Mark was nervous, and not undeservingly so. Mark was a criminal, and a dangerous one at that, though he was hesitant to think of himself that way. The warrants on him had no doubt gotten to Babylon Fiv blank writs of arrest demanding that he be brought in dead or alive. Mark preferred dead.
Death was preferable to what the Psi Corps would do to him. The couldn't do anything to him once he was dead.
He'd entered the Psi Corps as a child, taken from his parents at age seven. His memories of his parents were vague, but he remembered that they hadn't fought the government officials who'd come to take him away. They'd believed he was being given an opportunity beyond his wildest dreams, a chance at a real future. They thought it was a great choice.
It didn't make him hate them less for giving him up.
They'd raised him much in the way that they claimed they would for the first ten years or so, at least till his eighteenth birthday when he started to manifest telekinesis. It was at that point that he'd been slated for a special project, one of the many unofficial projects done by the Psi Corps.
They'd done things to him, things that he preferred not to remember, things that still gave him nightmares. He'd escaped by the skin of his teeth with the aid of the Underground Railroad, sneaking to the proxima colony via mars for a number of months before fleeting for the Babylon Station. It was one of the few ports where one could reach alien territories that would not extradite to the Earth Alliance.
It was a safe haven for the Underground Railroad, one of the few military installations without its own dedicated Psi Corps presence. About two dozen rogue telepaths would be on station at any given time. They had to be careful, staying out of view and under the radar.
They could only risk sending people into alien space one or two at a time, careful not to draw the notice of immigration. A human arriving on an Earth Force transport was relatively unremarkable, a human leaving on an alien transport was odd. A dozen humans leaving on a transport would draw notice.
They did not wish to draw notice. However somebody was causing psychic pandemonium on station. After the psychic scream rocked the ship Mark headed for the meeting place. No message needed to be sent.
There was already a small crowd of people in the tiny brown sector apartment when he entered. Nobody wasted time with small talk or greetings when he entered the room, few even bothered to look. They'd all sensed his arrival long before he pushed the door open.
Small talk would have been wasted anyway. For safety's sake they exchanged neither names nor personal information. Psychic exchanges of information were often more practical anyway. An ID could be faked, a mind couldn't.
The room resounded with silence as the telepaths exchanged frenzied snippets of information with each other. Something had attacked the station. The Captain had arrested the Imperial Inquisitor. The Imperial Inquisitor had fought a demon and lost. Talia Winters had fought the Inquisitor and won. The conflicting thoughts thundered deafeningly in his head contesting the silent shifting of bodies in the room.
"Enough! We know nothing for sure," Slurred the voice of the de-facto leader of the Underground Railroad, a hunched crone of a man misshapen from the abuses he'd suffered at the orders of the Psi Corps, "Rumors will get us nowhere but into a panic. Getting into a panic will get us caught."
"And getting caught will get us killed," muttered Mark idly to himself, "Which would be bad." The man next to Mark shivered and scratched at his chest, groaning in pain. The poor bastard probably was too afraid to go to the med-center for fear that someone would back track his medical records. They'd lost a man to a ruptured appendix for that very reason last month.
The crowd silently murmured to each other psychically, a shifting morass of fear and anticipation. The hunch-back shouted again in his incoherent mess of slurs, "Enough! We are safe. The Psi Corps has yet to break the Mars cell. We have at least a month before they catch on to us if they ever do. We'll be in Minbari space by then."
The irony of fleeing to Minbar in search of safety was not lost on Mark. He could still remember huddling in a bunker on Earth at the Battle for the Line. Not that long ago the Minbari were the closest thing to Satan he could think of, a post now deservingly occupied by one Alfred Bester.
The Psi Core was hell on Earth.
The crisp uniformity and institutional disinfected sterility that the public was privy to was only a mask over the cankerous purulence of the Psi Cpors' true purposes. God the things the Psi Corps had done to them were unholy, there was no other word for it. Selective breeding, forced abortions, murder, rape, it was a virtual laundry list of every inhuman and unforgivable act that could be committed.
And nobody knew about it. Obfuscation and misdirection were the weapons of the Psi Corps, and they were nothing if not efficient. Nobody believed the ravings of a couple rogue telepaths. Nobody really wanted to. Telepaths were frightening and the Psi Corps allowed normal people to feel protected.
People would sacrifice a lot for that sense of protection. His parents had sacrificed him after all.
Sacrifice, god but he was sick of having to hear that word. Everything was sacrifice. For all that he valued his freedom the pursuit of it was astonishingly limiting. A sentiment that all the pilgrims on the underground railroad felt with equal measure.
"When do we leave?" asked a young girl in pigtails eagerly her face full of unbridled hope. She was only thirteen but would easily be a P-9 when she grew into her full potential. It was probably why the Psi Corps wanted to breed her early.
The hunchback smiled, a gruesome gesture on his twisted features but his good will shone from his mind, "Children will be the first to go. Less than a week for you." The girl smiled and giggled as he pinched her cheek, "Less than a month for us all. We will all be free soon."
The tension in the room dropped drastically and the psychic muttering lulled to dull idle whispering. The prospect of freedom was enough to calm anyone. God bless those bone heads, he would kiss the first one he saw once he got to Minbar. Freedom was a glorious idea.
"Now," Slurred the hunchback, "Go back to your quarters, get some food, get some rest, and be ready for soon it is time. Soon it will be time to go."
The man next to Mark coughed again, blood spurting out of his mouth and nose. Mark cried out without meaning to, "Damnit!"
A dark skinned P6 woman rushed over to the man with a towel, wiping off his face and nose. The ill man's pale and clammy skin was covered in great beads of sweat. He shivered and shook convulsively, "We need to get him to a doctor!"
"No," hissed a P4 with a strong german accent, "If ve do zat den ve vill be caught." Mark wanted to disagree with the man but couldn't. There were too many surgically implanted markers in all members of the Psi Corps to make going to a doctor entirely safe. All it would take was one doctor back-tracking serial numbers in order to get medical records and they'd all be up the creek.
"We can't let him die," cried the young P9 as she yanked frustratedly at her pig tails. Damn the Psi Corps to hell a child shouldn't be forced to make this sort of a decision, "He just can't die."
"No," hissed a P11 woman of vaguely English accent in a green dress. Her face squirmed between warring expressions of pity and fear, "If he dies he dies but we cannot risk all of us for him."
"We don't have to," the hunch back shook his head. He approached the ill man warily, pulling his shirt over his mouth as he examined the black veins of the man's neck, "I know of a doctor who doesn't ask questions. He can be trusted."
"How can you know," hissed the P11 woman in the green dress. She grabbed the hunchback's arm, nails biting at the man's skin as her hands flexed in hysteria, "How can you be sure?"
"I am," said the hunch-back in a voice indicating that he considered the matter to be closed. He brushed the woman's hand away dismissively, "I'll contact him and have him down here to help... who is that?" The hunch back hysteria and stared at the man vomiting up blood, "I've never seen him before. Who is that?"
The man was a stranger. How in the hell had a stranger gotten into their meeting?
Mark backed away in horror as the man stood up, blood still seeping from the man's every orifice and staining his clothing. His face had elongated unnaturally and his skin had pinched into and odd shape, bilious shadow seeping from his shirt and pants.
"Who in the hell are you?" Mark snarled as he pulled out his PPG, "What in the hell are you?"
The man shifted on the balls of his feet and his skin stretched and shifted like an ill-fitting suit, twisting and bursting as horns and claws protruded from where they'd been concealed beneath. The room filled with a malevolent hungering presence.
The hunchback bellowed, "Run," though it hardly needed to be said. As the man's head burst like a ripe mellon revealing a cruel reptilian face beneath the collected telepaths fled. The creature swiped a fist faster than Mark could see, shoving it's hand into the torso of the german telepath and tearing his heart and lungs out of his body without ever breaking the flesh.
The reptilian equine face shimmered and disappeared into a vague shadowy nothingness. The giant body of the creature rippled and shifted as it reached into the body again and again, pulling out hunks of dripping offal.The creature swallowed the organs greedily, ignoring the deluge of PPG shots Mark fired at it as though they were the stinging of bees.
And then he realized what was truly unnerving him. It wasn't only flesh the creature grabbed. There was a vague bluish, silvery something that came up with every handful of meat. With every handful the German man's mind got smaller and weaker, robbing him of everything except the pain.
God almighty it was eating the german psychic's soul.
Mark lashed at the creature with his mind in desperation, forcing his hate into a blade of telepathic energy. The creature dropped a handful of man flesh, snarling in indignant fury. It turned three sets of horrid misshapen eyes on him, glowing in the shadowy dark, and spoke in a voice like rotten food and the buzzing of insects, “Mine.”
Mark screamed as the creature charged him, talon tipped fingers tearing through his flesh without ever leaving a mark. The creature drove its face into Mark's chest, feeding. As Mark felt the creature tearing his intestines from his torso he put the PPG up to his temple and pulled the trigger.
It was a pity he wouldn't see Minbar.
The Inquisitor jerked fitfully in his sleep, plagued by nightmares. Once or twice he'd made a strangled sound halfway between a cry and a yell of anguish. Michael didn't even want to begin to imagine what the Inquisitor had gone through that could make a man's back arch like that in his sleep.
Protocol dictated that he administer a sedative to a prisoner suffering from severe night terrors, but he couldn't do that without first getting a doctor down to examine the Inquisitor. And he couldn't do that without stomping over about ten different treaties. He could, and had, anministered psychic supressants. That at least was his right.
He wasn't even sure if legally he could hold the Inquisitor once he woke up, technically speaking as a duly appointed representative in the League of Non-aligned worlds he was granted diplomatic immunity from anything that wasn't a war crime or covered under an extradition treaty.
At the moment he was only holding the Ambassador under a loophole stating that a representative of the Non-aligned worlds may be taken into protective custody in the event that they were incapacitated. As the Inqusiitor had been incapacitated in the process of quelling a riot it was legal, but only thinly so. Hopefully it would give Captain Sheridan enough time to act.
And someone would have to act soon. The Babylon 5 brig lacked the capacity to arrest everyone involved in the riot so they'd been forced to limit themselves to arresting the Imperials and a single Markab the only ones that Officer Shiro had been able to identify as instigating the riot.
"He exorcized a demon," Michael watched the man twitch in sleep, "As in horns, tail, and pitchfork?"
"He says he exorcized a demon," Officer Shiro said in an unconvinced tone, "But he certainly did something. I don't know if you heard it where you were...”
“I did,” Michael cut him off, rolling his eyes to the sky, “Everyone did. You know that. Christ Shiro, nobody's been talking about anything else.”
Shiro grunted noncommittally, “We putting extra security on the Imperial docking bay? We don't want any of the Imperials getting funny ideas about storming the bring.”
“For who?” Michael snorted, “The Imperials bolted when they heard... whatever that was. Zack says they left half a ton of grain behind but they just got on their ships and left like they thought the devil himself was chasing them.”
Shiro's expression turned blank, “Maybe he was.”
“You have something to say Shiro?” Shiro was not a particularly imaginative or superstitious man. If he was spooked you could bet there was a damn good reason.
The asian man sighed, and spoke in an uncomfortable tone. Each syllable squeezed past his teeth with a generous allowance of skepticism, “He saw something sir. Something in her head, the girl from the ship that is. He saw it and he tore it out. I don't know if it was a demon, but it wasn't friendly.”
Michael nodded once, leaning on the door and starting through the small window, “Maybe. The Captain will be down in about an hour to sort this mess out. In the meanwhile I want everyone on duty. As of now anyone on vacation has their leave canceled.”
Shiro groaned, no doubt having realized that Michael meant for his subordinate the be the one to actually make the announcement, “They aren't going to like that.”
“I'll authorize double overtime,” Michael chewed his lip, pensive. Something had happened earlier in the day. Something that without a doubt involved the Inquisitor, intimately, “Somethings not right Shiro. Something's very not right.”
“You think there's a demon on station?” Shiro said in a mocking tone that only slightly coverd his unease. He put his hands on either side of his head in a crude imitation of devil horns.
Michael swatted his subordinate's hands down in consternation. Honestly, what was Shiro thinking? Michael was the one who was supposed to be cracking wise, “It doesn't have to be a demon to be something nasty Shiro. There's plenty of nasty things in the universe without demons.”
The Inquisitor yelled out a pained cry, whimpering in his own language. Shiro sighed, “There's definitely something that's messing with this guy's head.”
“Life,” Michael tried not to think too hard about his own nightmares as the Inquisitor thrashed in his bed, “Life is more than enough to mess with anyone.” He nearly jumped out of his own skin when his link went off, buzzing a with a tinny whistle.
He tapped it twice, “This is Garibaldi, what's up?”
“Mr. Garibaldi get up to my office,” said Sheridan in a less than confabulatory manner. The man's usual cool was starting to crack, and a twinge of genuine anger was evident in the word, “Now.”
"Time to face the music," Michael sighted and walked out of the brig.
Sørian was a mess.
Every part of his body ached and his arm, still twisted at an unnatural angle, flopped against his side with every step. The physical pain of his arm was far less than the indignity of someone of his status, a devotee of the Keeper of Secrets, being reduced to shambling down access corridors in refuse covered clothing.
“I'll kill the bastard, bring him back to life, and kill him again,” he hissed, teeth clenching so hard they were well in danger of cracking. He picked a bit of vegetable peel from his sleeve and tossed it to the side with effortless contempt. The rotted garbage left green stains of slime on his fingers, “Revolting.”
He shuffled up a slap-shod staircase that had clearly been a recent construction done in the aftermath of the Belzafest assault, sturdy but inelegant. His feet, bloody and shoeless, protested the indignity of walking up the metal grating. Hooked metal ridges, designed to allow the heavy booted crewmen better footing, were murder on the soft flesh of his feet.
A trail of bloody footprints trailed behind him. A more than sufficient trail for even the dimmest of security officers to catch wind of, if they were to find it. And he was walking towards the most likely area they'd be searching.
Sørian probably shouldn't have gone back to the site of the explosion, station security was doubtlessly fighting the fires and sifting through the rubble, but his instincts were telling him that he needed to return.
He'd learned to trust his instincts, twisted though they may be. His devotions to the dark gods granted him with bursts of insight at times, brief flashes of what he ought to do. And they were telling him unequivocally that he ought to return. Though for what reason he could not even hope to predict.
So he hobbled onwards, listening to the lingering touches of awareness. Dark caresses of the god of decadence guided him, muffled beaconing whispers of lust. Like all his messages from the beyond as of late they were pale shadows of the powers he was accustomed to. The vague smell of honeyed milk and rosewater perfume tugged at his tongue, tantalizing him towards the god's purpose.
Sørian attached his mind to that sense of purpose, ignoring the pain and the shame. There was no shame he would not bear for power. The gods valued dedication and devotion above all else, their fickle punishments were only for the undevoted and the unworthy.
Sørian was neither. In fact so dedicated was he to his goal that he did not hear the voice the first, second, or even third time someone called out “Sir” to get his attention. It was only on the fourth attempt that Sørian's mind was drawn away from his task and he focused on the voice.
A squat man with a ruddy face and a nose covered in bulbous growths indicative of excessive drink was staring at him in shock. His jaw hung open and a box of tools lay at his feet, forgotten, “By the throne man! What happened?”
Sørian was too tired and hurt to think up an appropriate lie so he settled on the truth, “The Amon Sui bombed the sector I was in.”
The man's burned half-lips pulled back in disgust, revealing cancerously black gums caked from decades of exposure to oil and promethium. He slapped his knee in disgust and made the sign of the Aquilla, “Damned nobles and their damned infighting, making it so that an honest man can't even ply his trade.”
Sørian wobbled, steadying himself with his hand on the wall. Stopping had been a mistake. All the blood loss and pain seemed to catch him in an instant. His legs buckled and he became instantly aware that he'd lost feeling in his feet.
The ugly man in the torn smock grabbed him with soot stained hands and pulled out a filthy kerchief that smelled of machine lubricant. Sørian noted with no small amount of chagrin that it was still cleaner than the patches of flesh that the ugly man was wiping rubbish off of.
“I swear it don't matter which of them wins,” clucked the ugly man, “Sáclair or the Amon, I just wish whoever was going to win could get on with it so the rest of us could get on with our lives. It don't matter much to me who's running the ship so long as there aint no damned bombs going off.”
He clucked his tongue, “And that damned Inquisitor's as much a menace as anyone, dragging us into fights what we got no buisness in fighting. He'll bring all mess of nasty creatures to this ship you mark my words. Xenos and Demons and Throne only knows what else. It's enough to make you turn blue.”
Sørian started giggling. He hadn't meant to but the whole situation was just to absurd for him. He slumped against the wall, falling to the floor laughing like a madman at the absurdity of it all. The ugly man, apparently aware that he was falling into shock, shook him by the shoulder and looked him in the face with piggish grey eyes, “Don't you go dying on me boy! You don't get to give those bastards that satisfaction.”
He hefted Sørian over his shoulders, “Come on then boy! We're going to get you to someone what can help you. I know a good medicus.”
“No,” hissed Sørian fearfully. If he were to be taken to a medicus there would be inconvenient questions. A medicus would be required to report his injuries to security, and even with bribes there would be no guarantee that the medicus would not report him at a later date under Osma's coercion.
“I won't be having you dying on my watch boy,” clucked the old man as they walked the empty blackness of the ships access corridors, “Too much dying lately.”
A plan formed in the back of his mind as Sørian fumbled at his belt with his good hand, feeling for a familiar ivory hilt. The ritual magic of chaos did not truly require the carefully prepared runes and preparations used by most practitioners. In theory a focused effort of will would be sufficient, however in making treaties with the dark gods such methods of focus were vastly preferable.
To the dark gods, granting a boon never came without a price. The trick was in directing such a price towards another. One took such precautions to prevent the fickle gods from making “slight” deviations from the caster's will and turning the caster into a semi-sentient mutated mass of a monster.
Given his need it was worth the risk.
Focusing his mind on the sigils and rules that he would have carved into the mans flesh under normal circumstances, Sørian raised the blade and drove it between the ugly man's floating ribs. The man let out an angry whispering cry as the blade pierced his lung, collapsing to the ground dead.
Sørian ignored the pain as they fell to the ground, blasphemous words at his lips. The sour syllables ground past his teeth, sending a sense of electricity up his spine. They were not from any language spoken by men or xenos, not for a thousand years.
They were words of unholy power, dark and terrible.
The wound where the blade cut into the man's flesh parted a liquid seeped out that wasn't blood. It was too pink for human blood and smelled more like aged wine, though it still smelled as sour. Sørian pulled out the blade and drank the seeping blood. The scent and flavor was only an illusion, he could still taste the foul earthy taste of copper beneath it. It was a weak illusion but it was enough to complete the ritual.
His arm popped back into place and the flesh knit together in front of his eyes. Sørian fed hungrily at the man's life blood and with it healed his own wounds. Inch by inch, second by second he restored his body to wellness.
The ugly man let out betrayed gurgles of disbelief as the life slowly died from the his eyes. Sørian drank, and drank, and drank glad for the man's strength. The was a time where Sørian would have regretted sacrificing another human being in the name of his own survival but that time was long gone.
It was a shame he had to die, Sørian did not wish him ill, but he couldn't allow anything to get in the way of his revenge.
Sørian stood up, twisting the stiffness out of his neck with a satisfying series of pops. Death only made the old man slightly less attractive, thought Sørian. The man's smock hung in a far more flattering way over the recently mummified flesh of the dead.
Sørian's own clothing too was in a far better sate then they had been only moments ago. Far from being stained with the blood and detris, his robes were as fresh and clean as they'd ever been.
“A fitting boon,” chuckled Sørian as he rand his fingers through his own hair. The remains of what had once been trash fell to the ground in a shower of powdered gold dust.
Sørian picked up the man's corpse and tossed it down the trash chute. It would likely be covered with the collected debris of thousands long before anyone bothered to check it, at which point he should be long gone. The mans body thudded heavily as it fell through the chute, the metal toes of the corpse's boots echoing off the sides.
As he walked away, following the deep intuitive sense of need he realized idly that he hadn't even bothered to ask the man's name. It was just as well he supposed. One did not want to know the name of one's food.
Montgomery's glibness about the whole situation was comforting. Zack hadn't ever been a particularly religious person but there was something distinctly disconcerting about being on a hunt for demons. Montgomery had been raised in a strict Catholic family his entire childhood and gone to Catholic school for proper religious instruction, ironically the perfect breeding ground for an atheist.
And boy was Montgomery an athiest.
“Religion,” groaned Montgomery as he ducked under one of the various curtains the denizens of brown sector were so fond of hanging from the ceiling for privacy. A squat something with bug eyes and a long proboscis of a nose hissed, tittering angrily at having been disturbed while eating, “Yeah, yeah same to you,” he looked back towards Zack, “There's nothing to it but a bunch of superstition and worries.”
“I dunno man,” Zack clicked his tongue off his teeth as he eyed a particularly shifty looking pair of Golians that were looking too chummy with one of N'Grath's underlings, a particularly ugly oversized alien thug with a thick horn. The insectoid crime lord of Babylon 5 had been curiously quiet in the past couple months, uncharacteristically so considering Garibaldi's absence, “Something sure made one heck of a noise. And if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and lets loose scary freaking screams like a duck it might be a demon.”
“I heard a weird noise, sure,” Montgomery raised a finger to his temple, “But that doesn't mean that I've lost my mind. ”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Zach checked his watch. It would be another three hours of this drudgery before he got to leave brown sector, “Dumb it down for us mere mortals okay?”
“If you hear hoofbeats its better to think horse than zebra,” Montgomery waved off Zach's credulity, “The Imperials have an agenda. And by all accounts they're smart. Hell you've seen ISN the same as me.”
Zack had. ISN couldn't get enough of speculating about the origins and culture of the Empire. It was largely conjecture and speculation at this point, of course. Supposedly they'd be doing some sort of in depth report on the information that the Earth Alliance had been provided by the Inquisitor once it passed through the senate. But not having actual facts wasn't about to stop ISN.
“Man you're smarter than that,” Zack laughed, “Have you seen a reporter on station anywhere near the Inquisitor and his crew? Heck have you seen one on the station at all? The chief would have had a fit if one of them snuck in without him knowing.”
“Fair enough,” Montgomery shrugged, “But that doesn't mean they aren't on to something. The Inquisitor has an agenda, same as anyone else. And it doesn't seem beyond them to have the ability to do something that looks like a demon attack. This is a society that uses re-animated corpses for cargo loaders.”
“I'm not looking forward to having more to do with the Imperials in the future,” Zack admitted thinking of the floating skulls, “The whole recycled people thing is just a bit to icky for me.”
Montgomery chucked, “Dunno, I sure as hell like their dress code.”
“She was a corpse,” Zack's face twisted up in disgust, “Do we really have to talk about it still?”
Zach tired to focus on what it was about the corpse that made him feel so uneasy, but it wouldn't come to him. He was saved having to explain the confusing mess of feelings that the servitor made him feel by the approach of N'Grath's underling.
The alien towered over the two security guards but made no overt hostile motions. Zack made sure his hand rested on the handle of his pistol just in case. N'Grath was dangerous, his employees more so. More than one member of station security had simply “disappeared” over the years. It was a safe bet N'Grath had a hand involved in every one.
“My employer has information that you require,” the thug said in a shrill voice that sounded like he'd spent most of his early life consuming helium. His expression clearly indicated he was used to being obeyed in spite it.
“Yeah I'll bet,” snorted Zack. N'Grath often offered dubious information at premium prices but never to security. He might very well triple the price out of pure spite, “We aren't buying.”
“Good, he isn't selling,” snarled the giant in his girlish soprano, “N'Grath doesn't like murder. It's bad for business. Last time I checked you were on board for that as well.”
Zack sobered instantly, shooting a look of alarm to Montgomery, “Why hasn't it been reported to security?”
The giant shot a withering look at Zack and said, in the sort of voice one might use with the mentally handicapped, “That is what I'm doing right now.”
“Ah,” Zack replied lamely, “I guess you are.”
Montgomery, substantially more coherent under the circumstances asked the obvious question, “Where is the murder?”
“Not here,” the thug offered unhelpfully before turning his back on them and walking away, clearly intending for the two of them to follow. Montgomery shrugged and fell into step after the alien. Zack double tapped the locator beacon on his belt to activate it and followed suit.
“Allan and Montgomery deviating from set patrols to investigate a potential disturbance,” he muttered into his link, “We are proceeding with caution.”
“Copy,” echoed the on duty officer, “Over and out.”
Montgomery whispered worriedly to Zack, “Don't look now, but tiny seems to have brothers and sisters.”
A trio of horned aliens, much like the one guiding Zack and Montgomery were walking behind them at a relaxed pace, not so fast that they would be obvious in the crowd and not so slowly that they could be mistaken for doing anything other than following them.
The alien crime lord went out of his way to make sure that he wasn't remotely connected to anything on station. He was too smart for that, too dedicated to the collection of power. He was certainly too smart to try an ambush as ham fisted as asking two security officers to walk into a dark room.
N'Grath had to know that Zack already reported in. So what was the point in making it that obvious? “They're bodyguards,” Zach blinked in incredulity and whispered to himself, “N'Grath has given us bodyguards.”
The alien's head jerked. It was a subtle motion but enough to show Zack his guess was on the mark. Something had N'Grath spooked enough that he needed Garibaldi's help. This was a public declaration of support for Garibaldi's investigations. And he clearly meant for Garibaldi to know it.
“This can't be good,” Montgomery nodded to the entrance of a brown sector apartment complex. Another five muscular bruisers of various species were standing out front, looking distinctly green at the gills.
“Nope,” Agreed Zach as he stared at a Yolu with an expression of outright horror on its face slumped next to the door with his head between its knees, heaving and trying to keep from vomiting, “Not good at all.”
Zack walked through the door and into hell itself. Montgomery swore and ran outside into the corridor where he vomited behind a support beam. Zack nearly joined him but managed, just barely, to keep his stomach in check in spite of the veritable olfactory assault.
Tiny and the other bruisers had done a decent job of keeping the crime scene, though it was unclear what there actually was to preserve. The walls, the ceiling, and the floor were covered in blood and organs. Some sick bastard positioned the severed limbs of eight bodies into an eight pointed star, with a head at each point.
Zack inhaled in shock, slate air tasting of soured blood and regret filling his mouth and nose. The pungent coppery taste of blood was in the very air itself, a bitter sanguinary sorrowful morass. “Focus Zack,” he scrunched his eyes shut and shoved the fear into the back of his mind muttering under his breath, “Getting scared won't help anyone. Focus.”
He opened his eyes, searching for clues. Few were forthcoming under the circumstances. They seemed to be human but it was hard to tell with all the blood. God was there really that much blood in a human body? It seemed impossible that a human could actually have that much blood. Was there that much hot, sticky, horrible... Zack swallowed.
This wasn't helping. He needed to focus on doing something. Running back to his quarters, crawling under the bed, and crying for a few days seemed like a great option.
But he didn't do that. He didn't run. He didn't cry. He didn't even swear. He was just too damn afraid to do that. No, what he did was pull out his note-pad and start writing down everything he saw. Writing was good. When he wrote it let him distill the situation down to its individual facts. And none of the facts were as scary as the whole.
If he focused on the small details while not considering the whole picture it would let him keep control of the situation. He cleared his throat and looked at Tiny, “Who were they?”
Tiny sighed as he looked at the bodies, his morose soprano seemed less comical under the circumstances, “We aren't really sure. The apartment is rented by the hour. And the guy who rents it is that one,” he pointed to the third point in the start, “We're pretty sure he was the first victim... well that or the last.”
“Why do you say that?” Zack vaguely recognized the man. He could swear that he'd seem him in Dr. Franklin's clinic not long ago, though anything Franklin had spoken with him about was probably covered under doctor-patient privilege.
“Rented by the hour remember? Mark collected half his fee before and half his fee after,” the thug clicked his talon tipped fingers on the horn protruding from his head, a nervous grooming gesture, “The people who rented space from Mark paid extra for... considerations. Mark's clients were very protective of their privacy.”
Criminals then, or at least people engaging in questionable activities. Mark, the owner, would have been smart enough to know not to risk wandering in on dust dealers or extortionists. Or worse, if the sloping drain at the center of the room was any indication.
“The killer wanted us to see this. Or he knew someone would see it and didn't care. Disposing of a body from this room would be easy,” Zack said to nobody in particular. Tiny stood still, his face betraying no hint of comprehension or interest. Zack rolled his eyes, “Montgomery you alright?”
The other officer had returned to the scene of the crime, pale faced and covered in small flecks of his own sick. Montgomery stared at the star in utter contempt, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like scripture. Zack snapped his fingers in front of Montgomery's face, “Montgomery! Man are you okay?”
“I'm... fine,” Montgomery wiped his lips on his right sleeve, “I should be okay... well not okay. You know what I mean.”
Zack did. It seemed unlikely anything else would feel alright until they'd caught the sicko who'd murdered these people and put him behind bars. Zack looked at tiny, “Ok, Tiny. What in the hell happened here?”
Tiny scrunched his face up in what could have been either contemplation or agony, brows furrowed about a protuberant horn. Thinking didn't seem to be a skill Tiny was often called upon to do, “Off the record?”
“Sure,” Zack wouldn't be able to use anything that Tiny said as evidence but Tiny clearly wasn't planning on providing him anything useful otherwise, “Off the record.”
“Off the record there is something scaring the crap out of everyone in brown sector. Nobody's seen it but we know it's there,” Tiny looked over his shoulder, dark eyes narrowed in concentration. No, not concentration, fear. Tiny, all three hundred pounds of him, was terrified. The giant lowered his voice as though he were afraid he might be heard speaking, “We can hear it whispering.”
“We all heard the scream,” Zack sighed, “I can assure you that we can guarantee there is nothing to worry about, the Inquisitor has been arrested.”
“Don't you give me any useless lines,” Tiny pointed at the pile of corpses his voice raised in anger, “About there being nothing to worry about. These people didn't kill themselves.”
Zack's retort was cut off by the excited voice of Montgomery. The officer had wandered though the charnel on tip toe, doing his best not to disturb the remains, “Hey Allan! There's something in the middle of the circle of bodies.”
Zack looked back at tiny, “Has anyone been in here other than us?”
“N'Gath made it clear to us that we were to keep everything untouched for you. He didn't want evidence going astray. You might get the wrong idea about his own legitimate business interests,” Tiny said, straight faced. , “We haven't touched or moved anything.”
Zack stifled a pithy retort. No doubt N'Gath had his men remove anything that could have traced back to the crime boss, though it seemed unlikely anyone could have walked into the circle without leaving finger prints. But not all N'Gaths enfocers had fingers.
Montgomery made a surprised noise.
“What is it Montgomery?” Zack strained to see what the other officer was looking at. There was a faint glimmer of gold beneath the blood and offal in the center of the grim tableau. Montgomery pulled a set of latex gloves off his belt and reached down, pulling up a golden coin and palming it in his hand.
“Dunno,” Montgomery wiped it off with his hand, “It's gold... old too by the look of it, real old. There's something written on it. I can just barely read it.” He rubbed at the coin vigorously with his thumb, “It's covered in too much blood I just need to... to wipe it off.”
“Montgomery bag the coin and leave it for the forensics computer,” Zack tasted the foetid taste of meal again and wretched slightly. He was fast reaching his limits for how long he could stand being in the room, “Let's get out of here and get some backup.”
Montgomery continued rubbing the coin aggressively, entirely unimpressed by Zack's suggestion, “Sir it's already coming off, just give me another second.”
“Montgomery I want to get the heck out of this freak show,” Zack walked over to Montgomery and grabbed him by the shoulder, “We need to go.”
“No!” Montgomery slapped Zack's hand away, “I need to figure this out.”
“Woah,” Zack pulled back in shock, hand's raised in a placating way, “Get a hold of yourself Montgomery, we aren't going to solve this right this second. We're too emotional. Just take a step back and relax, okay?”
Montgomery did quite the opposite, clutching the coin within his clenched fist as though he feared it might disappear at any moment and moving to the center of the circle, “I see what this is! It's a set up. You're with N'Gath! You're going to kill me and steal what's mine!”
Zack stared into Montgomery's wide, blood-shot eyes in shock and confusion. What in the heck just happened? Zack tried walking towards Montgomery and asking, “Man what in the heck are you talking about?” but only got so far as “Man what ar-” before Montgomery pulled out his PPG and pointed it at Zack's head.
“I see through you and your lies,” Montgomery leered with hateful eyes that had no place on the kind man's face. His hand shook, his finger already on the trigger. The soft low whine of charging power reverberated in the crime scene, portentous and foreboding.
“Put down the gun Montgomery,” Zack tried his best to comprehend what was going on while sharing a baffled look with Tiny, “We can talk about this. What is going on?”
“The time for talking is long past,” Montgomery laughed. It was high and cruel, wholly unlike Montgomery. Montgomery had an earthy laugh that almost always held the promise of paying for the next round of drink, “I see you for what you are!”
“You want to share with the rest of the class here Montgomery? Because you've clearly read a couple of chapters I missed and I feel like you at least owe me a cliffs notes version of what in the heck is going on,” Zack kept his hands up and away from his own firearm, careful not to make anything resembling a threatening movement.
“You... you know what is going on,” Montgomery faltered slightly, clarity returning to his eyes, “You're with them. You're coming for me.”
“Who are they Montgomery?” Zack slowly walked towards Montgomery, inching forwards to where he'd be able to grab the firearm, “Who am I with?”
“Them...” Montgomery floundered and looked at his clenched fist in confusion, “You're with them...”
“No,” Zack continued to inch forwards, “I'm with you. I'm your friend. I'm your partner.”
“Partner...” Montgomery said vaugely, “Yes... you are my part...” Montgomery recoiled when Zack got within reach of snatching the firearm from his hand, “Like hell you are! Nobody tires to get one up on me you hear! Nobody!”
Zack closed his eyes as he felt the cool barrel of the PPG shoved up into the nape of his neck. Montgomery was exuding hatred and confusion, the sort of wild erratic thinking that he associated with taking dust or heroin.
It was just as Zack became uncomfortably aware that Montgomery was actually going to shoot him that Tiny made his move. The giant alien charged head first, catching Montgomery at the waist with his horned head and tossing him backwards into the circle.
“Thanks,” Zack sighed as he pulled Montgomery's now discarded PPG off the ground and stared at his partner in confusion, “I appreciate it.”
“What was that?” Asked Tiny, the giant was rubbing his knuckles with clear glee apparently weighing the possibility that Zack would allow him to hit Montgomery again.
“I honestly haven't got the slightest clue,” Zack approached his partner the way one might approach a spooked animal, slowly and with deliberate motions. Montgomery was sitting on the ground, his legs splayed in front of him, staring at the coin in his hand.
“I understand now,” he muttered in a sing song chuckle. A thin trickle of blood dripped down his palm from where the golden coin cut into his flesh, “I can hear the song.”
“Montgomery?” Zack stared at the wound in confusion. The blood trailing out of Montgomery's hand was discharging a purplish foul smelling trail of smoke. Sparks of electricity erupted from the coin and up his skin, burning away his uniform and fulling the room with the smell of cooking flesh.
Montgomery dragged himself foreword towards the circle, cackling manically. Zack tried to run forward to help Montgomery, to pull off the coin, to douse the green flames that were starting to consume his partners body but he was stopped. Tiny grabbed him in one elephantine hand and dragged him from the room.
“No,” Zack struggled against Tiny, “I have to help him. I have to help him.”
“He's gone Officer,” Tiny stared at the burning man in abject horror, “That is not your friend. By the Gods I swear it.”
Zack swung the PPG in his hand around and pointed it at Tiny and growled in his most menacing tones, “Let. Me. Go.” He wasn't going to let some superstition stop him from helping Montgomery if he could.
Tiny tried to snatch the PPG out of his hand, swearing loudly, “Foolish man thing I'm helping you! Listen to --” Tiny didn't finish his sentence. Something blurred and emerged from the entrance to the hallway, a veiled glimmering form of shadows and nothingness. It reached into tiny's head and removed his brain, crushing the bulbous mass of grey matter with contemptuous ease.
Zack fell to the ground and crab walked away from the door.
A dark hissing sound like escaping steam echoed from the mass of shadows, a dismissive noise full of satirical loathing. Zack pulled up his PPG and fired into the shadow but the blue bursts of energy simply rolled around the creature's body, no more potent to the creature than a bee's sting.
A hoarse laugh worked it's way out of Montgomery's charred and cracked lips where he sat cross legged in the center of the circle. The man had been reduced to a blackened and bloodied homunculus, barely reminiscent of what he had once been. White teeth, stained with blackened blood flashed and glimmered in the light of the unnatural green flame, “You should have run while you had the chance mortal.”
“Montgomery what the hell is going on,” Zack stood up and continued to fire at the shadowy form with Montgomery's side arm. A wave of panic, stronger than any he'd ever felt was seeping into his very marrow. If this wasn't a demon he damn well didn't know what was.
“A new beginning,” Montgomery's body chuckled, though it was abundantly clear to Zack that Montgomery stopped being in control the second he touched the coin. The entire ritual murder had been a trap, a trick to get someone to pick up the coin, “We are becoming something greater than ourselves. You shall too. Serve your new god and new order and you will find that we are not without compassion.”
“Sure,” Zack stared down the demon, “Join me and we shall rule the universe together?”
“No,” the creature laughed through Montgomery's lips, a reverberating whistling croon that was inappropriate for human vocal chords, “Not together, but I will permit you to serve me without devouring you.”
“Yeah,” Zack grabbed his own side arm off his belt with his left hand and pointed both guns at the creature, “Making a deal with the devil isn't exactly my style.”
The creature chortled eagerly, “Are you sure you cannot be convinced to see the foolishness of your stubbornness?”
“Kiss my ass Lucifer,” Zack spat in the creature's face and started the Lord's Prayer while firing with both guns. The demon snarled in fury, and rushed for the circle. It liquified and shifted into something etherial, a vaporous cloud of ichorous smoke twisted with sulfurous fire. The cloud billowed towards Montgomery's open mouth and charred body.
The not-Montgomery convulsed at the center of the circle as the collected human remains spread out across the room liquified and started flowing into his body. Montgomery's body soaked up the body like a sponge. His limbs shifted, cracking as audibly and bones and cartilage formed in places no human body had a right to have them.
Zack squeezed the triggers to his PPGs over and over again, firing into the bulging and cackling mass of flesh. He wasn't sure when the guns stopped firing but he continued to stand there pulling the triggers long after the charge capsules clicked empty. His throat was ragged and parched from screaming prayers, but he continued to rasp the holy words.
And then he was moving backwards, a firm pair of taloned hands grasping him by the shoulders and dragging him towards the door. He was too terrified to resist, allowing himself to be directed out of the room.
His begrudging hauler muttered angrily into his ear, startling him back into consciousness, “Come foolish man thing, come with Vira'capac. Foolish man thing fights when the wise run. There is no honor in allowing the tainted to consume you.”
It was the Inquisitor's bird man. He stood in the charnel house stoic and unimpressed, an impassive an oasis of calm and clarity. Vira'capac eyed at the teeming mass of flesh in the distance in hatred, cool calculating slitted eyes darting around the room as he dragged Zack out out.
The slowly seeping screams of offal and flesh parted a hands breadth from the Kroot's feet, dark demonic energies unable to touch him as they flickered about the room. The leaping green fire twisted harmlessly around the Kroot, seemingly afraid to touch him.
“What is it,” Zack screamed as Vira'capac tossed him bodily into the hallway. He landed hard on the deck and looked around, praying to wake up from the nightmare. The thugs he'd feared only minutes ago were spread out around the hall, their eyes glazed over in death. Their corpses were oddly flat, as though someone had deflated a balloon, “What in the hell is it?”
“The man thing already knows even if he won't say it out loud. Vira'capac cannot waste time in educating a man on what he already knows,” The Kroot fiddled with a round object the size of an apple from a leather pouch at his waist. He bit at the top of it, tearing a metal pin out, and tossed the grenade into the room before slamming the door closed and locking it.
The muffled sound of an explosion and a piercing howl of annoyance echoed from behind the pressure door as the Kroot ripped out the door lock controls, “Can the man thing walk?”
“Yes,” Zack stood up under his own power, though his legs felt like they could give out from fear at any moment. The cloudy red eyes of a former Narn stared at him pleadingly in death, “I can walk.”
“Good,” Vira'capac rifled through the belongings on the corpses, pulling a blatantly illegal plasma rifle concealed in a dead street tough's jacket and shouldering it, “Get to the other man things and get them armed and armored.”
The locked pressure door shook under the pressure of being struck from the other side, Vira'capac's grenade apparently had only annoyed the demon. Zack stared at the door in horror. It was going to kill them, Zack just knew it. The Kroot grabbed Zack by his shirt and shook him, “Man thing get ahold of yourself. Man thing must go. Man thing must go now or we will all die.”
Zack turned from the Kroot and ran as fast as his legs would take him. It would not be till hours later that he realized that he'd never though to ask where the Kroot had gotten the grenades or how it had known were to find him, by which time it would be too late to ask.