guilt.

She had loved her mentor, she had loved him more than one was supposed to love their mentor and teacher. It was not a love that ever would have come to anything. Dukhat certainly wouldn't have allowed himself the luxury of such attachments but when one is young and in love such logical considerations do not come into play. The man she loved died clutched in her arms, and she'd lashed out.

So she'd cried out for blood. And blood she had gotten in spades. It had not brought her peace in the end. No, as it so often was, her blood lust of the moment became the greatest mistake of her life.

She could never take back the lives lost, as much as she desired to, but she could do all that was in her power to make sure that nothing like this happened again between the shared souls of their people. For humans were born of Minbari souls and Minbari spirits. To kill them lessened the whole and made the Minbari less than who they were. Minbari did not kill Minbari, nor should they kill humans.

Sadly humans had no such compunctions in causing suffering to their own. But with the help of her people they would outgrow that in time. It was the way of things, time healed all woulds and all races could reach enlightenment given guidance. Perhaps through helping the humans find themselves she might find absolution for her own sins, perhaps even find the energy to forgive herself.

“Ambassador Delenn,” Mr. Cotto rested a hand on her arm, waking her from her introspection, “We need to keep going Ambassador Delenn. Vira'capac says we're almost there.”

“Yes Mr. Cotto,” she sighed, looking at Vir fondly. If anyone stood for the redemption of their people it was Vir. The roly poly Centauri was free of the malice or pretensions that plagued so much of Centauri society and prevented them from advancing as a people, “It is time to move forward.”

At the end of a particularly narrow and cramped corridor Vira'capac wedged himself between a pipe and an access panel, pushing hard with his powerful bony legs, tendons creaking and groaning with exertion. The panel gave way and fell into the room beyond with a resounding clang, the hounds rushing forward into the now open air with lolling tongues and unbridled enthusiasm.

“Now are here,” Vira'capac crooned with laughter and leapt out into the space beyond, dropping to the ground below, “Come man things!”

Delenn jumped through the opening and landed badly on her already injured ankle, crying out in pain. She teetered after her bad landing, nearly falling to the ground but found herself clutched in the firm hands of Mr. Garibaldi. The balding man chuckled in relief, “Good of you to join us Ambassador. You're just in time for the party.”

Maxine's was exactly the sort of shop that John loathed having on his station. Tacky, oppressively multicolored, and filled with the sorts of tourist kitsch that cheapened the power and majesty of the station. It sold cheaply made overpriced keepsakes to humans and aliens too inexperienced to tell the difference between quality goods and useless junk.

It was, however, full to the brim with cover and various mirrored surfaces that made it difficult to pinpoint his exact location and easy to view the locations of his attackers. That taking cover inside of it gave him a good reason to destroy that insufferably cute bust of his own head made from macaroni that Maxine Deveroux kept in a glass case was nothing more than an added bonus.

A deeply, deeply satisfying bonus.

John swore as a burst of blistering heat shot past his face, reducing the chair he'd been using for cover only moments ago into a smoldering ruin of wood and imitation leather. He tumbled past an overstuffed sofa and into a display of tacky snow-globes advertising tourist destinations around the universe, “Great, they're using guns now.”

“I think the longer they're active the more conscious they become,” Talia shouted back to him from behind an aquarium full of stuffed bears, “I'm feeling more concrete ideas, more complex thoughts coming from them.”

“Any chance we're going to get out of this by negotiating,” John pulled a stun grenade from his belt and lobbed it into the hallway, plugging his ears with his fingers and squinting his eyes shut as tight as he could manage. Several ghoulish voices howled as the grenade popped in a furious snap-bang of magnesium and ammonia, helplessly blind and deaf. John got one of them at the knees, searing its ligaments to putty, before ducking back into safety.

“I don't think so,” Talia retched and coughed up bile, “These things are monsters. They feel hunger and hatred and not much else.”

“Perfect,” John eyed the readout on his phased plasma pistol in disgust, seven shots left. He'd burned through his phased plasma rifle in the innitual ambush that killed the five security officers escorting Talia and him to the brig. The same security officers, he noted bitterly, that now clutched their blind eyes with long taloned fingers, “Why haven't they just killed us yet? There are twenty of them out there, they could easily have taken us hours ago.”

“They're waiting for something... something that they fear more than they hunger for flesh,” the teddy bears in the aquarium flailed around as Talia shuddered in fear, her voice shaking terribly, “There is... something coming... I think... I think it might be the demon...”

“What?” John hissed in fury, “Here? Now?”

“Captain... I think we need to be elsewhere as soon as we possibly can,” Talia's normal cool composure cracked with terror, her own psychic gifts granting her insights that John did not care to share, “I don't want to be here when it gets here.”

“I'm open for suggestions if you have one. Because fifteen PPG shots and a single grenade between us aren't going to be enough to get us out of here even without a demon,” John rubbed the cross around his neck nervously. His mother gave it to him as a gift, but he'd never particularly felt the need to wear it. His own studies of religion were done more out of love for his mother than faith in Christ. The closest he'd come to finding religion was a brief but obsessive bout with Buddhism after he met the Dali Lama at age twenty one.

But when faced with the very real possibility of fighting a demon the religious talisman was a great comfort. He looked up at the heavens and prayed, “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven... An army of Angels sounds pretty fragging good about now but I'll take anything you can give me.”

“John!” Talia hissed in horror, “It's here!”

Green flames licked and spat from bleeding lips chanting foul howling screams of agony as a creature of nightmare shambled towards Maxine's, a wave of fettid and caustic blood seeping from burning sores billowing dark shadows that waved with a red tinted venomous sheen. It's unnatural angles and twisted form belied the speed and power with which the creature moved, its own elegant grace only adding to its deep seated sense of wrongness.

The animated corpses melted down to nothingness as the creature passed them, piles of ichorous charnel that rolled across the floor and into the million gaping mouths of the creature. The reanimated dead howled piteously in ecstasy and sorrow, becoming part of that which had given them life to make it whole again. Each corpse regrew burning mouths and sealed blazing sores.

“Any time now,” John eyed the heavens and pulled the cross from his shirt, wrapping the necklace around his wrist, “Just give me something, anything. I'll take anything at all.”

John's ears rang and he cried out in pain as the creature opened the great fanged maw along its face and crowed, in sing song parody, its reverberating voice sounding of spoiled milk and tears. “Little witch, little witch, let me in!”

Talia snarled in fury, rolled out from cover and fired into the creature's face. Blue waves of heat rolled over the demon's puckered and seeping flesh breaking like water over its skin, utterly harmless. The creature laughed from its many mouths, a gleeful tittering mess of warbling joy, “Yes! Your anger, your fear, bring them! I will feast on them and grow stronger!”

“Oh you have to be kidding me!” Talia emptied her clip into the creature's equine head and grinning lips, sending searing bursts of blue energy to disappear into nothingness, “Shut up and die you sadistic monster.”

The creature clicked its scythe like pincers in anticipation, coiling its body and launching itself at Talia in a taloned pillar of billowing smoke. Miss Winters shoved out with her hands, a pale blue glow sparkling and sputtering from her fingertips repelling the cloud with her force of will. The smoky and insubstantial form of the demon swirled and cut at the the iridescent dome of blue psychic energy coalescing around her. Pincers lashed at the dome clattering at it like nails on a chalkboard.

In a fit of desperation John tied his cross to one of his boot laces and swung the makeshift mace at the cloud of smoke. The cross cut into the smoke with a mordant lance of heat and brimstone, repelling the furious creature and forcing back into a corporeal form. Six furious sets of eyes glared at him, a million mouths foaming in fury, “You dare to attack me with a sigil of faith from a false god?”

The creature eyed the tiny sliver cross with dismissive contempt, but a long red welt of scar tissue ran down the creature's belly. John spun his cross in a around his head, forcing the demon back, “The power of Christ compels you, you frag headed son of a bitch! Get off of my station.”

The creature eyed the glittering silver chain in disgust, staying just beyond it. John looked around, searching for a way out. He couldn't keep this up forever, his arm was already getting tired and the second he let up an extremely irate demon would be munching on his spleen. The creature paced around John and Talia like a nervous wild dog, growling and chittering as the billowing clouds of shadow bled from its seeping wounds and gibbering fanged mandibles.

Talia didn't give the beast a chance to recover, reaching out with her hand and flinging a bookshelf at him in an astonishing display of telekinesis. The bookshelf, heavily laden with the sort of tacky silver plated keepsakes one purchased on a long voyage collided with the demon with the force of a cannonball.

“Insolent witch!” Howled the creature as its many tiny maws screamed in fury, demanding blood and pain. It swatted at the silver objects in pain and disgust, unable to abide even the slightest touch of it on bare flesh, “I'll make you howl for me! I will re-define the meaning of the word pain!”

The demon howled and the very shape of the deck started to conform to the creatures will, deck plates and bulkheads splitting as taloned arms and clawing hands burst from them, grabbing and slashing at Talia's legs, dragging her to the ground. John smacked at the arms with his cross, beating them away as they ripped Talia's clothing and tried to choke the life out of her.

“Die, die, die, die, die, die, die,” the demon whinnied in increasingly aroused moans of excitement.

A man dropped from the causeway above them in a billowing mass of coats and scrolls, landing on the awning of Maxine's and hopping off it with acrobatic grace. A glittering ark played through the sky as the man pulled a blade from its scabbard and activated its power supply, lightning playing up and down the blade.

“Iperitor est Regis Deus Rex,” screamed the man in furious voice before a driving a blade into the creature's spine, twisting upwards and continuing to chant in Gothic. The foul venomous blood of the creature rolled off of the man's rune laced clothing like water on an oilskin, dropping to dissolve the deck plates below.

God help him, John was glad to see Inquisitor Hilder.

The creature clipped the Inqusitor with a pincer, flinging him backwards into a display of postcards and knocking the wind out of him. The demon's concentration broken the summoned arms vanished into thin air, leaving a bedraggled but still breathing Talia clutching a wound on her side.

The ground shook violently as Cairn, the cyborg attendant of the Inquisitor, dropped to the ground. He carried a man in each arm with casual ease. He placed each man upon the ground gently before reaching inside of his own torso and tossing a pistol to John. Oh but it felt good to be armed.

The Imperial made pistol was heavier than his own PPG, and didn't seem to have been designed with any sort of stun setting, but when he pointed it at the demon and pulled the trigger it made a satisfying quarter sized hole in the creature's chest.

“Good of you to join us Inquisitor,” John yelled as Hilder made a pass at the creature's many legs, slicing at the ankles and cutting at the monster's ligaments. The demon howled and made another sweep with a pincered arm only to have the pincer caught firmly in the long snaking mechanical tentacles of Cairn as the cyborg struggled to keep the creature in place.

“I would have come sooner,” Hilder chuckled, “But I had a prior engagement with Mr. Garibaldi.”

“Great, now how the hell do we kill this thing,” John fired at a tentacle that had been going for Carin's unprotected midriff, frying it at the base and rendering it to ash. Another two seemed to form for every one he managed to destroy. Cairn screeched in pain, twisting his mechandrites with bone pulverizing strength.

“I don't know if we can,” Daul pulled a scroll from his belt and tossed it to the wizened man with a shock of white hair. The old man caught it in aged fingers and unrolled it, looking at it with genuine wonder, “It's at least a fifth circle creature of the Inevitable path and I don't know it's true name. I'm not even sure if it can be killed.”

“I'm not just giving up,” John ducked as Thross flew over his head warbling in alarm, a long mechandrite severed midway down where the creature's pincers had sliced through the metal. The creature howled in victory and charged, only to come to a shuddering halt where the old man stood chanting off the scroll. The old man spoke the words passionate conviction, free of fear and full of faith. A filthy looking little man huddled behind the old man as though behind fortress wall.

“Shut up! Shut up! Lies and falsehoods! Your corpse is not here to serve you, he lies in what is not and may be, do not invoke his lies here,” The demon howled and covered his ears, driving his spiked pincers into them and actually cutting the flesh away from his own head in order to puncture his ear drums and render himself deaf, “Your saints are all whores and fools who serve the dark lords in the afterlife. You are pitiful nothings that only life to further our great games. You will be mine, all of you, just like that pathetic shell of a man behind you.”

Hilder ignored the demon's howling and threats of violence and pulled a round shape the size of an egg from his belt, “Of course we aren't giving up. We're just going to have to go about this the old fashioned way.” He pressed a button on the egg and flung it at the creature. It shattered on contact with the demon's flesh, spreading a golden cloud of light over the creature's skin. The creature howled and hawed as it dissolved into a screaming cloud, disappearing into the ephemeral golden light.

“What the hell was that?” John approached the golden dust upon the ground uneasily, afraid to touch it. Would it dissolve him into oblivion as well? “What did you do?”

“That was the cremated remains of Saint Versnal of the Fifth Circle of Pelnar. Versnal's blessings ought to be enough to bind the creature for ten minutes or so, possibly less. Long enough for us to escape.” Hilder grabbed the various silver objects upon the ground and piled them upon the ashes for good measure, “Come Captain there is no time to lose. If we are to banish this creature I will need the aid of both you and your pet psychic.”

The pile of ashes shifted and howled as the demon tried to re-form itself into a corporeal body. Hilder swore and grabbed Talia, lifting her to her feet, “Blood of Horus, it's Third Circle. We must hurry I don't know if that binding will last for two minutes. Come Captain we have work to do.”

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