A hundred crewmen and servitors struggled with the elephantine form of a cyclonic torpedo, shoving the titanic atomic projectile into the firing chamber of the forward torpedo tube. The chains lashed to its sides groaned in duress as the cylinder yanked forwards. Heave, grind, heave, and grind, little by little making its way. A larger ship would have used automated systems but the Endless Bounty made due with sweat and recalcitrance.
"Forward you gutless sons of whores," bellowed the foreman. His smoke darkened voice whistled with each breath through a twist of broken nose, only hinting at the man's fondness for using the long black whip lashed to his belt, "Put your backs into it!"
Osma disliked the foreman greatly. Corporal punishment had its uses, even the writings of the Saints and Primarchs spoke of that, but there was a difference between administering just force and simply being a bully. Osma did not like bullies.
It seemed utterly pointless to shout at the gunnery crew. Half of them were deaf to begin with. And the half that wasn't deaf had their ears plugged with wadded cloth or tallow to block the sounds of the heavy machinery.
His lip curled in disgust as the foreman lashed out at a crewman who'd slipped and fallen. The foreman's whip sliced through the air and cracked the man across the back, slashing the back of the man's shirt, "Up you lazy slug! Up and work like a man."
Osma chewed his lip, reminding himself that it was the foreman's right to flog lagging crewmen as he saw fit. It was not his place to question the command of Mr. Andrews without lodging complaints with the chain of command. Complaints that would be ignored, no doubt. Rebuking crewmen was hardly a crime.
Saboteurs were his only concern at the moment. Best to keep his focus Osma reminded himself, "The Amon Sui won't lose theirs over a flogging."
"Sir?" Officer Friedrich asked nervously, rubbing the stubble on his chin in frustration. A Belzafester by birth Friedrich often seemed out of his element on the Endless Bounty and its naval code of justice. He would learn with time.
"Concentration my boy. Don't lose yours," Osma growled over the sound of the team wedging the torpedo into place. The dense airlock door was lowered by a dozen Ogryn manipulating a heavy iron crank. The screeching hiss of pressurized air sucking out of the breach drowned out Freidrich's reply in a wave of noise, drowning out the internal communication systems of the Adeptus Arbities issue armor.
Osma could just barely make out the foreman's lips mouthing the words, "Move you pathetic piles of puss," through the thick vapor of pressurized air and machine lubricants. The translucent brown mist hovered in the weak artificial gravity, leaving ghostlike outlines of smoke where men and servitors wandered through them.
"Blood of Hourus," Swore Friedrich as he tore his helmet from his head to furiously rub at his ears with the palm of his left hand. It would seem that Friedrich hadn't disabled his helmet's autosenses. The already defining sound would have been amplified and focused tenfold, "What was that?"
Osma yanked the dazed Friederich behind the hazard markings on the floor by his combat webbing pulling him to safety as a pillar rocketed down and clamped to the socket Friedrich had been standing on top of only seconds ago. A blue coruscating field of energy danced down the pillar feeding energy into the forward battery.
Osma slapped Fredrich's shoulder's conciliatory, his glove thudding indistinctly on the ceramite plating, "Up boy, we have work to do. If you can't be bothered to remember the safety procedures in my mission briefings you won't survive long on this ship. The Endless Bounty is a treacherous mistress, you disrespect her for a second and she'll leave you crippled killed or worse."
Friedrich yelled something rude in the Belzafester language that Osma took as an agreement, stepping quickly to avoid treading on a crewman's foot. Perhaps the "man" part of crewman was overly generous, the child couldn't have been more than eleven or twelve, but a couple of missing fingers and a limp marked him as a veteran of the guns. Orphans were ten coppers for a dozen on the Endless Bounty, substantially cheaper than the specialized servo skulls that were otherwise necessary for the delicate and dangerous work of a powder monkey.
The foreman's hand flexed excitedly as though to lash the boy for daring to limp rather than scurry. He thought better of it in short order, the foreman knew Osma's respect for the foreman's position would count for nothing the second he loosed his lash on a child. Explaining the summary execution of a foreman to Mr. Andrews would be difficult but not impossible.
Apparently shocked by the foreman's lapse the boy looked at Osma. Eyes too old for their face met Osma's, marked with the determined hardness. Osma smiled at the boy and received an shy grin, rusty from lack of practice in return. The boy hobbled away soon after, unwilling to press the foreman's patience. Throne but the boy reminded him of Ephraim. His thoughts often drifted back to Ephraim.
Ephraim's laugh, his foolish impulsiveness, his fondness for stories of the great saints Ephraim was the picture of childish innocence. The hollow emptiness in the child's eyes was still there, but less so now that he was in the primary school of Mistress Terwani. Incorrigibly cheerful and infectiously competent the schoolmistress had worked miracles in bringing Ephraim out from his shell. The child still flinched whenever Osma made the mistake of talking in more than a whisper but progress was progress.
He only wished his investigations into the Amon Sui had flowed as smoothly. The child's knowledge of his former mentor's dealings was negligible other than a vague knowledge of his chores. The boy had been too young for any real responsibility, adopted in anticipation of future utility. Though he would never admit it to Nor, he was grateful that the Medicus had forced him to take the boy.
He'd never though of himself as a father, nor had he ever particularly had the urge for a family. His profession was too dangerous for him to bring a wife or child into the mix. Family could be captured, ransomed, used against a lawman. Most ships of the Emperor's most great and glorious navy even forbade their lawmen from having families at all.
Osma lived his life for the Emperor's justice. It had been his brother Namir who'd been on the path to a wife and children. Namir was supposed to carry on the family legacy.
Namir who was dead, along with his young wife.
Namir... Throne but the boy's willful spirit was like Namir's. Namir had driven their father to the point of madness with questions and observations, and it seemed as though Ephraim would do the same given time. The child was hard, too hard for a boy of five, but for a song and a story the child was willing to try and move the stars. He caught himself humming an old Amon Sui lullaby and stifled it with a cough.
Not fast enough though, Friedrich snorted and muttered something about "new fathers being worse than moon eyed lovers." The Belzafester was all too comfortable joking in public about matters best left behind closed doors. It was indecent. The man would be discussing light skirted women before the day's end.
"One more word Officer Friedrich and I will have you scrubbing pots with the new recruits," Osma grunted a slightly petulant growl. His indignation only seemed to amuse Friedrich more, that odd Belzafester humor again. How was one supposed to get any work done when every third word was taken as a joke?
Red klaxon's flashed heralding deafening sirens. The guns were firing soon, woe betide anyone who was in the way of the firing mechanisms. Osma frog marched Friedrich forward unceremoniously into one of the hexagonal safe zones marked off with hazard tape, "Come on then funny man, lets laugh in a place that won't kill you for standing in it."
Friedrich only laughed harder in reply. He really was an astoundingly strange man.
The gun batteries growled in ear-splitting staccato, massive pistons and servos shifting the titanic weapons into place. The dozen servitors dedicated to the targeting computer on each gun groaned in an unsettling chorus of tactical data and technical information, filling what little silence remained. Their glassy eyes looked past the sheer wall of the bulkhead and into space, seeing what could not be seen by the naked eye.
"Come on then you grox lipped pinch pocketed rapscallions, the Emperor can't be here personally but we can bloody well be his flaming fist in the meanwhile," The foreman was working himself into a fervor, smacking his chest with the hilt of his whip in eager rhythm. His lips worked counting down from five again and again in eagerness.
The gunners all waited with baited breath, unmoving anticipation simmering in every man jack's belly. Five four three two one, five four three two one, five four three two one. They all mouthed the words over and over again, hoping, waiting, and praying.
And then it came. The klaxons shifted from red to blue, and the floor sparked with coruscating energy off the main energy feed into the gun batteries. Brilliant arks of tessellating lighting danced along the exposed feeds, screaming and spitting as drips of oil and water fell from pipes overhead.
"Fire forward batteries, full salvo." Bellowed the voice of the captain over the loudspeaker, barely audible in the din of cheering voices and screeching metal. The gunners sung a horribly out of tune chant of victory as the final firing pistons locked into place, charged, and then... nothing.
The chanting turned to stunned disbelief as the coruscating power feeds died along with the lights, plunging the room into utter darkness and disabling the gun batteries entirely. Furious voices howled curses as darkness broke from the light of glow sticks and personal illuminators.
"Bastard Amon Sui!" Osma snarled hefting his shotgun in fury and hurrying in the direction of the closest power station, "Come Friedrich, we have work to do."
Several pregnant moments passed in silence before it occurred to Daul that the cyclonic payload that ought to have destroyed the station already had yet to arrive. It was an unfortunate peculiarity that had not been lost on Ambassador Kosh as he took it upon himself to remove the Inquisitor form the mortal coil in an astonishing burst of psychic power.
No two psychic attacks were alike; the way in which a psychic connected with the warp to draw upon its energies was deeply rooted within one's state of mind. The raving and ravenous lashing out of a chaos cultist or rabid mutant broiled with anger and filth, the roiling power of the Eldar seethed with an ancient and primal force, the sanctioned psychics of the Imperium teetered with barely controlled agitation, and even a Space Marine librarian rumbled with the force of his own conviction.
The Vorlon was none of these. The attack that ruptured Daul's left arm at the elbow and sent him tumbling backwards gave no warning, just dispassionate surgical precision. His own runic protections and psychic hood crushed under the unexpected assault, cut out from under him before they could protect him.
Searing pain was distant in his mind as he sailed through the air his eyes stared uncomprehendingly at the bloodied stump of what had once been his left arm sprayed a thick red spray of vital liquid across the deck.
He sat for a few seconds, mildly aware of the sounds of gunfire, mildly aware that he ought to be howling in pain before indulging in his agony. Wailing like a baby while grasping at the thin tendrils of visceral trailing back to his arm in a vain effort to re-attach it, Daul wallowed in pain.
The Inquisitor's mind simply refused to admit that his body had been crippled and maimed, though the rapid loss of blood aided that greatly. Bright flashes of laser fire and plasma bursts seared through the air as Daul fumbled through a satchel at his side, fingers blundering about for a syringe of pain inhibitor.
Pudgy hands grabbed him by the neck and dragged him backwards away from the fighting. The chubby cheeked secretary to the Centauri Ambassador puffed and wheezed with exertion as he moved the substantially larger Inquisitor, "Come on, come on, you need to move Inquisitor. You need to move now!"
Daul kicked his legs across the floor, hindering their progress as much as helping in his incoherence. His stump throbbed with pain from the treatment. The fingers of his remaining hand found the syringe in his bag. Without thinking he tried to remove the cap with his missing left hand, twisting his left side agonizingly into the edge of the crate Vir had chosen to shelter behind. Daul swore furiously in High Gothic and dropped the syringe into his lap.
He bit his lip and sobbed slightly staring at the blood seeping past his fingers as he did his best to compress the wound with his right hand. Hopeless Metzik words of prayer slipped from unwilling lips, "Throne help me!"
"Stop squirming and Vira'capac will fix," crooned the annoyed voice of the alien bending over him. Sinewy fingers yanked Daul's hand away, shoving an uncapped needle into the open wound and injecting a local anesthetic. Blissful lightheadedness kissed its way through Daul's butchered body.
The wide Centauri did his best to compress the wound with a silk scarf, vainly trying to stem the flow of blood, "If we don't get this sealed he's going to bleed out."
"Always problems, problems and more problems," The Kroot reached back into his mess of quills and twisted, freeing one of them from his scalp with a squelching pop. The hollow protrusion of bone dripped a viscous yellow liquid that hissed and spat as it hit the deck, a concentrated venom unique to Vira'capac, "Man things haven't learned that must listen to Vira'capac."
Vira'capac shoved Daul to the floor with his foot, then squatted upon Daul's chest, putting A torturous amount of pressure on Daul's shoulder to stem the flow of blood. A taloned hand pressed the dripping venom of the quill against the wound spreading searing mordant pain as the vitriolic liquid forced coagulation. In Vira'capac's prey it the venom caused immediate blood clots and aneurism but it might well save Daul's life.
Vir tied the blood soaked silk in a tight tourniquet around the injury, shimmering gold fabric clashing with thick red-black stains of blood. The little man's fingers shook nervously as he tied a knot of fabric. The Centauri had more of a spine than Daul would have credited him with, most professional soldiers wouldn't have had the stomach to help him.
A long gouge of psychic blue flames tore across the floor, boiling away steel and flesh with impunity. An unfortunate alliance security officer howled with agony as he was rendered down to a small puddle of smoldering viscera and cracked skeleton, his screams drowned the rapid whistling escape of steam flesh.
"Maker's curse," Vir wretched but, to his credit, managed not to lose the contents of his stomach. Though by the look on the Centauri's face, it was a near miss.
Daul allowed Vira'capac to lift him from the floor, wobbling as he reminded himself not to steady himself on the crate with his missing arm. His head swam from pain and blood loss, but there was no time for injury. The Lionhearts and human psychics fought a losing battle against, laser fire and bolter shot colliding harmlessly with a flaming corona of blue lightning protecting the snarling Vorlon.
Next to a cored out remnant of a combat servitor Cairn's broken form lay prostrate before the Vorlon, crushed legs flailing uselessly as the Skitarii lashed out with his mechandrites against the telekinetic shield as Tuul pulled him backwards. The Vorlon ignored Cairn, approaching Daul with relentless patience. Step by step, a cyclopean monster of death.
"We aren't dead." His mind was a disconnected jumble of thoughts and feelings, divorced from the raging battle and glacial advance of the Vorlon, "Eye of Horus the bastard lost his nerve... we aren't dead!"
But why? There must have been a reason... by the Throne Abbas. How could he have been so blind? He should have realized it the second that he saw Tuul. There was no way that Sáclair was going to destroy the station with Abbas on board. Sáclair's love would be his undoing.
One should never underestimate a parent's love. Daul knew that with piercing clarity.
"No... no I will not allow myself to die in this way. I am Daul bloody Hilder not some cowering wretch! You hear me you xenos son of a whore? You can't kill me!" Daul held up his remaining arm and focused his own pain and rage into one burst of psychic force. A resounding burst of purple lightning flew from his fingers, bisecting the protective telekinetic shell of the Vorlon's shield and colliding with the center mass of the encounter suit.
The irregular jeweled chest of the Vorlon flashed and sparked, the scintillating flows of energy coruscating harmlessly across the encounter suit, seemingly invigorating the Vorlon rather than harming it. It screeched something that might have been a laugh, gliding forwards purposefully.
The bolter round that collided with the unshielded encounter suit was not met with equal impunity. The explosion tossed the Vorlon a meter back and tore a sizable hole in the Vorlon's encounter suit, exposing glowing crystalline flesh beneath. Shimmering rivulets of red ichorous blood dripped from the hovering xenos. The creature smote the war servitor, exploding it's head with beam of sorcerous energies.
"Glorious," Chuckled the dull rasping whisper. a voice that Daul had never heard in his life, though his recognition was immediate. Losiencheoir hovered above him, his chains hanging from splayed limbs like some grotesque marionette. The demon leered amusedly at his captor through twisted face of what had once been Amis, eagerly anticipating his rapidly approaching freedom.
A freedom that Daul could ill afford. A tool that he could not afford to ignore, "Losiencheoir... kill."
"Of course my master." The Demonhost trilled, almost lazily, before tossing itself forwards.
John struggled to move the form of Talia Winters, aided by the surprisingly strong Imperial clergyman Al'Ashir. She groaned and muttered about something being wrong as they dragged her back into the customs lounge and away from the gunfire. It hadn't taken long for John to issue the retreat order. Once the first man turned into a pile of liquid flesh it became readily apparent that a new strategy was necessary. It hadn't taken much to convince station security that discretion was the better part of valor.
He would have order on his station but for now his priority was getting the non-combatant civilians Ambassadors out of harm's way. Let the fools kill each other.
"Is anyone on this station not completely insane today," Garibaldi swore angrily as he fought to drag a furiously kicking Delenn away from the battle. His efforts were rewarded with an odd combination of Minbari martial arts that left him clutching air. The retired Gropo staggered but reached out and grabbed the Ambassador by her hair, yanking hard. The Minbari ambassador, unaccustomed to factoring that into her self defense, yelped in surprise and dropped down on one knee, "Jesus Delenn, get a hold of yourself! We're on your side remember?"
"Mr. Garibaldi if you do not let go of me immediately I will do you great bodily harm," the Minbari ambassador exhaled deeply, struggling to get herself back in control of her emotions, "None of this was supposed to happen. None of it."
Mr. Garibaldi let go of her, his toss slightly more rough than what was strictly necessary, "What good does tossing yourself back into that nightmare do?"
"I have to try and stop them," Delenn stood up and wrung her hands together in a worrying gesture, the soft blue fabric of her robes shed little motes of dust with every shake. She wore an expression on her face that John hadn't ever seen before, a worried innocent hopelessness like a child watching her parents fighting for the first time, "This cannot be allowed to continue."
John rested his hand on her shoulder comfortingly. She stared back at him, her soulful grey eyes pooling with tears. Little rivulets of grief and pain streaked the dust and muck of the day down her cheeks, emphasizing the dimpling of her right cheek in a way that was totally inappropriate to be thinking of at the moment.
"Delenn, this is happening. It is happening to us in the here and now," Delenn turned her head, staring away from the sincerity in his voice, "If you go back into there I can't guarantee your safety and I cannot in good conscience allow you to walk to your death. You will not go back in there. Killing yourself does no good to anyone."
Delenn opened her mouth to protest but shut her teeth with a click and wiped the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her robe, "You do not understand Captain. You cannot hope to understand." She did not, however, try to re-enter the docking bay.
Michael massaged his hands, "I've had it up to here with surprises today Sir."
"We aren't done yet," John wiped the sweat from his brow and flinched as someone screamed in the cargo bay. Earlier this week he'd been thinking that he wanted to know Kosh better as a friend and ally. Today he was wondering if he should be killed. "Do you remember what happened the last time the Vorlons felt the younger races weren't playing by the rules?"
"Death-walker, just perfect." Michael groaned, "This day just keeps getting better."
Delenn's eyes widened and her face paled. The Vorlons had intervened immediately and decisively do remove Deathwalker, assassinating her as she was transported of Babylon 5. The Vorlon solution to any perceived threat to their Empire would be equally swift and permanent.
"Down fast! Danger bad times!" Screamed the Imperial priest in his haphazard patois, dropping flat against the ground as the massive and bulbous severed head of a war servitor bounced into the customs area, knocking a trio of retreating security officers down like bowling pins.
John retched but he had nothing left in his stomach to purge but a coppery taste of sick. He covered his mouth and coughed at the nauseating smell of the thick white ichorous blood of the servitor. The poor thing was long dead; it simply didn't know it yet. The decapitated servitor's wide mouth continued to work noiselessly screeching in agony, cybernetic eyes the size of oranges shifting around in apparent bewilderment.
Garibaldi shot the poor creature between its eyes. It was a small mercy.
"Garibaldi," John wiped his lips with the back of his hand, "I need you to get ready to vent the atmosphere from the docking bay. A full vent, knock all the air and expose the bay to vacuum."
"We might kill everyone in there," it was not a refusal, simply a statement of fact. Garibaldi could, and would, do anything necessary to ensure the safety of Babylon 5, "The humans and some of the Imperials weren't wearing pressure suits. And I doubt that the Vorlon will be much more than annoyed by being tossed into space."
"The ones not in pressure suits will have to get to the Imperial transport. I'm not the one who had them start a war in my docking bay but I'm will be the one to stop it," Noticing Father Al'Ashir was edging towards the door John aimed his side arm at the Imperial priest,, "I wouldn't."
"Andrews," yelled Garibaldi, "We got anyone still in the bay?"
"Gomez and Martinez are on the other side of the bay... it looked like Martinez was hurt bad. I don't think either of them had long to live a minute tops," A haggard man with a slight lisp growled, "Other than that they're all active combatants. I saw the Centauri go down behind a crate after getting strafed by Kosh... I think he's probably dead as well."
"Then seal the inner doors and vent the bay," John fired a warning shot in from of Al'Ashir when the priest twitched, clearly planning to make a break for the door, "Now."
Delenn said nothing, staring at the docking bay with an unreadable expression. She did not protest John's gentle shepherding towards the CnC, continuing her silent contemplation of the room beyond.
"Power from the main batteries has gone elsewhere milord," Donat snarled in fury disgustedly manipulating the manual controls to the ships forward guns, "Bastard Amon Sui, we can aiding demonic heresy to the list of charges we can execute them for."
"Gone? Gone where exactly?" Sáclair's heart hammered with a mix of fury and exaltation. He might well kiss the Amon Sui before he gave the order to hang them. Abbas was alive, for now. But how had they done it? He hadn't felt even the slightest hiccup from the ships control interface.
Even how he felt totally normal in his melding with the ship. He could feel the guns, he knew that he should be able to use them but they just would not respond no matter what he did. It was like the shadow of a lost limb. His body stretched and reached with long missing fingers of willpower.
"I can't tell," Donat's eyes back and forth in concentration, reading the hololithic reports intently. Had the man been able to his lip would have been curled and his brow furrowed, "The ships machine spirit is... disobeying me. I do not know why, this is Sácomer's area of expertise not my own. All I can tell you for sure is that the warp drive and guns are inoperative. "
"Figure it out Mr. Enzo," Sácomer would be of no use to them. Nor had authorized treatment for Sácomer's hysterical blubbering and near psychotic sorrow with a shot of Demeros extract. Provided that they could convince Sácomer to come back on duty it was unlikely that he'd be of use for anything more complicated than watching his own hand wave. Throne but that insufferable lush was turning out to be a liability.
"Sir I do not know what I'm supposed to do, all my status reports claim that the power is being properly routed to the guns, but the guns are not receiving any power." Donat cut in curtly. In his frustration Donat grabbed one of the hovering servo skulls. The skull screeched in protest as Donat banged in on the keyboard. Small fragments of bone cracked off with every collision upon the gilded marble runes, "There is no system error. I cannot find anything wrong with the system. Power is being drawn from the reactors but it is not going to the guns. There simply isn't anything wrong."
"Then it is not the Amon Sui," Sáclair drummed his fingers upon the arm of his throne, his skin crawling from the implication, "The Amon are not elegant enough for this sort of work. It would take the knowledge of a... of a Magos..." The word hit him like a cannon shot, knocking the breath out of him and sending him reeling. Sáclair closed his eyes immersed himself within the ship, not just passively so but bathing himself in the sensation of each individual system of the Endless Bounty.
It did not take long before he realized that the Endless Bounty, normally so willing and pliant to his every caress, was leading him on paths away from where he wished to go. His subtle nudges to the left would lead him right, he would go up in the system hierarchy and discover that he was in a totally unrelated subroutine. Mazes within mazes, traps within traps. Someone had turned his own ship against him.
It was worse than the worst violation of his trust. His ship, his body in ways more real than his moral husk could ever be had been turned against him. He felt sick, as though he were being used and discarded like the lowest of scullery maids to catch her master's eye. Someone had twisted his ship, his body and was using it against his will and judgment.
And he knew exactly to whom he must attribute this trespass. With each new twist and turn away from him that the ship's spirit twisted he screamed in his own mind, "Magos scum! Traitor! Reviler! Betrayer!" Sáclair wasn't sure if it was his own anger or that of his ancestors that boiled in his veins and set fire to all the rage he'd been holding in his heart. This was a torture of the mind to rival any of the flesh. And he would not stand for it, "No more, never again"
He could feel another presence within the ship's mind struggling against him to build new barriers within the ship's code. Dazzling lines of binary tried to bind him with cords of redundant code. Streams of logic attempted to sever him from the ships system. Resplendent data worms writhed about him, wriggling maggots searching for the weaknesses in his armor.
However the bloodline of Sáclair would not be stopped. He smashed the paper thin barriers of misdirection, crushing the elaborate halls of glass and mirrors hidden within the ship's spirit, freeing it from the invader. Victory was inevitable; the bounty was destined to be one with Sáclair.
The invader, seeing defeat in sight, released hold of the ships systems. The entrance by which the usurper entered the system was scourged, all traces of their identity purged from the system. It could never be proven who had done it without a shadow of a doubt. But Sáclair knew, he'd known from the first second he felt the elegance and poise of her defenses. He'd known as soon as his attacker had avoided trying to damage any necessary systems in the assault. The truly great betrayers were always those seeking to do no harm.
The power has been shunted away from weapons and into the shields. It was a clever way to avoid detection, innovative even. Almost as elegant as the way in which the psychical energy shunt had been hidden from him. Kerrigan had always been urbane; it was only fitting that her betrayal should be just as magnificent.
Magos obviously defied his orders, continuing work on an escape plan for the Inquisitor.
Sáclair opened his eyes and reached for a ruby command rune in the center of his private controls. The blood red stone gave way beneath his finger satisfyingly, sounding warning klaxons throughout the ship. There was battle to be done if he was going to salvage what was left of this, "I need the Lionhearts at full battle readiness. Find the Magos now. "
The astropathic indicator sounded over the battle klaxons, shrill whine adding to the din. Sáclair massaged his temples and manipulated the runes on his throne to display the combat heads up display on the great hololithic projector, "Of course the Earth Alliance fleet is early. Why wouldn't they be? It only stands to reason that with everything else that's..."
His furious rant turned to blind panic as he got a good look at the Battlecruiser, three escort ships, and their accompanying fighters that appeared from the swirling blue wormholes of light at the edge of the holo-display. He recognized them immediately, how could he not? They were smaller than the ships Faust had unearthed on Belzafest but the resemblance was unmistakable, though absent of black flesh and spines that the heretic warship held.
"Blood of The Emperor... Faust," the bastard had found them. And he'd come prepared, "Shields to maximum, evasive pattern E, and get me my damn guns online."
"流口水的婊子和猴子的笨兒子" Captain Li Xingjian's statement was colorful as always. Vorlon ships were uncommon; a man might go his entire lifetime without catching more than a glimpse of a Vorlon transport. One most certainly did not see a full Vorlon assault fleet, "What are they doing here?"
"We're receiving a transmission from them sir," Ensign Daniels cupped the headphone to his ear, listening intently. The Vorlons had a frustrating habit of transmitting demands in Interlac rather than actually responding to hails. His nose scrunched with confusion, "They're saying... The third must not be. The third will end."
"And the rest of it?" Klaus said, "The third of what?"
"They didn't say sir. They just said 'the third must not be. The third will end." Daniels shook his head looking down at his consul, "They're not transmitting any more. That was the whole message."
"Apparently someone does get that message. The Imperials have activated shields and are moving closer to the planet's gravity well," Ensign Peter's said from her spot at telemetry, "And they've deployed fighters... they've deployed a lot of fighters."
"Does Babylon 5 have any cameras out there?" Klaus leaned over the Ensign, perusing the data with great interest. Klaus was always thinking, always plotting. He was a stiff and boring sod, but he wasn't a slouch.
"On the main screen," Li waved his fingers expectantly. The monitor flashed to a scene on the far side of the planet. The Endless Bounty was hidden in a cluster of space debris, taking refuge behind the remains of a shattered Sharlin. The image flickered and blurred at odd moments, distorted by the cloud of radioactive gasses left over by the Sharlin's explosion.
"Sáclair is a crafty bastard I'll give him that," chuckled Klaus, "Whatever these shields are they play all merry hell with the surrounding radiation. Targeting individual fighters would be a nightmare in that."
"Not crafty enough I suspect," Li chuckled darkly. Tricks and games would work on many of the known races but the Vorlon reputation was well earned. Stories of entire war fleets disappearing after entering Vorlon space were more than mere myth. Legends given flesh and form.
Green darts flashed across distant space, a perverse beauty in their deadliness. They split from the Vorlon cruisers like flowering buds caught in a spring wind, elegantly twirling through the gaseous debris of Epsilon III. The flowering buds split into two groups, parting way for pulsing lances of Energy. The vicious verdant blast lanced through the gaseous debris and collided with the defensive screens of the Endless Bounty, exploding with a flaring pulse of radiation.
The image flickered into a deafening burst of static, the robot carrying the camera and likely any others in viewing distance of the Imperial ship had been rendered inoperative. Not that Li needed to see anything, his course of action was clear, "All hands to battle stations. Prepare targeting solutions for the Vorlon ships."
The bridge crew examined him with mixed looks of shock and horror. Obscured by bandages bruises and burns terrified eyes stared at him, clearly believing him mad. Klaus tapped his ears, apparently checking that they were still in working order, "Firing solutions on the Vorlons sir?"
"They've opened fire on a ship in Earth Alliance territory. I will not allow my personal feelings to undermine my duties as an Earthforce officer and we will not allow foreign powers to fight their wars in our space. Sheridan was abundantly clear in his orders that the Endless Bounty was under Earthforce protection," Li gnashed his teeth in irritation. The timing of this was too convenient. Sheridan knew that the Vorlons were coming, he had to have known. This was a ploy to discredit Li and his fellow officers, a plot to force them to disobey direct orders by not acting.
Well Li would not fall for it. And if Sheridan took the heat for getting the Earth Alliance in military conflict with the Vorlons that would simply be an added bonus. They may die, but there were worse things than death in the service of one's nation. Li would not make himself less of a man. He bellowed at the still gaping Klaus, "What are you waiting for? Launch fighters, and tell the commanders of what remains of our fleet to do the same. I'm taking command of this fight. "
Klaus swallowed and shook his head, visibly ill at the idea of fighting the Vorlons, "Sir I cannot comply with that order. It is insane."
"You have questioned my orders twice now Lt. Meyer. Do it a third time and I will have you arrested, taken to the brig, and court marshaled," Li narrowed his eyes and spat on the ground, a green globule of phlegm splattering on Klaus' polished leather shoes, "Complete my orders, now."
"Yes sir," Klaus nearly swallowed his tongue. The German was a proud and clever man but he was a coward. A little boy who joined the Army to play soldier but didn't want to play any more when the other team has better toys. Well all little boys had to grow up sooner or later.
The lights dimmed from sterile white to ominous sanguine red, setting the mood for the carnage to come. The view-screen's blurry mess of static gave way to a tactical display of Epsilon III, fed through the Babylon Five battle network. Blurry mass of dark blue sensor haze fluttered about in a dizzying surge from the hyperspace gate. Shimmering echoes the only real indicators that the Vorlon ships even existed.
His ship's engines were not operating at peak efficiency, even after the repairs they'd managed to do in the past day he could only hope for half speed at best. The other ships in the fleet weren't in substantially better states; none of them had been prepared for combat so soon. They needed at least another week in the dry docks to re-supply and repair but needs were musts, or so the saying goes.
He would accept the challenge.
He would win.
He was a survivor.
The Enginseer's maintenance corridors had been designed for ensuring the safety of the crew during a meltdown or depressurization. The long stretches of corridor were broken up by regularly occurring bulkheads and barriers, guarded by servitors and the Enginseers themselves.
He'd never even remotely considered that the ship's own defenses might be used by mutineers, much less by Magos Kerrigan. It was some small consultation that the men he'd assigned to guarding the entrance corridor to the teleporter had not accepted Kerrigan's mutiny. Provided that he could piece the bodies back together to figure out who'd been on duty they would get full military honors at their funerals.
Kerrigan was twenty bulkheads and a half mile of corridor filled with war servitors and servants of the Magos away from the Lionhearts. But nobody could stand up to the might of the Lionhearts onboard the Endless Bounty, or anywhere else for that matter. And Kerrigan was facing the entire might of the Lionhearts. Not a man jack had been left behind, save those too ill or too young for combat. Even so they were stretched thin; groups of twenty had been deployed to each of the computer terminals or power stations she could potentially be conducting operations from. None of which could be reached without breaching station defenses.
Even the aging Maziv had been conscripted into helping take down the rogue Magos. Not that they could have stopped him from coming even if the old fox had been ordered to stay behind once Danzig issued a code red alert over the Lionheart's comm. net. Maziv retired from heading the Lionhearts decades ago in practice, but never in spirit. The man was near blind in his milky white left eye and his legs cracked audibly when he ran but put a gun in that man's hands and he could work magic with it. In place of himself Danzig give Maziv the duty of guarding Sáclair, it would keep the old man out of harm's way without harming his pride or sense of duty.
He held up his fist and swept his open palm behind him, his fingers shifting in staccato hand talk to the company of men behind him. They lay belly to the floor on the wide staircase leading to the main repository of the ship's machine spirit. "Ten servitors at the door, unknown servo skulls overhead, they don't seem to have spotted anyone yet, snipers take your shots."
Ozone crackled and sparked past his face, white hot beams of energy rocketing across the corridor and bursting the bulbous bodied servitors like ripe melon. The skulls hissed and swarmed the Lionhearts. Their distorted screaming cries echoed off of the high gothic stonework of the ceiling, giving a disturbing musical cadence to the flying servitors.
Danzig fired into the mass of skulls with his plasma gun, burning a handful to cinders. His whoop of victory was short lived as he tumbled backwards in an acrobatic dodge. Gibbering skulls sliced his retreating form with cutting torches, scorching the hem of his patterned silk trousers. He smashed the offending machines with the butt of his rifle snarling as one of them cut his thigh, staining the silk a deeper shade of crimson, "Breaching team advance and blow the bulkhead. Cover them!"
The newly promoted Sgt. Hamman cackled with perverse glee as he slowly waded forwards at the head of his newly formed squad, keeping the swarms of skulls at bay with his beloved flamethrower. His men fired into the advancing swarms with shotguns between gouts of fire, shattering bone and electronics in a hail of shrapnel. The tight circle protected two men hefting innocuous double barreled contraptions, deceptive in their banality. The multi-melta was one of the deadliest hand held anti-armor weapons in the imperial arsenal. Once fired the device would agitate the subatomic structure of its target, literally cooking it from the inside out. Flesh and metal would burn away with ease.
"Movement upper service corridor six o' clock high," Sergei's voice whispered across the hallway, spirited directly into Danzig's ear through his comm. bead, "We got company."
"Ours or theirs?" Whispered one of the new recruits, the fear in his eyes emphasized by the baby fat still hanging from narrow cheeks. The boy should be learning his letters, not fighting on the front lines. Throne had they come to this? Sending children to fight, it was barbaric.
Danzig ducked into the relative cover of an alcove and pulled out his field glasses, squinting towards the distant scaffolding. Overlooking Sergei's position thirty yards down the corridor in front of their exit route. He could just make out the shape of hooded men fumbling with something before dropping to the ground, fumbling with something on a tripod, "Theirs! Sergei it's a crow's nest! Take cover."
"Where?" snarled the furious voice of Sergei, "Throne help us. We designed this damn corridor to be a slaughterhouse to anyone stupid enough to attack it."
The multi-laser twittered eagerly, firing green death into the men below. There was nowhere for the soldiers to run. Danzig snapped his field glasses shut, ill at the sight of his old companion Bal'tha's cooked and blackened chest. The Lionhearts opened fire on the scaffolding, but there was no way to get a line of sight on the gunners without throwing oneself in direct line of fire with the gun.
It was too far for grenades, too far for plasma fire or meta-fire. Damn and blast how were they going to take that damnable crow's nest out?
Three cracks echoed into the scaffolding, brilliant bolts of laser fire cutting into the robed men crouching with the tripod. Three heads dropped listlessly to the ground. Sala'ha's reaction times improved since Belzafest it would seem. The man swayed back and forth from his perch on a massive bass relief, nestled between an enormous marble nostril and a curving obsidian scrap of mustache. How Sala'ha had even managed to climb the face that quickly was a mystery but one should never look a gift grox in the mouth.
"Hamman I need that door open," Dazig snarled over his comm. bead, "Those three weren't part of the ship's automated defenses. She's here. She's in here."
The two multi-meltas opened fire upon the bulkhead with a humming growl. There was no bright flash or muzzle flare to indicate fire, only a hazy column of buzzing distortion and a bright patch of heating metal on the door. The air in the passageway shifted with the abrupt introduction of the new heat source, wafting the sickly sweet odor of scorched flesh into Danzig's nostrils. It disturbed him that the scent no longer disquieted his stomach.
Two minutes and they'd break through the first barrier to the next round of defenses. Twenty layers of two more minutes at a time while the ship was helpless. Damn Kerrigan's arrogance, damn her to the pit.
She would kill them all.
John crossed the threshold of the CnC, only dimly aware that he was leading Father Al'Ashir and Delenn. At what point was he going to get to just wake up from this nightmare? The Vorlons were staging a military operation in Earth Alliance territory. On his station, "No more."
Pushing Al'Ashir down into a chair next to a burnt out control consul and holstering his firearm John grabbed a status report from an exhausted Lt. Corwin. The Lieutenant parroted back a slipshod salute at John before a jumbled rush of words tumbled unintelligibly from his lips. The Lieutenant swallowed shook his head and continued in a more coherent fashion, sparing a look for Delenn and the priest, "Sir the Vorlons have opened fire on the Endless Bounty outside the operational range of our station defenses."
"Just perfect," John watched the distant green lances of energy, his heart pounding in his ears. The Vorlon ships were stronger than even the Minbari, far beyond even the best of the Earth Alliance Navy, "Can we scramble fighters in time?"
"I already gave the order as soon as they started shooting sir," Lt. Corwin stuttered over the word 'order,' clearly uncomfortable to take responsibility for military action against the Vorlon ships, "When Captain Xingjian issued the order to protect the Endless Bounty I..."
"Captain Xingjian?" Sheridan cut in incredulously. Xingjian's temper was second only to his stubbornness, so soon after suffering a defeat at the hands of the Endless Bounty Sheridan believed Xingjian would have to be dragged into the fight kicking and screaming the whole way, "Are the other ships fighting as well."
"Yes sir, what is left of Major Pearce's fleet has moved to assist the Imperial ship," Lt. Corwin shook his head, "But it won't be enough sir. Not even close."
"Show me," John said in resignation, waving at the view screen in annoyance, "And send a distress call to General Hague. We need his relief fleet here yesterday."
"And for God's sake somebody get a communication line open with the Imperials so they know who the friendlies in this fight are!"
"Garibaldi wants to know if you think it's safe to open the doors to the docking bay yet,"
"Captain," Delenn walked across the room and rested the fingers of her left hand in the center of his back, a gesture deliberately platonic in its pleading intimacy. They trembled slightly as she leant down see the tactical readout, "You need to trust Kosh. There are things that you do not know, that you can not know."
John brushed her arm aside, anger simmering just beneath his skin. He gripped her wrist tightly and growled through clenched teeth, "Then tell me. What is it that I should know? What is it that I need to understand? Why should I ignore the Vorlon war fleet attacking the people who just saved my station?"
"The wisdom of the older races isn't always immediately clear," Delenn pulled her wrist back and continued with a look of supreme serenity that clashed greatly with her torn robes and tousled hair, "But understanding is not important, only obedience."
"Ambassador I am not Minbari. I do not obey orders to murder an entire species without question," the insult left his mouth before he'd considered the severity of it. The words impacted with Delenn like a freight train, crushing her spirit faster than even the demon could have managed. Her eyes quivered with emotion as he asked, "Why am I to stop?"
"The Vorlons have their reasons," Delenn swallowed, "They aren't always obvious but..."
"But they're killing people on my station all the same," John shook his head, "Delenn, Kosh outright slaughtered a dozen people on my station without so much as a hello. If that is the sort of wisdom he's espousing then I want nothing to do with it."
Real pain tinted her voice as she spoke the words, "Captain, please... you cannot defeat them."
"I'm hoping not to have to," John nodded. A plan, nebulous though it was, formed in his head, "I'm hoping this can be resolved but I need your help. I need to stop the violence before we end up with a war between the Vorlons and Empire with Earth in the middle."
"War," Delenn's voice hitched and she closed her eyes tightly, steeling herself for what came next, "What do you want me to do?"
"It's time to reconnect with an old friend," John pointed at the display, tapping his finger upon Epsilon III, "One I believe might be able to help."