The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5)

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Todeswind
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Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5)

Postby Todeswind » 2014-07-17 09:58am

Susan brushed an errant lock of crimson hair aside, squinting her eyes to examine the corpse before her. “No hooves, so it's a Narn. Send it to G'Kar's people.”

The crimson-armored soldier nodded, shouting orders in Arabic to his fellow Lionhearts as they removed the mangled body from the pile of corpses. They had not managed to find any bodies of the Necrons as of yet, and if the Inquisitor's experience was anything to go by, they wouldn't find any bodies at all.
It was like cleaning up after a battle with some sort of specter or nightmare. The past week could've all been in some feverish dream, if not for the bodies and the blood.


Mile-high mounds of eviscerated charnel lay bathed in blinding sunlight, now that the spire of Matok no longer spewed bilious vapor into sky. It was as though the Necrons had scourged the very air, leaving behind nothing but the orderly stillness of death. There was no movement in this desolate wasteland, save for the soldiers themselves, for even the flies and carrion crows had been wiped from the skies.



While most of the golden skeletons had been true to their master's word, attacking only the forces of Faust, the knife fingered madmen had slaughtered anything they could sink their talons into. They had taken gristly trophies and living men, before dragging their prizes back to whatever nightmare they hailed from. The monsters skinned their prey, ripping out eyes and organs that caught their fancy.

As the closest thing the Imperials had to an expert on xenobiology, Susan had been “volunteered” for the unenviable duty of separating out the corpses for burial. Though the work was stomach churning, someone had to do it. The soldiers who died on Matok deserved a proper burial, and though Susan was only vaguely religious, she'd gladly sacrifice her own comfort to bring peace to her comrades in arms.


“A pity that they aren't human,” Danzig muttered, wiping the back of his glove across his chapped lips. “I would have liked to read them their last rites.”



“You still could,” Susan replied, nodding and giving the thumbs up as a Lionheart held up a severed Centauri cranium to its body. “There are Alliance soldiers in there somewhere.”

Danzig grunted, crossing his arms to rest them upon the hilt of a ceremonial saber. “It's not for heathens either, and I would imagine that your people have their own death rites to be obeyed. No, I will see them carried on to whatever afterlife takes xenos and heathens, as was their wish.”

He looked at her intently, his tone altogether too casual and too friendly given the circumstances. “You know that anyone can find the Emperor's Word at any, time Commander. They need only ask for His wisdom.”


Rolling her eyes as Danzig brought up her own spiritual well being for the umpteenth time that day, Susan ignored the Colonel's continued rambling about heresy and retribution. For all their talk of “heathens” and “xenos” it had not escaped her notice that the Lionhearts were treating the corpses of their alien allies with as much respect at they held for their own dead. “I'm in no need of saving, Colonel.”


“Yes, your Jewish faith.” Danzig barked out a laugh. “The one waiting for a savior. Your savior has already arrived, my dear.”

“Danzig, this is really not the time.” Susan sighed in relief as a four wheeled transport roared over the ridge, effectively ending the colonel's conversion coercion. “Oh thank God.”

Her reassurance was short-lived, as the car skidded across the black stone outcropping, heading towards the two humans. The vehicle sprayed sand as it swerved to avoid hitting Susan, screeching to a halt barely two meters away. She gritted her teeth as the dust settled, breathing heavily as she forced her heart rate down to something resembling a normal rhythm. The Sh'lassen goat men's vision and reaction times were superb, giving them a seemingly suicidal precision with their vehicles ill suited for normal human comfort levels.

“Stop doing that!” Susan belted out in frustration, as loud as she could. Only her panting breaths kept her from shouting at the Sh'lassen driver.

The hoary V'clath exposed a cheeky equine grin as he hopped down from the transport, hooves clopping on exposed stone. “I was slower than last time. Our children drive faster than that.”

“Then your children are as crazy are you are,” Susan smacked the goat man's shoulder playfully with the back of her hand. “You know I hate when you do that.”

V'clath brayed with laughter, “I wouldn't bother if I didn't.”

“Have things improved in the capitol?” Susan leaned against the transport's roll cage, shifting her torso to move her gun harness into a comfortable position.

V'clath's ears fell, “No. Politicians all fools. The whole planet gone mad.”

“Their spiritual leaders all dissolved into dust, major landmarks just imploded without any real explanation, the entire planet is suddenly geologically unstable, and apparently their most holy place was the barracks for evil mechanical skeletons.” Susan replied in an amused deadpan. “'Crazy' doesn't seem like an unreasonable reaction.”

“The Earth Alliance talking of annexation. The council unlikely to accept their terms.” V'Clath hawed in disapproval. “Can't produce enough food for the coming year without their help, but old habits die hard.”

“What about you? You must be getting a medal for what you did to end the war.” Susan tried – and failed – to bring the conversation around in a happier direction. The words seemed hollow against the mountains of dead looming against the skyline.

“No,” V'clath chuffed bitterly. “V'clath has been discharged and excommunicated.”

“Why?” Danzig asked in genuine surprise. “You spearheaded an assault on the enemy's stronghold.”

“I was in the Spire of Matok before it crumbled.” V'Clath spat upon the ground in contempt. “I claim to have spoken with the Nameless. They're blaming me for the gods abandoning our world.”

“The Necrons are not gods.” Danzig snarled in unconcealed disgust. “They are unworthy of your reverence.”


“Do you not think that I know?” V'clath snorted, his muzzle quivering with emotion. “That I believe? What I saw were not gods. Monstrously advanced? Yes, but I saw no gods.”

“I suppose that telling the Triumvirate, 'Sorry, but our religion was based upon the manipulations of an ancient race of machines' didn't go over well, did it?” Susan asked, already knowing the answer.

“Not particularly,” V'Clath sighed. “I am shunned by my people with as much hatred as the rebels were. I have no home to return to, no prospects for marriage, and no potential for employment. Even my own family considers me to be dead, no matter that I still walk. They will not speak with me any more than they would address my buried ancestors. There is nothing left for me on this world except starvation and death.”

“Ah,” Susan nodded, realizing why the goat man had come out to the charnel pits. “You want to come with us when we leave.”

“I do,” V'clath nodded, scuffing the ground with his hooves nervously.

There simply weren't any interstellar transports available for civilian use on the Sh'lassen worlds. There hadn't been many ships on Sh'lassen even before their civil war. What few remained had already been conscripted by the Triumvirate to help transport the Narn and Centauri forces back to their respective home-worlds. There were the Centauri, Narn and Alliance fleets in orbit, of course, but V'clath had as much chance of convincing the already overcrowded ships to take him as he did of flapping his wings to take flight.


Susan turned her head to Danzig, switching into High Gothic, “Do I have the authority to take him with me? We can't just leave him to die.”“An Inquisitor would, but I haven't got a clue about an apprentice Inquisitor.” Danzig chewed his lip in thought. “But I doubt it will be an issue. He's an abhuman who assisted in fighting xenos. At worst the Inqusitor will detain him in quarters till we can deport him to Babylon 5.”

“Ok then,” Susan said in relieved English, “You've got a ride.”

“Good,” V'clath's ears perked upward. “I'm afraid I can't pay you. My accounts were frozen.”

“No pay,” Danzig replied in convivially broken English. “No need. V'Clath small – too small for cargo.”

“Sir!” Hamman yelled from the other side of the valley, his voice echoing across the stone expanse. “Get over here sir! I found a live one!”

V'clath hopped back into the transport, gunning its engine into gear as the two humans climbed aboard and buckled themselves into place. Susan pulled her harness' straps tight to her chest, grabbing the bars of the roll cage for support as V'cath drove the transport down a seemingly suicidal incline. Danzig whooped in supremely unhelpful enjoyment as the goat man traversed the valley, swooping around baking piles of flesh and mud until they reached Hamman.


The Lionheart stood atop a jutting block of obsidian, waving his arms to draw their attention. V'clath stopped the car, applying his hoof to the break a good ten seconds too late for Susan's liking. His oddly shaped pupils observed her with altogether too much enjoyment for her frustration. She extricated herself from the car, tossing the buckles away with a bit more force than was strictly needed, and pointedly avoided looking V'Clath in the face.

Danzig snickered in mutual amusement as he passed V'Clath, whispering something in the goat man's ear that produced a howling bray of laughter. Susan briefly entertained the thought of shooting them both. Not fatally, of course, since they wouldn't be able to warn others if she killed them. Something in the realm of 'painful, but not quite crippling' seemed appropriate.

“Commander,” Hamman offered her a small salute. “Colonel, you're not going to believe this. I just found Selcan Porst.”

Danzig shook his head, scrunching his face in confusion as he pinched the bride of his nose. “What?”

“I know it sounds crazy,” Hamman held his hands in up in surrender. “But before you have Gazan measuring me up for a straightjacket – just look!”


At the bottom of a pile of bodies sat a man writhing in pain. His left arm and leg were missing, as was most of the skin below his navel. What remained of his clothing and armor was unmistakably Imperial in origin. He had been a muscular man, seemingly too muscular for his small frame.

“Blood of the Emperor,” Danzig swore in disbelief. “That's Porst?”

“I know it's not possible,” Hamman agreed. “But it's definitely him. I ran his retina scan through the asupex.”

“But that's not possible. He's dead. The Inquisitor’s servitor killed him. You saw the recording from Hilder’s helmet.” Danzig shuddered at the memory. “I don't know how much deader someone can possibly be than that.”

“Less dead than you thought at first,” Susan replied. “Who is he? How is he even breathing with that many wounds?”

“One of Faust's Lieutenants. The one who lead his mercenaries on Belazafest.” Danzig tapped his comm-bead. “Gazan get over to the eastern grid mark epsilon 4. I've got a patient for you for immediate evac to the Endless Bounty.”

“You’re going to have to handle this on your own Susan,” Danzig swore in Arabic, tossing her the auspex from his belt. “This really can’t wait.”


It took only moments for an Imperial transport to appear from the sky, hovering inches from the ground as Danzig and Hamman lifted Porst’s broken form between them. Eager to be on an Imperial ship, the goat-man rushed after them. Susan sighed as she watched the transport lift off into the smog-choked skies, thinking that she probably should have gone with them. It had been days since Susan last showered or ate a full meal, both of which were waiting for her on the Endless Bounty. Daul was likely too busy with paperwork to even harass her with lessons on warpcraft, preventing her from taking a couple hours of well-deserved sleep in an actual bed.

“If wishes were horses,” Susan groaned, turning to the sergeant. “We’ve been out in this sun for hours, so tell your men to take a break. I’m going to walk. We’ll start back up when I get back.”

It didn’t matter what army you were dealing with, the enlisted never turned down the chance to put off a shitty job when the brass offered it. Gore-soaked Lionhearts passed around lho sticks and canteens as she left, jovially chattering in Arabic as she turned her back on them.

She reached into her ear and pulled out the communicator bead, flipping it off with her thumbnail as she pocketed it. This was the first time since she’d been kidnapped that Susan had a moment to herself, and she wasn’t going to waste it. Her legs ached as she walked the sun-scorched remnants of Matok, struggling to keep her balance along the rough obsidian gravel.

Walking as far as her legs would take her, Susan relaxed and let the sunlight wash over her face. Picking a spot of relatively flat rock amidst the rubble, she plopped down on her back and narrowed her eyes at the clouds from between her fingers. It hardly even seemed like the same planet, now that the gentle rustle of wind had replaced the sounds of battle.


She pulled out the brick of Imperial rations, peeling back the sliver fold and nibbling at one of the thumb-sized square sections. Susan couldn’t really say that the supplement tasted bad. It would have required any flavor at all for her to make a judgment on that; even the worst tastes had at least some distinct flavor to them. Imperial rations, however, just existed within her mouth until she swallowed them, which was terrifying in its own right.

She swallowed the flavorless cube and wrapped the foil back up over the section of rations as a distant shape caught her eye. A man was climbing up the ridge, taking care not to approach from any angle that might be seen by the distant group of imperial soldiers.

“Not a Sh’lassen,” Susan wiped at the back of her mouth in thought. “No hooves. Who are you?”

He sped up when he realized that she’d seen him, clambering over the rough terrain as best he could in his long cloak. Susan pulled a pistol from her bodice, pointing it between the man’s eyes as he got within ten paces of her. “That’s far enough, buddy.”

The man flinched at her pistol but did not turn back. “Are you Susan Ivanova?”

“Who wants to know?” Susan’s brow quirked. Who would even know that she was out here? There were hundreds of Imperial FOBs along this range of mountains, each equally likely be her location.

The man held up his gloved hands, demonstrating that they were empty before raising them to pull back his hood, revealing a high crest of sculpted bone. Susan lowered her pistol in surprise. “Why is a Minbari on Sh’lassen?”

“He is looking for you.” The man replied, reaching in his pocket to pull out a small scroll of paper. “I have a message for you from the one who sent me, to prove my good intentions.”



The Minbari's fingers unfurled the scroll, breaking a small wax seal. “Hello, old friend. I do not know to where you have been taken but know that I have not given up on you even if the whole world has. You wouldn’t betray the Earth Alliance any more than would could cut off your own leg. The one who holds this letter has been instructed to provide you with whatever comfort and aid you require. He will help you to the best of his abilities and if necessary will lay down his life to ensure your safety.”

Susan smiled, “Sinclair.”

“I am a Ranger in service of the One – the man you call Sheridan. The One has instructed me to help you as best I can.” The Minbari furtively looked towards the Imperials. “I have a small ship, a cargo freighter, parked on the far side of the gulley. If you desire it, we can be off-world in less than an hour. I can take you home, milady.”

“Home,” Susan replied, her voice full of longing. God, but she wanted to go with him. To return to Babylon 5, nothing would have made her happier.

But she couldn’t.

Even if Daul didn’t have a bomb placed on her spinal cord and even if the Earth Alliance didn’t think she was a traitor, Susan still couldn’t go home. Not with what she now knew. Susan was a flash point of psychic energy. The demon nightmares got worse with every day.

A telepath of her apparent potential was like a beacon in the warp crying out to the worst sort of monsters and fiends. Demons had to be invited into the material world by a psychic. Without proper training in avoiding them, a telepath could easily find themselves turned into a mere puppet of the dark gods – living in eternal agony.

As much as she hated him, Daul Hilder was the only human being in the galaxy properly equipped to teach her what she needed to know. Frag it, Hilder’s tutelage might well be the only thing keeping her alive.

The words came out like fresh sick, leaving an acrid taste on her lips, “No. I – I can’t.” Susan shook her head. “I have a responsibility to stay and see this through to the end. I’m not ready yet. If I leave before I get properly trained in my power I’m going to end up being a liability to everyone I know.”

“Understood,” The Minbari nodded, unfazed by her response. “Is there any way that I can help you in the here and now?”

“If I give you a message, will you be able to get it to Sheridan and Sinclair? Without letting anyone else see it?” Susan pulled an imperial data crystal from her pouch, pushing it into the Minbari’s gloved hand, not waiting for the answer. She already knew his response.

“I will guard it with my life,” The Minbari replied. The alien bowed once, then turned and left the way he came.

Susan watched the man walk away, and wondered if even Daul knew how tightly he’d tightened his leash round her neck. She sighed and looked at her watch, estimating that she had three hours until her transport back to the Endless Bounty would arrive.

“Break’s over,” she groaned. “Back to reality.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

The transport bucked roughly as it transitioned back from hyperspace to real-space, briefly interrupting its gravitational ring. Not for the first time, John found himself wishing that he’d been able to make the whole trip back on Earth Force One. The president’s luxury liner was capable of making seamless jumps across time and space between gates.

The increasing border disputes in the Non-Aligned worlds and apparent threats of piracy made that impossible, however. One could not expect the President of Earth to put himself in a region of space where everyone from the Centauri to the Vorlon had demonstrated a level of military presence not seen since the Earth-Minbar War.

Much to John’s chagrin, he had not been allowed to take the trip back to his station alone. Mr. Morden, the “friend” of President Clark, had been assigned to travel with him. Though the man had not been given any official title or status on Babylon 5, he had been issued residency papers for the station for an “indefinite period.” An apparent expert in xenology and xenobiology, Mr. Morden held considerable knowledge about the many races of the galaxy, apparently including a number of races not commonly known to even the oldest spacefaring races. The specifics were classified, only to be revealed to John on a need-to-know basis.

Mr. Morden had mentioned his “associates” on various occasions, a euphemism for what John presumed to be EA military intelligence. He certainly talked like a spook, after all. Any efforts to coax his “expert information” out of him just resulted in a knowing grin and a cryptic series of questions. The man was obsessed with John’s motivations – asking the same question over and over with slightly different words. It was the same question he’d used in greeting, “What do you want?”

John had answered with various platitudes and jokes, but it was starting to get to him. What did he want? If he’d been asked a year ago, he would have said that what he wanted was the open skies and an explorer ship to find their limits. Now? After all he’d seen, the limits of what existed seemed much scarier than they ever had before.

What did John want? John wanted to know how to make everyone safe. He wanted to end the fighting and the dying that seemed at every corner of the galaxy. He wanted to believe that his children and grandchildren wouldn't have to fear the shadows and things that went bump in the night.

“You’re going to bore a hole in that wall if you keep staring at it, Captain,” Mr. Morden interjected politely, apparently amused at his own wit. “It must be a truly fascinating bulkhead to hold your attention like that, only minutes from being reunited with your command.”

John cleared his throat, pointing to the ISN display’s text crawl showing photos of the battlefield, “I was thinking about my friends serving in the expedition to Sh’lassen. I actually served there a while back, training the Sh’lassen triumvirate soldiers. I haven’t heard the casualty statistics yet, but if they’re not releasing them to ISN then they had to be bad.”

“If my sources are to be trusted, it was worse than you could possibly imagine.” Morden shivered, flexing his fingers nervously. “My – associates – observing that planet have ceased to report. What they did report prior to that was troubling, to say the least.”

“Are you planning to share what they told you, or just talking in circles for another hour?” John muttered, rolling his eyes.

“I’m afraid that the specifics of my intelligence will have to wait till a full meeting of the council. I don’t want to risk leaking it to the wrong person prior to that.” The besuited man chewed his lip, watching the malformed bodies of “half-breeds” being examined on camera. “Do you know what those are?”

“You’re the expert on aliens,” John shrugged.

“I am.” The man’s eyes narrowed and he titled his head as though listening to something in the distance. “And I know nothing about them. My associates are equally bereft of knowledge. That isn't supposed to happen.”

“What,” John snorted. “Do you expect your associates to know everything?”

“Yes – well, everything worth knowing.” Mr. Morden corrected himself abruptly. He hesitated a second before continuing, his eyes flicking furtively across the room as though afraid of who might hear. “Or I thought they did. As of late, there have been greater and greater gaps in their knowledge.”

“We’ve all been finding the world a lot more confusing lately, Morden,” John sighed, feeling his body sink into the chair as the transport passed through Babylon 5’s outer doors and into it’s gravity well. “Things get more complicated daily.”

“For some more than others,” Mr. Morden agreed amiably, as he eyed the fire haired Susan Ivanova’s image on ISN. The battlefield coverage from Tonya Wallace had aired on a loop for three days now – censored for public consumption of course – but there was no way to conceal Susan Ivanova’s apparent collusion with Imperial forces. Susan Ivanova was now the second highest member of the Imperial hierarchy in known space, an apparently willing defector.

At least, that was the official report. The uncensored video feed had been rather illuminating in that regard. Susan Ivanova had been kidnapped by Inquisitor Daul and impressed into his service. He’d argued with President Clark when the man had issued the order to censor that part of the footage, but had ultimately been forced into silence. President Clark wasn’t looking to anger the Imperials by accusing their apparent sovereign of kidnapping an Earth Alliance officer, especially not when that officer was an illegally unregistered telepath. So he was under orders to reveal that information to no-anyone not cleared to know it already – in other words, essentially no one.

“I don’t know what Miss Ivanova’s reasons were, but I know Susan too well to believe that she would ever willingly work against the interests of the Earth Alliance,” John replied icily, standing as the seatbelt sign flashed that it was safe to unbuckle. His legs, turned to jelly by the lack of gravity, shuddered under him briefly as he stood.

“By all accounts the Inquisitor is a telepath capable of surviving a direct attack from a Vorlon,” Mr. Morden stood without apparent discomfort. “I doubt she would have any choice.”

“I suppose not.” The Inquisitor had never demonstrated any restraint in the use of his powers. So much power in one human was almost too much to be trusted with – even John didn’t know if he could avoid temptation. Was Daul Hilder what would have become of Earth Alliance telepaths without the Psi-Corps? A man who kidnapped a woman on a whim?

A figure stood on the tarmac to greet them as they exited the transport: General William Hague. John saluted his superior officer smartly, “General, it’s good to see you.”

“And you as well, Captain.” The General smiled, eyeing Mr. Morden speculatively. “It is my pleasure to turn over command of the Babylon 5 station to its rightful commander.”

Following the General’s gaze, John shook his head nearly imperceptibly. Mr. Morden was Clark’s man. “May I introduce Mr. Morden.”

“A pleasure,” Mr. Morden smiled, taking the Generals hand and shaking it firmly. “If you’ll pardon me, gentlemen, I need to prepare for the coming meeting. The preliminary battle reports should be arriving.”

John and the General waited for the man to exit customs before continuing their conversation, “How has my station been since I left?”

“I’ve kept your chair warm for you, John,” General Hague replied. “I tried not to meddle too much, but it was necessary to make a couple of adjustments under the circumstances.”

“You didn’t get rid of the baseball diamond, did you?” John joked.

“I’m practical, not heartless.” The General snorted. “There are some matters which will require your attention sooner rather than later.”

“Such as?” John accepted a clipboard from the General, a work order of some sort.

“Installing Imperial designed shields and checkpoint scanners on the station,” The General smiled. “Kerrigan has essentially been tripping over herself to give these to us. The interesting thing is the “Hexegrammic Wards,” which apparently prevent demonic incursion in future.”

“What is she asking for this?” John whistled as he signed on the dotted line.

“She wants to live on the station.” He smiled. “And keep improving it.”

“You’re kidding me.” John blinked. “I though she was the Imperial tech expert.”

“'Was' is the key word. Rumor is that she was apparently in some sort of a fight with Captian Sáclair and isn't allowed back in Imperial territory.” The General smiled. “She’s apparently smitten with Earth Alliance technology.”

“Are you comfortable installing alien tech on the station, sir?” John flipped through the sheets, eyeing the curious blueprints.

“The tech guys are sure that it’s on the level. We’re the ones actually programming the operating code; Kerrigan is just providing the hardware blueprints and the rituals,” General Hague sighed at John’s look of confusion. “No, really - rituals. That’s one of her conditions. She has to be allowed to consecrate the device according to the religious rites of her order.”

“Didn't she make the station’s main computers sentient the last time she did that?” John blinked.

“She’s been warned that she will be arrested if she does that again,” the General said with a slight grin. “And it’s apparently just literal prayer for this one, no direct neural interface with the computers.”

“Thank God for that. I can only handle that arrogant computer for so long.” John tilted his head, looking at the cameras observing them above. The AI supposedly didn't have access to station surveillance, but John took the IT department's assurances with more than a few grains of salt. “Did the tech boys ever figure out what to do with Sparky?”

“Nothing as of yet.” The General shrugged. “The data core is too big to move and too expensive to dismantle. Some of the eggheads have been examining it to figure out what exactly happened. It’s harmless so long as it isn't connected to the primary systems of the station, and it well may be the biggest leap in the research of artificial intelligence yet made.”

“I’m not in love with it still being on my station, sir.” John admitted.

“You don’t have to like it Captain, just to tolerate it for the time being.” The General snapped his fingers, apparently remembering something. “There's one other matter which you need to know about. Most of the Imperial refugees are being ferried to their new planet on cargo ships, but a number have elected to stay.”

“Stay?” John’s brow raised in confusion. “Why?”

“The conditions on Babylon 5 are apparently superior to the conditions in which they were living on theEndless Bounty. The Imperial government has certain disreputable practices they neglected to share with us, not the least of which is slavery.” He growled the last word, something dangerous flickering in the soldier's eyes. “I’ve granted amnesty to any Imperial who wishes to stay on the station. There are even a couple of Imperials who’ve been hired on staff.”

“To do what?” John scratched the back of his head.

“The dockworker’s union took a lot of them. We needed strong backs, and the Imperials work without complaint no matter how much is asked of them. A couple of them are working as translators.” He chuckled. “And Galut is working station security with a couple of other Ogryn.”

John whistled. “I feel sorry for the criminals.”

“We haven’t had a single crime anywhere near where they’re on patrol. Nobody wants an angry giant beating the snot out of them.” The General smiled. “And one that can’t be bribed to boot. They’re entirely disinterested in material wealth. We’re not totally sure if they understand what money even is. If I could, I’d have Ogryn working security on every Earth Alliance station in the galaxy.”

“Great,” John nodded. “Garibaldi seemed to like Galut. That’s enough for me.”

“Sinclair said the same more than once,” The General nodded.

“Have we made any progress with the 'other matter?'” John handed the clipboard back to the General, hoping his meaning was vague enough to confuse any eavesdroppers.

“No significant progress,” the General responded, but his grin didn't waver. “However, the President’s decision to take a personal interest in you may expedite our goals. A person of publicly acknowledged trust with the President has more credibility for our purposes.”

“I – I might at that.” Hell, if they actually found evidence that the President had killed his predecessor, John might well be the only credible person able to bring any evidence forward. The President had publicly declared that John was the paragon of everything he expected an Earth Alliance officer to be, saving him from reprisal in what had been a highly televised session of the Senate.

Clark’s people were still going on ISN talk shows to use John as a talking point for the competence of the Clark administration. So far as the world at large was concerned, John Sheridan was the pet Captain of the President. He couldn’t be dismissed out of hand as a political firebrand.

John laughed for the first time in what felt like years, “Come on, General. We can talk more about the particulars of what needs to be done in my office. I don’t know about you, but I feel like celebrating.”

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Todeswind
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Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5)

Postby Todeswind » 2014-07-17 10:00am

--==---==---

Abbas didn't know if he would ever grow used to the cybernetics grafted to his spine. The aching pain in his back abated somewhat as Abbas shifted in bed so that he lay on his belly, but the additional weight of the mechandrites was still constantly there, pressing in on his shoulders.

He wondered if all tech priests had this much trouble getting used to suddenly having numerous limbs in places they’d never considered. Both Kerrigan and Tuul seemed effortless in their ability to use mechanical limbs, as though they’d always been part of their respective bodies. It was hard to imagine either of them falling over backwards heading to the toilet because they forgot how top heavy they were, and soiling themselves while they failed around trying to stand up.

He’d been too ashamed to call for help. He lay on the ground, frightened tears slowly dripping down the sides of his face, knowing he was a failure for not being able to do something so simple. The stupid bastard couldn't even stand up without help and he thought he was going to be a Magos some day.

He had been so ashamed when the dark-skinned Medicus found him the next morning, but he saw nothing but compassion in the man’s eyes. “Hey, hey. It’s OK. You’re OK.”



Abbas’ lip quivered and he hugged the man tightly about the neck, burying his face in the Medicus’ lab coat. The Medicus said nothing as he helped Abbas to the restroom, snapping his fingers to summon a nurse to deal with the mess. He helped Abbas to get into a shower to clean himself off, giving him a fresh set of clothing afterwards.

“It’s common for people going through what you did to have some difficulties.” Medicus Franklin said as he helped Abbas back to his bed. “You were out for a long time. We put you in a medical coma till we were sure that the implants had taken properly.”

Had he been asleep? Abbas shivered; it hadn't felt like it. Abbas had been living the dreams again, dreams of the fish and the flowers. The Manta had been with him, his shimmering companion through the stars. He remembered visiting parts of the galaxy too beautiful to describe and too terrible to imagine, seeing that which no mortal was entitled to witness.

It had a name, one too long and difficult to put into words, but he knew it all the same. It cared about him and all other humans. It loved them. Abbas shook his head, “I – thank you Medicus.”

“Call me Stephen,” The Medicus patted him on the shoulder. “The Magos wanted me to hand you over to her the second you woke up, but I’m not releasing you till I’m sure you’re ready to go.”

Abbas felt a stab of shame in his belly at how genuinely relived he was that Kerrigan wouldn’t be taking him back right away. He wasn’t sure if he could face her yet. Even hearing her name caused pain to flare across his back from where she’d scourged his flesh. He looked down at the floor, biting his lip.

“Abbas, so long as you’re my patient, then you’re safe. I give you my word.” The doctor made an x over his chest. “Cross my heart. I don’t care if it’s Kerrigan or God himself – nobody gets in the way of my patients getting well.”

“Thank you, Medicus,” Abbas shuffled his feet, using a mechandrite as a third leg to alleviate some of the weight on his back.

“Abbas, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you with that woman?” Genuine worry seeped into the Medicus’ tone.

“I’m lucky to be with the Magos,” Abbas looked up at the Medicus in surprise. “She is teaching me the ways of the Omnissiah. I will one day be a tech priest of the first order – Throne Willing – I will make ships and titans. I will know what they know!”

“Is it worth this?” Franklin gestured vaguely towards the mechandrites. “The pain? The shame? Having someone torture you? You’re just a kid – you should be somewhere discovering how to date pretty girls, not getting medieval medical procedures from a human Swiss Army Knife.”

“I need to do this,” Abbas tasted hollow desperation on his tongue. “I need to matter.”

“You don’t have to do anything to prove that you matter. Everyone matters.” The Medicus helped him back into bed. “Kid, you’re smart. Heck, you’re speaking English better than any Imperial I’ve met yet, and you’ve been here as long as anyone. You don’t need her.”

Abbas blinked. Throne above, he was speaking English. When had he learned that? How had he learned that? It hadn’t even occurred to him that he shouldn’t know it. It came as easy as breathing.

“I suppose,” he replied, lying on his side so that the mechandrites could hang off the side of the bed. “I still want to learn, though.”

“Don’t ever stop wanting to learn.” The Medicus smiled. “But don’t let anyone use your eagerness to know things as a way of controlling you. Knowledge is for everyone.”

“The Magos would probably disagree with you on that,” Abbas snorted.

“You don’t say,” Medicus Franklin’s acerbic retort could have cut glass.

Abbas quickly changed the subject, pointing to the man sharing his hospital room. “Who is that?”

“That is another patient of mine.” Dr. Franklin smiled, apparently extremely pleased with himself. “He had a number of modifications done to him against his will. It’s taken me a couple of weeks and a number of experimental procedures, but I think I’ve finally gotten him to where he’ll be able to live a normal life.”

“Modifications?” Abbas queried, looking at the peacefully sleeping man.

“Someone cut open his brain, forced him to stop being who he was. They took out all of the parts which made him human so that he could be used as a slave.” Franklin shuddered. “He was a weapon against his will.”

“What did he do to deserve that?” Abbas blinked.

“Son, nobody deserves that.” The Medicus shook his head sadly. “You don’t get to fix the wrong things in life by doing something worse. It doesn’t matter if the person is a murderer, rapist, or anything else – torturing them won’t help their victims.”

“Pain cleanses the unclean and the unworthy,” Abbas replied, quoting his scripture.

“You have a lot to learn about the world kid,” Franklin sighed, adjusting the other man’s morphine drip when he started kicking in his sleep. “Hate and cruelty only bring more of the same.”

Abbas didn’t have the energy to argue with the Medicus, so he closed his eyes and dreamed again of the fish and the flowers. The glowing manta was there to greet him, as always, smiling paternally as it took him under its wing.

-=-=-=-=-=-=

Since returning to Babylon 5, Delenn had been busier than she’d ever been. Assisting Sinclair in relocating to his former station without anyone being any the wiser had not been easy, but somehow the Rangers had managed. Events were not moving as they were supposed to; the winds of time and fate had stopped obeying the prescribed paths of destiny.

It was troubling, to say the least. Ancient beings and societies were acting in ways never previously observed. The only consisted fact in the reports from the rangers was that trouble was on the horizon. Confusingly, the ancient enemy appeared equally harried by whatever was plaguing the known worlds. Several known strongholds of the enemy had simply disappeared, planets and moons reduced to rubble and slag.

The Vorlons denied all involvement or knowledge of who’d done it. Even more troubling were the early reports of worlds being conquered on the border planets, worlds whose hyperspace gates were destroyed soon after their conquest.

So it was that Delenn found herself sitting in on the first session for the Babylon 5 Advisory Council in which she didn't know the correct course of action. The path had seemed so much clearer to her when she’d been in the garden with Sinclair, talking of his plans for stopping the great enemy in their tracks. Now, she wasn’t so sure.

To say that this was an unconventional session of the Babylon 5 Advisory council would be an exercise in understatement. Of the five major races, one was represented by a proxy ambassador, another was absent entirely, and a third was under house arrest. It was not ideal, to say the least. Still, with the return of Sheridan to his post as Captain of Babylon 5, at least one of the pieces had fallen back into its proper place. Destiny would still be fulfilled with her help.

In Valen’s name, it would be so.

The Captain stood, looking around the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. “I am pleased to announce that I will be continuing to serve as the Ambassador for the Earth Alliance and commander of this station. It is good to see you again, even if we are meeting under such dire circumstances. We are here to discuss the new military threats discovered in the past months.”

He nodded to Lt. Corwin, “Open it.”

The Lieutenant tapped his data pad, activating the display behind the Captain. An image of an oblong black ship covered in long black claw-like ridges and tentacle-like appendages appeared on the screen.



“This is the first of the recently discovered ship designs encountered at the Battle of Sh’lassen. The Imperial Ambassador identified them as belonging to a war criminal from the Empire. We don’t know the extent of his military assets, but judging by his confirmed attacks upon Vree and Abbai shipping lanes, we are forced to assume they are extensive. We have reliable confirmation that these ships are equipped with stealth capability equal to or greater than that of the Minbari.” The Captain tapped the screen once, summoning an image of an all-too-familiar fleet.

“Ambassador G’kar has personally vouched for the authenticity of these vid captures.” Na’Toth hissed in agreement, “They are supported by a fleet of Dilgar vessels. We don’t yet know how the Dilgar escaped the destruction of their sun, but they are clearly less extinct than we initially predicted.”

“If that weren’t bad enough, their ground forces are, to put it frankly, evil.” Captain Sheridan shuddered. “The ‘half-breeds’ are a species that procreates by taking and forcibly impregnating sentient species. Their young apparently absorb the most genetically beneficial traits of whatever race they encounter, then burrow out through the parent, eating them alive.”

“Preliminary autopsies of those corpses recovered from Matok indicates that some several thousand species have been absorbed into the ‘half-breed’ genome to create at least six variants of the creature.” Lieutenant Corwin added, “However it is certain that the man who designed them, the renegade Inquisitor Faust, had access to DNA from the Humans, Narn, Centauri, Minbari, and two other as of yet unidentified species which form the genetic basis for all subsequent variants.”


Denenn’s stomach turned. Everything about these “half-breeds” was a violation of both decency and nature. Faust had warped and twisted the very essence of what made a creature alive and warped it into a weapon. Their oblong proportions and cruel faces were made all the more terrifying now that she recognized the patterns and contours of the jutting protrusions of bone.

She subjugated her aversion and focused on the Lieutenant’s voice. Learning, she could conquer this foe if she knew it well enough. Lt. Corwin’s cheeks colored. “We – uh – know this due to the taxonomic consistencies between all the variants. Specifically the bony crests, mottled skin, iron rich blood, and … tentacles…”

“Wait,” The Abbai ambassador blinked, watching the video footage of a half-breed rip a man to shreds with its barbed tentacles. “You mean those are…”

Delenn couldn’t help herself. She let out a foul oath in the language of the Religious Caste. Not that anyone heard her say it; the noise had become a cacophony of swearing and disgust.

“At one point, yes,” Sheridan interjected over the collective retching and disgust of the Ambassadors. “Our xenologists apparently hypothesize the original purpose was largely bred out of them en lieu of the venom they currently secrete from those appendages, but we have at least anecdotal evidence to suggest that they’re capable of fulfilling both roles based upon their treatment of female prisoners of war.”

“I would advise against getting stung.” a smarmy voice replied, one that sent shivers of terror down Delenn’s spine. Delenn resisted the urge to run away screaming as Mr. Morden walked into the room, taking the seat the Centauri normally occupied next to John Sheridan. “Or becoming a prisoner.”

“Allow me to introduce my associate, Mr. Morden. The Earth Alliance Government has loaned him to me. He is an expert on – well, everything, at least according to him.” John shrugged. “He is our subject matter expert on the second race to appear on Sh’lassen.”

“Indeed.” Mr. Morden. “But I’m only half of the team which will be needed to explain what you’re dealing with. For the next part..." he drawled, staring at a blank space on the floor.

“Yes,” a familiar rumbling tone growled. The Vorlon Kosh shimmered into view out of seemingly nowhere, standing at his place as though he’d been there the whole time.

Delenn’s eyes bulged as she looked from the Vorlon, to Morden, to the Captain and back. This was going to get worse long before it got better.

“Holy mother of – ” Captain Sheridan nearly leapt out of his own skin. He looked to Morden in confused anger. “You knew about this?”

Mr. Morden pulled a sheet of paper out from his pocket. “Ambassador Kosh, on behalf of President Clark, please allow me to present you with an official pardon for all apparent wrongdoings currently impeding your ability to serve as ambassador.”

“What?” The Captain squawked like a scalded cat. Sheridan’s hands shook with rage as he confirmed that Kosh’s pardon was genuine. He cleared his throat, subduing the urge to scream incoherently before speaking in a dangerous murmur, “It’s real.”

Delenn hadn’t ever seen the Captain that angry – not once, not even in the heat of battle. She wanted to comfort him, to offer him some word of encouragement that would fix this, but none came to her. She settled for reaching out and touching his sleeve.

The Captain glared in her direction, a look that might have shattered crystal, but she stared back into his eyes and shook her head slowly. “Captain – he knows more than anyone else. The Vorlons may well be the only race who can give us the knowledge we need to survive.”

The Captains pragmatism was apparently greater than his rage. He sat down in his chair, furious but silent. Delenn was pleased to notice that he had not brushed her hand away from his arm.

“Are we done yet?” The smarmy voice of Mr. Morden seemed to crawl through the room.

The Vorlon replied to Mr. Morden, speaking over the frenzied murmuring of the League. “Continue.”

“Right,” Mr. Morden ignored to look of betrayed surprise on the Captain’s face, tapping the screen to summon the next vid capture – a solar sailed dart-ship. “Allow me to introduce you to an Alai war ship. Let me be perfectly clear: If you encounter an Alai ship and lose, do not surrender. Under no circumstances are you to ever allow yourself to be captured.”

“The Alai have violated the terms of what was to be.” The Vorlon’s eye flashed crimson. “The younger are guarded by shadow and light – no other was to intervene.”

“Vorlon, you and I both know that the specific goals of the Alai Starstriders are not outside the terms. It was rude of them not to declare their presence, but the arrival of the Enemy more than justifies their decision to intervene.” Mr. Morden shook his head. “Their decision to start poaching from the younger races, however, is not within the bounds of what is reasonable.”

“I do not understand,” Na’Toth queried. “You both speak of these creatures as if they should be known to all of us.”

“They are known to my government – though we have no word for them,” Delenn admitted. “Though what little we know is from cryptic warnings and the ruins of any colonies we created in territory they decided was too close to their own.”

Morden snorted, tapping the screen to bring up a still shot of a smiling, slender creature holding curved blades to chop an alliance marine in half, “The Children of Isha view all of creation as ‘their territory’ and the Vorlons as reckless children. The Alai are a splinter group of their main territories, fanatics obsessed with the second of the races to appear on Matok.”

He summoned an image of a skeletal creature, clad in the fleshly flensed skin of sentient beings. “The Necrons. The enemy of all creatures in the universe.”

“The Enemy of all.” Hissed the Vorlon.

“They’re not my enemy.” Interjected the Brakiri ambassador. “I’ve never even heard of the Necrons.”

Morden laughed, “They don’t care. The Necron Dynasties view all other life as slaves and soon to be corpses – and they have the firepower to back it up. A single Necron and it’s outpost’s garrison warship were capable of defeating the entirety of Faust’s forces at Matok, including a substantial contingent of Alai Sartstriders, without taking any recorded losses. This was one ship. There are millions, possibly even billions of planets just like Matok with hidden fortresses and fleets which put those of Matok’s Dynasty to shame.”

“War has been declared,” Agreed Kosh. “We must answer, as one.”

Mr. Morden nodded in agreement. “Indeed. It would seem that the petty squabbles of our kind must be ignored in light of this new threat. The Guardians must fulfill their purpose.”

“I would see the ones with whom I am to make a pact.” Kosh’s booming voice echoed in the small chamber.

“The question has already been answered to their satisfaction,” Mr. Morden smiled, snapping his fingers.

Delenn’s jaw dropped as a trio of massive, chitinous, black creature shimmered into view, their multiple compound eyes flashing as they hissed and chittered in their curious language. The Shadows had revealed themselves to the universe.

“Allow me to introduce my associates,” Mr. Morden waved to the room at large. “The one of the two guardians tasked with the protection of the younger races. Isn’t that right, Kosh?”

The Vorlon said nothing in reply, but its red eye pulsed slowly.

“Ah ah ah – you know what we’re owed.” Mr. Morden poked the Vorlon’s encounter suit in the chest, laughing jovially. “Say it.”

The Vorlon’s eye continued to pulse.

“Say it.” Mr. Morden grinned as the trio of black creatures gibbered in sing-song whispers, “If you want our help, then say it.”

The glowing eye narrowed to a pinprick of light, “The Vorlon Government moves for the Shadows to be added to formally recognized by this council. We furthermore nominate their ambassador, Mr. Morden, to the Babylon 5 advisory council, as they are the equals of our own Empire.”

“What!” Delenn all but screamed. She felt the room spinning round her as reality ceased to hold all meaning.

“The Narn second this decision.” Na’Toth smiled, her crimson eyes full of greed. Without the Centauri here to vote, she could take credit for their election without ever giving credit to her hated enemy.

Delenn looked to the Vorlon in desperation, begging him to see reason. “Kosh – I cannot do this. I cannot support this. This is evil.”

“The lesser evil,” Mr. Morden corrected her. “And the price of our deal, Naranek.”

“No,” Delenn shook her head violently. “No I will not allow this.”

“I’m afraid that I won’t be supporting this either,” Captain Sheridan interjected. “And as the Centauri are absent, the motion cannot pass till their return.”

Mr. Morden pulled another sheet of paper from his jacket and passed it over to the Captain. “Captain Sheridan, I’m afraid you have no choice in this matter. President Clark has made his feelings on the matterabundantly clear.”

The Captain looked over the paper, his eyes searching for any inconsistency or error to the official orders he’d been handed. Apparently finding none he picked up his gavel. His voice shaking with barely controlled rage, he rapped it twice on the table. “The Earth Alliance votes yea on this matter. The shadows are admitted to the Babylon 5 advisory council, with Mr. Morden as their Ambassador.”

“The pact is made?” Kosh hissed.

“We will play our part, Naranek.” Ambassador Morden replied, leaning back in the Centauri chair as he brought his feet up to rest on the table. “You’ve won your peace. Now let's win the war.”

“Shadows and light are bound,” The Vorlon nodded, shimmering out of view along with the trio of spidery creatures. “Together we go to war.”

Delenn found herself clutching the Captain’s arm as much for her comfort as for his, as Ambassador Morden continued to describe the macabre horrors of the Necrons. Whatever deal had been brokered with the Shadows, her own purpose in life had been discarded as part of the price.

A tear streamed down the side of her face, as Delenn realized how truly lost she really was.
----===

Inquisitor Hilder sighed in exhaustion, wincing as he lowered himself into the cushioned chair sitting in what remained of Sáclair's study. Though they were the private apartments of House Sáclair had not fared well in the battle for Matok. Cairn and most of the Sáclair household had busied themselves with the debris in the hallway, as the Captain and Daul conferred in private.

The Inquisitor half-heartedly kicked at a shard of what might have once been a Matrala-wood desk, wondering if there even was a planet Martrala left from which to harvest mahogany.

“I don’t suppose you have any brandy on hand, do you?” he asked dejectedly.

Sáclair fixed him with a disgusted gaze. “My home is in ruins and you’re looking for my liquor?”

“Do you have the brandy or not?” Daul rubbed the sleep from the corner of his eyelids.

“Inquisitor Daul Hildur,” Sáclair pulled a steel cylinder from the ruins of his desk, pouring its contents into two of the least-damaged glasses. “Who do you think you’re dealing with?”


Daul groaned as he stood up, stiff and sore from days without sleep. He grabbed the glass and drank the amber liquid gratefully, “I think you’re a pompous, arrogant, self-absorbed lunatic with an ego capable of eating a star system.”

Sáclair tilted his glass in a minor salute, “Great minds think alike.”

Daul snorted in amusement. “How badly was the ship damaged?”

Sáclair sighed, “Worse than Tanagra 2, nowhere near as bad as Belzafest. Our biggest losses were to personnel. The damned knife-ears took out everything they could before we got them off my ship.”

“Do we have the medical supplies to cover the wounded?” Daul asked as his artificial hand twitched from a misfiring neuron. He hadn't had time to have it recalibrated since the battle.

“We can save the crucial personnel,” Sáclair shrugged. “But we’re going to encounter a labor deficiency on the way back to new Belzafest. Even with the women and children back onboard, we’re only just barely avoiding press-ganging the Belzafesters.”

“You’ll avoid it entirely,” Daul growled. “They’re part of my household.”

“Your household won’t get anywhere if I can’t staff this ship Inquisitor.” Sáclair snapped, before he sighed. “But it hardly matters in the long run. We ran out of ammunition for most of the broadsides; only the lances are still operating at full capacity. If we get into another scrape like that one, we won't be walking out of it.”

“Can’t we manufacture ammunition?” Daul sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Not unless you’re hiding a forge-world inside your apartment I don’t know about,” Sáclair replied. “This is a trade ship, not a deep space exploration vessel. The Endless Bounty was never intended to go this long without making port on an Imperial world.”

“We’re going to have to set up some sort of manufacturing facilities on Belzafest. To restock the ammunition.” Daul ran his augmentic hand through his hair. “The sooner, the better. Till then, we’re just going to have to hope we don’t get into any major fights.”

“Dare to dream, Hildy – dare to dream.” Sáclair snorted. “The knife-ears aren’t going to forget that we fought them. It might not come today, it might not come tomorrow, but they will have their revenge. We have the benefit of the Narn-Centauri fleet between here and our new home-world, but it won’t last forever.”

Daul opened his mouth to reply but Sáclair interrupted him, “Inquisitor, we can’t keep relying upon dead races and legends to keep saving us. Of the last two conflicts this ship has been in, it has essentially taken divine intervention to net us a victory.”

“I know,” Daul admitted. “But we must stop whatever Faust is trying to achieve.”

“Hilder, I have been remarkably patient with this quest. I know that I’m honor bound to serve you till the end, but I’m genuinely starting to have my doubts that it even can be done.” The captain raised his hands pleadingly. “We’re treading water. We’ve been treading water since Belzafest. It’s time to start picking a direction before we drown.”

Hilder tried to snap at the Rogue Trader, but the reproach died on his lips as his unsaid words ran headfast into Sáclair's brutal logic. For a moment, the core of strength that Hilder leaned on was not enough. The Inquisitor's uncompromising resolve faded, as he began to truly comprehend the sheer magnitude of the task before him.

“You’re right,” The Inquisitor admitted, as the veneer of calm he so carefully maintained cracked in two. Tears ran down the sides of his face; he'd wondered before if he was even capable of it anymore. “Thronebut I know you’re right, Nathaniel."

“Inquisitor Hilder? Daul?” Sáclair replied, in a moment of genuine concern. “Are you alright?”

“I – I’m not strong enough for this Nathaniel.” Daul shook his head. “I don’t know if any of us are. You weren’t there. You didn’t see it. Faust tore apart that world, he woke creatures that should have slept forever. And it was just one move in his plan.”

“The Necron knew me, Captain. It knew we were coming. It planned on our arrival.” Daul shuddered. “I don’t know how, but it had been planning on our arrival for ages. It chided me for arriving late.”

“Inquisitor, it was trying to get into your head – to drive you mad with these questions.” Sáclair placed his hand comfortingly on the Inquisitor’s shoulder. “Eldar, Necron, it makes no difference. Xenos thrive upon our doubt and grief.”

“This was different Captain. It was no mere ploy. The Pretorian’s emissary knew my language even before I walked on that planet.” He pulled a book from his pocket. “It is a prayer – part of their scripture since the colony was founded. A greeting specifically for me was in the prayers of their priesthood for generations.”

“How is that possible?” Sáclair blinked.

“That is a very good question,” Daul replied. “A better one is ‘what do the Eldar have to gain by allying themselves with Faust?”

“The Eldar have little enough rhyme or reason to their behavior,” Sáclair replied. “Why focus on them?”

“Because it is another mystery, Sáclair. We know that the Craftworld Eldar all use soul stones to protect themselves from the warp, and yet we found precious few stones among their dead.” He tapped his temple with his index finger knowingly, “The logical conclusion is that they are their dark brethren from the webway, yet it is equally erroneous. We know that the Dark Eldar make no use of combat telepaths from their own kind, and yet we found more psykers in their ranks than ever seen before.”

“There is another matter requiring your attention, Inquisitor,” Sáclair reached over to the table, opening a cloth shroud to reveal a massive dagger. “One that the Lionhearts brought directly to me.”


“That is an Astartes combat blade,” Daul blinked in shock. “Where did they get it? Why was I not informed of this?”


“As to the where; Faust’s bunker, apparently impaling his general.” Sáclair replied. “As to the why; Sergei’s team found it in the primary command bunker.”

“Ah,” Daul nodded. “I see.”

The Dilgar command bunker was buried deep underground, too far for the comm-beads to communicate with the outside world. In the time it took Sergei and his men to extricate themselves from the bunker, Daul had already boarded a transport to take him back to the Endless Bounty and recover. It was Sergei though. He might well have simply ‘forgotten’ to report that detail to the Inquisitor before reporting it to Sáclair.

Daul picked up the blade, feeling overwhelmed as he always did when faced with the sheer mass of Astrates equipment. It was an antique Karzhan Dagger, a relic of the old legions. They had been common enough prior to the fall of Horus but the knowledge of this particular blade’s construction was lost in the fall. To Daul’s knowledge fewer than 5,000 blades of Karzhan make existed within the Empire, most of them in the possession of the Salamanders chapter.

He flipped it over, looking at the iconography and let out a low whistle. “This was a blade from the Dark Angel’s main garrison. Look at the markings – Luther’s men held this blade. I didn’t think any relics from the fall of Caliban were in circulation.”

“The Dilgar general was crucified and nailed to the ceiling with that and five more like it,” He hefted a thick burlap sack onto the table. It thudded with the weight of more Astrates combat blades.

Daul’s eyes bugged as he opened the satchel only to find five more blades with the same markings, “Sáclair – any one of these blades is worth the value of an entire star system. You’re telling me that someone discarded six of them to make a point?”

“The corridors were apparently lined with bolter casings and about a million other clear signs of the presence of one or more Space Marines,” Sáclair sighed. “Space Marines who were fighting to leave the bunker.”

Daul’s mind froze as it struggled to process this new information. “Faust has Space Marines serving him.”

“He was an Inquisitor.” Sáclair replied. “Is it so implausible that he might have a couple of Dark Angels working for him?”

“For Faust? Entirely.” Daul snorted. “Dark Angels do not associate with traitors. They certainly don’t discard chapter relics to make a point. No, I suspect that it is more likely that Faust has some of the traitor war band at his command.”

“I thought Faust wasn’t affiliated with the Ruinous Powers,” Sáclair quirked an eyebrow. “We haven’t exactly been dealing with demons and sorcerers in his armies.”

“He is not – at least not that anyone has ever been able to verify reliably.” Daul tapped the flat of the blade with his fingertip. “But Traitor Legions aren’t all in the grip of the Warp. The Imperium doesn't like to advertise the fact, but we almost always have at least one rogue chapter of Space Marines rebelling against Imperial law for substantially more mundane reasons than the powers of Chaos. Space Marines are skilled warriors, but they’re ultimately people.”

“I’m still not loving the idea of going up against the Adeptus Astartes,” Sáclair grimaced. “My Lionhearts are skilled, but there are limits.”

Daul considered it. “Nor I, but I suspect that he has too few Marines for them to represent more than a symbolic threat. He was using his Marines to either coordinate the battle or to keep the Dilgar general in line. Had he any substantial number of them we would have seen them on the battlefield – even a half-company would have routed that fortress in weeks, not months.”

“Inquisitor, this is not the first time Faust has shown resources and knowledge far beyond what you’d estimated. He has ships, men and materials light-years in excess of what we estimated.” Sáclair grew uncharacteristically serious. “Hilder, what is Faust's end-game?.What is so important that the Eldar, Necrons, and Space Marines are getting involved?”

“We don’t know.” Daul replied. “Honestly, we don’t.”

“Come on,” Sáclair snorted. “You’ve been spouting that for months now. He was a prominent Inquisitor for centuries before his fall. He published books in common circulation. You must have some sort of guess.”

“I prefer not to speculate,” Daul replied.

“Inquisitor, that is a lie. You do nothing but speculate about that man.” The captain sighed. “Don’t waste my time on lies or platitudes. Just talk to me.”

“I have considered the matter.” Daul admitted, tapping his fingers together pensively. “Faust was brilliantin his time. A visionary. When he first started, many in the Inquisition genuinely believed that he might well be able to help us reach the glories of days long past.”

“There are – factions – within the Inquisition; philosophical outlooks on how the Empire ought to be governed. Sometimes these differences of opinion are academic, easily sorted out in debate,” He paused, considering his next words. “Other times they become more – proactive – in their disagreements.”

“You mean they fight each other,” Sáclair interjected. “Kill each other.”

“Not always,” Sáclair shook his head. “Usually one simply uses their operatives to simply thwart the efforts of an Inquisitor heading down a dangerous or foolish path. In an extreme case one might get them censured, arrested or excommunicated for dangerous behavior.”


“No wonder you’re all so damned secretive,” Sáclair snorted. “You’ve got all the power in the world, but if you use it even slightly wrong and someone finds out about it, your peers will bring down a star sector's worth of hurt on you.”


“Correct,” Daul replied. “At some point Faust got ahold of an alien artifact – I don’t know what – which apparently held some sort of genomic lexicon for almost every species in the galaxy. Faust believed that alien DNA might hold the key to restoring our place in the galaxy at large. I don’t know precisely how he did it, but he bred the first of the half-breeds as an attempt to create his own perfect man. He wanted to create a warrior to replace the Adeptus Astrates, one which would be immune to the taint of Chaos.”

“Oooh,” Sáclair winced. “Yes. I can see how that would irk the hardline purists.”

“Even the more esoteric factions found the idea of creating a xenos-blood primarch to be excessive. His research was banned, and the source materials and experiments were to be handed over to the Adeptus Mechanicus to be processed and studied, then destroyed.” Daul snorted. “Faust took it poorly. He refused to hand over what he’d learned, insisting that there was a greater picture at work than we realized. He repelled the forces sent to force his obedience, and launched a crusade across Imperial space that left words aflame as he collected information towards that end. He bred thousands of different types of his monsters, conquering those planets with materials relevant to his research.”

“I don’t get it though,” Sáclair shook his head. “If he was such a good Inquisitor, why would he go rogue?”

“Because he refused to believe that he could be wrong, I suppose.” Daul shrugged. “Arrogance is often the folly of my profession.”

“You don’t say?” Sáclair smiled, his tone jovial – a polite joke at the Inquistor’s expense.

“In all honesty,” Daul replied, dismissing the captain's good-hearted jibe with a wave of his hand, “Faust’s goals are ultimately for his own benefit. You can’t start trying to figure out what his end game is. He’s insane, drunk on his own power. Whatever his original purposes might have been, I suspect that he’s simply stuck in the forward momentum of what he started. There well may be no end goal.”

“The Eldar don’t work with someone who doesn't further their goals, Inquisitor,” The Captain shook his head. “There is a goal. You mark my words, he’s working towards something.”

“True,” Daul sighed. “All too true.”

“Well, I’m going to get pissed drunk and pass out till we reach the colony.” Sáclair clapped his hands together. “Would you care to join me in dulling my wits?”

“No,” The Inquisitor shook his head and finished his drink. “But thank you. I have interrogations to conduct and footage to review.”

“Never a dull moment with you, is there Inquisitor?”

“My dear Captain.” Daul smiled. “If we make it through this – if we actually manage to capture Faust – I will spend a week in the most raging, drunken bacchanalia of debauchery and victory you’ve ever seen.”

“Now that would be a sight to see, my dear Inquisitor.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Jeffery Sinclair’s changeling net concealed his true features, but could only moderately dull the look of disappointment on his face as he looked around the ruined remnants of the Zocalo. It was mostly clean of debris and largely repaired after it’s unfortunate run in with the third space creature, but it wasn’t the same. He recognized few of the shops and fewer of the faces in them.

Much though it hurt him to say it, this was no longer his station.

It felt wrong to slink back on to Babylon 5 like a criminal, secreting himself through the back channels and criminal networks he’d spent so much time, effort and energy trying to dismantle during his tenure as commanding officer of Babylon 5. Here he was, a respected member of the Earth Alliance government, cowering behind a changeling net to prevent himself from discovery by those who would call him friend.

It was all too voyeuristic.

It was also far more difficult than he’d first assumed it would be. Garibaldi’s ordered enhancements to station security were borderline draconian, with spot checks and random scans of passing sentient creatures to look for contraband. He’d already seen someone dragged off to the brig by Alliance Marines, not station security. Sheridan’s administration claimed that the presence of military personnel for police matters was a “temporary” solution, but the intelligence that the Rangers could collect from the Senate indicated the opposite.

Clark’s government was quickly gaining support from even moderate elements of the Earth Alliance. The sudden instability of the alien races of the galaxy had people spooked. Colonies were losing shipments to unknown brigands, and even the Rangers weren’t sure who was the culprit. And while it wasn’t common knowledge yet, several outlying Earth Alliance colonies had ceased communication with the Earth Alliance altogether.

Were it a single system it could be written off as coincidence or equipment failure, but three colonies had already gone quiet in the space of a week. None of them were particularly significant - scientific outposts and way stations for the refueling of starships - but all of them were within a dozen light years of each other.

Even more troubling, someone was destroying hyperspace gates to specific systems. None of the systems held any obvious connections, nor were any connected to any known civilizations on record. Dead worlds were disappearing.

People were scared. They had a right to be scared. None of this was part of the plan.

“We are ready for you, Entil’zah,” muttered the cloaked Minbari to Jeffery’s right. “The room has been checked. We detect no listening devices.”

“And telepaths?” Jeffery asked. “We have a detection net in place?”

“A triad of Minbari telepaths are in place to ensure no wandering minds find us.” The Ranger pulled back his hood as they walked past the doors of a newly finished dojo, specifically one training in the Minbari martial arts.

Jeffery followed the Ranger, idly noting that their guards weren’t quite as concealed as they ought to have been. The pair of muscular humans stuck out like a sore thumb, loitering in front of a Minbari establishment. They’d have to install a bench or something; there needed to be a reason for people to linger in that place, or people would question it.

Then again, perhaps something more overt was called for under the circumstances.

The Rangers had elected to place their on-station headquarters in the dojo as a way of hiding it in plain sight. Nobody would ask why Minbari or humans were entering a dojo at any given hour of the day or night. Virtually any odd behavior or noises could be explained away as “training exercises,” and the occasional presence of non-Minbari Rangers would be largely ignored.

They would of course actually have to teach martial arts, but the Ranger commander in charge of the dojo assured Jeffery that it would provide them with a viable recruiting pool for future Rangers.

The Dojo was a mess, a gutted section of the Zocalo that had been abandoned after the battle with the Thirdspace creature. Still it comfortably accommodated the six Minbari and five humans sitting Indian style on the charred ground in meditation.

“Do we have any news of Ivanova or Garibaldi?” Jeffery accepted the Ranger’s data pad, reading over the Ranger reports for the day. Two rangers dead, thirty missing in action – either they were getting careless, or the security forces of the Non-Aligned worlds were getting far more competent.

“Ivanova has been contacted, Entil’zah. We expect to hear from the operative soon.” The Ranger bowed apologetically. “As to Mr. Garibaldi, he and two others are being escorted by Ranger Cole back to the station.”

“Two others?” Jeffery looked up from signing a requisition order for starship bio-armor components. “Who?”

“The report did not say.” The Ranger replied with characteristic Minbari stoicism. “I presume they are important specifically because of how little was said. There was a message from Mr. Garibaldi.”

“Really?” Jeffery handed the data pad back to the ranger. “What?”

“Mr. Garibaldi politely requests that you shoot his companions ‘if they so much as sneeze in a funny tone.’ Ranger Cole indicated that the statement was not made in jest.” The Minbari shrugged. “Whomever his companion is warranted the inclusion of a telepath triad to prevent psychic maleficence. It is wise to assume danger.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Jeffery looked around the empty space of the dojo. “How long do you think it’s going to take to get equipment in here?”

“I’m not sure, Entil’zah. We de-prioritized improving the interior in light of the political changes.” The Ranger chewed his lip. “We only have sixteen Rangers on station; I instructed them to make their overtures with the local players to establish an information network on station.”

“Well, have them do that and hang heavy bags.” Jeffery scratched the back of his head. The gesture made his changeling net’s holographic skin flutter in front of his face, briefly blinding him. “Agh!”

The Ranger politely ignored his outburst. It wasn’t the first time Jeffery had made that mistake, and likely wouldn’t be the last.

“I keep forgetting that thing is on.” He blinked the stars out of his eyes before continuing. “No, we need to look motivated to get this place up and running or somebody is going to wonder what we’re really doing. Get the men to work it in two-person shifts, and make sure they’re seen to be working on it. It doesn’t matter if they’re effective, just that they’re obvious.”

“Understood, Entil’zah.” He bowed, interlocking his fingers in a Minbari prayer gesture. “I do so immediately.”

“See that you do.” Jeffery tapped the pin on his jacket, deactivating the changeling net. The world briefly turned blue as several spectrum of light filtered by the net instantly became visible.

His communicator chirped twice and he answered it, “What is it?”

“The Ambassador is here. She says it’s important,” one of the men guarding the door radioed back.

“Let her in,” Sinclair replied. That was odd; he’d expected Sheridan’s meeting of the Babylon 5 advisory council to have taken longer. He turned from the door as it opened to the Zocalo, pulling his hood up to conceal his face from any passerby.

He waited for the door to close before pulling it back and smiling, “Hello Delenn. How did the – ” He stopped, catching sight of Delenn’s tear-streaked face and puffy eyes. “Delenn, what happened?”

“The Shadows have been admitted to the Babylon 5 advisory council at the behest of Ambassador Kosh.” The Minbari Ambassador brushed an errant hair out of her eyes. “They’ve revealed themselves to the younger races and declared their presence.”

“We aren’t ready for this yet,” Jeffery swore. “The Whitestar fleet isn’t even half built, and Naranek knows it. What is he playing at?”

“I tried asking him after the meeting ended.” Delenn shook her head. “He told me that ‘even fate isn’t inevitable.’ That horrible man is an ambassador.”

“Morden is here? Operating in the open?” That wasn’t supposed to happen. Little enough was known about the Shadows, but the Rangers had centuries of collected knowledge of their habits and tactics. The shadows were secretive to the extreme. Even the true name of their species was a matter of pure speculation. To outright announce themselves to the universe at large was anathema to their very being. “The Necrons are even more of a threat than we’d assumed.”


“Lennier has tried to look through the archives for some reference, any reference to the Necrons. We have nothing about them, even in my copies of the secret archives of the Grey Council.” Delenn shivered. “I think that Kosh is afraid of them.”


“I think we all should be afraid of them,” Jeffery agreed. “Have you seen the preliminary reports from the rangers deployed to Shi’lassen? Teleportation, the use of pocket dimensions as weapons, the ability to phase straight through solid matter; it reads like science fiction.”

“It troubles me, Entil’zah Sinclair.” Delenn shuddered. “We must continue to monitor the effects of this decision. It well may be that Kosh has some plan we are not seeing in the war to come.”

“And it well may be that the war we get isn’t the war we’ve been preparing for.” Jeffery sighed. “Delenn, this is why I came back with you. This is why we’re here. We need to learn what our next move is. We need to figure out how to secure a better future. Don’t give up on me now.”

“Entil’zah, I have given everything for our cause. I have given my body, my title, my right to rule our people – everything.” Her eyes hardened with the glint of determined fire he knew so well. “I’m not giving up. I can’t give up. I have nothing left to surrender. This cause is all I have left.”

“Good,” Jeffery agreed. “Delenn, do you think that you can sneak two people through customs with your diplomatic permissions?”

“That would depend on who, and why,” Delenn replied, curious.

“Garibaldi can give you both, once he gets through customs.” Jeffery smiled. “We’re going to need to talk to him about becoming a ranger anyway.”

“You think that he would join?”

“I think that once I tell him how much he’s going to be able to know about everyone’s dirty laundry, I’d have to beat him off with a stick.”

--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Stephen watched the man struggle to grasp at a cup of water. “Come on, you can do it. Easy. Easy now.”

The recently repaired paraplegic’s prosthetic fingers flexed awkwardly. The man had gone so long without proper hands that his body didn’t quite know what to do with proper manipulators. The pudgy ceramic digits shook with the effort of not crushing the cup.

“Good,” Stephen let go of the cup entirely, leaving it in the hands of his patient. “Now sip from it, slow and careful. Just take a drink.”

The patient looked at him in confusion. Stephen mimed sipping, remembering that the patient wouldn’t know the words for “drink” in English yet. With all the reconstructive brain surgery they’d done, it was a miracle the patient recalled his own name.

The patient raised the cup slowly, taking a drag of the cool liquid before starting to cough uncontrollably. He bent over the side of the bed, vomiting into a bucket next to the bed. Stephen patted the man sympathetically on his back, “It’s just your gag reflex. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get you used to eating and drinking in no time.”

It was to be expected. The patient had consumed his nutrition intravenously for at least three years prior to his recovery in Stephen’s care. The man’s digestive system had atrophied in the intervening time. It would take gradual exposure to extremely nutritious foods before he could reliably control his own consumption of food.

The crude cybernetics had taken Stephen nearly a day of intensive surgery to remove, as well as an additional fifteen procedures to repair the man’s basic motor and cognitive functions. He doubted the man’s memories would ever recover properly, but he was certain that the former Imperial servitor could live a relatively normal life.

He couldn’t help everyone living under the yoke of Imperial rule, but so long as the servitor Dorn was under arrest, the Earth Alliance was obligate to provide him with proper medical treatment. An Earth Alliance judge had luckily agreed, delaying a trial till such time as Dorn could be reasonably expected to articulate a defense.

Not that it mattered. Stephen’s report on Dorn’s servitor state was more that sufficient for a verdict of “not guilty by reason of disease or mental defect.” The poor bastard hadn’t been more sentient than a houseplant before Stephen manually reconnected his synapses.

Stephen had every intention of sending his documentation of Imperial augmentation processes to Amnesty Intergalactic once he’d managed to restore Dorn to health. How anyone could do that to another thinking being was beyond him. The death of personality was controversial, but still afforded an individual the potential for happiness.

The Imperial servitor Dorn’s pain and fear sensors were hyper-stimulated at all times, subdued only by artificial implants displaying images from the Imperial Church and of his master, Inquisitor Hilder. At the drop of the hat those barriers could be disabled, turning Dorn into a psychotic killing machine immune to pain. It also basically meant that the only thing Dorn had actually felt in God only knew how long was total agony.

They'd taken everything that made Dorn human, except the memories of pain. They were psychotic bastards, the lot of them.

“OK, Dorn,” Stephen helped the man back into bed. “I’ve got to go now.”

The man said something that could have been the Imperial language, but was likely just a combination of sounds – he didn’t quite have his language centers operating properly yet. Stephen took the man’s smile to mean that he was pleased, though.

He pulled the curtain closed, making a note on the man’s chart that someone would have to try to switch him from IV bags over to gruel.

“Doctor Franklin,” A nurse approached him. “Do you have a moment?”

“Of course, Miss Trask,” Stephen smiled at the pretty nurse. “What is it?”

“You asked me to keep track of any strange behavior from the patient,” she said, pointing behind him to Dorn's bed. She shifted from heel to heel like an embarrassed child.

“I did,” Stephen replied, confused.

“Well, Doctor...I came in last night to check on the patients, and I heard the strangest noise. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first. It just sounded wrong.” She shivered. “It was laughter, the creepiest laughter I’d ever heard in my life.”

“He’s bound to have some strange ticks while his brain re-maps itself around the missing implants and restored synaptic pathways.” Dr. Franklin shrugged.

“Oh, I know that, doctor,” The nurse agreed. “But that’s not the strange part. You see I looked in on him, just to check that he was OK, and he was standing on the other side of the curtain as though he’d been waiting for me. He looked at me with wide eyes and said something in the Imperial language.”

“You’re sure it was actually a sentence?” The doctor asked.

“I'm positive,” The nurse nodded. “Abbas, the one in the other bed, heard it and translated for me. He said ‘none can stop my glorious purpose. Not even in death am I defeated.’ It creeped the hell out of me, doctor.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Ms. Trask.” Stephen replied. “The man has had religious dogma pumped into his skull for years. He’s going to be somewhat poetic in his language.”

“That’s what I thought.” Trask agreed. “But according to Abbas, it wasn’t part of any prayers he knew.”

“And you knew the entirety of scripture before you were fifteen?” Stephen laughed. “The kid is well intentioned, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in his understanding of the Imperial Creed."

“I suppose so,” Nurse Trask replied doubtfully. “Still, it just felt, oh I don’t know, wrong. More wrong than it normally does when a man looks at me, I felt like he was looking through me rather than at me.”

“I can have another nurse on call in case he gets out of hand, but I don't know what else I can do till he actually does something more substantial than talking in odd verse,” Stephen replied. “The man simply isgoing to have some quirks.”

“I guess,” The woman chewed her lip. “Doctor – do we know why they chose do lobotomize Dorn, exactly?”

“Does it matter?” Stephen replied. “I’m not here to care about the politics or histories of my patients. Once they come through that door, they are patients. Our only concern is how to get them well.”

“I guess– No, I know you’re right.” The woman sighed. “Of course, you’re right. It just freaked me out, is all.”



“It happens to all of us,” Franklin patted her on the shoulder. “Now, if you’d be so kind as to empty the bucket next to Dorn’s bed, I'll head over to my desk to catch a nap.”

“Yes Doctor.” The nurse nodded, ducking past the curtain.

It was not till the pneumatic doors to the long-term patient wing sealed shut on his way out that Dr. Franklin heard the first chilling trill of Dorn’s laughter, echoing through the bulkhead. When he got to his desk, what little rest Stephen found was fitful and full of the sounds of Dorn’s cruel amusement.

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Todeswind
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Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5)

Postby Todeswind » 2014-07-17 10:00am

-=-=--=-=-=-=-=

Ami poked her head over balcony, eying the transport as it set down. Billowing smoke whooshed across the stone landing-platform, powerful rockets struggling to slow the hundred-ton transport’s hulking inertia. The Earth Alliance ships were truly remarkable, they violated seemingly every rule of esthetics and ship design without seeming to have any sort of measurable decline in performance.

She’d spent her entire life in and around starships. Learning their intricacies and inner workings was a requirement of her station but she kept finding herself fascinated by the simultaneous sophistication and backwardness of the Alliance. A citizen of the Earth Alliance might carry a sophisticated cogitator in their back pocket as a mere plaything without a second thought, but only the largest of the Earth Alliance commercial ships boasted any form of artificial gravity. How any race even began to consider traveling through the stars without energy shielding or Gellar Gields was a mystery.

“That’s the biggest one yet,” whistled Fadir through pursed lips. “There are more and more of them every day milady Sáclair.”

“Do you think they brought more psychers?” Ami leaned back from the balcony, putting her feet back into silk slippers.

“If they didn’t it’d be a miracle,” Fadir snorted, tipping his pillbox had to the side with his thumb. “I’ve never seen bolt-magnets so determined to meet an Inquisitor before. They’re practically throwing themselves at him.”

“I’ve never envied the life of a psychic.” Ami shook her head. “The ones I’ve met seem to genuinely feel that life in Daul’s service would be an upgrade from how the Earth Alliance treats its telepaths.”

Fadir laughed, “Throne – now that is something I never hope to experience.”

“We should head down to greet them.” Ami adjusted the sash at her waist, taking care to check that the refractor field was still in place. At a moment’s notice she could have a thin skin of energy protecting her from danger.

“Miss?” Fadir’s brow quirked. “Isn’t Carran overseeing customs?”

“Carran is scheduled to be in the southern settlements today Fadir. They’re trying to set up a sensor array.” Ami shrugged. “Mother is still here, but Maziv isn’t going to let a pregnant woman near a crowd of potential assassins.”

“And you think your mother would want her teenage daughter to wander into that same danger?” Fadir replied sarcastically, even as he motioned for three other Lionhearts to accompany them. “You know you’ve been warned not to wander outside the palace grounds.”

“I was under the impression that the docks were in the palace gardens Fadir.” Ami smiled. “And you are hardly the person to speak about following the rules.”

Fadir tousled her hair. “You’re too smart for your own good missy.”

“And you’re going to have to start walking if we’re going to see who came in this group.” Ami strode past him, leading her bodyguards through the palace. “Come on! I want to see what these ones look like. The last ones were all dark skinned and skinny.”

“I don’t see what the fuss is about Ami. People are just people.” Fadir adjusted the straps on his gun harness, shifting his side arm.

“With respect sir,” One of the younger Lionhearts interjected. “There were a lot of pretty women on that last transport.”

“I take it back, Afif.” Fadir snorted. “Perhaps there is something worth looking at. Though I was quite sure the young Miss had eyes for only one man.”

Ami punched Fadir in the ribs, eliciting a roaring laugh from Fadir. “It’s not like that. Sørian is just a good friend.”

“Little miss, I’ve had men try to gut me like a fish for looking at their wives the way you look at your friend.” Fadir rolled his eyes, flashing a dazzling smile. “He’s too old for you by a score and ten but a girl’s fancy has little to do with logic.”

“You know he’s just helping me with setting up the colony’s infrastructure.” Ami couldn’t quite meet Fadir’s eyes as she said. “He’s only a friend.”

But he wasn’t really. Sure, they were friends but they were “only just” friends in the way that Daul was “only just” an Inquisitor. After her incident, Ami had found Sørian’s presence not only comforting but also necessary. She often had nightmares of what might have happened had he not intervened – of the horrors that might have befallen her. She would wake in the middle of the night, sobbing, and wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep till she checked the pistol under her pillow.

But on the days she met with Sørian she had no nightmares. Her dreams were of her savior and the myriad of decidedly unladylike ways in which she might have thanked him. She had never met someone who could make her feel like this before. She had never felt this level of passion.

All propriety was kept in her meetings with the Lord Sørian, they’d never been more intimate than sharing a cup of tea and a plate of sandwiches between official meetings. Yet somehow the man could make her swoon with the most mundane of words and a platonic touch. She’d barely been able to stand when his fingers brushed hers to say goodbye, swooning as he planted a chaste kiss on the back of her hand.

Nothing could ever come of it, no matter how much she desperately wanted it. It was a girlish fancy, but she ached for him.

Lost in thoughts of Sørian, Ami actually jumped with Fadir poked her side. “Are you still with us little miss?”

“Ah!” She yelped, losing a slipper as she tripped over her own feet. She put the shoe back on embarrassedly chastising the Lionheart. “Don’t do that!”

“Yes, little miss.” Fadir tweaked her nose. “I can see that you’re not pining for your friend at all.”

Ami blushed crimson.

“Come on then little miss. Perhaps there is a handsome young Earthforce buck to take a more appropriate place in your heart,” Fadir said as he led Ami into the garden.

“Fadir!” She groaned. “Stop it.”

“I’ll stop doing it when you stop laughing, little miss.” Fadir eyed the yellow flower petals showering down from the topiary lining the path. “Your mother has managed to get this garden into remarkable shape.”

“She always wanted a proper garden.” Ami smiled, catching a glimpse of the aging Preston floating in the skies on his grav-hook. The aging butler was wrangling a flock of dedicated servo-skulls repurposed for gardening with apparent difficulty. The floating servitors hadn’t quite grasped their new purpose. They kept meandering away from the garden and making small repairs to the brick and mortar of the Centauri made walls.

“Do you think he’s going to actually ask a Tech-priest to fix the servitors or just keep yelling at them when they don’t obey him?” Fadir stage whispered to Ami.

She smacked him across the chest. “You be nice.”

“I’m always nice, little miss.” The Lionheart replied with and utter sincerity, though his eyes were twinkling.”

“Oh come on you lout.” Ami shook her head. “The Belzafesters will be greeting them already.”

“Greeting them” was somewhat euphemistic. The Belzafesters would be meeting any Earth Alliance visitors whist wearing full encounter suits before running them under a medical auspex. Sanctioned psychers would be on call to “welcome” any telepaths and quarantine them the general population. Anyone who passed both medical and telepathic quarantines was then free to walk about New Belzafest as they willed.


She watched eagerly as lines of people queued up patiently, sighing in slight disappointment. Pale skinned and sallow cheeked, they were nothing like the jovial visitors on the last transport. Where those ones had been all smiles and laughter these were all scowls and frowns. They were vaguely Cadian in their appearance, though anyone with a hard enough expression looked vaguely Cadian. “I don’t recognize the language on the nose cone. That’s not Interlac or English is it?”

“No,” Agreed Fadir. “Though the red star is a nice touch.”

Ami sighed. “Do they have translation servitors?”

“They were supposed to.” Fadir shrugged. “Mom is the one to ask about that.”

“Mom?” Ami asked.

Fadir blushed. “Uh – Maziv. Don’t tell him that I called him that, ok?”

“Never heard a thing,” Ami replied, watching as a bearded man wearing a funny black skull cap got through customs. The man was waving a small piece of paper at the Belzafest customs officer, chatting animatedly with the clearly exasperated official.

A pair of Belzafest PDF officers walked over to him, apparently trying to lead him away from the queue, only to find themselves equally trapped by the man’s gentle assertiveness. Ami couldn’t help but giggle as the two befuddled soldiers found themselves carrying the suitcases of the portly man, walking behind him as he jabbered in a language in which neither of them could possibly speak more than a word or so.

The PDF placed the man’s suitcases to the side, politely excusing themselves with exaggerated gestures before he could get a second wind. They positively fled as the old man waved his sheet of paper at them, seemingly thanking them for their help.

Perhaps this batch of Alliance humans would not be so dull after all. “Come on Fadir. I want to know what that man was talking about.”

“Little miss, when I said to look for a man to catch your eye, I had been hoping for someone a smidge younger.” Fadir jibed.

“Fadir, not what I was talking about.” Ami rolled her eyes.

“Wasn’t it then?” The Lionheart tapped the side of his forehead knowingly, his eyes still twinkling.

“Fadir!” The princess stomped her foot.

“I suppose we could say hellow.” The Lionheart eyed the old man, watching him wave the picture at anyone passing. “He seems harmless enough.”

“Good,” Ami clapped her hands once and turned on her heel, heading towards the old man. He noticed her some fifteen paces or so before she reached him, waving politely to her and speaking in a language she didn’t recognize.

He bowed his head slightly “Shalom. Рад Вас видеть.”

“I sorry. No understand.” Ami replied in broken English. “Do you speak English?”

“Of course I do, little girl.” The man smiled. “Though I hope my accent is not too confusing for you. I am Rabbi Koslov.”

“Lady Ami Sáclair of House Sáclair.” Ami curtsied, struggling to remember the English from her lessons. “This is Specalist Fadir of the Lionhearts.”

“Oh, such important people. I’m glad to meet you,” The rabbi smiled.

“Rabbi?” Fadir queried.

“It’s a religious position. I’m jewish.” The man replied.

“Ah!” Fadir perked up, smiling eagerly. “Yes. Jew! Person who thinks savior is coming.”

“Fadir.” Ami hissed.

“Imperial clergy agree that Jew is ok. We like Jew.” Fadir smiled from ear to ear. “Jew not heresy.”

“Throne Fadir! Just stop talking.” Ami hissed in gothic. . His English was truly atrocious, even Ami could see that.


Ami blushed, switching back to English, “Apologies.”

“No, no. It’s ok.” The rabbi waved his hand. “I’ve heard worse from people who should know better.”

“Why you are here rabbi?” Ami asked, struggling over the words.

“I am here looking for my niece,” The rabbi replied, making a long vowel sound of thought at the collective look of incomprehension from the imperials.

“Uh, niece my niece. Daughter of a brother – well not really she’s sort of adopted family – hoy vey, I’m looking for family.”

“Many come here,” Ami replied. “Can you be specific?”

“Yes, yes.” The man nodded, handing the piece of paper over to Ami. It was a still image of a striking woman in military uniform with startlingly red hair. “I’m looking for Susan, Susan Ivanova.”


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Jack Maynard couldn’t remember how long he’d been chained to the wall. He could barely remember his own name without concentrating on it. It had been at least a day since he’d drank any water, longer since he’d eaten anything. The stump of his right arm throbbed from where it had been cauterized by flame, keeping him awake even in the pitch darkness of his windowless cell.

Once a week the giant man would come and stare at him. He wouldn’t say a single word, just slide open a narrow slit in the door to glare through glowing optics. Captain Maynard glared back. He wasn’t about to give the bastard the satisfaction of seeing him sweat.

Most of his day was spent in silence. Every once in a while he would hear movement outside his cell, perhaps even voices, but never for more than an instant. He could barely even hear the muffled sobs of the man in the cell next to him.

Once or twice a day, however, all pandemonium broke. His captors would take a man from his cell and torture him. He recognized some of the voices, crew of the Cortez, but others were strange, even alien, sounds. Warbles, shrieks, trills, and all manner of strange sounds all echoed in pain.

But they never took him.

He was grateful at first, thrilled just to be alive. Escape was always possible so long as one lived. But the opportunity seemed less and less likely to arise with every moment of silence and shadow.

So it was that when the door to his cell finally opened, Jack Maynard was almost grateful that his time of waiting was over. “You finally decided to come in and say hi?”

“The time had come,” The man replied in plain English. “You’ve recovered from your injury sufficiently to make the trip.”

“Speaking English now are we?” Jack lifted himself to his feet.

“Speaking heathen languages is only one of many skills I have mastered to better serve the Emperor.” The Giant replied.

Jack rubbed the back of his neck with his remaining hand. “Are you finally here to finish the job? To finally kill me?”

The skull faced man stared down at him, pitiless eyes glowing red. “You are remarkably composed for one in your situation.”

“You can only kill me once.” Jack replied. “And I don’t plan to give you any information before you do, no matter how much you torture me.”

“Few do. Fewer still would be able to match their bravado with action.” The giant replied as pair of humans in jerkin emblazoned with red crosses came in to undo Jack’s bindings. “Do you know who I am?”

“You’re one of the men who attacked my ship.” Captain Maynard stood up, cradling his maimed arm. “You’re the one who burnt my arm.”

“I am both.” The Giant nodded. “Though my question was more general. Do you know who we are?”

“Traditionally doesn’t the captor ask the captive who they are?” Jack interjected.

“Tradition has its place.” The giant waved a massive hand towards the door. “You will follow.”

“Why should I?” Jack replied.

“Because if you do not I will execute what little of your crew remains.” The Giant turned on his heel and walked from the cell, “I will try not to walk too fast for you to keep up.”

Jack hobbled after the giant, his legs still shackled together with thick iron links. He bored holes into the giant’s armor with his eyes, willing it to fall over dead. The giant did not oblige.

The hall was lined with heavy cell doors as far as he dared to look. He caught voices, cries, and howls of pain as they passed. All the universe’s suffering seemed to be concentrated in this one terrible hall. Occasionally they’d pass a stairway leading down into what could only be described as a torture chamber. He’d catch a glimpse of some pitiful sentient bound to a stone slab, screaming and begging for mercy.

humans in the livery of the giants. Maynard’s blood boiled as he recognized the double-headed golden eagle emblazoned upon every guardsman’s belt. It was unmistakable, an icon of the Empire. They were Imperial soldiers.

Jack snarled, “This is illegal under the Babylon 5 Advisory charter. You have no right to detain me or my men.”

The giant ignored him, placing his gauntleted hand upon a titanic set of stone doors and speaking in the Imperial language. They swung open and onto a scene from the worst of Jack’s nightmares. Groups of armored giants sat in meditation in a giant, vaulted cathedral almost too huge to be believed. Stained glass and statues to rival those of the Sistine Chapel weaved their way across stories of stone walls and gothic crenulations.

Giants in slightly lighter armor stood behind the meditating giants, murmuring in prayer. The lighter armored giants eyed them as they walked past, apparently curious about his presence, though he noticed that none of them dared do so in view of his guide.

Giant, bipedal machines strode the edges of the meditating men, their gears and pistons groaning. The path they walked was only one of many tiered paths along the cathedral, each of them lined with similar groups of armored giants.

“Dear god in heaven,” Jack whispered under his breath. “How many are there?”

“TheArdent Crusader holds five companies of our brethren.” The giant replied, chucking in amusement as Jack hopped in surprise. “Two more than is advised for a ship of this class, but we have made modifications to accommodate our needs.”

Jack blinked “You – you’re not psychic, are you?”

The giant paused, slowly turning to stare Jack in the face. He spoke in a dangerous rumbling whisper, “You would be wise not to accuse me of witchcraft a second time, Captain. I do not wish to harm the disabled unnecessarily.”


“I’m sorry.” Jack felt the gaze of a room full of giants fall upon him. “I did not mean to offend.”


The giant continued to walk as though nothing had happened. “Your transgression requires no penance. Do no repeat it.”

Jack swallowed, too terrified to check if the giants were still glaring at him. He was a wounded minnow surrounded on all sides by sharks. He hobbled after the giant, conscious of the sounds of his manacles dragging along marble tile.

“Where are you taking me?” Jack asked after the third kilometer of cathedral.

“To the one who wishes to see you.” The giant replied.

“So someone else other than you is capable of speech?” Jack sighed. “I was beginning to think that you were the only one.”

It was eerie really. A ship of this size, containing this many crew ought to have been a wash of sound. Chatting, laughing, discussing, cavorting, it was all expected on a ship. There were thousands of human serfs in addition to however many giants and none of them seemed eager to speak a word. They marched past each other in dutifully obeisant silence.

The giant chuckled, “They know better than to interrupt me or to interfere in your path.”

“They’re being silent for my benefit?” Jack blinked in surprise.

“They have nothing to say which they might wish to reach the ears of a sinner.” The giant replied. “They do not associate with the unclean.”

“And speaking with this person will make me clean?” Jack queried.

“Perhaps.” Replied the giant.

“I don’t suppose there’s a transport tube or trolley between us and him, is there?” Jack panted, keenly aware of how dehydrated he was.

“They are not for the likes of you.” The giant replied.

“Wait, you’re making me take the long way?” Jack shouted in annoyance. “In chains?”

“Penitents must walk the path.” The giant replied. “You must repent before you redeem.”

“And walking with repent me?” The Captain replied sarcastically. “For killing your man?”

“You bested Helmut in honorable combat. There is no shame in that.”
The giant replied. “For being a pagan who worships false idols? Walking in chains, in pain, and in disgrace? It is a start.”

Wonderful, they weren’t simply giant, murderous, militant and well equipped – they were religious fanatics as well. Fan-fragging-tastic. Jack elected not to speak with the Giant as they continued their trek through the Imperial warship.

The decor was more luxurious than he was accustomed to seeing on a warship. One would not expect painted frescoes and tapestry in any of the military vessels of the known worlds. But for all it’s luxury, it was sized for the giants. Chairs, benches, and even steps were designed for the comfort of the giants – not their serfs and servitors. Jack had to clamber up each step dragging his manacle bound legs up, scrambling to balance himself with only a single, functioning hand.

The giant never offered to help him, nor gave him even a moment’s respite. He was pushed onward and upward. Past kilometers of tapestry-lined halls and up spiral staircases, down corridors and over barriers they went.

Jack was delirious with exhaustion and pain by the time they reached the giant’s destination. He felt warm blood seeping down the legs of his trousers where the manacles rubbed the flesh raw. He wobbled as the giant led him in to a well-furnished study with a chair at its center sized for a normal human being.

It was practically cozy, thick leather-bound tomes and aging scrolls sat in gilded cases and shelves of dark wood. Mementoes and trophies lined the walls along with weapons and icons of clear importance. Judging by the way the skull helmeted man knelt before him, it was the office of the red-cloaked giant.

“Lord-Marshal Voigt, this is the Captain of which we spoke earlier. The one who defeated brother Helmut in honorable combat.” The Giant clapped his fist over his heart in salute.

The Lord-Marshal clapped the giant’s pauldron capped shoulder, “Thank you Brother-Confessor Klein. You may go now. I will call for you later.”

The confessor nodded, before turning to exit the room. Before leaving he turned to Jack and said, “You walked the path. You have the opportunity for redemption. Do not squander it.”

The door to the office slammed shut, the twisting click of a lock destroying any hope he might have had for escape.


There was a curious cluster of people seated in a circle around the room, men and women in all manner of strange outfits. A hard man and a beautiful woman wore greatcoats over elaborate uniforms that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Centauri royal court. Three officers bore green carapace armor and helmets over khaki uniforms, each of them dourer than the last. Two women in armor similar to that of the giant knelt in prayer, their eyes closed and their hands clasped around massive firearms. A terrifying officer in black leather rasped through a black gas mask, his eyes reflecting firelight. Red-robed cyborgs chittered to each other in a curious language like that of an insect, their optics swiveling to observe him as he hobbled in to the room.

“Please sit down,” wheezed an elderly man illuminated by the yellow light of a roaring fire lit within an ornate fireplace. He was a wisp of a man who seemed likely to blow over in a strong wind. “You look tired.”

Jack hesitated. Was it a trap? He swallowed, wondering if this was the prelude to his death.

A giant Jack hadn’t seen barked out a roaring boom of laughter. The giant’s thick beard hung unkempt over black carapace, sandy hair standing out against the bright silver and dull grey pauldron on either shoulder. He shoved another giant in black with a single silver and white pauldron amusedly, “Oh for the love of Fenris – This is what happens when ye leave a prisoner with the god-botherers, eh’ Librarian Diokles.”

“You will recall that I am a ‘god botherer’ as well Librarian-Captain Randolf.” Replied Diokles, turning slightly and exposing his white pauldron. Emblazoned upon it was an icon of a fist, holding a bolt of lighting.

“Lad, we’re nay going to hurt you now. You’re clearly in pain.” Randolf rolled his eyes, smiling at Jack with a mouth disconcertingly full of fangs. He tapped his index finger against his temple a plume of psychic discharge flickered in the man’s eyes. “Take the bleeding seat.”

Not eager to tempt his fate with the wolfish man, Jack sat down. Marshal Voight was not amused. “You will refrain from such unnecessary displays on my ship in future.”

“Nay, I will not.” The wolfish giant grinned from ear to ear. “Any ye canna’ make me.”

“Librarian Captain Randolf,” Interrupted the wispy old man as he strode forward with the aid of a cane. “The privileges granted to your order are intended to allow you to protect the realm, not annoy those you feel are too rigid. Do not abuse them.”

“Aye, Inquisitor.” The giant replied, “I’ll obey.”

“Thank you Librarian Captain.” The Inquisitor replied.

Jack stiffened at the title. Inquisitors were the ruling class of the Empire. “You’re the one in command of this ship?”

Marshal Voight growled audibly, to which the Inquisitor raised an appeasing hand. “Marshal, they do not know the ways of the universe. No insult was intended, I am sure.”

The wispy man continued, ignoring the Marshal’s glare. “I am afraid that nothing in life is that simple. The Empire grants me wide authority and the Marshal has elected to recognize that authority in order to assist my goals.”

“Why did you attack my ship?” Captain Maynard interjected. “Why did you kill my crew.”

“You did not respond to the Captain’s hails or identify yourself to him. We assumed you were a pirate like the ones who attacked us upon entering this galaxy and treated you as such.” The man replied in contrition. “Had we realized you were unarmed and unshielded, we would have been less forceful in our inquiries.”

“And keeping us imprisoned?” Jack replied. “Another oversight?”

“Indeed. It wasn’t until we’d figured out a basis for translating your language that we were able to determine your peaceable intent.” He shook his head. “So sad. A shame really.”

“You seem perfectly capable of understanding me now.” Jack replied.

“Oh dear,” The Inquisitor sighed. “Nobody has told you yet, have they.”

“Told me what?” Jack replied, dreading the answer.

“Your most recent meal was drugged. We removed you from your cell and surgically implanted a memory engram with a neurolinguistic adaptor.” The Inquisitor replied. “You’re speaking Gothic at the moment. Feel the movements of your mouth – the computer is analyzing the language being spoken to you and automatically adapting the words you speak in reply to be in the proper language.”

“So I can speak any language?” Jack blinked, unsure if he should be pleased or mortified that this had been done to him.

“Within reason.” Replied the Inquisitor. “It will facilitate the matters to come.”

“I see.” Jack rolled his eyes. “And I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’re just going to let me go when this is all over.”

“Your freedom is between yourself and the Lord Marshal.” The Inquisitor shook his head. “I’m afraid that I can not interfere with their business in that regard. I could be persuaded to speak to him on your behalf, of course.”

“For a price, I assume. I doubt your favors come for free.” Replied Jake, earning a couple of amused titters from the surrounding Imperials.

“Nothing in life is free, my dear boy. Nothing.” Replied the Inquisitor. “But I’d imagine my price isn’t going to cause you to lose any sleep.”

“What do you want?” Asked Jake.

“My dear boy, I require information.” The man smiled. “As much as you’re willing to give.”

“I will not provide you with any information about the Earth Alliance.” Captain Maynard replied. “Not for torture or bribery.”

“Keep it,” Replied the Inquisitor, snorting in amusement. “I assure you it is no matter to me.”

“What?” Jack blinked.

“My dear fellow, I did not come across the galaxy to this misbegotten spec of Emperor begotten backwater nonsense to weasel the military secrets of some pissant Alliance with delusions of standing. Were I even aware of your existence prior to arrival I would have advised the Lords of Terra to just ignore you rather than wasting military resources in trying to conquer you. You’re neither a threat nor a tactically relevant asset – you have nothing we want.” He paused for a second, considering the matter.

“Perhaps I ought to clarify.” He turned to the tech priests. “Magos Jove. Would you be so kind as to show the Captain what is outside? The whole fleet if you would be so kind.”

The Magos pulled an orb from his robes and tossed it into the air. It hovered near the ceiling, expelling grey mist, which shimmered and swam like water before forming into shapes and colors. A miniature star system came into being, a shimmering mass of orbs and starlight. Tiny slivers that might have been space ships flitted about the system like silverfish.

The old man sighed, “Magos, please exclude all ships not immediately near the anomaly.”

The image shifted and reformed, the system’s third planet. A swirling storm of curious energy pulsed on the planet’s surface, forming an unnatural indentation in the planet’s surface. Hovering in geosynchronous orbit above the anomaly was a massive artificial construct surrounded by hundreds of Imperial battleships.

“What is that,” Jack whispered in awe of the sheer size of it.

“That, my dear boy, is the Fifth Imperial fleet.” He smiled. “Or do you mean the Ramillies star fort? Or perhaps the Black Templars Crusade fleet? Or the Magos exploratory fleet? Or perhaps the three Black Ships? Perhaps you mean one of the others? They are wonders, all of them.”

“Where did they come from?” Jack whispered in horror and awe. “Why are they here?”

“Ah – ah, ah!” The old man tutted. “Not quite yet my dear. First you must answer my question.”

“What do you want to know?” Jack replied, his mouth dry. Each of those ships was a fleet in its own right.

“That’s simple my boy.” The man smiled. “Tell me everything you know about Daul Hilder and his relationship to the xenos of Babylon 5."

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Todeswind
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Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5)

Postby Todeswind » 2017-03-03 12:37am

It was a sign of how much damage the Endless Bounty suffered at the hands of the Eldar pirates that Sáclair chose to actually greet his wife in person rather than risk any potential fallout of using an astropathic servitor. He wasn’t entirely confident that he could transmit his consciousness for any great distance and be actually guaranteed to return. Magos Tuul was repairing the relevant systems and assured him that minimal functionality had been already restored, but he wasn’t willing to gamble on its efficacy. They’d already cast the dice too many times for his liking in the past few months.


Donat Enzo was manning the helm in his absence, aided or at least not wholly hindered by Sácomer. Blessed be the Golden Throne, that pompous windbag had taken the bait when Sáclair suggested his second in command would require additional back up to make up for not being wholly mentally integrated into the system. Never mind that a bind grox could manage to keep the ship in orbit with all the basic safety protocols built into the Endless Bounty’s machine spirit, the bulbous man was just thrilled to be of use. He was quite nearly as thrilled as Sáclair had been to be rid of the man’s company.


The man really was infuriating. Were he not a cousin of house Sáclair he would have found a replacement for the man long ago. Unfortunately as he was part of the chain of succession for the Endless Bounty’s throne of command, he could not be cast aside without due cause. Neither “nobody likes him” nor “he is so far down the chain of succession as to make him irrelevant” were apparently good enough causes for dismissal.


Nathaniel knew.


He’d checked.


He’d checked several times, and nearly with as much scrutiny as his crew treated him with as he traversed the distance from his palatial quarters to the docking bay where he planned to meet his wife. The crew of the Endless Bounty were, of course, familiar with his face and voice. He made sure to address all hands at least once a day, and there were enough hololith terminals that they’d all be accustomed to his visage. Some had even seen him in person when they’d made the pilgrimage up to his throne room. What they had not seen, had likely never seen, was his august personage walking among them.


Such things were not done. The captain of the Endless Bounty was either at the helm or in his palace, but never among the commoners. Even before the safety concerns associated with the Amon Sui had rendered his free movement on the ship impractical, it was simply not something done by the reigning sovereign of the Endless Bounty. His father would have had him switched for even considering it, even escorted as he was by the Lionhearts. He most definitely would have gotten an earful from his father about walking the distance rather than arranging for an armored transport or proper palanquin. He likely still would when next he interfaced with the archived memories of all the past captains of the Endless Bounty.


It went against his entire life’s worth of breeding and education, but Sáclair found himself wanting, just for once in his life, to just feel normal. He was tired of the feeling of space whipping past him. He was tired of the dull aching pain he felt from the ship, the atrophied ache of so many systems gone beyond repair. The rush of being part of the Endless Bounty was now as much a burden as a joy. His heightened senses left him aware of just how hobbled his space-faring maiden had become, feeling around for functions that were no longer there as an amputee might try to move their severed limb.


That last battle had been too much for his beloved ship. She’d lived through it, but it was going to be a slow death spiral from this point forward. None of the Magos had said it to him yet, but he knew. He knew all too well.


Even under optimal conditions where the Endless Bounty wasn’t engaging in constant combat, she would be due for repairs at a forge world at least once a year just for basic maintenance. She would need her reactors checked. She would need her shield generators re-calibrated. She would need to be checked for micro-fractures in her hull and potential damage to her superstructure. She would need any one of a hundred time-sensitive repairs done to her by experts whose sole purpose in life was to make sure his ship continued to sail through the stars. And that wasn’t to speak of the larger repairs that one was required to complete every generation or so else risk something unfortunate like a rupture in the hexegrammic wards or a complete warp-core failure.


In six months Sáclair was going to have to make the very real choice of entirely forgoing the warp and only traveling through hyperspace or risking a catastrophic implosion every time he turned on the void reactors to open a portal to the warp. Even that was a stop-gap, other mission critical systems would soon be past even the abilities of his Tech Priests to prolong. A year from now he wasn’t sure if there would even be functioning life support.


He was a year from being a captain without a ship, a marooned Sáclair.


And there wasn’t anything he could do about it other than prolong the inevitable. Simply put, there were no forge worlds to be found. There wasn’t anyone with the resources to fix what had been broken and even if Magos Tuul devoted himself entirely to reshaping their new home world into a dry-dock for the Endless Bounty it would be a labor of generations to restore the ancient starship to her former glory. Sáclair might be able to witness it as part of the collective, provided of course that the collective managed to endure that long. Even that much seemed overly ambitious to Sáclair.


The combined sadness and fear he felt from the collective was almost more than he could endure. They knew all that he knew, and he knew that they were likely closer to mortal than any Captain Sáclair had been in generations past. He’d always planned to be part of the great collective when he died, guiding his son to good choices as the Captain’s Sáclair had done before him. But now? Now he’d just be happy to live long enough to hold his boy in his arms. A real son, a legitimate son, it was all that he asked for in life.


“Sir?” Colonel Danzig queried as the captain stared out across the corridor. The Colonel watched the captain’s eyes barely focus on the commoners in front of him as they parted before their liege lord.


He must have been standing in silence for quite some time, the Lionhearts were not prone to interrupting their Captain even in his moments of melancholy. “Forgive me Colonel, I was lost in thought.”


“Good thoughts, I hope Captain.” Replied the colonel, his voice betraying the fact that he knew they were anything but good.


“Always, Colonel. Always good.” Spoke the Captain, with even less conviction than the Colonel’s platitudes. Sáclair tried not to actively categorize each of the damages they passed along their route, but he still found his mind straying to exactly which of the dull pains he felt when joined with the Endless Bounty corresponded to each damaged part. “Is it far to the hangar.”


“No sir.” The Colonel replied. “Not far at all. I’ve already walked the route twice today.”


“Twice?” Queried the Captain. He knew that the route they’d chosen would have been scouted and policed by the Lionhearts, but he wouldn’t have expected the Colonel to spot check the work of his subordinates so many times in one day.


“Once for business, once for pleasure I suspect, my Lord Sáclair.” Joked Sergei.


“I haven’t the faintest what you’re talking about.” The Colonel replied hastily, his dark cheeks coloring. “I’m just being thorough.”


“Thorough?” Sergei replied, entirely amused. “Is that what we’re calling it these days? Or was there a second alliance noblewoman fluent in the Damascene tongue hiding somewhere about this ship without me knowing it?”


“I may have escorted Miss Wallace to the docking bay, but if you’re implying anything untoward happened – you are mistaken.” The Colonel smiled roguishly. “I am not Fadir.”


“No, Fadir would have already bedded the gorgeous noblewoman practically tossing herself at him rather than just making eye contact with her that is somehow more perverse than if you’d taken her on the promenade.” Sergei replied, waggling his eyebrows in a way that elicited a chuckle from the Captain, even in his current dark mood. “You see, even the Captain agrees! If you wish to be with the woman, be with her. Save us all from the infuriatingly moony eyed look you get when you sit in your office dreaming of her with drool coming out of your mouth.”


“I do not drool.” Countered Danzig.


“No?” Sergei snorted. “It was as though you were trying to irrigate the surface with your spittle. Not entirely becoming if a suitor for a beautiful woman.”


The Colonel snorted. “And you would know of wooing a beautiful woman? The last female I saw in your company was a barmaid on the lower decks who was listening to your stories in order to increase the value of her, likely already overgenerous, tip.”


“Gentlemen, as the man among us with the most experience with the fairer sex, I do feel obligated to point out that the Alliance noblewoman is quite entirely friendly with anyone and everyone willing to speak into that felt tipped wand she carries with her at all times.” The Captain shook his head, sighing deeply. “I’m not certain exactly what religious order requires her to archive the conversations she has with all people, but I presume that the order she belongs to, this ISN she speaks of at all times, likely has rules of conduct in place. It is perhaps best not to tread too far into traditions a man only understands in passing. Two of my bastards ended up circumcised because I didn’t wholly understand the traditions of my second concubine.”


“Never fear, milord. I have no interest in bedding a pagan.” Replied Danzig.


“Don’t you?” Sáclair replied jokingly. “Well, the holonovels of my youth must have been drastically different from those you’ve accessed, because when I’d been in my thirties an untamed woman from a world without the sexual prohibitions of the Imperial Cult would have been precisely the sort of woman I was seeking. Or has the Conquest of Nyn’a Queen of Zer been added to the banned books list?”


“Sir, I don’t know if there was ever a time when it wasn’t prohibited literature.” Danzig replied. “Or a time when young men didn’t know where to get a copy in a hurry.”


The trio laughed, and Sáclair momentarily forgot his worries about the Endless Bounty’s impending service needs. They continued to joke, in increasingly bawdy humor, about their mutual respect for the female form and all of its practical applications in a way that was – while wholly inappropriate for a man of his station to discuss with his subordinates – freeing in a way Sáclair hadn’t felt in recent memory. For just a bright, shining moment in time, he was not the Captain of a starship or the vassal of an Inquisitor. He was just a man engaging with other men, as men.


He was their better, but it made their company no less enjoyable that they were of the lower class. They were Lionhearts, after all, and were not just any commoners. They were nobility in every way other than breeding. Actually, some were probably nobility even in breeding as well – the Lionheart training center was a preferred place to dispose of one’s unwanted bastards. Maziv’s resemblance to Sáclair’s own father was likely more than coincidence. His father’s wife had been less fond of bastards than his own.


Not that it overly mattered even if it were true. Maziv was in a good place for a bastard to be – a profession where his duty mattered more than his tainted breeding. Once his son was born he’d have to see about seeing to it that his other bastards found similarly appropriate occupations. Ideally he’d find them ones with oaths of loyalty which removed them from the potential line of succession.


Which reminded him, he was going to have to speak with Donat Enzo about this fool idea he’d had to marry of his daughter to one of the Sáclair bastards. He’d gladly accept the dowry, but he needed to speak man to man with his executive officer to ensure that the man wasn’t acting hastily. The child of a bastard could often encounter as much stigma as their father. He wouldn’t publicly discourage it, of course. He went out of his way not to draw attention to the existence of his bastards at all, but he was at a loss as to what long term benefits Donat saw in marrying his daughter to a man with such limited prospects.


“Odd,” remarked Captain Sáclair as they entered the docking bay and he caught a glimpse of the combined Narn, Centauri, and Imperial honor guards with their respective banners. “A year ago I would have balked at the idea of xenos being on my ship, now we seem to be at the verge of them becoming a permanent fixture.”


That it had been a substantially lesser affiliation with alien races which had initially condemned him was not lost on the Captain either, though he did not speak it aloud. The decision to ultimately allow an armed honor guard to escort both G’Kar from the Narn fleet and greet the Centauri Ambassador had been made with the Inquisitor’s explicit permission. A decision that just served to remind Sáclair how far they had strayed from the sphere of Imperial control.


It was all in the pursuit of the rogue Inquisitor Faust, and was authorized under Daul’s inquisitorial mandate, but it still unnerved Sáclair how normal it was starting to feel for him to have xenos in such close quarters. It bothered him how he was even starting to look forward to their presence. He was actually excited to meet Londo Mollari in person – the Centauri Ambassador was a man of the same cloth as Sáclair. They’d shared their mutual frustrations over women and the oddities of the politics of nobility in passing as part of the negotiations, and if one could ignore the man’s prominent canines and odd hair, it was only marginally different from engaging with the nobility of the empire. So slight, in fact, that he’d been forced to remind himself that he was not speaking with an equal.


“As odd as it may be, those Xenos have earned a measure of leniency.” Mused the Colonel, rubbing at his chin. “They’ve treated us with nothing but kindness and been willing to die in the name of a cause that is not their own. I can’t even say the same about most of the men on this ship.”


“Yes.” Agreed Sáclair, somehow more bothered by the validity of that statement than he had been before. “They have.”


A deeper discussion of the xenos would have to wait, however, till they were no longer within earshot. The Narn Ambassador, G’Kar, strode over to them and extended his gauntleted hand in a gesture of friendship that Sáclair had returned before even considering the political implications of accepting it. It had just felt natural. The ambassador shook firmly, saying a greeting in his native tongue before switching to standard Gothic. He’d learned the language with quite astonishing accuracy in the time it had taken them to return from Shi’lassen. He was by no means fluent, but he was easily understood. “Captain, it is good to see you.”


“And you, Ambassador.” Replied Sáclair, realizing that the Lionhearts hadn’t tensed at his approach any more than they might have for Daul Hilder. Danzig hadn’t been kidding about trusting the xenos. “I understand that only your flagship remains with us.”


“Indeed.” Agreed the ambassador. “Our border concerns forced us to recall those forces used on Shi’lassen to guard the homeworld.”


“Nothing serious I hope,” Sáclair let go of the ambassador’s hand, crossing his arms over the medals and ribbons across his formal white uniform.


“Piracy I’m afraid.” G’Kar shook his head disappointedly. “Some miscreants are taking advantage of the unrest in the Non-Aligned worlds to rob traders traveling in unclaimed space. We’re all suffering from it lately, Na’Toth informs me it is a point of much concern for the Babylon 5 advisory council. The Brakiri have even reportedly lost contact with some of their outer colonies. Someone destroyed their hyperspace gates.”


“That is uncommon in warfare then I take it. I’m still getting used to the rules of warfare observed in the sector.” Sáclair admitted. “Are your ships not capable of opening windows into hyperspace?”


“A warship or something with a great mass? Of course. But the hyperspace gates aren’t just there to allow ships to enter and exit hyperspace, they’re sign posts for how to get through it. Without those markers it will take weeks or even months longer than it ought to for a fleet to investigate a colony that has dropped out of contact.” The Ambassador shook his head. “And with the arrival of the new powers we’ve seen this past month, I fear for what might happen to those colonists in that time.”


Sáclair shivered visibly. Throne alone help the colony that got invaded by a full Eldar slave raid. And the Necrons, whatever they were, seemed to terrify the Inquisitor more than any demon. He was going to need to figure out how to get orbital defenses for New Belzafest, sooner rather than later. Their colony was barely armed and certainly less established than the worlds of the native races of this galaxy.

“Caution is a wise choice indeed.”


“I have not yet seen the Inquisitor, Captain.” Intoned G’Kar. “I would have expected him to be here to greet the Centauri Ambassador and your wife.”


“Daul Hilder has sequestered himself with his apprentice in order to research what happened on Shi’lassen. To what end, I have no idea, but I haven’t so much as seen his manservants in days. Whatever it was that they found in the fortress left him deeply rattled.” Sáclair rubbed the side of his face, regretting having elected not to shave. He had just enough hair to call it a beard but not quite enough to call it a handsome beard, and his wife had preferred his facial more well-coiffed than he was at the moment. It was less a matter fashion and more sheer lack of time to devote to grooming. “I’ve never actually seen the man worried before… it troubles me.”


“There are many disturbing things I’ve seen in the past months.” Agreed the Narn, his mottled skin stretching as the corners of his wide smile seemed to reach his red eyes. “But many more that bring me hope. Your people, in particular, have been a source of great comfort as of late.”


“Our people?” Replied Sáclair, curious. “Considering all the bloodshed that has traveled with us you’ll pardon my surprise.”


“Captain, you showed up out of the blue with technologies that none, save the eldest of races, have access. And what is the first war you participate in? Do you invade us? Do you conquer and despoil the weak? No. The first thing you do is to fight for the freedom of those weaker than yourselves.” The Narn chuckled at his own private joke. “Oh, I know that Faust is one of ‘yours.’ But it he is one that you publicly took responsibility for fighting. You are so ashamed of someone abusing their power and knowledge that you’d rather die fighting him than allow him to continue. And that is what gives me hope. That is what gives me hope for humanity.”


Were they back in Imperial space Sáclair would have frankly preferred just calling in a proper military fleet to virus bomb the planet from orbit and then sifting through the corpses to find the information they sought, but this seemed to be a poor choice of time to correct the Ambassador. “The actions were necessary.”


“Indeed they were.” Agreed the Narn. “But I did not see the blood of Minbari or Drazi, or any one of the countless other races who condemned the Shi’lassen rebels, spilled upon the battlefield alongside human, Narn, and Centauri.”


“You are a man of conviction G’Kar. It is to your credit.” Sáclair smiled. “It is a shame you were not born of man. I think we would have benefitted from a man of your conviction.”


“And I am glad that you were not born a Narn,” G’Kar jibed. “Else there would be no available females left for the rest of us to choose from.”


Sáclair actually let loose a long belly laugh. “Someone has been gossiping about me then?”


“Your wife, actually. We requested the diplomatic titles of your family. I was not expecting the cavalcade of wives and concubines. Even Mollari limited himself to three women,” G’Kar’s canines protruded out in his satisfied smirk. “Though it’s the virtual littler of children that truly impressed me. You have more offspring than most humans have extended family members.”


“I like to stay busy.” Sáclair replied, keenly aware of his immediate sobriety as he reflexively reached gestured for a servant to bring him wine – remembering after doing so that none of his household servants would be in the docking bay other than the platoon worth of Lionhearts. He was not left to dwell on his insufferable lack of inebriation long, however, as the inner doors of the airlock opened. A wide transport ship soared across the hangar bay on landing repulsor-lifts, emblazoned with the colors of House Sáclair. “And I expect that will only increase now that my obligations are with us once again.”


Nathaniel struggled to contain his excitement as the doors to the transport opened and exposed the most beautiful woman in the world, the Lady Sáclair – swollen with child. She was waddling forwards, her speed aided by a breastplate shaped like a golden lion conforming to the exact size of her belly that glowed with the soft blue light of anti-gravity. It would do little to protect her against any sort of actual attack given that the rest of her body was encased in a form fitting red body suit and veil, but it would provide a counterbalance to the weight now concentrated in her belly and allow a greater range of movement.


Nathaniel hugged his wife from her side, rubbing his hand across the metal lion’s face as he kissed his beloved. He inhaled her scent, holding her against him as though he were afraid she might disappear in a puff of smoke.


“It is good to see you too,” Spoke the Lady Sáclair once finally he allowed her to come up for air. Her skin was flush and her pupils wide with desire. Nathaniel allowed himself no small measure of pride that even haggard and battle weary, his wife still desired him.


He looked up to the sound of slow clapping as Londo Mollari walked out from the transport, followed by Vir, a stern looking Narn with a blade, and a virtual cavalcade of the personal servants of the Lady Sáclair. Londo continued to clap, a look of sincere happiness on his face. “Ah! True love, it is too rare to see it between those of station and obligation.”


The Lady Sáclair rolled her eyes and snorted. “Dear Londo, did I not tell you that my love is an incorrigible romantic?”


“To tell, to see – they are not the same. I have seen, so now I believe.” The Centauri replied, hooking his thumbs into his elaborate waistcoat. “Such a lucky man.”


The Lady Sáclair kissed her husband again, “He is at that.”


“Ambassador Mollari, I find myself actually pleased to see you.” G’Kar allowed his head to bow to the Centauri Ambassador. Only by the meagerest of tilts, but it was a visible acquiescence.


“And I actually need to see you. We are having a day full of surprises.” Ambassador Mollari shrugged his shoulders, never removing his hands from his waistcoat. The little gold bangles on it jingled with the motion.


“About what, precisely?” G’Kar arched an orange spotted brow in curiosity.


The second Narn carrying a blade spoke, “The Centauri Emperor has requested an audience with you. In person.”


“He what?” G’Kar replied, gobsmacked.


“He has offered you, and your ship, safe passage into and out from the Centauri home world. He desires an audience with representatives from the Narn and Imperial governments.” Londo Mollari used a voice of deliberately calm smugness. “Didn’t you know, G’Kar? You are now a war hero of the Centauri Republic.”


G’Kar hissed like a scalded cat. “And he expects me to do what exactly?”


“Accept the Imperial medal of Valor, I believe.” Londo turned to the Captain. “Yourself as well, Captain. The Inquisitor too. Your presence would all be greatly appreciated.”


G’Kar’s eye was twitching, and he seemed on the verge of screaming or hitting something when the other Narn put a hand on his shoulder. “G’Kar – You are being offered the highest honor their Emperor can bestow. There are Centauri houses of nobility who can’t claim the same after trying for generations. Shame them. Show them they are no better than any Narn.”


The Ambassador’s unconvincing grimace twisted into a pale imitation of a smile as she choked out something that might have been an agreement to accept the award, but only managed to halfway sound like the ambassador wasn’t on the verge of vomiting. He made a couple of high pitched squawks before clenching his teeth in concerted effort to keep himself from saying the words he would clearly has preferred to say.


The hissing sound that he made was somewhere between a grox and a teakettle as the Ambassador Mollari turned to Ambassador Cotto and said in a voice of theatrically exaggerated consultation, “Don’t worry Vir, I will watch out to see that he does not make a similar display in front of the Emperor when we are both given our awards together. I would not want to be embarrassed.”


“I don’t know, it would make for a much more entertaining dinner party for him to keep going on as he is. If I’m to be forced to attend I might as well be amused.” The Lady Sáclair replied, drumming her fingers along the lion’s metal face.


The Captain tensed up, the bangles on his shirt sleeves jingling abruptly with the motion. “You will be attending? I would think that in your condition...”


“You would think that in my condition I am still the lady of house Sáclair and a member of the house must attend a meeting of such importance.” His wife replied, an edge to her voice he was not accustomed to in her tone.


“My Love surely there is another way, an astropathic servitor perhaps?” Sáclair replied in high gothic in an effort to retain at least some privacy in their communications.


“A servitor? For a meeting with the head of an Empire? Unacceptable.” His wife, having none of it, replied in standard gothic – exposing their argument to the surrounding crowd. “Unless you plan to attend or to allow the Inquisitor to accept the accolades to our house on our behalf, I am the only Sáclair of House Sáclair who has the authority to attend.”


A lord Sáclair leaving the Endless bounty? It was preposterous. It was unheard of, and he would not even consider the possibility even if he were physically able to be parted from his ship for that long. A lifetime of interaction with the ships systems had long ago robbed him of his ability to stray too far from his beloved Endless Bounty. And he would rather die than allow the Inquisitor to, once again, usurp the destiny of his household. The Captain sighed in resignation. “There is no way I can dissuade you from this path?”


“None.” She shook her head. “Unless, dear husband, you would prefer that we send your daughters or one of your Bastard sons?”


The Lord Sáclair let forth a snort of derision, dismissing that possibility entirely. None of his daughters were adept enough at statecraft to consider unleashing them upon a foreign government and his bastards were… bastards – he wouldn’t shame his house by sending one of them to conduct his business. “You’ll need an entourage and an escort.”


“I intend to take the Inquisitor and his retinue actually.” The Lady Sáclair replied, a wicked little lilt of laughter in her tone. “They are, after all, guests under the hospitality of House Sáclair and should be subordinate to it when they fly our banner.”


Oh – oh that was too rich. Daul Hilder wouldn’t even be able to decline the invitation as he was already guaranteed to attend. The Emperor of the Centauri would first meet the Inquisition as subordinates to his household. Sáclair kissed his wife. “I do love you – you know that?”


“Indeed.” Her face still held the hard edge to it even though she returned his greedy kiss. “I also intend to take Sørian.”


“Really?” Sáclair blinked. “I wouldn’t have thought he would be the sort you got along with.”


“He is precisely the sort our daughter seems to favor. I feel it is best that he be given some responsibilities where I can keep him in my sight.” The Lady Sáclair pursed her lips. “Do you not agree husband of mine.”


The Lord Sáclair rolled his eyes. “You shall have all those you wish in your retinue, my love, fear not – I could never deny you what is yours.”


He turned back to the Ambassadors, “Gentlemen. It would seem we have much to plan.


-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-


The Station’s estimates for how many Lukers were onboard were laughably inaccurate. And he should know, the Imperial priest had become sort of the unofficial “mayor” of down below.


If you had a problem in down below, the first person you went to was Father Al’Ashir. Father Al’Ashir didn’t care that you were poor. Father Al’Ashir didn’t care that you were an addict. Father Al’Ashir didn’t care that you had done bad things. Father Al’Ashir just cared that you were trying to be a better person. Father Al’Ashir was even the one in the videos fighting the demon that had attacked Babylon 5.


Everyone had great opinions of Al’Ashir’s ability. From all the rumors he’d heard about himself, the Imperial clergyman supposed that the Alliance humans were under the distinct impression that he was capable of walking on air and turning crumbs into a feast. Al’Ashir would have liked to meet that man, he would have greatly expedited Al’Ashir’s current frustrations.


Father Al’Ashir’s school was struggling. He hadn’t accounted for just how many children were actually on Babylon five, and how many of them were in need of an education. And while he had talked up a good game of how it didn’t matter to him that he’d used the last of his anti-agapic treatments to heal the sick back when he spoke with the general, the effects of his previous round of treatments was wearing off. Al’Ashir’s body had been artificially invigorated with chemical concoctions to induce youthful energy and exuberance over a period of centuries. No longer aided by those treatments, the rigors of old age were coming to him far faster than he had anticipated.


His body was betraying him. Actions that he’d found easy only weeks ago were now taking large amounts of his time. His body ached when he woke, when he slept, when he ate, his very existence seemed an overexertion of what his frame intended to support. It took him thirty minutes just to pee. That left him ill-suited to maintain order and discipline in a classroom full of pre-pubescents and teenagers by himself. He’d hired a couple of the more reputable lurkers to help him corral his classroom, but what he really needed was more teachers. It was getting to the point where he’d been forced to improvise his sermons on holy days for lack of time to write a proper one. None of his petitioners had noticed, of course, but it was the principle of the matter. One did not Ad Lib the word of the Emperor.


So, at the advice of one of the Alliance merchants who attended his services with some regularity, Father Al’Ashir had placed a notice in something called the “classifieds” for a daily publication that had an apparently wide pool of potential candidates to choose from. He’d kept the advertisement simple, the paper had charged by the word and levied a princely price for each letter.


Wanted: Teachers of Mathematics, physics, history, and science. Must be willing to relocate to Babylon 5. Pay negotiable. Safety not guaranteed. Contact Father A’Ashir of the Church of HIS Imperial Majesty’s Glorious Victory for further details.


There had been a flurry of replies, and even a number of interviews, but no real candidates that he felt were qualified for the position. Most of his interviews just seemed to be from people who wanted to actually speak with an Imperial. They asked questions about the job and about life in the Empire, but the only sincerity he heard were in the inquiries about the latter. Those few educators who seemed genuinely interested in the prospect of teaching at his school seemed a bit too caught up in the “safety not guaranteed” portion of his advertisement.


It would likely have been easier to lie to get someone out here and unable to afford a return trip without working in his employ for several months, but he couldn’t bring himself to do something that manipulative. The truth was that Babylon 5 had shown itself to be anything but safe in the time he’d been living on it. There had already been one major demonic incursion – he couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be another. The ruinous powers had a way of worming their way back into the places that they’d already been once.


Academics weren’t, as a rule of thumb, the adventurous type. “Because a hell beast from the pits of nightmare might devour you,” extended somewhat beyond their range of acceptable risk. For those willing to accept the presence of the demonic it was out of fear for their mortal and immortal wellbeing. For those applicants not willing to accept the presence of the infernal powers, it was more out of a fear of Al’Ashir’s own sanity. Nobody wanted to travel half way across creation to be trapped as the assistant to a man with limited mental faculties - certainly not for the salary Al’Ashir was offering.


The near ritualistic materialism of the Alliance was beginning to gall Father Al’Ashir. These people had witnessed a demonic incursion, had caught it on film, and they still insisted upon seeking mortal explanations for extra-cosmic powers. Religion was, near as he could tell, a politely tolerated anachronism in human society. Even those who believed in the scriptures of their holy books seemed to abandon that belief at the doors of the chapel.


This most recent applicant hadn’t abandoned his faith so much as he had declared outright war against it. He was an odd fellow, a gentleman apparently from the “West Coast” though he hadn’t actually bothered to mention precisely of what it was westerly, garbed in clothing that would have made him a rarity even in the high courts of Necromunda. His hair was shaved along one side of his head, and let grow into a long mess of purple dreadlocks along the other side. His face had been pierced in what Al’Ashir presumed to be some sort of tribal passage into manhood – the bridge of his nose and cheeks glinted with metal studs. He’d wrapped his neck with a thick scarf, wrapping it up to cover the rips in his shirt - rips that seemed to be ornamental rather than accidental.


He was a pleasant enough fellow, and had initially seemed like a good fit for the position. However, the man’s blatant disregard for the Emperor had quickly eliminated him from the pool of viable applicants. At this point the only reason that Al’Ashir hadn’t hung up on the man was out of politeness.


Al’Ashir was sincerely struggling to remain polite.


“No, I do not mean that metaphorically.” Al’Ashir sighed, leaning back in his chair and pouring a generous measure of steaming tea from a porcelain pot into wide mug. “I mean that our Emperor has been alive for well over forty thousand years.”


“Look, I’m not trying to dismiss your religion but come on. You want me to believe that the head of state you worship has been alive for longer than there has been a space faring human civilization, and has been leading your people from beyond the grave.” The man sipped at a steaming white paper cup emblazoned with some sort of pagan god smiling on it.


“The Emperor was gravely injured in his battle against his favored son Horus – the betrayer.” Al’Ashir replied, getting somewhat tired of repeating himself. “He was placed upon the Golden Throne, which sustains his mortal form and allows him to rule over us all.”


“But nobody has seen him. Ten thousand years and he’s just been sitting on a chair.” Replied the infuriating man in a tone that seemed to indicate that he was under the impression that settled the matter.


“Not exactly. There are those who’ve been granted audiences – those who the Emperor has visited in spirit if not in body.” Father Al’Ashir chewed his lip. “Certainly, the Sainted Alicia Dominica was granted an audience when she ended Goge Vandire’s reign of blood in the Age of Apostasy.”


“Wow – a member of the Church got an audience with god.” The man’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “That’s really convincing.”


“I don’t think I like what you’re implying.” Rejoined Al’Ashir, his mug of tea now forgotten. “And I’m certain that we’ve gone past the point where I am obligated to continue this line of inquiry. Good day to you, sir, and I wish you luck in your search. May the Emperor Light your path.”


He turned off the video feed before the man had a chance to give a snappy retort, muttering. “And may he guide you away from the hell-pit you seem quite entirely determined to damn yourself to in the meanwhile.” The man’s face danced on the screen, the man’s face frozen in place on the aging display.


There was a soft knock at his door and he quickly yelled “Enter!” eager to have someone to interact with who wasn’t that awful, awful man. The office that adjoined the room he used as both schoolhouse and cathedral wasn’t overly generous, but it was large enough that unless he raised his voice he wouldn’t be heard. The door opened and a tall man stepped into the room carrying a copy of Universe Today, Al’Ashir’s advert circled prominently in red pen. He was a tall man, and muscular, but was inscrutable through the thick cloak and hood he wrapped himself in. His face was obscured by a breathing mask, a common enough item on the station. They’d become increasingly in vogue as the statistics on how many people had died from asphyxiation in the past battle became public.


This was new – so far all his prospective teachers had been reaching out to him over networked communications, sending remote applications. A walk in was unexpected, but not altogether unwelcome. It would be a substantially easier sell to employ someone who was already on the station.


“Welcome, I must confess that I wasn’t prepared for you.” Al’Ashir brushed a pile of papers off the chair in front of his desk and gestured for the man to sit down. “Do you want Tea? Coffee?”


“No… no thank you.” Replied the man, his voice echoing with a slight twinge of reverberation from his mask. “But the offer is appreciated.”


Al’Ashir sat down at his desk and smiled widely. “Now then. I’m curious. What makes you think that you’re a good fit to teach at my school.”


“I’m an educator by trade. I was employed by the Kha’ri to work on the Quadrant 37 base’s continuing education program, but the base was destroyed and the Kha’ri terminated my contract meaning that I was, essentially, stranded on Babylon 5. I’ve been working as a chef to try and earn a ticket back to the Homeworld.” The man shrugged. “But if there is actual employment to be found as an educator on this station, I suppose that it is as good as anything I might have hoped for on the Quadrant 37 base.”


“I will, of course, need to see your credentials.” Al’Ashir replied politely.


“Of course.” The man reached into his cloak and handed a folder to Al’Ashir containing a number of clear plastic sheets covered in printed interlac lettering and holographic bar-codes. Al’Ashir hated the so called “Universal Language” – for a supposedly “easy” language it was one of the most muddled and inscrutable linguistic constructs he’d encountered. It had saved him a number of headaches when it occurred to him that he could just place the clear plastic sheets favored in this sector of space on top of actual paper to expedite reading.


“You attended the Doctoral Program in Education on the Narn homeworld.” Al’Ashir looked up, realizing for the first time that the man’s proportions were not of entirely human dimensions. It had never even occurred to him that non-human’s read the Universe Today publication.


The Narn pulled off his re-breather and looked at Al’Ashir pleadingly with his blood red eyes. “Look, I realize that this is a little low rent for those qualifications, but you are the only one employing teachers on this station and whatever we “negotiate” my pay to is going to be better than serving aged Spoo to Centauri tourists.”


“And you feel that you are ideologically sound for my teachings?” Al’Ashir recognized the Narn. He’d attended several of the Imperial priest’s sermons, leaving in a huff more than once when he’d preached about mistrusting any alien who comes preaching of ‘peace and brotherhood.’ “You seemed… troubled, by my sermons.”


“How could I not be? My people’s entire history has been lived under the boot heels of the Centauri Emperor’s goons. They came promising brotherhood and civilization and brought only slavery and death.” The Narn professor shivered. “When you speak of the perils of welcoming the unknown without first ensuring that you are strong enough to face the monsters that lie in space, it speaks to a place that is so personal to every Narn that I cannot bare to be around it. I value the wisdom but I find myself needing more privacy to consider it than can be found in a place of public worship.”


Al’Ashir wasn’t really sure what to say to that. That was the lesson he’d been trying to teach, he just hadn’t quite expected for it to resonate with the very xenos he’d been warning about. He most definitely wasn’t prepared for a xenos to be talking like an Imperial parishioner. “You find solace in the word?”


“The Emperor Almighty has much wisdom to teach his followers… I would actually like to count myself among them if such a thing can be achieved.” The Narn leaned forward eagerly. “I know that you’ve conducted baptism for several of the Lurkers.”


Al’Ashir felt the room spinning as his mind struggled to grasp what was happening. A xenos had just walked into his office, professed the divinity and wisdom of the God Emperor, and then asked to be baptized as one of his adherents. He’d know that this was going to be a problem eventually, what with all the xenos who were showing up to services, but he hadn’t expected it so soon. He’d been going out of his way to preach warnings about the dangers of non-human species precisely as a polite way of avoiding the problem entirely.


He was already walking fine line between converting heretics and committing outright heresy himself and was beyond positive that even the moderate elements of the imperial church would see him burned at the stake if he was so presumptuous as to start baptizing xenos without establishing some sort of vetting process to ensure their sincerity and absolve themselves of their impure origins. “We will have to revisit the possibility of allowing you to enter the faithful once I’ve had the opportunity to consult the relevant texts. As a non-human the process is more… involved, than it is for one of the blood.”


“I’ll do whatever I have to.” Replied the Narn. Al’Ashir believed him.


“Good.” Al’Ashir replied. “Now if you are to work for me, I will require your name.”


“Sa’jek.” Replied the Narn.


“I look forward to working with you Sa’jek.” The Imperial priest bowed his head slightly and took a sip from his mug, deeply relieved to have some actual help for the school. He noticed, however that Sa’jek’s attention wasn’t entirely focused on their conversation. His eyes kept straying to the still image on the screen behind Al’Ashir. “Is something the matter.”


“Well father… Why do you have an image of that awful reporter from ISN on your screen?” Queried the Narn. “I wouldn’t think that his programming would appeal to you.”


“Programming?” Al’Ashir replied in confusion.


“Yes. The human, Jason Smyth has a show where he pretends to apply for jobs in order to conduct impromptu interviews with famous figures.” The Narn replied. “He asks them questions with the intention of making them appear as foolish as is possible.”


“I do not understand. Why would he do that?” Al’Ashir blinked, the strange nature of his previous conversation suddenly making a great deal more sense.


“He’s a reporter, Father.” Answered the Narn.


“A what?” Queried the priest.


The Narn tilted his head in confusion, pausing for a full minute before bursting out into laughter. “You really don’t know, do you?”


“I wouldn’t be so pleased to laugh at someone who hasn’t yet agreed to a fixed salary for you.” Al’Ashir chided, only partially joking.


“I’m sorry Father – it’s just that ISN has been singing the Empire’s praises for being so open and honest with the media. But you just have no idea that you’re even dealing with it, do you?” The Narn wiped a tear of mirth from his eye. “Reporters are individuals who go out and find out what the truth is, then broadcast that information.”


“Oh.” Al’Ashir replied, irritated. To have a network of subterfuge operating so openly was clumsy and impractical, but considering that the Imperials had fallen for it so entirely he couldn’t criticize it too much. “Which government are they spying for?”


“No, you don’t understand. They aren’t doing this to sell secrets. They’re doing it to expose the truth. They go out, find out what is actually happening, then broadcast it to anyone who will listen.” Sa’jek told the utterly scandalized priest. “They view it as their duty to educate the universe on what is actually happening in it.”


Father Al’Ashir thought back to the woman with a servitor emblazoned with ISN who’d come to speak with him several weeks prior, holding up a bit of foam on a stick and asking him pointed questions about the demonic incursion. “Sa’jek…. Does that include information on the demonic incursion into this station?”


“Of course.” Replied Sa’jek.


“Emperor Almighty…. No…..”


-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-==--=-


Michael Garibaldi did not like traveling under the best of circumstances. He was the sort of guy who liked to have his local haunt, the couple of places he went to, and never strayed quite too far from home. What he really didn’t like – which is to say just hated – was traveling for no damn reason. So he was doing his best to try and make the fact that he’d snuck into a Psi Corps base to liberate Mr. Bester and the Warmaster Nya’dun into a positive. But at the moment, honestly, he was having distinct difficulty in chalking any of that up as a win.


Susan wasn’t in the Psi Corps base. She had never been in the Psi Corps base. No, she’d been taken by the Inquisitor – kidnapped and forced to become his apprentice. And he was on the entirely wrong side of the galaxy to help her. The Rangers, a group of human and Minbari secret operatives who were apparently operating under the direction of his friend and former boss Jeffrey Sinclair, were more optimistic about the relative value of his sudden companions.


To say that he was surprised that his old compatriot had become the spymaster general for an extra-governmental order of elite warriors funded by the Minbari religious class would have been a gross understatement. Sinclair had been recalled to Earth without explanation earlier that year, just five days before Sheridan took over as the head of the Babylon station. His total silence hadn’t bothered Michael. He knew his friend well enough to realize that had the Commander noticed something dangerous to this own safety, the Earth Alliance soldier was more than capable of using back channels to keep Garibaldi in the know. No news was good news.


Mr. Bester was being accommodated in a cell in the Minbari ship’s belly, surrounded by a triad of Minbari telepaths to prevent him from being able to misbehave. After double and then triple checking the ships security protocols around the man to convince himself that the former Psi Cop wasn’t about to break out of holding, Michael had joined the Ranger’s leader – a human by the name of Marcus – to properly question their impossible guest. The Warmaster Nya’dun of the previously extinct Dilgar race.


She sat across from the two humans, staring across a table made from glittering Minbari crystal, drumming her fingers nervously along the table’s surface. Having been given access to a proper washroom and some fresh clothing, she no longer looked like a feral beast, but she still had a distinctly caged look to her.


“So.” Michael leaned on the table. “About the Dilgar.”


“My answer has not changed.” The Warmaster’s fur bristled. “I will not tell you anything until we’ve reached the Non-Aligned worlds and my safety is secured.”


“Are you quite certain about that?” Marcus interjected, his perpetually jocular tone dancing with mirth. “Even when a better offer is on the table?”


“I have had my fill of human offers.” Replied the Warmaster, gesturing to the obvious wounds and scars covering her person. “They leave much to be desired.”


“But this isn’t a human offer. It’s a Minbari offer being given by a human intermediary.” The man smiled, snapping his fingers to summon one of the cloaked figures lining the room. “And we both know that the Minbari do not lie.”


The cloaked figure pulled back his cowl as he approached, exposing Minbari bone ridges. He stared the Warmaster dead in the eye and said. “Warmaster Nya’dun, if you provide us with what you know, and answer our questions truthfully, our order promises to protect you from those who would do you harm. you have nothing to fear from us unless you intend to bring harm to those we protect.”


“At which time, of course, all agreements are null and void.” Interjected Marcus, waving the Minbari away. “See, easy? You tell us what we know and you get to live out your life in peace. Easy.”


The Warmaster considered the matter only briefly before hissing out. “Very well – the terms are acceptable.”


“Great” Michael leaned forward on his elbows. “Now, want to tell me why you were in a secret prison cell getting tortured by the Psi Corps.”


“During the Great War, my government reportedly had some small measure of contact with some elements of your government and commercial interests in an unofficial capacity.” The Warmaster replied. “Your telepaths were trying to wrest their names from me. That I was a Warmaster and had no reason to be in contact with the Guild of Spies mattered little to them.”


“Then why keep torturing you to find it out?” Asked Marcus in confusion. “Shouldn’t they have just been able to tell that you were telling the truth?”


“Normally, yes but I’m genetically resistant to telepathy. It’s an abnormality in the Dilgar but not exactly a rarity.” Replied the Warmaster. “I suspect that once that information was known that it became less a matter of what I knew and more of a matter of what I was. They could put images into my mind, show me things they wanted me to see, but they couldn’t force the truth out of me. They couldn’t take things from me.”


“What I don’t get though is how they got you in the first place.” Michael replied. “Heck, how are you even alive? I thought that all the Dilgar died when their sun went supernova.”


“A ruse, I’m afraid, perpetrated by the one who “Liberated” us from being trapped on our home-world after the League of Non-Alligned worlds destroyed our Hyperspace gate and blockaded all Dilgar ships from leaving our solar system.” The Warmaster hissed in disgust. “He promised us victory – that we would be able to crush our enemies with the technology he had at his disposal. Our government was desperate, so we accepted. We selected the best and brightest from our population and loaded them onto his fleet – packed like cattle. Once he had what he wanted though, the remaining population was a liability.”


“By the time we realized what he was planning, it was already too late.” The Dilgar Warmaster let loose a creening yowl of lament. “We had already surrendered our weapons just to get on to the transports and could not hope to overpower the monstrous beasts serving him unarmed. Those who tried did not die well.”


“You’re telling me that there is a guy who can make the stars go supernova?” Michael blanched. That sort of firepower was not good.


“Indeed.” She shuddered. “I knew him by the name “Faust” but there are other names for him, dark names that men dare not speak. He took us to his fortress worlds, spreading us out too thin to be able to stage any sort of rebellion. Some to build, some to lead, and far too many to breed.”


Her cat like eye’s widened, pupils dilated in fear. “He breeds us like pets, incubating us in glass tubes and indoctrinating us with the false memories he has chosen to take from the dead. He is using my people. Turning them into blind puppets of war. It’s unacceptable.”


“Can you tell us where these worlds are?” Queried Marcus, his lip curled in disgust. “So we can send a scout?”


“No.” The Warmaster shook her head. “Not all. Only the one I escaped from. It took a long time to be able to get all the resources I would need to secure a transport. I…. I didn’t want to risk getting caught. The creatures do things to you if they catch you.”


She wrote a series of numbers on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table. “Just promise me that when you find him, when you see what he’s done, that you do what is right. You punished my people for a far slighter sin than what this man is doing. I do not try to defend my people’s actions in the past, but our children do not deserve what is happening to us.”


Marcus took the slip of paper, “I will send someone to investigate.”


“Make sure they’re well-armed.” Replied the Warmaster. “That world is run by the most dangerous of his servants.”


“Who are?” Asked Marcus.


“The giants.” Nya,dun curled her knees up to her chin and hugged her legs. She rocked back and forth in her chair as she spoke. “They stood taller than two meters, covered head to toe in black armor. At first I thought they were robots, but then I discovered that they were alive – if you can call anything that evil alive. They had…. Things…. That they could bring forth – monsters worse than the monsters we saw daily. Trust me, if you see anyone wearing the Icon of a white blade with wings, run. You run as far and as fast as you can, and hope that they haven’t seen you.”


“Warmaster, I’m certain we can handle your giants.” Replied the ranger jovially.


“So were we, human.” Nya’dun laughed. “So were we.”


\-==-=-=-=\

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Todeswind
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Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5)

Postby Todeswind » 2017-03-03 12:38am

Osma awoke with a start, startled from his brief moment of slumber by a man’s hand on his shoulder. Faest Nor the Medicus stood over him, surveying the younger man with a near pitying expression. “You’re still here.”


Osma sighed, twisting the cricks out of his neck. Sleeping in his armor was doing little to help his bodily aches and pains. “Yes, I was going over the security logs to find…”


“It has been ten hours since I last told you that you’d been here for ten hours and you are still here.” The Medicus interrupted him. “Do you not have a child at home?”


“I have hired a nursemaid.” Osma replied. “She’s entirely capable of seeing to the boys needs in my absence.”


“Oh good. She can explain to the boy why his fool of a father worked himself to death looking over more recordings than any single man could possibly hope to go through, following around a ghost of a man who regularly enters parts of the ship where no recording devices exist.” Medicus Nor sighed.


“Look, Medicus. I know that you’re trying to do here, but this must be done. I need to know who it is that has been releasing tainted anti-agapic treatments into the population.” The work order on Gold Channel that he’d found when Tariq messed about with the command console had led him not to a person, but to a phantom identity code within the machine spirit. Something that the Magos who’d looked at it assured him as supposed to be impossible.


Someone had not only entered themselves into the Endless Bounty’s machine spirit as a command level user, but had done so in a way that made it impossible to either track them or delete their profile. Osma hadn’t been able to remove the user from the system but he was settling for tracking the man’s inputs into the system and preventing his work orders from being executed. Ships security had sized several dozen work orders thus far for maintenance and parts that were being delivered to dead drops around the ship. They’d not yet managed to arrest anyone heading to one of these dead drops, but they could at least prevent ships resources from being misused.


Osma’s ghost had odd taste in contraband. He wasn’t looking for weapons or explosives as one might expect from a saboteur, no he was far more sophisticated than that. He would just re-direct components away from where they were needed, preventing repairs and maintenance in system critical areas. It was subtle and would have likely been interpreted as clerical incompetence on the part of ship’s supply rather than an active attack – Osma didn’t dare guess how many had died as a result of this quiet killer.


What he did know, however, was that the only way this man was getting the medical supplies required to distribute anti-agapics would require that he was actually showing up to pharmacy facilities on the Endless Bounty. He knew the duration that Bonafila Enzo had been in a coma. He knew which facilities carried that type of anti-agapic. Unfortunately, as several of them had been destroyed in the recent battles, he had no way of knowing which of them were missing the relevant inventory. So, the best he could manage was to compare the admittedly incomplete prescription records with when people showed up to actually get their prescriptions and just hope that one of the unlogged or improperly logged distributions of medicine was his saboteur.


And as the only database to record such transactions was kept within the confines of Faest Nor’s office, it meant that until he actually found the man or gave up trying, the Medicus was bound and determined to see that Osma gave up some of his more obsessive tendencies. Finding the killer was, in the Medicus’ opinion, no excuse for not getting a proper night’s sleep. “Osma, at what point do you plan on returning my office to me?”


“Medicus, it was you who brought it to my attention that Bonafila Enzo’s sudden return to health was a medical miracle.” Osma replied in irritation. “I am obligated to act on an allegation with that degree of severity with the greatest expedience possible.”


“And if you work yourself to death before you’ve found any proof there is no guarantee your replacement will find him at all.” Faest Nor chided, slapping Osma’s armor twice. “Now, open up the right arm.”


“Medicus?” Osma blinked in confusion.


“You’re dehydrated and you haven’t eaten properly in at least a day.” The medicus held up a plastic bag full of pink liquid. “So I’m going to start you on a saline drip with intravenous nutrients so you don’t malnourish yourself in your search for justice.”


Osma did his best to dissuade the Medicus, but only got as far as “That’s really not – “ before the medicus fixed him with a stern glare that brokered no debate in this matter. He sighed and fiddled with the fastenings on his armor, opening the right arm to the open air. His arm stank of sweat trapped within the closed confines of his armor. The medicus implanted a needle with a practiced motion, hanging the bag from a ring in the ceiling.


Osma raised a brow at that, the ring in the ceiling seemed to have been tailor made precisely for that type of bag, but the only man who’d likely get any use out of it was the medicus. Nor seemed to be following his train of thought. “Don’t get smart with me lad. Just stay healthy.”


“Yes Medicus,” Osma replied, turning on yet another reel of holo-video. He blinked in surprise, realizing that he recognized the man sitting behind the counter of the medical dispensary. Cha'wu Xian, the man who’d committed suicide before his apothecary exploded – Killing Iino. “Medicus? Was Cha'wu Xian’s apothecary rated for the storage and distribution of anti-agapics?”


“No… not at all.” Faest Nor watched the video in obvious confusion.


“But I thought this was only a database of the security recordings for facilities who distributed anti-agapic treatments?” Osma pointed at Cha'wu Xian. “Why is he here?”


“He was part of the Alchemist’s Guild, he would have had all the relevant medical qualifications to oversee a dispensary.” Faest Nor pulled a file from one of his book cases, placing it on his desk and flipping to a page labeled with the same date as the recording Osma was looking at. “Yes, he was there. The normal clerk came down with an unexpected bout of fever and required a substitute. Cha'wu Xian volunteered to take the man’s shift – at a substantial fee I might add.”


“Did he actually dispense any prescriptions?” Osma tugged at his beard.


“Yes, he did.” Faest Nor looked up, a dangerous look in his eyes. “Including the type of anti-agapic used on the Inquisitor’s servitor two days later.”


Osma breathed in sharply through his teeth. Cha'wu Xian involvement was a trail of evidence he’d believed long lost to him. “Does it have a time?”


Faest Nor smiled. “It does.”


Osma’s fingers shook as he input the runes to cycle the video to the precise time, revealing the face of his ghost. The face of a man who was a ghost in more ways than Osma had ever suspected. Cha'wu Xian was indeed on film, passing several vials of anti-agapic drugs to another man Osma believed long dead. Faest Nor swore, cursing the fates in several languages Osma knew and still more he didn’t.


Faest Nor pointed a bony finger at the screen. “What sort of trickery is this?”


“None, I fear.” Osma sighed. “It explains far too much. How has he been operating in secret? Why he would have a reason to involve himself with Donat Enzo’s personal life? Why is he knowledgeable enough of the ships systems to hide himself in the command codes?”


“To the Eye! His father had him executed for techo-heresy.” Faest all but growled. “This isn’t possible.”


“Medicus, I can’t begin to say how it is possible, but I can think of no other explanation for what I am seeing. Can you?” Osma stroked his beard. “That is Dexter Abraxian.”


Faest shook his head. “I conducted the autopsy myself. He’s dead.”


“How certain are you that you autopsied the correct body?” Osma queried.


“Pretty Throne Damned sure.” The Medicus replied. “You don’t do autopsy the captain’s bastard son without making sure you’re cutting open the right body!”


“And yet I am no less convinced that we are staring at the half-brother of Captain Nathaniel Emanuelle Saclair.” Osma replied. “So we need to start finding out how the impossible has become reality – and quickly.”


-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-


Tonya Wallace approached the Inquisitor’s residence cautiously. The Inquisitor supposedly employed a number of secret weapons systems to remove all uninvited guests, and while Susan Ivanova had extended an invitation to the reporter, she couldn’t help but notice several skeletons left to rot along the corridor. The Imperial comfort with their immediate mortality was one of the most unsettling aspects of these extraterrestrial humans. Whereas an earther would likely eschew contact with the dead, the imperials seemed to just see the dead as parts to be recycled. Dead bodies were repurposed into servitors and systems with a casual ease.


“Calm down Wallace. You’re supposed to be here. You’re welcome. They’re not looking to kill you.” The reporter muttered to herself as she stepped over a man’s leg. “Please let them not be looking to kill me.”


Tonya’s reports of the Imperials had been incredibly positive thus far, the Lionhearts and Belzafest irregulars had both fought and died alongside Earth Alliance soldiers to protect citizens of the Alliance. It had been some of her highest rated footage, death, heroes, villains and an ultimate victory for the Earth Alliance against insurmountable odds. Well, that was how ISN sold it anyway, and as long as she could stay close to Susan Ivanova she expected she would continue to be at the top of the ratings for the foreseeable future.


Ivanova, the kidnapped Earth Alliance Commander forced into being the apprentice of the Telepathic Inquisitor noble, had basically every single element of must see TV – up to and including a body most women would kill to have. And she was doing her even best to keep feeding Tonya with information that Alliance Intelligence would have murdered to get.


Tonya reached the Inquisitor’s front door and reached up to rap the door knocker when the portal opened, exposing the Inquisitor’s mute cyborg bodyguard-cum-bulter Cairn Thross. It creeped Tonya out that he seemed to always know when she was about to knock on the door. She did her best to smile at the hooded collection of mechanical tentacles and talons. “Is Commander Ivanova in? I have an appointment.”


The Skitarii warbled in something that might have been assent as he moved out of the doorway, pointing into the Inquisitor’s apartments. Tonya noted that the Skitarii did not bother to follow her as she entered, she’d been here so often in the past week that he seemed to have dismissed her as a threat to his employer.


Tonya walked into the apartment, impressed, as always by the sheer eclectic mess of books and curios spread around the room. Overflowing bookshelves lined the walls filled with volumes that seemed older than some countries.


The Inquisitor’s savant looked up from one of the tomes, nodding politely to her as she entered. “P-pleased to s-se-see you mu-miss Wallace.”


“Jak.” Tonya acknowledged the savant politely. The man meant well, but he had an annoying habit of condescension. He also had a volume of knowledge that overwhelmed most universities – so she tolerated his eccentricities as long as he continued to allow himself to be recorded. “You’re not planning on lecturing me on the limitations of our Darwinian evolutionary model again?”


“I – I have considered y-your supposition that the human species originated o-on your world of origin. B-but y-you are not the first Imperial c-colony to have been lost w-with some degree of native fossil records. I-I-It is more likely that there was already a near human hominid species that your ancestors bred with w-when they l-l-lost contact with p-p-pre-imperial humanity.” The man nodded. “It is not unp-p-precedented.”


“Jak, you want me to believe that the humans on Earth got into a colony ship, flew to earth, somehow lost all of our advanced technology and just decided to boink enough Neanderthals to appear like we were always there?” Tonya chided. “We’re an invasive species of mutant ancient aliens?”


“Genetic profiles show you within the human margin of error rather than abhuman, but yes that is my a-a-assertion.” Jak replied, placing a leather tome back into the book case with a troubled expression on his face. “Odd.”


“What is odd?” Tonya asked, trying to suppress the excitement in her voice as she tapped the control to the camera drone following her, zooming it in on the book in the man’s hand.


“Nothing really, I just – I just could have sworn that this book was made from leather.” Jak ran his fingers across the spine, pulling it out to examine the lock on the front of it. “But the pores are wrong. If I didn’t know better…. Oh… oh dear….” His eyes bulged and he shoved the book back into the case. “I mistranslated that the first time. It was not a tome describing the tattoos of the faithful. It was a tome literally made from the tattoos of the faithful.”


“That book is – ” Tonya held her hand over her mouth as she involuntarily dry heaved.


“Yes, it’s tanned human skins.” Jak replied, wiping his hands in his apron. “I believe that I will be t-taking greater care to r-read the Inquisitor’s inventory in future.”


“Ick.” Tonya blanched. “I’m gonna be – somewhere else – you have fun with that Jak.”


“As always Miss Wallace.” The Savant nodded. “Apprentice Inquisitor Ivanova is expecting you.”


Commander, now Apprentice Inquisitor, Ivanova was sitting in the Inquisitor’s study reading an elaborately decorated scroll. Her clothing, an elaborate garment in the Imperial style, was adorned with thick orange fur and a terrifying amount of Ostrich feathers. She looked up from the scroll when Tonya entered and let out a deep sigh of relief. “Finally, someone who isn’t crazy.”


“My producers won’t agree with you on that one Commander. Trust me – when I sent them my last footage they were convinced that I’d gone completely insane to go anywhere near that fighting.” Tonya laughed, trying to play it off as though she weren’t equally convinced that she was out of her mind to have done so or insane for agreeing to Danzig’s offer to take her back to the Endless Bounty. “But they weren’t about to pass on having the only reporter currently embedded on an Imperial Warship.”


“Transport.” Susan replied, a half smile on her lips.


“Pardon?” Tonya asked.


“The Endless Bounty isn’t a Warship. It’s a cargo ship. By Imperial standards its virtually unarmed.” Susan shook her head. “I know, I know but it’s true. This bucket of bolts is the Imperial answer to the Delta Gamma 9.”


“You’re telling me that an Imperial Transport ship fought Earth Alliance fleets and won.” Tonya was understandably skeptical of that assertion. The Imperial ship not only carried advanced arms and defenses, but several distinct private armies onboard.


“Here, look.” Susan pointed at the scroll she was had been previously looking at. “This is a record of the Imperial Gothic War. Those ships there, they’re what the Imperium would consider frigates. They’re about 1.8km long and have armaments that I’d put up as being comparable to an Omega Class destroyer.”


“Commander, while I’m sure that my viewers are more knowledgeable I’m only passingly familiar with the difference between ship classifications for the Earth Alliance.” Tonya looked at the lovingly painted images of Imperial warships. “But that doesn’t sound good for the Earth Alliance if the Imperials decide to start playing nasty.”


“Tonya, the Apocalypse class’ main weapon is used to destroy squadrons of escort craft like frigates. The Empire has no treaties banning the use of mass drivers or viral weaponry.” She pointed to a painted image of a ship shooting at a planet and cracking an entire continent. “The Inquisitor? The people of the Endless Bounty? They haven’t had the resources or much of a reason to be aggressive, but they aren’t the whole Empire. We’re had an upheaval in galactic politics because a transport got stranded – What happens when someone comes looking for the transport?”


“You paint a fairly grim picture of our prospects, Commander. You realize that your detractors will just allege that this is unsubstantiated allegations from a military defector.” Tonya replied, flinching as plumes of psychic discharge flared in the woman’s eyes. How powerful of a telepath did one have to be to manifest actual fire?


“I don’t care what my detractors have to say about the matter. I don’t care if they don’t believe me – they need to know. The Empire isn’t exaggerating how big it is or the resources they have. They don’t need to exaggerate. They don’t care.” The commander tapped the scroll. “There are casualty figures for individual battles in the Empire that exceed wars the Earth Alliance has taken part in.”


“You’re wasting your breath Commander. The width and breadth of the Empire is difficult enough to describe when one has actually lived in in for their entire life.” Spoke the commanding voice of the Inquisitor as he entered the study. Tony had never seen the man out an encounter suit. He was older than she, seemingly in his late forties or early fifties – though given the miraculous anti-aging treatments of the Imperial nobility it was near impossible to be sure of anyone’s age. His clothing was conservative, a simple suit that wouldn’t have looked out of place in either Human or Brakiri society. It was perhaps a bit anachronistic, but not overly so. The oddest thing about him was the prosthetic arm, creamy white ivory digits extending from the sleeve of his jacket.


He eyed Tonya’s drone with mild interest before turning back to the reporter. “I chose to retain this ship in my employ for its relative discretion. One does not employ a warship if one is trying to travel incognito. It would be equivalent to trying to drive through a city in a tank as opposed to a standard civilian transport.”

“And you consider this to be incognito?” Tonya replied jokingly, gesturing to the elaborate marble columns and jade floor tiles inlaid with gold and platinum.


“I know it seems extravagant, but if you were to see the flagship of my mentor Inquisitor Gaal you’d convinced of my utter devotion to a life without excess.” Inquisitor Hilder replied, a twinkle in his eyes. “He never went anywhere without his private zoo.”


“Zoo?” Tonya snorted.


“No really, the whole Zoo. Habitats and all. It all came on his flagship. It was mostly predators and specimens that he kept with him so that he could derive countermeasures to their natural attacks but there were a number of creatures he kept just because he liked them.” He chuckled. “There was a two ton Oran-Fek that he named tiny and insisted upon having dressed in amusing hats on every holy day.”


Tonya laughed, unsure what an Oran-Fek was but convinced by the Inquisitor’s comical mime that dressing one in a hat was not a particulary practical affair. Tonya loved the Inquisitor. He was so utterly open and uncaring that it was impossible not to understand why the Imperials favored him as a leader. She would have been hard pressed to find a member of the Earth Alliance Senate who allowed her the sort of immediate open access to real world decision making that he allowed her.


“So, miss Wallace. I was told by my apprentice that you were here on a matter of some import for your House.” The Inquisitor replied.


“My house?” Tonya asked in confusion.


“ISN – the guild house of spies to which you are bonded. She has informed me that in order for her to obtain a steady flow of information from your network of informants as well as to secure your assistance in providing a positive propaganda campaign on my behalf I am required to provide you with some basic information.” The Inquisitor nodded to his apprentice.


“That’s not quite how it works Inquisitor but I can promise to do my best to represent you fairly in my reports.” The ISN reporter made eye contact with Susan only briefly, but long enough for the Commander’s expression to convey “just go with it.”


“I was just telling the Inquisitor how important it is to get the truth out about my transition into Imperial control.” Susan replied. “Or the Alliance will take exception to someone kidnapping a senior officer.”


“Are you ever going to let that go?” Inquisitor Hilder pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes – I kidnapped the Commander from Babylon 5 and impressed her into service as my apprentice. Yes I drugged her, broke her bones, and smuggled her out of the station. After the commander had drawn state secrets out of my mind. I wonder, perhaps, would the commander have preferred the alternative? Should I have wiped the secrets from her mind and tossed her over to the ham fisted idiots at the Psi Corps? Should I let them have squandered her potential?”


“You should have asked.” Susan replied angrily.


“I am an Inquisitor. I do not ask, I act.” Replied Daul Hilder, glaring at his apprentice. “And I am being remarkably tolerant of your petulance, Commander. Many Inquisitors would just have slain you on the spot when first you demonstrated your talents.”


“Inquisitor, the Earth Alliance is going to have concerns about you kidnapping a military officer.” Tonya interjected. “For her benefit or not, you have commandeered someone with intimate knowledge of the Earth Alliance military disposition and tech.”


The Inquisitor shook his head. “Miss Wallace, I’m not here to conquer the Earth Alliance – I’m here to apprehend a dangerous criminal. The same criminal who arranged for the half-breed armies to invade Shi’Lassen. The rogue Inquisitor Soren Faust.”


“You mean that the army who invaded Shi’Lassen was Imperial in origion?” They were going to need to re-evaluate the rating chart after this interview. Hell this interview might be showed enough to actually be considered syndicated once it aired.


“Not precisely.” The Inquisitor rolled the thought around in his head before replying. “Inquisitor Faust was excommunicated from my order and condemned to death for his criminal actions. He used his knowledge and resources to form his own private army, and has been a plague on the galaxy ever since.”


“What does he want?” Tonya was already forming bylines in her head.


“We… we don’t know. Faust’s motives have always been a matter of speculation.” The Inquisitor shrugged. “Historically we’ve been forced to be reactionary rather than proactive when it comes to Faust.”


“So you’ve been chasing him into unknown space, without ever know why he came here?” The ISN reporter chewed her lip in thought. “What happens when you catch him?”


Daul’s eye twitched, and his smile curved up into a terrifying visage of a smile – psychic motes dancing in the man’s eyes. “Then Miss Wallace, I make him pay.”


Thinking back to the book Jak had been looking at, Tonya had no doubt that the Inquisitor intended to follow through on that threat.


-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-


Talia Winters sat across from the Psi Corps representative, feeling distinctly like a she was a suspect rather than a witness. Mr. Timothy wasn’t unpleasant, unpleasant would have required that he be capable of extending emotion. But between his apparent facial paralysis and his own telepathic screening of his emotions, he was a bit more reminiscent of an automaton than a person in his own right. He’d arrived that morning with all the appropriate paperwork, escorted by another Psi Cop of the Psi Corps, and had insisted upon interviewing her immediately.


“Miss Winters I wish to emphasize the confidentiality of this meeting’s content. You are not, at any point, to discuss the things you heart today with anyone outside of the Psi Corps.” The man stated, pulling a thick folder from his briefcase and spreading a series of gristly photos across the table. Talia’s stomach flipped, leaving her with the distinct fear that she might expel her meager breakfast upon the table if she looked too closely at any one of the photos. “This is a matter of grave importance to all telepaths, and it must be handled with some delicacy.”


“Of course.” Talia smiled, pushing a lock of silver-blonde hair out of the way. “Anything I can do to help the Corps.”


“I’m glad to hear that.” The man nodded to the other Psi Cop. “Go to the door. Make sure that nobody feels the need to interrupt. Implant the thought in their mind if you have to.”


“Sir!” Talia hissed, the Psi Cop had quite glibly ordered another telepath to enter the mind of another – a highly illegal action even as a theoretical. “I will not allow the unwarranted invasion of sentient minds on this station.”


“Miss Winters, my agent has been authorized by the Psi Corps to use whatever means are required to ensure our discrete and uninterrupted conversation.” Mr. Timothy steepled his fingers. “There are matters which we must discuss, and quickly. Are you familiar with any of these people?”


Talia shook her head, looking away from the gristly photos. “No. I’ve never see them.”


“Miss Winters – I need you to actually look. You must be certain.” The Psi Cop’s whip crack of a voice demanded immediate action.


“I’m certain already – I’ve never met any of these people!” Talia shook her head, pointedly looking into Mr Timothy’s eyes rather than at the gruesome photos.


“Well, they know you.” Mr. Timothy pulled out another picture from his briefcase. It was a still of Talia Winters on the day the so called ‘demon’ had come to the station, back when she’d fallen into the Inquisitor’s trap. It was one of several recordings leaked to the press following the fiasco.


“Most of the world watched that clip.” Talia pointed out, “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen a couple of those clips.”


“Most of the world has seen the censored version, a sanitized cut of the video which the Earth Alliance consented to be aired on ISN once it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to suppress it in its entirety. But there are copies of the unedited footage on the net, and it has developed a cult following – in every possible sense of the word.” Mr. Timothy pointed to the photos arrayed along the table. “All of these people had almost nothing in common, they were different ages, different religions, different ethnicities, and from different countries. But all of them died in the same, brutal, ritual way – splayed out on crude satanic imagery. And all of them had seen the same uncensored version of the film within the past twelve hours – and all of them were telepaths who chose to take suppression drugs rather than join the Corps.”


“And what? You think that the video is killing them.” Talia dismissed the idea as hogwash immediately. People did not die from watching a film.


“I think that something is targeting our people and that right now the only definite link we have to these people is a video of you fighting what most of the galaxy is referring to as a demon.” Mr Timothy shook his head. “So, I’m going to get your side of the story and start working my way from there.”


“There was a creature that came back with the Copernicus – a sleeper ship from back before we discovered FTL. It had apparently climbed onboard and was feeding on the passengers to keep it alive.” Talia continued. “It was a very powerful telepathic and telekinetic entity. It attacked the station and started consuming sentient beings and implanting its young into their corpses to make them fight. It was a terrible creature but the Imperial theocratic interpretation of quantifiable phenomenon has complicated our ability to analyze what actually happened here. Everyone seems pretty much content to just say ‘a demon did it’ and just move on with their lives.”


“Yes, we were frustrated to hear that all the physical specimens of those infected by the creature had been cremated on Sheridan’s orders.” The man sighed. “Even the races for which cremation is normally anathema didn’t protest the decision. No, I’m already aware of that much.”


“Then what do you want to know?” Talia asked.


“I need to see what you saw. To feel what you felt. It isn’t enough for me to just have a peripheral exposure to the events as they unfolded. As of right now you are the only Telepath in Earth Alliance space to have received prolonged exposure to the telepathic entity and not died horribly. Perhaps some insight into that experience will provide me with the context needed to see what I am not seeing with regards to these deaths.” Mr. Timothy pulled off his gloves. “I would like you to show me – you may, of course, decline but I would implore you not to. This is too important for all of us.”


Talia nodded, sympathetic to the man’s frustrations. “Of course, I’ll help.”


She pulled off her gloves and placed her hands into Mr. Timothy’s keenly aware of just how warm they were. The man actually shuddered at her touch as he said, “Miss Winters, have you been dipping your hands in ice? You need to consider investing in a warmer pair of gloves.”


She said, “I’ll think about it.” In a joking tone, but the truth was that she already had. She’d been purchasing increasingly thick clothing to keep the cold out of her body these past few months but nothing ever quite seemed to take the chill from her.


The sharing of memories was an intimate thing. One had to take care to only share the memories one intended to share, not the stray thoughts or ideas that were running through their minds as they shared them. A lack of care often led to gross embarrassment. The first time she’d tried to do it in school the partner she’d been paired with had been so determined not to show her the sexual thoughts he was having about her that he accidentally provided her with an itemized list of all the anatomically and zoologically improbable acts he wished to conduct with her as a participant.


Talia’s control over her mind was more elegant than that, however, and she anticipated minimal difficulty. She closed her eyes, grasped the man’s hands, and tried to push the relevant memories to the forefront of her mind so that they could be detected via surface scan. She pushed them forward, and waited. She waited some more. She waited still longer in anticipation of that slight caress of psychic effort that let her know another telepath was in her mind but it never came. She never got even the slightest tickle of psychic influence upon her.


She opened her eyes in curiosity to find Mr. Timothy sitting slack-jawed in his chair, his eyes bulging and pupils dilated to the rim of his irises. He was gasping in a long low rasp, spittle dripping from his jaw. She let go of his hands in shock and the man’s breathing went from a labored rasp to a grateful inhalation as though life were being pushed back into him. He coughed hard, bracing himself against the table before looking up at her his eyes still partially dilated.


“What are you?” He touched his face to make sure everything was still in place.


“Mr. Timothy?” Talia asked in confusion.


“No – no, don’t… I don’t want you to say my name.” The man was shoving his papers back into his briefcase as quickly as he could manage. “I don’t want my name in there.”


“Are you ok?” The blonde telepath leaned towards the Psi Cop only to have him recoil from her, clearly terrified of her.


“How did it happen?” The man swallowed clutching his briefcase to his chest. “How did you become hollow? Your mind is empty. There is nothing but a white void of silence and cold within your mind – there is nothing inside you. You are without even the slightest shred of a mind or a soul.”


Talia sighed deeply, clutching her hand over the pendant around her neck – the last source of warmth on her body. “It was the Inquisitor’s weapon. It did this to me.”


“You… you didn’t even have a heartbeat when I touched your wrist. You haven’t breathed except when you inhale to talk.” The man swallowed. “It’s not possible, because you’re standing in front of me and talking… but I think….”


“You think what?” Talia asked, listening to a mess of fears she’d been to cowardly to voice emanating from Mr. Timothy’s mount.


“I think you didn’t survive that battle, Miss Winters.” The man replied, clutching his briefcase against him even tighter. “I think that somehow, you died and never bothered to stop living.”

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