DISCLAIMER: I don't own Babylon 5 or any of the characters represented in the show. They're owned by JMS and other people who aren't me. I'm doing this for fun - I'm not making a profit, monetary or otherwise off of this. No copyright infringement is implied/meant/deliberate in any way, shape or form. If I've forgotten something, insert the usual disclaimer stuff here.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Fire and Ice
By Del Robertson
"Commander!" Lt. Corwin shouted from his station. "I'm receiving a sharp rise in tachyon emissions. Jump point firing in Sector Seven."
"Are they insane?!?" Ivanova instantly looked up from her console in C & C. "That's practically in our laps!"
Commander Ivanova stood on the platform located directly in front of the main viewport in C & C. Her posture reflected that of her military training, confident and unwavering, showing no outwards sign of fear. In contrast, the faces of the officers in her charge gave away their youth and inexperience. More than one glanced apprehensively in the Commander's direction.
If she felt their appraising looks, she gave no indication. Her gaze was fixed unwaveringly on the blue and yellow lights forming against the blackness of space outside the station. Inexplicably, a large, lumbering mass of twisted metal came hurtling out of the jumpgate.
"Open a channel!" Commanded Ivanova. "I want to speak to whoever's in charge of that floating monstrosity!" She glanced to her left, laser-like gaze raking over Corwin. "Now!"
"Yes, Commander!" He saluted, began punching buttons on his console in rapid succession. She waited patiently as he adjusted his earpiece. "No answer on any channel, sir."
"Scramble Zeta Wing. I want that ship scanned, towed, docked and out of my shipping lanes fifteen minutes ago!"
"Aye, sir." Lt. Corwin acknowledged, snapping a sharp salute at his commanding officer as she stormed out of C & C, leaving a flurry of activity in her wake.
By the time Commander Ivanova arrived, the ship had been successfully berthed. She joined Captain Sheridan and Security Chief Garibaldi behind a plexi-glass shield erected from floor to ceiling. She stood, hands clasped behind her back, watching as the last of the equipment used to bring her in was cleared from Bay Thirteen. Several flat screen monitors were mounted directly onto the plexi, offering close-up computer images of the ship.
She was huge, taking up nearly the entire expanse of the bay. One of the fuselage tanks was missing. From the burn marks and twisted metal, it looked as if the tank had caught fire, then exploded. The crew was lucky the entire ship hadn't gone up in flames. Scorch marks marred the length of the hull, from stern to stem. The bow of the ship was covered in ice, the pilot's view port frozen over, making it impossible to see into the cockpit. Icy tendrils stretched from the bow, reaching its cold expanse over charred metal all the way to the ship's large passenger door.
"She looks like a derelict, Captain," Garibaldi assessed, monitoring one of the screens as a remote security camera panned across the expanse of the ship's hull.
"Looks like space junk to me," Ivanova piped in. "Look at her. She's a wreck. Even Raiders wouldn't want a piece of her."
"What she is, Commander," Sheridan spoke in awe, eyes riveted to the ship in question, "is a mystery."
"Sir?" Ivanova felt her eyebrow quirk.
"She's been through fire and ice, Commander. Who knows what she's seen, where she's been. Who knows what's aboard her." His eyes sparkled as he thought of the adventure awaiting them. "Why, at this point, we don't even know her name."
"With all due respect, sir," Garibaldi discreetly coughed. "It'll be at least twenty-four hours before she thaws enough to read her insignias. Techs tell me we can't risk thawing her by conventional means due to the fragile nature of her hull integrity. Wouldn't want a soldering iron slicing through the hull and causing a spark. She's already been through one fire, who's to say she's stable enough to not explode?"
"And, it'll take me about eight hours to run the medical scans on her," Dr. Franklin interrupted, joining the group. He was accompanied by Ms. Winters and two medical technicians.
He wore a large eva-suit, as did the techs that were escorting him. Dr. Franklin gave a curt nod of his head, efficiently signaled with his index and forefinger. Without a word, his techs broke off, moving to the far end of the plexi-shield.
Ms. Winters remained at Dr. Franklin's side. However, her attention remained riveted on the techs. They donned their helmets, punched a four-digit code into a keypad located on the wall. A door whooshed open, allowing the techs entry into another chamber. Once there, they keyed a code into another pad. Adjusting their equipment, they stepped through the door and into the bay.
Ivanova studied Ms. Winters with a practiced eye. The normally calm, composed commercial telepath seemed to be in a state of agitation. Her mouth was drawn into a fine, thin line; her eyes darted hastily back and forth. She was obviously torn between observing the techs and studying the ship.
"Please, Dr. Franklin," she implored, "They shouldn't be in there."
"Now, relax, Ms. Winters. I assure you everything is fine," he patted Talia's arm reassuringly. "After we take readings and have a chance to analyze them," Franklin continued, "We'll be able to determine whether or not she's contaminated. Wouldn't want to risk exposing the entire station to some big, nasty bug, now would we?"
"Dr. Franklin - " Talia interrupted again.
"If I may ask, what exactly are you doing down here, Ms. Winters?" Ivanova cast a menacing glare in the blonde's direction. "I was under the impression this was a restricted area, accessible only to those with the proper security clearance."
She turned her withering glare on Garibaldi. He had the decency to blush beneath her stare. It was no secret that the Chief of Security had a crush on the telepath and had been known on more than one occasion to bend the rules, taking her on guided tours of some of the lesser traveled areas of Babylon 5. Areas that no one outside the command staff should know exist, much less have access to.
"Wasn't me," Garibaldi whistled, placing his hands in his front pockets, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. Even then, he didn't pose the picture of pure innocence.
"I'm afraid it's my fault," Dr. Franklin interjected. "I ran into Ms. Winters in the corridor and she was adamant about speaking with the Captain. I didn't think there'd be any harm in bringing her along."
"There are proper channels," Ivanova turned her ire on the doctor.
"And, in the future, I'm sure both the doctor and Ms. Winters will follow those channels," interjected Captain Sheridan, stepping forward. "Now, Ms. Winters, what was so imperative that you felt the need to coerce Dr. Franklin into allowing you access to the hanger bay?"
"There's danger, Captain Sheridan," Talia began.
"Someone going to blow up the station? An assassination attempt, perhaps?" Whatever it was, Sheridan knew Garibaldi was probably already all over it. Nothing happened on Babylon 5 that the chief of security wasn't aware of.
"No, it's nothing like that," Talia glanced at the plexi-shield and the shuttle bay. "The danger's on the ship."
"The ship?" Sheridan looked stunned. "How did you come by this information, Ms. Winters? Did you pick this up from a close-proximity scan? Who else knows about this?"
"No, no, I didn't scan anyone, Captain Sheridan." Talia's expression was a contorted mask of confusion. She repeatedly wrung her hands as she spoke to the command staff. "I know this is going to sound - " she paused, took a deep breath, visibly attempted to relax. " - odd, but it's not anything that I scanned or overheard or anything like that. It's just - " another slight pause " - a feeling I have."
"A feeling?" Ivanova pounced on that. "You breached security and insisted we break off our investigation of an unknown ship because you have a feeling?"
"It's more than that," Talia turned pleading eyes to the stoic Russian commander. "No one was privy to the arrival of that ship. I shouldn't have known that vessel was here, right?" She waiting for a begrudging nod from Ivanova. "Yet, I sensed it. I felt it pulling me to it, directing me to where it was."
"You're saying the ship's sentient, like Kosh's?" asked Garibaldi.
"No," Talia shook her head, "Nothing like that. But, there is something aboard. Something dangerous, I'm sure of it. I get these thoughts, these feelings. And it feels like - " She broke off, feeling ridiculous.
"There's no need to censure yourself, Ms. Winters," pressed Sheridan. "What does it feel like?"
Talia's pupils imperceptibly widened; she choked back a gasp. " - like death."
"All I'm saying is you could have gone a little easier on Ms. Winters," Garibaldi voiced as he sipped his drink. "The poor woman was obviously spooked."
Susan quirked an eyebrow. "You sure you want to do this here?" She glanced meaningfully around Earharts, noting how crowded the bar was. "Delta Wing's here."
"I'm not talking business." Garibaldi visibly cringed. The bar was packed. And, by the rules, anyone caught conducting official business in Earharts had to buy a round for the entire bar. "I'm just talking about a woman that was scared enough to come looking for us, and you treated her like crap."
"That woman disregarded protocol and entered a restricted area," Ivanova hissed, hurriedly glancing around to make sure their conversation wasn't overheard.
"She had an escort," Garibaldi reminded her.
"Yeah, and she had an escort out as well," Ivanova grinned at the memory.
"Why are you so hard on her?" Michael persisted. "I know you're not the most outgoing person in the universe, but you've never made an effort to get along with Talia."
"I'm Russian." Susan arched an eyebrow at Michael's blank look, expecting that statement summed up everything. Judging from his expression, further explanation was needed. "We don't like things we don't understand. And, I don't understand that woman."
"Same could be said for all women. I don't understand any of them. But, I find I like them just fine." That crack earned a rueful smile from Ivanova. "Listen, I've checked her out, she seems okay to me. What is it that's bugging you?"
Susan audibly sighed. Once Garibaldi was onto something, he was like a dog after a bone. He'd pester her half the night until she'd finally explode, telling him exactly what he wanted to know, anyway. Better to save the agony of a Garibaldi-induced headache and enjoy the vodka, she thought. "For starters, that ship is in a restricted area. How did she even know it was here, let alone which bay it was in?"
"It's a big ship," Garibaldi shrugged. "And, a small station. Everyone in C & C saw that thing come out of the jump point. Maybe some of your officers went off-duty, casually mentioned it in the corridor. It got picked up and spread like wildfire from there. Like I said, big ship, small station."
"Then, how'd she know which bay the ship was in?" persisted Ivanova.
In answer, Garibaldi glanced at the fighter pilots ordering shots at the bar. Typical of the sort after a mission, they were rowdy and loud and blowing off steam with exaggerated tales of bravado. He subtly jerked his head in the direction of one particular blowhard that was telling how he single-handedly shot down four Raiders.
"You sent a squad to intercept the ship." He waited for Ivanova's nod of confirmation before continuing. "Pilots talk after a mission. A lot. Especially after they've gotten sauced and tried to pick up a pretty girl or two. Some hotshot was probably chatting up a Centauri dancing girl and wanted to impress her."
"I still don't like it," Ivanova groused, staring into the amber liquid in her glass. "She said she sensed there was death on that ship. Someone like her should not know of such things." She swirled the contents of her glass in agitation.
Garibaldi reached out, laying a hand on Ivanova's arm, stilling her movements. "Look, there are lots of things in the universe I don't know. Even more things I don't want to know. But, if there's one thing I've learned, it's to go with my gut. And, my gut tells me Talia is on the up-and-up." He waited until Ivanova looked at him, meeting his gaze. "That's why when we open up that tin can in the morning, I'm bringing a full complement of security guards."
Ivanova downed the last of her vodka. "What time are we meeting?" she asked.
Garibaldi went bug-eyed. "You're coming?"
"Father always told me; Susan, meet what troubles you head-on." She grinned playfully. "Besides, Sheridan is positively glowing from the thought of solving some deep, dark mystery. Someone has to keep him from being underfoot."
Garibaldi chuckled heartily. "That's one of the things I like about you, Susan." He thumped Ivanova on the back. "Always looking out for me." He signaled the bartender to bring another round."
That earned an answering grin from Susan. They agreed to table all talk of the Captain and Ms. Winters and the mysterious ship in the hanger for the rest of the evening and simply enjoy the good company of two friends. Good company, Ivanova silently echoed, tapping the brim of her fresh glass of vodka against Garibaldi's tumbler of water.
Several hours later, a lone figure stalked the corridors of Babylon 5. This time of night, this far from the Zocalo and the habitat ring, the area was deserted. Dim lighting from the emergency lamps cast eerie shadows on every wall as far as the eye could see. Military-issue boots echoed in the otherwise silent halls, disrupting the night.
Taking a left down a side corridor, stalking the length of the hall in determined silence, the boots stopped in front of a set of sealed double-doors. Inserting a hand into blue uniform trousers, fingers nimbly extracted a plastic identi-card. Swiping it quickly over the scanner, the card was once again pocketed as the doors whooshed open.
Standing in front of the plexi-shield, eyes narrowed as they studied the ship that lay in the hanger bay. She was dark, mysterious, quiet. Like a giant slumbering for a thousand years. The lighting behind the shield was also on emergency power only, creating a haunting sight. It would be simple to imagine something sinister lurked in her belly, waiting to take them all when the time was right.
A strong hand reached out, fingers flicking on the audio switch that rested against the wall. The speakers crackled to life with a short burst of static. Then, nothing. Everything was quiet. Just as it should be.
Ears perked, hearing something over the speakers. Something faint in the background noise. Wet on metal. Wet on wet. Eyes narrowed, searching the length of the hanger, attempting to discern the source of the sound.
On hesitant feet, the dress blue uniform was drawn closer. Boots gave away the approach of each step, pausing only when they stopped before the plexi-door. Fingers reached out, slowly keying in the four-digit access code on the keypad. The outer door opened, granting access to the inner chamber. Shoulders squared, eyes riveted to the ship, the decision to step forward was unconsciously made.
From here, a mere five feet closer, the ship loomed impossibly larger. Eyes focused, constricted to the area nearest the passenger door. The icy tendrils that had surrounded, covered the expanse of the door hours ago had receded somewhat. Hinges that had been awash in a sea of ice were now thawed, the dim lighting casting an unnatural gleam over the wet rust. Drip by drip, water fell from the metal bulk to land in rust-colored puddles on the deck below. Each drop reverberated loudly, echoing throughout the hanger, into the speakers, cutting the silence in the observation area behind the plexi-shield.
Each breath came as an audible gasp, sounding loudly in too-sensitive ears. Warm breath quickly fogged the cold glass, causing a hand to reach out, clear the mist with one swipe. The fog quickly returned. Trembling fingers followed the expanse of the glass, caressing the form of the keypad. Three digits were entered in rapid succession.
Indecision set in, eyes narrowed on the keypad as fingers hung suspended in thick air, hesitatingly rubbing together in contemplation. Taking a deep breath, an index finger was extended, reaching for the last digit. The pad of a finger hovered over the keypad, an imperceptible hair's breadth from the number seven.
Resolutely, closing fingers into a balled fist, Commander Susan Ivanova jerked her hand roughly from the keypad. She retreated towards the sanctity of the outer chamber, letting loose an audible sigh as she leaned against the safety of the plexi-shield. She cast a wary glance at the ship. It seemingly mocked her with its silent presence, daring her to come forward again. Straightening her uniform, jutting her chin forward proudly, she marched towards the exit.
If she had looked back, she might have seen the shadow skitter across the cockpit.
Garibaldi paced the length of the room, his quick gaze darting furtively to the plexi-shield and back again. One hand in his pocket, the other on his firearm, he stalked back and forth, his combat boots echoing on the metal plating. As he turned to pace the length of the room yet again, he thought he caught something move in his peripheral vision.
He stopped in front of the glass, his back to the entry door, staring at the ship resting in the hanger. It looked much the same as yesterday, a derelict towed in, not fit for scraps. Yesterday, though, with the Captain and Ivanova and the rest of the staff that had been on hand - well, she didn't look quite so menacing.
"Gives me the heebie-jeebies," he mumbled to himself. He heard the soft whoosh of the door opening behind him, felt the sudden rush of cool air upon his back. Instinctively, he spun, bringing his PPG up in the same instant. "Hold it!" he ordered.
"Whoa!" shouted Ivanova, taking a half-step backwards, both palms raised in the air. "It's just me, Chief."
"Sorry." He smiled sheepishly, holstered his weapon. "Guess I'm just a little on edge. Haven't had my first cup of coffee."
"That synthetic swill you drink gives coffee a bad name," Ivanova chastised.
"You're late." Garibaldi switched gears immediately. He knew she had a contraband supply growing in the hydroponics bay, but as chief of security, he couldn't publicly acknowledge that. "Thought we agreed to meet at 0700."
"You know it's hard for me to get up in the mornings," Ivanova shrugged, glancing around the empty hanger. "Where is everyone?"
"Ah, well there's the rub, you see." Garibaldi ran a hand through his thinning hair. "Seems the Narn and Centauri decided to have a little gangbang in the Zocalo this morning. Most of my people are down there trying to keep a lid on things. Could only spare a couple," He amiably nodded at the two security guards that had just walked in the door. "Franklin and his folks are busy cleaning up the after-party."
"Sheridan?" Ivanova asked, already suspecting the answer.
"Firmly entrenched in an emergency session with the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. They wanted to convene immediately about the growing threat of the Narn/Centauri brawl. He asked that we go ahead without him."
"Leaving just the four of us to investigate a ship that size?" she asked, staring at the looming monster waiting behind the plexi-shield. She sighed audibly. Face your demons head-on. "Let's get this party started."
"Don't forget your party favors," Garibaldi smiled, handing over a spare PPG and flashlight.
Ivanova securely fastened the holster about her waist, adjusted the PPG for comfort. Testing the flashlight, turning it on and then off, she easily slipped it beneath the waistband created by belt and holster. Mumbling beneath her breath about Garibaldi's inadequate hosting skills and the lack of alcohol at this party, she resolutely followed him into the inner chamber.
The flashlight beam reflected off the dark interior of the ship. Squinting, Garibaldi clutched his flashlight tightly in one hand, his PPG in the other. The large outer door that they had finally managed to pry open led into a long, darkened corridor. The emergency lighting had long since gone out, leaving only useless light tubes lining the length of the corridor as far as the eye could see. Taking a deep breath, Security Chief Michael Garibaldi took the first hesitant step onto the ship.
"Air's stale, but breathable," he observed.
Ivanova followed close on Garibaldi's heels, eyes scanning furtively. They still didn't have a name on her, but it was obvious the ship had been drifting in space for quite a while. How long did a ship this size have before it exhausted its emergency lighting power cells?, she wondered. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as they explored farther into the darkened corridor.
We should be seeing doorways leading to the other parts of the ship soon, she reasoned, crew quarters and stations, the cockpit. She fought down a reflexive shiver. She realized what must lay in those rooms. There were only two possibilities. Either the crew escaped in shuttles - or they were still onboard. She didn't expect anyone left on the ship to be found alive. But, if that's true, why are the air recyclers still functioning?
An audible grinding sound echoed throughout the ship as the air recyclers kicked in. Ivanova paused in mid-step, arched on the balls of her feet, eyes searching the darkness as she listened intently. A rumbling sound, almost like thunder rushed up through the bowels of the ship. Almost immediately, waves of fresh air poured forth from the vents, creating a mini-breeze in the tight corridor. The Commander fastened a standard issue velcro-strip around her wrist, secured her flashlight squarely on top. She adjusted the lens, narrowing the beam of light it produced. Cautiously, she eased her PPG from its holster.
"Let's go," Garibaldi instructed, signaling his team to follow him.
"Into the lair of the wolf," Ivanova mumbled beneath her breath.
"He has turned Babylon 5 into his own personal weapons depot!" G'Kar shouted, slamming his fist down on the conference table.
"G'Kar, that situation was addressed long ago," Captain Sheridan responded with practiced patience. "Ambassador Mollari and his government has assured us that there will be no further attempts to smuggle weapons on or off the station."
"You see, Captain?" asked Londo, leaning in, sneering across the table at his rival. "His is so firmly entrenched in his delusions that he no longer knows what it is he's here to raise formal protest about!"
"I protest to all of your race's atrocities against my people!" protested G'Kar. "The invasion of our colonies, the imprisonment and subsequent slavery of our citizens, the indiscriminate slaughter of our wives and children!"
"We civilized your world, freely gave our knowledge to your backward, primitive ancestors. Taught them the secrets of space flight!" Londo volleyed back at G'Kar. "And, afterwards, your people rose up and slaughtered the very scientists, the colonists that had aided them!"
"After those scientists and colonists - " G'Kar put as much disdain as possible into the titles, " - butchered three-hundred of our esteemed elderly as an example to any who would not - or could not - work bringing ore up from the mines!"
"That's it! That's enough!" Sheridan shouted, "From the both of you!"
He leveled menacing looks around the room, at both Ambassadors. His nostrils flared, the veins in his neck bulged with barely restrained anger. His features softened only somewhat as his sweeping gaze landed on the commercial telepath seated at the end of the table. Her head was lowered, and she was rubbing both temples with her fingers. Clearly, the level of animosity in the room was having an adverse effect upon the telepath.
"Are you okay?" Captain Sheridan asked, lowering his voice to a more appropriate level.
Talia looked up, attempting to stave off the waves of hostility battering at her defenses. She always loathed sitting in on diplomatic discussions between G'Kar and Londo. Their open hatred for each other made her job unbearably difficult as it was - but when you added layers of lies and deceit to any negotiation - it literally drained her of all her reserve energy. "I'll be fine," she managed to gasp out.
"Who is telling the truth?" asked Captain Sheridan, suddenly struck with a novel idea. If the telepath could sense who was lying about the past, it might bring about a peaceful resolution to future events. Certainly, once disclosed, that information could be used to sway the opinion of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. He smiled, thinking that perhaps he had stumbled upon the solution to end a brewing war.
Talia looked at G'Kar, her gaze settling upon the proud Narn warrior. Then, her gaze shifted, flickering across the table, landing upon the charismatic Centauri diplomat. She finally settled her sights on Sheridan, patiently waiting, an expectant smile lingering on his lips. "They both are," she stated, levelly. "In both their minds, they are the victims of the other and both fight to defend their races from the devastation brought by each other."
"You mean," Sheridan's smile fell, "They're both right?"
Talia caught the disappointment in Sheridan's voice, saw it flicker across his face. He had hoped to bring intergalactic peace in one fell swoop to the Narn and Centauri. He thought by simply revealing who was lying and who was telling the truth, he could end hundreds of years of carnage. Such a noble, simplistic idea, she almost hated to dash his hopes.
"In their hearts and minds, yes."
Sheridan exhaled loudly, rubbing a hand across his tired face. He ventured a look at both G'Kar and Mollari. "Well, gentlemen," he said, "It seems we can't do anything about the past. So, it's up to us to try to negotiate a better future." He glanced expectantly at the ambassadors, waiting for them to interrupt. When neither did, he continued, "First things first; I want to know what prompted the all-out riot in the Zocalo this morning." G'Kar and Mollari both opened their mouths to speak at the same time. "And," Sheridan held up a finger, pointing at each of the diplomats in turn, "I encourage you to keep it simple - and honest." He flicked a glance at Ms. Winters. "I'm warning you both, if Ms. Winters senses duplicity and dishonesty from either of you in these negotiations, the League of Non-Aligned Worlds will be informed and appropriate action will be taken."
Captain Sheridan retook his seat, settling in for another round of talks. He sincerely hoped that both Ambassadors could calmly and rationally discuss the morning's events and that their nightmarish diplomatic dispute could be resolved efficiently and expediently. Of course, he thought, this is Babylon 5. A simple solution will never do when a more complicated one is surely out there.
Two doorways flanked the corridor. Garibaldi held up his hand, index and forefinger pressed together, he signaled to his right, then his left. Without speaking, his two personnel broke off, Booker taking the left door, Hutton the right. Garibaldi and Ivanova continued down the main corridor together.
At the next doorway, Garibaldi paused, shining his flashlight into the darkness. It was another, wider corridor with doorways flanking each side as far as the eye could see. He glanced over his shoulder at Ivanova.
"Well?" He shrugged, "What do you think?"
She took a moment, shining her flashlight down the corridor they were in, then the one they had just found. She wished they'd found a schematic on the ship indicating where they were. At the very least, they could have waited until they had the name of the ship. That way, they could have pulled up service history and construction layouts on her. This way, they were going in blind. And, deaf, dumb and stupid, she added.
"This way seems to lead forward," she said, elbowing her way past Garibaldi, venturing into the side corridor. "Maybe it'll take us to the cockpit."
Garibaldi started after her, then reached into his pocket, withdrawing a stick of chewing gum. He hastily chewed several times, then took it out of his mouth, firmly sticking it in place. He looked up to find Ivanova intently watching him. "What?" he asked, moving to join her. "I don't have any breadcrumbs, Gretel," He shrugged. As they continued to move down the corridor, he glanced back over his shoulder, flashing a self-satisfied smirk as the gum continued to stick to the slick wall of the hull.
"Please, gentlemen, if you'll just stop your bickering for two minutes, I'm sure we can reach a mutual agreement," Talia pleaded from her seat.
She'd had enough. The constant bickering and backbiting. The whining and complaining. It was enough to make her want to throw herself out an airlock. That thought brought images of the stoic Russian Commander Ivanova to mind - and Talia smiled in spite of herself.
"He always tries to manipulate everything!" complained G'Kar, gesturing aggressively at Londo Mollari.
"And, you always think you'll get your way by whining. Maybe if you cry loud enough and long enough, the Earthlings will come to your rescue," Mollari accused, slapping both hands on the table in exasperation.
"Enough!" Sheridan shouted, glaring at the two diplomats as they slunk back into their respective chairs. He cast a pleading look at Talia. "Ms. Winters?"
"I don't care," she admitted. "All I know is that I'll eat anything that isn't made from Spoo."
"In that case," Londo grinned, "G'Kar's choice for lunch is out."
Commander Ivanova adjusted her flashlight, stepped through the open bulkhead. Her light played over darkened instrument panels. "Cockpit," she advised Garibaldi, confidently advancing into familiar territory. She understood the pilot's position, and felt immediately at home in any cockpit. Someone sat in the pilot's chair, hand extended on the arm rest by his side, fingers wrapped firmly about the control stick. His head lolled to one side, resting awkwardly.
Susan stepped forward, kneeling down, flashing her light on the pilot's features. "Human," she declared, exhaling loudly.
"Copilot, too," Garibaldi announced, covering his nose with his hand to ward off some of the stench of decay as he examined the adjacent chair's occupant. Like the pilot, he too, appeared to have died while at his post.
"I don't get it," Ivanova stated. She stood up, panning her light around the interior of the cockpit. "There are scorch marks on the exterior of the ship, but the instrument panel appears to be intact." She leaned in closer, running a hand over the dust-covered panel. "What kills both the pilot and copilot instantly, yet leaves the cockpit in pristine condition?"
Garibaldi shrugged. "There's ice on the windshield. Hell, the whole ship was practically covered in it. Maybe their instruments froze up."
Ivanova shook her head. "That wouldn't explain it. Look at them. They both died at their posts. And, the fire came before the freeze."
"You know, something's not quite right here, Susan." Garibaldi stepped back, studying both the pilots intensely. "My guy is rotting in his seat. I mean, literally, he smells like death." He paused, glancing at the grisly image in the copilot's chair once again. "But, your guy," he shined his flashlight at the pilot's chair, "Looks fresh as a daisy in springtime."
"I'd hardly say that, Garibaldi," Ivanova objected, studying her corpse closely. "He's certainly a pallid complexion, he has definite discoloration at his pulse points," she observed, glancing at his throat and both wrists.
"Yeah, but he's pristine compared to this guy," Garibaldi reiterated. "What kills one guy and leaves him looking like he's just napping and then makes a mess of his buddy sitting not three feet away?" he asked. "I'm telling ya, it's gotta be one hell of a freaky systems malfunction."
Commander Ivanova stood up from her crouching position beside the pilot's chair, moving her hand over the instrument panel as she did so. A light blinked on, then inexplicably, the rest of the instruments came online. A whirring sound filled the cabin. Garibaldi and Ivanova both shielded their eyes as the interior of the cockpit was suddenly awash in light.
"System activated," came a computerized voice from the control console. "Please enter flight command sequence."
Blinking rapidly, Commander Ivanova slowly lowered her arm from in front of her eyes. The change in lighting had caught her off-guard, momentarily blinding her. Blinking back reflexive tears, she focused on Garibaldi, finding him doing the same. Cautiously, she approached the instrument panel. Experimentally, she waved her hand over the control panel. "System activated," came the computerized voice again. "Please enter flight command sequence."
"Sensor must be motion activated," she concluded, stepping away from the console.
"Maybe the air recyclers are, too," surmised Garibaldi. "We probably triggered an automatic relay when we passed through the corridor earlier. As long as there's movement, there's an active air supply." The overhead lights flickered. "Guess she's operating on backup power."
A shrill scream echoed throughout the hull of the ship. Long and painful, it sounded like it was coming from the end of the corridor. Garibaldi and Ivanova gaped at each other in shock. "That doesn't sound like any air recycler," she quipped, drawing her PPG, rushing for the door.
"I repeat myself, Captain Sheridan," Londo Mollari pushed his half-eaten plate of treel aside, "There will be no peace until the Narn dissenters admit that they were coming to us for aid."
"Impossible!" G'Kar hissed vehemently. "Your troopers were forcibly attempting to remove Narn civilians from this station when we intercepted them!"
"G'Kar - " interrupted Sheridan.
"You can not force the willing!" Londo smiled sweetly. "Conditions upon your homeworld are in such a state of disrepair that your own citizens are leaving in droves. It is hardly my fault that they would rather be relocated to a Centauri province than return to your decadent, demoralizing debauchery-filled excuse for a planet!"
"Londo - " Sheridan implored.
"Narn is what it is because of hundreds of years of occupation!" protested G'Kar. "My planet is what you have made of it."
"What we have made of it!" Londo jumped up from his chair, slamming his fist on the table. "We have only - "
"Stop it!" All heads turned to see Ms. Winters doubled over in pain, fingers pressed deeply into her temples. "Please, stop it!"
"Booker!" Garibaldi shouted, charging through an open doorway.
The security guard lay on the floor, motionless. His PPG was clutched firmly in his grasp. His flashlight lay on the carpeting several feet away. He had obviously dropped it when he fell, the flashlight rolling to a stop, its beam illuminating the expression of horror permanently transfixed on Booker's face.
Garibaldi swept the room, searching for a hostile. He sensed rather than saw Ivanova's presence in the doorway behind him. Satisfied that the quarters were secured, he knelt on the deck, one hand firmly on his PPG, the other searching Booker's neck for a pulse.
"So's this one," announced Ivanova.
Garibaldi turned, glancing in Susan's direction. She was standing near the far wall, playing her flashlight along a bunk. A young woman of approximately thirty-five earth years lay in the bunk, clad in a standard security uniform.
"Not one of mine," he surmised, stepping closer. "Must have been a security detail attached to the ship."
"Look at the style." Ivanova played her flashlight over the body. The uniform was similar to Garibaldi's in many respects. But, there were several significant differences. The bars at the shoulders, the striping on the sleeves detailing rank. The link attached to her uniform above her breast rather than worn directly on her skin. The holster attached at her waist, the leather strap that ran down, tying the holster to her leg just above her knee. The weapon, not quite a PPG, but some sort of prototype strongly resembling one. "This uniform has to be a hundred years old."
Wordlessly, Garibaldi studied the woman. She was laid out as if sleeping, only her hands were placed, crossed over her chest, fingertips touching her shoulders. Garibaldi had seen such things in old movies; whenever someone died and they were laid to rest . . . mostly old westerns where they always died with their boots on. Garibaldi's gaze flicked down the length of the bed. Her feet were positioned firmly together, as if she'd been standing at attention, ready for inspection. Except - he noted, bending down, peering closer, studying the red stains on the soles of her otherwise spotless boots.
"What you got there?" Ivanova asked, peering over Michael's shoulder.
"Don't know. Just seems out of place," he responded. Intrigued, he pulled a small envelope from his pants pocket. Leaning in, he used the edge of his identi-card to scrape some of the red particles from the sole of one of the boots into the envelope.
"Now look at what you've done!" scolded G'Kar. "You have damaged the mind-walker!"
"If anyone has damaged her, it was you." Mollari glanced sympathetically at the obviously distressed human. "All your boorish posturing is enough to make the Minbari religious caste howl in pain!"
"Ms. Winters!" Sheridan knelt at Talia's side. The pain she was in was so acute that she'd seemingly lost the ability to remain standing. She was on the floor, one hand braced in front of her, the other firmly clutched to her head in distress. "Are you okay?" he asked, reaching out, attempting to offer some sort of support.
She visibly blanched away from his touch. Every nerve ending felt as if it was on fire, burning with raw intensity. It was all she could do to keep from screaming out in pain. And, then his touch - it seared her being with a cold so powerful she thought her blood would freeze. It took every bit of effort she had to raise her head, meet his concerned gaze.
"What is it, Ms. Winters?" asked Sheridan, seeing the look in her eyes. "What's wrong?"
Another scream echoed throughout the derelict ship. Garibaldi and Ivanova looked at each other, hearts simultaneously stopping, then resuming after skipping a long beat. Speechless, they momentarily stared at each other, dread washing over them, leaving a sour feeling in the pits of their stomachs.
"Hutton." Garibaldi's lips pressed together in a firm line.
The scream grew in pitch, spurring Garibaldi and Ivanova out of the quarters and back into the corridor.
The commercial telepath didn't respond. She sat on the floor, immobilized, staring blankly at the carpet. No, not blankly, Sheridan realized. Her eyes were rapidly flickering, as if she was caught in a perverse wide-awake REM state. It's as if she's having a vision. Her breathing was coming rapidly, wracking her body with huge, shuddering gasps. Perspiration formed on her brow, edging her hairline. Her lips were scarcely moving, mouthing something barely audible. Concerned, he leaned in closer.
Ivanova reached the end of the corridor a split second before Garibaldi. She flung herself into the room, rolling, coming up with her PPG drawn, her finger indexing the length of the firearm. She held her weapon in a double grip, both arms extended in front of her, sweeping the room, leading with the barrel.
Garibaldi came in right behind her, one hand on his weapon. With his other, he panned his flashlight around the room, illuminating the interior.
"Med lab," he stated, recognizing the familiar stench that accompanied all medical facilities. That scent that was clean, but not in a happy, friendly, make yourself at home kind of clean. This was the clean with every disinfectant known to man smell that permeated all hospital and health care environments.
"Talia?" Sheridan asked, shaking her shoulders gently.
Talia looked at him briefly, attempting to focus, then her eyes going wide. She whispered, eyes darting frantically, voice hushed as if afraid of being overheard, "It knows where they are."
Ivanova moved into the room, weapon still at the ready, cautious to only move into an area as Garibaldi illuminated it with his flashlight. "Doctor," she stated grimly, eyes sweeping quickly over the corpse of a man wearing a full-length lab coat slumped over his desk. A data padd was on the desk, his arm laying across it as if he'd died while writing down his notes.
Laying across a lab table at an awkward angle was Hutton. She was on her back, her left leg and foot hanging off the table at one end. Her right hand hung limply off the table, her PPG still in its holster. At the other end of the table, her head, neck and upper shoulders were thrown back, hanging off. Her mouth was open, as if in the middle of a final, soundless scream.
Cautiously, Ivanova and Garibaldi approached the table. The security guard in the crews' quarters had been laid out in an almost pristine condition in death. Hutton's state could only be described as the extreme opposite. Every muscle in her body appeared to be straining, contorted in an almost convulsive state. Eyes stared unseeingly at the ceiling, locked in a rigid, eternal unrest.
Susan relaxed her grip on her PPG, reached out, catching Hutton beneath the shoulders. Lauren was a friend - and she deserved a more dignified rest. Straining, she lifted the upper body back onto the table. Intending to close her eyes, Susan reached out with trembling fingers -
"It's coming - " Talia whispered, clutching almost desperately at Sheridan, as if she were seeing some sort of menacing physical presence in the room.
"What is it?" Sheridan asked. "What's coming, Talia?"
Sensitive ears picked up the sound from the corridor. Something brushed against the open doorway. Susan's eyes darted to the darkened door, hand instinctively reaching for her PPG. She sensed Garibaldi stiffening beside her, raising his weapon. She flexed her wrist, tapping her link against the edge of the exam table.
G'Kar rose from his chair, seeming to be genuinely concerned for the woman's condition. Londo, too, approached, although Sheridan was convinced it was more out of a sense of morbid curiosity than actual compassion.
"Death," Talia gasped out, "Death by fire and ice."
She fell back, slumping down. She would have hit her head on the floor if G'Kar hadn't moved swiftly, catching her upper back and shoulders, bracing her with one arm.
Ivanova heard static over the link, then the sound of a clear channel.
Sheridan raised his wrist, "Medical emergency," he hurriedly spoke into his link.
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