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The Criminal Element
By Sel Vecantie  -  1999

ACT FIVE

"Dead?" Zack said, sounding shocked. "But there is hardly a mark on her!"

"That may be true," Dr. Hobbs replied. "But she had been floating around outside the station for close to ten minutes. I don't know of any race that can survive without an atmosphere for more than five, with the possible exception of the Vorlons. However..."

"Ten minutes?" Zack interrupted. He looked surprise for a moment, before realising it had taken him nearly fifteen minutes to get here, even though he had been running most of the way. Whoever was responsible for this, certainly knew how to pick isolated section of the station. First Grey 19 and now Red 9, neither level could ever be called a major thoroughfare. Zack looked down at the body again, and frowned when he noticed that there was something that didn't quite fit. "I thought there would be more damage," he commented. "She looks like she died in her sleep, not like someone who has just spent ten minutes floating around outside the station."

"As I was about to say," Lillian said, sounding faintly annoyed with Zack for interrupting her explanation. "There are several irregularities that need to be looked into." She paused and frowned at the scanner in her hand. "Once I get a replacement medical scanner that is. This one seems to be faulty. According to this, the body is completely devoid of water. That can't be right."

"It would explain why her body hasn't frozen," one of the med-techs suggested.

"That's impossible," Lillian replied firmly, shaking the scanner as if she were hoping that a little violence might convince the scanner to start working. "Water is one constant with all life forms. We all need it and without it even the simplest form of life can't exist."

"There is some form of fluid in her system though," the med-tech pointed out, indicating a wound on the woman's arm, currently leaking a thin trail of a pale liquid.

Lillian quickly knelt down and examined the shallow wound. "It looks similar to the substance you found earlier," she said to the med-tech. "Take another sample and run it down to Dr. Matsuki and get him to check."

"I guess that tells me who's been bleeding all over Grey 19 then," Zack commented, watching as the med-tech began to collect a sample and place it in a container. "I thought the scanners picked up a human life form. That doesn't look like human blood to me."

"It has some characteristics of human blood," Lillian told him, showing the security chief the data on her medical scanner. "And there is definitely some human DNA in there, which is what the station's biological scanners are searching for when they examine an incoming vessel, either human DNA or another species on record. This blood... I'm not even sure it contains DNA."

"But you just said..."

"I know," Lillian said wearily. "What I meant was that most of her body seems to register as human... My God, this scanner won't even detect what we are seeing. I don't even want to start on what it is telling me about her bones. With a density like that, her skeleton should weigh three times what it actually does."

"Some sort of cybernetic enhancement?" Zack suggested.

"It could be," she replied with a helpless shrug. "Although if it is, then the enhancements weren't done using any material known on Earth. I guess we will know more after the autopsy."

"How long?" Zack asked. "This woman is or rather was the prime suspect for a series of crimes, including assaulting me." He crouched down and started searching through Jeanne's tattered coat.

"I've already checked, Chief," one of the security officers cut in. "Her pockets are empty."

Zack frowned. "All of them?" 

"What are you looking for?" Lillian cut in, indicating for two of the med-techs to put Jeanne's body on a stretcher.

"The weapon she used on me," Zack replied. "I thought she might still have it... as well as anything else of interest."

"I think I might have the gun you are looking for," Lillian replied, pointing towards a sealed container that sat on the deck near the airlock. The container was identical to the type used for transporting hazardous material, right down to the warning labels stencilled along the side. "I wouldn't touch it though," she quickly added as Zack crossed to examine the container.

"What the hell!" Zack began, as he noticed the box had been sealed tight and had an encoded security seal.

"One of the medical team tried to pick it up, and is currently lying in Medlab 5 with a rather nasty injury to his hand. It seems it operates on bio-electrical current, but needs a lot more than the average human can provide. It does tell us one thing about our friend here though."

"What's that?" Zack asked, gingerly picking up the box and handing it to one of his officers. "Take that back to the station house and run some tests on it," he orders. The security officer quickly nodded and started off, the container tucked under one arm. "And don't touch the weapon," Zack yelled after him. "Use level 4 safety procedures. Treat it as if it were a live explosive."

Lillian waited patiently until Zack was finished and then continued her explanation. "What it tell us, is that this woman has a much higher bio-electrical field that any other living creature I've encountered."

"Which means?" Zack prompted.

"That she should be dead," Lillian replied. "She had enough energy running around inside her to fry an elephant. She should have been dead days ago, not walking around the station as if nothing was wrong."

"Another reason to make her autopsy a priority," Zack said.

Lillian nodded, turning to one of the medical technicians. "Take her body down to the morgue and tell Dr. Samir to get started at once."

"He's off duty," the med-tech reminded him.

"I know," Lillian replied testily. "But I'm supposed to be too. Anyway, he's due to come back on duty in two hours. Take the body down to the morgue and then contact him. Tell him its a priority job and I want it completed as quickly as possible."

The medical technician nodded and then, with a quick gesture to a colleague to help out, started pushing the stretcher along the corridor towards the nearest lift. "Do you want anything special done with the other two?" Lillian asked, as she turned back to Zack.

The security chief glanced over at the two dead Drazi, their features hidden by a cloth that someone had draped over them. "What happened to them?" he asked. "Were they killed in the explosion?"

Lillian shook her head. "No, one was found outside the station by the rescue team. He was wearing an EVA suit, but it had ruptured and he must have died before our team could reach him. The other one was shot at close range with an energy weapon, probably either Narn or Centauri make by the look of the wound. I'll have to do some further tests to make sure though."

"That doesn't make a lot of sense," Zack muttered to himself. Then, when he noticed Lillian looked at him with a questioning expression on her face, he added, "I didn't know the Thrakallans used Drazi. The Drazi are fairly big with the Thieves Guild, and the guild and the Thrakallans don't really get along that much. Although..." He walked over to where Sonia Aldred was searching through the Drazi's belongings. "Aldred," he began. "Do you remember that Centauri from customs this morning?"

"Aragon Pernimi?" she replied, looking up from her search.

"That's the one," Zack said. "Aragon Pernimi. He said he was a guild master. I originally thought he might have been a member of a merchant guild, but now that I think about it, the Centauri merchants all work for the noble houses. He could be a member of the Thieves Guild instead."

"Is that important?" Aldred asked. "I remember during the speech you gave us when we signed up that you said the Thieves Guild already had a significant presence on the station. You told us how to identify someone who was a member of the guild."

Zack looked faintly embarrassed, mostly by the fact that someone had actually remembered something he had said in one of his briefings. "It could be," Zack replied. "This woman appears on the station and suddenly a lot of very powerful criminal organisations are interested in her. First Nicolai Luchenko, apparently back by IPX and with Psi-Corps lurking around in the background. Then the Thrakallans, who don't get involved in anything unless there is a profit to be made, and now there is a possibility that the Thieves Guild are interested as well. And on top of all that, Earthforce also wants her, and no-one is willing to tell me why."

"It must be something important."

"Yes, but what," Zack said, before shaking his head as if to dismiss a troubling thought. He glanced over at the two dead Drazi. "Did you find anything interesting on them?" he asked.

"Just this," Aldred replied, tossing him a data crystal.

Zack eyed the crystal thoughtfully. "It might be something important," he decided finally. "I'd better take a look at it."

"Mr. Allan," Dr. Hobbs called out. When Zack turned to look at her, she continued. "Do you need me for anything else."

Zack shook his head. "Not really, although I would like the autopsy results as soon as possible, as well as anything else you can give me."

"I'll get Dr. Samir to get in touch with you as soon as he is finished," Lillian promised.

"You're going to be busy?" Zack asked, noting that Lillian hadn't said that she would get in touch with him.

"I was on my way back to my quarters when all this happened," she replied. "I've just been on duty for the past twelve hours, so I thought some sleep might..."

"Is it that late?" Zack cut in.

"You were unconscious for nearly three hours," Lillian reminded him.

"Damn," Zack said. "I hadn't realised it was that long." He paused and then nodded. "All right, Doctor, I don't think we will we need your expert help for a few hours at least." As Lillian nodded and walked away, Zack turned back to Aldred, who was waiting patiently nearby. "Come with me," he ordered. "I've got a special job for you."

"What is it?" the young officer asked, almost bouncing with enthusiasm as she followed Zack along the corridor and away from the blast site.

"I want you to try and locate that Centauri. It shouldn't be too difficult. Check the accommodation logs, he will probably be in his quarters, but if not take a look around the bars. Once you've found him, let me know. I have a few questions I want to ask him."

"Right away, Chief," Aldred replied, almost running as she headed off down the corridor.

Zack shook his head, wondering if he had ever been that young. He glanced down at the data crystal he held in his hand. "Well, lets take a look and see what secrets you hold," he murmured to himself, transferring the crystal to his pocket.

Bazyli Wielpolski groaned as he walked into the morgue, noticing the new addition to the ever changing collection of dead bodies that filled the large room, all laid out on their gleaming trolleys. "Looks like, we've got another one, Clive," he shouted, dropping the metal tray he was carrying down on a convenient table. It hit the table with a loud bang, the instruments on it bouncing around and adding considerably to the clatter.

"Baz, you're almost loud enough to wake the dead," his workmate complained as he walked through the door into the chilly, metal-walled room that served as the morgue on Babylon 5. He frowned for a second, as if noticing something out of place for the first time, then wrapped his arms around himself and shivered. "Man, is it cold in here today or what?"

"It's supposed to be cold you idiot, it's a morgue after all," Baz replied, walking over to the new body and pulling back the cloth covering its features, at the same time hoping it wasn't another Pak'ma'ra. What he saw made him pause, and for a second there was even a crack in his hardened, professional attitude. "Hell," he swore under his breath, before his normal mask of cool detachment returned and he called over to Clive, "take a look at this one, buddy. I think I've found you a date."

Clive wandered slowly over, rubbing his arms to try and restore some warmth to his thin body. His considerably larger companion didn't seem troubled by the unnaturally cold conditions in the morgue, almost as if he didn't feel it. But then, considering the amount of extra padding Baz was carrying around these days, that wasn't surprising. Then he saw the body of the young woman laid out on the trolley and shook his head sadly. "What a waste. Looks like she was only a teenager."

"Shouldn't have come here then," Baz said quietly. "No-one is safe in this place for long. Probably another lurker anyway. They seem to be dropping like flies lately."

"In those clothes," Clive said, pointing out the beautifully crafted leather outfit the corpse was still dressed in. It was torn in several places, but still looked very expensive. Then he noticed something around the dead girl's head, and swept back her pale blonde hair to expose the emerald studded ribbon of dark metal that tightly encircled her head. He whistled in surprise. "Now that doesn't look like something a lurker would be carrying. The scum in Down Below would have killed her in a second for something like this."

"Bloody hell," Baz muttered. "That's got to be worth more than a few credits. Look at the size of those gems." The glint of greed in his eyes, he reached out to take the circuit, only to be pulled up by Clive's restraining hand.

"You're not thinking of taking it, are you?" Clive asked, looking more worried than outraged. "Don't you remember what happened to Eric and Stevenson last month. Allan had them up on charges so fast they didn't even have time to blink. Of course, they would have to rat the Drazi ambassador's aide."

"They were just stupid enough to get caught," Baz said, reaching down again. "How were they to know that Allan already knew what was in the deadie's pockets. How could they know the bastard had already checked over the body at the scene?"

"Well, this is another one of his cases," Clive said, reading off the card tacked to the end of the trolley. "Dr. Samir is due to cut her open sometime this morning and Allan probably has all her possessions already logged. I wouldn't touch her if I were you, just tag her and bag her. Maybe after the autopsy we can take a look around."

"No harm in just looking," Baz muttered under his breath, reaching down to pick up the circuit. "I just want to hold it."

As his thick fingers closed around the metal circuit, there was a sudden blur of movement from the girl lying on the trolley. Her left arm shot up and grasped his pudgy wrist in a vice-like grip, twisting his eager hand away from the circuit. Before Baz even had time to scream in fear, her eyes flicked open and slowly swivelled around to focus on his suddenly terrified face. Baz found himself looking into a two pits of pure energy, glowing brightly in the dimly lit morgue.

"That is mine," she said in a ghostly whisper, her slim hand closing around Baz's thick wrist, crushing the flesh and shattering the bones beneath. "You will not touch it again."

Beside the trolley, Clive let out a sudden strangled scream, turned and ran for the exit as fast as he could. The girl's head suddenly snapped around to watch him run, and then almost as quickly, she reached up with her other hand, grabbed Baz by the front of his stained white coat and threw him bodily across the room. There was a sickening thudding sound, followed the short squeal of air being forced out of someone's lungs, and then the morgue was quiet once more.

Jeanne swung her legs over the side of the trolley and stood up, looking around her. The fat, ugly man in the white coat was lying on the far side of the room, his large frame resting somewhat uncomfortably on top of skinny, rat-faced man. Both were unconscious, but not dead. Jeanne could still sense the warm blood still flowing in their circulatory systems, and their chests slowly rising and falling. At least, the fat man's chest was rising and falling, the smaller man was obviously not in the most comfortable of positions and would soon die unless she aided him.

Her boots squeaking slightly as she walked over the smooth metal floor, Jeanne crossed to where the two men lay in a crumpled heap and, reaching down, rolled the larger man off his smaller companion. He had bumped his head when she had thrown him, but apart from that he did not appear to be badly injured. The one he had called Clive was in worse condition, but now that he could breathe he would probably live. Jeanne wasn't overly concerned, as anyone who robbed from the dead was obviously not worthy of life. But, she had sworn never to take a life unless it could not be avoided, even men as loathsome as these two. With a final look at the two morgue workers, she turned and headed towards the exit.

Suddenly she froze, noticing for the first time that her pockets were feeling a considerably lighter than she had remembered. Patting herself down, she quickly discovered that everything she had been carrying had vanished, including the incredibly valuable data crystal. She leaned against a nearby table to recover her strength, while she thought back on what had happened. She remembered the explosion and then being attacked in space by the two beings, probably humans, in EVA suits. Then her memory started to become a little foggy. She recalled being struck and then she didn't regain consciousness for nearly three minutes, when she was being dragged into an airlock by a suited man, probably the same one who had struck her.

She frowned. The next few minutes were also a blur, so the blow to the head must have left her weak, either that or the incredible cold of space had effected her more than she had originally thought. She remembered voices, someone poking her and an electrical device of some sort being waved nearby she could feel a faint tingling in her skin as it was passed over her. Realising that she was probably too weak to fight, she had remained still and concentrated on not breathing, or making any other movements that might be spotted.

Then, as her strength had slowly recovered, she began to hear snatches of conversation, enough to know that the Security Chief was there, along with two women, but not enough to understand what they had been saying. Finally, she had been taken away and bought here, where she had lain on the cold trolley for nearly half an hour, slowly draining heat from the surrounding area to fuel her recovery.

She glanced over at the two morgue workers again, and then around at the room itself. There was no sign of her possessions, so they must have been taken elsewhere. Then she recalled the creature that had watched her as it blew a hole in the wall behind her. That creature was similar to the two that served j'Nialth, which meant that the crime lord was probably behind the ambush... again. A frown creasing her brow as she puzzled over how j'Nialth could profit from the actions he was taking against her, she left the morgue and headed off down the nearest corridor. She didn't know exactly where it led, but eventually it would come to a corridor she remembered from the tour Zack had given her.

She knew it wouldn't be long before someone came into the morgue looking for the two men, but she didn't worry about that now. All her attention was focused on retrieving the information she had spend so much time and effort looking for, and the best place to look for that was in the hands of j'Nialth. So, all she had to do was track the slippery Thrakallan merchant down, give him a good talking to, reclaim her property, and then leave, assuming that security didn't interfere, j'Nialth hadn't already left the station, or one of a hundred other things that could go wrong.

Jeanne shook her head, wondering how a quest that had started out so simple had quickly become so complex. If she didn't know better, she would have thought that the Vorlons were still here, still trying to stop her by putting obstacles in the path of her ambitions. After a suspicious glance around the corridor, just to be absolutely certain there were no Vorlons hiding nearby, she pushed that thought into the deepest, darkest recesses of her mind and set off down the corridor with long, purposeful strides.

J'Nialth walked slowly out of Alfredo's Pool Hall, and incredulous looking Lynx following close behind, shaking his head slowly. "Why the hell did you offer him that much?" he demanded, as soon as they were out of ear shot. That fool would have settled for at least half of what you gave him."

"It is unimportant," j'Nialth replied, tapping a heavy leather bag that hung around his neck. "There are plenty more. Besides, now he will move quickly to settle and I will be able to move in before night is out. Credits are a good motivator."

"But a bar! Why would you want a dive like that? At least buy one of the up-market joints."

"They do not have what I want," j'Nialth replied, pointing towards a small group of uniformed security officers heading towards the pool hall. "Alfredo's is popular with security. With correct lubricant, they will speak more freely. I do not understand this pool game, but I understand value of knowing my enemy."

"I still think it's a waste of time," Lynx muttered under his breath. Then louder, he added. "Where to now, then? Do you want to buy one of the brothels in Down Below, because Earthforce personal sometimes go there? Or, do you want to start sponsoring the Security baseball team?"

J'Nialth paused and stared intently at Lynx. "A brothel?" he mused. "A good idea. I must consider it further."

"Or," Lynx added quickly, before the Thrakallan had time to think too much about the idea. "Do we spend the credits on outfitting a gang big enough to rule this station. I can..."

"No!" J'Nialth cut in. "That is not Thrakallan way. We allow others to run around fighting each other, while we remain hidden and collect our profits..." Suddenly he stopped and looked along the corridor. "What are those?" he asked, waving his claw toward a collection of humans and Narn gathered further down the corridor. The artificial tone of j'Nialth's translator were still as calm as ever, but Lynx imagined that he could sense a twinge of anger in the Thrakallan's voice.

"I've hired some new men," Lynx told him. "With all the heat security is going to bringing down on us, I though we would need some more bodyguards."

"They are unsuitable," j'Nialth replied. "I do not desire inefficient servants such as these. My servants will be released soon. They will be suitable, and we still have Centauri. I do not need these."

"Don't be a fool!" Lynx almost shouted. "Look, I've had just about enough of this j'Nialth. Either they stay or I go, we can't run a gang with only a few stupid Bilubi and an untrustworthy Centauri."

J'Nialth stared at his lieutenant, his impassive gaze giving away nothing on his feelings. "Very well," he said finally. "They stay, but next time check with me, or I may be searching for a new assistant." Then he spotted a morose looking Aragon Pernimi hanging around near the back of the hired thugs, glaring at anyone who dared to approach him. "You brought Centauri?" he asked Lynx.

"I didn't want to leave him sitting around the shop," Lynx replied. "I don't trust the bastard."

"Good," j'Nialth replied. "I have much to discuss with him. Continue back to my store, I have items to collect."

Lynx stared at j'Nialth's back for several seconds, watching as the Thrakallan crossed to where Aragon waited and begun to speak quietly with the Centauri. After nearly a minute, j'Nialth left the Centauri and started down the corridor, motioning for Lynx to follow. "Keep an eye on that Centauri," Lynx muttered to one of his men, as he ordered them to follow j'Nialth.

Ahead, j'Nialth was just about to go around a right-angled corner, when he suddenly pulled up, his henchmen nearly running into him. The Thrakallan stared down the hall, frozen with shock as he watched the human woman he had ordered killed walking slowly towards him. For a second she also stopped, looking almost as surprised as he was. Then, her eyes appeared to blaze with anger and j'Nialth scurried to escape, pushing aside several of the newly hired thugs on the way. "Stop her!" he ordered, snaring Aragon's arm with a claw and tugging the Centauri along with him. Aragon looked faintly surprised, but allowed himself to be pulled back along the corridor.

One of the thugs, a human who had only hours earlier been a insignificant mugger working the lower decks, hefted a large Drazi sword and hurried forward, swinging it towards Jeanne. Lynx's pleasure at the sight soon vanished though, as the slight woman effortlessly reached out and grabbed her attacker's wrist and then with a sharp twist of her hand snapped the bones in his arm. As the sword slipped from the thug's suddenly numb fingers, she snatched it up, plucking it out of the air so easily that Lynx began to wonder if the weapon was made of some lightweight plastic instead of fire-hardened steel.

Snarling angrily, one of Lynx's men pushed his way to front and fired a small grenade from the launcher he had was carrying. Jeanne reacted immediately, swinging her stolen sword like a baseball bat, striking the grenade and sending it straight back way it had come. Then, with another blinding strike, she slashed the sword across the legs of another of j'Nialth's thugs. As the criminal, this time one of the two Narn in the party, fell clutching at the bloody gash in his left leg, the rest of j'Nialth's men threw themselves away from the grenade, which had bounced past j'Nialth and Lynx and landed near the middle of the group.

Realising that he wasn't going to get out of range in time, Lynx grabbed the collar of one of those attempting to flee and spun the unfortunate man around throwing him in the direction of the grenade. By a sick twist of fate, Lynx's actions saved most of those in the corridor, the man tripping and falling right on top of the grenade. There was a muffled explosion and the thug flew into the air, only to land a metre or so away, a pool of blood quickly spreading across the deck, gushing from the hole that used to be his chest.

For a moment everyone stopped and stared at the dead man in shock, Jeanne even more horrified because she had been partially responsible for the man's death. Lynx, however, didn't even pause. Grabbing the grenade launcher, Lynx pushed aside the thug who had been carrying it, dashed forward, and swung the butt of the weapon towards Jeanne's head. Despite her horror over what had just happened, Jeanne wasn't so easily caught off guard. Jumping back, she swung her stolen blade upwards, towards the weapon in Lynx's hands. There was a screech of metal striking metal, but the superbly crafted Drazi sword won out and Lynx found himself watching as half his weapon went flying.

"Kill her!" he cried to two of his men, as he ducked out of the way, throwing the now useless grenade launcher in Jeanne's direction and hoping it might slow her down.

She didn't follow. Instead, she ducked under the missile, took a step back, and then quickly scanned the collection of criminals, her gaze eventually falling on the bag j'Nialth was carrying. Both of her next attackers held long knives that they slowly tossed from hand to hand as they approached, evil smiles on their faces. Shaking her head sadly at the stupidity of those she faced, Jeanne lashed out with the blade, knocking the knife out of one of thug's hand and disabling the other with a slash across his chest. The wound wasn't deep enough to kill the man, but it was enough to make him, and the rest of the gang consider their futures very seriously indeed.

While they hesitated, Jeanne held her sword in one hand and, reaching down, removed a narrow bladed dagger from a hidden pocket. While she was doing this, Lynx had commandeered another knife from one of his men and was cautiously approaching. Jeanne effortlessly parried his attacks with one hand, while drawing back the other hand and tossing the dagger. Lynx flinched, but it wasn't aimed at him. Instead, it flew past his head, and straight towards j'Nialth.

The Thrakallan didn't even have time to move, but had he done so the dagger probably would have hit him. Instead, it had been aimed perfectly, slicing through one of the straps keeping the leather bag around his neck and barely even nicking j'Nialth's exoskeleton. As the Thrakallan's claws waved helplessly in a futile attempt to stop the bag falling to the ground, Jeanne disposed of Lynx, knocking his weapon from his hands with one blow and then smashing her fist into his face, the hilt of the sword breaking Lynx's nose.

As Lynx fell back, clutching at his ruined nose, the remaining criminals decided they had seen more than enough and fled, carrying j'Nialth and Aragon along with them. J'Nialth looked longingly at his lost bag, but after seeing Jeanne strike Lynx again, bringing the hilt of her sword down on the top of his skull with just enough strength to render him unconscious, the Thrakallan decided it was time to go. Grabbing at Aragon's arm again, he pointed towards a side corridor. "This way," he said.

Aragon glanced at the fleeing criminals and then nodded slowly, slipping into the side corridor with Lynx. "Where to now?" he asked.

"I have a safe place," j'Nialth replied. "But we must hurry." Aragon nodded and they both started to run or in j'Nialth's case a sort of shambling walk, assisted by the occasional fluttering of his wings, which until now had been hidden beneath his robe towards the end of the corridor, and what they hoped would be safety.

Jeanne ignored them, instead concentrating on her goal, the bag she assumed would contain her missing data crystal. At least, she hoped it would. She would have hated to think all this bloodshed was not for a reason. Picking up the bag, she opened it and began to examine the contents. Searching through the small pile of gem stones noting as she did so that there were considerably fewer stones now she quickly located the data crystal, as well as her missing identicard and credit chit, although she didn't even bother to retrieve them.

Carefully placing the data crystal into a hidden pocket, she dropped the bag and its contents back on the floor. Smoothing down her coat, she was about to leave when someone suddenly shouted out, "stop right there!" She spun around, only to see three security officers slowly approaching, their guns trained on her and their movements cautious. Jeanne imagined how it must look to them, especially when they saw the bloody sword resting against the wall, but she didn't have time for this. Quickly snatching up the sword, she took off, running down the same corridor j'Nialth and Aragon had just taken.

"Stop!" one of the security officers shouted again, following up his warning with a hail of plasma bolts. One of the shots struck Jeanne in the shoulder, but she ignored the hit and kept on running, quickly outdistancing the security officers. Reaching the end of the corridor, she looked around, but saw no sign of j'Nialth or his Centauri ally. Shrugging, she turned down a corridor she assumed would lead her towards docking bays. She could still hear the security officers puffing their way down the corridor behind her, but knew they had no way of stopping her. A faint smile on her face, Jeanne started running again, knowing now that little stood between her and escape.

Zack leaned back in his chair, resting comfortably as he waited for the computer to finish scanning the data crystal that had been found on the dead Drazi. As he had expected, it had been encoded, but given time the computer should be able to break the codes. At least, he hoped it would, some of these criminals were damn smart. Another computer program was busy searching Earthforce records for information on Jeanne Darias, but so far it had come up blank. Even the records on Sheffer IV, supposedly her planet of birth, had no record of her existence. Zack wasn't that surprised. He had suspected that her Identicard must have been faked, especially after she pulled a weapon on him.

"Code found," the computer reported suddenly, interrupting his musing.

Zack leaned forward, eager to see what the data crystal contained, when suddenly his link beeped. "Zack here," he answered quickly.

"Chief!" a voice cried out. The speaker was obviously running as the sound of heavy breathing came over the link. "There has been an explosion in Blue 8. There is at least one casualty and several wounded. We are pursuing a suspect on foot, but she is getting away from us."

"She?" Zack queried, a sudden, horrible suspicion forming in his head. "Give me a description!"

"Um... blonde hair, about one fifty, one sixty centimetres, and carrying a sword."

"And her clothing?"

The security officer on the other end of the line paused for a moment, and when his voice returned he sounded even worse, his breath coming in short gasps. "A long... leather... coat," he managed to get out. "She's getting away from us, chief? I don't know what she's on, but we can't keep up."

"Try," Zack replied. "I think I know where she is heading. I'll try and cut her off." Ending the call, he quickly collected his pistol and ran for the door. There was no-one outside his office, so he ran down the corridor to the nearest ready room, where a small group of security officers were lounging around, enjoying a break. Zack quickly pointed to two of the officers. "You two, get down to the morgue and tell me if the body of that suspect we bought in about an hour ago is still there. The rest of you, come with me." Then as an afterthought, he added, "and stop by the armoury. I have a feeling we are going to need some heavy armour."

Barely five minutes latter, Zack was jogging up a set of stairs leading to the docking bays, a fully armed and armoured squad right behind him. Pausing by the top of the stairs, Zack stopped to catch his breath, waving for the squad to go on ahead. After a few seconds of rest, he was about to start off after them, when his link beeped again. "Zack Allan," he answered.

"Wilson here, Chief! I've just checked the morgue. There is no sign of the body, but I found two technicians unconscious near the door. One looks like he has a broken wrist, but they are alive."

"Do what you can for them," Zack replied, silently cursing himself for not ordering a guard in the morgue, although no-one not even the ever-suspicious Garibaldi could have imagined that a dead woman would come back to life. Now even more worried, Zack ran as fast as he could, quickly passing the squad of security officers, who in turn increased their speed to keep up with him. Running into the docking bay through a side door, Zack noted with some relief that the shuttle was still there. "Spread out," he told the security team. Watch all the exits. I don't want this woman to get anywhere near that shuttle."

Quickly the security officers spread out across the docking bay, taking up positions near the doors. Turning to check their positions, he saw a now familiar figure running toward the main entrance. "Stop right there," he shouted out, hurrying over. "And put down the weapon," he added, when he noticed the blood-stained sword she was holding in her right hand.

Jeanne's head snapped around and as her gaze focused on him, she slowed to a walk. "Stand aside, Mr. Allan," she ordered softly, her eyes wandering towards the distant shape of her shuttle. 

"I'm afraid I can't do that," Zack replied, signalling to his team. As one, they all raised their weapons and pointed them towards Jeanne. "Drop your weapon or we'll fire," Zack warned, when he noticed Jeanne gripping her sword a little tighter.

"Stand aside," she repeated. "You can not harm me."

"We'll see about that," Zack replied, raising his hand to give the order to fire. At the same time though, he couldn't help wondering if she was telling the truth. After all, she had just survived ten minutes in the airless void of space, not to mention fought off several gangs of criminals. But he pushed that thought into the back of his mind. "Put the sword down," he warned again. "I don't want to have to hurt you."

With a sigh of resignation, Jeanne lowered the sword, but at the same time also reached out with her thoughts, calling for her shuttle. The sentient vessel had been observing the conflict and replied at once. "I am here, Mistress," it said quietly, touching her mind. "What do you desire."

"Where is Zater'Enin?"

"He is close," the shuttle replied. "Soon he will arrive."

She nodded, drawing a strange stare from one of the security officers approaching to knock the sword out of her hands. "Stop the humans," she ordered silently, slowly raising her weapon and smiling at the officers, who didn't smile back. "If I were you, I would start running," she told the two officers, before diving to one side as they raised their weapons and began firing at her.

"Stop!" Zack shouted, but it was no use. Seeing the sudden movement, the rest of the security officers had raised their weapons and fired, bolts of white-hot energy lighting up the darkened docking bay as they targeted Jeanne's desperately twisting and ducking form. Several bolts struck her, but as before she shrugged them off, absorbing enough of the energy to repair the damage to her skin and continuing on her way.

Behind Zack, unseen by anyone but Jeanne, the smooth hull of the shuttle suddenly morphed and two short tentacles protruded, each tipped in a dangerous, but still organic looking weapon. As the security officers started firing another round at Jeanne, the tips of the tentacles pulsed and a dart, almost identical to the one Jeanne's pistol had fired shot into the calf muscle of one of the officer. More darts followed and in less than twenty seconds the shuttle had cleared the docking bay of threats, with only Zack and one or two other officers still awake. Standing now only because they had ducked down quickly enough to avoid the hail of darts.

"Enough," Jeanne ordered. The shuttle quickly complied and the tentacles retracted into the hull, which quickly smoothed over and in seconds it looked as unbroken as before. "I did warn you," Jeanne said as she walked towards Zack. 

She had discarded her borrowed sword when the shuttle had first begun firing, but Zack still kept his pistol trained on her. "What the hell are you?" he demanded, taking a step backwards as she approached and quickly glancing around for an escape route.

"You do not need that," she said, pointing to his pistol. "I will not harm you. All I wish to do is leave." When Zack didn't lower his pistol, she smiled softly. "You would not understand who and what I am," she told him. "Sometimes, I'm not even sure I do."

"Try me."

Jeanne stopped smiling. "Very well, Mr. Allan. I was, and I suppose in a way, I still am, a servant of the beings you know of as the Vorlons. I was their soldier, their holy warrior." She opened her arms wide and spun around in a circle. "They gave me this body, extended my life, made me their slave and I willingly gave myself to them, mind and body."

"What are you doing here then? Shouldn't you still be off with your Vorlon buddies?"

Jeanne was now less than two metres away from the security chief, and slowly came to stop, standing quietly while Zack continued to train his weapon on her. "My reason for being here are not your concern," she replied coldly. "As for the Vorlons, my faith in their cause was lost many years ago. There was a falling out, you might say, followed by a minor war. They found out they made me too well, but none of that is of your concern, and neither is my business here."

"It is if you commit crimes on this station," Zack replied, somehow managing to stand his ground, despite the danger he knew he must be in. He had seen the power of the Vorlons a close range from both the Vorlon ambassador Ulkesh and Lyta Alexander and he imaged Jeanne must be equally powerful.

Jeanne shook her head, and then lunging forward so quickly, Zack didn't even see her begin to move, she ripped the pistol from his fingers and tossing it off into the distance. "I committed no crime," she told him. "I was attacked and defended myself, but I committed no crimes."

"The Captain won't see things that way," Zack told her. "And after what you did to me, I'm not sure I do either."

"You were not harmed."

"That's not the point. You can't do things like that."

"I think you have found out that I can," Jeanne replied, walking past Zack and heading towards her shuttle. "I have what I came for, and your concerns are no longer mine."

Zack quickly glanced over to where the two conscious security officers crouched. For a moment he considered ordering them to fire, but then recalled how ineffective the PPG strikes had proven just moment earlier. By the time he turned back, Jeanne was gone, vanishing inside the shuttle. As he watched, the tiny black vessel lifted off and darted into an open airlock. Another shuttle, this one just emerging from the airlock, almost collided with the huge pressure doors as its pilot reacted to the appearance of another vessel right in front of him. The two missed each other by the merest fraction of a centimetre, and then the black-hulled shuttle was gone, plunging down into the airlock. 

Zack glanced around at the stunned forms of his guards and after a moments hesitation tapped his link. "Captain," he said, as soon as Lochley responded. "I don't think you are going to like this..."

"Report," Lochley snapped at the operations deck, as soon as Zack had finished his report.

"The shuttle is in the main airlock," Lieutenant Corwin replied. "It's trapped, but if that shuttle is armed, it won't be there for long."

"Delay her as long as possible and scramble Alpha Squadron to intercept. Also bring the defence grid on-line."

Corwin nodded and hurried to carry out her orders. "Alpha Squadron is on its way," he reported. "And I've already bought the defence grid into standby mode."

"Good," Lochley nodded. "Now, open the main airlock and allow her shuttle out. Lock the defence grid onto the vessel as soon as it emerges and order Alpha Squadron to intercept the her before she reaches the jumpgate." As Corwin nodded again, his hand flying over the console as he inputted commands. "Now," she added, as the black shuttle slowly emerged from the station. "Open a channel to that shuttle. I want to let our friend down there know exactly what she is facing."

"Which way?" Aragon asked, slowing to a walk and peering down three seemingly identical corridors. "This place is built like a maze." Any sign of pursuit had faded long ago, but the Centauri telepath didn't want to hang around to make sure Jeanne was no longer following them. In fact, if he had his way, he wouldn't see her ever again. Aragon had never liked people who could resist his powers.

"Come," j'Nialth said, pointing a claw down the corridor to the left. "This way leads back to central corridor. We can find our way to safety from there."

Aragon nodded and then, just as he was about to start off down the corridor, he staggered, clutching at his head. J'Nialth looked at him curiously. "You are unwell?" he asked, before glancing back in the direction of the corridor as if he was considering departing and leaving the Centauri behind.

Aragon shook his head, as if trying to clear it. "I'll be all right," he replied, his head cocked to one side as if listening to something in the distance. Then an expression of fear crossed his face. "It's coming here," he said, sounding both amazed and frightened at the same time.

"What is?" j'Nialth remanded.

"The creature," Aragon replied, massaging his temples to try and remove a painful ache that was developing. "The one I saw when I touched those gem stones in your office. "The powerful alien telepath. It is coming here soon. I can feel its presence as it approaches."

"Is it dangerous?"

"I don't know. All I know is that it's angry about something. I was scanning to see if anyone was following us, when I picked up the mental signature of the creature. It is linked to something here, so I can sense it, even though it is still in Hyperspace at least I think that is where it is. It's sending its thoughts to a being on this station, or very near this station, saying that it will be arriving shortly." He grimaced slightly and then shook his head again. "The link's gone," he replied. "I think it might have detected me. We should go somewhere safe."

"I know a place," j'Nialth said, pointing towards the right corridor. "But we must hurry." Aragon nodded quickly and followed j'Nialth as the crime lord started off down the corridor. Behind them, just visible through a half-hidden window set into the hull, a sudden flare of light erupted in space above the station.

Zater'Enin cried out in anger. An alien, some insignificant creature hailing from some minor, forgotten world had interrupted his sending. The alien's thoughts had disrupted the fragile link he maintain with his cousin in the other universe and now he could not resume contact. A wave of fear ran though him as he imagined that his mistress might already be dead and with her, the hopes of his people.

But he pushed those thoughts deep inside, resuming his journey, although now there was considerably more urgency about his movements. He reached out and touched the nearby river of current that he had been following. 'Not long now,' he mused silently, following the currents as they swirled towards a huge metallic structure, one of the strange objects his mistress called a jumpgate, a structure that existed in both universes at once.

A primitive device, some kind of sensor, reacted to his presence, Zater'Enin noting the changes in its electronic mind as it powered up and prepared to broadcast a signal. With a thought, he silenced the device, manoeuvring around the rapidly expanding ball of fire the device had become and plunging towards the location his mistress had given him earlier.

Smoothly, he slipped past the jumpgate and reached out with his thoughts, manipulating the very structure of hyperspace and beginning the process that would open the portal to where his mistress awaited. With a flash of light, the vortex opened and Zater'Enin gave a cry of triumph as he rushed though, a vast alien structure leaping out at him as he tore back into real space. Vengeance on his mind, he turned his attention to the vast blue-hulled structure. The tiny minds of thousands of minor life forms lurked in the structure's veins, but he was looking for one specific creature.

Scanning the structure with his powerful mind, he soon located the one who had disrupted him earlier and sent a pulse of anger in that direction, noting with some pleasure the response from the creature as it took the full brunt of his mental anger. Then, his pulse racing with excitement, the young warrior turned towards the distant shape of his cousin, who waited near the front of the structure, surrounded by a ring of alien vessels, hot and fiery, but with tiny, insignificant minds. It was time to do battle!

"All right!" Lochley growled, after yet another futile attempt to get a response from the shuttle, which was now just sitting in space, surrounded by a ring of starfuries. "We'll play it your way then." Angrily, she switched off the comm. unit and looked over at Corwin. "Lieutenant, activate the secondary defence grid and lock onto that shuttle. I want it disabled. Not destroyed, just disabled, so target engines only."

"If I can find the engines," Corwin muttered, deftly activating the defence grid with a few keystrokes and then pausing as a flashing light caught his attention. "Captain..." he began, when suddenly all hell broke loose around them.

The whole station suddenly lurched, throwing most of the crew to the deck, with only Corwin and Lochley managing to brace themselves in time. Corwin because he had half a second of warning, and Lochley because she was already gripping the console in front of her with her hands. The harsh blare of emergency sirens rang out across the command deck, the station beginning to shudder and shake, almost as if it were a building being effected by an earthquake. Then, the calm voice of the station's computer rang out. "Proximity alert. Unknown object on direct collision course."

"What the hell..." Lochley began, before stopping as she realised that something even stranger was happening. She felt a strange twisting sensation in the pit of her stomach and suddenly felt lighter, as if something was effecting the station's gravity. She had been on Earthforce ships that lacked simulated gravity before, and this felt very similar. It was almost as if something had stopped the station rotating. A quick look out the observation window confirmed that it hadn't the stars still rotated as normal but something was obviously effecting the station's gravity.

"A jump point just opened," Corwin reported, one hand gripping the railing, while the other tried to type commands into the console. "Something big came out... right on top of us. It's projecting some kind of gravity field that is playing hell with our systems. Auto targeting is out, as are long range sensors."

"Switch to manual," the Captain ordered. "And get me some information on what that thing is. All the screens here are blank."

"Just a moment, Captain. I'm..."

"We don't have a moment, Lieutenant. Get me some data on this ship and get it now!"

One of the bridge technicians suddenly gasped and then, as Lochley turned to see what was wrong now, he pointed at something outside. Lochley glanced back to the observation window and then almost gasped in surprise herself, as something massive began to pass overhead. Leaning forward and craning her neck so she could look upwards, she watched as a huge, white alien shape appeared. It was long, narrow, and curved at the end, and looked almost like a tentacle of some great sea creature. Then she saw another of the objects above the first, and another further over, and then yet another above that one. Then the main vessel emerged and her surprise changed into something that more resembled fear. "Tell me that isn't what I think it is," she managed to say, stepping backwards, as if putting an extra metre of two between her and alien vessel would provide some protection.

The lieutenant's gaze quickly dropped to his instruments, his eyes opening wide in surprise as they reported the class of vessel. "It's... It's a Vorlon war cruiser," he said disbelievingly. "A big one, nearly two kilometres in length. Its configuration is a little different to the standard silhouette, but it's definitely of Vorlon design."

"Pull those fighters back," she ordered, watching in fascination as the gigantic warship loomed over the station, the glow from its powerful beam weapon lighting up the space around. "Get them out of the way now! And get those weapons on-line."

Corwin nodded, but it was already too late, the bright green beam from the warship lancing out and slicing neatly through an engine on one of the starfuries. Lochley noted with some relief that the pilot manage to eject, and then the rest of the fighters scattered, occasionally firing off ineffectual bursts from their own weapons as they struggled to avoid the Vorlon vessel. The war cruiser didn't fire on them again, instead manoeuvring until it was above the tiny shuttle. From her position in C&C, Lochley saw the tiny shuttle suddenly dart towards the warship and vanish into it as if it had been swallowed whole. The hidden shuttle bay didn't open in a mechanical way, but rather the shuttle appeared to merge with the warship. If fact, she almost imagined that she could see ripples running along the surface of the hull, as if the shuttle had just slipped beneath the surface of an ocean.

As the defenders watched in stunned silence, the warship turned from the station and began to accelerate away without any visible propulsion system. Unlike the more familiar green-hulled dreadnaughts the Vorlons had used to such great efficiency during the last days of the Shadow War, this vessel... this creature had no visible engines. It was almost frightening to watch it move, a gigantic, ghostly shape against the blackness of space, its white hull smoothly sliding through the void like no vessel ever should.

Several of the fighter pilots turned their tiny vessels to follow, lines of plasma bolts arcing out towards the war cruiser, but the huge ship was already accelerating out of range. Realising that unless something drastic was done it would escape, Lochley turned to Corwin. "Lieutenant, hit it before it opens a jump point," she ordered.

"Yes sir," he responded, firing almost reflexively. Without the automated target acquisition system his manual targeting left much to be desired. The war cruiser effortlessly twisted away from the lines of fire from the station's main batteries, then it was gone, a flash of light from the newly created jump point the only indication that it ever existed.

[Epilogue]     [Back to Index]

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