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A pin dropping in the great hall would have been as startling as a cannon shot. The crew walked on eggshells as Sáclair's black mood rolled off him in waves, palpable to even the dullest of crewmen. Even his servitor's seemed hesitant to approach him, servo skulls hovering further out of reach than was normal. Though Sáclair could be imagining the latter, it wasn't beyond belief.

The voices of the ancestors rumbled in his ears, arguing over the honor of duty and family ad nauseum. As usual separating his own emotions out from those of ten generations of captains was a brutal exercise in self reflection. How long ago had it been that Abbas had been a chubby cheeked babe playing at his feet with toy soldiers and ships?

God the boy had grown so fast. Not that he'd ever bothered to notice. Memories of ten generations of chubby cheeked Sáclair children played on his own memories of Abbas, superimposing their own mess of conflicted feelings to complicate his own.

No, his duties as a Captain were always more important to him than his children. He had wives and concubines to deal with such niggling details as raising his children. They knew he loved them of course, they would be foolish not to. Didn't he make every effort to provide for them? He spent his life improving their status within Imperial society and working for the redemption of their honor. It was a worthy cause.

Duty above all else.

Would Abbas think it was a worthy cause if he knew that his father's quest for honor may require the sacrifice of Abbas' very life. Sáclair stared at the timer upon his consul in disgust, watching the numbers slowly descend to the time when he would have to order the death of his own son.

“You make me a monster Hilder, you make me a monster without ever asking it,” Sáclair whispered the words to nobody in particular, “You whisper and I come... what have I become in your name?”

“Sir,” Mr. Enzo started nervously, “Are you sure about this? There is still time to send a shuttle full of the Lionhearts over to the station to get Abbas back. Danzig has already got a team lined up and ready to go. He knows the terrain and he's sure he can get in and get out with time to spare.”

“No,” the world tasted like ashes on Sáclair's tongue. It wasn't worth the risk of bringing a demon on the ship, “A demon could possess a Lionheart as easily as any other man.”

Mr. Enzo choked on his own words, “Sáclair... you cannot seriously mean to...”

“I can and I do,” Sáclair drank deeply from his glass, the welcoming burn of bringing him that much closer to the blissful point where he no longer had to listen to his own thoughts. It was hard to say who he hated more right now, Daul, Frist, the Demon, Abbas, or himself, “Move the ship into position and open the forward torpedo ports just in case.”

“The Alliance ships will defend the station if we fire at it,” Donat hedged nervously, “We've only got two hours before the Alliance relief fleet is due to arrive. If Navigator Illrich's assessments of the warp currents are to be trusted that means that we have a window of only two minutes to escape before the warp currents become... difficult.”

“And an hour and forty minutes before we become fugitives from all the local governments, the long term implications of this haven't been lost on me Donat,” hopefully their newly restored food stores would last them long enough to get them to somewhere in known space, or at least beyond the range of any Earth Alliance reprisals. Provided of course, that they would be able to fight their way past the relief fleet, “Let us not lose faith in Hilder just yet, he may yet save me from duty.”

“Indeed,” Donat tapped his data slate unconvinced speaking in his usual monotone, “Duty above all.” The words sounded as hollow on Donat's lips as in his own head. But they were the only words that would guide him.

Though if they guided him to glory or damnation he could not say.



Abbas deliberately ignored Minbari Ambassador with all his might but there was an exotic and forbidden beauty about her that he couldn't shake from his mind. Such thoughts were the worst of sins but his mind kept straying to brunette curls hanging from elegant crests of bone. She'd come from Throne knew where with the Inquisitor's pet Kroot and a handful of unsanctioned psychics.

In the Empire they would have been lined up against a wall and shot like the dogs they were. Yet Tuul had swooped them up and used them without considering the matter for more than seconds. Putting them to work in completing some part of the ritual that was beyond the abilities of one who could touch the void. Disreputable xenos and heretics the lot of them.

Not one of them was worth a second though, not a one of them. Yet he'd had to steady his hands from shaking when Delenn had passed within inches of him with Mr. Garibaldi. He could swear he felt the heat of her as she passed him and could taste orchidaceous scents she left in the air, kicking his adolescent daydreams into overdrive.

“Do not trust the works of xenos,” Abbas whispered to himself, “The devil appears to us in the form we find the most pleasing.”

“Not this devil I suspect. Not if the reports are to be trusted,” Tuul nearly scared Abbas out of his skin as the elder priest rested a cool metal hand on his shoulder in what Tuul seemed to have intended as a comforting manner. It was readily apparent that Tuul had abandoned the flesh for so long that such simple gestures weren't easy for him. His hand gripped Abbas' shoulder a bit more firmly than was necessary, giving more of an impression of control than comfort.

“No sir,” Abbas nodded and hugged the heavy bag of sand in his arms closer to his chest, the rough burlap sack itched even through his already uncomfortable robes, “I guess not.”

“Get your wits about you boy, we haven't time for you to lose yourself to fear or doubt. Those are the greatest weapons of the great enemy. Know that the Omnissiah is with you and all falls into place,” Tuul droned on in cheerful monotone, though the man's optics focused unblinkingly upon the heavy doors anyone wishing to enter the docking bay would be forced to come through.

“I'm not afraid!” Protested Abbas vehemently. It wasn't a lie, he was too confused and excited to have the energy to be afraid. Fear could wait till sometime when Tuul wasn't running him backwards and forwards in a cargo bay lugging a heavy bag of sand, poring it into incomprehensible runic symbols based upon the Inquisitor's designs. Runes of protection, sigils of binding, circles of banishment, it was all gibberish to Abbas.

Gibberish that he was expected to be able to produce perfectly or several thousand people would die, including himself. So no, he hadn't had time to be afraid.

“Little boy should be afraid. There exists much to fear,” Cawed Vira'capac from where he perched on the roof of the Imperial transport, a heavy rifle cradled in his arms like a newborn babe. How the creature had managed to overhear them over the noise of the transport's charging dorsal guns was beyond Abbas.

“Don't listen to it,” Tuul glared at Vira'capac in disgust, “And don't reply. The disgusting creature doesn't deserve the satisfaction.”

“Disgusting Vira'capac?” howled the Kroot in tittering laughter, “How much of the priest still priest? An arm? A leg? A heart? Priest throws stones and hates human body more than any other man thing.”

“Tuul,” Mr. Garibaldi ran into the hangar, passing the combat servitors at a brisk trot and seeming not to spare them a second thought, “I just heard from the forward sentries, Hilder's here. Him and the Captain.”

“Come on then Lad,” Chuckled Tuul in his droning monotone, “You and the other apprentices are to follow Mr. Garibaldi to a secure area. I'll not have a child here for this.”

“If you say so sir,” Abbas winced as Tull rubbed his hair paternally again. He would have to remember his own strength once he was worthy of augmentics.

“Well my boy,” Tuul's monotone chuckle echoed from his vox unit, “It's time to see if this bloody well works. Omnissiah save us all if it doesn't.”

“Omnissiah save us all,” Abbas agreed, though his prayers had less to do with demonic incursion and more to do with daydreams of porcelain skin and high cheek bones curled up into a smile.



Daul moved as fast as his legs would take him, dragging Amis by the scruff of the man's shirt as the vagrant hissed and sputtered 'no escape' in constant rhythmic repetition. The Captain grudgingly aided him in hefting the lurker out of the transport lift Cairn had managed to hook up to a mobile power supply commandeered from a cargo hauler.

“Explain this to me again,” Miss Winters panted from where she sat in Cairn's cradling arms. The woman had been annoyingly thick when it came to Daul's summaries of demonic lore and would not stop asking the most impossibly obvious questions about it, “Where is this thing from again? And why does it want me?”

“Is this not a discussion better served for some time when we are not engaged in active retreat from a hostile threat?” Daul panted for breath beneath his helmet. The rebreather was slightly on the fritz from where it had taken a backhand from the demon's pincer. The inside of his golden skull helm grew oppressively hot struggling to properly recycle oxygen.

“Inquisitor I'm pretty damn sure I'm about as fragging high on whatever need to know standard your fragging government operates on the general operating of combatting whatever the hell that thing is. Now tell me what you know before I kick your butt from here to sunday,” The Captain managed to say that with such absolute confidence that it took a second for Daul to remind himself that he had the advantage in a fight. Still even a toothless grill cat could kill if it got in a proper claw swipe when you were tired from fighting a truss boar.

Cairn warbled in frustration. His face plainly expressing that there was no time for arguments. One did not hide secrets without reason, especially at the cost of innocent lives. Knowledge had no purpose if it couldn't be used.

“Fine, there is a world that lies just beyond the skin of your own. Another universe that operates upon laws of physics and reality not constrained by the natural laws we must obey,” Daul smiled as he felt the sensation of cotton blocking his connection to the warp lessening, he was not at full strength but by the Emperor the gloriously unnatural cool of the warp was playing in his head.

“You mean hyperspace,” the heretic witch looked over his shoulder at the huffing and puffing form of Father Al'Ashir. The aging clergyman was surprisingly spritely for his advanced years, keeping up the career soldiers in spite of himself.

“No,” Daul didn't bother to stop when a gobsmacked looking security officer tried to salute the five of them as they rushed past his position, only idly noting that the officer had reported their position to his superior officer. The demon had to be only minutes behind them, “I do not. As near as I have been able to discover the space you call hyperspace is the space that lies between the realms. Your ships skim the warp without ever entering it.”

“It is the space that is not space. It is not a place but an idea, a collection of nightmares given flesh,” Al'Ashir rasped breathlessly, “It is the darkness between shadows, a space where time and truth exist only in short bursts. It is the home of evil.”

“And you travel through the warp then,” the Captain nodded sagely and waved the next security barricade out of their way. The Captain's eyes virtually glowing with comprehension, “That would explain the odd background radiation we detected when the Endless Bounty first showed up in B5 space.”

The security officers leapt into action, pulling away the crates and barrels they'd erected as makeshift barricades. The'd done a decent job of creating a choke point, the narrow passageway funneled them into a convenient kill zone. That is to say it would for a mortal opponent. Daul doubted it would provide more than a few minutes delay to the beast they fled but every second counted. They had few enough advantages as it was.

“Doubtlessly,” Daul smiled behind his helmet at Cairn's contemptous glares at a young security officer who'd been part of the group responsible for arresting him. The Skitarii still furious at Daul for ordering him to carry Talia in his arms rather than forcing her to walk on fractured ankle. Daul somewhat pitied the next person foolish enough to attempt assassinating him. Cairn had more than his fair share of pent up wounded pride over the whole incident, “The creature that follows us is one of the four... let's call them nations, that make up the realms of chaos. The creatures who live within the warp are creatures of instinct and malevolence.”

“Can we negotiate with it?” The Alliance captain with such naïve sincerity that Daul couldn't help but snigger. The very idea of it was preposterous to the point of absolute absurdity. One did not negotiate with a demon, not for anything ever. Cairn stumbled as he struggled to keep his shoulders still, expressing mirth would only cause Miss Winters greater discomfort.

“I should kill him for even suggesting that,” Daul hissed irately in High Gothic. His hand clutched the fabric of Amis' jacket so hard it tore the fabric, “Ignorance can only extend so far.”

“There is no limit to ignorance” Al'Ashir cooed placatingly, “Let your patience be the greater thing.” The man was insufferably reasonable. What Daul wouldn't have given for a raving member of the Ecclesiastic courts demanding blood murder at every turn. He knew how to deal with those.

“If you have a ready supply of virgin sacrifices or supplicant thralls I'm sure you could talk it into a parley. Perhaps you'd even negotiate for a speedy death with only part of the hereafter spent in abject agony as it devoured your soul,” Daul chuckled remorselessly, enjoying the disgusted look on the Captain’s face more than was proper. These Alliance humans try knew nothing about how the universe worked. It was about time they understood just how little they really knew. , “As it is a demon of Tzeench I'm sure you'd even be able to negotiate for it to take your children rather than your women of breeding age. Provided that is that you pledge your souls to worshiping it.”

Sheridan's lip curled in disgust, transforming the man's dimpled face in begrudging credulity. The endless skepticism of the Alliance was trying Daul's patience. They had a demon raising the undead on their station. How much more proof could this man possibly need before he would accept the truth, “Primarch's blood Sheridan. The creature has already broken the laws of man and nature before your eyes. Believe them if you will not believe me.”

“I don't know what to believe right now,” the Captain narrowed his eyes in frustration, pressing the manual control for the bulkhead doors. The door warbled a furious negative with each push, tacitly unhelpful, eliciting a groan from the bedraggled Captain, “Just perfect.”

“It's coming,” hiccupped Amis unhelpfully, chittering with a madman's joy as he was overtaken with entropic glee, “It's coming.”

The distant sounds of screams and laser-fire grew noticeably closer with every second. “Sheridan I suspect we do not have time for an alternate route.”

“I really was hoping to never do this,” Captain Sheridan pulled his ID chip off his hand and pressed it against the wall. The sheer metal side pushed forward, opening into the cloying blackness tinged with brief pools of dull red light of a maintenance tunnel. Cairn whistled appreciatively eying the cables lining the wall, he had an odd sense of beauty.

“Don't touch the walls. They're not insulated.” Muttered Sheridan.That almost went without saying. The walls hummed and growled with the sound of active power lines. Touching them wouldn't just kill a man, they would near vaporize him.

Daul heaved Amis into the corridor and chuckled dryly, “Captain if that thing catches you it will be a blessing to be so close to a quick death.”

“I believe you Inquisitor,” Talia said in a near whisper from where she sat cradled in the Skitarii's arms helpless and infantile as world of logic and reason shattered into a thousand pieces. “It scares me to death but I believe you.”

“Your belief is irrelevant Miss Winters.” The woman couldn't have had this epiphany before damning the entire station? Throne but he hated useless people, “Your cowardice serves no one.” The Captain either didn't hear him or didn't bother to correct him as they walked into the darkness beyond.

The innards of the Babylon Station were as inscrutable to Daul as the innards of any Imperial ship he'd ever been inside. Though the Inquisition had access to greater levels of confidential technical data than most organizations in the Empire the vast majority of technical data was still the proprietary realm of the Ad-mech. So while Cairn whistled and warbled interestedly at every system they passed, Daul could only guess as to their purpose.

Pregnant moments passed, with only the sounds of nervous breathing and labored footsteps to keep them company. Something about the dull blood red darkness silenced even Miss Winter's questions, one did not wish to tempt fate in such a foreboding space.

The creature was close, far too close for comfort. The mawkish scent of rotting vegetables filled his nose even through his helmet as the distant sounds of gunfire became silence. The guards had managed two minutes more than Daul predicted, they were to be commended at their funerals. A sizzling buzz spat across the righthand wall as a power line shorted out, heralding a furious bellow of pain.

The demon was coming.

“Faster would be better,” Al'Ashir said it in the same tone he might have used to admonish an altar boy for carrying the decanter of incense improperly. If the clergyman had held the long wooden switch used for disobedient novices he very well might have been swatting at Cairn's ankles for dawdling.

“Down this way,” the Captain turned left and lifted a hatch on the floor, lowering himself feet first on top of a table sitting in the middle of the room below. A small room Daul vaguely recognized as being part of customs, sterile and white.

A conduit burst in the corridor as the internal safety systems struggled to compensate for the added stresses. Warning klaxons wailed furiously as a conduit ruptured, venting an ominously shimmering green liquid onto the ground. It hissed and sparked, devouring plastic casing and pitting the metal with a caustic sizzle.

“Cairn, you first,” The bodyguard protested furiously in warbling binary. It was against protocol to allow Daul to stay in a hostile environment but they were well past protocol at this point, “No Cairn, we haven't the time for this. You're stronger than I am, if you're down there you'll be able to help Al'Ashir get down without breaking his neck.”

Cairn twittered frustratedly but acquiesced, lowering himself gingerly with his damaged tentacles. Miss Winters just barely fit through the opening with him, her silvery locks of hair snagged on the latch, eliciting hushed oaths and grunts of pain from the woman. Cairn ignored her discomfort with casual indifference.

“You're next Father,” Daul pushed the priest forward, grabbing the man beneath his armpits and easing him down to the cyborg's waiting tentacles. Al'Ashir was astonishingly light, the majority of the man's bulk seemed to be his robes rather than his person. The tome the man carried about his waist easily comprised the quarter part of his weight.

The wispy clergyman grunted in displeasure as he was deposited upon the floor, clearly simultaneously glad to have the ground beneath him and annoyed that he would have been unable to achieve it under his own power. Al'Ashir wasn't prone to admitting his own physical failings in his old age. The wiry old goat often bragged he was three times as able as any two men half his age, not an idle boast either. Al'Ashir would recover. Bruised egos hurt less than boiling acid.

The now flaming chemicals leaking from the conduit billowed an acrid black smoke strong enough to make Daul cough, even through the air filtration system in his helmet. Amis threw himself through the opening, coughing and screaming about the beast's coming. Unpleasant for him, but likely a minor impediment for the demon. Well, that was soon remedied.

Powerful enough tear through even the armor of a Land Raider assault tank but light enough for even an imperial guardsman to carry without fatigue Melta-bombs were controlled fission devices favored by the Adeptus Astartes, the preternaturally enhanced genetic super-soldiers of the Empire, in boarding actions. The palm sized disk Daul tossed towards the already burning chemical fire and exposed wiring wasn't nearly as powerful as those used by the Space Marines, but it was more than adequate.

Daul squeezed through the opening, pulling the latch shut after him. A thunderous bang and the screeching of hazard klaxons was music to his ears. Even a demon would think twice before entering that morass of chemicals and fire, “Come then Captain. We have to see a man about a box.”



Li Xiangjian wasn't half the fool Sáclair had hoped him to be. The man hadn't hailed him about the now open gun ports on the Endless Bounty, he hadn't moved into a defensive position between the Endless Bounty and the station. The man hadn't made any aggressive moves at all.

The consequence of that was, unfortunately, that there was no way for the Endless Bounty to move into optimal firing range without exposing it's flanks and rear to the Beijing Beauty or one of her sister ships. Worse there was no way to deploy fighter wings to protect the rear without giving away their intentions to destroy the station.

In her prime, with all her defensive countermeasures active the Endless Bounty was more than a match for this crippled bunch of garbage scows. However as she was now without her void shields defensive batteries, interceptors or bombers deployed she was like a lazy bull lumbering into a pack of hungry wolves. She would gore them with her horns, perhaps, but not before taking a wolf's jaws to the throat.

“What is the progress of loading the Inquisitor's failsafe?” Sáclair sighed as the chronometer hovering in the projector of the great hall flickered and ebbed, ten foot high numbers heralding his son's coming death.

“We are fully loaded and prepared,” Mr. Andrews stood at the foot of Sáclair's throne, the bright white silk of his dress uniform offset glaringly by the thick leather oilstained smock laden with tools. The ship's master gunner was unaccustomed to summons and less familiar with proper conversational tact, “You give the word and we'll frag a throne bleeding moon.”

The man's brusque belligerence was oddly comforting, especially in the light of Sácomer's recent indisposition. The blubberous sentimental fool had broken down into uncontrollable sobs when he'd received Sáclair's orders that he would have to shoot the station while the Imperials were inside. Utterly unconsolable they'd had to send the man back to his quarters and have Donat take over Sácomer's duties.

Mr. Enzo while a vastly capable second in command, was only a marginal replacement for Étienne Sácomer. He was making a right mess of managing all the command subroutines of the ship. The two logistical servitors on either side of him struggled to keep up with him as they corrected the incorrect inputs and outputs his second in command entered and recorded.

“Throne above don't let my subordinates blow up this ship before we even fire a shot,” Sáclair muttered as the unnervingly chipper chief gunner droned on about absurdly specific details about the ship's gun batteries. He couldn’t fathom why the number of rats that chose to nest under each cannon was an indication of the safety of their ammunition storage, but Mr. Andrews believed it to be of great relevance.

“Enough! I believe you Mr. Andrews,” Sáclair raised his hands in surrender, the jeweled rings on his fingers colliding painfully as he clapped his hands together to get the other man's attention. Once Mr. Andrews started taking about his chosen profession he had to be stopped, else he would never stop of his own accord, “You may resume command of your gun batteries. Best prepare them for immediate action, but remember not to activate them.”

“Right sir,” Mr. Andrews said as though Sáclair had just proposed that climb a mountian without ever going uphill. The gunner stepped nervously onto a hovering platform and clenched his fists in fear. The man did not like heights, “I'll get right on that sir.”

“Yes, you will,” Sáclair growled. The hackles on his neck prickled as the he got the vague sensation someone was blowing on the back of his neck. It was one of the more subtle sensations he felt when he linked with the ship, but it was unquestionably the most important. A number of the less sophisticated machine assisted targeting systems used a form of electronic target painting that basic sensors could pick up, even if they weren't able to trace its point of origin.

There were few feelings one remembered quite so vividly as having your ship placed into another ship's targeting systems. It took a conscious effort to quell the primal reaction thundering in his own mind crying for him to “attack, kill, survive” and to move forward and into the wild and untamed reaches of space. The machine spirit of the Endless Bounty was even more restless than he after having been confined to one place for so long a time. They were neither of them made for such a sedentary existence.

The parched and oily voice of Navigators Illrich and Calven broke him from his introspection. They towered over him, looming scarecrows of fine silks and pale flesh. Even by the standards of the void born the navigators were unnatural, a bizarreness that only grew with age as the Navigator gene altered their flesh to better facilitate the navigation of the warp.

The milky white third eye in the center of navigator Illrich's forehead blinked independent from the other two focused on Sáclair's face, “Your grace. We have to remind you of our concerns for taking the current course of action, at least without first warning the Alliance of why we are doing what we must.”

“Navigator Illrich,” Sáclair massaged the bridge of his nose, easing the tension from his face. Really there was only so many times he could have the exact same conversation and be polite, “I am not going to let a demon have a station full of hundreds of thousands of humans. It is a mercy I grant them.”

“Without question your grace,” the politeness and submission was awkward coming from Navigator Calven's lips from lack of practice. The Navigator's face blanched at each burst of humility, turning his already pale skin to a lighter shade of bloodless porcelain, “But we have nowhere to go. All our maps are to territories that the Alliance is allied with. Even if we manage to make it back to the Empire in one piece, without the Inquisitor to grant us patents of external acquisition we will be branded as Xenos sympathizers. Worse perhaps, the Inquisition might find the circumstances of his demise questionable enough to declare us excommunicate traitors. Daul Hilder's allies were never the forgiving sort if rumor is to be trusted.”

“We cannot allow the Inquisitor do die your grace,” Illrich pleaded, his great bat like features flopped into an inexplicable parody of a frown, “It would mean the end of us all.”

“We can, and we will if he hasn't killed the beast before the chronometer hits zero. I am bound to do it and do it I shall.” Sáclair clapped his hands angrily bellowing for wine. None came.

His wife seemed to have ordered the servants away. She would not soon forgive him for what he was about to do. He might well never see her in his bedchambers willingly. For all that the Lady understood his sense of honor, even agreed with it, her own love of Sáclair's children was greater. Even for the bastards, though it was beyond Sáclair to fathom why.

Women were sometimes funny that way. No use in trying to figure them out, it would only complicate his already troubled mind. Best to focus on the station, and the ships hovering around him like a pack of hungry wolves. If the wolves wished to fight the bear would indulge them when the time came.

Throne how the time drew closer with every second.



John couldn't tell what was perplexing Mr. Garibaldi more, how John had gotten into the customs office or why he'd ordered his chief of security to obey the orders of Inquisitor Hilder. The stern faced protector of the Babylon station muttered angrily in English and Italian, suggesting increasingly anatomically improbable acts for what the Inquisitor was welcome do do with his orders.

For all Garibaldi bemoaned his circumstances he seemed unlikely to do more than protest. The situation was too desperate for that. They truly were in hot water. John didn't even want to begin to imagine the casualty statistics. Dozens, hundreds, possibly even thousands of people were dead or worse.

The Inquisitor stood at the center of the docking bay, examining great concentric circles of salt. He fussed with the runes and patterns, muttering in his native tongue and waving his hand over the circles, dull blue light dancing between his fingers. The sleepers still in his blood were obviously taxing him greatly but the man outright refused to admit even the slightest feelings of weakness.

“Odd,” clucked Magos Tull, his dull monotonous drone as unexpressive as ever, “It would seem that the Inquisitor intentionally provided me with an incomplete map of his protective circles.”

John didn't reply to the cyborg. The comment hadn't been directed at him, or anyone for that matter. Tuul had an annoying habit of talking to himself without thinking. Matters not related directly to his own academic inquiry were of secondary concern to the Magos, even in life threatening situations.

Life threatening situations... Dear god was this really happening on his station? Under his command? It beggared belief.

John hadn't ever really believed in demons, not since he was old enough to know that there weren't really monsters living under the bed. The sort of idle childhood fears that could be chased away with a stuffed bear and a hug from a loved one. His father had been very calm and assertive in reminding John that nothing could get to him, that the only monsters were in stories.

It was a shame his father had been so horribly wrong. John didn't like being beholden to the plans of the Inquisitor any more than Michael did. Hilder was confident that he would be able to defeat the beast and nothing John had seen so far indicated otherwise. The Imperials were treating the incursion of hell beasts with the sort of blasé acceptance he might have associated with a pirate raid.

Then again so did Delenn. The Minbari Ambassador seemed no more shaken by the presence of the demon than she might have been for Ambassador G'Kar or Mollari. She could see it, touch it, and smell it so there wasn't any point in denying its existence. For her the only question was how could she help prepare to fight it.

Delenn was possessed of a singularly impressive force of will. When this was all over, if this was all over, if they all survived he would have to make a point of getting to know her better. She was intriguing.

“If”... lord but that time seemed so far away. Oh to hell with just sitting around. It was about damn time to be proactive. Frag it all, he was an Earth Force Captain. It was time to damn well act like it, “Inquisitor how close are you to being ready? The creature cannot possibly be just biding its time”

“I'm going as fast as I may Captain. If you'll recall your subordinates are the ones who robbed me of my full ability,” The Inquisitor's voice was as cool as steel and twice as sharp. His hands did falter as he shot Miss Winters a withering glare, “And as I have been robbed of both time and strength I will do as I may.”

An ugly man with a squashed face and cross eyes hobbled forwards, his hunchback twisting in wobbling tessellation with each half step. His face was near cherubic with joy as he started speaking an a pained half slur, “I believe we can be of service to that end your grace. We can add our own talents to your own.”

The ragged group of lurkers who'd been huddling together behind the packing crates nervously followed the hunchback, their faces a nervous mix of apprehension and anticipation. Talia Winters gasped from where she sat at the edge of the circle nursing her wounded ankle, “They're telepaths. They're all telepaths.”

“Blood of Horus a psychic choir!” Inquisitor Hilder's voice cracked in surprise. Had John been able to see the Inquisitor's face he suspected that the man's jaw would have been hanging open. It had to be galling for a person who prided themselves on being the superior psychic to discover that a small community of psychics had been living under their very nose, “By the Throne! Captain Sheridan I was assured in no uncertain terms that the only psychic on this ship was your tame psychic Miss Winters.”

“The only legal one,” Corrected Miss Winters. The “tame psychic” comment raised the woman's hackles enough that she'd stood up in spite of her wounded ankle, “Unsanctioned psychics aren't allowed.”

“The Psi Corps is evil! If the choices are entry into it or death I chose death. Miss Winters you know that the Psi Corps cannot be trusted, you have to know,” snarled the hunchback, “After all you've seen how can you trust them?”

“The Psi Corps has been good to us, they teach us and train us,” The conviction in Talia's words was as suspect as the strength of her wobbling ankle, “They do what must be done.”

“Like trying to arrest me?” Inquisitor Hilder growled dangerously, “That does seem to be a theme you Psi Corps are fond of bringing up.”

“We wish to join the Empire, please grant us sanctuary. Give us our freedom from the Psi Corps and we will give you anything you want,” the hunchback dropped to his knees and clapped his hands together in desperate prayer. The gaggle of unsanctioned psychics dropped down and prostrated themselves before the Inquisitor, pleading to his humanity and benevolence.

The Inquisitor stood stock still, staring at them. He looked to John, the golden skull face of his mask strangely pensive in the dull light of the docking bay. John thought about all the trouble the Psi Corps had caused him personally, all the lives that Mr. Bester had ended in his foolish crusade of dominance.

Tecnically John should be arresting the psychics on the spot, before they could be granted sancuary but what could granting some people their freedom lose him? John nodded to the Inquisitor in silent permission. The Inquisitor quirked his head like a Jack Russel Terrier hearing a high pitched noise, perplexity visible even through his helmet.

His confusion made sense. By all indications they'd seen so far psychics held places of status in Imperial society. It had to be baffling for him why a psychic would need to flee his nation of birth. With psychics responsible for the primary methods of communication and navigation it stood to reason that they would live charmed lives in Imperial society.

“You wish... to join the Empire...as psychic servants of the Inquisition?” The words came out of his mouth disjointed, his native phonetics coloring the conversation, “It is... in my power to grant this...”

“Please we beg of you,” the hunchback bowed deeply, his head touching the ground, “Let us prove our worth and take us to where we will be of use.” The Kroot hooted in laughter, slapping his knees in amusement. It really was an odd creature.

“Emperor guides in darkest hour. Take what he give,” The wispy priest said in somber pronouncement. The hard lines of his wizened face furrowed with something unspoken, a look of pity uncharacteristic of the Imperial habit in his eyes for the fugitive psychics.

It was times like this that the lack of cultural knowledge of the Empire frustrated John. A thousand unspoken assumptions were being communicated by the Imperials and he couldn't even begin to guess as to their meanings. They were as alien as any of the League of Non-Aligned worlds he swore.

“Very well,” Daul pulled his sword from its scabbard and stabbed it into the deck in front of the hunchback, “I accept you as vassals and bondsmen of my household. Normally oaths of loyalty are required but under the circumstances a simple yes or no will suffice. Do you swear to follow me to death and beyond in service of the Golden Throne?”

The Inquisitor did not wait for the deafening chorus of affirmations before waving his hand and pulling a ruby the size of John's balled fist from a black chest offered by Tuul with an slight exercise of telekinesis. The shimmering red stone hovered above his hand, coruscating and shimmering with unnatrual powers. Delenn's disgusted intake of breath at the sight of it mirrored the foul oath she uttered in her native Minbari, a word he'd never believed could touch her lips.

“In Valen's name, a soul stone.” Delenn's hand's trembled as she unconsciously reached for John's sleeve, clutching it for stability. The stone had broken what little remained of Delenn's composure, revealing real fear, “It must not be.”

“What is a soul stone?” John watched as the Inquisitor ordered the psychics to take positions around the circle while Hilder stood in the middle with the stone, hovering the stone above his head. He chanted in guttural tones, a language that Daul hadn't heard before, and hoped to never hear again. It sounded like a mix of grinding iron and dogs howling.

“The Vorlon's are only one of the first ones,” Delenn looked away from the stone in disgust, clearly working to control her stomach, “That... thing is a toy used by one of the worst of them. Arrogant and immortal they delight in toying with the younger races in life and in death. A prison for the soul so they might delight in playing with it or destroying it on a whim.”

“Other first ones?” Great, just what he needed, more races that the Earth Alliance knew nothing about with powerful technologies and questionable motives. More than questionable if Delenn's information was to be trusted, “Do they... have they come back to this sector?”

“Oh no,” Delenn shook her head disgustedly, “We aren't evolved enough for them to bother with, not a threat to them. But that means little to a race so capricious and cruel.”

“Greater wisdom never spoken,” crooned Vira'Capac, “Trust not the never dying. Foolish creatures they are. Greater fools they will be.”

“If you all are done discussing matters of which you know little and understand less,” The Inquisitor shouted, his furious decry repeating from the voices of all his impromptu psychic choir in debased echoes, “It is done.”

The stone hovered in the center of the concentric circles leading from the door, taking care not to step through the salt. The runes across the floor radiated a powerful red burst of energy then dissolved into a near invisible shimmer across the floor. Garibaldi reached out to touch it only to have his hand slapped back by Daul furiously with the scabbard of his sword, “Have you lost your mind? It's a soul trap. It will trap any soul to pass into it.”

“So what,” Garibaldi nursed his hand gingerly, “We wait for it to come to us and just step in? Just like that?”

“Exactly like that Mr. Garibaldi. We have what it wants in this room. Enough psychics to give it the power to pull this station back into the realm of chaos,” The Inquisitor laughed, sure of himself, “It will come. It has no choice. It will seek out the greatest source of psychic energies, which is of course my trap in the door.”

A howling scream echoed through the station, seeping into John's very marrow. Amis laughed, “It comes, thirsting for blood! Can't you hear it? Can't you see it? I can hear the songs of suffering in my teeth. The prince of the impossible path comes! Shel'za'bek'na'kezzak comes!”

“What?” Daul screamed, reaching down and grabbing the man by his collar, shaking him soundly, “You knew the creature's true name? By the Throne why did you not tell me that ages ago? Fool of a man! Hundreds die for your insolence.”

“It come to us... it comes to us,” Amis quirked his head, eyes widening beyond their natural size, “But why would it come through small door when there is an entrance worthy of it's presence?”

“Small door? What other door...” John turned around to the airlock as though seeing it for the first time, “Inquisitor, you said these things don't have to obey natural laws. Is breathing one of those laws they don't have to follow?”

“Throne, no.” Daul turned to the gaping mouth of the docking bay in horror as his cyborg bodyguard dragged him back to safety. Thross warbled furiously trying to keep the furious Inquisitor back from danger, “By His will... no...”

The doors to the docking bay shook and groaned as the gears struggled against the beast's demonically enhanced strength. The creature, twice the size it had been in the market palace howled in victory as it shoved its bulbous bulk through the opening and into the docking bay. It's hands smoked slightly at the touch of iron on it's flesh but only slightly, stronger for having consumed its minions.

“No...no...no... screamed Daul, “This wasn't supposed to happen blood of the Emperor this wasn't supposed to happen,” He turned to Tuul, “Fire, fire, fire everything.”

The bulky servitor constructs advances on the demon, their massive weapons firing explosives. The shells burst upon the creature's flesh, showering the deck with offal and acidic blood that smoked poisonous vapors. The Alliance security officers fired their side arms into the open wounds, PPG fire blistering the wounded flesh and lighting small fires in the open wounds.

Tuul directed the servitors, standing in the back and firing great gouts of plasma fire from his heavy cybernetic harness. The psychic choir did their best to harry the beast with their own skills. though if the pained looks on their faces were anything to judge by they did so with little to no success.

The creature simply stood there laughing from its many tiny mouths, “Playthings, puppets of the false corpse to be. Morsels unworthy of my pallet, oh how you bicker and whine.”

It batted a claw and bisected one of the servitor constructs, severing its legs from its torso at the knee. The servitor continued firing, oblivious to its injury even as its vital fluids seeped into the deck, pooling with the smoldering puddles of flaming poisons. Two security officers rushed in, grabbing the servitor by the armpits and dragging it away, trying to get it to safety.

The demon howled with amusement and opened its great oblong maw in anuran parody, firing a long barbed tongue out and dragging one of the officers into its mouth whole. It swallowed excruciatingly slowly, luxuriating in the amusing wriggles of the dying man. It chortle amusedly to itself and sung a perverse parody of song, like nails on a chalkboard, as it played with the mortals like a cat toying with its prey.

Even the explosive shells of the servitors did little more than annoy the beast as it went about its fun. Miss Winters screamed at the top of her lungs, waving her arms and trying to draw the beast into the Inquisitor's trap. Her effort failed magnificently when a servitor weapon misfired, blowing up inside the magazine and tossing her backwards and into the circle.

The runes flared and Susan screamed as though the flesh were being ripped from her bones. The red stone swirled with color and turned to black, dropping to the ground next to Miss Winter's unmoving form. Garibaldi tried to rush out of cover to her but was stopped by Delenn's firm grip, “She is gone Mr. Garibaldi. There is no undoing what has been done to her. Focus on your own life.”

“Frag this,” John turned to Garibaldi, “This thing needs to go down. Do we have any solutions left? Anything at all?”

“Captain the Inquisitor’s plan was our hail mary play. I've got nothing,” Garibaldi gnashed his teeth, “We're going to have to order the Beijing beauty to fire on the station. I dare that bastard to stand up to a laser barrage.”

“Are you insane Garibaldi,” John shook his head, “We would kill hundreds, maybe even thousands of people on the station.”

“Do you have a better idea sir? I'm willing to hear it.”

“No... it is... I cannot... but I must. For the Emperor I must,” the Inquisitor looked into his hands muttering in utter contempt. John recognized the tone of voice. Hilder was convincing himself of the necessity of something, something he considered more repugnant than anything he'd done before, “Emperor forgive me but it must be done. By my soul it must be done.”

“Inquisitor?” Tuul hissed in nervous monotone reverting to his own language. John understood enough to catch the words “regret” and “foolishness.” Hilder wasn't to be dissuaded however. The man stood and walked across the docking bay, away from the fighting and to a huddled man sobbing behind a crate.

The Inquisitor reached down and pulled the man to his feet. Amis stared into the Inquisitor's face, his eyes full of tears as the taller man pulled the skull off of his head to let Ami's look into his face. Inquisitor Hilder's voice saddened as he put his hand comfortingly onto Ami's shoulder, “Tell me Amis are you free of sin.”

“Just do it,” Amis spat into the Inquisitor's face, “We've both known this is coming since the second you freed me from my cell.”

“Yes,” The Inquisitor sighed sadly, “Perhaps I did.”

The two stared into each other's eyes for a moment more before Daul drove his sword into Amis' heart without warning. John screamed in protest but didn't dare approaching the two men. Coruscating black lightning burst from Amis's gaping wound, winding around the Inquisitor and binding the demon at the wrists and neck, dragging it towards Amis.

The demon howled and screamed, clawing at the deck. It tore deep furrows into the plating as it inevitably was pulled towards Amis. The Inquisitor stared at the beast coldly, impassively, repeating the beast's true name again and again. The creature howled piteously as cowardice overtook it, its flesh disappearing into insubstantial vapors consumed by the lightning.

The Inquisitor pulled his blade from Amis and the lightning and vapors pulled back around Ami's body, forming into thick chains of purest obsidian worked with gold. The Inquisitor sliced his own finger with the blade and drew on the convulsing man's chest, drawing runes into Amis' flesh with his life's blood. The runes bubbled and melted inwards, glowing with molten heat and scarring into permanent markers of the Inquisitor's handiwork.

“ Shel'za'bek'na'kezzak I name thee Losiencheoir once and bind the,” The Inquisitor flicked his blood across the smoldering corpse wrapped in chains, “Shel'za'bek'na'kezzak I name thee Losiencheoir twice and command thee. Shel'za'bek'na'kezzak I name thee Losiencheoir thrice and make thee mine.”

“No!” Amis howled in a voice not his own. The chained body lifted from the ground hovering in front of the Inquisitor, struggling with its bindings and howling in defiance, “Why have you done this? How have you done this? Release me. Release me or I shall reign fire and suffering down on you and your kin for ten generations to come.”

“Silence beast,” The Inquisitor slapped Amis, or rather what had used to be Amis, across the face with the broad side of his hand, “You speak only when spoken to.” The creature growled angrily, working its jaws in furious effort, but to no effect. No noise left its lips.

“What have you done Inquisitor?” Delenn stared at him in terror, “What have you done.”

“What I always do,” The Inquisitor’s eyes flickered with renewed sparks of balefire, the hard edge John knew to be the true Daul Hilder returning to the man's eyes, “What I must. I do what I must.”

“You killed him,” Garibaldi stared into the hateful eyes of what had once been Amis. It was not a question, “You sacrificed him to bind that creature to his body.”

“Yes,” Inquisitor Hilder stared at the bound demon regretfully, “Were I stronger I might have taken the beast... but in my current state I needed a subtler method. I did not condemin him to this lightly.”

“Then you condemn yourself as well,” Growled an angry metallic voice from the entrance. The towering from of Kosh the Vorlon Ambassador glided in past the prostrate form of Susan. The Vorlon's red eye stared from the blackened soul stone to the hovering demon bound in mortal flesh, “Those who consort with the creatures of the third space cannot be permitted to exist.”

“And do you intend to kill me Ambassador?” Inquisitor Daul grabbed the pommel of his sword firmly. Cairn, snapped his remaining pincers ominously and fingered the trigger of his pistols eagerly.

“Yes.” The room went cold as the Vorlon drew in power, a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors flashing down his chest. The room shuddered and shook, the already stunned defenders struggling to their feet, looking to John for orders. Orders that he had no idea how to give.

Did he defend Daul or support the Vorlon?

The chronometer on Tuul's waist chittered in furious alarm. The Imperials all stopped preparing to fight looking at each other in mild surprise. Tuul laughed in his dull drone, “It would seem that you will get your wish Ambassador. But not, I suspect, the way you planned for it to happen.”

“No,” Kosh hissed in fury apparently getting, “You wouldn't.”

Inquisitor Hilder smiled at Kosh his face more at peace than John had ever seen it, “Wouldn't I?”


Sáclair stared at the slowly blinking chronometer, blinking the tears out of his eyes. Emperor forgive him, “Fire forward batteries, full salvo.”




A/N: I apologize for the wait. Next chapter soon and it's gonna be a doozy.
 

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A hundred crewmen and servitors struggled with the elephantine form of a cyclonic torpedo, shoving the titanic atomic projectile into the firing chamber of the forward torpedo tube. The chains lashed to its sides groaned in duress as the cylinder yanked forwards. Heave, grind, heave, and grind, little by little making its way. A larger ship would have used automated systems but the Endless Bounty made due with sweat and recalcitrance.

"Forward you gutless sons of whores," bellowed the foreman. His smoke darkened voice whistled with each breath through a twist of broken nose, only hinting at the man's fondness for using the long black whip lashed to his belt, "Put your backs into it!"

Osma disliked the foreman greatly. Corporal punishment had its uses, even the writings of the Saints and Primarchs spoke of that, but there was a difference between administering just force and simply being a bully. Osma did not like bullies.

It seemed utterly pointless to shout at the gunnery crew. Half of them were deaf to begin with. And the half that wasn't deaf had their ears plugged with wadded cloth or tallow to block the sounds of the heavy machinery.

His lip curled in disgust as the foreman lashed out at a crewman who'd slipped and fallen. The foreman's whip sliced through the air and cracked the man across the back, slashing the back of the man's shirt, "Up you lazy slug! Up and work like a man."

Osma chewed his lip, reminding himself that it was the foreman's right to flog lagging crewmen as he saw fit. It was not his place to question the command of Mr. Andrews without lodging complaints with the chain of command. Complaints that would be ignored, no doubt. Rebuking crewmen was hardly a crime.

Saboteurs were his only concern at the moment. Best to keep his focus Osma reminded himself, "The Amon Sui won't lose theirs over a flogging."

"Sir?" Officer Friedrich asked nervously, rubbing the stubble on his chin in frustration. A Belzafester by birth Friedrich often seemed out of his element on the Endless Bounty and its naval code of justice. He would learn with time.

"Concentration my boy. Don't lose yours," Osma growled over the sound of the team wedging the torpedo into place. The dense airlock door was lowered by a dozen Ogryn manipulating a heavy iron crank. The screeching hiss of pressurized air sucking out of the breach drowned out Freidrich's reply in a wave of noise, drowning out the internal communication systems of the Adeptus Arbities issue armor.

Osma could just barely make out the foreman's lips mouthing the words, "Move you pathetic piles of puss," through the thick vapor of pressurized air and machine lubricants. The translucent brown mist hovered in the weak artificial gravity, leaving ghostlike outlines of smoke where men and servitors wandered through them.

"Blood of Hourus," Swore Friedrich as he tore his helmet from his head to furiously rub at his ears with the palm of his left hand. It would seem that Friedrich hadn't disabled his helmet's autosenses. The already defining sound would have been amplified and focused tenfold, "What was that?"

Osma yanked the dazed Friederich behind the hazard markings on the floor by his combat webbing pulling him to safety as a pillar rocketed down and clamped to the socket Friedrich had been standing on top of only seconds ago. A blue coruscating field of energy danced down the pillar feeding energy into the forward battery.

Osma slapped Fredrich's shoulder's conciliatory, his glove thudding indistinctly on the ceramite plating, "Up boy, we have work to do. If you can't be bothered to remember the safety procedures in my mission briefings you won't survive long on this ship. The Endless Bounty is a treacherous mistress, you disrespect her for a second and she'll leave you crippled killed or worse."

Friedrich yelled something rude in the Belzafester language that Osma took as an agreement, stepping quickly to avoid treading on a crewman's foot. Perhaps the "man" part of crewman was overly generous, the child couldn't have been more than eleven or twelve, but a couple of missing fingers and a limp marked him as a veteran of the guns. Orphans were ten coppers for a dozen on the Endless Bounty, substantially cheaper than the specialized servo skulls that were otherwise necessary for the delicate and dangerous work of a powder monkey.

The foreman's hand flexed excitedly as though to lash the boy for daring to limp rather than scurry. He thought better of it in short order, the foreman knew Osma's respect for the foreman's position would count for nothing the second he loosed his lash on a child. Explaining the summary execution of a foreman to Mr. Andrews would be difficult but not impossible.

Apparently shocked by the foreman's lapse the boy looked at Osma. Eyes too old for their face met Osma's, marked with the determined hardness. Osma smiled at the boy and received an shy grin, rusty from lack of practice in return. The boy hobbled away soon after, unwilling to press the foreman's patience. Throne but the boy reminded him of Ephraim. His thoughts often drifted back to Ephraim.

Ephraim's laugh, his foolish impulsiveness, his fondness for stories of the great saints Ephraim was the picture of childish innocence. The hollow emptiness in the child's eyes was still there, but less so now that he was in the primary school of Mistress Terwani. Incorrigibly cheerful and infectiously competent the schoolmistress had worked miracles in bringing Ephraim out from his shell. The child still flinched whenever Osma made the mistake of talking in more than a whisper but progress was progress.

He only wished his investigations into the Amon Sui had flowed as smoothly. The child's knowledge of his former mentor's dealings was negligible other than a vague knowledge of his chores. The boy had been too young for any real responsibility, adopted in anticipation of future utility. Though he would never admit it to Nor, he was grateful that the Medicus had forced him to take the boy.

He'd never though of himself as a father, nor had he ever particularly had the urge for a family. His profession was too dangerous for him to bring a wife or child into the mix. Family could be captured, ransomed, used against a lawman. Most ships of the Emperor's most great and glorious navy even forbade their lawmen from having families at all.

Osma lived his life for the Emperor's justice. It had been his brother Namir who'd been on the path to a wife and children. Namir was supposed to carry on the family legacy.

Namir who was dead, along with his young wife.

Namir... Throne but the boy's willful spirit was like Namir's. Namir had driven their father to the point of madness with questions and observations, and it seemed as though Ephraim would do the same given time. The child was hard, too hard for a boy of five, but for a song and a story the child was willing to try and move the stars. He caught himself humming an old Amon Sui lullaby and stifled it with a cough.

Not fast enough though, Friedrich snorted and muttered something about "new fathers being worse than moon eyed lovers." The Belzafester was all too comfortable joking in public about matters best left behind closed doors. It was indecent. The man would be discussing light skirted women before the day's end.

"One more word Officer Friedrich and I will have you scrubbing pots with the new recruits," Osma grunted a slightly petulant growl. His indignation only seemed to amuse Friedrich more, that odd Belzafester humor again. How was one supposed to get any work done when every third word was taken as a joke?

Red klaxon's flashed heralding deafening sirens. The guns were firing soon, woe betide anyone who was in the way of the firing mechanisms. Osma frog marched Friedrich forward unceremoniously into one of the hexagonal safe zones marked off with hazard tape, "Come on then funny man, lets laugh in a place that won't kill you for standing in it."

Friedrich only laughed harder in reply. He really was an astoundingly strange man.

The gun batteries growled in ear-splitting staccato, massive pistons and servos shifting the titanic weapons into place. The dozen servitors dedicated to the targeting computer on each gun groaned in an unsettling chorus of tactical data and technical information, filling what little silence remained. Their glassy eyes looked past the sheer wall of the bulkhead and into space, seeing what could not be seen by the naked eye.

"Come on then you grox lipped pinch pocketed rapscallions, the Emperor can't be here personally but we can bloody well be his flaming fist in the meanwhile," The foreman was working himself into a fervor, smacking his chest with the hilt of his whip in eager rhythm. His lips worked counting down from five again and again in eagerness.

The gunners all waited with baited breath, unmoving anticipation simmering in every man jack's belly. Five four three two one, five four three two one, five four three two one. They all mouthed the words over and over again, hoping, waiting, and praying.

And then it came. The klaxons shifted from red to blue, and the floor sparked with coruscating energy off the main energy feed into the gun batteries. Brilliant arks of tessellating lighting danced along the exposed feeds, screaming and spitting as drips of oil and water fell from pipes overhead.

"Fire forward batteries, full salvo." Bellowed the voice of the captain over the loudspeaker, barely audible in the din of cheering voices and screeching metal. The gunners sung a horribly out of tune chant of victory as the final firing pistons locked into place, charged, and then... nothing.

The chanting turned to stunned disbelief as the coruscating power feeds died along with the lights, plunging the room into utter darkness and disabling the gun batteries entirely. Furious voices howled curses as darkness broke from the light of glow sticks and personal illuminators.

"Bastard Amon Sui!" Osma snarled hefting his shotgun in fury and hurrying in the direction of the closest power station, "Come Friedrich, we have work to do."
--

Several pregnant moments passed in silence before it occurred to Daul that the cyclonic payload that ought to have destroyed the station already had yet to arrive. It was an unfortunate peculiarity that had not been lost on Ambassador Kosh as he took it upon himself to remove the Inquisitor form the mortal coil in an astonishing burst of psychic power.

No two psychic attacks were alike; the way in which a psychic connected with the warp to draw upon its energies was deeply rooted within one's state of mind. The raving and ravenous lashing out of a chaos cultist or rabid mutant broiled with anger and filth, the roiling power of the Eldar seethed with an ancient and primal force, the sanctioned psychics of the Imperium teetered with barely controlled agitation, and even a Space Marine librarian rumbled with the force of his own conviction.

The Vorlon was none of these. The attack that ruptured Daul's left arm at the elbow and sent him tumbling backwards gave no warning, just dispassionate surgical precision. His own runic protections and psychic hood crushed under the unexpected assault, cut out from under him before they could protect him.

Searing pain was distant in his mind as he sailed through the air his eyes stared uncomprehendingly at the bloodied stump of what had once been his left arm sprayed a thick red spray of vital liquid across the deck.

He sat for a few seconds, mildly aware of the sounds of gunfire, mildly aware that he ought to be howling in pain before indulging in his agony. Wailing like a baby while grasping at the thin tendrils of visceral trailing back to his arm in a vain effort to re-attach it, Daul wallowed in pain.

The Inquisitor's mind simply refused to admit that his body had been crippled and maimed, though the rapid loss of blood aided that greatly. Bright flashes of laser fire and plasma bursts seared through the air as Daul fumbled through a satchel at his side, fingers blundering about for a syringe of pain inhibitor.

Pudgy hands grabbed him by the neck and dragged him backwards away from the fighting. The chubby cheeked secretary to the Centauri Ambassador puffed and wheezed with exertion as he moved the substantially larger Inquisitor, "Come on, come on, you need to move Inquisitor. You need to move now!"

Daul kicked his legs across the floor, hindering their progress as much as helping in his incoherence. His stump throbbed with pain from the treatment. The fingers of his remaining hand found the syringe in his bag. Without thinking he tried to remove the cap with his missing left hand, twisting his left side agonizingly into the edge of the crate Vir had chosen to shelter behind. Daul swore furiously in High Gothic and dropped the syringe into his lap.

He bit his lip and sobbed slightly staring at the blood seeping past his fingers as he did his best to compress the wound with his right hand. Hopeless Metzik words of prayer slipped from unwilling lips, "Throne help me!"

"Stop squirming and Vira'capac will fix," crooned the annoyed voice of the alien bending over him. Sinewy fingers yanked Daul's hand away, shoving an uncapped needle into the open wound and injecting a local anesthetic. Blissful lightheadedness kissed its way through Daul's butchered body.

The wide Centauri did his best to compress the wound with a silk scarf, vainly trying to stem the flow of blood, "If we don't get this sealed he's going to bleed out."

"Always problems, problems and more problems," The Kroot reached back into his mess of quills and twisted, freeing one of them from his scalp with a squelching pop. The hollow protrusion of bone dripped a viscous yellow liquid that hissed and spat as it hit the deck, a concentrated venom unique to Vira'capac, "Man things haven't learned that must listen to Vira'capac."

Vira'capac shoved Daul to the floor with his foot, then squatted upon Daul's chest, putting A torturous amount of pressure on Daul's shoulder to stem the flow of blood. A taloned hand pressed the dripping venom of the quill against the wound spreading searing mordant pain as the vitriolic liquid forced coagulation. In Vira'capac's prey it the venom caused immediate blood clots and aneurism but it might well save Daul's life.

Vir tied the blood soaked silk in a tight tourniquet around the injury, shimmering gold fabric clashing with thick red-black stains of blood. The little man's fingers shook nervously as he tied a knot of fabric. The Centauri had more of a spine than Daul would have credited him with, most professional soldiers wouldn't have had the stomach to help him.

A long gouge of psychic blue flames tore across the floor, boiling away steel and flesh with impunity. An unfortunate alliance security officer howled with agony as he was rendered down to a small puddle of smoldering viscera and cracked skeleton, his screams drowned the rapid whistling escape of steam flesh.

"Maker's curse," Vir wretched but, to his credit, managed not to lose the contents of his stomach. Though by the look on the Centauri's face, it was a near miss.

Daul allowed Vira'capac to lift him from the floor, wobbling as he reminded himself not to steady himself on the crate with his missing arm. His head swam from pain and blood loss, but there was no time for injury. The Lionhearts and human psychics fought a losing battle against, laser fire and bolter shot colliding harmlessly with a flaming corona of blue lightning protecting the snarling Vorlon.

Next to a cored out remnant of a combat servitor Cairn's broken form lay prostrate before the Vorlon, crushed legs flailing uselessly as the Skitarii lashed out with his mechandrites against the telekinetic shield as Tuul pulled him backwards. The Vorlon ignored Cairn, approaching Daul with relentless patience. Step by step, a cyclopean monster of death.

"We aren't dead." His mind was a disconnected jumble of thoughts and feelings, divorced from the raging battle and glacial advance of the Vorlon, "Eye of Horus the bastard lost his nerve... we aren't dead!"

But why? There must have been a reason... by the Throne Abbas. How could he have been so blind? He should have realized it the second that he saw Tuul. There was no way that Sáclair was going to destroy the station with Abbas on board. Sáclair's love would be his undoing.

One should never underestimate a parent's love. Daul knew that with piercing clarity.

"No... no I will not allow myself to die in this way. I am Daul bloody Hilder not some cowering wretch! You hear me you xenos son of a whore? You can't kill me!" Daul held up his remaining arm and focused his own pain and rage into one burst of psychic force. A resounding burst of purple lightning flew from his fingers, bisecting the protective telekinetic shell of the Vorlon's shield and colliding with the center mass of the encounter suit.

The irregular jeweled chest of the Vorlon flashed and sparked, the scintillating flows of energy coruscating harmlessly across the encounter suit, seemingly invigorating the Vorlon rather than harming it. It screeched something that might have been a laugh, gliding forwards purposefully.

The bolter round that collided with the unshielded encounter suit was not met with equal impunity. The explosion tossed the Vorlon a meter back and tore a sizable hole in the Vorlon's encounter suit, exposing glowing crystalline flesh beneath. Shimmering rivulets of red ichorous blood dripped from the hovering xenos. The creature smote the war servitor, exploding it's head with beam of sorcerous energies.

"Glorious," Chuckled the dull rasping whisper. a voice that Daul had never heard in his life, though his recognition was immediate. Losiencheoir hovered above him, his chains hanging from splayed limbs like some grotesque marionette. The demon leered amusedly at his captor through twisted face of what had once been Amis, eagerly anticipating his rapidly approaching freedom.

A freedom that Daul could ill afford. A tool that he could not afford to ignore, "Losiencheoir... kill."

"Of course my master." The Demonhost trilled, almost lazily, before tossing itself forwards.
--
John struggled to move the form of Talia Winters, aided by the surprisingly strong Imperial clergyman Al'Ashir. She groaned and muttered about something being wrong as they dragged her back into the customs lounge and away from the gunfire. It hadn't taken long for John to issue the retreat order. Once the first man turned into a pile of liquid flesh it became readily apparent that a new strategy was necessary. It hadn't taken much to convince station security that discretion was the better part of valor.

He would have order on his station but for now his priority was getting the non-combatant civilians Ambassadors out of harm's way. Let the fools kill each other.

"Is anyone on this station not completely insane today," Garibaldi swore angrily as he fought to drag a furiously kicking Delenn away from the battle. His efforts were rewarded with an odd combination of Minbari martial arts that left him clutching air. The retired Gropo staggered but reached out and grabbed the Ambassador by her hair, yanking hard. The Minbari ambassador, unaccustomed to factoring that into her self defense, yelped in surprise and dropped down on one knee, "Jesus Delenn, get a hold of yourself! We're on your side remember?"

"Mr. Garibaldi if you do not let go of me immediately I will do you great bodily harm," the Minbari ambassador exhaled deeply, struggling to get herself back in control of her emotions, "None of this was supposed to happen. None of it."

Mr. Garibaldi let go of her, his toss slightly more rough than what was strictly necessary, "What good does tossing yourself back into that nightmare do?"

"I have to try and stop them," Delenn stood up and wrung her hands together in a worrying gesture, the soft blue fabric of her robes shed little motes of dust with every shake. She wore an expression on her face that John hadn't ever seen before, a worried innocent hopelessness like a child watching her parents fighting for the first time, "This cannot be allowed to continue."

John rested his hand on her shoulder comfortingly. She stared back at him, her soulful grey eyes pooling with tears. Little rivulets of grief and pain streaked the dust and muck of the day down her cheeks, emphasizing the dimpling of her right cheek in a way that was totally inappropriate to be thinking of at the moment.

"Delenn, this is happening. It is happening to us in the here and now," Delenn turned her head, staring away from the sincerity in his voice, "If you go back into there I can't guarantee your safety and I cannot in good conscience allow you to walk to your death. You will not go back in there. Killing yourself does no good to anyone."

Delenn opened her mouth to protest but shut her teeth with a click and wiped the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her robe, "You do not understand Captain. You cannot hope to understand." She did not, however, try to re-enter the docking bay.

Michael massaged his hands, "I've had it up to here with surprises today Sir."

"We aren't done yet," John wiped the sweat from his brow and flinched as someone screamed in the cargo bay. Earlier this week he'd been thinking that he wanted to know Kosh better as a friend and ally. Today he was wondering if he should be killed. "Do you remember what happened the last time the Vorlons felt the younger races weren't playing by the rules?"

"Death-walker, just perfect." Michael groaned, "This day just keeps getting better."

Delenn's eyes widened and her face paled. The Vorlons had intervened immediately and decisively do remove Deathwalker, assassinating her as she was transported of Babylon 5. The Vorlon solution to any perceived threat to their Empire would be equally swift and permanent.

"Down fast! Danger bad times!" Screamed the Imperial priest in his haphazard patois, dropping flat against the ground as the massive and bulbous severed head of a war servitor bounced into the customs area, knocking a trio of retreating security officers down like bowling pins.

John retched but he had nothing left in his stomach to purge but a coppery taste of sick. He covered his mouth and coughed at the nauseating smell of the thick white ichorous blood of the servitor. The poor thing was long dead; it simply didn't know it yet. The decapitated servitor's wide mouth continued to work noiselessly screeching in agony, cybernetic eyes the size of oranges shifting around in apparent bewilderment.

Garibaldi shot the poor creature between its eyes. It was a small mercy.

"Garibaldi," John wiped his lips with the back of his hand, "I need you to get ready to vent the atmosphere from the docking bay. A full vent, knock all the air and expose the bay to vacuum."

"We might kill everyone in there," it was not a refusal, simply a statement of fact. Garibaldi could, and would, do anything necessary to ensure the safety of Babylon 5, "The humans and some of the Imperials weren't wearing pressure suits. And I doubt that the Vorlon will be much more than annoyed by being tossed into space."

"The ones not in pressure suits will have to get to the Imperial transport. I'm not the one who had them start a war in my docking bay but I'm will be the one to stop it," Noticing Father Al'Ashir was edging towards the door John aimed his side arm at the Imperial priest,, "I wouldn't."

"Andrews," yelled Garibaldi, "We got anyone still in the bay?"

"Gomez and Martinez are on the other side of the bay... it looked like Martinez was hurt bad. I don't think either of them had long to live a minute tops," A haggard man with a slight lisp growled, "Other than that they're all active combatants. I saw the Centauri go down behind a crate after getting strafed by Kosh... I think he's probably dead as well."

"Then seal the inner doors and vent the bay," John fired a warning shot in from of Al'Ashir when the priest twitched, clearly planning to make a break for the door, "Now."

Delenn said nothing, staring at the docking bay with an unreadable expression. She did not protest John's gentle shepherding towards the CnC, continuing her silent contemplation of the room beyond.
--

"Power from the main batteries has gone elsewhere milord," Donat snarled in fury disgustedly manipulating the manual controls to the ships forward guns, "Bastard Amon Sui, we can aiding demonic heresy to the list of charges we can execute them for."

"Gone? Gone where exactly?" Sáclair's heart hammered with a mix of fury and exaltation. He might well kiss the Amon Sui before he gave the order to hang them. Abbas was alive, for now. But how had they done it? He hadn't felt even the slightest hiccup from the ships control interface.

Even how he felt totally normal in his melding with the ship. He could feel the guns, he knew that he should be able to use them but they just would not respond no matter what he did. It was like the shadow of a lost limb. His body stretched and reached with long missing fingers of willpower.

"I can't tell," Donat's eyes back and forth in concentration, reading the hololithic reports intently. Had the man been able to his lip would have been curled and his brow furrowed, "The ships machine spirit is... disobeying me. I do not know why, this is Sácomer's area of expertise not my own. All I can tell you for sure is that the warp drive and guns are inoperative. "

"Figure it out Mr. Enzo," Sácomer would be of no use to them. Nor had authorized treatment for Sácomer's hysterical blubbering and near psychotic sorrow with a shot of Demeros extract. Provided that they could convince Sácomer to come back on duty it was unlikely that he'd be of use for anything more complicated than watching his own hand wave. Throne but that insufferable lush was turning out to be a liability.

"Sir I do not know what I'm supposed to do, all my status reports claim that the power is being properly routed to the guns, but the guns are not receiving any power." Donat cut in curtly. In his frustration Donat grabbed one of the hovering servo skulls. The skull screeched in protest as Donat banged in on the keyboard. Small fragments of bone cracked off with every collision upon the gilded marble runes, "There is no system error. I cannot find anything wrong with the system. Power is being drawn from the reactors but it is not going to the guns. There simply isn't anything wrong."

"Then it is not the Amon Sui," Sáclair drummed his fingers upon the arm of his throne, his skin crawling from the implication, "The Amon are not elegant enough for this sort of work. It would take the knowledge of a... of a Magos..." The word hit him like a cannon shot, knocking the breath out of him and sending him reeling. Sáclair closed his eyes immersed himself within the ship, not just passively so but bathing himself in the sensation of each individual system of the Endless Bounty.

It did not take long before he realized that the Endless Bounty, normally so willing and pliant to his every caress, was leading him on paths away from where he wished to go. His subtle nudges to the left would lead him right, he would go up in the system hierarchy and discover that he was in a totally unrelated subroutine. Mazes within mazes, traps within traps. Someone had turned his own ship against him.

It was worse than the worst violation of his trust. His ship, his body in ways more real than his moral husk could ever be had been turned against him. He felt sick, as though he were being used and discarded like the lowest of scullery maids to catch her master's eye. Someone had twisted his ship, his body and was using it against his will and judgment.

And he knew exactly to whom he must attribute this trespass. With each new twist and turn away from him that the ship's spirit twisted he screamed in his own mind, "Magos scum! Traitor! Reviler! Betrayer!" Sáclair wasn't sure if it was his own anger or that of his ancestors that boiled in his veins and set fire to all the rage he'd been holding in his heart. This was a torture of the mind to rival any of the flesh. And he would not stand for it, "No more, never again"

He could feel another presence within the ship's mind struggling against him to build new barriers within the ship's code. Dazzling lines of binary tried to bind him with cords of redundant code. Streams of logic attempted to sever him from the ships system. Resplendent data worms writhed about him, wriggling maggots searching for the weaknesses in his armor.

However the bloodline of Sáclair would not be stopped. He smashed the paper thin barriers of misdirection, crushing the elaborate halls of glass and mirrors hidden within the ship's spirit, freeing it from the invader. Victory was inevitable; the bounty was destined to be one with Sáclair.

The invader, seeing defeat in sight, released hold of the ships systems. The entrance by which the usurper entered the system was scourged, all traces of their identity purged from the system. It could never be proven who had done it without a shadow of a doubt. But Sáclair knew, he'd known from the first second he felt the elegance and poise of her defenses. He'd known as soon as his attacker had avoided trying to damage any necessary systems in the assault. The truly great betrayers were always those seeking to do no harm.

The power has been shunted away from weapons and into the shields. It was a clever way to avoid detection, innovative even. Almost as elegant as the way in which the psychical energy shunt had been hidden from him. Kerrigan had always been urbane; it was only fitting that her betrayal should be just as magnificent.

Magos obviously defied his orders, continuing work on an escape plan for the Inquisitor.

Sáclair opened his eyes and reached for a ruby command rune in the center of his private controls. The blood red stone gave way beneath his finger satisfyingly, sounding warning klaxons throughout the ship. There was battle to be done if he was going to salvage what was left of this, "I need the Lionhearts at full battle readiness. Find the Magos now. "

The astropathic indicator sounded over the battle klaxons, shrill whine adding to the din. Sáclair massaged his temples and manipulated the runes on his throne to display the combat heads up display on the great hololithic projector, "Of course the Earth Alliance fleet is early. Why wouldn't they be? It only stands to reason that with everything else that's..."

His furious rant turned to blind panic as he got a good look at the Battlecruiser, three escort ships, and their accompanying fighters that appeared from the swirling blue wormholes of light at the edge of the holo-display. He recognized them immediately, how could he not? They were smaller than the ships Faust had unearthed on Belzafest but the resemblance was unmistakable, though absent of black flesh and spines that the heretic warship held.

"Blood of The Emperor... Faust," the bastard had found them. And he'd come prepared, "Shields to maximum, evasive pattern E, and get me my damn guns online."
--

"流口水的婊子和猴子的笨兒子" Captain Li Xingjian's statement was colorful as always. Vorlon ships were uncommon; a man might go his entire lifetime without catching more than a glimpse of a Vorlon transport. One most certainly did not see a full Vorlon assault fleet, "What are they doing here?"

"We're receiving a transmission from them sir," Ensign Daniels cupped the headphone to his ear, listening intently. The Vorlons had a frustrating habit of transmitting demands in Interlac rather than actually responding to hails. His nose scrunched with confusion, "They're saying... The third must not be. The third will end."

"And the rest of it?" Klaus said, "The third of what?"

"They didn't say sir. They just said 'the third must not be. The third will end." Daniels shook his head looking down at his consul, "They're not transmitting any more. That was the whole message."

"Apparently someone does get that message. The Imperials have activated shields and are moving closer to the planet's gravity well," Ensign Peter's said from her spot at telemetry, "And they've deployed fighters... they've deployed a lot of fighters."

"Does Babylon 5 have any cameras out there?" Klaus leaned over the Ensign, perusing the data with great interest. Klaus was always thinking, always plotting. He was a stiff and boring sod, but he wasn't a slouch.

"On the main screen," Li waved his fingers expectantly. The monitor flashed to a scene on the far side of the planet. The Endless Bounty was hidden in a cluster of space debris, taking refuge behind the remains of a shattered Sharlin. The image flickered and blurred at odd moments, distorted by the cloud of radioactive gasses left over by the Sharlin's explosion.

"Sáclair is a crafty bastard I'll give him that," chuckled Klaus, "Whatever these shields are they play all merry hell with the surrounding radiation. Targeting individual fighters would be a nightmare in that."

"Not crafty enough I suspect," Li chuckled darkly. Tricks and games would work on many of the known races but the Vorlon reputation was well earned. Stories of entire war fleets disappearing after entering Vorlon space were more than mere myth. Legends given flesh and form.

Green darts flashed across distant space, a perverse beauty in their deadliness. They split from the Vorlon cruisers like flowering buds caught in a spring wind, elegantly twirling through the gaseous debris of Epsilon III. The flowering buds split into two groups, parting way for pulsing lances of Energy. The vicious verdant blast lanced through the gaseous debris and collided with the defensive screens of the Endless Bounty, exploding with a flaring pulse of radiation.

The image flickered into a deafening burst of static, the robot carrying the camera and likely any others in viewing distance of the Imperial ship had been rendered inoperative. Not that Li needed to see anything, his course of action was clear, "All hands to battle stations. Prepare targeting solutions for the Vorlon ships."

The bridge crew examined him with mixed looks of shock and horror. Obscured by bandages bruises and burns terrified eyes stared at him, clearly believing him mad. Klaus tapped his ears, apparently checking that they were still in working order, "Firing solutions on the Vorlons sir?"

"They've opened fire on a ship in Earth Alliance territory. I will not allow my personal feelings to undermine my duties as an Earthforce officer and we will not allow foreign powers to fight their wars in our space. Sheridan was abundantly clear in his orders that the Endless Bounty was under Earthforce protection," Li gnashed his teeth in irritation. The timing of this was too convenient. Sheridan knew that the Vorlons were coming, he had to have known. This was a ploy to discredit Li and his fellow officers, a plot to force them to disobey direct orders by not acting.

Well Li would not fall for it. And if Sheridan took the heat for getting the Earth Alliance in military conflict with the Vorlons that would simply be an added bonus. They may die, but there were worse things than death in the service of one's nation. Li would not make himself less of a man. He bellowed at the still gaping Klaus, "What are you waiting for? Launch fighters, and tell the commanders of what remains of our fleet to do the same. I'm taking command of this fight. "

Klaus swallowed and shook his head, visibly ill at the idea of fighting the Vorlons, "Sir I cannot comply with that order. It is insane."

"You have questioned my orders twice now Lt. Meyer. Do it a third time and I will have you arrested, taken to the brig, and court marshaled," Li narrowed his eyes and spat on the ground, a green globule of phlegm splattering on Klaus' polished leather shoes, "Complete my orders, now."

"Yes sir," Klaus nearly swallowed his tongue. The German was a proud and clever man but he was a coward. A little boy who joined the Army to play soldier but didn't want to play any more when the other team has better toys. Well all little boys had to grow up sooner or later.

The lights dimmed from sterile white to ominous sanguine red, setting the mood for the carnage to come. The view-screen's blurry mess of static gave way to a tactical display of Epsilon III, fed through the Babylon Five battle network. Blurry mass of dark blue sensor haze fluttered about in a dizzying surge from the hyperspace gate. Shimmering echoes the only real indicators that the Vorlon ships even existed.

His ship's engines were not operating at peak efficiency, even after the repairs they'd managed to do in the past day he could only hope for half speed at best. The other ships in the fleet weren't in substantially better states; none of them had been prepared for combat so soon. They needed at least another week in the dry docks to re-supply and repair but needs were musts, or so the saying goes.

He would accept the challenge.

He would win.

He was a survivor.

--

The Enginseer's maintenance corridors had been designed for ensuring the safety of the crew during a meltdown or depressurization. The long stretches of corridor were broken up by regularly occurring bulkheads and barriers, guarded by servitors and the Enginseers themselves.

He'd never even remotely considered that the ship's own defenses might be used by mutineers, much less by Magos Kerrigan. It was some small consultation that the men he'd assigned to guarding the entrance corridor to the teleporter had not accepted Kerrigan's mutiny. Provided that he could piece the bodies back together to figure out who'd been on duty they would get full military honors at their funerals.

Kerrigan was twenty bulkheads and a half mile of corridor filled with war servitors and servants of the Magos away from the Lionhearts. But nobody could stand up to the might of the Lionhearts onboard the Endless Bounty, or anywhere else for that matter. And Kerrigan was facing the entire might of the Lionhearts. Not a man jack had been left behind, save those too ill or too young for combat. Even so they were stretched thin; groups of twenty had been deployed to each of the computer terminals or power stations she could potentially be conducting operations from. None of which could be reached without breaching station defenses.

Even the aging Maziv had been conscripted into helping take down the rogue Magos. Not that they could have stopped him from coming even if the old fox had been ordered to stay behind once Danzig issued a code red alert over the Lionheart's comm. net. Maziv retired from heading the Lionhearts decades ago in practice, but never in spirit. The man was near blind in his milky white left eye and his legs cracked audibly when he ran but put a gun in that man's hands and he could work magic with it. In place of himself Danzig give Maziv the duty of guarding Sáclair, it would keep the old man out of harm's way without harming his pride or sense of duty.

He held up his fist and swept his open palm behind him, his fingers shifting in staccato hand talk to the company of men behind him. They lay belly to the floor on the wide staircase leading to the main repository of the ship's machine spirit. "Ten servitors at the door, unknown servo skulls overhead, they don't seem to have spotted anyone yet, snipers take your shots."

Ozone crackled and sparked past his face, white hot beams of energy rocketing across the corridor and bursting the bulbous bodied servitors like ripe melon. The skulls hissed and swarmed the Lionhearts. Their distorted screaming cries echoed off of the high gothic stonework of the ceiling, giving a disturbing musical cadence to the flying servitors.

Danzig fired into the mass of skulls with his plasma gun, burning a handful to cinders. His whoop of victory was short lived as he tumbled backwards in an acrobatic dodge. Gibbering skulls sliced his retreating form with cutting torches, scorching the hem of his patterned silk trousers. He smashed the offending machines with the butt of his rifle snarling as one of them cut his thigh, staining the silk a deeper shade of crimson, "Breaching team advance and blow the bulkhead. Cover them!"

The newly promoted Sgt. Hamman cackled with perverse glee as he slowly waded forwards at the head of his newly formed squad, keeping the swarms of skulls at bay with his beloved flamethrower. His men fired into the advancing swarms with shotguns between gouts of fire, shattering bone and electronics in a hail of shrapnel. The tight circle protected two men hefting innocuous double barreled contraptions, deceptive in their banality. The multi-melta was one of the deadliest hand held anti-armor weapons in the imperial arsenal. Once fired the device would agitate the subatomic structure of its target, literally cooking it from the inside out. Flesh and metal would burn away with ease.

"Movement upper service corridor six o' clock high," Sergei's voice whispered across the hallway, spirited directly into Danzig's ear through his comm. bead, "We got company."

"Ours or theirs?" Whispered one of the new recruits, the fear in his eyes emphasized by the baby fat still hanging from narrow cheeks. The boy should be learning his letters, not fighting on the front lines. Throne had they come to this? Sending children to fight, it was barbaric.

Danzig ducked into the relative cover of an alcove and pulled out his field glasses, squinting towards the distant scaffolding. Overlooking Sergei's position thirty yards down the corridor in front of their exit route. He could just make out the shape of hooded men fumbling with something before dropping to the ground, fumbling with something on a tripod, "Theirs! Sergei it's a crow's nest! Take cover."

"Where?" snarled the furious voice of Sergei, "Throne help us. We designed this damn corridor to be a slaughterhouse to anyone stupid enough to attack it."

The multi-laser twittered eagerly, firing green death into the men below. There was nowhere for the soldiers to run. Danzig snapped his field glasses shut, ill at the sight of his old companion Bal'tha's cooked and blackened chest. The Lionhearts opened fire on the scaffolding, but there was no way to get a line of sight on the gunners without throwing oneself in direct line of fire with the gun.

It was too far for grenades, too far for plasma fire or meta-fire. Damn and blast how were they going to take that damnable crow's nest out?

Three cracks echoed into the scaffolding, brilliant bolts of laser fire cutting into the robed men crouching with the tripod. Three heads dropped listlessly to the ground. Sala'ha's reaction times improved since Belzafest it would seem. The man swayed back and forth from his perch on a massive bass relief, nestled between an enormous marble nostril and a curving obsidian scrap of mustache. How Sala'ha had even managed to climb the face that quickly was a mystery but one should never look a gift grox in the mouth.

"Hamman I need that door open," Dazig snarled over his comm. bead, "Those three weren't part of the ship's automated defenses. She's here. She's in here."

The two multi-meltas opened fire upon the bulkhead with a humming growl. There was no bright flash or muzzle flare to indicate fire, only a hazy column of buzzing distortion and a bright patch of heating metal on the door. The air in the passageway shifted with the abrupt introduction of the new heat source, wafting the sickly sweet odor of scorched flesh into Danzig's nostrils. It disturbed him that the scent no longer disquieted his stomach.

Two minutes and they'd break through the first barrier to the next round of defenses. Twenty layers of two more minutes at a time while the ship was helpless. Damn Kerrigan's arrogance, damn her to the pit.

She would kill them all.

--

John crossed the threshold of the CnC, only dimly aware that he was leading Father Al'Ashir and Delenn. At what point was he going to get to just wake up from this nightmare? The Vorlons were staging a military operation in Earth Alliance territory. On his station, "No more."

Pushing Al'Ashir down into a chair next to a burnt out control consul and holstering his firearm John grabbed a status report from an exhausted Lt. Corwin. The Lieutenant parroted back a slipshod salute at John before a jumbled rush of words tumbled unintelligibly from his lips. The Lieutenant swallowed shook his head and continued in a more coherent fashion, sparing a look for Delenn and the priest, "Sir the Vorlons have opened fire on the Endless Bounty outside the operational range of our station defenses."

"Just perfect," John watched the distant green lances of energy, his heart pounding in his ears. The Vorlon ships were stronger than even the Minbari, far beyond even the best of the Earth Alliance Navy, "Can we scramble fighters in time?"

"I already gave the order as soon as they started shooting sir," Lt. Corwin stuttered over the word 'order,' clearly uncomfortable to take responsibility for military action against the Vorlon ships, "When Captain Xingjian issued the order to protect the Endless Bounty I..."

"Captain Xingjian?" Sheridan cut in incredulously. Xingjian's temper was second only to his stubbornness, so soon after suffering a defeat at the hands of the Endless Bounty Sheridan believed Xingjian would have to be dragged into the fight kicking and screaming the whole way, "Are the other ships fighting as well."

"Yes sir, what is left of Major Pearce's fleet has moved to assist the Imperial ship," Lt. Corwin shook his head, "But it won't be enough sir. Not even close."

"Show me," John said in resignation, waving at the view screen in annoyance, "And send a distress call to General Hague. We need his relief fleet here yesterday."

"Yes sir."

"And for God's sake somebody get a communication line open with the Imperials so they know who the friendlies in this fight are!"

"Garibaldi wants to know if you think it's safe to open the doors to the docking bay yet,"

"Captain," Delenn walked across the room and rested the fingers of her left hand in the center of his back, a gesture deliberately platonic in its pleading intimacy. They trembled slightly as she leant down see the tactical readout, "You need to trust Kosh. There are things that you do not know, that you can not know."

John brushed her arm aside, anger simmering just beneath his skin. He gripped her wrist tightly and growled through clenched teeth, "Then tell me. What is it that I should know? What is it that I need to understand? Why should I ignore the Vorlon war fleet attacking the people who just saved my station?"

"The wisdom of the older races isn't always immediately clear," Delenn pulled her wrist back and continued with a look of supreme serenity that clashed greatly with her torn robes and tousled hair, "But understanding is not important, only obedience."

"Ambassador I am not Minbari. I do not obey orders to murder an entire species without question," the insult left his mouth before he'd considered the severity of it. The words impacted with Delenn like a freight train, crushing her spirit faster than even the demon could have managed. Her eyes quivered with emotion as he asked, "Why am I to stop?"

"The Vorlons have their reasons," Delenn swallowed, "They aren't always obvious but..."

"But they're killing people on my station all the same," John shook his head, "Delenn, Kosh outright slaughtered a dozen people on my station without so much as a hello. If that is the sort of wisdom he's espousing then I want nothing to do with it."

Real pain tinted her voice as she spoke the words, "Captain, please... you cannot defeat them."

"I'm hoping not to have to," John nodded. A plan, nebulous though it was, formed in his head, "I'm hoping this can be resolved but I need your help. I need to stop the violence before we end up with a war between the Vorlons and Empire with Earth in the middle."

"War," Delenn's voice hitched and she closed her eyes tightly, steeling herself for what came next, "What do you want me to do?"

"It's time to reconnect with an old friend," John pointed at the display, tapping his finger upon Epsilon III, "One I believe might be able to help."
 

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"I need good news Mr. Enzo," Sáclair felt the dart ships of emptiness flying around him like bats in the dark. He could practically kiss the wake of their engines as they plowed their way through space. They sliced at the sides of the Endless Bounty beam weapons hitting the ships shields with disturbing accuracy and competence. Every way he turned, no matter how he moved the darts always seemed to be skimming along the surface of the ship's void shields, tearing at it with implacable resolve.

"Fighter wings are reporting no significant success. The damn fighters can take a hit from a lascannon and keep on kicking," Mr. Enzo punched Sácomer's control station in frustration, "We still have control of the anti-aircraft point defense batteries but they aren't strong enough to kill the fighters without concentrated hits to the same location."

The control room shook and pain burst in Sáclair's head. One of the enemy cruisers got a good shot in on the ship's bow as he jinked to escape the spine-chilling torrent of power fired by the battle-cruiser. That ships so small could contain the raw power of this magnitude was inconceivable.

How had Faust found them? How had he made so many ships in such a short time?

Sáclair had no guns, no warp drive, and no hope.

Blind and bound, the astropathic servitor chained to the great Throne began to speak in a voice altogether unsuited for her lithe body. A deep guttural reverberating snarl snuck from her lips, inhuman and reverberating. Her eyes glowed and her body twisted in shock, fighting the presence of the incoming astropathic transmission, "Surrender and die."

"They haven't mastered the whole ultimatum thing yet have they?" Sáclair quipped in disgust, a sensation of wild vertigo overtaking him as he bucked the ship down along it's z axis in a vain attempt to avoid a shot from the lead bioship. The green energy pulse bend to follow them as they moved, arking to glance along the stern. Only partially stopped by the voild shields of the Endless Bounty the attack gouged the adamantium hull, sounding decompression alarms in several recently repaired sections of hull.

"The Beijing Beauty and her sister ships are advancing on us sir," Donat chewed his lip in an uncharacteristic display of emption. "They've launched fighters."

"Damned treacherous snakes," Sáclair watched the blue triangles soar across his heads up display. Dozens of the starfury fighters, bearing down on them like bats out of hell, "Raring for another fight then are they?"

"Wait!" Navigator Illrich hissed, chiropteran nostrils flaring as his portrait flashed over the communications net. His wide black pupiled eyes crinkled with delighted zeal, "We're getting data from the tactical officer on the Babylon station. Throne be praised the Alliance fighters are coming to help."

"Fantastic, tell the fighter wings not to shoot the Alliance without provocation. It could still be a ploy on their part but at this point I won't turn anyone's help down," Sáclair continued to send the fire command to his gun batteries in impotent fury. Again and again depressing the firing controls in the direction of his attackers, again and again failing to fire.

The Earth Alliance cruisers fired into the Vorlon ships, but to little effect. The electronic countermeasures troubling the Endless Bounty must be causing hellish problems for the Alliance ships. Lances shot across the solar system only to miss their targets, disappearing harmlessly into the distance. It was like firing blindly into shadows.

Nothing, nothing at all. Damn, he'd been hoping that the Alliance would be better equipped for countering the bioship's defenses. They were altogether different from those used by the bioship Faust had used over Belzafest. Where the ship over Belzafest had been an empty void of nothing, the bioships attacking them now broadcast their presence overwhelmingly. Targets a hundred times too large to possibly be the bioships forced themselves into the Endless Bounty's sensor readings.

And it would seem that Faust learned from his mistake on Belzafest. The first effort to target the ship psychically ended badly for the unfortunate psychic tasked with targeting it. The poor bastard's head exploded in an astonishing shower of gore.

"Come on damn it, come on," Snarled Sáclair. He nearly took the head off of the serving girl who brought him a goblet of wine in his haste to drink it, tipping it back to his lips and savoring the sweet dryness of it, "Have at you then!"

The shapes danced around the Endless Bounty, blue triangles, crimson eagles, and green darts. A dart blinked out, then another, then a third, but too late. For each dart that disappeared a handful of red eagles and blue triangles simply disappeared.

"Sir!" The soot stained face of Mr. Andrews popped into view, "The Enginseers have managed to jury rig a manual firing device for the forward torpedoes."

"Well then," Sáclair shifted his shoulders eagerly, glad to have some bite to go with his bark, "We shall just have to make them count then shan't we? Hard to stern. Order Markusk's Raiders to assault the lead ship with their bombers."

"Markusk's Raiders," Donat clucked in understandable confusion. Markusk was under suspicion of collaborating with the Amon Sui onboard the ship. An odd choice for a high profile mission, "Sir, what are you planning to shoot at, there's no way we can target those ships. Their countermeasures are just too comprehensive."

"The defenses on those battleships are indeed too comprehensive," Sáclair swirled the dregs about his goblet in disgust, "The scrambling technologies on Markusk's bombers are not."

If nothing else he would get the pleasure of ridding himself of a handful of Amon Sui traitors today. One must always look for a silver lining after all. Donat relayed his orders without protest a cluster of the eagles soared across the hololith and into the blurry spot. A mess of green darts followed them, picking them off one by one.

First one eagle disappeared, then another, then another, and so on till there were only three eagles left. Their blurry forms fidgeted and twisted distantly on the display as they pierced the blurry bubbles, dogfighting with the darts around the lead ship of the trio.

Sáclair focused on the triangle of fighters, using it as a makeshift reticule. The torpedoes crossed the distance in moments, reaching their targets and exploding with nightmarish force. It wasn't spectacularly accurate, but then it really hadn't needed to be. The so called "planet cracker" torpedoes loaded into the forward tubes were a special payload requisitioned by Inquisitor Hilder intended for possible Exterminatus situations. The four cyclonic warheads exploded just beyond the fighters, engulfing a pocket of space in a bright blast of atomic fire.

The center blip disappeared.

"Reload the forward batteries," Sáclair whooped with glee, "And prepare another fighter wing." They'd exhausted the supply of planet cracker missiles brought by the Inquisitor but be damned Sáclair intended to make them bleed for every inch of space they wanted."
--

Vir wanted to be sick. He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. He wanted to crawl back into his nice warm bed and forget that he'd seen dying men, or attacking demons, or even furious Vorlon. However to achieve any of that he would first have to make sure that he managed to survive the next ten minutes or so.

Though he appeared to be the only one sane enough to have survival as an immediate goal. The Inquisitor was delirious with pain and clearly going into septic shock but insisted upon firing his side arm at the Vorlon with his remaining arm, ignoring the searing gouts of flame and energy being tossed by the Vorlon and Deamonhost like child's playthings.

The impressive servitors lay in heaps of charnel and smoking electronics. Smoking offal and wires covered a majority of the floor, squelching disgustingly underneath Vir's feet. He was dimly aware of how covered in gore he was, but it was a passing concern at best provided his own insides stayed on the inside.

Losiencheoir's claws sliced through the Volron's belly, tossing the Vorlon back ten paces and spraying a stream of crystalline pink blood across the deck plates. Losiencheoir's cry of victory turned to a howl of fury as the crystalline blood bathing his face and arms began to eat through bone and flesh like acid. The great beast flensed itself of the affected areas, talons exposing black hunks of muscle and white bone.

It took a moment for Vir to realize that the warning klaxons for the air lock were sounding; the flashing red lights and resounding horns subdued by comparison to the howls and blasts of the deamonhost and Vorlon. It was the sucking sensation and the sudden breeze that clued him in, a pleasant wafting of cool air.

He grabbed Vira'capac's arm, taking great care to avoid the spines, and wispered in terror, "They're opening this docking bay! We need to get to shelter."

"Alliance man things pick inconceivably inconvenient moments." The Kroot trilled in fury, his throat undulating in a series of shrill dolphin like clicks. His hounds came to heel immediately, hackles raised in anticipation, "Come then, safety is first."

Uncaring of the danger Demonhost and Vorlon continued their mid-air battle. Psychic might and raw demonic fury collided in cascading bursts of power and rage. The Vorlon's encounter suit was in shambles, a crumpled and shredded mess of Mylar and biotech. The crimson eye's iris struggled to fix on a single point in the distance, clicking endlessly in the effort to see properly. But only a fool would mistake that for weakness.

Broken and bloodied though the Vorlon may be, it was more than holding its own with Losenchior. The recent demonhost snarled in undisguised fury. It wasn't just fighting the Vorlon because it was ordered to, or because brutality was in the demonhost's nautre, there was some thing personal in the brutality of the Demonhost's attacks on the Vorlon. Losiencheoir wanted to harm Kosh as much as he possibly could.

Vira'capac reached out and grabbed Daul by his wounded arm, talons digging deep into the Inquisitor's injured flesh. The Inquisitor cried out in agony, hopping to keep up with Vira'capac's taloned fingers as the Kroot warrior hustled him along. The Kroot ignored the constant string of incoherent gothic profanity with mild professional amusement, occasionally arching an eyebrow at a particularly interesting phrasing.

The Inquisitor's vocabulary of profanity was apparently voluminous.

"Man thing will not die here. Is not time, not time for either of us. Too easy, not finished," Vira'capac chided the Inquisitor as they reached the Imperial shuttlecraft, "Man thing not a coward. Will stop acting like one."

The towering techpriest Tuul was already at the lander, disconnecting power and fuel lines from the station and shepherding the human psychics onboard. Tuul gave Vir an odd look as the Centauri boarded the landing craft, but shook it off at an annoyed glance from the Kroot. Vir could only assume his presence on board went against custom. Well too bad, this was a highly uncustomary situation and he was going to get out of it in one piece.

Cairn, the bionic manservant of Inquisitor Daul, was already strapped into a seat. That is to say what remained of him was. Bionic stumps sparked and dripped viscous grey fluid where the Skitarii was missing both arms and both legs. The mess of mechanical tentacles that hung from the man's face slithered and clasped in obvious agony, silent where the speaker box at his throat had ceased to function.

The cyborg's eyes focused upon his master's missing arm, briefly oblivious to his own pain. He recognized the look, even through cybernetic optics. He'd seen it too often in his own mirror after talking to his relatives. Somehow the Skitarii's despair was made deafening in it's silence, as Cairn watched Vira'capac push the Inquisitor down into a seat before buckling the hounds into place.

Tuul ducked through the door and muttered furiously to himself in frustrated monotone, sparing a longing glance for the distant airlock. He made curious spidery symbol with his fingers towards the locked bulkhead leading to customs before closing the doors to the transport, "Deus autem machinenen katsieb sid mine Lehrlinge."

Vir opened his mouth to ask what he'd said, but the Kroot tapped his finger across the pointed tip of his beak in imitation of the human gesture for silence then steepled his fingers and bowed once. Some sort of prayer then. Well it was as good of a time for it as any.

An ugly man with a thick mess of braided beards popped his head in from the cockpit, clearly eager to be off of Babylon five as quickly as was possible. The ugly man waved at the humans, growling in the guttural Imperial tongue. Inquisitor Daul muttered a curt affirmative and waved the man back to the cockpit, yanking off the golden skull from his head and revealing deeply bloodshot eyes.

He smiled to Vir, "I would hold on tightly Mr. Cotto. Captain Sheridan will vent the docking bay long before we've activated the Engines and I'm afraid that our transition will be a good deal more bumpy than you're accustomed to."

There was a loud crash of changing pressures and Vir coughed as he was yanked forward in his chair as the ship transitioned from the artificial gravity inside of the station to the low gravity outside of it. The ship tumbled and turned wildly, thunderously colliding with unsecured cargo crates and damaged bits of bulkhead as everything not tied down found itself sucked into the vacuum of space.

The hounds, uncomfortable in their seats, stood up and tried to balance themselves properly. The sounds of skittering talons on deck plates and annoyed whimpering filled the cabin as they hounds hovered near weightlessly above the deck plates, unable to move.

Bright green light flashed past the port side of the ship, illuminating the distant forms of the still battling demonhost and Vorlon as they disappeared from view. The raging battle disappeared into the distance as the sounds of battle chatter crackled over the communications system from the cockpit. The Inquisitor rhythmically repeated the same ten words, over and over again, counting down on his fingers as he went. He counted for thirteen counts of thirteen before opening his bloodshot eyes and screaming for the artificial gravity to be activated.

The hounds fell to the ground in a frustrated heap, barking and baying in confusion. The larger hound, the one with a scar across its eye, rested its head in Vir's lap cooing. Vir hesitantly scratched the creature behind the ear, and was rewarded by an amused purring trill. The smaller hound quickly asserted itself as well, making sure to get it's share of attention.

The Inquisitor stood and marched over to a relatively open patch of deck, sitting down cross legged and pulling a knife from his belt. He stabbed the knife into his arm and let the blood drip down in a stream onto the deck. Shaking fingers extended into the pool, spreading it into a crude pentagram. He stabbed the knife into the center of it and chanted in the same unnatural language he'd spoken to bind the demon to Amis.

A sour flavor filled the air as the solid metal of the deck bubbled within the pentagram, a boiling pool of blood roiling and seething on the floor. The bloodied and wounded form of the demonhost appeared in the center of the circle, howling in dissatisfaction. Losiencheoir beat his fists on the barrier of the circle, impotently protesting having been taken from the fight.

"He was mine. I had him!" The creature mewled petulantly, "I could taste victory."

"You do not fight for your own amusement creature," Inquisitor Hilder snapped his fingers, "You obey my will and my whims. Remember that. Now I order you to not fight anything without my expressed orders, I order you to not speak, to not listen to anyone who isn't me, to not see anything I don't give you permission to see, and to not even move or breathe without my sayso. You will get into the casket onboard intended for astropathic servitors and you will stay there till I say otherwise. Do you understand?"

The creature stared hatefully at the Inquisitor, saying nothing. Inquisitor Hilder's eyes narrowed, "Thrice I speak and done, do you understand?"

"Yes," The demonhost said in disgust, "I hear and obey." It floated into a metal casket on the starboard side of the ship, pulling the casket closed with insulting servitude. Hilder pressed his bloodied handprint into the casket muttered a few guttural words. Spidery lines of runic protection wept out from his handprint, covering the casket and binding the creature therein.

"Miserable monster," The Inquisitor hissed as he pulled a bag of salt and spread it over the blood on the floor, "Disgusting creature." He slumped in a seat, grudgingly permitting Vira'capac to buckle him in a second time. Exhaustion and pain caught up with him as he passed into unconsciousness.

As Vir allowed himself to melt into his own chair, idly enjoying petting the hounds and breathing easily for the first time in hours, he realized that the Inquisitor had chosen to speak his commands to Losiencheoir in English for his benefit. He wanted Vir to know that he'd chosen to avoid conflict with the Vorlon. He wanted the human psychics to remember how powerful he was. Even broken and bloodied the Inquisitor continued to plan and scheme.

It was no wonder Londo liked him.
--

They'd destroyed a Vorlon warship. The Imperials destroyed a Vorlon warship. Li's mouth salivated at the though of gaining weaponry with that level of destructive potential. Even outdated versions of the Imperial sensors would be a coup.

Not that it was likely they'd ever get them from the Endless Bounty. When the Vorlon ship exploded a shrill howl of fury had echoed over the comm. net from the Vorlon ships, a baleful moan of despair and agony. There hadn't been any words but none had really needed to be spoken. A line had been crossed that they could never forgive.

The Vorlon fighters retreated to their cruisers, taking up defensive postures against the imperial fighters. The crimson Imperial gunships were no match for the Vorlon fighters working in concert. And the Vorlons weren't about to give the Imperials flagship a second shot at them.

Not just the Imperials Li realized.

There was no way the invaders could allow the Alliance ships to live. The Vorlons couldn't afford for anyone with tactical knowledge of that nature to spread it to the known worlds. No Empire willingly sacrificed its tactical superiority. There were two Vorlon ships between them and the Hyperspace gate and unless the Imperials could pull out another miracle shot they were up the creek.

The hobbled and already maimed Alliance ships were poor matches for the Vorlon fleet.

The Zeus died first, a lance of green energy from one of the Vorlon fighters gutting the carrier stem to stern like a salmon. The crew hadn't even had time to reach the escape pods before it exploded. Another wing of Vorlon fighters nearly took the Beijing Beauty but the timely intervention of an Imperial fighter wing forced them to redirect and gave the Starfuries a chance to get back into defensive positions around the Earth Alliance ships.

"Keep firing towards the Vorlons," Li chewed his lip, "If we cannot target them intentionally we can at least slow their advance and give Captain Sáclair time enough for another salvo."

The Mercury, still hobbled by its half repaired engines, froze in space as a glancing blast of energy collided with its rear. The oblong ship split in two, it's main cabin severing the main pylon and tossing the ships reactors away. It listed helplessly in space as a second salvo hit its bridge, boring a hole clear though the ship.

"Sir we have new sensor contacts. Fifteen additional hyperspace windows are inbound," Ensign Peters broke through Li's melancholy, "Not the relief fleet sir."

"Of course it isn't," Klaus grunted in a long suffering voice, "That would be too convenient."

"Who is it then," Li didn't particularly care who, so long as it wasn't another fifteen Vorlon ships. Every second they got was a second longer that they'd have to think. The Vorlons were forced to tactically reposition to face the newcomers.

"Waiting for confirmation sir," Peters' fingers danced across the keyboard, shaking with adrenaline. The blocky grey shapes on the main viewer rasterized into recognizable ship configurations in a matter of moments. Peters' voice colored in understandable confusion, "We have confirmation, they're a combined fleet of Centauri... and Narn warships."

"Well then," Li laughed, "This is new."

"The lead Centauri warship is sending us a transmission sir. They're here to help," Ensign Daniels did not bother asking if they would accept the Centauri military aide. It was redundant at this point, "We're receiving their transponder signals and battle network."

"Centauri and Narn warships," Li massaged his throbbing temples, "Why not. As hell has clearly decided that today was the appropriate time to freeze over it seems like an appropriate time for the two of them to get along."

"What do I tell them sir?"

Li slapped the ensign on the shoulder, "Welcome to the party."
 

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Londo stood on the bridge of the Primus Battlecruiser, more terrified than he had ever been in his entire life as he watched the battle unfold. What had he been thinking to engage in this madness? It had been fear. Fear of Morden's ever tightening grip on his people, fear of his terrifying invisible associates. He'd allowed fear to dictate his actions and now here he was, leading warships against the Vorlons.

Not that he'd known it would be the Vorlons when Mr. Morden demanded his favor; only that it was someone Mr. Morden's associates did not defy directly for political reasons.

He'd called in virtually every favor his newfound popularity earned him. If this failed, as it seemed doomed to, house Mollari would be spoken of only in terrified whispers behind closed doors as ghost stories to children. A parable warning about the consequences of ambition without reason. Provided that they survived the use of force would be considered legal, the Babylon Five defense treaty demands that in the event that the station, or a ship in its space, is attacked by any member nation of the Babylon Five advisory council and demands help that all available warships come to the aid of the aforementioned station and docked ships.

Not everyone on the home-world agreed would agree. Amassing the handful of Centauri warships had been virtually political difficult but that paled in comparison to the social suicide of allying himself with the Narn publicly. But the use of Narn was a condition of his deal with Mr. Morden; his ego would be the price of his liberty.

G'Kar nearly swallowed his tongue with laughter when Londo requested a joint military operation. The poetic irony of Mollari being forced to turn to G'Kar too much for the Narn to take. There were hundreds of kilometers of vacuum between Londo's flagship and the Narn G'Quan cruiser he knew held G'Kar and Londo knew, he absolutely knew that he could hear the Narn Ambassador chuckling at his expense.

But he'd agreed. Agreed to help defend the Imperials from an unspecified threat, G'Kar had been surprisingly credulous about the need to bring military aide to the station. He'd raved about demons and the coming darkness but one could always rely upon the Narn for incoherent religious ravings.

Now that he realized his intended foes were the Vorlons, Mollari was deeply grateful that he'd made the sacrifice. The most stalwart of warriors grew weak in the knees at the thought of facing a Vorlon vessel but even the most craven Centauri would not willingly show cowardice to a Narn.

If they backed down from the fight in pain view of the Narn warships they'd die of shame long before the Narn died of Vorlon laser fire. That was fine with Londo. He would gladly shape their hubris into a spear so long as he could toss it towards the Vorlon fleet in enough time to aid the Endless Bounty.

Captain Gauis Gerand was a distant cousin of Londo, taking after a paternal grandfather of Londo's famous for his wineries on the southern continent. More given to an air of decadence than command he was no less the commanding officer of the Primus Imperial Wisdom. smacked Londo's shoulder with a meaty paw and guffawed, "Well then we do have our work cut out for us then don't we old boy."

The combined fleet advanced, wedging themselves between the Vorlon ships and the hyperspace gate, flanking the pair of Vorlon ships and surrounding them from all sides. Tactically it was as unsound of a position for the Vorlon ships as he could imagine.

It seemed no one had bothered to inform the Vorlons of this. One of the escort cruisers turned back to the combined fleet and opened fire, destroying two Centauri ships and crippling the Narn flagship before they had a chance to return fire. The fleet advanced forwards, moving into defensive positions around the combined assets as they advanced on the Vorlon cruiser, forcing it to redirect its fire.

The Centauri flagship lagged behind next to the gate in an effort to maintain control of the escape route. Minutes passed with the bridge crew continuing with the normal business of battle before Londo noticed anything irregular.

"Why are you ignoring the cries for aid for the Blessed G'Taak," Londo asked, already knowing the answer.

"Oh come now Londo, you can bring your pets to play soldier if you want to but you can't seriously expect us to go out of our way for some stray mongrels can you? They're just Narn," Gaius chuckled in amusement, "We'll save them when they're ours, when they're worth the effort."

"No," Londo said in disgust, "You will save them now. We save theirs in the hopes they will save ours when and if the time comes."

"You do not order me on my own ship," Gauis' petulant appeal to authority was cut off mid sentence by the barrel of Londo's plasma pistol being pressed between his eyes. His piggy eyes focused on the trigger with a confused yelp of surprise.

"Yes. Actually I do," Londo grinned wolfishly, "Now, I believe you were planning on doing something about saving Narn Ambassador before I make the personally unfortunate decision of declaring you unfit for duty and replacing you. It would be a great deal of work and effort to smooth doing so with his majesty's court. Not impossible but more complicated than I have the energy for at the moment, and certainly more painful that you have time for."

"Yes..." Gaius stuttered in astonishment, "Do that then."

Londo stood in place smiling and waiting for his Gauis' men to carry out the order, "A wise decision."
--

Kerrigan was mildly aware of the head of her retinue as the aging Skitarii eyed the bulkhead. Xerrax hugged his rifle tighter, the old Skitarii as implacable as ever. Where Carin was silent by oath, Xerrax was simply silent by custom. The man could go days or months without saying a word or expressing an emotion. He stood stock still, staring at her attendants and apprentices.

They were all were terrified, and with good reason.

It had seemed so simple to start with. She would rescue the Inquisitor, and then rely upon his Inquisitorial pardon to forgive her having ignored the will of Captain Sáclair. Sáclair would not soon forgive her, possibly never, but she could rely upon his obedience to Inquisitor Hilder.

Re-assigning the work orders so that her people were in the right places to re-direct energy to the teleporters and put the power stations on lockdown had been as simple as signing her name. Her authority was second only to the Captain and Inquisitor, that she might be disobeying the one to aid the other never occurred to any of them.

It had been easy, too easy. Or so she'd thought. She hadn't properly accounted for the Captain's emotional state. Trapped by duty Sáclair had been on balanced on the razor's edge for weeks. If she'd been thinking properly she would never have pressed him at such a low point emotionally.

But if she was honest with herself her own emotions clouded her reason, even now. In her despair the Magos had actually convinced herself that Sáclair would bear an insult to his pride with grace, that he would not lash out at anyone who dared to engage in open mutiny.

A gross miscalculation.

Her mind was interfaced with the Endless Bounty. A mere shade in the domain of the great lion Sáclair, a moray latched to the mind of the great stellar leviathan. The Endless Bounty tolerated her intrusion, but not without protest. Sáclair and the Endless Bounty fought her at every turn but one does not become a Magos through idleness. Twice she'd been cast from the system, only to find a third entry and erect a new maze of logic and reason for Sáclair to fight his way through.

There was a great measure of shame in using the device attached to her computer interface. It was one of the devices she'd invented from the study of xenotech, one of the devices she'd been exiled for having invented. It allowed her to interface with the Machine Spirit against it's will without having the proper genetic verifiers normally necessary.

Even with the additional force fields and servitors she'd placed between the Lionhearts and herself it was only a matter of time before they were overwhelmed. And time was greatly against Kerrigan. Worse yet, her efforts to activate the ship's systems were impeded by the mischievous nature of the machine spirit.

"Blasted riddles. Why must the machine spirit of the Endless Bounty constantly indulge in these infuriating games?" Spat the Magos with disdain as she tossed another maze of code between herself and Sáclair, blocking him from retaking the warp engines. She was one answer away from rescuing the Inquisitor, Abbas, and anyone else on the station with a sub-dermal comm.-bead but for reasons understood only by the Omnissiah yet another of the ship's self indulgent games.

Abbas had provided her with all the riddles he knew, but it seemed that his boast of knowing "every riddle" the ship could think up was grossly misinformed. Her brow furrowed at the infuriating little joke made by the ship's machine spirit. Binary titters bounced in the back of her interface, the damned spirit was laughing at her in joyous mischief.

- ++ Input code ++ -

Q5A6Q3 A1Z6A2Q2Q3Q4 Q8A2 A1Q5 Q6Q9Q7Q4 A4Q8Z6AGQ3Q4Q5Q8Q10A2

But for the life of her she couldn't even begin to guess what the answer was. She'd run the cipher past every word she knew in every language she could think of, including binary, but it continued to mean absolutely nothing.

Sáclair's mind lashed out at Kerrigan, nearly making it through her maze. Kerrigan retreated into another section of the ship, briefly allowing him to retake navigation. She could leech power away from it into the sensor arrays, neutering his ability to activate the warp drives. Sáclair was stronger than she could ever hope to be in the virtual landscape of the ship but his knowledge of the workings of the great machine mind was minimal. Hopefully that advantage would be enough.

Her mind weaved through vast stacks of data piled haphazardly, new information about the rapidly moving sensor contacts arriving in rapid succession. Kerrigan dodged the stacks, trying to avoid the overwhelming amounts of information. If she were caught by a stack of data her memory engrams would be temporary paralyzed as they struggled to process information intended for an intelligence many magnitudes that of the Magos. Time lost she could ill afford.

Sáclair had no such impediment. The Leonine presence of Sáclair prowled the sensor array, arriving with alarming speed. Her maze hadn't slowed him as greatly as she'd hoped. The combined processing power of the ancient captains in Sáclair's mind was impressive. He stalker her through the jungle of data, wading through readouts with impunity. Impossible though it was, she could almost taste his disgust and disappointment.

Time seemed to slow as the combined efforts of the Endless Bounty and Sáclair were turned against her. She was an invader, an usurper, an unworthy flea, and they were no longer willing to suffer her presence. Kerrigan struggled to compress her presence and sneak into another system and winced in pain as the data stream she'd tried to enter cut off abruptly, bursting the small pocket of her avatar she'd probed in the direction of life support. Pain echoed through the virtual world, freezing her in place with a packet of data.

The combined minds took the opportunity to eject her from the ships systems, forcing her violently back to the real world. Kerrigan swore furiously as she detached herself from the ship's data ports, fearful that the Endless Bounty might well enter her own mind. She deactivated her eyes, unable to comprehend both the tactical data from the ships sensors and the vision from her own eyes at the same time.

By the Omnissiah xenos picked now to attack the bounty? It was as though the universe were conspiring against her. This changed the politics greatly; there would be no way for her to save her people even if she managed to get the Inquisitor back onboard.

Daul well may shoot her himself for endangering the ship.

"Mistress," An extremely nervous auto-savant approached her, waddling forwards on a set of inverted agumentic legs. His scrolls and quills clicked with each tentative step, "Mistress they've cut through all but the last two bulkheads... it will only be a matter of minutes before they've breached those as well... there are more than a hundred of them mistress..."

"Then you'll have to hold them off when they get through then won't you," Xerax barked in frustrated fury, his words filled with more frustration than conviction. The Lionhearts were more than a match for the handful of Skitarii and combat servitors in her retinue, even with the aid of her cyber cherubs. Not for the first time that day she regretted sending her own private bodyguard to fight with Inquisitor Hilder instead of allowing the Lionhearts to return to the station. The Ogryn servitors would be greatly appreciated at the moment.

It had been a foolish decision, but she hadn't been able to stand the thought of Danzig or Sergei dying along with Hilder. She had so few allies left in the universe; she could not afford to lose those few she had left. To hell with duty to hell with honor. She just wanted to stop watching people she cared about dying. Iino... Ominissiah but she missed the humorless berk.

Even the humblest of bondsmen were armed with lasrifles and small scale laser weaponry, staring at the door in trepidation. She'd brought them all with her in anticipation that Sáclair might retaliate against her. A nervous gaggle of apprentices busied themselves with monitoring the transfer of energy, pretending that they were not terrified.

They would follow her into the jaws of death; they would follow her to the end.

Danzig would end them all. Of that she had no doubt. He was expedient in following Sáclair's orders and devoted to his craft.

And it would be the bitter end. Hilder would die, Abbas would die, and all her retainers would die. All in the name of her own wounded pride. By the cog, how had this happened?

"No," Kerrigan whispered to herself, "No, enough have died..." She would not solve the riddle before the bulkheads gave way. Once that happened all that awaited her was dishonor and death, for her those who served her. That would not do.

The Magos' mechandrites danced around the interface, re-routing power and activating dormant systems, giving the slumbering beast teeth and claws. Distant roars greeted her ears, heralding the fruits of her labors. The Machine Spirit did so without protest, eager to be whole again.

It was done.

Kerrigan walked away from the controls, over the obsidian slab of the teleporter, past the barricades erected by her loyal retainers, and up to the closed bulkhead. It was an impressive block of adamantium, gilded and covered with stories of the saints and wards of safety and protection. Her servants called out to her in confusion.

"Mistress?"

"Where are you going?"

"Come back Mistress!"

She ignored them, she knew what had to be done, the only think that could be done. She pressed her hand to the control plate to the bulkhead, and opened the doors. The bulkheads gave way and an astonished Hamman stared at her from ten meters up the corridor where he was aiding three men in loading a melta charge into a heavy weapon. He stared at her in horror, realizing that if she wanted him dead she could shoot him at any second.

She looked into his eyes ignoring the melta charge in his hands, sighed, and spoke the words that would save the lives of her retainers, "I surrender."
 

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There were days where Michael really hated his job. This was probably going to top his "worst day ever" rankings for eternity. Honestly, when you vented something out to the void of space, the least it could do is get slowed down by the vacuum. The Imperials had wisely taken the hint, gotten on their transport, and got the heck off his station.

Now that he no longer had the Inquisitor to deal with he was unsure what to do with Kosh. The subtle nuanced meaning of sucking the air out of a room seemed to have been lost on Ambassador Kosh. It mostly seemed to have made the Vorlon madder, if such a thing was possible.

Security resealed the outer doors to the cargo bay and put the doors between the cargo bay and the customs offices on lock down in the hopes of containing him. As it transpired, trying to keep a Vorlon somewhere he doesn't wasn't an easy task. Even with additional safeties in place Kosh overrode the computer securities on the door as easily as turning a key, gliding out with indomitable intent.

The alien look of the Vorlon encounter suit was exaggerated by the numerous cuts, dents, rents, and tears in the material. Kosh's eye opened and closed, clicking with rage. What security had been in place to stop the Ambassador from escaping froze in horror at a single word. a simple threatening command.

"Don't"

His officers backed down, terrified of the Vorlon. Garibaldi couldn't blame them for being scared, he was too. Unfortunately he didn't have the luxury of backing down, "Ambassador Kosh you are under arrest for murder and attempted murder. You are now persona non grata on this station, I will escort you to a cell where you will await deportation."

"Incorrect," The Vorlon ignored Garibaldi, gliding past him and down the corridor.

Michael ran after him, weapon raised, keeping pace with the Vorlon, "You killed people, you tried to kill me, you're making a mockery of everything that Babylon 5 stands for. And I don't much like it."

The Vorlon ignored him and continued to glide forwards.

"You know this means war?" The words sounded silly, even to Michael. The Vorlons were more than capable of stopping the Earth Alliance. Kosh did not deign to answer, "Of course you do... Vorlons know best don't they?"

He put himself in front of the Vorlon, "What gives you the right?"

"They consorted with the abyss," The Vorlon glared, "Darkness corrupts all."

"And were my security officers 'corrupt' or were they just in your way," Garibaldi pointed his pistol at the Vorlon's eye, "I can't stop you today. We both know that. But I won't let you kill anyone."

The Vorlon stared at him in silence; it's twitching optic's irritated buzz exacerbating the Ambassador's overwhelming nature. Motes of light shone from the gouges in the encounter suit, flickering in brilliant patterns across the crystaline blood dripping from the Vorlon's many wounds. Silence and more silence.

"Uh... this is the part where you threaten me or something..." Michael cleared his throat and waved his hand in front of the Vorlon. Kosh continued to examine him. Was it Kosh's wounds catching up to him? No, that wasn't it. Or at least it wasn't the whole story.

The Vorlon had been single mindlessly violent in pursuit of the Inquisitor, but only in pursuit of the Inquisitor. His attacks on anything else had been purely co-incidental. It seemed... unsure... as though it were hesitant to harm him.

As though he were ashamed of what he'd done.

"Look... Ambassador I can't let you keep doing what you're doing," Michael held his hands up, "I have to detain you... stop you."

"Unfortunate," the gun shot out of his hand, propelled by an unseen force as Kosh lifted Garibaldi out of his way with a slight effort of psychic energy. Garibaldi struggled against the Vorlon's telekinesis as he floated behind the Vorlon.

Security moved to stop him but a wave of blue energy burst from the Vorlon, undeniable psychic suggestion forcing the two dozen armed and armored officers into blissful sleep. They slumped to the floor, dreamy looks of comfort on their faces.

Michael kicked his legs, trying to free himself from the power binding him, but his body had ceased responding to his commands. He was aware of his body only vaguely, as though in a dream, watching through his eyes and speaking through his limps but otherwise an observer.

Michael focused his will on his right hand, grinding his teeth audibly in his effort to draw his sidearm. The PPG was tantilizingly close, just beneath paralyzed fingers. He could feel the shape of it, the weight of it, as he floated behind Kosh down a familiar set of corridors in Blue sector.

The Vorlon was heading for CnC, heading for the Captain.

And there was nothing he could do to stop it.
 

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Discussion Starter #88
Vir hadn't realized that he'd fallen asleep till the kick of the Endless Bounty's artificial gravity yanked him down into his seat jarring him back into the land of the living. His body, exhausted from the day's exertions, protested the lack of sleep agonizingly but there was nothing for it but to wake up and stare out the window.

They'd landed in a wide cargo bay, sweeping gothic columns and elaborate filigree marking it as the inside of an Imperial ship. Judging by the frenzied movements of the ship's deck crew, a ship in the throes of battle.

"Maker's breath," he swore angrily as he watched the filthy peasants toil around battle damaged snub fighters and bombers, "When will this day end."

"We're not through yet," chuckled the delirious Inquisitor, "Not by a long shot." The man was in a horrible state; his face was sallow and purplish where the flesh was puckering into bruised welts. His right eye, swollen shut from an obviously infected cut above his eye, oozed pus that dripped down across his cheek staining the thick coat he wore over his shattered armor.

Vira'capac's pointed command of, "Don't move man thing," was wholly unnecessary. Inquisitor Hilder was obviously not capable of walking under his own power. The concussed man wobbled drunkenly on his feet between the supporting arms of the two of them, muttering curses in his native tongue.

Tuul slung Cairn over a shoulder in an ungraceful fireman's carry and punched a button on the rear of the spacecraft, popping the hatch. The human psychics tried to follow the disembarking pilots but the tech priest refused, telling them to stay in the craft for safety reasons. They didn't want to be mistaken for stowaways or saboteurs after all. He sealed them into the ship before striding out into the utter chaos of the launch bay with obvious purpose, clearly aware of where he was going.

It was a quality Vir did not share.

Vir followed the Kroot, struggling to keep up as the alien waded through the crewmen without tripping over the two excited mastiffs. It wasn't a difficult task; the Imperial citizens avoided the three of them by at least three paces at all times. The crewmen went so far as to jump out of the way rather than risk slowing them down.

They were utterly, visibly, and unashamedly terrified of the man between them, even now. There was something in their eyes when they looked at the Inquisitor that he recognized, a low hollow desperation. It was the look slaves reserved for their master, near insulting in their practiced submission. He hated being looked at that way. It made him feel... unclean.

The crowd of crewmen gave way to an obvious triage. White smocked doctors toiled over the dying and the dead, aided by a multitude of hovering skulls armed with surgical tools. One of the doctors finished his final stitch and looked up at the Inquisitor, his expression of concentrated professionalism turning to genuine astonishment. His mouth curved into a disbelieving smile as he waved to a recently vacated cot, "Curabitur odio ver der andere Mann."

"Ille a poco zanyatyi," responded the Inquisitor from where Vira'capac laid him on the cot, "Quod coa morte me."

The doctor shook his head dismissively and injected something into the base of the Inquisitor's neck that knocked him unconscious in moments. As a dozen skulls descended upon the Inquisitor, cutting the clothing from his body, Vira'capac grabbed Vir by the shoulder and frog marched him from the makeshift surgery. Vir kept up a brisk hopping pace to match the lanky strides of the Kroot.

The hunter's talons pressed uncomfortably into sore muscles through the soft velvet of his jacket, guiding him through the cavernous passages of the Endless Bounty with practiced ease. Confused crewmen gasped in terror at the sight of them, ducking back the way they came or hurrying past them with conscious effort not to make eye contact. Three turns and two passages worth of confused encounters later they reached the Kroot's destination, a small vegetable garden of tubers and luminescent fungi hanging from the ceiling built around a truly gaudy fountain in the shape of some predatory cat.

The Kroot let go and sat cross legged on the ground in front of the fountain facing a stone bench, waving idly with his left hand to the open seat. Vir sat on the cool stone, glad to be off his legs, "What was that about?"

"Rushing from healer or cowards hiding," trilled the Kroot. Unnerving slitted eyes regarded Vir with predatory acumen, analyzing his every motion. They seemed to bore into his very thoughts, "Or something else?"

"All of them I suppose," Vir hardly knew where to start, "Start with whatever is most pressing."

"Wise," The Kroot pulled an obsidian pendant from his pouch and held it out to Vir. An I-shaped length of jet black stone with an ivory skull set in the middle of it twirled in the air as the Kroot rubbed the length of chain it hung from between his fingers, flashing glints of red light whenever the ruby eyes of the skull reflected off the light cast by luminescent moss, "We start with safety."

Vir winced as Vira'capac pressed the pendant against his thing and pressed on the right eye. A needle shot out of the icon and into his leg with lightning speed. He barely had time to yelp in astonishment before the needle retracted back into the obsidian case, "Watch it!"

"Done," Vira'capac squeezed the idol a second time, causing its eyes to flash before handing it to Vir, "Now safety is ensured."

Vir massaged his thigh in confusion, wincing as the garden shook with the impact of incoming fire. Hunks of luminescent moss shook from the ceiling, "What part of safety required injecting me with... whatever that was?"

"The Inquisitor granted the brood of Vira'capac special dispensation. Icons to indicate Kroot servants of Inquisition. Protection," the edge of his beak clicked in memory, "Blood in stone. Once entered cannot be changed. Cannot be altered. Safe."

"One use," Vir tucked the stone into a breast pocket, "But don't your brothers needed them?"

"Dead... long dead," the Kroot said in a far away croon, "Not all brothers used icons, silly uncomfortable things. Did not comprehend. Vira'capac kept the unused. Only one left. Authority Vira'capac's to use them. I use on you."

"I'm honored," Vir rubbed his hands together, "But I still don't understand exactly what I am being protected from."

"Osma for start," Vira'capac pointed behind Vir with one talon, drawing Vir's attention to a pair of crimson suited security officers holding unpleasant looking weapons pointed in their direction. Vira'capac remained on his knees and raised his hands behind his head as the large bearded man pushed him to the ground with a hobnailed boot, binding his hands and feet with thick iron manacles.

Vir stood up, raising his hands in a placating gesture to the bearded man and tired to say, "Peace man, he is your ally. What is wrong with you," but only got as "what" before the man smashed the butt of his gun into Vir's nose, knocking him out for the second time that day.
 

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The intervention of the Narn and Centauri ships was a welcome surprise. It was against Imperial military doctrine to accept xenos aide but then so was dying. He ordered his forces to protect his xenos allies as best they could. Loyalty should be rewarded, no matter displayed loyalty. These xenos believed they had a moral obligation to protect him and his.

It was hard not to feel camaraderie for those dying to protect you. A half dozen gutted warships; most of them from the fleet who'd tried to attack him littered the space around the Babylon station. The least he could do was return the favor.

"Mr. Andrews I need better accuracy on those ships," Sáclair maneuvered the ship to where he expected the second ship to be, firing the dorsal lance batteries in staccato bursts, "Solutions?"

"Sir, I'm not a miracle worker," Mr. Andrews eyes narrowed, clearly at the edge of his patience, "Nothing I can rig up will be better than Kerrigan's sensor package." He clamped his mouth shut, intimately aware of the taboo of speaking a mutineer's name. Many of the crew believed that speaking the name of a mutineer gave part of yourself to treason, that betrayal did not even deserve memory.

"Then start praying," Sáclair disconnected the communiqué in disgust. He hated how much he truly did need the Magos. Her understanding of the sophisticated modifications she'd done to the ship's systems was crucial if he intended to keep them at the peak efficiency that she'd upgraded them to. The skills of his own Enginseers were substantially more limited now that he no longer had Iino at his disposal.

Bioships prowled the void, predatory and menacing. A subtle edge of panic twinged through the machine spirit of the great ship, an overwhelming inevitability that prey feels when faced by a predator and robbed of both fight and flight. The Endless Bounty was loosing the fight against these damnable ships, they just refused to die.

He needed a miracle.

"Speak of the devil," Muttered Sáclair as the hailing identification number of Colonel Danzig flashed upon his hololith. He pressed one of the jewels encrusted into his throne, clicking an activation rune connecting the incoming signal, "I presume that my functioning gun batteries mean that you've been successful?"

"Yes sir," Danzig replied in a pleased voice, "Casualties have been minimal with only three fatalities prior to Kerrigan's surrender. I have accepted the terms of her total surrender on your behalf."

"Terms," Sáclair growled, "I offered no conditional surrender."

"My apologies milord," Danzig cleared his throat, "But they have offered their complete surrender in exchange for the lives of those in Kerrigan's service."

"But not Kerrigan," Sáclair grunted. It was in keeping with the arrogance she'd demonstrated so far to pull a stunt like this and expect no consequences.

"No sir," Danzig hesitated, "The Magos offered herself for their continued service to your ship and a promise not to punish them for her crimes."

"Very well," the servants of Kerrigan would do almost as well as the Magos herself for what he needed. In the light of treason "almost" would have to be enough, "You've done well."

"Sir," Danzig cleared his throat, "What do I do about the Magos."

"I would have thought that was obvious," Sáclair snarled as a knife sharp burst of pain erupted in his shoulders where dart fighters strafed the Endless Bounty. He could feel the wake of the deadly fighters strafing the Endless Bounty from behind. Dearing attacks piercing the ship's void shields and scoring the hull. He screamed in agony as an attack burst the bulkhead of aft sector 376 venting it to space, "Dispose of her and get her people back repairing my bleeding ship."

"How?"

"Use your imagination," Sáclair snarled, "I hazard you can think of a punishment to fit the crime."

"Of course sir," replied the Lionheart as he disconnected the transmission, "At once sir."

Sáclair turned his attention back to pressing matters. It was time to do a proper bit of violence, "Lets show them how it's done old girl." machine responded to his every caress, gyrating and twisting in ecstatic ease through the debris of Epsilon III, hungry for revenge.

He could feel the smaller ships of the combined fleet supporting him shifting and moving around him like a school of fish, agile little fighters dancing around them in swirling pirouettes of destruction. The titanic bounty flipped hard to port, reveling in the rush of having regained control of his ship's weapons.

The Endless Bounty opened fire, sending torpedoes careening across the void of space towards the bio ship fleet. Fired blind the torpedoes were at the mercy of the enemy ships' protective countermeasures but even the most sophisticated of defense systems couldn't prevent the volume of fire launched from the Endless Bounty from connecting with something as large as the flagship bioship.

The salvo connected with the mottled green and yellow hide of the ship in a burst of heat and ichor, tearing out hunks of organic armor and fluids. It's odd purple innards seeped forwards into the injured body of the great beast, knitting its wounds shut only to burst as a second salvo hit the open wounds.

"Sir we're receiving distress calls from damaged ally fighters. I don't know if the rescue vehicles for our allies will reach them in time," Donat said in confusion, his need to reward loyalty warring with his distaste for xenos, "Shall I order our rescue ships to render aid?"

"Yes," Sáclair said without thinking, intimately aware of the damaged Imperial fighters being ferried back to the relative safety of Babylon Five by Alliance Fighters, "But keep them in isolation. We can give any that survive back to their ships later. The Emperor will forgive a moment's kindness."

The Narn darts and Centauri half moon ships were putting themselves in harms way for him, the xenos risking their lives to fight an enemy that they clearly unequipped to fight. It was cardinal heresy to feel that there were xenos worthy of trust, but even the primarchs spoke of xenos worthy of respect. One did not have to love a wolf to appreciate protection from a bear.

Their strategies were wildly different, the Centauri attacked with practiced precision, each step of an attack leading to a planned step beyond. The Narn fought irrationally, individual fighters tossing themselves at the enemy and pulling away without any visible strategies to them, though still somehow managing to operate as a cohesive unit. Neither of the xenos race's fighters were as maneuverable as the Alliance fighters, who seemed to dance through the sky.

The death screams of a Centauri warship echoed from the lips of his astropathic servitor, unintentionally broadcast by the psychic impression of their onboard telepath. The scimitar like Vorchan disappeared from his senses, all hands lost. A wing of the darts shot through the wreckage to conceal their advance. Scourging another Centauri ship before a fighter wing of Frazi class fighters intercepted them, the darts departed in a rush.

The main cannon of the enemy flagship fired, shattering the thin skin of warp energy protecting the Endless Bounty. Sáclair spun the ship upside down, forcing the beam to collide with the heavily armored underbelly of the Bounty instead of crippling the open gun ports. He winced at the damage report, fires on the lower levels near the foredecks.

"Just five more minutes for the warp engines to warm up girl," Sáclair whispered encouragingly to the ship's machine spirit, "Just hang on for five more minutes."
 

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Kerrigan hadn't immediately recognized the room as an incinerator when she'd been led to it. Danzig's insistence that Xerran and five of her attendants and five servitors accompany her lulled her into the assumption that Sáclair made the decision to be merciful. A life of captivity wouldn't be hundreds of servitors and attendants any more, but it was better than nothing.

In her gratitude she hadn't even protested that she and her attendants should be blindfolded on their way to the brig as a show of what happens to those who disobey Sáclair. It had been a poor choice.

When they reached their destination it had been Xerran to remove his blindfold first, Xerran to first realize their fate, Xerran who'd been the first to react, Xerran who'd been the first to die. He lashed out at their captors, forcing himself back through the door and trying to escape. A shot to the chest from a plasma rifle vaporized his chest and arms, killing him in seconds.

The thick door to the incinerator slammed shut with a final spinning click as the lock fit into place.

"You son of a bitch," Kerrigan screamed, her voice carried by an internal transmitter onto the ship's communication network, "I surrendered! I surrendered!"

Her attendants, mostly servants who'd been with her for the better part of the past five decades dropped their bags and rushed the door beating on it with their fists as the floor rumbled with the sounds of rumbling machinery. They scrambled at it like drowning rats as a thick stone slab lowered from the ceiling to block the door from the oppressive heat of the plasma discharge.

The stone walls were scorched and covered in little rivulets where the extreme heat pitted it, sold stone for 360 degrees. There were no computer inputs, no consuls, no doors to manipulate, no switches, and no hope.

A series of vents opened in the ceiling, and the scent of burning sulfur filled the chamber. The ashes of recent cremations puffed up in little clouds around her feet as she slumped down on her knees, her arms dropping to the ground in defeat, and sobbed, "Danzig let my people go! You promised me that all my attendants would be in service would be allowed to live."

She'd picked the five of them because they meant the most to her. They were the ones who were closest to her, servants who were as much family as attendants. She'd purchased Bizack when he was a child of five and raised him to be her secretary, personally overseeing the insertion of his memory engrams and alterations.

Gerra and Gertrude were maids tasked with preparing food and dresses, a mere formality for her own daily life but a necessity in dealing with nobles and the like. Gossipy, bubbly, and everything she wasn't they two of them served as vicarious outlets for her own unrealized femininity.

Regulus was an aging codger of a man but one couldn't hope for a better auto-savant. And the boy Galen, her most recent acquisition, showed great promise but even greater spirit. She kept him as much for his precocious nature as his proficiency at tidying her quarters.

They were killing her, and forcing her to watch those she loved die.

Forcing her to watch.

Heat haze came off the floor, blurring the five servitor constructs standing in the center of the room oblivious to the danger. She stared at them, searching for something she could get them to do, but nothing came to mind. These were logistical servitors, equipped for conducting minor repairs and manual labor, not cutting through bulkheads or blasting stone.

Smoke filled the room, acrid sulfuric stuff that sucked out the air and smelled of rotten eggs. Kerrigan rushed to help the aging Regulus and young Galen to put on their re-breathers, watching with horror as they suffocated while the oxygen left the room. Regulus took little effort but Galen was too young to understand what was going on, he wriggled like an eel crying out in pain. He was just too scared to co-operate as she yanked the mask over his face.

Gerra grabbed Gertrude and hugged her, closely pressing her forehead against the other woman's. The intimate gesture was only slightly hampered by the pressure mask as the lovers prepared to die in each other's arms whispering the words of the prayer of the eternal way, confirming Kerrigan's long held suspicions about them.

Bizak required no assistance but then again Bizak never did seem to be surprised by anything. She suspected that she might have done permanent damage to the part of his body that produced adrenaline when she inserted the brain augmentation that eliminated his need to sleep.

"Dazig, I beg your forgiveness," Kerrigan hugged the little boy to her, "Please!"

Flames burst from the outer ring, forcing them to the center of the room and scorching the floor. Superheated bursts of air kicked up the corpse dust on the ground, covering them all in a thin layer of grey. Kerrigan wiped the dust from her optics feverishly as she retreated to the center.

Another ring of fire shot down, blue flames sucking more and more oxygen from the room and forcing the rebreathers to work harder and harder to filter what little air remained. Kerrigan pulled a knife from her belt and punctured the necks of the servitors, severing their spines and killing them. There was no need to waste what little oxygen they had left on servitors.

Another ring of fire and Kerrigan removed her robe to wrap the boy in. It would give him some small measure of protection from the heat on his bare arms and legs. Regulus passed out, though she was at a loss to say if it was because of fear or lack of oxygen. His chest continued to rise and fall.

Another ring of fire and Kerrigan felt her skin blistering from the heat. Her servants screamed as their own skin pocked and cracked under the stress, she reached to give Bizak a comforting grip on his shoulder and flinched when he screamed and recoiled from her hand. Her red hot agumentics seared a print on his flesh, even through his shirt.

Another ring of fire and Kerrigan realized it would soon be over. The next ring would kill them with ambient heat alone, and three more rings would dissolve them into more corpse dust. She said the prayer of the Ominissiah's cogitation and waited for the end to come.

And waited.

And waited.

With a sudden whoosh of closing vents the fire went away, leaving the room bathed in darkness. The burned and miserable servants sobbed from the floor, moaning and too hurt to even stand. Kerrigan lifted the boy's swaddling, taking care not to touch the boy with her scalding limbs and was gratified to find him only superficially burned.

A voice echoed in her head, words like ice. Danzig replied, "The price of mutiny is death, but Abbas is alive because of your actions. He is also trapped because of your actions. A life for a life you will be marooned, not executed." It was as much mercy as Danzig was likely to summon in his heart for someone who'd sent one of his charges into the path of a demon.

Tears stung Kerrigan's eyes as she whispered hateful words of thanks to Danzig, honest in their brevity.

The ceiling parted and the boxy irregular form of a garbage scow lowered into the room. The sort of scow used for transporting a load of corpse dust to the hydroponics wings. Unarmed but heavily armored it was a slow plodding pathetic excuse for the ship, but it beat the empty night of space by lightyears.

Kerrigan loaded her followers and what was left of the servitors into the cab of the scow. She winced at every cry of pain from her cracked and bleeding attendants, but it was pain or death. Give the two pain wins every time. There was barely space for the five of them, and the pressure door's slow whistling seal indicated an ominously weak barrier.

Barely over the edge to being considered space-worthy, it was an ideal vessel for marooning.

Red lights flashed brightly from recessed points in the walls, indicating a wide set of double doors. A wide section of wall lifted, opening out into the vacuum of space. The blackness sucked the scow out into the void, tossing them into the raging battle.
 

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The security officers at the doors of CnC collapsed to the floor, unconscious before the door swung ajar revealing a creature in mottled metallic green armor. Kosh rolled into the room like the thunder of a distant storm, an audible perception of the distant chaos. Lt. Corwin reached for his sidearm but stopped at a look from John, if possible this would not be resolved with weapons.

He couldn't hope to win a battle of straight up power. Luckily he'd never been one for fighting fair, or predictably.

"Ambassador Kosh," John kept his anger in check, though it stewed in the back of his mind, "I'm hoping you're here with one heck of a story explaining yourself."

"The third must not be allowed," Kosh growled by way of explanation, "The third is evil."

"You see I'm a bit hazy on exactly what the 'third' even is," John held up a finger, "Now I can guess that it probably has something to do with the so called 'demon' the Inquisitor fought, what he called the warp."

"Forbidden," the Vorlon intoned ominously, sparing a significant glance at Delenn. The Minbari shrank back from his gaze, trying to make herself smaller where she sat in ashamed silence. Whatever hold he'd suspected the Vorlon Empire held on Minbari affairs was apparently an under estimation.

"Dangerous enough to kill for?" Already weary, John rubbed the back of his neck to rub out some of the stiffness. His spine popped satisfyingly and he sighed sadly, "Dangerous enough to die for?"

"Yes."

"Not dangerous enough to kill the demon though," The Vorlon shifted slightly, narrowing it's optic. Good, John hadn't made the wrong assumption, "You waited for someone else to fight the demon before you risked it. There was something about it that was dangerous too you, too dangerous to risk approaching beforehand."

The Vorlon continued its silent observation. John smiled, "Not just the demon though, you've been avoiding the Imperial Ambassador entirely. It hadn't occurred to me to think of it as anything other than your normal reclusively but you've avoided even the pretense of diplomacy with the Imperials. You waited for the one to weaken the other, then pounced."

"Assumption is more dangerous than ignorance," the Vorlon's shoulders slumped in disappointment. The ethereal voice of the Vorlon sounded more like a disappointed teacher than an attacker, "You know little."

"Your forces will withdraw immediately," John cut in over the Vorlon's lecture, "If they do not I will be forced to take drastic action."

"The fangless will bite," Kosh intoned in a voice of regret, "And die...yes."

"Or they will enlist the help of a hound with a stronger bite," spoke a disembodied voice. A shimmering figure appeared in the center of the room, a portly Minbari with a well manicured bone crest and a wide grin, "One does tend to ask one's neighbors for favors on occasion."

The man clapped his hands together and bowed to Delenn, "Especially old friends."

"Draal," Delenn smiled fondly, "It is good to see you. You look well."

"I feel well, the machine has restored me to my former vigor of youth. I feel like a man of thirty," He slapped his generous belly contentedly, still reminiscent of the aging professor he'd once been, "And you would be Captain Sheridan. I've been watching you and I've come to decide I like you."

"Thank you," John held out his hand in greeting before remembering that Draal was a hologram rather than a physical person. He pulled back his hand, clapping nervously.

Draal quirked his eyebrow in amusement, "The gesture is appreciated."

"Too early for your role," Kosh narrowed his eye in confusion, "It is not time."

"And your place is not here and now," Draal replied, "We must all play our new roles. The caretaker plays his part."

Beneath the surface of the planet was a massive network of computers and devices of alien origin and unknown purpose known only as "The Great Machine." At the center of the machine, near where the machine drew power from the planet's core, was the so called heart of the machine where the caretaker controlled it.

Draal had taken over as caretaker when the previous caretaker's age exceeded the abilities of the machine's life extension protocols, giving him control of the machine and it's extensive planetary defensive weapons. Weapons that, judging by Draal's grin, were easily a match for the Vorlon fleet.

"It is forbidden," Kosh hissed.

"No Ambassador," Draal cut his hand through the air dismissively, pointing his fingers to the view screen, "Your vendetta against the Imperials is not stipulated within the terms of our pact."

"I must persecute crimes of the third," The Vorlon's voice was sad, reluctant, "It must not become what it was."

"You would know that best, wouldn't you," Kosh bristled at the apparent insult, "Withdraw your forces Vorlon."

"No."

"Ambassador Kosh this is the domain of the great machine, not the Vorlon Empire. You may have taken it in the last Ygnir war but it is its own domain," Draal's eyes narrowed, "And the Machine does not wish to allow this trespass."

"The machine serves the circle."

"The machine obey's itself and its caretaker, nothing more, nothing less," A mischievous glint flashed in Draal's eyes, "And I find myself disliking your arrogant bullying of those weaker than yourself."

And then the sensor grid lit up like never before.
 

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The resounding alarm in Sáclair's ears as warning of an incoming assault from Epsilon III. A beam of light large enough to engulf the Endless Bounty shot from the depths of the planet. Sáclair's ears rang with ambient tinnitus as his mind tried to comprehend weapon that had just been fired.

Space rippled in a long wave of distortion the largest enemy battle cruiser disappeared. Not exploded, not destroyed, simply gone, vanished as though it had never been. A wash of radioactive micro-debris blossomed from where the ship had been. A great warship turned to dust. Whatever that weapon was it could have crushed the Endless Bounty like an insect.

Sheridan's boast of destroying the Endless Bounty if necessary had more merit to it than he'd given it credit. Just getting caught in the wake of that weapon was terrifying. The first shot caused system damage just by being near its wake.

"Sir we've received a report from Medicus Nor," A nervous serving boy approached him with a handwritten note, "The Inquisitor made it back to the ship."

"He did?" Sáclair accepted the note with hesitant fingers, as though touching the paper would make the message fake. Vertigo struck him as he made the mistake of trying to manipulate the ship at the opposite motion from his own body. Dizzy eyes roved the short note in a doctor's messy scrawl, "How? When?"

The Inquisitor managed to make it back, though an exactly headcount still needed to be done. The demon was dealt with. "Throne of Terra," Sáclair blinked at the note in shock, "We could leave at any time."

"We should do that then,"Navigator Illrich's snuff box dropped from his hand with a clatter, the long digits of his hands quaking with unease, "Quite fast!"

The idea sounded particularly appealing as the remaining bio-ships redoubled their efforts, doing their best to put the combined fleet between themselves and the combined fleet. Sáclair issued the recall order for their fighters and started the preflight check for entering the warp, checking that they Hexegrammic wards and airlocks were in place.

Donat, ever practical, turned to an Ensign, "Send a message to the fleet to fall back to the station, we don't want any of their ships getting caught in the rift."

Sáclair shuddered at the thought, sending a ship into the warp without wards was a fate he wouldn't wish upon his worst foe. Those onboard would be wholly at the mercy of whatever entities took notice of a ship full of moral souls and manflesh. No one survived that, even if they lived. Demons could do worse things to a man than kill him.

He turned his ship in the opposite direction of the combined fleet's path of retreat, all too aware that he was isolating himself from his allies. The risk that a ship might be damaged and unaware of the danger was too great. Even xenos deserved some consideration.

Predictably when the Endless Bounty headed in one direction and the combined fleet in another the Vorlon ships chose to follow the Endless Bounty. Sáclair struggled to reach the clarity of purpose necessary for breaking the veil between worlds while resisting the sense of vertigo that came with rapid course corrections.

No longer harried by the Endless Bounty's fighters, the enemy fighters followed her mercilessly. Dartships swarmed her hull, punching holes in the armor and causing small fires in the outer decks. Sáclair's flesh burned as though it were being stabbed with a thousand daggers, the sensation of phantom punctures omnipresent.

"We've calculated the initial window," Hissed Illirch. His milky white center eye glowed with the third sight, the Navigator's natural talents coming into play, "Opening in three, two, one, mark."

A circle of space ripped inward, a swirling purple and black Maelstrom of malice forcing its way into the real world. Malevolent and eager, the warp energies crackled against the matter of the real world guiding the Endless Bounty's path. Unreality and physics combated violently, lighting shooting out in screaming arcs for miles in every direction.

The dart ships careened away from the bounty in terror, struggling to avoid the rift. An unfortunate handful plunged into the rift, unable to correct their course. Tendrils of the wormhole eagerly reached out, grabbing them and dragging them to Throne knows where.

Sáclair dove into the rift, past the tendrils of warp energy. They reached out for the ship, pawing over the ships wards without success. He shot past them and collapsed the entrance, sealing it with an additional rune. The binding would only last for minutes, but that could be hours or days in the real world.

"By the throne," Sáclair snarled, "Disgraced in battle by hertic forces twice."

With the Emperor as his witness Faust would not get the better of him a third time.
 

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Discussion Starter #93
This was not part of prophecy, not part of the plan. She'd hoped Draal could reason with Kosh, do something to slow the Vorlon ships or protect the Imperial ship. But attacking the Vorlons? It hadn't ever occurred to her. Captain Sheridan was as taken aback by Draals violent attack as she was, his eye's near bulging with confusion.

The crucial elements of the future coming to fruition required that the Great Machine, the Vorlons, the Humans, and Minbari work in concert. It was not simply a product of what could happen, it was a function of what must happen.

Yet for all her assurances of the inevitability of the future she was stuck in the impossible morass of the present. Captain Sheridan and Draal stood in front of Kosh in open defiance.

"Why," Kosh's voice was not angry, only confused. He examined at Draal as one might examine a horse that'd just kicked his groom and crippled him, "Why?"

"The pattern has changed, and new possibilities arise," Draal responded immediately.

"And the circle?"

"It abides," Draal spoke in Vorlon riddles, intentionally keeping the humans in ignorance. Delenn knew enough to realize that the circle was the Vorlon plan for combating the Shadows, though the specifics of it were lost on her. Obedience did not require understanding.

"Then we are finished," Kosh let go of Mr. Garibaldi, dropping the man to the floor. The Vorlon turned and left the room, ignoring Garibaldi's furious string of expletives. Captain Sheridan helped the man to his feet, staring at the door in disgust.

"Finished? Does he really expect to just walk away after everything he's done?" the Captain tapped his communicator twice to issue an arrest order then froze as though someone had slapped him, "Of course he does. He has diplomatic immunity, and even if he didn't what are we supposed to do to him? We can't even declare him without persona non grata without a unanimous vote of the Babylon 5 advisory council." That such a vote was near impossible went without saying.

Draal shrugged, "Very little I suspect. And there is less I can do. My treaty with the Vorlons prevents interference in their guiding of the younger races."

"That's it? They kill hundreds and it goes under the category of 'it happens sometimes," Garibaldi croaked hoarsely, "Just whoops and move on? Like hell."

"I was not caretaker at the time the deal was forged," the hologram flickered slightly, "I would not have agreed to an eternal contract if I had been. But it is what it is. And I am what I am." He turned to the Captain, "I will contact you soon. Do not try to contact me till then, I have exhausted the limits of what I can do in the name of justice."

"I haven't," Garibaldi croaked, "Not by a long shot. I'm isolating Kosh in his quarters till we get diplomatic authority to boot him off the station. We have five ships worth of Gropos we should be able to keep him in a room."

"If you must," Draal shimmered into nothingness, his hologram receding into the floor, "Good luck."

A tinny whistle twittered on the operations consul, whirring in time with a flashing red indicator light. The Captain shook his head in consternation and pressed the button, "Garibaldi please escort Delenn back to her quarters and find accommodations for Father Al'Ashir," Captain Sheridan's face looked stretched, giving him the impression of distinct agedness. He tapped the operations screen, "It would seem that General Hague has finally decided to grace us with his presence."

Delenn looked back at the Captain though the closing door, a distinct feeling of loss running through her. She didn't know why but it seemed like she was unlikely to ever see him again. Things were not going as they should have.

Delenn's world was collapsing in around her and she no longer felt like she could breathe. None of this was supposed to happen, the Vorlons were supposed to guide the younger races in secret, helping them on their path to eventual war with the shadows. It had been foreseen. It was fact. Part of the prophecy that she'd given her life to fulfilling.

She'd entered into the pact, changing her body in the chrysalis willingly knowing that the future would come to pass. Now that prophecy was breaking down in front of her eyes she could not help but feel naked in the face of the future.

She ran her fingers through her hair and tightened her resolve. If the future would not come on its own she would force it to happen.

Even destiny needed help on occasion.
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A/N: Well this update was substantially delayed. I ruptured my eardrum badly and didn't much feel like writing for about a month while my ear healed. Something about constant tinnitus and vertigo rather caused writers block. Now that I'm back in fighting fit regular monthly (ish) updates will resume.

Cheers and as always reviews are greatly appreciated.
 

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Discussion Starter #95
Hague was late. Well... he was later than John would have preferred. One never made the mistake of implying a General was late. But a delay was par the course.

General Hague's fleet arrived around an hour after the fighting ceased. However a meeting with the general was all but impossible in light of the pressing concerns of the moment. Half the station was inaccessible due to fires, decompression and collapsed bulkheads. It had taken a full ten hours for station security to complete their full sweep before John had even considered letting the repair crews at anything other than the critical damage to the station.

It was harrowing, wandering the deathly silence of the station in the damaged areas. Black as a shrouded tomb each corridor held unspoken menace. The Babylon station's recent violation blistering and boiling in the hearts of all his men. Soldiers, robust and vigorous only a week prior dropped to cover at the slightest echo or unexplained whisper, clearly expecting the worst.

However, for all his precautions and desires for vengeance, the threat seemed to have passed. Not even the slightest trace of the Inquisitor's demon remained, only the consequences of it's mayhem. His own office was in a terrible state. Lt. Corwin, unsure what to do with the tech Priest's adepts in the fighting, had tossed them into John's office and sealed the door. Whatever else might be said about the adepts of the machine god, it cannot be said that they were not ready in a crisis.

The neophyte Tech-priests had seen to fortifying the office in the hopes that they might be able to last a prolonged siege. After sealing the air vents with a type of epoxy maintenance assured him would require ten hours with a laser saw to remove they'd painted every wall in the entire room. Odd runes and curious symbols of eagles and weapons spiraled across the ceiling around a crude image of a cog emblazoned with a skull half covered in bionic implants, supposedly for the purpose of repelling demons. Ghastly and hideous though they were, John was loath to have them painted over on the offhand chance that they actually functioned.

He was less inclined, however, to keep his overturned desk where they'd placed it. The long metal slab which had formerly been his table-top stood welded to the floor at an angle so that the adepts might crouch behind it and fire with the small firearms they'd apparently smuggled with them into the station. However the pistols weren't what bothered him. It was the grenade they'd been planning to kill themselves with rather than let the demon eat them.

What sort of place was this empire that children were immediately willing to commit suicide rather than risk capture?

John sat in his comfortable chair, staring at his gutted half desk in contemplation when the General and his entourage of GROPOS entered John's office, accompanied by Lt. Corwin. The Lieutenant, attentive to his duties as always, saluted John and stood at attention, "General Hague to see you sir."

John stood and saluted the general, trying to maintain as much dignity as was possible under the circumstances. He felt oddly small under the gaze of the skull on his ceiling, "Welcome Aboard General."

"Glad to be here Captain, though I wish it were under better circumstances." The General walked around the welded table top, deliberately not mentioning the disarray of John's office. He shot his GROPO bodyguard a look, "Leave us."

"Sir," the stern looking marine elongated the title a bit longer than was necessary, not overtly making it a question but broadly implying his unease.

"Sergeant, there is no immediate danger to me in the Captains office that you won't be able to protect me from on the other side of that door," The general raised an eyebrow sternly, "Am I understood?"

"Yes sir," Lt. Corwin saluted affirmatively, "Of course sir."

The officers watched the enlisted men leave before the General pulled a long sliver device from his pocket, twisting it with a twittering whine and placing it on the husk of John's desk. Neither man spoke till the machine, an electronic surveillance jamming device, chirruped twice. With an exhausted sigh the General clapped John on the back in sympathy, "John I'm sorry. I don't even begin to imagine how you're feeling right now."

"How I'm feeling?" John sputtered, "General it's been over a weeks since I took command of Babylon Five and I haven't heard a word from you... or anyone else for that matter. If you... if anyone had been here just a bit faster... Sir, I'm sorry doesn't cut it."

"John you know how important secrecy is to our goal. I couldn't risk contacting you till I was sure that Clark's people were convinced that you were their man," The General paced the office in preoccupation, "I'd hoped to stay out of contact longer to be frank, but circumstances are against us."

"Hundreds, maybe thousands of people dead sir. Was the secrecy worth it?" John's voice was as much a growl as a whisper.

"Pull yourself together soldier," General Hague's placid reprimand held an icy tinge of danger in his calmness. Had John been any other man, had he not just suffered so resounding a loss, General Hague would have given him the thrashing he deserved for such insubordination, rank be damned, "There is nothing that breaking silence would have achieved other than ending our investigation. Wanting to be here more doesn't make quantium-40 move the ship faster. We are making headway to finding out who killed Santiago but don't be a fool."

"I don't like spying on my own people," John pulled the list of casualties and missing in action from his desk. Some of whom, perhaps all of whom, were dead or dying, "I don't like lying to the men and women that I'm asking to fight for me, treating them like common criminals."

"You know as well as I do that if there was a coup that it would require the assistance of the military," the General sighed empathetically, "We have to assume that some of the Babylon staff was involved in order to get the bombs onto Earth Force 1."

"I don't think any of the command staff was involved," Garibaldi was too rigid, Franklin was too idealistic, Corwin was too unimaginative, and Ivanova was too stubborn to commit treason, "They don't feel right for it."

"John, I trust your judgement. If you think you can trust your people, then trust them. Bring them in on your suspicions," General Hague continued in his infuriatingly reasonable tone, "Discretely."

"Yes, sir. Once things have settled down I'll see to it," John rubbed the back of his neck, "Any word on the Narn-Centauri fleet?"

"It's still strange to hear that said out loud," The General smiled, "A year ago I would have said it was impossible. They left heading to somewhere along their border. The Ambassadors assured me that there was no issue for either of their governments."

"I'm still not convinced they won't start blowing each other up just out of habit," John looked up, startling himself by making eye contact with the skull, "Jesus I hate that thing."

The General followed his gaze, "Have you dealt with the Imperial survivors yet?"

"We've set them up in temporary housing in red sector. The few ships that managed to survive the battle have docked in bay fifteen. There are less than a hundred of them, but they seem more or less willing to keep to themselves," John pulled a printout from the manila folder on his desk, passing the crisp sheet of paper to the general, "The apartments are the size of a postage stamp and the pilots are bunking two men to a room but the accommodations are well received by all accounts."

"I'm surprised they haven't requested to contact the Endless Bounty," the General chewed his lip, "We haven't detected any... but they wouldn't would they? They use psychic communications."

"We believe they may have some of the psychic servitors on board their ships in docking bay fifteen, but to be honest sir that's been a pretty low priority so far. And I'm not about to start invading their privacy while they're helping us with repairs," John raised his hand at the general's outraged expression in gentle mollification, "Nothing critical sir, but we haven't been able to stop them from trying to repair things. I think it has to do with growing up on a starship, fixing things makes them more comfortable. We've got them fixing the hydroponics bays. They really like the hydroponics bays."

John wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to get the Imperials to leave the hydroponics bays. The Imperial pilots treated the stations gardens with a reverence and amazement primitive man must have felt for fire. They spoke a dialect unfamiliar to the translation computers but if Galut was to be trusted, and Garibaldi seemed to believe there was no reason to doubt him; The Imperial pilots had likely never seen a park that large before outside of a picture book or from miles in the air.

"That's fine I suppose, but what's this note about the Imperial... Galut? He has been appointed to station security?" The General shook his head, "I'm not sure about that."

"The Imperials are going to be here for an indefinite length of time. They need to have at least somebody in station security who can speak their languages. Garibaldi trusts him enough to give him entry level security clearance. That's good enough for me," John sighed, "If it doesn't work out we can revoke the clearance."

"I suppose, this is all so strange..." The General blinked in shock and looked up from the page he'd been perusing, "Magos Kerrigan? Isn't she some sort of royalty in the Empire?"

"She's a... Well I don't really know what she is in English. She's something between a shaman and tech support really. The "cult of the Omnissiah," are apparently the keepers of all technological and biological information in the Empire," John grimaced, "She's also a class A liability, a cyborg with more built in weapons than I can shake a stick at. But I couldn't exactly turn her away could I?"

"She's been given diplomatic quarters I trust," The General said in a "please tell me you didn't forget to do this" voice.

"She refused them. Said they were "too ostentatious for the disgraced," John shrugged, "She's living out of a scuttled cargo ship that she's repairing. I offered the same to Al'Ashir, the Imperial Priest but he insists that he shouldn't live cloistered from the common people. He used some sort of parable to describe it that I didn't really understand, 'I do not walk with Vandire. But he wants to start a church on the station, a permanent one."

"Yes," the General nodded, chewing his lip, "Yes I think it's a good idea."

"Sir?"

"Sheridan, you are in very hot water right now. There will be an inquest into what has happened so far, and I can't help you when it comes. You need to have some measurable progress to show how helping the Empire has ended up being a net benefit," Hague pointed to the symbols on the ceiling, "You need an easy "win" to point to."

"The Narn and Centauri united to try and do something people had previously believed impossible. We protected an ally with weapons to harm the Vorlons. ISN is haling it as a victory." It was all too unfair, "What more could they possibly want?"

"The Earth, the stars, and more. John you've only seen the beginnings of the media storm that's coming. Pretty soon someone is going to start asking how this could have been avoided, and 'not aiding the Empire' is going to be pretty high on the list of retroactive solutions," The General shrugged, "It isn't your fault. You haven't done anything wrong but unless Clark's administration can point to this as a win somehow heads are going to roll. Getting some sort of technology from this Kerrigan woman or some sort of cultural outreach like the church, or both, would go a long way to securing yourself politically."

"Unbelievable," John realized that he'd balled the folder in his hands into a ball in anger, throwing it to the ground in disgust, "General I'm not even done burying the dead. I'm not about to dance around playing nice for these short sighted morons."

The General was having none of John's self pity, "Don't you dare make this about you. This isn't about you or what you want, this is about what could happen if we end up with some jingoistic human's first whack-a-mole taking your place. Don't dishonor the memory of the people you lost by making their sacrifices in vain. "

"Yes sir," John massaged his temples, "Of course sir... I think... I think I'm just tired."

"John when was the last time you slept?" General Hague looked at the dark circles under John's eyes in genuine concern, "You... you have slept?"

"Well..." John hedged, not willing to outright lie to his superior, "A nap here and there..."

"Get some rest." The General said in a gentle voice he'd never heard before, "Call your parents to let them know you're still alive. I can handle co-ordinating repairs for the next shift."

"Sir I don't know..."

"That was an order John."

"Of course sir," John sighed, the prospect of laying down to sleep more appealing than any other proposal he'd heard that day, "Thank you sir."

"And John."

"Yes sir?"

"It really wasn't your fault."

"I know sir." John sighed, "I just have to start myself to start believing."
 

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Discussion Starter #96
On reflex Daul reached to seize the larynx of the man before him, flailing in confusion when nothing happened. It took him a moment to re-orient himself and see that a fleshy nub of flesh sat where an arm should have been.

The hazy shape of Faest Nor towered above him, figure drawing better into focus as the miraculous anit-agapics flowed into his system. Servo skulls knitted synthetic flesh into his missing skin and osteopathic binding gel into his cracked and fractured limbs.

He winced as he felt binding gel hardening against an exposed nerve, "How long have I been out for?"

"Days," Nor's voice managed to convey a clinically disinterested dispassion for the Inquisitor without implying anything unprofessional, odd considering how much Nor hated him, "We've moved from the Epsilon System to somewhere in Narn territory, the Centari Ambassador has scheduled a rendezvous with our ship a week from now. We should be safe for the moment. Well, as safe as a ship in the warp ever can be."

"Cairn?" Daul clicked his jaw back and forth experimentally. Wet and squelching, an unpleasant popping noise greeted his manipulations accompanied by shooting pain. Agitated by his yelp of discomfort, a servo skull with an odd vice-like protrusion wrenched his dislocated socket back into place with an ear popping squelch.

He wouldn't try that again soon.

"Alive to the best of my knowledge. Tuul implied that he would be fully functioning by the week's end, though without Kerrigan's assistance I don't know if that's simply idle talk," Nor pressed a button on the side of Daul's cot and released the bindings. Daul gingerly lifted himself to a sitting position, the overwhelming feel of pins and needles warring with sore bones to take the brunt of his attention.

"Without Kerrigan? Has something happened to her?" Daul flexed his legs, biting his lip as his right thigh contracted in agony. A knotted mass of muscle contracted, paralyzingly him in pain, "Throne above!"

"Hurt your body and it will gladly return the favor," Nor snapped, rubbing a salve that reeked of menthol into his naked thigh, "The Magos committed mutiny. I don't know the specifics of how exactly but she sabotaged the main guns when Sáclair gave the order to fire."

"The Magos? Kerrigan?" So it hadn't been Sáclair's desire to protect his son after all, a prospect Daul found bizarrely disappointing, "What on Earth possessed her to do that?"

"You'd have to talk with the Captain about that," Nor shrugged, "Kerrigan kept her mind to herself and did what she pleased."

Daul raised an eyebrow, "I'm to return to my home then, am I?"

"We kept you sedated for the more serious surgeries, once we're done here you'll be stable enough to return to your quarters under supervision. I've re-assigned a dozen medi-skulls to your personal use," Nor examined the intricate latticework of augmentics honeycombed into the pale scarred flesh of Daul's missing arm. The stump now ended in a round narrow socket covered in the fine sigils of the adeptus mechancius, engraved in golden filagree on the dull sheen of adamantium, "Yes, that's healing quite nicely. You're a lucky man Hilder. This should have bled out. Whoever gave you triage saved your life."

"Did they?" Daul grunted in annoyance. There was no way the Kroot would ever let him live this down if he ever discovered it. Oh Throne, there was no way the Kroot didn't already know. Daul ground his teeth, the indignity of it might well kill him anyway.

Oblivious to Daul's irritation Nor blazed on, "Damn good job, these Alliance know their medicine. I'll have to have a word with Medicus Franklin once we've re-established communications," he twisted something in the electronics and Daul gagged in pain, his left eye twitching as Nor pulled three spindly bundles of cable from the socket. Synthetic nerves might not be as sensitive as the real thing, but having them so callously jerked about wasn't pleasant, "I need to start looking into alternative methods for some of my more hard case patients."

Daul followed the man's eyes across the row of beds in the room, most of who's occupants were lying in blissful comatose slumber. A young man dressed in the crimson and gold of house Sáclair sat slumped over in one of the uncomfortable metal chairs, snoring contentedly. His fingers were interlocked with those of the girl in the bed next to him, holding her as though she might slip away at any moment, "David Sáclair."

"Yes. And Bonafila Enzo, the boy hasn't left her side except for when I kick him out to make sure he keeps eating. He'd sleep here too if I let him," Nor sighed sympathetically his fingers ceasing their weave, "She's been improving lately, even a couple lucid moments, but I don't know if it will last in the long run. The poor dear."

"Her father doesn't approve of them," Daul smiled slightly, "But you do."

"I haven't a clue what you're on about," Nor was so startled by the accusation that he stopped weaving the nerves, "I abide by her father's wishes to the letter."

"It's a bit late for visiting hours. I see no chaperone." Daul smiled, "And I'd wager when you kick him out to grab a bite to eat coincides with when her parents come to visit."

Nor ignored Dauls chain of logic with a deliberate sniff that only served to convice Daul he was correct, "Your apprentice refused her medical checkup. She nearly tore my head off when I tried to examine her injuries. I admit Gazan is a competent medic but she really ought to be properly looked over by a qualified Medicus."

"I'll be in your quarters later on tomorrow to check on you," Nor untwisted a knotted bit of synthetic nerves in a single deft motion that set Daul's body into a rictus jerk as the sensation of burning rushed across his body, "Do try to convince your apprentice to permit a medical check when I arrive."

"I'm not surprised by her reticence. Her apprenticeship is... more complicated than the average one," In the hustle and bustle of the events on station the Lieutenant Commander had genuinely slipped from his memory. Kidnapping a foreign military official seemed trite and pedestrian by comparison to exorcising a demon but it could be no less dangerous to him in the long run, "She is a special case."

"She's a firebrand," Nor's lip quirked at the side as he untwisted another gut wrenching bundle of synthetic nerves, "And she doesn't much care for you."

"You disapprove of my choice of apprentice," Daul glared imperiously at the Medicus, doing his best to convey his absence of interest in the Nor's' opinion.

"Absolutely not," Nor pulled a long cedar box from a cabinet, "She's a wonderful judge of character."

Daul made an uncooth gesture with his remaining hand, too exhausted to waste energy on wit. Nor eyed his fingers in disapproval, "I will be glad to amputate those fingers you if you don't put them down this instant, Inquisitor or not you will be civil in my surgery."

"I believe you were casting aspersions about my character not even a minute ago," Daul huffed.

"It's a perk of being the Medicus," Nor set the box on the cot next to Daul and opened it, revealing a sleek prosthetic. Covered in filagree and the sort of ivory ornamentation favored by the nobility of the bounty it seemed more like a set piece from a holo-drama than a functional augmentic. No expense had been spared, even the individual fingers were set with patterns of ivory carved into the holy symbols of Imperial faith, "You get to tell people the truth about themselves. Now are you going to continue being obstreperous or am shall I replace your arm?"

"You are a supremely irritating man," Daul said, lifting his hand in surrender. Nor attached the artificial nerves with a jaw gnashingly painful deftness, calloused hands weaving the nerves into the connectors in an elaborate lacework of circuitry.

"That should do it," Nor weaved the last of the fibers together and pressed a red button on the inside of the socket in Daul's shoulder, sucking the interconnected fibers into the arm and pulling the arm into place. The magnetic bindings in the shoulder snapped into place, tinny clicking servos grinding as the arm bound itself to the Inquisitior's body. Daul clenched his new fist on reflex, gaudy augmentic digits denting the metal railing on the bed. Daul's vision swam as his brain struggled to cope with the regained sensation of his new appendage.

"Throne above that hurts worse than losing it," Daul snarled, furious at Nor's apparent and unconcealed enjoyment of his discomfort.

"It will take you a while to regain your reflexes and be able to safely use your new arm," Nor tapped the digits with a small hammer, testing the augmentic arm's reflexes and ignoring Daul entirely, "The arm I fitted you with is a permanent prosthesis, no need to take it off before bathing or swimming. If you get any adverse reactions to the implant or it doesn't function properly contact me immediately. Once you've managed to get back into the change of clothes Jak brought from your quarters I'll call one of the Lionhearts to take you to the Captain. He wants to debrief you on what has happened so far."

The doctor jabbed Daul's bare chest with a bony digit, "Normally after a medically induced coma and attaching a prosthesis I demand that my patients get a month's bed rest and two months of physical therapy, but we both know you're just going to ignore my advice and do your best to work yourself to an early grave so I'm going to save myself the time and effort of lecturing you on the stupidity of lying to your Medicus. Just try not to lose any more parts of yourself in the immediate future."

"I'll do my best," Daul sighed, "But it's probably best I see to something before going to the Sáclair. Where is my apprentice? My quarters or has she had to be placed in a holding cell to stop her from trying to escape?"

"The Lady Sáclair has been seeing to your apprentice's education while you've been indisposed. She's taken quite a liking to her," Nor's voice brimmed with approval, "Taking her under her wing."

"Throne help me." Daul shuddered as an ominous cold shot of sensation washed over his spine. Nothing good could come of this, the Lady Sáclair held no love for him, "Very well then. To Sáclair's it is then."
 

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Discussion Starter #97
The security Guard motioned for Abbas and Orr to follow him as he strode towards docking bay fifteen, leading the way around the repair teams. Abbas liked Lou.

Near as Abbas could tell, the man's job was to make sure that the Imperials were fitting in to station life. He patrolled the corridors of the station that had been designated as Imperial apartments, aided by a particularly vicious looking Ogryn. Rumor had it that the Inquisitor left the Ogryn on the station to take out anyone who stepped out of line. There was even supposed to be a crazed Arco-flagellant in the brig gifted to the Captain of the station in case of emergencies.

But nobody had any sort of rumors or suspicions about Lou, he was about as devious as a pigmy grox. The portly security officer wasn't stern or severe at he'd expected a station security officer to be so soon after an attack, not suspicious or combative as one would expect. He'd, in his own clumsy way, become like a friendly uncle. He couldn't speak a word of gothic, so his communication with Abbas and Orr had been limited to pantomime and occasional drawings, but his genuine enthusiasm needed no translation.

He'd even cooked for the Apprentices on their first night. His cooking, though far from elegant, was hearty and satisfying. The exotic thick flatbread cakes drizzled with some sort of brown sugary syrup and yellow yolked eggs were much to Abbas' liking, though Orr seemed hesitant to trust them.

It wasn't Orr's fault really. Having grown up in the slums, the boy had practically grown up on reconstituted nutrient supplements and gruel. His pallet was simply unprepared for the more rich flavors of the food. He was a funny child really, educated in the manner of the common people of the Endless Bounty he occasional had queer ideas about the way the world was supposed to work.

The boy had swooned when he'd realized that the modest room Lou led them two was intended for the two of them. "Throne above," he's sighed as he flung himself onto one of the bunks, flipping the lights on and off, "This must have been what it was like to live in the Captain's palace eh' Abbas."

He hadn't had the heart to tell the boy that the room would have barely been the size of his closet and not even close to as large as his bathroom. He regularly found himself in baffling position of trying to downplay his former good fortune, something that as the bastard son of Sáclair hadn't ever come up before. But that largely had to do with Orr not even particularly understand the concept of children being born out of wedlock.

"Abbas, I don't know what you're on about," he'd said, "Your ma' and da' are the ones who raise you. Who gives a tinker's toss if they were married or not?" The boy just didn't understand the way the world actually worked. Still... he couldn't hold it against the boy, it wasn't Orr's fault that he was uneducated.

It was as they rounded the bend and walked past another cluster of xenos that he had another one of his more unique musings, "Hey Abbas. Have you ever noticed how most xenos look a bit like us."

Abbas followed his gaze, sighing exasperatedly, "I don't recall ever having seen an orange human with black spots."

"No I mean like five fingers, one head, two legs, that sort of thing. Think about the races we worry about, Orks, Eldar, and Tau." He counted them down on his fingers, "They've all got the same sort of shape."

"The Tau have three fingers don't they?" Where did these thoughts come from... honestly, "And hooves?"

"Yeah but they have the whole two arms, two legs situation," Orr shrugged, "It's just weird to me that all the races that can talk look alike. Almost like it was planned or summut."

"Orr, there are tons of races that don't look like us or move like us," Abbas pointed at a group of insectoid things in black suits right outside the wide doors to the docking bay, "And what about the Tyranids? I think people just tend to only talk about the ones that are easier for us to understand."

"You understand the Orks?" Orr looked at the imperial ships, "Maybe you should be an Inquisitor."

"I... I don't think there's a whole lot to understand when it comes to Orks Orr," Abbas laughed, "All the books I've read seem to indicate that 'pointy thing goes in the other guy' is about as complex as they get."

They didn't talk much as they made their way through the bay, it was too loud. The space echoed with the deep grinding and throbbing of heavy machinery, sounding from all corners of the room. An wave of servitors and pilots wandered the room carrying tools and talking in loud voices. An occasional xenos would wander in to the bay, only to quickly turn around and leave as the collective glares of the pilots made it abundantly clear that they didn't belong, except of course the Alliance officers who were simply ignored.

The comforting sight of hundreds of servo skulls pleased Abbas greatly. The chipper craniums floated about the room, completing their repairs and gibbering in binary with each other. He knew that they were sharing technical data and tasks with other mono-tasked devices but there was something pleasantly conversational about them. They flew in circles around the room, forming a funnel down to an unassuming ship and it's familiar crewman.

Abbas pushed his way past Lou, sprinting the ten yards to the ship and tossing himself at the midriff of a woman he feared he might never see again. He grunted as Orr collided into him from behind, trying to hug them both. His eyes full of tears of joy he laughed uproariously, "Magos Frist. I can't believe its you. This is just too wonderful!"

"Mistress how did you get here? How can we help?" Orr's face lit up with excitement as Abbas knew his own had. They both looked expectantly at the Magos, thrilled to finally know that they were back where they belonged.

The Magos, doubtless choked with the her own emotions at their reunion, warbled in a mechanical morose keen, "I... I'm glad to see the both of you as well. Orr," her voice hitched and she looked at them with sad eyes set into burned and ragged flesh, "Abbas."

Lou said a few words in the Alliance language and nodded in polite greeting to the Magos. She returned the gesture as best she could around her apprentices, waving in goodbye as the man walked away across the bay in the direction of the beginnings of a fist fight between two pilots.

Abbas brimmed with pride at the extra attention she'd paid to his own name, "Magos why are you here? We thought that you'd left with everyone else."

"Your father...your father sent me here," She said it deliberately, as though unsure of her words, "I... I'm here because I tried to create an escape route for you. It did not work out as I had planned."

Abbas practically beamed with confidence. His father loved him. For the first time in his life he was sure of it. He would be able to be taught by the Magos and it was because his father had made sure that he would not be trapped with the demon. He might not be with his father any more but he would make him proud.

Orr bounced on his heels and held up his sachel of tools, "Mistress what can we do to help."

The Magos, ever eager for a project, clapped her hands and summoned a servo skull. The servitor device hovered in front of her, projecting an image of the cargo ship, "Come on then boys, we have much to do, so much to do."

As Abbas listened to her talk about containment fields and relay patterns he smiled and listened to the shouts, laughter and chatter of pilots. Even if it wasn't the Endless Bounty he was finally back where he belonged.
 

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The Imperial treatment of prisoners was astonishing in it's grimness. The day to day needs of the prisoners were attended to by glassy eyed servitors, none of whom seemed to be gifted with an over-abundance of cleverness. Each servitor apparently served a single role in eternal repetition, his body augmented to compliment the needs of that role.

A particularly unhygienic servitor with a canister built into his spinal column came to the cell twice a day after the call to prayers and poured a congealed mess that might once have been food into a long trough in the cell from which the prisoners were to serve themselves. There was no shortage of the stew, none of the prisoners seemed in any particular rush to consume large portions of it.

Vir half heartedly poked at the brownish slop in his bowl with his finger, agitating the viscous skin of congealed rancid meat in an effort to determine if it was edible. It was a sign of how truly vile the food was that in his starvation he'd only been able to convince himself to sniff the bowl once before giving up on the matter entirely.

His whole body ached from the beating the guards had given him for resisting being tossed into his cell. Chubby fingers massaged the thick red and purple welt across his face marking where security smashed him in the face. It was unlikely his nose would ever heal properly after being dislocated and untreated for hours.

His cell mates, a gaggle of Imperial prisoners, spent most of the first day either glaring at him with their unnerving stares or pointedly excluding him from their conversations. Every once and a while they bickered in their native language, speaking too fast for Vir to understand more than their general distaste for incarceration and mistrust of him. His own elaborate costume had not escaped the attention of his cell mates, the bright purple and gold of his jacket clashed glaringly with the brown and red woolen sack cloth of the Imperial prisoners.

They were as alien to Vir as any species he'd ever met. This sweaty, swarthy, and obviously malnourished collection of miscreants stood out in stark contrast to the immaculately dressed and physically stunning Imperial citizens in the Inquisitor's retinue.

Realizing the worth of the Vir's jewelry, a brutish excuse for a human being shambled over to him and pinned him to the wall by the throat. Air seemed a distant luxury as the sharp jagged edge of his prison shiv gleamed in the hellish half dark of their cell, reflecting the faces of the men now intently ignoring them both. With stiff anticipation four deft swipes liberated the buttons of his coat.

He'd kicked Vir for good measure after dropping him to the floor, relishing Vir's whimpers of fear and disbelief. The man liberated him of his shoes as he gasped for air, hearts thundering in his ears in irregular terrified bursts of panic. It wasn't fair. What had he done to deserve this? What wrong had he visited upon these men that entitled them to what was his? Nothing, nothing other than their own greed.

Filled furious iniquity and blessed with the atrophied hereditary strength of his pre-historic carnivorous forefathers, Vir bit down hard on the hand of a man to tear the broach from his breast, filthy man flesh tearing beneath his sharp canines. Coppery flesh wrapped bundles of bone and gristle cracked beneath his bite with satisfying aplomb, shredding the flesh as the man reflexively recoiled.

Wiping the sticky mess from his lower lip Vir stood and faced his attacker, watching the formidable man cradle his useless mauled paw. The man swung at Vir with a clumsy haymaker, abruptly falling to the floor as his head burst in a shower of superheated meat. Horrified and confused, Vir screamed in shock, looking around the cell for some plausible explanation for the man's spontaneous combustion.

His eyes fell upon the supremely welcome sight of a guard garbed in the familiar livery of the Endless bounty leaning in through the now open door of Vir's cell. A jaunty gold leaf lion perched upon the crimson armor of his breastplate grinning in parody of the man's own dark frown. Maker be blessed, an officer of the law.

Eager to express his gratitude to his savior, Vir smiled placatingly and raised his hands palm up in a sign of surrender before crossing them before himself in the symbol he'd seen the Inquisitor use as a symbol of greeting a dozen times and spoke the words of greeting he'd memorized just in case.

It was a mistake.

The big man lifted him off the ground by his hair and frog marched him out of the cell, cruelly twisting and flexing his wrist to force Vir to dance on tip toe as he slammed the cell door shut. The big man's face contorted into a rictus of hatred, "Sitzen spumae!"

Vir swallowed trying to dislodge the thick lump of fear wedged in his neck. The man couldn't realistically expect Vir to understand him, it would be insane. The Gothic language hadn't been in known space for more than a month.

The man howled, "Xenos spumare," then punched him in the gut with the full force of his gauntleted fist, the soft flesh of his belly reverberating with the popping squelch of cracked ribs as the big man swept Vir's feet out from under him with a kick behind the ankles. The screams and shouts of prisoners up and down the cell block echoed ominously, catcalling, cheering, and protesting incoherently in a disharmonious cacophony of sound and horror.

Vir whimpered in pained confusion as the man pressed an armored boot into his neck, slowly cutting off the airflow, "Quam usudujete vobis! Me te umbrigen huis aqui."

"I don't understand," Vir coughed and scrambled his chubby fingers over the man's feet, trying to remove him, yelping as his fingers cut on barbed scraps of metal jutting out from the mail shirt beneath the silk tabard of his armor, "Please, I don't understand."

Vir's eyes bulged as the man drew the gun from his belt and forced it between his lips, the smooth metal of it's deathly cold barrel menacing in it's immaculate purpose. He tried to protest tried to explain but the man couldn't have cared less. He continued his furious rant, snarling and growling in the Imperial language. Flecks of spittle came from the man's near foaming mouth, splattering over his long braided beard.

"I'm sorry," Vir mumbled through the mouth full of gun, though it came out more like "muh-mummy," "I'm so sorry." Apologies didn't matter, the fact that he didn't understand what the man was saying didn't matter, it never had mattered. The man hadn't brought him out of the cell to have any questions answered, not really.

Every Centauri knew that look, it was the same expression the old guard wore when talking about the "good old days" of the Republic, back when the subjugation and wholesale slavery of worlds and nations was commonplace. Bloodthirsty morbid self righteousness as dangerous as the greatest madness to forsake the senses, Vir was just there to be his punching bag. The man would shoot Vir without provocation just because he could, because it would make him feel superior.

The man's finger drew in, taught on the pistol's trigger, before a chamber pot sailed out from nowhere, colliding with squarely with the man's face and covering his front in a disgusting mess of excrement. The man backed away from Vir in confused shock, wiping the filth from his face and firing blindly in the direction the chamber pot came from.

A scarred and grime covered human fell to the ground in his cell in an agonized heap, stone dead and clutching a fist sized hole the man's pistol made in his chest. He died staring into Vir's eyes, a look of great satisfaction plastered across his skeletal face, gaunt from decades of incarceration and starvation.

Vir scrambled backwards across the floor, getting as much space between himself and the man. His heart pounded with every slippery, scrambling crawl of his furious crab-walk. He had no idea where he was going and he didn't care. Just away would be enough for him.

He rounded a corner and came face to face with the startled visage of Jak, who at that moment might have been the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen in his entire life. The Inquisitor's translator stopped mid stride, his convulsing body awkwardly pulsing with confusion, "What in the Throne's name?"

Vir's answer came in the form of a furious downward stomp from the excrement covered man's heavy boot to his groin, knocking the wind out of him as it depressed his secondary bladder. Not as painful to a Centauri as to a human, but unpleasant enough to silence him, Vir crawled into a ball and wrapped his arms around his sides to protect his organs.

Jak held out an arm between the man and Vir in a gesture of mild rebuke, altogether too relaxed for vir's liking. He wanted Jak to yell, to scream, to chastize, to do something to stop this lunatic but Jak continued his pleasant chat, "Quid facens Rasha? Xenos sunt geschützt."

"Geschützt, sict inferno sie sind," With deliberate menace the large man raised his pistol, still smoking slightly from it's recent discharge, clear in his malevolent intentions. Jak neither moved nor gave sign that he'd even particularly noticed the imminent threat upon his person other than to look down at Vir, "Mister Cotto, I apologize for my lateness. I only had a chance to debrief Vira'capac this morning in the rush to see to other matters. I will see to Section leader Rasha and then we can deal with the necessary paperwork."

The diminutive scribe reached into his robes, rummaging lackadaisically through it's inner pockets and muttering to himself as though he'd misplaced something mid errand. With a screech of indignity at being ignored the filthy man fired his weapon at Jack. Terrified for Jak's safety but too terrified to move Vir watched in wonderment as the beam of light curved away from Jak, sliding across a thin skin of translucent energy and into a harmless flash.

Jak looked at the man in outright bewilderment, apparently realizing only now that the security officer Rasha was a possible threat to his safety. His fingers, surprisingly deft for a man who suffered from regular seizures, stowed the scroll and pulled out an icon intimately familiar to Vir. One just like it was chained to his neck by a thin length of twine he'd liberated from the bottom of his bunk. The icon given to him by Vira'capac.

Realizing it's importance at Rahsa's expression of horror Vir pulled his own icon out and stood up nervously, staying close to Jak in case the man decided to start shooting again. He didn't know of Jak's shield would protect them both but it was worth the gamble.

Rasha looked as though he'd just bitten into rancid meat, his lips puckered inward in horror and the gun fell from his hands to the floor nearly as fast as he he dropped to his knees to plead for forgiveness. Covered in filth and sobbing the man kissed the ground in front of Jack, pleading.

Jak flicked his hand in a wave of errant dismissal, apparently already bored of the distraction. The security officer fled as fast as his legs would carry him, eager to be away from the two of them and his newly granted sense of shame. Watching the guard's retreating back with mild curiosity he pulled out a scroll from his robes and tapped in on the palm of his right hand, "What did you do to incense him?"

"What did I do? Maker's teeth, I didn't do anything. I greeted him and he went berserk," Vir replicated the Imperial bow and phrase twice waving his arms in a hurried mess of awkward gesticulation, "He's nuts! Totally whacko."

Jak covered his lips to stifle a fit of giggles, struggling to keep his composure as he picked the pistol off the ground, "You greeted Rasha with the sign of the Aquilla and said 'I bring you blessings of the Emperor, may you one day find his light?"

"Yes," Vir pulled at his unkempt mess of hair, tugging at the disarray from two days without bathing. Jak did not have to be so insufferably blasé about his near murder, "I did the exact pronunciation and gestures the Inquisitor did!"

"That was... unwise," Jak's giggles were under control but his lip still twitched as though he would very much like to start again as he walked back in the direction of Vir's cell, "It is a religious greeting missionaries give to... heretics and those who have not been taken into the creed who aren't beyond redemption... generally while they're still slaves."

"The Inquisitor has been greeting Ambassador Mollari that way all month... he added it to our official documents on how to greed members of the Empire," Ducking to avoid a passing servitor skull Vir massaged his temples in frustration, more than slightly insulted at the implication. Londo might not have been the best man in the universe but he deserved more respect than that, especially from someone who he'd gone great, even insane, lengths to assist.

Jak sighed clearly reading the Vir's mood, unsurprising really. Vir had never been particularly skilled at concealing his emotions, "Mr. Cotto, it is only insulting to refer to an Imperial Citizen in that way. It is the socially formal greeting for someone someone who is not in the Imperial faith. As a non-human it is the highest socially acceptable greeting he could give Ambassador Mollari. A sign of respect."

"But not to the Imperials," Vir swallowed, "He shot a man in cold blood who tried to defend me, the one who tossed the chamber pot at him."

"Yes," Jak nodded unconcernedly, "That is oft...often the preferred solution for unruly prisoners."

"He was going to kill me." Vir nodded to the pistol in Jak's hand.

"Yes," Jak put the pistol into a pocket of his robes, distaste etched in his features for the weapon and it's owner, "Though I suspect he would have t...tortured you first. He's an executioner from a f...family who has been executioners for five hundred years. He isn't k...known for his c...charming demeanor."

"Why? What could I possibly have done to deserve that," Vir didn't realize he was shouting till Jak backed away from him in shock, "I have done nothing that deserved more than a reprimand, perhaps a punch if he was really annoyed... but death for a poor choice of words? It's wrong!"

"At least he didn't realize you were xenos," Jak sighed, "He wouldn't have wasted the time beating you."

"What?"

"It's dogma to abhor the alien," Jak waved dismissively, "There is a reason that we've been somewhat elusive about the specifics of the Imperial creed... it is... more... severe than that to which you are accustomed... more forceful."

"Care to run that by me again?" Vir squawked.

Jak considered the matter, his stutter more pronounced with every syllable as his concentration shifted from enunciation, "The vast majority of the races b...bordering the Empire are more... unreasonable than those we've encountered here. Our p...policies in foreign relations are... c...colored by millenia of c...conflict. I have l...little doubt the Ecclesiarchy will g...grant the C...Centauri some special dispensation for services rendered, there is precedent for it and Daul is fond of you b...but more aggressive policies are generally preferred by the Empire."

"Dispensation to do what exactly?"

"Exist," Jak said, as though the answer ought to have been obvious to anyone paying attention, "Now are you going to follow me back to your place in the Inquisitor's apartments? We're on a rather tight schedule."

"No," Vir stopped midway down the corridor. Looking the a cell full of hard eyed men, "We're not."

"No?" Jak's displeasure oozed off of every syllable as he turned in a slow, fidgeting circle to face Vir, "And why not?"

"Because I'm not leaving people to just rot in some cell while the jailers look for excuse to shove a gun in their mouth," Vir pulled the icon out from his shirt, "If this is what they need to protect them then this is what I want them to get."

"Mr. Cotto you are exhausted and no doubt starving. I... appreciate that, our j...justice system is none of your b...business. You will not change f...fifty thousand years of our culture in an afternoon." Jak pressed his hand to a biometric sensor on the exit from the prison, "But if you really do w...want to commit them to a lifetime of s...service to the Inquisitor I would s...suggest learning about your own obligations before committing others to your c...cause. I suspect they w...would prefer to finish their incarceration or servitude if g...given the choice."

"This isn't just an identification badge is it?" Vir sighed, already knowing the answer wasn't going to sit well with him.

"No it isn't" Jak confirmed, "C...congratulations Mr. Cotto. You are the newest acolyte of Inquisitor Hilder until such time as he has no use for you or you die in his service. And he will find a use for you Mr. Cotto. Inquisitor Hilder does not waste resources as useful as yourself."

"I'm not feeling especially inclined to be useful," Vir crossed his arms and thumbed the frayed fabric where his buttons had been cut off.

"Then I s...suppose you'd prefer that we put an Imperial agent in c...charge of facilitating c...co-habitation between the hundred Narn and C...centauri survivors of our recent conflict with the Vorlons," Jak's sarcasm splattered out with each hiccuped word, "Mr. C...cotto. As of right now you are your nations A...ambassador. I'm here to extend full diplomatic status to you on b...behalf of your empire. "

Annoyed, furious, embarrassed and hungry Vir gave up arguing and followed the man out of the cell block, trying not to remember the horrible sight of the man's head exploding. Years later he would look back on the incident and realize that he'd gone numb from the trauma of what had happened to him, regressing to a distant part of his mind in shock. But as he followed the seizing gait of Jak, annoyed that his jacket no longer fit him properly without its buttons and would need to be tailored at the earliest possible moment.
 

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Hexathelidae lay naked across a settee, back arched in pleasure as a lithe serving girl massaged scented oils into the curves of her body with practiced dexterity. She cooed with great satisfaction, "I must visit you more often Latrodectus. Your hospitality is entirely adequate."

"I'm glad to be of service," Sørian's servants were well suited to their tasks, and tailored to their master's unique predilictions. Blinded, bound, gagged, and tied to the wall with a length of chain she'd spent the better part of the past fifteen years attached to that wall and learning the proper way to entertain her betters. He'd keep her that way till she died or he grew bored of her.

Sørian disliked permitting Hexathelidae access to his house and toys, but all pretense of anonymity was long past the point of practicality and he'd gone too long without indulging in the services of a serving girl. He had to assume that the Amon Sui knew his identity, as well as that of his co-conspirator. And, much to his dislike, he knew that Hexathelidae had confirmation of his identity as well.

The daughter of Sáclair had seen to that quite nicely. What had possessed the girl to go by herself into the back alleys of the slums by herself was beyond him, ignorance perhaps. The girl was so accustomed to the world being safe and manageable in her daily life that it was greatly unlikely that she knew her role in life, what was expected of a lesser woman. Low born women kicked, they screamed, they fought back but eventually they learned their place in spite of their mewling.

The serving girl kneeling between his legs was a fantastic example. Grabbed off the streets for having piqued his interest it had only taken a matter of weeks for his mistress of the house to force the Belzafester girl into a pliably amusing diversion. She still sobbed and lamented her fate in private, but that only made her submission all the sweeter.

Ami's soft curves and pale flesh had been obvious, tantalizing, even beneath the thick veils. Her innocence and modesty all the more begging for corruption. When he first noticed the security officer indulging in some well earned recreation he'd stopped, afraid to draw attention to himself. Hexathilidae was in no state for combat, her ragged and ripped flesh was only being held together by synthaskin and her own brand of sorceries. If they stayed in the shadows they might be able to tap into the lust and suffering of the girl to heal Hexathilidae further. How could he blame the security officer for indulging in that most human of passions?

All thoughts of staying out of it were silenced when he'd seen her face more clearly. She was the daughter of Nathaniel Emanuelle Sáclair, by the gods she was. The violation of a daughter heir would be enough to have anyone who's DNA was found in the sector summarily executed just to make a point. The last thing he needed was for Sáclair and Daul to become united purpose.

There were enough ambient sorcerous energies leaking off of him for the blasted Inquisitor to put two and two together, blaming Sørian for the girls violation. That would not do at all.

So he'd saved her, cradling her in his arms till they'd reached the estates of the Lord and Lady Sáclair. Hexathilidae shot murderous looks at the young girl all the while, hate burning in the back of her eyes. Not out of love, to be certain her capacity for so human a feeling burned out long ago but out of pure selfish jealousy. They woman could not have cared less about Sørian, except in so far as she was certain his affections should not go to another woman.

"We should have killed her," Hexathelidae purred and walked over to him, taking care not to interrupt the girl between his legs. The sharp edges of the claw-like tips of her jewel encrusted velvet gloves scraped his chest invitingly combining the slight hitch in her voice that always accompanied discussions of violence in a poorly concealed effort to distract him from reason. Her ample bosom heaved suggestively as she whispered, "We still could."

"Hexathelidae you truly have no imagination," Sørian sighed, brushing the warm and welcoming hands away from his chest, not deceived by Hexathelidae's feigned romantic attentions, "Ami is a resource better kept breathing than dead. As she ripens into maturity we can ensure that she is properly educated to our way of thinking. "

"She knows you were there," Hexathelidae growled, "She knows who you are."

"And you as well Lady Huin," Sørian stated, amused by the woman's frustration. Hexathelidae had been terrified when Ami called her by name, "As do our enemies, at least those who know us to be enemies. However with her we have the bonus of gratitude. She will keep us secret because she feels loyal to us, we can use that to great effect my Lady. Of that I assure you. "

"I dislike this," Hexathelidae bristled at the use of her name. For courtesies' sake they'd continued using their code names with each other so far, it felt unnatural to use their naked appellations, "The Amon Sui will not settle for just letting us escape. They will come for us again."

"Of course they will," Sørian smiled and reclined in his, "But I wouldn't worry about it greatly."

"I find death is often worth worrying about when it is not for the glory of the dark gods," she said with a pre-occupied expression on her face that spoke more of Lady Huin's fears than Hexathelidae's, "They take a grim view of those who die foolishly."

"They take a grim view of those who die at all," Sørian's body heaved in completion and he slapped the servant girl with the back of his hand, flinging her to the floor where she sobbed in confusion. Unworthy of his continued attention he kicked her across the face, knocking her unconscious and silencing her, "Which is why I intend to avoid it entirely. No, we are going to remove the threat of the Amon Sui before it comes to that."

"And how do you intend to do that?" Aroused by the show of force Hexathelidae pinned Sørian to the chair, pulling a knife from the God's alone knew where, and proceeded to rub the flat of the blade across his chest and shoulders. The implied threat, innuendo and the closeness of flesh to flesh left his breathing ragged as he struggled to keep his mind in tact.

Gods had it been that hard to concentrate moments ago? "Why my dear Hexathelidae. We tell the Terrier where there are rats."

Hexathelidae looked back at him blankly. Apparently the metaphor had been lost on her. Sørian's wit was wasted on the cultist, "Hex. We help the Inquisitor find them."

"We... What!" The cultist screamed in fury, leaping back from Sørian's lap as though she'd trodden on an adder. The servant chained to the wall, long trained in often capricious moods of her master's associates, retreated into a recessed section of wall behind a tapestry, "I will not help that blind servant of the corpse god!"

"Hex, I'm not talking about biting the bullet and riding beneath the banner of the Aquilla into hellfire and glory. We only need to toss him pieces of information to get him looking for our betrayers and not us. Inquisitor Hilder," Sørian growled the name like it was the name of something foul beneath his boots, "Is a fool who worships the god of fools, but he has the resources and the tenacity we need to uproot the Amon Sui."

"And if he finds us?" Hexathelidae's white knuckled fingers crept round the hilt of her blade. Sørian, realizing the very real danger he was in, surreptitiously pressed the button beneath the handle of his chair, not enough to activate it but enough that he could do so in less than a heart beat. He hadn't been so foolish as to enter a room with Hexathelidae unarmed and unprotected. Her blade would not do much against a repulsion field and a dozen pistol mounted servo skulls.

"He won't. He won't be looking for us. He won't even know that we're remotely connected to anything," Sørian chuckled and waved his left arm in absurd pantomime, " And even if he does, what does he have on us? That we're afraid of the Amon Sui and handing him tips on how to catch them? How horrible. Get out the gallows, somebody is helping! Guards! Seize him."

Hexathelidae didn't stop glaring at him but she relaxed her hold on the knife, the muscles in her arms and back relaxing to their normal delicious taughtness, "And how do you propose we go about collecting information? My own spies have revealed little that I did not already know. Any leads I had to the leadership of the Amon Sui died in the explosion, there are other cells but I haven't the remotest clue where to try and find them."

"We're going to look to an extraplanar source," Sørian stood from his chair, walked over to a tapestry of the Emperor and pulled it aside. Jars and boxes of spell components hissed, spat, growled, shone, glimmered and glowed in the intimate candle-light of his study, "If you'd be so kind as to move that?"

Hexathelidae pulled aside the carpet he motioned to, revealing a six foot wide circle of hexegrammic and demonic runes carved into the stone of his floor and inset with cold iron and silver. The death cultist scratched the symbols before giving an approving nod, "You've been busy since we parted."

"I have," Sørian pulled a jar of maggot larvae from the shelf and started smashing them into paste with his mortar and pedestal, adding a pinch of sulfur with every seventh smash, "Though not with that circle. It was put there by my father I believe. Perhaps it was my grandfather. Not for demonic summoning mind you, in case the station got boarded by demons. It was a sort of panic room."

"It would never have worked for that," Hexathelida pointed to the fifth inverted "ang" rune, "It directs energies inward. It would have trapped the demon inside with whoever activated the circe."

"I doubt they knew, they were probably too ashamed to admit they had it to ever check that it worked," Sørian added a generous measure of grox tooth and the gall bladder of a Nxy Fiend to the paste, smashing it to a foul smelling milky white green that resembled spoiled custard, "But it will suit our needs quite nicely. "

Hexalthelidae gagged as he walked past with the paste, "By the Gods what is that?"

"An offering," Sørian sighed, she really had an astonishing lack of knowledge of the alternate divinities, "You'll want to grab some of the oil of hessal from my desk and rub it under your nose. This will be... unpleasant."

Sørian placed the bowl in the center of his summoning circle and cut his palm, dripping seven drops into the bowl then placed three circles of seven stars on each of the rings of containment, rubbing each with his own blood. It was not a ritual he'd completed in a long time, having long since passed the point of praying to the other divinities, but he was more than competent in its completion.

He growled the words of prayer, speaking the true name of the creature he wished to summon, whispering the last part of the name to himself to guard its secret from his co-conspirator. He chanted the name for seven counts of seven before the room began to smell of foetid meat and bile, all things acrid and dying, "Come to me Nuf'da'gul'ge'ke'goosh'kran. We seek your wisdom bearer of the twelfth order of final sorrows."

The paste of maggots stirred and shifted, full grown flies crawling from it in droves. First ten, then a hundred, then a thousand flies buzzed within the confines of the circle, bouncing off each other and the walls, hissing and howling in their tiny confused buzzes. The constant hum of their wings echoed like the screams of those suffering and dead, howling laughter and lament.

They coalesced and spun, weaving the paste into a vaugely human form, knitting and kneading the paste into a pustules and boils. The figure of the demon, malformed and misshapen, shambled and hopped as half full mouths and glassy eyes opened and closed in places no mortal creature would have either. Purplish black intestines dangled from a perforated belly and trailed jauntily along the ground, squelching beneath the monster's feet.

A single gargantuan eye clouded by a millennia-old cataract hung loosely from the inverted and pus filled eye socket in the dead center of the creature's face. It rounded it's unseeing eye on Sørian, opened its garish beak and droned in hideous monotony, "You do not belong."

"Yes, that does seem to be the consensus," Sørian sighed a breath of relief. It didn't seem that the creature could break his barriers, else the flies would have been buzzing about the room. They weren't really insects, merely aspects of the demon, "I have questions for you creature. I wish to know of the Amon Sui who attacked me. Where the are, how they meet. Everything I need to know to destroy them."

"And what do you offer for this boon?" The creature droned in boredom, his voice buzzing with the sound of flies nestling beneath his flesh. The creature pulled a maggot ridden boil from its chest and popped it between its lips, chewing with relish.

"For your promise of non-violence to anyone on this ship, leaving no diseases to harry us, answering my questions and departing when I bid you to do so I offer you this," Sørian lifted the unconscious serving girl from the floor, her face blissful in its loveliness, hale of cheek and pure of spirit. Innocent, young, and luscious, a perfect offering. She was far from untouched, though followers of Nurgle were interested in purity of a different sort.

The creature nodded in satisfaction, "Adequate.'"

Sørian heaved the girl across the circle and into the creature's waiting arms. The creature embraced her paternally, as one might greet long parted niece or cousin. She woke with a start, screaming as the demon's flies burrowed beneath her skin, chewing their way to the bone. Howling as her flesh sloughed away, exposing the now rotting muscle beneath the serving girl struggled with her increasingly brittle limbs.

Hexathelida vomited on the floor in disgust, which only seemed to increase the creature's enjoyment of his meal. It was that knowledge, and that alone, that allowed Sørian to keep his own lunch down.

It was when the servant girl's now gangrenous muscle and rotting black bone turned as spongy and supple like fresh moss that the demon's jaw dislocated and he swallowed her slippery form in one squelching gulp. The piteous screams of the girl gurgled from the creature's perforated belly as his hellish digestives dissolved what was left of her into more filth to spill from its chest. It pooled within the confines of the protective magics, sloshing at the creature's ankles.

"I would know what I seek spirit," Sørian growled, eager to be rid of the creature, "Tell me of the Amon Sui's secrets. Tell me of Dex."

The demon smiled toothily and spoke in droll monotony, "The one you call Dex is protected from all forms of scrying and eavesdropping, either sorcerous or technological. He has been very skilled in protecting his stronghold. He has not, however, considered that the absolute absence of it is an obvious sign."

"Where is it?" Sørian licked his lips, "How can I find it."

"Look for a ship that isn't there," The demon laughed, "You'll find it where it is not."

"How in the sphincter of hell do we do that," Hexathelidae groused.

"I neither know, nor do I care mortal," The demon groaned in satisfaction as the liquid at his feet seeped up into his body and formed a series of angry boils along his legs and belly, "I will say no more on Dex."

"And of the Amon," Sørian probed, "Any more on them?"

"The Amon are more numerous and more powerful that you predict," the demon pulled a beetle from between his teeth and bit off its head, "Even now they prepare for their final strike."

"What is their final strike?" The death cultist cocked her head in confusion, "We're months from being able to enact our plan."

"Time is more fluid than you think," The demon chuckled, "It never moves as mortals plan. Plans adapt to conform."

"You didn't answer her question," Sørian continued in a conversational tone even as he realized with horror that the flies were flying to the barrier of the second circle. The bindings were not holding.

"Yes. I did," the creature laughed and took a step past the first protective circle, "But mortals never listen. They never ask the right questions. They questions they fear. The truths they do not understand."

Sørian pulled a glass jar from his belt and rubbed it between his hands, focusing an effort of will into it, "And what are the questions I ought to be asking?"

"What do I know about your missing God? Why has Tzeench offered his servants greater demonhood for your capture? Why can the demons ignore your barriers as though they weren't there?" The demon crossed the second barrier to emphasize his point, "Why can you summon us past a ship's wardings? Why do heralds and greater demons answer the summons of Nurglings and Horrors?"

"Enough spirit," Sørian growled in disgust and tossed the jar at the demon. It burst and covered the howling creature in golden dust, "Back to the shadow with you." The creature, undone by the ashes of a holy man and it's own promise to leave when ordered, dissolved into a puddle of rapidly evaporating ectoplasm and the smell of rot.

The two servants of tzeench stood together in the near dark of candle-light for ten minutes before either of them dared speak out loud. Sørian swore, "By the blood of the Gods... he allowed himself to be bound. He allowed himself to be banished. He pretended to be obeying the laws so that we would listen."

"What?" Hexathelida's confusion was understandable, demons were not motivated by altrusim, "Why could he possibly want to gain by it?"

"It's a power play... whatever I know... whatever Tzeench wants to know, Nurgle doesn't want him to know. They're ancient enemies after all. The balance of power between the Gods must depend upon it. That's why they're walking past my wardings... it's probably why we haven't been able to summon even a daemonette. The warp isn't placid... this is the eye of the storm," Sørian's eye's bugged out in horror, "What could I possibly know that is worth greater demonic conversion?"

"I do not know," Hexathelida cupped his groin in her hand and nuzzled up to his chest, seeking comfort in the closeness, "But your proposition of allying ourselves with the Inquisitor's interests seems more appealing by the moment."
 

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Discussion Starter #100
In the aftermath of the battle it had been readily apparent that the Med bay simply didn't have the capacity to render aid to everyone who needed it, resulting in the sequestration of several blocks formerly devoted to the station's gambling establishments. The owners, all too aware of the imminent dip in tourism, had been all too eager to lend their facilities back to the station in exchange for considerations on their rental fees.

Michael hoped they'd replace the carpet before re-opening for business. The floor was stained with the blood of the wounded, messy red splotches highlighted by the discoloration around them where some hurried nurse had doused them with bleach before rushing to help another patient.

He ducked between white surgical sheets marked the barrier between one patients room and the next, the semi-translucent walls only partially protecting the modesty of their occupants and doing little to deaden the groaning din of a thousands of voices in pain. Doctors of all shapes, sizes and species wandered through the area of red sector cordoned off for triage and doing their best to sooth and heal the wounded bumping past him not bothering with greetings or platitudes. They were too busy to worry about such minor social niceties. Every medic, witch doctor, healer, and quack with a licensee to heal the sick who stepped on the station had been pressed into service.

Dr. Franklin stood in the center of the largest cluster of doctors and nurses, conductor to the seemingly never ending orchestra of suffering. The station's chief of medicine was in as bad of a state as Michael had ever seen him, wandering from cloth flap to cloth flap, barking orders to nurses, orderlies, and unfortunate family members drafted to be surgical aides. He was fighting a battle just as violent as the one that ended against the seemingly impossible task of staving off infection. Bleary eyed from lack of sleep and as sour tempered as a jackal, the doctor prowled his domain.

Michael probably didn't look much whole station was operating on a mix of fear and stimulants, no one daring to sleep for more than four hours at a time. How could they? Nobody, Sheridan included, had a good grasp of what had happened or how to avoid it in future. Everyone felt like they were balancing on egg shells, terrified to move and even more terrified to stay.

A security team had been dispatched to weld the doors to Kosh's chambers but Michael wasn't under any illusion that any precautions he took were anything other than a formality. If the Vorlon wanted to leave the could stroll by with impunity. That a murderer could wander his station with carte blanche made his blood boil. Had Michael not been called by Dr. Franklin he'd still be sitting sitting in his office, brooding and plotting a means to Kosh's arrest.

He wedged his way past a haggard nurse and tapped Dr. Franklin on the shoulder, recoiling as the doctor rounded him with a look of fury on his face second to none. Franklin opened his mouth as though to reprimand him then stopped, relaxing into a slightly less murderous expression, "I called you two hours ago."

"I know," Michael's placating tone grated, more sarcastic than was probably best for everyone's collective tempers, "We had a decompression issue in docking bay six, I got stuck in a transport tube till one of the repair teams could get me out."

Dr. Franklin swore and rifled through the pile of status updates on his desk, a three foot high stack of pages he obviously hadn't had the time to go through. He pulled out a missive a few sheets down, scattering a heap of pink and blue carbon copies in the process, "Was anyone injured? No... no thank God, just a few scrapes and bruises..."

"The repair teams are taking extra care Stephen, and they've got more hands working on this than they know what to do with," Michael patted the doctor's shoulder reassuringly, "Everyone on the station is working together to get the station back in working order."There was nothing quite like a shared near-death experience to bring people together.

"God help me Michael but I'm at the end of my rope. We're going to lose people Michael, we're going to lose them because I simply don't have enough medicine for them all. Even with my call for aid, even with the collective governments of the Non-Alligned Worlds scrambling to ship them to us, even with all the supplies we've taken from the fleet we do not have enough," Stephen sighed, "I need your help."

"Doc, I don't know if you've noticed but I'm not exactly a doctor, much less a miracle worker," Michael shook his head, "I'm not sure what I can do."

"It's not so much about what you can do as it is about who you know," Stephen rubbed his hands over a mess of stubble, caressing the dark bristles, "I need you to talk with your contacts about getting me more supplies."

"Stephen, it won't do any good," Michel sighed.

"People are dying Michael. I don't care if it's distasteful I need those supplies," Dr. Franklin swatted the stack of status reports, casting the multicolored sheets to the floor.

"It won't do any good," Michael repeated, "Because smugglers are afraid to come near the station. We haven't had any incoming traffic in two days that wasn't stopping for fuel or unable to redirect. It's been less than a week since a Vorlon ship got killed on our doorstep, nobody wants to be within lightyears of that."

"Damn," Stephen tugged at the back of his hair in frustration. The man agonized over every patient he lost, and he was loosing them by the hundreds, "Can one thing go right on this station just once today!"

"Sir," a nurse approached Dr. Franklin from behind, obviously dreading his sour mood, "They need you in the primary surgery. Miss Chen is ready for you to operate on her leg."

"Of course. I'll be there in a moment Nurse Faye," Stephen took the chart, shaking his head dejectedly as he flipped through the pages of her chart, "Yes we'll have remove the necrotic tissue. Have doctor Bertrand start the procedure. "

Not eager to hear the gory details Michael pointed his thumb over his shoulder and started backing away. Doctors never really seemed to have a good hang of what constituted disgusting, "So I'll be heading out then."

"Not just quite Mr. Garibaldi," Stephen handed the chart back to the nurse, "I have something else I need you to do. Follow me please."

The Doctor ducked through the cloth barrier behind him, leading Michael past a heartbreaking assortment of pitiful figures in makeshift cots. Bandaged and beaten, the survivors of the battle stared at the passing duo with mixed levels of interest. Guilt swelled in his throat for not having been able to protect these people, his people. They trusted him to keep them safe from harm and he'd failed entirely.

What, exactly, he could have done was beyond him but he damn well wouldn't be caught with his pants down around his ankles ever again. "Never again," he whispered to himself, "If I have to beat the secret out of the Imperials with my bare hands this will never happen on this station again."

"What was that?" Dr. Franklin turned around, half ducked beneath another sheet.

"Nothing," Michael cleared his throat, embarrassed to have his thoughts said out loud. Eager to change the subject he ducked under the sheet past the doctor, "So what is it that you need me for?"

The area of the makeshift triage they'd entered was a small corner of the casino usually used for exotic dance. A heavily bandaged man stood in front of a small raised stage with three long poles sat in the center of the room. In the center of the raised stage a Blonde woman stood, straining against the pole she'd been handcuffed to and screaming threats through a thick gag.

Zack Allan, half of his face covered with thick purple bruises looked away from the woman, smiled and waved in greeting, "Hey chief."

"Zack," Michael nodded back, "Do you want to explain exactly why you've chained Talia to a dancer's pole? "

"Because I told him to," Dr. Franklin stared at the woman in pity, "Michael... Talia isn't well. Whatever happened in that battle, it broke something in her." He nodded to Zack, "Show him."

"You sure about that Doc," Zack looked up at the bound woman nervously, "She nearly bit off my fingers the last time I had to put it back in."

"He needs to know," Stephen sighed, "I don't like seeing her his way either Zack. Just do it."

Zack approached her hesitantly, reaching behind her and untying her gag before pulling the wadded gauze roll out from between her teeth. The snarling woman spat a thick glob of phlegm into his eye, hissing in fury, "Let me go you useless blip. I'll see you all bleed for this you scum."

"Talia," Michael blinked in confusion, "Talia what's wrong."

"Talia is dead. Talia is weak," She crowed in ecstasy, "You don't know how long I sat in here, listening to her simper and moan just waiting for my time."

"That's enough," Dr. Franklin cut his hand across his throat and nodded to Zack. Officer Allan gladly shoved the gauze back into Talia's mouth and the doctor continued, "She's been like this since she woke up. She claims her name is "control" and demands to speak to her superior officer. She remembers everything but it's like she's a different person."

"Jesus," Michael swore, "She collided with the Inquisitor's anti-demon weapon in the hangar bay. Delenn called it a 'soul-stone.' Said it had some mystical ability to steal the soul of whoever touches it. "

"Is that possible," Zack looked at Talia in horror, "I mean... losing a soul?"

"We were just attacked by a demon and his horde of undead minions," Planning for every eventuality was taking on a whole new meaning this month, "At this point I'm just taking everything at face value. I had a hazmat team put it into a radioactive materials locker just in case. It's under lock and key with the stations nuclear waste."

"Good," Stephen nodded in agreement, "Did she say anything about reversing it's effects?"

"She seemed more terrified that anyone would consider using one. I doubt she knows," Michael sighed and stared at Talia, "God Talia I am so sorry. We're going to help you. You don't want us to but we are going to get you through this."

Zack nodded supportively, "Of course we are Chief. Delenn must know something..."

"No," Garibaldi shivered with disgust as he realized the path before him, "No... we aren't going to see Delenn."

"But you just said."

"I know what I said," Michael turned to Dr. Franklin, "Come on we're talking Talia to the one person on this station I'm sure knows how to fix her. We're going to see Ambassador Kosh."
 
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